Actions

Work Header

Sunset

Work Text:

Whenever they take the long haul home, Mallory makes Laura drive. She doesn’t mind, anyway, and he can close his eyes until they pull into Em’s driveway. 

It's better if he doesn’t think about Kollok, he doesn’t think about Billy, he doesn’t think about his dad. Mallory closes his eyes and listens to the radio, or listens to Laura talk, and replies softly when he’s able to. It’s like nursing away a stomach ache, it comes in waves, but it doubles you over in pain. 

The distraction is easier this year, but different. Charlie sits in her car seat in the back, asleep, but when she wakes up, Mallory is saddled with entertaining her until she quiets herself down and stares out the window, or until she nods back off. 

It’s become a tradition, Thanksgiving back home. They can’t visit often, with Laura pursuing her doctorate, and Mallory picking up whatever jobs come his way, and of course, Charlie. Em still lives up there somehow, and according to her phone calls, Skye practically lives there as well, “monitoring” Phobos’s influence in Kollok. 

Mallory’s pretty sure Phobos is dead, according to what Mickey said before she left town, but he’s also sure that Skye could get Department C to do a little jig for her with the amount of power she wields at a moment's notice. 

It’s been so many years now, you’d think all of the pain and memories would wear off eventually, but no matter what, he always closes his eyes when they get close. Laura decided to leave Kollok after the war ended, and after the gods had agreed to stop meddling in the affairs of the Prime universe. At least for a little while. With Billy’s help, she applied to Stanford and was accepted, and when she began leaving for California, Mallory realized that he’d be alone again. 

So he asked to come with her. For some reason, she agreed. Mallory still didn’t know why Laura even liked him that much, he’d been a dick when they’d met, only now did he even consider himself somewhat of a decent person, and even that was pushing it. 

She’d gone to school, while he’d worked odd jobs to help pay for their apartment, and eventually, she’d gone on to get her masters and then began working on her doctorate. 

Charlie had been an accident.

Pent-up feelings and being in close quarters had caused the two of them to grow closer than they’d expected. They weren’t in a relationship or anything, but it had sort of just...happened. Laura had said after that it was “destined to happen eventually”. Apparently, she’d had a crush on him when they’d first met, and had never thought to mention it.

They didn’t try a relationship, both knew anything romantic would never work between them, but Mallory still loved Laura, just as she did him. They were best friends, partners. Laura had said soulmates, but Mallory hadn’t believed that, even with all of the crazy shit he’d seen his friends do, the world was too cruel for soulmates. 

Charlie had been born in early December, named after the boy Laura had taken care of before his demise. She was the cutest thing he’d ever seen, and though he’d never wanted kids, or even thought about them, as soon as she was born, there was nothing else he wanted to be but a good dad. Better than his own. 

He could hear Laura ease up on the gas, and she cleared her throat gently. “We’re here.” His eyes open slowly, and he hears the familiar sound of Laura unbuckling her belt, and the ding-ding-ding of the car as she forgets to pull the keys out of the ignition. Mallory opens the car door, taking a second for the nerves to hit, as that over-sour smell of fall, the humid warmth that comes in waves over the settling cold, crashes into him all at once. 

He can hear Laura getting Charlie out of her chair, murmuring to her as Mallory sits with his legs out of the car, his hands pressed together as his head hangs down. Mallory’s fingers tinger. He thinks of Tibby, and he clears the memory as fast as it comes. 

“Hey bud, are you gonna need a second?” Laura asks from where she stands on the driver’s side. 

“No, nope.” Mallory rubs his face. His tongue tastes like blood. “I’m coming.” He hikes up his pants, smooths a hand through his hair, and puts on a happy face. 

They stand at the entrance to Em’s house like they do every Thanksgiving, and Mallory reaches forward to knock on the door. How the sound doesn’t come back hollow, or the door doesn’t turn into mist and swallow them, Mallory is always surprised. He wishes sometimes that it didn’t have to be that way. 

Skye answers the door with a puppy dog grin and her hair a freshly dyed shade of pink. “You made it!” She bubbles over with energy. Mallory always regrets not getting to know her back during the thick of it...staying with everyone, for that matter. Skye bends down with a hand on her knee, and does a little clap wave with her hand to Charlie, who peers out with curiosity from where she’s curled into Laura. 

