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Darkstar

by cnkguy
Darkstar

DarkstarReading Time: 57 minutes

Darkstar

One​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​then​ ​another.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​his​ ​heart​ ​slow​ ​within​ ​his​ ​chest,​ ​just​ ​the​ ​way​ ​it​ ​always​ ​did​ ​when that​ ​feeling​ ​drew​ ​closer.​ ​Soon​ ​that​ ​voice​ ​would​ ​enter​ ​his​ ​mind,​ ​the​ ​one​ ​that​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​haunted​ ​more​ ​than​ ​only  him.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​do​ ​was​ ​lay​ ​there​ ​and​ ​soon,​ ​that​ ​voice​ ​would​ ​ask​ ​him​ ​if​ ​he​ ​was​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​die.​ ​This​ ​time,​ ​he  hadn’t​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​say​ ​anything​ ​more​ ​than​ ​yes.

*​ ​*​ ​*

“God​ ​what​ ​a​ ​mess…”​ ​His​ ​voice​ ​trailed​ ​off​ ​as​ ​he​ ​took​ ​a​ ​step​ ​back.​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​even​ ​entered​ ​the house​ ​yet.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​could​ ​see​ ​was​ ​the​ ​blood​ ​across​ ​the​ ​window,​ ​produced​ ​undoubtedly​ ​from some​ ​horror​ ​that​ ​lay​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​interior​ ​of​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​woken​ ​from​ ​a​ ​sound dreamless,​ ​blessedly​ ​dreamless,​ ​sleep​ ​and​ ​now​ ​blinked​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​this​ ​wasn’t​ ​a nightmare​ ​of​ ​his​ ​own​ ​fabrication.
“Sir?​ ​Sir,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​started​ ​to​ ​get​ ​pictures​ ​and​ ​the​ ​ambulance​ ​is​ ​on​ ​the​ ​way.”
“Ambulance?​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​you​ ​said​ ​that​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​one​ ​left​ ​alive.”​ ​A​ ​strong​ ​furrow​ ​creased​ ​a brow​ ​that​ ​had​ ​already​ ​been​ ​on​ ​its​ ​way​ ​to​ ​a​ ​scowl.
“We​ ​were​ ​wrong.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​child.”

