Chapter Forty-Eight: Band-Aids Don't Fix Bullet Holes
"Are you planning on spending the night here?" Brad asked, poking his head into Sophia's office. Sophia looked up and checked her watch. She was quite surprised to see that it was after midnight and the hallway past Brad was dark. The police station would likely be mostly empty by then, save for the night staff. She had been trying to piece together any link between Tony Sinclair and Snow's friends. There seemed to be nothing to find. Tony Sinclair, as far as she could tell, was a perfectly upstanding citizen. He had moved to Mistbrook Falls several years before, bringing with him a significant amount of money from his time as an attorney in Chicago. He had proceeded to marry Rachel and adopt her daughter, Miranda.
Miranda. That connection had given Sophia pause. Although the text she had received weeks earlier that had been signed JTG had led her nowhere, she had not forgotten it. I know who killed Sara and Miranda Sinclair. But Miranda hadn't been murdered. She had fallen into a ravine to her death. She had suffered extreme blunt force trauma, trauma which killed her. Someone could have pushed her, sure, but it seemed unlikely. Miranda hadn't had any defensive wounds, so if someone did push her it had been a surprise because she didn't fight back. It made much more sense that she had gone for a walk at night and slipped off of the cliff as the original investigation had determined.
Yet still, something about that gnawed at Sophia. Something about it seemed... off, somehow. She couldn't explain it, but it just felt wrong. At the end of the day, she supposed it didn't really matter. Miranda's death had nothing to do with Tony and his connection to Snow's friends. However, it might have a connection to Sara. If this JTG was correct and Sara and Miranda were killed by the same person... well, it was something. Something, sure, but what exactly? None of the people involved had any reason to kill Sara or Miranda, so as usual Sophia had reached a dead end. She knew, she just knew it somehow all fit together. She was just missing something, some crucial piece of information that would make it all make sense. Some... side story; another narrative she couldn't see that ran parallel to everything she already knew. That's what she felt she was missing. She just didn't know where to look to find it.
"I... no... no, I... I'm sorry," said Sophia apologetically. "Hell, we had plans to meet at the Underground, didn't we? I'm sorry, I just got so caught up in this case, I..."
"It's fine," said Brad, stepping into Sophia's office properly. "I know how obsessed you get over work. It's one of the things I like most about you. It's okay."
"Well... have you eaten? The Underground's still open for a few more hours. We could grab a bite if you want."
"Sure," said Brad. "The Underground's at its best after midnight, anyway."
"I'm sure your hooligan friends and the drunks hanging out there will be so happy you've brought your cop girlfriend along with you," said Sophia, standing and slipping the strap of her purse over her shoulder.
"I don't have any hooligan friends," said Brad firmly. "I don't keep friends. In times of war friends can be captured and tortured for information about me."
"Has anyone ever told you that you say some of the weirdest stuff?" Sophia asked as she followed him from her office and out into the hallway.
"Yes, you," Brad replied. "All the damn time."
When Snow opened her eyes the following morning, a beautiful golden glow was shining in through the warehouse windows and falling across the bed. It was dawn and the sun had just begun to rise high enough to shine into the room. It was a weekday, Snow was certain of that, but which day it was she couldn't have begun to guess. The week had become quite a blur to her, so much so she could scarcely remember much of it. She thought for a while, however, and eventually came to realize that it was Friday, the fifth of November. It had been Monday afternoon that Snow had learned the truth about her mother. Not even a full week had passed since the events of Halloween. She had to rate those last five days since Halloween as the longest in all human history.
Snow sighed contentedly and rolled onto her back, shoving the blankets off of her as she did so. A sharp chill washed over her almost instantly as she exposed her bare skin to the icy cold air that filled the warehouse that morning. She debated going and turning the heater on, but she was much too comfortable to do so. Instead, she tugged her bathrobe off of the chair next to the bed and wrapped it around herself. She then looked to her right where Michael still lay sleeping. He lay on his side, facing her, a look of contentment on his face. Snow watched him for a while, a thin smile on her lips.
Her mind drifted back to the previous night and she smiled even wider at the memories. She hadn't planned it and she suspected neither had Michael. He had surprised her with his initial reluctance. She loved and respected his decision not to indulge her when she was distraught and incredibly drunk, but last night she had been neither and yet still he has hesitated. Still, once he relented... oh, he had relented. He had made her feel... no, it had been indescribable. He had shown her things she had never known before, made her beg for things she had never imagined she would want. She could only hope that her own inexperience had not soured the night for Michael.
