Towards the end of Q’s story, both Risa and Fury were struggling to stay awake. The cousins knew the highlights, but having all the gaps filled in made sense of their history. Half the puzzle had been missing, leaving the cousins mystified and more than a little blase about the threat. Now it was filled in the picture became clearer, and far more threatening.
Dova rested his chin on his knee. The figure of Q, outlined with his dark, heavy coat against the forest behind him, struck an imposing sight when he captivated an audience. The only time their attention broke had been the result of a squawking crow and its crashing flight out of the forest. Trees with branches like twisted fingers reached up to the sky, something they could never hope to touch.
Dova felt much the same about his future. It was far away, and with each step closer he realised the gap was larger than he first thought. That indicated he had ambition to reach some end goal, when in reality it was just an aimless stretching towards something with more meaning than his life held: more meaning than his parents allowed him to have.
“Is this our superhero origin story?”
Korra sent him a nasty look, but Doe ignored her.
“If you say yes, sure.”
“Yes to what?”
Q measured Korra with quiet contemplation. “To moving away with me and training to do everything I’ve just told you about. Stopping the Council. Controlling your powers.”
“Powers is a funny way to put it,” Risa muttered into her hair, to no one in particular.
“I mean, you say that like we have a choice. I’ve watched Buffy, I know how this works.”
“We do have a choice,” Fury said. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes lazily. “A wrong one and a right one.”
“Dramatic bitch,” Dova said.
“Oh Dios, esto es peor de lo que pensé que sería,” Q groaned. “Hay cuatro de ustedes y uno de mí. Este es mi infierno por todos mis pecados.”
[Oh God, this is worse than I thought it would be. There’s four of them and one of me. This is hell for all my sins].
“He’s the dramatic bitch.” Fury prodded a finger in Q’s direction. Doe inclined his head to indicate he agreed with the point.
“Okay!” Q clapped his hands together. “I’m leaving in two days, so pack up and come along. I promise it’s less creepy than it sounds.”
“My mum won’t like it,” Risa said, picking at dried mud on her sleeve. Her eyes were lowered, lips pressed down into a pout. What her thoughts were on all this, Doe couldn’t tell. Sometimes trying to read her was like trying to guess his mother’s drawings in Pictionary.
“Yeah, are we supposed to ask for permission or forgiveness?”
“Run away?” Korra asked, eyes shining. “Hell yeah. I’m in.”
“Wrong goal to have, but okay.” Dova motioned towards Q. “So, Mr. Future man, is Law gonna tag team our folks or are we skipping out of a window at night?”
“Tell your parents.” Q pulled up to full height, stuffing hands deep into his pockets and looking somewhere off in the distance. Fury, from where he sat on the far left of the group, leaned forward to catch Doe’s eyes and mouthed ‘dramatic bitch’.
“There are too many variables to predict how they’ll react, but they know what the game is. When the cards are dealt, I need you in my hand, or the Council will steamroll right over us.”
“What about school?”
“Ew, Ris! Why?” Dova whined.
“You’ll still be learning and taking exams. You’ll just have a few extra classes.”
“We’re going to have to do exercise, aren’t we?”
“Oh, my lazy little pumpkin, you’re going to be in the best shape of your life.”
Fury slipped inside yawning, the lights on their dimmest settings throughout the hall. He wiped at aching eyes as they watered. The walk home had been filled with a heavy silence and an intolerable distance between him and Risa – nothing physical, for they kept almost shoulder to shoulder as they walked, but neither of them brought their thoughts into the open. The secret that held the four of them together like glue, their companionship based in dark understanding, could also keep them at arm’s length from one another.
His thoughts had exhausted him further on the walk home. This was finally happening, and it felt all too real. Every time he thought of it, his skin tingled with excitement and nervousness. He was glad to make it home, to the sturdy presence of his family, where he no longer needed to worry about being lightheaded or lost.
Shanna came out of the living room when she heard the door close, and wrapped her son in a hug before he could say anything.
“I know,” she said, her voice as soft as her woollen jumper. “We’re so proud of you. We’ll help you pack in the morning. For now just try to rest.” She pulled away and left him cold, though her hands still smoothed up and down his forearms. “How do you feel?”
There was no easy way to explain he felt so many things that he couldn’t settle on one. Like a kaleidoscope, switching every second and showing a new combination of emotion, a new pattern of thoughts.
“I don’t know.” He’d always resorted to truthfulness with his parents. After watching how his older cousins worked, he was glad to have formed the habit at an early age.