*​ ​*​ ​*

“Elia,​ ​Elia​ ​come​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​window,​ ​baby.​ ​Come​ ​finish​ ​your​ ​lunch​ ​and​ ​we’ll​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​park​ ​after.​ ​You​ ​have  to​ ​eat​ ​if​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​big​ ​and​ ​strong.”    “But​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​up​ ​big…​ ​then​ ​it​ ​will​ ​hurt​ ​right?”​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​her​ ​and​ ​his​ ​big​ ​blue​ ​eyes  momentarily​ ​illuminated​ ​from​ ​within.​ ​His​ ​face​ ​was​ ​so​ ​serious​ ​that​ ​she​ ​paused​ ​and​ ​was​ ​mute,​ ​trapped​ ​in​ ​his  gaze.
Elia​ ​was​ ​her​ ​treasure.​ ​She​ ​couldn’t​ ​imagine​ ​a​ ​world​ ​without​ ​him,​ ​even​ ​as​ ​she​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​someday​ ​she​ ​would​ ​not  be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​guide​ ​his​ ​steps​ ​as​ ​he​ ​passed​ ​through​ ​the​ ​vale.​ ​Elia​ ​was​ ​fae​ ​touched,​ ​and​ ​though​ ​he​ ​was​ ​simply​ ​a​ ​child  to​ ​her,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​young​ ​wolf,​ ​he​ ​represented​ ​a​ ​legacy​ ​that​ ​many​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​dead​ ​and​ ​lost.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​most​ ​certainly  lost​ ​but​ ​because​ ​of​ ​that,​ ​it​ ​meant​ ​that​ ​the​ ​name​ ​she​ ​had​ ​chosen​ ​as​ ​his​ ​birth​ ​name,​ ​Elia​ ​Darkstar,​ ​was​ ​more  correct​ ​than​ ​she​ ​could​ ​have​ ​ever​ ​known.​ ​All​ ​that​ ​she​ ​could​ ​do​ ​was​ ​try​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​him​ ​from​ ​the​ ​world​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he  would​ ​remain​ ​innocent.​ ​Many​ ​Darkstar​ ​wolves​ ​were​ ​lost​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fae​ ​realm,​ ​unable​ ​to​ ​bridge​ ​the​ ​gap​ ​between​ ​the humanity​ ​that​ ​had​ ​entered​ ​their​ ​hearts​ ​and​ ​the​ ​fae​ ​blood​ ​that​ ​coursed​ ​through​ ​their​ ​veins.​ ​They​ ​would​ ​go insane​ ​or​ ​simply​ ​wither​ ​away​ ​as​ ​their​ ​minds​ ​became​ ​attached​ ​to​ ​a​ ​place​ ​somewhere​ ​through​ ​the​ ​vale​ ​but​ ​their bodies​ ​remained.​ ​She​ ​did​ ​not​ ​want​ ​those​ ​sad​ ​fates​ ​to​ ​be​ ​what​ ​waited​ ​for​ ​her​ ​sweet​ ​boy;​ ​the​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​that remained​ ​of​ ​her​ ​mate.​ ​She​ ​had​ ​to​ ​close​ ​her​ ​eyes​ ​to​ ​him​ ​before​ ​she​ ​could​ ​speak.​ ​She​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​never​ ​tell  her​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​he​ ​knew,​ ​but​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​already​ ​seen​ ​so​ ​many​ ​things​ ​that​ ​a​ ​child​ ​should​ ​never​ ​have​ ​to​ ​face  and​ ​remained​ ​so​ ​free​ ​and​ ​pure.​ ​How​ ​could​ ​she​ ​ever​ ​apologize​ ​to​ ​him.
“Then​ ​just​ ​strong.​ ​How​ ​does​ ​that​ ​sound​ ​since​ ​big​ ​is​ ​another​ ​evil.​ ​How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​get​ ​to​ ​be​ ​so​ ​clever?”​ ​She​ ​allowed​ ​a  smile​ ​to​ ​touch​ ​her​ ​lips​ ​even​ ​though​ ​she​ ​felt​ ​somber.
“I​ ​don’t​ ​know?”​ ​He​ ​said​ ​in​ ​a​ ​sing​ ​songy​ ​voice​ ​before​ ​he​ ​smiled​ ​a​ ​giant​ ​grin​ ​and​ ​skipped​ ​toward​ ​her​ ​across​ ​the  room,​ ​finally​ ​feeling​ ​more​ ​the​ ​age​ ​he​ ​looked.​ ​He​ ​pounced​ ​on​ ​her​ ​on​ ​the​ ​way​ ​past​ ​squeezing​ ​her​ ​in​ ​a​ ​big​ ​hug  before​ ​seating​ ​himself​ ​at​ ​the​ ​table​ ​and​ ​grabbing​ ​the​ ​other​ ​half​ ​of​ ​his​ ​sandwich.​ ​”Could​ ​we​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​woods  instead?”
“But​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​you​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​play​ ​with​ ​the​ ​other​ ​kids​ ​that​ ​you​ ​met…”
“Mmm…”​ ​the​ ​little​ ​noise​ ​had​ ​cut​ ​her​ ​off​ ​and​ ​she​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​see​ ​that​ ​Elia’s​ ​hair​ ​had​ ​slipped​ ​over​ ​one​ ​eye​ ​and​ ​he’d  frozen,​ ​staring​ ​off​ ​into​ ​space.​ ​”The​ ​woods​ ​feel​ ​more​ ​like​ ​home​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​can​ ​hear​ ​them.”
“Elia!”​ ​It​ ​was​ ​too​ ​soon.​ ​She​ ​knew​ ​he​ ​shouldn’t​ ​be​ ​hearing​ ​them​ ​yet.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​so​ ​young.
He​ ​blinked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​her,​ ​seemingly​ ​startled​ ​by​ ​his​ ​own​ ​name.​ ​His​ ​hair​ ​still​ ​fell​ ​about​ ​his​ ​face​ ​concealingly​ ​and​ ​a gentle​ ​furrow​ ​marked​ ​his​ ​brow​ ​before​ ​his​ ​features​ ​relaxed.​ ​He​ ​cocked​ ​his​ ​head​ ​to​ ​the​ ​side​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​were  trying​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​a​ ​faint​ ​noise​ ​before​ ​he​ ​drew​ ​a​ ​breath​ ​to​ ​speak.
