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Curtis woke with a crick in his neck, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling, sprawled on an unfamiliar sofa, with Todd slumped next to him, face pressed against his shoulder. The first rational explanation that came to mind was they'd gotten totally baked and passed out and that it must have been really good weed because he didn't remember even smoking it. Much less smoking it with Todd, who's hair smelled oddly of strawberries and Todd's hair didn't usually exude a fruity scent. Curtis sniffed again, just to be sure and decided it was sort of nice.
He shut his eyes with a sigh, almost drifting back into sleep, for that one brief moment, everything the way it should be in the world. And then various sluggish neurons in his head began to sputter to life and things started to seep back into the forefront of his memory. Like the shotgun propped next to the door across the room and the crazy night that had prompted him to take it. And shoot it.
Holy - - fuck. Last night had been real. The bruises on Todd's face were real. The marks around his wrists were and Curtis could only guess how he'd gotten those. The Book was really back and a whole gaggle of bastards had hurt Todd to get it, including one that Curtis had thought wanted to be his friend. Curtis narrowed his eyes, curling the arm that was trapped behind Todd, feeling a big surge of protectiveness.
Todd groaned into his shirt at the disturbance of perfectly good sleep and blinked up at Curtis with the bleary ill will of a teenager roused indecently early.
"What the hell - -?" Todd mumbled, looking as confused as Curtis had felt when he initially woke.
"Jenny's couch. Jenny's house." Curtis filled him in.
Todd took a moment to process that, before pushing himself off Curtis and flopping backwards in the other direction. It had been so long since he'd had any contact with Todd, Curtis sort of missed the loss of it.
"Fuck. I feel like crap." Todd gingerly touched the worst of the bruising on the side of his face.
"The place where they cut on your chest still hurt?"
Todd mulled that over, one hand rubbing the spot through the borrowed t-shirt. He finally shook his head. "I don't think so. It's weird. Where's Jenny?"
Curtis shrugged. "Asleep maybe. I just woke up myself. Dude, your hair smells like strawberries."
Todd blinked at him. "What? Oh. Jenny's shampoo."
He ran fingers through it self-consciously.
"Last night was really messed up," Curtis ventured.
"Tell me," Todd huffed out a breath, then pushed himself up on his elbows and gave Curtis a look. "Dude, you totally shot that wolf."
Curtis swelled a little, feeling pretty proud of himself at the memory. Feeling pretty awesome that he'd not only shot the thing, he'd actually hit it. Twice. "I know. Pretty fucking cool, huh? It was just birdshot though. My dad never keeps shells with anything else."
"I didn't even know your dad had a gun."
Curtis shrugged. "I think he liked the idea of going out hunting when he was younger, but never really got around to it."
"Do you know what I wish I had right now?"
"A joint?" Curtis ventured.
Todd conceded to that logic with a shrug and quark of both brows. "Okay, you know what the second thing I wish I had right now was?"
"Sand Dragon?" Curtis made an educated guess and Todd sat up, stabbing a finger at him in agreement.
"Fucking straight. In like one piece. I'd have messed those assholes up if I'd had her." He made an imaginary swipe with an imaginary sword just as the front door opened and Jenny walked in, a cardboard drink holder in one hand and a big McDonald's bag in the other.
"Jenny." Todd sat up a little straighter. He'd been a little too out of it last night to really pay her the attention he usually lathered on her. "I thought you were asleep."
She gave him a dry look, and sat the bag and the drink holder on the sofa table. "Its ten o'clock. I've been up for a while. You're the ones that lazed away the entire morning."
Then she shrugged and half smiled, waving a hand at the bounty of Mc'D's breakfast delights and said. "I thought you guys might be hungry."
"And how," Curtis was already making for the bag, spilling out a bevy of wax paper wrapped breakfast sandwiches.
Jenny was pretty damned amazing. Curtis could totally see what Todd saw in her, as he was stuffing an egg McMuffin into his mouth.
