Skye hasn’t been home in a year, and she hasn’t been home longer than she can remember.
She doesn’t want to come back here, she wants to keep her nose where it’s been for the past few years; to the grindstone. But she keeps losing people. The FBI thinks she needs a break, and so for a month, they tell her she’s on administrative leave.
They tell her to go home. To go back to the place she left behind.
How can she tell them that she doesn’t have a home to go back to anymore? That she burned that bridge a long time ago?
Skye takes a bus up to Portland, her head leaning against the window as she listens to the dull hum of her walkman. It’s still playing that stupid tape Billy gave her before she left. Hall and Oates?
She’s mostly surprised she doesn’t hate it.
The ocean is this sickening shade of blue, like black ice under her tires. The pine trees make her head spin, and she knows the air will get her stomach churning the second the door of the Greyhound opens.
When the city comes into view, Skye hears a voice in her head. Rachel’s laughter in her mind makes her squeeze her eyes shut to keep from crying. “One day, we’ll make it. LA, San Fran, Portland, I don’t care, as long as it’s with you.”
Skye made it, just not with Rachel. She knows though, that at the end, Rachel loved him more than she could ever have loved Skye.
Skye pulls her backpack strap over her shoulder, the handle of her suitcase gripped in her hand. She takes a city bus to a rental car place, and shoves her things into the trunk. As she places her hands on the top of the trunk, she stares down into the strange openness of the back, and she considers driving this car off of the nearest cliff.
She slams the back shut and climbs into the driver’s side.
And the woman known previously as Hawkins drives the familiar roads to Kollok, Washington. The town that’s forgotten her name.
She pulls into the parking lot of Honey Bee’s sometime past three in the afternoon but she doesn’t go inside, and instead sits in the car in silence. Skye doesn’t know what she’s waiting for, but she knows she needs a second.
Part of her wants to find her parents, another part says she should find Billy and get him to fix everything. She doesn’t even know what that cost would be anymore. Australia and Mainland Europe are gone for a reason, she thinks.
Hell, she hasn’t even seen any of the Radar, new and old, in years. Some of them are old enough to head off to college by now. But it’s summer. There’s a chance at least some of them are here.
Skye pulls her car into the driveway of a house she’s only ever seen once. Though it wasn’t even in this universe, and it was mostly destroyed by the time she arrived, anyway.
She doesn’t even know if she’ll be taken in. She doesn’t even know what she’ll say.
But part of her knows she has to go. At least, to clear the air. Maybe apologize.
Skye straightens her tie, she still wears it, even after all of this time. Even through death, Bucket still keeps her to the uniform. He’s another voice that sometimes ripples through her head.
So she knocks on the door, still not expecting a response.
A young woman appears at the door, she’s a little older than Skye remembers, but she’s still Embeth Pegg. A slender hand reaches to brace her against the door frame.
“Hi.” Her voice isn’t sweet. “How did we fuck up this time?”
“That’s why you come by, right? You come by because we’ve messed up, and then you leave again.”
“No, you don’t get to call me that.” Em is gripping her jaw tight like she does when she’s about to cry.
Skye is confused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t-.”
“You think you can leave us here, promise that you’ll call, and then do nothing?” Em’s arms are braced against her chest now. Her eyes are getting that glassy look, as she looks everywhere but Skye. “Just leave me alone with that shit. No guidance, nothing.”
Skye notices that her hair isn’t black anymore, and instead, a pretty amber red. “You cut your hair.” She’s not sure if it’s stupid at the moment yet, because Em laughs.
“You’re so fucking dense.” Em wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. She mumbles to herself, “and why does that fix everything?”
Skye pauses. “Can I come inside?”
Em presses her lips together and steps out of the way.
Her house is cool and quiet, with that sort of 80’s style of wood paneling and floral wallpaper. The air conditioning is a nice respite from the heat of late summer, and Skye stands in front of the fan set up in Em’s kitchen as she brushes in after her.
“You want something to drink?” Her voice is soft.
“Uh, you have iced tea?”
“Yeah, I can make some.” Em grabs an old ceramic tea kettle from the top of her brown oak cabinets, and sets to fill it.
Skye spots three photos on the wall in front of her. One is of an elementary aged Em, with a huge grin missing a few teeth and fluffy brown pigtails. The second is more recent, more like the Em Skye knew before she left, her parents on either side. Tiffany Pegg with her bright shoulder length red hair and kind brown eyes, and Jay Pegg with his broad frame, patchy brown beard and tied back ponytail. Em stands between them, arms crossed, a defiant, mischievous smile on her face. The third looks like it should’ve been taken much, much farther in the future. Tiffany and Jay stand together, Jay’s arm around Tiffany’s shoulders, her head on his shoulder. Both have pale, veiny skin, and shocks of grey through their hair.
