HahahahaHAHAHAHA I'm awful. Seriously awful. Plus side though, I won NaNoWriMo this year! Though I'm sure none of you care because I'm awful.
Before I let you go ahead with this long overdue chapter, I just want to quickly dedicate it to the small but mighty tumblr 39 Clues fandom, for getting me off my ass and putting up with me rambling about how no guys, Ian and Sinead totally made out during The Medusa Plot, and my theories about Sinead Starling, the hipster.
Also, one more thing—there's a mention of Evan in this chapter, which doesn't exactly make sense. This fic ignores everything after about book nine. But I sort of love Evan Tolliver. A lot. I didn't before, but the fandom made me love him. So seriously, he is my baby, and if I see any hate in the reviews I will literally smite you with the angry fist of God.
Four years ago
"—So really, it wasn't my fault that the building burnt down, because I didn't mean for it to burn down, y'know, completely. And if they didn't want me to retaliate, perhaps they should have learned my name, instead of calling me that kid from Australia."
"It looked like you wanted to burn the whole thing down, though." Benjamin said, looking at his cousin with a raised eyebrow, dubious. "You poured enough gasoline on the place, anyway."
"Details." Emily said, waving a hand dismissively.
"She took matters into her own hands, Benjamin." Isabel Kabra said proudly, planting her hands on her niece's shoulders and smiling slightly. "You should be proud."
"I am." Benjamin said, pouting at the attention Emily was receiving, but shaking it off. "But where's she going to go to school now? They'll never let her back in there now."
"You know how persuasive grandmother can be." Emily said with a smirk far too cunning for a 13-year-old. Isabel positively beamed at her, giving Emily that happy feeling she always got when she did something her grandmother approved of.
"I have to take care of a few things. I trust the two of you won't do anything stupid while I'm gone." Benjamin and Emily shook their heads furiously, and Isabel appraised them before disappearing in the crowd at the market they were at.
Benjamin and Emily weren't too sure what they were doing at a farmers' market, mostly because usually when they were in the city Isabel made sure to steer them away from places like this, crowded with poor people selling things. (Isabel's words.)
Years later, they would happen upon a newspaper with a death-anniversary in the obituaries. A man who had a stand at the market choked to death. The dates matched up perfectly.
Benjamin wasn't too sure about that, though. All the sounds and colors around him seemed more than a little interesting, at the very least. Emily was worse than him with stuff like this. He would glance at her occasionally, to see her sneering down at whoever happened to cross her path.
"Let's go." He said, tugging at her arm. He smelled what was quite possibly the best thing he had ever smelled in his life a little further down, and he wanted to investigate. And eat. Investigate and eat.
When they were at the source of the delicious smell (which, as it turns out, was a bagel stand. Benjamin didn't think bagels should be allowed to be so good because oh my god.), Benjamin senses Emily tensing from the other end of the counter, where she was still paying for her food. He had never really thought about how he could just know that his cousin had suddenly tensed up, but he did, and it came in handy most often.
"Hey there." Came an oily voice. A man who was probably at least triple Emily's age was leering down at her, obviously checking out her chest. Benjamin saw red.
"She's thirteen, you sick fuck." He growled, grabbing his cousin by the arm and hauling her away. He had said it loud enough that the people standing in line had turned to glare at the man, which Benjamin was grateful for, because it meant that the guy could be seen as the pervert that he was, but it also made sure he didn't snap and beat the crap out of him. He couldn't, with this many witnesses—that was something grandmother would classify as stupid, for sure.
"I wanted to break his nose." Emily complained, but let herself be dragged to the farthest possible corner of the market.
"And I didn't? There were too many people." Benjamin swore. "I wish you'd stop drawing attention to yourself like that. I don't mind beating people up, but I don't want to get arrested."
"Like you'd spend more than thirty seconds in jail. And it's not my fault, okay? I haven't gone shopping in a while, and these are new! They just snuck up on me one day! I'm not used to having to worry about popping out." By the end of her speech Emily was clutching at her chest, looking down sadly.
"That… That was really more than I ever needed to know. So thank you for that."