“You​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​to​ ​worry.​ ​I​ ​already​ ​know​ ​the​ ​path.​ ​It’s​ ​not​ ​like​ ​you​ ​fear.​ ​They​ ​will​ ​protect​ ​me​ ​and​ ​I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​your  Elia,​ ​even​ ​when​ ​I​ ​have​ ​walked​ ​in​ ​the​ ​other​ ​place​ ​and​ ​called​ ​my​ ​guardian.​ ​I​ ​know​ ​his​ ​voice.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​need​ ​to​ ​learn  his​ ​name.”
“Elia…”
“So​ ​what’s​ ​for​ ​dessert.​ ​I’ve​ ​finished​ ​my​ ​sandwich.”​ ​Once​ ​more​ ​he​ ​smiled​ ​like​ ​the​ ​little​ ​boy​ ​he​ ​was.​ ​She​ ​could​ ​see  his​ ​eyes​ ​sparkle,​ ​despite​ ​that​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​was​ ​in​ ​his​ ​face,​ ​even​ ​before​ ​he​ ​pushed​ ​it​ ​back​ ​only​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​her​ ​to​ ​see  both​ ​of​ ​them​ ​again.
Elia​ ​was​ ​not​ ​uncommon​ ​for​ ​what​ ​he​ ​was.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​a​ ​slim​ ​slight​ ​frame​ ​that​ ​still​ ​held​ ​the​ ​androgyny​ ​of​ ​youth.  Compared​ ​to​ ​a​ ​human​ ​he​ ​was​ ​markedly​ ​pale​ ​with​ ​soft​ ​freckles​ ​across​ ​the​ ​bridge​ ​of​ ​a​ ​nose​ ​that​ ​was​ ​almost​ ​too small​ ​for​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​definitely​ ​too​ ​small​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​his​ ​eyes.​ ​His​ ​hair​ ​was​ ​to​ ​his​ ​waist​ ​or​ ​just​ ​slightly​ ​past with​ ​a​ ​few​ ​areas​ ​that​ ​were​ ​shorter​ ​and​ ​framed​ ​his​ ​face​ ​in​ ​soft​ ​darkness.​ ​His​ ​smile​ ​came​ ​easily,​ ​unless​ ​he​ ​was lost,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​was​ ​spending​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​time​ ​lost,​ ​which​ ​frightened​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​to​ ​tears,​ ​no​ ​matter​ ​how​ ​he​ ​tried  to​ ​reassure​ ​her.​ ​His​ ​clothes,​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​he​ ​picked​ ​for​ ​himself​ ​at​ ​least,​ ​were​ ​all​ ​in​ ​soft​ ​colors​ ​like​ ​the​ ​many layers​ ​of​ ​color​ ​one​ ​might​ ​find​ ​in​ ​a​ ​field​ ​or​ ​soft​ ​earth.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​like​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​playground,​ ​especially​ ​not  lately.​ ​​ Everyone​ ​there​ ​thought​ ​he​ ​was​ ​a​ ​girl.​ ​Even​ ​the​ ​other​ ​kids​ ​were​ ​beyond​ ​correcting,​ ​and​ ​though​ ​he​ ​acted as​ ​though​ ​it​ ​really​ ​didn’t​ ​matter,​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​still​ ​stung.​
​He​ ​sighed.​ ​Elia​ ​knew​ ​why​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​was​ ​worried  and​ ​why​ ​she​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​park…​ ​she​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​how​ ​lost​ ​he​ ​was​ ​at​ ​home​ ​within​ ​four​ ​walls.​ ​What​ ​if​ ​it​ ​was worse?​ ​What​ ​if​ ​his​ ​soul​ ​was​ ​called​ ​away?​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​never​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​might​ ​happen.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​had happened​ ​to​ ​other​ ​wolves​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​like​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​his​ ​father.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​any​ ​of​ ​them​ ​at​ ​all,  only​ ​her.​ ​Perhaps​ ​that​ ​was​ ​partly​ ​to​ ​blame​ ​for​ ​his​ ​fearlessness,​ ​but​ ​what​ ​would​ ​the​ ​other​ ​wolves​ ​do​ ​with​ ​a​ ​fully  functional​ ​Darkstar?​ ​They​ ​certainly​ ​wouldn’t​ ​embrace​ ​him​ ​as​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pack.​ ​They​ ​would​ ​look​ ​upon​ ​him with​ ​pity​ ​and​ ​fear.​ ​In​ ​europe​ ​there​ ​might​ ​be​ ​others,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​couldn’t​ ​risk​ ​the​ ​hunters.​ ​Even​ ​here,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​a  chance​ ​that​ ​the​ ​hunters​ ​could​ ​find​ ​them.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​slim,​ ​but​ ​between​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​reaction​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​wolves and​ ​the​ ​danger​ ​that​ ​could,​ ​even​ ​now,​ ​be​ ​just​ ​outside​ ​their​ ​door,​ ​Sabyn​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​her​ ​little​ ​boy​ ​safe.
“Mom?”
She​ ​hadn’t​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​she​ ​had​ ​stopped​ ​moving​ ​until​ ​he​ ​had​ ​called​ ​to​ ​her.​ ​Perhaps​ ​going​ ​out​ ​would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​good distraction.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​becoming​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​more​ ​lost​ ​too.​ ​She​ ​sighed​ ​heavily​ ​as​ ​she​ ​reached​ ​for​ ​his​ ​dish.
“Go​ ​get​ ​your​ ​shoes​ ​on.​ ​We’ll​ ​walk​ ​today.”
“OK.”​ ​He​ ​skipped​ ​off​ ​in​ ​the​ ​direction​ ​of​ ​his​ ​room.

