As Mark stood waiting in LA/Ontario International Airport, he felt strangely nervous. He wasn't the kind to let nerves get the best of him, and he was usually very confident. Of course, he had every reason to be confident. He was rather well built, somewhat stocky with a handsome face. His short hair was brown with matching eyes behind a pair of ovaline glasses. With his looks, he'd been rather popular back in his high school days, which had only made his confidence grow.
Not that it did him any good now though, as he tugged at the collar of his red shirt, sweating a little and tapping his foot. Even if Mark was the world's biggest male model, with his half-naked form spread across millions of magazines, he somehow felt that he would still be reduced to a quivering wreck right now. This meeting was something that he had been anticipating for months. It had been so long since he'd seen her, and he wanted to make the best impression possible.
“Um, excuse me...” said a small female voice behind him, bringing him back to the here and now.
This was it, the moment of truth. He turned and with one look at the speaker, he knew she was the one he'd been waiting for. She was a pretty, mousy young thing, somewhat short with wavy brown hair and blue eyes behind a pair of rectangular glasses. She looked like she was about to say something before Mark spoke.
“Maria,” he said with a warm smile.
“Mark?” she asked as a smile spread across her own lips.
He nodded happily.
Her smile grew wider as she hugged him tightly. “It's been so long,” she said.
“Yeah. Good to see you again, Sis.”
* * *
The two now sat at a table one of the airport's cafés, reminiscing over drinks.
“So how's Mom?” Mark asked.
“She's fine,” his sister replied, taking a sip of her coke. “Things were tough for a few years, but Mum's, well... Mum. Things've been pretty steady since she married Tom. His kids are still little terrors though...”
“Heh, 'Mum',” Mark chuckled.
“Oi, don't make fun of me 'cause of my accent.”
“Sorry, sorry. It's just so weird.”
“Oh, yaeah? Aend how's Daed doin'?” Maria replied in an over-the-top Southern American accent.
“Guess ah desurv thayat,” Mark replied in just as ridiculous an accent. “But yeah, he's doing fine. Karen's a bitch though.”
“That why you moved out?”
“Yeah. I know she makes Dad happy, but I can tell she was just glad to finally be rid of me.”
“Well, you could always come live with us in England.”
“Thanks, but I've got a small apartment in Claremont, and a pretty stable job.”
“Come on, you can tell me. You're not working retail, are you?”
“Oh. Well, uh... Nowhere to go but up?”
“Heheh... Yeah, I guess so,” Mark replied, ruffling Maria's hair. It was something he'd used to do when the two were younger and it made Maria feel completely at ease. “Anyway, it's a nine mile drive to my apartment. You ready to get going, Sis?”
“Sure. You know, Birmingham Airport's a nine mile drive from our house too.”
* * *
“You didn't use Mom's maiden name when she remarried?” Mark asked, surprised, as his car pulled up in the apartment complex's parking lot.
“No,” Maria replied simply. “It's the only link I had to my old life and I didn't want to lose it. Oh, wow,” she said as she got out of the car and looked up at the building before her. “This place looks so nice. You can really afford this?”
“Hey, the pay's not that bad,” Mark replied. “Come on. Looks like it's gonna rain. We can bring your stuff in later.”
The two hurried inside as dark clouds rolled over above them.
Once inside, Maria removed her shoes. “What? I prefer going barefoot indoors,” she said in response to Mark's quizzical look. “That's not a problem, is it?”
“No. As long as they're clean.”
“Of course they are, geez.”
“Just checking,” Mark replied before leading his sister into the living room, where she smiled upon seeing his decently-sized entertainment center. The shelves were covered in video games from when they were kids, along with quite a few more modern games, surrounding a sixteen-inch TV. There were posters of a number of games, movies and comics on the walls; all framed to make it look more organized.
“Oh, wow. You kept all these?”
“Cool. Ooh, Nintendo 64,” Maria squealed as she leaned in for a closer look.
“Wanna play? For old times' sake?”
Maria turned back with a smile, already holding a controller. “You read my mind!”
