A Perfect World? Part 1

by Red Monster


Notice: It is best to read this story when you are:
a) A very odd duck
b) Sleep-deprived
c) Suffering from menstrual cramps or other hormone-associated discomfort
d) Listening to Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, or Meredith Brooks, or
e) High on acid
because all except the last applied to me when I wrote it.

Disclaimer: Sean, Tom, Theresa, Maeve, John and James are all property of Marvel Comics and I am using them without Marvel’s permission and without profit. Kellin and all other characters were cooked up out of my head.

Sean Cassidy usually had a good day. When everything was peaceful and serene around the Massachusetts Academy, the students were unhurt and cooperating, and Emma wasn’t annoying him, he was happy. But occasionally... that would change. Once in awhile, even when the kids were having the greatest of fun, and they’d do something, perfectly innocent, that would remind Sean of his absence from his daughter, Theresa’s childhood, and that was it. He couldn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day.

Once, he was having such a day. Sean’s method of dealing with his episodic mood dives was to lock the front door to his cottage, draw the shades, and sit in his living room and sulk, literally until the sun went down. He’d been told many times that there’s no use torturing oneself over what might have been, that it only causes pain and doesn’t help anything. Still, Sean couldn’t help doing exactly that. Theresa had grown up a healthy, intelligent, upstanding young woman, but not without her share of scars. His cousin, Tom, had started out just as happy and decent a young man as Sean’s student, Everett, but grew up to be a grudging, bitter, jealous, dishonest, greedy criminal and died a violent death as a vengeful lunatic.

What if he, along with Tom, had raised Theresa? Everything would have been so much better if he’d been there instead of drifting aimlessly around the world. Which begs the question, just what stopped him from staying home when he came back? Sean’s wife, Maeve, had died, killed by terrorists at the age of twenty-four. When Sean came back, and Maeve was gone, he knew no reason to stay. All he knew of that was left at Cassidy Keep was his cousin Tom, and relations between him and Tom had been more than a little strained since he married Maeve. Tom didn’t tell Sean that Theresa had been born, and Sean would never know if he’d intended to do so at the time. So why should he have stayed? After all, his parents had been dead for years, he didn’t like his cousin, he didn’t know of his baby daughter, and his lovely Maeve was gone.

Maeve was gone...

If Maeve hadn’t been at the site of that terrorist attack, or if she’d survived, Sean would have stayed at Cassidy Keep, he may have made amends with Tom, the three of them would have raised Theresa together, everything would have been so much better. Who knows? Perhaps Tom wouldn’t have turned to crime, Theresa most likely wouldn’t have an alcohol problem to be recovering from, and best of all, Maeve would still be alive.

This time, his turmoil didn’t ease when evening struck. He contacted Emma and told her he wasn’t feeling well, so he wouldn’t be joining her and the students for dinner that night. She knew he was lying, but let him go because he never played hooky without a good reason. Sean simply couldn’t stop thinking of what his family would have turned out like if his wife had lived. In the shower, he stared at a bar of soap for what seemed like hours, but was really just a few minutes. Then he took a straight razor, and started gouging mindlessly into the softened material as the warm water ran over his body and down the drain. After another few minutes, the marks started to take shape. There was a large area of straight lines and right angles that looked sort of like a castle, then there were four little groups of almost jaggedly precise marks that looked symbolically like people, at the foot of the castle. There were two larger "people", one slightly smaller one, and right next to the slightly smaller one, almost stuck to its "shoulder", there was a very small one. Then, the hot water ran out, and Sean was shocked out of his daze, and looked at the soap, and realized what he was doing, what his carving looked like.

"I must be going insane." he said to himself. He put down the soap and razor, rinsed his hands, and turned off the water. He wrapped a towel around his waist, and was about to brush his teeth, but decided against it, and instead opted to stick with the mouthwash that night.

"I might start drawing toothpaste pictures of Terry playing with the family dog all over the bathroom walls." he thought.

Sean had a hard time falling asleep. Thinking too much always gave him insomnia. He adjusted the thermostat, washed all the windows, cleaned the oven, and even tried drinking some warm milk, but found it disgusting. So he decided to read a book. Even if he never fell asleep, at least he’d get some reading done. He picked up some obscure mystery novel that Paige had given him for Christmas, and sat down at his kitchen table with it. Halfway through the book, his head fell with a *thunk* to the woven placemat.