After half an hour of lying there daydreaming, Snow gently poked Michael in the ribs in an attempt to wake him. He swatted sleepily at her, trying fruitlessly to drive off her relentless assault. Despite her best efforts, however, Michael refused to wake up. Finally Snow climbed on top of him and began furiously tickling him. Unfortunately for Snow, she had forgotten that Michael was not remotely ticklish. He looked up at her grumpily through narrowed, sleepy eyes.
"You wouldn't think being woken up in the morning by a beautiful, half naked woman could be annoying, but you've proven that it can be," said Michael grumpily while Snow smirked down at him.
"That's me, half naked and annoying," said Snow brightly, a mischievous grin on her lips. "You know... I could also be completely naked and annoying if you really wanted me to be."
"As wonderful as that would be, I'll be completely useless to you until I get some food," said Michael. "Well, at least if you want me to do anything except lay here. If you want to do all the work, I'm all for it."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Snow asked him and he shamelessly nodded. She bit her lower lip nervously, unsure whether she should ask the question that lingered on her mind. "So... so last night was... I mean, you... This is weird, but... but you..."
"Enjoyed it?" Michael finished for her. Snow nodded rather shyly, not quite meeting his gaze. "Of course I did. Did you think I wouldn't?"
"Not exactly, I just thought... You're just so much older and you know more and you've been with girls that have so much more experience that I thought... maybe I wouldn't measure up." Michael sat up suddenly, causing Snow to fall back slightly, coming to rest on Michael's knees.
"Snow, I enjoyed last night because I got to spend it with you," Michael told her. "I wasn't making notes, comparing you to anyone else. I don't care. I was with you and that's all I needed, so don't you worry about that. But, in case you needed the extra reassurance; you were amazing."
"Well, I... thanks," Snow said shyly, Michael's words causing her cheeks to burn. His reassurance had meant so much. She had been genuinely scared that Michael wouldn't think she was good enough. His words had brought her more comfort than she had expected. Perhaps she was more worried than she had realized. "I... I'm glad."
Snow and Michael lay together for a long while, just chatting about nothing in particular. At long last, Snow decided to get up and go make breakfast. She climbed out of bed and padded into the kitchen where she set about cooking breakfast. Before long, the smell of sizzling sausage filled the warehouse. Snow was a perfectly pleasant mood as she retrieved a second skillet and placed it on the stove. As she cracked two eggs into the pan however, a sudden realization came over her and she crashed into the table in her haste to find her purse, knocking a pitcher of orange juice to the floor where it shattered. She knew, without even checking, she knew. She stood, hand held to her mouth in shock, when Michael came rushing out of the bedroom looking around for the source of the commotion.
"Snow?" He asked worriedly, hurrying over to her looking very concerned. "Snow, are you okay?" Snow shook her head, sinking slowly onto the sofa.
"Oh, Mike... Mike, I... I made a mistake, I... I never even thought about... I didn't..."
"Snow, whatever it is you can tell me, you know that," Michael insisted softly. "Talk to me." Snow looked up at him, tears filling her eyes. She sighed heavily and reached out to take his hand.
"Okay, so... so you know those birth control pills my moms made me get?" Snow began quietly.
"Oh, Snow... Snow, tell me you didn't..." Michael whispered.
"Oh, I didn't," Snow said firmly. "I definitely didn't, but not in the way you're hoping. I... I haven't taken one since Halloween, so..."
"And we just..." Michael began quietly.
"And we just," Snow repeated. "I should have realized, I... I should have..."
"It's not your fault," Michael interrupted suddenly. "No, it's... it's no more your responsibility to be sure we're being safe than it is mine. Look, until we know we have something to worry about, let's not worry. What else can we do?"
What else could they do? It was a good question and one that Snow had no answer to. Despite her dream and her deep desire for it to become reality, she hadn't wanted it to happen then and there. She was still a baby herself and was not at all prepared to be a mother. She didn't even know where to start. The very idea of it scared her out of her mind. Still, Michael was right; there was nothing they could do but wait. She had enough to be afraid of without worrying about something that might not happen.
"So... so wait and see," said Snow quietly. "We wait and see."