*​ ​*​ ​*

“Sir.​ ​The​ ​coroner​ ​is​ ​here.”
He​ ​took​ ​a​ ​heavy​ ​breath​ ​through​ ​the​ ​handkerchief​ ​he​ ​clasped​ ​to​ ​his​ ​face.​ ​His​ ​stomach​ ​had always​ ​been​ ​too​ ​weak​ ​for​ ​this​ ​job​ ​but​ ​he​ ​was​ ​far​ ​too​ ​good​ ​at​ ​it​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​away.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​the​ ​lead detective​ ​on​ ​this​ ​case,​ ​though​ ​he​ ​was​ ​surprised​ ​that​ ​no​ ​one​ ​else​ ​had​ ​wanted​ ​it.​ ​Perhaps​ ​it​ ​was the​ ​hour.​ ​This​ ​one,​ ​especially​ ​now,​ ​would​ ​require​ ​extra​ ​care.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​medics​ ​bumped​ ​past him.​ ​How​ ​was​ ​this​ ​child​ ​even​ ​still​ ​alive?​ ​When​ ​he​ ​first​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​small​ ​form​ ​laid​ ​flat​ ​upon​ ​the floor​ ​he​ ​hadn’t​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​real​ ​person.​ ​Great​ ​blue​ ​eyes​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​the​ ​ceiling​ ​above them,​ ​unblinking.​ ​Skin​ ​that​ ​was​ ​far​ ​too​ ​pale​ ​to​ ​be​ ​healthy​ ​was​ ​spattered​ ​in​ ​blood​ ​and​ ​gore.​ ​Dark hair​ ​spread​ ​out​ ​in​ ​a​ ​limp​ ​halo​ ​around​ ​the​ ​lifeless​ ​form.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​asked​ ​if​ ​there​ ​was​ ​any​ ​chance that​ ​she​ ​would​ ​be​ ​alright.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​sure​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been​ ​a​ ​rape​ ​case.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​sure​ ​this​ ​child​ ​must​ ​be broken,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​man​ ​who​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​him​ ​with​ ​tears​ ​in​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​shook​ ​his​ ​head​ ​and​ ​immediately he​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​the​ ​worst.​ ​The​ ​child​ ​was​ ​beyond​ ​hope.​ ​The​ ​words​ ​that​ ​left​ ​the​ ​man’s​ ​lips​ ​were not​ ​what​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​was​ ​expecting:​ ​that​ ​this​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​little​ ​girl,​ ​but​ ​a​ ​boy.​ ​Someone​ ​had mutilated​ ​this​ ​beautiful​ ​little​ ​boy.​ ​His​ ​voice​ ​had​ ​fallen​ ​to​ ​a​ ​harsh​ ​whisper​ ​when​ ​he​ ​told​ ​them​ ​to cover​ ​him​ ​up​ ​and​ ​that​ ​was​ ​what​ ​had​ ​forced​ ​him​ ​to​ ​take​ ​out​ ​his​ ​handkerchief.​ ​Who​ ​would​ ​do that​ ​to​ ​a​ ​child?​ ​What​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​monster​ ​would​ ​do​ ​that?
Now​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​away​ ​from​ ​those​ ​unblinking​ ​eyes.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​told​ ​that​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​would​ ​live.​ ​He wasn’t​ ​sure​ ​if​ ​he​ ​should​ ​be​ ​happy​ ​or​ ​weep.​ ​What​ ​would​ ​become​ ​of​ ​a​ ​child​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been mutilated​ ​like​ ​that?​ ​There​ ​wasn’t​ ​even​ ​anyone​ ​to​ ​question.​ ​There​ ​wasn’t​ ​anyone​ ​who​ ​would answer​ ​for​ ​the​ ​crimes​ ​against​ ​the​ ​small​ ​form​ ​that​ ​lay​ ​rigidly​ ​on​ ​the​ ​hard​ ​floor.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​a nameless​ ​child,​ ​lost​ ​and​ ​broken,​ ​cast​ ​aside,​ ​or​ ​perhaps​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​sought​ ​after​ ​because​ ​of some​ ​base​ ​desire​ ​in​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ ​who​ ​lay​ ​with​ ​him​ ​in​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​those​ ​was​ ​missing​ ​half of​ ​her​ ​face,​ ​presumably​ ​from​ ​being​ ​shot​ ​by​ ​a​ ​rifle​ ​that​ ​lay​ ​across​ ​the​ ​room,​ ​while​ ​the​ ​other​ ​was so​ ​mutilated​ ​it​ ​was​ ​barely​ ​recognizable​ ​as​ ​having​ ​been​ ​human.
The​ ​more​ ​he​ ​had​ ​looked​ ​about​ ​the​ ​scene​ ​the​ ​more​ ​confused​ ​he​ ​became.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​paw prints,​ ​so​ ​many​ ​paw​ ​prints​ ​in​ ​blood​ ​smeared​ ​across​ ​the​ ​floor,​ ​the​ ​walls,​ ​the​ ​windows,​ ​any surface​ ​that​ ​paws​ ​could​ ​reach,​ ​and​ ​two​ ​sets.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​them​ ​was​ ​sizable,​ ​a​ ​big​ ​dog​ ​like​ ​a​ ​german shepherd​ ​or​ ​a​ ​malamute,​ ​perhaps​ ​a​ ​wolf​ ​if​ ​it​ ​was​ ​wild,​ ​while​ ​the​ ​other​ ​set​ ​was​ ​only​ ​around​ ​the boy’s​ ​body,​ ​smaller​ ​and​ ​softer,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been​ ​a​ ​lighter,​ ​smaller​ ​animal​ ​that​ ​had​ ​made them,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​the​ ​paw​ ​print​ ​was​ ​nearly​ ​identical​ ​to​ ​the​ ​larger​ ​ones.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​too​ ​much blood​ ​in​ ​this​ ​small​ ​room,​ ​too​ ​much​ ​to​ ​have​ ​come​ ​from​ ​only​ ​the​ ​two​ ​corpses​ ​and​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who lay​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​What​ ​had​ ​happened​ ​here?

