Here's Chapter 17 of Lauren! I hope you all enjoy!
I do not own Gargoyles, only Lauren.
Lauren very gradually became aware that her senses were functioning, though her mind was not awake enough yet to understand what it meant.
She heard soft padded footsteps to the right of her, and the light rustle of fabric, something being wrung out, and then felt a cool, moist cloth being placed on her chest. A moment later, she felt an equally cool hand gently touch her forehead. She heard the soft footsteps move away from her side, and then approach once more. One hand gently lifted her head and she felt the wooden rim of a bowl placed against her lips. When some of the liquid entered her mouth however, she jerked fully awake at the awful taste, only to let out a hiss of pain as her entire body seemed to protest the movement. Instantly, she felt the hand leave the back of her head, and it was against her forehead once again. A few seconds passed and the pain eased slightly, and Lauren opened her eyes blearily.
She had to blink a few times, as he vision was rather blurry, but her bedroom came into focus, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar old woman at her side. The Halfling was momentarily confused until her last memories of the clearing returned to her.
Okay, she thought bitterly. Maybe that wasn't one of my best thought out plans... but at least I'm still alive, so we'll see what happens next.
Grandmother was the first to break the silence as she gave the girl a gentle smile. "You are awake, child. Your wound has healed, and you shall be all right after you've had a full day of bed rest. You are very lucky to be alive."
"That's a matter of opinion," she said, her voice somehow sounding strange to her own ears. She saw the old woman's expression turn concerned, but she said nothing in response to the Halfling's words. Instead she held up the bowl she had been holding to Lauren's lips a moment ago.
"You must drink this. You developed an infection from your wound and, while it is almost gone now, it still needs to be treated to ensure it does not resurface."
The girl made a face hearing this. That stuff tasted like something that came straight out of a landfill. Didn't these people ever hear of antibiotics?
Well, this is what I get for pulling the stunt in the first place. I'll consider this my punishment... unless Oberon decides to punish me himself. Is there a parent alive who would punish their daughter for attempting to kill themselves? Lauren didn't know, but she guessed she was going to find out soon enough.
So, trying not to gag, the Halfling choked back the mixture Grandmother gave her, and was relieved when the old elf quickly handed her a goblet of juice to chase the taste away with. Then she had her head against the pillow once more with a sigh. A little curious, she lifted the cloth on her chest and was absolutely gobsmacked to see not so much as a scar remaining.
That was a huge relief. She really didn't want to have to explain to anyone back in New York how she had gotten such a deep wound.
Then the door to her room opened and she saw Coyote poke his head in. His expression turned both relieved and elated when he saw she was conscious.
"Lauren! You're awake!" He was at her side a heartbeat later, his hands cupping her face, as he placed his forehead against hers. She had the impression that he was resisting the urge to kiss her. Just as suddenly, he pulled back, his expression suddenly angry. "Are you out of your fucking mind? Just what the hell were you trying to do?"
She snorted now. "I would think that would be obvious," she said coldly.
She immediately felt guilty when she saw his hurt expression, but she had to stand firm. I'm sorry, Coyote... but I have to do this.
He shook his head, his expression now very concerned. "Oh, Lauren no... Not like this..."
He cupped her face once more, this time leaning forward and kissing her on the forehead. Then he sat in the chair at her side and held her hand firmly in his own.
They stayed like that for several long moments, the only sound in the room being Grandmother as she continued to bustle about, mixing herbs and roots, and occasionally laying her hand against Lauren's forehead to seemingly check something or other.
Then the door opened once again, and Oberon entered the room, his eyes immediately falling on his daughter.
The girl let out a long sigh as she closed her eyes and turned her head away from him. And here come the fireworks...
"How is she?" he asked Grandmother.
"The infection is almost gone, my Lord. She will need to remain in bed for a full day to ensure she is fully healed, but she will be all right."
He nodded hearing this, his expression showing just a tinge of relief. Then:
"Coyote. Grandmother. I wish to speak with my daughter alone."
The trickster almost seemed to hesitate a moment, but nodded, giving the girl's hand one last reassuring squeeze before he followed Grandmother out the door.
Lauren still had her face turned away from Oberon as he sat down in the newly vacated chair, although her eyes were now open.
Her father was the first to break the long silence.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself?" he asked, his voice soft.
"I do, but it's not like you'll listen to me anyway, so what's the point?" she replied, her voice just as soft, but rather bitter. "Besides, you made it pretty clear in the banquet the other day that you didn't want to hear it."
"Is Avalon truly so horrible, daughter?"
This time she sighed irritably and, for the first time in several days now, she turned her head and looked at Oberon, frowning. "Avalon isn't the problem... Or at least I didn't have a problem with Avalon itself until I learned of that fucking time difference. My problem, Oberon, is with you. I don't understand you at all! You find out I exist after seventeen years, learn that I'm David Xanatos' niece, and you figure that's all you need to know about me before you come rushing off to tear me away from my oh-so-evil uncle! The moment I get here, you immediately start trying to mould me into your little princess, apparently ignoring the fact that I have no interest in it whatsoever, and you either ignore half of what I tell you, or cut me off before I can even tell you what it is that truly bothers me!" Another surge of pain wracked her body and she winced, cutting her off from her tirade.
Oberon's hand gripped her own, and the pain subsided. "I will sit in silence until you have said your piece, Lauren."
She sighed again. "Puck told me... that you instigated a law forbidding your 'Children' from directly interfering in human affairs. Isn't impregnating a mortal woman with a Halfling child in the first place 'interfering'?"
He hesitated now. "I was unaware that she had come to bear a child..."
"Oberon, everyone has been telling me that you're damn near all powerful! You could have done something! You could have at least peeked in on her a few weeks later, or prevented the pregnancy from happening in the first place!"
He frowned. "That would have prevented you from coming into existence, daughter."
She frowned right back. "I would rather have never existed... than to have Mom go through what she did. To have us go through what we did! But don't take my word for it. You must have the means at your disposal to find out what happened to us. I don't think telling you is going to be enough anymore. In order for you to understand exactly why I'm so... angry at you, I think you'd have to look for yourself. Actions speak louder than words, Oberon, and quite frankly I'm sick of talking about my life before the Xanatos'. Everyone in New York knows half of my life story already since there was a huge media blitz when word of me got out, and even thinking about it all makes me feel sick! Go look into a crystal ball or whatever the hell you people use to do those things. Go find out what happened to Mom after you left her!" Ignoring the pain, she rolled over onto her side, facing away from him once more. "As for me, I'm sick to death of dealing with this shit. My life is in your hands Oberon, so do whatever you want. It's not like I can stop you anyway."
She laid there for a few long moments in complete silence, her eyes squeezed shut tightly. Oberon, please... don't just SIT there. Do something... ANYTHING to prove that some part of you really, actually DOES care about me...
She felt his hand land on her shoulder, and he gently rolled her over so she was looking at him once again. Then that hand landed on her cheek instead and he brushed his thumb against her face gently.
"You require a full day of bed rest before you are recovered, Lauren. In that time, I will do as you have asked, and look into this matter. When I have completed the investigation, I will come to a final decision regarding where you will call home."
For the first time, Lauren felt the tiniest flicker of hope. She simply nodded. It was the biggest breakthrough she had made with Oberon thus far, and now all she could do was wait and see what happened.
He nodded as he got to his feet. "I shall leave now, then. However... until the time that someone is in the room with you..." He ran the index finger of his right hand down the side of her face. "Sleep, my daughter."
The power of Oberon's magic kicked in immediately and the girl was out like a light.
The Lord of Avalon looked down on her tiny form for a long moment before he turned and left the room, his features set.
As he passed the two waiting outside the door, he spoke. "Coyote. Grandmother. Come."
The trickster fell in step beside his Lord immediately. "Where are we going, my Lord?"
Oberon's frown was determined. "To do what I should have done from the very moment I learned of Lauren's existence. I must learn what happened to Elaine after I left her."
Coyote cringed inwardly. While he had a morbid curiosity himself, after hearing just the little that he did know, he wasn't sure if he wanted to see it or not. But it looked like he was about to.
Their Lord strolled into the banquet hall and immediately approached his mirror. Unfortunately, its twin had been smashed by Demona a few years earlier, a tragic end to a wonderful magic artefact.
His wife and many of his Court gathered around, curious in spite of themselves as Oberon held a hand toward the mirror.