Shanna nodded and led him gently to the stairs. “You’re bound to be overwhelmed. That’s okay. But you know what you have to do.”
There was no inflection on her words, so the only clue that it was a question was in her eyes. Fury nodded, deciding not to poke at the strange sense of defeat that balled up in his stomach. It was just as he told Dova: they did have a choice. One just happened to be very, very wrong. And knowing this, Fury could never choose the wrong thing.
Breakfast was a solemn affair, and Risa fretted that she was on the horns. It wasn’t until she took her last sip of tea did she realise that the storm air was indicative of a parental argument, not of an unruly teenager.
Risa pushed a chunk of crust around her plate until she could work up the nerve to speak. Staying home while her cousins left was unthinkable, but putting her foot in her mouth now could ruin everything.
When she finally cleared her throat, it was as Kian was taking her plate. He tilted his head in curiosity and settled back down, leaving the plates where they were. Isabelle lowered her cup of tea and looked between the two of them with dreadful suspicion. Time for her tempo di mezzo.
“I, um, met with Q last night.”
Isabelle’s fingers went white. “Excuse me?” Her voice was completely flat, and demanding, and terrible.
“You saw the text?” Kian asked, narrowing his eyes. Clearly, he knew Q well enough to be able to work backwards from there. The text had never been meant for him.
“Yes,” Risa whispered, dropping her eyes to the table and busying herself with sweeping the crumbs into her palm, sprinkling them onto the waiting plates and letting the pause grow, anticipation rise. Time for the drop. “He told us everything.”
“Us?” Too sharp, too quick.
Risa ploughed on. “Everything, meaning before… and after. He wants us to come with him. He needs us to,” she quickly amended.
Her father slumped back in his chair and slowly his head went back until he stared at the ceiling, incredulity and dread mixed into one. His fingers began to worry each other, the napkin, the cutlery, but he said nothing. Isabelle, meanwhile, had spent the silence stoking her indignation.
“Who does he think he is?” she shouted, rising alongside her voice. “You are twelve, Risa, and you are going nowhere. He is-,”
“Isabelle,” Kian said, rousing himself to action. He placed a hand, palm up, between them. “Q does nothing without a good reason.”
“I don’t care what his reason is. Would you really defend your so-called friend snatching away our child and – what does he even want?!”
“To defeat the Council,” Risa said in a small voice. The effect was devastating. She had never been told about them except by Fury, and as such had never uttered that word to her parents before now. Kian went pale at the very mention of them, and Isabelle dropped back to her seat.
“They are too dangerous, Risa, you will not-,”
“He can see the future, mum! He knows what has to be done. This is it.”
“No. Absolutely not! This is ridiculous. Kian, tell her. We’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to piece together some normalcy and now he waltzes in here to destroy it? No. No, that’s not okay.”
“But if we’re not there, then he loses.”
“That makes no sense,” Isabelle seethed. “What do you have that can turn the tables?”
At that, Risa winced, and the reaction was not lost on either of her parents. Isabelle pressed her hand to her mouth and struggled to compose herself.
“I didn’t mean that you have nothing to give, Risa. You know that you do. But in these circumstances, you are no better qualified than others Q can pick up. This choice is just selfishness from him.”
“Q doesn’t do selfish,” Kian muttered.
“Oh, now you jump in?”
“He doesn’t. He plays his cards with the utmost care. Risa has vampire heritage. That can’t be underestimated.”
Risa pressed her lips together. That was true, but it also wasn’t the reason Q wanted the cousins on his team. No, he’d been planning this since before they were born, but telling them that would only ruin her chances further.
“If we’re not there, the Council win.”
“And what happens to the rest of us,” Kian murmured aloud, cradling his head in his hands.
“You can’t seriously be considering-,”
“There’s nothing to consider, Isabelle-,”
“I can make my own decisions,” Risa announced, standing tall.
“You’re twelve, Risa. Sit back down.”
“No. I’m going. That’s final.” She intended this to be her own version of a postlude, but her mother did not let her have the last word.
“No you are not,” Isabelle growled. “If Q comes near you, I will be demanding a restraining order.”
“Isabelle,” Kian objected, “we don’t live in the normalcy we have fooled ourselves into believing surrounds us. What is a restraining order to a vampire – to a man that can harry the Council so well? He knows what he’s talking about. We have more bargaining power if we say yes than if we say no.”
“Bargaining power? For our daughter? I want to keep her safe.”
