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A Whateley Academy Tale

One woe doth tread upon another's heel

by Phoenix Spiritus

 

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,
So fast they follow.
Gertrude, Hamlet, William Shakespeare

 

As the car slowed and turned, she couldn't help but tense. Unconsciously gripping her seatbelt tightly, she held her breath. Through the gate the car went, past the guardians and the wards. Eyes narrowed to a glare she waited, tensed to react, but there was no alarms, no disturbance, no response from the wards at all.

Head down hiding, her eyes blazed an expression of arrogant disdain as the car passed without issue through the gates. She was back! Cowering was over and she had a list, oh did she have a list! Nikki Reilly, Don Sebastiano, her former 'master', they were just the beginning.

Careful to keep her face turned from the others in the car, she sat apparently docile as they accelerated down the drive of Whateley Academy. Her sneer, the blaze of triumph in her eyes, all obscured as she exulted, speeding ever onwards to reclaim her destiny.

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Sunday Afternoon, June 3rd 2007
Rose Garden of Remembrance, Whateley Academy

Lily gave Hank's hand a squeeze of comfort, earning a thankful smile. Hand-in-hand Lily and Hank entered the Rose Garden, their friends surrounding them.

The end of year memorial service was usually a small service, attended by a few friends and family, on campus and off, of the students or staff to be remembered. This term the memorial service was a large one. A number of off campus guests were attending, as well as many of the students and staff.

The largest contingent were the residents of Poe Cottage. Arriving as a group for mutual support, the Poe students filed in. Here and there, friends from the other cottages, such as Lily, were sprinkled amongst the Poe Students. The day of the service had rekindled deep emotions within Poe cottage. The students were here to remember two of their own, Jamie and Brad. Heyoka and Apathy. Their murders had left few in Poe unaffected. Respectfully, almost filling the lawn, the students formed quiet lines. Silent, they stood before the wall of remembrance, the wall upon which the names of those who died at Whateley Academy were inscribed. Students who died attending Whateley Academy, and the Staff who had died working for, or guarding it.

Security too was attending this service in numbers. They filed in, surrounded the service with an honour guard of uniforms, there to show respect to the families of its lost Officers. Dead this year protecting their charges.

Ms. Guzman, Jamie's guardian, was also in attendance. With the loss of one so close to such an important supporter of the school, many others too had attended. The great and powerful among Whateley's sponsors and alumni, attending or sending representatives in a show of respect. All sat on chairs clustered close to the podium, set facing the lawn at the centre of the wall of remembrance. Even a few member's of Jamie's tribe had come, there to remember an Avatar of the Thunderbird, a sacred Heyoka of the Lakota peoples.

Mrs. Carson watched, waiting as the students filed in. She stood at the podium, her face somber, until the students and guests had taken their places. With a quick glance around for confirmation, Mrs. Carson nodded once and began her prepared speech. Speaking of pain, speaking of grief, speaking of loss. She spoke of those who were now gone, and how they had died. She spoke of how they had lived, and she spoke of how they would not be forgotten. And in the way of all throughout the ages, she struggled to provide comfort to those that were left. Struggled to provide an explanation for the hole in their lives, where once had been a loved one.

Unable to listen, to process the words being spoken, Hank instead found himself looking around. Finding his attention claimed not by the words being spoken, but by the mannerisms and postures of those in attendance. First to claim his attention had been Ms. Guzman. Solemn, but with a small smile, she had greeted those who sought her out before the service started. Now, with the service in progress, Hank could see the hurt and pain in the stiff backed way she held herself. In the smallest shift of posture. How she turned inwards and shrunk ever so slightly in her seat at the calling of Jamie's name. Mrs. Carson's voice, trembling as she read the list of students and staff who had died that year.

Tears in his eyes at her silent pain, Hank looked away. His eyes searching for a new distraction. A new focus that would allow him to avoid the pain and grief inside that kept threatened to break loose. Sweeping across the silent Officers standing to the sides of the gathering, Hank's attention was caught. Caught not by movement, but by it's complete absence. Steely eyed, Franklin Delarose, the Whateley security chief, stared. Not at Mrs. Carson, or at his Officers arrayed around the sides of the gathering. Nor even was his focus his charges, the students standing clumped in small supportive groups on the lawn before him. Instead Chief Delarose was at parade attention. His eyes stared ahead blindly, his expression a study of remorse, cold anger and fierce determination. Rigid he stood as Mrs. Carson talked of the Officers of his that had died. Of students who had been murdered under his protection.

Finally, unable to stand the anguish anymore, Hank was forced to look away. Glancing back and forth amongst the students, Hank's eyes moistened at the looks of sorrow and grief he saw all around. Ruthlessly he dragged his eyes down, blinking back the tears as he stared determinedly at the ground. Clutching Lily's hand like a lifeline, Hank kept his head down and fought off the tears, taking deep breaths and trying to think of nothing. Not the speech, not the people; most definitely not the reason why they had all assembled.

Frustrated, forced to sit with the other guests at the front for the entire service, she'd had no view of any of her targets. She'd deliberately delayed her rising, hanging back to the end. Raising finally, she worked her way to the edge of the group of guests, and there looked back over the students as they milled and slowly left. Spotting an anomaly, she stepped into the shadow of the wall. Guardedly she looked around, eyes blazing as she spotted a clump of students. Something was going on, the Slut and the rest of her court were not leaving, instead they were congregating as a group at the far end of the garden.

Carefully, looking around frequently, making very sure to keep her body between her actions and everyone else, she opened the smallest of rifts and dropped out her servant to the deepest shadows. Enslaving its sight, hearing and movements to her own, she spared the smallest necessary attention to her body, having it follow the crowd moving to the Crystal Hall. Body on automatic, she slowly, with the maximum of caution, forced her servant to creep closer to Team Kimba and their activities at the far end of the garden, until finally her servant scurried into the deepest shadows under a bush, finally hidden close enough to hear and see what the Slut and her court were doing.

Hank stared down at the newly planted rosebush and sighed. Gently he pulled a flower to his face, breathing in its sweet scent. With a sad smile he released the flower and reached down to gently tap the dirt around the rosebush's base once more, confirming it was properly planted. Hank pushed the wooden stake that would guide its growth a little firmer into the ground and gave one last pat to the rosebush, planted in Jamie's memory, before he arose, turned and smiled thanks to his friends.

Only team Kimba had stayed to watch as Nikki and he planted their rosebushes of remembrance. Team Kimba and Lily. Even Mr. Miyamoto and his groundskeepers had withdrawn to their vehicles, leaving the students to their moment of shared remembrance and grief. Hank had been touched by the turnout for the ceremony, not just amongst the students and teachers, but also from off campus, but he was also very appreciative of this quiet time alone to plant the rosebush and remember Jamie in solitude.

Hank turned and was pleased to see that Nikki had finished planting Aunghadhail's rosebush too, but frowned when he saw her angry stance and fuming countenance as she stared down angrily at Aunghadhial's remembrance. Hank let out a sigh and turned to Lily and his friends. He exchanged hugs with them all, before, with a brief nod in Nikki's direction, he silently pleaded for some time alone with Nikki.

With barely a quick glance at Nikki, Lily nodded and left, rushing back to Ashley and her own teammates, still devastated by yesterday's traumatic combat final. Hank's own teammates, however, were slower to leave. Ayla in particular giving Nikki a long anguished stare before he too nodded to Hank and reluctantly retreated.

Turning to the silently fuming Nikki, so caught up in her own world she hadn't even noticed her friend's departures, Hank stepped close and waited. Ever since Mrs. Carson delivered the news to Nikki, both that Solicitor was suing her and that, far from fighting the suit, the school's response would be to give him her modelling earnings, Nikki had been upset. Particularly upsetting to her were the people she deemed to be trying to convince her that Aunghadhail's death was a good thing!

Unfortunately, a chance comment overheard by Nikki earlier had stirred her volatile emotions over Aunghadhail's death again to anger, and all through the ceremony, Nikki had silently fumed at Mrs. Carson, treating every imagined slight in her speech as a personal affront to Aunghadhail and herself.

Finally, Hank decided that Nikki had been left alone to her thoughts long enough, and without waiting for invitation he stepped up and hugged her. "Let it go Nikki, it's only money,” he advised.

Fiercely Nikki shook Hank off, rounding on him to scream, "He wanted to enslave me! Now they force me to pay him for nothing?!”

Silently Hank stepped back up to Nikki, enfolded her in his arms again. "Nikki," he whispered, "you deformed him, turned his face into a horrifying monstrosity that cost him his livelihood. Don't you think he deserves something?"

"He was enslaving me! He deserved what he got!" Nikki screeched, but this time she held tight to Hank, crying it into his shoulder.

"You don't mean that," Hank murmured, letting Nikki sob out her unhappiness.

"I do!" Nikki cried, again pushing herself away from Hank. "He deserved everything he got! The spell only returned what was done to me!" Nikki cried fiercely, turning an angry face towards Hank, glaring at him.

"It was a punishment spell Nikki," Hank chided softly. "And I know you. I saw your face when you described to us what happened to him." Staring back calmly, Hank waited for Nikki's glare to abate, sighing when it did not. "Nikki, you don't have the right to judge and punish people ..." he started, when Nikki interrupted him fiercely.

Nikki pushed herself up, standing tall, her glamour surrounding her like a cloak. "I am the rebirth of Aunghadhail! Daughter of the Burning Oak, Paramount Queen of the West and the Five-Fold Court!" Nikki declared, eyes-blazing.

"The Five Fold Court no longer exists!" Hank snapped. "It was destroyed millennia ago!"

"As did I, so will it! It will return, I will build it up again in Aunghadhail's honor!" Nikki fiercely declared, eyes daring Hank to dispute it.

Hank sighed and gave Nikki a pained look, a question he'd been pondering ever since Aunghadhail's death finally breaking loose. "Who are you?" Hank begged of her. "Are you really just the Queen of the Sidhe? Daughter of the Burning Oak? Paramount Queen of the West and leader of the Sidhe people? Is that truly who you want to be?" Hank cried as Nikki continued to glare at him. Tears in his eyes, Hank almost whispered, "Are you not still Nikki Reilly? Daughter of Nicholas and Lucile Reilly, student of Whateley Academy, member of Team Kimba and my friend?"

"I'm both!” Nikki wailed, glaring at Hank in anger at the accusation.

Hank gave Nikki an agonised stare, before hesitantly he gestured to Nikki, inviting her to follow him. "Please?" he begged. "I have something I want to show you." Hank watched Nikki warily, worried that in the mood she was in, she'd not come with him. Hank had watched as Mr. Miyamoto brought out the rosebush for Nikki to plant in Aunghadhail’s memory. He had seen her facade crumble, genuine warmth in her thanks for his compassion. Hank had hoped that Nikki might now be able to accept some truths being told to her. From his own experiences grieving for Jamie, he knew how hard it was to hear that those you grieved for were not the most important people, that the living mattered more.

With a sigh of relief, Hank welcomed Nikki's abrupt, angry nod of acceptance. Hank turned, and with a glance back to confirm Nikki was following, he led her out of the rose garden, and off through the Whateley Campus.

With fierce exultation, she urged her servant to follow Nikki and Hank. She didn't know what the reason was, but Nikki had been truly enraged, her servant had shuddered under her control as Nikki's emotions flayed at it. This was too good an opportunity to waste!

While her body sat quietly in Crystal Hall, demurely consuming its meal, she whipped her servant mercilessly, badgering it pitilessly to keep up with and not lose sight of the two Team Kimba members, all the while she prepared a spell. A silent, insidious, undetectable spell. A spell she could cast from her servant. A spell that would sow further discord between the Slut and her court.

Hank guided Nikki to the Homer Gallery, up to a dusty pile of metal bars. Hank stopped, staring down sadly at the piled gold bars. "It's only money Nikki,” he repeated softly. “Yes, it's your money, but still." Turning he looked to Nikki, glassy-eyed as he gestured. "Look here, see this pile of gold? How much more do you think Ms. Guzman would add for just one day, one hour, a single minute more with Jamie? To tell Jamie of her love? To say her goodbyes?" Tears streaming down his cheeks, Hank forced away the heartbreak at his own remorse at never having said farewell to Jamie.

"Look at this gold Nikki and understand!" he pleaded. "The world has decided we are to grow up, and it's all through asking. Right here, right now, it's demanding that you choose." Stepping close, Hank reached out to touch her shoulder, trying to get Nikki to meet his eyes. "Are you the Daughter of the Burning Oak?" Hank whispered. "Queen of a Realm that disappeared into dust and memories millennia ago?" he questioned. "Or are you Nikki Reilly, the daughter of Nicholas and Lucinda Reilly, who are still here? Who still love you?" he demanded of her.

"Why can't I be both?" Nikki cried, hugging her arms tight to her chest, tears streaming down her face.

"You will always be of both heritages," Hank offered earnestly. "But only one future allows you to be yourself!" he pleaded. "Only one way will you get to choose and dictate your own path," he coaxed. "The other is a path of other people's expectations, other people's desires, other people's destinies." Hank paused, silently contemplated Nikki. "Eventually, other people's wars," he whispered, desperately seeking signs Nikki was listening to him, hearing what he was trying to tell her.

"I want ... no, I need to honour Aunghadhail!" Nikki declared, staring just as desperately back at Hank. "I need to lead her people!" she begged him to understand.

"I'm human Nikki," Hank whispered. "Your friends are all human. Your family is all human! What happens to us in Aunghadhail's world of race against race? If you choose to raise up one race, the Sidhe. Stand with them against humanity, against your friends, against your family? Nikki if you choose to raise up the Sidhe as a separate people, can't you see it will lead to conflict? That it must lead to war?" Almost weeping, Hank tried to make Nikki understand, "Nikki, you're talking of a race war, Sidhe's against humans!"

"It doesn't have to be that way!" Nikki exclaimed fiercely.

"No Nikki, it doesn’t,” Hank wept. “But we are not the ones who make that choice for you," he begged her, pleading that she see what was at stake.

"But you're forcing me to make a choice!" Nikki wailed in distress. "You're asking me to choose between my family and Aunghadhail!"

"Please Nikki!" Hank begged, stepping close and wrapping her in his arms. "Choose us, choose your friends, chose your family."

With her servant positioned she cast, and gleefully watched the distracted Nikki obliviously absorb her spell. Without Aunghadhail's presence Nikki Reilly's shields where were nowhere near as formidable as they had once been. As her emotions spiked, small weaknesses presented. Tossing her spell to latch onto one of those weakness, she watched as the small cantrip sneaked through, latching onto Nikki emotions and flared almost imperceptibly. In fierce joy, she gloated as Nikki's anger enflamed to mindless rage.

Inarticulate in rage, Nikki screamed, wretched herself from Hank and turned tearful eyes back on him. "You too?" she wept. "You too want me to spurn Aunghadhail?"

