Christ. Rookie just had to go and take off and leave me with his messed-up excuses for parents. Fan-fucking-tastic. I’ve managed to avoid them since he left, if for no other reason than their own safety, but they’ve managed to catch me between patrols and now here I am, cornered in my own training room being interrogated like I’m that piece of scum Garret. There will be hell to pay when I get my hands on him. Rookie’s memories of Gwen are incredible, and I don’t even need to meet the woman to know that she’s going to be an amazing friend. Hell, I’d love her to death simply for putting that little spark of life back in Rookies eyes that his parents extinguished years ago. I’ve been all over the damn place since he left. We may have gotten nowhere with the compound we stormed when he was here, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t other compounds. I think I’ve destroyed more Recruiter strongholds in the last few weeks then I have in the last decade.
“So,” Rookie’s mother begins again. “I’m only going to ask this one more time, and you are going to answer me! Who is Gwen and why is she so important to my son?!”
She thinks she has so much authority. It’s laughable how weak this woman truly is. And her husband is even worse. I don’t think he’s made a decision on his own since the moment he met his keeper. He literally turns to his wife when someone asks him a question.
“He’s not your son,” I snarl, completely sick and tired of these people, this refuge and, most importantly, this conversation. “I honestly have no idea why you decided to procreate in the first place. He isn’t your son and I can assure you that he doesn’t consider either of you to be his parents.”
I march past them, already fully aware that they’re going to follow me, and head off in the direction of my small apartment. I received word from Rookie yesterday afternoon that he has found Gwen and finally I have the best excuse to leave this place. I’m transferring to Hank’s refuge, not that these guys know that yet, and fully intend on arriving soon. This is my last day in this hell hole and I need to get my stuff. I slam open my door and don’t even bother to close it. All my shit is still packed into my duffel, so it’s going to take no time at all for me to get going. I’ve just hauled it over my shoulder when I hear the wretch screeching at me to put it down and do her bidding. Her voice is worse than nails on a chalk board.
“You will put that down right now, Blaine Eklund! I am not finished with you and as the head of this refuge you will do as I command!”
Oh, will I?
This should be fun.
I gather my strength around me and revel in the fear on her face as the walls shake violently.
“Pull your head out of your ass and listen to me! You are not the be all and end all this universe and you certainly don’t own me or Derek. You have no business being involved in what he is currently doing, and you will not poke around this any further. You are a disgusting excuse for a mother and a wretch of a person, and I am truly, truly, pleased that I can finally tell you to go fuck yourself,” I throw as much venom and conviction behind my words as she stumbles away from me. But that’s the end of my words here.
I centre my strength and have the earth push me straight up, through the roof of my old room and straight to the earth’s surface. It barely takes ten seconds, but it’s as peaceful as I’ve felt in weeks. I waste no time once I’m on the surface, teleporting immediately.
By the time I’ve blinked, my eyes are opening into a completely new and unfamiliar landscape. The heat is stifling; the air itself seeming to cling to my skin, but it is also beautiful. The plants are like nothing I’ve seen before and the very feel of this new earth beneath my feet is thrilling. I follow my instincts and walk through the rainforest, taking everything in and getting accustomed to my new home. It’s pretty great and the humidity isn’t so bad now that I’ve been in it for a while. I’m eventually led to a large tree that, from the memories shown to me by Rookie, is the entrance to the refuge. I put my palm against the cool bark and watch as it opens for me, inviting me inside. The descent into the refuge is fast and smooth and the moment I hit ground level I get moving, following my instinct straight to a massive, fully decked out training room on the other side of this huge arse place, the scene inside making me stop dead in my tracks. Rookie is standing, all authority and power, in front an impressive group of warriors who all clearly hold nothing but the utmost respect for him. I knew he’d swiftly climbed the ranks once Hank took him to the canyon, but seeing it is a very different story and I find myself filled with pride. I wouldn’t let anyone know it, but I took him under my wing all those years ago and look at him sort of as the little brother I never had. I trained him damn well too. Even after he’s given the order to relax, his Warriors are still in formation. Every single one of them decked out in full gear and weaponry, like they’re ready to go to war the moment he issues the command. I take my eyes of the scene long enough to scan the room, noticing Pixie and Kid standing off to the side like the loyal seconds they are, and Hank and some other guy standing behind them.
“I’m just informing everyone that Gwen is, indeed, back,” Rookie announces, and I see expressions on the Warriors faces varying from relief to outright joy. “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 the potential threats that were discovered during your initial searches.”
I know about these searches, Anya filled me in during the few days after we left the compound. Rookie pulled together the best of the best and had them grid search the entire planet. It was efficient and intelligent, and I have no doubt that he’ll be using that method again with the continued searches. Garret is still out there after all. I take a step forward, about to make my presence known, add my knowledge to the conversation and get a plan of action going, when a shrill laugh rises from the back of the crowd and some arrogant sod steps into the centre of the room. He’s universally disliked if the exasperated and downright dangerous looks on the Warriors faces are anything to go by.
