Author’s Note: Hey, guys! Finally, we get to embark on arc six. This is one I’ve been wanting to get to for a long time. Now that we are here, it is once again time for the next Bonus Chapter vote. I’m trying something a little new this time. Instead of letting people vote on literally every character that has appeared in story thus far, I have selected several potential options for bonus chapters for y’all to choose from. The link can be found here, or you can just click on the Bonus Chapter Votes tab in the site menu. Until next time, guys.
To call the silence that surrounded Casper awkward would have been the understatement of the month. Even the receptionist was staring; Tsuru was doing so with an intensity that bordered on hostility. For his part, Casper picked up his strawberry milk and drained it dry, before stepping up out of his uncomfortable excuse for a chair, and crossing the room to throw the empty carton in the bin.
He returned to his chair. Everyone was still staring.
“So,” Tsuru asked, her tone one of barely suppressed anger. “Has he fucked you yet?”
He leaned back against the seat cushion, and looked her in the eye.
“It’s not like that.”
“It’s Father,” Peter replied, managing his voice at least somewhat better than his mother. “It’s always like that. Do you honestly expect me to believe he hasn’t tried-”
“Oh, he tried,” Casper admitted. “I said no.”
“Bullshit,” replied Peter and Tsuru in unison. The two of them looked at one another. Peter gestured for his mother to proceed.
“You don’t say no to Father,” she growled. “No one says no to Father. Especially not an untrained, adolescent boy.”
“I’m not untrained,” he replied coldly. In any other mindset, the look she gave him then would have terrified him. He looked around. He still didn’t like the idea of telling them about his power, but how else to show them? He spotted a flowerpot by the reception desk, and stood, crossing the room towards it. “Plastic. Darn. I don’t suppose anyone has some flower seeds?”
He had intended it as a joke. A lame one, in retrospect. What he had not expected was for both Peter and Tsuru to begin digging in their pockets.
“Come here,” Peter muttered, pulling out his wallet and unzipping a small compartment on the side. Casper stepped towards him, and the older man shook a small selection of seeds into his palm.
With that, he returned to his seat, looked around for something suitably disposable, and settled on his half-eaten pastry. He picked it up, stuffed one of the smaller seeds into the casing, and focused on his spell.
Three weeks ago, this power had been almost inaccessible, like doing deadlifts with his brain. In those three weeks, however, he’d had the time to practice.
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, the pastry’s exterior began to tear, exuding at first just a single flower blossom, then significantly more. Roots, leaves, stems. Casper kept going until the thing was a half foot wide, roots and creepers trailing around his hand and halfway up his arm. He could have pushed it further, but they got the point.
He peeled his hand free of the flower’s stems, and lobbed it lightly across at Tsuru. She caught it, examined it for a moment, then passed it to her son.
“Fine,” she murmured, apparently making a little more effort at maintaining some form of calm. “So you’re not a total novice. I still don’t think for a second that you could say no to a man like Father. I know trained combat mages who couldn’t manage that.”
“She has a point, you know,” Peter agreed, pressing a finger to one of the flower blossoms, only for it to begin shrinking in his hand, returning itself to a seed. “I don’t care if you can use your spells or not. Father has mind co-”
“Mind Control,” Casper cut him off. “Yeah. He does. It doesn’t work on me.”
“Doesn’t work on you?” Tsuru laughed, her voice sounding almost sickened. “Is that what he made you think? Casper. It’s magic. There’s no such thing as being immune.”
“I’m not immune,” he replied. “It just doesn’t work on me.”
At that, it was Peter’s turn to groan.
“God, don’t you realize how inane that sounds?” he asked, his voice growing steadily louder, before Sarah’s hand on his leg prompted him to take a breath. “Look,” he muttered. “I get it. It’s like a drug. I’m guessing he found you when things were at their worst with your dad. When your life was sitting at its very lowest point. And he made you feel good. I’ll bet from there it was just easier to tell yourself you had a choice. That it was okay. That you hadn’t really lost anything.”
For a few moments, Casper simply stared at him.
“It’s a lie, Casper,” Peter continued. “You need to get away.”
After a long, long quiet, Casper finally replied:
“You really don’t get it, do you?” The older man opened his mouth, but Casper cut him off. “Shut up. You have no idea, okay? None. You think it just makes you happy? No. It’s the best thing you’ve ever felt. Could ever feel. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been, and I never want it to happen to me again!” It was Casper’s own voice that was rising now. James was stirring by his side. He didn’t care. “You don’t know shit. That power doesn’t just make you into a junkie. That stuff makes you so damn happy that you stop being who you were. You stop being you around him. You turn into some broken kind of child so horribly in love that you’d let him stab you in the gut with a smile.” He had to stop a moment there to set the memory aside. “And if you’re like me, if you’re lucky, then there’ll be just enough of the real you left inside to scream for it to stop.”
The other three just gazed at him at that. Beside him, James shifted back to consciousness with a groan.
“What’s wrong?” he mumbled blearily. “Why are people yelling?”
No one answered him. After a moment, Peter dropped his gaze to the floor.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I shouldn’t have-”
“No,” Casper agreed. “You shouldn’t.”
“When did it happen?” Sarah asked, something indefinable in her voice.
“… The day before I came to live with you,” he muttered. “Back when the elves attacked. I’ve seen him a couple times since then.”
“Why, though?” Tsuru asked. “If you really think he can’t control you, then why do you let him in?”
Casper laughed at that.
“Cuz number one, he’s a freaking stalker. Even after I got away from him, he just tracked me back to where I was staying. And number two… we made a deal, okay? He gets to spend a couple hours with me every week, and I get-” He stopped. Why did he have to go and say that? “… Look, it doesn’t matter, okay? We agreed to hang out a little every week as long as he kept his hands to himself.”
