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Author's Chapter Notes:
I got my first review! Thanks a lot, Mel. :3 Your review inspired me to post the next chapter... This one goes out to you! *laughs at song reference*

Disturbed by his death revelations, Nick picked up all the books that he had thrown on the floor and put them back on the shelves. He noticed that the spines lacked titles, so he ended up sliding them back into place randomly. Nick left the study after that and made a quick run to the kitchen to verify that there was indeed no food in the refrigerator (there wasn't), then he went upstairs and found a bedroom to sleep in.

In the end, Nick chose a boy's room with race car patterns printed across the comforter. It was weird to take over someone else's bed, and he rested fitfully and without dreams. The next morning Nick woke up as tired as ever, but he left house 1455 and continued his journey down the strange and unending street. It occurred to him that no normal road would go on forever without cross streets. In fact, nothing about this place was normal: everything was blank and empty; the clocks didn't work; lawn ornaments took offense and attacked; and all the people seemed to have completely disappeared.

His memory loss wasn't helping. If only he could remember how he had got here, then maybe Nick would be able to find his way back to the normal world – to Kansas? – wherever that was. As it stood, he could only remember as far back as the day before, to when he had been walking down the street, marveling at how his surroundings reminded him of a Levittown.

Nick refused to accept that he was in Hell or that he had even died, though the strange circumstances in which he found himself troubled him to no end. He stopped worrying about the people who might or might not be living in the houses that he broke into and haphazardly commenced with smashing in windows and tearing up homes, searching for some sort of clue about the place he found himself trapped in.

As he walked down the street – the only thing left to do because it had to end somewhere – Nick began to shout random nonsense to pass the time. Words, phrases, sometimes even songs sprung from his mouth. He had no idea what he was quoting from, or whether he sang the tunes correctly, but the sound of his own voice was reassuring. Nick almost wished that the gnome hadn't run off, just so he could hear someone (or something) else's voice besides his own. The longing for other people had even led him to try pressing the buttons on answering machines he'd come across, but the messages had played only silence.

Nick felt like he was going crazy, cut off from contact with others. The worst thing was that he couldn't remember what it was like to be around people – to hold a conversation, to fight, to love. Nick recalled that these were things one did with other people, but he didn't understand how they worked or how they were done.

In this miserable state, Nick traveled for two days through the houses of the empty neighborhood, stopping only to rest when his hunger-weakened body demanded it. His lips grew cracked and dry from thirst, and when he ran his tongue over them he tasted blood. Nick wondered how long he could go on without food or water. Would he die in this strange place without ever finding out who he was, without seeing another human face? To die alone seemed like a terrible and lonely thing.

Lene's knees buckled under her and she collapsed to the floor as Günter crushed her wrist in a bone-crushing grip. She hit the flagstones and groaned. "Ah! Günter, please..."

"You defied me," he growled, releasing her. "You tried to spare him. /Fool/," he spat. "You know my power, and you thought you could stop me? You can only delay the inevitable for so long."

"I – I'm sorry. I told you that I couldn't kill him, Günter. He's not like the others. Nick is good."

Günter's cold hand grabbed her chin and turned her face up to his. "So you saved him. You thought you could just disobey me, the one to whom you owe your life?" His words were angry, but the emotion did not extend up to his eyes, which lacked both expression and color. "No matter. He will die, Lene, and there is nothing you can do to stop it."

She turned her head away, focusing instead on the elaborately woven tapestries that adorned the wall and the suits of armor that marked the room at regular intervals, anything to avoid looking at Günter's piercing glare. He jerked her arm, and Lene was dragged to the window, tripping over the hem of her long, white dress as he pulled her and forced her to look outside. They were in a castle tower high atop a giant hill with a great stone wall surrounding the hill at its base, and beyond the wall she could see for miles and miles without end. Outside the castle and hill's protection, a vaguely sinister labyrinth stretched and twisted as far as the eye could see.

"I know this place," Lene realized. "This is Other World… We're on Nightingale Hill." She had not been to the castle for many years, but when she was a child Günter had brought her here often. As a young girl, her lively imagination had transformed the castle's lonely halls and suits of armor – outfitted with swords, shields, and pennants – into a royal court. Lene used to pretend that she was a princess and that the world outside the gates of Nightingale Hill was the great wilderness bordering her kingdom. And once, she had asked Günter to let her go beyond the castle walls, but he had forbidden that she travel beyond the gates.

/Other World is a dangerous place, even I cannot control it,/ he'd said. /Beyond the gates that protect Nightingale Hill lies death./

"Beyond the gates lies death," she repeated now. Lene's eyes widened and she turned to face him. "Are you going to kill me, Günter? Is that why you brought me here?"

His pale eyes remained unchanged. "That little ward you put on Nick might have spared him last time, but I noticed that its effects did not extend to Other World. Your precious Nick is out there now, alone, and soon he will be dead."

She had nearly killed her physical self, trying to spare him from Günter's reach in the car accident, and it seemed to be for nothing. Lene's lip trembled. "Don't... Don't do it, Günter."