“They moved down south,” Em says softly. “For the warmer climate.” Before Skye can ask what happened, Em leans against the counter with a grin expression. “And to stay away from me. They didn’t want to, but I made sure they went. Apparently my powers were feeding off of them, killing them slowly by sapping away their life instead of taking it from me.”
“Seriously?” Skye raises her eyebrows.
Em just nods gravely. “It’s better this way. For all of us.”
The two of them make small talk as they wait for the water to boil. As it whistles, Em puts in a few scoops of honey and hangs three tea bags over the edge.
“Why are you back here?” Em’s voice is softer this time. Her hands shake as she closes the lid on the teapot. She looks more tired than Skye’s ever seen her.
“Eh, that’s a tough one.” Skye rubs her face, leaning farther into the chair where she sits across from Em. “I keep getting stuck in...bad situations. My admins seem to think that it’s going to fuck me up or whatever.” She makes a noise in between a laugh and a sigh. “I don’t think they understand I’ve been fucked up enough for a few lifetimes over.”
“Mmm.” Em hums softly. It’s not a stretch to say she understands.
“So they told me that I had to take leave whether I liked it or not. Told me to go home.” Skye lifts her eyebrows. “Didn’t have the heart to tell them I couldn’t really. But I got on a bus for the place I grew up in anyway.”
Em pours them the tea over ice, and Skye would be lying if she said it wasn’t the best thing she’d had in a while.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Em leans against the counter gently, wrists crossed as she bounces gently on the tips of her toes. “See the town again?”
Skye really can’t say no.
They walk a few inches apart, elbows and shoulders brushing when the sidewalk gets a bit narrow.
“Basically after you left, everything went to shit. After Billy destroyed the Grotto, everything got bad. We got manipulated by a God of Evil, and got sucked into a huge god war or whatever.” Em kicked a rock with her toe. “Oh, and at some point I was in the 1940’s for three years? They tend to gloss over that.”
“Fuck,” Skye looks at Em, really looks at her. She does see that Em looks to be at least a year or two older than herself. “I keep forgetting about that.”
“Everyone does,” Em sighs. “Uh. Bad shit happened. Tibby died, and Marcus went crazy. Mickey found a way to stabilize the Grotto, but they couldn’t find a way to take back the damage Billy did. And everything’s been kind of normal since then.” She raises her hand towards Tibby’s old house. It looks empty, and like it has been for a while. “After he died, his mom moved out. Nobody’s moved back in since.”
“Oh my god,” Skye murmurs. “I had no idea.”
“You should’ve dropped by more often.”
“Uh, yeah.” Skye just agrees softly. Better than the truth, she supposes. “Yeah.”
“Mickey went off to college in California a year ago or so, and I haven’t seen her or her dad since. Laura went off to Stanford after Billy faked some papers for her, and Mallory apparently went with her. They come back every so often, but not enough for it to really matter.” Em stops in front of the high school, where the tip of her shoes nudge at a corner of concrete that’s come loose from the sidewalk.
Skye looks up from the ground, and into the emptiness of the building. The parking lot smells like it does after a rain, hot tarmac and petrichor. The windows reflect them in their darkness, and Skye can’t help but see them as they were back then. She doesn’t know if it’s her powers acting on her emotions, or another hallucination, but she notes how much happier the two of them look.
They don’t look as tired.
Em lets out a huff and she leads Skye to the playground at the back of the Elementary school down the block. They sit on swings as Em talks about everything Skye’s sure she’s kept bottled up for what must’ve felt like forever.
“And then there’s Billy. After everything...he just kinda disappeared. No one knows where he went, he was just gone one day.” Em kicks off the ground slowly, her toes poking into the sand beneath them. “I know he’s not dead, he didn’t make it seem like that. But I know he’s out there, alone. I just hope he isn’t making stupid decisions.”
“You know he is,” Skye whispers.
“I wish I didn’t.”
It’s now Skye leading them as they head back to Em’s house in the darkness of the evening. A few cars putter by as they walk together, but Kollok feels more empty than ever. She passes by her old home without a second thought except for a silent glance to the window of her old bedroom.
The room is dark. As if no one ever lived there at all.
Skye does, however, stop in front of the home of the Jewels. She doesn’t stay for long, but for enough time to take in the state of the place. It’s clean, the yard freshly mowed, with some toys scattered about. In the window she can see a young woman nursing a child, bouncing as her lips move, addressing an invisible figure in the room. She’s almost singing.
Skye doesn’t need to listen into what Em whispers to her to understand that that home no longer belongs to the Jewel family, and that it hasn’t for a long time.
Without even thinking, Skye begins towards the bridge. Part of her thinks of the gut wrenching feeling of tossing herself off the side. Join Rachel, join Bucket. Leave Em.
She can’t bear the last part quite yet.
