He just left but I can’t bring myself to move away from the door. It’s several minutes before I hear muffled voices followed by pounding footsteps and a slamming door. I know he’s no longer in the hallway but I still can’t bring myself to move and, before I know it, my legs are giving way and I’m in a heap on the floor. I spent all those weeks begging for him to find me, all those weeks enduring so much pain, and I send him away almost immediately. Not that I didn’t have a damn good reason. Who the hell does he think he is? Broadcasting my words like I’m some demented public radio station? I was willing to confide in him, hell; I wanted to confide in him. Get it all off my chest and let someone else carry that weight around for a while, but he ruined it. I could feel it in my head. Like an echo just on the edge of my consciousness and all I had to do was tune in a little more and there everyone was. It was their pity that sent me over the edge. The exclamations of ‘Oh my god, poor Gwen’ and the worst one of all from that arsehole Jasper:‘Well, that’s the end of that. She’s probably got no fight left in her.’
I have half a mind to go and show him just how much fight I have left, but I don’t have the energy to track him down. I just feel kind of numb. I should feel happy, happy to be home, or kind of home. Home came to be the Canyon but I guess I’ll have to settle for...I actually don’t know where I am. Not that it really matters. I’ll just have to make do. And I’ll be content to simply feel numb. I hope I can make that feeling last. After so much pain and torment it just feels nice to feel nothing. It’s probably not healthy but I imagine torture is much more detrimental to my health than not feeling anything at all. Not that I have to imagine, I just have to remember. I don’t know what they were thinking when they lumped the four of us together in one small hallway. I can feel the vibrations through the wall and it’s easy for me to tell that Derek is yelling at Hank. He’s furious...he didn’t know that Hank was broadcasting to Jasper. I feel guilty for all of a microsecond. How am I supposed to trust him if I can’t even speak to him without him spreading my words across the place? If I wanted to talk to everyone then I would have asked him to go and get everyone...oh well. What’s done is done, now I just have to figure out what to do. Garret is undoubtedly going to try and hunt me down. His plans all involve me switching over to the dark side but, I can’t do that. I won’t do that.
I’m still leaning against the front door when I hear footsteps in the hall once again. I can recognise them; Hank is coming to my door. I expect him to knock, try and convince me to let him in, but he just pauses for a moment and turns around. I’m home, but I’ve managed to isolate myself from everyone I care about. Maybe the worst part is that I don’t mind. I have to get used to all of this again and step one, it seems, is being alone without the threat of cruelty and pain. That’s what my life has become. From a bored human to an excited and powerful Elemental to this: a girl who can’t remember what it felt to be without pain and can’t seem to find the will power to get up off the damn floor. I can hear them in Derek’s apartment. Anya is upset, Oliver is angry and Derek just sounds exhausted. There is a stabbing pain in my side that is getting worse and worse the longer I sit on the ground, and I’m probably just reopening my wounds in this position, but I can’t seem to bring myself to stand up. For the first time in months I don’t have to be strong, I don’t have to force myself to stand because I don’t have to go with anyone right now or gather my strength to prepare myself for whatever horrors may present themselves. For the first time in so long, I can just relax and it feels both amazing and terrifying. I feel like I’m letting myself relax in the eye of a storm while just expecting the other side to bypass me completely. It’s that thought that finally makes me stand. My broken bones and torn flesh protest loudly, but the pain is absolutely nothing compared to what I’ve already had to endure. Before I even realise it, I’m opening the front door and I’m in the hallway and I’m walking away from the apartment. I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m about to do, only that I can’t stay locked in a room. I turn right at the end of the hallway and just let my instincts lead me. I’m not even thinking about where I’m going, I’m just turning down hallways and walking slowly. There are several people out but they don’t seem to recognise me, which I’m thankful for, and I end up walking into some sort of training room. I don’t know what it is, but I somehow feel like this was where I was heading the whole time. I didn’t even know this place existed. I take a seat on top of a set of bleachers that are shrouded in darkness and just wait. It’s nearly an hour before a group of people walk in and move about the room. Some are leaning against the wall, some sitting on the bleachers and others just walking about. It’s another few minutes before someone else walks in and everyone stands to attention, separating into groups and lining up. He looks familiar but I can’t quite place his face.
