The first thing she noticed was the tree. Another year or so and it'd be back to its former glory, ready for the next generation to play in. The second thing she noticed was Sunny out the front of her house with a two-year-old, a broken arm and a man Belle had never met before. So it looked like she wasn't back with Charlie after all.
“Things have changed a little bit Beauty.” Peter helped Belle get her trunk out of the car as a young man of six ran out to hug her.
“Hey Ozzie!” Belle lifted up her younger step-brother. “You're getting big now mate, you're almost as tall as me!”
“I missed you Belle!” Oscar hugged her tightly. Hand-in-hand, the siblings headed inside where Lara was feeding baby Madeleine Masters. Peter set down the bags and kissed his wife.
“Who's the guy with Sunny? Is that her baby?” Belle asked, setting down her bag and sitting down. Oscar scrambled into her lap.
“That's her boyfriend Patrick and their daughter Melody.” Peter replied.
“What happened to her arm?” Belle asked. Peter looked uncomfortable.
“Ruby Daryl.” He replied.
“Ruby Daryl? What the -?” Belle looked confused.
“Maybe it's best if you ask Sunny. She's currently trying to break down the door.” Lara pointed to the front door. Out of the window, Belle could see Sunny waving and knocking furiously.
“SUNNY!” Belle ripped open the door. The two friends hugged each other tightly. “You're a Mum now?”
“Yup. Myself and Patrick have a little girl now.” Sunny grinned.
“So, you finally found yourself someone of your own?” Belle smiled.
“Sure did! Patrick, get in here and say hi to Belle!” Sunny called to her beloved Patrick. “Bring Melody too!”
“How on earth did your parents react to you having a baby?!” Belle asked as the group sat down at the Masters table.
Sunny looked downcast. “Things got pretty bad once Chuckles and Giggles left. Demon is now the Mayor – it turns out he was my own father!”
“Demon is your father?!” Belle yelped.
“Yeah. Dad got really pissed off after you and Charlie came into my place that time to stop Daryl from picking on me. So he decided to become Demon and do whatever he could to get rid of you. Now he's Mayor…and he's become far too power-mad. Especially once he found out that it was Daryl who found your Ruby Suit. Daryl is now Dad's private enforcer, which is how I got my arm broken.” Sunny sighed. “He was also pretty ticked off when I got pregnant, but Mum talked him into signing the old house over to me when they moved into their new mansion.”
“Wow. What about the DVM?” Belle asked.
“They're unstoppable. Last time we managed to get Revolver arrested he only got community service.” Peter said bitterly. “Three whole weeks of it, and he hasn't done one second.”
“Wow. This place really has gone to the dogs.” Belle looked down.
“Plus Jones has had a huge crackdown on vigilantism. Thankfully he has no idea Sunny's with the Knights or we'd be in huge trouble.” Patrick added.
“How did you two meet anyway?” Belle asked.
“I was doing some online courses and ended up at the Library a fair bit. Patrick was also studying and well, here we are.” Sunny rested her head on Patrick, who kissed her nose. “Have you been to see Charlie yet? He misses you.”
“So I've heard.” Belle sighed.
“Just go over there and say hi Belle-Belle, it's not that hard.” Sunny poked her friend in the arm, hard.
“Easy for you to say.” Belle rubbed her arm with a quick dirty look at Sunny, who poked her tongue out.
“Hi Betty, hi Thomas!” Belle hugged Charlies parents as she walked into the familiar lounge room.
“Well I don't believe it! Is this the same little girl who once helped me make biscuits?” Betty squeezed Belle tightly.
“Little is correct.” Thomas laughed as Belle scowled at him. She was STILL impossibly tiny for her age.
“Don't be mean!” Betty chided. Belle smiled at the pair of them.
“How have you guys been?” She made herself comfortable on the couch.
“Getting by. It helps that Charlie came home and took over the family business.” Thomas sat on one of the chairs opposite her.
Belle felt a twinge of guilt. She remembered how she'd planned with Charlie to do a business degree together.
“He learnt a lot about metal working while he was in Awesomica. They do things differently over there, and Charlie brought back a lot of new ideas.” Thomas continued.
“It's so good to have the two of you home again.” Betty smiled.
“Speaking of, where is Charlie?” Belle asked, figuring it was better to get this over and done with.
“He's at work at the-,” Betty started, when the front door opened and a loud, clear, familiar voice called out.
“MUM! DAD! I'm home!”
Belle jumped a little. Charlie barrelled into the lounge room and stopped dead in his tracks.
He wasn't too much taller, but enough so that he towered over Belle. His shoulders had filled out even more and he had the beginnings of a beard. He was now a complete tank, and Belle, who was still shorter than most thirteen year olds, felt pathetically tiny.
“Hi.” Charlie mumbled, completely unsure of where to look. Belle looked almost exactly as she had four years ago, perhaps looking a little bit more like her father. He noted that she was still incredibly short, he'd have to pick on her later…if they were still friends.
“Hi.” Belle tried to smile back.
“I'm going to get dinner ready, Pete and Lara will be over soon.” Betty suddenly got up.
“I need to prune the roses.” Thomas also exited.
More silence. The atmosphere was heavy enough to sink a ship, and it couldn't get any more awkward if they tried.
“So…how was Brisvegas?” Charlie asked.
“Good. How was Awesomica?” Belle asked.
“How's the business?”
“Good. How was University?”
Another long, awkward pause.
Belle lay on her bed, looking out of her window at the leaves gently swaying outside. Dinner hadn't been that bad, but she still hadn't been able to really talk to Charlie. Every time either one of them tried (and everyone was giving them every opportunity to have a private heart-to-heart!) it just ended in awkward silence.
Her old bed felt great. The familiarity of her old room felt safe and inviting. She didn't know how she'd managed to stay away for so long, Charlie or no Charlie. The only thing that made her uncomfortable was the helmet.
Belle had shoved the thing into her wardrobe and closed the door, but she could still sense it. It was like Giggles was staring at her, trying to get to her.
“I'm not Giggles any more. I need to be a lawyer now, the fight on the streets isn't my problem, I'm fighting higher up.” She tried to tell herself.
Meanwhile, Charlie had slipped out and was training himself with the Arm Scythes at the tip. He wasn't ready to go back out and rejoin the Knights of the Last Order with their fight against the corrupt system, but the urge to put his blades back on and swing away was overwhelming.
“Looks like you're having fun.”
Charlie spun around. Sunny stood behind him, nursing her sore arm.
“What are you doing here?” Charlie asked.
“Watching you. How long have you been coming down here?” She sat down, looking up at him.
“Ever since I got back.” He admitted.
“I've been trying to think of what to say to you, after everything that happened. I missed you awfully after you left.” She said.
“There's no need to say anything. We were both young and stupid.” Charlie sat down next to her. “I missed you too, and to be honest I'm a little jealous of Patrick.”
Sunny smiled. “I figured you would be. You will always be my first love though, so you have that.”
Charlie smiled too.
“It's a shame you can't say that I'm your first love.” Sunny hinted cheekily.
“You are!” Charlie was confused.
“Oh please. Belle has always been and always will be your one and only.” Sunny laughed.
“Belle and I were best friends. Nothing more.” Charlie defended himself.
“Of course. My apologies, I must have misread the situation.” Sunny apologised, not sounding the least bit sincere.
“You did. Now, I'm training if you don't mind.” Charlie got up. Sunny got up too. She touched his face and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. There was a hint of sadness and regret in the action, and both of them felt it. However, the smile on Sunnys face when she left was genuine, and Charlie knew she was happy with Patrick and Melody.