"Mirror: Show me the significant events in the lives of Elaine Xanatos and her daughter from when last I knew her!"
The surface of the mirror rippled like water, and then, the first image formed...
Elaine Xanatos sat across from her doctor, trying to ignore the queasy sensation in her stomach. She was sincerely hoping that she was merely coming down with the flu, but she had an uneasy feeling she was wrong.
The man across from her gave her a wide smile. "Congratulations, Miss Xanatos. You're pregnant." When he saw the woman's face strain somewhat, his own happy smile faded a little. "I... take it from your expression that this was not something you planned?"
She shook her head. "No, I mean... I was going to start University in the fall. I'm planning on getting my degree to become a paediatrician, and..." She shook her head again. "I'm sorry, it's just... I wasn't expecting something like this to happen."
He smirked a little now. "Well, you do know what causes it, right? I'm sure between you and your boyfriend you can figure everything out."
She cringed openly now. "Um... I don't... have a boyfriend. I was only with one person, so I know who the father is, but..." She sighed and looked decidedly ashamed of herself. "It was a one night stand. Lucas didn't give me any way of contacting him, so I can't even let him know that he's going to be a father..."
The doctor across from her seemed to hesitate as he started riffling through papers. "Well, if you feel the situation is going to be too much for you to handle, there are other options available to you. You could choose to put the child up for adoption once it's born or, and while I hesitate to suggest something such as this, terminating the pregnancy, while somewhat painful, is..."
Elaine shook her head immediately. "Oh no... I could never do that. It was my own mistake and I'll take responsibility for it. I'll just have to put University and my degree on the back burner for now. Once the baby is old enough to go to school, I'll finish my education and start my career."
He smiled at her once again. "Very commendable decision, Miss Xanatos. I want to make a follow up appointment for next month so we can monitor you and the baby's condition. Just talk to Whitney out at the front desk and she'll set up the appointment."
She nodded, giving him a thanking smile. "All right, Doctor. Thank you very much." She left the room without another word.
Elaine was looking at several bills and cringed openly taking in her tiny one bedroom apartment. She let out a sigh as she shook her head.
"Oh God, how am I going to do this?" She looked over at the phone and picked it up off the stand. She dialled a couple numbers before she paused, frowned, and then slammed it back down on the receiver. "No! I can't keep running to Daddy and David for help. I can't keep being the baby of the family, anymore. I can do this without them." She pinched the bridge of her nose and seemed to think hard for a few minutes. Then she picked up the phone again and dialled. A moment later, someone answered and she started to talk.
"Hey, Chelsea? Remember you were trying to get me to go to one of those speed dating things? Well, I changed my mind. Can you tell me the address and when the next one is going to take place?" She quickly jotted down the information. "Okay, thanks. That's all I was calling for. I'll talk to you later." Hanging up, she made a bit of a face. "I never thought I'd ever go to one of these things, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It's time for Elaine Xanatos to hit the dating circuit!"
Next she was sitting across from a young man in a crowded room filled with couples. Through the mirror, they heard her thought process as she regarded him.
He's the best here so far... He's fairly well educated, has a good paying job, and while he said his house isn't in the best shape, it's a HOUSE and not a one bedroom apartment. He didn't even bat an eye when I said the word 'pregnant' unlike every other man here who seemed to run for the hills, and he seems to be very nice. He said he likes to have a beer or two in the evenings, but there's nothing wrong with unwinding after a hard day of work...
Satisfied with this one, for the first time since arriving at the Speed Dating party, she circled the name Craig Johnson on her provided card. As it would turn out, his was the only name that she would circle.
After only a few months of dating, and after moving into his home, Elaine and Craig had a shotgun wedding only weeks before her due date. The mirror breezed over these months, and of the birth of Lauren herself. Then it focused on her baby shower, Elaine delighted at all the generous gifts coming from her friends and family that would go toward her baby.
While she didn't make too big of a deal of it, she was also greatly relieved at her brother's gift... a supply of baby clothes that were for the ages of newborn up till a year of age, so they wouldn't have to worry about spending money on clothing for Lauren. The newborn was cooed over and passed around, until Elaine had her back in her arms.
That's when she approached a young David Xanatos. "David... Craig and I were talking and... the only relative he has left is his mother, and the doctors say she's showing the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, and I don't think it would be right to ask Dad something like this... but... If something happens to me and Craig, we'd like you to take care of Lauren. We know that you'd be able to give her the kind of life we could only dream of so... Would you be her Godfather?"
He smiled at her. "Elaine, I would be honoured." He gently took his niece from his sister and held her in his arms as he started speaking again. "Have you found her real father?"
She sighed and shook her head. "I don't think he's coming back. It's a shame, though... He really was a very charming and charismatic man. I'm sure if he'd known I was pregnant he wouldn't have just left like that, but..." Then she smiled. "Well, Craig was only too happy to take on the responsibility of a father, so things turned out all right in the end."
The future billionaire looked around the modest conditions of the yard and the condition of the house, which showed some missing panels on the side. "I just hope that you don't plan on staying here for the rest of your life..."
She laughed and shook her head. "Craig figures that we should be able to put enough money aside to put a down payment on a good house in the next year or two. This will do until then. It's really not as bad as it looks, I can assure you." Then she blinked. "Oh! I almost forgot!" She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box. "This is to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come. I know Mr. Renard has a reputation for cracking the whip."
He smirked as he accepted the gift. "Believe me, there was no problem. When I told him it was because my sister had just had a baby, he was only too happy to give me the day off. I'll give him credit, when it comes to family issues, he has a heart of gold." He opened the package and pulled out the locket that he would give Lauren seventeen years later. "Hm... I don't know if it would go with the dress code at work, but I'll keep it close." He pulled his sister in for a hug. "It looks like my baby sister is all grown up now."
She smirked. "I'm not so grown up that I can't push you in the lake again, should we ever visit Dad at the same time... You know I hate being called a baby, David."
He sighed and shook his head. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you? And I still maintain that it was a cheap-shot."
She laughed. "You just can't admit that I one upped you." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "By the way, thank you for the gift."
He hesitated. "If you like, I could write up a cheque for you guys to make the next while a little easier..."
She waved it off. "Thank you, but the clothes are already a tremendous help. Believe me, we can manage."
The next scene the mirror displayed appeared to be only a few months later, judging by the fact that the woman was still holding a bundle in her arms. However, this time the child was screaming bloody murder, and the woman seemed to be desperately trying to figure out what it was that was bothering her. Seated on a faded old green sofa, with a can of beer in one hand and the T.V. remote in the other, was Craig.
Elaine was rocking the baby, and checking her temperature with the back of her hand against her forehead. The child let out another wailing cry, and the man on the couch had had enough.
"Damn it, can't you shut that little shit up?" he cried, his expression holding a scowl.
Elaine's expression turned shocked. "Craig! She's only three months old! It's not as if she can tell us what's wrong with her! We have to figure it out!" She continued rocking the girl. "I've changed her, fed her, burped her, she won't go to sleep... Maybe it's just colic?" She bustled around for a few minutes, re-checking the baby's diaper and taking out a thermometer to check her temperature. The child continued screaming through all of this, until the man on the couch slammed his beer down and got to his feet, his expression less than happy.
"Fine, if you can't shut her up, then I will!"
The woman's eyes went wide as she quickly held the baby so she was between Lauren and her husband. She held out one hand to hold him back. "Craig, what is wrong with you? If it's colic, then there's nothing we can do! Now you knew this wasn't going to be easy when you agreed to marry me!" Then she sniffed a few times and her nose wrinkled. "How much beer did you drink tonight? I can smell your breath from here!"
He scowled. "I worked a twelve hour shift unloading and re-loading trailers with one crack-head, and two fresh-faced yuppies fresh out of high school who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground! Meanwhile, you were here at home with only house chores and a baby to take care of, so don't you fucking criticize me!"
She scowled back now. "You're drunk."
Lauren let out another ear-piercing wail and the man cringed before trying to come forward again. "Just give 'er to me!"
Elaine quickly took a step back, shaking her head. "Ooooh no! You are not holding my baby tonight! Not while you're intoxicated, not on that temper, and not with that attitude!"
"So help me God, Elaine..."
"Damn it, I said no!"
