Title:Fools and Angels
Summery: It was far eaiser to watch over a fool when you were close, than it was to do so from a distance. Was it any wonder that the world looked appealing, when his entire life had been spent following orders?
Rating: FR15, for language and themes.
Wordcount: (Part 1) 7125
Main Characters: Giles, Ethan.
Disclaimer Nope, still not mine. Joss still refuses to sell. :). I make no money from the following work, which has been written puerly for the sake of entertainment. Please don't sue, I'm broke.
A.N Have decided to air on the side of caution with the rating, but in all honesty, if you're old enough to watch Buffy, then you're old enough to read this.
Fools and Angels Part 1
“If I am an angel paint me with black wings - The Vampire Armand.
“Mum, mum, mum,” his sister, Annie was practically bouncing in her seat, long blond hair flying up around her shoulders, turned to gold by the glancing streetlights. Rupert rolled his eyes and growled at the performance, as he slouched down into his seat, simply because his father wasn’t there to scold him for poor posture, and his mother would never notice, not with Princess Brat at her side, tugging at the frilly pink dress that was wrinkled by the seatbelt which crossed over her shoulder. He couldn’t remember a single day when she had been able to sit still for more than an hour or so. Even when she had been a baby she had still been wiggling all over the place, not even stopping when she slept. He could remember spending all his free hours standing beside her crib, watching as her tiny pink face screwed up and relaxed, and as she balled her tiny hands into fists, little nails pressing into her palms even as she dreamed.
Oh, he adored his sister, and always would, but sometimes she was just so…so exhausting, that was the word. He hadn’t been bother by it before his father had been given a girl, Hannah, to tutor. Before that, he’d still had time with, and attention from his father. But ever since that girl had entered the scene, it seemed like all of his father’s spare time had simply been swallowed up. Annie had his mother, but it felt more and more as though he only had himself to rely on. That was what he hated.
He watched through the gap in the seats, as Annie reached down for the seatbelt clasp, and undid it so that she could straighten her dress properly.
“Do it back up, idiot,” Rupert snapped, brotherly affection temporarily overruled by annoyance.
“Rupert,” his mother said in a sharp, warning tone, fading red hair dark in what pathetic light there was. Her
“What? It’s a stupid thing to do.”
He heard her take a deep breath, in an effort to control herself, and began to mentally count down to the explosion. All that he had to do was push a little harder, and then he was sure to get some reaction, some of little Miss Perfect’s attention.
“I don’t care for those sort of comments from you, Rupert. Now, it’s been a long day, and if I hear so much as one more word out of you, then I swear, the first thing I’ll be doing when we arrive at Convant House, is talking to your father about you.”
She sounded so frustrated, but Rupert couldn’t help but push his luck.
“You honestly think he’ll care about any of this?”
Amelia glanced away from the road for a second, anger flashing in her dark green eyes, and seconds later Annie screamed. Amelia slammed her foot down on the break peddle, an instinctive reaction even as she turned back towards the road, and the world became something indistinct, as it spun and flipped.
Metal shrieked, and Rupert’s head snapped forward, into Annie’s seat. Sticky warmth gushed down his chin, and the seatbelt bit along his shoulder. His head was snapped back, and the sound of shattering glass filled the car.
Eventually, the car skidded to a halt, and he could just hear the tick of a cooling engine, as his right arm went from numbness to feeling like it was on fire, and the world went dark around him.
Haze. The world was defined by a haze, and by tides of pain that sometimes washed over him, and sometimes were so distant that he barely felt the feathered edges of it.
A hand stroking his arm, and his side. Warmth, from that touch, and the soft murmur of voices over him. The voices didn’t ever seem to be speaking a language that he knew, and his head felt as though it was in the grasp of a vice that was slowly being tightened.
The haze was better than the pain. He dove back into it, as it rolled over him again, not caring what might have been waiting on the other side of that blanket of peace.
It was an escape. That was all that mattered.
