Summery: London is a place to find out exactly who you really are.
Fools and Angels, Part II
Time passed, and sometimes it felt as though the only purpose of it was to make him feel more secure in his new life. He’d had no word from anyone, no sign that the Council was hunting him down, chasing him to ground like the fox that stole into the chicken coop. Sometimes he wondered if it meant that he had never actually been as important as all that, and other times he thought that it must all be to lull him into a sense of false security.
He’d heard nothing of his father’s fate, and nothing of the new Slayer called. He never stayed in one place for any longer than a few weeks, although again, he wondered whether that mightn’t be overly cautious. Again, it wasn’t something that he wanted to test, though. He was still studying, still playing with magic, but now he was focusing on those pieces of it that he found interesting, not just defensive techniques and basics.
Just being out of that place, he felt human, normal again. He was interacting with other people, building his own group around him, finding his own place in the world, and it felt great. For the first time since he’d been taking into Convant House, the past wasn’t weighing on him, and those old ghosts weren’t holding him back.
Annie had passed without ever waking up, and after his memory of that final car ride had come back in dreams and nightmares, creeping in like some thrashed dog, he had hated himself, and he wasn’t entirely sure when he had stopped, although now that he had met Rayne, he had a sneaking suspicion as to how. It couldn’t have been out of the question for something like that to manipulate a person on an emotional level. He wasn’t the usual breed of monster, but he couldn’t see himself being all that significant to something so distant from humanity, in spite of what he’d said.
Standing, Rupert closed his book and tugged his leather jacket a little tighter around himself, in a futile attempt at keeping out the cold. It turned out that any form of security was a joke, when tried against a skilled magician, not that he considered himself all that practised. Stepping over a broken floorboard, he headed for the window and pulled a handkerchief out of one of the pockets, before spitting on it and shifting some of the grime on the window into a different pattern.
He had been here for a week and a half already, and while that was right on creeping towards his time limit, he wasn’t particularly eager to leave this place and go on the hunt for new accommodation. There was snow on the street outside, which made the city look like an alien landscape carved from marble and diamond, and this morning there had been a thin coating of ice on top of the cup of water that he had left beside his pillow.
Winter in London was cold enough to freeze the balls off a bear, and the wind was constantly finding new gaps in wall to howl through. He wasn’t sure how long this place he been condemned for, but it was definitely a minor miracle that a couple of the power points still worked.
Grabbing up a chipped plate that he’d left on the window ledge, he carried it back over to the stack of beer crates that he had over the far side of room, which doubled as a desk and seat, and put it down in the center of the ‘table’. Then he sat down and dragged his bag towards him with the toe of his boot. It was too fucking cold to be stripping off any clothing, even though he might have been more comfortable otherwise.
After fighting with the zip on his bag for a few moments he loosened it, and rooted around in his bag until he found a three-quarter full bottle of whiskey, which he took a mouthful of, smiling slightly as the burn warmed him a little on the inside. Twisting the cap back on, he placed it down on the floor, and picked up the joint from out of the plate that had become his ashtray. Closing his eyes, he hunted inside to find that spark of power which he knew was there, and turned a little of it outwards, mentally striking it together like a pair of flint stones. As the joint caught, he inhaled deeply, and held it for a moment, before letting the smoke trickle out of his nostrils, as though he were Smaug, resplendent on his throne of treasure, and wished that the buzz would last longer than it did. Then his cracked the book open again, and flipped to a chapter that was further in that the one he had been reading before.
If he was planning on spending the winter here, then he would need something more than the simple wards he’d originally been taught. He needed something that wouldn’t been half as easy to crack, or see through. Rubbing his hands together, he put the joint down, and took another sip of the whiskey, as he frowned to himself.
He also needed a way to warm up a little unless he wanted to be found one morning frozen solid in some modern day fucked-up likeness of ‘The Little Matchstick Girl.’ Hence the recent work with fire spells. If he could master a few of those, and manipulate things a little, then he might just be able to get a continuous supply of safe hot air, rather than a piece of room that was liable to spontaneously combust.
He heard a pounding on the door, and a high-pitched voice called out in a sing-song tone, rising and falling, “Ri-ipper. Come out and play.”
Speaking of hot air… Smirking slightly to himself, he closed the book again, and headed down the stairs. This place was two floors of wood dust, and borer bugs linking arms to hold it together. He had one door at the bottom of the stairs, another at the top, and he’d also sealed the attic off with a door that he’d stolen from what was once a kitchen downstairs.
