They’ve knocked but I really haven’t wanted to answer. I don’t want to see their look of disgust at what I did. I just wanted to hurt Howard. It wasn’t self-defence, it wasn’t sparring. I let myself be consumed by rage and simply wanted to hurt him. I don’t deserve to see my friends. What I did was so shameful - I can’t face them just yet. Until I figure out where that rage came from and how to control it then they aren’t safe around me and I will not hurt them. Ever. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I can’t help feeling like a little part of me really did break and I became Garret. He cracked my mind just enough to let the recruiter inside and do this to me. And I let him.I’ve been back for four days now and I’ve been nothing but angry; first at them and now at myself. I haven’t moved since I made a mad dash from the training room back to my apartment a few days ago. I’ve just been sitting on my bed staring at a blank sketch book. Art used to calm me. No matter what was happening, no matter how upset I was, I could just pick up a pencil and it’d all fall away. Now I just can’t think. The pencil feels foreign to me, like I don’t know what it is or what to do with it anymore and the blank pages of the new sketch pad mock me. They’re like the old friends who used to mean the world to you but grew apart from you and now you don’t speak anymore.
I look up at the sound of my name and immediately prepare for a fight. Who the hell is this guy?! I send a column of rock straight from the ground and right at his chest, hitting him so hard that he’s thrown through the walls of my apartment, stopping with a sickening thud against the solid rock of the hallway walls. He gets up like nothing happened and moves forward again. How did he get in here?
A small crowd has stopped at the end of the hall and a few of the faces feel familiar but that’s not something I can dwell on right now. Why aren’t they helping me?
“I finally got your attention! I’ve been knocking on that damned door for days, Red!”
Red? How original. He sounds and looks like a warrior from another century. He’s at least seven feet tall and he’s muscled like you wouldn’t bloody believe. But he’s picked a fight with the wrong woman. He’s either an undercover recruiter or he’s simply trying his luck with me. Even before I was taken people would challenge me in training because of my reputation. People were saying I was the strongest Elemental ever and that came across as a challenge. I hated it then and I hate it a lot more now.
He takes another step forward but I pin him to wall with another column of rock.
“You’ll have to do better than that, Red!”
He laughs, clearly enjoying this. He places his palms flat against the stone and it disintegrates, crumbling to dust on the floor. I stand up straight and look him over, taking in his aura. He isn’t just a big guy; he’s also one of the most powerful warriors I’ve ever encountered. Whether here or with Garrets group of pansies. He feels familiar though, there’s something in his aura that I know, but can’t seem to identify.
“An earth user,” I say, stalling for enough time to try and get a handle on his power.
“You got it, Red. Reckon you can take me?” He sounds so arrogant and cocky and I’m not putting up with it. With a flick of my wrist I summon enough diamond from the earth to wrap him head to toe like he’s the filling in a diamond burrito, leaving him standing completely immobilised in the middle of the hallway looking so stunned it’s almost funny.
“Well, I’m man enough to say that I didn’t think you’d have me trussed up by diamonds, Red.”
And now that the fight is done, I’m actually seeing red.
“Who, the fuck, are you?”
The blood is rushing so loud in my ears that I’m only now registering the footsteps slowly creeping towards me. Without a second thought I produce a wall of razor shape ice spikes and form a circle around myself and my captive. I want answers and I’ll be damned if anyone gets in the way. This asshole broke into my house, there’s no way I’m in the wrong here. I may be mad as hell, but I’m also completely in control of it. This isn’t like it was with Howard and that’s such a relief. But I won’t let my relief slip onto my face. If I let this guy see any weakness I know he’s going to pounce on it and I can’t let that happen.
“Who. Are. You?”
I repeat, ignoring whoever it was who was trying to walk up to me.
He quirks his eyebrow, his grin wide across his smug face, and I feel him poking at my aura. Not going to happen. I immediately fortify every defence I have and he flinches back as my aura strikes him like a physical blow.