Skye finds the middle of the bridge, where they nailed a rose to where Billy had seen Rachel stolen away. It’s gone now, withered and blown away in the wind, but the nail remains.
She leans against the bridge, her head turned so her hair spills down into her face. Skye closes her eyes, letting the wind brush against her. Em’s hand finds the small of her back, and it’s the most warmth she’s felt in years.
Eventually Em weaves her arm around Skye’s and leads her away. Skye leans her head against Em’s shoulder as they return to the tiny two story house that winks at them through the windows with buttery yellow light.
They sit together on Em’s front porch, unsure of what they were exactly waiting for.
“Even when it was at its worst, everything always had a purpose. All of the chaos felt like it was there for a reason. There’s no reason here…” Skye rambles. “Is that just adulthood? Am I just growing up and realizing that there’s no purpose to anything?”
“I think everyone just accepts that they’re lost at some point,” Em replies. “But I think you got lost too soon, you lost direction, mentorship...When Bucket died, I can’t imagine what you were going through.”
“And you,” Skye looks up. “How did you survive? You were alone in 1940, completely. There was nothing for you in the future. You knew that you might die there. How did you not go crazy?”
“I did,” she whispers. “But I made it out.”
They’re tangled together on that couch, and Skye looks down into a pair of eyes that beg her for something she’s not sure she can give.
“Do you need somewhere to stay tonight?” The words are pressed into the crook of Skye’s neck.
And so she stays.
The morning is cold as Skye opens her eyes. She’s curled on the couch, a few blankets piled on top of her. The fan above her is humming gently, and she stares up at the blades as they go by.
Em is in the kitchen behind her, and Skye wants to stay there so that she might come over and softly try to shake Skye awake. She tries not to think about what that means.
Eventually, she sits up when something clatters and Em swears under her breath. Skye runs a hand through her hair, the tangled curls running through her fingers.
It’s still mostly pink, but the color’s all but faded now. She’s thought about redying it, but every time she stares herself in the mirror, she can’t get herself to rub the color back in.
Em looks over at her from where she’s standing in the kitchen. “Shit, sorry, did I wake you up?”
“No, no, it’s fine.” Skye blinks slowly at Em in the morning light. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and she’s wearing a pair of black overalls with a maroon nametag. “Do you still work at the video store?”
“Uh, yeah, it’s just my summer job before I go back to college.”
“Oh I forgot,” Skye rubs the back of her neck. “Normal people usually go to college after high school.”
“And you’re anything but normal.” Em leans against the counter as Skye raises an eyebrow. “Which is a good thing.”
“Okay?” She smiles without even realizing it. “And like an idiot, I forgot to ask where you were going.”
“University of Portland, not too far from home. I’ll start back up in a month or so” She shrugs slightly. “My shift’s just an opening one today though, I’ll be back before three hopefully.”
Which means Skye will be alone for the morning. She nods gently. “Do you want me to bring you some lunch?”
Em makes a face Skye hasn’t seen before. “Yeah, um.” She brushes a stray hair behind her ear. “I’d love that.”
Em makes them coffee and they sit together for as long as the clock will allow. Part of Skye wants to reach down deep into the part of herself she tries not to use anymore just so she can get a few more moments. But she knows touching that again won’t mean anything good.
Skye watches Em leave through the front window, her hand still gripping the mug.
The second she’s gone Skye regrets ever letting her go. The house is silent, and colder than she remembered without Em in it. Quiet is a better home for ghosts than the darkness could ever be.
She gets in her car after washing up in the bathroom, keeping her gaze away from her reflection. Skye wants to drive through Kollok until she gets sick of it, but it doesn’t take her as long as she thinks it might.
Everything’s aged, and not in the charming way. Weeds crack their way through the concrete, and abandoned buildings litter the main street like hallowed omens, their wide eyed windows as dark and unfriendly as ever.
Skye stops at the movie theater, the only business in town that seems to still keep itself on its legs, but even here the color seems faded, the bulbs in the sign a little dustier than she remembers them. She wonders if it will smell the same, or if the age has crept its way in that way too. The smell of a dead building is hauntingly familiar.
“Hawkins! Get your mind out of dreamland.”
She remembers dissociating, snapping back into the moment. It smelled like her again, and it made her vomit against the wall while she lost another partner.
Behind her back they called her the Dead Girl Walking, and she didn’t know if it was a snide Heathers reference or a way to tell rookies to steer clear of “Killer Hawkins”.
Bucket, Felders, faces she hadn’t even had time enough to memorize. Em.
She used to brag that she had a strong stomach, that she could take anything.
But there were still the random breakdowns in the bathroom, losing her lunch over nothing, losing sleep.
Skye tells herself she’s fine, because she knows she’s fine. She’s an FBI agent, being fucked up is an occupational hazard .
