Circe 2

She was taken not to a cell, but to what looked like a dorm room, although there were no windows and only a bed, nightstand and small desk. The guards did not follow her in. You were wonderful Mary… simply wonderful, Willow touched her gently.

Mary shrugged. I did what I always do. Manipulate people. She felt uncomfortable receiving the praise. Willow, the implant. Was it tested on psychics? I mean, do they know it won't harm me. I'm scared about losing control. It was so hard back there. What if somehow it interferes…

It has not been, but my people have worked Special Crimes Enforcement in its development. It does not physically intrude on the psionic centers of the mind. Willow's presence was so powerful she seemed to by physically in the room, a new level of intimacy than in their previous contacts. I will be with you, Mary, to help you. You're stronger and more in control than you give yourself credit for. All these years of working as you do… has it made you enjoy the killing? Or is it the release… a chance to ease some of your pain.

I've never really thought about it, Mary replied softly. I don't enjoy it, but I don't really dislike it either. I only took contracts where I knew the target was a criminal of some sort, or if the person was corrupt. It wasn't a matter of like or dislike, it was just doing the job. I… I sometimes feel like I'm an executioner, dealing out punishments that are deserved and the police couldn't or wouldn't do.

She paused. I've never harmed anyone else if I could avoid it, and I pride myself in "clean" jobs. Take out the target and nobody else, unless they become a threat. Parkales' bodyguard? I didn't kill him. He was killed by the second in command for failing to protect Parkales. Mary ran her hand over her hair absently, and her next thoughts were tinged with guilt.

I really do enjoy turning other people's evil against them. Their hate, their lust. It makes me feel good to make them be the victim. Her thoughts drifted to remember the ganger she had terrorized for weeks after seeing some of the things he had done to some 'working girls' she knew. Nothing she could have done would have helped those women, but she had made damn sure he would never even consider doing anything like that ever again.

There is a difference between justice and revenge… our gifts make the line hard to see at times, Willow replied, her mental voice taking on a thoughtful note. There are many times when it seems not to exist at all… we see people at their brightest and in their darkest hours.

I've felt buried under that darkness. A part of it, intertwined with it, yet so alone. Her parents' faces sprang unbidden to her mind. Willow, do you know… Could you find out if…

Yes… you mother is still alive… you father has… passed on, Willow replied, voice softening. I'm sorry… I only wish I could have found them sooner.

How long ago did he… What happened? Mary felt her throat tightening with unshed tears. How is my mother? Is she okay? Willow's words struck her. What do you mean you wish you could have found them sooner? What's wrong? Is someone after them because of me? Mary felt her anger begin to rise. No one harms my family and gets away with it.

No… he was ill. Stricken with the Wasting Plague. He passed only a short time ago. It was not your fault, Mary. She mentally caressed Mary's mind. Your mother is doing well… quite well. She is still looking for you.

Still looking… Why? Doesn't she know what I did? Oh God, I can't let her find out what I've become. Tears were rolling down Mary's face. Oh Daddy, I'm so sorry…

Mary, she misses you terribly… she loves you. I felt that from the moment I contacted her… please… see her… there is nothing you can become that causes her more pain than not… not knowing what has become of you. She thinks she was the cause of your leaving. Willow was gently pleading. Circe's pain was hers.

Why does she think she's the reason I left? Didn't they find the boy's body? Didn't the others tell what happened? Mary desperately want to see her mother again, but was afraid. But her mother was even more alone. She had had to watch Mary's father waste away. Mary remembered the nights she'd lie in bed, unable to fall asleep, the loneliness almost unbearable.

Where is she living now? Arasaka isn't still looking for her, are they? The last thing she wanted was to let those bastards find her because she led them to her.

A farming co operative along the Norcal border. A small place, quiet and quite lovely really. Would you like to see it?

Circe nodded. Please, she said softly, her voice hesitant.

The images flowed in her mind, a deep green valley, several small homes, little prefab things along a road. She could see a woman working in a small garden in back of one. Recognition came a second later. Her mother… older, her face creased with deep lines, hair more silver than blonde, but her mother. She worked slowly tending each plant lovingly. She was humming something softly.

Mary was torn by the need to run. To run and hide, or to run to her mother to be held. She could almost smell the flowers and the perfume her mother used to wear. Oh God, how she wanted to touch her, to tell her she was sorry.

You can if you wish, Willow "spoke" quietly, almost seeming to whisper in Circe's ear. The image was so real, almost like she was there. You can be… an image of you as real as you want it to be.

How? Mary asked. No, it's a trick. Mary's instinctive distrust reared its head. She knew how easy it was to fool someone when you showed them something they wanted to see. But… Willow wouldn't do that. She'd have no reason to. Would she? Tears were rolling freely down Mary's face.

Oh Willow, please. I can't stand… I have to. Please.

"Mom?" Mary's voice was scared and hesitant. More than scared. Terrified. What if Willow's wrong? What if she really doesn't want to see me?

The woman started then looked up, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. "Yes… who are…" Her eyes lit up. Recognition flooded into them. "Mary?"

Mary nodded silently, afraid to speak, too afraid to move in case this was some weird dream and she'd ruin it. She crossed her arms and hugged herself, holding on tight. "I… I'm so sorry." Her voice was barely above a whisper and she hung her head, trying to hide the look of unhappiness and guilt on her face and filling her eyes.

