• Published 24th Jun 2013
  • 5,412 Views, 447 Comments

Return of the Dawn - pchn00



A substitute teacher with what she's always been told is a mental condition begins to suspect that's not the entire truth when a familiar sun shaped cutie mark appears on her hips.

  • ...
21
 447
 5,412

Chapter 6: Home Sweet Home

Chapter 6: Home Sweet Home

“Hey Erin? Can we stop soon? I gotta pee.”

I glance over at Lucas who’s definitely got the ‘I really need to pee’ look going for him. Smiling softly I nod. “Sure. We’re gonna need gas soon anyway. Watch for a sign for a rest stop huh?”

The boy nods eagerly and leans forward as if that would help him sight the sign he’s looking for. I reach back sliding the small window to the truck bed open. Boisterous laughter comes from the tiny port. It seems like the five pony-people back there have gotten to know one another pretty well in the last couple of hours.

“We’re making a pit stop at the next rest area. Is anyone hungry?”

Almost simultaneously they all bellow a ‘YES!’ at me. Rolling my eyes I snap the window shut again. “We’ll get some dinner too.”

Lucas looks back, focusing on his sister smiling and laughing. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Meg smile so much.”

I shrug. “Maybe it has something to do with their ah… Condition. All the characters on the show were pretty upbeat.”

He watches the five with his head tilted slightly to the side. “How come it’s just some people? Like why Meg and not me?”

Of course if what I’ve been told is the truth I know exactly why. Since he’s too young to have been involved in the disaster that rocked Equestria. “I’m not sure. It’s magic after all, it doesn’t have to make sense.”

He smiles at that. “Do you really think it’s magic?”

I nod. “Well of course. What else could it be? The Doctor said they weren’t sick. They didn’t have anything funny in their bodies; they’re changing for no scientific reason. Take away the possible and that leaves the impossible.”

Lucas looks back to the road, quietly digesting what I’ve said. “You’re pretty smart.”

I laugh at that. “Well thank you Lucas. You’re a pretty quick thinker yourself. That was a good idea distracting those guards.”

He beams with pride at the compliment. “I saw it on a TV show once. Hey! A rest stop sign!”

“Good eye.” I take the exit and roll into the combination McDonald’s and gas station. Again I slide the little window open. “I’ll go in and get food. Who wants what?”

A whole chorus of orders come floating through the window. It takes a little while to sort it all out but I’m pretty sure I have a good grasp on what everyone wants. I help Lucas down and we head into the restaurant. “Whaddo you want?”

He shrugs wide-eyed. “Anything not out of the trash?”

I laugh. “You strike me as a nuggets man.”

Now he nods emphatically. “Those were my favorite! Mostly cause uh… They stayed clean in the little boxes a lot of the time.”

“Alright. I’ll get us a big one to split. Go use the bathroom then meet me back at the truck ok?”

He nods and we split up. I do a run through of all the orders mentally wincing as the price pops up at a little over fifty bucks. Sighing I hand over my debit card. Of course I should probably get over the fact that I’m going to have to dip into my inheritance to get through the next few days. I’ve seen enough cop shows to know that Jake and Becky aren’t going to be able to use any sort of money outside of cash or their cards would be traced. Meg and Lucas obviously have no money… Jules and Ellie are possibilities. I have no idea how much a DJ makes and I don’t even know if Ellie works.

Lucas is making his way toward me just as the ridiculous amount of food is coming across the counter at me. “Think you can handle a bag or two?”

He glances down at his hands holding the bars of the crutches speculatively. “Probly! Can you stick ‘em in there for me?"

I nod maneuvering a couple of the bags toward his hands, so he can grip them and the crutches at the same time. I balance the biggest bag against my chest while holding the pair of drink carriers in either hand. The trip back to the truck is far slower going due to our burdens.

I see a frowning Jake peering at me from the little plastic window of the truck bed cover. I can tell he wants to come help but we can’t run the risk of someone getting suspicious. A little bit of juggling between me, Lucas, and the roof of the truck and I get him inside passing him the food. “The big bag’s for me and you. Just pass the rest of the stuff back to everyone else alright? I gotta pump some gas.”

He’s already sliding the window to the back open as I step down and head around to the gas cap. I hear the group excitedly digging into their food and my stomach growling audibly only makes the sounds of their enjoyment annoy me. Chuckling at my own pettiness for a moment I swipe my card through the pump reader and replace the cap once it’s full. Gas prices the way they’ve been sky rocketing the last few years I don’t even WANT to see the charge. Triple digits of course. Weeping inwardly for my devastated checking account I hop back into the driver’s seat.