“Well that’s a little unfair,” he says, recovering quickly. “I let you see mine, it’s only fair that you let me see yours, Red.”
I ignore him and just stand there, silently glaring at him. I know full well that nothing he could have done would have prevented me from reading his aura and working out his power. Thanks to Garret, I know the logistics of breaking down mental defences. I know them from experience.
The silence continues until suddenly this arse hole belts a genuine throaty laugh that bellows down the hallway.
“I like you, Red. We’ll get along just fine. Name’s Blaine, I’m an old friend of your boy Derek. He warned me away and I guarantee he’s going to try and beat me to death later. You can’t blame a guy for being curious.”
I’m not buying it, but at least I know what it was in his aura that seemed so familiar. He has a history with Derek and it shows in Derek’s aura. I imagine Blaine is pretty heavily involved in Derek’s life.
“What do you want?”
I can’t help the glacial tone in my voice as I talk. No way he gets to just break into my apartment like that because he’s ‘curious’.
“A conversation,” he replies, suddenly dead serious and I can see immediately that this is the real Blaine. He’s intense, broody and a badass warrior. I’m intrigued, but no way in hell will I let him see that.
“Come on Red, get rid of the ice and diamond and let’s go for a walk. Just you and I and you can kick my arse into next week whenever you want to make a grand escape.”
I’m curious about what he wants to say but I hate being out of my apartment. It’s peaceful in there.
But I can’t stay in there forever. Besides, I want to get back to training. It’s been too damn long and I’m bored and restless.
Though I’m not above leaving him in suspense a bit longer, literally. I turn my back on him and walk into my apartment, rebuilding and fortifying the walls as I go. My whole apartment now has diamond set into the walls. Good luck getting in here again, dumb arse. I make my way to the bathroom, because quite frankly I need to pee, and then take my time in the shower. If what he says is true, then I was sitting staring at my blank sketch pad for two days, so I desperately need a shower and a change of clothes. I pull on a pair of jeans, new ones thanks to Anya I assume, because none of my old clothes will fit any part of my body now, and then find a soft cotton tank top. My skin is still sensitive where my magically inflicted wounds are still healing, so I’m sticking with soft materials for a while. I pull on boots and walk back out the door to find Anya, Oliver and Derek trying to move the diamond from Blaine’s body. They don’t stand a chance.
“That won’t work. I made it extra strong and then fortified the enchantment when I figured out just how powerful your friend is with earth magic,” I say, forcing myself to keep a straight face when they jump and whirl around to stare at me. I guess they didn’t think I was coming back. I have been gone for nearly an hour.
“You gunna get me out of here, Red?”
And a brilliant idea hits me. It’s a mean plan, but he’ll find the humour in it.
“You wanted a conversation. Where?”
He curses, apparently more frustrated with his situation than he’s showing.
“Training room. Get me out of here,” he demands, but his demand just strengthens my resolve.
I turn and start walking, hearing his long string of profanity as Blaine the Diamond Burrito shoots up into the air and floats along a few steps behind me. I ignore his protests and just keep walking, taking the back way to the arena that we were in a few days ago; for both his sake and mine.
I don’t want to embarrass him and I don’t want to see people.
I’m avoiding looking at the others. I know they’re following behind us, hoping to slip into whatever conversation this Blaine person wants to have, but I have a feeling Blaine wants to barrel through the walls I’ve put up and I don’t intend on them being there for that.
We make it to the arena and I float Blaine through ahead of me before I turn to the others. I had every intention of saying something to them but the words catch in my throat and I find myself just closing the doors in their faces. The hurt in their eyes spears me where I stand and I have to force myself to turn away and focus on Blaine.
“Talk,” I command as I release him from the burrito.
He massages some life back into his arms and I feel a little guilty. I must have made the diamond much tighter than I’d intended.
“What’s going on with you, Red?”