Suddenly the back of his hand connected with her jaw and she stumbled into the wall, quickly shifting her hold on the infant to keep her from becoming harmed. She stared at her husband in complete shock for a long moment. The man looked to be just as shocked as she was, and stayed where he was when the woman bolted up the stairs, holding a still screaming Lauren in her arms.
The vision wavered, and Coyote glanced up at Oberon, seeing his Lord's mouth was nothing but a thin line, and his eyes were glacial in their intensity. Violence against women didn't tend to go over well with any of them, but with it being the mother of Oberon's daughter... and the fact that she had been holding Lauren in her arms when she'd been hit...
Somehow it didn't surprise the trickster that his Lord's concentration had momentarily lapsed. However, the image soon cleared once more and they continued to watch.
They saw a now visibly upset Elaine packing a suitcase and putting together a diaper bag, occasionally wiping away tears while she did so. They could see Lauren laying nestled between two pillows on the Queen sized bed, still screaming. Craig entered the room and watched his wife bustle around curiously for a moment.
"What are you doing?"
She glared at him as she angrily wiped away some of her tears. "I'm taking Lauren and we're going to David's for the night! I'm not going to deal with you when you're like this!"
"No! You listen! You hit me! That is bad enough, but you did it while I was holding Lauren! A baby! You can't do things like that!"
He cringed. "Okay, look, watch me!" He ran into their personal bathroom and dumped the rest of his can down the drain. "See? That was the last beer I had! I won't drink anymore tonight, okay?" He came up to her, and held her fast by the shoulders when she tried to back away from him. "Listen to me, honey. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You're right. I overdid it tonight on the drinking, and I know there's no excuse for that. I let myself get too upset downstairs and I can't apologize enough for hitting you." His hands came up and he gently brushed his fingers across the forming bruise on her jaw and then wiped away her tears. "I promise you Elaine... I promise you... that this will never happen again. Okay?"
She hesitated for a moment, before a smile started to form on her face and she nodded. She leaned forward and they shared a small kiss before he sighed. "Okay, now let's see if we can't figure out what's wrong with Lauren." He went over to the bed and picked the baby up.
Elaine quickly rushed forward. "Craig, you..."
"Don't worry, Elaine. I'm still steady and I'm sitting on the edge of the bed, just in case, see?" He held the baby on his knee and gently bounced her up and down while she was facing him. Her screams were still coming at a steady pace. "Okay, sweetie," he said, turning his attention back to the infant. "Let's see if we can't get you outta your little..."
Out of the blue, the little angelic baby let out a massive belch and promptly projectile vomited right on the front of Craig's shirt.
The former Xanatos immediately shrieked with laughter and had to support herself with the wall to keep from falling over with her mirth.
"Okay..." Craig said with a long sigh. "I guess I had that one coming. But at least she stopped screaming." He set the baby back down on the bed between the pillows before smiling at his wife. "Hey, why don't I get changed and then we can go to that diner around the corner before it closes? I owe you a big apology, after all..."
Apparently forgiving the man for his earlier transgression, the woman smiled back and nodded.
It was difficult to judge at first just when the next scene was depicted, as Lauren was not immediately in the scene for an age comparison. What they did see, however, was Elaine Xanatos, desperately trying to shield her head as she was down on her knees in the corner of the living room, with Craig towering over her, cursing a blue streak and kicking her. The image wavered briefly with Oberon's initial reaction of shock, but quickly stabilized once again.
Craig's speech was slurred, making his rantings difficult to decipher, but it seemed he was upset over the conditions of the home upon his return from work, and angry over a rather flavourless meal.
Then the image panned to the left, showing the opposite side of the room, which consisted of a recliner chair and a bookshelf made of imitation wood. From the space between the shelf and the arm of the chair, they saw a set of tiny hands slowly appear and then the head and shoulders of a terrified platinum blond little girl. Her eyes were enormous as she watched the beating take place and she seemed to cringe with every blow and every screamed insult the man delivered toward her mother. She looked as if she couldn't be any older than four or five years old.
Finally, the child seemed to have enough. Her features turned determined and she came out of hiding and ran to where the violence was taking place.
"Craig, stop! Stop hurting her! Leave her alone!" the little girl shouted, but her pleas fell on deaf ears as the man simply ignored her.
Not giving up, the child reached up and grabbed him by the elbow, trying to pull him back away from Elaine. "Nooooo! Stop! Stop hurting Mama!"
The man jerked his elbow roughly, shoving the girl to the floor.
Tears started spilling from the child's eyes now, and she momentarily looked to be at a loss as to what she could do. Then her features set once more as she got to her feet. Then, the child charged at her step-father, slamming all of her tiny form into his midsection to force him away from the cornered woman.
"You little bitch!" The man's attention turned from his wife, to the child, and his first reaction was to give her a swift, hard hit across the face, sending her flying across the room.
Titania's hands flew to her mouth in horror, Coyote and Raven's eyes went wide, but...
The mirror blackened, the ground beneath their feet seemed to shake, storm clouds brewed overhead and a massive thunderclap nearly deafened all who were present.
"Coyote!"Oberon's voice boomed, evincing a rage unseen by any before on Avalon.
The trickster nearly jumped out of his skin and quickly made sure he had Titania between him and his Lord, unaccustomed to having his name spoken with such rage.
"Y-yes, my Lord?" he stammered, his eyes a little wide.
Oberon's face was a hard mask as he glared at the mirror, his lips pulled down into a deep frown. "Does my memory serve me correctly that this particular human is now deceased?" he asked, his voice now suddenly deceptively calm.
"Yes, my Lord. If I recall correctly, Lauren killed him herself."
"How very fortunate for him," he said now, his voice laced with a dry sarcasm.
Coyote couldn't help but shiver as he thought that Craig Johnson was, indeed, very lucky to have died at the hands of his step-daughter, rather than facing the wrath of her real father.
The image formed in the mirror once more and they continued to watch.
Once Craig had given the child a few kicks of her own, he grumbled to himself as he made his way to the door, and from his mutterings, the only words they could make out was "stupid ungrateful bitches," before the door slammed shut and he was gone.
Lauren laid there for several long moments, her face twisted in pain as she took in deep breaths. Then, wincing with each movement, she slowly rolled onto her stomach and worked her way to her hands and knees, crawling across the room to her mother.
Elaine was still in the corner and had her face buried in her hands as she sobbed. Her child sat up straight and put a little hand on her shoulder. "Mama?"
The woman looked as if she had only become aware of her daughter's presence now. She looked at the little girl for a long moment before simply grabbing her and pulling her in for a tight hug. Elaine buried her face into the crook of her daughter's neck as she cried some more. The little girl's expression turned a little pained at the contact, but she said nothing as she simply fisted her hands in the front of her mother's shirt.
"I was stupid... Stupid! I could have been well on my way to starting my career, but no... I had to have a one night stand, and now look at me. Graduated top of my class, dozens of offers from Universities and Colleges around the country and my life has been reduced to this."
The child's expression turned deeply regretful, and her lower lip quivered slightly. Her arms went around her mother instead of fisting the front of her clothes. "I'm sorry, Mama. Don't worry, I'll protect you. I promise."
The woman said nothing to this, but continued to cling to her daughter like a lifeline.
"She felt unloved," Titania whispered, "and even possibly felt she was to blame for the life they were being forced to live..."
Coyote glanced at his Lord and saw his features were almost stony as they regarded the mirror steadily. He continued watching along with the rest of them.
The next scene simply showed Lauren at about ten years of age, walk through the front door with a backpack slung over one shoulder. In the background, they could clearly hear the sound of someone being beaten and verbally berated. The second she walked through the door, her backpack hit the floor and she charged across the room to where Craig was once again abusing her mother.
"Craig, no! Stop it!"
She immediately tried grabbing him to yank him away, but she simply got shoved into the wall for making the attempt. She immediately made a second attempt, trying to place herself between her step father and her mother, intending to take the blows for her. Craig's response to this was to give her a few good hard hits, and when she refused to budge from where she was, he grabbed her by the arm and simply threw her across the room. The girl slammed into the arm of the couch, and, unable to regain her balance with her awkward landing, rolled off the edge of the couch and she wound up knocking over the coffee table with a rather painful sounding crash.
The girl climbed to her feet, apparently oblivious to a gash on her forehead or of any of the injuries sustained in the attack. Her expression turned helpless, as she suddenly screwed her eyes shut tightly, and simply screamed.
