It was the last straw. Jason, the paperwork, the missions and missions over and over, the fact that everything seemed to pass over her partner in favor of her, and then finally that person, and even more paperwork. It was too much of everything.
July clutched her head slightly and groaned before she slumped at the bar. "Oh God…" she moaned.
The barman eyed her for a moment and then returned to- to whatever it was that barkeeps did. July had no idea. Probably listen to drink orders or something.
She also had no idea where she was at the moment, now that she thought about it. She had only set the snatched DORKS to do an automatic disguise. She hadn't even bothered to find out what the disguise was, so there wasn't any indication from that. It had been what, a week? It was probably a week since she had had enough and left. She wasn't sure, given that she'd been portal hopping for most of it. It had felt like a week though, and that was what mattered. Right?
No, it wasn't. The initial rush of feeling like everything was against her and she needed to do something about it, preferably with barefisted violence, had worn off sometime between the bar fight in the Firefly-verse and the next one in some western movie verse- might have been The Magnificent Seven or something. So had all the alcohol. All there was right now was shame. Library's words kept reminding her of what she'd done. "I can't believe you! That- she's basically you! You were trying to kill yourself! What on earth is wrong with you, July?"
She looked up and over towards the barman. "Whisky. Or whiskey. Or something. Just make it strong." She thought a moment. "And straight."
After giving her another look over, the barkeep eventually sent over a shot of whiskey.
July downed it in one go, only to slightly choke. Over the past whatever it had been, she'd quickly got used to the various alcoholic drinks of the Multiverse, and had found out she wasn't too much of a lightweight. But this stuff burned a lot more than she expected. Was strong, though. She called for another shot.
And then another.
Her head pounded, not too much unlike how it usually felt after a concussion. And her mouth felt like she had decided to give eating cotton a try. "Ugh..." July opened her eyes, sat up and looked around. The bars she was looking at strongly suggested a jail cell sort of environment. She was in a jail cell.
"Oh, you're awake," someone said. She didn't bother looking up, there was a good chance she didn't want to know who or what the speaker was, though the voice seemed familiar. Or at least, the tone did.
July groaned. "I wish I wasn't."
"I'm not surprised. That was a lot of Mr. Cheese's finest that you drank, Miss. All of your own, and one of Constable Swires's."
July stopped and tried to think, in the pounding hell that was her head. Swires. Swires? Buggy ... Swires? The GNOME? On the Discworld? So, I'm in Ankh-Morpork ... which means that the redheaded man with the calm voice in front of me is ... oh Hell.
"Oh god. I stole a gnome's beer?" At least it explained why most of her headache was concentrated in one small spot in the middle of her forehead. "How am I still alive?"
"Buggy was very understanding about the beer, Miss. I think the point where you tried to stamp on him and then tried to pick a fight with Sergeant Littlebottom might have been the turning point, shall we say."
July winced. "In the Bucket?"
He nodded. "The Commander-" Oh God, July thought again. Not Vimes, if he was there- the thought was interrupted as the man continued, "-was surprised when we brought you into the Watch House last night. Normally students from the Assassins Guild avoid going into the Bucket, after all. The last one Commander Vimes took care of personally."
July did her best to not shudder or look down to see what she was wearing to figure out what it was that had clued him in as to what the disguise was.
The next half hour consisted of a lecture that she'd never be able to forget; for most of it she found herself scuffing her feet on the floor of the cell and nodding with each word.
Finally though, she was released.
July did her best to put as much space between herself and Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson before she portalled away.
She stared at the dull beige tile of the girl's restroom and tucked the Remote Activator away in one of her jacket pockets as soon as she removed the DORKS created disguise. She was back. Thankfully, the restroom had been empty.
July took a look at herself in one of the bathroom mirrors; the black eye she had received before she left was still there, though it had mostly faded by now. She rummaged through her backpack until she found her purse; despite everything that had happened in the last few weeks, none of its contents were damaged.
July did her best to cover the bruise with concealer, so it wouldn't be so visible.
The bell rang for the first class; she jumped in surprise, before she remembered what it was. Being away from school and its particular bell for nearly seven months had made her forget when exactly they rang.
