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It was raining when he came. Celine felt him more than heard him, the knock so quiet it could have been the tapping of rain on the picture window. She got up from her reading chair, setting the novel aside, and walked to the entrance hall. It was a quiet night, with everyone else long asleep. The rain kept them awake, causing the body’s joints to ache and broken spine to misalign. Leaning on her cane Celine opened the door with one hand. He was soaking wet, and at first she thought the water on his face was just rain. But there was something in it, swirling like ash.

 

“Who are you?” she asked, blocking the door with her body.

 

Are you? ” came the soft reply. It was echoy and soft, but very clearly her voice. He had wide doe eyes, completely black. Her eyes took in his small frame, soaked blue hoodie, and chestnut hair. In the light from the entrance hall she could tell he was one of Ethan's.

 

“Come inside,” Celine said, shuffling to the side to let him in.

 

Inside ,” he spoke, again in her voice. Slowly he came in, sneakers squishing a bit, looking around. He reminded her of a wet cat, wide eyes scanning the room for danger.

 

Carefully she guided him to the kitchen, pulling out a chair at the large table for him.

 

“Wait here,” she said, “I’m going to fetch you a towel.”

 

Wait ... Towel .”

 

Celine walked carefully from the room, headed to her own quarters. She wondered who he was. Ethan hadn’t made any new egos since Unus, and they had all of his old ones. Save for a few. She didn’t know where they went. Perhaps like Sean they had their own house. Most of the ones here belonged partly to Mark as well, like Mike and Unus. Carefully she eased the door open. The room had once belonged only to her brother and herself. It was old, like their bedroom before. A large four-poster canopy bed in the middle of the far wall, a lounge chair against the other next to the fireplace, an ornate dresser and washbasin, everything in shades of black or dark mahogany. But as Wilford had moved in his taste had taken root. There was a shaggy pink carpet next to the bed, a makeup vanity in the corner, a pink and yellow blanket thrown over the chaise longue.

 

And Wilford himself, still asleep, snoring in their bed. She let her eyes pass over him. He looked peaceful like this, draped out over the silk black sheets. Celine at that moment wanted nothing more than to cuddle next to him, settle back into sleep. She shook her head. The boy outside needed her. Slowly she made her way to the bathroom, pulling out a few fluffy towels. As she was getting ready to leave she stopped by their dresser. Celine fumbled around before pulling out one of Wilford's sweaters and some sweatpants. They were much too big for the boy in the kitchen, but she supposed they would have to do.  Celine took one last look at Wilford before closing the door.

 

He was still there, staring blankly at the worn table. She took him in again, better illuminated by the dining room lights. He was crying. He looked younger than a lot of the other Egos, but perhaps that was due to his thin frame and the way he seemed to collapse inward on himself, taking up as little space as possible.

 

“Here,” Celine said, placing the towels on the table, with the clothes on top, “You can dry off with the towels and then put on the clothes.”

 

Dry… clothes ,” he whispered. His voice sounded like the wind.

 

Celine watched as he fumbled with the towel, clumsily patting himself dry. Celine bustled off to the kitchen to make tea to give him some privacy while he changed.

 

“Let me know when you’re done,” she said gently, pulling out the box of tea from the cabinet.

 

After a while the tea boiled and she poured it into two mugs, deciding to bring the whole box over with her.

 

Done .” Celine used some of their void powers to lift the mugs and tea boxes, almost dropping them when she heard her own voice coming from the other side of the room. She wondered if she’d ever get used to that.

 

The boy was practically drowning in Wilford’s clothes. Celine felt a twinge in her chest as she set everything on the table. She decided at that moment she’d protect him.

 

“What kind of tea do you want?” Celine asked gently, pushing the box towards him.

 

He slowly rummaged through it before selecting one. Celine pulled out one of the sachets. It was one of the more spicy ones, with ginger and anise as well as cinnamon and rooibos. She placed it in one of the mugs and handed it to him.

 

“Be careful,” Celine said, “It’s hot.”

 

It’s hot ,” he said as he took it carefully.

 

Celine selected one for herself. It was a gift from Eric, who they often shared tea with, a blend of rose petals and strong mint. They stayed silent for a while, just sipping their tea. The tears continued to drip down the boy’s face, still mixed with that inky ash.

 

“What’s your name?” Celine asked again.

 

The boy shook his head. Celine thought for a moment before summoning a pen from the void, along with a pad of paper. She pushed it towards him. Slowly he began to write, his tears falling on the page. When he showed her, his handwriting was light and cursive. Blank . Celine nodded, recognition flashing in her eyes. Blank was one of Ethan’s older egos, and one of the less explored. Thinking back on it, neither her nor Damien had ever seen him. But she assumed he was just doing his own thing, wherever Ethan’s other egos were.

 

“Why did you show up now?” Celine asked.

 

Blank thought for a moment. Then he held up the pad again. They believe in me . Celine nodded. The Egos became real based on fan engagement. With Ethan announcing his new short film and the enigmatic trailer, everyone assumed it was going to feature BlankGameplays. Blank rubbed his eyes with one sleeve, leaving a little streak of ink across the sleeve.

 

“Come,” Celine said, standing up. They could clean the table later. Or someone else would do it when they woke up. “Let’s get you to your room.”

 

Blank followed Celine out of the kitchen, down a few hallways. Celine could feel it when the manor shifted. The cosmic forces that governed their realm were nebulous, made of the will of the fans, and things changed often. And she could feel it. Not as much as the Host, but she could sense when the fabric of reality changed. Blank’s room was near the back of the house. Celine opened the door. The room was small, but cozy. The ceiling wasn’t as high as her room. The bed was tucked into the corner, with a sort of tent over it. She could see the duvets and pillows inside, making a sort of nest. Blank walked into it cautiously, as if unsure what to do.

 

“This is your room,” Celine said, “There should be clothes in the closet, and an adjacent bathroom. If you need something, feel free to ask. I or one of the others will give you a tour tomorrow.”

 

Others ,” Blank echoed. He was still holding the pad of paper to his chest.

 

“There’s a lot of us,” Celine admitted, then quickly added when she saw the flicker of fear on Blank’s face, “But it’s okay. They’re eclectic, but they care. You’ll fit right in.”

 

Blank smiled. Celine felt her heart clench again. She bid Blank goodnight and headed to her room, head spinning. Why was she feeling like that? What was it? Celine made her way back to her room and shrugged off her shawl, leaving her in just her nightgown. Carefully she slipped into bed next to Wilford. He stirred.

 

“Good morning Molly,” he said, his voice growly from sleep. Wilford could tell the difference between Celine and Damien when no one else could, even in the dark, even when half asleep.

 

“I’m sorry for waking you,” Celine said. Wilford smiled and pulled her closer.