The rest of the morning and afternoon passed uneventfully. Snow and Michael lazed around the warehouse for hours doing nothing in particular. Snow did her best not to think about the possible ramifications of what they had done. If she was pregnant she had no idea what she would do. The sheer weight of that, on top of everything else, would be sure to crush her and yet... there was something warm and comforting about it.
With JTG lurking around every corner and her mother's disease, Snow's life had fallen apart. A baby would be... she hesitated to say it would be a good thing, but maybe it was exactly what she needed. No... no, she couldn't start thinking like that. She wasn't going to go down that road. She wasn't ready to be a mother and no matter how much she wanted the girl she had dreamed about to be real, it couldn't happen now. It would just be too much.
Much later that evening, Snow had decided to turn in early. She kissed Michael goodnight and retired to the bedroom, leaving Michael sitting alone watching TV. It was still early in the evening and Michael wasn't all that sleepy. However, after an hour he began to feel drowsy and decided to join his girlfriend. As he stood up a sudden burst of energy rippled through the apartment accompanied by a muffled crack like a suppressed gunshot. Michael turned and found Zoe standing in the kitchen with her hands on her hips.
"We've got a problem," she said sharply, causing Michael to instantly shush her.
"Would you keep your voice down?" Michael snapped. "Snow's right in there. She's sleeping, but if you wake her up..." Zoe waved her hand irritably toward the bedroom door. It swung closed with a snap and a greenish glow formed around it for a few moments before fading away.
"There," said Zoe grumpily. "Your little friend can't hear us now. The room is soundproof. Now, we need to talk. I'm doing everything I can to keep the Coven at bay, but they are becoming more and more concerned by your activities. The Dawnguard's uninhibited use of magic..."
"I'll show the Coven 'uninhibited magic'," Michael said hotly. "If the Dawnguard weren't here, can you imagine the world we'd live in? We protect the world from rogue magic, not the Coven. The Coven wants to be the only group in the world with magic. I know that's not ever going to be the case. Magic is out there and the Coven can't take it all away. I'm doing the job I know I have to do and if I have to use magic to do that job, I will."
"Michael, I understand your position, but the Coven..."
"No," Michael snapped. "No, you don't understand my position. Do you have any idea the extent of magic and supernatural artifacts we possess? Dangerous items and power sources that we keep out of the hands of individuals that would use them to bring chaos worldwide? No, you don't. I do and I intend to make sure all of that stays safe and I'll do it while going to war against the forces of darkness that seep up from the depths. I'll do it against the wishes of the Coven if I must, but I won't stop. The Dawnguard has existed since the discovery of magic, before the Coven was ever even envisioned. The Coven will not stop us."
"Don't get mad at me, Michael," said Zoe, her eyes flashing dangerously. "I'm on your side. I'm just telling you the Coven's viewpoint. They've never liked the Dawnguard and they likely never will. To them, you're dangerous. All that magic you just talked about... they don't think you can keep it safe and they know you'll use it in your battles if you have to. Like I said, I'm doing what I can to keep the Coven at bay, but it's difficult. The strength of their forces far outweighs your own. If the Coven came in force, you wouldn't win."
"One call to Sienna and I'll have more than enough strength to fight off the Coven," said Michael firmly. "Come on, Zoe, you know the Coven is afraid of Divinity. Sienna will back me if I ask and then it's the Coven that wouldn't stand a chance."
"Yes, you always do like to drag your dear cousin the princess into everything," said Zoe. "Michael, Sienna has a kingdom to rule and her own battles to fight. She can't protect you forever."
"I don't need forever," said Michael. "All I need is a single show of force. The power Sienna would bring against the Coven would make them... reconsider their position." Zoe shook her head and slowly sank onto the couch.
"Do you remember the old days?" She asked quietly. "Back at Newcastle?"
"Shit..." Michael said slowly. "I haven't thought about that in years, Zoe. Newcastle Academy of the Arcane... I loved that place, at least before the Coven shut the doors to everyone who wasn't a witch."
"The start of the Coven's elitist path," Zoe said sadly. "Used to be anyone could study at Newcastle as long as they had magic in their blood, but now unless you're born a witch you aren't welcome. I'm sorry you couldn't stay. I never said it, but..."
"It wasn't your fault you were a witch and I wasn't," said Michael quickly. "Besides, I was still able to learn. Zoe... I'm not going to stand down, you know that. The Coven, they... They're wrong. I wish I could change their minds, but I... I don't know if I ever can. I won't start a war, but if the Coven attack Stonehaven we will defend ourselves. I won't let them get to Alexandria."
