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A Villainous Apocalypse - Episode 24

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Smoothie Sims, Inc. proudly presents…

A Villainous Apocalypse

Episode 24 – “You Are Not Alone”


Warning: Portrayals of depression and emotional abuse


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The day her brother got married was the first day in a long while where Elle felt sincerely happy.

Everyone still living at the main house was present, with the exception of Cassie, who was too young, and Gabriel, who had volunteered to watch her. Saxon was thrilled to be invited. He was less thrilled about the suit he had to wear, but was putting up a relatively good front. Most of Elle’s uncles and aunts had come, too, and another handful of the extended family that included Riku, Cid, and Kirby. Even Snow’s twin brother, River, had been able to make it. The only absences were Azula and Dominic—for obvious reasons—and Snow’s sister Saffron. Elle had been looking forward to seeing her again, but important business had taken her out of town some time before, and she hadn’t been able to make it back.

Still, the group felt almost complete despite that. It was good to have something to celebrate, for once. She also felt completely herself for a change. Tristan had worried about her going out so soon after having Cassie, but an afternoon with her family in the crisp air had her feeling better than she had when she’d left the house. No headaches, no exhaustion.



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Most of all, her brother was happy, and that made her feel good. If anyone deserved to be, it was Billy. He had been incredibly kind and thoughtful toward her the whole summer. She would miss him, but she knew he had to get on with his life.

She watched him from across the yard, wondering when she might get the chance to talk to him. She’d hardly spoken to him at all so far except to congratulate him.



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But there were plenty of other people to see, and one of them tapped her on the shoulder, distracting her from her musings. Turning, she saw Liam Whedon standing there, and couldn’t help smiling widely. “Hey!”

“You do remember me.” Liam smiled a little in return and held out his hand, which she shook gladly. “Nice to see you again.”

“You too! I was so pleased when Billy told me he’d met you. How’ve you been?”

“Holding up all right. I’ve been in Sim City, mostly, did Billy tell you?”

She nodded. “Did you like it?”

“It was…interesting.” She immediately saw the change that had taken place since she’d last seen him. When they’d met at the playground, Liam had said whatever was on his mind with angry frankness. Now he measured out his words more carefully. She could tell it didn’t come easily to him. “I met a lot of different people and learned a few things. Too busy for me at times, though. I’m glad to be somewhere a little quieter now.” He tucked his hands in his pockets. “And you? I hear you had a baby.”



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Elle grinned. “Yes. A girl, Cassandra, but we call her Cassie. She’s just become a toddler.”

“Congratulations.” Liam glanced around. “Is that little boy over there also yours?”

“Yes, that’s Saxon. He just had his birthday, too.”

“He seems like a good kid.”

“He is. Not a quiet one, but it keeps things interesting.”

He nodded. “And how’s the, ah, relief going?”

“Well, actually! I finally got a job.”

“Really? Which track?”

“Slacker.” If she had been able to take any job, it wouldn’t have been her first choice, but it was the final part of her sister’s plan and would accomplish something very important—she could relax the strict labor laws that everyone hated so much.



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To her surprise, he actually laughed. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t suit you.”

“I know,” she said ruefully, “but someone’s got to do it.” She wouldn’t dwell on it, though. All she had to do was get to the top, and because she was the Fitzhugh heir, it probably wouldn’t be very hard no matter how she behaved. “Honestly, I’m just happy to finally have something.”

“I can understand that.”

“What about you? Any big plans?”



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He scratched his neck. “Well, I…I’ll be sticking with Law Enforcement for sure, unless something happens, but other than that…ah, hell, I’ll just tell you. I was abducted last night.”

She blinked. “As in by aliens?”

“No, by bunnies,” he teased. She made a face at him, and he laughed again. “Yes, aliens.”