They head into the main area of Em and Skye’s home, where it smells like all sorts of tasty things are cooking. There’s a turkey in the oven, and Em stands at the counter over a pot where she smashed up mashed potatoes. An abandoned cutting board has vegetables Skye must have abandoned to greet them at the door, and Mallory for once feels himself relax. 

“Mallory, Laura,” Em turns with a brilliantly wide smile. Her eyes look tired, and there’s a white streak in her hair that Mallory doesn’t remember there being before. She cocks her head to the side as she grins at the tiny Charlie in Laura’s arms. “Charlie, you’re getting so big.” 

For a moment, Charlie hides away in Laura’s shoulder, Em just smiles and shuffles her way over in that way adults do when interacting with young kids. She turns her head and pulls back her hair, revealing a pair of turkey-shaped earrings hanging from her ears. Charlie’s eyes get big as she reaches out for one. Em undoes it and places it into Charlie’s pudgy little fingers. 

Mallory watches with a thin, tired smile as Laura and Skye take Charlie to set her up with some toys in the other room. 

Em puts her hands on her hips and lets out a sigh, a single turkey earring remaining on her left ear. “Heya Mallory.” 

“Hey.” He reaches out and pulls her into a tight hug. She smells like cranberry sauce and spice, and she buries her head into his shoulder. 

“That hard, huh?” They pull away, and he squeezes her shoulder. 

She sniffs a few times, wiping her eyes, and nods. “Even with Skye here, it’s never enough of the year.” Em turns back to her mashed potatoes. “You know how it is.” He stands in front of the kitchen island, his hands moving forward slowly to take the cutting board in front of him. It’s the color of just-ripe limes and has a few half-cut sweet potatoes sitting on top. Mallory takes the knife in his hand. “Did you keep your eyes open this time?”

He lets out a sigh as he cuts up pieces one by one in slow, methodical movements. “What’d you think?” 

“Mallory…”

“I know you said that it’s important to face stuff like that...but I’m not ready like you are Em.” He held up a hand, “and before you tell me it’s been enough time, we’re different people Em. Sometimes you process things on a different scale, y’know?”

“I hate it when you’re not an idiot.” She pulled the pot from the stove and onto the island, grabbing a dish from one of the cabinets. “Makes it harder for me to be right.” 

Mallory lets out a soft snort and continues cutting vegetables. “So, how is everything here?”

Em begins scooping potatoes into the dish. “Y’know,” she sighs. “Quiet. Empty. Every day it seems like less and less people are in town, but no one ever seems to leave.” She stops scooping halfway to grab cheese from the fridge. “Just another way Phobos is trying to keep a stranglehold here. It’s probably hiding people away in their homes, or making them hallucinate so that it can continue to feed.” 

“Are you sure it’s really still alive?” 

“Gods don’t really die Mallory.” She sprinkles some cheese on top of the potatoes like what she’d just said was something normal to say while doing that. “They might sleep for a very long time, or be banished to the corners of the universe, like Hera, but they don’t die. Sometimes they’re replaced, but it’s like…” Em pauses, her eyes are two distant stars. He knows that even if he reached out, he could never dream of touching her in a way that mattered cosmically. “Energy can never be created or destroyed; it just exists . It’s how we brought the Grotto back, it’s how we bargained with the Black Rock, it’s fundamental in a world of unknowns and impossibles.” 

Mallory looks down at his sweet potatoes, naked and orange, and thinks about nothing, pretending he understands. “Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.” He watches as Em puts the potatoes in the oven above where the turkey glistens under the heat. “How about you and Skye, and your parents?” 

“We’re doing good, still going strong. She practically lives here, and it’s lucky that her connection to Harmonia makes it so that my powers don’t affect her. My parents on the other hand,” she scratches the outside of her arm. “We talk on the phone a lot, and sometimes they come to visit, but they’re living the dream in Florida. I know that I’m older now, and they wouldn’t normally be around all the time anyway, but it would be nice to...I don’t know, live closer?” 

“It’s hard without them,” Mallory says softly. 

“Oh...shit, Mallory.” 

He holds up a hand, “I know you didn’t mean anything, it’s fine. I just mean, I can relate. Even if my dad was a piece of shit, I can still miss him.” 