She just misses when things were easier.
When she blinks back to the parking lot, she knows she’s crying but she doesn’t acknowledge it. She just rubs her eyes with the back of her hand and steels her face. Like she’s been taught.
Instead, she thinks of the good times. She forces them down her throat until she’s choking on them, until she feels enough to be okay.
Skye thinks of the times when her dad took her to the movies that made her love the dorky side of herself, she thinks of when she dragged Rachel to stupid movies where the held hands in the dark and she still pretended that she didn’t want to do it all the time.
She ends up sitting in her car in that parking lot until noon, before she pulls into Honey Bees again, and this time orders a sandwich for Em and herself. They give it to her in a brown paper bag that makes her car get that diner smell it hasn’t had since her training with Bucket.
Skye pushes the door open to the video store, and Em looks up from her magazine with a smile. “Y’know, I almost expected you to be halfway across the state.”
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it.”
They sit together behind the video store counter, Em with her legs stretched out up on the countertop, and Skye with hers folded beneath her. It’s hard not to think about how divine Em looks gesticulating with a glass bottle of lemonade in her hand. Everytime she smiles, it makes Skye feel a little warmer again.
Em’s the manager now, so she can get away with doing whatever she wants behind the counter, and no one really bats an eye when they see the FBI agent that came into town a few years ago sitting eating a sandwich with her.
Skye’s surprised when they recognize her. But she also half expects the illusion to break and for someone to ask if she’s the Hawkins kid. Everyone seems to avert their eyes instead.
Em’s shift ends, and she and Skye take the car up to Kollok’s teen makeout point. Skye doesn’t know what to expect when they go, but both of them end up sitting without speaking, watching the sunset as Skye lets old classics play on the radio.
“Whatever happened with that girl?”
“Hmm?” Em turns her head. “Which girl?”
“The one from the past, your girlfriend?”
“Ah yeah,” Em shifts in her seat and unbuckles her belt. “Ven.” Em ruffles her hair, and lets it settle into her face. “Didn’t we talk about this already.”
“Yeah, but that was years ago,” Skye murmurs, barely audible over the music, “you also promised to keep me in the loop, call me. You never did that.”
“You also just have a full ass arm you didn’t have before. We haven’t really talked about that either.” Em raises her voice a few tones, and Skye reaches subconsciously for the arm she’s speaking of.
“It grew back,” she sighs. “Took a while though.” Skye shakes her head. “You’re changing the subject. Ven?”
Em turns to look at her fully. Her face is silhouetted in the colors of sunset. “Why do you want to know so bad?”
“I just want to...” Skye flushes. “I want to know if that ever...was a thing again.”
A smile twitches briefly across Em’s face. “Sure.” She does that thing with her lips, where they purse out just slightly in what most people would discard as a sneer. Skye knows it’s something different. “If it means anything, she’s trapped in a time void, or something, for the next thirty years. Well, it was thirty years in 1991...So, basically she doesn’t really have a voice in whether or not we broke up. But-” Em deflates into the chair.
Skye raises her eyebrows. “But what?”
“I don’t even know. It’s like, I can say that we broke up, and that I feel like I can date other people, but I also...part of me feels like I have to be faithful to Ven, that I owe her something, even though, towards the end, I didn’t feel that way at all.” Em rubs her eyes. “Ain’t that a kick in the head?”
Em waves a hand. “Nothing, just old lingo I can’t always shake. Especially about her.”
Skye leans her head onto her shoulder. “I can’t even imagine what you went through. Being trapped alone in a place that’s completely unfamiliar, losing the people you’re close to…” She pauses. “Or maybe I know it better than I think. It’s like...when I had Bucket, it was alright, but when he died...” Skye crumples a little more into her seat. “Yeah...yeah…”
“I guess it was a little like that,” Em murmurs. “Someone to keep you anchored to reality to keep you from spinning out of control, from just...heaving yourself into an empty void of space and time.” Skye watches as Em grasps her shirt a little tighter in her hand. “Did I love her because I wanted her, or because I needed her?”
“I’m not sure I’m the one to be answering that.” Skye closes her eyes. “What did they do to you over there?”
“Clarity tortured me for a while, about six months. It’s how I met Ven in the first place. We didn’t get close until about a year in, and by then Clarity decided that I was useful.” Em sighs. “And then it was galas and meetings, and occasionally sneaking away with Ven when we could steal moments together. It was chaos, but it was organized. I knew what would happen, and I could expect...most things. It made it easier.”
There’s a long pause, and Skye stays quiet as she waits for Em to speak again.
“And then I brought Ven back here when the Radar came to save me...and everything was different again, unpredictable, broken. For two years Ven was the only person I felt like I trusted, and as soon as she escaped with me, I think we both realized...we didn’t really need one another anymore. Then-”
“Bucket?” Skye supplies quietly.