As the two played a competitive game of Mario Party like when they were younger, Maria turned to Mark with a wry smile. “You're really going the extra mile to win me over, aren't you?”
“Huh? I-I don't know what you-”
“Yes, you do. We're twins, remember? We're practically telepathic and I can tell that you set all this up to make me feel more at ease with being in America again. The CD with my favourite songs in the car, these games here, even the hair-rustling thing. I can't believe you remembered that.”
“W-Well, it… makes my sister happy, so of course I…” Mark trailed off into mumbling but Maria's smile grew wider. She continued looking around the room in wonder. The things Mark had on display brought back so many good memories. She noticed the comics he kept on his bookshelf.
“Still reading your comics, I see. What are you into now? Marvel? DC?”
“A bit of both.”
“Green Lantern still your favourite?”
“Yeah. What about you? Still into Sailor Moon?”
“Well, yeah, it's what got me into anime to begin with. But I prefer Ah My Goddess now.”
“Cool, I guess.”
“You've never heard of it, have you?”
“You haven't changed.”
“Neither have you. And I'm glad.”
“Eh? How come?”
“If you'd changed, you wouldn't seem... well, like you. But you're still the same cute little girl you always were.”
“And you're the same tactless big brother you always were.”
“Tactless? What do you mean?”
“Never mind. Hey, you go to college, right?”
“Y-Yeah, studying Psychology and Therapy. Why?”
“Psychology? What, learning how to hypnotize people?”
“Funnily enough, hypnosis is actually the topic we're covering right now.”
“Really? Cool. What's it like?”
“What's what like?”
“Hypnosis. I've always wondered what it was like.”
“You mean, like... being hypnotized yourself?”
“Yeah. It looks like it would be so cool to actually experience. What about you? Have you ever been hypnotized?”
“But have you been learning how to do it yourself?”
“A little, yes. But not enough to really put into practice.”
“Why so many questions? This sounds like more than just simple interest.”
“Oh, well... I just... thought it would be cool, y'know?”
Mark smiled at his sister's flustered response. He found his theory on her response to be amusing. “You have more than just an interest in hypnosis, don't you?”
“W-What do you mean?”
“I mean you're really interested in the subject.
“I-I have no idea what you're talking about!”
“Suuuure you don’t…”
“Then why is your face red?”
“I-I'm not… I don't…”
“It's okay, Sis,” Mark relented, not wanting to break her brain. “I'm not going to judge you for it. Not like I'd have much ground to stand on anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can only see it because I'm, well... the same.”
“Like hypnosis, yes.”
“No way. You mean you have a...”
“Hypnofetish? Yeah. Funny how we both have it, huh?”
“Yeah,” Maria replied, smiling. “We are twins after all. So you want to be hypnotized too?”
“What? No, I want to be the hypnotizer. You want to be the hypnotizee?”
“Y...Yes... The idea of being hypnotized just sounds so... wonderful...”
“You're drooling, Sis,” Mark commented with a smirk.
“What? Oh, no.” Maria wiped her mouth with her sleeve but found no drool. “No, I wasn't.”
“You practically were.” Mark replied, struggling to hold in his laughter.
“Oh... you!” Maria hit her brother in the arm before turning away and pouting.
“Hey, come on now. Hey, what if I promise that, when I learn how to hypnotize people, you'll be the first one I do hypnotize?”
Maria turned back, her eyes positively sparkling. “Really? You will?”
“O-Of course,” Mark replied, a little disturbed by his sister's enthusiasm. “I'll put you under and give you some fun suggestions.”
“But!” Maria asserted, holding up a finger. “Nothing perverted.”
“-_- You're my sister. What do you think I am, a harem anime protagonist?”
Maria burst out laughing at her brother's statement, and he soon joined in.
“I'm surprised you even know about harem anime,” Maria stated as she wiped away a tear.
“Just because I don't know one anime series doesn't mean I haven't seen a few. Stuff's huge in college.”
“It was Tenchi Muyo, wasn't it?”
“Literally the only harem anime you've ever seen.”
“Is that really a bad thing?”