 

“It’s okay,” Wilford slurred, “I love waking up to you.”

 

Celine was quiet. She felt Wilford’s arms around her as she closed her eyes. She remembered the way Blank smiled. Celine knew she would do anything to make sure he smiled again.

 

***

 

Damien is up with the sun, even after going to bed so late. As he drags his body into a sitting position he hisses. Wilford stirs, already awake, and helps steady him, jumping out of bed to his side to help Damien stand.

 

“I’m sorry Wilford,” Damien said through gritted teeth as they moved slowly into the bathroom.

 

“Nonsense calico,” Wilford said as he sat Damien on the closed toilet seat. “Want me to fetch your suit for you?”

 

Damien shook his head. He didn’t feel like his body could stand a day in such a garment, and they had no important meetings with anyone but the Egos of the house today.

 

“Just something casual,” Damien said.

 

Wilford nodded, ducking back out to the main room while Damien took care of himself in the bathroom. As he was washing up Wilford came back in with an argyle sweater and wide-leg slacks. Damien was slightly ashamed that Wilford had to help him dress, as his joints still weren’t quite awake yet.

 

“Wilford,” Damien said as he buttoned his slacks. Wilford hummed, adjusting his suspenders. Damien went to help him, knowing without him the clasps would be uneven. “We got a new Ego last night.”

 

“Oh!” Wilford said, looking up. He stroked his moustache as he thought about it for a moment, “Who’s? I didn’t know Mark made one recently.”

 

“No,” Damien said, finishing with Wilford’s suspenders and smoothing out the back of his collar instead, “One of Ethan’s. BlankGameplays.”

 

“Wasn’t he made a long time ago?” Wilford asked, looking at Damien through the mirror.

 

“I thought that too,” Damien sighed, “But Celine found him in the hall last night, wet as a drowned rat. We should probably go get him.”

 

“I might not be the best thing to wake up to,” Wilford said sheepishly.

 

“Nonsense,” Damien said, smoothing out his hair and giving his appearance another pass over in the mirror, “You’re wonderful.”

 

Wilford blushed. The two of them made their way slowly to Blank’s room. Damien had considered getting a chair, like Eric. He knew logically that the Googles could make him one, if he asked them to. But he didn’t like it. Something deep inside him wouldn’t let him. So he kept going, shuffling slowly along the corridor, forcing his broken body to move. Wilford stayed close, never saying anything, but always within arms reach if Damien were to fall.

 

Damien carefully knocked on Blank’s door. They waited in silence until the boy opened the door. He looked much better than last night, but now Damien could see what Celine meant. Blank was thin, with wide scared eyes that always seemed to be filled with tears. Hair hair was short on the sides, fluffy on top. He reminded Damien of a bird, or perhaps a young cheetah. He was wearing Wilford’s sweater and red jeans.

 

“Hello!” Wilford beamed. Blank carefully pulled the legal pad away from his chest, his hands engulfed in the material of Wilford’s sweater.

 

Hello. My name is BlankGameplays was written on the pad in the same neat, gentle writing.

 

“Wonderful to meet you,” Wilford chirped. “Come along boys. I think Beta has breakfast going.”

 

Damien smiled at Blank. “I’m Damien. You met my sister Celine last night.”

 

Celine ,” Blank whispered. “ You… sister .”

 

Blank followed behind Damien and Wilford to the kitchen. Damien was thankful the Egos kept an eclectic schedule. Only about seven of them were in the kitchen, the early risers, and the sound of a clock was echoing from somewhere. Google was indeed staring on breakfast, specifically Beta, dressed in his classic blue shirt. The other Googles were somewhere else, probably still charging. Bim was at the table, nursing his coffee. King was sitting next to him, feeding almonds to some of his subjects. He used to use peanuts, until some of Ethan’s egos started to move in. Speaking of, Mike was sitting across from him, stirring what looked like a milkshake. Damien eyed him, and Mike smirked back. Also at the table was Yancy and Illinois, both talking quietly. And at the other end of the table were Unus and Annus. That explained the ticking.

 

Others ,” Blank breathed, stepping a little closer to Damien and holding the notebook close.

 

“It’s okay,” Damien said gently. “I’ll introduce you.”

 

Damien straightened himself, cracking his neck back into place before walking into the room and taking a seat at the table, gesturing for Blank to do the same.

 

“Everyone,” Damien said in his most authoritative voice. The table quieted instantly, all eyes on him and the newcomer, “This is Blank, BlankGameplays. He’s going to be staying with us. I’ll tell you more at the meeting this afternoon.” He spotted Mike pouring a small baggie into his milkshake, “Mike that better not be cocaine.”

 

Blank sat upright at that, looking over at Mike. “Mad” Mike just smiled wider, wider than should honestly be possible and tucked the baggie back in his apron.

 

“No biggie boss,” Mike said.

 

“That wasn’t an answer Mike,” Damien chastised.

 

Before Damien could set in on Mike, Wilford brought tea over for Damien and Blank. This time Blank picked out his tea bag, his movements slow, watching Dark’s face for signs of disapproval. Finding none he pulled out the tea he had last night.

 

“So you’re the BlankGameplays,” Unus said, his hands on his chin and elbows on the table.

 

Unus and Annus made the twins tired. Damien more than Celine. They were supposed to be entities of power, Time and Death, serious threats like him. But the channel turned out to mostly be dick jokes and pee videos. Well only three pee videos. But three is a pattern. They robbed a sex store, locked Mark and Ethan in a coffin, seriously attempted insurance fraud, and a host of other things including testing just how hard it is to kill an Ego. And worst of all they loved to play dumb. Damien determined Unus genuinely had no idea what was going on, a persona made of the most ditzy energy Ethan could summon up. He seriously had no ability to read or write, even. Annus was more tricky, breaking rules that were buried down deeper in the red tape, ones you’d have to know the system to break. Unus could kill without a thought, he could do almost anything without thinking, and Annus could pretend to be clueless pretty well. They were dangerous. Worst of all Damien hadn’t figured out how to hold them down. Wilford was also a maniac, often plagued with moments of hallucination and memory loss, but he was easy to calm when you knew him. Unus and Annus had been there for almost nine months and the twins knew nothing about them.

 

Annus was smiling now, his big brown eyes empty, but something about it made Damien’s hair stand on end. Annus was mania, pure and simple.

 

The… BlankGameplays ,” Blank said, his voice somehow even more whispery as Unus fixed him with glittering brown eyes. Blank somehow zapped all the energy from Unus’s voice, making it echo as if from far away. And then he was using Celine’s voice. “ Me .”

 

“Oh I like you!” Unus said, giggling. It sounded like glass breaking.

