When Tyler opened his eyes, Carmen was gazing down at him, a hand to his cheek.
“What happened?” asked Tyler, Carmen helping him up. They were lying on the grass.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “It’s Murdoch’s home but there isn’t much of it.”
Tyler turned to the gutted remnants of Murdoch’s mansion, a small crowd, mostly women, examined their surroundings, endeavoring, it seemed, to make sense of what happened.
“My father?” asked Tyler.
Tyler noticed West conferring with several people. As a woman broke down, falling to the grass, West knelt before her, her hand in his.
Tyler clambered to his feet.
“I don’t remember how we got here,” said Carmen.
The surrounding trees had been unharmed, birds chirping vociferously.
“Tyler,” she said, grabbing his hand as he turned in his father’s direction. “I missed you.”
“That’s him,” noted Tyler, pointing at his father, still youthful, his winning smile easily charming any woman. “He’s the man you’ve been waiting for.”
“But I found you,” she replied, not giving West so much as a glance.
“You know I’m not West.”
She nodded. “And I’m not Laurel. She’s very pretty.”
“I don’t know her.”
“You saved her,” she acknowledged.
“I saved myself. He wanted all of us here.”
“Where is he?” asked Carmen, turning as if expecting to find Murdoch following them.
Tyler shook his head.
“Does this mean you’re staying?” she asked. Although, before he could answer, she leaned close, kissing him on the lips.
West noticed from afar, surprising Tyler with a smile.
“He knows how I feel about you,” she explained.
“You said you were waiting for him.”
“Why wait? No one stays. And you’ll be leaving too, won’t you? You can be honest.”
“I don’t know,” answered Tyler as West approached.
“Is it true what they say? That you’re Ozymandias?”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“It means you have to stay,” said Carmen, squeezing his hand.
“I’ll take them home,” said West as he stepped close
“What did you tell them?” asked Tyler.
“That it’s a dream and that the sooner I walk them out the sooner they’ll wake up. I won’t be able to join them though.”
“And they return home … to what?” asked Tyler.
“That’s for them to decide. Though we should hurry.”
“Dad,” began Tyler, turning to Carmen. “I should explain.”
“She’s not the Carmen I left your mother for,” explained West. “That woman died.”
Carmen turned away. “Why do you talk about her? You say we’re the same, but she’s dead. I might as well be dead too.”
“No,” assured West. “Don’t say that.”
“How will you take them back?” asked Tyler.
“How would you do it?” asked West.
“I would remember how I led them back home,” answered Tyler. “The future already the past.”
“Led them back home?” asked West. “You’re saying this already happened?”
West chuckled, grabbing Tyler by the arm’s and squeezing him tight. “Maybe it was best I didn’t warn you about this place. Seems you belong here.”
“He said he might stay,” noted Carmen.
“Your watch?” asked West, realizing it was no longer on Tyler’s arm. “I told you you wouldn’t need it.”
“What do you know about Ozymandias?” asked Tyler.
“They say he’s in all things, and that all you have to do is remember that.”
West winked, tapping Tyler on the shoulder before turning away and approaching the flatworlders. He remembered them as children. He remembered the games they played, and he remembered the promise of tomorrow.
The flatworlders noticed Tyler, but they didn’t appear to recognize him. West was instructing them to form a circle, interlocking hands permitting West to imagine a wine cellar and a door to an underground passage.
Tyler hadn’t decided if he wanted to return to Los Angeles; and as Carmen squeezed his hand, she was already making the decision for him. But it was still his decision to make.
Was everyone still at the church? Would they wonder where he’d gone? With Carmen’s hand still in his, he imagined his return to St. Vibiana, and to the room where he awoke that morning.
With the office flooded with light, Tyler turned to Carmen. She seemed surprised by the change of scene.
“West used to do that,” she said, examining her surroundings. ‘Where are we?”
“They thought I died. And they put me here.”
“Promise me you won’t die.”
Tyler approached the door.
“My father,” she intoned, remembering what happened before Murdoch found her again. “I never found him in Twin Towers.”
“What do you think happens when people disappear?” she asked.
“Some go to another world,” he suggested, suspecting, however, that Carmen’s father was probably dead in the other world too; though what kept some people alive in Two Cities well beyond their years?
The Carmen his father knew was at least his mother’s age, which made her father much older still. The Carmen of Two Cities was much younger; that, or she never aged. No one aged if they preferred to remain young.
Tyler turned once again to the door. A decision would have to be made. Would he stay in Two Cities, or would he travel to Los Angeles? He considered both of them his home; but whatever he chose, he would miss the other. Would he never feel at home again?
