Ivy and Clive, with their newfound team, go on a very important shopping trip.
“Clive, it’s a cultural gala!”
Ivy stared at Clive across their tiny dining table, faking doe-eyes. This gala thing had really excited her and it was the non-stop topic of conversation.
“Don’t forget this is a dangerous mission,” Clive said, keeping his face serious as he spoke to her. “You now know Alvarez’s own daughter could be in on that monstrosity in the basement.”
“Yes, Sienne Alvarez,” Ivy said, completely unphased, picking at the leather on her gardening glove.
Clive wished she’d take the matter just somewhat more seriously. “All we know about this Sienne is that she’s involved with her father’s unclarified business, and her own mother doesn’t want Sylvia and Kyllian talking about it.”
“I don’t think Candela is a good judge,” Ivy said, looking up. “She doesn’t like her brother Jack.”
Clive wasn’t about to confirm he also wasn’t the most fond of Officer Sallow, but that was his preference against optimists.
“These creatures are murderous, and beyond what we know,” Clive urged. “Anyone connected can’t be good.”
It made sense. Maybe the Alvarez connected with Wraith Weed wasn’t Horacio Alvarez at all. Maybe whoever had kidnapped him had kidnapped the wrong one.
What if Sienne was the one they were really looking for?
What if she deserved it?
“You’re spiraling,” Ivy said, causing Clive to jump. “Your face just drained to existential dread.”
Clive glared. “Look, anyone involved with something that attacked you can’t be good news. You’re lucky you weren’t hurt.”
Ivy froze. “Yeah,” she said, quickly shaking her head. “I am.”
Clive frowned. That was odd. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Ivy said, breaking out into a smile. “So when are we going to get a lehenga?”
Clive groaned, wishing Jack had never promised her this trip. “Do I have to go?”
“Of course! I want my brother there with me.”
“You’re buying a disguise for an unauthorized mission, not for your wedding.”
Ivy shrugged. “You’re boring,” she said, simply, taking up her stack of tablets. “Come on. Take a shower. We leave in five!”
Clive didn’t know they were required to take the seven year old, which made it so he was trapped in the passenger seat next to Jack, with Kyllian, Sylvia, and Ivy sitting in the back.
Clive didn’t really feel the desire for conversation, wishing he’d gone to sleep earlier that night, but Ivy had other plans.
“Jack, which name do you prefer? Jack or Isaias?”
The question made the Officer tense for a moment. “I really don’t mind either.”
“Well, I assume since you changed it, you did mind at one point.”
“Other people minded,” Jack said quickly.
“What? Did you break a law and escape a region?” Clive joked dryly.
“That would make a better story,” Jack said.
“Only Auntie calls him Isaias,” Sylvia butted in. “I call him Jack. Everyone calls him Jack.”
Only for a small moment did Clive feel a pang of sympathy for Jack as he saw the cheery Defender’s face, his eyes hard on the road. He knew Clive was a name issued to him by the Orphan Care System when he’d been too little to remember it. He didn’t even know his name before that. Or if he’d even had one.
He wouldn’t be surprised.
From what he knew about his parents, there wasn’t much to know. Their aunt was the one who requested they be moved to an OHS far across over the ocean. Ivy never seemed to mind it much, trying to absorb every little thing she could. And Clive? He’d rather be stuck in the world in his head, because everything in him felt like a world had been stolen from him. Answers kept from him because of ‘legal requests,’ and his home far, far away because his aunt wanted nothing to do with them.
He shook himself out of the thought.
He couldn’t sink into a self-mourning hole this early in the morning.
One thing about Sycamore that never made sense to Clive is why everything was outside, when the outside was so freezing cold.
Why have an outdoor shopping center decorated in your finest trees lining every sidewalk, and around the center with string lights floating in jars in each branch, when all your shoppers were too busy keeping their layers of coats closed as they hurried red-faced to their next destination?
Not that Clive had ever had the chance to venture to the shopping center besides a trip to a department store for a Holiday “gift.” He bought his own tablet as soon as they came, and then proceeded to hide in a clothing rack to read.
Jack parked the Defender car, which definitely got them a few stares, and jumped out. He brushed off his uniform, which he’d insisted on wearing, and turned to get the door to the back.
Clive clambered out after him, before his hand was grabbed.
“Aren’t you excited?” Syvlia said, gripping his hand, her voice muffled through her scarf neatly folded around her neck, but a big bog over her mouth.
Clive shrugged. “Not a big shopper.”
“Have you ever gone before?” the little girl frowned at him.
Her eyes lit up, with a tiny squeal, squeezing his hand. “Then this is perfect! I can show you how to do it!”