“Q will keep her safe.”
“Q was meant to keep our parents safe. Ayr safe. Look what he’s done to our family.”
Kian reached out to catch her hand. “Look what he’s given us.”
“And so he thinks he’s right to take her away?”
“He’s not taking me away!” Risa exploded. “I’m happily deciding myself.”
“Isabelle, if the Council win, our attempt at normal lives will no longer matter. They might have left us alone for years, but they don’t forget their debts. Sending Risa with Q will give her – and us – the best chance.”
“How can you trust him?” Isabelle hissed. “After everything.”
Kian was patient as ever. “That’s exactly why I do trust him.” He turned to Risa and placed his hand over hers. “Go pack. Your mother and I will need some time to talk alone.”
Risa looked between them and the niggling fear of being left out almost made her stubborn, but she caught herself before she could sit. Packing, and taking this win, were far more important.
She grabbed her phone and eyed the group chat as she hurried away, and smirked as it became clear that she was the second to have succeeded.
Korra scowled at Risa’s boasting and shoved her phone face down onto her bed. Her mother’s warbling voice called her for dinner and she marched downstairs, still scowling, and remembered immediately the way they’d left their last discussion when the shining pile of leaflets caught her eye.
She settled opposite her mother and involuntarily glanced towards the door. “Where’s dad?” It was with genuine surprise that she asked the question: he rarely missed dinner, which was why they always ate together as a family.
“He’s not feeling well,” Cara answered, tucking into her food with no preamble. Without Ayr to carry the conversation, mother and daughter settled into uneasy silence. Once again Korra looked towards the door. She couldn’t help but think of their dreadful argument, but surely Ayr was not so immature as to ignore his daughter because of it?
Then again, it was the worst one yet. Korra scowled at her plate and pushed around a chunk of steaming broccoli. It was Dova’s fault, anyway. He had made her so angry that day.
“We need to talk about our discussion yesterday.”
Korra startled out from her thoughts. “Is discussion really the descriptive you want to use?”
Cara took in a deep breath and steeled herself, but Korra was on the offensive. It was just like boxing – if you didn’t give your opponent a chance to make a comeback, you won long before the last punch.
“I’m leaving,” she announced, with smug satisfaction.
“Q came to see me last night. He needs us to go with him to stop the Council. I already promised. We leave tomorrow night.”
Cara stared at her daughter with the fork halfway to her mouth. “Just like that, huh?”
So much for the easy victory. With that smart counter, Korra was on the back foot. Never had she suspected such an answer.
“Y-yes,” she said, jutting her chin out. Unconsciously she pressed her heels into the cold floor below, grinding them down and feeling the edges of tiles beneath her skin. “It’s the only way to defeat the Council.”
“And what about your swimming and scholarships?”
Another point lost. Korra hadn’t even considered – but no. She couldn’t back down now. Besides, all of her cousins were going. She wouldn’t be left in loserville behind.
Out of thin air she pulled the answer, smoothly regaining her footing. “We’ll need to be very physically fit while there, so there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll get more chances to excel.”
“Then it sounds perfect for you.”
Korra stuffed a forkful of potato into her mouth, chewed it slowly even though the heat seared her tongue and made her eyes water. “You’re not worried? I’ll be fighting the Council.”
Cara smiled humorlessly. “Would my saying no really stop you? Your window let in a draught last night.”
So much for sneaking out.
Korra didn’t know how to deal with this new development in their relationship. Her mother had switched from varying emotions before when confronting Korra, but never apathy. “What about dad? What will he say?”
“Perhaps you could ask him yourself?”
Korra fell silent and focused on finishing her meal. When she replied to the group chat, she mentioned nothing about the conversation, only that her mother had agreed.
Dova stared down at the question Fury had put forward that morning. The last thing that their group chat had confirmed was that somehow Korra was coming along without so much as an argument. Dova doubted the truth of that statement, but he began to wonder if the parents had always known this was coming.
So, Doe? What have yours said?
Nothing, was the truthful answer. Dova hadn’t figured out how to bring this up. He considered the old trick of lying to them about something so much worse, and then revealing the truth to their relief, but what was worse than this? If his suspicions were correct, it was that their worst fears had come true, and for all of his derision of their false sense of control he had never undermined them like last night.
Yeah, we’re leaving tonight, or did you forget?
No, Korra, he hadn’t. Thank you for reminding him.