James was fully upright now, looking between Casper and his family with a growing degree of concern.
“The hell are you guys talking about?” the other boy asked, frowning.
“Your grandad’s gonna be fine,” Casper grunted. “I got my teacher to have a look at him.”
“Casper,” Peter asked, his tone deliberately steady. “I promise not to judge you, but what exactly did Father offer you?”
Casper tried to glare at him. It hurt a bit too much to do it right.
“… Food,” he admitted. “Money. An apartment. Somewhere to stay in case I needed to run away again.”
“Why would you need to run away again?” Sarah asked, just a little hesitant.
Casper turned his gaze to the floor.
“Cuz I still don’t trust you.” He thanked the stars that Sarah was too far away for him to feel with his powers all wrapped in. The hurt emanating from James was bad enough. After a few seconds of it, he growled. “Look. I don’t need this from any of you, okay? Whether you like what I did or not, none of you were there, and everything I did just saved the old man’s life. You don’t get to judge me.”
“No one’s judging you, Casper,” said Sarah quietly.
“We’re not,” Tsuru replied. “You can’t judge someone for being mind controlled. None of it’s their fault.”
“So you’re calling me a victim, then,” Casper snapped. “You think that’s not a judgement? Go ahead and tell James that. See how that works out.”
The moment Casper said it, he regretted it. Once again, the room went very still.
“Screw you, Casper,” said Peter quietly. Sarah just tapped him on the shoulder.
“Go wait outside,” she said, pointing at the door. “It’s not about us. You need to cool off.”
With a mutter of something Casper couldn’t quite catch, Peter stood. Before he’d left the room, however, James’ voice spoke up:
“I want you to apologise to my parents,” he said, his own voice perfectly clear.
A part of Casper knew he should apologise; that what he’d said was out of line. But he wasn’t without his pride.
“Was I wrong?”
“I said I want you to apologise.”
“Yeah. Okay. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” said Peter stiffly. “… And I’m sorry, James, if that really is how we made you feel.”
At a gesture from his wife, Peter sat back down.
“You know, I really don’t care about whether you trust us,” Tsuru muttered. “Making a deal with a child molester isn’t the best way to secure yourself an out. You want a backup? Fine. I’ll give Tasha some money. I know you’re friends. Go and live with her. You know she’d die before she kicked you out.”
“Before she lived with you, Tasha’s place was neck deep in pizza boxes. Where do you think I was staying when I went on the run?”
“The point,” Tsuru replied. “Is that there are options. Lots of options. Better options.”
“There are,” Casper conceded. “And every single one of them comes with strings attached. At least with this one, I know where all the risks are.”
At that, Tsuru snorted.
“You know the risks. He gives you gifts. What next? Are you going to tell me you can fix him?”
“Would you shut up?” Casper asked. “I told you, it’s not like that.”
“Then why the hell are you giving him a chance?” she asked. “You know he’s dangerous. You admit he’s tried to molest you-”
“Wait, what!?” James interjected, shaking Bex momentarily from her doze. Tsuru ignored him.
“-And yet you’re still set on having him in your life. Why, Casper?”
Casper opened his mouth to reply. He closed it again. They were staring at him; James on the verge of panic. He felt small.
“… He saved my life,” he said quietly. “Back when the elves attacked. I was with some guys, but we got separated. One of them cornered me.”
“It was you,” Peter murmured in a voice of sudden realisation. “You’re the boy that Theo and Kym ran into. The one who nailed the female with a flash grenade.”
“Yeah. But afterwards, she came after me. Her birds were tearing me apart. I think she was gonna make them eat me.” Casper sniffed. “And then Father stabbed her in the gut. He saved me.”
“You don’t owe him anything,” Tsuru growled. “Take it from someone who’s just as powerful as he is, saving a kid from being cornered by a monster doesn’t make you a saint. It just makes you not as bad as you would have been if you stood there and let them die. It doesn’t cost him anything, and so you owe him nothing.”
“… Well, I don’t see it that way.”
Tsuru let out a huff.
“Of course you don’t.”
For a time, the conversation ended there. Then Casper voiced the one thought that had been nagging at him for weeks.
“Doesn’t it make you sad, though?” he asked. “Cuz you look at him there, with all those other kids, and it’s so obvious he’s trying to be good. Doesn’t it hurt you at all?”
The look that Tsuru gave him then was hard.
“There are plenty of good men in the world, Casper. But most of them don’t fuck kids.”
The silence that followed that was a good deal shorter.
“How did you know where my father was?” Peter asked. “You told him exactly where to go.”
“I think I’ve told you enough secrets for today.”
When Father finally returned to the waiting room, the atmosphere was tense. Everyone besides Casper turned to look at him, the level of disgust ranging from face to face. For his part, Father simply ignored them.
“I’ve repaired everything I can,” he said. “But I’m afraid it’s far from perfect. Some of the tissue was too burned to be brought back. There will be scars. And there was some damage to the spinal cord that I lack the-” he searched for the word. “-Let’s call it the dexterity to account for. He might find his legs a little stiff from now on. Other than that, he’s healing. Give him a few days to rest, and he should find his feet.”
“Thank you,” Casper said, refusing to meet anyone else’s gaze.
“What’s the price?” Tsuru asked. “What did Casper have to promise you to make you agree to this?”
“There wasn’t a price, Tsuru. I couldn’t just stand there while one of Earth’s defenders lay dying. Even were that not the case, I’m not going to extort a boy just for trying to help a friend.”
Tsuru turned to Casper, waiting for a contradiction. None was offered.
“… Thank you,” she muttered. “For saving my husband’s life.”