“Yeah...sorry. I understand though.” She takes the sweet potatoes from in front of him and begins layering them in another dish with brown sugar and cream. “How, um, how about you and Laura and Charlie?”

“Eh, we scrape by where we can. Laura’s so close to being done with her doctorate, and then the money will be coming in...after she pays off her student loans, and all of our bills, and y’know.” He lifts his head, drumming his fingers on the countertop. “It’s an uphill battle.” 

Together, they finish dinner, with Laura and Skye floating in and out of the kitchen to help occasionally with the food or pour them all a glass of wine. Em opens up their kitchen table, and Mallory sets it for her. Laura carries Charlie into the room, before quickly looking to Mallory.

“Did you bring her high chair in?” 

Mallory snaps his fingers. “I knew I forgot something, let me go grab it from the car.”

He barely notices the November chill as he jogs outside with the keys in hand. It isn’t until it spills down his neck all at once that it brings that deep cold into him. He stops, standing just before the car, as he sees the man standing across the street from him. 

Marcus Bennett, as tall and handsome as he’s always been with just a little more grey around the edges, stands in a black coat. His face is empty of that easy, friendly smile he’s always had, and his eyes don’t seem to be focused on Mallory, instead, as if he’s looking at everything at once.

He hasn’t seen Marcus in years, not since that night at Synchroneity. As far as he’s concerned, Marcus is dead. But here he is, very, very real. 

“It’s been a while.” His voice is barely louder than if they’d been standing right next to one another, but Mallory can hear it loud and clear. 

Mallory takes a step back. He could easily call for Em and Skye if he needed to, hell, Laura’s still got some power leftover from being under Hera’s thrall. “Marcus…” 

“I heard you were in town.” He gestures vaguely to the air around them. “I’ve always known when you enter, but I’ve never really thought it was a good idea to intrude.” Marcus’s voice shifts. “I’m not really fully Marcus anymore, am I? No use in seeing a stranger.”

“I don’t really know what you are.” Mallory holds his ground. “Are you here for a reason man?”

“I wanted to see you.” The final word lingers. “And I wanted to see Laura and my niece. Her name is Charlie, right?” 

“Yes,” Mallory swallows slowly. “You’ve had so many years. Why now?” 

He spreads his hands. “No better time than the present.” 

“You kinda abandoned me, man…”

“And you took my friends.” He narrows his eyes slightly. “You know they never really came back for me? Never even tried. Friendship between the Kollok Radar means nothing I guess.” 

“At least they fixed the world.”

“This one, they did. But we know how universes work, somewhere there’s a Prime B universe where Europe and Australia are gone.” He moves his head to the side. “Why does Prime C deserve to be special?” 

“Mallory?” A voice comes from the front, and he can hear Laura coming around the side. “Did the seat get stuck again, I came to check, I know it does that.” He turns to see her round the corner and waits for her to see her brother, but she only looks at him, confused.

When he turns back, Marcus is gone, and the street is empty again.

“What are you doing?” She gives him a look he knows all too well. 

“Marcus,” he says softly. Laura stops immediately, mouth open. “He was just there, across the street and now he’s gone.”  

She doesn’t say anything for the moment before she crosses the driveway to stand beside him. “I hate this fucking town,” she murmurs, before opening the trunk of the car. “Did you really think you saw him?”

“He talked to me and everything, he said…” Mallory turns to where he stood seconds before. “I guess it doesn’t really matter.” 

“It kind of does matter, because if Marcus was really here then…” Laura’s shoulders loosen and fall, and her eyes squeeze together, and she chews on her bottom lip like she does when she’s stressed. “Last time we saw him…”

“Bad stuff happened, I know. Synchroneity showing up anywhere around us is basically like a big bright sign saying, ‘huge shitstorm incoming’.” He squeezes her shoulder gently and takes the highchair out of the back of the car. “We’ll tell Skye and Em, they’ll probably know what to do.” 

Inside, the atmosphere is warm and cheerful, Skye holds Charlie, bouncing around as Em puts dishes full of food on the table.

“We got the car seat,” Laura says with a soft sigh. “And something else.” 

“Marcus was outside,” Mallory spoke quietly. 

Skye stops moving immediately, turning towards them. “That’s really not good, are you sure you saw him?”