"You brought it up." Emily shrugged.
"Can we please just try and find grandmother so we can leave?" Benjamin asked, sighing.
"We probably shouldn't go looking for her." Emily said, chewing on her lip. "We might interrupt… whatever it is she was doing."
Benjamin had been listening to his cousin, until he saw a flash of red hair and a face that was far too familiar.
"Em." He said, cutting her off. Emily looked disgruntled at the interruption until she saw the look on Benjamin's face.
"What is is?" She said, eyes darting around and automatically sinking into a crouch.
"I think… I think that's Becky."
"What?" Emily hissed, looking behind her and seeing the girl Benjamin was looking at. There was no denying that she was looking at Becky Starling.
Emily steeled herself and wordlessly marched over to the cousin she hadn't seen in seven years, since that last time in Benjamin's attic.
"What are you doing here?" She spat when she reached her target. Becky's face lit up when she saw Emily, grinning widely and going in for a hug. Emily pushed her away roughly.
"Don't touch me." She hissed. By this point, Benjamin had come up behind Emily. Becky looked at him pleadingly, until she saw that his face matched Emily's.
"I don't… Why are you so angry at me?" She whispered.
Emily growled, low in her throat and barely human, and lunged at her cousin. Benjamin just managed to hold her back, but he wasn't sure if he really wanted to.
"Just leave, Becky." He said stonily. Becky took a deep breath, as if she was waiting to see if they would reconsider, then backed away from her cousins and left the market.
"How dare she show her face around here?" Emily said.
"Em, she couldn't have known that we were here. It's our first time coming here."
"Maybe she did know! Did you consider that? Maybe she knew, and she was planning something, but she's too much of a chickenshit to actually do it!" Emily was positively shaking with rage now, and Benjamin knew that if he didn't calm her down soon he would have to deal with a completely different problem, and grandmother didn't like them having episodes in public areas.
"Em, Em calm down." He said soothingly. "She's gone now."
Emily slowly nodded, trying to calm herself.
"What are we going to tell grandmother?" She asked in a quiet voice.
"I'd like to say we don't have to tell her anything—"
"—But yeah, she'd find out. She always does."
"We could try?" Benjamin asked.
"I don't want to talk about it." Emily confirmed.
Isabel, of course, did find out. But she knew the meeting was going to happen before Benjamin and Emily did anyway, so it didn't exactly matter.
Ames, I love you. You know I love you, love you so much. She's so beautiful, the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen in my entire life. How is she? I hope she's okay, but I know I don't have to worry about that. You raised her, there's no way she could be anything less than perfect. I love you…
"Mph, no… Come back… Can't do it alone…"
Amy started fully awake, groaning and stretching, wiping the tears the nightmare had caused. She looked down when she realized she was holding something, and there was her phone. Apparently, she was on hour ten of a phone call with…
"Ian? What happened?" She asked groggily.
"You fell asleep. We were talking about how to let Grace and Benjamin be together without putting them in danger, and you just fell asleep."
Amy laughed sheepishly. "Haven't done that in a while, huh?" She asked. She heard Ian's warm chuckle.
"No, we haven't. Are you okay? I tried to wake you up when I thought you weren't having the best dream ever."
"I wasn't, thanks." She said, sighing. "They're coming more often now, for some reason. The nightmares, I mean. But I guess they aren't nightmares, not really. It's just… It's just him. Just Hamilton. Talking to me. Asking me how I am. I guess that's what's so scary about them. I know he hasn't said anything to me in years, so listening to his voice is so unnerving. It makes me miss him so much." Amy wasn't sure why she was admitting all of this, and to Ian Kabra of all people, but something about the situation—speaking in hushed voices in the dark, the only light the screen of her phone—was so familiar, like coming home after a long vacation. It felt natural to keep Ian on the phone, to keep talking.
Ian didn't respond to her, but she knew it was just because he understood the gravity of the situation, didn't want to disturb it.
"Thanks for staying on the phone with me. They usually get worse later."
"Of course." Ian said. "I suppose I'm still a little used to it. Staying up on the phone with you, that is."
Amy could feel herself blushing against her will.