Lucas’ eyes are practically glued to the bag up front. “You didn’t have to wait for me.”

He takes that as an invitation to tug the huge box of nuggets out of the bag. “There are FIFTY in here?”

I shrug. “I eat a lot and I’m betting you’re gonna want to eat a lot. There’s a fry and a drink for both of us too. They do these two can eat deals every few months.” No need to tell him I routinely buy the two can eat deal for one.

Carefully, almost reverently he sets the box of chicken aside rummaging through the small army of sauce packets they gave us. “Use whatever ones you like but save me a couple barbecue.”

He shakes his head. “I’ve never had the sauce before. Is it good?”

“Everyone has one they like. Some people just like ketchup y’know? We got tons and I only like the one so you can experiment if you wanna.”

Experiment he does. More than a few get tossed back with a look of disgust. Of course the only one he really cares for is the BBQ. I start to realize with some small amount of dismay that fifty nuggets is rapidly getting halved in number as the near-starving kid attacks them in his frenzy. Gently tugging the box toward myself I nod to the bag. “Eat your fries before they get cold.”

“I’ve only had them cold!” Now his attention has shifted and I eat my portion of the faux chicken in peace. He periodically sips at his drink, an orange hi-c to match mine. Every bite or sip brings a new smile to his face and I have to be honest, it’s making me feel pretty good too.

A tapping at the window prompts me to reach back and slide it open. “What’s up?”

It’s Jake. “How far out are we? A couple of the girls have to use the bathroom.”

I frown. “Mmm…. A couple more hours. Do we need to pull over for them?”

He relays the question to the others, before looking back to me and nodding. “Think so. Ellie says it’s an emergency though she doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about going in the woods.”

My frown deepens. “We can’t risk being spotted you guys. It’s the woods or hold it. There are like a billion parks between here and there. I can find her a port-a-potty but that’s the best I can do.”

“It’ll have to work. I think we’d all like to get out and stretch our legs anyway.”

I nod at that helping myself to another nugget. It’s hard to miss the look of longing on Jake’s face as I eat my meat. “…burger not go down so good?”

He gives me a dissatisfied grunt. “The bun and veggies did. I almost coughed up the bite of meat though. Same with Julie.”

I try to smile jokingly. “Well that’s not too unusual for McDonald’s ‘beef’ right?”

To my relief his frown dissipates and he grins back. “Ha! That’s true!” He turns back around getting comfortable again. It’s only a few miles before I spot an exit for a municipal park. It’s nearly eight at night now, so there aren’t likely to be a done of people there on a school day. I pull off and drive down the small dirt road for a ways until we reach the picnic area. Ellie practically sprints from the back of the truck the second the door is lowered, wings and tail streaming behind her. There’s a small building a few feet away with men’s and ladies’ signs on it.

Jules just groans and shakes her head. “Sorry. I’ll get her to cover up.” She tugs the hood of her hoodie over her ears and hair before taking off after her girlfriend. Jake, Becky, and Meg are already covered when they come out stretching. Meg moves around to the cab to get her brother out while Becky makes only a slightly slower run for the bathroom after the other two.

Jake chuckles watching them go. “Pretty interesting bunch of characters you managed to pick up.”

I offer him an apologetic smile. “Yeah. Jules and Ellie are friends of Markus… The guy I met the other day? I spotted Meg and Lucas in the alley by the hospital. I just… I dunno. I know it’s weird but I wanted to help.”

He shrugs. “I don’t think it’s weird, it’s nice. They all seem like nice enough people. A little quirky but who isn’t right?”

With a little smile I walk toward one of the picnic benches. “Right.” We settle down comfortably while Meg joins the others in the bathroom. Jake stretches his arms over his head, his wings flaring out to their full span behind him. “What do they feel like?”

He blinks and they snap shut immediately. “Uh… Weird is what they feel like. I think the best way I can describe it is having arms growing out of my back maybe? I dunno…”

Gently I run a hand along the edge of one of his yellow feathered wings. The feathers are soft, almost fluffy. The wing reacts to my touch by spreading as I run my fingers down the edge. Jake laughs… Almost giggles. “Th-that tickles!”

My smile turns playful as I dance my fingers along the feathers of his wing now. His eyes widen and he looks to be working hard to hold it in, but he’s soon laughing uncontrollably. Hard enough he starts to lose his balance and tumbles toward the ground, grabbing my arm and pulling me down with him. He hits the ground on his back and I land on his chest.

We lay there almost nose to nose, gazing into each other’s eyes. I feel a heat forming in my cheeks as I stare into those strange, but beautiful orange eyes he has now. Feathered wings and pony ears are forgotten as I move in for a kiss.