“Nope. Just means I'll have to show you some better examples, not that there are really all that many.”
“Well then, please, Teacher, show me the ways of the otaku.” The pair started laughing again.
As they laughed, lightning struck outside and Mark's television began displaying nothing but static.
“Ah, crap,” Mark muttered as he got up to try to fix it.
“I didn't know TVs even had static anymore,” Maria remarked.
“I know this one isn't supposed to,” Mark replied, gripping the screen by the top and front.
“Need any help?” Maria asked, standing up too.
“If you don't mind,” Mark replied, straining.
Maria suddenly gasped.
“What? What is it?”
“Your... Your hand,” Maria replied unsteadily.
“What?” Mark looked to see his left hand not on the screen of the television, but inside it. “W-What the hell!?”
He felt a sudden tug from inside, as if something was pulling him inside. He saw his whole arm pulled in, but managed to get a grip as his shoulder reached the portal.
“Mark!” Maria screamed as she grabbed his torso and tried to pull him back, but the force of the portal was too strong, and Mark was soon being dragged fully inside, Maria being taken along for the ride.
* * *
Mark groaned as he found himself lying on a cold, soft surface, seemingly grass. There was also something heavy on top of him. “One thing's definitely changed, Sis.”
“Ugh, what hasn't?” Maria asked groggily.
“You've gotten a lot heavier than when we were kids.”
Maria shot up. “That's cruel; you know I worry about my weight!”
Relieved, Mark propped himself up on his elbows. “It was a joke,” he assured her.
“Then go into stand up, you arse,” Maria huffed and turned away, clearly upset by Mark's remark.
He sat up. “Look, I'm sorry, okay? What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Well, first you can-”
“Hold on,” Mark interrupted. “Is that... rain?”
The twins looked up and found that water was indeed falling on them from above. There was no longer a roof over their heads either. They looked around, finding themselves now lying in a grassy area near a large building. It was difficult to see with how dark it had gotten, but it looked to Mark like a college building, given how far the building stretched. Maria reached that conclusion too.
“Is this... the college you go to?” she asked.
“N-No. I've never seen this place before,” Mark replied.
“Then... you think this is a dream?” Maria asked hopefully.
“Y-Yeah, I'm sure that's it,” Mark replied, trying to calm himself as much as Maria. “Twins can share dreams, right?”
“O-Of course,” Maria replied, trying to convince herself. “That whole telepathic connection thing. W-We probably just... just...”
“Yeah, we're not fooling anyone.”
“Hey!” called out a third voice, startling the pair and causing Maria to unconsciously latch onto her brother. They looked in the direction of the voice and saw a seemingly middle-aged woman running over to them. “Are... Are you two okay?” she panted as she reached them, the slight hint of a French accent present in her voice.
She had wavy greyish-brown hair, large brown eyes and wrinkles here and there. She was wearing a yellow raincoat with a black skirt underneath, as well as a pair of black shoes and dark brown nylons. She also wore a pair of small round glasses on her nose, a pearl necklace around her neck and a pair of golden star earrings. What the twins found the most strange however, was that the woman's eyes were not just big, they were massive, especially compared to her very small nose. In fact, she looked almost like she'd just stepped right out of an anime series.
Both realising this, the twins turned to each other, only for Mark to realise that Maria now looked the same. “M-Maria...” Mark uttered, reaching out to his deformed twin.
“M-Mark...” she uttered back, doing the same.
The two twins touched each other's cheek, feeling the squishy flesh and realising that this was not some weird dream or hallucination. They really had become like anime characters.
The two then promptly fainted.
“Oh, dear,” the woman muttered.
* * *
Mark awoke some time later in what seemed to be someone's living room. He and his sister were sat side-by-side on a rather comfortable couch by the fireplace, Maria's head resting on Mark's shoulder. There was some kind of blanket or towel draped over the two and Mark could tell that most of his clothes were gone. He nudged Maria with his shoulder subtly, just enough to rouse her from her sleep. As she awoke, the two were startled by a voice.
“Mom, they're awake!” said the female voice.