“I think so, he was there, and then when Laura came out he was gone.” He rubs his face with a hand. “But with him, and this place, we can never be sure, can we?”

There’s a silence that stalks over the room like an unwanted guest. Charlie makes grabby hands at him, and Mallory moves to hold her in his arms. Her face is soft and round. She’s never known anything but a gentle happy life, but with Skye and Em, and especially Laura...if Marcus and Synchroneity pose a threat, they’ll make their stand against them. Mallory doesn’t want what happened to him, all of them, to happen to her. 

“Let’s just eat,” Mallory squeezes Charlie’s palm. “Catch up, and whatnot.”

Dinner is more quiet than usual. There’s normally happy conversation and laughter, but this year it feels muted. His phantom visions of Marcus seem to have soured their gathering.

The food is fantastic, and it’s good to catch up with Skye and Em. Laura fills them in on everything happening in their lives, and Mallory pushes his food around with a fork, and makes sure Charlie doesn’t toss her peas off of her plate. 

As they finish dinner, Mallory helps Skye clean up the dishes in the sink, and he can practically feel the waves of worry and anger flooding off of her. He hands her a plate, and she aggressively wipes it clean with a scrub brush.

“Everything okay…?” He asks. 

Skye sets the plate down and lets out a grumble. “Fucking Marcus. It’s always gotta be something new with him.” He holds out another for her. “When this all ended the first time, we both left the Radar for similar reasons. We wanted to protect everyone from this happening again, except I wanted to be able to fight all of the bad shit when it came back, and Marcus wanted everything back to normal.” She pauses, her shoulders slumping slightly as her eyes shut. “And even when we went to get the Grotto back, and fixed the universe, and-”

“Are you sure you fixed it?” Mallory interrupted.

Skye furrows her eyebrows. “Why?”

“Because Marcus said something about this being Prime C.” 

“The Marcus you saw outside.”

“Yeah, he said something about this being Prime C, and that we’ve just left Prime B behind.” 

There’s a look on Skye’s face, and it aches with some deep pain he can’t describe. “I’m just glad that’s not my fault this time.” 

Mallory opens his mouth slowly, “what do you mean?” He can better recognize the guilt in her now, it looks different on her face than it feels in his stomach.

“That’s why there’s a Prime A, B, and apparently C.” She lowers the plate down into the soapy water in the base of the sink. “There was only Prime, and then I split it into Prime A and B, and from what Em’s told me, it’s Billy and Mickey who split it into C, together. I really don’t want to know how you left that world behind, because my Prime A...it was bad.” 

“Mickey and all that shit, A and B fighting, the Black Rock, it’s hard to forget.” He shakes his head. “I don’t even know how they did it, but we’re here, and everything’s back to normal.”

“We can hope,” Skye sighs. 

They don’t have time to stay for pie, Mallory has to be home for work early the next morning, and Laura has work for class. Em packs them up some slices of pumpkin and apple pie and puts them into Mallory’s hands with a weak smile. They all stand together on the driveway, Charlie asleep in her car seat in the back, and Skye helping Laura pack away the high chair.

“Something’s coming, isn’t it,” Mallory asks just loud enough for Em to hear him. 

She looks tired, but she nods. “Omens, gods, and Billy Baker.”

“You really think he’s still alive?” There’s something that twists in his stomach.

She bobs her head. “There’s this smell on the wind when he’s about to come home, like a change in seasons but more acrid. The smell of something dying.” 

Mallory swallows down the bile that comes to his throat that tastes like something rotten. They say their goodbyes, and Mallory gets into the passenger seat of the car. Laura sits down in the driver’s side seat and puts the keys in the ignition. 

“You ready?” She asks.

“As I’ll ever be.” 

They both wave to Skye and Em as they pull out onto the street, and as soon as they pull out, Mallory closes his eyes. The road is still familiar as they pull out of the neighborhood and onto the main room.

He turns as if on instinct, looking out the back window, and for the first time, Mallory opens his eyes as he turns back to look at Kollok since leaving almost five years ago. The horizon is bright, almost luminescent, in bright pinks and reds, and dull orange and purples. Where the campus of Synchroneity meets the skyline, there grows a dark, festering smudge, hazy like a lifting fog. In the smudge, Mallory swears he sees something move, something flit beneath the surface.

He turns back to face forward, and once again closes his eyes.