 

Blank imitated the sound, perfectly. Except for the whispery echo. It was odd, to see him open his mouth and have the laugh tumble out without his lips moving. He usually mouthed along to the words. Damien wondered momentarily where the sound was even coming from if Blank didn’t have to move his lips to imitate.

 

“Weren’t you one of Ethan’s first?” Mike asked, stirring his now half-empty milkshake. He was talking fast, and Damien internally groaned.

 

Ethan… ” Blank started, but didn’t seem to have the words to finish. He took out his pad of paper and tapped at it for a moment before shaking his head. When he held up the pad he pointed at two new words: Don’t remember .

 

“So you can only echo,” Bim said over his coffee. “Should we have the doc look him over?”

 

“Blank’s right here Bim,” Damien said, “You can talk directly to him.”

 

Bim nodded apologetically and turned to Blank, “Dr. Iplier. He’s a doctor. He can check you out if you want. Not just for your voice but just to make sure everything else is ok.”

 

Blank… ok… with doctor .” Blank said. There was less of a pause between words.

 

More people were filling into the room. The other Googles, Gamma, Rho, and Upsilon, were in the kitchen now. Eric was wheeling into the dining room in his chair, talking to Captain Magnum, who had to duck to get through the doorway. Damien invited them to sit next to Blank, thinking Eric might be able to draw the boy out of his shell, just as Eric had come out of his shell. The Jims were in next. There were about six of them total. Three were in now, from the looks of it Reporter Jim (RJ), Camera Jim (CJ), and Weather Jim (WJ). They saw Blank and made a beeline for him.

 

“Who are you!” RJ asked animatedly, holding a microphone out. Blank started to say something but then RJ gasped, “Why are you crying! What’s up with your eyes? Can you talk?”

 

“Jims,” Damien said, “Sit down. We can introduce ourselves later. Leave him alone.”

 

More people flooded in. The dining room was huge, and they barely fit around the table. The googles brought food in, assisted by Wilford, and set down everything. There were pancakes, sausages, eggs, fruit salad, and cereal. Some of the Egos had special dietary needs, like Bim who only ate raw meat, or Eric was vegetarian, so those were brought out separately. Once everyone was settled, and the Googles had finished arguing about who got to sit next to Bing, they all looked at Damien.

 

“Thank the powers that be,” Damien began. He wasn’t Christian, but it was still instilled in him to say grace before a meal, “For this bountiful food, and to Beta, Gamma, Rho, and Upsilon for cooking it. May it strengthen us for the day to come.”

 

“We have a new member,” Damien added, while he still had everyone’s attention, “His name is Blank. You don’t all need to introduce yourselves, we can do that at the meeting. I ask Eric to show him around the house.”

 

Eric nodded. Damien nodded at everyone and the chatter began again. Wilford had slid in between Damien and Blank, the Host falling in on Damien’s other side. Dr. Iplier was there too, next to the Host, and Damien struck up a conversation with them.

 

“I think you should look him over,” Dark said, “He showed up in the middle of the night, Celine told me. Soaking wet. We don’t know where he’s been.”

 

“Of course,” Dr. Iplier said, taking some cantaloupe, “I need to make a file for him anyway.”

 

“The Host thinks Damien should be with them.”

 

“Why me?” Damien asked.

 

“The Host cannot tell you.”

 

“You usually can’t,” Damien muttered into his tea.

 

“I’d like to have a look at you too,” Dr. Iplier said, “Your neck has been acting up. I hear you in the night.” Damien tried to protest but Dr. Iplier shook his head, “No buts. You’re going to fall apart. And we need you.”

 

Damien relented.

 

The rest of the breakfast was uneventful. Blank seemed a little lost with all the people around. Afterwards, they made plans with Eric and Blank that Blank should go to the clinic and then Eric would meet him at his room to start the tour. After assuring Wilford that he was fine, Damien set off with Dr. Iplier and Blank to the clinic. As he was leaving, the Host tapped against Damien’s foot with his white cane softly to get his attention.

 

“Stay with them,” the Host advised, “Dr. Iplier will ask that you leave for the physical but Damien needs to stay with BlankGameplays.” The Host paused again, thinking, and then spoke again, “He will need you. And you will need to know why. You need to stay with him.”

 

Damien uttered a soft yes, and the Host moved off. Damien started down the corridor with Dr. Iplier and Blank. What the hell did that mean?

 

Blank was sitting on one of the clinic gurneys. It was much like a school nurse’s office, with curtains separating each bed. It wasn’t a large space, but it gave Dr. Iplier room to work. Someone was often injured among the Egos, with their respective lines of work, and that coupled with his part time shifts at the nearby hospital ran the man ragged. But here he was, putting on his headmirror and coat, gathering a few instruments on a table. Damien sat in a chair next to the bed, close enough to act if needed, but far enough to let the doctor work.

 

Blank looked uncomfortable when he saw the instruments, but Dr. Iplier was gentle as ever. He quickly assessed that the boy was nervous, and began narrating everything he was doing. Blank seemed to like that, and would repeat little snippets of what Dr. Iplier was saying.

 

“Okay I need to lift up your sweater in the back,” Dr. Iplier said, holding his stethoscope, “This is going to measure your breathing and I need to hear it through your back.”

 

Measure my breathing ,” Blank repeated.

 

Dr. Iplier lifted up the back of Blank’s shirt, and barely contained a sharp intake of air. Damien said nothing, but if his heart was beating it would have stopped. Crisscrossing Blank’s pale back were raised scars, harsh jagged lines of white scar tissue. Damien kept himself steady, but it felt like his head was swimming. He fought to stay in front; Celine would be livid if she came out now.

 

“Blank,” Dr. Iplier said in what seemed like a gentle and calm voice, but Damien could hear him shaking, “What are these?”

 

Blank moved away from him, shaking his head and hugging himself close with his arms.

 

“I’m not mad, I’m not going to hurt you,” Dr. Iplier said. “I won’t ask what they are from again. I just need you to tell me if they hurt, and if anywhere else hurts.”

 

Blank looked at him. The tears were falling in earnest now. Instead of just a passive stream they were pouring from his eyes now, charcoal black and heavy. He looked terrified, and so small. Damien felt himself swelling, with something he didn’t know how to name. It was like what he felt when he heard Eric’s story for the first time, but so much more. Blank’s face flicked to Damien for a second, and then he answered.

 

Hurts .”

 

It was so small, and so quiet. Blank held out his arms, palms up and pulled up the sleeves of the sweater, hands shaking just slightly. Around each wrist was a mess of scars, in a perfect ring. Cuffs. Damien thought somewhere in his brain. It felt far away.

 

“Okay,” Dr. Iplier said, “We’re going to make it not hurt. I’m going to go get some topical ointment, and I’ll be right back.”

