Another Shot at Life
Rating: General Audiences, Gen
TW: Child abuse, emotional manipulation
Hunter accidentally makes his way into the human realm and can't get back home. But he's discovering that might not be such a bad thing.
Ch 7/7: Home
Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3, Ch 4, Ch 5, Ch 6
Vee trudged up towards the old abandoned house. She’d started checking it every single day since Hunter had been taken, hoping he’d be there.
He never was.
She pushed open the door, and stopped, dead in her tracks. “L-Luz? Red?!”
Red was shrieking like its little heart was being torn in two, fluttering around where the portal had always appeared.
Vee rushed forward, panic building in her chest. “Hey—are you okay?!”
Luz was turning a key over and over in her hands, poking at it. “I need to go back,” she said dazedly, “I need to rescue him.”
“How long have you been here?!”
“I—I don’t know. A couple of hours? I can’t… get the key to work. But I have to go back, I left Hunter behind, and Belos has him, and—” She struggled to her feet, then immediately fell.
Vee caught her, slinging one of her arms over her shoulder. “You need to go back home. You look awful.”
Vee took the key from her. “I’ll go back for him,” she promised, and a sort of steely calm settled over her. Yes. She would figure this out, she would rescue Hunter.
“Mom will never let you—”
Vee bit her lip. Of all the things to take a leaf out of Hunter’s book for. “We won’t tell her.” She tucked the key into her hoodie pocket, half-carrying, half-dragging Luz back home. “Camila!” she called, “Come quick!”
Camila poked her head out of the kitchen, then shrieked, rushing forward and taking Luz from Vee. “Mi carina! Luz, baby, what happened?!”
“Mama,” Luz half-sobbed, “Mama, I left Hunter—he helped me get away from Belos, he—”
Vee slipped out, wandering back to the old house. Red was sitting on the floor, staring at the spot where the portal had been. Vee gently scooped up the bird. “We’ll get him back. I promise.”
Red chirped sadly, hopping back down out of her hands to sit on the ground again.
Vee tugged the training wand Hunter had given her out of her pocket. It glowed blue, and she sucked the magic out of it. She hadn’t needed it to hide from Belos. But she could use it to save Hunter.
Now there was just one more person she needed.
Vee strode into the museum. “Hey!”
Jacob jumped. “What are you doing here?” He glanced behind her. “Your—your friend isn’t here, is he?”
Vee felt tears prick at her eyes, but she blinked them back. “He’s… not here right now. I need your help.”
“My help? Why would you need my help?”
Because you’re stupid, and loud, and prideful and the perfect distraction.
“Because you’re right. Because witches are planning an invasion of your world, and I’m a rebel against them, but I need someone to help me take down their leader, and you’re perfect.”
Jacob stared at her, his mouth hanging slightly open. “You’re… you’re a rebel?”
“Yes. Against the beings that want to conquer your planet.” Vee swung the key back and forth on its string. “I can get you inside the witch emperor’s castle. All you have to do is kill him. Protect your planet.”
Jacob made a grab for the key, and she swung it up, catching it and holding it tightly. “Uh-uh. I control the portal.”
“Because you need someone on this side to keep it open,” Vee lied, “Now, are you going to be a hero and defend your home, or do I have to find someone else?”
Jacob shook his head. “I’m coming! I’m coming.”
“Good. Meet me at the abandoned house you were watching, and I’ll open the portal. The fate of your world rests on your shoulders, Jacob.”
Vee strode purposefully out of the museum, making sure she was out of Jacob’s range of hearing before sighing. “Now I just have to figure out how to open the portal.”
She jogged back to the old house, where Red was still waiting, and held up the key. “Hey. Any chance you know how to use this?”
Red fluttered up and pecked at the eye.
“Hey! Don’t break it!” Vee examined the key. “Now how do I…” she pressed gently on the eye of the key, but nothing happened.
Vee stepped to the place where the door had been.
And was met with resistance.
Vee clicked the key, and the resistance disappeared. She clicked it again. There was that strange wall again.
Or maybe not a wall. Maybe a door.
Vee put her hands on the solid area, feeling for a knob. “Come on,” she muttered, “You have to be around here somewhere!”
Red fluttered up onto her shoulder, chirping. Its eyes glowed, and suddenly, there it was.