"I'd expect nothing less," said Zoe. She chewed her lower lip nervously and stood to her feet. "Mike, you might want to go ahead and give Sienna a call. You're going to need her army sooner or later. I'll give you as much warning as I can, but one day soon they'll be coming. If Sienna has your back, I know you'll be safe. If she won't come..."
"She'll come," said Michael firmly. "She's family. She'll come. That girl's got a heart of gold. She'll come."
"I hope you're right," said Zoe. "God help us all if you're not." In the blink of an eye, she was gone.
Early on Sunday morning, after a positively wondrous breakfast that Michael prepared, he and Snow packed their bags and made the trip back home. Snow fell asleep on the drive back and woke as they were driving along the twisting road through the thick woods just outside of town. She raised her head just in time to see the town sign as they passed by; Welcome to Mistbrook Falls: A Little Slice of Paradise.
'Hmph, paradise,' Snow thought grimly. 'More like the seventh circle of hell.'
Within a few minutes, Michael was turning into Snow's driveway. He parked in front of the house and turned off the engine. He turned in his seat to face her, his expression impassive.
"I know you never wanted to come back," he began slowly. "I imagine everything will... Look, just... don't let go of what you felt at the warehouse. That's the important thing because... Now that you're back, I don't want you to start feeling... I don't want you to..."
"I won't," Snow said quickly, placing her hand on his forearm. She looked up at him and noticed tears threatening to form in his eyes, an unusual emotional response from Michael. "I won't." She insisted. "Never again, okay. I swear. I couldn't do that to you... you any of you. I'm not okay, but one day I think I will be. You don't have to worry about me."
"I always worry," said Michael quietly. "It's in my blood." Michael helped Snow unload her bag and walked her to the door. They kissed goodbye and soon the sound of Michael's car vanished into the distance. Once he was gone, Snow pushed open the door and went inside. Ariana and Kayla were both coming out of the kitchen when Snow reached the foot of the stairs. Both of them stared at her with expressions of complete shock on their faces.
"Snow? Is... is that you?" Kayla asked, exchanging a glance with Ariana. Snow, bewildered, stared back in confusion.
"I... of course it's me. Who else would I be?" Then she remembered. "Oh, right. My hair! I forgot. What do you think?"
"It's quite a change, that's for sure," said Kayla as she and Ariana walked over to their daughter. "What inspired it?"
"I... don't know exactly," Snow said slowly. "Michael asked the same thing and I didn't have an answer. I just wanted a change." Snow still couldn't completely explain why she had felt the need to dye her hair, nor why it had made her feel so much better. It simply had done so and there was nothing else she could say about the matter.
"Well, I like it," said Ariana, running her fingers through her daughter's hair.
"Thanks," said Snow, managing a smile. "I don't know how long I'll keep it, but... for the moment, I like it."
"You seem... better," Kayla said delicately, glancing at Ariana again. "I mean, compared to when you left, you seem... yeah, better."
"I am," said Snow, nodding. "I mean, I'm... I'm getting there." She looked nervously at Ariana before dropping her gaze to the floor. "I'm not good... not right, but... but this weekend, it... it helped me a lot. I feel better."
"You have no idea how glad we are to hear you say that," said Ariana, brushing Snow's hair with her fingers again. "We were... we were both really scared for you. We called our friend Dr. Pinder while you were gone in case you still wanted to see him. He's the doctor that helped me after I escaped from Adrian, and we thought he'd be able to help you. He can see you whenever you're ready, so if you want we can schedule..."
"Could we go today?" Snow asked suddenly, surprising even herself. Like a lot of other things in her life, she wasn't sure why she wanted to go and see the doctor right away, but something in her said that she should go as soon as possible. Perhaps Michael was right. Maybe Mistbrook Falls was a dangerous place for her to be. Her belief in her dream might not be enough to keep her going much longer. With the additional fears brought on by JTG and the possibility that she might very well be pregnant, Snow knew that talking to a professional couldn't possibly do any harm.
"Well... yeah, I... I suppose," said Kayla slowly. "I mean, I can't see why not. It is a bit of a drive, though. We'll need to leave... well, now."
"Okay, just let me drop off my bag upstairs and freshen up a bit," said Snow, turning and hurrying up the stairs. As she vanished onto the second floor, Kayla turned to Ariana.
