3- In Which Families Mingle
Before they could even go towards the door, Turner was distracted by another car parked somewhat closer to the complex. Based on his expression, Elena decided that he didn't know who it belonged to. "It's not one from around here," he observed.
The car itself was much more extravagant than the ones that had been used to shuttle VIPs back and forth from the Imperial Complex and the Kingdom of Clouds. After all, the shuttle cars had been designed to be nice and comfortable, though also meant to be undercover. This one, however, was clearly expensive and quite nice. It was flashy and obvious that it was used to move important people around.
Phinn wasn't particularly interested in the car, but Turner jogged over to it and peered inside. "Green interior," he reported. "Looks like Quentin's shade of green."
"Doesn't Quentin's family live here in Cerah?" Elena asked, distinctly recalling that fact when they had gone to visit Quentin's home city of Balk.
Neither of them had the opportunity to answer Elena's question because the door up the stairs opened up and Quentin emerged. He was looking quite ragged, like he had perhaps not gotten enough sleep over the past week ever since his daughter was born. That much was to be expected.
But Elena did not expect the trio following him, consisting of two men and one woman, all of which were aged considerably. All three of them were dressed in clothing that appeared almost regal, especially the oldest man who was perhaps in his eighties, using a cane to walk. The other man and the woman appeared to be a couple since their arms were linked, though Elena realized quickly that the woman bore a striking resemblance to Quentin's recently deceased mother, Cecilia.
Quentin held the door open as the three of them exited the building. He kept his head bowed as they walked past him. Although he was taller than them, he seemed small and almost childlike in their presence.
The two men proceeded down the stairs as the woman remained in front of Quentin. He would not meet her eyes, although she was clearly waiting for him to do so. Elena couldn't take her eyes off the silent battle they waged with one another as the men went right to the car, ignoring the three onlookers entirely.
Elena determined that she didn't quite know who the two men were, though she was certain that the woman was Emiline, Quentin's aunt. She had the same severity of her sister. Elena knew for a fact that after Quentin had been removed from his mother's care, Emiline had been brought in to raise him, and Hayden had explained that she had taken care of him, though she didn't care for him. If the two men were also part of Quentin's family, then it was fairly easy to assume that they were all quite strict, and maybe they weren't psyched about the idea that Quentin had a daughter without letting them know beforehand.
Yes, they had probably only recently discovered about Danielle's existence, and come to rant about it rather than congratulate him.
"We're very disappointed in you, Quentin," said Emiline sternly.
Elena glanced up at Phinn for some indication of what they should do. He kept his eyes locked on the altercation, leaving the rings around his wrists alone.
Quentin remained still and quiet as Emiline hissed her next insult: "We know you murdered your mother, Quentin."
Elena would have liked to yell out that it had been an accident, but somehow she didn't think Emiline would listen. Though, she did find herself sad that Emiline turned out to be so cold, and could now see why Quentin had a difficult time with physical affection.
"It was you who drove my sister to madness," Emiline went on. "If you weren't such an insufferable and disobedient child, then she wouldn't have had to punish you. It saddens me that I had to trade my sister for a nephew as worthless as you."
Emiline glanced over her shoulder, noticing they had an audience for the first time. She didn't pause for too long, and turned her attention back to Quentin, who was still avoiding her gaze.
"I hope you and your wife enjoy your time with your wretched offspring," Emiline said. "I will make sure that you are held responsible for Cecilia's murder and the girl will be turned over to me, and I'll raise her properly."
This got Quentin's attention. He slowly lifted his head so he met her eyes, and Elena could tell from where she was standing that Emiline's words had struck something powerful in him.
His teeth clenched, he practically spat at her, "My daughter will never even know you exist. You will never see her or—"
"Or what, Quentin?" she asked snidely. "You'll strike me? Will you kill me the way you killed your own mother? You certainly seem like a fit father, now don't you?" She took in a deep breath through her nose and her glare sharpened. "Is that how you will react to your daughter when she inevitably disobeys you? You'll undoubtedly end up killing her as well. And let me tell you this: nothing would bring me more joy than seeing your world crash down as a result of your own temper."
Elena could feel herself trembling at all this, especially at Quentin's fists slowly rising. Thankfully, that was exactly when Phinn decided he was going to intervene, as he cleared his throat loudly and began to move up the stairs. "All right, lady, that's enough," he ordered, speaking in a very clear and powerful voice.
Turner excitedly grabbed onto Elena's arm, as if she wouldn't be able to notice what Phinn was doing. Elena stayed where she was and only watched Emiline's eyes widen as Phinn approached.
Similarly, Quentin stared at his younger brother, his eyebrows furrowed into a confusing expression that somehow combined horror and relief. The two of them didn't move or speak as Phinn came over and physically got between them, which prompted Quentin to finally take a step away and relax his fists.
