“And so, I had a lot of trouble controlling my poisoning powers when I was little. I regularly poisoned Skyler because he was trying to keep me from poisoning everyone else, and teach me how to… not do that.” Vikki finished, starting to slow down her story as Zoey not so subtly crawled backwards from sitting beside her to sitting on Doug’s lap. Perrin let out a roar of laughter, and Doug flushed such a deep red that he had to cover his face against Zoey’s back.
“She’s fine with it now, just reluctant to use her powers.” Spoke Doug, voice mumbling from the fabric.
“Well, you’d be reluctant too, if you touched someone and then watched them struggle to survive. I can make poisons of all kinds, and none of them are pleasant to watch people die to.” Vikki snapped, pausing. When she spoke again, her voice was softer. “I can make antidotes too, and that power I have no problem using. It rarely comes up, though.” Perrin reached forward wordlessly, from where she sat on the floor, and grabbed Vikki’s foot, giving it a little shake. Vikki smiled a little, and they moved onto more political topics.
“Why do you think they chose to take Blythe?” Perrin asked a question nobody wanted to think about.
“Well, they wanted to show the effects the… uh process… has on women now. That’s what Karver seemed to say. He wants Rebecca to go through the change, and prove it would make her better somehow. As for why they picked her, it was probably only because she’s a girl that knows us.” Doug guessed, and Zoey shook her head.
“It can’t be as simple as that. Can it?” she asked, receiving no response. She leaned back, then remembered Doug was there and injured, so she stopped, and tried to slide back off of him.
“Hate to say this, but I doubt they have any better ways of changing people. You said earlier Doug, that Karver admitted that when you fought him at the drive-in. She was taken, you guys were sold to JARGON, but the methods they used to change her… Atlas said they were the same ones. Unless the serum has changed or something, we’re dealing with a very dangerous ordeal.” Perrin told them, sighing. She ran her hand through her hair and then stopped.
“What’s wrong?” Vikki asked, looking at Perrin for answers.
“Well, Zoey is crying for one thing. I’m not sure which part made her cry or if it’s all of them. Really, could be anything I’ve just said.” Perrin replied, and all eyes turned to look at Zoey.
Zoey hadn’t really realized she was crying. She felt her heart hurting, and heat on her cheeks, but it hadn’t registered as crying, because she was mulling over everything that was being said.
She thought about how they had been tortured, how their parents had left them for money. How they had been trapped there for years.
She thought about how Blythe, the mom friend, always looking after everyone, was now coddled up in bed, devastatingly injured, terrified, and innocent. Rebecca’s previous demeanor was soft hearted, and she still maintained that, but now she was jumpy, unable to forget her capture. They didn’t deserve this. None of them deserved this.
This time, she noticed her name. It was urgent, and it was Doug speaking. The others were giving her worried glances, but they really didn’t know her yet. They weren’t sure if this was normal behavior for her, or what to say.
“Maybe we should head downstairs, and you should…” Vikki spoke, trailing off, feeling the tension in the air, motioning for Perrin to stand with her. Perrin followed suit, and Doug didn’t object, looking concerned. He looked even more concerned when Zoey stood up and started making her way down the hall, starting after her, hands out slightly as if he was ready to catch her.
She could tell she was still crying, but it was mostly sniffling and a dull ache in her stomach. Her thoughts were the worst part of this all. She stepped into his room, and he was silent as she pulled his entire comforter off his bed, wrapping it around herself and sitting on the floor like a sad marshmallow.
Doug stared for a few moments, before sinking down to the floor as well. He looked tired, and most likely was, due to his injuries. He crawled across the floor and sat in front of her, waiting for her to speak.
“It wasn’t fair.” She told him, giving another sniff.
“What wasn’t fair?” He asked, leaning back on his hands, legs crossed. He tipped his head to one side.
“Any of it. What happened to all of you, what is currently happening to you, what happened to Blythe…” She trailed off. “None of it was fair. Just cruel.” She finished.
“I agree.” He told her.
She waited for him to go on, but he didn’t. His eyes were cast to the floor, and she thought about how many times in his life he must have thought that none of this was fair, or right. How many times a younger Doug would have asked Skyler “Why?” How many times he asked the researchers “Why?” When he asked his parents “Why?” She opened one side of the comforter fortress.
“There’s room in here for two sad people.” She offered, and got a hint of a smile in return for it.
He closed the gap between them and sat beside her, pulling the comforter back around them. They leaned against one another in silence for a moment, and then he sighed.
“It isn’t all bad.” He told her, voice cracking a tiny bit. He bit his lip before speaking again. “There are people like you in this world. People who think I’m still human.” He closed his eyes, but opened them again to feel the comforter wiping away his tears, still wrapped in Zoey’s hand. He rested his face against the wrapped hand for a few more seconds. Both of them settled into a comfortable silence.
Zoey visited Atlas’ house the day before Blythe was supposedly coming back to school, a little surprised it was so soon. It had only been a few days after Vikki’s arrival.
“I need to get back to my parent’s house. They work a lot. I need to see how my siblings are doing. What if JARGON takes one of them?” Blythe told her frantically, but aimed the next question at Atlas. He looked at her with pain in his eyes.