When Hank again made to step forward, to wrap her in his arms, Nikki stepped back instead. Raising her hand, she screamed in fury, power radiating from her palm, reaching out and throwing Hank back, till he lay stunned, sprawled on the ground.

"Friends!? You ... you ... Human!" she screeched at the shocked Hank. "Do you think I don't know that that disgusting turncoat is helping them? That Ayla decided I deserve this and is going around behind my back telling people not to help me, and now you too?! You were my friends, my soul, my heart! And you do this to me?! I never want to see you again!" she screeched full voice, turning and weeping as she ran from Homer Gallery.

Kneeling, holding his arms tight around himself, Hank wept his heartbreak as he watched the distraught Nikki run from him.

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Sunday Evening, June 3rd 2007
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

"You!"

Startled Ayla stopped, looking around in surprise. He'd just entered the corridor of the second floor of Poe cottage when the cry rang out. Hank and Nikki had not come to Crystal Hall for dinner after Jamie's remembrance service, and the other members of Team Kimba and their friends were returning to Poe as a group to check on them. Everyone stared taken aback by the apparition stalking towards them.

"You turncoat! You snake in the bosom! You sanctimonious know it all!" Nikki continued screaming as she advanced from the girl's bathroom, the power of a Sidhe Queen manifesting and surrounding her like gathering storm-clouds, her aura seeming to draw the very light from the corridors, surrounding her in a darkening gloom as she stormed towards them, wild eyes fixed on Ayla as she continued snarling at him. "How could you make Hank to do that to me? How could you make him abandon me like that?!" she demanded, the rage in her voice obvious to all.

"He what?" Ayla squeaked disbelievingly.

"You wretch!" Nikki screeched outraged as she reached for him.

"Run!" Toni whispered to Ayla, giving him a slight push. Startled, looking fearfully back at the enraged Nikki lunging for him, Ayla turned and rushed back down the stairs. Inarticulate in rage, Nikki ran after him, screaming wordlessly as she went. Stunned, it took a moment or two for the others to realise what was happening, then they too set off after their two friends.

Arriving downstairs, all halted shocked, watching as a raging Nikki stood outside the cottage door, hurling magical bolts of energy after the fleeing Ayla. Lightning and thunder crashing all around her, Nikki screamed impotently in rage as Ayla sank through the ground and escaped into the tunnels bellow.

Huddling in a group, jumping and squealing at each crash of thunder, Nikki's friends stared fearfully out at her. "Well, at least she's storming outside this time," Bunny whispered weakly, before letting out a little squeal as a particularly loud crash of thunder announced Nikki's final eruption. Turning back around, Nikki stalked through the Poe cottage foyer, face thunderous as her friends pushed themselves against the walls. With an enraged glare, Nikki marched through the foyer and back upstairs, ignoring the crowd of Poe residents watching her. Squeezing into corners and doorways to get out of her way, fearfully watching as she stamped across the foyer and began to climb the stairs.

"Shouldn't we try and talk to her?" Jade whispered to Bunny and Toni.

"Perhaps not the best time," Toni suggested tactfully, wincing as the sound of a slamming door echoed through the cottage. "I'm not sure what Hank said to her, but I've rarely seen Nikki that royally pissed."

"Royally pissed is right," someone whispered from the crowd of Poe residents, but at the same time Jade turned to Toni, face draining white.

"Hank!" they both cried out in horror, turning for the door and running outside.

Desperately looking around, Toni sighed in relief and pointed. "I see him, he's on his hill again," she smiled in relief, starting to run for the path. Toni was quickly passed by Billie, Shroud and Jade as they flew by and up the hill together, Jade landing to quickly embrace the dejected figure, slumped down on a rock near the edge of the ridge.

"You're alive!" Jade exclaimed happily, dancing around Hank. "We all thought Nikki had fried you like she did Ayla!"

"Ayla's hurt?" Hank demanded, jumping up, looking around desperately.

"Nah, relax," Toni dismissed Hank's concerns, arriving after running effortlessly up the hill. "This is Ayles we're talking about. A bit of a head start, a scurrying escape down into the tunnels, and he's well and away."

"I have to apologise," Hank stated, starting for the path down. "It all my fault, I did this."

"Yes, what exactly was it you did?" Toni demanded stepping in front of Hank, causing him to stop startled. "What did you say to Nikki to get her so upset?"

Hank winced. "I made a mistake. I thought she was ready."

"Aunghadhail?" Toni guessed. Hank nodded miserably. "Probably not the best day to have done so," Toni grimaced. "You saw how upset she was at lunch, " she continued as Hank winced. "I suppose you tried to convince her to get over the Solicitor situation?" Toni sighed at Hank's dejected nod.

"I'd better apologise to her," Hank said softly. "She was crying when she ran from me."

Toni reached out a hand to stop Hank, shaking her head when he turned back to her. "Not really a good idea right now Hankster," she advised. "She's pretty much gotten past crying. In fact, if she doesn't calm down real soon like, you'll need to find a new bed, 'cause I'm not entering a small room with her tonight, and the least you can do after causing all this is give me your bed to sleep in."

Hank winced and nodded acceptance. "I'll find Ayla," he promised. "Apologise to him, see about borrowing his sleeping bag." Turning back to the path, Hank acknowledged the concerned looks of Bunny and Rip as they arrived, before stepping off the hill and slowly floating down. After watching Hank fly down to Poe and enter, Bunny and Rip turned to Toni and silently demanded an explanation.

"He's off to find Ayla and apologise," Toni explained with a sigh. Bunny and Rip nodded and smiled, before turning and starting back down the path together, Toni, Billie and the J-team following.

"What now?" Rip asked concerned, looking around to the others as they walked down the path as a group.

Toni grimaced and looked to Bunny, who was obviously upset. "How about you and Rip go see if you can visit Misty?" she suggested. At Bunny's fiercely shaken head, Toni reached out and touched her shoulder, causing Bunny to turn to look at her. "Nikki's too upset at the moment," Toni told her gently. "If you try to force yourself on her, we'll just end up with Nikki upset at you too."

Tears in her eyes, Bunny fiercely shook her head again, before Jade stepped up and hugged her fiercely. "We'll call you back as soon as she calms down," Jade promised, while Bunny clutched her tightly in return. "Or if we hear crying, or anything, we promise." Reluctantly Bunny nodded, and with an arm around her shoulder, Rip started leading Bunny down the path again.

"Give Misty my love!" Jade called to Bunny as they separated at the bottom of the hill, Rip giving an acknowledging wave before leading Bunny towards Melville. Billie, Tony and the J-Team turned towards Poe, thoughtfully eying a particular window on the second floor as they went.

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Hank and Ayla were carefully walking down the second floor Poe corridor again, nervously eyeing the second door from the end, when a closer door opened quietly and Jade gestured them inside.

"Well?" Ayla asked, looking around at the girls gathered in the room, Billie, Toni, Jade, even Shroud all looking very somber.

Billie shrugged. "Last time Toni checked, there was no longer static electricity flying from the door handle, nor hairs standing on end when you got close to Nikki's door, but neither was she able to open it." Ayla turned to Toni, his eyes widened at her shaken head. Usually no matter what Nikki tried, Toni's Ki tricks eventually overcame Nikki's attempts to contain her.

Toni pointed to the corner, where a blanket wrapped bundle lay snoring softly. "Even Koehnes has been banished," she advised them.

Hank sighed and slumped slightly, "I'll get the sleeping bag." Ayla gave him a strange look and Hank explained. "It's my fault Nikki is so upset. The lest I can do is let Toni have my room. After all, without ... there's no …" Hank closed his eyes and swallowed before finishing. "I have a room to myself now," he murmured softly.

Ayla reached out and squeezed Hank's shoulder. "Toni can have my bed," he stated. "I'll bunk with you, after all, where it counts, we're both guys."

"What about Vamp?" Jade enquired about Ayla's roommate. Ayla turned to her and smiled wickedly. "I'm sure Toni will cope," was all he said, leading Hank back out through the door, pushing off and silently gliding down the corridor. Hank followed, also floating silently. Making the least noise he could, Ayla opened the door to his room and floated inside, followed closely by Hank.

"I wonder if I could get in?" Jade mused from her room's doorway, where with Toni and Billie she had watched the boys sneak past Nikki's door. Grinning manically, Jade dived back into her room and touched the Kimba lion plush toy on her bed.

Leaping off the bed, the white lion ran pell-mell for the door, where Billie hissed "Jade no!" and tried desperately to stop it. Sliding under Billie's hands and between her feet, the little lion slipped out into the corridor, leaping from wall to wall as it climbed higher and higher, till with a small cry of triumph it latched on to the door handle of Nikki's room and started worrying at it.

"Leave me alone!" Nikki cried out, with a clap of thunder that shook the whole corridor and rattled the door, almost dislodging the clinging lion. Opening his door, Ayla with Hank looked out to see what was happening, the corridor filling with other curious Poe residents, even Rip and Bunny who had just arrived back at Poe.

"Jade, stop," Billie ordered, when with a cry of triumph, the lion turned the handle and Nikki's door swung open. With an inarticulate cry of rage, a bolt of light caught the floating lion straight on, and a force slammed shut the door so hard the corridor itself rattled.

With a heartbroken cry, Jade slumped to her knees, weeping, staring in horror at the few charred remains of her lion scattered on the floor of the corridor. Simultaneously Jade's ever-present kitty-compact clattered to the ground, as with a clang Shroud's clothes slumped lifelessly over a suddenly revealed metal box that fell to the ground amongst a collection of iron objects where Shroud had been. A bear-trap fell to the ground, setting itself off, flipping up and over in the air before falling clattering back to floor.

While the falling noises of the box and bear-trap claimed the attention of most, Billie instead quickly knelt and swept up the weeping Jade, pulling her back into their room. "Jade?" Billie cried out to the pale, crying girl in her arms.

"I'm. I'm alright." Jade answered forcing the tears to stop. "It. It just hurt a bit having us forced back together like that."

"Forced?" Billie demanded.

"Jinn. Janine. Nikki did something. It hurt and then, all of me came back at once."

Toni and Billie exchanged worried looks, before Toni stooped, gathering up the kitty-compact and sweeping the various pieces of Shroud's armaments back into her box, and retreated into Jade's room with them.

With the excitement over, the occupants of Poe slowly dispersed, leaving Ayla, Hank, Bunny and Rip staring down at the charred remains of Jade's white lion. Kneeling down, Bunny gathered up the remains, cradling them to her chest as she stood, shaking her head at Ayla's enquiring gaze.

The four of them looked down at the charred fibres in Bunny's hands and sighed. There wasn't even enough left to identify the fibres as originally being white, let alone what they had been part of. Silently the four of them made their way to Jade's room, filing in and staring down at the weeping Jade, curled up on her bed being comforted by Billie.

"What now?" Bunny asked, passing over to Toni the scraps she was cradling.

Toni looked around at the stunned, helpless eyes of her teammates. "Sleep?" she suggested eventually.

Nodding Ayla agreed, as Hank frowned. "What about Mrs. Horton?" he worried.

Toni sighed. "She was here at Nikki's door when we got back. Eventually she decided not to press Nikki tonight and told us to leave Nikki alone for a while. She said she'd talk to Nikki in the morning." Hank winced and nodded. Kneeling down he gave Jade a hug, trying to comfort the weeping girl, before sighing he stood. Regretfully retreating to the door.

"I'll get my things and let Vamp know you'll be using my bed," Ayla told Toni before he too quickly knelt to give Jade a hug, following Hank from the room.

Once Hank and Ayla left, Toni piled the remains of Jade's White lion on the desk, then sat on the bed next to where Jade was curled up with Billie. "We'll get you another lion," Toni murmured, reaching out to hug Jade as she tried to comfort her. "You know Ayles, by tomorrow he'll have found you a White lion you could ride, all fair-trade wool, hand stitched by a family of toy makers, happily continuing a tradition of soft-toy making passed down from parent to child for generations."

"It's not the lion," Jade hiccuped. "It's Misty, and Lindsey and Anna and Ashley and Lily, and now Hank and Ayla and Nikki! And it's only a week until summer," Jade wept as Billy held her tight.

"Oh Jade, don't worry so. I'm sure it'll be all right, nobody's upset with you. You'll still be able to stay with your friends over the summer, nobody will force you to stay here," she assured the weeping girl.

"No," Jade wept, turning to Toni finally, eyes begging her to understand. "It's. It's everyone is so unhappy! And Nikki's so mad at Ayla and Hank. And there is only a week. What if I can't fix it? What if I can't get everyone to make up? All my friends for the whole year will be gone! I'll have nobody all over again!" Turning she buried her head back in the arms of Billie and started weeping again.

Exchanging looks over the distraught girl's back, Toni grimaced at Billie and returned to rubbing Jade's back. "We'll help you Jade. We'll do everything we can to help you this week, you know we will right? Ayla and Hank and Billie and me? We'll help you in every way we can," Toni promised the distraught girl.

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Ayla followed Hank into his room, where the two of them sombrely regarded the empty bed frame with its rolled up mattress.

"You can have the bed, I'll take the floor," Hank suggested, pointing to the his bed on the other side of the room. Putting the sleeping bag down in an out of the way place, Hank grabbed his pyjamas from under the pillow, and slipped back out through the door. "I'll get changed in the bathroom," he offered as he left.

Already having changed while Hank retrieved the sleeping bag from storage in the basement, Ayla looked around quickly before once again his gaze rested on the empty bed, a tear in his eye for all his famed 'business face'. With a sigh, Ayla went to the bed, knowing Hank couldn't do so himself. Picking up the rolled up mattress, he dropped it on the floor and rolled it out, there being no doubt Hank would find it impossible to sleep in Jamie's bed. Stooping down, Ayla grabbed the sleeping bag from the corner and unrolled it onto the mattress. Fiercely dragging the back of his hand across his eyes, Ayla climbed into Hank's bed and resolutely turned his back on the empty bed-frame and the emotions it stilled stirred.

Lying quietly, Ayla listened as Hank crept back in. He listened as Hank neatly folded and placed his clothes into his laundry bag, turned off the light and climbed into the sleeping bag on the floor. Ayla closed his eyes tight and prayed for sleep as he tried to ignore the muffled sobbing coming from the other boy.

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Mary looked up from her bed where she was perched reading as the door to her room opened. Quietly she watched Lily sweep up her pyjamas and toiletries into her backpack, ruffling through her wardrobe to gather clothes. "You're spending the night with Ashley?" Mary asked softly.

Lily nodded, quickly folding her clothes neatly into her backpack and shouldering it before turning to Mary, where she paused frowning. "Mary?" she asked unsure, seeing the anguished face of her friend. "Is everything alright?" When Mary hesitated, Lily dropped the backpack to the floor and moved to sit on Mary's bed, sliding close to her friend.

