March 19th, 18–
Marty McFly lifted his head as the door to Dr. E. L. Brown’s 24-Hour Scientific Services opened. Richard, Emily, Sir Christopher, and Victoria entered, all looking quite concerned. March and Dormy trailed behind them, carrying tea things. “We thought we’d bring the tea party to you for a change!” March said, with a cheerfulness that was obviously, painfully forced. “So why don’t you just fetch Doc and Victor and we’ll –”
“He’s still locked in,” Marty cut him off, voice quiet.
“It’s been three days, hasn’t it?” Victoria asked.
“Two days, twenty hours, and twelve minutes,” Doc said, appearing out of the maze of shelves. “So close enough to three.”
“He can’t have been locked in there all that time,” Richard protested. “Nature must have called, and you can’t keep that on a different frequency forever.”
“My room has a chamberpot, for emergencies,” Doc replied. “If he has been coming out, he’s been doing it when he knows we’re asleep.”
“I don’t understand this,” Victoria said, wringing her hands. “Why has he locked himself away? Every paper in this city is calling him a hero! They’re all saying he saved the entire population of Secundus!”
“The Mayor wants to honor him!” Emily agreed. “Give Victor the key to the city! Doesn’t he know everyone in this city thinks he’s wonderful?”
“I don’t think he believes it,” Doc said, leaning heavily against the counter. “More accurately, I don’t think it’s penetrating the cloud of self-loathing in his head.”
“Look, there’s nothing a good cup of tea won’t solve,” March said firmly. The teapot on his tray got up and nodded its spout.
“It can’t if he won’t drink it,” Marty said, his voice strangled. “He’s not eating, guys. That we’re sure on.”
“Not eating? Victor?” Richard said in astonishment. “But surely – he’s got to--”
Marty shook his head. “We’ve checked all the food stores – nothing. And whenever we try to bring him something, he won’t touch it. Refuses to open the door for any reason. I’ve – I’ve actually begged for him to take something, but he just tells me to ‘please go away. . .’” He turned from the group, putting his face in his hands. “I g-gotta knock every t-time I pass the door, b-because I’m s-so scared he’s – he’s gonna e-end it faster. . . .”
Doc pulled his best friend into a hug. “I know, I know,” he mumbled, holding Marty close as the teenager cried. He looked up at the others, weariness written all over his face. “I don’t know what to do. I’m not a psychiatrist.”
“Can’t you force the door open?” Sir Christopher said.
Doc laughed bitterly. “I reinforced it after a little late-night tinkering nearly blew it off its hinges. If Victor wants us to stay out, we’re damn well staying out.”
“There’s got to be a way to get him out!” Richard said, jabbing at the ceiling with his finger. “Or for one of us to get in!”
“We’ve tried!” Marty said, looking back with red-rimmed eyes. “Don’t you think we’ve tried? We live with him! He won’t come out and he won’t let anyone in and every time we try to talk to him he just says he’s a monster and--” He buried his face back in Doc’s chest. “God damn it, I don’t want to just sit around while one of my best friends tries to kill himself!”
“He’s got a while to go if he intends to starve himself to death,” Sir Christopher said, folding his arms. “And we’re not going to let him get that far. Let me have another go with him. People have said I make good speeches.”
“Won’t work,” Doc said, shaking his head. “If he hasn’t opened up for any of us by now, I don’t think he’s going to.”
“Then maybe we should try getting someone else,” Richard said. “Having someone who isn’t us around who doesn’t think he’s a monster might do the trick.”
“You think having a stranger talk to him would work better than a friend?” Emily said, giving Richard a strange look.
“He might consider us too biased to give an objective opinion on his relative monstrosity. It could be he just needs outside confirmation that others don’t think he’s evil.”
“Technically, we’ve tried that too,” Doc said. “Lots of people have been coming over to see how he is, not just you lot.”
“Yeah, Flint, Astrid, Gromit, Cheshire, Rabbit – anybody whose keister he helped save,” Marty said, finally mastering his emotions. “He wouldn’t come out for anybody. Hell, he wouldn’t open up for Lady Heterodyne. Just told her through the door that he was sorry for causing any trouble and – and that he didn’t want to hurt anybody anymore.”
“What about his parents?” Victoria asked.
Silence. Victoria looked at the floor. “I see.”
“How dare they?” Emily said, eyes narrowing. “Their son saves an entire city and is hailed as a hero, and they don’t even try to visit him?”