“You don’t think we’ve wasted enough time on her? She’s back. Case closed,” he seems to spit the words at Rookie, and it seems to take all of his self-control to keep from knocking this guy’s block off.
“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 the hell you’re even here,” his voice is lethal and he’s slipping into the false calm façade that I used to see him deploy around his parents. “Gwen’s a big girl, she can take care of herself and if she can’t then she doesn’t deserve to be here,” the Howard guy retorts and to my surprise, little Pixie steps up to him.
Her voice is glacial and even I feel a little trepidation when I think of what it would be like to square off with her when she’s so clearly enraged.
“Don’t you dare. Gwen has been through enough without you publically belittling her.”
Those words alone tell me that their Gwen has been put through the ringer, and then some, since she’s been gone.
“And don’t even try to act high and mighty. Everyone here knows that Gwen can, and has, kicked your ass!”
I’m surprised again when Kid steps in. This guy is so happy go lucky that the extent of the rage in his tone is genuinely shocking to me.
I would have thought that this guy would have seen everything that I did. But, apparently, he’s too stupid to realise that this is only going to end badly for him, and he decides to run his mouth again.
“Yeah? Where is she now? She could be here, if for no other reason than to show some gratitude, but no,” he continues, nothing but hatred for Gwen in his tone. “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!”
And then I’m thrown back, nearly knocked to my arse, as a wave of power so incredibly strong hits me like a physical force. Some of the warriors in the room have been thrown back into the wall. Rookie doesn’t as much as flinch. He turns his head to look up into the bleachers and, in that moment, everyone in the room realises that they’ve had an audience. Well, an audience that wasn’t me. I know this must be Gwen, but she barely looks like the girl from Rookie’s memories. She’s barely a third of the size she was in the memories and there is a haunted look about her that has completely over-ridden the look of adventure that gleamed in those eyes that glow a more brilliant green than the most precious of emeralds. This is a woman who has seen and experienced things that no one should ever have to even imagine. This is also a woman who is so incredibly furious that even I’m intimidated. And I haven’t been intimidated by anything or anyone since I was human. Silence has fallen across the training room and people are frozen where they stand. The funniest example being Howard as, where only seconds ago he was arrogance personified and was trying to rally hatred for Gwen, now he is staring at her, mouth gaping in shock and hands trembling harder the closer she gets. She doesn’t hesitate to square off with Howard and I am more and more impressed with her with each passing second. I’m forced to tune back into the conversation when I see Gwen’s face become a blank, emotionless mask and Howards voice rises again.
“You left, willingly,” he emphasises the word. “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 have 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!”
It appears that even my will power is being tested today and it’s taking a lot for me not to grab this arse hole by the throat and throttle him. Gwen, on the other hand, doesn’t seem fazed at all, her mask not slipping for a second. She turns from him and, for a moment, I think she’s going to walk away and out the other exit. Instead she grips the hem of her top and drags it over her head, chucking it aside and revealing scars and breaks and barely healed gashes across the entirety of her chest, stomach and arms. I imagine her back doesn’t look much different. I’ve healed and helped a lot of men and women who were being held prisoner in the Recruiter compounds that I’ve destroyed, and I’m experienced enough to be able to figure out how Gwen managed to get most of these scars. The shock wears off quickly for me and dissipates completely when I see the solid strength, and maybe even pride, in Gwen’s eyes as people stare and gasp and cry out at the state of her body. Her actions have put her friends in a bit of a bad way and a shadow falls across her face as she glances in their direction. Hank looks distraught, and if I know him as well as I think I do then it probably stems from some sort of guilt that she was taken on his watch. Kid looks wrecked and there is no sense of wonder or joy or playfulness in his eyes as he stares in horror at his friend. Pixie is silently crying, the silence making her distress somehow more painful to witness. As if she’s in too much pain to sob or make any type of sound. But it’s Derek who guts me the most. He looks so sad and so utterly broken, his pain coming through loud and clear to me through his aura. The room is steadily being filled with pain and despair as everyone comes to terms with what Gwen must have gone through, but I feel a sense of intense pride. Red’s gone through hell and back and yet she’s still standing tall. I’m pulled out of my head by an agonised cry that seems to have been wrenched from Rookie’s throat as Howard takes the cowards way out and lunges at Red with his sword when she isn’t looking. She steps to the side, avoiding the next few blows with blinding speed. And then she just shuts down, turning and practically running from the room.
“Huh!” Howard is starting again and this time I won’t stand by. “She is a coward and she had no chance of defeating me. You’ve all seen it! She is not the all powerf-“
He’s cut off as my fist slams into his face and he goes crashing to the floor, knocked out cold.
“Sorry if anyone else wanted to do that,” I say, turning to Rookie and his people. “But I’d more than heard enough.”