 

Dr. Iplier swept out of the room through the curtain. Damien stood up with a wince and followed him. Dr. Iplier was rummaging through a cabinet, and Damien could see the agitation wrapped up in his shoulders.

 

“Doctor,” Damien said, trying not to startle him. It didn’t work. Dr. Iplier cursed and dropped a box of tongue depressers.

 

“Jesus Damien,” Dr. Iplier said, putting the bamboo sticks back in the cabinet and getting the rest of his supplies.

 

“Those were whip scars,” Damien said, trying his best to keep his voice even.

 

“I know Damien,” Dr. Iplier said, tugging on a pair of sterile gloves.

 

“Someone did this to him.”

 

“Fuck,” Dr. Iplier said, dropping his hands onto the counter before whipping around to face him. Damien had never heard the doctor curse that strongly. “I know . We can’t do anything about that right now. He needs us.”

 

Dr. Iplier pushed past Damien and back to Blank. When Damien peeked back in through the curtains Dr. Iplier was spreading some white cream onto Blank’s wrists, telling him about the ingredients and why the scars might hurt. Damien sat down again and fiddled with his cane. Finally they were done. Dr. Iplier explained that Damien needed to stay for an exam but Blank was okay to leave.

 

Stay… me ?” Blank asked, softly, fiddling with the hem of his sweater.

 

Dr. Iplier opened his mouth, probably to say something about patient confidentiality but Damien interrupted him.


“Of course you can stay.”

 

Dr. Iplier nodded. Blank and Damien switched places. Damien slipped off his own sweater with a little bit of trouble. His arms were stiff, the muscles not very responsive. Dr. Iplier helped him a little, mostly just guiding his arms, knowing how the man valued his autonomy. Damien was thankful. He looked down at his own grey stomach. In the middle of his abdomen, right under the place where his bottom rbs met his sternum, was a ragged scar. It bloomed like a flower, tendrils of raised grey skin radiating out like roots. His ribs were broken in some places, making his chest look a little lopsided. He knew his back was worse. His spine was broken, near the shoulders, where the DA hit the hard marble floor. His neck was broken too, but it wasn’t as bad in comparison. His spine was angled slightly to one side. It was hard to tell in his on-camera appearances, but the effort of making his movements fluid and the tilt unnoticeable always took a harsh toll on him.

 

Dr. Iplier felt up his back slowly, feeling the vertebrae. He pushed on a few, aligning them, and Damien hissed. This always hurt before it got better.

 

“You should get a back brace,” Dr. Iplier said, for the hundredth time.

 

“I don’t need one,” Damien said.

 

Dr. Iplier leaned in closer, whispering so only Damien could hear, “Would you say the same thing if this was Eric? Or,” he paused, “Blank?”

 

Damien knew the doctor was manipulating him a little, but it was working. He nodded and agreed to the brace. Doctor Iplier fetched one that would fit Damien and fastened it around his body. Instantly Damien felt a bit better. It was like Dr. Iplier was aligning his spine, but constant.

 

“Is that better?” Dr. Iplier asked.

 

“Yes,” Damien said.

 

Damien waited in the hallway for Eric with Blank. It was an easy silence. When they were acquainted and Damien was satisfied they would be alright he made his way back to his office. It was much the same as his bedroom. Black and victorian, mahogany desk and hardwood floors with vaulted ceiling. He didn’t see the shadow pooling on his desk as he closed the door. When he did notice, with the light flowing in cold and white from the tall window, he felt himself slipping under. He didn’t have the energy to fight as Celine pushed past him.

 

“What do you want?” Celine snarled.

 

The Actor gave them a smirk. He wasn’t really there, more of a projection. Since invading their mind he appeared sometimes, instead of calling like a normal person. The Actor smiled truly now, too wide for his face, lips too pink and perfect, eyes too symmetrical. He was wearing a red suit with a white amaryllis flower in the lapel. Not pure white, Celine could see the little edges of red, like the color was bleeding onto them.

 

“I want what’s mine, my dear,” the Actor crooned, shifting his ornamental cane to his other hand and standing up.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t want to,” Celine said. “If you weren’t such a spineless coward you’d come to meet me face to face.”

 

“Celine darling, you know I can’t do that,” the Actor wiggled a finger at her, “You’d have my heart out in a moment.” His eyes flicked to the cane, to the way she leaned on it, “Or perhaps not. Your body is failing you after all these years.”

 

“Tell me what you want,” Celine spat.

 

“You have something that doesn’t belong to you, Celine,” the Actor said, sliding off the desk to stride towards her, “But then again you always have had a knack for disobeying me.”

 

He reached for her face but Celine jerked away from him. “Just tell me what you want Marc.”

 

“The boy,” Actor said, his face becoming stony. “You have him. I want him back.”

 

Celine felt her being flurry to life, her very soul catching on fire. Her aura started to flicker out, red and angry, like flames licking her body.

 

You can’t have him ,” Celine said, her voice ringing.

 

“Oh Celine,” the Actor said with a smile. Celine realized too late she had shown her hand. “You can’t fill that hole in your heart like this.”

 

He punctuated the last statement by poking her in the chest.

 

“You wouldn’t understand,” Celine said, feeling the flames turning on her, swallowing her whole, “You never wanted her like I did.”

 

“And it makes you weak,” the Actor said with a smile. “I’m not going to let a belonging of mine slip through my hands again.”

 

“I was never yours,” Celine snarled.

 

“Celine you wound me,” the Actor said, “Are you renouncing our vows?”

 

“They never meant anything in the first place. You’re not a very good actor, Marc,” Celine said.

 

“And you always reveal your cards too soon my dear,” the Actor said with a smile. “I’ll give you another chance, Celine. The boy, or everyone in this house.”

 

“We don’t deal in lives,” Celine said.

 

“So be it,” the Actor said, straightening his posture, “But it’s your fault.”

 

And with that the Actor was gone. Celine sank to the floor and started to cry. She felt someone walk into the room rather than heard them. Celine could feel energy entwining with her own as it thrashed and writhed around her. Strong arms were gripping her, shading her from the storm around her. Celine felt a hand on her hair, stroking gently. Celine leaned into Wilford’s chest, listening to his heart beating, and let herself cry.

 

***

 

Damien woke up in his bed. Wilford was gone, but he could feel his Aura all around, woven into the sheets and the wood walls and the curtains over the tall window. Damien slowly swung his legs out of bed. He wasn’t wearing his sweater or undershirt or brace. Looking around he found them neatly folded on the chair next to the bedside table. Damien grabbed their cane from where it was leaning against the table and carefully hauled himself to his feet. With stiff arms he pulled on the undershirt, then the brace, then his sweater. Damien winced and reached into a drawer of the bedside table, fishing out a pouch filled with dry rice. He held it up to his face and breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of grain-dust and lavender.


