Eric tilted his head, still keeping his eyes on Clara.

"Oh," he said. "I do that to a lot of people. I forget sometimes."

Clara smiled. "I understand."

"It makes me happy to help people," Eric said, not smiling back. "Do you want to see?" he asked.

Clara was confused. She looked back at the group. They were lost in distant conversation and paid no attention to her and Eric.

"I can show you," he said. "All the people I helped."

She gave herself a moment to think. And then she said, "Yes. Please."

Eric laid his arm on his lap, turning it over in front of Clara as he aimed his gaze downward. She took this as an offer.

Clara looked back one more time before reaching over and grabbing hold of Eric's hand.

The next thing she saw was a bright light – but it wasn't beautiful or celestial. The luminous particle field held a dark halo behind it, clawing forth and trying to consume it.

The light faded and Clara found herself in front of a bench in the garden of a fenced-in backyard. She was walking toward a dark-haired young woman. As she walked, she caught sight of her hands. They were Eric's hands, and she knew she was experiencing his memory from the inside.

She got closer to the woman on the bench and saw her face. Her skin was pale and she had sunken cheeks. Though Clara couldn't hear it, someone called to her. She turned and saw a younger version of Carlo standing nearby. He looked nervous as he nodded. Her arms – Eric's arms - reached toward the woman. Theresa.

A moment later, there was a flash and Clara found herself in the quiet bedroom of a small house. She could feel Eric's feelings – he was terrified. Across the room laid an old man who she recognized from the webcam video. She sensed that the man's life was almost depleted. Down the hallway she saw Greg and Kevin, both in their twenties, waiting near the open front door to the house. She crossed the room and laid her hands on the old man. Just as she made contact, there was a another blinding burst.

More flashes – quick images of various people in different places. Each scene was only a short moment – a face, hands on body, and the power surge that moved her forward to the next memory.

Then Clara was in a drab nursing home. Eric's hands reached out toward another man. His face looked familiar in some way, and when she saw the figure next to him she understood why. A hopeless Kevin sat in the chair next to his father, his head slumped in his hands. Clara/Eric laid their hands on the withered man and sent the healing force into him, but she sensed that whatever could be done for him wouldn't be enough to hold off his end for very long. Too much had been lost.

Another burst. She was in the opened back of a parked ambulance, staring down the shoreline. Half a mile away, the Castle burned. Streams of smoke traveled up from the decimated pier, casting a shadow on the helpless citizens and firefighters below.

Emergency workers scurried around the ambulance, swatting fireflies from their faces. Howie kept the crew distracted as Kevin gestured to a young Kenny, barely recognizable under his firefighter hat and ventilator. Clara/Eric reached forth through his singed uniform and toward his damaged body. Once contact had been made, she saw a dozen bursts of him in a hospital – and with each sliver of time, his burned body became less scarred until it was completely back to normal.

Another burst. An old woman in a rocking chair. Above the woman, and above Clara/Eric, was a younger Joel Rudderow in his store. He was crying, and mouthing inaudible words as Eric's hands reached for his mother.

Then Clara was in a hospital – one much bigger and more modern than Fithian Memorial. A tiny boy lay in a sterile bed. It was Toby, not even two years old. Hooked up to monitors and tubes, the boy couldn't have looked more helpless. Clara turned and saw a pre-teen Nicholas for a moment before Kevin hustled him out of the room. She turned back to Toby and stretched out her arms.

More bursts – all people she didn't recognize. She could feel years, then decades, rushing by. Occasionally she'd see other faces from the Castle crew – Greg and Darlene, Corine, Howie, and Genevieve taking her to and from different places, different people. She sensed the power slowly growing stronger, and her control over it increasing.

The bursts stopped at a final scene – much more familiar than the others. She was climbing in through a window, with Kevin in front of her and Greg behind her. They wore dark hoodies. As they crept through a supply room and into the hallway, Clara recognized the building as Fithian Memorial.

She entered Aunt Maureen's room, with Kevin gesturing toward her aunt's sleeping body. Through Eric's eyes, she both saw and felt herself healing Aunt Maureen. The memory didn't stop at the energy burst this time. She felt the warmest, most loving force rise from inside her and flow through her, feeding into Aunt Maureen. The sensation created a feedback loop – buried within the memory, Clara's mind alternated between Eric's sensation of the healing and her own gratitude for her aunt's life being restored.

As the glow diminished, a sound from the hallway startled her. And then Clara saw an image that would stay with her for the rest of her life, coming forth years later when she'd catch her reflection in a mirror or see a video of herself. It was her – her real self, emerging from behind the door to Aunt Maureen's room. From Eric's perspective, she saw Kevin point to the hallway – to her. Then she chased herself through the empty hospital and into the storage room where she – her actual body that she wasn't currently inhabiting – disappeared through the broken window and ran off. Clara's mind couldn't take the dissonance any longer. It broke free.

She was back in her own body again, back with Eric. He pulled his hand away, breaking the connection. Clara found herself shuddering with her arms tight around her chest. She was unsure of everything she'd come to believe in the sixteen years she'd been alive so far, and found herself envying the naïve person she'd been only a couple hours earlier.

On the deck, Carlo called Eric's name.

He stood up and started off, then looked down at Clara.

"Are you okay, Clara?" Eric asked.

She forced her jaw to stop chattering.

"I don't know," she said.

Eric looked into her eyes. "You will be okay," he said. "The feeling does not last forever. Nothing does."

He walked off, quicker than she'd seen him move earlier. Carlo met him at the bottom of the deck stairs. She watched the old man hand Eric a plastic mug. With the touch of a parent, Carlo held his arms around Eric's waist and helped him up the stairs where the others gathered around him.

When Nicholas saw Eric join the group, he stood up and walked over to Clara. She continued staring at Eric even as Nicholas sat down next to her.

"So how was your--?"

Clara didn't let him finish. She leaned her head into his chest and held him tight. She didn't cry – she was beyond tears now. All she wanted was to feel his heart beating inside him. She pressed an ear against him and listened. Nicholas sat still, and saying nothing, draped his arms around her.

Somewhere beyond them both, the ocean rumbled.

------------------

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- Steve


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