His question is a weird combination of demand and concern and its uncomfortable coming from a stranger.
“Want to elaborate?” I ask, struggling to keep a blank face in front of this obviously worried man who I’ve never met before. He has weird methods but this conversation feels a little like something that would come from a protective older brother and I’m finding that my defences might not hold up.
“Okay, if that’s how you want to play it,” he says as he draws himself up to his full, and rather staggering, height and looks down at me with hard yet kind eyes. “You spent three months being tortured relentlessly in a Recruiter compound and you’re pushing your friends away. You haven’t spoken about it and the one time you left your apartment ended in you running from this arena. You don’t even look like you’ve slept or eaten anything and that, alone, is a big enough cause for concern. So, Red, I’ll ask again. What’s going on with you?”
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, crap, shit.
He wants to delve. He wants to crack open my mind, lay everything out on the table and pick it all apart.
“I don’t see how any of that is your business.”
I’m stalling because for some ridiculous reason, I know that I will give in to this guy. And I hate it. I hate it so much. Why does he want to know any of this? Why in the hell would be want any of this in his head?
“It’s my business because I spent weeks searching for you and I’m not going to waste all that effort by letting you fall apart now that you’re back. Talk Red, because you’re not leaving here until you do.”
He’s one hundred percent serious. He fully intends to keep me here and it’s obvious that what he really means is ‘by any means necessary’.
“You don’t know what you’re asking of me,” I say, because he needs to understand that he’s not just asking to share my feelings. He’s going to see a lot of things that could mess with his head. Hell, just hearing about what happened to my hand had hurt Derek and that was so, so mild. That was just the first few hours of the first day for shit sake!
“Ah, I get you Red,” he sighs, hard expression melting away to one of understanding and, if I’m not mistaken, respect. “You’re keeping it locked up so you can’t hurt anyone else with it. You don’t want them to know, because knowing will hurt them.”
I just stare at him. How did he know? What was it that had him figure me out so damn easily?
“Don’t look so shocked, Red. You handed over you’re weapons and went willingly with Garret to avoid a little bloodshed, on both sides if I’ve gauged you correctly. It wasn’t difficult to figure out that you’re still trying to protect your people.” He sits down, well, sprawls really, on the floor and removes two massive axes from his back. He lays them on the floor and leans back on his hands, looking at me with an expression that’s both calculating and probing. “I was right, wasn’t I? You haven’t eaten. I doubt you’ve even slept since you got back either.”
He’s already figured it out...what’s the real harm in telling him?
And then I shake myself out of it. The harm is what this shit might do to his head. It’s certainly doing a number on mine.
“I won’t lie to you. You’re right. I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat. I had some fruit the other night with Derek, but it came back up not long after. My body isn’t ready for it and my body has been punished enough without forcing it to eat and then heave,” I reply, registering his barely disguised surprise, whether at what I said or the fact that I’m opening up to him I’m not sure. “And no, I haven’t slept either. I managed a few hours when I got back but I imagine that was more because of Mags than it was me. Other than those few hours I haven’t slept since Garret took me. Is that what you wanted to hear Blaine? Or was there another conversation you were hoping to have today?”
He sits up a little straighter and pats the ground in front of him. I didn’t realise I’d been pacing. I don’t sit. I’m too thrown off by the fact that I want to open up to Blaine. I don’t think he’ll pity me, which is something I expect from the others. I also don’t think he’d fear what happened to me or feel sorry for me. That would just piss me off.
“Okay, if that’s what you need,” It takes me a moment to realise that he’s talking about the fact that I’m still standing. “I want you to tell me what happened to you.”
He is blunt and serious and demanding and I freeze up the moment the words leave his mouth. And it all comes tumbling out.
“Why?! Why would you want to know that? Why the fuck would you want to put that in your head? You know I was tortured, you all do, why that isn’t enough for you people is beyond me. What possible thing could you gain from knowing the specifics?!” He just stares at me, waiting for my tirade to end, but he doesn’t speak. “Tell me damn it!”