Reaching out to hug her roommate, Mary shifted to sit side-by-side with Lily, her arm and a wing around Lily's shoulder. "How's Ashley?" she asked, trying to distract her roommate.

Lily sighed, turning to give a grateful smile as Mary hugged her tighter. "Ashley's ..." Lily slumped and leaned into Mary's comforting hug. "Ashley's not talking to anyone, not even her parents. She's just lying there, curled up staring at the wall or crying. She yelled at Mark and Charles, told them she never wanted to be in their stupid war games ever again."

Mary pulled Lily close, absently rubbing Lily's back as her roommate softly started weeping into her shoulder. Eventually Lily calmed down, and the slightly stiff way Mary was holding her penetrated. Shifting back, Lily pushed a little away from Mary, turning towards her. Lily stiffened and gasped when Mary turned away, avoiding her gaze. "Mary?!" Lily demanded, clutching her roommate and friend. "Mary, what is it?" she begged. "Tell me!"

Mary sighed. Staring at her own knees, not able to look at Lily, she slumped. "Hank," she murmured. "Hank and Nikki had a fight, a bad one. Nikki's furious, worse than she's ever been. Blaming Ayla somehow for the fight as well." Mary turned finally to Lily, flinching from the horrified look in Lily's eyes. "Nikki ... Nikki attacked Ayla with her magic, she even lashed out at Jade and destroyed her Kimba Lion. Lily, I'm sorry ..." she finished clutching the horrified girl to her.

"Ayla ... Hank ... Jade, are they OK? Are they hurt?" Lily scrambled to get up, but Mary held her tight.

"Lily, Lily, they're all OK, nobody was hurt but the toy lion!" Mary assured her, pulling the distraught girl back to her chest and hugging her tight. "It's OK Lily, they're all OK."

"But Hank, he'd be so upset, he ..."

"Shhh, Lily," Mary held Lily tight, trying to calm her down. "Ayla's with Hank Lily, and Billie is with Jade," Mary spoke calmly and authoritatively. "Hank will be fine tonight with his friends, you need to go be with your friend tonight, be with Ashley." Mary looked down at the worried, confused, desperate Lily and sighed, pulling her close and kissing her on the forehead. "Don't worry so, " she advised her friend. "Teammates always look after their own. The Kimba's care for Hank and will look out for him tonight. Go, help your own teammate who needs you, your friends here in Poe will look out for your boyfriend tonight."

Mary stood, and pulled Lily to her feet. With a final hug, Mary guided Lily to the door, pausing to pick up Lily's backpack and return it to her shoulder. With an arm and a wing around her shoulder, Mary escorted Lily from Poe and all the way to Melville, leaving her in the hands of a house mother waiting to take her up to the room Ashley and her would be sharing for the night.

In the privacy of her room she exulted. Not only had the test of her disguise and protections passed perfectly, but all unknowingly, the great Nikki Reilly had cursed her own teammate!

Unnoticed by Nikki or Hank, in her anger a swirl of Nikki's power had come loose and, all unobserved in her rage, Nikki had given it form and shape and then cast it towards Hank, where it had enwrapped his soul, leaving the subtlest of darkenings that only she had noticed.

Lying on the bed, she let her body fake sleep as she contemplated the future. Already she had sown the seeds for her return, all unknown and unsuspected. Now she had further sown seeds of wrath, creating a rift between the Slut and her court. Hopefully, over the summer, the rift would grow and fester, fuelled by the reapings of Nikki's own curse.

With Nikki Reilly nicely stewing, she turned her thoughts to her long term targets, the ones who truly stood between her and her destiny.

Line Break broken

Warmth. Shelter. Contentment. Slipping loose into the darkness, the Leanan left prey, exhaustedly asleep after a delicious period of sumptuous, tortured eruptions. Pausing, the Leanan looked around, searching for the means to hide itself while the long, slow process of breaking down prey began. Feeling the muted emotions of another sleeper, it flinched. Quickly it scurried, seeking height it climbed, finding the highest vantage point it could, looking down cautiously on prey and another below it. Satisfied, the Leanan turned to examine its perch, spying the box. Carefully it opened the box, cautiously looking inside. Eyes wide in triumph, it climb in, burrowing delightedly into what it found resting on the top of the books and other things contained within.

Settled down, lying in comfort and secure in it concealment, the Leanan reached out to deepen its connection to prey.

On the floor below, a figure twitched and turned, moaning in distress, while in its concealment the Leanan leered as it contemplated its new feast, attempting to guide, not just experience the dreams of its prey. Turning them to the dark, the delicious, delicious darkness.

Line Break broken

Monday Morning, June 4th 2007
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Loudly knocking, Mrs. Horton stood before the door with two Whateley Security Officer's, her face and demeanour stern. Toni popped her head out another door, with Vamp not long behind her, to see what was happening. Barely glancing their way, Mrs. Horton returned her gaze to the door she had knocked on as Nikki opened it. "Young lady, you will dress yourself this instant. These two Officers are here to escort you to Chief Delarose and your instructors in the Arts, who are waiting to discuss with you your actions last night."

Turning slightly pale, Nikki nodded jerkily, quickly retreating into her room and closing the door. Presently she appeared again dressed, and eyes downcast allowed the Security Officers to escort her away.

After watching Nikki leave, Mrs. Horton turned and raised an eyebrow at Toni. "And where did Miss Goodkind sleep?" she demanded.

"Hank's bed, I'm pretty sure that Hank would have slept on the floor in the sleeping bag," Toni replied.

With a frown Mrs. Horton indicated Nikki and Toni's room. "Hurry up, I'm sure there's things you need to retrieve to get ready for your exams. Once Security and her instructors finish with her, I'll have a chat, remind Nikki of the proprieties of sharing a room."

Toni winced, and quickly squeezed past Mrs. Horton and into her room to gather her toiletries and clothes for the day. With a dressing down from Delarose and her Mystic Arts instructors, and now another from Mrs. Horton all in one morning, Toni dreaded what sort of a mood Nikki would be in by breakfast, especially after the rage she'd gone to sleep in.

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Monday Breakfast, June 4th 2007
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

"Lily with Ashley?" Mule asked Hank sympathetically as Hank sat down with the Grunts for breakfast. With the rumours swirling about Nikki, the whole table turned to see if Hank was going to fill-in-the-blanks about what was happening between Nikki and him. They turned back to their meals when Hank simply nodded before picking up his utensils and starting to eat.

"Well, at least your girlfriend and her team finally managed to defeat Wondercute, they must be proud to be the first to do that?" Bomber suggested to Hank, as most of the rest of the team turned to glare at him. As Hank just grunted an acknowledgment, Bomber looked around wide-eyed, a 'what did I say?' expression on his face, before fixing his gaze on the frowning Bunker. "What Bunker? You don't think they won?" he demanded.

Bunker scowled down at her food. "The sim stopped when Dragonrider escaped, and she had Phoenixfire with her when she did," she finally muttered. "So that meant Star League had confirmed captures on Gateway and Bugs, Aquerna took down Superchick for them, then surrendered herself, and they had Generator contained, but not captured. Against that Dragonrider had captured Phoenixfire and escaped, and Superchick disabled Dredz, leaving just Wallflower and Psymod to handle Generator when they eventually let her out of Wallflower's bubble."

"What do you mean 'contained but not captured'?" Bomber demanded. "Wallflower had Generator all sewn up! She was out of the fight!"

"But not captured!" Bunker insisted. "Star League obviously had a 'capture, not kill' assignment, and Generator wasn't captured, just contained. Eventually they'd have needed to let her out so that they could capture her properly, Wallflower couldn't keep her in that bubble forever. Then it'd have been just Wallflower and Psymod trying to capture Generator."

"Oh come on, they'd be able to place her exactly where they wanted, and they'd have all the advantages of surprise and preparation! Generator was captured and you're just splitting hairs!" Bomber replied dismissively.

"You think Wallflower and Psymod could take Generator?" Bunker laughed. "Were you even watching her combat final?" she demanded of Bomber. "Anyway, it doesn't matter," she continued before Bomber could reply. "Dragonrider escaped, and she took Phoenixfire too, so Star League failed their mission."

"Yeah, but Wondercute lost!" Bomber insisted. "The cub scouts were all over the woods and all but Dragonrider was taken out!"

"But so did Star League!" Bunker defended fiercely. "They didn't capture Wondercute, so nobody won, that makes it a draw!"

"But it was Wondercute's crash, Star League were just there to prevent them winning. Since they succeeded in doing that, it's a win to Star League!" Bomber insisted.

Bunker shook her head. "It was a Star League crash too, they had their own goals and they failed to achieve them. Both of them failed to complete their missions, it was a draw!"

"Well, why don't we just confirm that?" Bomber suggested superiorly. "Hey Hank? What mark did your girlfriend get? How did the instructors rate Star League's performance?"

With a fork halfway to his mouth, Hank paused blinking at them, his mouth open. Eventually he mumbled shortly "no marks have been given yet" and continued eating, pointedly turning to look back down at his plate.

As Bomber opened his mouth to demand more, Deadeye caught his eye and firmly shook his head. When Deadeye was certain that Bomber had stopped, he turned to Bunker and fixed a glare on her too, firmly indicating the subject of Star League Jr. and Wondercute be dropped. With a quick glance at the somber Hank, Bunker acknowledged the warning with a nod before she returned to her eating her meal.

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Delarose looked up and sighed at the expression of Sam Everheart as she slipped into his office. "You had Crystal Hall for breakfast right?" he asked as he indicated a chair for her to sit in. "It's that bad already? None of the seniors have even had their combat final yet!" he sighed, rooting around on his desk for the Security Roster he was sure he was going to need to make more changes to soon.

Sam winced as she sat down. "No, but they all saw how affected Wondercute and Star League have been from their final, and they're all really worried about how bad theirs are going to be since we stepped so hard on a bunch of junior, mostly first year girls, participating in only their second Combat Finals ever."

Delarose winced in turn. "At least Ito and Bardue agreed to move the more brutal of today's finals to later in the week," he muttered leaning back, studying Sam's face carefully. "Sam?" he prompted her.

Grimacing, Sam shifted slightly in her chair. "I'm worried about Wondercute," she admitted. "None of them sat together at breakfast this morning, and you only had to watch the body language of those they did sit with to see how concerned all their friends are. And then there's the Kimbas," Sam said with a sigh.

Delarose grimaced. "I warned Carson that Nikki would eventually see through Ayla's evasions, she insisted it was a risk that had to be taken."

"And now it's all blowing up at once. Nikki, Ayla, Wondercute, Star League. I'm worried that it could all keep spiralling out of control."

"Wondercute are all getting counselling, as are Star League," Delarose reminded her.

"This week," Sam replied morosely. "What about next week?" she asked worriedly. "This isn't a nine day wonder, this is an emotional crisis. Are they going to get the help they need next week when they've all gone home and no longer have access to professional counselling?"

Delarose sighed and shrugged, just as concerned as Sam was on that score too.

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"Dear?" Tabitha sat down on the bed and rubbed her husband's back, heart wrenching at his slumped, dejected posture, staring at the floor. "What's the matter?" she asked, trying to at least get him to talk to her.

"Even Hank and his friends, it's all unrolling on Lily, and it's my fault for insisting on the crash."

Tabitha grimaced. It had been a nasty surprise at breakfast, seeing Hank so at odds with his teammates. Nikki, when she arrived, had been glaring daggers at both Hank and Ayla, obviously furious with them, so much so that both Hank and Ayla had wisely avoided her by eating elsewhere, Hank with the Grunts and Ayla with his girlfriend. The dejected, fearful looks between the rest of Team Kimba and their friends as they sat silently eating had spoken volumes about how bad the rift was.

It hadn't escaped her notice that not only was Hank's team now shattered around the Crystal Hall, but the Wondercute girls, those that had been at breakfast anyway, were also scattered all over the hall, most of them unable to so much as look at any of their fellow teammates. The one exception to this had been Jade, and the tears she had shed as she'd looked around at her hopelessly shattered friendships had been heartbreaking to watch.

Reaching out, Tabitha pulled her husband close. "Dear, you can't blame yourself for Hank and his friends ..."

Robert turned to his wife, tears in his eyes. "Can't I?" he demanded. "Do you really believe Hank would have had his fight with Nikki if he'd not been so worried about Lily?"

Tabitha sighed. "You can't blame yourself for that. Lily and Wondercute had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately Ayla's 'inactions' in her defence have been hurting Nikki more than anybody realised, and she took it out on Hank yesterday."

"The timing is linked," Robert insisted. "You can't tell me the stress of the Wondercute match wasn't contributing. Lily's been one of Hank's anchors all term ..."

Tabitha winced. "I know you blame yourself Robert, but it was an accident. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were just supposed to learn a lesson, come back for summer a little more cautious ..."

"But that's not what happened and I could have stopped it!" he snapped. "How much stress should we be putting them under? I'm as guilty as the next, but they're all children, not little solders! I should have seen that it was too much, that they were already too emotional, too fragile to take a crash. I should have seen how difficult this term had been for them already, ..."

"Robert ..."

"No!" he snapped again. "The murders, the deaths, Carson's project with Nikki. It was obvious they weren't ready for more, but we pushed them anyway ..."

"That's the reason they didn't crash Team Kimba this time.."

"Not as a group! But they still had Hank with the Grunts. I still insisted on a crash that had all their friends. Wondercute, Lily. I should have seen, should have anticipated! Once all their supports crashed down, it was inevitable and now. Lily ... all her friends. And now. I don't, I don't know. Oh Tabitha, what do I do?!" Slumping down, hands covering his face, Robert slumped despondently again as his wife tried to comfort him.

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Second test for the day finished, Lily almost ran back to Poe. Ashley was to go to counselling as soon as she finished her own test, and then they had the debrief in the Sims after dinner, this was the only time Lily had to be with Hank.

Lily rushed up to her room, dumping her bookbag on her desk. Hurrying back out again, Lily skipped down the stairs to the common room below. On entering the room, the almost physical anger of Nikki stopped her in her tracks. Seated 'studying' in Kimba corner, surrounded by just the female members of Team Kimba, Nikki's darkened aura and snarling gaze was ensuring both silence from her friends, as well as scurrying exodus for anyone else unlucky enough to enter the second floor common room.

Silently, hoping to avoid the attention of Nikki, Lily crept back out of the common room, and scurried down the corridor, making her way to Hank's room, quietly tapping on her boyfriend's door. When Hank opened the door, eyes widening in delight, Lily dived through door and into his welcoming arms, pulling herself tight into his strong arms, snuggling into his chest as Hank's arms pulled her tight in return.

Finally sated, Lily loosened her hold, leaning back and tilting her face invitingly, smiling slightly as Hank immediately leaned down to share a deep kiss with her. "Missed you," he murmured as they finished.