One day when he was bored, he was going to start poking through the dusty boxes in the attic. He was also planning on forcing the warped basement door, to see exactly what was down there, and he would count himself lucky if the action didn’t bring the place down around his ears.
He had been given the nickname the first night he’d met ‘Randy’ Randal Blake. He’d not only met the weedy young man with watery blue eyes, but saved his hide from a pack of three vampires. After the fight, with the style that he’d brought the pack down Randy’s bird Dee had taken to calling him a right ripper, and it had stuck. Dee was pretty, blond, and stacked, with a preference for miniskirts that didn’t cover much of anything below her arse, and sometimes only covered half of that, too.
Rupert pulled open the second door, at the bottom of the stairs, to find not only Dee, but Randy himself there.
Dee was vigorously rubbing at her arms, there was a light dusting of snow on her wide-brimmed leather hat, and the shoes that she was wearing were ankle-breakers if he’d ever seen a pair. In a small concession to the cold, she was wearing a pair of black stocking and a thin wool knit sweater that he doubted would do anything to keep out the cutting wind. Randy, on the other hand, was wearing a jumper that swum on him, making him look even thinner than he was, a pair of black jeans and a pair of leather bike boots.
The dress didn’t surprise him. No-one had ever accused the pair of them of being normal, after all.
“Going to invite us up, Rip?” Randy drawled, stretching out the ‘i’ like it was another syllable alone.
“If you need an invitation, then I’m probably already fucked,” Rupert stepped to the side, and the pair flowed past him and up the stairs, a couple of runners creaking underfoot, “So, what drags the pair of you to this neck of the woods?”
“Told you he’d have forgot,” Dee jabbed an elbow into Randy’s side, to punctuate the words.
Randy shook his head, “It’s all them bloody books, is what it is. That much reading just can’t be natural. Rots the brain.”
Rupert rolled his eyes at their backs, as they emerged into the room that he had chosen to doss down in. Dee threw herself down onto the old mattress, and Randy leaned casually against the wall, with his arms crossed.
“Got a spare toke, or drop of brew?” Dee asked, “We want to warm up a little before we head back out, and over to old father Hen’s party. God only knows we’ll need something to keep us off the straight and narrow at that one.”
Rupert shrugged, even as he took a swig from his bottle, tightened the cap back up, and tossed it over to her in an underarm pass, “You never know. He might surprise you.”
Henry had certainly surprised Rupert, with a natural aptitude for magic. It practically bled from him, but Randy and Dee had never gotten close enough to him to pick it up. The only reason that Rupert had noticed it, was because it was one of those things that he’d been trained to spot.
Over the next few days he was planning on testing that out, testing them all out. He couldn’t ward this place properly on his own, not the way that he wanted to do it. With several different carriers, the spell would be that much harder to see through, or break.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dee grinned, and took a slug from the bottle, before standing up and passing it over to Randy, who barely sniffed at the bottle, before handing it back to Rupert.
“Dope?” Randy raised an eyebrow.
Rupert grabbed up a hand-tooled leather pouch, another thing that he’d pocketed, and waved it back and forth as though mocking him, before he tucked it into his pocked, “Wait until we’re there, yeah? If you’re not going to believe it until you see it, then the least you can do, is give him a chance to prove it.”
“Give us the bottle back then, there’s a good lad Rip.”
He handed it back, then took off his jacket, and slung it around Dee’s shoulders, “Just looking at you is making my cock shrivel,” he said, by way of explanation, “and I’m sure your idiot there wouldn’t want you catching frostbite.”
She shrugged her arms into the jacket, and he tugged the zip up, “I’ll have to thank you properly, one of these days,” she smiled at him, and the tip of her tongue flicked out to lick at a lip, like a cat eyeing a bowl of cream.
“Oh, knock it off, you two,” Randy lobbed the bottle at him, and he snatched it out of the air.
“Shall we do it?” Rupert took another swig.
“Yes, please and thank-you,” Randy exclaimed, looking up towards the ceiling, as though thanking some heavenly body, “if it means that you keep those bloody paws of yours off her,” he said, without any real heat.
Rupert just smirked.
His head was spinning, and the wind was fresh and crisp. It smelled like more snow was on the way. The noise below throbbed and writhed like a living thing, and he had ducked out onto the balcony, then shimmied up the fire escape to the roof, in order to get a breather from it.