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​made​ ​sure​ ​he​ ​was​ ​out​ ​of​ ​his​ ​mother’s​ ​sight​ ​before​ ​he​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​in​ ​the​ ​grass​ ​and​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes.​ ​The  sun​ ​felt​ ​good.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​well​ ​enough​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​other​ ​kids​ ​to​ ​not​ ​be​ ​bothered​ ​unless​ ​they​ ​went​ ​to​ ​some  trouble.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​too​ ​many​ ​people​ ​here.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​listening​ ​anyway.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​them.​ ​Their  voices​ ​were​ ​soothing​ ​and​ ​quieted​ ​his​ ​mind.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​a​ ​comfort.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​barely​ ​hear​ ​their​ ​whispers  from​ ​the​ ​treeline​ ​just​ ​before​ ​he​ ​was​ ​unceremoniously​ ​hit​ ​with​ ​something,​ ​hard.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​and​ ​turned  in​ ​the​ ​direction​ ​he​ ​thought​ ​it​ ​must​ ​have​ ​come​ ​from​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a​ ​stocky​ ​ruddy​ ​cheeked​ ​child​ ​sneering​ ​back​ ​at  him.
“Throw​ ​it​ ​back,​ ​freak.”
Elia​ ​sighed​ ​heavily​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​to​ ​where​ ​the​ ​ball​ ​had​ ​rolled,​ ​just​ ​beyond​ ​him.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​what​ ​constituted​ ​for  playing​ ​with​ ​his​ ​friends,​ ​fetching​ ​a​ ​ball​ ​and​ ​throwing​ ​it​ ​back​ ​like​ ​a​ ​good​ ​little​ ​dog.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​do  this​ ​today.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​sit​ ​in​ ​the​ ​grass​ ​and​ ​be​ ​left​ ​alone.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​through​ ​the​ ​woods.​ ​He wanted​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​all​ ​the​ ​whispered​ ​voices​ ​of​ ​the​ ​trees​ ​until​ ​they​ ​gave​ ​way​ ​to​ ​the​ ​voices​ ​of​ ​those​ ​who lay​ ​beyond​ ​them,​ ​until​ ​the​ ​whispers​ ​became​ ​one​ ​singular​ ​male​ ​voice​ ​that​ ​he​ ​recognized​ ​and​ ​found​ ​to​ ​be of​ ​greater​ ​comfort​ ​than​ ​even​ ​his​ ​mother’s​ ​arms.​
​His​ ​body​ ​went​ ​through​ ​the​ ​motions​ ​as​ ​his​ ​expression went​ ​blank.​ ​He​ ​grabbed​ ​the​ ​ball​ ​and​ ​gently​ ​tossed​ ​it​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​waited​ ​with​ ​a​ ​look​ ​of  disapproval.
“Heh,​ ​not​ ​a​ ​bad​ ​toss​ ​for​ ​a​ ​girl.”​ ​The​ ​boy​ ​threw​ ​it​ ​back​ ​and​ ​was​ ​surprised​ ​when​ ​Elia​ ​caught​ ​it​ ​easily. “Come​ ​on,​ ​let’s​ ​play.”
He​ ​wandered​ ​after,​ ​knowing​ ​that​ ​this​ ​would​ ​end​ ​badly.​ ​It​ ​always​ ​did.​ ​Whether​ ​it​ ​was​ ​because​ ​he​ ​was  better​ ​than​ ​the​ ​others​ ​his​ ​age​ ​or​ ​that​ ​they​ ​discovered​ ​he​ ​was​ ​not​ ​the​ ​girl​ ​they​ ​thought​ ​he​ ​was,​ ​it​ ​always  ended​ ​up​ ​going​ ​wrong.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​understand​ ​why​ ​there​ ​always​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​different​ ​kids​ ​and​ ​none​ ​of  them​ ​remembered.​ ​It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​easier​ ​if​ ​they​ ​just​ ​left​ ​him​ ​alone.

*​ ​*​ ​*

The​ ​lights​ ​passed​ ​overhead​ ​in​ ​a​ ​dull​ ​rhythm​ ​just​ ​slightly​ ​off​ ​from​ ​the​ ​music​ ​that​ ​played​ ​in​ ​the car.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​have​ ​nightmares.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​by​ ​the​ ​time​ ​this​ ​was​ ​all​ ​sorted​ ​out​ ​he​ ​would spend​ ​months​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​banish​ ​the​ ​image​ ​of​ ​that​ ​boy​ ​from​ ​his​ ​mind.​ ​Even​ ​now​ ​those​ ​eyes haunted​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​child​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ambulance​ ​before​ ​him,​ ​safely​ ​buckled​ ​into​ ​place​ ​on a​ ​stretcher.​ ​As​ ​if​ ​he​ ​would​ ​try​ ​to​ ​move.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​catatonic​ ​and​ ​even​ ​now​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​certainty he​ ​would​ ​ever​ ​come​ ​back​ ​from​ ​whatever​ ​abyss​ ​he​ ​had​ ​mentally​ ​plummeted​ ​over.​ ​The​ ​space around​ ​him​ ​had​ ​been​ ​taped,​ ​cataloged,​ ​and​ ​collected.​
​It​ ​wasn’t going to be​ ​easy.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​have​ ​to pour​ ​over​ ​pictures​ ​of​ ​that​ ​horror​ ​if​ ​he​ ​had​ ​any​ ​hope​ ​of​ ​muddling​ ​through.​ ​What​ ​if​ ​the​ ​child never​ ​recovered?​ ​He​ ​had​ ​so​ ​many​ ​questions.​ ​What​ ​had​ ​those​ ​great​ ​blue​ ​eyes​ ​seen?​ ​Would​ ​he even​ ​remember?​ ​What​ ​was​ ​mercy​ ​in​ ​a​ ​case​ ​like​ ​this?