“I’m not sure whether to congratulate you or not,” said Elle, remembering with some sadness that Azula was always wild about the prospect of an alien discussion. “I mean, I’m a Knowledge Sim, and I have an alien cousin—which you know, since you live with him—"



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“Why are we talking about aliens?” a little voice piped up beside her, and Elle looked down to see that Saxon had sidled up to her at some point during the conversation.

Liam grinned. Suddenly, he seemed completely at ease. “Because they came for me last night.”

“Really? Cool!” Saxon beamed back, then seemed to realize something and arched an eyebrow. “Who are you, again?”

“Saxon, this is Liam,” Elle said quickly, afraid that her son might offend Liam with his childlike frankness. “We knew each other when we were kids. Liam, my son Saxon.”

“Nice to meet you, Saxon,” Liam said. He still acted more amused than anything. “And yes, it was cool. Well, actually, I don’t remember a lot of it, and getting dumped on the sidewalk was…unpleasant…but I’m okay with it.” He glanced at Elle. “Family Sim.”

She smiled. “Then congratulations, definitely.”

“Does that mean you’re going to have a green baby like Uncle Riku?” Saxon asked.

“Yes, it does,” said Liam.



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“Ellie?” came another new voice, one that didn’t sound either happy or interested, as Saxon’s had. She turned to see her husband approaching and tried to force down the feeling that she was in trouble.

Tristan stepped up close to them, almost putting himself between her and Liam. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said, eyeing the other man. “Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh, certainly. Tristan, this is Liam. Liam, my husband Tristan.”

Tristan, as a mayoral candidate, had too much innate politeness not to shake Liam’s hand, although his smile was tight. “Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so,” Liam said calmly. Elle wondered how he managed it. “I’m new to the area.”

“Ah, I must be thinking of someone else. I’ve been meeting a lot of people lately.”

“Right, because of the election. That’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I do hope you’ll come out and vote.”

“Planning on it.”



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“Good.” Tristan’s eyes flickered to Elle and back. “And how do you know my wife?”

“We met once when we were kids,” said Liam. “We were just catching up.”

“I see. Well, I’m sorry to interrupt, but we should be going. Ellie has to work tonight and she hasn’t been feeling well lately.” Tristan looked at Elle again. “Let’s get you home so you can get some rest.”

“I should say goodbye to Billy,” Elle stammered.

“I’ve already excused us to him,” Tristan said, with finality.



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Elle bit her lip and nodded. “It was nice to see you again,” she said quickly to Liam. Then she held out her hand to Saxon. “Come on, honey, time to go home.”

Saxon looked between the three adults, his eyes landing on Tristan last. He opened his mouth as if to protest, but Elle shook her head to stop him. The last thing she wanted was for him to make a scene over it. It wasn’t worth it.

He met her gaze and seemed to understand what she wanted, because he nodded. “Okay,” he said, and they walked away together.



---



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Billy was deep in the middle of a chat with Jon when Liam appeared beside him. “Can I talk to you?” he asked quietly.

“Uh, sure.” Billy apologized to Jon and walked a little ways off with Liam. As they went, he looked around. “Where’s Elle? Weren’t you two talking?”

“We were,” Liam said. His expression was somewhere between troubled and angry. “Her husband interrupted us and they’ve gone home.”

Billy swore. “I wanted to talk to her and didn’t get to. Guess I’ll have to call.”

Liam scowled. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but…what is his problem?”

“What do you mean?” Billy asked, although he could guess.

“It was like he was p—marking his territory,” Liam said. “And I’m sorry, your sister seems like a great person, but the second he showed up it was like she was a stray puppy and he’d kicked her. That’s not normal.”

“No, it’s not,” Billy said quietly. This wasn’t good. He had to see his uncle again as soon as possible.



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“He was treating me really suspiciously, too. He asked if he’d seen me before—oh, wait, I have seen him before.” Liam’s eyes widened. “I couldn’t figure out where until right this second, but I know where he’s from.”

“Where?”