Sean was drowning, in some cold, dark blue waters, surrounded by seals, he was falling farther and farther from the surface with each passing moment. A seal swam up to him, let him hang onto her back, and brought him back to the surface. She nudged him onto some rocks beneath a cliff, and climbed up next to him. While Sean was catching his breath and wringing the water out of his clothes, the seal popped a hole in her hide, and a damp, nude, dark-haired young woman climbed out.

"Are you okay?" she asked him, in Irish Gaelic, a language Sean hadn’t heard for a very long time.

"I’m fine." he answered in the same language, his pronunciation awkward from years of speaking English.

"Do you need help getting home? I can give you a ride if you need." the selky offered.

"I can make it back on my own, thank you." Sean said.

The selky climbed back into her skin, assumed the shape of the seal again, and disappeared back into the water.

"Now I’m dreaming, that much is obvious. And look at what I’m dreaming about! Gotta lay off the blueberry cheesecake, Sean." he studied his surroundings, taking into account what had just happened. "If I fly off, I’ll get kidnapped by some crazed winged faeries. If I climb up the cliff, I’ll get pulled into a cave by a snake or other such creepy thing. So I guess I’ll just walk across the rocks until these cliffs taper off and I can walk up to drier ground."

As Sean walked down the rocky beach, his dream took another mystical turn. He encountered a little boy, with the same milky white skin, black hair and sky blue eyes as the selky’s human form. He was clad in a flowing, airy, tattered white gown, and had pointed ears, and shiny, purple antennae.

"Mental note: Have Emma plan my diet, reading material, and acceptable television programs to the letter from now on." Sean said to himself as the boy approached.

"Sean Cassidy, I’m here to answer all your questions." the little boy said to him. He was about seven years old, and spoke in English, but with a distinct brogue similar to Sean’s.

"Look at me, I’m dreaming about selkies and little boys in dresses. Who am I, Michael Jackson?"

"This is not a dress, my good fellow, this is my guardian angel’s robe." the little boy corrected him.

"I’m sorry. What should I call you?" Sean asked.

"My name is Kellin, but you will call me Guardian Angel. Now, you were wondering about what would have happened if your late wife, Maeve, had survived that terrorist attack?"

"Come to think of it, I was wondering about that!" Sean’s dream had distracted him from his brooding and sulking.

"Come with me. You can fly, correct?" asked Guardian Angel.

"Yes, but I’ll need to scream, so try to stay upwind so the sound doesn’t carry directly to you."

"That won’t be necessary. Between the waves, and the seals, you’ll have enough sound to fly on. Follow me now." Guardian Angel said, flying straight upward. Sean flew up after him, and sure enough, the waves the seals provided adequate sound. They flew straight upward for hours on end, in complete silence. Finally, Sean felt he needed to say something.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"You wanted to know what would happen if Maeve had lived, so I’m taking you to an alternate universe where she lived." Guardian Angel said.

"Great, another alternate universe." Sean muttered.

Guardian Angel smiled. "I know you’ve been through a lot of grief with possible futures and alternate realities and such garbage, but this one is safe. You won’t affect any of its occurrences, none of its people will spill over into your world, and it’s only a dream, after all."

The two of them flew straight upward for a few more hours, until they were right in front of the sun. It was very large, an endless orb of pure light, but it wasn’t hot.

"What now?" he asked Guardian Angel.

"Come through here." the little boy said, reaching into the light, and pulling back a curtain of it, which led to the cool, rocky, County Mayo landscape. Sean flew past the curtain and landed on some thin, stunted grass growing out of some damp, sandy topsoil. Kellin followed him, allowing the curtain to close as he landed next to Sean.

"I know where we are. My family’s home, Cassidy Keep, is just over this hill." Sean said.

"That’s right. Do you remember that car coming up behind us?" Kellin asked.

"My god, I haven’t seen that car in over twenty-three years! And look how young Tom and I are! When is this, Guardian Angel?" asked Sean.

"This is just after that INTERPOL mission that kept you away from Maeve for over a year. Tom is driving you home from the airport. Come, let’s follow them home." Kellin said. The two of them flew behind the car for about a mile before they pulled into the driveway at Cassidy Keep. A very young, sane Tom Cassidy stepped out and led a very young, innocent Sean Cassidy, through the front doors of the Keep.

"How is Maeve doing? I hope she doesn’t think I abandoned her, ‘cause I really missed her these past fourteen months." the younger Sean said.

"She has a big surprise for you. Wait here." Tom said, leaving the Sean of that time and universe in the living room as he raced up the stairs and disappeared into the room that had been the main guest room before Sean had left. Maeve, sleep-deprived, frazzled, and carrying more pounds than Sean had ever seen on her, but still beautiful as ever, emerged and hopped excitedly down the stairs.