“So, I can help,” and his answer is so simple and so obvious and so ridiculous that I can’t help but giggle, just a little, but enough. I sit, my legs crossed beneath me, in front of Blaine and just let my mind and my body relax for a moment.
“How would you like to help me, Blaine? It’s not something that you can really do anything about. You want me tell you what they did, but all that’s going to do is put those horrible images into your mind,” my voice is low, but to my surprise it is also curt and a little pissed. Because I am pissed. He’s demanding things he has no right what so ever to demand.
“I can take it, Red.”
Can he now?
“And what makes you say that?”
He takes a deep breath, seeming to come to a decision, and then places his hand lightly over mine.
’A happy little boy running around in the snow, throwing it around as his father manipulates the ground to make a little playground for him.
A little boy is freezing cold in a log cabin in the woods. His fingertips and lips are blue with cold; a woman is laying on a bed, a man weeping over her body.
A man and the boy surrounded by men. A fight begins; the boy is pushed out of the crowd as the earth carries him away. He doesn’t have a choice, he can’t fight the magic yet, and he looks back as the man is struck dead. A limp body with eyes open, staring after him, his blood leaking into the soil.
The boy, now a man, sinking logs deep into the soil and destroying them with weapons he’s made himself. He’s good. He’s alone. There is a pop and a group of people appear out of thin air. He attacks, ignoring the agony of his skin tearing as a wave of pure power surges in his veins. He directs that power at his attackers who are impaled on razor sharp stalagmites that burst from the earth and into the hearts of his foe. But Blaine isn’t scared, he’s joyous. He’s inherited his father’s magic and with it, the ability to avenge him.′
I sit in stunned silence as images play through my mind of decades of Blaine hunting down Recruiters, allowing himself to be captured so that he would be taken to a stronghold where he could then let loose, destroying the place and everyone in it. Releasing prisoners and taking what he needs.
The Vigilante Elemental.
“I get it,” he finally says, breaking the thick silence. “I’ve seen firsthand what they can do and I’ve helped a lot of people survive it. I won’t let them drag you down, but I can’t help you fight if I don’t know the demons you’re fighting. Nothing you show me will hurt me.”
I stare at him, long and hard. I honestly don’t know how much time passes as I sit there contemplating the ramifications of letting him in. He seems genuine, but I don’t trust it. I can’t. I let him put his memories in my mind because I was curious and I made damn sure that those images were the only thing getting in. But maybe I need to? I can’t go through the rest of my potential eternity being closed off and distrusting of everyone. I can’t bring myself to tell Derek or Anya or Oliver, doing that would hurt them. But Blaine is different. And maybe I should tell Hank...no. The first thing Hank would do is tell Derek, Derek would tell Olly and Anya and then what the hell would have been the point of all of this then?
“Speak your mind, Red,” he encourages, the hard tone coming back, like he’s anxious. “You’ve been keeping yourself shut away because you don’t think they’ll be able to deal with it.”
It’s not a question, it’s not a statement. He knows this is fact.
“I can feel it. I don’t think any of you get it yet, just how powerful my senses really are. I feel every shift in emotion from every person, everywhere. I feel it whenever they think of me. They get so hurt and so upset and that’s now, without even knowing more than the story behind this,” I hold my palm up for his inspection, grateful that he doesn’t react. “If I do this, if I show you, I need to know that you’re not going to go straight to them. I need to know that they’re safe. Do you understand Blaine?”
I feel his aura soften around him and take it for the invitation that it is. He’s offering to let me in too. I go willingly, enveloping myself in the relief of someone else’s mind.
“You have my word, Red. I won’t say anything to them that you don’t want me to. I’ll even swear the oath if that’s what you need.”
But I don’t need it. I can feel it in every fibre of his being: his word is golden.
