Chapter Thirty-Six: Tibo
Return of the American Goblin
He tried not to feel like a toddler next to her as she half carried him. Damn McFarlands. All so damn freaking tall. Gorgeous, too, every one of them a looker with the McFarland brand fire-red hair, though Tara's was peppered with white.
She gave him a gentle squeeze when they reached the top step, “You’re a dear wee thing, Tibo Glent. Now I know all those stories about you are nought but poppycock.”
He glanced up at her, his face heating. “They’re really not, ma’am. Not all of them. I haven’t been a good, tame goblin.”
“Wsht. None o’that now. You had your wild days, you boys. But you’ve a good heart and a good voice. That’s after counting a lot with me.”
“Thank you, Mrs. McFarland. For letting me visit. For being so kind.”
“You’re very welcome.” She turned him by the shoulders and tapped a finger on the end of his nose. “You make my boy an honest banshee and the next time you come calling, there’ll be none o’this Mrs. nonsense. When you’re wed, you’re to call me Mum.”
A tiny heated sun lodged in Tibo’s stomach and it felt like it was trying to expand into his lungs. He found it hard to breathe as he wiped at his eyes and squeaked out, “Yes, ma’am.”
Rolly came leaping up the stairs then, taking in Tibo’s expression and shooting a dark look at his mother. “You’re not to upset him, Mum. Even if you were being nice. None of that. You’ll have plenty of time to get your claws into him later.”
She laughed and ruffled her son’s hair. “Take good care of each other and don’t stay away so long this time, Rolly-boy.”
“I’ll try, Mum. You know you could always come to America, too.”
“Oh, you think I don’t know?” She hugged Rolly, her expression stern but her eyes dancing. “We’ll be expecting invitations soon. It’ll be a right row if you forget anyone, too.”
With a long-suffering groan, Rolly took over supporting Tibo and guided him toward the boarding steps. Tibo was walking now but couldn’t be on his feet for long or manage more than a few steps on his own. Slow progress. He was getting there. Part of him wanted to stay, surrounded by the family and insulated from the outside world. He’d helped McFarland youngsters with their guitar chords and sight reading. He’d been surrounded by music every evening when the family picked up their instruments after dinner. It’d been a wonderful pocket of peace in a life that had been racing full bore to nowhere for too long.
Rolly had tears in his eyes when he turned to wave one last time to his mother.
“Hey, Rolls?” Tibo asked in concern. “Did you want to stay?”
His banshee chuckled and helped him over the cabin threshold. “We’ve got places to go and people to see, Glent. No, don’t fret. I’m having a sentimental turn is all. Our home isn’t here.”
Our home. Tibo found he liked the sound of that. “So which house are we keeping?”
“We’ll talk it through. Yours is bigger. Mine has the better land.” Rolly shrugged. “Would’ve fought you something savage over it, not long ago. Doesn’t seem important now.”
Tibo settled in his seat and let Rolly put up the footrest and tuck him under blankets. A lot of things didn’t seem as important now. Probably the effects of almost dying. He’d probably be back to some bad old habits soon but he had an odd feeling that things would never be the same.
The sight of Tibo’s Asheville house nearly had Rolly breaking down again. He’d had a lot of those moments lately and wondered if it was some lingering effect of the poison or if cheating death had just made him a maudlin fool.
They’d taken the trip slow, meeting Meerah in a little town outside New York to tell her a bit of what had happened and what would happened to the laptop. With the band’s security around them and a promise from Akemi to come get the blasted thing soon, Rolly wasn’t too worried. Every step of their journey was watched, he had no doubt and all sides were watching each other.
When Jimmy pulled the car to a stop in the long curving driveway, the door opened and peopled poured out the front of the house. It gave Rolly a bad start until he saw who they were. Eck reached them first and swung Rolly around in a crushing bear hug, Dave not far behind.
“Easy, easy!” Rolly laughed. “You need to be more bloody careful with Ti, yeah? He’s still not steady on his pins.”
"Damn it, you had us out of our heads! I should smack you both.” Eck laughed when he said it though, so relief had won out over anger.
“Sorry, Eck.” Tibo went into Eck’s arms for a gentler hug. “We just really needed to work out some stuff. Just me and Rolls.”
Dave glared, arms crossed over his chest. “You couldn’t have called to say you were okay?”
“No. Someone would’ve tracked us down if we called.” Rolly took up the fib. “We had a paparazzi free few weeks.”
“Yeah...well...don’t fucking ever do it again.” Dave’s scowl couldn’t withstand the Tibo assault though as the little bugger threw himself at their drummer.
“Never. Sorry. Sorry. We’re home. Damn it’s good to be home.” Tibo’s voice was strained and tight even so. Poor little bugger was probably exhausted.
The spouses hung back, giving them space. Sean occupied the ground between the band and their families, not quite wringing his hands but looking like he wanted to. Tibo shocked them all when he let go of Dave and rushed Sean to throw his arms around their manager, his face buried against Sean’s shoulder.