"Stoooop!" Then her eyes instantly opened in shock when there was a loud popping sound, and the television simply exploded.
The obviously intoxicated man immediately whirled, his eyes enormous. His ranting and raving was now focused on his destroyed television now, rather than on his wife. While Lauren's expression was itself shocked, she seemed too relieved to think on the strange timing of the event as she rushed to her mother's side.
Again, the scene switched, but Lauren appeared to be the same age, so not much time could have passed since the last vision. The girl entered the kitchen, her face sporting obvious bruises and cuts, and her short sleeved shirt showing handprints and bruises dotting her arms. Elaine was sitting at the table, nursing a cup of coffee.
Lauren approached the sink, intent on getting a glass of water, when the light in the kitchen went out. The girl sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Mom, please tell me the power company did that due to maintenance or something..."
The woman shook her head. "We owe them too much money. They called this morning and told me it was going to be cut off until we start making payments."
She looked at her mother incredulously. "Don't tell me Craig's broke again..." She shook her head. "Isn't our water run through power? How are we supposed to cook and bathe?"
Elaine simply shrugged helplessly, her expression showing that she didn't know and had stopped caring about such issues a long time ago. "Talk to him about it. You know what'll happen if I make the attempt."
They now heard Lauren's thoughts. Damn it, now Craig's going to come home, find the power cut off, realize he can't watch his stupid wrestling, and somehow he'll find a way to blame us for it!
Her expression turned downright pissed off for a few seconds, when Elaine's coffee cup suddenly flew off the table and smashed against the wall behind the table. The woman immediately let out a screech and shot up from the table.
"What the fuck is going on in this house lately? Between books flying, TV's exploding, and now this... Do we have some kind of ghost... what are they called? Poltergeist?" She gave a half sob and buried her face in her hands, trembling as her daughter rushed to her side.
"It's okay, Mom..." she said, though her expression was baffled. "Maybe... a truck driving by did it?"
"You'd think it would've happened before many times over the past ten years, then!" she cried, still in a state of shock over the event.
Lauren held her obviously stressed and hyper emotional mother close for a moment before pulling back. "Mama, listen. You look tired. Go lie down for a while, and I'll take care of the mess, okay? And tonight after Craig passes out, I'll see if he has any money in his wallet so we can keep the power for a while longer."
The woman hesitated, but then nodded, looking completely exhausted. She left the kitchen without so much as a thanking word toward her daughter.
The scene changed again, this time with Lauren in what appeared to be her bedroom. She was currently laying down on the bed, a book open before her. The girl seemed to be having a hard time concentrating though, and her eyes kept wandering to a rather raggedy-looking teddy bear sitting on an old rocking chair with the white paint chipping off. It was obvious from the injuries on her, that this was a time later in the day from the previous scene.
Finally, the girl let out an irritated sigh as she sat up from the bed with a scowl. "Just try it, call yourself stupid and move on with your life," she grumbled to herself as she snatched the teddy bear off its chair and sat down on the bed, placing it on the comforter in front of her.
She frowned at it for a long moment, her face indicating that she was concentrating on the object before her. Then, obviously feeling a little weird, she lifted one of her hands and held it toward the bear. A few long seconds passed before the bear suddenly seemed to jerk on its own, its raggedy arms and legs lifting up as if they were attached to a marionette's strings.
Lauren's eyes went huge instantly and she lost her purchase and fell off the edge of her bed, eliciting a loud thud. "HOLY CRAP!"
"Hey! What're ya doin' up there?" came Craig's drunken and obviously annoyed voice.
She blinked and quickly responded. "I tripped! Sorry, Craig!"
"Yeah, well keep it down, ya brat!" Craig's voice fell silent after this reprimand and the child breathed a sigh of relief.
Then her expression turned fearful, and, again, they heard her thoughts coming through the mirror.
Oh no... I can't tell Mom and Craig about this! Mom's freaking out already, and Craig already hates me! This would be all the excuse he needs to kick me out of the house and then there'd be no one here to protect Mom! They'd both think I'm some kinda freak for sure! Hell, even I don't know how I feel about this! How can I do this?
Suddenly a few of her books came off her shelf and hit the floor and she shivered instantly.
I better figure out how to control this... Does this mean that I made the TV blow up? I can't have things like that happen again or Craig'll just get angry more! I can't tell ANYONE about this! I mean..."
She frowned slightly as she climbed back onto the bed and focused on the teddy bear once more. She held her hand out toward the bear and, again, after a few seconds, it's arms and legs started moving on their own. I wonder how far this goes, anyway? Her frown deepened as she concentrated harder. The bear shakily lifted off the bed a few inches and then plopped back down once more.
When this happened, the little girl's lips pulled back into a familiar teeny smile. This is kinda freaky but... at the same time... way cool...
Oberon watched the scene, dawning realization showing on his features. He remembered her attempted conversation with him in the banquet, when she had been referencing her abilities.
"It was the only thing that kept me from going insane when..."
For the first time he could remember, the Lord of Avalon was mentally cursing his own stubborn streak, and refusal to allow her to finish speaking.
He frowned and forced these thoughts out of his mind when the mirror surface shimmered once more, and the next scene formed.
They saw Lauren as she looked today, opening a gate leading into a yard containing a house that looked as if it was in a terrible state of disrepair. The girl entered the house, and immediately the sound of Craig's voice could be heard in the kitchen, and he didn't sound happy at all. His voice was heavily slurred, telling all that he was, once again, drunk. Glancing into the kitchen, Lauren could see her mother sitting at the kitchen table with her head hanging as she simply took the verbal abuse.
Oberon was actually shocked when he saw Elaine. She had aged terribly in only 17 years, her eyes had lost their lustre and to see her simply accepting this sort of behaviour... The fey king could only shake his head. She clearly was a woman who had stopped caring a long time ago... something that saddened him when he remembered the mischief hiding in the back of her eyes, that wide, glorious smile, her refined mannerisms, and that beautifully subtle sense of humour.
Quickly shaking off these thoughts, he turned his attention back to the scene.
Lauren sighed, seeing the display and frowned a little. Well... as long as he's not beating her. I've gotta get cracking and see if I can't get any of this homework done... Slipping off her shoes, she went up the stairs and entered her room. She almost closed the door, but then frowned. I'd better leave it open so I can keep an ear on what's going on downstairs.
She sat down on her bed and started pulling out binders and textbooks from her backpack. She examined them for a moment before simply closing her eyes and randomly pointing at one. She opened her eyes again and sighed.
"Math. It figures. Well, first or last, I guess it's gotta be done." She plopped down on the bed and opened the book and binder as she started her homework.
The yelling and cursing was still clearly audible from downstairs, but the girl seemed to be merely blocking it out mentally, obviously used to these things. Lauren's expression turned confused as she read something in the textbook. "Take the remainder... exponents..." she half read to herself, and then blinked. "What the hell?" She flipped back many pages and scowled. "Damn it, no wonder I don't understand this shit! I missed three quarters of the unit!" She sighed and shook her head. "I'm never gonna graduate..."
"...havin' an affair? You turnin' into a whore on me?" came Craig's voice from down the stairs.
Lauren's eyes widened hearing this and she scowled. "Fucking hypocrite. Who's the cheater, Craig?" she asked sarcastically as she rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her homework.
However, her head raised again when her mother's voice reached her ears.
"I've always been faithful to you," Elaine said, her voice cracking slightly. "How can you call me a whore?"
He snorted. "Why don't you ask the sperm-doner daddy of that little shit-stain, money-sucking leech upstairs?"
Immediately following this, they heard the sound of a chair slide across the floor, and the clear sound of a harsh slap.
Lauren's eyes went huge, hearing this, and one thought went through her mind.
Oh God, he's going to kill her!
In the next instant, Lauren was off her bed and only just got to her doorway when Elaine let out a bone-chilling scream in the same instant as they heard an enraged Craig cursing, screaming and the obvious sounds of violence.
The teenager shot down the stairs, her expression fearful, and rounded the corner, shooting through the living room, and then...
Lauren reached the doorway, seeing Craig had her mother by the shoulders and gave her a hard, deliberate push. When the back of the woman's neck connected with the edge of the counter, a surprisingly anticlimactic 'snap' was heard, and Elaine simply slid to the floor, her eyes open wide. She let in a couple strangled breaths before she simply laid still.