"So... do you think they slept together?" The brunette asked, arching her eyebrows. Ariana gave her wife an exasperated look before answering.
"What do you think?" Ariana asked. "Did you see her? She's glowing. Of course they slept together."
"Should we... you know... talk to her, or something?" Kayla wondered. "I mean... you know, should we try to... I don't know, I'm bad at this. Hell, my mom taught me about sex and condoms in a Taco Bell parking lot."
"Oh sweetie," said Ariana, shaking her head and grinning. "You are so damaged. We'll talk to her, but not today. I think Snow has enough to talk about today. If Dr. Bradley is anything like he used to be, he'll keep her talking for a long time."
After over an hour on the road, Snow knew they would soon be reaching their destination; Harbor Bay Mental Health Institute. She had never been there, but she knew the importance it held to her family. It was where Ariana was taken after she was rescued from her father. She had lived there for quite some time before leaving and moving into the warehouse after her grandfather died. She had then returned almost two years later after she had suffered a near-fatal gunshot wound which resulted in her falling into a coma for months and losing her memories upon finally waking up. Neither she nor Kayla had returned to Harbor Bay since then.
Snowflakes continued to fall lightly as they drove, deepening the already thick snows that had been falling unceasingly over the last five days. As they pulled into the parking lot Snow noticed that Harbor Bay Institute, a large facility built almost completely out of glass, blended almost perfectly with the snowy environment. If Snow hadn't known it was there, she likely wouldn't have seen it.
As Snow and her parents got out of the car, she noticed how quiet and peaceful the area was. The Institute was built far beyond the bustling city of Detroit, far removed from all the noise. It was so quiet she could easily hear the snowflakes pattering onto the ground. Ariana and Kayla each took one of Snow's hands and together they made their way up to the building along what was known as the Path of Healing, a long path through a field made up of loose white stones. In summer, Snow imagined the dozens of fountains that lined the path would be bubbling and frothing, but given the intense cold and heavy snows the fountains appeared to have long ago frozen over.
They reached the building relatively quickly and, still hand-in-hand, they entered. Snow wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but it certainly had not been a warm, tropical, spa-like atmosphere. The wide open lobby was warm and welcoming and the floors were made up of the same white stones as the path that had brought them there. There were palm trees and other tropical plants scattered about the lobby as well as a number of fountains.
Together, they crossed the lobby and made their way up to the receptionist's desk which was positioned just in front of a long wall made of bamboo. A young blonde woman sat in a chair behind the desk, typing away on her computer. She glanced up at them as they approached, and smiled.
"Hi there," she said brightly. "I'm Gwen. How can I help you?"
"Hi, I'm Ariana," said Ariana. "This is my wife Kayla and our daughter, Snow. We're here to see Dr. Bradley... I mean, Dr. Pinder." Gwen nodded, typing once again on her computer. She paused, however, and looked up at Ariana once again with a curious expression on her face.
"Ariana... Ariana... wait, Ariana Laine?" Gwen asked. Ariana glanced at Kayla, who shrugged.
"Um... it used to be Laine, yes," she replied. "It's Austin now, but... do I know you? Have we met, or...?"
"Oh, no," said Gwen quickly. "No, we've never met. It's just that Dr. Pinder talks about you all the time. You're the reason he hasn't retired already. He always says that if there's ever another girl out there that needs help like you did, he wants to be there to help her. He's quite inspiring."
"I always liked him," Ariana said, nodding.
"Well then you could come and visit every now and again," said Dr. Pinder, stepping around the bamboo wall with the biggest smile on his face. Dr. Bradley Pinder was a rather tall man, if slightly stooped with age. He wore thin, wiry glasses and had thinning brown hair that was beginning to gray.
"You could always make the trip to Mistbrook Falls too, Dr. Bradley," said Ariana pointedly. "It's a nice little town." Dr. Pinder walked over and pulled Ariana into a hug. He did the same with Kayla soon after.
"So, how long has it been?" He asked them both. "Almost five years now?"
"That sounds about right," said Kayla. "Your daughter's wedding, wasn't it?"
"I believe it was," said Dr. Pinder. "Whenever it was, it's so good to see you both again... and you too, of course, little Snow." He smiled warmly at Snow, who frowned slightly. To her knowledge, she had never met Dr. Pinder in her life.
