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Demon's Covenant ARC entry!

She always knew it would be hard. It would be painful and difficult and terrifying. She knew that from the time they were children. So, when it happened, she thought she was prepared.

She was wrong. She wasn't prepared at all.

There were so many things to think about, so many painful ideas. It all swirled together so fast it made her dizzy. Losing her sister was like a nightmare. It all became so surreal and fuzzy that, in the end, the only vivid memory she was left with was the feeling of her blouse sticking to her shoulder with a child's tears.

Tasha didn't hold Alan for long. Daniel was...overwhelmed. She thought it helped him stay grounded to have his son in his arms. Most of the time, she just stood or sat there with them, wherever they happened to be. The hospital, the living room, the funeral home. She just hovered near them, near the only people who had known Marie as well as she did, as if that would bring her closer to her sister. It didn't. She was always just numb, except when she was holding Alan. For those few, precious moments, she could feel like Marie wasn't completely gone. He cried a lot, as four-year-olds are apt to do. But sometimes he just sat silently, huddling close to her. She could stroke his hair and think about Marie without it hurting quite as much.

"Where do people go when they die?" Alan asked her once, sniffling.

Tasha hadn't really known what to say. The obvious answer popped into her head, but she dismissed it. She was only moderately religious, at the most, and anyway Marie wouldn't have said it. Having dealt with cancer for nearly her whole life, Marie had a very practical outlook on that sort of thing. She wouldn't have wanted Tasha to indoctrinate Alan to believing something that may or may not be true.

"I don't know, love," she said at last. "No one knows, not for sure. But the important thing is where we go when we're alive."

Alan looked confused. "I go wherever you or Dad takes me."

"Marie always used to say, 'because I lived until today,'" said Daniel suddenly. He'd been sitting so quietly Tasha had almost forgotten he was there. She certainly hadn't realized he'd been listening. "You know what that means, don't you, kiddo?"

Alan nodded, and Daniel didn't say anything else. Tasha stroked the child's hair and wondered if she'd helped him understand anything, or if he'd already known it from Marie. She supposed it didn't matter.

That was the last time she saw either of them. Daniel was supposed to bring Alan over for dinner that Friday, but they didn't come. Tasha called Daniel to see if he was running late, and the phone had been disconnected. She drove to their home the next day, and found it abandoned. At first, she thought they'd been robbed. The whole house was in total disarray. But as she stood there, waiting for the police to arrive, she began to notice.

Their clothes were gone. Their toothbrushes and personal items. Photographs. They'd left the dishes and the furniture and the appliances. Everything of material value was still there. Daniel and Alan were gone.

Over the years, Tasha hired two or three private investigators. There was never any luck. It always led back to an abandoned house with no trail to follow forward. After a while, Tasha quietly surrendered. She hadn't given  up; she never would. But she knew a lost cause when she saw one, and started just hoping to herself that, wherever Daniel and Alan were, they were all right.

Then, one day, all those years of patiently worrying finally paid off. Tasha's sister-in-law was having minor surgery, and her husband had been called on an urgent business trip. Tasha and her husband had agreed to look after the kids for a few days, and Ben had just left to pick them up from school. Tasha had just starting to cook dinner when the phone rang. Distracted, she glanced over at the caller ID. She didn't recognize the number and considered just letting it ring. That wouldn't be proper, though. So, aggravated, she had picked up.

"Hello?"

"Hi, is this Natasha Walsh?"

Tasha's heart stopped. She knew that voice in her very bones. "...Daniel?"

"No. This is Alan," said the voice. Suddenly, Tasha realized it had been fourteen years. Alan was all grown up now.

"Oh, Alan, love, how are you? I've missed you and your father so much," she had said, unable to stop her voice from shaking. "Where have you two been?"

Alan's voice was warm and pleased. She could hear him smiling. "I'm fine. But...I don't know how to tell you this, but Dad's dead. He died seven years ago."

The shock hit Tasha like a gentle hammer blow. "Oh, that's awful. What happened? What have you been doing all this time? Who's been taking care of you?"

Alan laughed. "It was a fire. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you sooner, I didn't know how to to reach you. And don't worry; I can take care of myself. Can I come and see you?"

So now, fourteen years after Marie's death, Tasha is arranging the presents under the Christmas tree for the hundredth time. She wants them to look perfect when Alan arrives. The doorbell could ring at any moment.

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karaethon
Karaethon

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