Bottle swinging loosely in hand, he dropped into a crouch, and scooped out a small hollow in the snow, to stand the bottle up in, then took another slug, put it down, and shuffled to the edge of the roof, until his toes were over the edge. Raising his head, he took a deep breath, and looked out at the thousands of lights that spread out across the city before him.
Up here, he felt so distant, so detached, so…so insignificant. It was a feeling that he liked, that insignificance. Hundreds upon hundreds of lights beckoned, from the heart of the city, and not a single person out there cared. Here, he was only a tiny speck in the sea of darkness. It didn’t matter what he did. The weight of the world wasn’t a part of him. In the morning, the sun would rise, even without him taking up arms, just the same as it had done every other morning, for thousands of years before now.
Everyone was important, and everyone was tiny, all in the exact same moment. Schrödinger’s Ego, he thought with a touch of a smirk. All that was real, was what he saw, and the truth of the matter was that the world kept turning without him.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
He hadn’t heard a single sound behind him, but he recognised the voice. Taking a tiny step back from the edge, he turned, to find himself face to face with Rayne, shirtless, those impossible wings already folded back into his body, or some other dimension, or whatever the hell it was.
“It is,” he allowed, “although, I fail to see how something like you could appreciate beauty.”
“It’s a blaze of life. Every single one of those spots talk of humanity below, thriving, with no idea of what’s really out there in the shadows. People living, thriving, simply being.” Rayne said, the casual tone never leaving his voice, “So you tell me, Rupert. What’s not to appreciate about it?”
“You said you wouldn’t follow,” Rupert tried another tact, a way to get this thing (his mind refused to allow the word) to open up a little further.
“Yes, well, once upon a time, after I interfered where I shouldn’t, I was tasked with looking out for a fool. It’s a full-time job, too. Now, please step away from that ledge, if you don’t mind. I’d rather not do what I was told to, tonight.”
He took a slow step away, and as he went to plant his foot, he found a patch of ice. Thrown off balance, he spun his arms, tried to thrust himself forward, even as he went backward. Heart in his throat, he lunged for the edge, missed, and entered free-fall.
He heard what sounded suspiciously like a curse, and then Rayne was dropping after him, head aimed towards the ground, arms outstretched before him like he was diving from a high board, even as those brilliant wings erupted from his back. He kept them folded tight against his back, so that the fall was uninterrupted.
Rayne was gaining, but the ground was, too. Rupert twisted himself, reaching upwards, and after a fall that seemed to take a lifetime, he was close enough that he could lock his hand around a forearm. Rayne tugged him into his chest, wrapping those steal-tensile arms around him, and then those massive wings snapped open and Rupert forgot to be afraid.
He could feel Rayne’s muscles trembling, straining, could see every drop of sweat as he fought to keep another almost-fully-grown male airborne. Those wings were at full stretch, and the flesh on his shoulders was white, as he fought to gain so much as another inch, angling himself, as he tried to bring them both safely down to the ground. This close, Rupert could see that the wings weren’t pure silver, but threaded through with gold strands and translucent black, which were coiled and bundled at the points of stress, as though they were pulling the muscles tight.
“Listen to me,” he voice was almost whipped away by the rushing wind, but Rupert could still hear the tension in it, “We’re coming in too fast for any control. I’m going to have to drop you, and you’ll have to tuck and roll.”
He didn’t have a chance to protest. Rayne let go, and Rupert just saw the wind catch him, saw him shooting upwards as the weight vanished, before he had to twist himself so the he could hit the ground and roll. The impact was still a shock, enough to bring tears to his eye at the speed that he was travelling, but it was a lot less than it could have been. He wasn’t dead and shattered, for instance.
Slowly he stood, giving his stomach a chance to catch up with the rest of his body, just in time to watch as Rayne rolled, wheeling in the air and turning back towards him, those wings brighter than anything else in that cool evening. Bringing them closer to his body, he hit the ground running, and covered the few feet that were separating them. Still, Rayne moved like a predator, something completely at home in any environment that it might have found itself in.
Rupert threw his arms around those powerful shoulders as his legs gave way, and found himself pressed against Rayne’s damp body, shaking, “You saved my life. Again.”
''Next time, I'll fall off, and you can do the hard part,” he spoke in a tone that was gentle, designed to sooth. He felt Rayne’s chest move as he breathed in deeply, “I committed a sin, you know.”
“Lied, didn’t I? I was meant to watch you die, then lead you away from this plane. I had no intention of doing so, but I still said that I would.”