"So, everybody all right, this morning?" she asked casually, but she was totally eyeing Todd.
Todd shrugged, not as willing to admit his aches and pains to a girl he was desperate to impress, as he was to Curtis. "I'm good."
She sipped at her coffee, breaking a corner off the English muffin crust of her McMuffin, not looking like she bought that claim. "Good."
There was a period of nothing but crinkling paper and chewing and slurping while Curtis and Todd consumed the contents of Jenny's breakfast run. She sat there, swinging her leg over the arm of the chair, barely finishing her one sandwich, a furrow browed thinking look on her face.
"Sooo -- you gonna get in trouble with your mom? You know, for stealing the car and taking off." Todd finally asked.
Jenny waved a hand dismissively. "Sooner or later. I'll deal. How about you? Shouldn't you call home before your mom has the police out after you? Not that they're worth anything - - probably all Satanists."
Todd shrugged. "She probably didn't even notice I was gone. She works the weekend shift."
"Mine don't care," Curtis chimed in.
"Well, " Jenny harrumphed. "Don't we all have shining examples of parental authority?"
Hannah left the church not long after dawn crept across the horizon. The rain had stopped during the night, but the grass was still wet and the air cool and moist. She stopped by the grave, almost afraid to look at it, trying to wrap her mind around the notion that there was a body under there that looked just like her. That maybe was her. Or maybe it wasn't at all and she was making wild assumptions without the facts to back them up. She needed facts. She needed to piece things together and form a cohesive hypothesis. She needed to go home and change out of the tatters of the robe.
Her aunt would have been terribly distraught. Her aunt? What would her aunt think of her showing back up again, whole and hale? Did her aunt know what her parents had done with their cellular fusion and their cloning? Was her aunt even her aunt? Or just a caretaker appointed to watch over the thing the Dr's Williams had created in their laboratory?
She shook her head, feeling the shortness of breath that came with overwhelming panic. She forced calm, taking long deep lungfuls of air until the panic receded. She wouldn't know any of these things unless she made an effort to find out. She'd hidden long enough. So she made her way home to the yellow rancher she'd lived for as long as she could remember with an aunt who told her stories of parents she couldn't recall herself. She wondered now how many of those stories had been true and how many fabrication. She'd confront her aunt and demand answers. She deserved answers.
But when she reached her house, there was a for sale sign in the front yard, and no sign of life within when she peered through the windows. Everything inside was gone, leaving just barren rooms. Hannah sat on the front porch, in something akin to shock, her world turned, yet one more time, on its head. She felt sick and quivery in her belly. Her chin trembled, a sure sign that tears were on the way.
"Aren't you supposed to be dead, dear?"
She wiped a hand across her cheek and looked up at the old lady who lived next door. Mrs. Bixby was just a tad senile, but she'd always been kind to Hannah. She stood across the hedge, clippers in hand, a shower cap covering her wiry silver curls and stared at Hannah with a slightly hazy smile.
"Oh. Hello Mrs. Bixby. I - - ah - - think the rumors of my demise - - have been exaggerated - -" Hannah cringed a little at that quote, having no faintest notion how she might explain her current situation.
"Oh, well, good to hear," the old lady clipped an unruly branch.
"How - - how long has my aunt been gone?"
"Oh, almost a month now. Left not long after you died, you know. Moving vans were here lickety split the day after the funeral." The woman frowned, the incongruity of Hannah sitting there and the funeral flitting across her brain, then flittering off somewhere else entirely. She shrugged and continued her clipping.
"Oh," Hannah whispered. Over a month. That's how long it had been. Her perception of time hadn't been that clear - - before - - when she'd been simply existing.
"Goodness, dear, have you been rolling in the dirt?"
Hannah blinked wetness from her eyes and supposed she did look that way. "I was hoping - - to go home and - - and clean up - - but it looks like all my things are gone." She choked up. Everything gone. Her life gone. Her world view shattered.