"Oh, you probably won't remember but we've met before," Dr. Pinder went on. "At your parent's wedding. You were so young then, I doubt you remember."
"I'm sorry, I don't," Snow admitted reluctantly. Dr. Pinder smiled again.
"I would've been surprised if you had," he said. "You were only four years old at the time."
"They grow up fast," said Kayla, nudging Ariana with her elbow.
"That they do," the redhead agreed. They spent a few moments longer reminiscing about the past before Dr. Pinder announced it was time he spoke with Snow alone. Dr. Pinder guided Snow around the bamboo wall and along the side of a large rectangular pool where fish swam lazily beneath the smooth surface of the water. Snow allowed herself to be steered down a corridor to the left and soon enough they reached a polished door with Dr. Pinder's name emblazoned upon it. Dr. Pinder reached out and held the door open for her, ushering her inside.
Dr. Pinder closed the door and went around to sit in his chair behind his large oak desk. Snow surveyed the rather dark room briefly, taking in the shelves filled with books and a display of the doctor's awards. Dr. Pinder gently motioned for Snow to sit down in one of the armchairs in front of his desk. Snow obeyed, a suddenly jolt of fear and nervousness coursing through her.
"Obviously you're aware that your parents asked me to speak with you," Dr. Pinder began slowly. "I certainly intend to do that. But first I'd like you to talk to me. How do you feel?" It was possibly the simplest question he could have asked, and yet Snow struggled to answer it. How did she feel? She felt both good and bad, happy and yet sad... and part of her was very angry.
"I don't know," she answered at last. "I... one minute I'm fine and then the next, I... It all comes rushing back and I can't... I mean, I'm better... you know, than I was, but I'm still not..."
"It's just not the same," said Dr. Pinder quietly. Snow nodded slowly.
"Yeah," she replied. "No matter what I do, I can't forget. I tried, I did everything I could think of, but... It's just always there. It's not at the front of my mind all the time, but its there."
"And it always will be," said Dr. Pinder. "Your mother is dying, there's no getting around that. That fact is, Snow, that you are never going to be okay with your mother's illness. Losing my mother was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. To this day, thinking about her causes me great pain. I miss her terribly. That said, time heals all wounds. You won't ever be okay with this, but I swear to you it will get better. You may not believe that now, but it really will."
"I... I do believe," Snow said softly. "I do, I... I believe. Okay, you may think I'm crazy... maybe I am crazy, but... Okay, so I had this dream. I, my boyfriend and I, we were... It was at some point in the future, not too far, but not right now. He and I had a baby and we were happy. My mom was gone, but I had found a way to be happy again."
"A favorite author of mine once wrote; 'It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,'. I implore you not to put too much of your hope into a dream, Snow. That's just a band-aid. Band-aids, my dear, don't fix bullet holes."
"I know its not real," Snow said quickly. "I know that what I saw isn't really the future, but still I have to believe that some version of that can happen. I've felt better, been happier, actually believed I could survive this since I've had that dream. Beforehand, I was almost ready to do this again." She held out her arm which was still wrapped in bandages.
"Well, I've long been a believer in the idea that my patients truly know best what will help them heal," said Dr. Pinder thoughtfully. "If believing that you can make that dream reality is helping you, don't dare let me or anyone else take that away from you. If it's given you hope, that's certainly a start."
"It has," said Snow firmly. "It's just about the only thing that kept me going. I know I can't depend on it forever and eventually I have to learn how to process this, but... I can't do that right now."
"You know, when your mother was brought to be I fully believed when I saw her that she was beyond hope," Dr. Pinder confessed after a moment. "They hadn't brought me a person, but instead they had given me this broken, shattered wreck; a shell containing nothing but misery and terror. She couldn't speak when we first met, she... she was either too afraid or simply unwilling, I don't know. She was a fourteen year old girl that couldn't... do anything. She couldn't feed herself or go to the bathroom by herself. She couldn't read or hold a pencil or even... anything. My team and I had to not only help her heal from over a decade of physical and emotional abuse and trauma, but we also had to teach her an entire childhood's worth of basic things. It was six months before she spoke to anyone. The first question she ever asked, the first words I ever heard her speak were these; 'The day I woke up, what was on the ground outside?'"
"Snow," Snow said quietly. "She... she saw snow."