"Oh God… Mary… Mary!" Scrambling to her feet, her mother threw her arms around Mary. Mary could feel her, even smell the scent of flowers and soil. "You've come home… oh… Mary… Mary…" Her mother started to sob softly.

Mary fought back her instinct to recoil from the physical contact and awkwardly wrapped her arms around her mother. Such close contact was becoming overwhelming for her, even though she wasn't truly there. Her mother's emotions were so strong, so close to the surface, Mary felt she was being bombarded by a hurricane. But she didn't care. She had found her mother after all these years.

"Mom, I'm so sorry. For everything. You've got to believe me. It wasn't your fault I left." Mary tried to speak through sobs of her own. "I did something really bad. I didn't want them to hurt you, so I ran away. I had to. I had to…" Oh Willow, how am I going to tell her the truth? That I can't really come home. That I'm a convicted assassin.

Looking into her daughter's eyes, Elaine shook her head. "No… there's nothing… nothing you could have done… it doesn't matter… you're home now."

"You don't understand," Mary said, the despair plain on her face. "I'm… I'm not really here. Willow, the empath, she's helping me do this. Helping me be here with you right now, but I can't stay." She bit her lip, and forced herself to continue. "I'm in prison, Mom. I killed that boy in the orchard that day." She flung the words at her mother, voice filled with years of pain and self-loathing. "He was just the first." Her voice broke. "It happened so fast, and it hurt so much. I didn't know what else I could do. I'm a meta, Mom, and my powers manifested that day. After it happened, all I knew, all I came to believe, was that all I could do was kill…"

Her mother was stunned, eyes wide not comprehending for a moment. Then she spoke quietly almost a whisper. "Mary… I… I don't know what to say… but the boy he isn't… he didn't die. You didn't kill anyone, Mary."

"What do you mean… He was dead," Mary said, shaking her head. "He was lying there, his eyes wide open and unseeing. He wasn't breathing. I couldn't see him breathing. He wasn't breathing." She began to tremble, the true horror of what her life had become was starting to crash down on her. She had been able to hide it from herself for over a decade, burying it under what she had done that day, using it to justify the path she had ended up on. "He had to be dead. I wanted to kill him for what he and his friends had done to me, had tried to do…" Mary fought to keep her voice calm, to keep some small amount of control.

Elaine shook her head. She felt her daughter's pain as sharply as any empath. "I remember that day so clearly… Jonathan and I were working in the outer fields when we saw one of those Hudson boys running down the road like the Devil himself was after him. Jon stopped him and managed to get him to say that there was trouble. We followed him and found the others… one was unconscious but alive. They others were terrified… they said you'd run off when some sort of things had attacked. We looked… looked for the rest of the day and the next…" She trailed off, took a deep breath, and looked back into Circe's eyes. "The state patrol could find nothing… we never stopped… never…"

"Oh Mom," Mary murmured. "I ran to the city, to hide in the darkness with the criminals and murderers I thought I was. I traveled at night, hiding from everything and everyone. I used what you and Dad taught me about plants to find food so I wouldn't have to steal." She paused, swallowing the lump in her throat. "But when I got to the city, I was so hungry. But I survived. A woman took me in. She wasn't cruel, just… strict."

"They didn't tell you what they were doing in the orchard when they were 'attacked', did they. And you didn't find any footprints of whatever it was that attacked, did you." She shook her head. "They weren't attacked animals or monsters. It was me. I… I can look into a person's mind and find out what they're most afraid of and make them think it's happening, or that it's coming after them."

"He was such a bully," she said, the memories of her tormentors swimming into her mind. "He was the cruelest of the three. Saying mean things about me, about you and Dad. Punching and hurting me. Threatening to tell lies to his father if I told. I was so afraid when I ran. I thought that they would punish you for what I had done."

"I didn't try to contact you for a long time. I was afraid that they'd be watching you and find me. When I did, you and Dad were gone. They wouldn't tell me where you'd gone. I thought the police, or Arasaka, had found you."

"Oh, Mary, the company shut down the entire center… we had to go. It was made into a research farm," she sighed. "We should have tried harder to find you… should have worked more." Her eyes teared again, she tried to blink them back. "Can you forgive us, honey… there… there was the new baby too… Oh God…"

"What's there to forgive? I didn't want to be found, and the woman I was with made sure I wasn't…" She hugged her mother tight, then her mother's last words struck her. "Baby," she whispered, and pulled back a bit to look at her mother's face. "I have brother or sister?" Mary was stunned. "Where…" She looked towards the house.

"A brother… he's at school now… Mary… oh, I'm being terrible. Come in… please." She gestured to the house. "You must be hungry… starving even…"

A brother… Willow, how long can I stay?

This is… taxing… a few more minutes… Her mental voice was strained, quiet. I'm sorry.

"I'm fine Mom. I ate before… before I came," Mary replied with a hesitant smile. "Do you have a picture of my brother? What's his name?" She found it almost too much to absorb. Her mother was alive and well, and had never given up on her. And she had a little brother…

"Mom," Mary asked, her voice quiet. "Where is Dad buried? Willow told me that he caught the Wasting Plague…" Her eyes filled with tears. "It… It wasn't too bad for him, was it? I mean, he wasn't in pain at the end, was he?"

"He… wanted to see you but no he wasn't in great pain," her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "A picture… of James… yes I… you sound like you're going… Mary please don't go."