“Clear out, I’ll call another meeting later. Until then, follow up on any leads you have and double check anything you found suspicious. Same rules apply,” Rookie says, dismissing his Warriors without a backward glance.
They file out immediately, all but one; a big guy, about an inch or so shorter than me, with dark skin and gold eyes.
“Anything Gwen needs, just shout,” he said.
“Thanks Darius. I think, for now, we just need to give her some space,” Rookie replies, his defences coming down far enough for us to see the sadness in his eyes.
“She recognised you,” says Pixie, smiling up at Darius.
“Yeah,” he says, a small smile of his own. “I thought she did, but she turned away.”
“Why is that important?” I ask, confused about their conversation.
“Because,” Kid pipes in sadly, speaking for the first time since I walked into the room. “She’s just has a blank look on her face when she sees people. It’s like looking at people confuses her. It took us a while to convince her that we were actually real.”
“Well, if I’m the only person she’s recognised so far then, whatever and whenever, yeah? Just call me and I’m there,” says Darius, giving Pixie a fist bump and walking out.
I sit down heavily on my duffel, waiting for the other guys to get comfortable with me, and say:
I don’t hesitate to clasp Rookie’s forearm when he reaches out to me and feel the immediate shift in my mind, telling me that I’m being given someone’s memories. I don’t understand what I’m seeing at first, but it clears up when I realise that the memories begin with someone breaking into Rookie’s head.
’Rookie is running fast, gathering his gear and getting ready. Within moments he is clasping the arms of Pixie, Kid and Hank and teleporting from this refuge. They arrive at some shitty, rundown, half collapsed warehouse. They find some old guy in the far corner of the second floor. He’s pretty banged up but he’s clearly one of us. Rookie stays behind when the others take the old guy away. He’s frustrated and kicks a lump of wood. It shatters a rotten desk and there’s Red. She’s barely breathing and covered in so much blood. Rookie is nauseous in the memory, but he pulls himself together, covers Red with his jacket and teleports out. He gets her to someone named Mags and him and his people help her clean Red’s wounds. It’s a gruesome sight but he can’t freak out. He has to be there for the Kid and Pixie and handle the situation. After a while Mags decides she’s clean enough and nearly makes herself sick after using so much of her energy to do so little actual healing to Red. Some of her wounds have closed, but that’s about it. Healers come every hour or so for the rest of the night to work on Red and Rookie eventually falls asleep.
Rookie wakes to find Red gone. He takes off, following her energy. He finds her kicking arse in the refuge, trying to escape. No one here is a match for her but she pauses long enough to listen when Rookie calls her name. They have to convince her that they’re real and she’s really safe. She’s safe and collapses to the floor, crying. She spends the rest of the afternoon having short panic attacks but she manages to sleep for a few short hours. She goes with Rookie to her apartment where she spends two hours showering. She opens up a bit to Rookie about what happened, but she realises that Rookie’s mind is connected with the others and she feels betrayed. She kicks him out and then…’
That’s it. The first time anyone has seen her since is today. But that’s not what I’m focused on right now.
“Why did you do that to her Rookie?” He looks at me in utter confusion, so I elaborate. “She trusted you enough to open up after being back for only a few hours, but you betrayed that trust by treating her like she was community radio.”
I frown at him, but I won’t chastise him more. He looks a little green now that I’ve explained myself.
“That’s actually my fault,” says Hank, jumping in to defend Rookie. “We didn’t think she would have reacted badly if it was just us three. But I connected with Mags and Jasper, our Healer and our Warrior Leader. At the time, I felt it was important for both to be aware of the situation, particularly our Healer, but I was wrong. I didn’t think and it cost Gwen.”
“You can’t defend him. He made the decision to betray her first and that’s the last thing I’ll say about it.”
And I mean it. Rookie’s now a disturbing shade of grey and it’s clear that he feels guilty enough. The others seem to realise that I’ve closed that particular topic of discussion, and its Pixie who breaks the awkward, guilt laden silence first.
“So, what are you doing here Blaine?”
Oh, yeah. I haven’t even spoken to Hank about jumping ship.
“I thought I’d move in,” I say, leaving no space for argument in my tone. “Besides, I don’t think I have a choice.”
I reach out with my hand and indicate for everyone to grab hold of some part of my mind. When they do, I quickly transfer the memory of my last encounter with Rookie’s parents and come back into my own head to Rookie’s hysterical laughter.
“Yeah, you can definitely stay!” he says between chuckles, Hank joining in.
“We’ll set you up with a room in the same hallway as these guys. I imagine it won’t be difficult for you to carve out a room to your liking at the end of the hallway,” Hank turns to Rookie. “Just on the other side of the clearing, what do you think?”