"That she did," said Dr. Pinder with a slight smile. "She was well into her pregnancy by then, of course. Despite her silence, she learned more quickly than I've ever seen anyone learn. She just... devoured knowledge. She loved books and as soon as she learned to read she tore through every book we could get for her. It didn't much matter what it was either, she just... loved to learn. She did have a preference, however, for books about cats."
"That sounds like Mom," said Snow, unable to keep herself from grinning.
"When Ariana finally gave birth to you she had improved drastically, but still in no shape to raise a baby," Dr. Pinder continued. "She wanted to keep you, begged myself and her grandfather to let her keep you, but... Well, she couldn't care for a child and her grandfather was... well, battling cancer himself, so it just couldn't work. Still, she wanted to name you. Naturally, she named you Snow. At the time, I found it to be quite an interesting and unusual name. You don't hear it very often, after all. Snow is... delicate, soft, and beautiful, but if you give it enough time to accumulate and grow stronger and maybe give it a little push, it will slid down the side of a mountain and obliterate anything that dares to lie in its path."
"If you're trying to use a metaphor to tell me I'm as strong as an avalanche..." Snow began. Dr. Pinder shrugged.
"Oh, I'm not nearly so creative as to come up with something like that," he said airily. His face grew suddenly serious, however, as Snow opened her mouth to reply. "Your mother is the strongest person I have ever had the great luck to meet. She survived her own living nightmare and out of that hell came you, a beautiful snowflake that I have no doubt rivals Ariana in her strength. Her strength lives in you." Dr. Pinder paused, choosing that moment to remove his glasses and clean them with a cloth he plucked from his coat pocket.
Snow knew she wasn't as strong as Ariana was. Nothing she had ever dealt with was half as bad as what her mother had gone through. She had it remarkably easy by comparison. She wasn't even facing her demons alone, for she had Clara, and Mary, and Nikki, and Michael, and Steven, and Jackson, and Ariana, and Kayla, and Alana, and Sophia, and many other people that loved her and would support her through it all. Only a select few knew about JTG, true enough, but those that did would stand with her in the fight against their tormentor. She wasn't alone. She didn't have to face the darkness that surrounded her on her own. She couldn't, she realized, face it alone. But the sudden realization that she didn't have to face it, any of it, alone gave her more comfort than anything else had. She had friends and family that loved her, that supported her, that would help her get through whatever darkness the future no doubt held.
"There are shadows behind your eyes, Snow," Dr. Pinder said suddenly, shocking Snow out of her thoughts. "I know there's something you're keeping to yourself, that you're struggling with on your own. I can see it in your eyes. I won't ask what it is, I know you're not ready to share it. When you are, please know that I will be here for you. Until then, don't let go of that inner strength. Any daughter of Ariana's is certainly a force to be reckoned with. You are stronger than you know. You will survive this, of that I have no doubt."
"We only just met," said Snow quietly. "How can you have so much faith in me?" Dr. Pinder smiled.
"I just told you," he said lightly. "You are Ariana Laine's daughter. If she instilled even a fraction of her strength in you, and knowing Ariana she did so much more than that, you will be just fine. Not right away, no. It will take time and it will be painful, but... you will survive. You are far stronger than you give yourself credit for. Trust me, Snow, you will survive, and if I may be so bold, emerge stronger for having done so."
On the drive back out to the highway an hour later, Snow found she was infinitely happier than she had been on the way up to Harbor Bay. She wasn't at all sure if that was simply because she had been nervous about the meeting or not, but she felt as though her time with Dr. Pinder had helped. She felt... better, as though a certain weight had been lifted from her. She couldn't quite explain it. She felt free. She knew she shouldn't, but somehow, she did.
They drove for a while along the winding road that led to Harbor Bay. Snow sat in the back as they drove in silence, listening to the radio playing quietly as they went. Just before they reached the highway, Kayla pulled off the road and into a gas station. When Kayla got out to fill up the car's tank, Snow slid from the backseat and into the driver's seat. Ariana gave her a smile as she maneuvered herself into the seat.
"Want to drive us home?" She asked. Snow nodded.
"Yeah, I think so," she replied, changing the station on the radio to one of her favorites and beginning to hum along to the song that was playing. At that moment, the thick cloud cover broke and the blazing sun appeared on the horizon. The last remaining snowflakes fell onto the windshield and then, suddenly, for the first time in over a week, the skies were clear.
"Would you look at that?" Ariana said, pointing out of the window. "The snow's stopped falling." Snow nodded, smiling slightly.