As he found his strength again, Rupert made himself release his grasp, and raised his head, to look the angel in the eye, “You’re not going to be too popular after this then, are you?”
To his surprise, Rayne laughed, “No. I imagine not.”
Rupert watched, as he turned his head back towards the building where the party was, and the way that his the light caught his face and threw it into shadows, he looked like nothing more than a statue, torn from some graveyard.
“Now, I imagine that you can find your way back, yes? I’m afraid I have excuses to make, and business to attend.”
As he spread his wings again, Rupert caught his shoulder for a second, and Rayne froze, looking at him. The moment spun out on a delicate strand, until it was broken, “Yes?”
“You're not exactly my biggest fan, are you?”
Rayne shook his head, a movement so tiny that he would have missed it, if he hadn't been looking for it, “That's hardly the case at all,” he leaped, and flapped, stirring the snow into a savage whirlwind, and was out of sight before Rupert could say another word.
Rupert's head was spinning, as he turned back to the building he'd just fallen from, although not in the same way as it had been, before. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing, to have a guardian angel standing, looking, over his shoulder.
Rupert raised his bottle and held it up to the light, squinting to see how much was left, before he tilted it back and finished off the last couple of drops, and half-turned in his seat, to look out the window, which was covered in mist. He imagined that was the way the Ghost Roads looked, indistinct, with things lurching out of the mist.
It was funny, to be warm enough to wear a tee-shirt, when the snow was falling thicker and faster than ever. He had used a very old spell, to create this bubble of warmth to live in. A piece of obsidian was in every corner, and at every threshold to the room, and the spell that he had got his new friends to help cast drew a little of the memory of warmth from the volcano in which the stone was formed out into the area that was marked off.
It didn't use much energy, but like all old magic, it had it's risks. This one was that they could have reached too far into the stones, and sparked up a fire which would have engulfed, oh, say, three or four blocks before a person so much as blinked. Just little things like that.
One would have thought that a spell like that, which constantly drew energy would have made the warding and shielding harder, but in matter of fact, it rather seemed to help stabilise things, and make it easier. Sort of like, balancing a plate on a stick; with just one stick you needed quick reflexes, and a whole lot of spin, but by the time you got to three sticks, you could prop it like a teepee and walk away to do your own thing, with only the occasional glance over at it.
A few days after he had got the warding sorted, he had hit the attic and found a moth-eaten sofa, a pair of chairs, and an old mattress that was a lot more comfortable than the patch of floorboard that he had been curling up on.
The sofa was a light brown, faded from what was obviously years in the sunlight, and he'd found a ten pound note down the back of it. A third chair had been studied, then rejected, because of a large, dark stain on it that reminded him far too strongly of blood. He had also thrown the old woollen blanket and feather quilt that had been covering the chairs, down onto the mattress, and found some old sheets and pillows that were used as packing to make the bed into something more like it should have been.
The real prize, though, had been a collection of six books, that wouldn't have looked out of place in the grand library at Convant House. Two were in Latin, a third was Sumerian, one was English, and the final two, which looked to be a set were bound in a rough, scaly hand-tooled leather and were in a language that he had never seen before, but had certainly heard of; High Octrain. A language that was spoken by the lords of a far more distant realms.
He hadn't yet started mucking around with attempting a translation, but looking into those dark carved eyes on the covers, and the hint of fang which was half-hidden by lips, it didn't take a genius to see that it wasn't anything nice.
He hadn't yet tried the basement. A part of him didn't know what he might find down there, after turning up those books. This place was adequate enough to serve his needs, and he didn't want to have to move on because he had woken something better left to rest.
Taking one last deep breath of the warm, musky air he opened the door and stepped out past the threshold. The cold was a literal shock to his system, stealing his breath, and making him wish that he'd though to pull his jacket on, even though he wasn't going to be away from his warm bubble for long.
Descending the stairs he had a little fun, trying to blow rings of steam with the frosty clouds that he made. At the bottom of the stairs, and around a corner was a little cupboard that he had cleaned out as best as he possibly could, before tucking and old trunk into it, and filling that with snow. With that biting chill, it was the perfect place to keep a little food, a couple of more volatile potion ingredients, and a few six-packs of beer that had fallen off the back of a truck. In the bottom corner, so that it would be inconvenient for anyone else to find, he also had some cash that was well-wrapped in plastic so it didn't get damp.