"Well," Mrs. Bixby said. "I have a few of my daughter's clothes still here from when she was about your size. She's the size of a house now, poor dear, thyroid problems you know - but I'm sure they'll do just fine for you."
She washed up in Mrs. Bixby's bathroom, scrubbing accumulated dirt and grim from skin and hair. Stood there under luke warm water staring at her arms with their scattered freckles and doubting herself yet again. I think, therefore I am. She repeated that mantra. But what am I? Were my parents really my parents or just the minds that created me? But no, even if they'd fused in the Book's cellular structure into a living host, they'd have to have had a fertilized egg to grow into a human being. And she'd seen the pictures of her parents and there were characteristics that she shared with both mother and father. So assume that they'd used their own genetic material to carry out their experiments. Just because she wasn't grown inside the womb of a woman, didn't mean she wasn't that woman's child.
As much as she loathed the idea of going back there, she badly needed to examine the notes in the laboratory under the retirement home. She needed to know not only what they'd been doing - - but why?
Mrs. Bixby fed her a breakfast of oatmeal and toast, and she consumed it reflexively, barely tasting the food barely hearing the old woman's chatter. She thanked her and went on her way, dressed in clothes that looked like they might have been from the early eighties and smelled faintly of mothballs. She didn't mind.
It took her about forty minutes to walk to Jenny's house. Most of it was spent in a haze of scientific speculation, wracking her brain dredging up every scrap of knowledge she'd ever read about the processes involved in cellular splicing. It wasn't until she actually reached her block that she started worrying about what she was going to say to Jenny. How she was gong to convince her keep Hannah's return a secret for just a little while, until Hannah could figure things out herself. She had been created at the behest of Satanists after all, so what if she turned out to be some sort of threat. She didn't want to put her friends in danger. She didn't want Curtis to look at her like she was a monster.
She hesitated in Jenny's front yard. The grass was yellowed and unruly, like no one had cut it for a while. There was a car in the driveway though, and Hannah took a breath for courage, and moved forward.
Forward was the only way open to her.
She'd barely gotten to the walk, when the front door opened and Jenny came out, which wouldn't have been such a terrible thing, if Todd hadn't been close on her heels. And behind him - - Curtis.
Hannah froze like a rabbit. Jenny did, resulting in Todd treading on her heels, and Curtis on his.
"What the fuck - -" Todd mouthed the question on all their stunned faces.
"Hannah - -?" Jenny took a few tentative steps towards her.
Curtis just stared, mouth agape, frozen on the porch.
Hannah felt sick. She felt the instinctive urge to flee. There was a low moaning sound of misery that she realized was issuing from her throat.
"You're dead." Todd got a wary shoulder between Hannah and Jenny, as if he thought Hannah might have a taste for brains. Hannah stood there and wrung her hands, edging ever so slightly backwards.
She shouldn't have come. The looks on their faces made her sick. She took a step backwards and her movement seemed to shake Jenny out of her wide-eyed shock.
"Oh my God," Jenny shoved Todd's arm out of her way and stared at Hannah with narrowed eyes. "How are you here? We saw you die."
"Th- -that's a complicated story." She was afraid to look at Curtis. She was afraid not to.
"Is it you?" Curtis whispered.
She shrugged miserably, not knowing if answering yes would be a lie and she didn't want to lie to him. "I think so. I don't know - -"
"Did you rise from the dead? Are you like a zombie?" Todd demanded suspiciously, still trying to get between Jenny and her.
"Would you stop it," Jenny finally gave him a frustrated shove and stalked a few paces closer to Hannah, just within reach. "You're not, right? A zombie? And oh my God, those shoulder pads are like the size of airplane wings."
Hannah shook her head in mute denial, self-consciously reaching up and adjusting one of the aforementioned pads blocking out her shoulders.
"My aunt moved away and took all my clothes - -" Hannah explained helplessly. That one was easy to explain.
"Oh - - damn - -" Jenny said and did what the guys were either too frozen or too wary to do, and rushed forward to wrap her arms around her. "Oh my God - - Hannah - -you're alive - -"
When she didn't start to try and gnaw on Jenny's flesh Todd cast a wide-eyed look back to Curtis, who was still staring.
