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Author's Chapter Notes:
Hey, I noticed that ONH has been favorited twice, awesome! :3 So this one's for Charlene and kaos55. Thanks, guys!!!

"Why are you tired, kid?" Nick asked with a yawn as he tucked her into bed. "I'm the one who did all the walking," he grinned.

She blinked up sleepily at him and waved hello – or perhaps it was "goodnight" – with one hand, opening and closing her fingers. He plopped down on the bed beside her exhausted and promptly fell asleep. This time, Nick's dreams were of different people than before: he was sitting around with four other guys, and they were all singing, as if it were perfectly normal for five people to just sit together and sing. And then the dream shifted, and this time he was in a room full of people, sitting in the corner with an instrument in his arms and singing. He was by himself this time, and the four other guys from earlier had disappeared. Everyone was watching him, cheering. Nick… Nick…

"Nick." There were hands in his hair, tugging on the blonde locks. "Nick, wake up…"

"Wah?" He was bleary-eyed, blinking against a light that shone somewhere above him. A head appeared in his vision, blocking out the light. It was a little girl with dark curls that fell past her shoulders.

She removed her hands from his hair as he woke and began to complain. "Niiiiick," she said, "I hafta go potty… Where's the bathroom?" Her words were juvenilely formed, the "v" sounds coming out sounding like "b" and "th" sounds slurred into "f" sounds.

He bolted upright and stared. A little girl stood by the bed, her knees pressed together, and a distressed look on her face. She looked about four or five years old and was dressed in a fancy, white dress that flowed all the way to the floor. "Nick," she said again, pushing on his shoulder. She spoke with an accent he didn't recognize. "I need to pee, come on…"

He climbed out of bed and led the strange girl down the hall to the restroom. "The toilets don't work, though," Nick told her, opening the door.

She glanced at it and said, "I can fix it," then shut the door behind her.

Where had this strange girl come from? Nick suddenly remembered that he'd left the baby in the bedroom and ran back down the hallway to make sure that she was allright. The infant was gone. Panicked, he ran back to the bathroom and heard a toilet flush. The little girl opened the door.

"Where's the baby?" Nick demanded. "What did you do with her?"

"What baby? Hey, lemme go!" she said as he reached for her shoulders and shook her slightly.

"There was a baby in the room, sleeping on the bed beside me. What did you do with her? Who are you?"

"Stop it, I dunno what baby you're talking about! You're scaring me, Nick!" the girl whined.

"Wait, how do you know my name?" he asked, letting go of her.

"'Cause you told me… Are you mad at me, Nick? I didn't see any baby on the bed, and I was sleeping right next to you."

"What do you mean you were – huh…" For the first time, Nick looked at the little girl closely. Her hair was a rich black, curled in large ringlets, and she had bright amber eyes, which right now were close to tears. Her fancy white dress was in the same style that the baby's had been. "…Kid?" Nick said slowly.

"Wha–?" she sniffled, blinking hard. "You're gonna get mad and yell at me again…" Her eyes watered.

"Hey, don't cry…" Because she was so much shorter than him, Nick bent down on his knees and wrapped his arms around her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell. I was just worried, but I'm not mad, okay?" This girl… she looked so similar, she knew his name, could she be the same baby, just older? How had she aged several years overnight, did people grow faster in This Place than normal? If so, he would have to look at himself in the mirror again; maybe he was rapidly turning into an old man…

The girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and told Nick, "I'm hungry."

"Okay, let's get something to eat." He grabbed the edge of his t-shirt and dabbed at the tears on her face. Nodding, she slipped her hand into his – because she was barely half his size, Nick had to hunch over slightly for her to reach it – and they walked down the stairs to the kitchen. As they walked down the stairs, Nick marveled at the notion that this girl could be the same baby he'd carried in his arms yesterday. /Well, at least I won't have to change any more diapers.,/ he thought.

They reached the kitchen, which was a homey affair with wooden cupboards, a gas stove, and a kitchen island. Nick opened the fridge to find the sack of food inside. Nick had thrown the pillowcase of food into the empty refrigerator before bed. Because he'd been too sleepy to unpack the contents of the sack, in addition to the food there was also a baggy sweater, some diapers, a pack of wipes, and a container of baby powder. Nick set the pillowcase on the island behind him and started rummaging through it.

"I guess you don't want baby bottles anymore. Plus, I don't know if these are good anyway since I was carrying them around all day yesterday." He grabbed a sandwich and passed it to her. "Here, have some peanut butter and jelly, it's good." She didn't take it from him. Nick glanced in her direction, but the girl wasn't looking at him. She was staring at the closed refrigerator. "What's the matter?" She didn't respond. "Kid?"

Standing up on tip-toe, she stretched as far as she could and grasped the handle of the fridge door and then reached out with her other hand as well, using both to tug the door open. There was food inside.

"Hey, how did you do that?" Nick hadn't been able to ask her as a baby, but now that she was older, maybe she could answer his questions.

The little girl shrugged. "I just opened it and everything came back," she said simply, as if that explained everything.

