Grayson’s mind was split.
One half of his mind was occupied with the outside world. He knew that the dragons had brought him Dragomir; indeed, he knew they’d brought him Dragomir minutes ago, even though it had, to part of Grayson, seemed like almost a week past. He knew that the Non army was incoming, much faster than expected, yet they still seemed to be days away. He knew that his own army would be ready for them, and that everyone, everyone, would be destroyed at the same instant. And he would have the honour of watching those oil-skinned freaks die personally, rather than seeing them expire via his rats.
This would happen soon. This would happen very soon, whether it happened in Grayson’s paradise or not. And when it did, paradise would be the only thing that existed, the only thing that mattered. Two people, together, forever. Mother and son.
The tiny bit of Grayson’s consciousness pushed that thought away. Again. He’d been forced to shove it aside far too many times. He would deal with Philip. He could deal with Philip, now that he, too, was dead. A ghost could cope with a ghost. Still, that number, that uneven number, simply wouldn’t go away.
But it would. Soon.
The other half of Grayson’s mind didn’t worry about any of this. Or, if it did, it pushed it all into the background as so much flotsam and jetsam. He only needed to concern himself with her. The most important person in existence. It didn’t even matter if life was nothing more than a game, she was more important than anything. The code that bound reality together didn’t hold a candle to Libertine the Carpenter.
If only she would stop hurting herself.
The Graysons - all of them, without exception - winced as they considered their mother’s actions. They knew she loved them, even if her love was hidden under deep layers of hate. They could feel the maternal warmth she’d bestowed upon them still, though it grew fainter with each day. They longed for a return to togetherness.
That’s why they would give her no choice. It made perfect sense. If their mother could love only one person, then they would force her to love Grayson. Only Grayson. Anyone else was a waste of time.
Balance. Two people.
The Graysons twitched. They could feel the battle beginning outside, the rumble of the Imperium’s cannons as they began their assault on the oncoming Non. The Graysons barely cared if the Imperium succeeded or failed, so long as Dragomir died when he was supposed to die. And he would. He absolutely would, because Philip would see to the death. Grayson had granted the spirit that much.
Everything was assured.
But the Graysons twitched again. And not because of the rumble.
“Something is not quite right,” one of the Graysons said. The others nodded assent.
“Something… is a little off,” another agreed. He scratched his head. The rest followed suit.
The Graysons joined their thoughts into one. They searched paradise. They looked for the something that was off, the little piece of their precarious balance that seemed to be tipping the scales of sanity too far to the right or to the left. There was something beneath it all, something they’d not noticed because their mother was here, gloriously here, but now that she was confined -
The door to Libby’s cell clicked open.
The Graysons scattered across paradise looked as one towards her enclosure, whether they were near or far. All of them moved near, appearing as an enormous mob outside the smooth building where they’d imprisoned
housed, no, housed is a much nicer word, or perhaps even enshrined, yes, something regal
their mother. They moved because they were confused, because Libby couldn’t possibly open the door on her own, because someone had to have helped her, and, of course, because they wanted to see her. Being away from her
Libby stepped out of the building, shutting the door behind her.
The Graysons moved in close. One - he may have been the original, none of them really knew, not anymore - moved in to greet her, as always. The Graysons braced themselves for the iron-grip of their mother’s fingers on the chosen one’s throat. She always went for the throat first. Then the punching. She loved to punch, did their mother, but the throat was a secret favourite.
Libby’s lips moved. Words came out of her mouth, so low and so solemn that even the closest Grayson could not hear her, not even in a paradise of their own making. He moved in close to catch her meaning, smile as happily bland as ever.
“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Libby whispered, gritting her teeth.
Grayson caught her meaning, or, at the very least, chose to interpret that he’d caught her meaning. “No, mom. You’re staying here. With me. With us.”
Libby closed on the Grayson, arms swiftly enfolding him. He expected a vicious bear hug that would crush his bones and squeeze the life out of his frail, ephemeral body. He didn’t care, either, because he was already dead. What more could she do? But he was surprised, they were all surprised, to find that Libby’s muscles did not compact his bones or crush his spirit, but instead caught him in a fierce, but gentle, hug.
It took the collective Grayson almost a full minute to comprehend that fact.
Tears dribbled down Libby’s cheeks. She clutched to her son, whispering things in his ear, things he’d wanted to hear for two years. His wan grin turned to one of astonishment, mirrored on the face of every Grayson in paradise. Even the parts of Grayson watching the battle outside became unalterably distracted, incapable of seeing anything but what Libby wanted them to see.
“I love you,” Libby whispered, over and over. “I love you, I love you, I love you, you fuckin’ buncha retarded kids, I fuckin’ love you, and I’ll be with you.”
Grayson fell for it. He knew it was a trap, but he fell for it anyway. He couldn’t help himself. And in doing so, he removed himself from the war.