Connor doesn't like to acknowledge it, but the woman he loves is gone. It wasn't a sudden loss. He almost wishes it had been. At least then he would have had some closure, some sense of finality. The woman he adored, the one he would willingly follow to the gates of hell, gradually faded away until she disappeared completely. Though he was blind to it then, he knows now exactly when it started - the day their lives were thrown into chaos. The day they each lost a sibling and gained a child. When her twin sister was murdered, his Amy, with her laughing eyes and easy grin, started dying.

He's tired of playing mediator between her and the niece they've had to raise. As Ally's grown older, their fights have grown worse. Placating Ally gets harder each time. Hugs and pats on the head with a soft, 'your aunt loves you, you know,' isn't working any longer.

"No she doesn't!" Ally tosses back her hair and adopts a pose that, though she may not realize it, is one he's seen Amy in a hundred times. "She doesn't feel anything. I hate her."

It's not true. Connor just doesn't know how to explain it all to Ally. He wishes she could have met the Amy of before. The one who would joke, tease, bake cookies, and offer up bone-crushing hugs. The one who understood that being a Keeper was only part of her life, not the reason behind it. The one he fell in love with.

It takes two hours, a half-gallon of rocky road ice cream, and a dozen hugs to calm Ally down enough to get her tucked into bed. He's exhausted and wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for a year. Fate, however, has other ideas. The back door swings open then shut signaling the start of round two.

"What was it this time?" He has a log book of the Hoppers she finds in his neck of the woods but he asks more out of curiosity and a desire for conversation than for his notes.


"Could you be more specific?"

"Really ugly. With spikes." At his glare, Amy shrugs her shoulders. "Does it matter? It's not coming back."

There was a time, even after the move to this dimension, when she would have told him every detail, even the ones he didn't want to hear, about the Hopper. Those days were preceded by the ones where he would have been her tracking partner. Now she doesn't even bother to tell him about anything she does. He's afraid that one day she's going to be too slow or too cocky and he won't know she's dead.

"Ally's really upset about this latest fight. You've got to be easier on her, Amy."

Amy rolls her eyes. Connor always takes their niece's side. He panders to the girl's every need while Amy tries to teach her to be more self-reliant. "She is spoiled and overly emotional."

A sigh rolls off Connor's lips as opens the freezer door and tosses a pint of cookie dough ice cream at Amy. She knows where the spoons are and can get one herself. With the way his temper's simmering, he may be tempted to use it as a weapon. "She's ten, Ame. She's a kid."

"When Mel and I were her age..."

"Things were different then, Amy. The whole damn dimension was different. Here, Allyson is just a kid who goes to school, does her homework, and plays soccer. She doesn't spend her nights with crystals and Hoppers. That's what we wanted for her, remember?" He hates having this argument. They both want to protect Ally, they just happen to have different ideas about how to actually do the protecting.

"The binding isn't going to last forever. The second it wears off, she's going to go off like a homing beacon. Every hopper looking to score a Keeper of their own is going to be looking for her."

"Then we'll deal with it when the binding wears off." Connor slumps down into a kitchen chair and tilts his head back to stare at the ceiling. "She needs you around more, Amy. I can't be both mother and father."

Amy freezes with the spoon halfway to her mouth. "No! The threats have been getting worse. There's a Hopper out of Cravnisk I've been tracking. I can't stay still for too long. It'll make you both targets, as well." She can't tell him the real reason she stays gone for so long. Allyson looks so much like Melody that it's almost as if her twin is back from the dead. It hurts to be reminded of her failure to protect her family.

"Then go already! You've been here for a couple of hours. That's too long by your calculations, isn't it?"

Amy places the spoon in the sink and dumps the empty ice cream container in the trash bin. "Don't be like that, Con. I can stay a day or two."

That's all he ever gets these days. Bits and pieces of Amy. He and Allyson feel more like afterthoughts than anything else; secondary to Hoppers and vengeance. "Don't bother on our account. We've done fine for the past six years without you. We can handle six more."

He straightens to watch her reaction to his words. The Amy of old would have taken the bait and blasted him for making light of her contribution to their little family. The one standing before him, the shadow that's replaced his Amy, merely glares. He hates that she's so cool all the time. The Amy he loved burned bright, whether it was with passion or with anger, while this one's merely a dull glow.

When she raises her left hand to brush a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, his eyes lock in on her bare ring finger. With swift grace, he leaps out of his chair and across the kitchen to grab her hand. He holds it up to the light and then waves it in her face. "Where is it, Amy?"

She tugs at a silver chain around her neck. He drops her hand and pulls the necklace out from under her t-shirt. A platinum and diamond ring twinkles up at him from where it rests against grimy blue cotton. She quirks an eyebrow. "Did you think I'd lost it?"

He undoes the clasp and twists the chain until the ring falls into his waiting hand. His hands are rough as he shoves the ring onto her finger. He can deal with her prolonged absences and the transformation into an ice queen, but he draws the line at her removing his ring. "You're mine. I don't want you forgetting that while you're gallivanting all over creation. You wear it here or nowhere at all."

Her eyes go glacial. She's just as rough with her own fingers as she tears the ring off and dangles it from one finger. "Gallivanting? It's not a party, Connor. I'm keeping you and Ally safe the only way I know how. If you can't... If you can't understand that... you can go screw yourself!"

Even her words, though harsh, don't hold the heat they once would have. He tries to pluck the ring from her fingers, but she folds it into her palm and steps back. "Amy." Her name comes out as a growled warning.

"No. You gave this to me along with promises and pretty words. You want the ring back? You take those words and promises back, too." She stares at him, daring him to do it. Knowing he won't. Things may be rough right now but Connor still loves her. It's the one thing that keeps her world from spinning completely apart.

They engage in a staring contest neither one is willing to lose. Finally, much to Connor's surprise, Amy looks away first. She'd never given up before. "I should go. I'll give Amy a week or so to cool down. Maybe I could stop in Paris and pick her up a present. How does she feel about cashmere?"

Connor doesn't know how to respond. He's not sure how to handle an Amy who gives up without a fight. He finds himself wishing she'd stick around to fight it out. The way she'd see arguments through to the end was one of the things he used to love about her, even if it could be exasperating. His silence doesn't seem to bother her because she simply makes a show of placing the ring onto her finger and kisses his cheek. Without a word, she slips out of the house. The ghost of the girl he loves.