"Mr. Shute, we need you to come in to the Phoenix field office. It's about your sister."
The last time I got a call like that, I already knew Emerald was dead - the news coverage made it pretty obvious even if they didn't like to call it before the HSA made it official - but I only had the one sister. They couldn't take her away from me again.
At least, I thought that was the case. When I got to the office, though, they shuffled me through one door and another. I'd spent enough time here in the last few days; after years of comparative stability, my power to see alternate universes seemed to have collapsed in on itself. Any kind of psychic-type gets a lot of attention when our powers change, but mine didn't seem like a prelude to any other change, and I had been hoping they were bored with me.
This time, they dragged me down to intake. The agent accompanying me paused outside one of the exam rooms.
"We're not really sure what's going on yet," she said. "I don't think it's related to your power loss, but they might investigate it anyway."
"What's not related? What's going on?"
"She's a little younger, and some of her memories different. Physical checks out, though she has some different scars. Sapphire is on her way, we have her listed as a next of kin as well."
Despite the agent's admirable attempt not to actually explain the situation, the broad strokes were obvious. "You have- you mean- she's alive? My sister is alive?"
"We have no reason not to believe it's your sister at the moment," was the guarded answer. I grabbed at the doorknob, but it didn't budge. I looked back at the agent, and she held up a key card. I stepped back far enough to let her swipe the door open, then tore at the handle.
I stopped dead inside the doorway and stared. She looked up at me and a smile spread across her face, bigger than I'd seen on her for years before she died.
"Dylan! Oh my god, I haven't seen you in ages! Can you can make them tell me what's going on? Did they catch you? No one will- oof!" she stopped talking as I hugged her more tightly than I would usually admit to in public. "Ow. It's good to see you too, but I like my ribs."
Eventually I let her push me away and her chirpy small talk stopped. "You look like shit, Dylan."
"Thanks." I laughed. "Thank you. I love you. Do I get to keep you?"
"I'm pretty sure you've always been stuck with me."
Oh. They didn't tell her. Dammit, why didn't they make the doctors do the hard part?
"Emmie, you... You died. My... My sister died. You're different. I probably... If we need to get you home then I shouldn't get my hopes up. But it's good to see you.
"I must sound like such an idiot."
Her smile faltered but fought it's way back. "So, an alternate universe? Looks like I finally get to see what you were always going on about, huh?"
"Looks like." I rocked back on my heels, suddenly awkward. Did this count as having my sister back? Should I treat her the same, or would that upset her?
The door clicked open and the same agent walked in. "We understand if this request is awkward, Mr. Shute, but we were hoping to put Ms. Shute in your custody until she gets settled here and we clear her for independence."
"Are you sure Phire won't mind?"
"We've found that in situations like this, it's best to start with family members if at all possible."
"Well. If you're up for it, Emmie, my apartment is all yours."
"Of course I am!"
I wasn't exactly having her back, I kept repeating that to myself in the back of my head. She was her own person. But it still felt like a second chance.
The agent stepped outside again, and the door clicked shut behind her.
A minute later I heard the door handle shake again. Before I could grab it, there was a crunch of aluminum and the door swung open. Sapphire stood on the other side, half of the door handle in her hand. Behind her, Ruby looked like she was seeing a ghost. I supposed that wasn't far off.
"Emmie?" Phire asked, her voice breaking on the second syllable.
"Oh my god," my sister said, launching herself at the taller woman. "Is it really you? This is the best alternate universe."
"I'm not sure if it counts as 'really me,'" Phire said with an awkward laugh. "But it's... It's good to see you."
Noticing the strain in her voice, Emmie stepped back. "Sorry, this is hard, isn't it? Dylan said I'm the one who died here. I shouldn't..."
Phire took a deep breath. "It's just... A lot. It's been a while. And it's still hard to... hard to think about. Looking at you is like wondering if I get to do the last five years over again."
"Is that good or bad?" Emmie asked.
"I'm not sure yet," she shook her head.
"It's good," Ruby said, jumping in. "It's nice to meet you! I've missed you too." She edged in to hug Emmie, and the younger woman relaxed.
"Thank you," Emmie said, and I watched Phire retreat toward the corner. "I really want to get to know you, I guess? I feel like I should."
"Oh, I think that can be arranged." The agent came back then, sparing only a glance at the broken door handle. "As soon as you're cleared for it, we're going to assign you to Trinity."
"What?" Sapphire and Ruby both snapped around at that. They looked at each other and I could guess they were deciding who should talk.
"That might be a little uncomfortable, don't you think?" I asked.
"We think it's good for team continuity. We'll get you a new name. Did you go by 'Emerald' at home?"
I was relieved to let the agent hand it from there, winding through a hundred obscure details. I watched her take the three of them, step by step, through the reasoning behind the choices they were making. I watched from behind, unsure what all of this was going to mean in the long run.
It didn't really matter, though. I had Emmie back. I had a second chance to protect her. That was a start.