July exited the restroom and the new school building. It had been the freshman center's fault all that had happened, she thought. She never would have ended up in the PPC for all those months if she hadn't got lost in that building. Then again, she realized, from this side of things, in the Real World, those months never happened. It was still November.
Several minutes later, she ended up behind the circulation desk for the school library. July wasn't sure why, she didn't even feel like she wanted to be there, but three and a half years of doing the same thing every morning had made their mark on what she did. As she unloaded books from the check-in cart onto the top of the counter, she could hear light footsteps behind her.
July put the well-thumbed copy of Twilight she had just checked in down on the counter and turned around. "Hi, Cody."
"Holy crap, you look terrible," Cody commented. Cody was a taller girl than July, with short brown hair, and she wore boy's clothing that reminded July of grunge (probably because most of her clothing had been taken from an older brother who had been into the style). "What did you do to get the black eye?"
July rubbed at the bruise a bit; apparently the concealer hadn't been enough. "Ran into a door, Cordy," she said, in a tone that anyone else would have recognized as one belonging to someone in a bad mood.
July was one of the few who called her friend that particular shortening of Cody's name, Cordelia.
"Yeah, you would." Cody pulled out a Zippo lighter and began to play with it.
"At least I don't set myself on fire." July returned to checking in the books.
"Oh come on, that was just one time."
"Whatever. Do you know where Mrs. B is? She asked me to fix the laminator. I want to tell her I got it done."
July shrugged, still focusing on the books.
"Fine, don't talk to me." With that, Cody walked off.
The next several days passed similarly; only her foul mood had been noticed, really, besides her mom commenting that July needed a haircut.
In December, her dad finally got tired of her attitude. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked.
She stared at the floor and shrugged.
"You've been like this for nearly a month. I'm getting tired of it, your mom is getting tired of it. Whatever it is that's bothering you, get over it, because we can't help you if you aren't going to tell us anything."
He stared at her for a moment, hoping for some sort of reaction or outburst. There was none. "You know what? I give up. Get the hell out of the house. Go to Cordy's or something." He tossed the keys to the truck over to July.
She barely caught them.
"Just don't blow anything up."
"Cordy's the one who blows things up," she told him.
"Then if she blows anything up, you better not get caught," he said, modifying his stance. "Now leave."
Before term ended, she had to check her class schedule for the spring semester.
"Now, we need to fill in one more class period, Valerie," the school counselor said, pointing at the screen showing July's schedule for the next semester thus far. "We've had to rearrange some classes, your economics class is going to take the period right after lunch, instead of you staying with the sixth period class, and you already have an out in the first period of the day, and there are only two classes we can put you in for sixth period."
"Can't I have two outs? I've already got more than enough credits to graduate. I just need English and Economics next semester."
The school counselor shook her head emphatically. "Only one out per semester," she said. "Now, we have two classes; the psychology course, or flower arrang-"
"I'll take the psychology class," July said quickly, before the woman finished her sentence.
"Are you sure? I'd have thought that you'd have liked the flower arranging class, a lot of the AP students find it relaxing."
"Psychology. Definitely psychology."
The winter break went fairly calmly, and July's mood slowly improved, despite (or possibly partially because of) Cody causing an unexpected New Year's Day explosion.
July had mostly pushed back the memories of the PPC by the time she returned to school, at least until Economics class begun.
The teacher for that class spent most of the time lecturing, and they never used the book. "One of the most basic things to know for the AP exam is the PPC-"
July jerked out of light nap she had entered.
"-the Production Possibilities Curve. This is going to be a large part of the graphs we'll be doing in this section..."
"Y'know, I'm getting reaaally tired of how you're being, Val," Cody said. The two girls were in the back work room of the library.
July looked up from her laptop. "Huh?"
Cody pulled out her very-illegal-on-school-grounds pocketknife and began to flick the blade in and out of its handle. "Like that. It's like your head is in the clouds."
She mused for a moment, looking at the blade. "More than it usually is. So cough it up. What happened?"
"Just stuff." July turned towards the monitor again.
"Riiight. Which is exactly why you've stopped being such a coward."
"...I'm not a coward."