Then as suddenly as a flame flickers, he closed his eyes and they were blazing again when he opened them.
“If that happens, we will destroy them. Brick by brick, smashing every beaker and face I see.” He was suddenly shouting, not at anyone in particularly, more so in declaration. She gave him a smile that was probably hiding the pain she felt currently. Zoey collected the books Zabrina had lent out, and helped Blythe to Atlas’ car.
“Funny how these things are reversed.” Blythe mentioned, but Zoey gave her a confused, silent, glance. “When you first found out… and fainted, I helped you to the car. Now you’re helping me. I told you I wasn’t a dragon then, but I guess I can’t say that now.” Emotion was starting to seep into her voice.
“Doesn’t mean we love you any less, Blythe. You’re still sweet and caring, putting on a brave face to go see if everyone else is okay before considering yourself.” Zoey told her honestly. Blythe blinked a few times, but managed a smile.
“Help me see them, and then I promise to rest and be refreshed for school tomorrow.” Blythe promised, getting into the car.
“You’d better, or I’ll chase you down!” Zoey admonished playfully.
“For certain I will. So I can punch Dominic in the nose.” Blythe told her plainly, decidedly.
Zoey had to pause for a second. “You cannot do that, Blythe” She told her hesitantly. “It will definitely raise too much suspicion. He probably thinks you were hurt in some way connecting to us, but I don’t know if he knows that you’re…” she trailed off.
“Different.” Blythe finished for her, voice terse.
“But still loved. Still brave. Still beautiful. Still strong. Still amazing.” Zoey jumped as Atlas spoke behind her, not knowing he was there, ready to take Blythe back home. Zoey wondered a little bit about how Atlas was taking things. He had quite a large group of popular ‘school-friends’ that would probably be inquisitive to what happened. He cared about being impressive and well liked, the opposite of Ferris, but not mild like Doug was. This was probably the reason Ferris and Atlas butted heads so often. Atlas was the type of person to show off any chance given, but was a good sport about most things so it was always forgiven. His temper was his major issue, so she wondered if the added stress of looking after Blythe was going to make him snap at his casual friends or at anyone else really. She thought this over, stepping out of the way, treading back to her car.
When she texted Doug about this concern, he told her that he hadn’t thought of that, but that it was a very real worry. Unfortunately, due to his intense want to fit in, Atlas didn’t really hang out with his siblings often. He wanted to be seen as more human than even the full humans, and knew people didn’t just stick with their brothers and sisters at school. He especially avoided Ferris, because they plainly didn’t get along half the time, and wanted to keep his temper in check. He had of course, been fine when Ferris came over to help Blythe learn how to use and control her powers, giving her exercises to do even when he wasn’t around, and surprised to find that Ferris spoke to her softly, encouragingly, like he would if he was speaking to Rebecca. There was no romance behind it of course, and his face remained stony, but Atlas couldn’t be upset with him when he was trying to be helpful.
Doug told her that he would warn everyone that this was going to be probably similar to when Rebecca returned, as nothing that exciting ever happened in their town. Or, rather, it did, but it was quickly covered up by the police. As this was born from a rumor spread, it took off like a firework and burst among the student population, who in turn told their parents, and they told their friends, and so forth. Doug was also nervous about whether or not Dominic was suspicious of Blythe. He discussed it in further detail on their drive to school.
“She’s so vulnerable right now. She couldn’t fight off anyone. Especially his gang, we have to remember Dominic wasn’t working alone that night.” He told her.
“I wish I knew more about those collars, how to break them or something…” Zoey muttered, and he sighed.
“They just neutralize magic. Very popular in the ‘magic world’ for people who hunt down griffins, centaurs, and well, dragons. On us, they make it so we can’t change, or use our powers, and drain us of energy. They aren’t easy to break.” He responded.
“Does it hurt?” She asked, her voice quiet.
“Hmm?” He replied, voice a little nervous. He hadn’t been expecting this conversation change.
“Do they hurt you? When they drain you of your energy?” She asked again. Her eyes were unwavering, as if she knew what his answer was going to be.
He hesitated, then admitted, “Yes. They do.” She breathed in sharply, and he thought that was going to be the end of her questions. He was incorrect.
“You’ve had them used on you before, haven’t you? When you were little.” Her voice sounded so sure, but also afraid. As if she wanted to be wrong, she wanted him to reassure her. “You said JARGON uses them too, but do you know that because they’ve used them recently on one of you guys, or because they used them on all of you, in the facility?” her voice was beginning to take on an edge, but he knew it wasn’t aimed at him.
“They were used on us, periodically, when we were little. Except for Vikki, Oscar, and Sinley, of course. They… had other ways to control them. Mostly by convincing them they were very dangerous, which they were, but… to a point where they would be in a frenzy, especially Oscar. Vikki would just sit on the ground and cry, and she could be… handled if someone was using a tool, since her powers weren’t constant, she was just learning to use them.” He paused in his recollection, breathing a little heavier. She wanted to touch his arm, but didn’t. “Sinley was also easier to control, he could turn parts of himself metal, but again, not consistently. Oscar on the other hand, was almost always sending off huge amounts of electricity. During our supervised, caged, outdoor time, Ferris and I tried to avoid him, which sounds mean, but he would just be screeching about how he didn’t want to hurt anyone, on the edge of a panic attack at any moment, bolts flying this way and that.”