Skye turns back towards the sunset ahead and shakes her fingers through her hair. “ Jeez -us that’s fucked.”
Em shakes her head. “I shouldn’t be cynical, I escaped, didn’t I?”
Skye looks back to Em. “You know that you don’t have to be guilty about that, right? Escaping?”
“You sound like my mom,” Em remarks. “And I know I should feel like that. But my powers, and my parents, and the Radar, or what’s left of it...god, why am I the only one left?”
“Maybe you’re the only one who could carry the weight.” Skye says softly. “That's why I left with Bucket. I felt like the only way to protect them was to train so that I’d be good enough. Strong enough.”
“You could’ve stayed,” Em has her eyes closed. “Maybe with you here we could’ve carried it together.”
Skye reaches over and touches Em’s hand gently. She feels Em take it, and squeeze it ever so, in her own.
The horizon opens up above her as Skye opens her eyes. “Hmm?”
A face appears over her own, all grinning and bright, with strands of black hair that fall loose from a ponytail. Rachel.
This must be a dream.
She sits up, and turns towards her friend, and in that moment, Skye realizes that she’s not the one in control. This isn’t a dream.
This is a memory.
“You’re such a dummy,” Rachel wrinkles her nose. “I thought that you actually fell asleep.”
“I wanted to,” Skye sighs, lying back down in the grass. “I haven’t been sleeping most nights.”
Rachel moves to lay on her stomach, so that her face comes only a few inches above Skye’s. “Your mom?”
Skye forgot about this time in her life. It was when her mom had gotten demoted at Synchroneity, and she took all of her anger about it out on Skye and her dad.
“Yeah she’s being shitty,” Skye pushes her hair into her face with her hands. “Talking about how I’m not doing well enough in my classes anymore, and I need to do more extracurriculars to get into a good college, and how I should be getting a job.”
Rachel smiles gently and takes Skye’s hand where it’s rubbed deep into her face. Skye melts immediately at the touch, and lets Rachel brush the hair out of her eyes. It’s then that she wonders how she didn’t realize it sooner, how irreversibly in love she was with Rachel. How much love she felt for her even now.
“It’s like, B’s were fine last year, and now…”
“She’s just angry about things in her life, and because you're her kid, she thinks it’s a you problem too.” Rachel shrugs. “My dad does it all the time.”
Rachel pulls away from her suddenly, and Skye wants to move to follow her, but finds herself rooted into the ground. “Skye can I ask you something?”
Rachel’s voice sounds distorted, like something monstrous trying to make an approximation of human speech.
“Do you trust me?”
Skye tries to push herself up from the ground, but feels the grass sticking to her skin like she’s a fly in a trap.
“Do you love me Skye?”
In an instant, Skye rips herself free from the ground, but instead of sitting up, she’s floating in a space of endless darkness so black it hurts her eyes.
The blackness hums, and Skye can feel her flesh beginning to itch underneath her skin, as if the frequency is ripping her apart at the seams. It speaks in Rachel’s voice.
“Do you blame yourself Skye? Do you blame yourself for sins entirely my own?”
The voice rotates, and she can feel it behind her, in her ear. “I locked you in a prison of a debt that would kill you. I told you nothing. I gave you no warning.”
She can feel herself being reduced to nothing. Her bones liquifying, her organs crushed under the pressure, her eyes bubbling out of her skull.
“Why do you love the sinners who live to harm you?”
The drug store in town is still open twenty four hours, and when Skye wakes up knowing she won’t be able to go back to sleep, wracked by dreams that made her wake wide eyed, heart racing, she walks the few blocks in the dark.
The store glows in the distance, all fluorescents and the dirty neons sign in the window. She pulls the door open with a tug, and steps inside, breathing in that classic smell of plastic and stale cigarettes.
She walks around for a few minutes, poking and prodding at the different bags of snacks in the aisles. Eventually, she gets bored, and grabs a bag of chips off of the nearest rack and heads up to the register.
And then she stops.
A familiar face stands behind the counter. Familiar because she knew it her whole life. Familiar because she used to see it every day. Familiar because it looks so much like hers.
Gwen Hawkins stands behind the drug store counter, looking exhausted and much older than when Skye left her. There are shocks of grey through her auburn hair that weren’t there before, and a pair of glasses perch in front of her tired eyes.
She looks at Skye with that same feeling of recognition. But she must’ve blinked it away, because she looks down at the bag in Skye’s hands and speaks.
“That all for you this...” she swivels her head to where Skye assumes a clock must be sitting next to the boxy tv set that sits next to the register, “Morning?”
“Uh, yeah.” Skye sets her purchase on the counter and bites the inside of her cheek.
“Geez already morning,” she jokes with a raspy voice. “Shifts like this go quick.”