It looked like the sketches Hunter had left behind, but instead of huge eye on the top, there was a keyhole.
Vee gasped. “Oh! You need a palisman to get in! So no one but a witch could get in from this side! That’s clever!”
She heard clanking, and turned around to see Jacob, in all of his armor. Wow, he really looked ridiculous.
“Where’s the portal?” he demanded.
Vee reached up and inserted the key into the lock, twisting it with a quiet click. A doorframe filled with a golden curtain of light appeared, the key at the top of the doorframe. She gestured to it. “The emperor wears a golden mask with deer horns. You’ll know him when you see him.”
Jacob gulped, then plunged through. Vee briefly considered that she should feel guilty about sending him in to face Belos with absolutely no idea what he was up against.
Red tried to dive into the portal after Jacob, but Vee held a hand up, blocking the bird. “I know you want to see Hunter, but I need you to stay here and watch the portal, okay? Make sure no one comes for the key. I’ll bring him back. I promise.”
Red ruffled its feathers unhappily, but perched atop the doorframe.
Vee pulled on the magic she’d absorbed from the wand, shifting to match the look of a coven guard. Then she crept through. She could hear Jacob yelling and clanging his way down the hallway, and the sounds of other coven guards chasing after. Perfect.
Vee slipped unnoticed through the hallways, her nerves spiking. Everything about this place was just one bad memory after another. She spotted a singular guard outside of a door, and sidled up to him.
“Um—” she squeaked, “hello? I, uh. I’m a bit lost, I just transferred here. I’m… I’m supposed to go on guard duty for… the golden guard?”
The guard heaved a sigh. “Finally. I thought I would never go off-duty. It’s just so boring, you know? It’s not like he can escape.”
“Oh. Yes. T-totally.”
“Right. See ya, new guy!”
The guard waved and strode off. Vee shuddered. He seemed so… normal. Like his job wasn’t locking up and hurting innocent teens.
She waited for him to disappear down the hallway, then turned the knob of the door, pushing it open. The room was well lit, surprisingly.
Vee almost wished it weren’t.
Hunter was buried all the way up to the nose in a mountain of some kind of… slime that shifted and moved. His eyes were blank—no pupils, no irises, just eerily glowing white.
“Hunter?” she whispered.
He didn’t respond.
Vee crept forward, poking the slime with one finger.
It glowed blue, and Vee gasped. The whole thing was magic. “Hang on, Hunter, I’ll get you out of here.”
Vee wrinkled her nose and put her hands on the slime. It glowed, and she inhaled, sucking up the magic. She almost immediately gagged. There was something wrong with this magic. It tasted rotten.
But the mountain had gotten just a little bit smaller, so she braced herself, and started eating the magic again, suppressing her gag reflex.
The mountain shrank smaller and smaller, and the slime receded from Hunter’s face. He fell forward, and Vee lunged to catch him, her stomach writhing like she’d just eaten live snakes. “Hunter?”
The eerie glow faded from his eyes, replaced with his usual magenta eyes.
He just stared blankly up at her, shivering violently. Vee hefted him in her arms, glancing both ways out into the hallway before starting down the hallway. Maybe it was the huge size of the coven guard she’d shifted into, but he seemed smaller than he ever had back home.
And then there were his eyes. They were so… bleak. Hopeless. It was like he couldn’t even see her.
Vee made her way back to the room with the door, occasionally ducking into other rooms or behind statues to hide Hunter.
She heard a clank, clank, clank behind her, and Jacob came tearing back, screaming. Wow, he could run fast, even in all of that armor.
The meaning of why he would be running like that hit her, and she sprinted after him, bolting through the doors to the room.
Only for several guards to be standing in front of her way out. Jacob was nowhere in sight—they must have let him through the portal. Vee skidded to a stop. “Oh. Hey. Uhhhhhhhh…”
“We have a traitor!”
“That’s no traitor,” Belos’ voice hissed behind her, “That’s a dangerous creature, masquerading as one of our own.”
Vee’s veins turned to ice, and every bad memory from her time locked in the dungeon flashed through her mind at lightning speed.
She didn’t see him move, but suddenly Belos was right in her face. “I’ll be taking Hunter back, now. You don’t know what he needs.”
“Mom—I’m okay. Really. It was just a fall off of a wall, and a little bit of light torture, and a blow to the head, and a fall from the sky—I’m fine, really.”