Damien shuffled to the door and pulled it open. He meandered the maze of hallways, trying to get down to the kitchen and heat up the rice-sling. Eventually he bumped into Blank, who was looking around, teasing the fabric of his sweater in his hands.

 

“Hello, Blank,” Damien said.

 

Hello ,” Blank echoed, “ Damien ...”

 

Damien smiled when Blank said his name. “Where are you headed to?”

 

Blank shrugged, “ Lost.

 

“Well I’m headed to the kitchen if you’d like to come with.”

 

Blank nodded. Damien smiled and led the way. Blank followed, almost completely silent, but it was okay. Damien liked the quiet. Unfortunately the kitchen was anything but.

 

Unus and Annus had comandeered the kitchen to make god knows what and their… instruments were everywhere. For some god forsaken reason the Egos insisted on using sex toys to cook. Damien was fairly sure Annus meant it to make everyone uncomfortable and Unus just didn’t question it. The two gods seemed to delight in using fetish gear in unusual ways. They were bickering now, as they usually did, about something like an old married couple. Which Damien supposed they were.

 

“You can’t use this one as a whisk!” Unus said, a hand on his hip as he tugged the flogger out of Annus’s hand. “It gets all sticky and the batter doesnt come out of it very well. Just use the mixer.”

 

Annus was about to retort when he saw Damien. He turned and clasped his hands in front of him, relinquishing control of the flogger to Unus.

 

“Damien,” Annus said, smiling in a way that didn’t touch his eyes.

 

“What are you two fighting about now?” Damien said. Annus opened his mouth but Damien raised his hand to stop him, “You know what I don’t want to know.”

 

“Um, Damien?” Unus spoke after a few beats of silence. Damien quirked an eyebrow at him and he gestured behind Damien, “What’s wrong with him?”

 

Damien spun around. Blank was standing there, tears rolling down his pale cheeks. He looked small, like he did in the clinic. His eyes were empty, unblinking, and unfocused. His form was fuzzy and choppy, like a camera stuttering in and out of focus. Damien took a step towards him, reaching out with one hand. Damien’s fingers pierced the fuzzy air around Blank. It felt like a limb falling asleep, but Damien didn’t feel it for long. Blank sank to the floor, clutching his head. And then he was gone. Blinked out of existence.

 

“What was that?” Annus asked.

 

Damien didn’t say anything. He was focusing on the feeling of Blank’s aura, seeking it out in the maze of corridors and rooms. And then he felt it. Damien set off, barely using his cane, ignoring the pain in his body as he warped space around himself, stepping through his aura into another part of the house. Outside Blank’s door.

 

Damien reached for the door knob, but hesitated. He remembered what the Host had said, and took a deep breath.

 

“Blank,” Damien said, leaning close to the door and swallowing around the dryness in his throat, “Blank can I come in?”

 

There was a fluttering, like wings, like wind through leaves, like a hundred voices singing at once. Damien finally opened the door. A feeling like static washed over Damien, everything muffled like it was underwater. He pushed through it and looked around. Blank was nowhere to be seen. Slowly Damien approached the bathroom. The door was open. He could see through the frosted sliding glass a blurry dark figure, huddled into a ball in the bathtub. Damien stepped inside the bathroom and moved to the opposite wall, making sure the way to the outside was open and clear if Blank wanted to bolt. For a while they just sat there, listening, feeling.

 

Damien could feel some of the emotions rolling off of Blank, not as well as someone like Wilford might, but he could sense it. The feeling of fear was like blood in the water, blooming and twisting outwards. Damien focused on calming himself and using his Aura to dissipate it through the room, taking deep steady breaths.

 

Scared ...” Damien opened his eyes. When had he closed them? He listened again. Maybe he imagined it? “ Scared… he’s going to come for me .”

 

Blank’s voice was different, as if he had cut the phonemes out of different voices and pasted them all together, like a ransom note made of other people’s voices.

 

He’ll be angry …”

 

Damien felt something flare in his chest. He took another deep steadying breath.

 

“I won’t let him hurt you,” Damien said, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

 

There was a pause, and then, “ How can you be sure ?”

 

Celine pushed out to the front, taking control gently from Damien, “Because I left him. A long time ago. And I’ll help you. You’re not alone. We’re stronger than he is.”

 

The silence was deafening. For a minute Celine wondered if she had crossed a line. And then the frosted glass was pulled away and Blank was hugging her on the bathroom floor. She could feel the static, the haze, enveloping both of them, but she held on. Carefully she cupped the back of his head with her hand, rubbing gentle circles on his back. There was a flicker of a memory. Firelight, a tiny form curled in her arms, warmth. She pushed it away. This was now, and this was real. Celine held Blank close, resting her head on top of his. She would protect him. She would protect all of them.

 

***

 

“Where is she!”

 

There were tears streaming down her face, her voice echoing in the quiet foyer, too quiet. It was all too quiet. The man in front of her had his hands up placatingly, but his face was unreadable.

 

“Calm down,” he said, “There’s no need to get so worked up.”

 

“You bastard where is she?”

 

His smile faltered, and for a moment, a single moment, she thought she saw regret on his face. He moved aside, and she saw. She saw. On the dining room table, a tiny form, too small, so very small. She flew. She ran. And then she was there. She took her head into her arms, cradling the tiny, still form to her chest. Too still. Cold. Her hair was wet. Still. Still wet. Her clothes. Black lace and satin. Soaked through. Heavy against her arms. Her eyes were closed. She could almost be sleeping except for the paleness, the aching stillness, the tint of her lips. In that moment, her heart broke. Glass rained down from inside her to the body she held close to her chest. And when they buried Eleanor, they buried Celine’s heart with her.

 

***

 

Damien woke up the next morning in his own bed, with Wilford snoring away next to him. Something in the air felt sticky, nagging at him to wake up. It was probably the nightmare. Damien swung his legs off the bed and stood up. Pulling on his dressing gown and shuffling into his slippers and lighting a candle in its holder he made his way out into the hallway. It was early morning, early enough to be classified as night still, but Damien needed to walk. He decided to head to the kitchen, through the foyer. Damien yawned, making the light flicker. It cast heavy shadows over the ornate doors, and Damien stopped. He could see something there, against the door. Stepping closer to read it, Damien realized it was a note, stuck to the door with a knife. The knife was coated in something dark and sticky. As Damien scanned the note his mind went blank. He dropped the candle, hearing it clatter to the floor and snuff out, ringing loud in his ears as he was pushed into darkness. The Actor had taken Blank.