"Missed you too," she smiled up at him, quickly glancing at his bed.

With smile of his own, Hank led her to his bed. Sitting down leaning up in the corner, Hank smiled as Lily climbed on the bed, curling herself up against his side, head resting on his shoulder, her arms snaking around his waist. Happily, Hank gathered Lily close as he shifted to get comfortable, leaning down to give Lily a kiss her to the head as she murmured happily in his arms. "How's Ashley?" he asked Lily softly. "How's your father?"

Lily mewled softly, then sighed and turned her face towards Hank. "Dad's blaming himself," she admitted, a frown forming. "Mum's worried, she's not used to being the one that needs to organise things, Dad's always been that person."

"Your father's that bad?" Hank asked shocked.

"No," Lily assured him. "Mom's just panicking. I told you, she's not used to organising anything." Lily smiled up at Hank. "Mom and Dad will be eating with the faculty tonight, plotting something, I'm sure."

"So ... parents with the teachers, Ashley in counselling ?" Hank raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Does this mean ...?"

"Yep!" Lily stated happily, snuggling into Hank's shoulder. "Quality time with my boyfriend!"

"Well then," Hank smiled happily, leaning down to kiss Lily again.

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As Lily approached the serving lines, she stopped suddenly, clutching Hank's arm tightly as a small sob escaped her lips.

"Lily?" Hank demanded concerned.

"Misty!" Lily cried, pointing to the lonely dejected figure making her way carefully through the crowded Crystal Hall checkouts, eyes down, seemingly looking only at her tray. Silently Hank watched Misty make her way over to a nearby spare seat, push herself right into the corner of the booth and stare down dejectedly at her food. Even when Jadis walked over and appeared to be trying to entice her to join her instead, Misty just stared down at her tray and listlessly shook her head.

"Look at them," Lily cried, dragging Hank's attention from the scene with Jadis and Misty to where Lindsey stood waiting for Jadis to return, a look of sadness that slumped to depression as Jadis turned back alone to rejoin her. An arm around her friend's shoulder, Jadis tried to comfort the upset Lindsey as she led her away. A stillness in the swirling crowd drew Hank's eye and he sighed as he saw Anna standing still watching Jadis comfort Lindsey, before she turned to stare at Misty in yearning. Hank watched Anna wrestle mightily within herself, before suddenly she turned, and even from across the Crystal Hall Hank could see the tears and sorrow as she ran from the hall.

"Still! It's been days!" Lily wailed burying her face in his shoulder.

"Lily, it's not your fault, things got a little out of hand and they haven't had a chance to patch it up yet ..."

"They've had all weekend!" Lily cried. "We've ruined it, Lindsey, Anna, Misty! We've ruined their friendships, And for what? None of them were ever going to be hero! None of them needed to learn anything! It was just a game to them, why did we have to make it so real!"

"Now Lily, it was an accident, you can't blame yourself like this. And you know that's not true. Jade, Molly, both of them already do superheroing for real, and Misty, you know Misty wants to join the Capes. She couldn't keep treating it like a game!"

"But to lose their friendships! Hank, you don't understand, you're not a girl! Losing friendships hurts!"

Hank bent and kissed her nose. "I do understand Lily, I lost Jamie," he reminded her softly to her horrified look, before Hank gave her a smile. "But I don't believe those friendships are lost, there is too much sorrow between them to stay apart. You'll see, give it a few days max, Wondercute will be back together, once again holding court over mayhem and destruction from their breakfast table of glee."

As Lily cuddled despondently into his shoulder, Hank looked up and smiled a grim smile. With a stern, steely eyed look of anger, Jade was staring down from the upper level onto the dejected, upset and crying friends of hers. "Oh yes," Hank murmured as he watched the wheels spin in Jade's head. "There will be a reckoning, justice will be served and vengeance will be claimed." Smiling Hank contemplated his teammate and unlike others, he couldn't wait to see the mayhem she would unleash in defence of her teammates and their friendship.

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Hank kissed Lily one final time, and watched as she strode down the hall, turning back to give him a happy wave before she started down the stairs. After Lily disappeared from sight, Hank went back into his room and settled down to some more studying.

Hank sighed, leaning back in his chair he stretched, absently glancing at his clock. Startled, he doubled-checked the time on his laptop then closed it. Hank stood, and took the time to stretch fully, giving a great yawn before quickly changed into his pyjamas, gathering his toiletries and making for the boys bathroom whistling.

It had been a pleasant afternoon. Lily with him in his room, studying together, revising for their exams in companionable silence. The quiet a pleasant balm for their stressed emotions. It had been followed by a private dinner with his girlfriend in a secluded corner of Crystal Hall, and even though Lily had left to escort Ashley to their debrief at the sims, Hank's spirits were refreshed. Humming slightly to himself, Hank trekked back to his room. He put away his toiletries and gave the room a quick once-over to make sure everything was in its place, then still with a smile he turned off the light and crawled into bed, turning in early and swiftly falling into a happy sleep.

Line Break broken

Rival? A Rival? The Leanan hissed and spat. A mortal! A mortal dared contend for prey! Prey was hers! Darkness was hers! How dare Rival seek to steal prey! How dare Rival seek to deny her sweet, sweet darkness!

The Leanan hissed and spat. Crawling from its box, the Leanan climbed down and onto the bed, where prey lay smiling. Smiling!

Cuddling right up to the head of prey, the Leanan dove deeper, deeper into the memories of prey. Sought out Rival. Sought out any, any, moments of darkness, of conflict, of pain between prey and Rival.

Prey was hers!

Line Break broken

Hank twitched, the smile leaving his face, a puzzled frown replacing it. Rolling over, Hank's hand touched Teddy, and reflexively he hugged it to his chest, as slowly, legs pulling upwards, he curled around the toy.

Hank worriedly watched Lily, sitting across from him in the out of the way booth on the lowest level of Crystal Hall, where she had asked him to meet her. Both of them had trays of food before them, but Lily hadn't touched hers, in fact she couldn't even seem to meet his eyes. Sitting hunched up in the seat, staring down at her clasped hands, she almost seemed to be crying.

Reaching across the table, Hank gently stroked her shoulder. "Lily? What is it?" he asked softly.

Flinching from his touch, shrinking further into herself, Lily seemed to retreat further into the corner of the booth and away from him. Heart skipping, Hank froze, still outreached to comfort her. "Lily?" he squeaked, desperate to know what was happening.

Taking a deep breath, Lily finally looked up at Hank, and he saw that she had indeed been crying. Too scared to breathe, let alone try and comfort her again, Hank just pleaded with his eyes.

Swallowing, new tears falling, finally Lily spoke. "I'm sorry Hank," she almost whispered. "Mom and Dad called me. They. They told me you cou, couldn't spend the summer holidays with us, that you need to go home to your own family and ..."

Shocked beyond words, Hank sat, stunned motionless, unable to comprehend. Go back? To Jay? Dad? Mom?

Frozen, unable to understand, Hank just sat there, too stunned even to reach out and comfort the now weeping Lily. Finally, unable to take it anymore, Lily stood and dashed from the booth, leaving her meal uneaten, tears falling unchecked in her distress. Barely a step beyond the booth, she wrapped herself inside a perfectly invisible bubble and disappeared totally.

At Lily's abrupt departure, Hank snapped from his shock and stood, only to look around wildly, unable to see where Lily had gone. Realising she'd disappeared, Hank sank back down onto the seat and stared dejectedly at his meal, robotically picking up his fork and poking at it as he tried to make sense of what Lily had told him.

Line Break broken

Rival must not get prey. Rival must leave. Rival must abandon prey. Prey was hers!

Line Break broken

Tuesday Morning, June 5th 2007
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

Hank yawned and stretched, blearily splashing water on his face to try and wake himself. Strangely, despite the pleasant afternoon with his girlfriend, his sleep had been disturbed all night by half remembered nightmares. Now showered, Hank yawned hugely again, and got down to the serious business of not cutting himself as he shaved.

With a towel wrapped around his waist, Hank pushed through the door back into his room, putting away his toiletries and hanging up his towel. Having dressed slowly, Hank exited his room and pushed his way down the corridor, glancing hopefully across to the girls section. Standing at the end of the corridor, furtively looking back towards the girls rooms, Toni caught Hank's eye and desperately signalled him to hurry, go down the stairs, get out of sight. Sighing, Hank acknowledged Toni's directions with a wave, and turned down the stairs, quickening his pace so as not to be sighted by Nikki, who from Toni's desperate signals, would appear to be still furious with him.

Exiting out into the sunshine, Hank glanced around, checking to see who else was making their way towards Crystal Hall. A flash of a midnight-black pony-tail bobbing ahead caused Hank to sigh as he spotted Lily, rushing along well ahead, obviously intent on meeting Ashley and the rest of her team.

Resigned to another meal without either Lily or his friends, Hank entered Crystal Hall and concentrated on quickly gathering his breakfast, in order to escape before Nikki arrived. Another scene between Nikki and himself would just make Toni, Billie, and especially Jade, even more uncomfortable.

Striding through the counters, Hank looked around to see who had already arrived. Ayla was with Adelie and the rest of the European Promotional League, happily chatting away in some other language, probably French considering Adelie was draped happily smiling all over Ayla.

Sighing, Hank turned and looked to see if anyone else was here. Spotting Bomber, Bunker and Deadeye, he eased over to them, about to join them when he realised Bomber and Bunker were in the middle of a detailed review of yesterday's matches and winced. If he joined them now, Bomber would again swing the conversation to Wondercute and Star League, and the last thing he wanted to talk about was that match.

Hanging back, Hank let the Grunts walk off ahead of him. He took a final look around and sighed, morosely he made his way to the same secluded table he'd shared with Lily last night. This time, seated alone, he dejectedly sat and stared at his plate, before slowly he started eating.

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Tuesday Afternoon, June 5th 2007
Laird Hall, Whateley Academy

Stretching the kink out of his neck, Hank absently tried to shake feeling back into his hand as he leaned against the corridor wall and waited for Lily to exit her exam. He spotted Lily, already pressed up close to Ashley, concentrating so much on her friend she totally missed Hank waiting for her and swept past him down the corridor.

Slightly hurt, Hank watched Lily guide Ashley round the corner, before sighing he set off to follow them. Hank turned the corner, and was surprised to see that instead of making their way to Crystal Hall for lunch, Lily was leading Ashley towards the exits. Puzzled Hank jogged after them, catching up just at the door.

"Oh Hank," Lily exclaimed when he reached out to tap her shoulder. "I'm sorry, I can't stop. Mom wants me to bring Ashley to the Sims, she has more exercises she wants to do with us."

"What about lunch?" Hank asked forlornly.

"Mom said she'd have takeaway boxes for us," Lily assured Hank.

"Dinner?"

Lily shook her head. "Mom will probably be working us all afternoon and evening, none of us have exams again 'til tomorrow." Arm around Ashley's shoulder, Lily rushed her off, sparing only a small wave for Hank before she turned back to encouraging Ashley.

Hank stared forlornly after his girlfriend, watching until she and Ashley disappeared around the corner, then with a sigh he turned a trudged for the Crystal Hall. As he entered, he automatically glanced towards the third level, wincing as he saw Nikki, already enthroned at the Kimba table, a much smaller court attending her. Toni, a forlorn Billie without the usually ever-present Jade, Rip and a few others. Quickly glancing around Hank confirmed the absence of all the members of Wondercute, and silently prayed that Ayla's plan was on track.

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Wednesday Early Morning, June 6th 2007
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy

A moan. Once again Hank lay curled almost fetal on the bed, Teddy clasped tightly to his chest. Though asleep he moaned and whimpered.

"You, you Human! I never want to see you again!"

Nikki stood over him, power radiating from her hand. Nikki's face twisted into rage, Lily snarled at him, flinging him away, leaving him discarded on the ground, trash beneath her feet.

Line Break broken

Dreams. Dreams were the Leanan's home, it's life, its power. Prey had such wonderfully dark dreams. Sorrow. Anguish. Despair. Powerful. Intoxicating. The Leanan bathed in their darkness, drank of their power, delighted as prey sorrowed and despaired.

Hissing at the morning light, the Leanan howled silently as prey awoke, released from the torment of its dreams. Darkness, sweet, sweet darkness receding to but a dim fragment of what it had been.

Line Break broken

Hank lay panting, sweat beading on his brow. Finally his heartbeat settled and he groaned, rolling from his bed and sitting head in hands on the edge. His nightmares were back. Jamie, his fight with Nikki, his fears with the end of school year all swirling around as hank sat there and fought back the tears.

Finally, mastering the tears, Hank stood, gathered up his toiletries and left for the bathroom. At least this early, there would be no issues with him having a long, hot, soaking shower.

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Saturday Evening, June 9th 2007
Above Poe Cottage. Whateley Acadamy

Hank sank down onto his favourite seat, a rock on the hill above Poe Cottage. This was where he could look down on the lights of Poe Cottage, with Whateley Academy beyond, and think. Hank sighed as he massaged his arm, still sore from where Cody had held it. The speed with which the senior had grabbed and twisted his arm, putting him in an armlock quicker than he could blink, had shocked Hank. Then the way Cody had almost casually shrugged off all the force Hank and his PK field could exert had been, well, humiliating. Hank had no doubt that Cody had taken a dive during the Breakfast Brawl, just as all the seniors had laughingly insisted for so long.

Hank sat staring down at Poe Cottage and sighed again. The last week of term had been awkward in the extreme. With Nikki's blatant hostility to both himself and Ayla, being around her had been uncomfortable for everyone. Not wanting to make things difficult for his friends, Hank had avoided Nikki as much as he could. Unfortunately, avoiding Nikki had meant that, except for some time spent with Ayla, he'd been nearly totally avoiding the rest of his teammates too.

With Lily being so caught up in the aftermath of her team's near-destruction of Wondercute, trying to deal with the strained friendships in both teams, Hank had been feeling unusually lonely again. Nightmares he'd thought he'd moved past, both those he'd experienced after the murder of Jamie and even older ones from when he had first come to Whateley, were again disturbing his sleep, almost on a nightly basis.

Attempting to spend time with the other JROTC students as a distraction hadn't worked. The humiliating defeat of the Grunts in the Combat Finals, compounded by Jade's treatment of Mule and, surprisingly, Wondercute's implosion after their crash, all culminated in the JROTC students being morose all week as well. Added to that, they naturally wanted to discuss the combat finals, especially the disastrous Wondercute crash and its outcome, all of which had, if anything, increased Hank's anxiety. Eventually, Hank had started avoiding them too.

Even the distractions of exams hadn't been enough, if anything they had just made things worse. Hank hadn't been able to study as normal with his teammates in the common room, which forced him into his room, and well, Hank wasn't ever sure he'd get used to the empty side of his room. The bittersweet memories forced upon him by that time in his room, the loneliness of the last week, the heartbreak of being close, but no longer welcomed by his friends, all had combined to do something Hank had not thought possible. It had made Hank glad that tomorrow he would be leaving Whateley and going back to his family for the summer holidays.