“He used to work as a Lobbyist in Sim City. My security job was at the office he worked for.” He frowned darkly at the horizon. “Everyone I talked to thought he was a smug asshole. He left for here a couple of seasons before I did.”

Billy stared at him. “What else do you know?”

“Not a lot. Just that he’d been a Lobbyist for ages. I think he got transferred here, not sure why. Maybe so he could marry Elle, I don’t know.”

“That…might actually help.”

Liam looked at him. “Help with what?”

“I’m not sure,” Billy admitted. “But that’s more than I knew before.”



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He excused himself to Liam and found Snow. She looked up at him and immediately read his expression. “What’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to Lex really quickly,” he said. “Do you know where he is?”

“Upstairs, I think. What’s the matter, Billy?”

Billy glanced around to make sure no one else was paying attention, then told her the short version. “He told me to meet with him to discuss it,” he finished.

Snow nodded. “Not tonight, though.”

“No, of course not. I just need to make sure I can get a time with him for tomorrow, before he leaves.”

“Right.” She nodded toward the house, smiling, but looking worried too. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

He kissed her cheek and ran that way.



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Elle was potty training Cassie the next morning when Tristan came downstairs already dressed for the office. He didn’t say anything, waiting patiently for her to finish.

Finally, Cassie slid off the potty. “Good girl,” Elle said softly. Cassie cooed at her in response.



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She set her daughter up with a bottle of SmartMilk and turned to her husband. “Good luck today,” she told him, without enthusiasm.

He studied her. “Are we okay?”

Elle wanted to say no, but it was not the day for it. All the same, she hated just letting it go. “Yes,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation.

“And you’re going to be okay at work today?” He gave her a knowing look. “The election will be all anyone talks about.”

“I have all my soundbytes prepared,” she said, because that was what he wanted to hear.

He kissed her lips quickly. “That’s my girl. Just don’t let any handsome men steal you away from me.”



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She had been doing fine until then, but his inability to just drop it made her want to start crying again. He’d humiliated her the day before, not just with his behavior toward Liam at the wedding, but by confronting her about him in front of Saxon when they were barely out of earshot. “Why are you being like this?” she asked.

“Ellie—"

“No, don’t you dare. I told you he was just a very old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in ages. I told you I wasn’t leading him on. He knows I’m married, he met our son. Tell me how any of that means I did something wrong!”

“Elle, you’re getting hysterical,” Tristan said flatly, with a glance toward the stairs. “Don’t do this now. You said we were okay—"

“We were until you brought it up again! Did you think that was funny? Because I didn’t.”

He sighed heavily. “Look. I’ve been stressed out at the office trying to get everything ready for the election, and I’ve been counting on your support. When I saw you with him, I got jealous. Who wouldn’t?”

“I only love you,” she insisted. “Why don’t you believe me?”

Tristan waited just a moment too long before saying that he did believe her. She could tell he didn’t mean it. “Anyway, I’d better go. Think good thoughts for me. Maybe you’ll get a promotion, too. Wouldn’t that be something?”

“That would be nice.”

He smiled without warmth or humor, and left.



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Elle left Cassie to the society of the rabbit toy and went downstairs for a few moments of privacy. Her carpool would come in another hour. She wasn’t ready.

She was shocked when she found the kitchen occupied by her father. “I thought you were at the salon with Mom,” she said.

“Not today.” Harry looked at her probingly. “Are you all right?”

Elle abruptly realized that he had heard everything, or if not that, at least her end. She hadn’t taken any care to keep her volume down. “No,” she said, feeling ashamed of herself.

“Is there anything I can do?”

She shook her head. “No one can help me with this,” she said. “It’s my marriage. I’ve got to fix it myself.”

“Are things that bad?” Harry asked gently.

The sympathetic expression in his eyes almost undid her completely. “It’ll be fine,” she said firmly, “once the election’s over and we can talk.”



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“Baby,” said Harry, getting up and going to her, “the relief is not as important as you are.”