It still didn't make any sense. He supposed that he would have to wait until she was older – and at the rate she seemed to be growing, that probably wouldn't be too long – to get an explanation. "Allright then," Nick said. "Let's see what we have in there." He pulled out a pot that held some sort of meat and vegetable stew.

"How about utensils?" he asked. "Can you get us some forks and spoons to eat with?"

The kid nodded. "I just hafta find them…" She looked around the room and walked to a drawer by the kitchen sink. "It's too high," she said, holding both her hands above her head.

Nick went over and picked her up by the waist, lifting her to about the height of the drawer. As before, the little girl put her hand on the handle and then opened it. Inside was a utensil tray of mismatched forks, knives, and spoons. Nick grinned to himself. He was having better results with this older version of the kid than he'd gotten with the toddler.

"How old are you anyway?" he asked her.

"I'm a big girl. I'm fibe years old," she told him.

"Five, huh?" Nick set her down on the floor and pulled a couple of spoons from the drawer. "How about bowls? Do you know where any bowls are?"

She nodded and went to a floor-level wooden cabinet, revealing a collection of bowls in various sizes. Nick pulled out two and brought them to the counter with the utensils. Briefly, he wondered whether there was already stuff in all these cabinets. The success they were having was almost too good to be true. He opened a drawer, which turned out to be empty.

"Hey," he called to the little girl. "Can you make something show up in here?"

She looked at it for a moment then nodded. Nick shut the drawer and lifted her again so that she could reach it. When she opened the drawer, it was full of odds and ends – straws, birthday candles, matches, a bottle opener. So it wasn't a coincidence after all. He set the girl down and impulsively grabbed the book of matches. Nick stuffed them into his pocket then turned back to the cold stew and started scooping it out into the bowls. Its texture was slightly gelatinous and did not look very appetizing. Nick's gaze traveled from the food over to the gas range by the fridge. Walking over, he turned one of the knobs. The stove started with a click, but no gas came out of the unit to produce a flame.

"Hey, can you make this thing work?" Nick asked the little girl. He switched the stove off. "I think it's out of gas or something."

She shook her head. "Mamma telled me not to play with those. She said it's for growned-ups only."

"Your… mom?" Nick repeated.

"Uh-huh. I wanted to cook like Mamma, but she said I'm not supposed to touch the stobe. Are we gonna eat now, Nick? I'm hungry."

What was the kid talking about? When had she spoken to her mother? As Nick spooned cold stew into the bowls, he decided that he would have to ask her about it later. He lifted the girl onto a high stool on the other side of the island and sat down beside her, sliding one of the bowls over.

"Here, eat this." He started in on his own bowl. Though cold, the stew was actually pretty good, in spite of its unappetizing appearance. When they finished eating, Nick decided to question the girl some more about her mother. "So when did your mom tell you not to use the stove?" he asked.

"It was when she was cooking… cooking, uh… cooking…"

Nick waited patiently, realizing that she seemed to have lost her train of thought.

"Um… cooking… uh… cooking… oh! Cooking dinner." The five-year-old nodded. "Mamma was cooking dinner. I wanted to help her because I'm a big girl now and I can almost reach the stobe, but then Mamma said I hafta be more growned up."

It seemed like that conversation had taken place recently, yet just last night she had been only one-year old. "Tell me about your family," Nick said, trying to find out more.

"Um… there's my far and my mor and my puppy and me."

Far and mor? /…Father and mother?/ Nick guessed. And he didn't remember seeing a puppy in the house. Had they taken the dog but forgotten their own daughter? "Where are your parents now?"

"I dunno, at home? I miss them. Are you going to take me back home, Nick?"

He didn't have the heart to tell her that there wasn't anyone back at her house. "I'll try to help you find your family, kid," he said instead. "What are their names?"

"Mamma and Pappa. And my doggy's name is Bruno."

Nick shook his head. This was easier than communicating with a toddler, but he still wasn't getting much information out of her. "Hey, where are you going?" he asked.

Somehow, the little girl had managed to slide off of her stool without falling and breaking her neck, and now she was walking towards the door to the backyard. "Can I go outside and play?" She pointed out the window, and he could see a sandbox and swing set.

"Yeah, go ahead, I guess. Just stay where I can see you while I put this stuff away." Nick put the pot of stew back into the refrigerator, keeping an eye on her through the window. He went through the pillowcase that was still on the island countertop, throwing out all the old food he'd been carrying. There was no more need for the baby diapers, so he took them out of the sack and set them on one of the counters. Nick left the dirty dishes in the sink since there was no running water, and then went outside to keep a better eye on the kid.

She was down on her hands and knees in the sandbox and appeared to be building a sand castle, though it looked more like a misshapen mound with smaller heaps of sand on top of it for towers. /Her dress is going to get all dirty,/ Nick thought, /and there's no way to wash it./

"Hey, what are you doing there, kiddo?" Nick looked down at her castle. Beside it, she had written out some sort of word in a shaky, five-year-old hand. He crouched down in the sand beside her. "L-E-N-E," Nick read. "What's that? Lene?"

