Ryan heard the shot, and another quickly followed it. He spun and lashed out at the Solstice behind him, snapping the man’s neck without further ceremony – kidnapping was one thing, especially when they hadn’t had time to disappear their victim, when they opened fire in a crowded mall of civilians, they weren’t interested in talking.
He shifted down the mall, catching sight of a grey t-shirt in the McDonald’s she’d pointed to – knowing she was safe, he shifted again, following the Solstice that had run off with the young fae.
They were struggling to load him into a van – blood was running over his forehead, whether they’d hit him with a cudgel, or slammed his head into the van, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He lifted his gun, a single shot downed one of the men, two finished off the other.
The young man slumped against the van, rubbing his ears. ‘Coulda used a silencer.’
‘Not my style.’
‘Angels don’t have style,’ he said. He touched the blood on his forehead and grimaced. ‘I’m a fucking waiter, what’d they want with me?’
He scanned the young man – noticing that he wasn’t entirely fae. ‘You’re a halfbreed, they wanted to hurt you.’
‘I’m not on the grey list, couldn’t your response time have been a little better?’
‘The word you’re searching for is “thanks” or “thank you”. If I hadn’t been in the area, they would have taken you. You’re lucky.’
‘Lucky isn’t what I’d call it. My life’s ruined.’
‘Do you wish to go to a safe house?’
‘Well, I think that’s the least you can do.’
He waved a hand and shifted the ungrateful young man to a safe house – one near Sydney, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the follow-up paperwork.
He turned back towards the mall and shifted to the McDonald’s – looking in, he found he’d misjudged his recruit’s location, that was, unless she’d somehow turned into a young man. He remembered the shots, and quickly scanned the mall, and was relieved to see a lack of corpses.
He looked across the mall, scanning for the grey t-shirt that he’d required, and was frozen for a moment when he saw it. The shirt – and the body it covered – were lying the ground. Another quick shift had him at her side.
Her head lay in a puddle of blood and unblinking eyes stared up at him. He took in the scene, preserve ring every inch of it for examination later, then dropped to his knees, wrapped his arms around her and shifted her away from the prying eyes of the public – and the security cameras.
As soon as they appeared in her apartment, she rolled from his arms, landing heavily on the floor, the wet blood smearing the carpet. She clawed at the carpet, and after a moment, began to scream. A single thought filled the walls with soundproofing – no-one would hear the screaming girl this time. She took a breath, long enough to nearly choke on her tears, then collapsed fully to the floor, lying as still as the corpse he’d baby-sat for a month.
Then, the crying started.
He reached for her, but she shook off his advances, reaching her arm back and blindly slapping at his hand. She pushed herself up a little, turned her head at the coffee table and began to slam her head into the leg. Each slam was accompanied by a short scream, but he shifted the table away so that she couldn’t hurt herself more.
He quickly shrugged off his jacket and got down in the ground in front of her, brushing the hair back from her face – just to make sure she hadn’t hurt herself too badly. Tear-filled eyes stared uncomprehendingly at him, before she just screamed again and weakly pushed him away.
She collapsed again, both hands grabbing bunches of her hair, a look of terror plastered on her face.
‘He- No- I- Ahhhhh!’
‘Stop it Spyder, just stop it!’
‘Function gone, all gone, nobody here, all gone all gone all gone all gone.’
She lifted her head and slammed it against the carpet, smearing more of the blood onto the carpet. He reached for again, and this time, she snapped out, trying to bite his hand as he reached for her.
‘Nobody here no more, can’t, he, can’t, he, can’t be here after that!’
‘You’re here! You’re here! Just shut up and listen to me!’
She rocked back and forth, the hands gripping her head shaking and flexing beyond and reasonable control.
‘All gone, all gone, bullet in the brain pan, squish! Squish! All over the ground! It was all over the ground! Can’t- Can’t be here now.’