Camila finished applying band-aids to all of Luz’s scratches, her chest tight. “A blow to the head? I’m going to call a doctor.”
“I’m okay, Mom! Really! Hunter gave me these painkiller things, and they really worked, but I think they’ve worn off now, and I know I promised I’d stay here, I know, but we have to go back for him!”
Camila sat down next to her daughter. “Okay.”
Luz stopped, mid-rant. “Wh-what?”
“Okay. I’m going to get Hunter. You stay here and rest. How do I get there?”
“I…” Luz’s eyes teared up. “I don’t know! I couldn’t get the portal open from this side, and Mom, it would be too dangerous for you to go!”
“If it’s too dangerous for me, do you think I’d send my little girl in? I failed Hunter—I let Belos take him. So I’m going to get him back.” If we can get the portal working, if he’s even still alive. Camila shook her head, trying to chase away the niggling doubts in her head. No. She was going to rescue Hunter. No matter how far she had to go.
“He was so miserable, Mom,” Luz whispered, “But he’d just… given up.”
Camila’s heart seemed to tear itself in two. He’d gone back to protect them—and had given up on seeing them again. Camila glanced around the room. “Where’d Vee go?”
Luz clammed up.
“Luz? Do you know where she went?”
“I’m… not supposed to tell you?”
A bolt of panic shot through Camila, and she jumped to her feet. “She opened the portal, didn’t she?!”
“I don’t know—I know she was going to try.”
Camila raced for her purse, throwing a few things in. “I’m going to find her, and maybe Hunter if she’s managed to open the portal. Luz, you stay here. You’re not in any state for a rescue mission, kay? Just trust me to bring him back.”
Luz nodded. “I trust you.”
Camila ran out the door, racing up the path towards the old house.
Please be okay.
Vee clutched Hunter tightly, his body quivering so hard she thought she might drop him. A surge of anger rushed through her. “What he needs?! He doesn’t need this!”
Belos shrugged. “He got to be too much of a hassle to keep awake. It was simpler for everyone if he just went to sleep until I needed him. Less painful for him as well—but apparently, you just want him to suffer needlessly. Now, little basilisk, give him to me and I might consider letting you go.”
Vee backed up. “No!”
Vee jumped as she heard Camila’s voice. She whirled around to see her adoptive mother standing over two unconscious coven guards, holding Luz’s baseball bat. “Camila!”
Camila glared at Belos. “Get. Away. From my. Kids.”
Belos disappeared, reappearing next to Camila and plucking the baseball bat out of her hands. “Oh? How interesting. Are you going to make good on that threat to end me, little human?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” Camila whipped out a can of hairspray and a lighter. “Adios, Belos.” She held the lighter up to the hairspray, and clicked them at the same time. A jet of flame shot out, lighting Belos’ robes on fire. The emperor stumbled back with a shriek, and Camila pushed past him, grabbing Vee’s arm. “Let’s go!”
Vee shot through the portal, Camila not far behind. Vee reached up and twisted the key back out of the portal. The curtain of light closed on Belos’ howl of rage.
Camila whistled. “I cannot believe I just did that!”
“That was—it was scary, but it was amazing, and…” Vee glanced down at Hunter, and the euphoria died away. He was still shaking, still blank-eyed. Red fluttered down to his shoulder, nudging his face and warbling softly. Hunter didn’t respond.
Camila put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s get him home,” she said softly.
Vee trudged back up the path to her own home, struggling to squeeze through the door. She gently sat Hunter on the couch, shifting back to her usual form. Eating that cursed prison might have been disgusting, but it had given her a huge backup magic reserve—she’d be good on magic for a while yet.
“You’re back!” Luz limped down the stairs, freezing when she saw Hunter. “Oh—oh, no. Hunter?”
He didn’t respond, just kept staring ahead with those dull eyes. Camila wrapped a blanket around his shivering shoulders, taking his hand in hers and giving it a squeeze. “Oh, Hunter. What happened to you?”
“He—he looks kind of like Matholomew did when he got out of detention,” Luz said softly, “Vee, what—”
Vee twisted her hands. “I—there was this cursed mud, and it made his eyes go all creepy—maybe I shouldn’t have taken him out? Maybe it was supposed to run its course and I made it worse by taking him out early?”