Kicking the trunk open, he dropped into a crouch and grabbed a pair of the packs, before shutting and latching it. Then he stood and headed back up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Opening the door he stepped across the threshold, kicked it closed behind him, and froze.
Rayne was leaning against the wall, with his arms crossed over his bare chest, clad only in a pair of jeans, looking as though he was waiting for him. For a brief, stupid moment, Rupert felt like a child who knew he was about to be in big trouble. He tried for surprise, but didn't find it, and was grateful to note that the window hadn't been shattered to let the cruel winter into his sanctuary.
“Should I prepare for another near-death experience, then?” Rupert asked, deadpan. It seemed strange that it didn't seem more strange, “Fire, earthquake, plague of rats?”
Rayne shook his head, shaking a few drops of water from his hair, as he did so, but didn't say a thing.
“Can you at least tell me how you got in?” There was no point in asking how he'd found him. It would have been almost impossible to hide from something with such high connections, he supposed.
“I used the roof access, came down into the attic.”
Rupert glanced towards the door that lead up to the attic, and was surprised to see that it wasn't hanging off it's hinges. Putting the beer down on the old, scarred table that he'd also dug out of the attic, he pulled one out and cracked it, briefly considered offering one over to Rayne, then wondered whether angels were allowed to drink, or if it would even affect them.
With a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth he decided against it, but still took a deep swallow, then cleared his throat, “What are you doing here, then?”
“Well, that's a detailed explanation, if I've ever heard one,” Rupert drummed the fingers of his his free hand against the table, traced a deep scratch, and didn't take his gaze from his uninvited guest.
“I need a place to stay, a place that's open, while the others make a final decision. One of the terms is that I stay down on the earthly plain while I wait.”
“Oi, hang on a second. If there's any chance that you're going to be smited...” Rupert frowned to himself, thinking, “or smote, or whatever the fuck the term is, then I don't want a bar of it. I've grown rather attached to life, for some strange reason. Couldn't imagine living without it, you see.”
He joked what he was nervous. So what?
“You've nothing to worry about, Rupert,” Rayne spoke in a reassuring tone, “If the literary definition of a God exists, then I've never met him.”
That was the last thing that he had ever expected to hear, especially coming out of the mouth of an angel. “But...then...what...who the hell do you answer to? What...what does that make the bible?” He felt stupid even asking the question, when he had never read the book in his life.
Rayne left his spot against the wall, for a rather more comfortable one on one of the overstuffed armchairs. A cloud of dust rose into the air as he sat down, and he sneezed twice, the sound echoing sharply around around the room.
“I answer to others like myself, but far more powerful. They make the rules, that form the plans. I've no idea what they answer to. If there is a heaven, then I don't know it, but I've walked the Ghost Roads between realms and seen hundreds of other worlds out there. The are dozens of plains where there is only peace, and a great many more that live up to the idea of hell. As far as your bible goes, it's an idea created by man, to try and explain those things people have always struggled with. It's nothing more than a fairy tale, designed to give people a sense of limitation, and understanding, and peace with death.”
Rupert stayed standing, turning everything over in his head, trying to work out what difference it made, if any. After all, it wasn't as though he had ever declared himself to what was, in all honesty, a rather unpleasant fiction. Rayne was a different matter altogether; he could believe in something that called itself an angel, because he had met one.
“But, all you did was save a life. My life. Twice, admittedly, but is that truly such a great crime?”
Rayne did something completely unexpected, right then. He shot Rupert a grin that looked, to his practised eye, to be a little guilty.
“Yes, well, in all honesty I was never much of one for following rules. My duty is nothing to do with preserving life, Rupert. It's meant to be about maintaining balance. In the eternal war, one side should never be allowed the power to do too much damage to the other, or there wouldn't be enough of the other side left to allow man to chose his own path. The first time I saved you, I got into trouble because you had too much potential power to grant to one side of the war, and now, the tables have turned haven't they?”
“You mean...I don't have enough power to make a difference now?” Rupert tried to figure that one out.
“No. I mean, you now have that same potential to strengthen the other side in the war. Power isn't ever something that is reserved for one side, and one alone. Cause and effect lies solely in the hands of the one who wields it.”
Rupert pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit up. The end glowed fiercely, a tiny piece of tame fire, as he smoked it quickly down to the butt as though he was frustrated with it. “So, you really shouldn't have saved me that second time then,” he managed to say the words without flinching.
“No. It was my chance to make up for my first mistake, I suppose.”