“If you two are done making out we’re ready to get going.”

Our eyes snap open simultaneously at Jules’ voice. I offer him an apologetic smile climbing to my feet and offering him a hand up. I’m a little surprised at the ease with which I pull him to his feet. He squeezes my hand and leans toward my ear whispering ‘later’ before he makes his way back to the truck.

I watch him head back with a bit of a goofy smile before I shake myself out of my daze and retake my seat up front with Lucas. “Ready?”

He nods. “Ready!”

It’s easy enough to get back on the freeway, and soon we’re on our way to what will hopefully be a safe haven for Jake and the rest to ride our all this… Equestria craziness.

***

I can hear the muffled chatter from the truck bed pretty much the entire trip. Lucas nodded off maybe an hour or so after we left the park leaving me alone with my thoughts. More and more they were turning toward Markus. The man who shared my condition. The man who was apparently the brother I never knew I had. I wish Uncle Pete was still around for me to ask about all this. Why’d he take me and not Markus?

Where WAS Markus for that matter? According to Jules he was on his way to see me last night but he never showed up. Did something happen to him or did he just get distracted? Assuming Celestia was in fact not just a hallucination and the last few days’ events were strongly indicating she wasn’t, maybe Luna side tracked him for some reason? But in the video she seemed very eager to meet me.

The last thing of course was Doctor Corddis. Could he be this… Discord guy in disguise? Was he really responsible for all the craziness happening to so many people? Responsible for the years I’ve had to take those horrible pills that make me so very much not-me when I take them? Too many questions. Questions with too much potential for unpleasant answers really. Once I get everyone settled in I’m going to have to go talk to the Doctor about what I’ve learned.

I drag myself out of my thoughts as I begin to recognize the surrounding area as the town I grew up in. Thilton was a tiny little place in northern Michigan, just shy of the Canadian border. In fact you could see Canada across the lake near the cabin. I can’t help but think Jake’s beat up old truck blends in perfectly with the rustic little town. It’s the sort of place where you can bike pretty much anywhere you need to go.

The streets are all but deserted this late at night. It’s going on ten thirty by now. I tap on the window to get someone’s attention. It’s Meg who peeks out. “What’s up?”

“We’re in town. You guys should hunker down. Streets get pretty empty at night but better safe than sorry.”

She nods hastily and soon everyone’s lying back under the bedding and baggage. The going is pretty quick at least with the low traffic. I pass maybe three other cars on my way to the edge of town. Turning off the main road I bring the truck up a small dirt path, passing under a large ‘Private Property’ sign. It’s been at least five years since I’ve been back here. After my Uncle died I locked the place up and that was that. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. I’d grown up here after all. But I’d gotten comfortable in the city and had little interest moving back to the tiny rustic town.

A particularly big bump in the road jars Lucas from his sleep and he blinks around blearily. “S’goin on?”

“We’re here.” I give him a bright smile as I slow to a stop before a large wrought iron gate. He stares at the foreboding black bars a little nervously. I just shrug. “Uncle Pete liked his privacy. Works out great for us.”

He nods as I climb out of the truck heading to the gate. Fishing out my keys it takes a minute to find the one for the large padlock chaining the gate shut. The locks a bit rusty but it opens easily enough. I drag the chain off and dump it on the ground inside the gate as I heave them open, pushing them far enough to let the truck pass.

Once I’m back in the truck I roll up the drive slowly. I give them the all clear in the back and everyone sits up glancing through the little windows curiously, getting their first look at what’s going to be their home for the foreseeable future.

The long gravel drive is more than a little overgrown from the years of neglect. The fence extends in either direction until it’s far enough to be out of sight from the driveway. The lawn is looking more like a jungle of tall grass than an actual yard. I know from experience the fence extends some ways into the forest on either side of the estate, looping around to the back and dead ending at the edge of the lake.

“So like… How much of this is yours?” Jules looks at me curiously from the back.

I swallow a bit uncomfortably. “Well uh… All of it.”

There’s a bit of surprised murmuring coming from the back of the truck. All talk stops as the cabin comes into view.

A cabin is always what Uncle Pete called it. So that’s what I always called it. Of course to anyone else the word cabin brings to mind a tiny little structure in the middle of the woods. Our cabin is more like a manor. A manor painstakingly crafted from hardwood. Uncle Pete worked on every inch of this place. He didn’t do it all alone of course, but all three floors he had a hand in the construction.

“She DOES live in a palace!”

I wince at Ellie’s words, and hear the girl yelp as I assume Jules swats her somewhere or other. I bring the truck around to the front doors hopping out. “Well this is it!”