“I’m actually glad we haven’t seen them,” Doc said. “I don’t think Nell Van Dort is the type to take the news that her son is a Touched very well.” His eyes looked into the middle distance for a moment. “I find myself very glad she doesn’t have a gun.”
“You know what’s weird, though? We still haven’t seen Alice yet either,” Marty said, frowning. “I thought she would have been the first one over here. Where the hell has she gone?”
“Oh, I can answer that question for you,” Richard said. “Nowhere – she’s stuck at her house. Her aunt and uncle put her on strict bed rest for the past two days on the advice of a doctor. Not that she liked that idea. They practically had to strap her down to keep her from rushing off. I went to see her the other day, and – well, she immediately asked me how Victor was. She looked like she was going to cry when I told her I wasn’t sure, I hadn’t been able to see him. . . .” He looked down at his hands. “She told me they would finally let her out today. I’m surprised she isn’t here already, but her aunt’s probably trying to make her keep resting. But she’ll be around. I’m sure of it.”
“Poor Alice,” Victoria whispered. “This must be so awful for her. I know if I was in her place, I’d probably have to be strapped down as well.”
“Me too,” Emily agreed. “Oh, but – would Victor even see her if she came?”
Doc started to shrug, then stopped. He looked closely at the couples before him for a moment. “Richard, Christopher,” he said slowly, “if you were in Victor’s place, and it was one of your girlfriends outside the door, would you open it?”
“Well, of course!” Christopher said, pulling Victoria closer. “She’s the woman I love!”
“Definitely!” Richard said, wrapping an arm tightly around Emily. “I don’t care how sad I was – I know Emily would make me feel better.”
Doc stared hard at them a moment more, then nodded, face stern. “Right. I think we need to get Alice over here right now.”
“Alice, are you sure you--”
“Aunt Susan, you’ve kept me in bed for two and a half days,” Alice said, pulling on her boot. “You’ve got to let me up sometime. And I’m not going to be delayed any longer. It sounds like something awful has happened to him.”
“We’re just worried about you,” Susan said, wringing her hands. “And of course we’re worried about Victor too, but – well, T-Touched do tend to bounce back very easily, and he didn’t have such a long fight with that Queen. . . .”
“Some Touched bounce back easily,” Alice corrected her, doing up the buckles. “You didn’t see Victor after he finally came off that high of Creativity. He was crying harder than I’ve ever seen anyone cry in my life. Kept calling himself a monster, a murderer. . . .” She yanked harder on a strap than she’d meant to. “I’ve recovered from worse fights than with the Queen.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” Susan said, frowning. “You were a mess, Alice. And neither of us were going to let our niece join her parents this soon. You have to take it easy!”
“How can I take it easy when Richard says no one’s even seen Victor for a couple of days?” Alice shot back. “How can I rest knowing he might be hurt worse than we thought? I don’t know what exactly is wrong with him, but I intend to find out. I have to find out. I’m his girlfriend!”
“Alice, please, if you work yourself up--”
The maid came into the room, looking rather concerned. “We have a visitor,” she said. “Dr. Emmett Brown. He’s rather insistent Miss Liddell come with him right away.”
“Oh, good,” Alice said, standing up. “Tell him I’ll be right down.”
“He wouldn’t be here without good reason, Aunt Susan. Plus he can be my crutch if need be.” She promptly exited her room, heading down the staircase to see Doc and her uncle standing in the entrance hall. “Hello, Doc – your arrival’s just in time.”
“I’m still trying to understand why he needs you so urgently,” Charles said, frowning at Doc. “Surely someone else can take care of any monsters running around.”
“It has nothing to do with monsters and everything to do with Victor’s well-being,” Doc said, looking rather exhausted. “He needs Alice right now, I’m sure of it.”
“But why?” Susan said, hurrying into the room after her niece. “He must know Alice was rather badly hurt in her fight! Somebody would have told him!”
“We didn’t know about her being on bed rest, and nobody’s been able to see him,” Doc explained. “Victor locked himself in my bedroom once he woke up and refuses to come out or let anyone in. And he’s been refusing to eat anything on top of it.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Actually, thinking about it, I’m glad no one told him of Alice’s condition. He might have done something decidedly more drastic if he thought he was responsible for Alice getting hurt. As it is, I think he can still be talked out of it.”
Alice’s blood ran cold. “He’s – he’s not--”
“We don’t know for sure, but he’s not doing well at all,” Doc said, sighing. “The fact that he’s not eating is proof enough of that. And he won’t open that door for anyone. Not me, not Marty, not the Lady Heterodyne herself.”