"Can you just leave me alone?"
Cody flicked the pocketknife so that it was closed, put it away, and then punched July's shoulder.
"What the hell was that for!?"
"You're telling me what happened."
"Why should I?"
"Because I'll hit you again if you don't," her friend said, very matter of factly.
"You're making this up."
"I'm not making this up."
There was a short pause while Cody fooled around with her lighter. "So. There's a department in this place that does all sort of tech stuff?"
"...That's all you were thinking about the entire time I was talking, wasn't it."
"Definitely. The moment you mentioned Star Trek I stopped caring."
"I hate you."
"Then why do you hang out with me?"
"What are you talking about? You're the one that hangs around me! You're always bumming around to get fed!"
"I don't get any money for lunch, you know that."
"You don't need to bum food off people though."
"What else am I supposed to do, take it out of the trash cans?"
"...Rory does that."
There was a short silence.
"So, this DoSAT..."
"Come on, you said you had one of those portal things."
"I also told you I kinda ran away!"
"Just send me through then."
"And then what the hell am I supposed to do? Go tell your parents, oh, hi, Cordy decided she wanted to run off to join a multidimensional organization before she graduated high school."
"Well, you could tell Carl instead."
"Your brother's an ass, though."
"Exactly. He'd be pissed that I got a chance at something like this."
"You make no sense sometimes," July complained.
"You're not the only insane one here, you know."
"I know that. I mean, the IB kids are totally nuts."
Cody ignored her. "So, can I see that portal thing when we go to your house?"
Economics class again.
It was the end of the period, and as usual, the teacher had given the students the last fifteen minutes to themselves. It was minor pandemonium, which for an AP class left to its own devices, was fairly usual.
One of the boys had been backed into the corner closest to his desk by some of the girls. "Look, all I said was-"
An Asian girl was the closest to him and the one who looked the most menacing. "We know what you said!"
He cringed. "Then you should know I was joking!"
"It wasn't funny!" another girl said.
July tried to ignore it. "Hey, Joe, how do you think you did on that last test?" she asked, turning around towards one of the few sane classmates she had.
"Sara! Help me!"
"Sorry, Ian, you got yourself into this one."
"I think I did okay, Mr. Hancock went over the material pretty well. You?"
"Inya! Do something!"
"No way! I'm not getting into this, last time I helped I got ripped a new one."
"I'm not sure. Might be a C, I don't think I did that last graph right at all."
"Oh God, Constance, don't!"
July did her best to ignore Ian's frantic scramble out of the corner by jumping on the table that had been pushed against the wall and his subsequent use of Jeremy as a human shield.
"Constance, what did I ever do to you?!"
"You're harboring him!"
"What the hell, Ian, I didn't want to get involved!"
July continued to discuss grades with Joe, pointedly ignoring the end of class when Constance dragged Ian out by the back of his shirt.
More time passed, and Cody continually begged July for access to the remote activator.
"Cordy! Drop it already! I've told you no practically every day!"
"Oh come on, why not?"
"Because I left!"
"Then why the hell do you still have it?"
"You want to go back, don't you?"
"Cordy, shut up."
She didn't. "You do. Why don't you go back?"
"Because I screwed up! I was a moron and I screwed up, like I always do! I lost it and I was an idiot, and I can't go back!"
There was a moment of silence and then there was a slight thunking noise.
"You're being an idiot right now."
"You didn't have to hit me!"
"No," Cody agreed. "I just wanted to. But seriously, if you're thinking about it so much, maybe you should go back."
"But I can't!"
Cody hit her again. "Stop being a moron. You've got that portal thing."
"Ow! That's not what I meant!"
"What did you mean, then?"
July gestured, helplessly. "There's still a couple months of school left, and exams..."
Cody rolled her eyes. "Does that really matter?"
"Yes! I'd like to say I at least graduated high school!"
"Meh. I don't really care if I graduate or not."
"You've got that certificate thing from the tech school though."
"You can do that robotry stuff. And weld. No one'll care if you graduated high school or not."
Cody shrugged. "That's because I have useful skills. What are you going to do, write at people?"
"So, are you gonna go back or not?"
"...I guess. But after graduation."