She laughed bitterly. “That’s not true and you know it.”

“It should be. I can’t bear seeing you so miserable.”

“Everyone who’s come before us has had to deal with bad things, Dad. I’ve read about it. I saw it with you and Mom. Why should I get any special treatment? I’m no better than anyone else.” She swallowed. “We just have to get through the next couple of days, and then it’ll be okay.” It’s got to be, she added silently.

Harry’s eyes were sad as he held out his arms to her. She hesitated a moment, then moved into them. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “It wasn’t fair for any of us to put this on you.”

Elle knew that if she tried to reply, she would start crying and never stop. So she said nothing, and just let her father hold her.



---



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The news that Tristan Smith Fitzhugh had won the election in a landslide began to circulate through the neighborhood late that afternoon. Soon after, a report came that his wife, Elle Fitzhugh, had just become the area’s most prominent Professional Party Guest. The two of them would be working together to amend the labor laws and to enforce some of the other statutes put in place by Azula Doran the previous winter.

None of it gave Billy any encouragement. He felt absolutely no security with his brother-in-law as Mayor, and the news meant that Tristan was still living at the main house, taking advantage of his family, and hurting his sister. He could hardly wait for his meeting with Lex, and his antsiness was driving his roommates crazy.

Finally, a little after dark, he received a call. “Come on over,” Lex told him.

Billy couldn’t run fast enough.



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When he got to his uncle’s house, he was quickly ushered upstairs to the second floor and into Lex and Rhi’s bedroom. It made him feel unsure of himself for a split second, before he saw who was inside and surprise took over.

“Sorry I missed your wedding,” said Saffron.

“So was Snow,” Billy managed. “Where have you been?”

“Can’t tell you. Can’t stay long, either. I’ve got to go back as soon as we’re done here.”



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Billy looked between her and the other two women, and found that he recognized one of them. “Hi, Cherryh, what are you doing here?”

“Hi, Billy.” Cherryh Nebula smiled the same sweet smile that had encouraged him so much when he was a teenager working in his mother’s stores. “I’m here for the same reason Saffron is.”

Now thoroughly confused, Billy turned to the third woman. “And you are?”

“Selina Morgan,” she told him, with no preamble whatsoever. “Your great-aunt.”

“You are shitting me.”



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Lex had been standing by the door, but he moved forward then and put a hand on Billy’s arm. “None of us is here to waste your time, Billy,” he said. “You’ll have to try to accept whatever we tell you, because we don’t have long.”

“But…she’s been missing since before I was born,” Billy exclaimed.

“Keep your voice down,” Selina said sharply.

“Everyone’s out for the evening like you asked,” Lex said carefully.

“I know, and thank you, but we can’t be too careful.” She turned back to Billy. “I’m going to tell you how we all came to be here, but we need to be quick, so just listen and don’t ask any questions until I’m done, got it?”

He nodded, still shellshocked.



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Selina gave him a brief history of the group she called the Watchers. “Now, my husband Stephen and I run the operation. Cherryh, Saffron, and your great-something uncle Vaughn work alongside us. Lex and Gordon have been keeping us up to date with everything here since last summer.”

“Vaughn and I were the ones who helped Zuzu and Dom get out of Takemizu,” Saffron added.

Billy started. “Do you know where they are? Are they okay?”

“They’re fine. I can’t tell you where they’ve been, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not important. You can’t go there, anyway. Now focus.”



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“Lex told us what you told him about Elle and Tristan,” Cherryh explained. “We’re here about that.”

“What about that?” Billy folded his arms, already fed up with the conversation. They were asking him to process too many things at once.

“We did some research and it confirmed what we’d already expected,” Selina said. “Tristan’s a mole. We tracked down some email correspondence from around the time of Elle’s senior year. It looks like Raikov was trying to help him marry one of your sisters so that he could have a plant in the Politics track, and that he was keeping tabs on Elle. He sent Tristan her way once she broke up with her boyfriend.”