"Maeve!" the younger Sean cried as he threw his arms around his wife and kissed her enthusiastically. "Are you feeling okay? You look a little... different." Sean said, playing with her soft blond curls.

"It’s a long story." Maeve said.

"What’s this big surprise Tom said you had for me?"

"That’s the long story. C’mere." Maeve said, pulling Sean’s ear to her face. Maeve started whispering, and almost immediately the younger Sean’s jaw dropped to his knees. Kellin and the older Sean snickered to themselves as the younger Sean hyperventilated and made little squeaking sounds which he wasn’t aware of as Maeve whispered the rest of her story. "Okay?" she finished aloud, pulling back to normal talking distance. The younger Sean merely nodded with wide eyes and open mouth. She led him back up the stairs, into the former guest room, new nursery, and Kellin and the older Sean followed them up. There, amidst the chaos of a crib, bassinet, changing table, diaper pail, and pink-bunny wallpaper, Tom was holding a five-month-old, red-haired baby girl chewing on her fist.

"Sean, meet your daughter, Theresa. We call her Terry for short." Tom said, handing the baby to her shocked father.

The baby pulled her soggy fist out of her mouth and patted her father’s cheek with it. Finally, the younger Sean pulled his wits together enough to say "She’s beautiful."

"She seems to like you, Sean." Maeve observed.

"I love you too, Terry." said the younger Sean.

"Can they hear us or see us?" the older Sean whispered to Kellin.

"We don’t really exist here, Sean. They could walk through us if they wanted to." Kellin said. "Watch this." Kellin stood directly in front of Maeve, who strolled right through the little boy cluelessly. "See? They have no idea there’s anyone watching them."

"This is the first time I’ve ever seen Terry as a baby. I don’t have any pictures of her from before I met her." said the older Sean sorrowfully. "I wish I could hold her."

"When we get back to your universe, ask Terry if she has any baby pictures she’ll let you have." Kellin suggested.

"Are we going to watch her grow up?" asked the older Sean.

"Of course." answered Guardian Angel Kellin. "Come right this way." said the little boy as he reached for the doorknob of the nursery. The door led to the front yard of Cassidy Keep, and what had been opened as the door to the nursery was closed as the left front door of the Keep.

In front of them, Tom and the younger Sean cheered and shouted encouragements as Theresa, now about a year old, toddled around the yard, with her little chubby hand wrapped around her mother’s finger, to stay balanced.

"Can you walk to Da?" Maeve said, stopping a few feet in front of the younger Sean and prying her finger out of Theresa’s grip. The little girl held out her chubby arms and waddled up to her father and giggled happily as she maintained her balance just long enough to fall against his chest.

"Yay! My little Terry can walk!" cheered the younger Sean, hoisting Terry up into the air. "Walk to Uncle Tom now, okay?"

The younger Sean lowered Theresa to her feet again and pointed her in the direction of Tom, who assumed the same position that Sean had contorted himself into a minute before. Theresa got herself moving again, and this time had a greater distance to go, but stayed upright through the eight-or-so feet to her uncle.

"Tom looks so good. I mean, he looks like he’s a really good person, not jealous or greedy. Do Tom and I like each other in this universe?" asked the older Sean to Guardian Angel Kellin.

"For now, you do. He’s still in love with Maeve, but he accepts that she married you, and doesn’t think of her as something that belonged to him but you took away." Kellin said.

"'For now?’ What does that mean? Are we going to end up hating each other just like we did in my reality? What’s going to happen?" asked the older Sean eagerly.

"Calm down, Sean, all your questions will be answered. But first, let’s see some more of Theresa growing up, shall we? It’ll be the next best thing to actually being involved in her childhood." Kellin offered.

"Sure. What’s next?" asked the older Sean.

Kellin waved his thin arm around, throwing some sparkling dust from his fingers, that obscured the scene in front of them, and when it settled, they were back in the Keep, next to the dining room table, watching Theresa, now around ten years old, mull over a rather complicated math problem. She twirled one braid for a few minutes, tapping her pencil to her lips with her gently freckled face contorted into a pensive expression. Finally, she decided to enlist adult help. She got up from the table, pushed her chair back in, smoothed out her soft plaid dress, and carried her homework into the living room, where Tom was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper.

"Uncle Tom, would you help me with this problem?" she asked him, holding her math book with half-filled paper and dull pencil out to him.