"How - -?" Jenny was asking her.
She shook her head, having no idea where to start.
Curtis wasn't too proud to admit that he wasn't the sharpest knife in the block. That sometimes the complexities of things went right over his head, like invisible thought missiles glancing off super powerful physic shields protecting him from headache inducing conundrums. And this - - this had knocked him so far off his stride that his head was spinning.
He could deal with the bloodshed and the violence, and the adrenalin inducing fright of running through a woods filled with Satanists and maybe worse things at night hoping against hope he wasn't too late to find a friend. But Hannah - - he'd come to terms finally with her being dead. After weeks of heartache and helpless anger, he'd finally let himself begin to heal - - and he didn't know if he had it in him to deal if this was some Book generated prank come to turn their worlds upside down.
But she sounded like Hannah, and she looked like Hannah, even if she was dressed funny - - and the absolute misery in her big eyes and the quiver in her adorable little chin - - it was all Hannah. And she wasn't tearing Jenny's jugular out when Jenny hugged her close, so maybe she wasn't flesh-eating zombie Hannah either.
Then Jenny was pulling her by the wrist towards him and the house and it was all he could do to make his feet move and get out of the way to let them past. Hannah cast him a really quick glance, before she looked away, cheeks flushing pink. That was all Hannah, too.
Todd clamped a hand on his shoulder after the girls had gone inside, giving him a squeeze of encouragement. "It doesn't look like she's gonna try and eat us - - so that's a good thing."
"Yeah, that's great. What the hell's happening?"
Todd shook his head, at as much of a loss as Curtis. "You didn't use the book when I wasn't looking - - and wish her back or anything, did you?"
"Dude, no!" Curtis gave him a look and Todd shrugged in an 'I had to ask,' sort of way, before they made the simultaneous decision to bite the bullet and follow the girls inside.
Jenny had sat Hannah down in a chair and was perched on the sofa table in front of her, in the midst of asking questions that Hannah was mumbling answers to. Jenny looked up when they came in.
"This can't be a coincidence, the book showing back up and Hannah showing back up at the same time."
"The book's been gone?" Hannah looked up, eyes shying away from Curtis and flicking between Jenny and Todd, who sat down on the end of the table next to Jenny. Curtis couldn't make himself do more than stand a few feet away from Hannah's chair, staring at her.
"Yeah, Todd sent it away," Jenny reported.
"That's how - - that's how you died," Curtis whispered. "When the book went - - you - - you - -"
She looked up at him finally, eyes wide behind the glasses. "I remember - - a little from that night, before everything stopped - -I remember Todd getting the book - -" she turned her gaze to Todd. "You did become the Pure Evil One?"
Todd looked down, uncomfortable. "Maybe. For a little bit - -"
"He used his power over the Book to banish it," Jenny stated. "He did the right thing no matter what the consequences and it wasn't easy." She directed that last towards Curtis, as if he hadn't already come to terms with that, too.
Hannah blinked, confused. "So if the Book has been gone all this time - - how is it back now?"
Todd shrugged, not wanting to talk about it. Jenny didn't have that problem. She sniffed and hissed. "Last night. That bitch Nikki Kane stirred up a whole new bunch of Satanist assholes and they kidnapped Todd and performed some sort of fucked up ritual and brought the book back."
Hannah blinked. "Last night?"
"Yeah," Todd agreed reluctantly.
"During the storm?"
"I think the book caused the storm."
Hannah stared into space for a moment, that look on her face that said that the gears in her big brain were working. Curtis had missed that look. He loved that look.
"That's when I came back. The exact moment I came back," she whispered. "Somehow when the book went away, it must have taken me - - my essence? - - with it, and when it came back - -"
"So did you." Jenny finished when Hannah choked off. Then she blinked, as if a light bulb had just gone off in her head. "Wait a minute, did you say Nikki Kane?"