Phinn faced Emiline straight on and simply told her, "Get lost."
Emiline stiffened up and drew in a deep breath. She leaned to the side slightly so she could look at Quentin, but Phinn shifted so he remained in her way, and then repeated his command, standing up straighter so he used his size and strength to look supremely intimidating.
So Emiline backed off. She didn't express fear, but she clearly did not want to get in a confrontation with Phinn. Without saying anything else, she went down the stairs to where the two men were waiting by the car, and the three of them got in without anything further.
"That was awesome," Turner said, slapping his forehead.
Elena had to agree, but she found herself just as speechless as Quentin obviously was. As the car pulled away, Phinn faced his older brother and raised both his eyebrows.
Quentin breathed a single syllable. He was more confused than anything else.
Elena and Turner started to come up the stairs as Phinn remarked to Quentin, "Happy birthday."
Quentin bit his lip and looked at the ground. Then, with some hesitation, he looked back to Phinn and nodded appreciatively. "Thank you," he said.
Elena was proud of Phinn for dispelling Emiline. Though, it seemed as though everyone was just going to pretend as though none of it had ever happened. As far as they were all concerned, Emiline had never been there, and neither had her husband or her father.
Phinn had implied to Elena once that he knew about Quentin's childhood trauma that was a well-kept secret from everyone else. She wasn't sure of the extent that he knew, but he was at least aware that Quentin probably wasn't able to stand up to Emiline the way he was able to stand up to most other people. And, now that Turner had overheard some things and witnessed the events take place, he was obviously thinking further about some of Quentin's weird tics and perhaps would piece it together as well.
But, for now, they were all going to be cool about it. Elena went to Quentin and, as valiantly as possible, she acted as though she hadn't noticed anything weird about all that, and it was just like any other day.
And Quentin clearly appreciated this. Once the car was out of sight and his blood pressure returned to normal, he joined in on the charade, welcoming them in to visit Jenny and his daughter, Danielle. It was entirely possible that Phinn's decision to intervene had averted a visit from Bad Quentin, a piece of Quentin's personality that Elena had yet to see (and hoped she would never have to see).
"I didn't know it was your birthday, Quentin," Elena commented as he led them down the hallway.
"Well, it isn't," Quentin said, glancing back. "It's tomorrow."
"Happy almost birthday, then," Elena said, smiling to Phinn.
"Thank you, Elena," said Quentin graciously.
"Danielle was a good early birthday present, wasn't she?" Turner concurred.
"The best," Quentin agreed. "Though, she doesn't do much more than sleep, eat and cry."
"And shit herself," Phinn added.
Quentin stopped in front of a door and gave Phinn a sideways look. "Yes, I suppose she does that as well," he commented.
"Phinn," Elena laughed, glad that Quentin had taken Phinn's comment in good humor.
"You look tired," Turner said. "You need me to babysit?"
"We're all right," Quentin assured him. "We've got a lot of babysitting offers."
When he opened the door, Elena was surprised to see several people in the room. First of all, Quentin's wife, Jenny, was seated on a couch with a blanket over her legs, looking quite content with herself and, as far as Elena could see, perfectly healthy. However, she was not holding her child because Lawson, the eldest of the Seven Sons, and his wife, Faye, were there as well. Faye was standing near the couch with the sleeping bundle in her arms, and Lawson was seated in one of the many chairs.
All three of them watched as the new group entered. Then, much to Elena's further surprise, she discovered Ryder was present in the room as well, along with her fiancé, Dane Reynold. After she got over the initial weirdness of seeing these people all in one place, Elena was actually quite happy. It had been a while since she had seen Faye and Dane, and she was glad to see them both doing well after the kidnapping and poisoning scare.
First, Elena went to Jenny to give her a hug. Lawson stood up and greeted her, and she gradually made her rounds until everyone was sufficiently greeted. It was kind of a funny moment when she looked around the room and realized that they were doing family stuff—married people stuff. Although Quentin had been married to Jenny for a while, this was a new experience for everyone else. She wondered if anyone else was appreciating (or even noticing) the newness of their circumstances.
Well, except Turner. He had recently revealed that he was painfully aware that he was the only one (besides Cole) who wasn't currently married or engaged. This only brought attention to that more so than usual.
Faye didn't say much because she appeared mostly hypnotized with watching the infant child coddled up in her arms, though Elena had come to expect her not to say much anyway. She was generally a rather weak personality, but maybe she was livelier when she was alone with Lawson. Dane, however, definitely seemed more like a 'life of the party' type of guy, and Elena happily welcomed the opportunity to get to know him in a context that didn't involve capture or torture. Though, she couldn't understand why he was sticking around with someone like Ryder after she had made the active decision to let him die instead of exchanging her Kingdom for him.