“Then why didn't you just let it happen?”
“Honestly?” Rayne laughed, “I was bored, and your presence in this world makes life that much more interesting.”
Finishing off his beer, Rupert closed one eye, to line up the bottle with the bucket that he had designated a rubbish bin, and tossed it with a casual underhanded throw. It landed squarely in the bin with a clatter of glass, and as Rupert was pulling out another beer from the cardboard holder, Rayne spoke again.
“So, what do you say? Can I please stay here for a little while? I could find somewhere else, but this place is convenient.”
Rupert had almost forgotten that original question. With a shrug, like it was of little, to no consequence to him, he inclined his head, “ Yes, that's fine. It would hardly be grateful to turn you away, after all.”
“What have you got, there?”
A few days had already become a week, with no sign of contact from Rayne's masters, and Rupert had set aside the English text, in favour of trying to work out exactly what the texts in High Octrain were saying. It wasn't going to be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. It looked like the language only had twenty characters, but by the positions and groupings it looked like the meanings of quite a few of the characters were interchangeable. So far, all that he had achieved was a headache.
He also wasn't entirely sure that Rayne ever slept. If he wasn't standing at the window staring out, then he was often up on the roof just looking down towards the city. He paced, ranging from one area to another when he was inside, reminding Rupert of a caged big cat in some cheep zoo, trapped but still dreaming of the wild. A few times he had vanished out into the city to roam the streets, for hours at a time. He would come back from these trips soaked through to the skin, and looking more frustrated than ever.
He wished he knew what he was looking for.
Rupert moved over a little, so that Rayne could see the book, “Are you any good with languages?”
Rayne glanced down at the book, then rested a hand on his shoulder, under the sleeve so that he was holding skin. Rupert tensed a little, “It all looks the same to me, just like it once would have to you. Our touch is healing, Rupert, although the effects only last while contact is being made. Restores a person to their prime form.” Rayne delicately drew his glasses from his face, and folded the arms over to hold them, before nodding towards the book, “Go ahead, take a look.”
Looking down at the writing, he knew that somehow it still wasn't English, but he could comprehend what he was seeing, could separate it into words and sentences. The hand that it was written in was quite beautiful, what made the subject matter all the more frighting. The page that he'd had it open to was talking about influence, and the complete eradication of free will, outlined as though this were some training manual for dogs.
“Fuck,” Rupert slammed the book closed and jerked away, breaking contact and turning the world back into that usual modern-art blur. If he didn't know what he was staring at, then he wouldn't have known.
“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” the blur that was Rayne held his glasses back out towards him, “and your eyesight is getting worse, by the way. Your range of vision has dropped considerably, since the last time I made contact with you. Another decade, or maybe a little less, and you won't be able to see much further than a couple of feet. Another one of our gifts,” Rayne spat the last word as though it were a curse.
At those words, Rupert felt a very real terror. To lose his eyesight completely was one of his worst nightmares. It took him a few minutes to realise that Rayne was still talking.
“...so if I'm going to be hung, I may as well get there with some style. I'm meant to be bared from all use of my powers, but if you want then I can arrest the progress of it. It's direct interference with a natural progression, so I'll be even less popular than I am at the moment, but honestly, at the moment I'm not much bothered by that. Most couldn't like me any less than they do already, so it doesn't really matter, I don't think.”
“You're serious? You can do something like that?”
“As easily as you read English. I can read your neural pathways, and rewrite the ones at fault. I can not repair the damage that is already done, but I can stop it from going any further.”
“Please tell me that you're not just saying that?”
“I'm not. I'm assuming, from that response, that you'd like me to, then?”
“Please. Yes please. Do I...well, do I need to do anything?”
Rayne stood, and rolled his shoulders back, stretching the muscle, “I need you to relax. I don't want to mess up something that I shouldn't, and if you're tense, then the pathways can cross one another in ways that I'm not used to dealing with. If you stripped down, that would help as well, because, again, flesh-to-flesh contact helps, and it plays a huge part in stabilizing the connection.”
Rayne's expression tensed, and a second later that massive pair of wings were stretching out from his back. Before Rupert could talk himself out of it, he lowered his hand to unbutton his jeans, and tugged his tee-shirt off over his head, so that he was standing there in nothing more than a pair of boxers. Again, he reminded himself that Rayne was far from human. It wouldn't mean the same to an angel, as it would to a human. There was no way that an angel, of all beings, would consider crossing over that line which was drawn in the ever-shifting sand.