*​ ​*​ ​*

Elia​ ​gingerly​ ​held​ ​his​ ​face​ ​as​ ​he​ ​walked​ ​away.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​woods.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​here  anymore.​ ​He​ ​pulled​ ​his​ ​hand​ ​away​ ​to​ ​reveal​ ​blood​ ​as​ ​he​ ​slunk​ ​in​ ​low​ ​beneath​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​steel​ ​plated  platforms​ ​and​ ​took​ ​a​ ​heavy​ ​breath.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​good.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​played​ ​along.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​it​ ​always​ ​end​ ​this  way?​ ​Why​ ​couldn’t​ ​he​ ​just​ ​go​ ​to​ ​where​ ​the​ ​pack​ ​was?​ ​Surely​ ​they​ ​would​ ​be​ ​more​ ​kind.​ ​His​ ​nose​ ​ached.  They​ ​had​ ​pushed​ ​him​ ​down​ ​and​ ​pulled​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​before​ ​slamming​ ​his​ ​face​ ​into​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​hard​ ​enough​ ​to  make​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​water.​ ​Was​ ​it​ ​because​ ​he​ ​was​ ​faster​ ​than​ ​they​ ​were?​ ​Was​ ​it​ ​because​ ​he​ ​could​ ​throw​ ​a  little​ ​further?​ ​Why​ ​couldn’t​ ​he​ ​go​ ​to​ ​a​ ​place​ ​where​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be​ ​accepted​ ​for​ ​what​ ​he​ ​was?​ ​Why​ ​was  the​ ​first​ ​response​ ​always​ ​to​ ​cause​ ​harm​ ​when​ ​they​ ​did​ ​not​ ​understand​ ​why​ ​he​ ​was​ ​different?
He​ ​just​ ​had​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​out​ ​of​ ​sight​ ​long​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​heal.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​already​ ​feel​ ​his​ ​nose​ ​mending.​ ​The​ ​blood  had​ ​stopped.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​only​ ​be​ ​dirty.​ ​So​ ​long​ ​as​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​look​ ​like​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​bleeding.​ ​He​ ​wiped​ ​his  hands​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bark​ ​chips​ ​and​ ​sniffed.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​say​ ​that​ ​he​ ​fell.​ ​How​ ​could​ ​she​ ​not​ ​see​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​only  clumsy​ ​when​ ​he​ ​was​ ​at​ ​the​ ​playground​ ​with​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​that​ ​she​ ​wished​ ​were​ ​his​ ​friends?​ ​He​ ​curled​ ​up​ ​in  a​ ​little​ ​ball​ ​and​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes.​ ​He​ ​wished​ ​that​ ​the​ ​voices​ ​would​ ​come.​ ​He​ ​wished​ ​he​ ​could​ ​be​ ​out​ ​in​ ​the  sun​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​hiding​ ​beneath​ ​the​ ​steel​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​the​ ​playscape,​ ​hoping​ ​not​ ​to​ ​be​ ​found.​ ​He​ ​wished​ ​he  could​ ​change​ ​into​ ​his​ ​wolfen​ ​form​ ​and​ ​run​ ​away​ ​but​ ​he​ ​was​ ​too​ ​young.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​too​ ​young​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​the  voices​ ​but​ ​he​ ​did​ ​anyway.​ ​Both​ ​were​ ​wrong.​ ​Both​ ​were​ ​bad.​ ​Elia​ ​whimpered​ ​in​ ​the​ ​darkness.​ ​Why​ ​was  he​ ​bad​ ​even​ ​when​ ​he​ ​tried​ ​so​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​be​ ​good?