“I knew it,” Billy growled. “I knew the whole time that he was no good, and she didn’t listen to me.”

“We know,” Cherryh said sympathetically. “You did everything you could, Billy.”

“I didn’t punch Tristan in the face, which is what I am going to do as soon as I leave here.”



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“Don’t,” Saffron said forcefully. “You have to leave him alone. Going after him at this stage in the game solves nothing and it’ll only get you fired.”

“Then tell me what I can do, Saffron, because I won’t just do nothing!”

“Right now, you have to,” Cherryh said quietly. He started to object, but she shook her head. “Hear us out, Billy. We’ve got a plan.”

“You can’t take any legal action against Tristan,” said Selina. “The only thing he’s guilty of is going to the right place at the right time and saying all the right words to make your sister trust him. It’s a terrible thing to do, but it’s not illegal, and it’s probably not enough to get him kicked out of office. However, it might be enough to get Elle to divorce him, if we play this right.”

“She won’t listen,” said Billy. “She never does, where he’s concerned.”

“Maybe not to you. What about Azula?”

He considered it. Yes, Elle would listen to Azula. She trusted Azula more than anyone else, respected her opinion, and had faithfully followed through on her career plan without having to be told twice. If anyone could get through to her, it would be Azula. “She’s not here, though,” he told Selina, “so she can’t help.”



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“Not now she’s not,” Saffron interjected. “But I’m going to go and get her tonight.”

Billy’s heart stopped. “Tonight?”

“It’ll take at least a day to bring them back here,” she warned. “But they should be in the clear now. Tristan is opening up diplomatic relations with Takemizu tomorrow. Your job is to let him. Let him and Elle work in peace until I can get Azula back here.”

“And then?”

“Then we let Azula talk to her and hope for the best. If she needs further convincing, I’ll send her the evidence we found, too.”

Billy made himself relax. It was the best he could hope for, and a better situation than he’d assumed. Azula would come home, and everything would be fine. “Okay.” He smiled a bit at Saffron. “So, you called me here in the dead of night just to tell me to sit on my hands for a couple of days? I think a phone call would have sufficed.”

“You’d have hung up on me and gone straight to kicking Tristan’s ass anyway,” Saffron said dismissively. “I don’t blame you. It’s what I’d do if it were Snow. Feel free to take that as a warning, by the way.”

“Not necessary,” he told her. It was actually comforting to know that his wife had a more supportive family than he did.

“Glad to hear it.”



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Selina cleared her throat. “There’s another reason we asked you here.” She glanced at Lex.

Billy turned to him as well, and was surprised to see how solemn he looked. “Remember how I told you I was retiring?” Lex asked. “I’m retiring from this, too. So is Gordon. We want you to take our place.”

“You’ll mostly be in touch with me,” Saffron said. “It won’t look odd because you’re married to my sister. Between the two of us, we can make sure the Watchers stay on top of things, so if we have to intervene at any point, we can.”

“What do you think, Billy?” asked Selina.

Billy looked between the women and Lex. “If it’ll help protect my sister, then yes,” he said decisively.

“I’ll set you up on our server tonight,” Cherryh said, looking pleased.



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The women offered Billy a ride home on their way back to Sim City, which he politely accepted, because it was cold out. Then he waited while Lex said goodbye to each of them. When that was over, Lex turned to Billy. “Your agreeing to do this takes a load off my mind,” he said.

“Of course I agreed,” said Billy. “I couldn’t not.”

“I hoped so. Thank you, anyway.” Lex gave Billy a tight hug, then let him leave with the Watchers.



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“Citizens of Sierra Plains…I address you as the first Mayor of this town.

“It is more of a victory for you than it is for me, because the simple fact that I am speaking to you now shows just how far we have come, and how much we have accomplished, since the dark days just after the power plant accident. Our situation has never been brighter than now, and I feel that our forebears would be proud of our progress.

