Homelands Pt. 05 Ch. 05byjdnunyer©
"Well, I say it's mistake," Zoey said. "Not that anyone here cares much about my opinion." Her blue eyes turned to her husband. "Isn't that right, dear?"
Wes wrapped an arm around his wife's waist and kissed her on the cheek. If he noticed the sour look on her face as he did, he didn't let it show. "Of course I do," he said sweetly.
"Uh huh," Zoey said, rolling her eyes.
"I mean it," Wes continued. "If you think we should stay behind, we'll stay behind."
"Really?" both Gabriela and Zoey asked at the same time.
Gabriela gritted her teeth together as her brother turned to look at her. But his sad look made the tension in her jaw fade away.
"Gabs, you know I love you," he began, "but think about what's happening here." He stared into her eyes, pleading with her silently to have a fraction of the faith in him that she had in her son. "Hank set us up. Now his sister conveniently shows up to offer to bail us out? Of a trap that she and her brother laid? If we're not walking into yet another trap, we're certainly dancing on their strings. And I can assure you that we'll come to regret it."
"Gosh, who knew I was so devious?" Nina said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.
Everyone turned to look at her.
"You know, I wish I was half as clever as you seem to think I am," she continued. "But the simple, boring truth is that my brother doesn't even know I'm here."
Even Eric seemed unconvinced. He inched closer to Gabriela and took her hand in his.
Which did not escape Nina's notice. She looked at Eric with pleading eyes. When he didn't budge, she steeled herself and faced Zoey and Wes. "Look, it's no skin off my nose if you don't want out. All I want is to see the king's head on a pike. To occasionally spend an entire day with my brother, without having to worry about him saying he's got some important business to tend to and leaving my bed cold and empty. To make that happen, I need Eric. I don't need the rest of you. Help if you want. Don't if you don't. Either way, I'm not going to argue with you."
"Seriously?" Olivia asked. Then she blushed and folded her shoulders inward, apparently regretting giving Nina a reason to stare at her. "No disrespect or anything, but Eric's not that strong, is he?" She looked to her parents for support, and found little. Wes gave her a nod, but that was it. "I know you just gave him Excalibur or whatever, and I'm not the most knowledgeable person in this room, but it seems to me that if you're weak enough to need Eric's help, you're weak enough to need all of us, and if you're strong enough that you don't need us, you don't need Eric."
"Damn good point," Zoey said.
"Are we going to stand here and talk all day, or are we going to get the fuck out of here?" Eric asked, looking flustered.
"It's okay, Eric," Nina said. "The girl asked a simple question. No harm answering it."
Who was this woman to talk to her son in that tone of voice? Like she was his mother!
Gabriela didn't realize how hard she was squeezing her son's hand until he pulled it away, shook it about, and gave her a confused look.
"I'm sorry, baby," she whispered.
"You don't realize how powerful that sword is." She turned to Wes, then Gabriela, saying. "Nor do you, or you."
"Excuse me?" Wes said.
"I'm sorry," Nina said, "but neither of you spent much time in Summer before heading to the Playground to raise families of your own. Neither of you were there when Alan-"
"Don't you speak his fucking name," Gabriela said.
At the same time, Eric said, "I thought you weren't either."
Nina held up her hands defensively. "All I'm saying is, I realize how it must sound for an outsider to tell you that you've underestimated the power of your family's own relic. But no one here has ever seen it, or any of the others like it, in action, have they?"
Neither Gabriela nor Wes replied.
"So," Nina continued. "As I said. If you all would like to join us, that would be great. But if you're afraid I've got something up my sleeve, then stay here. Won't bother me none."
"I think we should go," Gabriela told Wes.
He met her gaze for a few seconds. Then he turned to Zoey. "I'm inclined to agree, but it's completely up to you, dear."
"Why does it feel like you're just going to side with your sister anyway?" Zoey asked.
Gabriela rolled her eyes.
"Can we get this show on the road?" Eric asked. "For fuck's sake."
"Count me in," Gabriela told Nina. "Whether my brother and his darling wife wish to remain behind or not. I won't have my son go into battle without his mother at his back."
Nina gave her an approving nod.
More importantly, Eric flashed a warm smile at her. That made her knees tremble. For that smile, Gabriela would wage war against all the forces of the Homelands.