The teenager stared wide eyed, her mouth agape with horror and disbelief. A small strangled cry escaped from her lips, and alerted Craig to her presence.
His own expression was a little shocked, but his eyes were wild when he saw the shocked teenager standing in the doorway. "You..." He took a step toward her.
That was all the signal Lauren needed to bolt for the front door. Craig was right behind her, however, and managed to grab a hold of her arm. He whirled and sent her flying across the room once more, and this time she slammed into a bookshelf made of imitation wood and caused it to simply collapse. He went to the other shelf, which was close to the door, and quickly shoved it over so it was blocking the exit. It was obvious he had no intentions of letting Lauren escape.
The teenager quickly got to her feet, apparently oblivious to a large gash on her forehead, or any other injuries she may have sustained. Her expression was clearly terrified and desperate as she tried bolting again, her step-father immediately following. Passing by the television, the girl quickly shoved it over, hoping to buy herself a few precious seconds to find an exit, but Craig dove over the television and barely missed the girl as she dodged his attempted tackle. This only served to make him angrier, and he was immediately back on his feet.
For several long, agonizing moments, they watched a frantic Lauren desperately trying to escape. Craig got in several hits, and threw her across the room on numerous occasions. It was after he had thrown her against the wall and she fell to the floor, momentarily stunned, that he quickly took advantage of the situation, yanking her back to her feet with a fistful of her hair. His hands then went around her neck and he lifted her into the air while simultaneously pinning her to the wall.
Lauren's little hands tried desperately to pry his fingers from around her throat, but he had a vice like grip and stubbornly held on. Her hands then went against his chest, trying to push him away from her, but he didn't seem to be affected.
I... can't breathe... He's going to kill me... Just like he killed Mom...
Her mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water as she desperately tried to get air into her lungs.
Mama, I'm sorry. I couldn't protect you...
That's when the pupil in her one remaining good eye faded away and that eye emitted a green glow. That same glow soon washed over the surface of her skin and turned into a full blown aura.
Craig's eyes went wide. "What the fu..."
That's all he was able to get out before Lauren's defensive instincts took over her magical control, and her magic was unleashed through the palms of her hands. Her step-father was immediately encased in the glow himself as he was thrown across the room by the force of the magical release. He slammed into the brick fireplace and slumped to the floor, unmoving.
Lauren collapsed to the floor as well, desperately coughing and gasping in lungful after lungful of air. Then she slowly sat up, wincing with each movement. The gash on her forehead was leaving a trail of blood going down her face, and they could see her left eye's condition was getting worse as it swelled and darkened. The girl didn't seem to be concerned about her injuries, however. She was too busy looking at her hands in complete and utter shock. Then she shook something off as her head lifted and saw Craig still lying on the floor.
"Craig?" she asked hesitantly, her voice incredibly hoarse, immediately going into a coughing fit and holding her rapidly darkening throat. "Craig?"
When he gave no response, the girl slowly climbed to her feet, wincing with each movement, and then slowly made her way over to him, limping and wincing with each step.
"Craig...?" Her voice trailed off as they saw her one good eye go wide and her face turned alarmingly pale.
The image showed the man now lying face down on the floor, the back of his skull crushed and indented into his brain matter. The graphic sight was evidently too much for the girl to handle, as well as the knowledge that she, herself, had taken a life.
The girl promptly went over to the potted plant and threw up before slowly wedging herself between the plant and the wall, her eye now wide and haunted.
I... killed him. I KILLED him! He killed Mom and was going to kill me, but I... I didn't want to KILL him! I don't even know HOW I killed him! What... what the fuck WAS that?
Her eyes stared blankly at Craig's corpse, and then her eyes trailed to the kitchen doorway where her mother's body was clearly visible.
They... they're both dead... Oh no... what's going to happen to me? I'm not an adult yet! Grandma Johnson can't take care of me, and Mom never mentioned ANYONE! I'm alone... They're going to put me in an orphanage...
She could only sit there stunned, as she looked from her mother to her step-father, the full scope of the situation apparently putting the young woman into shock.
Suddenly there was a series of loud knocks at the door, followed by a vaguely familiar voice.
"This is the NYPD! Open up!"
Lauren didn't even give any indication that she'd heard anything. She was just blankly staring ahead. There was brief muffled conversation outside the door and then someone tried opening it. The voice came again, barely audible. "That's not locked, there's something blocking the door. Just stand back, partner."
Seconds later, the door fell half off its hinges and broke on the edge of the shelf that was currently blocking it. Matt Bluestone knocked the shelf over flat on its back end as he stumbled into the room and immediately drew his gun. Elisa Maza was right behind him, her own weapon ready.
They immediately spotted Craig on the floor and quickly raced to him. Elisa winced, seeing the condition of his skull.
"Well, cause of death is obviously blunt force trauma... but now the question is who killed him?"
Matt looked around and then stood up, looking into the kitchen. He quickly went in there. "Elisa! There's another one in here!" He quickly knelt by the woman and put two fingers at her throat. Then he sighed and shook his head at his approaching partner. "She's dead. It looks like someone beat the crap out of her..."
Elisa frowned. "Yeah, but who? Who killed her and the guy in the living room?"
Matt shook his head again. "I don't know." He reached into his inner pocket and pulled out a flashlight. "I'm going to check if there's anything upstairs." He turned the light on and entered the living room again, panning his light to take in the damage. Then he blinked when the beam of light fell on a tiny foot and raggedy pant leg. He shone it up a little more, revealing a young woman who was covered in injuries, curled up between a potted plant and the wall, her one good eye staring blankly at the deceased man.
Maza entered the room and gasped, seeing the bloody gash on her forehead and already swollen eye. "Matt, go radio this in while I try talking to her."
He nodded and quickly left.
The detective got down on one knee, lowering herself to the girl's level, trying not to intimidate her. Elisa wasn't one hundred percent sure about what was going on exactly, but she did know that this girl had just been through a terribly traumatizing event, and was in shock.
"Hey there," she started off gently. "My name is Elisa Maza and I'm a detective with the NYPD. We got a phone call from one of your neighbours who heard something happening in here. Now, I know you were just through something absolutely horrible, and so it's not going to be easy for you, but we need to find out what happened."
The girl didn't even give any indication that she had heard a word the woman had said.
Elisa frowned as she considered the girl in front of her. She almost reached forward to touch her to get her attention, but mentally shook her head. Take it slow, Maza. Give her a few more minutes before you do something that might make the situation worse.
"Would you like some ice for your eye?"
Again, the girl didn't respond.
"Can you tell me who did this to you?" she tried again.
As before, the girl didn't respond.
The detective sighed. She regarded the girl for a few long minutes before her partner returned and she got to her feet once more.
"She hasn't said a word. She's in total shock."
He sighed. "Well, Captain Chavez said she's going to send Morgan down here with a doctor and the medical examiner from the CSI team. She said Morgan will have further instructions."
Maza sighed and nodded. "All right. I guess we'll just keep working on coaxing the girl out of her corner until they get here."
Matt nodded back. "Okay, and I guess that means it's my turn." He turned to the girl and took a few steps toward her before dropping down to one knee as Elisa had done earlier. "Hi. I'm Detective Matt Bluestone, and you've already met my partner," he started gently. "Can you tell us what happened here?"
Again, she didn't respond, but kept her attention locked on the man's corpse.
"There's a doctor on his way, and he's going to have a look at you when he gets here. Do you want something for your head or eye before he shows up?"
He sighed and got to his feet. "This could take a while," he said to Elisa. "Some victims of traumatic events go weeks or months without speaking. This could be a long investigation..."
Lauren suddenly blinked and her mind hazily processed that the police officers were there, and that they had been talking to her. Her mind tried to go over what they had said to her, and then her mouth opened and the words just came out.
"I didn't mean to kill him."
Maza and Bluestone immediately crouched down once again, having heard her voice.
The woman's face was curious. "You... killed him?" she asked, her voice gentle.
She nodded numbly, and then her expression strained and tears started spilling from her good eye. "He had me by the throat against the wall... I couldn't breathe... He was going to kill me like he did Mom. I don't even know how I..." Her voice cracked and she went into a coughing fit, the detectives only now seeing the handprint-shaped bruises around the girl's throat.