“Alright, as all of you have probably heard, Guinevere Faye has returned to the refuge.”
I know that voice, its Jasper, that’s why he looks so familiar to me.
I hear a snort from someone in the crowd, but whoever it is gets ignored and the whole room turns as a small group of people walk in. Here comes everyone else I guess. Oliver, Anya, Hank and Derek walk through the door and all of a sudden everyone is looking to Derek, not Jasper. They seem to have a lot more respect for him.
“You started without us,” Anya chastises Jasper and walks to the bleachers, taking a seat on the lowest bench with Oliver and, surprisingly, Hank. Jasper also takes a seat. He doesn’t seem as arrogant as I remember him and it appears he’s accepts Derek as a leader. It seems a lot has changed since I’ve been gone but I can find all of that out later, right now I’m just hoping no one notices me. I stamp down my aura in an attempt to conceal my energy and settle in for the show.
“This isn’t an official visit so you guys don’t have to worry about staying in formation,” Derek says, taking a more casual stance. “I’m just informing everyone that Gwen is indeed back, but we won’t be cancelling searches. These people are going to want to come after her and they will want to take her again. You will all be out there gathering information and keeping an eye on potential threats that were discovered during your previous searches.”
Someone laughs and then a man steps forward from the crowd. I recognise him; it’s Harvey, or Harold. Howard! His name is Howard and, if my memory is correct, he kind of hates me.
“You don’t think we’ve wasted enough time on her? She’s back. Case closed,” he sneers.
Derek’s body language has gone from relaxed to openly hostile and I know this is about to get heated. I can’t seem to avoid violence.
“Actually Howard, you didn’t search for her at all so you really have no reason to bitch. I removed you from these teams and I’ve got no clue why you’re even here,” his voice is cold.
“Gwen’s a big girl, she can take care of herself and if she can’t then she doesn’t deserve to be here,” he says, voice low and deadly. It seems that Howard is trying to rally the other Warriors but they all just look disgusted.
“Don’t you dare!” Shouts Anya. “She has been through enough without you publically belittling her!”
I’m not sure whether I’m more shocked at Howard’s hatred or Anya raising her voice.
“And don’t even try to act high and mighty. Everyone here knows that Gwen can, and has, kicked your ass!” Oliver yells, but Howard seems unperturbed.
“Yeah? Where is she now? She could be here, if for no other reason than to show some gratitude, but no. She’s probably curled up in a little ball trying to pull herself together. She’s weak! She’d have no chance of beating any of us at so much as rock, paper, scissors!”
That’s the last straw! I refuse to have anyone think I am weak! I didn’t survive three months of hell just to come back and be completely torn down by ignorant bastards like him. I drop my wards and let my aura sweep across the room. The first person to notice is Derek, of course, and then I get the satisfaction of watching fear cross Howard’s face. I threw my aura out with enough force that some people are physically struck as it reaches them, forcing them to step back and regain their balance or fall.
“Gwen!” exclaims Anya, completely shocked.
I ignore her and walk down to ground level, coming to a stop just in front of Howard.
“You’re so brave when the object of your ire is not in the room, Howard. And yet, you have nothing but fear and cowardice in your eyes as you stand before me.” My voice is venomous.
Derek tries to move, tries to step between Howard and I but I raise my hand, redirecting my angry stare to him.
“Don’t you dare,” I growl.
He stops in his tracks, completely at a loss.
“Gwen,” Hank begins, quickly moving to Derek’s side. “Maybe this isn’t the best time.”
“I actually think it’s a great time,” I turn away from him and back to Howard, glancing briefly at the other Warriors in the room. Some of them look familiar. One is particularly familiar, a humungous, dark skinned behemoth who is staring at me with liquid gold puppy dog eyes. He smiles when our eyes meet but I quickly look away and focus all of my attention on Howard. “I believe you were in the middle of a rant Howard?”
I prompt him and it takes about half a second for the dam to break and for him to get going again.