"Elena, do you want to hold the baby?" Faye asked pleasantly.
"Of course!" Elena exclaimed excitedly, holding out her arms for the trade-off.
"She'll be your niece soon," Jenny added, monitoring the transfer to make sure everything went all right.
"I still can't really wrap my head around that," Elena giggled, once again reflecting on the fact that all these people were going to be her family.
Elena cradled Danielle's head and bounced the baby girl. After only a week, the baby's features had become more defined so it was easy to tell who she looked like. Undoubtedly, she had Quentin's blond hair, though all around, she resembled Jenny much more closely. She did not have the famous nose that almost all the Sons shared, though Elena could see the shape and color of her eyes matched Quentin almost exactly.
"She definitely has your eyes, Quentin," Elena remarked.
"I'm glad," said Jenny as Quentin sat down on the couch next to his wife. "You have such nice eyes, Quentin."
Quentin didn't comment, merely letting out a sigh as he watched Elena hold his child.
"Who was outside, by the way?" Jenny asked.
Elena glanced down at Quentin, waiting to hear what he would say. Clearly he had kept his aunt's visit a secret.
"Just us," Turner said before Quentin had to scramble for an explanation.
Elena checked around the room to see if everyone looked sufficiently fooled. It didn't appear as though anyone bothered to second guess the comment, so Quentin nodded to confirm Turner's response.
She smiled at Phinn as he came over strictly to observe, looking down at the sleeping child, maybe to see if she was right about Danielle having Quentin's eyes. Without saying anything, he finished looking and wandered away, toying with the metal on his wrists again. She tried not to worry about him as she looked back down at the baby.
Elena really couldn't say how she felt about kids and what she thought she wanted, so she couldn't possibly ask Phinn to share his opinion on it. She supposed they'd have to wait for it to come up organically.
"Elena, you look very natural holding a baby," Dane said, putting his arm around Ryder. "You thinking of having any someday?"
Elena almost burst out in hysterical laughter at his perfectly timed comment. Phinn turned around and stared back at her since he was obviously interested in hearing the response, and had probably wanted to ask her the question but never found the timing good enough to ask.
"They're not even married yet," Lawson said before Elena had to stutter and dodge the question. "Don't make them think about it."
"Have you thought at all about it?" Dane asked him.
"Dane," Ryder said, shaking her head. "Lawson, you don't have to answer that if you don't want to."
"It's fine," said Lawson as Elena nodded appreciatively to him for deflecting the interrogation away from her. He gestured for Faye to come over to him, which she did without hesitation. "For now, we're not making any specific plans. If something happens, then we'll welcome it."
"That's a good way to look at it," Jenny said, taking hold of Quentin's hand. "That's what we did too."
"It's good to enjoy being married first," Quentin concurred.
Turner cleared his throat. "Speaking of which," he said, "do you guys have any plans of when you're going to get married? Elena and Phinn, I mean. And Ryder and Dane, I guess."
Elena readjusted her hold on Danielle and looked to Phinn to answer. This was actually one of the very few aspects of their future plans that they had discussed and it didn't make her uncomfortable to share the details. However, he had expressed that maybe he didn't necessarily want to tell anyone, so she was going to leave it up to him to say.
At first, it didn't seem as though he'd bend. Thankfully, he was given time to think about it because Ryder launched into her excited plans for a huge affair in autumn because she liked the way the leaves looked when they turned orange. "Dane wants to have it in Carlock so his family doesn't have to travel," Ryder sighed. "But don't you think it should be in Newigh where my mom's family is?"
"It's not like you've ever even talked to them," Turner reminded her.
"You're just saying that because Carlock is your home city," Ryder said.
"Yeah, but none of my mom's family lives there," Turner pointed out. "Dane, convince her to have it in Carlock. That city knows how to party."
"In the end, I'll let her make the decision," Dane said cooperatively. "No matter where it is, my family will be there."
"I want it to be a big thing," Ryder said. "October, maybe."
"That's only two months away," Jenny commented. "Is that enough time to plan a wedding?"
"Neither of us have anything to do with the planning," said Dane. "It's being taken care of so we don't have to worry about it."
"Are we invited?" Elena asked.
"If we're invited to yours," Ryder retorted. "When will yours be?"
Again, the spotlight was shined on her. Elena let out a breath and looked for Phinn again. But he was pretending he wasn't listening and was, instead, looking at an abstract painting on the wall that Elena knew he had no interest in.
"Phinn?" Lawson called over to him.
Phinn looked over his shoulder. "What?" he muttered.