The female detective quickly put comforting hands on the younger woman's shoulders. "Easy, it's okay. Just take it slow, and start from the beginning. But first... if you could tell us who you and... they are... we would appreciate it."
She nodded a little numbly. "My name is Lauren. The man is my step-father, Craig Johnson, and the woman is my mother, Elaine."
Bluestone had a pad and pencil in hand as he quickly jotted this information down. "Is there anyone else living here?"
She simply shook her head.
Elisa looked at her. "And... can you tell us what happened?" she asked, keeping her voice low and non-forceful.
Lauren slowly started telling them what had happened from the time she had gotten home from school up until he had her around the throat, when she faltered in her narrative.
How the hell am I supposed to tell them that I shot a green light out of my hands and made him go flying across the room and into the fireplace? That's asking to be thrown into either a nuthouse or a lab!
Lauren shook her head after pausing in her narrative. "I don't know... I just sort of blacked out. I don't know how I killed him, but when I came out of it, he was..." she shrugged helplessly and indicated the dead man.
"Was this ongoing or a one-time occurrence?" Elisa asked.
The girl sighed. "We lived like that as far back as I can remember," she said quietly.
Matt opened his mouth to say something, when a quick knock came from the door and Morgan entered the home, stepping over the shelf, a man carrying a medical kit right behind him. They were followed by Roger Lanchester, the precincts medical examiner.
Morgan briefly whispered in Roger's ear and the man nodded and stood to the side, as the doctor approached the two detectives and the girl who was still crouched in the corner. Maza and Bluestone stepped aside.
The doctor gave her a gentle smile as he opened his kit. "Hello, sweetheart. I'm Dr. Ben Argyle. Now, let's give you a quick check up. Aside from the obvious, is there anywhere that you hurt?"
She hesitated for a moment before saying: "My hip."
He nodded. "Okay, I'll check that in a separate room with Miss Maza's presence, of course. But first..." He took out a wipe and started washing the blood off the girls face. He examined the injury, shone a light in her good eye, and nodded to himself. He then examined the injured eye before closing his med kit.
"You have a mild concussion but you'll need stitches, and thankfully, your eye is not as badly damaged as it looks. Just don't go to sleep for a while and you should be fine. And now... is there a room where I can examine your hip? I'll stitch that cut on your forehead while I'm at it."
She hesitated again. "The bathroom? The bedrooms are upstairs, so..."
He nodded. "The bathroom will do for now. So, can you walk?"
Lauren nodded and, accepting the doctor's and Elisa's help, she managed to get to her feet, giving a noticeable wince as she did so. Then she limped to a doorway in the corner of the living room, doctor and detective giving her support.
As soon as they were in the room, the medical examiner approached the body of Craig Johnson. Looking at the corpse, he raised an eyebrow. "I don't think an in depth examination is in need to determine how he died..." He entered the kitchen next and shook his head as he saw the woman's condition. He gently poked and prodded until he carefully felt the back of her neck and winced openly. "Her neck was broken."
Matt nodded. "I figured. Lauren told us she saw Craig slam her neck against the counter, but of course, we needed confirmation." Then he turned to Morgan. "The Captain told us you'd have more orders?"
He nodded. "She wants us to bring the survivor down to the station, provided, of course, that she doesn't need a hospital. Once she's out, the CSI and removal service will be given the clear to take care of the rest. It looks like an open and shut case to me, though."
Matt nodded grimly. "Once we're there, I guess we'll contact other family and tell them what happened."
The bathroom door opened and they came out once more. "It's a cracked hip," Elisa said.
Her partner nodded. "Okay, so let's get her back to the station. When we're there we'll get her some crutches to make things easier on her."
Shortly after being brought to the police station and being given a fresh change of clothes from one of the sympathetic officers, she met Captain Chavez. Lauren winced openly when they asked her about relatives they could contact.
She fidgeted uneasily. "Craig's mom lives in Colorado, in an old folks home. She's got Alzheimer's, though, and didn't even know who he was the last time we visited a few years ago. I don't know of anybody else for Craig. And Mom never mentioned having any family to me, so I have no idea."
The Captain thought hard for a moment, and then called Maza, Bluestone, and Morgan to join her in the hallway, out of earshot of the girl.
"This is obviously an open and shut case of domestic violence, so CSI shouldn't take long gathering evidence. Maza, Morgan. I want you to go back to the house and search the place. See if you can't find a Will or something somewhere. Bluestone, while they're doing that, I want you to stay here with Lauren."
The former FBI agent rose an eyebrow now. "I'm not questioning your orders or anything, Captain, but, why me?"
She looked at him pointedly. "Because you have enough conspiracy theories to keep her distracted until we finish the investigation. Just keep her occupied. You all have your orders, now go."
Nodding, Matt Bluestone entered the coffee room once again, while Elisa and Morgan headed for the exit.
Surprisingly, the mirror was not focused on Lauren for the next scene, but on the two detectives who were currently searching the home. They were in the master bedroom, Morgan going through drawers, while Elisa was searching the closet.
"Aha! Fire safe!" Elisa announced, relief evident in her voice. She pulled it off the shelf in to top of the closet and placed it on the floor. She gave a relieved sigh. "Good, it's not locked." Morgan quickly joined her as she opened the safe and went through its contents.
"Let's see... insurance papers, baby shoes, a lock of hair... Here it is! Last Will and Testament." Maza opened the envelope and examined the paper. "Okay, 'In the event of our deaths, my daughter, Lauren Johnson, is to be placed in the care of my elder brother..." Her eyes bugged out of her head. "David Xanatos?"
Morgan's eyes went wide as well. "What? Are you serious?"
"That's what it says, right here in black and white! Xanatos is Lauren's uncle!"
The beat cop let out a whistle. "And to think, she went all these years without having any idea... It looks like her life is about to improve for the better." He got to his feet. "Well, let's get down to the station and give them the news."
From there, the image turned to Lauren's life with the Xanatos', showing snippets of Lauren experiencing comfort, protection... happiness. They saw her immediate affection for Alexander, her appreciation for her uncle's generosity as he showered her with gifts, more than likely feeling awful for having not looked up his sister himself. They saw Fox stepping up to try and welcome and encourage the girl, comforting her and caring for her every night.
They saw her interactions with Owen as well, seeing her obvious amusement at his stiff posture and impeccable mannerisms and speech. The way even he had showed her kindness, understanding and encouragement, and the girl's obvious appreciation.
They watched her meet and befriend Goliath's clan, slowly developing a means of socializing herself. They watched as she was kidnapped by the Pack, and subsequently used her abilities to help in her escape, the young woman displaying a level of strategy that actually took them by surprise. They watched as Lauren learned of her uncle's past activities and schemes, and saw how easily she forgave him.
Then came the Quarrymen and the revelation of her abilities, and Puck's obvious concern for the girl and her control. They watched her learn of her fey heritage, of her father's existence and her immediate fear of being taken from her newfound happiness.
Then they saw her interactions with Puck as he taught her, cared for her, and gently coaxed her into facing her feelings about her past, giving her the chance to grieve fully for her loss. It had been obvious that Lauren had developed a great appreciation and obvious affection toward the banished fey, and, of course, Puck had made it pretty obvious that he was most definitely interested in her. And from what they could see, the woman was happy to reciprocate those feelings.
The mirror then stopped showing images, indicating that the next significant event was when Oberon had come to bring her to Avalon. Coyote looked up at his Lord and saw his expression was almost unreadable. Then, the fey king turned and walked off.
"Where are you going, husband?" Titania asked, curious in spite of herself.
He paused and glanced back. "I must go somewhere alone and think things through. These new revelations have given me much to think on." He left without another word.
Once again, Lauren woke up feeling someone holding her hand. When her eyes opened, sure enough, there was Coyote sitting at her bedside. She was almost afraid to speak, not knowing what news he might have for her. But then his eyes fell on her and he blinked when he saw she was awake.
He gave her a gentle smile. "Well, good morning. How are you feeling?"
She hesitated. "Better than before... um... I don't know if I want to know but..."
He shook his head, his smile disappearing as he sighed. "Lauren... The first thing you should know is that most of us saw it. Oberon used his mirror to view the significant events in your lives since he last new your mother and..." He shook his head again, his expression turning deeply sympathetic. "It was like a bad train wreck. You almost couldn't stand to watch, and yet you couldn't tear your eyes away. I mean, I knew you'd had it bad, but..." he could only trail off helplessly.