Dova ate the last of the cereal with less enthusiasm than usual. His dad insisted that no new cereal would be bought until the last was fully finished, which meant the last day of the Wheatabix box ended up as cold, congealed soup as the crumbs soaked up milk too rapidly.
He watched his parents clean up the kitchen with their usual no-nonsense manner, talking now and then in quiet voices about their days, or the news, or some podcast about… elves, or something. He regretted knocking them out of their own world so abruptly, but maybe the best way to do it was to rip off the plaster. Sometimes the trick was to hit hard and fast, like an early-game rush, before anyone could get their defences up.
“I spoke to Q last night.”
Mia startled, the reaction so physical she almost dropped the oddly shaped cup onto the counter. Quinn whipped around to stare at his son, furious horror causing his cheeks to burn red. Dova fancied he could almost taste the anger, and it tasted of rust.
“I guess that’s always what you were hiding me from? Learning about what happened?”
“He has no right!”
“Quinn,” Mia said, and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “When exactly did you talk with him?”
“Busted. Guilty as charged. Went to go to the party, got stopped on the way.” Dova barrelled through without daring to pause for a breath, or to think. “To be completely honest with you, I already knew half of it. Did you think Fury would never tell me, or…?”
Quinn wrapped the tea towel around and around, twisting it violently one way and then the next. “I would have thought knowing the story would have made you more understanding,” he said bitterly.
“You say understanding, I hear obedient,” Dova seethed. “And in fact, all of your ridiculous attempts to control me have just had the opposite effect. Well done, I guess?”
“We’re not trying to control you!”
“Really?” Dova stared at them both in shock. “Then what else is this? You don’t like me going out except for school. You don’t let me go into Edinburgh without a chaperone, and I’m not to go anywhere further afield even with some adult tagging along. How else am I supposed to interpret this?”
“Q endangers everyone around him,” Quinn gritted out. “He might have twisted all those facts when he spoke to you, but you can’t deny all the things that happen around him.”
“I’d argue that those are a product of his trying to stop a big bad, actually.”
“This isn’t one of your TV shows, Dova! Real people get killed, real people get hurt. You need to stay away from him or you’ll be the collateral damage that follows him everywhere.”
“Too late,” Dova muttered, using the excuse of his phone to avoid looking his father in the eye. “Q needs us to leave with him. We’re going to fight the Council.”
“Absolutely not,” Mia choked out, far quicker to respond than her aghast husband. “Don’t be ridiculous! You aren’t some chosen one, Dova, you’re an almost regular teenager who hates exercise and hard work. What do you think is going to happen?”
“We’re his only hope,” Dova protested. “And trust me, we’re more capable than you think.”
“He does this to trick you, Dova, he can see the god damn future! He’ll find another hope. You aren’t going anywhere. And your cousins certainly aren’t.”
“They’ve already agreed. Shanna and Dustin have literally been training Fury for this his entire life.”
“We’re aware, trust me,” Quinn snapped. “And I have made it clear to her exactly how much I disapprove of that.”
“I can do this-”
“Maybe. Maybe you can. But you’re not going to. You’re going nowhere with that man, and so he won’t get a chance to throw your life away for his twisted version of the greater good. You’re staying here.”
Dova opened his mouth to argue, but Mia was already there. “Go to your room, please.” Her arms were folded so tightly over her chest that Dova wondered if there was any blood getting past to the rest of her body. He did as she asked, though, because he could think of no other card to play.
Still, he dragged his feet and collapsed onto his bed.
No good, he told the group chat. Sorry. I did my best.
“Are you sure you’re not coming?” Korra asked, her back against the papery bark of the silver birch, shoes pushing up the dirt and exposing a long worm to the sun. “I mean, by the sounds of it you’re pretty necessary.”
“There is, literally, no way in hell that my parents would ever agree. You know how my dad is. I don’t know why I even bothered to ask.”
“Exactly. Just come with us.” She said it like it was an obvious solution, even pushing her tongue against the skin of her bottom lip to make her usual duh face. As if it were that simple.
“I’m going to wake up to bars being put on my window like Harry Potter.”
“Then go out the front door, idiot.”
“I forget how smart you can be,” Dova said sagely. She prodded his leg with her dirty shoe. “Maybe they’ll come around when they see you lot gone for a while. Do you really think we’re going to get hurt? Or like… Q is using us?”
“Of course he’s using us,” Korra snorted. “Hello! He’s been using us since – literally – before we were born. But this is gonna be crazy fun. And we get his expertise in controlling our shit. What more could you ask for?”
