Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading!
"You're... what?" Spender stopped loading camping gear into his car. His smile, too, was petrified in place, but as the seconds passed it slowly faltered.
Mina's silence was sufficient as an answer. She'd already told him she was leaving. Now the words had to sink in.
Birdsong and sunlight filled the morning air at Camp Lakeside. Until this moment, Spender had thought the dawn had marked a fresh start after all they'd learned last night... after everything he'd promised to himself. Now that felt naive.
"It won't be for forever," Mina said, avoiding Spender's eyes. "The ghost train's staying, so the bubble won't be sealed. It might be a bit at first—a year or two maybe, or less—but after that, I'll visit when I can."
Spender felt the burning butterflies of unexpected anger expand into the space that hurt claimed in his heart. "What are you talking about? We just got our first lead in ages! Shrike could be alive... Jean needs— Mina, that's just not—" He shook his head, searching for a way to speak the feeling. "Mayview's not some tourist town, it's..."
He saw the words bounce off her with a twitch of her expression towards frustration. Spender felt a window closing, his one chance to fix the rift he hadn't known was growing all this time.
Spender glanced back to see if Isabel was close. She was far across the parking lot, fiddling with Jean's lighter while he explained how to make smoke bombs from common chemicals and home office supplies. He still spoke in a harsh whisper. "What happened back then isn't over. We swore we'd find that spirit, and—and figure out what it was. What it did to Ed's parents! It could be haunting an object in the lake, or something somewhere in the woods, or the town, or it really is the thing in me, and my shadow spirit's more than just a fragment. It could come back at any time. How am I supposed to face that on my own?"
The wight, Mina stated grimly in her head. They'd both seen it. Spender from up close, when it emerged out of the center of the lake. But only she remembered what Boss Leader said it was after their dream all those years later... a mighty grudge with void white spectral energy, uncontrollable and uncontainable. It was better this way, Mina thought, bearing the burden of that knowledge by herself. She'd solve this on her own, out in the world... and Spender and the others, they'd be free.
"Mina, you know I didn't really beat it back then. I just—I just hurled some light in a panic. Even if it was a lucky shot, that thing's still out there healing! Our home is—we made a promise."
Mina frowned. He wasn't saying anything she didn't know, and he wasn't making any of this any easier. Leaving Sockpuppy behind to play the tamed train in her absence was going to be hard enough. If Richard would just calm down
"That's why I have to go," she said, choosing to keep her own voice low and steady.
Spender recoiled. He felt himself reach for words he knew would sting her. "...You're running." Saying them stung him, too.
Mina's eyes went wide, then cold. "I'm doing this for you."
"I didn't ask you to." Dizzying heat was flooding Spender's chest and cheeks.
"I don't care," Mina shot back
"I'm asking you to stay!"
Mina summoned Doctor Burger's plea that Richard lead a peaceful life into her mind, drowning out her rising doubt. She clung desperately to that righteous secret, rejecting the resignation that had followed in the wake of her request. Even if the doctor thought it was too late for them, Mina could still make her dream real. She could. Richard and Jean, they would live that wish out here in Mayview. Mina would bear the weight of everything. Not alone, no, but with the power of the spirits she created...
There was no doom that couldn't be outsmarted. She just needed more to work with. She just needed space to think.
"You'll be happy here. With Jean, with her." Mina glanced past him to Isabel. "Mayview's where you're meant to be."
Spender stood rigid, his mind on fire. Searching for footing only linked the pain to unhealed scars.
Hadn't this been how Walker had grown distant? He earned his place as second in command like Mina earned her stripes, and now their own ambition was what mattered
Wasn't this how it always went? Spender found someone he could trust, someone he looked up to, and then, like Doctor Burger, they were gone.
No, this was most like Agent Summers. Mayview was a dull prologue for Mina. She was too good for it, and once the wider world had opened up, all the promises she'd made were empty air.
No. This was Mina. Only Mina. They were more than just old friends. They'd been through it all together, hand in hand. Only she could make him hurt like this... he hadn't known that until now.
Spender let the strap of the bag he was carrying slide off his arm to land in the trunk of his car. He looked out at the town, a perfect picture of a vivid summer morning. In the moment, not one inch of it felt like home. "Mayview was where you were meant to be," he said, and shut the trunk to punctuate his words.
Mina told herself it didn't hurt her. Richard was a child still, just lashing out. With more time to reflect, he'd understand what she had done. That was all it was. That was the role she knew she'd have to play.
Try as she might, Mina couldn't numb what she was feeling. She dug her nails into her palms, fighting back the signs as best she could.
For an instant, he was close, passing her to reach the driver's seat. Both of them locked eyes, just for a second, and a hundred different words passed through their hearts... words left unsaid, words they could still take back.
Instead, they parted in the first silence in years they hadn't shared.
The next time they met, stood this close, it would be with the miles Mina traveled still between them.