"Sure, darlin’, hop on up here." Tom said, accepting her offering and putting aside the newspaper. "Now, which one is it that’s giving you trouble?" he asked, but then the phone rang. "Wait here, I’ll be right back." Tom stepped into the kitchen, impatiently answered the phone. "Hello?..." he said, and after a second, he stiffened and turned pale. "Yes, we’ll be right there." Tom put down the phone and swayed dizzily. He steadied himself against the stove, and bit his nails.

"We’ll be right where? Who was that?" Theresa asked. She had heard his quick reply from the living room and had come to the kitchen.

"Theresa, get your jacket on, we need to go to the hospital. That was your father." Tom quavered shortly, taking Theresa by the arm and directing her to the closet where she’d left her jacket.

"Why are we going to the hospital, Uncle?" Theresa asked urgently, disturbed by her uncle’s sudden change in mood.

"Your mother’s been in an accident."

"Is she going to be okay?" Theresa asked as Tom pushed her out the door. Kellin and Sean followed them.

"We don’t know yet. Come on."

"That’s what I’d like to know, Guardian Angel, is she going to be okay?" Sean asked his young guide.

Kellin said nothing, he merely did the same faerie dust trick, and this time they were in a hospital emergency room, following Tom and Theresa down a brightly lit, sterile-looking hallway towards the younger Sean as he listened to a short, bald doctor.

"How is she?" Tom asked breathlessly when he and Theresa reached the doctor and the younger Sean.

Both of them looked at Tom briefly, with furled eyebrows and pressed lips, and then looked towards the floor and shook their heads.

"Is Mum okay?" Theresa asked.

The younger Sean knelt down so she wouldn’t have to look up at him, and held her hands. "Your mother was riding home on her motorcycle, and she got hit in the head with the end of a tree branch, and lost control of her bike. She got flipped over a few times on the way down the mountain, then got thrown off her bike." he said carefully, trying not to lose it. "She didn’t survive, darlin’. Mum’s in Heaven now."

"No, this isn’t fair." Theresa said, trying to hold back her tears.

"Theresa, we’re really sorry, and no, it’s not fair. You can cry if you want, it’s okay." Tom said.

"Mum was a nice person." Theresa sobbed, wiping her eyes with her jacket sleeve. "Why did this have to happen to her? Why couldn’t it happen to someone bad, who didn’t have a child?"

The older Sean sank to the floor, with his back to the wall. "This isn’t what I asked for! I wanted to know what would have happened if Maeve had lived, and you’re showing me this!" he shouted at Kellin.

"You wanted to know what would have happened if Maeve had lived longer, as in, if she’d been alive when you got home from that long mission. Grief over Maeve’s death was never your problem, you came to terms with her loss years ago. What you really wanted to know was how Theresa would have turned out if you’d had the opportunity to raise her. Maeve living longer was just the means you chose to that end. I’m showing you what you wanted to see." Kellin said in his small-boy voice, ringing with adult authority.

"I don’t wanna see anymore... let me out of here..." sobbed the older Sean.

Kellin started to feel sorry for Sean, seeing him in such obvious turmoil. "You can call me Kellin if you want."

When the older Sean calmed down, he found himself back in Cassidy Keep, sitting next to Kellin, in Theresa’s bedroom. The pink-bunny wallpaper had been torn away long ago, replaced by sullen gray walls decorated with posters of U2, Sinead O’Connor and the like. Theresa sat in a chair next to a cluttered desk, slouching there with her knees defiantly apart, her hands forgotten in the pockets of her dingy overalls, with renegade wisps of curly red hair hanging in her face, that had escaped from her hastily-constructed ponytail. She had turned her chair to face Tom and the younger Sean, who were sitting on her bed looking seriously at her. She returned their parental gaze with an icy glare that the older Sean had seen on a much older Theresa in his own universe.

"Theresa, Mr. Corrigan called today, he was very angry. He said you broke his window with a football and invaded his house. Is this true?" asked the younger Sean.

"Mr. Corrigan doesn’t like me because I don’t wear ruffly dresses and spend my afternoons giggling and whispering with the other girls at school." Theresa said. Her voice was much harsher now, at least two years older than it was the last time they’d seen her, and tinged with underlying bitterness. "Kelvin and I were playing football in the meadow near his house, and I kicked the ball through Corrigan’s window. So I climbed through to get my ball back, and in comes Corrigan with a garden hoe ready to cut my toes off, so I scrambled on outta there and we ran back to Kelvin’s house. I would have explained and apologized to Corrigan about the window, but I didn’t wanna get dismembered, so I left."