“Today has been a long, yet productive one. Already, my staff and I have been hard at work, making changes on your behalf. Some of them you have no doubt heard already. We have, for example, opened up international communications, so that other countries will now recognize us as the community that we are instead of a nuclear war zone. I have every hope that international travel will soon be possible.

“In matters closer to home, I am proud to announce that Sierra Plains’ labor laws have been amended to allow for maternity leave and vacation time. This is in large part thanks to my wife, who lost her first job because she could not get a ride there while she was pregnant with our son. She has worked nearly as hard as I have to set better standards in the workplace. Now, Sierra Plains citizens will be able to enjoy the relaxation that is necessary for good health and long life.

“Finally, I want to announce that the zoning laws restricting the size of our homes have been done away with entirely. The city’s approval must still be obtained before any building is done, but we no longer have to cower in tiny huts. Now we can put our land to good use so that our families have room to grow and thrive.



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I want to thank you all for your faith in my ability to create a better world, not just for us, but for those who will come after us. I want the best for your children, just as I do for mine. Because of my efforts, as well as the efforts of many others, we can look forward to a bright future. Thank you.

When the broadcast ended, a heavy silence fell over the room. Finally, Snow said what they were all thinking: “I can almost believe he really means it.”

“Pretentious douche,” Riku scoffed. All the same, he looked a little worried, and that was a big deal coming from him.

Billy said nothing as he went to turn off the stereo. He had told his wife and housemates everything he had been told about Tristan—though for now, only Snow knew about the Watchers themselves—and they knew as well as he did that the good will Tristan had expressed was not entirely genuine.

He and Raikov had an agenda. The other shoe would drop eventually. The only thing Billy didn’t know was when it would happen, and that made him nervous.



---



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“We’re getting a new house?”

“Yes, tomorrow.”

“But I like ours.”

Elle smiled thinly. She didn’t really know how to feel about the move, either. “You’ll like the new one, too,” she said to Saxon. “There’ll be a lot more space, and we’ll have a garden, and a nice yard, and you’ll have your own room.”

The concept of a room all his own was completely foreign to Saxon, she could tell. “With a door and everything?”

“Of course. We’ll even put blue carpet and wallpaper in it just for you.”

“I guess that sounds okay.”

Elle ruffled his hair. “It’ll be great. Now, you’d better get to bed.”

The phone rang downstairs. “Maybe that’s Idina!” Saxon exclaimed, with a pleading expression. “Can I stay up a little longer and talk to her?”

“Idina shouldn’t be calling you this late,” Elle said, “but if it’s her, I suppose you can have five minutes, if you promise you’ll go right to bed after.”



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She went downstairs to answer the phone, only to find that her father had beaten her to it. “Hello, Rhi,” he was saying, with a smile. It quickly fell off his face. “What? When?” There was a pause, and Harry ducked his head. “I see. Thank you for calling. I’m very sorry—tell the rest of your family for us. Okay.” He hung up.

“Dad?”

He turned, and she could see tears in his eyes. “The Grim Reaper came for Lex earlier tonight,” he said quietly.

“Oh, no.” Elle quickly crossed the room and hugged him, although she was crying herself. She knew that her pain at losing her uncle couldn’t compare to Harry’s loss of a brother, but it hurt all the same. She could not comprehend the idea of a world without Lex’s easy smile and good humor.



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After a minute, Harry let go and swiped at his eyes. “I’m all right, Ellie.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’d better go tell your mother.” He gave her something that was not quite a smile, then shuffled toward the stairs.

Saxon was on his way down, saw immediately that both of them were upset, and watched in confusion as Harry started up. “What happened?” he asked, once Harry was gone.

“Saxers, Idina’s grandfather died tonight,” Elle said. “Be extra nice to her at school tomorrow, okay?”

Saxon frowned. “She won’t want me to be, but I’ll try.” Instead of turning to go back up the stairs, he took a seat at the table. “Mom, what does it mean when you die?”