‘Spyder-‘
She one hand wrenched it free of its iron grip on her hair, and reached for the back of her head. It came away bloody and covered in…covered in small chunks of brain matter. She held the hand in front of her face for a moment, then began to scream again.
This time, when he reached for her, he ignored all of her feeble attempts to bat him away, with very little effort, he lifted her tiny body up onto his lap, and wrapped his arms around her trembling form. She slapped at him, but he ignored it, easily able to ignore the minimal sensation that it caused. Slightly harder to ignore was her slamming her head against his, but he held on, knowing that if he didn’t, she was going to slip away, to somewhere that wasn’t as easy to return from as Death’s realm. She beat him a few more times, then tried to bite his shoulder. After a moment of attempting to chew through the fabric of his vest, she simply collapsed against him and wept.
He scanned her – internally, she was the same as when they’d left the apartment, externally, with the small, drying blood spatter on her forehead, her blood-soaked hair and the small pieces of…debris clinging to the back of her head, it honestly seemed as though someone had shot her in the head, and that she’d lain there, allowing the blood to stain her skin and soak into the neck of her shirt. It was a look he’d seen too many times, but the data conflicted itself, so there was nothing conclusive there.
He did a deeper scan of her brain, afraid that she really had a basis for screams…but her mind was intact, there was no missing pieces, not even the tiny one in her hand.
‘Squish! Squish! Oh god…squish…’ She was still shuddering, still crying. He slowly rubbed a hand in circles on her back, trying to calm her, and turned his head to look at her. She was staring down at her blood-stained hand, and was rolling one of the small pieces of brain matter between her fingers.
‘Oh Jesus Christ…you can’t be…I can’t have thoughts without you…’ Awkwardly, she lifted her bloody hand and pressed it against the side of her head. ‘You can go back in now…go on…go back in…incomplete without you…all gone…go back in! GO BACK IN!’
‘Stef…’
‘GO BACK IN!’
She knuckled her hand, trying even harder to push the small piece of debris back in, before simply slumping and weeping against his chest. Bloody hair stared back at him as he looked down at her, but he put aside his own feelings of disgust – he could deal with himself later, she was that was important at the moment.
‘I’m here,’ he said, ‘you’re safe.’
‘She isn’t safe from her own thoughts.’
‘Shh…Tell me what happened.’
‘I can’t!’ she screamed, ‘I’m not all here!’ With this, she dissolved into manic giggles.
He held her a little tighter. ‘Yes you are, you’re all here, you’re all right here.’
She stopped giggling, she stopped shaking, and she buried her head in his chest. ‘Heshotme,’ came her quiet answer. She grabbed a handful of his vest and held it tightly, as if trying to draw strength from the cloth. ‘He shot me. In the head.’ She ground her head against his chest, trying to hide it in the little space between his vest and his shirt. ‘Wasn’t supposed to get a third chance, was I?’
‘Not so far as I knew,’ he said.
‘Then…’ she said shakily, ‘the hell happened?’
‘Did you see Death?’
‘No.’
‘Either of her sisters?’
He felt her shake her head against his chest. She exhaled a long breath against him. ‘I’m…I’m pretty sure I died. I mean-‘ she began to shake again. ‘You can’t…that…and not…’ Her grip tightened and her body went stiff.
‘I know what you mean, don’t think about it.’
She pulled back a little so she could look at him. ‘How can I be thinking with a brain that has bits missing?’
‘It isn’t missing,’ he said slowly, ‘it’s intact.’
Her eyes went wide, and she lifted both hands to the side of her head. ‘You can see my brain?’ she asked in a hoarse whisper. He nodded, and she slid one hand over her forehead. ‘What about now?’ He nodded again, and she just stared at him. ‘Ok, so you really are Superman. I never liked Superman.’
He lifted a hand to the side of her face. ‘Stef, are you-‘
‘So far from ok,’ she said as she leaned against this hand. ‘So, so, so, so far from ok. But…Yeah, no, just so far from ok.’ Her head rocked back and forth for a moment. ‘And I’m so cold.’