“Hey.” Sean patted his back awkwardly, casting a desperate glance to Rolly for help. “What’s this all about?”
Tibo’s voice cracked and wavered, interrupted by intermittent snuffles as he blurted out, “I’m so sorry, Sean. So fucking sorry.”
“For what? I mean, we were worried about you, tiger, but you’re here now.”
“I’ve been such a shit to you. You take care of us and do so fucking much for us and I’ve been such a little asshole to you all this time.”
“Oh. Hey.” Sean got the idea and hugged him tight. “It’s my job, Ti. That’s what I get paid for.”
Tibo lifted his head, wiping at his eyes. “You don’t get paid to be a doormat for some asshole rockstar. If I ever do it again, I mean not just being tired and irritated, but an asshole, you get to charge me for it.”
“We’ll call it the Tibo Was A Jerk Tonight fee,” Eck said on a barely controlled guffaw. “Can the rest of us charge it, too?”
Tibo’s eyes narrowed at their guitarist. “No.” He finally let Sean go, leaving a wet spot on their manager’s charcoal gray suit jacket, and turned back to the band. “Okay, phones out. I promised someone there would be vids of this.”
There was a calculating gleam in Tibo’s eyes that had Rolly worried. With his hands in his coat pockets, Tibo swaggered toward him, then suddenly dropped to one knee with a pained oomph.
“Ti? You all right, you looney?” Rolly whispered but Tibo held up a hand, the one not wrapped around his ribs, for patience. The fact that everyone had taken up the phones-out-taking-video position wasn’t lost on Rolly and made him jarringly self-conscious.
With a bit of a fumble, Tibo pulled a black velvet box out of his pocket. He opened the box and turned it to show Rolly the contents--a ring with a sapphire the size of his thumbnail. “I promised, McFarland, and I’m gonna make sure I’m keeping promises from now on. I’ve loved you ever since we first played together on that sorry excuse for a stage in that Pittsburgh pub. You didn’t care that the sound system sucked or that the audience was a bunch of drunks. You loved the music as much as I did, and I was gonna do everything in my power to keep you with me so we could keep making music.”
“Lemme finish.” Tibo sniffed and wiped his eyes. “I never thought I had a chance with you. Not as more than a good friend. Cause you came from money and had degrees and, you know, morals. But I realized recently that you’ve always gotten so pissed at me about the booze and the screwing around because...because you loved me, too. And I’m doing this right, for everyone to see, asking you to marry me, Rolly McFarland.”
Rolly managed a shaky smile. “When did you have time to buy that, you wanker?”
“I have resources. Rolls? Didn’t I ask right?”
“It was perfect. Bang on, Glent.” Rolly put the ring on his finger and pulled Tibo up into his arms. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
Their friends burst into cheers and applause as Rolly held his Tibo tight. Home. Good goddesses, it was good to be home. The world had changed. They had changed. The Rubrum Lux was out there, watching, and would come calling again some day. But for now? For now they were just musicians again, home from a strange shadow war, back in the light where they would start making songs again and plan a wedding.
Akemi glanced up from the endless paperwork on her desk as a shadow fell across the words. “Pel! Welcome back.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Pel hurled himself into the chair across from her, though he was more careful with the bag he set on the floor.
“How was America?”
“Loud and obnoxious, as always. But our friends are well and I have what you asked for.”
The twinge as he bent to retrieve something from the bag didn’t escape her notice. Pel’s survival had been in doubt for many days after the insurrection. He was still recovering and it was only because of a matter of mutual trust that he had been sent on this mission and not someone else. Carefully, he set the laptop on her desk and she stared at it with a frown that covered her sorrow.
This laptop, the one with little dragon and kitten stickers on it, that had belonged to a genius, an innovator...a little girl gone far before her time. Carried into the wilds by her last champion, an unlikely champion indeed, and now here it was in front of Akemi, staring in silent accusation.
“Did they let you retrieve it?”
Pel laughed. “Oh, hell no. I was an honored guest of the house and had a lovely visit, but I had to wait for Tibo to return with it. He said he’d given us too much already and he wasn’t giving this away, too.”
“They followed him?”
“Our agents tried. They know he took a plane to Minneapolis-St. Paul. They lost him from there.”
Akemi smiled. “Clever little goblin. We will see him again. Catalog and vault for now, Pel. If we revive the project, it will be under much different circumstances.”
“Understood.” Pel replaced the laptop in his bag, though he drew out another item, wrapped in gold foil, and placed it on Akemi’s papers. “This though, is just for you.”
She raised an eyebrow at him in question. He only leaned back, bangles jingling and far too smug. Her claws made short work of the wrapping and when she opened the box, she found a record album nestled inside, a copy of Live From Paris by the Flying Mantas. The back cover had four signatures in silver pen and the note, For Akemi and Jariah, with the promise that we might one day still have Paris. Thank you for everything.
“Clever, clever little goblin.”
“Should I vault that too?” Pel said with far too straight a face.
Akemi pulled the album away from his reaching hands. “Tsk. No touching. I’ll just hang onto this, thank you very much.”