“Yeah,” Skye mumbles. “I guess they would.”
This is her mom. Her mother who raised her. The one whose memories she made sure were erased. And she’s talking to her like they’re complete strangers.
You don’t have to be . A tiny voice in the back of her mind suggests.
“Alright here’s your receipt.” She hands Skye a waxy piece of paper. “You want a bag for this?”
“Uh, no, I’m good.”
And then Skye closes her eyes and reaches out.
It pools deep in the pit of her stomach, the feeling of connecting with her powers. With Harmonia. She can see now what Billy’s done, the touches of him that stain her mom’s memories, like how fire eats away at paper, or the inkstain of a marker blacking out every mention of her in her mother’s life.
Skye makes it go away. For a little bit. Enough to talk.
Her eyes open, and her mother speaks.
“Yeah,” she says softly.
“What…” the corner of her eye twitches as her eyes get misty. Her brain’s trying to fill in the gaps, Skye here, Skye gone, Skye back again. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Skye scratches the back of her arm.
“Like hell it’s been hard! First, you go missing for several months, then you show up out of random and then…” Gwen presses a hand into her forehead. “I’m gonna need a smoke.”
She lights up a cigarette inside the drug store, and there’s really no one else around but Skye to care, so she just stands there, and stares back at a pair of weary grey eyes that study her like a hawk.
“I don’t understand,” her mom’s hugging an arm into her chest, the other holds the cigarette. “Does this have to do with Synchroneity?”
“Kind of?” Skye shrugs. “Not really.” She rubs the outside of her arm. “Do you remember what I told you about my...abilities.”
“Well, yes, but…” Her mother grips her head in disbelief. “How long were you gone Skye? What were you doing?”
“I left to work with the FBI. I’m an Agent there now.”
“You work for the FBI?” Gwen takes a deep drag on her cigarette.
Skye bites her lip. “Mom I went to another universe, and I watched you and dad die. And it was my fault. So I asked Billy Baker to erase me from ever being your child.” She shrugs, but she can feel she’s on the verge of tears. Her throat hurts. “And it worked, I guess.”
“That's why...everything felt wrong.” Her mom grips at the collar of her shirt. “I worked for Synchroneity, Skye, I would’ve understood. What Lelah Bennet and I were working on, I would’ve understood.”
“Mom, I don’t think...It barely makes sense to me, I think you would just-”
“And when you disappeared the first time, do you know how hard that was for me ?” Gwen shakes her head. “You really need to think of more people than just yourself, Skye.”
Skye closes her eyes, and tries not to cry. “I shouldn’t have done this.”
“Yeah, you’re right, you shouldn’t have.” Her mother stands, cigarette held out, hand on her hip. “I mean look at you, you’re just hiding from your problems, being avoidant like always.”
“I’m not, I just…”
“You need to take responsibility and not hide away from this sort of shit, Skye.” She stops, and shakes her head. “You’re just like your father.”
“I was just a kid , mom.” Skye presses her fists down into the counter. “I was in high school!”
“And you’re also smart enough Skye, you could’ve figured it out. You could’ve come to me with it” Gwen’s eyes glow with anger like the end of her cigarette. “Look at you. I raised you so well, I sacrificed so much for you to grow up how we did.”
Skye looks down at her shoes as she begins to shake. She raises a hand, and feels herself burn the memories.
“Do you really think you were a good mom?” Tears stream down her face. “Do you know how many nights I cried myself to sleep because of things you said? Every little slight I swallowed down, every breakdown I had to guide you through the keep the peace, the comments about my intelligence, comparing me to dad.”
“But you did, you did all of that. My whole life I grew up like that.” She presses her lips together. “I just never had a chance to tell you.”
Skye looks up to meet the eyes of Gwen Hawkins. They’re blank again, empty of anything. She wipes her tears away. “Thanks,” she croaks out to the stranger.
And suddenly, at once, it crushes her. Like a stone caught in her throat, she chokes on the memories of her mother.
Skye crumples the bag of chips up into a ball in her fist as she arrives back at Em’s house. It’s barely even light out, but the lamp is on in the window.
She stumbles into the house, and Em rushes out of the kitchen as she comes in.
“Skye?” As soon as she catches the look on Skye’s face, she’s run over to catch her before she collapses onto the ground. “What happened? Are you okay?” She cups Skye’s cheek in her palm.
Skye’s lip quivers. “I talked to my mom.”
Em grasps Skye before she can collapse into the ground, a mess of snot and tears. She holds Skye close as deep, wretched sobs wreck her body.
At some point Skye falls asleep against Em’s chest, her body heaving as she finally calms herself. It feels so familiar…
Back when things got bad as a kid, she’d climb through Rachel’s window. Skye would curl up in Rachel’s bed with her, and the two would talk in hushed tones. There’s nothing Skye can say to Em now, it hurts too badly to say anything here.