Clive blinked at the curious kid looking up at him with such wide eyes of wonder and excitement. No resentment, not a dash of realism. It was so pure.
“Clive! Sylvia! Get out of the road!” Jack called out.
Clive shook himself, grabbing Sylvia’s hand and leading her over to the sidewalk where Ivy, Jack, and Kyllian were gathered.
“Kyllian, I’m going to show Clive how to shop,” Sylvia announced proudly to her tutor.
Kyllian raised a brow. “I wasn’t aware he was even capable of agreeing to that.”
“I’m not a total dead weight.” Clive rolled his eyes.
“So, just mostly?”
Clive tried his hardest not to glare at the sharp tongued redhead. And mostly because Ivy laughed at the quip.
“Alright, enough,” Jack said, with a sigh. He cleared his throat. “We shouldn’t be here long.”
“Why didn’t we just order on the net?” Clive said.
“That’s no fun!” Sylvia pouted.
“That’s why,” Kyllian said, shrugging. “She’s part of the team too.”
They were not a team.
And the seven year old most definitely wasn’t part of it.
“Kyllian will be going first since it’s closest, then we make a dash over to Ivy’s, and then we’re out of here. It shouldn’t be too long. No need to look gloomy,” Jack said, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets with a smile to Clive.
Clive didn’t bother to return it.
Clive sat outside the department store, since Sylvia wasn’t exactly the most quiet person in the world and Jack could sense the employees getting annoyed. They didn’t need to attract any more attention. Clive was at least glad to see Jack taking the ‘anyone could be a suspect’ seriously.
Sylvia sat beside him on the bench, her hand clenching his. For once, she was quiet, watching the people walking by in the shopping center, swinging her legs, her flower crown falling to her brows.
Clive adjusted it with his free hand.
The automatic door swept open, and Jack stepped out. He swept his dark curls from his eyes, his tired face immediately rising as he turned. “How’s Sylvia?”
“I’m bored, Jack,” Sylvia moaned, draping herself dramatically on Clive.
Jack arched his brow, taking a seat beside Clive, sandwiching him between the uncle and niece. “Oh really?”
Sylvia nodded. “Can I climb that tree?”
Sylvia jumped up, pointing to the large oak in the center of the walkway, benches around it and a small group of teenaged girls indulging in conversation under it. Sylvia pressed her lips together, making her best attempt at puppy eyes.
Jack gave a long dramatic sigh. “Alright, but no telling Aunt Candela on me.”
Syvlia squealed of thanks, taking off toward the tree, her flower crown flying off so she had to take a detour to chase after it.
“Did they kick you out too?” Clive said to Jack, though not really wanting to bother to look at him.
The Defender chuckled. “No. It just gets stuffy in there. Kyllian’s a bit more of a smooth talker.”
Clive rolled his eyes. “So you admit you left a smooth talker in there with my sister?”
“Protective older brother much,” Jack said, raising a brow, a small testing smile on his lips.
“Look you have a sister--” He glanced at Sylvia, running up to the tree now. “--and a niece. Don’t you get it?”
“I have three sisters actually,” Jack said, suddenly very interested in the woven bracelet on his wrist.
Clive frowned. “You mean not just Candela?”
“Sylvia’s my niece. But Candela isn’t her mother,” Jack said it so matter-of-factly, not in a demeaning way as that little smile never seemed to be scrubbed from his face. “But they’re all older than me, so I guess I never had the protective chance till Sylvia came along.”
“Why does Sylvia live with Candela then?” The question came before Clive even thought about it. Was Ivy contagious?
“Laila isn’t exactly the most fit,” Jack said, his face faltering. He straightened himself quickly before meeting Clive’s eyes. “And it doesn’t help, we don’t even know where she went.”
“You mean she ran away?”
“She claimed she was part of some sort of traveling party…which was supposed to justify dropping out of University with them,” Jack said, the smile seeming so forced now, like he was fighting against everything to keep it from falling. “She just relocated. Doesn’t exactly want anything to do with us especially after they found out she was dealing with illegal substance transports.”
Jack went quiet, and Clive didn’t know what to say.
Jack looked away, his eyes now on little Sylvia as she hung from a branch by her legs waving to the teenage girls below, giggling. Clive looked back to Jack. The way he looked at the little girl was so engrossed, and endearing, and there was a slight shimmer to his eyes. A tiny genuine smile returned.
“You really cared for Laila, didn’t you?” Clive said quietly.
Jack didn’t respond. He didn’t need to.
Clive could feel that pain. “It doesn’t have anything to do with your name?”
“The name change was my parents’ choice, not mine,” Jack said. “I don’t care what they do with me or my name, just as long as I never have to leave them like she left us.”