 

***


Wilford called the meeting. Damien and Celine were fighting for control, both wanting to be out and inside at the same time. Celine wanted to tear the Actor apart, Damien wanted to plan.

 

“Calico?” Wilford’s voice came to them, and Damien floated to the surface. The others were talking, Google was projecting some sort of hologram on the table. Wilford was eye to eye with him, his deep magenta eyes full of worry, “Stay with me, can you do that calico?”

 

Damien swallowed thickly.

 

“We can’t just burst in there,” Beta said, gesturing at the hologram, “We’ve been scoping this place out for years and we don’t know enough about it.”

 

“We don’t need to take down the Actor,” said a small voice. It was Eric, who so far had been as quiet as the twins, hands folded in his lap, twisting his yellow pocket square. He looked up, his round face determined. “We just need to get in, find Blank, and get out.”

 

“And how do we do that?” Rho asked, folding his arms, “The odds aren’t exactly in our favor.”

 

“Actor’s a showman,” Eric said, “We give him a chance to show off…”

“And then we get Blank!” Bim said, smacking his fist into his palm.

 

“We’re going to need to call them,” Dr. Iplier said, “The Septics. Marvin at the very least.”

 

Damien took a shaky breath, standing up. He was in control. They needed a level head. They needed Damien.

 

“I’ll call them. Everyone, do what you need to do to get ready. You have 24 hours,” Damien took a deep breath, “We’re going to give them hell.”

 

***

 

Damien checked his watch. 4 hours left. He hadn’t slept, but had meditated instead. He was gathering power, hopefully enough to take on the Actor if he had to. Everyone else was geared up like Damien had never seen before, and it gave him a thrill of pride to see them all. Mike had done far too many drugs for a human being, and the air around him was swirling in psychedelic cyan and pink bubbles. He was remarkably clear, talking to Wilford, who was carrying at least three guns. Host had one of his baseball bats, relying on Dr. Iplier to direct him. The doctor was fidgeting, he only ever came to the battle if it was necessary, and they had no idea what kind of condition Blank was going to be in. Unus and Annus were deceptively quiet, with Unus leaning on Annus’s shoulder. Annus was holding a pocketwatch, checking the time every now and then. Unus was holding a black scythe. Damien had never seen either of them in battle, but he knew their power rivaled him and Wilford, especially with the love of the fans in full force around them. Yancy was wrapping his knuckles. He was short, but scrappy, and he had enough of a crooked nose to prove that he could hold his own in a fight. Bim was in his true form, tall and lurking, distended, with long claws and sharp needle-like teeth. Damien didn’t know what he was, but the running guess was some sort of man-eating demon.

 

Then the other half of their rag-tag group arrived. Marvin teleported them into the foyer in a cloud of red smoke. He was wearing his cat mask and cape, his silver hair pulled back in a high bun. Anti dropped to the ground like a cat, grinning widely. His neck was bleeding. Damien hated it usually, but knew it was a mark of his commitment. Anti only let it bleed when he was serious about something. Dr. Scheeplestien was holding a deceptive black doctors bag, but Damien knew it probably had enough poison to take down the whole city. Jackie was next to Marvin, his hair tucked under his red suit’s hoodie and wearing his green mask. Jameson strode over to Wilford and began signing to him. Even Chase was there, armed with his gun. Marvin came to Damien.

 

“Are you ready?” Marvin asked.

 

“As we can be,” Damien said, then added, “You don’t have to do this. We’re not sure what we’ll find in that place.”

 

Jackie rested a hand on Damien’s shoulder. “It’s okay. One of yours is one of ours.”

 

Damien nodded. He stood up and addressed the room.

 

“Everyone,” Damien began, shoring up his facade, “When we get to the warehouse, stick together. And stick to the plan. If I can’t meet with Team C at approximately two hours I want you to leave me.”

 

There was a chorus of dissent, but Damien waved them off.

 

“That is an order,” he said sternly. “If you refuse, you will be left behind. This isn’t a simple scrap with someone like Infelix, this is serious. The Actor is dangerous, and he doesn’t care about anything other than himself. He will kill you without question.”

 

There was a reluctant murmur of agreement. Damien nodded and they all got into their groups. Damien was going to portal into the darkest part of the facility, the one they guessed was the Actor’s own quarters. It was a big guess, but it was the best they could do. They all looked at each other. Wilford walked to Damien’s side and cupped his face.

 

“Be careful, calico,” Wilford breathed. He smelled like hibiscus and rose, intoxicating. Damien knew he was lucid, but to anyone else he seemed completely insane.

 

“I will,” Damien said.

 

“Bring our boy home,” Wilford whispered before stepping back.

 

Damien nodded and tore a hold in reality. Marvin caught his eye and he nodded. And then Damien stepped through into the suffocating blackness.

 

***

 

He walked out into a dark hallway. It was a maintenance tunnel. Damien took a deep breath and focused his powers. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Something small, something fluttering. And then he felt it. The echo. Like wind off the flagstones of a decaying castle. Damien opened his eyes and stalked down the tunnel towards Blank’s scent. After one minute and twenty-seven seconds he felt the sethouse shake. That was Marvin. Damien righted himself and kept going, a little faster now.

 

Damien entered into a huge room. It was a set, as most of the warehouse complex was, but this one took his breath away. It was a manor house, it was the manor house. The one he met Marcus in. The one he met William, Wilford, the love of his life, inside. It was the house he died in. Damien surged forward. It wasn’t the real house. It was a set.

 

But it wasn’t, not exactly. It was a one-to-one replica of the manor. There were some things different, like the tracks for cameras, the slight differences in the paintings, but it was like stepping into a dream. Damien thought dimly that this was where the Actor filmed his autobiography, his origin story, Who Killed Markiplier . But that thought made his head spin in a paradox, so he stopped thinking it. Damien strode quickly down the hallways, until something surged at him from the darkness.

 

Damien went tumbling down one of the three staircases, the man on top of him clawing at any part of him that he could reach. But he was making almost no noise. Damien kicked the assailant off him, and pinned him to the wall with his aura. He snarled, and then he saw who it was.

 

“Benjamin?”

 

The butler was trembling, even as he thrashed against Damien’s aura. Damien got closer, unintentionally pressing Benjamin further into the wall, which creaked under the pressure. Benjamin looked wild. There was no other way to describe it. His hair was still very well kempt, his beard shaven, but his eyes were glassy and empty, deep circles under them like bruises. And he was muttering, a constant litany.

 

“Master will be displeased, master will be so displeased.” Damien heard upon getting closer.

 

“Benjamin please,” Damien said, feeling his heart breaking.