That, at least, he could fix. He stood, easily lifting her as he did. Unprepared for the change in altitude, she simply whimpered and clung tighter to him.
A tub of warm water appeared with a thought, and he tried to lower her into it, but she whimpered again and grabbed fistfuls of his shirt. Not wanting to hurt her, he again tried to gently pry her from himself.
‘Don’t let me go,’ she said in a tiny voice, ‘please.’
‘All right,’ he said. He looked at the tub, and with a thought, changed it into one a lot larger. Without even taking off his shoes, he stepped over the the rim, and gently lowered himself and his recently-obtained growth into the warm water. She tensed up, then seemed to deflate as she was surrounded by the warm water. Her grip relaxed and her head slumped.
The clear water of the tub was immediately coloured by the blood on her hands, the tiny pieces of debris floating to the surface. Her grip relaxed, he managed to push her away a little, enough to lift her hands so that he could scrub away the bloodstains.
‘You’re washing away me,’ she said, her eyes fixed on the water. ‘That’s…little bits of me, going bye-bye. Bye-bye! Bye-bye!’ She slammed a fist into the water, a surprisingly definite movement, then buried her face in his chest again. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’
He required replacement water – so that she didn’t have to sit in water dyed by her own blood and looked down at her. ‘You’ve got nothing to apologise for.’
‘You hate me,’ she said weakly.
He put a hand under her chin and made her look up at him. ‘How could I hate you?’
Her face went hard. ‘Easily.’
He required both of his hands dry and wiped away her tears. ‘Well, I don’t.’
This only made her cry more.
‘Turn around,’ he said, and she gave a small nod and turned away from him, her arms wrapped around her middle. After a moment, he required a comb and began to comb the debris from her hair. He again fought back his feelings of disgust as tiny pieces of brain matter brushed against his fingers.
He required a cup full of clean water and poured some of the warm water over her head, washing some of the blood away, and helping to loosen some of the blood that had become dried. An unexpected giggle came from her as the water ran over the back of her neck, but stopped abruptly, and she went back to holding her middle and moving as little as possible.
Acting like this, caring for something so small and so fragile, acting as…acting as a father, was something that had become unfamiliar to him. He smiled, knowing that he was going to get a lot of chances to hone that old skill set.
Half a dozen more cups of water, some more combing and a couple of small requirements later, her head no longer resembled that of a gunshot victim. A small requirement made her shirt disappear, to which she shuddered and hunched over even further. He simply brushed her clean-again hair from her neck, and scrubbed at the bloodstain, when he was satisfied, he required her into a clean set of clothes, and again replaced the water in the tub.
She slid away from him and turned around to face him, one hand covering her mouth as she looked at him. Slowly, he looked down at himself, and saw that his clothes were covered in her blood. One quick requirement, however, fixed that, and she seemed to calm a bit. After a moment, her gaze slid away from him, and she focused on the water.
‘I should have told you,’ she said quietly, ‘that I was crazy.’
‘It isn’t exactly something that comes up in casual conversation.’
‘If you’d known what a useless little shit I was, none of this would have happened.’
‘You aren’t useless, you saved my life, remember?’ He said, and she just stared at him, then went back to looking at the water. ‘I know now,’ he said after a moment, ‘and it’s all right.’
‘Except that it’s really not, I can’t expect you to treat me like people now that you know, now that I’m not even people anymore.’ She slid a fisted hand up into her shirt, then began to beat it against her heart. ‘Ba-bomp, ba-bomp, ba-bomp, that’s people, me? There’s nothing there, no ba-bomp, so I’m not people, worse than that, I’m crazy not-people.’ She slid back further and leaned back against the far end of the tub. ‘I knew you’d grok onto it eventually, I just figured I’d get to see some magic before I got outed.’
He found herself staring at her chest, and the mirror inside it. ‘Far more than you expected.’
She brought her knees up to her chest, dug her fingers into the fabric of her pants, then looked up at him. ‘How many rules are you breaking right now?’