"Lene, why do you defy me now after all these years? You never had a problem with my targets before this. Could it be that you feel something for him?" He arched an eyebrow inquiringly at her.

"No! Of course not." She struggled for an explanation. "But the others, they were evil, they were murderers, and we were right to rid the world of them. Nick is different than they were. Why can't you see that?"

"I don't care." Günter's face darkened. "I /will/ have that power, Lene, and not even you can stop me. For all these years, you thought that defeating evil really mattered to me? How charmingly naive of you." He boredly looked down at his fingernails, which were fashionably pedicured, and a lock of silver-white hair fell into his face. "I defeated the evil, but I was also defeating the strong. And with their magic I became stronger."

Lene breathed deeply. "So, it's his power that you're after. You… You don't care one bit about justice!"

"Justice," he scoffed. "There is no justice – not in Other World, not in my castle, and certainly not out there in the real world." Günter pointed at the spiral staircase that wound through the heart of the tower up to a door in the ceiling.

"Who are you? You're not the Günter that I know. Where's the man who saved me when my parents were slaughtered and the murderers came after me?"

"Lene, you never knew the real me," he shook his head. "…And as for your parents, ah," he chuckled. "Yes, charmingly naive. But I supposed you never would have helped me get to where I am today, if you had suspected me of any wrongdoing in that situation. How fortunate I was to find you!"

"All this time... Everything has been a lie?" Lene bit her lip; a sound like rising blood rushed in her ears. "And you told me that Nick was an enemy. You wouldn't listen when I tried to tell you that he was good, that he would never harm us. You wanted me to kill him myself!"

Günter smirked, deflecting her accusations. "Though naive, I know that you're not stupid. You realize that I just admitted to having a part in your parents' murders, and all you can complain about is Nick? You really do care about him." His smile twisted cruelly. "That shall make his death even more enjoyable."

"No." Lene's hands balled into tight fists. "/I won't allow you to kill him!/" she cried. With her words, the stone tower began to vibrate. Günter lost his balance and fell against the wall, and Lene used that chance to scamper out of his reach. The air surrounding her glowed softly, and she saw Günter's eyes widen as he saw what she was doing. He raised his hand towards her, and a wave of power knocked her to the ground. But it was too late: a blinding, bright light filled the room and shot out the window, flying deep into Other World.

Her lips curled in grim satisfaction, Lene lay motionless on the floor, faint and ready to pass out. Through the veil of dark hair covering her face, she saw Günter approach and with her last ounce of energy willed Nick to live.

The third night Nick feared that it would be his last. Hollows had appeared around his ribs and belly as his body consumed its reserves in the absence of food. He had ceased shouting, ceased speaking in order to conserve his parched throat, which had gone hoarse from thirst. Breaking the window to house number 1503, Nick had trouble hoisting himself through the window frame to get inside. He lost control and fell in, landing on bits of broken glass that pricked his hands – one of which had just begun to scar over from the lawn gnome's bite – and cut into his bare arms.

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Nick stood and brushed bits of glass from his palms and limbs. Fortunately, the cuts were shallow and stopped bleeding quickly, and he wiped his hands on his jeans. Because he was so distracted by the pain, it was several minutes before he registered the distant sound of crying. Nick twisted and turned his head, trying to discern the direction from which the sound came. It was somewhere inside the house.

He followed the sound to the stairs and made his way up them, ignoring the smarting in his body from the fall. The crying grew louder as Nick drew nearer to its source. At the top of the stairway was a landing that led to several rooms; one of the doors was already open, and from that room came the sound.

Entering, Nick discovered a nursery, painted white with teddy bear accents. A crib was set against the far wall, and in that crib stood a baby, clutching at the railing as it wailed its head off. The baby's pale skin was flushed deeply red and hot tears streamed down its cheeks. The moment it spotted Nick, the infant stopped crying and made unintelligible baby sounds at him, hiccupping as its mouth worked to form coherent words. Instinctively, Nick crossed the room and lifted the child into his arms. On closer inspection, "it" was a girl.

"Hey, kiddo," he croaked. Clearing his dry throat, Nick smiled and looked down at her. A mop of large, black curls crowned the baby's head, and she was clad in a fancy, white dressing gown. She had to be somewhere around a year old. Her eyes were as red as the rest of her face from crying, but as she returned Nick's gaze, the infant's big, amber eyes widened.

"Where's the rest of your family?" he asked.

Nick tried to put her back down in the crib for just a moment so he could check the other upstairs rooms, but at the toddler's cry of protest, he took her with him. Her chubby baby fingers reached out and grabbed a hold of his shirt, as though she refused to let him go now that she'd found him.

"I hear you on that one," Nick agreed. Now that he'd made human contact, he wasn't going to surrender it. He decided not to let the baby out of his sight.