His throat was dry, and he could hear shouting. He tried to open his eyes, but even that proved impossible. Tried to move his left hand, and though he got a twitch, the tried the same with his right hand, and again, the pain bit, this time with a vengeance.
The voices faded, as the world swum.
There was a hand over his left, a solid, warm, comforting presence, and the pain was distant enough that it didn’t bother him at the moment. His throat still felt dry, and as uncomfortable as hell, but that was a minor irritation on top of everything else.
He open his eyes, and everything was hazy, like he was exhausted. He blinked his eyes rapidly in an attempt to focus, and he supposed he must have made some noise, because the blur that was on the edge of his vision started towards him, and finally at a distance of several inches, he could make his father’s face out.
The hand moved up to his forehead, and rested there as he blinked again, trying to work out exactly where he was, and how he had got there. When he tried to recall, he found only a blank space where his memory should have been.
His father took a step back, and he could just make out that he was raising his hand towards something, and leaning close to it.
His father’s voice sounded louder than he remembered it, some trick of the walls, even though he was obviously making an effort to keep his voice down.
Rupert tried to talk, but choked as he found his throat blocked, and his father leaned close enough that he could see a barely concealed fear in his expression, alongside something that looked suspiciously like grief. That his father, a strong man who had never so much as shed a tear as far as Rupert knew, looked as shattered as he did, stirred the first faint tendrils of true fear in his chest.
A few minutes later he heard the sound of a door opening, and his father stepped back, out of the range of his vision and another man took his place.
“Rupert? Do you understand what I’m saying? No, don’t nod, just blink if you do.”
That was easy enough. He’d been doing a lot of it since he woke up, after all. He blinked, and the man that he guessed was a Doctor of some sort placed one hand on his chest and grasped the tube in his throat with the other, “Right, I need you to cough for me. Do you think you can manage that? Just blink again, if you can.”
He blinked, and then after a few harrowing moments, he could finally swallow again. The Doctor raised a glass to his lips, “Small sips now, Rupert.”
It felt like his throat was a desert, just getting a taste of rain after a long, dry decade without it. That small glass of room temperature water was like the sweetest brew ever discovered by man. He cleared his throat, after the glass was emptied, and lay back again, every limb feeling as though it was being weighed down by lead.
“Tell me, what is the last thing that you remember?” The Doctor adopted a clinical tone, as though to distance himself from the situation, and his patient. All that Rupert could make out was brown hair, some flesh tones, and a white coat. He could live with the weakness, but without being able to see properly, he felt completely helpless.
“I-I-I remember,” he frowned, trying to sort through the haze and jumble that was meant to be his memories, “I remember packing, and getting into the car, and…that’s it. After that, there’s nothing.”
“No more than I expected,” the doctor was saying to his father.
“There’s no way to…,”
“No,” the doctor interrupted, “It could had been either the trauma, or a fugue state that he brought on himself, in an effort to reject the memories.”
Rupert watched the blur shift, turning attention back towards him, and he closed his eyes, against the headache that was threatening. Truly, not being able to see at all was better than seeing the world painted in the strokes of a modern artist.
“Wh-where am I?” Rupert’s voice sounded rough to his own ears, as though the inside of his throat had been scraped out with sandpaper, “And wh-what happened? I-I-I can’t see properly, and… I want mum,” the last bit of his sentence slipped out in a whisper, gone before he could hold it back.
His father gripped his hand again, and Rupert hated that, because it meant that there was something to be afraid of.
“You’re in the medical wing at Convant House,” the man dressed in white answered him, “I’m afraid there was an accident, and it doesn’t look like it had a natural cause. Your optic nerves were damaged by the trauma, but I’ve been working on repairing the damage. You’re lucky you aren’t completely blind. There’s a little more that I can do, but I’m afraid your eyesight will never be what it was. As well as that, your right arm was broken in three places, and so were two of your fingers. Your shoulder was dislocated, your nose was broken, and there were several fractures to your skull. You’ve spent the last week in and out of consciousness. The broken bones will take another week before they fully heal, but they are knitting quite nicely. You’ll have to take it easy for a while, but you were lucky.”