“But you think he’ll open it for Alice?” Charles said, arching an eyebrow.
“I do. I noticed something before I came here – a lot of the Touched I know have one person in their lives that’s extremely important to them. Someone they’d do anything for. Someone who – who helps anchor them to reality. Typically a spouse or other loved one of that nature, but hell, even close friendship will do – look at myself and Marty. I know he tempers some of my crazier behavior. And when you look at Richard and Christopher now, as compared to before – both of them have spent their entire lives obsessed with inventing. I was half certain neither of them had any interest in the opposite sex at all. And now. . . . Both of them ran straight into the lion’s den for those two girls. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have tried to save anyone else, but – damn it, you can feel how much they love them. And I think it’s reasonable to hypothesize that it’ll work out the same way for Victor and Alice. I don’t think any of us would have been able to calm him down during his breakthrough like her. That boy practically worships the ground your niece walks on, Mr. and Mrs. Liddell, and I doubt that’s changed now that he’s Touched. If anyone can reach him, it’s her. Please,” he finished, looking Charles right in the eye. “It might be the difference between life and death.”
There was a moment of silence. “Alice, get your coat on,” Charles finally said.
“Already done,” Alice said, pulling her arm through the sleeve. She hugged her aunt and uncle. “I promise I won’t do anything too strenuous.”
“You do whatever you need to,” Susan said, looking a little teary-eyed. “I hope to God he’s all right. I wanted. . .well, I hoped. . .”
“Me too,” Alice said, knowing exactly what Susan was hinting at. “Don’t give up hope just yet. You’ll get me in bridal white before long, I’m sure.” She moved over to Doc. “I’ll be back – well, I’ll just be back.”
“Go,” Charles said. “And tell him – we care for him too, all right?”
Alice smiled a little. “Of course.” She looked up at Doc. “Get me to him.”
The flat was surprisingly full when they arrived – Doc had told her Richard, Emily, March, Dormy, Sir Christopher, and Victoria were there, but upon entering the living room, they also found Hiccup, Astrid, Flint, Sam, Wallace, and Gromit. “Great Scott, did you all just pop out of the ether while I was away?” Doc asked, staring at the crowd.
“We just wanted to see how he was doing,” Hiccup said, looking awkward. “Marty filled us in on all the details. . . .”
“I’m honestly surprised everyone fits in here,” Alice commented, looking around the overstuffed living space. “How are you all?”
“Better than him, apparently,” Astrid said, looking toward the little hall that led to Doc’s bedroom. “Never heard of a Touched trying to – well, plenty of them do it by accident, but–”
“He does know we all want to say ‘Thank you,’ right?” Wallace asked, wringing his hands. “He’s acting like we all want to see him – um–”
“I think that’s the way he feels right now,” Doc said. “You weren’t there to see his breakdown. He wasn’t in a good frame of mind at all.” He looked at Alice. “I hate to say it, but – it may be all up to you.”
Alice nodded, mouth set in a firm line. “I’m used to that. Let’s see if I can get inside that room.”
Doc nodded back and led her to his bedroom, leaving the others to stare worriedly after them. Alice looked at the door for a long moment. Just an ordinary oak door, nothing really special. And yet, behind it. . . . She took a deep breath and knocked.
There was a moment of silence. Then, so soft she wasn’t sure she’d heard it at first, Victor’s voice said, “Please go away Marty.”
Alice felt a sharp pain in her heart. Victor sounded – broken. Lost. Like – like he’d finally given up. Don’t do this to me, Victor. Don’t you dare. “It’s Alice,” she called through the wood. “Can you let me in?”
Another pause. “Alice?”
Alice nodded automatically. “Yes. Please, Victor, I want to talk to you. Open the door.”
The pause that followed stretched Alice’s nerves to the breaking point. What if he said no? What if he didn’t say anything? What if when they finally got into that room, they found–
There was the sudden click of a lock being turned, and then footsteps hurrying away from the door. Alice looked down at the doorknob, then up at Doc. The older man managed a half-smile and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Good luck in there,” he said, before withdrawing.
Alice nodded after him, then looked back at the doorknob. Well, she’d won this first battle. Time to see if she could win the war. She grabbed the knob and turned.