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​should​ ​not​ ​be​ ​standing​ ​in​ ​this​ ​room.​ ​He​ ​should​ ​be​ ​at​ ​the​ ​station.​ ​He​ ​should​ ​be​ ​getting​ ​to​ ​the bottom​ ​of​ ​this​ ​but​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​abandon​ ​the​ ​form​ ​before​ ​him,​ ​who​ ​lay​ ​nearly​ ​lifeless,​ ​in the​ ​hospital​ ​bed.
“What​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​you?​ ​I​ ​wish​ ​you​ ​could​ ​tell​ ​me…”
There​ ​was​ ​no​ ​response​ ​from​ ​the​ ​one​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bed.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​so​ ​small,​ ​so​ ​fragile.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​had​ ​been closed,​ ​some​ ​merciful​ ​nurse​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​to​ ​that,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​didn’t​ ​matter.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​who​ ​stood​ ​in​ ​the room​ ​thinking​ ​that​ ​he​ ​should​ ​leave​ ​remembered​ ​how​ ​they​ ​looked​ ​when​ ​they​ ​were​ ​open.​ ​No one​ ​had​ ​reported​ ​a​ ​missing​ ​child.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​two​ ​days​ ​since​ ​those​ ​eyes​ ​had​ ​been​ ​closed​ ​and​ ​he had​ ​been​ ​settled​ ​into​ ​the​ ​hospital​ ​bed​ ​but​ ​no​ ​one​ ​had​ ​been​ ​missing​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​woman​ ​hadn’t had​ ​any​ ​identification​ ​on​ ​her.​ ​The​ ​information​ ​that​ ​they​ ​had​ ​found​ ​had​ ​linked​ ​her​ ​to​ ​the​ ​name of​ ​a​ ​child​ ​who​ ​had​ ​died​ ​at​ ​birth,​ ​long​ ​ago.​ ​Soon​ ​the​ ​tests​ ​would​ ​return​ ​which​ ​would​ ​prove​ ​that the​ ​detective’s​ ​worst​ ​fears​ ​were​ ​confirmed.​ ​What​ ​if​ ​that​ ​woman​ ​had​ ​been​ ​this​ ​boy’s​ ​mother? Was​ ​there​ ​really​ ​no​ ​one​ ​who​ ​could​ ​say​ ​this​ ​child’s​ ​name​ ​and​ ​call​ ​his​ ​soul​ ​home​ ​to​ ​the​ ​frail​ ​body that​ ​barely​ ​had​ ​enough​ ​substance​ ​to​ ​rumple​ ​the​ ​sheets?​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​sighed​ ​heavily​ ​as​ ​he smoothed​ ​his​ ​hand​ ​through​ ​hair​ ​that​ ​was​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​greasy​ ​from​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​a​ ​shower.​ ​He​ ​should​ ​go home​ ​and​ ​take​ ​one​ ​of​ ​those​ ​or​ ​eat,​ ​maybe​ ​sleep​ ​if​ ​he​ ​could.
How​ ​was​ ​he​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​look​ ​into​ ​those​ ​big​ ​blue​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​say​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​found​ ​a​ ​way to​ ​offer​ ​justice​ ​for​ ​what​ ​had​ ​been​ ​done.​ ​Even​ ​when​ ​the​ ​body​ ​healed,​ ​would​ ​this​ ​one’s​ ​mind ever​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​tried,​ ​that​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​give​ ​closure​ ​so​ ​that​ ​this​ ​boy could​ ​smile.​ ​He​ ​almost​ ​looked​ ​peaceful,​ ​almost.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​older,​ ​the​ ​soft​ ​furrow​ ​of​ ​distress that​ ​marked​ ​his​ ​brow​ ​would​ ​have​ ​seemed​ ​more​ ​commonplace,​ ​but​ ​in​ ​someone​ ​so​ ​young,​ ​it made​ ​the​ ​child​ ​before​ ​him​ ​feel​ ​even​ ​more​ ​tragic.​ ​What​ ​had​ ​he​ ​been​ ​like​ ​before?​ ​Would​ ​he​ ​ever be​ ​that​ ​boy​ ​again?
The​ ​detective​ ​turned​ ​as​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​a​ ​presence​ ​behind​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​thought​ ​he​ ​saw​ ​something​ ​dark​ ​out of​ ​the​ ​corner​ ​of​ ​his​ ​eye,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​someone​ ​had​ ​just​ ​left​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​Had​ ​someone​ ​been standing​ ​behind​ ​him?​ ​He​ ​stepped​ ​to​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​slowly​ ​opened​ ​it.​ ​It​ ​hadn’t​ ​been​ ​latched.​ ​He thought​ ​he​ ​remembered​ ​pulling​ ​it​ ​so​ ​that​ ​it​ ​latched​ ​behind​ ​him​ ​when​ ​he​ ​had​ ​arrived.​ ​Though his​ ​eyes​ ​found​ ​no​ ​one​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hall,​ ​he​ ​glanced​ ​back​ ​and​ ​forth​ ​twice​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sure,​ ​before​ ​he​ ​realized he​ ​must​ ​be​ ​mistaken.​ ​Perhaps​ ​it​ ​was​ ​only​ ​his​ ​exhaustion.​ ​He​ ​should​ ​leave.
He​ ​turned​ ​one​ ​last​ ​time​ ​to​ ​look​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​form​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bed.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​widened​ ​as​ ​he​ ​found​ ​they weren’t​ ​alone.​ ​Pale​ ​fingers​ ​gently​ ​smoothed​ ​dark​ ​hair​ ​from​ ​a​ ​troubled​ ​brow.​ ​Something​ ​was wrong​ ​with​ ​the​ ​man’s​ ​eyes​ ​as​ ​they​ ​gazed​ ​down​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bed.​ ​Something​ ​was​ ​wrong with​ ​the​ ​far​ ​side​ ​of​ ​his​ ​face…​ ​his​ ​clothes​ ​which​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​hang​ ​from​ ​him​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​were gently​ ​suspended​ ​in​ ​water​ ​and​ ​made​ ​of​ ​something​ ​only​ ​slightly​ ​heavier​ ​than​ ​smoke.​ ​Something was​ ​so​ ​very​ ​wrong​ ​with​ ​this​ ​person​ ​despite​ ​that​ ​he​ ​bore​ ​the​ ​same​ ​foreign​ ​beauty​ ​that​ ​the​ ​boy in​ ​the​ ​bed​ ​had.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​was​ ​gripped​ ​with​ ​the​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​run​ ​just​ ​as​ ​quickly​ ​as​ ​he​ ​was​ ​the rush​ ​to​ ​step​ ​closer,​ ​so​ ​he​ ​chose​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​stone​ ​still​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​doing​ ​either.​ ​He​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​boy take​ ​a​ ​deep​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​finally​ ​the​ ​furrow​ ​relaxed​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​only​ ​young​ ​again.​ ​The​ ​pale hand​ ​slowly​ ​withdrew​ ​and​ ​the​ ​dark​ ​figure​ ​straightened.​ ​Eyes​ ​that​ ​glowed​ ​like​ ​arctic​ ​ice​ ​finally rose​ ​and​ ​met​ ​those​ ​of​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​who​ ​was​ ​just​ ​beginning​ ​to​ ​realize​ ​he​ ​barred​ ​the​ ​only​ ​exit. Sumptuous​ ​lips​ ​pushed​ ​together​ ​as​ ​the​ ​creature​ ​squared​ ​off,​ ​shifting​ ​the​ ​most​ ​infinitesimal amount.
“Elia…”​ ​the​ ​creature​ ​spoke​ ​in​ ​a​ ​whisper​ ​that​ ​sounded​ ​like​ ​shifting​ ​leaves​ ​on​ ​a​ ​forest​ ​floor.​ ​His lips​ ​appeared​ ​to​ ​move​ ​purposefully​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​were​ ​unused​ ​to​ ​pronouncing​ ​the​ ​word,​ ​the name.​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​to​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bed​ ​and​ ​let​ ​his​ ​hand​ ​stray​ ​back​ ​toward​ ​him,​ ​indicating​ ​the child​ ​who​ ​finally​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​peacefully​ ​sleeping.
“Elia,​ ​is​ ​that​ ​his​ ​name?”​ ​Could​ ​it​ ​be​ ​true?​ ​All​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​received​ ​was​ ​a​ ​gentle​ ​nod​ ​before​ ​the figure​ ​dissolved​ ​into​ ​shadowed​ ​wisps​ ​of​ ​smoke.
“Elia.”​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​said​ ​it​ ​again​ ​as​ ​he​ ​blinked​ ​in​ ​surprise​ ​before​ ​he​ ​stepped​ ​forward,​ ​more relieved​ ​to​ ​have​ ​some​ ​clue​ ​about​ ​the​ ​child​ ​than​ ​immediately​ ​worried​ ​about​ ​what​ ​just happened.​ ​”Elia,​ ​Elia​ ​come​ ​back.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​you.​ ​Elia​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​fix​ ​this​ ​without​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​you to​ ​heal.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​you​ ​to​ ​be​ ​well.​ ​Please​ ​Elia,​ ​let​ ​me​ ​make​ ​this​ ​right.”
He​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​one​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​name​ ​if​ ​no​ ​one​ ​else​ ​would.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​find​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​make​ ​this better.