Everyone piles out and walks around to the front of the truck to get a good luck. Despite being untouched for half a decade the place is still looking pretty good from the outside. Some heavy growth around the porch steps and sides of the house but it doesn’t look like it’s invaded the actual structure. The large front porch extends out from the main house, a comfortable swing big enough for three swaying in the night breeze by the front door. You can see the balcony from the master bedroom extending out overhead.

I try to stay casual as I unlock the front door, nudging it open. The smell of musty dust hits me and I frown a little. I knew it would take some work to get the place comfortable again so I can’t say I’m completely unprepared. “I haven’t been up here in five years so it’s gonna take a little elbow grease getting it cleaned up.”

“We better do it soon while we still have elbows then!” Ellie giggles at her own joke, while the others just groan… And Jules swats her again.

“We can worry about cleaning up tomorrow. For now I think everyone should just pick a room and get some sleep. We can do the whole tour in the morning.”

Everyone’s walking into the front room now starting to fan out. Becky flips a light switch frowning a little at the lack of response. “Is the electricity out?”

I nod. “Sorry. I’ll call tomorrow and get the utilities turned back on. We’re going to have to rough it tonight. Sit tight here just a sec folks.” I have a small flashlight on my key ring. I click it on and head by the large staircase leading upwards and into the kitchen. It’s a little odd to be back here after so long. Odder still not to have my grizzled Uncle thudding around in his heavy hunting boots. I keep expecting him to walk around every corner I pass.

Stepping around the hand carved wooden dining table, I move to one of the big cabinets against the wall. Tugging them open I find just what I hoped to find. Three large halogen flashlights sit just waiting to be claimed on the tool shelf. Smiling at my Uncle’s insistence on preparedness I pick them up and bring them back to the others. “One for Jules and Ellie. One for Meg and Lucas. And one for Becky”

Ellie’s giggling happily while she clicks it on, nearly blinding herself in the process. “It’s bright!”

I nod. “Yeah and the batteries have like a ten year life span or something. Be careful with them though, they cost a lot.”

Ellie’s already racing off down the halls with Jules hot on her tail. The more mellow members of our group look to me for instruction. “Well there are bedrooms on both floors. Mine is upstairs. My old one I mean. I’ll probly just take that for my own again. Any other room but the large one at the end of the second floor hall is up for grabs alright?”

Meg was at Lucas’ side as they went down the same hall Jules and Ellie disappeared off to. Becky started up the stairs without hesitation leaving me and Jake alone. He wore a wry grin. “No flash light for me? What if I get lost?”

I shrug, heading back out the front door toward the truck to start unloading. “I thought we could keep being neighbors.”

He’s at my side, grabbing at the first couple bags he sees. I set Ellie and Jules’ bags by the door while Jake starts hauling some of the food toward the kitchen after a little direction from me. “Just neighbors huh? Technically we’re roommates now.”

I grin. “Technically you’re roommates with five women now.”

“Well don’t worry. I only have eyes for you.”

I blush heavily. I wait for him to come back to the truck and we each grab an end of Becky’s TV carrying it inside. “The big sitting room’s just down the hall here.”

He grins at me over the TV. “The BIG sitting room? So there are little ones? How many?”

I shrug. “I dunno? Two down here and one or two upstairs I guess. The basement is sort of a lounge. Uncle Pete has a bar set up down there and everything.”

“Where’d he make his money?”

I grin while we lower the television carefully. “Duck calls. He came up with some way to make them more effective, made a fortune.”

He raises an eyebrow incredulously. “Duck calls?”

I shrug. “That or he was a big time drug smuggler. But since I remember seeing him have at MOST three different people come to the house I doubt that.”

“Hm. So why’d you jack Becky’s TV?”

I laugh at the description. “There isn’t one here. And hers is nicer than yours or mine. I’m planning to head back into the city soon. Maybe even tomorrow. I’ll grab ours so we can have more than one in the place.”

“No TV?”

I shake my head. “We were too busy for TV. Either out in the greenhouse or hunting. Fishing, that kind of stuff. I was indoors mostly to sleep and study.”

“No internet either I’m guessing.”

“Sorry! I can see about getting us hooked up soon.”

He nods while we start bringing in the bedding. “Wait. Greenhouse?”

“Mmhm. Out back. Uncle Pete believed in being self-sufficient. He didn’t trust the government.” I laugh. “We grew fruit and veggies of all kinds out there.”

“Wow. If I didn’t know better I’d think he set this place up just for a situation like ours.”