“You left, willingly, and then expected all of us to just risk our lives and waste our time searching for you? How selfish can you be! You’re pathetic. With all the power people have been so convinced you had it should have been a simple task for you to get away but you’re so incredibly weak and incompetent that you allowed yourself to stay with them for three months! And now you’re back and we should all be damn suspicious of you! There isn’t a scratch on you. Just admit it. You were too weak and pathetic to hold out so you gave in, probably on day one, and let them have you. Just admit it so we can arrest you and lock you up where you belong!”
He’s shouting by the end, large drops of spit flying from his mouth. He’s such an arrogant bastard. He actually thinks that by making a scene and trying to dominate me like this it will actually give him status. It’s all over his aura. He’s wickedly ambitious; I honestly don’t know how he’s not a Recruiter by choice. It seems to me like he’d fit in well. He’s a Slytherin, but not the good kind. He’s straight up Voldemort at Hogwarts, first generation Death Eater, Slytherin.
“Well? Are you going to say anything or are you just going to stare at me like you’ve had a botched lobotomy?!”
I flinch as Howards words hit a little too close to home and I remember the pain of Garret literally digging through my brain. I think I hide it well though and stride purposefully into the centre of the room, the other Warriors moving back to line the walls and giving me some space.
“You make an interesting argument Howard but I’m afraid your entire hypothesis is based on the central incorrect observation that I don’t have a scratch on me,” I keep my voice dead, completely emotionless, and adopt a blank expression as I very deliberately and very slowly grip the hem of my shirt and pull it up over my head. I toss it to the side and try to ignore the shocked gasps and little shouts of horror as everyone gets a look at my body. It’s harder to ignore the agonised expression that settles on Derek’s features or the tears that are leaving wet, glistening tracks on Anya’s cheeks. It’s harder to see the pain and horror in Oliver’s usually mischief filled eyes or the look of pure self-loathing in Hank’s. I don’t need or want their pity. I know how I look. I spent a great deal of time marvelling at my new body when I showered a few hours ago. To me, these scars are fucking gorgeous. For three months I was black and blue, covered in blood that never seemed to stop flowing, and had bones from all over my broken body sticking out through my skin like mangrove roots. This body, with its cuts and scars and burns and tears, is a bloody miracle to me. It says I survived. Every mark on my body tells a story of horror that ends in the bad guys defeat and my victory. On these guys, however, they have the desired effect. I wanted to shock them, I wanted any thought that I had turned to dark side completely wiped from their collective memory. I refuse to be tainted by the Recruiters who took me and I bask in the confidence and calm that take hold of me with that revelation. It’s my choice whether I want to be a victim or someone who fought hard enough to survive. And I’m nobody’s victim.
“Now that I’ve cleared that up, how about we dispel one last uncharitable thought, shall we Howard? You think of me as weak and pathetic, and from your aura I can tell that you’re dying for a rematch. Who knows, after all I’ve been through maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a chance,” I issue my challenge and the whole arena goes deathly quiet. I can barely even hear people breathing. Howard, however, appears to all of a sudden become energised. He’s wearing a cruel grin that finally puts a gleam in his eye and he walks forward until he’s standing right in front of me in the centre of the arena.
“You’re on, bitch,” he says and suddenly we’re separated by a furious Hank who steps in front of me and glares down at Howard. I can tell from his aura that he’s not going to let this happen, but I need it to. I need this. It’s unsettling how badly I need this but I refuse to examine my unease right now. I just want to embrace the sudden flare in my chest and put Howard in his place. I just need some way to relieve this stress and anger and anguish and just let someone else feel it for a while. Besides, Howard and I were going to come to this sooner or later anyway. He’s too set on being better than everyone else and in his mind I’m the one he needs to take out in order to get there.
“Get out of the way!” Howard yells, impatient as ever. “Move or I’ll take you out first!”
Hank is about to speak, no doubt to yell and try and be scary or maybe even get physical himself, but I intercede.
“Hank,” he turns to me the moment he hears my voice and his expression changes from one of fear and concern, no doubt for me, to one of surprise and maybe even a bit of pride. “Go sit on the bleachers and take the other Warriors with you.”