It was Carmen who opened the door, peering into the hallway outside. But it was Tyler who guided her down the hallway and out onto the sidewalk.
The sun was bright, and the streets deserted. There was no sign of conflict, not even a corpse.
“They were fighting,” remembered Tyler.
“They’re always fighting.”
Tyler turned to the church. The door was still open. Mounting the steps, he entered.
The others had left. Only a woman remained, kneeling at the altar, her head downcast and a white robe concealing her feet and hands. It was Laurel.
“Laurel?” he said as he approached, his voice reverberating throughout the enclosed space. She turned.
“It’s you?” she asked.
“You … died,” she answered, touching his arm as if to confirm he was still alive. She was still wearing the watch.
“You stopped breathing. We put you in the other building and …” Laurel stood up.
“Where did everyone go?” he asked Laurel.
“Bunker Hill. They were tearing it down.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Three days,” answered Laurel, gazing at Carmen before returning her gaze to the altar.
“You never left?” asked Tyler.
“She speaks to me.”
“She said you would awake. She says many things.”
“Like not needing to wear that watch anymore?” asked Tyler.
“I know. Murdoch’s gone,” answered Laurel, turning around. “From this world anyway. But I didn’t want to forget anything. You can have it back.”
Laurel began to unfasten the strap, but Tyler steadied her hand. “You can keep it if you want.”
“It belongs to your father.”
“It’s a reminder I don’t need anymore.”
Laurel nodded before glancing at Carmen. “La Reina said you loved someone. I’m happy for you.”
“What else has la Reina told you?” asked Tyler.
“That there are many dangers and that she needs me. She needs me to speak for her.”
Laurel nodded. “And I assure you I haven’t forgotten anything. I do this willingly. I just like I dreamed it.”
“You dreamed this?” he asked, but Laurel turned away.
“Someone must miss you back home,” suggested Tyler.
Laurel shook her head. “They need me here anyway. Are you leaving?”
“I want to know I can return.”
“You said you’d stay,” noted Carmen.
“Not if I’m trapped here.”
“What if you can’t come back?” asked Carmen.
“What’s the use of being Ozymandias if you can’t come and go when you want?” asked Tyler with a smirk.
“She said this is only the beginning,” added Laurel, speaking of la Reina.
“If I don’t leave, I’ll always think about leaving.”
Carmen turned away. “So like your father. Always wanting something else.”
“If I weren’t like that, we would never have met.”
Tyler observed Laurel as she returned to the altar, dropping to her knees, light reflecting off the marble surface, rippling over the wall.
“La Reina?” he asked.
“She says there’s another way home,” explained Laurel. “Your grandmother knows.”
“Will you join us?” asked Tyler.
Laurel hesitated, shaking her head with her back still turned. “I will stay where I’m needed.”
Tyler didn’t expect Laurel’s commitment to St. Vibiana and la Reina. He was still hoping to see her home and fulfill his promise. But there were new promises to keep.
“I will walk to la Placita and serve la Reina there,” explained Laurel. “Now that you’ve returned.”
“But he doesn’t return without leaving again,” added Carmen.
“I’ll take you to la Placita,” offered Tyler.
“I must go on my own,” explained Laurel, her back still turned. “I must follow my own path, just as you do.”
Tyler didn’t understand what difference it made whether they traveled together or not. He missed her arm bound to his, their destinies linked. Or was there no such thing as destiny? Besides, he loved Carmen, and Carmen loved him in return. His feelings for Laurel would only confuse what was already confusing enough.
“Then I’ll know where to find you,” he told Laurel.
Laurel turned, flashing a tender smile before once again averting her gaze. Carmen was already at the doorway, waiting for Tyler to join her. And once he did, his fingers curled over hers, he imagined his grandmother on the porch of her Bunker Hill Avenue home.
Daylight blinded him as he turned, the sun high overhead, and across from him, his grandmother’s home. It was still intact, although Vi wasn’t waiting for him. At the far end of the street, homes had already been demolished, the distant roar of shouts and gunfire a reminder that the buildings were likely casualties of the war. Or was the assault on Bunker Hill an assault on Vi herself, Murdoch knowing her power and that Bunker Hill could conceal her until Bunker Hill was gone.
Tyler and Carmen leapt up the steps and into the house.
“Grandma” he yelled, but once Vi emerged from a side room, he still looked more like a sister, or perhaps even a daughter. She was getting younger every time he saw her.