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Elle wasn’t sure how to answer the question, but she took a seat across from Saxon and tried her best to explain. “I’m not exactly sure, since I’ve never died, but…the Grim Reaper comes, and if you’ve lived a long, happy life, he gives you a fancy drink and a suitcase, and supposedly takes you somewhere really nice.”

“What about if you die young?”

“I don’t know. The Reaper still comes, they have to…pick up your soul, I guess. You can’t get to the afterlife without them.”

“Where’s the afterlife?”

She grimaced. “I wish I knew.”

“But you’re a Knowledge Sim.”

“Honey, being a Knowledge Sim doesn’t mean you know everything. It just means you want to.”



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He considered that, then nodded. “Can you go to the afterlife if you’re not dead?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Would you, if you could? To find out what it’s like?”

“Only if I could come back after.” She reached across the table and took his hands. “I’d rather stay here with you than go there before it’s my time. I’d miss you too much.”

“I’d miss you, too,” said Saxon. He looked a little relieved. “How do you know you’d miss me, though?”

“You’re my son. I’d miss you.”

“Would Dad miss me?”

“Of course he would,” she said, frowning. “Why wouldn’t he?”



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Saxon shrugged and slid out of his chair. “I’m going to bed.”

Bewildered, Elle stood too. Her son never volunteered to go to bed on his own. “All right,” she said slowly. “Sleep well, kiddo. I love you.”

“Love you.” He hugged her quickly, then ran up the stairs before she could push him on the subject. She debated following him, but just then a car honked outside, and she realized her carpool had come.

She sighed heavily. Work was the last place she wanted to go. Technically, she had the option to skip it, but she didn’t feel that a death in the extended family was a good enough excuse to stay home. With a heavy heart, she mechanically started down the stairs to the car.



---



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The new house turned out to be the most beautiful place she could imagine living. It took her a while to get over the feeling that she shouldn’t be there—she had never seen such a big building in her life—but once she relaxed, she found that she loved it. She and Tristan had their own room, and so did her parents, and Saxon. There was even a separate space for a nursery, and when Cassie outgrew that, she would have her own big girl room, too.



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A little room next to the nursery was presented to Elle as her private office. “We wanted to make sure you got somewhere nice and quiet to work, when you wanted one,” Harry explained. Both he and Mya seemed anxious for her to like it.

She did, very much. The windows gave her a lovely view of the backyard and the scenery beyond, and they had had it decorated in the cheerful, slightly antiquated way she preferred. Most of all, it was nice to have a space that was all hers. She felt pleased that they had thought of her.



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Even so, the outside somehow made her happiest of all. There was plenty of space for the kids to play, with a pool, a hot tub, and a swing set in the backyard. Even better, they had a small garden: four fruit trees in the front, and a little plot off the back porch. It was already too late in the season to plant anything, but it wouldn’t be long until spring, and until then, the trees could be tended to. She loved to look at them and paid them a ridiculous amount of attention; if they needed trimming or spraying, she knew it in an instant.

The rest of the family quickly learned that the trees were Elle’s, and no one else’s. As none of them really had an inclination for gardening, they left her to it.

It surprised her, how nice having all that space made her feel. She could relax in a way she’d never been able to in the old house. A small part of her felt some regret over leaving, but not as big a part as she’d thought before. She told her parents that there was nothing more she could ask for, which made them happy.



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It wasn’t a complete truth, though. There were still two things she wanted, and neither seemed very likely. The first, more time with her husband, looked even less possible than it had before the election. They were rarely alone because she worked nights, and when they did get private time, he didn’t want to talk. It was not working out the way she had hoped, and it left her feeling less than optimistic about the other thing.



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Then, one morning in mid-Fall, she walked outside to tend her trees and received the most wonderful surprise.

“Ellie!”

Elle could only stare for a moment, but then took off running. “Zuzu!”



Part 2 is here

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