Moving forward to grasp him, those wings spread, and then crossed over his chest, that same way as Rayne's arms grasped him. Closing his eyes, he leaned back, and then there was a pain the likes of which he'd never known before, as hundreds of those gold threads that strengthened his wings burrowed into his flesh. It was like a bad trip, to be in agony, but unable to move, unable to tense, or fight, or pull away. He wasn't sure how long that it lasted; as timeless as that fall from the rooftops had been. It could have been seconds, or it could have been days, weeks, months, even years. He could feel things being twisted and forced, and reshaped, as though it wasn't just happening inside of him.
When Rayne finally release him and he collapsed forward onto hands and knees, it felt like waking up from a nightmare. He was sweating as though he'd been pushed through a marathon, and he was amazed that he didn't see hundreds upon hundreds of holes bored into his flesh, when he finally gathered the courage to look down. He had been expecting a sea of red, but there was nothing; smooth skin, hair, and the shine of sweat upon it, but no physical damage remained.
He dropped and rolled away, as Rayne reached for him.
“I'm sorry. I can paralyse, but I can't deaden pain like my superiors can, and if I'd warned you, then you would have been too tense for me to do anything at all.”
Rupert didn't care about the excuses. He was exhausted, to the point of collapse. Even that tiny drain from the spell that kept the room heated was too much for him to stand. It felt like the constant, annoying itch of a wool jersey, and he wanted nothing more than to sink his fingers into flesh, and scratch until he'd torn through the flesh and was bleeding out freely.
He cancelled the spell and crawled over to his mattress. Seconds later, he felt the springs dip as Rayne settled beside him, and he didn't even have the strength left to panic as one of those wings settled over him, between his skin and the blankets, and a warmth flooded into his bones.
He wasn't sure how long he'd slept, when he was woken by a pounding at the door. For a moment, still half-asleep as he was, he though that it might have been Rayne's superiors breaking down the door to drag him off to face judgement. Then the knocking settled into a recognisable pattern, and he realised that it could only be Dee. Rayne was still resting, breathing deep and even, wing settled over him. As the sound of knocking intensified, Rayne half-stirred and the wing withdrew, fading back into unreality.
Cursing the fact that he'd left the warmth drop, Rupert scrambled out from under the covers, and tugged on a sweater and a pair of track pants then dragged his leather jacket on over stiff arms as he made his way down the stairs. Opening the door to let her in, he saw that it was dark past her, and the snow blew inside the door, driven in by a savage wind. She looked at his bare feet, and his dishevelled appearance as Randy slipped in behind her, and he wrestled the door back closed almost having to lean against it to achieve his goal.
As she raised an eyebrow at him, he twisted away, pretending that he hadn't seen it, “So, what brings you here in the middle of that storm?” he asked, as he lead the way back up the stairs.
“It's Thursday,” Randy said from a couple of stairs back, and Rupert almost froze in mid-step. He knew for a fact that it was been Monday, when Rayne had healed him, or whatever the fuck he wanted to call it, which meant that he had just lost three or four days sleeping. A night, he would have expected, but not that sort of time.
Rupert opened the door at the top of the stairs, and as he stepped back over the threshold he realised that his breath was no longer coming out as clouds of steam. He wasn't sure whether the spell had been reactivated while he had been sleeping, or while he had been down stairs. He hadn't noticed. His gaze was drawn to Rayne, though, who had dragged himself off of the mattress, and was sitting on the armchair with his heat tilted back, eyes closed and shirt still off. He didn't need to be a telepath to read Dee's mind right at that moment, and he knew that any attempt to defend himself would only incriminate him in her eyes, not that she would ever have judged even if it had been what it looked like.
He didn't mention a thing, and neither did she.
“Good evening Paige, James,” Rayne spoke without opening his eyes, and again, Rupert wasn't really surprised that he wasn't surprised.
“And who the fuck are you, when you're at home?” Randy asked in a tone that was close to a
“Does it matter? It's not often that a name does matter to you, is it James?”
Rupert wondered what that was meant to mean, but Randy didn't show so much as a flicker of response. In face, if was almost as though the previous exchange hadn't happened, and Randy looked at him, “So, were we still on for tonight, Ripper? Still feel up to making that dough, or,” his gaze drifted to Rayne, “did you have more important things to do?”