Jenny nodded, scowling.
"Oh no - -" Hannah clutched her hand to her breast. "I saw her. She - - she showed up yesterday - - I think - - before I - - before I knew who I was - - and she cut my hand."
"She what?" Jenny leaned forward, urging Hannah's hand away from her chest. There was a red edged, barely scabbed slice on her palm. It looked like it had cut deep and nasty. Curtis' gut clenched up at the sight of it. He'd never ever wanted to hit a woman before, but that bitch had hurt the two people who meant the most to him in the entire world and damn, but he was ready to make an exception.
"She took some of my blood and said - - I had something she needed. Something precious in me that she couldn't get anywhere else - - my blood."
"Fuck," Todd whispered, face going a little pale.
He looked up, meeting Curtis' eyes with a wide-eyed, spooked look. "The blood of the Book - - that's what he said - - the Danzig guy - - he said - - the blood of Book would bind the holy and the unholy - -?" He narrowed his eyes, trying to recall more, then shook his head, stuffing his hands between his knees and mumbling. "I sort of lost track of the rest of the stuff he said after that."
"That would explain - -" Hannah started, then trailed off, mouth tight thinking things she wasn't sharing.
"So wait a second. Back to you. How are you even here? Did the Book bring you back?" Todd asked. "Did you claw your way up out of your grave or something?"
Hannah swallowed, huddling back deeper into the chair.
"Hannah?" Curtis wanted to touch her so bad it hurt, but he was afraid that maybe if he did, he'd shatter the spell and she'd just be gone again.
"No. I'm not - -This body isn't the same one - - I think I'm a clone. I think I might have been a clone before - - but I don't know. Remember that room in the lab under the retirement home? All those tanks were cloning tanks. My - - my parents had been experimenting for years - I think. Trying to fuse cells from the book into a human host. I was the result. I think - -maybe when my first body - - died - - it triggered the activation of the next in line. But I didn't know who I was. I was just - - empty. Until last night."
She dropped her face into her hands, covering her eyes from their stares of incomprehension and horror. And it should have been the stuff of nightmares - - should have had him backing away in horror, because he did remember that lab, and those chambers, the few he'd looked into before they'd fled containing things that hadn't looked human. But although, Curtis didn't understand a fraction of what she was talking about - - he knew in his heart that it was her saying it. This was Hannah. Somehow, some way, thanks to the fucked up, twisted plots of a bunch of geriatric Satanists, he'd gotten her back and for once, he was grateful for their schemes.
He dropped down to his knees next to her chair, trying to look up under her hair to see her eyes. "It'll be okay. You'll figure it out. You always do, and if it's bad shit you let us know and me and Todd will go kick its ass."
"Yeah," Todd agreed, more than likely not having understood much more of what she'd been trying to explain than Curtis. Kicking ass, he could comprehend, though.
She let out a little sob and flung her arms around him and it was the best feeling in the world, hugging her back.
Jenny decided Hannah and Curtis needed some alone time and hauled Todd outside.
"Do we really trust her?" He hadn't totally gotten all of Hannah's - - or Hannah 2.0's(?) - - halting explanation - - but the part about mixing cells from the Book in to make Hannah clones sounded really, really fucked up. Anything the Book touched inevitably turned to shit and he didn't want Curtis caught off his guard if Hannah suddenly vamped out on him.
Jenny waved a hand though, dismissing his fears. "When has the book ever been subtle about the trouble it causes? It doesn't wrap things up in pretty packages and try to slip them in under your guard, it smashes you upside the head with them. Just go with it, Todd."
"I wanna go with it, I really do, its just - - she has Book blood in her."
"And you're the Pure Evil One. We're not holding it against you."
He gave her a hurt look. "Can't we find another name for it - - me - - when we bring it up?"
She didn't have an answer for that right away, staring at him like he'd maybe caught her off her guard, then sliding a hand across his arm and smiling just a little, giving him a look from under her lashes. "Yeah, we need to come up with something a little less - - evil sounding. Because you're not."