 

He reached out, trying to brush a stray hair out of his old friend’s face, but Benjamin flinched. Damien looked deep into his slate grey eyes. He knew the seconds were ticking away, but he couldn’t leave Benjamin here. And then, after what felt like an eternity, Benjamin spoke. His voice sounded hoarse and unused.

 

“Damien?”

 

“It’s me,” Damien said, “It’s me. I’m here.”

 

Damien slowly let the butler down, who instantly launched him into a hug. Damien felt something wet on his shoulder and realized Benjamin was crying. The taller man was shaking again. Damien clumsily hugged him back.

 

“Master doesn’t want you here,” Benjamin said, “Master doesn’t want you here but Benjamin wants you here. Master Damien.”

 

“Benjamin,” Damien said, patting Benjamin’s back awkwardly, “I need to ask you… Where is Blank?”

 

“Pet,” Benjamin breathed, straightening up, “Master’s pet.”

 

“Don’t call him that,” Damien snarled, and then instantly regretted it as Benjamin flinched. He tried again, “Benjamin I’m sorry. Can you take me to him?”

 

Benjamin nodded, and his eyes were glassy. He led Damien to the last staircase, the staff staircase. And they were going down. Down to the cellar. And Benjamin was moving one of the wine casks, and they were walking through a tunnel. And then…

 

The room was dim, the floors slanted stone. The walls were covered in instruments, some Damien knew the name of and some he did not. There was a huge metal structure, like a weightlifting rig, with ropes all tied through it. And next to it was a table, and Damien felt something inside himself constrict as he saw the knives, the cattle prod, and the flogger, which was dripping blood onto the floor.

 

And against the opposite wall was a small shape. Damien rushed to the corner, shaking Blank’s shoulder. He was naked, and cold. The Ego slowly woke, and upon seeing Damien they shook, trying to raise their hands, but they were chained together and linked to his ankles, bending his whole body at an awkward angle. His body was covered in lacerations and bruises, some of which were clustered around his neck that Damien didn’t want to think about. He was shaking, like Benjamin, and his eyes were far away. Damien made quick work of the cuffs, which he noticed with a sick swooping feeling were thick leather, and then went to the collar at his neck which was hooked to the wall. As he went to grab it Blank flinched, but Damien caught sight of the inscription there. ACTOR’S PET . With a growl he snapped the leather, throwing it as far from the two of them as he could. Damien took off his dress coat and wrapped Blank in it.

 

“Shh,” he said, as Blank shook when Damien touched him, “Shh it’s okay. I’m here. I’m here.”

 

He lifted Blank off the ground. The house shook again.

 

“Benjamin what time is it?” Damien asked.

 

Benjamin checked his pocketwatch, “1:37 Master Damien.”

 

Damien cursed. They only had twelve minutes to get out of here. Damien swept out of the dungeon, Benjamin following. They got to the door, but Damien heard Ben stop. He turned. Ben was in the doorway, looking conflicted.

 

“Come on Ben,” Damien said, “Let’s go.”

 

“I can’t go,” Benjamin said, shaking his head, “Master wouldn’t want me to leave the house. He would be angry. He would punish Benjamin.”

 

Damien felt his chest twisting. He had to get them out of here. Time was running out. But he refused to leave Benjamin here with that monster. He felt Celine begging him to front, to apologize. He let her.

 

“Benjamin, it’s me, Celine,” Celine said. Their form didn’t shift with them much, they were nearly identical twins, but their features became softer when she fronted, from the way they had grown from identical children into distinguishable adults. Benjamin saw it. Celine continued, on the steps to the manor, like that night so long ago.

 

“Mistress Celine,” Benjamin gasped, his voice soft.

 

“I’m sorry Benjamin. I couldn’t stop him. I wanted to, but I was so afraid. I was afraid for myself. I wasn’t thinking about you. I wasn’t thinking about what I was leaving you with. Come with me. You can leave this place,” Celine begged. She was praying. Praying for the clock to stop, praying for Benjamin, the man she had known since she was a young girl, the son of the head of staff at the Manor, shy and quiet but witty and coy, she prayed he was in there still, that he could hear her.

 

Benjamin slowly stepped out of the door. And then the next step came faster. And then he was with Celine. She offered him her hand and he offered his elbow. They nodded and took off together through the facility. They needed to get upstairs. Celine could get into this place but she couldn’t get out, not without Anti. She tried not to think as they thundered through the warehouse, the maze of halls and doors and sets. They turned a corner and there was someone there, blocking the way.

 

He had grey skin, like he was made of marble. He looked like Benjamin, but carved from stone. Stoneface cracked his knuckles. Celine quickly pushed Blank into Benjamin’s hands. She reached out, hoping to plant the idea of where to go in his mind, before shoving him in another direction. Stoneface made to stop them but Celine blocked the way with her body, snarling at him like a mother wolf.

 

“You’ll have to get through me first,” Celine growled.

 

“So be it little lady,” Stoneface chuckled. His expression didn’t change.

 

Celine threw out their aura, throwing it like an axe at Stoneface’s chest. He dodged, and threw a punch. Celine ducked. His fist collided with the concrete wall and shattered it. Stoneface was strong, but he was slow. Celine danced behind him, taunting him away from Benjamin and Blank. He smiled, but it was empty. Celine felt herself being thrown through the wall as Stoneface lurched for her and she was too slow to dodge. They were in a dressing room. She threw a chair at his head. He smashed it. Celine realized she had to act fast. Calling on all the power she could muster she focused on Stoneface. She pressed tighter and tighter, and she heard him grunting.

 

“What-?” he gasped, “What are you doing?”

 

Celine screamed and shoved downward. Stone face launched through the floor, and from the sound of the crash through several more floors. Celine started running. She didn’t care about the pain in her leg or the strange way her spine was sitting. She just ran. Finally she came to a door. Muffled voices on the other side were arguing as she opened it.

 

“We can’t leave her!” It was Wilford, arguing with Beta and the other Googles. Anti was leaning against the wall of the storage closet, looking to all the world like his aloof self, but Celine recognized his anxious tells. Benjamin was holding Blank, looking absolutely lost.

 

“Celine!” he yelled, throwing his arms around her. She winced. He released her and turned to the Googles. “I told you.”

 

“And I told you to leave me,” Celine said.

 

“Blame him,” Beta said, glaring at Wilford. “We were about to leave when he teleported in, calling you Celine and saying we needed to wait.”

 

Celine wondered for a second how Wilford knew it was her when the building shuddered. Anti stood up.

 

“Time to go,” he said, tucking the knife into his waistband.