"Which means this is where you say that you can't let your sister go into battle without you, right?" Zoey asked, glowering at her husband.
Gabriela knew what the answer was. But she also knew that her brother loved his wife. For some strange reason. If it was possible to avoid hurting her, he would. So it didn't entirely surprise her when he said, "No. I mean it. This is your call."
Nor did it surprise her when Zoey sighed and said, "I don't want to be fucking trapped here forever." She hesitated a moment before adding, "There's something going on here that we're not seeing, but I guess we'll just have to hope that she's the lesser of two evils."
"So. We're all in?" Nina asked, nonplussed.
"Looks like," Zoey said, wrapping an arm around Olivia.
Gabriela laid a hand on her son's shoulder. His strong muscles were like steel cables. She wished she could take him inside her and drain away all his fear and anxiety. Her little man, who'd seemed so grown up just a little while ago, now struck her as entirely too young to be in the situation he was in. Too young to carry Alan's sword.
Of course, Alan himself had been too young. But that was precisely why he'd never have any sons or daughters of his own. Why she'd never feel his arms wrapped around her again. Never feel his lips pressed against hers.
If she allowed her son to follow in her brother's footsteps, to follow his uncle into an early grave, Gabriela would never forgive herself. She already didn't know if she'd ever see her daughter again. Losing both her children would be positively unbearable.
If it mattered to Wes that he alone stood ready to face death without the slightest touch of a loved one to strengthen and reassure him, he didn't let it show. He just stood there, proud and tall, his face a mask.
Gabriela almost reached out to him. But she'd have to leave her son's side to do so.
Then Nina snapped her fingers, and the ivory tower disintegrated. As did the world around them. A moment later, a world returned, but it wasn't the prison world in which they'd been trapped. It was the First Court of Summer.
They stood in the king's royal palace.
The floor was tiled with seashells. In each corner of the room, there was an in-ground hot tub. Wisps of steam rose up from the bubbling surface of each. Two of them were empty. One was filled with women in various states of undress, wearing expressions that hid their fear with various degrees of success.
In the other sat the king, his head rolled back on his shoulders and his eyes closed. There was a martini in one hand, his limp dick in the other.
She had only a moment to wonder at that before everything started happening.
It all unfolded so slowly. But even as time seemed to slow down, Gabriela found herself feeling powerless. It was like the air had thickened up, making it impossible to move quickly. She had plenty of time to watch everything, but no time to act.
Nina leapt forth straight away. In midair, she turned into a white tigress. One the size of a tank, and similarly covered with steel plated armor, at least on her shoulders, hips, and forelegs. The ground trembled when she landed, and Gabriela almost fell over.
Strangely enough, though, Nina wasn't pouncing at the king. Rather, she seemed to be charging towards one of the empty pools.
At the same time, Eric raised his huge sword overhead, and charged towards Phil.
The women in the hot tub beside them shrieked, covered themselves, and rushed towards the nearest door. They nearly trampled each other in their hurry to escape the carnage.
The king opened his eyes, saw Eric heading towards him and gave a quick start. For a brief instant, he looked frozen in place, too shocked to react. He'd apparently never considered the possibility that anyone would have the audacity to attack him in his own home. But he recovered quickly. Too quickly. Moving faster than anyone Gabriela had ever seen, he lurched forward and fanned his arm out before him as if throwing a frisbee.
Indeed, a flat disc appeared and hurtled towards Eric. But it wasn't made of plastic. Rather, it was pure energy, and it glowed like the midday sun.
Gabriela wasn't sure exactly what she did, but somehow she deflected it.
Her son could have done the same, no doubt. That sword of his probably had the power to absorb the energy or cut it in half or something. But she didn't have any time to think. Her son was in danger, so she acted. Simple as that.
And her brother paid for her carelessness with his life.
Diverted from its original course, the disc rushed towards Zoey and Olivia. And just as Gabriela couldn't see a threat to her son without acting, however reflexively, neither could Wes stand by while his wife and daughter were in harm's way.
The damn fool could have knocked the disc off course, the same as Gabriela had. Then they'd all have been safe.
But did he do that? No. Of course not. The first thought that entered her brother's mind would have been to put himself between the disc and his family.
So that was exactly what he did.