"How did... Oberon take it?" she asked hesitantly.
He pursed his lips. "About that... I think, Lauren, that you have accomplished something not seen before in the history of Avalon."
She blinked. "And what's that?"
He offered her a small smile. "You made Oberon feel guilty. And I'll tell you, if that Craig asshole was still alive, he wouldn't be for long. I've never seen Oberon that angry at any mortal before in my life. Once the show was over, he went off on his own to think the matter though. For the first time, I think you might actually stand a chance of going back to New York."
She sighed. "I'm trying not to be too optimistic. Hoping for the best... bracing myself for the worst." Then she looked at him. "How long was I sleeping, anyway?"
"You were out for about twelve hours. You've still got twelve to go before you're allowed to get out of bed, so don't get any ideas. And Oberon has made it clear that as long as you are awake, you are not to be left alone until he has come to his decision."
She rolled her eyes. "Why would I try killing myself before knowing his decision?"
He shrugged. "I guess you just scared him that badly when you made your initial attempt. And, by the way," He gave her a serious look and locked her gaze with his own. "If you ever try something that stupid again, I'm seriously going to have to knock some sense into your skull. No matter how terrible any situation seems, taking your own life is never the way to handle the problem. I should have listened to my instincts when you told me you wanted to be on your own, and watched you like a hawk."
Then, Lauren was a little surprised when he gently sat her up and pulled her in close.
"I was protective of you before, but... after seeing everything for myself..." He sighed and shook his head. "I like you a lot, Lauren. Maybe... maybe more than I should. And a part of me just wants to shelter you from any and all harm for the remainder of your life. And before you get concerned about it, I'm not going to get between you and Puck. We saw how you two interacted as well, and it's obvious that you both feel for one another greatly. We never saw you smile as much as when you were with him." He pulled back and gave her a platonic kiss on the lips before gently laying her down once more. Her hand was once again firmly in his. "No matter what decision Oberon comes to, I'm going to be there for you, whether he lets you go back, or not. And if he doesn't let you go back, I'll fucking handcuff you to me so you don't get any more crazy ideas."
Her expression strained slightly. "Coyote..."
He shook his head and tightened his hold on her hand. "Shhh. That's enough talk for now, Lauren. You still need your rest. I just pretty much came by to sit with you for a while and give you the update, but..."
Suddenly the door opened and Raven strolled into the room. "Hey, cousin. Lord Oberon wants to talk to us about something." Then he looked down at the girl on the bed. "And as for you... You will never hear me say something like this about a lady again, but you've got a serious set of brass balls to pull a stunt like you did." Then he considered. "Come to think of it, for some reason I can't put my finger on, that makes you even hotter than I thought..."
Coyote smacked him upside the head, an annoyed expression on his face. "Raven, try not being an idiot for five minutes, okay?" Then he looked down at the girl. "Well, as per Oberon's rule, you're going nighty-night again. You're either asleep or have someone with you. We'll see you later, Lauren." He put his fingers at the girls temple and lulled her to sleep. Then he glanced at Raven. "Okay, let's go see what Lord Oberon would like."
Lauren woke up on her own, and slowly opened her eyes.
When she saw Oberon sitting at her bedside, she immediately fought back her nervousness and fear at what his judgement was going to be. His eyes were focused on the wall right now, his features set in a deep contemplative frown.
She hesitated before taking in a deep breath and opening her mouth.
His eyes were on her instantly. "Lauren..." Then, to the shock of the teenager, Oberon sat her up, and held her tight against him. The girl was stunned as he held her, and made no moves to return the gesture. If he cared, Oberon didn't show it.
"I know it means nothing now, daughter, but... I am sorry," he said softly. "At the time... I was merely focused upon my own self gratification, and did not consider the possible consequences of my actions. I have caused you and your mother unspeakable horrors through my lack of foresight." He then pulled away and looked at her. "And that is why, provided you agree to one condition, I shall grant you permission to return to New York."
Lauren almost became downright elated until she realized her father had said "one condition" and immediately worried. "A... condition?"
He nodded. "Yes. Only if you agree to this one condition will I allow you to return. If not, you will remain here, under constant supervision. And this is not open to debate."
Bracing herself for the worst, the girl mustered up her courage. "And... what is the condition?"
Oberon held out his hand, revealing a tiny ring with a simple white gem upon it. "You must wear this ring, and never remove it. You are a woman of your word, Lauren, and I want you to promise that you will keep it on at all times, no matter what activity you are engaged in, including bathing and sleeping. Only if you agree to this, daughter, will I allow you to return."
Lauren let out a massive sigh of relief and, for the first time, gave her father a small smile. "And here I thought it was going to be some huge, terrible thing." She accepted the ring and slipped it on the index finger of her left hand. "I promise you that I won't take it off for any reason. What is the ring for, anyway?"
Her father looked at her for a long moment, and then simply said: "I sincerely hope, Lauren, that you never have to find out." Then he changed the subject. "Grandmother examined you before you awakened, and informed me that you are now fully recovered. Now, come... you can say your goodbye's, and I will return you to the mortal world." He held his hand out toward her and she was in a fresh change of clothes, and her bag was packed and at her side instantly. Then, he seemed to hesitate for a moment, before speaking once more. "I know, daughter, that I have no right to ask anything of you but... I have a request as well."
She blinked hearing this. "And what's that?"
"I would like it very much... if you and I could visit your mother before I bring you home."
Lauren's brain had to go over the sentence a few times before she was sure she had heard right. Then, tears formed in her eyes as she threw her arms around Oberon, taking the Fey King by surprise. His arms slowly went around her once again, holding her close.
"I'd like that," she said quietly.
He nodded and pulled back, giving his daughter a smile of his own. "Now, let's go to the others so you can say your goodbye's."
Nodding back, she got to her feet and allowed Oberon to lead her out of the room.
The moment they entered the hall, Oberon stood at Titania's side as he watched his daughter charge toward Coyote, happily throwing her arms around him. He listened as she excitedly told the trickster she was returning home, his own feelings on the matter mixed.
Titania looked to him. "Are you sure this is wise, husband?"
He shook his head. "I know it's not. But if I don't let her go... she will hate me forever. I can only hope that the ring will be protection enough."
Coyote seemed amused at Lauren's enthusiasm, while Raven had an expression that could only be described as a pout.
"What's wrong, Raven?" she asked curiously.
He sighed. "You were here for ten days, and I never got to steal even a single kiss from you. I can't help but feel cheated."
She rolled her eyes. "I've been here for eight days, not ten."
Coyote smirked at her. "Nope. It's been a little over ten days. After you pulled your stunt, you were out cold for two straight days. You would've been up sooner if you hadn't developed an infection."
Lauren paused, hearing this, and then she shrugged. "Well, what's two more days?" Then she regarded Raven. "And as for you..." Unexpectedly, she pulled him down and gave him a quick platonic kiss on the lips. "That's all you're getting and you're only getting it because I'm in such a great mood. Now don't ask me again."
He grinned at her now. "Your lips touched mine, so I'm satisfied... for now." Then he grabbed her and pulled her in for a hug. "Keep yourself out of trouble... if such a thing is even possible for you..."
She held him back for a moment before pulling back. "You know... when I first met you, I thought you were a prick... but you're not too bad."
He frowned slightly. "Is that your idea of a compliment?"
To their surprise, Lauren let out a little giggle. "Take it however you want."
She went turned back to Coyote and gave him one last long hug. His arms were tight around her tiny form. "You tell that lucky little bastard that he'd better take good care of you... because if he doesn't I'll kill him!"
"Thank you for everything, Coyote. I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't been here."
He pulled back, giving her a kiss on the forehead before giving her his signature smirk. "Anytime. Like Raven said, keep yourself out of trouble."
She nodded, leaning forward to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Maybe later on, I could make arrangements for us to hang out... hopefully out in the mortal world so I don't lose days out of my life..."
"I guess we'll see. We'd have to hash that out with Oberon, though." He smiled at her. "Good bye, Lauren."
She nodded. "Goodbye Raven and Coyote. I'll see you guys around."
Upon seeing their nods, she gave quick goodbye's to Grandmother, Banshee and Odin, and then approached Oberon and Titania. She gave her mother-in-law a small bow. "Titania, it was an honour to meet you. Thank you for everything."