"What time is it now?" She asked, changing the subject.
"Just past three." Amy groaned.
"So I guess I should go back to sleep." She said, then hesitated. "Would it be out of line if I asked you… If I asked if…"
"I'll stay on the line." Ian said, reading her mind like he had always been so good at.
"Thank you." Amy said, before falling asleep again. She didn't have a single nightmare, and when she woke up in the morning, it was to the sound of Ian's steady breathing through the phone.
Say what you want about Ian Kabra, Amy thought, but you can never say he isn't a man of his word.
Sometimes, I just really, really wish I could be even a little bit normal.
Benjamin, Becky, Emily, and I were in Emily's hotel room, sprawled across the bed that was big enough to fit all of us and possibly a rugby team (plus mascot). I was still waiting for the explanation, but I kept getting distracted because Benjamin was lying down on his side and I had curled into him, and every so often he would stroke his thumb across the back of my neck and making me forget how breathing worked.
"That night, when I wouldn't tell you my last name." Becky started quietly. I nodded at her to continue. "Starling. My name is Becky Starling."
My jaw dropped—not because I couldn't believe Becky was a Starling, but because I hadn't noticed it sooner. She was the spitting image of one of the Starling triplets—not in her hair or eyes, but in her bone structure.
"So your father…"
"Is Ted Starling." She nodded. "Grace, I'm so sorry. I wanted to tell you, I wanted to tell you so badly, but my dad would have been furious."
"So you're all cousins. First cousins."
"Yes." Emily said. "My mother is Natalie Kabra, and Benjamin's parents connect Becky and I. His father is Ian Kabra, obviously, and his mom is Sinead Starling."
"Who's your father?" I asked Emily. She bit her lip.
"I… It's not that I don't want you to know, I'm just… I'm sort of ashamed."
"Ashamed of your father?"
"No, never! I would never be ashamed of him, I love him. But he's only my father because my grandmother wanted to embarrass and hurt your mother more than she already had."
"That's a pretty difficult thing to do." I said.
"She did it." Emily said, looking down. "My father was your mother's first boyfriend. My grandmother wanted to show her how much control she had, and she knew it would embarrass her too. It was a double win for her."
"What's his name?" I asked. I had never heard much of my mother's love life, pre-Ian and my father.
"Evan." She said, averting her eyes again. "Evan Tolliver."
"So your name is actually Emily Tolliver?" I asked.
"No. My grandmother made him take my mother's name."
"Why does she have so much control over you all? I mean, right down to the person you marry?"
"That's the other part of the story." Benjamin said from behind me, breath ticking my neck.
"She wanted a master generation. The power of an army in three kids." Becky said solemnly, and not without resentment.
"We were that army." Emily continued. "She collected the ingredients for the serum, that was phase one for her."
"Phase two was arranging the marriages. She talked to the heads of other branches, but none of them would listen to her. So she started with Evan Tolliver." Benjamin said.
"He was a special case. Honorary Madrigal after he dated Amy, but he distanced himself after they broke up. There were rumours he had gone to the Vespers, but those were never confirmed."
"He was perfect for her plan." Becky said.
"What exactly was her plan?" I asked, feeling a growing sense of dread when I realized I had a pretty good idea what the plan was.
"She was going to arrange these marriages, but really she was arranging children. She figured if she had two different branches, the kid would already be powerful. Add 39 special ingredients to their bottle, and she'd be set." Emily said.
"And it worked." Benjamin said. "We have almost super-human strength. We can run a mile without breaking a sweat. We have this special sense for each other. It's like we can always tell what the other two are thinking, what they're about to do."
"Oh, it worked." Becky agreed. "But there was a cost."
"We didn't take to the formula too well, being exposed to it at such a young age." Emily explained. "Sometimes, it ends badly."
"Like today, at the mall." I said.
"Like today." Becky said, nodding and shuddering a little at the memory.
"Becky's dad wasn't a fan of what Isabel was doing, he just realized too late that it was completely wrong. He took Becky away when we were six, and Isabel started feeding us lies."