Why had he unlocked the door? Why was he going to let her in here? He had to go back, he had to lock it again, he had to –
It was too late. The door was opening. Victor didn’t look up, focusing instead on a patch of floor right in front of his feet. He didn’t want to see her face. He didn’t want to see the look of horror that was sure to be upon it. The look of loathing. He couldn’t stand it seeing it on her. He couldn’t stand seeing it on anyone, but especially not her. Why had he unlocked that door?
Footsteps entered the room, then there was the soft click of the door closing behind her. Victor kept his eyes riveted to the floor. He didn’t want to see her – but he did, oh God he did, she was the only thing that made sense in the world anymore – but he didn’t deserve her anymore, not after what he’d done –
He heard a sharp intake of breath. Unable to help himself anymore, he lifted his head to see her staring at the wallpaper.
Or, rather, at the angry slashes of ink on the wallpaper. Victor winced as her eyes traveled along the messy black lines and smudges. The areas where the madness had gotten hold of him, made him start writing down ideas, terrible wonderful horrible amazing ideas – and then where he’d desperately scratched them out, leaving black smears of ink and the occasional rip in the paper. Because he didn’t want to have ideas. He didn’t want to feel his mind going faster and faster, the knowledge piling up and spilling out into thoughts about bioluminescence and clockwork parts and flight patterns and the realization that nothing was beyond his grasp he really could show them all –
He squeezed his eyes shut, gasping for breath. His mind was too full, he could feel it, and it was trying to push him out to make room for it all. He was losing control, losing himself to the whirlwind in his mind, looking into the abyss and feeling the abyss look back – one push, one little push was all it would take, and he’d go toppling, spinning, and everything that was Victor Van Dort would be ripped to pieces in the face of SCIENCE –
His eyes snapped open at the shock of feeling skin against his cheek. Alice was standing over him, one hand pressed against his face. Her green eyes looked – worried? But that wasn’t right, there should be hate there, there should be disgust, there should be – not worry, never worry, you don’t worry about monsters –
She stroked his cheek. “You look awful,” she said bluntly, but there was a faint tremor in her voice. Like she was trying to keep from crying.
Victor swallowed. “I f-feel awful,” he admitted. Then he shook his head. “You – you s-should go, Alice. I s-shouldn’t have let you in, I’m not w-worth your time--”
“Don’t you dare say that,” Alice said, grabbing his head and making him look her full in the face. “Don’t you dare say that, do you hear me Victor Van Dort? Don’t you dare give up on yourself!”
Victor tried to pull back, but she was holding onto him too tightly. “I – I – I--”
“Don’t you dare!” Alice repeated, and now she was crying. “Damn it, Victor, do you know how many people you have out there who love you? Who are worried to death about you? Who want to see you alive and well? How can you try and – and starve yourself when--”
“They want the old me back!” Victor cried, staring up at her. “They want the Victor Van Dort who – who didn’t kill people, who didn’t conduct experiments on his friends, who didn’t scream at them just because they didn’t recognize one of my Inventions but they’ll recognize the others they’ll see I’ll show them what I can really do – NO!”
He grabbed at his head, finally wrenching himself free of Alice’s grip. “No I don’t want to I don’t want to but I do I’ve got all these ideas and I know exactly how to bring them to life but I don’t want to I don’t I do I want to show them want them to see the real me this isn’t the real me I’m losing myself Alice it hurts it hurts--”
He curled up into a ball, tears running down his face. His head felt like it was being split in two – he could feel the whirlwind pulling at him, the abyss beckoning – “Don’t do don’t do,” he argued with himself, hearing the Creativity slip in and out of his voice. “I’m a genius I’m a monster--”
“You’re not a monster.”
Alice’s arms wrapped around him, and he felt her breath on the back of his neck. “You are not a monster,” she repeated in a whisper. “You are a brilliant man who saved all our lives. And you can get through this. You’re too strong to fall victim to your own brain.”
He was? But – “I k-killed someone,” he whispered. “I hurt Emily--”
“No, you didn’t,” Alice said, rubbing her cheek against his hair. “Emily’s fine. She even said what you did probably helped her. And as for the Queen. . .you killed a monster, Victor. Plain and simple. You killed someone that would have destroyed all of us. I was prepared to kill her myself.”
“But – the spiders--”
“Frightening, yes,” Alice admitted, and Victor felt his heartbeat speed up. This was it, this was the moment where she rejected him and he finally lost it all – “But Victor – you did everything you could to make sure no one else would get hurt. How many Touched in the middle of going a bit Creative can claim that?” Her lips pressed against his neck. “You’re not evil, Victor. You could never be evil.”