It’s sometimes better to cry, anyways.
Skye doesn’t know what she’d expected. Did she hope her mom had changed? Yeah. She did. It hurts that nothing’s different.
The same deep anger, the words that broke her as a kid still hurt, even now.
But Em is holding her like she might break in her hands, and it’s all Skye wants to think about right now.
Em brushes her hand through Skye’s hair as she sleeps curled up against Em’s chest. Skye wakes slowly, but doesn’t alert Em to the fact, allowing herself just a little bit more time curled in her arms.
She pretends to groan and stretch, and Em takes her face in her hands. “How did you sleep?”
“Better,” Skye lies with her head in Em’s lap, looking up into her face. “Better with you here.”
“What happened last night? You were saying something.” Em looks concerned, worried. Skye immediately feels terrible. “Something about your mom.”
“Yeah, she...I got up last night after a bad dream, and I walked to the drug store just for shits and giggles, and she was there, she was the cashier.”
“And she knew you?” Em raises her eyebrows. “Do you think Billy-”
“No,” Skye takes Em’s hand in her own. “I uh, I used my powers.”
“I know it was dumb, but I wanted to talk to her again.” She closes her eyes. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters,” Em squeezes her hand. “You matter to me.”
Skye lets out a shaky breath as her face grows hot. “It’s just, I never had parents like yours. They listened to you, understood you. You got to be your own person, and I envy you for that a lot.” She leans her head into Em. “My mom always wanted me to be her perfect little girl, and when I wasn’t that anymore, she couldn’t take it. As much as I love my dad, he never protected me from that, because I don’t think he knew how. He was just complacent in all of it.”
“Mmm,” Em hums softly, nodding for Skye to continue.
“When I saw her, I just kept thinking about how much I wanted her to be what you had. I thought maybe she’d changed, after going through her breakdown, losing her job...apparently losing me didn’t change her at all.”
“Skye.” Em’s eyes are somewhere between red and brown, they peer into hers with complete certainty. “The way your mom is isn’t your fault. You’re a good person. And more importantly, you are not your mother.”
Skye wants to kiss her.
And suddenly she’s thinking of Rachel. She’s thinking of the color of her eyes, and the choppy waves of black hair, and just how much of her she misses.
So she cries. Through terrible chest deep sobs that rock into the base of her, Em holds her the whole way.
Together they sit through the mess of emotions that all rush out at once.
It rains outside, a heavy thundercloud hanging over Kollok. Skye doesn’t know if it’s her or coincidence, but she and Em stay inside all day, watching movies on Em’s couch.
Piled beneath blankets, Em holds Skye’s hand, half massaging the lines in her palm and half grasping her like if she lets Skye go, she might slip through the cracks forever.
Skye makes them dinner with one of the only recipes she knows. Pasta with kitchen sauce. Her dad used to call it that when she was a kid and her mom had to stay late at work. He would give her a wink as he told her not to “tattle to mommy” (she never did), and pull out whatever he could find from the fridge.
A bit of butter in the bottom of a saucepan, melted until bubbly, then add the flour to make a…
“What’s that french word for thick sauce?” Skye leans back from where she’s stirring the pot.
Em leans on the kitchen island, face propped on her hands. “How the hell am I supposed to know?” She laughs.
Skye screws up her face. “It starts with an r, I think. Rhymes with...fuck I really can’t remember.”
Then comes the milk, with a little bit of vinegar for flavor. Chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, onion powder and the chopped garlic cloves her dad kept in a massive jar in the fridge. Then all that was needed was a shit ton of cheese, and it could be poured over pasta.
“I’m pretty sure this isn’t great for you, but it tastes pretty fantastic.”
Em takes a bite and her eyes go wide. “Wow. Kinda tastes like it’s burning my mouth, but in like, a good way?”
“There’s like a lot of acidic stuff in it.” Skye shoves a massive forkful in her mouth and nearly cries again. “Just like dad used to make.”
It’s like a bandaid over a scabbed knee, or a perfect glass of lemonade, or an A+ on a test. It feels like being taken care of. It feels like being loved. Deeply, truly.
They sit together in Em’s living room that faces the street with the lights off, watching the rain.
It’s nearly silent when Em asks it.
“What are we to each other?”
“What do you mean?” Skye feels transfixed by the rain, entranced.
“Everything between us Skye, what is it?” Em turns her head to the side. “I take you in, you drive me to Makeout Point, we talk about the deep shit, you make me dinner, and then we hold each other until we go to sleep in separate beds.”
“What do you feel?” Skye says softly.
“What do you feel, Skye.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “What did the tie mean.”