Blinking away tears, Hank stared down and watched as Nikki danced around. Saying goodbye while simultaneously snubbing the also leaving Ayla. Hank had climbed the hill to remove himself from Poe when it had become painfully obvious that not even today, the last day before holidays, would Nikki allow him to so much as approach her and apologise. Frozen out by Nikki, Hank had sought out Ayla to say goodbye, removing himself from the cottage in the hopes that at least Ayla might be able to reconcile with Nikki before they left. Heartbroken, Hank watched as Nikki continued to ignore all Ayla's attempts to speak to her, jumping in her mother's car and driving off.

Hank sighed. Ayla, normally very schooled with his expressions, stood watching forlornly as Nikki drove away, betraying more than a small hint of thorough dejection. With a forced smile, Ayla finished saying his own goodbyes and got into the limo, driving off leaving a dejected group of Kimba girls waving him goodbye. Unable to bear it any longer, Hank stood and floated down to the dejected group standing in front of Poe Cottage.

Sensing his arrival, Toni turned and gave him a sad smile. "When you leaving Hankster?" she asked softly. "Your parents are in D.C. now right?" Jade and Billie turned at her question, giving Hank a curious look, they too having had no chance to ask him his plans either.

"Dad's assistant booked me on a late morning Boston to Washington Amtrak tomorrow," Hank informed them. "I'm catching the early morning train to Boston, so I'll be there in time to catch the connection."

"Lily going with you?" Jade asked hopefully.

Hank shook his head. "Lily and her parents are on a later train to Boston," Hank answered sadly, before taking a deep breath and turning to Jade, attempting to give her a smile. "What about you?" Hank asked.

"Mom's gone to get the rental car now," Billie answered for Jade. "As soon as she pulls up, Jade and I'll load up and we'll be off to Berlin and our flight." Billie looked at Hank concerned. "Are you going to be fine taking all your stuff by train?"

Hank shrugged. "I'll only have my duffle-bag" he explained. "All the rest I already boxed up and JROTC shipped off yesterday."

With a last look down the path, confirming the limo was now out of sight, Hank followed the girls back into Poe. With Nikki no longer there, Hank gladly followed them to their rooms. He helped Jade, Billie and Toni gather their suitcases and belongings and take them down to the foyer, where they waited together for Billie and Toni's parents to arrive. Placing their cases into the cars, Hank said his final farewells, standing waving them off down the drive until he could no longer see even the lights from the cars.

With the girls finally gone from his sight, Hank turned and looked towards Schuster Hall. Lily hadn't come back yet, which meant that her and her parents were probably still at the reception. Glancing around at the mostly dark and deserted Poe Cottage, Hank grimaced. Not wanting to sit waiting in the lonely, empty common rooms, Hank decided he'd go to bed early and say goodbye to Lily in the morning, before he left for the train.

Line Break broken

Loss. Loneliness. Fear. Sweet, succulent fear. The Leanan writhed in ecstasy as prey dreamed. Finally catching its breath, the Leanan took active control of prey's dreams. Latching onto the loneliness and alienation, the Leanan made prey dream and dream again. Family not wanting prey. Family better without prey. There was no place in family for the freak, the mutant, the unwanted one.

Prey was not needed.

Prey was not wanted.

Prey was hers!

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Sunday late afternoon, June 10th 2007
Union Station, Washington D.C.

Grabbing his duffle-bag and swinging it over his shoulder, Hank took a deep breath and stepped through the doors, exiting the Amtrak platforms of Union Station and looking around guardedly. Unconsciously he came to attention as a silver haired Army Colonel stepped towards him, followed by a middle aged but still beautiful woman and a frowning teenaged boy.

"Son," greeted the Colonel, stopping to parade rest with a nod before Hank.

"Sir," Hank returned the nod, unconsciously coming to parade rest too before glancing at the woman. "Mom," he smiled slightly, face blanking as he tried to hide the pain when she merely nodded in reply. Working hard to maintain an expressionless mask, Hank turned to Jay, jaw tightening unconsciously when he saw Jay wasn't even looking at him. Turned to the side, Jay was instead looking at the display of a shop window. Unable to help the smug pleasure at now being a head taller than Jay, Hank guiltily looked back to his father who had been passively surveying him.

"There is a car waiting," his father indicated with his chin, before turning on his heal he strode off. Again Hank pushed down the pain as his mother wordlessly turned to follow, absently reaching out to hug Jay to her as he stepped up close beside her. Face an expressionless mask, Hank followed them a few steps behind.

Exiting Union Station, Hank turned as his father lead them to a government sedan. Placing his duffle in the trunk, Hank watched as his father held the door open for his mother, with Jay climbing in first and into the middle. Closing the door, his father walked behind the car, his face turned away from Hank towards the traffic, as he stepped out and quickly got into the backseat through the driver's side door. Showing no emotion, Hank came around the car, opened the passages door, nodded politely to the private in the driver's seat, and settled down in the front passenger's seat, reaching up and putting his seat belt on.

The driver glanced to check all his passengers were buckled up and ready, then indicated and smoothly pulled out, concentrating on his driving. Hank waited a few moments, but when it became obvious nobody was going to make any conversation, he leant his head against the door and stared blindly out the window, taking no notice of where they were going.

Line Break broken

The Leanan squirmed, joyfully feasting on the new emotions of prey. Delighted it dug deeply into the memories of prey, finding and stirring preys fears and trepidations as it sought better, faster, more delicious paths to conquer and consume.

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"We're here sir." At the driver's polite announcement Hank started slightly. Hank blinked, glancing out his window where he saw a typical Army house in an Army neighborhood. A little bigger than the last one he remembered. A little bit nicer neighbourhood.

Getting out, Hank politely waited for his mother and brother to exit the car, before he walked to the back and retrieved his duffle from the trunk. Shouldering it stoically, he closed the trunk and waved his thanks to the driver who nodded before driving off.

Walking up the path, Hank joined the others on the porch just as his father unlocked the door and opened it. Holding it open, he politely waited as first Jay dashed through, and then Hank's mother. Hank's father followed his mother in, leaving Hank to bring up the rear. "I'll be in the den dear," Hank's father murmured giving her a quick kiss, before setting off further into the house.

"Dinner's in an hour," she called after him with a frown at his retreating back.

"I'll just check nothing important has come up," he placated her before disappearing around the corner.

As soon as his father left, Jay ran off too. "Jay!" their mother called trying to forestall him, but Jay just called over his shoulder, "I have to pee!" as he kept running.

Shaking her head and sighing after Jay, his mother gave Hank the barest glance before heading for the stairs. "We prepared the guest room for you," she said as they climbed the stairs. "It's the second room on the landing, the first is Jay's, third door is a bathroom you can use, and then there's the master bedroom at the end."

Curiously Hank looked around, noticing the photos hanging on the walls as he walked up the stairs. Mostly his Dad, mother or Jay. In singles, or some combination of two or all three of them, they were spaced evenly on the wall all the way up the stairs. At the top of the stairs he glanced towards his brother's room, but the door was shut. Opening the second door his mother waved him in. "Well, I'll let you to get settled while I finish up dinner," waiting for Hank to enter the room, before she left, pulling the door closed behind her, leaving Hank to himself in a new house.

Hank stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned to face the room. It was the classic "guest" room. Double bed, bedside tables either side, big built in wardrobe, all painted a soothing off-white with a single window and nothing adorning the walls.

Hank dropped his duffle on the bed and curiously checked the wardrobe. Empty. Nothing in them other than some coat hangers. Hank moved to the bed and sat down, dejectedly looking around. All new furniture, no pictures, nothing on the walls, a completely empty wardrobe. It was a blank slate, there was nothing in this room that indicated at all that he, Hank, existed or was a member of this family.

Line Break broken

Darkness, loneliness, delicious despair. The Leanan shuddered joyfully, drinking in the sweet, sweet nectar of its prey's despair. As the peak passed, the Leanan stirred itself and dug through prey's memories, identifying and strengthening all that had lead the prey to its moment of sweet, sweet darkness.

Line Break broken

"Dinner!"

Blinking, Hank looked up. Glancing at his still unpacked duffle bag and then around the room, Hank tried to understand where the hour had gone. Shrugging, he got up and left his room, walking down the stairs and following his nose to the smell of food.

Arriving in the dining room, Hank's mother looked up from where she was placing the last of the food on the table. Nodding to a place set next to Jay's, Hank's mother slid into the seat at the long side of the table across from them just as Hank's father arrived and sat down at the head of the table.

Quickly hurrying, Hank slid into the seat next to Jay's as his father grunted and reached out. Holding the hands of his family, Hank mumbled his way through grace. With grace ended, Hank's mother started dishing out food, handing a plate to his father. "You were in your den a while dear," she commented as she passed the plate over.

Giving his wife a wry look his father sighed. "The test has been moved up, it's to be the coming weekend now, not next weekend as planned."

In the middle of dishing out the next plate, Hank's mother paused. "Can you make that?" she checked worriedly.

"Just. We'll be pulling plenty of overtime I'm afraid," he sighed. "And I'll need to get back to planning straight after dinner too," he apologised. Sighing in turn his mother nodded, finishing dishing the meal and passing a plate to Hank and Jay. Morosely she started eating, staring off vacantly into space as she did so. Looking back and forth between his morose mother and scowling father, Hank wisely decided to concentrate on silently eating himself.

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Hank sat despondently on a park bench, staring at the phone in his hand before slowly he dialled the most familiar of numbers and lifted the phone to his ear. After dinner Hank had taken a walk outside to familiarise himself with his parent's new neighbourhood. Finding a gate in the back fence, he had curiously opened it, to find that behind his house was a large recreational park. The park consisted of an ornamental pond surrounded by tracks, weaving in and out of grassed areas, wooded areas and ornamental gardens. Finding a secluded spot overlooking the lake, where a park bench sat shielded from the track by some trees, Hank had decided to take a rest and ring Lily.

"Hank!" Lily answered in delight. "How was it?"

"Fine," Hank replied shortly, totally unconvincingly.

"Oh Hank!" Lily sighed. "You need to give it a chance," she worriedly chastised him.

"Can we talk about something else?" Hank begged. "Please?"

Lily sighed, but changed the subject and started describing her journey home. Her and her parents along with Ashley, Mark and Dredz, joining up with all their parents for a day together in Boston before going home to Providence. Hank sat silently, listening to Lily's happy chatter, surrendering himself to the needed balm of an uncomplicated moment with a person he knew loved him and wanted to be with him.

When Lily finally hung up, Hank sighed and smiled, pausing to look at the phone before carefully sleeping it and returning it to his pocket. With spirits greatly lifted, Hank stood, gave the park bench a friendly pat and looked around carefully. After checking to be sure no one was around that could spot him, Hank flew back to his room under cover of twilight and slipped into his window. Pausing to reconnect his phone to the charger, Hank took off his shoes, slipped out of his jeans. Going to his duffle, he quickly retrieved his pyjamas and changed before crawling into bed. As he closed his eyes to sleep, a smile crept onto his face as he remembered his girlfriends uncomplicated joy at hearing from him.

Line Break broken

Hissing the Leanan squirmed in discomfort at the dreams of its prey. Happy dreams, disgusting dreams. Rival again invading the dreams of prey. Tempting, delighting, stealing the darkness!

Muttering the Leanan poked and prodded memories, pushed fears, fighting against Rival. Finally, in desperation, it fell back on old nightmares, familiar fears. Exhausted it lay slowly reinvigorating itself on the most reliable of prey's fears.

Line Break broken

Hank twitched. The smile on his face slowly becoming a frown. Moaning he rolled over, curling slightly. Head thrashing he begun to mumble, words almost distinguishable. Twisting again, he rolled over and called out "no!" before lying there panting, eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. Ever so slowly Hank rolled onto his side, curling up into a ball. Shoulders shaking, Hank sobbed into the pillow, his cries almost completely muffled.

Line Break broken

Recovered the Leanan twitched. Slowly it opened its senses and listened. Prey was in a new place, new people. The Leanan stretched and stretched, carefully expanding its range, listening for new awareness. Finding them, it carefully touched their dreams, listened to them, identified them, identified the awarenesses. Slowly the Leanan smiled.

These were prey's 'family'. Prey's deepest fears. Quietly the Leanan slipped out and padded from the room. 'Family' were perfect. Family would help Leanan get prey. Family would not steal prey, prey was hers!

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Monday, June 11th 2007
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Slightly tired from another night's disturbed sleep, his nightmares having returned with a vengeance ever since Jamie's remembrance service, Hank slowly made his way downstairs. Turning and making for the kitchen, Hank entered and looked around. Sitting at the kitchen counter already, Jay turned around to glare at him before pointedly emptying a plate of bacon and eggs from the counter onto his own plate. Turning his back on Hank, Jay started to eat them.

Opening his mouth to blast Jay, Hank was beaten by his mother's growl. "Jay! Finish that. If we don't get going now, we're going to be late," she admonished before turning and seeing Hank, and sighing exasperatedly at his pyjama clad body. "Oh Hank! You know we have Jay's dentist appointment this morning! Late and you're not even dressed! There's nothing else for it, we can't miss the appointment. You'll have to stay home today, I don't have time to wait!" she sighed as she hurried from the kitchen.

Jay picked up the last of the bacon from his plate, turned to face Hank and with great delight popped it in his mouth and chewed slowly while Hank glared daggers at him. Coming back in, Hank's mother prodded Jay, telling him to hurry up. Harried, she turned and look at Hank's unshaven faced and rolled her eyes, muttering "well, she's old enough to be home alone!" she just pushed Jay before her towards the door. As she finally got Jay moving, she called over her shoulder, "Breakfast is on the counter, and don't forget to shower and dress! Jay's dentist appointment is at nine, then I need to do some shopping. We should be back later in the afternoon, there are some leftovers in the fridge you can have for lunch."

Hank turned to watch numbly as his mother pushed Jay out of the kitchen, and listened as he heard doors opening and the sound of a car starting. He walked through to the dining room, looking out the large picture windows just in time to see his mother's car drive off.

Back in the kitchen, Hank looked down at the two empty plates Jay had left on the counter, then sighed and picked them up, putting them into the dishwasher. He looked around the kitchen in confusion before he methodically opened each cupboard to find out what was in each of the cupboards.

Line Break broken

Prey sad. Prey upset. The Leanan pushed at preys emotions, dredged through its memories, pushing, pulling, making prey remember all that family had done to it. All that family was not. Delighting in the sweet, sweet darkness of prey's misery.

