They had waited a few days to give Arnold time to think, something that Lionheart said he would need or else they might just confuse him worse. It was Saturday the 24th when they decided that the attempt had to be made, right after the opening of the Piermont. “First we must move him. He’s too close to… the red room.”
Dr. Lionheart looked at her husband confused, “Move him where? Where is it safe for him?”
“I don’t know. We can try it there… but we may draw attention.”
“Then where, my love? Is the hospital safe?”
“It will have to do.” Lionheart responded, echoing a similar conversation that he’d had with Scald when the Sneaky Vole had been suggested in the first place. When they arrived at the Vole the situation had grown worse. He was filthy after laying there for three weeks, and he very well could have fleas or worse, but at this point it was the fact that his body was starting to become transparent again that made her worry.
They threw a blanket over him after putting him in a wheel chair, and Arnold was moved to the hospital in the dead of the night, most people had gone home after the dance except for the few that might have lingered. He was put carefully into the bed and Professor Lionheart turned to his wife. “Sit, my dear. You must get comfortable. This will require you to fall asleep.”
Heliotrope helped put her under, and then waited for a few minutes for his wife to begin dreaming. It was the same dream she had been having for weeks now, about Arnold fading away in front of her and Thaddeus. Lionheart awoke her to the reality that she was just dreaming, and he helped her to find a passage out of her own dreams. He then led her towards Arnold.
Lionhearts first trip inside Arnold had been months ago, and he had encountered a labyrinth of passages that made up his memories and behaviors that the professor believed at the time was a haven that Arnold had constructed inside his own mind. Only during his last trip had he finally discovered that everything from the walls of the labyrinth to the air they were breathing was Arnold. Id had just recently shown Arnold that it was by venturing or peering into the familiar that his witch would be able to see through the lines of reality, but had only explained to the professor thus far that the closer to the center they got the more the boundries between the real and imagined, dream and substantial, and other realms of existence would blur together. Professor Lionheart had also realized that at the moment Arnold probably felt like he was floating out in the middle of nowhere with no body, feeling trapped and unable to move. Last time in order to make contact he’d had to borrow Id, but he hoped that his wife could do better…
As they entered this time however, everything had stopped dead. The walls of the labyrinth were usually moving around, and changing places as Arnold had continued to grow and change with each new experience adding a new piece to himself. Now the walls looked much like he did…as if they didn’t intend to exist for much longer. Id was sitting down on a bench nearby to greet them, and she looked very much like a female version of Arnold, though her eyes were pure glowing orange rather than his usual blue-green. She was wearing a black dress and a veiled hat.
Heliotrope lead Maddox closer, who was looking around and nervously and trying not to encounter anything unsavory that might be on the floors, though there was only rubble there. “Maddox….this is Id,” Helio smiled. “You have spoken before, though you didn’t know it.”
“I have?” Maddox asked, but then nodded after a moment. “Hello, Id. Why are you dressed in black?”
“Because unless you can convince him otherwise, he’s not going to stay.”
Arnold had made his decision, though he didn’t know what would happen next he wanted to say goodbye to Maddox before he moved on. Even if he wouldn’t fade away it was for the best in the end for him to be out of the way and move. As he had been shown, he couldn’t control any of those talents his ancestors had used, and from the sound of it even if he went back he probably wouldn’t be completely ‘fixed’ yet. Lionheart had told him that he was bonded to Maddox, but bond or no bond he had no idea how to give her that magic or let her perceive the future…and he had already come to the conclusion on several occasions that he was the worst friend that she could ever ask for and that she couldn’t do worse if she begged the heavens for someone more horrible. It was only more pathetic to him to realize that he was an even worse servitor than he was a friend…and there were more reasons, but they were too numerous to list.
He couldn’t really hear Maddox when she called, but Id told him she had said, “Arnold! Arnold, you show yourself! Come out here and speak to me!”