I laugh at that. “Yeah it does kinda all fit together perfectly doesn’t it?” I frown faintly. It DOES all seem very… Perfect for our situation. Huge, private plots of land. This big house large enough for a couple dozen people to live in. Why would such a rustic down to earth man want such a grandiose home? Goodness knows he rarely spent any time in it. He was also so insistent I learn to look after myself entirely if need be. Was he trying to prepare me for something like this? Or was it just his normal paranoia about the big government collapsing?

Jake follows me closely as I lead him upstairs. Third door on the right is my old room. I smile at all the pink. Pink walls, pink bed, pink furniture. I gingerly pick the musty blankets and pillows off tossing them to the floor and replacing them with the ones fresh from my apartment.

I hand Jake my little flashlight and show him to a room across the hall. “I’m not gonna need it. I know every inch of this place pretty well. There’s a bathroom two doors down that way. Just uh… Try not to make too big a mess. No flushing until the water’s on tomorrow.”

He laughs. “I’ll do my best. So! Uh… Good night then?” His wings twitch a little, and I can’t help but notice his ears are perked toward me.

I glance back and forth up and down the hallway. Seeing the coast is clear I grab him by the front of his shirt and drag him into my room. “I think you owe me a little something for sneaking you out of a hospital and passed the army.”

He’s grinning nearly ear to ear now as he nudged the door shut with his foot. “National guard.”

I huff and lead him to my old bed. “Same thing. So…. How are you going to repay me for my amazing acts of bravery and heroism this afternoon?”

Jake watches me drop onto my back on the bed. “I dunno. You still owed me for the other night remember? I think we’re about even now…”

He’s smiling coyly though. “Hey I had to buy you dinner in exchange for that! It’s not my fault you threw the burger patty away.”

“Hmm.” He looks away as though deeply considering my words. “I suppose you’re right.” Slowly he eases onto the bed with me. “I guess I’ll just have to think of some other way to show you how very, very grateful I am.”

For the second time tonight we let the craziness of the last few days take a backseat to enjoying one another’s presence. No one interrupts us this time.

***

I feel Erin trying to wiggle out of the bed without waking me up. Content to humor her I keep my eyes closed as she slowly eases off the mattress and onto the floor. I peek an eye open watching her cross the room and slip out the door. Once she’s gone I sit up running a hand through my weirdly soft hair. She must be heading out to watch the sunrise going by the early hour. It’s nice to know some things will never change.

Grinning a little I collapse back onto the bed resting a hand on the spot Erin occupied moments ago. It was still warm; the pillow still smelled like that cheap strawberry shampoo she uses. I love that awful smell. Closing my eyes I just take a deep breath enjoying her scent. Rolling onto my side, a sharp pain from my wing reminds me that I do in fact HAVE wings. Even with the glaring reminder of my worsening condition my mood is still bright.

All things considered last night was pretty great.

I wasn’t planning to sleep with her so soon. Maybe build up to it. A few dinner dates. Woo her properly and all. Women like Erin didn’t come around very often. She was so… Genuine. My tail twitches happily as I sit up, still thinking about her. Wings, tail, ears. I don’t even care. Whatever comes next I can handle as long as she’s with me.

Swinging my legs over the edge of the bed I get to my feet… And almost immediately fall back on my tail squashing it painfully beneath me. My balance is crazily thrown off. Scowling down at myself I slowly ease my feet to the floor eyeing them curiously. My feet are naturally balancing on the ball of the foot, almost like I’m trying to walk on my tip toes. Tilting my head, one ear flicks gently as I force them to lower all the way to the floor. The second I’m not forcing it they spring right back to what I have a sinking suspicion is their new natural state.

Oh well. I knew it was coming. No sense getting depressed. They’ll figure out why this is happening to us and get things back to normal soon enough. I slowly ease myself onto my feet again, arms and wings both spread wide to help me balance. I take a few tottering steps forward, very nearly falling on my face. A few quick flaps of my wings keep me upright however. “Well thanks wings. Glad to see you’re good for something.”

It takes a little doing but I settle into a sort of staggering wobbly walk. I briefly consider trying to fight a shirt on over my wings but the way they’re helping me balance I think it’d be best to go without. I manage to get to the door and swing it open, lurching out into the hall. It’s still dark inside but soon enough the sun will be up giving us a little light. And with any luck Erin will have the utilities turned on this morning.

I stop short as Becky steps out of a room down the hall, walking on her toes like me but she seems to be moving easily. Her hips swing back and forth a bit more exaggerated maybe, and her tail flicks the opposite direction her hips move. She sees me staggering toward the stairs and snickers. “Having trouble there?”

I scowl. “How’re you walking so easy?”