Line Break broken

Completing his walk through the house, Hank stood staring at the photo on the mantle piece. A Christmas portrait of a Mother, Father and son smiling for the cameras as they sat stiffly for the portrait. His mother. His father. Jay. A family of three, happily-smiling from the large framed portrait dominating this, the 'public' room of the house. Not that it mattered. Even in the private rooms of the house there were no hints that the family that lived here consisted of not three, but four people.

Hank had wandered through the whole house, searching. From the trophies in the family room, to the walls of his father's den, to his mother's photo frames on all the walls and mantles. Nowhere was there anything that was either Hank's or Hanna's. Not even in the background of a single photo had he been able to find an image of himself.

Stiffly, Hank went to the kitchen and opened the fridge, staring blankly at the food there. Finally grabbing the containers of last night's leftovers, he piled them onto the kitchen counter. Stepping through from the kitchen to the garage, he grabbed the picnic basket he'd spied there while walking through the house, and after filling it with the leftover food, he confirmed he had his cell phone with him and exited through the back door, carefully making his way down to the back fence, and through the gate there into the park beyond.

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After wandering aimlessly, taking notice of neither the time nor where he was going, Hank found himself staring at a lake and an empty picnic table. Without thought, he strode to the table, put his picnic basket on it, and sat down. Absently checking his phone as he sat, Hank stared at it for a minute before he dialled Lily's number and brought it to his ear.

"Hank!" Lily's cheerful voice greeted him, bringing an unconscious smile to his face.

"Lily!" he breathed in relief.

"Oh Hank!" she moaned at his sigh of relief. "What's wrong? Is it your family?"

Hank sat silently for a minute or two before slowly he answered. "Please Lily. I need to think about anything else." Lily sighed thunderously into the phone and Hank could hear her drawing a breath to berate him again. "Please Lily," he begged her, voice wobbling with unshed tears.

Listening to Lily's sigh, Hank's heart beat in relief as he almost heard her changing her mind over what she was going to say. "Alright Hank," she promised. With a forced cheer to her voice Lily instead asked Hank where he was.

"At a picnic table in a park, looking down on some ducks swimming in a pond," he answered. "I was just about to have some leftovers for lunch."

"Really?" Lily asked, no force to her cheer this time. "I was just about to do the same, eat leftovers for lunch, but not the picnic at the park. Hey let me just gather them up and take them to the outside table and we can have a picnic together!" Lily enthused.

Smiling at his girlfriend's uncomplicated chatter as she gathered up her own lunch and took it outside to her parents patio table, Hank sorted out his own food and settled down to eating happily with his girlfriend.

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Happy after his picnic with Lily, Hank came in through the back door, emptied out the picnic basket on the kitchen counter and returned it to the garage. Humming happily to himself, Hank sorted out the items on the counter, putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and returning the rest to their proper places. Wetting a cloth, Hank even gave the counter a wash down before humming happily he made his way upstairs to the guest room so he could unpack.

Line Break broken

No! The Leanan howled in loss. Rival! Rival came and sweet, sweet darkness gone!

Angrily the Leanan picked through prey's memories, and slowly it started rebuilding darkness again.

Line Break broken

At the call of "dinner" from his mom, Hank blinked, and looked around. Looking left and right, he saw that his duffle sat on the floor, still unpacked. Frowning he wondered where the time had gone, Jay and his mother hadn't even been home when he came up here, now not only were they home, but dinner was cooked. Where had the time gone?

At another call from his mother, Hank jumped up and quickly made his way downstairs, entering the dining room and coming up to the table. Looking down he noticed it was set so that the three seats, the head of the table and the two places next to it, were set. Looking up he saw Jay smirking at him from the kitchen.

Ignoring his brother and his obvious attempt at getting him upset, Hank stalked over, clearing his brother from the door with a scowl, and checked the kitchen. Their mother was hurriedly moving around the oven and stove in a dancing final rush to finish dinner. Looking over to the counter Hank spotted a plate and cutlery; he took it back into the dining room and silently set the place at the foot of the table, before going back, grabbing a clean glass from the sink and going to the fridge, poured himself some milk and retreated to the dining room to sit and wait for dinner as his sipped his milk.

Smirking, Jay followed, and took his place to the left of his father's seat, just as his mother rushed in with a serving dish, absently dishing out three helpings before placing the rest in the center of the table and rushing back for another dish. She did this three more times, followed the last time by Hank's father, who sat himself down calmly and reached out his hands. Sitting hurriedly his mother grabbed one of his hands, reached across the table to Jay to clasp one of his, and hands held the three of them bowed their heads as Hank's father said the grace, at the "amen" all three let go and started eating.

Hank sat there for a moment, an empty plate before him and all the food out of reach at the other end of the table as his parents head down ate in silence, only Jay turning to smirk his way. Picking up his glass of milk Hank drained it slowly, put it down calmly on the table and stood, then without a backwards glance he left.

Again as he walked through the house, he looked from picture to picture, desperately searching for himself or the girl he had been in any of them in vein. Reaching the guest room, Hank closed the door silently and crossed to the bedside table and picked up the phone he had left charging there. Absently Hank stared out the window, down the backyard and over the fence towards the park there, with its manicured gardens and pathways to wander.

Feeling homesick for Whateley, Hank carefully looked back and forth. Satisfied nobody was watching, Hank opened the window, leaned out and looked all around again. Certain he was not being observed, Hank flew through the window, dropped to the ground just over the back fence, and wishing Lily was here to share it with him, set off to wander the paths of the park, absently looking around to see if there was any statues.

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Tuesday, June 12th 2007
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Hungry after missing dinner, and slightly tired from another nights disturbed sleep, Hank dressed and came downstairs the next morning, making for the kitchen.

As soon as Hank stepped into the kitchen, he found his fuming mother in his face. "What was that you did last night!" she began as a Hank stared wide eyed at her. "I don't care what passes for manners at this school of yours, but you do not leave the table like that without so much as a by-your-leave! And where did you go? I searched the whole house for you last night, and you'd just left! Without telling me! Without asking!"

As Hank recognized one of his mother's rants in full steam, he unconsciously slipped into parade rest, stared blindly at the wall over her shoulder, and muttered "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am" at what seemed appropriate places.

Finally running down, Hank's mother glared in frustration at the emotionless rock standing at parade rest in her kitchen. Exasperated, she pointed Hank to the counter where some cereal and a bowl was laid out for him, Jay had not yet come down for his breakfast.

"Your father left early again," his mother informed him as Hank poured out the cereal and added milk. "He'll be home for dinner, but then will need to go back in again." Starting to eat, Hank missed the slight narrowing of his mother's eyes. "Since Jay's going to be out all day today with his friends, I've decided today's the perfect time for a belated spring clean." Eye's widening slightly as his mother's tone belatedly registered, Hank looked fearfully to his mother, the spoon frozen solid hallway to his mouth. "Yes dear," his mother gave him her patented frozen smile. "You will be helping me all day."

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Silently Hank stretched and winced. PK shield or not, spending a day awkwardly bent over, first emptying unending numbers of cupboards and shelves, then wiping them out before cleaning and returning the contents to all the cupboards and shelves had left him exhausted.

"So, what's planned for your first weekend home with your family in nearly a year?" Lily asked cheerfully. Hank shrugged and threw another piece of bread to the ducks swimming in the pond. "Hank?" Lily pressed.

Hank sighed. "I don't know," he admitted finally. "Dad's got something big going on with the project he's assigned to at the Pentagon, I haven't really seen him much. And Mom's always busy with something, all she seems to wants to do is tell me what new thing I should be doing, or worse yet, should have done."

"Hank! Haven't you talked to your parents at all!" Lily asked concerned. "Haven't they asked about school? Your grades? Anything?" Hank silently shook his head. Even though she couldn't see him do it, it was easy for Lily to imagine it, and she sighed. "Hank, have you even talked to your parents about Boston? About." Lily paused and bit her lip, before almost whispering. "Did you tell them about Jamie?"

Stoically Hank watched the ducks. "They know my roommate was killed," he stated woodenly. "Mrs. Carson had me in the office when she called them to tell them."

"And?" Lily demanded wondering when that had been, as this was the first she'd heard of it.

"Dad made sure the school was making me go to counselling."

"Hank!" Lily almost screeched. "Have you talked about Jamie with your parents properly at all?"

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Under the glaring eyes of his father and mother, Hank entered the dining room where his mother had pointedly swapped the places around, Jay now sitting where she had been sitting, she herself moving a seat down, and Hank was now placed on the opposite side of the table, where Jay had been, sitting next to his father, his mother scowling at him from across the table.

Sitting down stiffly, Hank grabbed his father's hand as he sternly stared at him, and reached across the table to his mother's held out hand. Silently waiting while his father said grace, Hank muttered an 'amen' and watched while his father bent down to eat. Waiting for his mother to do the same, Hank started eating himself, listening as his mother and father discuss again Jay's trip to the dentist and what the dentist had told them.

Finishing his plateful, Hank made sure that Jay's attention was distracted before swiftly refilling his plate and digging in again, filtering out the boring details of Jay's dental checkup. Hank only perked up when Jay interrupted his mother's monologue. "Mom, since you and Dad are nearly finished, do you want me to fetch the desert?"

"Yes dear. There's an apple pie keeping warm in the oven and ice cream in the freezer."

Smiling, Jay got up and ran to the kitchen; presently he returned, silently placing a bowl of steaming hot home-made apple pie and ice cream before his still-talking mother, and another before his silently eating father. Running back to the kitchen Jay came back with only a single bowl of the same, before sitting down and with a smirk to Hank he started eating his desert.

Glaring at Jay and the desert, Hank's favorite, one of Mom's home-made apple pies, Hank calmly finished his second plate of food and quietly stood. Glancing absently over at him, his mother paused the monologue she'd been directing at his father. "Dear, please clear the dishes and put them in the dishwasher," she asked sliding her plate and desert bowl across the table to him. "That should fill it up and you can start the washing cycle."

Staring in betrayal at his mother silently for a moment, Hank clenched his jaw and just stacked up the dishes, ignoring the joyful smirk Jay sent his way as he too pushed over his plates before getting up and running for the family room to claim the games console and the TV for himself.

Sullenly Hank took the dishes to the kitchen, angrily packed them into the dishwasher and started the cycle before he made his way silently up the stairs, once more to shut himself into the guest room to sit on the bed staring at the walls, wondering what it was about himself everyone found so unpleasant.

Line Break broken

Slowly, slowly, patiently the Leanan revelled in the darkness in prey. Sweet, sweet darkness. Prey was sad. Prey was lonely. Prey was almost ready.

Line Break broken

An unknown time later Hank finally shook himself. Wiping his eyes, Hank grabbed his pyjamas and went next door to shower and change. Listlessly coming back, he crawled into bed, this time to lie staring at the off white featureless wall, dejectedly contemplating his family, before eventually sleep claimed him, only to soon after start twitching and thrashing as the nightmares arrived.

Line Break broken

Panting, the Leanan smiled in joy, prey in an exhausted sleep.

Carefully rising, the Leanan dropped to the floor, and almost silently padded across the room, slipping out glancing left and right, feeling the dreams of the other sleepers in the house. Hissing it turned left. Mother again! Grumbling the Leanan made its way to the master bedroom, climbing upon the bed and scowling down to where mother thrashed in sleep, trying to fight the web of suggestion the Leanan had woven through her dreams. Hissing and spitting, the Leanan settled cradling mother's head, and slowly, deliberately it rewove them, strengthened them.

Prey was hers!

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Wednesday, June 13th 2007
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Waking with the dawn chorus of birds greeting the sun, Hank grumbled and went to the bathroom to relieve his bladder at its insistent request. Coming back into his room, Hank looked at his bed and sighed. He was awake now, and there was no point in returning to bed and trying to get more sleep, no matter how tired he was.

Moving over to his window, Hank opened it and looked out over the park, watching early morning joggers making use of its paths. Hank frowned as he remembered the basement gym of Poe, with its exemplar designed exercise machines, rated for tons of force, not the measly few hundred pounds a "normal" gym boasted. Staring out at the people running around the park, Hank watched thoughtfully and then smiled. Running wasn't the workout he usually preferred, but at least it was exercise he could do here.

Happily Hank changed into sweats, and making his way silently though the house, so as not to wake his parents, Hank went to the kitchen and made himself a quick breakfast of cereal before leaving by the back door and running down to the gate in the back fence and into the park.

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At the ringing of his phone Hank smiled. Stepping off the path Hank jogged on the spot to stay loose. "Hi Lily," he happily answered the phone.

"So?" Lily asked Hank bluntly.

Hank sighed. "Please Lily. I. I don't want to talk about it."

"Hank!" Lily berated him.

"Please Lily?" Hank begged.

After a momentary paused Lily sighed. "Okay Hank, we'll talk about me again," she agreed with a sigh. "Dad's planning to take Mom and I camping Friday, just the three of us, for a whole week, no distractions," she chirped happily to him.

Hank laughed, "Lily, I know your parents, they'll be called back in a day!"

"No, Dad's totally serious!" Lily assured him. "He's organising that we'll go into the wilderness, a hiking trek so far from civilization that there won't be any cell phone coverage. No phones, no radios, no satellite phone, no way for anybody to contact my parents and call them back, it'll just be the three of us all week! No demands on us at all till we get back on Sunday week!"

Hank's heart skipped a beat. "No celł phone coverage?" he asked, concerned.

"Yep! Just the three of us, guaranteed for the week!" Lily enthused happily.

"You'll be without your cell phone?" Hank asked gripping his cell phone tightly, stopping his on the spot jogging.

"Hey! I'm not that bad!" Lily scoffed. "I can last a week without a phone! I'm not a tragic that's as addicted to their phone as to coffee."

"No! I didn't mean that!" Hank assured her, trying to keep his voice from cracking with panic. "I just meant, no cell phone? For a week? In the wildernesses? Is that safe? What if there was an accident?"

"Oh, we have an emergency beacon," Lily assured Hank. "One of those GPS locator thingies designed for wilderness hikers. If there is a problem we can set that off and they'll come get us!" Lily airily explained before enthusiastically launching into a description of the sights they planned to trek too.

A cold iron fist clenched in his stomach, Hank listed to Lily's happy prattle with dread. He couldn't bring himself to tell her what he really was worried about.

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"Again!?" Startled as he opened the door, Hank looked up and blinked as his mother determinedly strode his way. "Nowhere to be found, not in your room, not in the bathroom, nowhere in the house! How could you just walk out without telling me where you were going again!" Panicked Hank stood to attention, promising his mother to not leave the house, not go anywhere, to stay where she wanted him, replying "yes ma'am" to anything she asked as he endured her shouting.

Standing cautiously just inside the door trying to process his mother's new rules as she turned from him back to the kitchen, Hank's eye was caught by the smirking Jay, obviously enjoying Hank's discomfort. Standing up with a big grin, Jay turned to leave the kitchen when his exasperated Mom called out. "Jay! Put your plates in the dishwasher!"