She’s shotgunned back into the memories from the last time she was here. When she was with Felders, the Department C Agents...about Bucket. Skye had understood that Em deserved to know what had happened in Prime A. How her powers really worked, what she’d done, what she’d sacrificed for them all.
How much she’d meant to Skye in particular by the end.
“I wanted you to know.” She lifts her head to look Em in the eyes. “I didn’t want you to feel as alone as you seemed.”
“Did you know I’d keep them?”
“I remember everything. The memories stayed.” Em bunches the hem of her shirt into her hands. “All of the time in the void, all of the pain, the things we said. What I wrote…That’s why it hurt so much when you left, especially when you left me with that .”
“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Skye tries to catch Em’s eyes. “I just felt like you should know.”
“Do you want me?”
“I want you to be happy.”
“But do you want me ?” Em lifts her head. “Or do you want the version you made up in your head?”
Skye stops herself, sitting back. “Fuck, Em.”
“You don’t know, do you.” Em stands and shakes her head, moving to the window. “And that’s fine, you don’t have to...but I-”
“No. I do.” Skye sits up in her chair. “Why else would I have come here? To you. Before everyone else. Even after all this time, I still really fucking care about you, despite literally everything.” She stumbles over her words. It’s dripping on the tip of her tongue. Foolishly, she lets it fall. “It’s just. It’s Rachel.”
“What?” Em turns around, arms crossed against her chest protectively. “She’s been dead for years now, I thought...didn’t you and the Radar bury her?”
Skye deflates into the chair. “Someone dug it all back up, for her journal. I think all of my closure went with it.” She runs a hand through her hair. “No that’s stupid.”
For a second, Skye thinks, running her words through her head over and over again. She opens her mouth to speak, but she closes it again each time. Until something comes.
“I loved Rachel more than I’d ever loved anyone in my life. She was everything to me, and when she died, it hit me harder than anything I’d ever experienced. I saw her in every action, every word, and when it was all said and done, I never really got to say goodbye. There was no true closure for me, even after we buried her. I still felt...empty.” Skye feels her eyes grow warm. “I think...Rachel’s love always felt conditional. But with you, it was different. It is different.”
“I remember what Mickey said about it,” Em rubs the outside of her arm. “That you didn’t choose to take the contract, she put it on you.”
“Yeah,” Skye clears her throat. “Yeah she did. I keep forgetting about that.”
“And I saw you two, when you were still in high school. She dumped you for that loser Sammy.”
Skye furrows her eyebrows. “How did you know about that?”
Em lowers herself back into the chair across from Skye. “When we were in school, I used to be in your intro to psych class. Because my nerdy little ass begged my mom to put me in it.”
“I sat behind you, actually.” She looks down at the ground and fidgets with her hands. “Let’s just say…”
“Oh my god, you totally had a little crush on me!” Skye exclaims, hiccuping laughing.
“Maybe just a little one.”
Em blushes a deep crimson red.
“Come on. I think there’s something I need to do.”
Underneath an umbrella, Skye and Em walk to the bridge over the Riley River. Em holds the umbrella above her as Skye undoes her tie.
“Dear Rachel.” She begins, then she stops, and takes a breath. “Dear Kollok. You were a beautiful shithole, and I’m glad I grew up in your woods. I still don’t really understand why I’m the way I am. But I’m getting better. I think I’m actually learning to let go. You let a lot of bad shit happen to me. You let a lot of my friends die. I just came here to say that I’m not going to let the trauma I faced under your watch hurt me like it used to. I’m not the Skye Hawkins I used to be. Hell, I’m not even a Hawkins anymore.”
She pulls the tie from around her neck off, and holds it between her hands. Skye closes her eyes, and feels the warmth pool in her stomach as she begins to weave memories into the fabric.
She weaves the good: birthdays, friend-dates with Rachel, trips to the Taco Bell Express, laughing with friends, times with the Radar that weren’t so bad, riding across the country with Bucket, Em’s smile, times when she was actually happy.
She weaves the bad: fights with her mom, the times Rachel abandoned her, feeling so lonely it hurt, driving and listening to the radio while sobbing her eyes out, all of the partners lost, the times she fought with Marcus and Mickey and Billy, leaving them behind.
And finally, she weaves the inbetween. She pictures Rachel’s face, she pictures Harmonia.
Then she places the tie on the nail that was hammered into the bridge a long, long time ago. She steps back, and feels the tears as they streak down her face in long lines, dripping down her chin.
Skye turns to Em, who lets the umbrella go, the rain soaking into her hair.
“You look beautiful,” she nearly stammers.
“Should we go home?” Em reaches out for Skye’s hand, and takes it gently. She pushes herself up on her tiptoes to press a kiss onto Skye’s cheek. “Wouldn’t want to catch a cold.”
“Yeah,” Skye takes Em’s face in her hands. “Home.”
And for once, it really does feel like a place that deserves that name.