His entire body was trembling. His mind was a storm, a raging sea – but her words, her touches, were like sudden calm spots. Rocks he could hold onto. How was she doing it? “You don’t know that,” he said, but he couldn’t put any force behind the assertion.
“I do,” Alice said. “I’ve faced evil – you’re not it.” One hand brushed his hair. “I love you, Victor. Don’t leave me.”
Victor managed to turn around in her arms, to meet those bright green eyes again. “I don’t want to,” he whispered. “But my head – I’m being pulled apart, Alice, I’m drowning – there’s all this science in my head, and there’s no more room for me--”
“There’s always room for you,” Alice said, her grip tightening. “The science won’t get done if you’re not there.”
“I – you – help me,” he said, pulling her closer. “Help me, you make it quiet, please help me. . . .”
And then his lips were on hers, and his world was reduced down to tastes and touches as they kissed again and again. And he could feel her love for him flowing through him, and his love for her joining it, and the abyss didn’t stand a chance. It wrapped around him, anchoring him, pulling him away from the darkness and back into the light. And the whirlwind calmed, and his mind expanded, and suddenly there was more room than he could have ever imagined in his head. Plenty of room for him and for her and for the science and the butterflies – plenty of room.
After what felt like ages, they broke apart. He took a deep breath, like he’d finally broken the surface after hours underwater. Then he opened his eyes and looked at her. Her eyes were puffy and red, but she was smiling. “I love you,” he said, pressing his forehead against hers.
“I love you too,” she whispered. One hand gently rubbed his temple. “How is it up there now?”
“So much better,” he told her, smiling. “You were right – there was room. I just had to make it.” The smile faded. “I’m sorry I put you through that. I just – when I woke up, there was s-so much going on in my mind, I – I p-panicked. L-locking the door was my way of t-trying to run. But I couldn’t g-get away. . .” He put his hand on top of hers. “How do you do that?” he wondered. “It was like the m-moment you touched me, things started to get better. . . .”
“Doc thinks all Touched have an anchor of sorts,” Alice said. “I guess I’m yours.” She blinked fresh tears away. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner – my aunt and uncle forced me to stay in bed the past few days, because of that fight I had--”
“It’s all right,” he said quietly, kissing her again. “You’re here now. And I’m glad you’re all right.” He paused. “I’m glad I’m all right.”
“Me too.” She gently squeezed him. “Ready to go say hello to the others again?”
Victor closed his eyes, soaking in the feeling of her warm arms around him. Those wonderful arms that helped keep him grounded. “In a minute.”
The sound of a door opening made everyone’s heads jerk up. A few moments later, Alice reentered the sitting room – leading Victor by the hand. The young man stared around at the sea of faces, looking embarrassed, relieved, and mildly shocked all at once. Finally, he spoke. “H-hello.”
“Hey,” Marty said, looking him up and down. “You – you all right?”
“I – I’m getting there.” Victor looked down at his hand, linked with Alice’s. “I’m m-much better than I was, that’s for certain.”
“I would say you finally exiting that room is proof of that,” Doc said, coming up to him. “How do you feel?”
“. . .Anchored,” Victor decided, which got something resembling a smile out of the older man. “It’s – you were right, describing it l-like a whirlwind. I was g-getting thrown in all directions, and I d-didn’t know what to do. . .I’m s-sorry for locking you out of your own bedroom,” he added, feeling his cheeks heat.
“Don’t worry about it,” Doc said. “I’d rather sleep on the couch a few days and know you were all right rather than the alternative.”
“But you’re okay, right?” Marty persisted, joining Doc. “You’re not gonna go crazy again and lock yourself into anyplace else?”
“No,” Victor assured him, feeling a stab of guilt as he saw Marty’s red, puffy eyes. “No, I’m not. I’m so sorry to have worried you – I just – I c-couldn’t get over what I’d done to the Queen, and to Emily, and my head felt so full that I – I d-don’t even know how to describe it now. But I’m better. I really am.”
Marty nodded – then flung his arms around him. “Yeah, well, you’d better be, you asshole,” he said, but there was no real anger in his voice. “I’m not going through this crap again.”
Doc hugged Victor as well. “I don’t think we need to worry about that anymore,” he said with a grateful smile at Alice. “But you do know that you’ve got more than just her on your side, right?”