Turning to his mother Jay replied nasally. "But Mom! Today's Hank's turn to clean up after breakfast! Why should I do his chores! You said you were punishing him for forgetting to take the garbage out last night, not rewarding him!"

Chores? Hank stared dumbfounded.

"We've discussed that already, she has to mow the lawn today, and don't look at me like that," she scowled at Hank, "you knew it was your turn to do the garbage, it's marked on the chores list on the fridge from when we sat down and worked it out last week which chores you and your brother will be doing over the summer break."

As his mother made her way from the kitchen to the laundry, Hank, mesmerised, walked to the fridge. Looking amongst the various notices and invitations held to it with magnets, yes there was a chores list there, written out in the neat hand of his mother, splitting between Jay and 'Hannah' things such as cleaning, setting the table for meals, packing and unpacking the dishwasher, and other things like that.

Blinking at the list, Hank reached out to touch 'Hannah' as his mother came back from the laundry with a basket for him. "Don't look like that!" she snapped at him. "You had a chance to choose last week same as Jay, now I'm going to put a load on, run up and gather your dirty clothes for me. Anything you've used since Sunday and also anything you packed up dirty instead of washing at school." Passing Hank the dirty clothes basket she turned back to the laundry.

Hank stared after her in disbelief. How could she in one sentence both believe he was here last week and also recognise he only arrived on Sunday? Puzzled, he absently turned from the room carrying the basket and made his way to the guest room.

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Hank sat watching the ducks swim, the sun setting and twilight arriving. Absently he played with his phone, before with a sigh he put it away. Glancing around he confirmed no one was watching, then silently lifted into the air and flew back to his room, guiltily climbing back in the window.

Connecting his phone to its charger he sat on the bed staring down at it. Lily really was going on the camping trip with her parents. She sounded so happy and cheerful as she contemplated the week alone with them, far away from all communications that could be used to call them back.

Line Break broken

The Leanan exulted.

Rival going!

Rival leaving, rival not here and rival not able to interfere!

Prey was hers!

Rival leaving! Rival leaving!

Rival does not want prey. Rival not coming back. Rival doesn't need prey. Nobody needs prey.

All leaving. Everyone leaving. Prey all alone.

Line Break broken

Thursday Pre-dawn, June 14th 2007
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Hank sat up, breathing heavily and blinking at the darkness. Slowly he calmed himself and then sighed. Thumping back down to lay curled up on the bed, Hank reached out and clutched the pillow tight. "Just a dream. It's not happening," he muttered. "They're all OK. Nikki is fine, Ayla is fine, Lily is fine. They are all fine, they can look after themselves, nobody is dead. Jamie, Jamie ... Oh Jamie!" Hank wailed as he turned over and desperately tried to muffle his weeping into his pillow.

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"So, how is it?" Lily asked Hank happily. Hank sat silently for a bit. Just as he went to draw a breath to reply, Lily spoke sternly. "Oh no, not this time. I want to know what is really going on there Hank, no more evasions. I know you and your family barely spoke all year, and you've been coming to my place for all the holidays, even Thanksgiving and Christmas, and don't think I didn't notice that present from your family you tried to hide, it's in your Hannah box! Now come clean!" she ordered him.

Hank sighed. "Mom's been acting weird," he finally admitted.

"Weird? In what way weird?" Lily asked concerned.

"Well, yesterday she called me 'she', and she has a list of chores on the fridge, but they are split between 'Hannah' and 'Jay'."

"Maybe she just forgot," Lily suggested. "You've been apart for a while, and you were still 'Hannah' when you left."

"She was the one who insisted I be called 'Hank!" he exclaimed. "Besides," he continued much less enthusiastically, "while I was checking my duffle for dirty clothes, I went over all the times she's said anything to me since I got here, she's never used my name once, and the rare few times she's referred to me at all, once it was 'dear' and the other times it was 'she'."

Lily paused silently, she didn't miss that Hank had said 'arrived here' not 'come home', also there was another thing she noticed. "Hank, it's been days, you have no other clothes there, how come you haven't unpacked your duffle bag?!" she demanded.

"Um well ..."

"Hank, you're home for the summer!" Lily exclaimed. "Every time you got back to Whateley, the first thing you did was unpack your duffle bag and make sure your room was ready for a military inspection or something, and now your with your family, you haven't even unpacked?!" Hank just sighed, silently holding the phone. "Hank? Hank what's wrong?" Lily begged.

"It. It. It just doesn't feel like home anymore," Hank finally broke down crying. "Mom, Dad. Only Jay seems to notice me, and only so he can twist the knife. And. And. There's no you, there's no, there's no Jade being zany, no Toni being cheerful and over the top, no Ayla being serious, no Billie being, being well Billie." Hank chocked a little. "No Nikki ... No Jamie ..." he whispered.

"Oh Hank, it's your family!"

"Well it sure isn't feeling like it."

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FridayBefore Dawn, June 15th 2007
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

"No ... no ... Lily!"

Sitting up and breathing heavily Hank stared blindly around before scrambling for his bedside table. Picking up his phone he desperately dialled it, holding it to his ear as he begged "Please, please, please," as it rang.

"Hello?" a sleepy, confused girl answered.

"Oh, thank God!" exclaimed Hank in relief.

"Hank?" the girl questioned much more awake. "It's four in the morning Hank, what happened?" Lily demanded.

"N nothing, I. I was just worried about you," Hank admitted.

"Because of nothing?!" Lily exclaimed in disbelief as Hank just sat there panting slightly. "Hank, did you have another nightmare?" Lily finally asked.

Looking around Hank took in the disheveled state of his bed and sighed. "Probably," he admitted. "All I know is I panicked and thought you had been killed," he sobbed.

Lily sighed. "More nightmares about Jamie?" she asked. When Hank stayed silent she pushed. "Hank?" she demanded.

"It's not just Jamie," he whispered.

"Pardon?"

"It's not just Jamie," Hank repeated. "It's. It's everyone."

"Everyone?" Lily asked puzzled.

"Everyone," Hank repeated in a whisper. "I try, and I try, and I do everything I can, everything I can think off. I try! But, but, you all still die. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try. You still die!" Hank wept. "You, Nikkie, Ayla, you all die terribly and I. I just watch it one after the other, totally useless as they laugh at me and kill you right before me, ignoring everything I do, everything I try. Nimbus, Mimeo, Gunny, Speakeasy, they all just laugh and kill and kill and kill, and nothing I do means anything, you all still die!" Hank broke down and sobbed into the phone.

"Hank? It was just a nightmare Hank, we're all still fine. Hank? Hank!? Please talk to me? Hank!?"

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"You're up early," Tabitha smiled from the door to her daughter's room. "Excited to be off today?" she asked before the silence of her daughter registered. Thoughtfully she looked at the way her daughter was hunched up, sitting on her bed squashed into the corner with her legs pulled tight to her chest and her arms tight around them as she stared sightlessly into the room, ignoring her almost as if she hadn't heard her, cradling her cell phone.

Moving soundlessly across the room, Tabitha slowly sat on her daughters bed, sliding back until she could reach around and pull Lily against her shoulder. "Little early to be calling someone isn't it?" she asked softly, nodding to her daughter's cell phone as she hugged Lily to her.

"Hank. Hank had another nightmare," Lily explained listlessly.

"And?" Tabitha prompted her daughter softly.

"He, he was so upset. He. He. He was crying and. And."

Sighing Tabitha gathered her daughter and hugged her tight, letting her cry out her fright into her chest. When Lily stopped sobbing, Tabitha pulled her gently up and smiled at her, tenderly wiping away the tears with her thumb. "You want to see him? Be with him?" she asked softly. With a shy smile Lily nodded. Tabitha gave a small laugh and kissed her daughter's forehead. "OK," she smiled. "How about when we get back from this week long hike your father has organised, you and I take a trip to Washington? Spend a weekend seeing the sites with Hank?"

Smiling in delight, Lily hugged her mother tight. "Thank you!" she whispered.

"Your welcome," Tabitha gave her another kiss to the forehead. "What about you take the bathroom first?" she offered. "I still want you wearing your super suit, but you can hide it under some normal hiking clothes, and I'll let you wear sensible hiking boots for the week, think you can do that?"

"As long as you and Daddy have to do the same too!" Lily mock growled.

"Sounds fair to me," Tabitha smiled, standing as Lily got up too, putting an arm around her mother and her head on her mother' shoulder. Smiling Tabitha guided Lily from her bedroom until they reached the bathroom door, where with a final hug and kiss Lily let go and entered the bathroom.

Turning Tabitha found herself the object of her husband's raised eyebrow. Nodding slightly she indicated their room. "Dear?" he asked as soon as they were alone.

Tabitha sighed. "Hank's having nightmares, bad enough he called Lily, she was all bunched up in distress when I found her." Blinking, glancing to the bathroom and raising his eyebrow again, her husband silently demanded to know how she had so successfully returned their daughter's equilibrium. Tabitha blushed, quickly glancing away. "I, uh. I. I promised her I'd take her to Washington for the weekend when we get back," she finally admitted.

"I thought we were going to give Hank time with his family, and not just a week or two," he replied frowning slightly.

"I know, but..."

Smiling her husband stepped up and pulled her into his arms. "But she looked at you with her big brown eyes, shimmering with unshed tears and your heart melted?" he guessed with a chuckle.

Tabitha gave his arm a playful smack. "Don't laugh!" she smiled at him before sighing. "And the tears weren't unshed," she finished leaning sensually up against him, luxuriating in his strong arms, almost purring her delight, before she turned serious again. "Are we doing the right thing? Taking Lily away, stopping them even calling each other like this?"

"We both decided Hank needed time with his family," Robert reminded her as he delighted in her burrowing. "And you've seen that they spend so much time talking to each other still. He's still not interacting with his family meaningfully. You were the one that told me what Lily told you, about what she said about Hank and his family. He has been avoiding them all year, some time with his family to properly resolve issues is needed."

"But I didn't imagine he'd be this upset," she murmured into his shoulder with a sigh, absently nibbling at his ear playfully.

"Dear, Lily's just in the shower," he reminded her as he tried to fend off her amorous advance.

"Yeah, but it's going to be a long, hot, soaking of a comfort shower," she purred, pushing him backwards onto the bed with a feral smile, her concerns about her daughter's boyfriend forgotten in the priorities of the moment.

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Friday Lunchtime, June 15th 2007
Declan Residence. Washington D.C.

"Hi Hank!"

"Lily!" Hank smiled at the cheerful voice of his girlfriend.

"Well, you were wrong!" Lily exclaimed. "We're in the car, both Mom and Dad, driving out of the last town with cell coverage! A week alone in the wilderness here I come!"

"That's great Lily," Hank managed to choke out, conflicted. Happy for Lily to be getting the time with her parents she was so looking forwards to. Upset that it meant he couldn't talk to her for a week.

"Yep! So, before I lose coverage, we'll be back Sunday afternoon, and ..."

Hank sighed at the sound of static, then the beeps of a lost connection. Staring forlornly at the phone, Hank eventually returned it to his pocket, leaned forward, and rested his head on his crossed arms atop the picnic table in the park where he was once again eating leftovers alone for lunch.

Line Break broken

Rival gone! Rival left! Prey all hers, and prey is delicious!

The Leanan exalted as the loss of Rival ripped through prey and prey cried!

All hers. Sweet, sweet darkness. All hers!

Line Break broken

Friday Early evening, June 15th 2007
Declan Residence. Washington D.C.

"Who's there?"

At the startled exclamation, Hank finished coming down the stairs and stepped around the corner from the hall into the lounge room. "It's just me Mom," he assured her.

"Oh. What are you doing here? Why aren't you at JROTC with your father and Jay?" she asked, sitting back down in the lounge chair.

"JROTC? Mom, it's summer. Whateley JROTC is on Block Leave!"

"Oh, that's right," she sighed. "Well, why didn't you go with Jay? Visit some of your friends from before you went away?"

"Mom, I've never been to Jay's JROTC! I have no friends there!"

"Now don't be like that," she sighed wearily. "You'd have had lots of friends at JROTC if you'd given it a proper chance, but I suppose," she sighed and slumped back in her chair. "I supposed if you don't want to go, I'm not going to force. Just please, find something quiet to do. I'm exhausted and I have a headache." Glancing at the almost empty large glass at his mother's right hand, Hank nodded soundlessly.

As Hank was turning to leave his mother sat back up. "Don't forget, you're looking after your brother tomorrow," she called to him. "Your father's project has its big milestone on Sunday, and there is a formal dinner tomorrow night for it. I'll need most of the morning and the afternoon to get my hair done and get ready for it, and we all need to be there on Sunday for the demonstration, so make sure your best clothes are ready, in fact, wear your JROTC formals."

"But mom, they're packed up ..."

Glaring at Hank, his mother silenced him with a look. "Well unpack them!" she snapped. "Hang them up and make sure you get all the creases out!"

Nodding forlornly, Hank turned from the living room and quietly made his way to the kitchen. Hank grabbed a large glass of orange juice from the fridge and numbly made his way back upstairs, back to the guest room, where he stared at Lily's phone number before dejectedly stabbing the icon for a game and trying to take his mind off it all.

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Sunday Mid-Afternoon, 17th June 2007
Churchville Test Area MD.

Hank looked down at the Army's new power suit and winced. Compared to the suits he had watched in action during some of Whateley's Combat Finals, this was embarrassing. Even Jericho's suit was several orders of magnitude better than it, and Jericho's was designed for combat medics!

Idly listing the ways he could take the suit down as it jerked along the demonstration course, Hank grew bored with that, and instead started trying to work out ways comic book heroes could take it out instead. As part of the big reveal, Ayla had gotten all his friends subscriptions to the entire Marvel back catalog in digital format when the new Marvel service launched. For some time it had been all the rage to look up obscure and out of print characters that somebody had run afoul of due to naming rights, and compare how close the comic book character had been to the real life unfortunate. Anna Parsons, AKA 'Aquerna', AKA 'Squirrel Girl' was the poster girl for this, as all agreed she fit the character to a 'T' and were, somewhat impatiently, waiting for Anna to step up and start taking down the campus biggest hitters like Squirrel Girl took down the Marvel Universe's biggest baddies.

Laughing out loud as he imagined the looks on the faces of those watching if Anna and her Squirrel Army turned up to battle their suit. Hank turned surprised to receive a death stare from his mother after she poked him in the ribs. Puzzled, Hank looked down and grimaced. The pilot had misjudged a manoeuvre and ended up flat on his back, sprawled for all the brass to witness. Sighing at his miss-timed laughter, Hank look down, avoiding the furious eyes of his parents.

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"So Jay, want to see the Suit up close?" the suit's pilot asked. At Jay's wide smile the sergeant laughed and led him and mother away. Turning to follow curiously, Hank stopped startled when his father put a hand on his shoulder.