Rupert winced, as he moved and wave of nausea gripped him, “I don’t feel all that lucky.”
“Believe me, you are. An attack like that would leave most people dead.”
He felt his father’s hand tighten, as he processed the words, “An attack? What do you mean an attack? It-it-I thought it was a car crash.”
“You never said anything?” the voice of the man that up until a few moments ago Rupert had assumed was a doctor, was laced with disdain, and reproach, and it was obvious from his tone that there was far more than just that, that he wanted to say.
“Of course I didn’t, Brahms. He’s ten, for pity’s sake. A child.”
“Old enough to learn.”
“No,” his father’s voice could have shattered steel, but the man, Brahms was obviously unmoved, as there wasn’t even a hint of change in his tone.
“Fortunately, it isn’t up to you. If it were, then I dare say you’d swaddle him, still.”
“I am his father,” a silver of ice crept into his tone.
“Get a hold of yourself, man. You are the Watcher. He’s no more your responsibility any more than Samtran is.”
“If it’s going to cost me the last of my family, then maybe I don’t want to be!”
His father’s grip was painful, but he didn’t mind that. It helped him feel connected, as the argument flew over his head at a distance that he could never hope to reach.
“We are all your family, Giles, and you will pull your head in, or we will take steps to bar you from him. As soon as the boy is up and about, then his training starts. If something already wants him dead, then the best defence is a good offence.”
“If something wants him dead? If something wanted him dead, then he wouldn’t be here.”
“You don’t get it do you, Giles? The vehicle was almost destroyed. It’s a miracle that your daughter is as well off as she is.”
“Well-off? She’s in a coma, something which not even the best healers here can do anything about.”
“Giles, Rupert was discovered six feet away, half-buried under the leaf-litter, and the ectological readings were off the charts. He was lifted from that car, and sheltered from whatever the threat was, and if that happened then there’s a damn good reason for it.”
Rupert was breathing heavily, but he didn’t seem to be able to get enough air into his lungs. His sister, sweet little Annie, in a coma? It was impossible. If something had taken care of him, then there was no conceivable reason why it wouldn’t have taken care of Annie as well, and that still didn’t answer what was, to him, the most pressing question on his mind at the moment.
“Where’s mum? I want to know where mum is.”
A terrified part of him thought he might already know, although he tried to shove that dark, mocking voice into the shadows.
“She’s dead.” His father’s words didn’t seem real, and he felt as though he had lost all contact with reality.
Rupert’s eyes sprang open, and he struck out at the more distant blur, the one that was throwing around words the likes of which he’d never heard before. He wanted to cause enough pain to get that man to tell his father to take those words back, because it couldn’t possibly be true. His throat ached from yelling, although he wasn’t conscious of the words, and a pair of powerful arms pushed him back onto the bed.
“Hold him, Giles. I’m going to have to put him under, before he hurts someone.”
“No,” Adrian snapped, even as he pushed down on his son’s shoulders, holding him down, “If you put him under, then he’ll never start to work through it.”
Rupert got a hand free, and reached out towards the man, wanting to tear him to shreds. Something which had been growing inside of him snapped, and the man went flying backwards to glance off the wall. That seemed to be a signal for three others to rush in, even as Adrian pressed a hand to the side of Rupert’s head, and drew him down towards sleep.
He felt peace, a peace that he couldn’t describe, and would never be able to recall when he was awake, because the simple act of being aware was enough to offset it. A pair of strong arms were around him, holding him still, and he could feel the power that was in that grip, even though none of that strength was being brought to bear on him.
A thumb traced down his cheek, wiping away moisture, and he couldn’t remember why he had ever been upset, as distant, as muted as his emotions felt at the moment. There was no anger, or stress, or fear, any more than there was joy, or pride. Only that peace, which flooded every part of him, and drowned everything else out.