“I do now,” Victor said, releasing Alice’s hand to hug his friends. “Thank you so much. For everything.” He felt another stab of guilt. “I, ah, w-wrote all over your wallpaper, Doc. I’ll r-replace it.”
“Don’t worry about that either,” Doc told him, squeezing him a little tighter. “Ruined wallpaper is a small price to pay to see you well. Besides, I’m kind of interested to see what you came up with.”
“I scribbled it all out,” Victor admitted. “But I – I might remember some of it.”
“We can discuss all that later,” March said, pushing a plate forward as Victor was finally released by his friends. “We brought tea for everyone! Would you like a tart?”
“I – well--” Politeness went up against ravenous hunger, and immediately lost. “Oh God yes!”
The sight of Victor descending on the plate and cramming food in his mouth seemed to break some sort of unspoken tension, sending a ripple of laughter through the room. “Damn it, Victor, remember to chew!” Marty snickered. “Oh, sorry for all the swearing, ladies--”
“I don’t care at all,” Victoria said, hiding a giggle of her own. “Really, though, Victor, don’t eat it so fast, you’ll give yourself a stomachache.”
“What shocks me is that you genuinely went without eating for three days,” Richard commented, watching him wolf down tarts.
“It shocks me too,” Victor said, finally getting control of himself and wiping his face off with a napkin. “But I suppose that’s what you do when – you’re not w-well.” His eyes traveled to the figure sitting beside Richard. “Speaking of which – are you really all right, Emily?”
“Perfectly fine,” Emily assured him with a smile, holding out her arm for inspection. “See? Solid as anything right now. I can control being butterflies or not quite easily.” She frowned a little. “Though I have to ask – how on earth did you even do that to me?”
“I – I--” Victor blinked, his face a mask of confusion. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”
There was a round of chuckles from the other Touched in the room. “Typical side effect of going Creative,” Doc assured him. “You come up with things that even you can’t explain later.”
“Though the clean-up crew was kind enough to copy down all your notes,” Richard said, producing a sheaf of paper. “Maybe you can figure it out from them!”
Victor looked at the notes for a long while. Then he shook his head, closing his eyes. “No. I – no. Please – t-take them away. Or better yet, burn them.”
“Destroy them? Whatever for?” Sir Christopher said, leaning forward.
Victor opened his eyes, looking slightly haunted. “I don’t ever want to remember how I came up with those spiders.”
A shiver passed through the room. “Okay, yeah, fair enough,” Hiccup said. “I’m grateful for you saving our lives, don’t get me wrong, but – those were creepy.”
Victor nodded, looking down at the tray. “I’m sorry for scaring everyone. I just – I heard her hurt Alice, and I just got so angry--”
“Another side effect of becoming a Touched,” Sir Christopher said. “Everyone loses control of their emotions for a while. Even I got enraged with some poor soul and threatened them with dissolution. Of course, then I got promptly distracted by how difficult that would be, and that led to another idea, and. . . .” He smiled a bit. “You’re not as dangerous as you think you are. I hope not, anyway, because you seemed to think you were pretty darn dangerous.”
“How dangerous do you all think I am?” Victor couldn’t help replying.
“Well, Lady Heterodyne was going around interviewing people about you while you were – ill,” Emily said, playing with her dress. “When I told her you actually offered to let me skip being the test subject, she was honestly shocked. That’s apparently very rare among new Touched – typically they just grab someone and tell them they’re going along with it, no questions asked.”
“Not to mention deliberately designing a deadly weapon so it wouldn’t hurt anyone other than the person you wanted it to hurt,” Doc said. “You had a lot less faith in yourself than any of us ever had in you.”
Victor blushed and looked away, simultaneously pleased and embarrassed by their statements. “W-well, I – I’ve never really been e-encouraged to like myself all that much. . . .” He frowned, that bringing up a new thought. “Doc? Marty? H-have my parents--”
Neither of his friends said a word. They couldn’t even meet his eyes. Victor turned his gaze back to the table. “I – I see.” He blinked suddenly watery eyes. “I probably should have guessed.”
“I made a few inquiries on the telephonic while Doc was out,” Sir Christopher said, trying to sound hopeful. “They’re still in the city. They – they haven’t completely given up on you yet, I don’t think.”
“Haven’t they?” Victor shook his head. “They’re not going to w-want a Touched for a son, I k-know that. They. . .they’ll. . . .” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
Alice put her arm around him. “Don’t worry too much about them,” she said quietly. “You have more than enough friends here to take their place. My own aunt and uncle are ready to welcome you into the family already.” She pressed her head against his shoulder. “Besides, you told me Nell never gives up. She’s probably just looking for the best psychiatrist to make you not a Touched anymore.”