With an exaggerated breath, he jumped to his feet, bouncing as he brushed himself off. “Well, that’s enough depressing Jack backstory for today. Sylvia, come on! Time to get Kyllian before he buys out the entire shop!”
Sylvia laughed at Jack’s comment, easily climbing down from her perched branch stumbling into the grass below. She jumped to her feet, adjusted her flower crown, and ran to Jack, grabbing his hand ignorant to her grass stained tights. “He really would,” she said. “He couldn’t help himself.”
“A fashionable tutor you have there,” Jack said, with a beaming smile to Sylvia.
“You should see his tie collection.” Sylvia giggled, grasping onto Jack’s arm now. “My favorite is the red tie with the sparkles on it.”
Jack gave her a knowledgeable chuckle before turning to Clive. “You coming in?”
“Me?” Clive blinked before shaking his head. “No. I’ll wait outside.”
“Suit yourself,” Jack said before walking through the doors with Sylvia clinging to his side.
Clive got his feet anyhow, brushing himself off while trying to keep his thoughts from raging. He didn’t want to look at Jack with any sort of feeling beside spite, but now, there was a tiny hole of sympathy poked into that mask.
“Clive!” Ivy practically barrelled out of the doors, grabbing Clive’s arm, attempting to spin him around. “This is it!”
Clive let her spin him, with a sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, let’s go fulfill your dreams.”
Ivy didn’t even seem to note his monotone, practically bouncing on her feet.
“The shop is pretty small and a big group trying to cram in isn’t preferable,” Jack said. “Since I’m the one running the mission--”
Clive rolled his eyes. That was arguable.
“--I’ll go with Ivy.”
“I’m coming too,” Clive butted in.
Jack sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that.”
“It’s alright,” Kyllian said, patting Sylvia on the head. “I’m sure we can entertain ourselves while you all do your thing. Meet up back at the auto.”
“Keep your Comm on, Ivy,” Clive said.
“I am. I am, don’t worry,” she said, pulling out the device to click on the notifications in that moment.
Jack led the way, being the only one who knew the way, and Ivy and Clive trailed behind him. The most alone time they’d gotten all day.
Ivy stood straighter, her eyes seeming unable to focus on just one thing, waving at just about anyone who passed, before turning to Clive and leaning in with a whisper. “Should we ask about Sienne?” she said, her eyes wide with curiosity, darting from Clive to Jack.
Clive shook his head maybe a little too quickly. “No.”
“But it’s important. She’s a huge suspect.”
Clive didn’t want to make Jack have to talk more about his family than he needed too. He didn’t exactly like the twinge of guilt he felt seeing the Defender express any feeling besides his genuine kind, happy self. “It’s not the right time,” Clive whispered back.
Ivy gave him a look, but with a quick shrug, kept off the topic.
They approached the little shop off by the corner. Jack hadn’t exaggerated when he said the place was small, but that didn’t stop even the exterior from being homey, with a homemade shade over a holographic display on a little bot, offering a pamphlet.
Ivy quickly took one with excited hands.
Clive glanced over her shoulder, pretending to be uninterested in the lehenga.
They entered the shop, a small bell going off, and a woman jumped up from her small desk. She nodded to the three of them. “Can I help you?” she said with a kind smile, tucking a lock of graying hair behind her ear.
Jack explained their situation, with Ivy once again rocking excitedly on her feet beside him.
“A gala, you say?” a younger woman, Clive guessing another employee, said, pushing out from a back room, her arms filled with a box of packages.
“The one being hosted by the Alvarezes,” the woman said, cooly, going back to her desk. “Uma, could you please help…I don’t believe I ever caught your name.”
“Ivy,” Ivy said, with a tiny bow. “Ivy Bhasin.”
“Very nice to meet you, Ivy,” Uma said, a smile of amusement at Ivy’s display. She set the box down on a table, spread out with various articles still in the process of being packaged. The window was open over the table, the sunlight spilling inside, giving the tiny shop a glimmer. Sylvia would’ve positively died.
“Jack, you want to help?” Ivy said, stopping to turn to the Defender. “Clive doesn’t like these sorts of things.”
Clive swallowed hard, watching Jack’s conflicted gaze. “Sure. I can’t say I’ll be any help though.”
Uma laughed. “He has a point. Defenders wear the same thing everyday. Pretty boring,” she said, taking Ivy’s arm.
Clive tuned them out, taking a seat in a stool by the door, hoping they would hurry up and get it over with so he could stop his eyes from being tempted to wander and then have the inevitable guilt that always wanted to eat away at him.
“The girl called you Clive?” The woman at the desk looked up from her work, her big and brown eyes held Clive’s gaze with a genuine interest.