Time went by.
Graduation came and went.
Cody needled at her.
"You've got that nice shiny diploma now," Cody reminded July as they drove down one of the main streets in Cody's red metal deathtrap. The old jeep was her pride and joy, thoroughly dangerous, and was breaking several safety regulations just by being on the road.
"Yeah..." July was doing her best to grip onto the seat without tearing the foam out.
"You gonna go then?"
"It's not like you're giv-" Cody hit the gas and the jeep sped up and made an ominous throttling noise. "MY GOD, CORDELIA, SLOW DOWN!"
"Sorry," Cody said, insincerely, once the jeep had slowed down to what was a lower and more acceptable likelihood of a fiery car crash to the rogue Agent. "What were you saying?"
"It's not like you're giving me much choice."
"Damn right, I wanna play with spaceships."
"I never should have told you about DOGA's Suncrushers."
A few days later, July had completely packed her things.
Telling her parents she was leaving had been a bit awkward, until she had given up on explaining it away and just told them the truth, more or less.
The fact that her dad seemed more than content with the idea had almost been enough to make July reconsider going back and just registering at the nearest community college. Especially given his more or less positive reception of the fact that she received hardly any pay (admittedly, the pay was only a bit above none at all and any money she had got from it had came from discreet pawning of Sue items) for grueling and traumatizing work.
At least she could say that it was slightly better than the military, which he had been hinting that she should join for the last few years.
July went to her closet, reached for the Millenium Princess Barbie box that was at the top of her closet (and, for whatever reason, was still near the front), and pulled the Remote Activator out from behind it.
That was the only place she had found that was safe to hide it from Cody over the past months.
She opened a portal.
July stared at the door to the Floating Hyacinth's office for a brief moment before she went in. It had taken a while for her to locate the Department Head's office, and strangely enough, she had not encountered anyone at all. July mentally chalked it up to Narrative Laws.
She went in without bothering to knock.
July stepped towards the Floating Hyacinth's tank, and before it could say anything, she began.
"Um, I know that I left on really bad terms, especially since I attacked my avatar -though she really deserved it- and I took equipment and I also left without notice and was gone for however long it was over here and misused the Remote Activator and the DORKS for canon hopping and also a bit of time travelling to get back home and then coming back and coming in here unexpectedly and I swear I'm not completely insane. Well, at least not flamethrower crazy. So can I come back?"
It was really impressive, how quickly she was dragged out by a group of Weeds.
"Well, that went better than expected," July said out loud. The Weeds were currently planthandling her to FicPsych.
None of them replied to her comment, which was probably just as well.
"I swear I'm not homicidally insane," July repeated.
The nurse who had been put in charge of July rolled her eyes. "Of course you're not."
"I'm insane, but not homicidally."
"Then why does the report here say you attempted to murder another Agent?"
July put her semester of psychology to use. "I dunno, suicide probably would have been a better word choice."
"Suicide." The nurse eyed her.
"Erm, the other Agent was a version of me but four years younger and with a flat cardboard personality, and powers, and I have anger and self loathing issues."
The woman left the room and returned with a folder of paperwork and pen.
July looked at the folder cautiously. "What's that?"
"Putting you into a group counseling session."
About four hours and a few meetings later, July once more stood outside her Response Center. Inside, she could hear voices.
"Pleeeeaaaaaase?" That was her voice. Or to be more accurate, JF's, that she could hear begging.
Library's patient tone replied. "JF, we've gone over this before. I already told you no."
July pushed the curtain away and stepped into the room.
Some changes had been made. For one, there was a small kitchenette in one corner of the RC, now, and it seemed a bit larger.
She pointed at JF, who had immediately turned towards the entryway when the curtain had been pulled back, from her position sprawled on the floor. The young avatar gaped at July. "You. Get the hell out of my RC and go down to the Marquis' office. You're finding your own partner. The Floating Hyacinth's orders."
Library stood up from her seat on her bed and looked at July. The blonde girl was obviously surprised.
JF left, quickly.
And for a minute after that, July and Library stared at each other.
And then, in a moment that Library swore never happened and July wasn't sure even happened, July was glomped.
"Yeah. I am."