She shrugs. “It’s in the hips. You gotta swing em a bit and use your tail as a sort of counter balance.” She turns and demonstrates for me, walking slowly and rolling her hips in an embarrassingly feminine manner.

“You can’t really expect me to do that.”

She shrugs again starting down the stairs. “Suit yourself. Where’s Erin?”

“Watching the sun come up. She never misses it.” I pause at the top of the stairs, gripping the railing tightly before starting my own way down them. It’s slow going, and a bemused Becky watches me come down with a smirk on her face.

“So you really had no idea she was this loaded?”

I shake my head. “Our financial situations never came up. I mostly only saw her in the mornings when I had my coffee on the balcony. She’d be out on her own every morning staring at the eastern horizon, waiting for the sun. She was pretty shy about having me around at first but she warmed up to it eventually. We’d make small talk. She can pretty much always tell me what the weather’s gonna be like for the day.”

She tilts her head regarding me with her large blue eyes curiously. “That doesn’t sound a little unusual?”

I shrug. “I guess it is a bit. What of it?”

Becky looks toward the windows by the front door speculatively. I can see Erin sitting on the porch swing swaying slowly as she faces the horizon. “Nothing I guess. I mean we’re all changing at pretty much the same rate. If she were gonna be changing too we’d see it by now right?”

“Well yeah. Come on let’s see what she and Meg brought us to eat.”

We head to the kitchen, she with more ease than I do. It’s weird normally I’m a zombie when I first wake up. I’m useless without my morning coffee, but today I feel wide awake already. I wonder if it’s because of my metabolism thing. If I’m becoming a pegasus I think that makes a little sense. The ones on the show were all pretty high energy; even Fluttershy could get her butt in gear when the situation called for it.

Becky’s rummaging through one of the bags of food with a grin. “I know which one Meg and Lucas packed.” She starts pulling out box after box of Hostess products.

I laugh now, hard enough I almost lose my balance. “No. That’s Erin’s bag. Guarantee it. I’d leave those alone too. She goes through like a box a day of that garbage.”

“Mmmm. So she’s got a major sweet tooth? Surprised she doesn’t have a cake flank.”

I wobble passed her to the other bag, not batting an eye at the Equestrian term. “I guess she’s just one of the lucky ones who can eat and eat and not gain a pound.” I pull out a box of my cereal setting it on the table and looking around the kitchen. Checking a couple cupboards I find the dishes. The filthy, dust and dirt encrusted dishes. Frowning a little I show them to Becky. “I think we’re eating out again. I’ll let Erin know.”

She nods, starting to unpack. “This place is gonna take a while to make livable.”

I shrug. “I’d rather spend a few days cleaning Erin’s mansion to make it comfortable than sit in a government lab getting tested and experimented on all day.”

Becky’s eyebrows rise at that. “You make a very good point sir. I think I’ll see if I can’t find a broom or two.”

I walk back down the hall, finding my movements coming a bit easier. I try not to think about how much my hips have to swing to make walking doable. Stepping out the front door, I lower myself onto the swing with Erin. She barely acknowledges my presence at first, so fixated is she on the dawning sunrise. The sky’s beginning to brighten by now, colors splashing across the sky. Smiling at how enraptured she always gets for the sunrise I put an arm around her shoulders. Now she scoots closer resting her head on my shoulder.

“Morning.”

She doesn’t look away, but she does smile. “Morning. Sleep well?”

I chuckle. “It wasn’t BAD. Not the best night of sleep I’ve ever had. Someone kept me up for a while.”

Erin giggles softly, squeezing me a little tighter. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her actually GIGGLE before. I think I like it. “So we have a problem.”

“Already?”

“Well the dishes are pretty bad as I’m sure you can imagine. We’re either eating Twinkies for breakfast or you have to go into town and get us something.” She opens her mouth and I hastily put in. “No, we’re not eating Twinkies for breakfast.”

Her mouth snaps shut prompting me to laugh harder. I sit in silence with her just slowly running a hand along her arm as we watch the sun come up together. I’ve never actually been so close to her during this. Never had the opportunity to study her face. But her eyes are fixed solidly on the sun. They don’t even look like they’re watering which is… Weird. Her brow is furrowed slightly almost as if she were concentrating on the sun. My eyebrows shoot up as the sun crests fully over the horizon but she still doesn’t look away.

Finally she blinks and looks up at me smiling. “So! Breakfast? There’s an IHOP in town. I could do a carry out order I guess.”

I cup her chin tilting her head this way and that. She just sits still through it while I examine her eyes. “The sun doesn’t hurt you to stare at?”