A voice, barely a murmur spoke, and it felt like he was hearing the words with his mind rather than his ears. The words didn’t matter anyway, because he didn’t need to hear them in order to understand what was being transmitted to him.
“You are as strong as you ever need to be, Rupert. You will wake, and you will recover, and you will do great things with your life, things that those simple-minded fools around you will never be able to fathom, from their perches on the ground. One day you will show them all, but for now you simply have to be strong.”
A light that was more silver than white enfolded him, and he felt like he was being held in something that bristled with power. It prickled at his skin, irritating him, and as a wind that he couldn’t feel tugged at his hair, he drifted again.
When he woke again, he could see well enough to define the general shape of things. A square was a square, and a person was a person, abet one with dark spots for eyes, and a strange mesh of color for hair.
“Hey,” the voice was one that he knew from somewhere, although he couldn’t quite place it at the moment, “How did you get stuck in this place?”
He rolled over on the narrow bed, so that he was facing the wall.
“Fine, I get it. You don’t want to talk about it. You look a lot better than you did, though.”
“Would you please just shut up? I don’t really feel like talking about anything.”
“Don’t recognise me, do you?”
“I can’t see you, you arse. Not well enough to see anything that matters.”
“Fine then, I’ll leave you to your misery. Be seeing you around.”
Rupert threw himself down in the chair opposite his father, and eyed the food that was on his plate, trying to work out whether he felt hungry or not. Life had become a routine that helped to hold him together over the last couple of years, and the weight of the glasses on his face still felt unfamiliar.
In the mornings it was regular lessons, although admittedly at a level that was above what a normal twelve-year old would be studying. He had History, and English, and Math, and the Sciences, as well as several different languages. Apparently it was easier to teach a child to speak another language, because the brain absorbed more during youth.
Sometimes his brain felt like it was going to explode.
The afternoons were given over to things that were far more interesting. Combat training, and basic magical theory, as well as a very different type of history and biology; that related to demons. He had been told that he hadn’t even scratched the surface of things yet, either, although he wasn’t sure how much more it was possible for a person to comprehend.
Then, there was this once a week. A tiny moment of reality in the madness that his life had become. One small port in the storm. Dinner with his father, alone, rather than with the rest of the staff and students that were currently at Convant House. He had come to treasure these dinners, without Hannah around, or someone looking over his shoulder, more than he once would have thought possible.
He had never really bonded with his father, before his life had been turned upside down, but now he wanted to cling to the last member of his family with every fibre of his being. The people in this place were good to him, there was no arguing with that, but it just weren’t the same as what he’d had before, which was something that he’d never really valued the way that he should have, until he didn’t have it any more.
He had freaked when he had first found out what Convant House was really about. The cover was that it was a mixed-sex boarding school for the elite, and in a way that was true. It was simply that most people never realised how select the people that attended actually were. The fact that demons actually existed had been enough to frighten a ten-year old boy to his core, and that fact that one girl was all that stood between humanity and the end of the world as he knew it, was even more disconcerting.
It had been a month before he had stopped checking under the bed, and in the closet before curling up in bed, back pressed hard to the wall so that nothing could creep up behind him, and the only reason he had stopped checking was because he had finally worked out that real demons weren’t confined to those shadowy places. It had been with some strange measure of relief, that he had accepted the fact that if something was going to strike at him, then wedging a chair under the closet door handle wasn’t going to make a single difference.
If the world of darkness that he now knew was there had seemed unbelievable, then the fact that tiny little oriental Hannah, with her slanted eyes, stilted English, and hair held back by chopsticks, was that one girl who was holding the darkness back, with his father at her side no less, elevated life into something so mythic that he had no choice but to believe it.
After all, no one would have put such effort into inventing such a fantastical lie, simply for his benefit.