“Oh God,” Victor groaned. “If she is, that’ll be a fun talk.” He looked at Victoria. “You must know all about that – how are you even here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be on a train back to Burtonsville? What just happened with the Queen must have been the last straw for your parents.”
Victoria beamed. “Not anymore – they gave up.”
“They gave up! After Christopher helped save my life in Looking-Glass House, my parents decided it would be more scandalous to say no to his offer than to say yes! They’re letting us get married! They’ve gone home, yes, but they’re letting me stay here! Christopher’s kindly paying for my room and board,” she added, snuggling up to her boyfriend.
“Anything for my future wife,” Christopher said, kissing the side of her head.
“Really? Oh, congratulations! That’s wonderful!” Victor said, feeling a surge of happiness.
Victoria nodded, smiling up at him. “So you see – there is a little hope. Maybe even Mrs. Van Dort can be persuaded to come around.”
“I’d settle for her being civil for five minutes,” Marty said.
“So would I,” Victor admitted. “What else has happened since I woke up?”
“You want to hear everything or just the most important things?” Richard said. “Because if we listed everything, we’d be here just as long as you were locked in there.”
“Just the important things,” Victor said with a chuckle. “Especially whatever pertains to Wonderland Park. And--” He paused, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer to this one. “D-did they ever find--”
“Lewis’s body?” Alice said, voice quiet. Victor nodded. “No, we didn’t. We’re – we’re sure he’s dead--”
“God rest his soul,” Sir Christopher added solemnly.
“Yes, of course, but his body’s disappeared,” Alice continued. “We don’t know what she did with it, but I doubt it was give it a proper burial.”
Victor felt a tiny surge of rage. “How dare she leave him to rot,” he growled. “What did he ever do to her?”
“Created her,” Richard said simply. “For a reason she didn’t like.”
“I guess you were too angry to take note of what she looked like under the mask,” Alice said.
“I – was rather distracted,” Victor agreed, wincing as his memory went back to that horrible house, his fury burning hot in his veins as he looked up at the Queen and –
Wait. Now that he wasn’t distracted, he could recall that. . .that – “She looked like you!” he gasped, staring at Alice with wide eyes. “The hair and eye colors were wrong, but – she looked like you! Why in God’s name–”
“She was supposed to be a copy of me,” Alice explained, a pained look on her face. “Apparently – apparently Lewis was in love with me, and w-when we fell in love with each other, he had the brilliant idea to–” She bit down on her lower lip. “I had no idea, he’s always been like family, not. . . .”
Victor felt his stomach turn. Lewis had been in love with Alice? He thought back to their first date, to the unreadable expression on his friend’s face when they’d turned up at his gate. . . . “Oh God,” he whispered. “I – this is--”
“You end that sentence with ‘my fault’ and I’ll hit you with my hobby horse,” Alice cut him off, giving him a severe frown. “It’s not your fault. Neither of us knew. And God knows Lewis didn’t intend for the Queen to become what she did.”
“We found his notes – what was left of them,” Richard nodded. “He was pretty clear on the fact that what he wanted was a girl with plenty of Alice-like qualities, not a meglomanical tentacle monster. And he was pretty clear on the fact that he didn’t hate you, so get that out of your mind.”
Victor looked down, nodding. He couldn’t stop himself from feeling guilty, but the others didn’t need to hear that. He’d do his best to believe them. And besides, he did not want to descend into those black depths of madness again. Whether he’d truly hated him or not, Lewis wouldn’t have wanted that, he was sure. “Right. H-how’s the park?”
“Still rather wrecked, but we’re all working hard on clean-up duty,” Flint reported. “Some of the Queen’s favorite monsters are still running around, but most of the regular flora and fauna has started to reassert itself already.”
“Indeed – Rabbit, the Elder Gnome, and myself led the charge to eradicate the roses from the front gate,” March said proudly. “With the loan of Alice’s teapot cannon, of course.”
“Glad to give it,” Alice smiled. “And the proper Card and Chess Royalty are back in charge – they’re directing the restoration of Looking-Glass House.”
“How’s that coming?” Victor asked.
“It’s going easier than expected – the flesh grew over the walls, so – um – you can just peel it off, more or less.”