Dova chewed on his lip. “That does worry me. I don’t know about you, but mine is getting stronger.” He kept his voice low in case anyone could overhear. “Q did warn us about fully losing control.”
“I’ll text you instructions.” Korra stood up and brushed soil off her clothes, taking care to push mud back over the wriggling pink worm. Dova watched her gentle actions with amazement and wondered how the hell she interacted with her fellow humans so caustically. “I’ve got to go and finish packing. We’re meeting Q at the park in two hours. Ciao.” She blew him a kiss, snickered, and hoped back over the fence and away from the garden. Dova watched her leave, weaving in and out of the trees on the path created by their comings and goings.
She could do his head in, true, but damn he was going to miss her.
Dova trudged inside and grabbed himself a tea. His father came in and smiled as if nothing was the matter.
“One for me, please,” he said, brushing mud off his walking boots. Dova maintained eye contact as he poured his own and then sent the remaining water steaming down the drain. Quinn cocked his head in warning, eyes glinting dangerously.
“Don’t be so immature.”
“Learnt from the best.”
“This is exactly why you can’t go. You’re too young: you can’t see this for what it really is.”
“And yet I see this-” Dova gestured between the two of them, “-Perfectly well.”
“Fine, I’ll bite.” He folded his arms and leaned his hip against the wall, a smudge of dirt transferring to the tiles. “What is this?”
“Your insecurities and anxieties controlling our relationship, encouraging you to act as if I am but an extension of your person and not my own independent being, and what you fail to see is that the only thing this results in is my disgust, disrespect, and eventual rebellion.”
“Eventual rebellion,” Quinn repeated with a snort.
“What do you think is going to happen?” Dova exploded, the temper he usually fought to control delighting in answering his plea. “Do you think I will one day thank and admire you for curbing my life so much? Because I hate to burst your bubble, but our relationship is very different from what you perceive, and when I do move out of here – which I fucking will! – then I will delight in not having to see or speak to you for very, very long periods of time.”
“We’re trying to get you to understand-”
“Understand what? That you’re bad parents and shouldn’t have had a kid until you were capable of separating your fears from reality?”
Quinn twisted his lips into an angry rebuttal, but swallowed it back. He was always twisting in his anger, expressions completely on his sleeve and writhing with his lively frustration and righteousness.
“You are clearly too immature to have this conversation. I can only hope that when you are old enough to move out, you’ve bridged that gap.” After a pointed – and disappointed – look, Quinn trudged up the stairs and left his son fuming. If the kettle hadn’t already boiled, Dova felt like he could have done it himself, as angry as he was.
He left his tea steaming at the sink. He stormed into his room and grabbed his backpack, blindly stuffing in clothes upon clothes. Another housed his few electronics – all dreadfully old – and anything else within easy reaching distance.
“Fine, I’m immature,” he muttered to himself. “So let’s do something only an immature person would do.”
Dova slipped out of the back door without even leaving a note. The fury screaming inside him didn’t allow for rational thought or even the hint of hesitation.
He arrived at the park half an hour later, realised he hadn’t thought to text Korra to order the group to wait, and was about to phone when he saw Q leaning against the land rover.
Korra leaned out of the window when she saw him, teeth white and revealed in a shit eating grin. “Get in, loser, we’re going on a road trip.”
Q ignored her and took one of the bags from Dova. “You alright?”
“You knew I was coming?”
“Don’t bet against a Seer,” he said, grunting as he hefted the pack into the boot. When it closed Q took advantage of the illusion of privacy. “I’m sorry, regardless.”
“Won’t they, like, try to find me?”
Q shrugged. “They can try. They won’t be happy with their siblings. Or Law. But in the end, the people who know where you are know how important it is for you to be here.” He hesitated, and then clapped a hand to his shoulder. “You especially. You made the right choice.”
“Yeah.” Dova shoved Fury into the middle and climbed into the back, receiving a warm smile from his cousins. He watched his world disappear through the tinted windows and as the distance grew, so did his guilt.
One of my new methods of characterisation is to use their passions for comparisons. So with Dova it’s games (early-rush, his mother’s pictionary skills), Risa it’s music (postlude, rising, flats, etc), and Korra it’s her athletic endeavours or nature, particularly evolutionary mechanisms (like the caterpillar in chapter 1). Fury still somewhat eludes me, but I’ve used his love of fast things in the past, like the Bluebird. It’s super fun but since I know nothing about music and, like, boxing etc, it’s involving some research and I hope they don’t miss the mark entirely!