His father slowly chewed and swallow the mouthful of sausage that he had, before turning his blue eyes towards his son. In recent years his hair had started to go grey, and the lines around his eyes that had once been stretched by laughter seemed to be permanently deeper. He supposed being booted across the room regularly by a girl less than half his age probably didn’t help that exhaustion that he saw, either, never mind the fact that the pair of them had saved the world three times that Rupert knew of.
“Talk to me, Rupert.”
Rupert wished that he knew where to start, that there was some magic formula which could make his father look proud of him, rather than just weary.
Sweet sixteen. Six years of intense study, under the tutelage of the Masters at Convant House, and he felt as though he knew enough to take him to any university that he might have ever wanted to attend, but the Council liked to keep those that they trained close to their chests, like a winning hand in a game of high-stakes poker.
Six long years was what it had taken, to reshape everything that he knew, and twist it until it was Council-standard.
Six painful years until this, his first hint of escape from Convant House and of course it had to come like this.
Rupert tilted his head up, eyed the drips of moisture that were accumulating on the windscreen of the car, and tried to make out anything through the thick white fog that shrouding the land a few feet from where he sat. It was quite an appropriate day for mourning. Mourning the loss of a future, and the loss of a present.
Nothing was ever written in the handbooks by the Watcher of a fallen Slayer, and it didn’t take someone trained to Council-standards to work out why. Most Watchers died with their charges, and those few that didn’t were consumed by guilt not long afterwards. Some went out and fought demon after demon until they met their demise, and others simply stopped reacting to the world at all.
Then there were a few that were consumed by their own magic afterwards, and a couple that had tried to end the world themselves, because they simply couldn’t deal with their grief. Rupert though that that would be a far more apposite lesson to teach their people, than that of self-destruction.
He couldn’t get out of that car and face the grave, and Hannah’s body in that tiny little bed of wood. If felt like such a bloody waste. She had spent seven years of her life fighting against unnameable horrors, the liked of what most people could never comprehend, and what did she get for her trouble but a painful death?
Hannah’s death had made him realise something that he should have picked up on a hell of a long time ago. But he hadn’t, because he had still been transfixed by the fairy-tale like air of it all.
For the Slayer, there was no getting away from what was essentially a life of violence, until it was time for that final, devastating battle. Seven years was near a bloody record for an active Slayer, hence it was near a bloody record for an active Watcher, as well. There was a good reason that the Council didn’t offer a retirement plan to the actives.
He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white, and tried to stop himself from picturing how Hannah’s bloody, still-breathing body had looked when it had been brought into Convant House. Not even the efforts of Brahms, the man why had saved him so many years ago, had been able to save Hannah.
Not that she would have been any use if she had survived, blinded, and with an arm missing, and he hated it, that a part of him could ever be so critical about another person. But it had been drummed into him ever since he was capable of understanding, that an invalid Slayer was a useless one. There were no points won, for keeping a cripple drawing breath.
He shivered in his tee-shirt, thinking about the perfectly decent jacket that he had left back in his room. But what was a little chill, when soon Hannah would be freezing, six feet below the ground?
At times like this, what he was becoming was quite enough to sicken him. It didn’t feel right, or natural, to be able to think about the cost of a human life as an acceptable due, but that was what every Watcher was, as far as he could see. An accountant, who dealt in blood rather than gold. Sometimes, he wished he could get out, even though he knew that it was impossible.
They had put too much time and effort into him. They had put too much effort into everyone here, to ever simply let them walk away.
A silver of sunlight broke through the dull grey cloud, and he sat there, staring at golden light, the fingers of some God reaching down as though to guide some faithful servant home, like a silent whistle blown for some old bitch left wandering out on the moors.
Pulling his glasses off his nose, so that he wouldn’t have to look any more, he pulled out a black handkerchief from his sleeve, and began to rub at the lenses. For a few minutes it was an effective distraction, until he raises his head, to see a dark shape emerging over the outline of what could only be a tombstone.