Victor shuddered at the mental image. “I’m glad, but I’m disgusted as well,” he admitted. “Do I want to know what they’re going to do with it? You know what, no, I don’t, don’t answer.”
“None of us want to know,” Victoria said, making a face. “I’m just glad it’ll be out of there sooner rather than later.”
“Same here,” Astrid nodded. “They’ve already gotten rid of the Queen’s body. I think they buried it in a big pit far away from the city. Same with the Executioner.” She grinned. “You missed Alice smashing the bastard with her foot. I think he pissed himself right before she did it.”
“I’m just glad to hear he’s dead and not hurting anyone else,” Victor said – then had a sudden nasty thought. “Oh God – did they catch Barkis?! He was working with the Queen! I saw him in her throne room!”
“That’s – that’s a tricky bit,” Sir Christopher said, looking uncomfortable. “We found him too, when he tried to attack Victoria. We’d intended to deliver him to Lady Heterodyne for punishment. But then fate intervened in the form of the Executioner.”
“The idiot got himself killed by running toward the guard right after the Queen told him to kill everyone,” Richard said with a nasty smirk. “I wasn’t sorry to see him go.”
“None of us were,” Sir Christopher nodded. “The trouble is – his body’s gone missing too. We don’t know if someone in the clean-up crew stole it or what.”
“You don’t think someone would try to bring him back?” Victor said, raising an eyebrow.
“Who knows? I really don’t think so – if anything, he’d probably be used for spare parts – but I’d feel a bit more comfortable if we actually had him in the flesh to bury properly.”
Victor nodded understandingly, and sighed. “Me too, but – we can’t really worry about that now, can we? There’s so much more we have to do. . . .”
“Indeed,” Doc agreed, patting his shoulder. “Though right now the only thing you have to do is get your head on straight and get yourself back in good condition. I know you probably want to dive straight into helping everyone in the park, but we want to make sure you’re all right first.”
Victor nodded, feeling a burst of shame. “I’m s-sorry for putting everyone through this,” he mumbled, looking at his shoes.
“Hey, it could have been a lot worse,” Hiccup commented, making him look up. The young Viking reached down and tapped his metal leg. “At least you came out of it with all your limbs intact.”
“And without nearly getting yourself minced up into dog food,” Wallace added, as Gromit nodded along.
“And you didn’t try to throw yourself away,” Flint agreed.
Victor blinked. “Throw myself – how does one do that?”
“Climb into a garbage can and wallow in self-pity until your dad knocks you out of it,” Flint replied, looking a little embarrassed. Sam patted his hand.
“And you don’t have to go out and face life as a newly Touched alone,” Doc added, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got friends here willing and able to help you through anything and everything.”
“And someone who loves you and didn’t go through all that hell just to see your own brain take you down,” Alice nodded, poking him in the shoulder.
Victor smiled, feeling his eyes getting a little watery again. “Thank you. All of you.”
“Hey, thank you,” Sam said. “If you hadn’t done what you did--” She looked at Flint, who put his arm around her “– who knows what would have happened to all of us?”
“You’re one of the bravest young men I’ve ever known,” Sir Christopher added. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
“You’re a hero, Victor,” Emily nodded. “And we know you’ll be one of the best mad scientists this city has ever seen.”
Victor rubbed the back of his head. “You’re n-not just saying that because I yelled at all of you?”
“Well, that was a pretty impressive rant,” Marty said, grinning. “Might have scared Lady Heterodyne if she’d been there.”
“Oh, never!” Victor hid his face in his hands, embarrassed. “Did I apologize yet for calling you all names? Especially you, Flint?”
“It happens,” Flint said carelessly, waving a hand. “Standard Touched breakdown. We’re not holding it against you.”
“Of course not!” Wallace said with a grin. “I’m actually quite eager to see what you come up with in the future!”
There was a pause as Victor considered this. What he would come up with? Again he felt the tug of the whirlwind in his mind, starting to spin again, and felt a brief moment of panic –
But no. This was different. This time – he had it under control. He could feel it. His mind was churning, but it was churning pleasantly, and – and he had that feeling again. The one he’d had when he’d been riding that high in Lewis’s lab. The one where the entire world seemed to be glowing.
Glowing. . . .
Slowly, Victor lifted his head and smiled. A smile that stretched rather farther than it should across his face. A smile that showed more teeth than he usually did. A smile that was bright and mad – but also, this time, genuinely happy. “You know. . .I did have some ideas. . . .”