Vi extended her arms. “A hug?” she proposed. Tyler indulged her, drawing his arms about her. There as something reassuring about holding her, if at least to confirm she wasn’t a product of wishful thinking. What part did choice play in the world he’d come to know, and did he see only wanted he wanted to see?
For anyone who believed himself Ozymandias, self-deception was a risk.
“It’s time,” said Vi, holding him at arm’s length. She turned to Vi. “You do understand he has to leave.”
“I haven’t decided whether to leave or not.”
“Of course,” replied Vi with a smile, stepping away. “But your father wants to go home. And he can’t leave without you.”
“He wasn’t going to leave.”
“He won’t ask you for help,” explained Vi. “But he doesn’t belong here and he will disappear.”
“Then so will Laurel. But she wants to stay.”
“She has la Reina to sustain her. West is on his own.”
“He can’t leave,” exclaimed Carmen, visibly agitated. “Not both of you.”
“Would you refuse to let them leave, if you could?” Vi asked Carmen.
Carmen held her tongue.
“He’s taking those people home. And he’s at the door. The apartment across from Laurel’s. It’s the other entrance. He wants to join those people but he can’t.”
“How do you know?”
“What la Reina knows, I know,” answered Vi decisively. Tyler still preferred to see for himself, rather than take the word of a deity he couldn’t see.
Heavy footfalls augured Mad Dog’s arrival, his hands folded.
“You were right,” noted Mad Dog.
“La Reina knows,” answered Vi.
“And now he goes home,” said Mad Dog.
“Your mother,” explained Vi. “She hears nothing. Not anymore. But you must tell her.”
“About this? She won’t believe it.”
“Then show her West. She’ll believe that.”
“She hates him.”
“She hated that she lost him but she never hated him.”
Carmen held Tyler’s hand, her head to his shoulder. “I love you.”
“Oh, and can you send Faye back here,” added Vi. “She promised not to leave, and she has no business in your other world.”
So much for Laurel and Faye being linked, thought Tyler. “Won’t she need Laurel to get back?”
“Not if you bring her back,” explained Vi. “But I don’t blame her for leaving, and for getting as far away from Murdoch as she can.”
“He’s gone,” replied Tyler.
Vi shook her head.
“And if he’s not gone?” asked Tyler.
“That’s why we need Ozymandias,” she answered.
“But how will Laurel get back?” asked Tyler.
“What if she doesn’t want to go back?” answered Vi.
“Laurel said she didn’t know her parents. Not her biological parents.”
“They’re all dead. Laurel knows that. But Faye pretends she doesn’t know, doesn’t know that Laurel is the granddaughter of the Faye Rand who once lived in Los Angeles. When she chooses to remember, she’ll seek Laurel out. It could take time; though if you find her, it might not take much time at all.”
Tyler was not prepared to go on another rescue mission, even if it was more familiar territory. But he was willing to see his mother. It had been years.
“Are you ready?”
“The closet in your mother’s room. The lock seems stuck but if you pull hard enough it will open.”
“Now you tell me.”
“And what if you went home before containing Murdoch?”
“And what if I didn’t? What if I’d died? He shot me, you know.”
“He was powerless against you. That’s why you’re here. But you must go. And I hope that when you come back, all of this is till here with this city always changing, just like yours. Though everything’s changing, and even without Murdoch to champion it, the cities of the future will come. It’s inevitable.”
Glazing out the window, Tyler could almost make out several high-rises just like the ones he remembered back in Los Angeles. Everything would one day disappear, including his grandmother.
Tyler reached for Vi and held her one last time. He then grabbed Carmen, holding her, his mouth to hers. “There’s nothing to keep me there,” he assured her. “So I’ll come back.” Carmen nodded, turning away as if saying goodbye were too painful.
Mad Dog threw an arm around Ozymandias’ shoulder. “And don’t forget that thousand dollars, Ozymandias,” he bellowed.
Tyler had forgotten his promise. But he was willing to keep it.
Mad Dog chuckled. Was he serious?
“Go,” insisted Vi, gesturing up the stairs. “Hurry. He’ll lose his mind in there.”
Tyler raced upstairs, glancing down at Vi one last time before walking to his mother’s old room.
He opened her door and turned to the closet. Just as Vi explained, the door appeared stuck. Behind him, appeared Mad Dog who reached for the door and pulled it open.
“Carmen said to come find you if you don’t come back,” said Mad Dog, pulling out the quartz stone from under his shirt. “But this won’t do me any good out there. Don’t do me much good here neither.”
The door opened. “And Vi told me to make sure you go,” said Mad Dog, pushing Tyler into the darkness.