Chapter 1. Day like everyday
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“And what if we fail? You want us to leave the survivors to their death?”

“You didn’t seem to care when we used them as our playthings, brother. Why care now?”

“We both know that was a mistake, sister. A mistake that cost us everything.”

“Hah, then you better pray this works, because if we fail it’ll be the end of everything.”

~ The remaining Old Ones, ages ago.


For the record, Leo didn’t know how his adoptive sister managed to convince him to become a journalist. Even now as his hands flew across the keyboard of his laptop, typing yet another story that would be released the next Monday, Leo wondered how Lily got the idea that he wanted to be a godforsaken reporter.

Ah, yes. I might have told her one time that I want to change the world, Leo thought as he finally snapped his laptop close and leaned back in his chair, And show other people that even if life bites them in the ass, they still can rise up and leave their past behind.

After that simple conversation between them a few years back, and the knowledge that Leo would rather walk into fire than go into politics, Lily somehow convinced herself — and then Leo — that journalism was the perfect career path for him…

“Bloody woman,” Leo muttered, smiling despite himself at the thought of his sister. After all, even if the decision was quite spontaneous, Leo became one of the best reporters in the city. Though, if one was to take under consideration the fact that Wolford had only about forty thousand residents, Leo’s accomplishment wasn’t as outstanding as it sounded.

Sighing, Leo grabbed his phone and began to flip through the news, trying to find anything that would catch his interest, “Boring, boring, fake… yep, definitely fake.”

As much as Leo loved the internet, or any other sources of information, he really wanted to hit someone after he read some of the news. The constant decline in quality was killing him. Just another reason to doubt his job as a journalist, Damn you, Lily.

Dropping his useless phone on the table, Leo took a look around his colorful living room, “I should probably clean this shit before I go…”

Indeed he really should. Even though the room was almost bare, dust covered almost every piece of furniture in sight, while some dirty clothing hung on the sofa in the corner of the room. And the less said about the food stains on the wooden floor the better.

Mom and Lily would kill me if they saw this, Leo grimaced.

Just when he wanted to go and at least gather his clothes, the phone on the table began vibrating. Leo yelped, almost falling off the chair.

Glaring at the phone, Leo groaned when he read who the offender was, “Speak of the devil and she shall appear,” he murmured dryly and put the device next to his ear, “Lily?”

“What’s up, little brother!” Leo winced as his sister’s all too cheery and definitely too loud voice came from the speaker.

“I’m older, Lily,” Leo rolled his eyes, his voice as dry as the desert. Really, sometimes he wondered how his sister even worked. Just another mystery of the world.

Standing up he began to grab every dirty clothing in the room, “Any particular reason you called me? I’m kinda busy.”

“Aww, can’t I just call to talk with my favorite brother?”

Leo shook his head. Lily just loved to step on mines with every sentence she said.

“Yes you can, but I hope you don’t mind me telling Nick that I’m your favorite. I’m sure he will be delighted,” Leo smirked.

“You’re mean, you know that right?” Came the instant response, and Leo’s smirk widened even more.

She huffed into the microphone, “Anyway, what are your plans for the weekend? Any parties?” She gasped, “Maybe a date?”

Not this again, Leo almost groaned as he passed a dimly lit corridor and entered his small bathroom.

Throwing the dirty garments into the laundry basket, Leo answered slowly, “Lily, you know me well enough to know that I don’t care about partying or dating. I have better things to do.”

A loud groan echoed from the other side, “Oh, come on! You’re like, twenty-three years old, and you live like some old hermit!" she promptly ignored Leo’s shout of denial and continued, “Have some fun, live a little! I mean fuck, if it wasn’t for your family or work, then you'd practically never leave the house!”

“We both know that’s not true,” Leo scowled.

“Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but my point still stands, I'm seriously worried about you Leo." Lily said, and when Leo didn’t answer, she just sighed in defeat, “Fine then, if you don't want to talk about that, then how about we talk about London."

Leo blinked in confusion.

"London?" His eyebrow rose. Was he forgetting something?

"Yes, London." Lily repeated slowly, "You know, the tournament that takes place in London? The same one I remind you about every time we speak." Her voice was full deadpan by the time she finished speaking.