Jenny's mood swings never failed to stump him. He stood there, trying to figure out if that had been a flirty touch, followed up by a flirty look or if he'd been imagining things. With Jenny it was hard to tell. Just when he thought he had her figured out she'd throw him for a loop.
She didn't follow it up with anything more interesting though, other than hopping up and sitting on the trunk of the car. He hopped up next to her, propping his feet on the bumper.
"Sooo - - were you worried about me?" He was trying really hard to be casual about it, when he still couldn't shake the little exuberant tremors over the fact that she'd broken the law to come find him.
She shrugged. "I worry about you all the time. You're like a magnet for trouble."
The grin spread across his face and he couldn't stop it. She cast him a narrow look and amended. "I told you it was no huge thing."
"It was a huge thing. I'd have been fucked - -" he didn't add 'like literally' out loud, but he thought it - -"If you hadn't gone and got Curtis and come looking for me. So really, thank you."
She shrugged again, letting her hair fall to hide her face. He edged a little closer so that their thighs were touching and she didn't call him on it so he shut his eyes for a second, taking a breath and thinking - - just go for it. The worst that can happen is she shoots me down.
He leaned in and she looked up and her eyes were really blue and bright, and not even close to narrowing in suspicion. A split second of panic went though his head, wondering what he'd do if she actually let him kiss her - - he'd fuck it up for sure - - either too much tongue or not enough - -
Then her phone rang, blaring what he thought might have been the theme song for the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz.
Her eyes did get narrow and hard then, and the moment was completely shattered. She muttered a curse under her breath and hopped off the car, digging in her pocket for her cell.
He slumped over his knees, feeling like the rug had just been pulled out from under him, as she stalked down the driveway, talking in a strained hush to who he had to assume was her mom.
The hushed tone turned to straight out yelling, and Todd figured he'd rather walk in on Hannah and Curtis maybe actually getting it on reunion style, than intrude on Jenny having a screaming match with her mom. So he retreated back inside. But Curtis hadn't gotten any further than he had, apparently. He was sitting where Jenny had been on the sofa table in front of Hannah, who was still in the chair. They were touching knees though, and he had one of her hands in his.
They both looked up at him when he shuffled in and he sort of shrugged awkwardly and flopped down on the sofa. "Jenny's on the phone with her mom."
"Todd, are you okay?" Hannah asked and he gave Curtis a look, figuring he'd told her in more detail what had happened.
"Sure." Other than the fact that he'd been blocked once again from actually making headway with Jenny and her mom was probably screaming at her now to go back to the city. He slouched a little deeper, stuffing his hands in his pockets miserably.
"This ritual they performed to bring the book back couldn't have been simple - - you said they needed the blood of the Book to bind the holy and the unholy - - that's curious, because I would think any holy ingredient would be anathema to the Book."
"I don't know what that means and I don't care. It's just back, and a good thing, too, right? Because so are you." That was shitty and he knew it was shitty the moment it left his mouth, but he was feeling pretty ticked off at the moment.
Hannah pressed back a little in the chair and Curtis gave him a furrow browed look. "Todd, Hannah's just trying to figure things out. And she really needs to get her hands on the notes and things in the lab under the retirement home."
"You mean Satan central?" Then he thought about the notion and it began to strike a chord. One way or another Satanists had fucked up his life and he was more than willing to bust in there and disrupt theirs. "Yeah. Let's do it. I'd like to see the old geezers try and stop us."
He shot up, figuring Jenny was bound to have something lying around the house that could do some damage. Nothing so awesome as a sword, probably, but a blunt object was a blunt object and he felt the need to have something in hand that he could smash shit up with, if he needed.
"Now?" Hannah asked in a small voice.
"Why not?" He yanked open a closet and found a dusty set of golf clubs. Pulled out a 9 iron and tested the weight in his hand. Not a sword for sure, but it was all metal and he'd bet money it packed a solid punch.
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