The little girl shook her head. "No, not ‘lean,' silly, Lene. Leh-nuh. That's my name!" she giggled.

"Lene?" he asked. "Don't you mean Lenna?" Nick traced the letters in the sand with his finger.

"No, this is how Mamma showed me to write my name," Lene told him.

"Oh. So what did you make there? A sand castle?"

She nodded. "There's the castle that we have to go to," she told him. "But we're still far away."

"Wait, what? Castle?" Nick was confused.

Lene pointed somewhere beyond his shoulder, "Over there. See?"

He turned around and nearly fell over. Beyond the backyard fence, far in the distance Nick could see a white castle, its highest towers shrouded in clouds. "Where did that come from?" Had it been there the whole time? Why had he never seen it? "What is that place?"

"That's where we hafta go," she repeated.

"How do you know that?" Nick had to ask.

Shrugging, she said, "I dunno. We just hafta."

His mind was racing as he stood up and told her, "Stay here for a second, okay? I want to go check something out." Nick walked over to the back fence. He reached up and, gripping the top edge of it in both his hands, hoisted himself up so he could see over.

What Nick found scared him. This Place really wasn't the normal world. Behind the house, there was a park and a lightly wooded forest that went on for what seemed like miles and miles. The castle itself was beyond all these – on some sort of rise, probably, because it should have been obscured by the distance and all the obstacles between it and Nick's current location.

If that was truly his destination, then Nick had been traveling in the wrong direction for days. Was the street he was currently on some sort of trick? Did that mean he'd been walking in some huge loop? Nick was grateful that at least he didn't seem to have traveled full circle yet.

So their next journey was beyond the fence. He let go, shaking off the soreness in his injured hand, and went back to Lene and helped her to her feet. She brushed sand from the front of her dress, which was a little bit brown about the knees from kneeling in the dirt. "We should set off pretty soon," Nick told her. "If that castle is our destination, it looks like we have a long ways to go…"

Before they left, Nick refreshed himself in the bathroom where Lene had fixed the toilet. He tried to ask her about how she'd made it work but got the same indistinct answer as when he'd asked her about anything else. When that was taken care of, Nick stood before the mirror and examined his face closely. It was the same, unfamiliar face he'd seen two days ago, which meant that the kid was the one aging quickly and not him.

Within an hour, everything was packed and ready to go. Nick got Lene to fill a closet with a bunch of random junk, including shoes for her and a backpack for him, which was highly preferable to a pillowcase sack. He filled the backpack with portable food, the container of wipes, a sweater from the closet that fit better than the baggy one he'd been carrying around, a knife from the utensil drawer (though its potential as a weapon was ruined by the fact that he had no idea how to use it for anything but eating), and, for some reason, the bottle of baby powder.

Taking the most direct path towards their goal meant scaling the backyard fence, but Nick knew that it would be impossible for the five-year-old to climb over by herself. He slipped the backpack on backwards, so that it sat at the front of his body and then kneeled down before the fence. "Here, Lene, climb onto my back." She scrambled on, fastening her arms tightly around his neck. "Hold on tight, okay?" he said and stood up. Nick struggled to climb over the fence without upsetting the kid's balance or crushing the contents of the backpack. When they finally made it over, they were in the park he had seen that morning. It was really just a large grassy field with winding paths that led into the woods.

Progress through the forest itself was slow, and Nick had to switch back and forth between walking at a five-year-old's pace and carrying her piggyback when she got tired. He wished he'd remembered to ask Lene about a flashlight for later on when it got darker, but at least the wood wasn't too heavily wooded and for now they could see just fine.

"Are you scared?" Nick asked, wondering if the forest frightened her.

She shook her head. "Nah, it's just a bunch of trees."

"Good point," Nick smiled. They walked along, and Lene kept him entertained with random, wandering stories about her puppy Bruno. Her anecdotes were made all the more entertaining by the melodic accent with which she spoke. Nick couldn't match her dark curled hair and light eyes to her accent to determine an ethnicity – either because of his memory loss or because he'd never run into any like it before – but found its sound pleasant to his ear, regardless. After a few miles, they stopped to eat and sat on the large protruding roots of a giant tree, munching on sandwiches.

"You know," Nick told Lene. "I loved turkey sandwiches when I was a kid. I'd beg my mom to make them for me. It was practically all I ate."

She nodded back in agreement. "Me, too. Mamma makes me turkey sammiches all the time."

He stopped, right before taking another bite into his sandwich, realizing that he had just named another food he was eating and recalled a bit more of his childhood. Nick tried to remember more – what his mom looked like, what other foods she made him as a kid – and in his mind's eye he saw a woman cooking in a very small kitchen… and that was all.

"I'm thirsty," Lene broke into Nick's thoughts.

Swallowing hard though there was nothing in his mouth, Nick reached into the backpack and pulled out a juice box. "Here you go, kid. Sorry it's not that cold anymore."

"S'okay, it's still good," Lene said, sipping at it.