Right, Leo almost facepalmed. How could he forget? His sister, Lily Hale, athlete extraordinaire — her words, not his — had advanced to the regional finals that would take place tomorrow. In London.

Fuck.

“Yeah, I'll be there, no problem." He spoke up instantly as the realization hit him, "I already finished the story for Monday, so I have the rest of the weekend off,” God forbid he even thought about missing the event. Leo shuddered as a string of memories flashed in his mind. Never again, I had enough of those.

“Good,” She replied, and Leo could feel her smugness even through the phone, “Once I destroy my opponents, we can even have a victory party. In fact, we might even find you a nice girl." She said cheerfully, "What do ya think?”

Again, really? Leo groaned, walking through his still dirty living room into his bedroom. His sister was really on a roll today. Though her constant shots at his love life were getting really old lately. He expected more from his little sister. Well, not really…

“You're that confident you'll win eh? Be careful, or that ego will eat you,” Leo shot back, ignoring Lily’s teasing. That was the best way to deal with her. That or mentioning her own very successful dates that Lily just loved to rant about. To her brother no less.

Fight fire with fire as they say.

Thankfully Leo’s usual method worked perfectly as a loud gasp came from the speaker, “You wound me, Leo! I will have you know that I trained hard, and with my siblings watching, there's no chance I will lose.”

Shaking his head Leo sat on his soft bed and took out running shorts and shirt from the wardrobe, “I believe in you Lily. You managed to convince me to become a journalist so there is no chance that some puny tournament will stop you from becoming the best.”

“That’s right and don’t you forget it,” Lily beamed, her attitude pulling a smile onto Leo’s face, “Oh, I almost forgot,” she suddenly chirped, “Nicky is coming too. It has been a while since we three had some fun together.”

Leo froze for a moment.

Nick coming to London? Alone? No way, Lily had to be joking. After all, Nick’s lovely wife barely lets the man out of her sight. Not for the first time, Leo had to wonder how those two even worked together.

Though someone once said that opposites attract each other.

“Lily,” Leo said very slowly, “How the hell will Nick manage to get away from Ava for an entire day? You know how she is with him.”

Silence fell upon the line as Leo waited for the miraculous explanation.

“You know, I have no clue,” Lily chuckled sheepishly, “I was too excited to ask.”

You don’t say, Leo groaned internally. This woman...

“Hey, maybe they came to some accord. Who knows, maybe he found something to bribe her with?” Lily spoke up with a giggle before Leo could say anything.

“Bribe? Yeah, with what? Being back before ten?” Leo snorted. Though he really wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

“Maybe,” Lily continued through her giggles, “They are weird like that.”

Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Leo ignored his giggling sister, “You know what? We will just get the answer out of him tomorrow. Nick could never keep any secrets from us… That man is hopeless.”

Looking at the time, Leo groaned, “Not that I don’t enjoy our talk, but can I finally go for my run and prepare for later? It’s getting really late.”

Lily hummed, “Oh right, he is visiting you today… Are you ready for your meeting? After all, he wasn't there for almost a month.”

Leo sighed, “There is nothing to be ready for, Lily. We’ve been working on mending our relationship for almost five years now and at this point those meetings are like a chore, nothing to be scared of.”

“I wish you tried at least a bit harder. He is still your biological father after all,” Lily said after a moment, the cheerfulness all gone from her tone.

I will try once he does too, Leo scowled, though he didn’t voice his thoughts.

“That he is,” Leo murmured instead, “It’s just hard you know. Every time I see him, I remember the day when everything went to shit. And well, even though I always talk about letting your past go, I just can’t... Pretty hypocritical of me, eh?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Lily answered quietly after a long pause, “No one is perfect and as long as you try, it will be enough. Just don’t push him away, we both know that the man really regrets his actions.”

Leo snorted, “Look at you, giving good advice.”

“Oh, shush,” Lily huffed, “Besides remember who brought you out from your broody phase.”

“Whatever,” Was Leo’s mature response. His sister exploded in laughter over the line while Leo just sat there scowling, “Ye, ye, laugh it up. We’ll see who laughs last when I tell Nick who is your favorite tomorrow.”

“Oi!” Came the instant response even though Leo could hear the traces of laughter in Lily’s voice.

“Anyway,” Leo interjected before Lily could go on another rant, “Got anything else to say? I really want to finish my run before Edward comes.”