"Major Anderson," Hank's father called, grabbing the attention of a nearby man in an Army Major's formal uniform. "My aid," Hank's father explained in an aside to Hank. "Frank, this is Hank. Can I ask you to look after him for a bit while I glad hand the Senators?"

Leaving Hank with the Major, Hank's father stepped across to a group of civilians in suits and started greeting them.

Looking at Hank, Major Anderson raised any eyebrow. "Hank?" he enquired.

"Hank Declan," Hank replied holding out his hand.

Smiling he shook it. "Hank Declan hey?" the Major greeted him. "You must be one of the Colonel's Nephews? JROTC I see, your uncle showing you the Suit as a treat?" Hank was just about to reply when the Major gave a startled look over Hank's shoulder and held up a hand. "Sorry son, just wait here a second, I need to quickly grab the Senator before he leaves." Quickly hurrying off, the Major left Hank staring after him as he rushed up to a party of men who seemed to be making their way back to the awaiting cars.

Looking around, Hank looked longingly towards Jay and his brother, standing near the empty suit in its mounting, the pilot explaining something to his mother while Jay eagerly looked inside. Seeing the line of lower ranks politely keeping people back from the suit, Hank sighed and turned away. His father was surrounded by men in expensive civilian suits, all of them looking important and busy. Sighing Hank turned back to,the suit. Even if the line of soldiers wouldn't let him get close to the suit, maybe from there he could get a better look at it anyway.

Hank had barely arrived at the line when a hand clamped down on his shoulder. "Hold up there Hank, nobody is allowed over there." Turning Hank blinked at the smiling visage of Major Anderson. Mutely pointing, Hank indicated Jay and his mother. "Well, yes, but Jay is the Colonel's son. Look, I'm sure when your Uncle comes back if you ask he'll take you over to look as well."

"Father," Hank corrected sullenly.

"Pardon?" Major Anderson replied.

"Father," Hank repeated louder. "Colonel Declan is my father not my uncle, and that's my mother and little brother over there."

Turning on his heel, Hank made his way back to the stands and resumed his former seat. Taking out his phone he stared at Lily's number for a while before once more sighing and stabbing the icon to launch a game. Even solitaire would be better than this.

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"Problems with the snotty nosed little brat?"

Turning from studying Hank in the stands, Major Anderson found Senior Sergeant Clair Smith holding out a cup and giving him an encouraging smile. "Did you know the Colonel had an older son?" he asked with a frown to the Colonel's secretary as he accepted the cup and took a sip.

Clair gave him a puzzled look, then turned to look at Hank. "No, I didn't. But as polite as Jay is, I find it hard to believe any siblings could be sulky little brats," she turned back to him with a raised eyebrow.

"He wasn't. I just." Major Anderson took a deep breath. "He just corrected me for calling the Colonel his 'uncle', and then stomped off to the stands for a sulk is all."

"Why would he need to correct you calling his father 'uncle'?" Clair asked surprised.

Major Anderson winced. "I just assumed! When he said his last name was 'Declan', I assumed he was the Colonel's nephew! I mean, I never knew the Colonel had two sons, did you?" Clair sighed and shook her head.

Major Anderson drained his cup and handed it back to Clair with an absent-minded thank you. "Oh well," he said with a deep breath. "I'd better go explain to his mother, then see about apologising to the kid."

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"Mrs. Declan?" Major Anderson politely interrupted, causing her to swing around to him. "I'm sorry, it's about Hank," he apologised pointing to the boy sitting alone in the stands.

Turning to look, Mrs. Declan almost growled as her even eyes narrowed. "What's wrong now?" she demanded.

"Your husband asked me to look after him but ..."

Mrs. Declan sighed and interrupted him, "I'm not sure what they teach at schools today, but the attitude we've been putting up with! It's not your fault Major, I'll deal with it. Can I ask you to make sure Jay gets back to my husband when they're finished here?" Not even waiting for an agreement she strode away, back straight and face grim, Major Anderson staring wide eyed after her.

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"What are you doing?" Startled, Hank looked up and automatically scrambled to a parade rest position, hiding his phone behind his back as he stared up at his mother's furious face.

"Laughing at the poor mans fall, and now this! Major Anderson is your father's right hand man, he has been guiding your father heroically through the minefield of Washington politics for a year now, he doesn't need a temper tantrum from you today when all the brass and committee members are here to decide on the fate of your father's project! You are causing a scene, and embarrassing your father! I never thought I'd see it! I won't have it! You are going to come with me and we'll wait in the car where your tantrums won't embarrass the family!"

Turning on her heel Hank's mother strode away, and in the mood she was in Hank knew better than to argue. Dejectedly he followed her, meekly getting in the back seat as his mother pointedly held the door open for him. Sitting staring out the window, Hank tried to shrink as small as possible as his still furious mother got in the other side and angrily fumed.

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Monday, June 18th 2007
Park behind Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Hank put his head down on his crossed arms and tried to muffle the sobs. He was once again at the picnic table in the park, a place that was rapidly becoming his refuge.

After last night, being sent home in a car with a corporal that was less than thrilled to be babysitting him, Hank had come downstairs just in time to see his father leave this morning, giving him a disappointed glance as he did so. Turning to his still furious mother, Hank had tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as they silently ate breakfast. Pointedly ignoring him as she gathered up Jay and left for the day, Hank's mother snatched the chores list off the fridge and slammed it on the kitchen counter. Sighing, Hank had picked it up, looking through the red circled items as he listened to the sounds of his mother's departure.

Now finished the chores, Hank had once again gathered leftovers from the fridge and made his way to the secluded picnic table in the small clearing next to the duck pond. Here, in the safety of this out-of-the-way refuge, almost surrounded by trees, he had stared forlornly at Lily's number on his phone before finally succumbing and letting go the sobs.

Line Break broken

Night
Declan Residence, Washington D.C.

Mother. Father. Brother.

Once again the Leanan slipped out, padding silently from room to room. Reinforcing. Making them dream again and again. Making them relive, remember. Over and over. Anger remembered. Emotions rekindled. Never letting them forget. Never letting them forgive.

Mother angry. Father angry. Brother gleeful. Prey Abandoned

Exhausted, the Leanan returned, wrapping itself around prey it stroked the memories. The deep fears. The dreams.

Sighing in pleasure, the Leanan settled into its own personal oasis, drinking in prey's darkness.

Line Break broken

Sunday, June 24th 2007
Washington Harbour, Washington D.C.

Hank sighed and looked up as they came to the dock. The tour boat wasn't here yet, so numbly he perched on a convenient pier pylon and stared down into the water. The last week had been horrible, his mother still hadn't forgiven, let alone forgotten, what he had done at his father's project demonstration, and the few times his father had been home this week, he had looked at Hank with either weary forbearance, or puzzled hurt.

With the project review finishing, apparently successfully, Hank's father had decided on a treat for Jay, a day with the family. Looking up, Hank saw his mother standing with her arm around Jay's shoulder as his dad smiled and took their picture with his phone. Turning away, Hank stared down at the water and tried not to cry as he remembered the picture-perfect house, family photos on all the mantle pieces and hanging from the walls, with not a single photo of him, either as he was now, or as the girl he had been. It was as if he had never existed to them. The way they'd acted, simple things like serving meals or desserts, as if he was but a spectre, a shadow of a memory they'd rather forget.

Pulling out his phone he glanced at the time. After midday. After noon. Lily should be back from her camping trip!

Excited, Hank dialled her number and bought the phone to his ear. "Hello!" Lily's happy voice called in his ear.

"Hi Lily," Hank smiled before frowning as Lily's voice continued on.

"You have reached the phone of Lily Turner," her voicemail greeting continued as Hank sighed. "Please leave a message so I can get back to you!" It finished as Hank hung up. Absently Hank glanced up and from the corner of his eyes saw the flash of long red hair.

"Nikki!" Hank jumped up and turned around, but his shoulders slumped as he saw an older red haired woman staring strangely at him. Dejectedly, sitting back down, Hank despondently remembered how he had screwed up his friendship with Fey.

"Friends!? You ... you ... Human!" she screeched at the shocked Hank, sprawled on the floor of the Homer Gallery. "Do you think I don't know that that disgusting turncoat is helping them? That Ayla decided I deserve this and is going around behind my back telling people not to help me, and now you too?! You were my friends, my soul, and you ... you do this to me? I never want to see you again!" she screeched full voice, turning and weeping as she ran from the Homer Gallery.

Dejectedly, Hank absently pressed redial. "Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

Hank sat on the hill in his favourite place, looking down on Poe and watching as Nikki danced around hugging and kissing and saying goodbye to her girlfriends. He watched as she hugged Jade and Jinn, even hunting down Jet and the cabbit to make sure she got the whole J-team. He watched her seek out and say goodbye to all her females friends in Poe, but she very pointedly ignored Ayla who was also leaving then, putting his trunks in a limo and also saying goodbye to their friends, occasionally, dejectedly, watching and pleading to Nikki with his eyes.

Hank watched Nikki laughingly dance off to her family, greeting her mother and climbing into the car waving goodbye as it drove off, leaving a subdued Ayla watching her drive away, before he too, gave everyone one last wave and climbed in his limo and left.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!" Holding back the tears, Hank remembered his conversation with Lily.

"Oh Hank! You don't know they don't want you!" she sighed in exasperation.

"Yes I do. The whole house is full of pictures, but not a single one is me. They've even taken the old family Christmas portrait hanging over the fireplace down, and replaced it with a new larger framed picture of just the three of them!"

"Maybe they're just trying to protect you?" Lily suggested. "To remove all the female pictures of you so you are not embarrassed about having to explain them?"

"Then why haven't they taken any new ones?" Hank asked. "I've been here ages now, and nobody has even tried to take any photos of me."

"Maybe they are waiting for a special occasion. They probably have planned a big event already where they'll take some new family portraits, you'll see." Hank just sat silently until Lily changed the subject and enthused again about the big family hiking trip her mother and father were taking her on, far away from cell phones and radios, especially so that they could leave their jobs far behind and just concentrate on being a family together.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

Hank stared at the phone. Thinking of his failures. Thinking of Jamie, his body lying almost ripped in half, blood everywhere, a tomahawk embedded in his skull. Dead because Hank failed to protect her.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

Gunny yelling at him. At his failures. At his friends that would have died because he couldn't do the job. Couldn't protect them.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

The nightmares. The endless parade of people he couldn't help. Who's destinies he couldn't change. Who's deaths he impotently watch over and over parade through his dreams.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

He was useless. Unneeded. Not by his friends, who he continually failed to protect. He hadn't been there for Nikki when Hekate and the Solicitor tried to enslave her. He hadn't been there for Ayla when he'd fought the demonic monstrosity. He hadn't been there for Toni or Chou when they'd been attacked by the ninjas. He'd failed them all, and repeatedly.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

Certainly to his family. Picture after picture. Experience after experience. The whole year they had been better off without him, now he was forced onto them, making their lives a mess with everything he did, or didn't do.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

Not even Lily really needed him. He was a mess, an emotional burden. Something she needed to be with, to support. A burden from the beginning of their relationship to now. She would be so much better off with anyone else.

"Hello! You have reached the phone of Lily Turner. Please leave a message so I can get back to you!"

linebreak shadow

Hank watched the phone falling, falling disappearing into the dark waters. Down, down, down, darkness claiming it, enfolding it, embracing it ... darkness embracing him.

Line Break broken

In ecstasy the Leanan Sidhe thrashed and contorted, drinking up the delicious, delectable energies of the prey. Eyes aglow in unholy delight, it wiggled and cavorted until finally it slumped, exhausted, whimpering its pleasure.

Prey was hers!

Line Break broken

Comments   

0 # Malady 2016-10-04 00:57
OMG. This is creepy! And cool! But mainly sad and creepy... But still awesome! ... I don't think we even know if Hank's gonna get better, we haven't seen him in any of the 2007 Summer stories, IIRC...
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0 # joreymay 2016-10-04 22:40
Quoting Malady:
I don't think we even know if Hank's gonna get better, we haven't seen him in any of the 2007 Summer stories, IIRC...


IIRC, there was a passing reference to his adult self in one of the Gen 2 stories.
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0 # Horrid 2016-10-05 00:07
Also, they just promoted P. S. to the canon cabal and gave him a Team Kimba member and made Hank a POV character. The author is doing so great. It just would not make sense or be wise to hurt poor Hank. But if this story jerks any more tears out of us we are gonna need "hankies".

Get it? Hank? Hankies? :-)
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+1 # NeoMagus 2016-10-05 00:36
Good pun, but at least in my case not really applicable. While this was definitely an emotional read, none of the emotions that were stirred for me prompted tears. Plenty of fear, anger, dread, sympathy, etc., but no tears.
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0 # ShockHawk 2016-10-04 03:52
And they say Dom is cruel to his characters...

I find myself really hurting reading this...
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0 # Ada 2016-10-04 15:54
So was this one those Nikki's oops moment's creating malice entity?
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0 # Phoenix Spiritus 2016-10-08 09:20
Yes.

Nikki is very powerful, and TWFNAH spelled her to loose control of her emotions. What she threw at Hank was way more then she would have wanted.
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0 # NeoMagus 2016-10-04 23:24
Damn...just...damn...
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0 # Horrid 2016-10-05 00:02
There is no posting, 1st Gen or 2nd Gen that I will be anxiously awaiting more than the next installment of this story by Phoenix Spiritus.

:-)
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0 # DMCorp 2016-10-05 15:13
So I wrote up this long comment and then had to login to post thus it was eaten by the interwebs...This is well written. The story flows well and we do have good emotional build up. We care about what happens. Now onto the fun stuff. My guess is this is a dream that Hank is having. There are a couple of points that don't ring true with what we know is reality. The implosion of Wondercute is one and the estrangement of Nikki and Ayla is another. Both are contrary to what we know is true. Wondercute recovered from its crash and Nikki and Ayla were able to work together enough to capture a world tree seed. I await the next chapter in the saga.
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0 # Domoviye 2016-10-08 04:29
This story started just before and as Wondercute got back together, and before Nikki got over her curse to make up with Ayla.
So Hank never got to see the good stuff (yet?).
Hope that clears things up for you.
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0 # Phoenix Spiritus 2016-10-08 09:27
Um,

While Hank was there for some of the Wondercute reconciliation, most of that was kept internal to the Wondercute group, so a lot of the "healing" events (the Sim matches, the 'group therapy' sleepovers, etc.) happened without him.

So Hank got to experience a lot of the pain second hand from Wondercute as he comforted his friends, but none of the help.

Also, when do you think Nikki, Hank and Ayla will "work things out?" Say in the sequel story? :lol:
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0 # tmf 2016-10-09 21:02
Was it not Kayda and Nikki that recover a world tree seed from the snake spirit ?

Phoenix Spiritus, Wow that one dark and good story.
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