“I never considered the fact that you guys were all in the same facility but didn’t really know each other, other than you and Ferris, met. So were you all strangers?”She asked, mulling everything over, feeling sorry for them all.
“Some of us.” He answered plainly, following it up with, “we’re at the school, let’s go find Blythe.” She shot him a confused look. He was usually freer with his information. Perhaps there were more pressing issues on his mind, understandably, Blythe and Atlas.
When they found Atlas and Blythe, it was as expected. People were pushing and shoving, even their friends, trying to ask what had happened and why it had taken her so long to come back, and for all the details. Atlas was getting visibly agitated, but also looked like he couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t make him lose his cool. Doug hopped nervously from foot to foot.
“I can’t even get over to him, the crowd is too thick and energized.” He muttered, more to himself than Zoey.
Blythe was giving them tired looks from across the room, hand on Atlas’ arm. Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t faze her, she was level headed. A good match for Atlas, who had just started to tell people to “go away!” in a gruffer voice. She was weak today though, and just wanted to go to class without the clamoring.
That’s when the crowd parted, and voices stopped their questions, falling to faint whispers. Ferris gave them all a sour glare, Rebecca next to him giving them the best glare she could manage. Atlas stopped speaking as well, looking really surprised. He knew he was Ferris’ least favorite brother, as Ferris had told him their rankings himself. He didn’t even like big crowds, or probably any of the people in the group.
Ferris paused in front of Atlas and Blythe, giving them probably a foot and a half of room away from the crowd.
“I can’t see how any of you call yourselves her friend.” He spat, tipping his head to one side, expression unchanging.
“You want to know what happened, but you aren’t even considering how she’s feeling, and whether or not she needs rest right now.” Rebecca backed him up, putting her hands on her hips.
Then, as suddenly as they appeared, both of them just turned on their heels and left, mass shaming over with. Doug and Zoey followed them, seeing that the crowd was now dispersing, some heads even lowered. Atlas still looked baffled at what had just happened, and when he asked Blythe about it, she shrugged too. She hadn’t asked Ferris to do anything.
Later that day, Atlas cornered Ferris, to ask him what had happened that morning. Ferris gave him a blank stare for a moment, as if trying to piece together what Atlas asked him. It was also throwing off his routine to have Atlas seek him out at school, unless it was an emergency. He had been prepared to hear the worst, but then when Atlas said it wasn’t something bad, he had given him a puzzled look. Currently, he tried to find the right words.
“You were surrounded by people, and it was making you angry, and Blythe weary.” Ferris told him plainly.
Atlas waited for more, and there was none. This is why they butted heads so often. He breathed deeply and tried to keep his temper in check. “What else happened?” He asked, sounding a bit too much like he was talking to a child.
Ferris bristled a bit at this, but Doug brushed off his shoulder as if to say “Just brush it off.” Ferris regained his composure. “Rebecca and I stepped in. People moved out of the way because they’re scared of me. Which is weird, I’ve never actually hurt someone here, it’s because I’m grumpy.” He said the last word as if he wasn’t sure he believed that he was. “Anyway, when we said something, people realized they were being assholes and left. Unless you think something else happened, did you not want me to step in?” He finished, glancing at Doug who was giving him a look of confusion back to mirror his own.
“No, it was fine that you stepped in, thank you. I’m just wondering why you did.” Atlas asked, glad to finally be getting to the point.
At this, Ferris’ eyes lit up, answering immediately, “because you’re my brother.” He started to walk away, but Atlas reached out to stop him. He stepped back from Atlas, but didn’t resume walking. “What now?” he sounded tired.
“You tell me I’m your least favorite out of everyone, but then you turn around and help me, that doesn’t make sense.” Atlas told him, sounding like the confused one now.
“You are my least favorite, we fight all the time. We have since we were kids.” Ferris told him, without malice in his voice, but then followed it with a tone as if he was stating the most obvious fact, “I’d still die for any of you.”
Atlas felt his mouth pop open at that, but Ferris was already walking away, telling Doug that Atlas was acting really strange today, while Doug was trying to explain you usually don’t make declarations like that at school, especially when there isn’t any danger present but Ferris just shrugged.
“He needed to know. I didn’t want him thinking I hated him or something.” He told Doug, ducking into his classroom.
Atlas didn’t move until Zoey, who was watching, touched his elbow. “You going to class?” She asked, in a more cajoling tone. He closed his mouth, turned, and started towards his classroom, and Zoey headed to hers. She knew she was playing into that selfish behaviour again, but she was wondering if she fell into that category as well, hoping nothing like that would ever happen, of course. Were they close enough? Was she considered part of the ‘family’ now? She didn’t want to ask Doug this, because she figured he would say she was even if that was solely his opinion.