“Nope, that’s it from me. Just remember to at least try, okay?”

Leo heaved a sigh, “I will Lily, I promise I will. See you tomorrow then.”

“See ya, little bro!” She shouted cheerily before the line went silent.

Leo chuckled as he threw his phone on the bed, “That woman.”

Finally left alone to his own devices, Leo quickly switched into his running clothes and went to put his boots on. After performing a few quick stretches, Leo left his white bungalow and walked down the driveway.

Living on the outskirts of the city really had its advantages. Barely any cars drove here during such late hours and Leo could count the houses here on the fingers of his both hands. Really for such an old street, it was incredible that so few people decided to settle here. Hell even more surprising was the fact that the lush clearings and large forests around here didn't suffer any casualties from the human settlement so close by.

As for Leo, he just soaked the atmosphere of this peaceful area. Away from nosy people that always managed to find a way to bother him each time he released a new story. Here Leo could go on a run, work outside or just take a nap in the backyard without anyone trying to waste his time.

Well, apart from one particular someone, Leo corrected himself when he glanced to the left and noticed an elderly woman sitting in the garden in front of her house. A woman that was waving right at him.

Withholding a groan, Leo jogged down the sidewalk before stopping in front of the woman’s house.

“Good evening Mrs. Gibson,” Leo greeted.

“Leonardo, going for another run?” The woman answered, her wrinkled face painted with an all too sweet smile.

Barely withholding a grimace at the use of his full name, Leo forced a smile on his face, “Like every day. It definitely helps to clear my head after a day full of work.”

Gibson nodded, “Of course. I’ll be waiting for your weekly story in Monday’s newspaper. Charles and I loved your reportage about those frauds this week. It’s good to see that at least someone is trying to expose those people. God knows how much money they stole.”

“Thank you Mrs. Gibson and I’m sure you and your husband will enjoy the next story,” Leo replied quickly, and just when he wanted to excuse himself and go along with his run, the woman stopped him yet again.

What have I done to deserve this, Leo thought, taking a deep breath and briefly shutting his eyes. No matter what hour he chose for his run, the old lady would somehow always manage to stop him for a talk. Usually, he didn't really mind, but today he was running against the clock.

“By the way, Leonardo, do you know when Anna and Albert will be back?” She motioned to the house across the street.

Following her gaze to the two-story house of his adoptive parents, Leo shrugged, “I’m not sure. They are visiting Mom’s family in Poland and it’s been only a week since they left. Before they make their rounds it will probably be another week or two.”

“Oh,” the woman’s face fell a bit, “I guess I will just need to wait or call Anna.”

“You do that Mrs. Gibson,” Leo smiled, his eyes darting towards the forest in the distance, “Now if you don’t mind, I’m on schedule and I would like to finish my run quickly."

The woman gasped, “That’s right, it’s Friday. Is Edward finally visiting?”

"Indeed," Leo almost gritted out and rolled his eyes when the woman beamed. As much as Mrs. Gibson loved to stop people for a talk, Leo’s biological father had it ten times worse due to his lifestyle.

Once Edward was late by half an hour to their meeting just because the woman stopped him the moment he left his car. That time Leo didn’t know whether to thank her for delaying their meeting, or curse her including him in the conversation when he finally decided to go and rescue Edward.

Shaking his head, Leo focused on the woman who yet again began to speak, “Great. Please tell him to visit me and Charles when you’re done.”

Nodding once again, Leo said his goodbyes and resumed his jog.

He ran for a few minutes leaving all of the houses behind him and smiled as the hard asphalt road gave way to the soft dirt track that entered the forest. Here the city of Wolford ended and nature began…

Leo always told himself that those runs were only to maintain his somewhat fit, but a bit thin body. In truth, he knew that the real reason was much different.

He took in a deep breath, the fresh air lacking any pollution pushing him to run faster as the wide array of birds sang their song, muffling any sound that might have come from the civilization. The tension left Leo's body and his mind cleared, his steps falling into a steady rhythm as he just bathed in nature.

Yes, this is the only reason why I'm here.

No matter what Leo would never be able to thank Lily enough for introducing him to the idea of those runs.

His smile widened and Leo speed up again, letting nature consume him. The lack of the usual breeze went unnoticed throughout the whole journey.

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