As the twins awoke fully, they realised the voice had come from a woman sat in a chair in front of them. Evidently, she had been watching the two as they slept. Now that they got a proper look at her, she had the same anime-like features of the other woman, confirming to the two that they had not been dreaming. This woman had short hair, darker than the twins' paternally inherited hair, that went down just past her cheeks and made her head look evenly rounded. Her eyes were brown as well. She wore a white hairband, small gold earrings and a white sleeveless blouse with a black tie, along with rather tight black pants and heeled boots.
Responding to her call, the older woman from outside rushed into the room, letting out a sigh of relief as she came to a halt just in the doorway.
“I'm glad you two are okay,” she said, walking over and sitting beside the younger woman, who was evidently her daughter.
Mark spoke up first. “Where... Where are we?” The two women looked at each other before looking back at the twins.
“I'm not sure where to begin,” the older woman replied, sitting beside the younger woman. “I guess we should start with introductions. I'm Iris Rose. This is my daughter, Diane.”
“Hi,” Diane smiled with a little wave.
“H-Hi...” the twins replied.
“I'm Mark Williams.”
“Nice to meet you both. I'm a scientist, you see,” Iris continued. “I've recently been trying to prove the many-world interpretation.”
“You mean we're...” Mark struggled to finish his question, terrified of the implications. “You mean we're in a... p-parallel universe?”
“I'm afraid so, yes.” Iris remained silent for a while, seemingly to allow the twins to properly take in the situation they now found themselves in. “I created a device that allowed me to view other realities - not interact with them, mind - just observe. But something went wrong. As you may have noticed while you were outside, there's been a fierce storm tonight and lightning struck the satellite dishes I installed on the roof, which overloaded the entire system.”
“And what's what... brought us here?” Maria asked, feeling a little sick.
“That's my hypothesis, yes,” Iris replied somewhat grimly.
“Hypothesis?” asked Mark. “Then, you don't know for sure?”
“I'm afraid not. But I promise I'll look into it and try to get you home as soon as possible. But, it may take some time. Aside from the expense of the equipment, the device required more than the power of an entire city grid, which needs a place to be stored. Luckily, I kept it all on a separate power line so you should be okay living here in the dorm until I can get it fixed.”
“For now, I think we should get them some clothes, Mom,” Diane suggested. “Sorry about taking yours, but you were soaked from the rain,” she added to the twins.
“N-No problem,” Mark replied, blushing along with his sister.
Iris stood up. “Diane, head upstairs and get some of your father's clothes for... Mark, was it? And some of your own for Maria.”
“Will do,” her daughter replied as she left the room.
“There should be a free dorm room for you two to stay,” Iris continued. “Don't worry, I'm the dorm mother so I'll be here most of the time. And if I'm not, Diane or at least Denise will be around.”
“What was that about me?” asked a woman in business wear as she entered the room. She looked very similar to Diane, hair and eye colours matching perfectly, though her hair was noticeably puffier. Presumably, this was Diane's sister. She removed her glasses to wipe the rain droplets off the lenses and took off her soaked shoes. She put her glasses back on and looked at the twins. “Who are these two?”
“Yeah, about that...”
* * *
“So, let me get this straight,” said the woman, a cross-shaped vein bulging on her forehead as she agitatedly recapped what Iris had just explained. “You were tampering with some device down in your... 'lab', and your device summon a pair of teenagers from another universe, but you have no way to send them home because your machine is fried.”
“That's... That's about the long and short of it, yes,” Iris replied, seemingly scared of this woman.
The younger woman exploded into an angry tirade as Mark and Maria, now fully clothed, sat nearby with Diane.
“Sooo, is she, like, her boss or something?” Mark whispered as he turned to Diane.
“Pffft, good one,” Diane chortled. “That's my sister, Denise. Twin, actually,” she added with a smile.
“Twin?” Mark and Maria exchanged a look before facing the woman again.
“We're twins too,” Maria explained.
“I thought as much,” Diane replied, her smile growing wider. “It's easy to see when you're a twin yourself. Who's the oldest? Wait, let me guess... Mark, right?”