"She told us that Ted had cured Becky of her episodes. She wanted to make us jealous of her, and it worked. The thought that she could betray us like that, be totally fixed while we still had an episode a week, at least, was too much." Benjamin said, squeezing my arm slightly.
"You've never had one around me." I muttered to him.
"That was luck, mostly." He replied. "Luck, and you have this sort of calming effect on me. I'm not sure what it is, but sometimes it helps if I can feel the very beginnings of one coming. Thinking of you can hold it back a little."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I turned back to Becky.
"And what about you? I know you weren't actually cured, so what happened?"
"My dad had turned Emily and Benjamin into these… monsters." She said. "He told me that their episodes had gotten worse, before he realized that that just made me want to see them more, to make sure they were okay. So he changed tactics. He told me that they had started to like having the episodes; he said that it made them stronger, and less human. He said they were jealous of me, for being able to get out. He made me live in fear of my two best friends."
Benjamin and Emily exhaled sharply. I realized that they had never heard Becky's side of the story, that this was as much of a shock to them as it was to me. I curled into Benjamin some more.
Emily suddenly leapt at Becky, hugging her tightly and apologizing under her breath to her. Becky held on just as tightly. Benjamin placed a hand on Becky's shoulder, and she looked up gratefully.
"My dad… He told me that they were going to try and recruit you." She said to me now. "He had seen you with Benjamin, and he got paranoid. He wanted me to try and overthrow everything from within, or something. That's why I went up to you at that concert."
I nodded. I had figured it had been more than just a co incidence that let me meet Becky. After that story, however, I was having a pretty hard time being mad at her for it.
"You were just trying to get rid of the monsters." I said. "It's understandable."
"Um, excuse me? Do you guys know where the nearest Chinese place is?" A girl with a round face, pixie length sandy blonde hair, and green eyes asked us. We had left Emily's hotel, and we were wasting time in a Starbucks, squished together in a booth. I looked up at the girl curiously, trying to place a name to her face even though I was almost positive I had never seen her.
"Well, the nearest one is just down the street, but you don't want to go there." Becky said, smiling at the girl.
"I don't?" She asked, smiling.
"Of course not. You want the place across town. Sort of a hike if you don't have a ride, but completely worth it." Becky assured her. The girl laughed.
"I guess I'll be longer getting dinner than I thought." She said, still smiling. "I'm Missy, by the way. I moved here last week and so far all I've seen is old people. It's good to know there are at least three people my age here."
We introduced ourselves, and Missy thanked us again before leaving.
I watched her leave intently, even as Benjamin launched a surprise tickle attack on Emily. I was still trying to place her, this complete stranger.
"I know her from somewhere, I know I do." I said, mostly to myself. It was just me and Benjamin now, in my room because my mom wasn't home.
"We could be making out right now." Benjamin said. "I'm just saying, we could be, and we're not, and I'm not sure why."
"Don't your people say snogging?" I asked distractedly. Benjamin snorted.
"I would never."
"I need to figure out where I know her from, this is killing me." I said determinedly, still studiously ignoring my—wait for it—boyfriend. (Oh my god.)
"I think after everything with Becky today you've gotten a tad paranoid." Benjamin said carefully.
"I don't think she's going to attack me, I just think I know her. She doesn't look like a Missy, though. Did you see that too?"
"I suppose not. But Missy probably isn't her real name, anyway."
"No, I don't know any Missys." I said. "But I know her, I know her for sure."
"Well, do you know a Madison?" Benjamin asked. I froze and turned around slowly.
"Why?" I asked quietly.
"Missy. It's a nickname for Madison."
"Madison." I said.
"About a week later, I was asked to come to the medical examiner's office. I wasn't sure why, but I did it anyway. The woman who led the team of examiners sat me down and said that she was sorry I had to come, but nobody else from the family was available. She said how sorry she was for our loss, that this was just a routine follow-up. She had me go through all of the features of all of the people Isabel killed that day, but when we got to Madison, she mentioned something different."
'Something different' with my family could mean many different things, so this was concerning.
"Madison was pregnant when she died." Dan said.
"And it was mine."
And suddenly I recognized Missy's eyes.
They were Dan's.