As she should have known that he would.
Gabriela watched the golden disc cleave her brother in twain, the two halves of his body producing twin fountains of blood, and she knew that it was all her fault.
That thought should have come to her later. At the time, she should have panicked. Or gone into shock. Or something. She shouldn't have had the mental capacity to blame herself for putting Wes in a position where he felt it necessary to give up his life to save his family. That wasn't how it was supposed to work.
Or maybe it hadn't. Maybe it was only later that she thought such things. She couldn't even be sure. From there, things sped up. No longer were they trapped in slow motion. Everything happened at once, and Gabriela saw none of it. She simply stared in horror at the mess that had once been her brother.
"Mom? Are you okay?"
What was Wes doing calling to her? Was he contacting her from beyond the grave? Had he come back to tell her that it was okay that she'd got him killed? Damn if that wouldn't be just like the selfless bastard.
No. That wasn't Wes. "Eric? Is that you?" she asked.
He is arms were looped under her armpits and his hands fastened like hooks to her shoulders. He was dragging her. Where to, though, she wasn't sure. Away. Away from the pile of slop and blood and guts and viscera. Why had she been grabbing at that? What would possess her to allow herself to get it all over her? If it had been her intestines spilled onto the floor, rather than her brother's, she'd have been no less of a bloody mess.
And who was doing that horrid shrieking? If they didn't stop, Gabriela's ears might start bleeding. As if there wasn't enough blood to go around already.
Was it her?
She told herself to stop. But the screaming kept up and she realized that it wasn't her voice anyway. Zoey was the one making that unholy sound. Zoey who was desperately trying to claw her way out of her daughter's arms so that she could get back to Wes' remains.
How little Olivia managed to restrain her mother, Gabriela couldn't have guessed. But the girl was evidently drawing on some hidden well of strength, both physically and emotionally. Her cheeks were stained with tears and runny makeup, but it wasn't grief that had contorted her face so much as a grim determination to get her mother under control.
"We have to go," Nina said.
"You're not a tiger," Gabriela said, scrambling to her feet. She'd wanted to say that Nina had set them up, but her tongue wasn't keeping up with her mind.
Searing pain overwhelmed her and suddenly she was on her back. Nina stood over her, offering to help Gabriela up with the very hand that had just slapped her.
Eric put a hand on his aunt's shoulder and pushed her away. Nina stumbled as she backpedaled, but she got out of the way sure enough.
"Don't you dare lay a hand on my mother ever again," he said, without looking at Nina. His beautiful blue eyes were locked on Gabriela's as he helped her back to her feet.
"We don't have time for this," Nina said. "You can threaten me or yell at me or accuse me of laying an ambush later. Right now, we need to get the fuck out of here."
And the next instant, they were gone.
They were now in the living room of the beach house, back on House Moody's private island. Nina was with them, as were Olivia and Zoey, who'd finally stopped shrieking.
Olivia pressed her mother's face against her shoulder and stroked her hair. Voice shaking, she asked, "What the hell just happened?"
"I don't know," Eric said.
Nina dusted off her sundress. "He got away."
"I figured that much out, thanks," Olivia snapped.
"Why didn't you attack him?" Gabriela asked.
The words sounded like they came from some other woman. One who wasn't freaking out over her brother's death. One who knew how to string words together into actual sentences.
If only she hadn't acted so hastily. There were a thousand things she could have done instead. Steered the disc towards the floor or the ceiling. Sent it back at the king. Allowed her son to deal with it. Conjured up a shield to absorb the attack. Something. Anything.
But at least it wasn't Eric.
The moment the thought crossed her mind, she threw up.
"-around from behind," Nina was saying. "It's called a pincer attack."
"You mean letting us do the dirty work, while you protect your own worthless hide," Olivia said, voice growing steadier by the second.
"Noooo," Nina said, feigning patience, "I mean taking our best shot at the king. If we'd all attacked him from the front, he'd have had no trouble fending us off."
"Didn't seem to anyway," Olivia said.
"Liv," Eric said.
Gabriela wiped her mouth with the back of her hand before saying, "Let her speak."
Eric gave her a pained look, but closed his mouth. He got up and went into the kitchen.