Rupert straightened from his customary slouch, and took a stalking step towards Randy, who lost a few shades of colour, staring at his tightly balled fist, gaze darting to the expression on his face, “Look, mate,” Rupert growled the word, “I don't like people who imply, and I don't think I like the sound of what it is that you're implying. If you've got something to say, then come out and say it, or it you don't have the bottle, then shut that tiny little mouth of yours. I think the act of opening it might be cancelling out what little brain-power you have that doesn't get redirected to the south.”
It was a stare-down, and while it wasn't often that Rupert fought, the memory of those times that he had raised his fists had a habit of staying with the people who had witnessed it. It only took a few seconds for Randy to remember exactly who he was facing off with, and then the expressions that flitted across his face were truly fascinating to watch. He didn't think he had ever seen a face with the exact same toning of black-current ice-cream before.
“Forget it,” Randy declared, with a swipe of his hand as though striking something away, “were you ready to go?”
Rupert glanced at Rayne, then turned back to Randy and Dee. “You,” he pointed at Dee, “crack me a beer, while I get changed. Randy, grab my guitar and put it near the front door.” he hesitated, “Did you want one, Rayne?” May as well be a good host, after all.
Rayne smile at him, and Rupert though that he detected a touch of bitterness about it. “We don't experience the world the same way that humans do, Rupert. We walk over the earth, but experience nothing of it. There is no pain, no intoxication, no sickness, or cold, or warmth or death amongst us. Sorrows, joy, love and fear are real enough, but nothing else is really real.”
“What the hell are you?” Dee breathed, looking at Rayne with an expression of hungry curiosity on her face.
“What I am, is none of your business,” Rayne's reply was in a cold tone.
Rupert saw the way that Dee's face closed off, and feeling a dark anger rising in his chest, he spoke without thinking “If you talk like that to my friends again, then I'll be testing out that theory that you can't feel pain. Are we clear?”
Rayne's lips drew back from needled teeth, and the look in those glittering amber-brow eyes wasn't just anger, but true rage. Rupert braced himself for another shattered window, and was surprised when he simply turned and swept out of the room, slamming doors behind him in a way that seemed very human indeed.
Rupert's blood was running hot as he came off the stage and let the sea of heaving people and smell of sweat swarm around, enveloping him. An hours' work for thirty quid was a sweet payout, especially considering he'd only started playing after he hit the road. Achievement of another dream denied by the Council of the stifling.
He swung his guitar strap over his shoulder, undid his leather jacket so that he could cool down a little, and felt an arm looping around his shoulder, a drink pushed into his hand, “Shit, you're good Ripper. Where the hell you learn to play like that?”
Twisting his head, he found himself eye-to-eye with Phillip Henry, button-up brown leather jacket undone and thrown open wide to let the air circulate. His short brown hair, and moustache to bearded goatee combination was as immaculately groomed as ever.
“Then I guess the toast, is to talents that we didn't know we had,” Phillip grinned and twisted the cap off his own bottle, before drinking deeply. The swirl of coloured lights from the thriving life behind him, and his delicate boyish face made him look otherworldly and fae. Or maybe that was the hit of acid he'd taken finally beginning to hit him.
Phillips' gaze caught his, and he paused before slowly nodding, “Yeah, sure. I'll drink to that, mate.”
He had seen Dee and Randal slipping away halfway through his set, and it didn't take a genius to work out where they were off too, with the way they'd been all over one another, snogging and having a good time. That was fine, though; he didn't begrudge them what they had.
For a second, he turned away from Phillip to watch the next person swaying through the crowd, to stand on the table with it's legs sawed short, which was doubling as a stage. It may have sounded stupid, but it was a bloody big table. The new bloke had a pair of bongo drums, dreadlocks, and was puffing away heavily at what was obviously a rather large joint. With a smirk, Rupert twisted away again.
“And they say that we shouldn't trust stereotypes. The stereotypes are what they are for a reason, no?”
Phillips lips twitched, in an effort to conceal a grin. The action would have been more effective if he hadn't snorted at that exact moment.
Rupert let his gaze drift, before he looked at Phillip again, “What do you say we blow this joint, and find somewhere a little quieter?”
When he had hit the heart of London, he had promised himself that he was going to try everything, and he had kept his word to himself. Life wasn't meant to be like some text in a book, words of black and white, something read but never fully experienced. It was something that was meant to be grabbed with both hands, and devoured thoroughly.
“Sounds like a bloody good plan to me,” Phillips' grin spread a little further, became a little more real.
Oh yes. Tonight was far from a bust.