“Y-Yeah,” Mark replied, more amazed than he felt he should be.
“Okay then. What about us two?” Diane indicated towards herself and her still lecturing sister. “Who do you guys think is older?”
Mark and Maria looked from the fun-loving Diane, over to the much more serious Denise, then at each other, then finally back to Diane to reply as one, “Denise.”
Diane burst out laughing. “Oh my god! Is that what we sound like when we're of one mind? Wow!”
“Diane, will you quit messing around and help me lecture mother on the error of her ways?” Denise interrupted, tapping her foot agitatedly.
“Nah, I think you've got it pretty well covered,” Diane replied dismissively, only angering her sister further.
Denise made a guttural sound of unspeakable anger before turning back to her mother. “And what exactly am I supposed to say about a man living here? This is a girls’ only dorm.”
“I-It is?” asked Mark.
“Don't worry about it,” Diane said, waving off the issue. “He looks like Maria anyway so he can just pretend to be her twin sis-”
“No,” Mark refused flatly.
“Oh, come on, it'll be fun,” Diane assured him. “You think so too, right, Maria? ...Maria?”
“Look like a boy... She said I look like a boy...” Maria muttered.
“Okay, stupid plan,” Diane admitted. “I'm sure if we explain their situation, the girls who stay here will be fine with it.”
“What situation?” Denise demanded. “That they're from another world, another universe?”
“No, that they can't afford a place to rent and they're friends of the family. Simple.”
“That works,” Iris spoke up.
“Quiet you,” Denise snapped. “I won't accept this. If anything goes wrong, it's on my head for allowing it.”
“Just say it's a test to see if the dorm's ready to go co-ed or something,” Diane suggested.
“With one boy? That would sound ludicrous.”
“Where else are they supposed to go? They've only just arrived here.”
“I... don't know, but...”
“At least give us a chance,” Maria pleaded. “I know you're worried about Mark being some kind of pervert, but he's not! Please. If he does anything like that, we'll leave no questions asked. Just please give us a chance.”
Denise seemed to struggle to make her decision. She sighed. “Fine. You can stay, but I'll hold you to those conditions.”
“And now that that's settled,” Diane said loudly, trying to lift the mood, “I think we should get these two off to bed. I'm sure this has been a crazy night for the both of them and they need some time to sort it all out.”
“Okay, you do that and I'll... I'll go and get this cover story sorted,” said Denise.
After saying good night to Iris and Denise, Diane led Mark and Maria to a nearby room.
“Mom's room is next door, so you guys can just go see her any time you need. And don't think badly of Denise; she's the dean of the college, so she has a lot of stress and stuff.”
“It's alright,” Mark assured her. “I work retail, so…”
“Ha-ha, I've been there. Well, I'm in the room on the other side of Mom's. Let one of us know if you need anything.”
“Okay, thanks, Diane,” Mark replied. Diane smiled and closed the door behind her.
Mark and Maria sat on one of the beds for a while, neither saying anything, too worried about what had happened to them. After a while, Mark decided to speak up. “I-It's okay, Maria,” he said, putting an arm around her. “They seem like nice people and I'm sure if Iris is smart enough to make a device to see into other dimensions, then she can probably get us back home in no time.”
“But what if she can't?” Maria retorted, looking directly into Mark's brown eyes, her own piercing blue beginning to water. “What are we gonna do if we're stuck here?”
Confronted with Maria's terrified gaze, Mark could find no comforting lies to tell her. “I don't know," he said honestly. "But, whatever comes our way, we'll get through it. Together.”
Maria was still clearly scared, but Mark's words and smile seemed to put her at least partially at ease. “Th-Thanks, Mark,” she muttered.
Mark looked over at the bed across the room. It somehow seemed like it was miles away now.
“Hey, you want to sleep in my bed tonight? For old time's sake?”
Maria looked back at Mark, seemingly surprised, yet also comforted. “Yeah… I'd like that.”
The two lay back on the bed and Mark hugged his sister.
“We'll get through it together.”