She blinks, looking suddenly apprehensive. Her eyes flick away and she pulls back from me slightly. “Nope. Never did really. I’m gonna go get dressed and head into town.”

I stare after her as she hastily retreats into the house, silently promising not to bother her during her morning ritual again. Sighing softly I get to my feet shuffling inside. Becky’s already sweeping away in the kitchen. “Erin’s going to the IHOP in town for everyone. If you want something special you should let her know.”

She laughs. “She’s giving us a place to live and pretty much paying for everything. As long as I don’t have to eat her snack cakes for three meals a day she can feed me whatever she wants.”

“Good attitude. D’you know where everyone else is?”

Becky shrugs. “Just that they took rooms on the first floor. You can start hunting for them if you want.”

I set out to do just that. Knocking on every door I come to, not wanting to barge in on one of the girls if they decide to sleep a bit less than fully clothed. A loud thump, followed by wild giggling comes from the fifth door I’ve knocked on. Five doors down the hall and there are five more to go, just on the one side. This place is enormous.

I hear Ellie’s sing-song tone chirp through the door. “C’mon in! I fell!”

Not many people would so cheerfully announce they tripped. Chuckling softly I nudge the door open. “Hey Erin’s going to get everyone breakfast. You and Jules should let her know what you guys want.”

The cheery blonde looks back at the bed where I can see a pale foot protruding from the covers. “Jules isn’t a morning person. I’ll order for both of us.” She tries to stand, and ends up toppling forward again. With a little huff her wings begin to pump lifting her front half off the ground as she slowly rights herself again. I glance down seeing her feet in the same condition as mine and Becky’s.

“Becky says to swing your hips. It uh… Helps. I use my wings to balance a bit too.”

I step back into the hall letting her study my movements. She sticks her tongue our pretty adorably as she starts taking a few shaky steps. Soon though she’s walking as confidently as Becky. “Thanks Jake! Good tip!” I watch her meander down the hall toward the front door. At least someone’s not letting any of this get to them.

At the end of the hall I see the door opposite the side I’ve been checking is standing open, and soft murmuring is coming from the room just in front of me. I knock gently and wait patiently. “Hang on! Hang on I’ll get there!” The familiar sound of unsteady walking reaches my big pony ears as Meg swings the door open, tottering a little back and forth. I don’t know why I’m entirely surprised, but I can’t help but gasp at the minty-green horn protruding from her forehead.

She follows my eyes and shrugs. “Well Lyra IS a unicorn right?”

“Does it hurt?”

She shrugs. “Do those?” She asks, nodding to my wings.

I rub the back of my neck. “No, no I guess not. Can you uh… Do magic?”

Meg crosses her arms. “Can you fly?”

Now I laugh. “I guess not. All the dishes are scummy so Erin’s picking us up breakfast. What do you guys want?”

She smirks. “Anything not out of a dumpster. We’re not picky dude; just make sure she gets Lucas something of the meaty variety to go with his food. I want him to get plenty of protein.”

I nod. “Gotcha. If you guys feel up to it Becky’s started cleaning a little already.”

Meg glances back at her drowsy looking brother. “I’ll come give her a hand in a few. I’d like Lucas to just kinda… Take it easy for a few days if that’s cool?”

It’s hard to remember these two are fresh off the streets. Smiling softly I start back to the end of the hall. “Sure thing. You guys just take your time.”

She shuts the door as I go. Erin’s listening carefully as Ellie relays what she and Jules want. Her eyes drift to my feet and the way I’m walking as I approach, a faint frown forming on her face. I offer her a shrug. “Meg says she and Lucas will eat whatever. Same with Becky. Get Lucas some bacon and sausage or something if you can.”

Erin nods. “It sounds like with the exception of Ellie’s chocolate chip pancakes, I can get away with a huge order of pancakes and eggs. I’ll make sure to get some breakfast meat too. I should be back in about a half hour or so. See ya soon! Oh and uh… This IS private property, but with the gate open we might get solicitors or something. Keep the curtains closed and try to avoid the windows ok everyone? And don’t answer the door obviously.”

She’s looking at Ellie when she says the last part. The cheery girl doesn’t seem to notice, just chirps a happy ‘okie doke!’ and totters toward the kitchen. I grab Erin’s arm gently pulling her in for a kiss. She doesn’t resist, and soon returns it happily. She grins up at me before turning on her heel and mincing with an exaggerated sway toward the truck.

My smile fades a little once she’s driving away. Yesterday I was nearly a head taller than she was. This morning she barely had to look up to look me in the eye.