"You let him get away," Olivia continued. "He kidnapped my brother and killed my father. His blood should be on that floor, right alongside my father's. But instead, he got away. Because you were too worried about yourself."
"Listen, little girl, I didn't 'let' anything happen. I want him dead just-"
"I'm not a little girl," Olivia said. "And you can spare us your bullshit."
Just then, Eric returned with a damp cloth and some paper towels. Without a word, he set about cleaning her vomit off the floor.
Olivia and Nina stared daggers at each other, but neither spoke another word.
"I want to go home," Zoey mumbled.
"We are home," Olivia said. "Los Angeles isn't real, remember? You told me that."
"I don't mean California," Zoey said. "I want to go home."
"You mean the Eternal Garden?"
Olivia looked at Gabriela.
That almost made her laugh hysterically. Who was she to tell the girl what to do?
But, of course, she knew the answer to her own question. Wes had trusted her. And so his daughter trusted her.
"If you think that's best," Gabriela told her niece.
Was she supposed to say that the king was still at large, that Kurt and Patty were still missing, and that they needed Olivia's and Zoey's help now more than ever? How could she say that with a straight face to Olivia now, after what the girl had just been through? What kind of help was Zoey going to be, anyway, when her daughter was already playing her part for her? She ought to have been comforting Olivia, not the other way around.
"Please?" Zoey asked.
"Okay," Olivia told her mother. Looking back up at Gabriela, she said, "We'll come back. Or I will. At some point. But I don't think she can deal with being here right now."
"I understand," Gabriela said.
She wasn't entirely sure she could deal with it herself. But she had to be strong. For Eric. And for Wes too. She couldn't let his death be in vain.
"I'm sorry," Olivia said, eyes focused on Eric.
His back was to her though. He'd seen to the vomit and was now cleaning blood and guts and who knows what all else from Gabriela's face and thighs. "No need to be," he said.
Gabriela saw that her son's face was slick with tears. Her niece deserved better from him, after being so brave and so strong. But Gabriela understood that Eric didn't want his cousin to see him cry. And, selfish as it might have been, she was kind of touched to know that she was the only woman her son would allow to see his tears.
"So, uh, I guess I'll see you later?" Olivia said, fighting back a sob.
"Yeah," Eric said.
Zoey finally stood up. Without a word, she took her daughter by the hand, nodded to her, and then the two of them vanished.
"Well, that was touching," Nina said. "Now can we talk about what we're-"
"Shut up," Eric said. Gabriela wiped away his eyes before he stood. "That might not have been an ambush, and you might well have been trying your best to take the king out, but one thing's for sure. You're being an insensitive cunt. My uncle just died. Get that?"
"I do," Nina said softly. "But the king won't be very accommodating."
Though she hated herself for doing so, Gabriela said, "She's right."
Eric stared at her, eyes wide and lips narrowed. His Libido pulsed with anger. "Fine," he said. "Let's draw up another brilliant battle plan." He turned to his aunt. "Make sure to include a pincer attack."
That was when Gabriela started crying herself.
"Concentrate, Nick," his grandmother said.
He knew better than to insist that he was trying. But his grandmother's Yoda routine was getting a bit frustrating.
They were in the woods behind his grandparents' cabin. Somewhere out here, Veronica was waiting for him to find her. Which he was supposed to do blindfolded. After all, what need had he of something as ordinary as vision when he should be able to feel his sister's Libido calling to his?
It had worked fine back in the living room. But there, he hadn't needed to worry about tripping over roots or smacking his forehead against branches or walking into trees. Out here, he had to divert most of his energy and attention to mapping his surroundings.
He hadn't realized before that he could do that. And he sort of felt like he deserved some credit for figuring that out so quickly. But his grandmother was not so easily impressed. His task was to learn how to locate his sister without being able to see her, not to learn how to walk through the woods at night. That he had a much stronger connection with Veronica than he did with Patty, and he was still having trouble finding Veronica even though she was no more than a dozen paces away, did not bode well for Patty.
"What was that number I gave you again?" his grandmother asked.
Nick nearly tripped over the rock he should have known was right in front of him.
His grandmother had asked him to commit both a four digit number and a snippet of a Robert Frost poem to memory. Easy enough, if he wasn't expected to recite them at a moment's notice while trying to get the lay of the land and searching blindly for his sister.