Rookie nods and gets up, motioning for the rest of us to follow.
It’s a short walk to the hallway they mentioned and, I must admit, the spot they’ve given me to build in is kind of perfect. It’s secluded, thanks to the small meadow, and easy to build in thanks to the smooth rock on the other side. With their help, I have a shiny new apartment within the hour. I do all the heavy work, using my earth magic to create the apartment and everything in it and Pixie uses her water magic to carve a river through my apartment. By the end of it, my new place looks a bit like a miniature Grand Canyon, and it feels homey too. It’s a lot better than the shit hole I’ve been living in at the other refuge for all these years. I dump my duffel and we go to Rookie’s place, which is made up of floating rock platforms that clearly works perfectly with his powerful air affinity, and I get comfortable on one of his couches.
“So why else are you here?” Rookie asks, staring straight at me like he can carve the answer from me if he just stares hard enough.
“I’ve wanted to make the move for a while now, but I had too many loose ends to tie up across the pond that I didn’t get a chance. The timing seems to be perfect for me actually. My loose ends are all tied up and you guys are going to need me here to help Red,” I state matter-of-factly and in a no bullshit tone.
I expect him to protest, but he stays silent. The others don’t though.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” says Kid. “She doesn’t even know you. She won’t trust you.”
“She might just decide to beat you up and move on,” Pixie jokes.
“She doesn’t even trust the friends she has, I highly doubt she’ll trust a stranger,” supplies Hank.
They all turn to Rookie for his opinion, another sign to me that the angry kid I found in my training room all those years ago has come a lot further than I ever knew.
“That’s actually a good idea,” he says, his words met by surprised noises and suspicious expressions. It’s not a surprise, they don’t know me. But Rookie does. He turns to his friends to explain.
“Since the moment Blaine’s power activated, he’s made it his mission to hunt down Recruiters, destroy strongholds and capture leaders and planners for interrogation, but he doesn’t stop there. Compounds aren’t just occupied by Recruiters,” he stops, waiting for them to catch on. When they don’t, I step in.
“When I clear a compound, I always look for dungeons. I clear torture chambers, release Elementals from their cells and make sure they get the proper treatment and care. It takes a lot to gain their trust enough for them to allow me to help them,” I explain, and they seem to look at me with new eyes.
“I don’t want to be the one to state the obvious here,” starts Hank. “But Gwen isn’t your run of the mill prisoner.”
I know where this is going. This is their super powerful, no bullshit friend who has gone through a trauma so great that it defies the severity of anyone else’s trauma. It sounds harsh, but friends and family always think that their loved one is always more hurt, more traumatised, than anyone else. It’s never that simple. People experience pain and trauma in completely different ways. Everyone has different life experience that means that the most painful thing they’ve ever experienced could equate to the least painful thing that you have.
“You saw her scars. She was having panic attacks the whole first day and you don’t know her. Trying to get her to open up to you might just cause her more trauma and that’s something we need to take into consideration before we let her speak with anyone but us,” Hank explains like is the simplest thing in the world. But what he said has pissed me off.
“Before you LET her speak with anyone? You think you have the right to dictate who she does or does not confide in simply because you’ve decided that only you can understand her pain.”
He frowns heavily, like he’s confused about what he actually means to say.
“Look, you guys clearly aren’t making any head way and I have plenty of experience with this. In the least, I can offer her someone knew to beat up until she feels a bit better. Sometimes you must be pushy, especially with a personality as strong as Gwen’s.”
Hank goes to argue but, again to my surprise, it’s Pixie who steps in.
“Just stop it Hank,” she sounds tired but equal parts annoyed and determined. “He’s right. None of us have any experience dealing with anything like this and there is one thing that none of us seem to have bothered to consider.”
“And what might that be?” Hank demands, clearly getting frustrated.
He wants to protect Gwen, but he wants to do it on his terms, not in a way that takes Gwen into consideration.
“Blaine hasn’t betrayed Gwen before,” Pixie stands and starts to walk away, throwing one last comment over her shoulder before she disappears down the hall. “She doesn’t know him, but he hasn’t had a chance to betray her yet.”
No one speaks for a while after that. Kid gets up and silently leaves, no doubt going to comfort his friend. Hank gets up and storms out the door not long after, leaving Rookie and I sprawled across his lounge area.
“Wait at least until tomorrow,” he says, wilting into exhaustion. “She’ll need a while to cool down again. Besides, for a while she’ll just ignore anyone knocking on the door.”
“She’s a real fire cracker, isn’t she?” I smile at him, hoping to lighten his mood at least a little bit.
“You have no idea what you’ve signed on for,” he smirks.
We leave the apartment not long after and head straight to the cafeteria. I’m starving and I plan on forcing Rookie to eat something too, he looks too pale.