He put his glasses back in place, and he felt his throat closing up, a lump that he couldn’t move, no matter how hard he might swallow, as his father came out of the foggy cemetery. He was carrying an umbrella, but it was still folded and down at his side, and it was obvious from the limp sway of his jacket that he was soaked through.
The hair that had just been starting to grey some four years ago was now a solid mass of silver, and he looked as though he had aged several decades’ worth in a space of a week. His head was bowed, and everything about him reminded Rupert of a dog that had been beaten once too often, and told to get lost, when all it needed was a tough of humanity.
In that moment, the rage that he had spent six long years trying to quell was back, rising in his throat as a bitter, metallic flavour, one that reminded him distantly of blood. He was trembling, vipers coiling in the pit of his stomach, and he felt that he couldn’t trust himself to look at his father, this cursed man, without taking some black vengeance.
He had never been more angry. He had never been more afraid.
As the door of the passenger side opened and closed, with a noise that sounded like an afterthought, like the bubble of a false image being burst, he had also never been more certain.
He wasn’t going to waste his life on the off chance of a few months, maybe as long as a year spent working beside a hero. He had never intended to be a hero. Sure, he was getting the training, but he had never been of that stock. If anything, as he mastered more and more magic, twisted more power around his fingers, he felt like the thing that the hero ought to be hiding from.
He would go back, and pack a bag, say his silent goodbyes, and then he wasn’t going to be caught looking over his shoulder. If his father was going to go out chasing death, then he wasn’t going to stick around and watch it.
Midnight. There was a full moon, although he couldn’t see it, and a sweet wind blowing in through the cracked window.
One quiet hall – check.
One bag packed and ready to go, only a few books and some clothing in it. The students at Convant House were given no allowances. The Masters provided everything that a person might need for study. There were no distractions permitted, only the work, and heaven help you if you didn’t get it finished, and then the homework done on time.
He stood in the quiet hall, looking at the way that the harsh yellow light shone, picking out the pattern on the wallpaper, one of white on white, twisting and crossing, weaving back and forth. It was testament to how institutionalised he had become, that he still had the desire to turn around and do him homework, just so that it would be there in the morning when they checked the roll, and discovered that he was missing.
One warm home-knit jersey – check.
His first stop when he got out of here would be to pick up a decent jacket, and some more clothing. He didn’t exactly just have what was on his back, but he sure as hell didn’t have a lot. He wanted a leather one, because it was something that didn’t fit with the way he’d been brought up. Before his life had been taken away from him, he’d wanted to be a pilot. His treat to himself would be an old bomber.
One father out hunting monsters – check.
He had given it a couple of weeks. Had tried to talk him down, or around, or whatever it was that he was meant to do, to no avail. It wasn’t like the old man didn’t have anything left to live for, either. After all he was still here, wasn’t he?
It was such a fucking waste, too. An old Watcher had experience that was invaluable, and unteachable, in spite of how good the teachers were. In Rupert’s mind, those that survived the deaths of their Slayers ought to have been given a new purpose, something to live for, rather than just allowed to commit an indirect suicide. The best thing would have been to assign an old Watcher to work alongside the new Slayer-Watcher pair, and give them the benefit of his experience. That way a Slayer might actually live long enough to know what life was about, not that a Slayer actually had a life of her own in the first place.
It just wasn’t fair.
None of it was.
He drew a hand along the cold wall, scuffed his feet over the faded red carpet, worn thin from the hundreds of people that had walked these halls over the years. Once, he had found the tradition that steeped the place comforting, but now it was stifling, like he couldn’t get a hint of fresh air, no matter how deeply he breathed.
He was no better off than some fancy woman long ago, confined to a bodice, and a future that he now wanted no part of. A life in service to the Council was like a poor marriage, when you were a Catholic; there was no such thing as divorce.
Swinging his bag up onto his shoulder, he raised his head, and set his shoulders, walking through the halls as though he owned them, as though no-one had any right what-so-ever to pull him aside, or question him, or demand anything from him. That was one of the lessons he had been taught a long time ago; if you acted like you owned the place, then people were more than a little reluctant to challenge you.