Camila squeezed her shoulder. “You did what you thought was best,” she said softly, “We have him back, and that’s—that’s what matters. We can fix this. He’ll wake up.”
Vee blinked back tears. “But—what if he doesn’t?”
What if I was too late?
“H-hey, I’m gonna… gonna put on some Stephen Universe? Hunter? Remember, you liked that?” Vee rubbed her arms. Rain had been gently pattering on the windowpane, but it was starting to pick up. “You did. We watched it together, and I liked Amethyst, and you couldn’t pick your favorite character, remember?”
Hunter still just stared forward, wrapped up in his blanket like a burrito, and Vee sat next to him with a sigh. Red hadn’t moved from his shoulder since they’d gotten him back two days ago—and Hunter himself hadn’t budged, either—he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t sleep, as far as Vee could tell, he just sat there, staring into space. Red chirped softly, nuzzling Hunter’s face, and then hopped over to Vee, giving her big, worried eyes.
Vee cupped the palisman in her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “I don’t know how to get him back. I don’t know if he’s just in shock, or if this is something that the curse does, or…”
The rain was picking up, wind howling against the window. Vee slid off the couch, setting Red on the floor and digging out birdseed for the palisman. She sat back down on the floor next to the cardinal. “You’ve got to eat something, right?”
Red warbled sadly, and fluttered back up to Hunter.
“I know. I miss him, too.”
Lightning flashed, followed by a crack of thunder, and Vee yelped, putting her hands over her ears.
She heard a rustle and a little whump, and then something warm settled over her. Hunter’s chin rested on her head, his arms flopped over her shoulders so that they were sharing the blanket. Red chirped happily, and Vee froze, her heart thumping hopefully in her chest.
“Hunter? Camila! Camila, Luz, I think he’s waking up!”
Another peal of thunder crashed, and Hunter hugged her just a little tighter. Camila came thumping down, Luz not far behind. Vee didn’t move, holding her breath, worried that if she moved and disturbed him, he’d go back to the way he’d been, barely daring to hope...
Camila rushed into the living room, where Hunter was flopped over Vee, wrapping her in his blanket. He was still blank-eyed, but his brow was furrowed, like he was trying to remember something. Camila gently cupped his face in her hands.
“Hunter?” She asked softly, “Mijo?”
He blinked, hard, like he’d just woken up. “C-Camila?” His eyes filled with tears, and he fell back, letting go of Vee. The basilisk tackled him in a hug.
Camila wrapped her arms around both of them, squeezing them both tight. “Oh!”
His shoulders started to shake. “It was s-so dark,” he whispered.
Camila squeezed just a little harder. “I’ve got you,” she promised. She let the two of them go, and Vee wriggled under the blanket, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with him as the thunder cracked. Luz sat down next to Camila.
“Hey,” she said softly to Hunter, “Thanks.”
He sat bolt upright, making Vee yelp. “The key! Belos!”
Vee held up the portal key. “Oh, you mean this? Don’t worry, Belos can’t get to us.”
“Vee managed to open the portal,” Luz supplied, “She went in after you!”
“And then Camila came for both of us,” Vee finished, “She lit Belos on fire, it was awesome!”
Hunter looked up at Camila, his lip quivering. “You… you fought for me?”
“Of course I did. I said I would, didn’t I?”
Tears rolled down his face, and Camila wrapped him up in a hug. “Hey. Heeey. You’re okay now.”
“I kept—I kept making him mad—and it—and I—”
Camila rocked him back and forth. “Okay. Ooookay. I’ve got you.”
“I couldn’t get out—it was all dark, and blank, and I just kept sinking, and I couldn’t do anything, and I was drowning, and—” Hunter buried his face in her shoulder.
Camila cradled his head in her hand. She could feel a lump on the back of his head, like he’d hit it, and she hadn’t failed to notice the bruises that hadn’t been there when he’d left. A tide of anger swept over her, and she started regretting leaving the Boiling Isles quite so soon. “You’re safe now, Hunter. I promise. Belos can’t hurt you anymore. And if he even thinks about it… well, I have no qualms lighting him on fire again.”
Hunter slumped against her, and she scooped him up, Red fluttering around the two of them. “Okay. You need some sleep.”
“He can take my bed,” Vee offered, “I’m too wired to go to sleep, anyway.”