The Queen of Avalon smiled at the young woman. "Come... give your mother-in-law a hug, and stop being so formal." She pulled the Halfling woman close. Her mouth was next to her ear and she whispered. "Be careful, Lauren, and above all, listen to your instincts." Then she pulled back and gave her a smirk. "Keep Puck in line. While his manners have improved over the centuries, he may still have some... less than admirable qualities."
Lauren nodded, her patented smile in place.
Oberon looked down at her. "Are you ready to return, daughter?"
The girl nodded and went to stand beside him, when another voice rang out.
"Wait, Princess," said a feminine voice as the Weird Sisters stepped forward.
"A warning must be issued here,"(Phoebe)
"For you do have much to fear." (Selene)
"With hair so fair and icy eyes," (Luna)
"With heart so cold, no mercy lies,
Should he meet you, he will bring
You untold pain and suffering.
One who's heart is filled with greed,
No cries for mercy will he heed.
Beware this one, heed our call,
Or else, fair Lauren, you shall fall."
Lauren watched wide eyed as the sisters finished their narrative with a low bow toward her, and they vanished in a flash of light. She couldn't help but let out a shiver.
"Can't those three just say 'see ya later' like normal people? That was easily the single most ominous goodbye I've ever heard..."
Especially when she remembered MacBeth's warning before she'd come here in the first place.
Well, it was something she would puzzle over later. Maybe she'd see if Puck had any ideas of what their warning might mean... but between the ring, Titania's whispered words, and now the warning issued by the Weird Sisters... Lauren couldn't help but be just a little concerned.
Oberon looked down on her once more. "Are you prepared now, daughter?"
Shaking off her contemplations, she nodded. Oberon placed his hand on her shoulder, and the two of them vanished.
The next thing Lauren knew, she was standing in the cemetery. She looked around a moment, and realized they were directly in front of her mother's grave, and looking at it now, she was stunned.
"The dirt settled and the grass grew over it... How much time passed since I was brought to Avalon?"
She looked up at Oberon and almost didn't recognize him, as he had taken on a human form. Oh, he still looked very much like himself, except his skin was as pale as her own, he was dressed in normal human clothing, and there was no way to distinguish him from any other human. He also had ditched the pony-tail, and had his hair short and slicked back.
"You were gone for a little over eight months," he said simply, before looking down at taking in her expression. "You did not think I would wander the mortal realm in my true form, did you?"
She couldn't help but give a tiny smile. "I guess not."
Oberon turned his attention to the tombstone in front of them. He glanced over at the grave next to hers and couldn't help but feel a sense of satisfaction that nobody had bothered to replace the destroyed grave marker. He placed his hand on Elaine's marker. His hand briefly emitted a low green glow before flowers of numerous descriptions blossomed on the woman's grave.
"I know it means nothing to you now, Elaine, but I am sorry," he said softly before returning to his daughter's side. He seated himself on the ground, gently urging his daughter into his lap as he held her up against him. The two of them stared at the grave for a few long moments before he started speaking once more. "I remember the day I met your mother."
He nodded, although she didn't see it. "At the time, I was in the form you see now, and my assumed name was Lucas Crawford. We, quite literally, bumped into one another as she was on her way to watch a play being performed by a local charity group. She had been working to promote the cause and was carrying various forms and donation slips. I assisted her in picking up the mess and we began to talk. It wasn't long before she invited me to join her. We enjoyed the play, had a wonderful dinner and evening walk... and then she invited me into her home." He considered. "She... intrigued me. She was refined in her mannerisms and speech and yet... her humour was beautifully subtle. A very kind, and generous young woman."
Lauren sighed a little. "Well... You knew her better than I did, then."
He shook his head now. "I see many of those same qualities within you, Lauren. And I am both amazed and proud... knowing you turned out as you did, even with the circumstances forced upon you."
There was a long moment of silence, father and daughter enjoying a nice late spring day in the quiet solitude of the graveyard. The girl realized, suddenly, that she felt content where she was, and she couldn't help but feel that little smile tugging at the corner of her own lips.
"You know... I think you and I are having our first ever father-daughter moment."
She felt him tighten his hold on her slightly. "I hope, Lauren, that there will be more to come in the future." A moment later, he released her, and the two of them got back to their feet. "Now... let's get you home. I am sure everyone is eager to see you again."
Lauren gave one last look at the tombstone and nodded. Oberon's hand fell on her shoulder once again, and a moment later, the cemetery was empty.
Lauren felt an immense relief when she saw she was now in the castle courtyard. The sun was shining brightly up above, the gargoyles roosting on the parapets of the castle. From what she could see, everything was exactly as she remembered it.
Then her eyes widened when she heard two familiar voices approaching, and a huge smile split her face.
"Did Mather's get back to us on the status of that project?"
"Yes. It should be completed by the deadline, although he stated he is having some difficulty with..."
"Oberon!" Her uncle sounded far from happy, and Lauren peeked around her father, before stepping fully into view.
Her uncle looked very much surprised to see her, but Owen... the normally stoic Owen Burnett was standing there, his eyes wide with disbelief, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
Lauren gave the two of them a little wave. "Hi. I'm back."
Owen's entire body seemed to shudder slightly. "M... Mr. Xanatos...?
"Permission granted," he said, his voice stunned.
Owen vanished instantly and a very elated Puck was now in his place. "LAUREN!" He flew forward, throwing his arms around her and swinging her around like an excited child, saying her name repeatedly as he flew about the courtyard before finally settling down and holding her close. "I don't believe it! How in the world did you convince Oberon to let you come back?"
She paused at that one. "Er... That's... not important. I'm back... and I'm not going anywhere."
He nodded in agreement. "You're damned right you're not!" In the next instant, Puck was dressed as a police officer and had her handcuffed to him. "Now, where you go, I go! It's just that simple!"
Lauren couldn't help but smile at this. She held up her cuffed hand. "Puck... you'd better have a key for these..."
He paused and started patting himself. "Hmm... I know I have a set somewhere..."
"Puck," Xanatos said, stepping forward now. "Don't forget, there's a few more people who'd like to welcome her back."
Looking surprisingly ashamed, the trickster nodded and returned to his normal clothes, the handcuffs vanishing as well. "Of course. Sorry, Mr. X."
Lauren walked up to her uncle, pulling the locket out. "I believe this is yours."
The CEO accepted the locket, and then wordlessly pulled the girl into a tight hug. "I missed you. I think I had given up on you coming back..."
"Lauren!" came a newly arrived Fox's voice. The boy she was carrying in her arms immediately struggled, indicating he wanted down in his excitement. Fox set him down and Xanatos stepped back just in time to witness his son make an attempted tackle.
The girl took a few steps back from the initial impact, before scooping the boy up in her arms and holding him close. "Alex! Oh, you sweet, loveable little man! I missed you! Didn't auntie tell you she'd be back?"
He nodded excitedly as she gave him a kiss on the cheek and set him down before finding Fox holding her.
After watching this all silently, Oberon cleared his throat. "I shall return to Avalon now."
Lauren jerked slightly and quickly pulled away from Fox. "Oberon, wait!" She quickly approached him and let out a sigh. "Listen. I said some pretty hateful things to you on Avalon, and..."
"You were well within your right to do so, Lauren. I hold no resentment toward you for your words."
She smirked. I guess his habit of cutting people off isn't going to go away overnight... "Be that is it may... I really do want to get to know my father. It's just... you've seriously got to rethink your tactics. Maybe... sometime you could spend some time with me here in the mortal world, rather than on Avalon so I don't lose days out of my life?"
Oberon blinked and gave her a small smile. "I... would enjoy that. Perhaps... we can make those arrangements in the future."
She nodded. "Sounds good. We can work on your parenting skills while we're at it." Standing up on her tip-toes, she gave him a peck on the cheek. "Goodbye, Oberon. I'll see you around sometime."
He gave her a single nod in return, and then vanished from sight.
Lauren then ran back to the others, and found herself half squashed by an enthusiastic group hug.
She had finally come home.
I'll be nice... no cliffy this time. Just a nice happy ending to the chapter. I'm not entirely sure one when the next one's going to be coming out. Hopefully it will done by this time next month, but my schooling's getting more involved now (was four days a week, but will soon be upped to five) and so I'm not going to have as much time as I did. But I'll try!
In the meantime, tell me what you think! Review please!