"You can't propose to a girl and not let her share any of the details of the wedding," he said.
"That's not it," Elena said defensively as Phinn crossed his arms and began to meander back to where the group was. "It's just…there's a lot of factors to consider."
And everyone knew exactly what factor she was talking about: Isaac.
It made them all go silent until Phinn mumbled, "Once he's gone for good, then we can start making real plans, you know?"
"Why not get married beforehand?" Faye asked, leaning on Lawson's arm.
"Yeah," Jenny agreed quickly. "You guys wanted only a small thing anyway, didn't you?"
"But Isaac is not on the invitation list," Elena said.
"You definitely don't want him there," Ryder agreed.
"You hear that?" Turner practically shouted in Phinn's general direction. "No one likes you!"
"Stop shouting at me!" Phinn yelled.
"I was shouting at Isaac!" Turner argued.
"Somehow I think telling him that no one likes him isn't going to make him leave," Lawson said, shaking his head.
"Quiet," Quentin hissed as Elena turned her body away from the useless arguments and Danielle made soft noises as she fidgeted in her blankets.
Elena eventually handed the baby off to Jenny, who gently rocked her in hopes to keep her asleep. Quentin watched closely as everyone remained almost motionless in anticipation.
Once Danielle appeared to be comfortable and quiet again, there was a sigh of relief. "Where's Cole, anyway?" Ryder asked somewhat randomly. "I haven't seen him in a while."
"You don't know?" Lawson said immediately, looking extremely surprised.
"No, why would I know?" Ryder questioned.
"About the new Executive," Lawson clarified, checking the room to see if he was the only one savvy to this information.
"What about the new Executive?" Elena asked since she also didn't know and, judging by everyone else's expressions, they also didn't know.
"Cole's cousin," said Lawson. "How did you not know this?"
"Are you going to elaborate or make us guess?" Quentin inquired.
Lawson ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. "I'm not sure about many details, but I know he's straight from Cole's home city, Tamani, and that Cole was very excited about it."
"Cole's never met anyone from his family before," Elena reasoned as an explanation for his excitement. "What's his name?"
"Peter, I think," Lawson answered. "I'm not sure if they have a last name."
"Sir Peter?" Phinn questioned in a tone that suggested the notion offended him. "That doesn't sound like a soldier's name, does it?"
"Does anyone know if his family has a last name?" Elena wondered, secretly agreeing with Phinn's assessment of the silliness of 'Sir Peter'.
"If I remember correctly, his family retained their family name even after they were raised to nobility," Quentin said. "Though, I'm not sure I remember it. Something with only one syllable. Something like that."
"We'll find out soon enough," Jenny said.
"I'm actually kind of looking forward to meeting him," Ryder determined. "Do you think he'll be exactly like Cole?"
"Doesn't matter," Phinn said dismissively as pulled his sleeves down over his hands.
Elena caught sight of blood under his fingernails. In that moment, she knew he had pulled at the rings so much that he had finally managed to draw blood and, at that point, it would only get worse.
As discreetly as possible, she rested her hand on his while the rest of the group discussed Cole's cousin becoming an Executive. She toyed with his fingers, making sure he knew quite well that she saw what he was doing to himself. He sighed awkwardly as he began to pull his hands away from her, but she held onto him loosely. If he pulled hard enough, he could easily get away, but he allowed her to hold him as he actively attempted to leave the rings alone.
"Hey, we actually have to go now," Elena reported to the group once there was a lull in the conversation.
Everyone eyed her, but they must have known that something was up because they didn't argue. After a quick goodbye (and encouraging Phinn to do the same), she waved as they backed up out the door.
She kept her hands on his as she led him down the hall. He murmured something under his breath, clearly frustrated.
"What did you say?" she asked, checking over her shoulder to see if anyone had followed them into the hall.
"Nothing," he said.
"Tell me," she urged.
"I just want to know where we're going, okay?" he said through his teeth.
"I want them to bandage your wrists," she said.
"I can do it myself," he said.
She took one of his hands and intertwined their fingers as they walked side by side, descending the stairs towards the center of the complex so they could venture to the area they had been staying.
"Okay," she said. "But you really have to stop."
"I know, okay?" he said regretfully.
"You still feel okay?" Elena asked.
"Are you going to test me again?" Phinn asked, reaching for the notepad.
"No, not now," Elena said. "I know it's you."
"But he's gonna come out eventually," Phinn pointed out.
"When he does, I don't want you to get whiny, okay?"
"Yeah. Don't be someone that everyone has to feel sorry for, all right? It'll be better for all of us if you're positive."
"Yeah, me too."
"Okay, I promise I won't be whiny," she said.
"Good," he said.
She leaned against his arm as they made their way across the complex together.