He made his way down the stairs, a single hand trailing along the cool, round, mahogany railing, and the eyes of a dozen old portraits followed his progress as he went, as though daring him to make the move.
He reached the second floor, and had just started to head for the stairs that would take him down to the ground floor, which were at the other end of the hallway, when he spotted a dark figure leaning against a door, arms crossed and head half bowed, looking as though it were waiting for him.
He froze, heart pounding and body tense, as though he’d just woken from some twisted dream. He felt like a rabbit, trapped in the beams of some spotlight, not knowing about the gun trained on him, but still, knowing that something was wrong. There was no time to double back, no way to pretend that he should have been here, bag slung over one shoulder. For all that he was trying to act as though he had every right in the world, he could practically taste the barely restrained anger that was radiating from the tense figure who was clearly waiting for him.
The dark silhouette nodded to him, and then threw the door open and stood to the side, waiting for him to pass. He took a step backwards, headed back the way he’d come, then was stopped by a hand on his shoulder, the figure having moved quicker than he’d thought possible. This close, he could see the face, shadowed though it was, and feel a strength in that grasp that he’d never noticed before, although he had only ever seen Rayne about the place a couple of times before.
Something about him was instantly familial, and relaxing, as though he’d known him forever. The closeness didn’t do anything to dull the anger that we shining in the depths of his eyes. The moonlight gave him a cruel, distant kind of expression.
“O-o-of course not.” Mentally, Rupert cursed the stutter. It hadn’t been too bad before the accident, but afterwards it had been a lot worse. It was also a dead give-away, no matter how hard he tried to control it.
As Rayne grasped his shoulder, his vision swum for a few moments, only to clear as soon as he was released.
“You’re lying to me, Rupert.”
“How wo-would you know?”
“I’m no fool. You and I need to talk.”
“I-I-I don’t wa-want to talk to you.”
“I don’t care,” he was back over at the door, again moving faster than Rupert could register, as he pulled the door open, and flicked the light on, “Now inside.”
It didn’t take a genius to work out that what was going on here wasn’t exactly normal, but he could hardly panic and run without having to explain himself. It all came back to that. Shivering, like a mouse frozen in a cat’s grasp, he stepped into the room, swung the door closed behind him, and then looked around.
The room was cold, sparse and unlived in. A thick layer of dust clung to the mantelpiece, and spiders drew back from the light in the corners of the room. The closet hung open, showing empty hangers, and the bed had nothing more than a bare mattress on it. Turning, Rupert tugged at the door handle, only to find that it wouldn’t so much as twitch beneath his hand. Now, he began to worry, wondering exactly what manner of beast he was trapped here with.
Rayne cleared his throat, and Rupert slowly turned to face him. If, indeed, it was a man.
“So, you’re just going to walk out and throw it all away? Your future, your destiny, none of it matters any more?”
“…don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“You can’t fool me,” again, Rayne stalked closer, until he was half a foot away, if that, body rippling like a predator, eyes narrowed. His dark hair swung around his shoulders, moving as though picked up by a wind that he couldn’t feel, “I’ve felt your uncertainty over the last few weeks, and watched you in your struggle.”
“What the hell? What gives you the right to watch me like some stalker? Wh-what the fuck are you?”
“Of course I’d keep an eye on you,” Rayne scoffed, “I’ve been watching, ever since I lifted you out of that car. I was told not to interfere, but with the possibilities that stem from you, like a hundred different rivers flowing down a mountain face, how was I to resist? But now, you just plan to toss it all out.”
Rupert drew a deep breath, and put his fears aside as best as he could. If this thing was going to hurt him, then it would have done so by now, so the best thing that he could do, was try to work to work out what the hell was going on. If this thing claimed to have lifted him from the car, then it clearly wasn’t human. He could remember the hushed conversations around that incident well enough to work that out.