 

Celine nodded. Anti slotted his hand into hers and they focused. And then they were spinning and zipping through the fabric of reality, all eight of them. It was so unlike what Celine experienced when she teleported alone. Anti’s was like being torn apart and put back together again. Celine opened her eyes when it stopped. She was in the foyer. There were people all around her. She could feel her spine bent at an awkward angle. She tried to move her head but found she couldn’t. Wilford’s face swam in front of her eyes. But she was fading. Celine closed her eyes against the light and felt herself sliding.

 

It’s not fair, is it?

 

***

 

When she opened them she was in the void. But Celine wasn’t alone. Actor was there. A figment of him. His suit was torn, and it looked like he was bleeding from the forehead. One of his arms was torn down to the bone. Celine smiled.

 

“You’re quite the protective mama, aren’t you Celine?” Actor asked. His jaw wasn’t moving quite right, it must have been broken.

 

“And you’re a sick bastard,” Celine replied.

 

“I got him before and I’ll do it again.”

 

“And we’ll fight you,” Celine said, stepping closer, “Again, and again, and again.”

 

“You really care about them,” Actor said, almost chuckling, shaking his head in disbelief, “Weak.”

 

“No,” Celine said. “Love doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. And we both know you never were.”

 

Actor was about to say something but they were waking up. Slowly Damien blinked his eyes. He was in the clinic, under a heavy duvet that Wilford must have brought. Damien let himself float for a bit, mulling over everything that happened. And then it hit him. Blank. The warehouse. Damien’s eyes snapped open again and he tried to move, but pain shot through his spine.

 

“Doc!” Damien distantly heard a voice. He was trying to move, but nothing was responding. The machines around were beeping, and it was making his head spin. The voice came again, with a deep drawling slur at the edges of the words, “Doc he’s awake!”

 

Damien concentrated and brought Wilford into focus. He looked worried, and tired. His hair was messy.

 

“Hey there calico,” Wilford said, reaching out to run a hand through his hair, “Take it easy, will ya?”

 

Doctor Iplier swept through the curtain. He looked haggard. Damien realized that they were probably not the only person who was hurt on the mission. The doctor ran a hand through his hair and adjusted his glasses.

 

“Damien,” he began, but Damien interrupted him.

 

“Blank,” he said, “Where is he?”

 

“He’s fine,” Dr. Iplier said. A quelling look from Damien and Dr. Iplier sighed, admitting defeat, “Okay. He’s hurt pretty badly. His right arm is broken pretty badly. He needed a lot of stitches too. He’s not talking, either. But,” he added as Damien tried to move again, “We need to talk about you.”

“What about me?” Damien asked. He felt like the most unimportant person in the world.

 

“Your spine,” Doctor Iplier said, “The nerves are severed in several places. You have a pretty bad concussion and some internal bleeding.”

 

He came up next to Damien’s bed.

 

“You probably won’t be able to walk. You’ve been asleep for a few hours. We weren’t,” Doctor Iplier looked at Wilford, “We weren’t sure if you’d make it.”

 

Damien looked down at the duvet. He couldn’t walk. Okay. He could deal with that. He needed to see Blank.

 

“Can I see Blank?” Damien asked.

 

Doctor Iplier looked at Wilford, who smiled weakly, “He won’t stop asking until you let him.”

 

“I’ll get a wheelchair,” Doctor Iplier said.

 

When he returned Wilford helped Damien off the bed and into the chair. Damien felt like a child, being lifted from the bed and set down gently in the wheelchair. He clumsily reached for the rims and Doctor Iplier showed him down the wing. They weren’t in the Iplier Mansion. They must be in the hospital Dr. Iplier and Dr. Schneeplestein worked at part time. And it was clear why. A lot of the others were injured. Jackie was talking to Chase, who had one side of his face bandaged. Marvin was sitting with them, looking rather pale. Through another door Damien glimpsed Bim, talking to King, Bim’s hand in a cast and his eye swollen shut.

 

“Did we lose anyone?” Damien asked, his voice soft.

 

“No,” Dr. Iplier said quickly, “Bing’s in two pieces but the Googles have him and say its not as serious as it looks. It’s kind of a miracle actually. We were most worried about Stoneface, but no one saw him.”

 

“Celine fought him,” Damien said, pushing down the hallway. “He was waiting for us. That’s why Ben had Blank.”

 

“Tyler’s Ego?” Dr. Iplier asked, “The butler?”

 

Damien nodded. “Actor did something to him. He’s... different.”

 

“I had to knock him out,” came a voice, laden with a thick German accent. Dr. Schneeplestein joined them from out of another door. “He was screaming in the foyer and wouldn’t let go of your body so we had to subdue him.”

 

“Is he okay?” Damien asked.

 

“Physically? Mostly. Mentally?” Dr. Iplier shook his head, “He’s struggling. I hope he pulls through. Who knows how long he was there.”

 

And then they were there. Dr. Iplier opened the door, but stopped Dr. Schneeplestein from following them in. He closed the door behind Wilford and Damien, leaving them alone in the stark hospital. Blank was lying on the bed, looking out the window, his head lying against the pillow. He looked so small and so empty. Damien turned to Wilford.

 

“Dearest,” he said, “Will you support me over there?”

 

Wilford nodded and hooked an arm under Damien’s shoulders, pulling him up to stand, his legs hanging uselessly. His back twinged again, but he ignored it. Wilford set him on the edge of the bed and stepped back. Damien squeezed his hand. Then he turned to Blank. His eyes were leaking those charcoal tears down his skinny face. Damien could see blotchy red marks across his cheeks. He was wearing a hospital gown. Damien wanted so badly to wrap him in a hug, but stopped himself. He heard the door close and knew they were alone.

 

“Hey kid,” Damien said, trying to soften his voice, “It’s me. I’m here.”

 

Blank didn’t look at him.

 

“I’m sorry,” Damien said, trying to fight back tears as he struggled to get the words out, “We said nothing bad would happen to you and it did. I’m so sorry. We couldn’t protect you.”

 

Damien felt a hand on his own, clasped together in front of him. He looked up. Blank was looking at him.

 

It’s okay ,” his voice was soft, like wind through a field, ghosting over the slats of an old house, “ It’s not your fault… Uncle Damien…

 

Damien felt himself crying as he squeezed Blank’s hand.

 

“Do you want to see Celine?” Damien asked. Blank nodded. Damien closed his eyes and let himself go fuzzy. Celine rushed past him, surging into the front.

 

“Oh baby,” she said, opening her arms. Blank lunged forward and hugged her as they both cried. Celine reached up and ran her hand through his chestnut hair. “Oh baby oh baby I’m here. It’s okay baby. I’m here.”

 

Mom .”

 

The voice was so soft Celine thought she might have imagined it. But then he said it again.

 

I love you... mom .” Blank said, muffled against her shirt.

 

“I love you too baby,” Celine breathed back, holding Blank tight to her chest.

 

***