He still doesn’t move.
“Now!” I shout, making my voice as commanding as possible. One thing I know about Warriors is that shouting an order makes their training kick in and, at least 80% of the time, you get your way. He makes one small motion with his hand and a sea of Warriors walks in a brusque orderly fashion to the bleachers and take their seats. The anticipation and excitement coming from some of their auras is a little daunting, but it all comes from a place of curiosity. A lot of the people assembled here are from this refuge and didn’t even know I existed until the canyon people rocked up on their doorstep. I watch them take their seats, taking my attention away from Howard just long enough for him to draw his sword and try to take a cheap shot at me from the side. I feel the vibrations in the air, I hear Derek’s shouted warning, and I take a slight step backwards causing Howard and his sword to pass harmlessly before me. He stumbles, regains his feet, and turns back to me.
“You’re fast,” he sneers. “That’s good, it means this will be slightly more of a challenge than I was expecting.”
He moves again, this time ducking low and swinging his sword at my shins. I don’t move. Instead, I will a thick sheet of diamond to appear from the floor and intercept Howards swing. A loud crack sounds throughout the room, followed immediately by shocked gasps and a few cheers. I still don’t move, waiting for Howard to stand back up and take an offensive stance once more. He lunges forward, trying to run me through, and pivots just before his sword makes contact, swinging it straight up towards my face. I see everything as though it’s in slow motion and simply have to turn me cheek, allowing the razor-sharp edge to sail past the side of my face. Howard grunts in frustration and throws his sword to the side, immediately taking a more aggressive stance.
“You should be honoured,” he says, arrogance personified. “It’s rare that anyone ever makes it past my blade.”
I remain silent, knowing that he’s about to use magic. I can’t for the life of me remember his affinity though. I don’t have to wait long. Flames shoot from his hands, engulfing me, but I don’t feel them. Garret tried to burn me alive on several occasions and I guess I developed some sort of rapid healing response when it comes to flames. My flesh regrows immediately, making the pain barely recognisable. It’s more like a mild sting, less painful than a mosquito bite, and I decide to simply stand in the flames and wait for Howard to exhaust himself. It takes a little magic on my part to ensure that my clothes don’t burn away though. I may be shirtless but I have no intention of being naked in front of these people. It’s nearly a full two minutes before the flames die down and I get the sheer pleasure of watching Howards triumphant expression change to one of outright terror.
“Th-that, that’s impossible!” He shouts.
I keep my expression blank, showing no emotion. I feel numb again and I feel a sort of calm in the lack of emotion.
“Was that the best you can do?” I say; my voice as emotionless as my expression.
“Y-you shouldn’t have been…how did you…what are you?” he manages to stutter.
“I’m pathetic Howard, remember? I’m weak. I’m nothing but a pathetic, weak, selfish waste of time that everyone should be suspicious of because odds are I’m now a Recruiter. Did I miss anything?” I ask him, rhetorically obviously.
He looks afraid and suddenly I just don’t have the energy to finish this. What’s the point? Exactly what would I prove if I finish Howard off? All I’d prove is that I’m no better than him. I’d prove that I’m willing to cause another person pain just to make myself feel better. Just to prove that I’m stronger or better than them. And, all of a sudden, I’m completely disgusted with myself and how I let this whole situation make me feel. I felt good about this. I wanted this. I wanted to inflict pain on someone else, to be on the other side. I wanted to be the person inflicting the pain, rather than the person enduring it. I wanted to be Garret…and now I’m just nauseous. I feel physically ill. I turn away from Howard and stride purposefully from the room, ignoring Derek and the others when they call out to me, ignoring Howard as he tries to taunt me and completely disregarding the shirt crumpled on the ground. I leave, wearing just some fabric shorts and a sports bra, and break into a run the moment I get into the hallway. I let my senses guide me back to my apartment, ignoring the cracking and creaking of newly re-broken bones and the warmth of blood trickling from busted stitches. I just need to get back to my apartment and lock myself away from people. I’m clearly not ready to be back out in the real world yet. I’m a danger to everyone here.