“Y-yeah,” Clive said, clearing his throat. “That’s my sister.”
The woman nodded. “I see. So you’re Clive Bhasin?”
“That’s what people call me.”
She chuckled. “I’m Navi.”
“Nice to meet you.” He tried putting as much umph into his voice as he could, though he couldn’t help but feel discouraged by the curiosity in her eyes.
“You seem quite familiar with lehenga? Southern Boli? Or Rahana?” she said.
Clive laughed dryly. “Nope. Sycamore. I-we just liked to keep ourselves informed.”
“You were born here?” she said, with a small frown.
“No. We were born there,” Clive said quickly, surprising himself at his defensiveness. He shook himself. “I’m sorry. W-we were born there, but we came to the OHS here by the request of my aunt.”
The woman nodded with understanding. “Ah. So your aunt still lives there?”
Clive nodded, when a tiny spark went off in his mind, causing an echo that he was too excited to control. “Does the name Bhasin sound familiar?” he asked, nearly falling out of his stool.
Navi laughed. “Now, settle down. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. My parents moved here, though I do visit my family occasionally back there. Underwater trips are expensive.”
Clive felt his face flame. “Oh. I-I’m sorry.”
“For what, dear boy?” she said, her humored expression falling, her lips pressing together. “You have nothing to apologize for. You seem eager to reconnect with your aunt.”
Clive shook his head. Not with her. Never her. “I don’t belong here,” he whispered before he could stop himself. “I didn’t make the choice to end up in OHS and be raised by the government for 17 years. I-I just--”
He couldn’t finish, his face burning too warm. He could only stare at his feet.
It was selfish.
He knew that. He had to take care of Ivy. They were hardly surviving in Sycamore. He didn’t even remember his home region. They were all hopes he needed to stop. Crush under his feet. Bury them back where they came from. Back into the eternally growing hole of failure.
Like he’d failed someone…something.
“You know, I do have a trip coming up soon,” Navi said.
Clive perked up.
Navi’s warm smile was back on her face. “Uma usually travels with me, but she’s been thinking about staying for a University event this time around.”
Clive’s heart leapt.
Don’t give me that kind of hope.
“Perhaps we can get in contact if an opportunity opens up,” Navi said, with a small shrug.
Clive jumped to his feet, his heart racing. “You’d really do that?”
Navi laughed. “Of course.”
Just a visit. Anything. He wanted answers. He didn’t want to feel so lost anymore. That would solve everything. Everything.
“Clive, even though you were raised in Sycamore, that doesn’t mean you can be any less involved. There is no one saying going to your birth region will make you more fulfilled,” she said.
“I-I know,” he said, quickly straightening before a smile could linger any longer. What was he thinking? Traveling with literal strangers? He wasn’t that desperate. “Of course. It would just be a cool experience.”
Okay, maybe he was that desperate.
Navi gave Clive a long look, like she was trying to read words behind his eyes, and for a split second, he thought maybe she could.
Ivy’s excited cry sent both Navi and Clive turning to see his sister darting out from the back room, twirling around before she almost tripped over her hem.
Jack was first to catch her, as she stumbled backward into his arms.
Ivy was unphased. “Isn’t it perfect?”
Jack helped her back to her feet. “Don’t ruin it before you even get to wear it out.”
Clive was speechless. Not that Ivy had changed drastically, in fact she still wore that weird gardening glove on one hand, but seeing her in the lehenga made his thoughts take a double take. Never had he thought green suited her so well. The pattern was, not surprisingly, of leaves and gold embroidery decorated the dupatta in Ivy’s arm. It was simple, yet had an elegance that stood out as Ivy stood taller.
“Does it look bad?” she said, her face faltering.
“No!” Clive said, breaking for air. “Ivy, it looks amazing. You look…older.”
She blinked before a tiny smile rose on her lips. “Thank you.”
“Perhaps we should get this packed away so she doesn’t rip a seam,” Uma joked from the back room.
Ivy rolled her eyes. “I’m a dignified, mature woman,” she said, taking up the fabric in a pinch.
“Sure, you are,” Clive said, rolling his eyes.
“You said it yourself,” Ivy said in a sing-songy voice. “You’re just jealous.”
“Very jealous. You found me out. Wowww,” Clive said, monotone, crossing his arms.
Ivy rolled her eyes at him, and the door closed behind her.
“Quite the sister you have there,” Navi laughed, sitting back to her desk.
Clive’s smile lingered, not willing to suppress it, even though the weight in his chest pressed heavier. Even his own sister seemed to be closer than he was.
How far was he drifting?
And how long would it be before he was lost?