A thorough inspection revealed that the rest of the floor was completely deserted, all closets and bureaus cleared out as they had been in every other house he'd checked. Tired from his search, which had taken a toll on his already weakened body, Nick sat down on the edge of bed, looking down at the little girl. "Who left you here?" Nick asked her.

She made baby sounds back at him in reply, trying to talk, though words were beyond her abilities just yet. He wondered who would take everything with them but leave a young child behind. It only cemented Nick's wariness of this unnatural place he found himself in. How long had she been here, crying until someone came to her? Surely a baby couldn't survive for long on its own, but Nick was certain that this neighborhood had been deserted for at least the past three days that he'd been traveling it. For a brief moment, he wondered whether he should also be suspicious of the infant he held – after all, the last time he'd picked up a "tiny person," it had bit him. But as Nick looked into the child's eyes, which were bright and golden though a bit tinged with red from crying, he felt a deep connection to her and knew she could be trusted. He smiled, grateful to his core that he was no longer alone, even if his companion was just an infant.

Before too long, the baby began to fuss with hunger. "Yeah, me too," Nick told her. "Let's go downstairs and see if your parents left anything behind," he said, though he doubted that they would find anything.

When they got to the refrigerator, Nick looked down at the little girl. "Now, don't be too disappointed if there's nothing in there. I've been through this way too many times these past few days, and you're too young to turn into a cynic, okay?"

Nick slowly opened the fridge door and looked inside. Nothing. His heart sank and he shut it again. "Surprise, surprise… Sorry, kid," he told her.

As though ignoring Nick, the baby reached out and put her hands on the door handle and made a loud sound.

"What? I showed you, already," he said, opening it again for her benefit. "There's nothing in he—" Nick trailed off, gaping at the refrigerator that was now fully stocked with food.

The shelves held plastic containers of leftovers, saran-wrapped dishes, carafes of milk and juice, and bottles of water. Where those there a second before? Maybe he hadn't looked at the fridge hard enough the first time. Was Nick so used to finding empty drawers that he saw what he was expecting to see – or rather, didn't see what he was expecting to see – instead of what was actually there? "I don't believe it," he muttered.

The infant made gurgling sounds as she spotted a baby bottle on a fridge shelf. Nick set her on the kitchen counter beside him and passed the bottle to her then grabbed a bottle of water for himself. The baby sucked her bottle greedily, and Nick was inclined to do the same but limited himself to taking slow sips because the cold water almost came as a shock to his dehydrated body. His knees felt weak, so he grabbed a stool and brought it over to where he had been standing and sat down.

Nick realized then that he had left the fridge door open. He was almost afraid to close it, for fear that all the food would be gone the next time he checked it. But he knew that he couldn't just leave the unit open, so he grabbed several different pieces of fruit from the crisper and set them on the counter beside the baby. Nick shut the door, counted to ten, and then opened the refrigerator again. The food was still there. He gave a hoot of delight and felt reassured enough to finally close the door. Grabbing a round, red piece of fruit off the counter, he took a bite into it and chewed slowly. It was fresh and crisp with the slightest hint of tartness to it. "This… whatever it is, tastes great," he told the infant on the counter.

Juice ran down Nick's chin, and he wiped it away with the back of one hand, staring hard at the refrigerator door. "I swear that was empty…" As Nick thought back again, he was positive that he had not imagined the fridge being empty. Yet somehow, it was now completely full of things to eat, and there was no way to explain it. He sure wasn't going to complain, though, because for the first time in days that dread feeling had left the pit of his stomach.

Chewing on his fruit, Nick looked hard at the round red thing in his hand and took a guess. "…a—apple. Hey! I know what this is. Check it out, kid, this is an apple." Nick showed it to the baby, but she was more interested in her bottle.

With a shrug, he finished his apple and went back into the fridge to start on some sort of chilled meat. Nick devoured one drumstick after another, tossing the bones aside. The food seemed familiar and delicious on some level that he couldn't quite grasp, but the name was harder to remember than the apple had been. He licked the grease from his finger tips, savoring the flavors, and then he remembered. This was fried chicken.

The baby watched Nick eat through the contents of the fridge (he'd tried the microwave, but it didn't work): triangle-shaped pieces of flat bread covered in red sauce and cheese, cold curvy pasta in a cheesy sauce, a creamy yellow dish with potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. And one by one, Nick slowly recalled the name of the different foods. Pizza. Macaroni. Potato salad. Was this a sign of his memory returning? Nick certainly hoped so.

When he was comfortably full, Nick was content to just sit and rub his sated stomach. The baby burped and finished her bottle, as well, dropping it beside her. She looked sleepy, so Nick lifted her into his arms. He felt just as tired, and thought that for the first time in days he might actually get some real sleep. Whispering reassuring words into the baby's ear, he carried her back upstairs.

The nursery didn't have a spare bed in it, only the crib, and Nick did not want to leave the infant in a room by herself. So he chose the room next to the nursery and set her down on the mattress there. He tucked her in on the side of the bed that was pushed up against the wall so she couldn't fall out, and then Nick shut off the light and crawled into bed beside her.