"Well, he wants us to pay for the window and replace anything you stole, and get you into counseling." Tom said.

"I didn’t steal any of his dusty old junk! Unless he decided Kelvin’s football was his after it sat in his house for two seconds. You wanna take the window outta my allowance, fine." she said, standing up from her slouched posture. "But tell that hemorrhoid factory Corrigan he can take his counseling and shove it up his wrinkly ass!" and with that Theresa marched out of her own room, slamming the door pointedly as she went.

"Do you think there’s anything to what Corrigan said, about getting her into counseling?" asked the younger Sean. "She’s changed an awful lot since Maeve died."

"She’s not crazy, Sean. I think she just needs a positive female role model in her life again. She’s got her teachers, but they’re just there to teach, not to be her mother. She doesn’t have any aunts or grandmothers, either. A couple of men aren’t really meant to raise a teenage girl all by themselves." Tom said.

"So what do you propose doing?" asked the younger Sean. "Sending her off to an all-girls school somewhere?"

"Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. But it’s something to think about." said Tom.

"This is where it’s all gonna go downhill, isn’t it?" the older Sean began. "They’re gonna send her off to boarding school, she’s gonna start drinking as soon as she gets there, and it’ll all be downhill from there. She’ll end up just as unhappy as she is in my universe."

"This universe is already altered too much from yours for her life to unfold exactly as it did in your universe, Sean. Keep that in mind." Kellin said.

"Kellin, please, let me go home. I don’t need to see any more." the older Sean begged.

"Yes, you do need to see more. Come this way." Kellin said, reaching for the door again. When he opened it up, Sean stepped through the doorway and into a room with four bunk beds, all occupied by girls in school uniforms, one of them Theresa.

"So when I asked Da why I had to go here, he told me I wasn’t doing well being raised by a couple men, and that I needed to have some more female influence or some such garbage. And I said to him ‘These people aren’t women, they’re nuns!’" Theresa blathered drunkenly, holding out a bathroom cup to a friend to be refilled with whiskey.

"I knew it. It’s all turning out just like it did in my universe. We send her off to boarding school, she starts drinking, it’s all downhill from here." Sean said.

"It’s not just like it was in your universe. That sullen little girl you saw in our last visit, and what you see now, it’s all because she’s angry at the world for taking her mother away. It would save you a lot of grief if you stopped making predictions and comparisons to your universe, Sean. Just watch how it all plays out." Kellin advised.

"I said to him ‘They’re not allowed to shower naked, Da! They don’t know anything past the hems of their habits! I don’t want them to be my mothers.’ And he told me not all the teachers here are nuns, and of course he’s right, but I don’t like them either." Theresa finished.

"I know what you mean about the nuns. Remember last week when I got in all that trouble for keeping a box of Tampax next to my bed?" said another schoolgirl, this one much more sober.

"Yes, why’d they get all over you for that?" asked Theresa.

"Because if they had to use one, they wouldn’t know where to put it, and they don’t want us to know either." said Theresa’s friend.

"Little Polly McCready didn’t know, and look where it got her." said a girl sitting by an open window smoking a cigarette, to let the smell out.

"What happened to this Polly?" asked Sean.

"She’s twelve years old and pregnant." Kellin said.

"I was talking to Polly while she was waiting for her parents to pick her up, and the poor little wretch didn’t know how she’d gotten herself into her mess! So I asked her what she’d been doing with the boys across the street, and she told me this really sad little tale about this ‘game’ they played with her, so I explained the facts of life to her, and she got really pissed off and started crying about how if somebody had told her that before, she wouldn’t have let the boys do that, and she wouldn’t be in such trouble. That girl was still crying when her parents came, and for all I know she cried all the way home." Theresa said.

"She’s right, she wouldn’t have gotten into trouble if someone had told her the facts earlier on." said the sober blonde across the room from Theresa.

"And remember last month how we had to sneak Siobhan Coneely past the nuns to get her to the hospital when she nearly bled to death?" said the girl at the window. "She wasn’t ignorant like Polly, she knew what kind of trouble she was in, and how she got there, and how to deal with it. And she nearly died while dealing with it."

"If she knew how she got into her situation, why did she let it happen to her in the first place?" asked Theresa.

"She didn’t ‘let it happen,’ Theresa. Some hoser at a bar wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer." said Theresa’s blonde friend.

"Kellin, I think I’m going to be sick..." Sean began, reading between the lines of the girls’ conversation.

"You’re right, we’ve seen enough here." Kellin said, using the fairy dust trick on the room.

Part 2

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