Camila gave her a grateful nod and carried Hunter up the stairs. He was already asleep by the time they got to Luz’s room, his breath coming in soft little puffs. She nestled him in the bed, pulling the covers over him.
“Good night, Hunter.”
Hunter was woken up by the sun.
How had he slept this long?!
He bolted upright, nearly scraping his head on the ceiling. Wait. What?
Everything that had happened, came back to him in a rush, and he flopped backwards, running his hands through his hair. “Oh.”
Lying here, in the Noceda house, he could almost imagine that going back to Belos had been nothing but a bad dream.
But it hadn’t been. He had some very real bruises to prove it.
He shuddered, remembering the cold, acidic feel of Belos’ curse.
But then Red soared right into him, singing brightly, and he could almost forget it had ever happened.
Hunter’s hand closed around the pin on his cloak. He ripped it off, tossing the cape to the floor, followed by his armor. He didn’t have to wear it anymore. Ever. Belos had no way to get back to him.
Belos had no way to get back to him.
The enormity of the statement caught up to him, and he ran his hand through his hair again. “He can’t come back for me,” he whispered, “I—I don’t ever have to see him again!”
Red chirped in agreement, and a bewildered laugh escaped Hunter’s mouth.
No more running errands for Belos.
No more worrying about what would happen to Red.
No more fear that an attack would hit, and he’d get hurt.
Just Camila and Vee and Luz.
Hunter shuffled down the stairs into the kitchen. “Good morning!”
“You’re cheerful.” Vee grinned. “Afternoon, actually.”
Luz nodded. “Mom said we should let you sleep. Speaking of my mom, she said something about how she shouldn’t have forced me to promise not to go back to the Isles—she doesn’t want me to keep trying to use that key, because it’s too dangerous to get into the keep, but she hasn’t outright said I can’t go back if I can find another way.” Luz glanced around. “I miiiiight ask to borrow Red at some point. If that’s okay with the two of you. I need to let Eda know I’m okay.”
“Luz, are you plotting something behind my back?” Camila came bumping down the stairs, holding a brightly wrapped parcel. “Oh, hey! You’re up!” She thrust the parcel at him. “That’s for you! I actually got it before… but that doesn’t matter, you’re here, I have it, everything’s great.”
Hunter gingerly took the package. “What… is it?”
“It’s a present,” Vee explained wisely, “It’s a surprise. You open it up.”
“Did it… come like this?”
“Nope, Camila wrapped it.”
Hunter squinted at the package. “But… now I’m just supposed to open it?”
Vee nodded. “Yep.”
“Then what was the point of wrapping it up?”
Luz nudged his shoulder. “It’s fun!” Her face dropped. “Oh my gosh, you’ve never gotten a present before, this is so sad. Okay. Just trust us, it’s fun.”
Hunter stuck his tongue out at her, and pulled gently at the paper, trying to unstick the tape.
“Rip it!” Luz demanded, “Tear it open!”
Hunter glanced back at Camila. “But you worked so hard to—”
She laughed. “You’re supposed to rip it, mijo. Go ahead.”
Hunter tore at the paper. It was… oddly exciting.
The wrapping had contained a set of clothing, jeans that actually looked his size, a t-shirt, and a hoodie that looked just a little too big—therefore, exactly the right size.
Hunter turned the fabric over in his hands, tears bubbling to his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Vee pushed him towards the stairs. “Go see if it fits!”
Hunter scooted up the stairs, closing the door behind him and switching clothes. The rest of his uniform joined the armor and cloak in a pile, and he tugged the hood of his new sweater up, retracting his hands into the sleeves. It was soft, and comfy, and he felt like he could just melt into a puddle right here.
He shuffled back downstairs, and Camila clapped her hands. “Ooo, good, it fits! Look at you!” She grabbed her keys. “Okay, Hunter, Luz, in the car, both of you are coming with me to the doctor’s office, I want both of you checked out for concussions.”
“Mooooooom,” Luz groaned, “I’m fiiiiiiine!”
Hunter let Camila shoo him into the car, stepping out into the bright sunlight (hadn’t it been raining last night?). Warmth spread all through him, banishing the last of the lingering coldness Belos had left behind.
Camila looked back at him as she turned the car on. “Everything good?”
Hunter took in a deep breath, burying his face in his new hoodie. He was back home—this time to stay. “Everything is perfect.”