"Yeah, and it's about time too. I feel like it's been snowing for a year," she replied, adjusting the volume on the radio. "Mmm mmm mmm on the ocean, sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word can make a heart open. I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion. This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I'm alright song..."
Ariana turned in her seat to watch her daughter idly singing along with the radio. Snow hadn't even noticed, Ariana realized, but she most certainly had. She sat there, swaying slowly in her seat to the music, a contented smile on her face. Perhaps it would all work out after all. Maybe, just maybe, Snow would be okay. Maybe she hadn't done as terrible a job at parenting as she believed. Either that, or Snow was simply far stronger than Ariana had given her credit for. Either way, there was a piece of the old Snow shining through and Ariana was elated. She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, listening contentedly to her daughter's singing. Suddenly Snow reached over and gently laced her fingers through her mother's, drawing Ariana's attention.
"And I don't really care if nobody else believes. 'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me," Snow sang softly. She gave her mother a reassuring nod. "I've still got a lot of fight left in me." Absolutely no words where shared between mother and daughter as Kayla finished fueling the car and took Snow's place in the back. Snow simply smiled at her mother, who squeezed her hand as Snow started the car.
As they drove out onto the road, Snow found she felt happier and more free than she had in a long time. Nothing had changed, not really. JTG was still lurking and her mother was still dying, but somehow she had found a tiny speck of peace in the midst of the storm. She felt that she had reached the end of a long, arduous journey, and even though she knew there was still so much more left to face, she couldn't help but feel that they were nearing the end.
What Snow couldn't see, couldn't know, was that she was not at the end of her journey, but instead it was only the beginning. She still had a long way to go and a dark, dangerous path to tread. For that evening, however, Snow was at peace. The rest of the drive home was quite pleasant. Kayla fell asleep roughly halfway back to Mistbrook Falls, leaving Snow and Ariana alone to talk. They hadn't had much time to just talk since Snow had been told the truth about her mother's condition. They talked about nothing in particular, just idle chit-chat. It was the most pleasant conversation Snow had had in months.
When they at long last arrived back home, having driven down the long winding road from the highway through the thick forest that surrounded Mistbrook Falls on all sides, Snow parked the car in the driveway while Ariana shook Kayla awake. After finally managing to rouse the sleepy brunette, the three of them made their way up to the house. Kayla unlocked the front door and went inside. Snow followed her, but noticed that Ariana wasn't behind her. Instead, she was crouched near the rosebushes that lined the front porch. She stood up suddenly, clutching a fat white cat in her arms.
"Isn't he adorable?" Ariana cooed, nuzzling the cat with her nose. "He's just the sweetest! Aw, you're so precious, aren't you, Pookie McWhiskerson? Can we keep him, Kay-Kay? Can we keep him?"
"He doesn't have a collar, so I guess he's a stray," Kayla observed. "Although with the way he's letting you hold him, he's obviously comfortable around people. Eh... hell, since you've already named him I suppose we have to." She was grinning wider than Snow had ever seen.
"We have to," Snow agreed. "You can't just put something out on the street after you've named it." Kayla smirked.
"You're in for quite a surprise when you turn eighteen." Snow rolled her eyes at her.
"Seriously, he is adorable," said Snow. "The house hasn't been the same since... well... I mean, I miss having a cat."
"Me too," said Kayla as Ariana made her way over. She held the cat up so Kayla and Snow could pet him and he purred contentedly. Snow was much more interested in Ariana than the cat. She was smiling so brightly it was infectious. Seeing her mother happy, seeing her smile... it made her day. In fact, it made her week, her month, and her entire year. She hadn't realized how much she needed to see Ariana happy, but now that she had she understood just how important it was.
Snow watched as Kayla and Ariana took their new cat inside, her own smile plastered on her face. She was happy and for that night, just one night, she wasn't going to let anyone or anything take that away from her. And then her phone chimed. She knew before she even took out her phone who the message was from. It couldn't possibly be from anyone else.
This message, however, was different from the ones in the past. This one included a photograph. It was a photo of Dennis Roberts, who Snow recognized from the bank. He was sitting in an armchair holding a very familiar fat white cat. As she stood there, staring at the picture, all the pieces fit perfectly into place. She watched through the open doorway as her mothers got to know their new cat. All the while, Snow stood outside coming to grips with the sudden realization of exactly where that cat had come from and what had befallen his previous owner.