Usually the command would have set Arnold’s back up, but he had expected her to cry, insult him, and try other forms of emotional abuse. He had no intention of allowing a few tears to distract him from what was best for everyone involved.
He tried to make contact with her, but she didn’t seem to be able to hear him. Id finally told him, “Speak to her through me…”
Arnold didn’t know how, but Id somehow guided him until he could see out of her eyes and he was looking at Maddox who was crying uncontrollably. It was disorienting and odd, but he decided it didn’t really matter if he was a girl for a few minutes, if he wasn’t going to be around for much longer, “…Miss Maddox..”
“Arnold? Arnold, please don’t go!” She wiped her eyes, to no avail. “Arnold, please… you can’t go…I need you with me. Now more than ever…”
Arnold waited for her to stop and then he calmly explained his reasoning, “You don’t need me anymore. I’ve caused you nothing but trouble. If I was supposed to be your protector, then I have done a horrid job. I’ve even threatened your life myself.” Arnold shook his, well, Id’s head, “Helio can take care of you now.”
Maddox Lionheart shook her head insistently, “He’s close to me, but not as close to me as you have been and are. Arnold, you’re my friend… you’re more than that, you always have been! We’re bonded now… it would kill me to lose you.”
“What?!” Arnold asked, suddenly concerned and confused. She wouldn’t die if she would leave him would she…no she had to mean that figuratively…
Maddox and Helio didn’t give him time to recover from his momentary surprise as her husband took her hand and held it up to Arnold’s. “Take it and don’t let go. Give him back what he gave you.
“I can’t let you go, Arnold…” She grabbed Id’s paw tightly. “Here… take this. I want you to have it.”
Her hand began to glow, and Arnold stared down at it confused…when had she learned to do that? Wasn’t he supposed to have given her that magic? When had he done that?! “What are you doing?”
He pulled his hand away finally, and Dr. Maddox sniffed, her face wet from the tears still flowing down from her eyes, “I’m being what I always have been. I’m your witch. I’m going to learn to control my power to help people… myself included. I feel better than I ever have since you gave me that power. You helped me see what I can be… what I am… I need you Arnold, I need you to stay with me…. with us. You’re my familiar and I want it that way.
“I’ve told Erehwon how I feel more vital and important and alive since our bond has awakened and I feel as though I matter to the people around town. As though I’m needed to more than just my husband. Like I’m whole since you gave me that energy…. Like you completed something that was left partially empty my entire life until now… Arnold, don’t you see how important you are? Can’t you see I need you now?”
Arnold was shocked to hear her say any of that. He had given her that power already? She wanted to be a witch even in a city that would distrust her for it, and might even burn her at the stake? He tried to get his thoughts together but the two of them didn’t give him a chance.
“I’ve also told Mrs Pearse that I feel more alive since you helped me… I’ve taken a look at my life and I’ve realized that I need you in my life more than ever. You aren’t the only one that has been awakened to what you are. I am changing every second that I breathe and I am doing so because we mean that much to each other. Arnold, you have friends here. We have friends here that want you around and would hate for you to leave. I need you to live, not just for me, but for you. I need you to stay with us and live. Please, Arnold. Please live.”
Professor Lionheart took his wife’s other hand, and he held out his free one to Arnold. “Come back with us.” Dr. Lionheart reached out her hand to him as well.
Arnold stopped to think for a moment, he knew a hundred reasons to tell them no, but as he stared at their offered hands, and thought about what she had told him…he knew that those reasons didn’t matter. There were reasons he needed to live that he hadn’t known before, and now that he did he would not abandon them. What Arnold didn’t realize, but Id did, was that they had also rekindled a small piece of his desire for life that he had let die.
The second his hands touched theirs, he felt something stirring within him, as if that was the last piece of a puzzle falling into place, he barely heard the professor telling him, “We are a team, the three of us. You and she, she and I, you and I, and all together. We all are more than we were alone.”
He never got a chance to respond as he felt himself slipping away…