“If you claim to be the one that saved my life, then you can’t expect me to just take your word for it. You can prove it to me.”
For a few moments Rayne didn’t say a word, and Rupert though he might have caught him out. Then Rupert saw a single drop of sweat running down his forehead, and heard what sounded like material ripping, and a blinding light stole his vision.
He could feel tears on his cheeks, and there was pressure on his throat, as he was pushed back against the wall, held just high enough that he had to stand on the tips of his toes. He wasn’t exactly weak, but the hand holding him felt like coiled steel. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision so that he didn’t feel helpless as he scrabbled at that arm which was pinning him.
He felt a hand pulling his glasses from his face, and as his sight came back it wasn’t the fact that he was seeing clearly that shocked him, but what he was looking at. A massive pair of wings, woven from thousands upon thousands of silver threads had erupted from his back. Rayne raised them above his head, pressed together at the backs, and then spread from the joints, like a hawk hooding its prey. He felt tiny, insignificant, and helpless, like nothing more than a child held in the grasp of someone with not just the strength, but the will to crush him.
Rayne’s eyes were shining, a glowing amber rather than the usual soft brown, and his teeth were razor-sharp, as though they were the fangs of some beast that lived for flesh. There was also a mark, a brand on the left side of his chest, above the nipple. It was a darker shade than the rest of the skin, and twisted into a shape that reminded him of a wing.
“I was told to leave you be, but I couldn’t,” Rayne’s voice was a low growl, and those burning eyes were almost hypnotic in their glare, “curiosity, you see, has been the downfall of many a beast. It would be a far easier world to live in without such a fatal curse.”
The grasp eased a little, no longer half choking him, but still pinning him back. In that moment of perceived weakness, Rupert gripped at the hand and tried to pull his fingers away, but there was still an incredible tensile strength there. He lowered his arms until they were swinging freely at his sides, and forced his body to relax, fully aware now that if this thing had wanted to hurt him then people would have already been picking shreds of him up off the floor.
Rayne finally let go, brought those wing together once in front of him, as though shaking the stiffness from them, then rested them behind his back, crossed together at the shoulders, half spread as though he could take off at a moment’s notice.
Given the chance to study Rayne without his heart attempting to break free from his chest, he gaze was drawn to the way that the silvered solid mass of threads that those wings were made from lit his hair, giving him the effect of a halo, and his eyes and teeth were back to normal. Rupert could almost tell himself that it had been nothing more than a trick of the light. As the separation between them lengthened, his sight began to lose that clarity that he’d once taken for granted, and he realized that the effect was something to do with the contact he’d just had with this being that was far more than human.
While he was still thinking clearly, he grabbed his glasses up from the bare mattress where they had been tossed, and put them back on, so that he could see again. Looking at this incredible being, it seemed impossible that the strongest feeling he could find was one of resentment. He’d heard the term ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ before, but never really understood it until now. He couldn't get his head around the fact that this thing had chosen to save his life, but had left Annie, the most innocent soul he had ever known behind. It didn't seem right, that something like Rayne would have been able to leave a child to suffer.
The moment spun out, without a sound between them. A fury the likes of which he’d never known before burned in his chest, and a part of him wanted to strike out, even though he doubted it would have any effect.
“Know this,” Rayne finally broke the silence, as he raised those impossible wings, “If you turn away from this and go, then you do so alone. I’ll not stay around an pick up the pieces when it all falls apart.”
“I don’t care,” Rupert snarled, that fury rising, “if you’re a part of what passes for good in this world, then I reckon I’m bloody well shot of it.”
He didn’t blink, but all he saw was a blur of movement, impossibly fast, before the window exploded outwards and Rayne was gone.
Without stopping to question himself, Rupert leaped, letting himself crumple on impact to lessen the ground shock. He wouldn’t have been getting far with a broken leg, after all. Then standing, he brushed himself off and headed towards the boundary wall under the cover of darkness, his breath curling out of his mouth like steam from the grating that lead underground.