He won’t betray my trust and my secrets are safe with him.
“Whatever you’ve imagined, whatever reasons you’ve come up with to explain the scars you’ve seen, I’m warning you now: it’s worse than anything you could have come up with.”
I leave my expression blank but soften my own aura, letting him choose whether he actually wants to see this. He immediately extends his mind and I don’t give him a second to back out. I extend my arm, touching my fingertips to his knee and let him have it. I give him every memory, of every second, that I spent with Garret. I don’t transfer the memories of the pain, he doesn’t deserve that and I’m sure he knows anyway. It takes almost an hour before I’m finished and, judging by the paleness in his cheeks and the cold sweat that seems to have broken out on his brow, the slumping of his shoulder and the ragged breating, Blaine is incredibly relieved when it’s over. I don’t say anything. He needs the space to sort through it and come to terms with the horrors I’ve let loose in his mind. It’s almost a full minute before he comes around. A full minute where he does nothing but stare into my eyes, which is ridiculously awkward and uncomfortable, but I saw the rage take hold in him.
“I’m going to kill him,” he growls, his tone leaving me with no doubt that he most certainly will.
“You’ll do no such thing,” I respond, my voice even colder than his as a rage of my own comes over me. “His life is mine.”
He laughs. Big belly laughs that cut through the tension like his axe through Recruiters.
“Jesus, Red! You’re a much bigger badass than they said you were.”
I smile at him, a warm smile full of respect that his first response wasn’t to cry and pity and try to soothe. I think I would have punched him. This reaction is better. It is so much better.
“Care to let me in on the joke?”
“Sure,” he says, sobering a little but by no means erasing the grin from his face. “He tried so hard was no fucking match for you. You burned him more with your morning banter than he ever burned you with flames. You chewed him up and spat him out Red, and that is the joke. He wanted to break you but you broke him instead. You and I are gunna get along fucking great, Red!”
I allow myself this moment of laughter, revelling in his lack of pity.
“Come on. We’re going to get food and you’re damn well going to eat it.”
He jumps up, grabs my hand to pulls me up with him, before bending down and returning his axes to their place on his back.
“I already told you, my body isn’t accepting food,” I say, a little anxious about trying to eat again. I wasn’t exaggerating, the second the tiniest morsel of food hits my stomach, I start heaving. I know waiting to eat is a bad thing, my body will just get more and more accustomed to living off my power rather than actual food, but I haven’t even recovered from the physical torture yet and I’m not too keen to torture myself with food. I’ve had enough pain for the time being, thank you very much.
“You have to eat, Red. I don’t know how you’re still standing, but you gotta eat,” he has that stubborn expression on his face again but I’m not buying into it this time. I know he’s right, but I’d prefer to avoid this. Maybe I’ll eventually go talk to Mags about it, but I just don’t want to yet.
“At the moment, my body is using my magic as a food source. It’s not going to work forever but I want to at least heal my physical wounds before I force food into my body and suffer through full body convulsions until my body accepts actual food again,” I say, my voice flat, so expressionless that it sounds nearly lifeless.
“Okay,” he looks a little unnerved, but he presses on. “How often did they give you food, Red?”
He should know, he saw my memories, but I suppose he was concentrating on torture, not my food allowance.
“They gave me a chunk of mouldy bread about six or so weeks after they took me. They could have at least been original, mouldy bread is just a little anti-climactic,” I try to make a joke of it but Blaine’s face is showing pretty clearly that he’s not buying what I’m selling.
“So, in the last three months, you’re telling me that all you’ve eaten is a small piece of mouldy bread.”
“And some fruit. I had a little fruit the night I got back. It didn’t stay down though, it came back up pretty violently, actually,” I tell him, trying to sound neutral. “Just don’t push me, Blaine. I know my limits and right now food is not what I need.”
And I walk out of the room, smacking Derek onto his arse as the door swings out.