***

It’s about quarter to eight when I get back to the cabin. I slide out of the truck and get the front door open before heading back and grabbing the first couple of bags of food. Jake heads out grabbing the other bag of food, while a more sure footed Becky takes the drink carries filled with orange juice. Eyeing the kitchen table I realize we’re definitely not going to have enough room for everyone. When Jake comes in behind me I nod to the pantry. “There’s a leaf we can put in the table. And some extra chairs in the basement. I’ll grab those if you and Becky can get the table ready?”

“Sure thing Erin. And thanks for breakfast. I’ll uh… Pay you back. Eventually.”

I laugh. “Relax, it’s fine.” The door to the basement is around the corner from the kitchen. I always hated coming down here when I was little. Now that I can’t even flip on the light I find my desire to be down here less than ever. But there are only two chairs around the table. I can count on one hand the number of times Uncle Pete and I had guests for dinner. Still he kept a number of folding chairs down here ‘just in case’ he’d say.

Gathering up an arm load I lug them up the stairs, getting back in the kitchen to see a perky Ellie dragging a droopy eyed Jules to the table. Her new horn is a bit striking, but I find I’m less surprised than I thought I’d be. I get the tables set up as Jake and Becky start popping open the food carriers. Jules is perking up rapidly as the scent hits her nose.

Meg and Lucas aren’t far behind, and soon everyone’s at the table eating and chatting quietly. I’m content to let them just enjoy the meal. Slowly, though quicker on Lucas and Meg’s end, the food vanishes and everyone settles in to let it digest. I check my watch. It’s nearly eight thirty now. “Alright everyone!”

They all turn to look at me. “I’m going to call and get our power and water on. Then I need to head back to Detroit. If anyone wants or needs anything from their apartments, make me a list. I’ll do a big grocery run too so everyone can get a list of food they want together too. I’ll probably be gone for most of the day but I should be back tonight.”

Everyone seems more or less content with that. Already discussing what they want from home, and what they want for food. I get up from the table letting everyone else take care of the clean-up. I DID pay for it all after all. Jake follows after me apparently having mastered walking with his new foot make up. “Why are you going back to the city?”

I frown a little. “I need to talk to Doctor Corddis. It’s important.”

His eyes widen. “Did you have another episode?”

“No, no. Nothing like that just… Questions. It’s nothing, really.”

He clearly isn’t satisfied with my answer, but doesn’t want to push me. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure. Go work on your lists. I’m gonna call the city and get us turned on. They’ll probably have to send a guy out to take care of it. I’m going to tell them my little brother’ll be home if he needs to sign anything. You guys might have passed the ‘able to pass as normal’ threshold.”

He nods with a sigh. “You’re right about that. Alright you make your call and I’ll make sure they’re not destroying your kitchen.”

I laugh a little. “Alright, thanks.” He heads back to the kitchen. It’s a quick phone call to set up getting our power and water turned back on. I can’t take a shower yet but I do change into some clean clothes before heading back downstairs.

“Ok everyone. They’re going to be out in the next couple hours to get us hooked up. I think it’d be best if everyone but Lucas hid out upstairs when they get here. I told them my brother would be here if they needed anything. If they want you to sign anything Lucas, just say your last name is Rockwell alright?”

He looks a little nervous, but he nods. “Ok.”

“Good. Uh… Jake can you give him your phone? He can call me if there’s a problem.”

Jake nods. “Not a problem.”

“Good! So everyone’s lists ready?”

I’m presented with a number of papers. “Let’s get everyone’s groceries on one huh? I’ve got enough to juggle.”

Becky collects the various grocery requests and starts copying them onto one piece of paper. “So while you’re gone we’ll get started on the clean-up. Sweeping and dusting. Once the powers back we can vacuum… If you have a vacuum?” I nod and Jake grins. “Right. We’ll try and get it looking better by the time you get back.”

I smile. “Don’t kill yourselves. There’s no rush. I think if we start with the kitchen, big living room, and whatever bedrooms people want that’d be good. We can work on the bathrooms and the rest of the place later.”

Ellie points to the top of the list she and Jules compiled. “This is our address! We’re only like twenty minutes from your place! Thanks for this! It’ll be nice having our own blankets again.”

“No problem Ellie.” I take the big grocery list from Becky. “Alright guys I’ll be back soon. Everyone stay safe. Keep an eye out for the power and water guys.”

A chorus of cheerful or sleepy in Jules’ case, goodbyes are called out as I head for the door. Pausing to pull the pill bottle from my purse I tip one of the large blue capsules into my hand and toss it in my mouth, forcing it down with a bit of left over orange juice. Closing my eyes I take a deep breath as the faint numbness spreads over my body.

Once it passes I’m back in the truck, heading toward the city. Hopefully heading toward some answers.