*​ ​*​ ​*

“Elia?​ ​Elia!​ ​Where​ ​are​ ​you​ ​darling?​ ​It’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​go.”​ ​Maybe​ ​he​ ​hadn’t​ ​heard​ ​her​ ​at​ ​first.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​by​ ​no  means​ ​late,​ ​but​ ​if​ ​they​ ​didn’t​ ​go​ ​now,​ ​dinner​ ​would​ ​be.​ ​Why​ ​wasn’t​ ​he​ ​responding?​ ​Had​ ​something  happened?
“Excuse​ ​me,​ ​but​ ​are​ ​you​ ​this​ ​one’s​ ​mom?”
She​ ​wheeled​ ​around​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a​ ​blonde​​ ​woman​ ​with​ ​a​ ​pleasant​ ​expression​ ​and​ ​a​ ​hand​ ​on​ ​each​ ​shoulder​ ​of  the​ ​very​ ​thing​ ​she​ ​was​ ​searching​ ​for.​ ​He​ ​wasn’t​ ​meeting​ ​her​ ​gaze.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​dirty,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been rolling​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bark​ ​and​ ​earth​ ​and​ ​she​ ​instantly​ ​scowled​ ​at​ ​the​ ​look​ ​of​ ​distress​ ​that​ ​crossed​ ​his​ ​features. Then​ ​he​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​and​ ​a​ ​smile​ ​bloomed​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​face.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​as​ ​though​ ​nothing​ ​but​ ​the​ ​dirt​ ​had  happened,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​she​ ​had​ ​been​ ​sure​ ​just​ ​moments​ ​before​ ​that​ ​something​ ​was​ ​wrong.
“Mommy!​ ​Is​ ​it​ ​time​ ​to​ ​go​ ​home?”​ ​Elia​ ​stepped​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​had​ ​guided​ ​him​ ​to​ ​her​ ​and  into​ ​a​ ​hug​ ​that​ ​she​ ​returned.
“Thank​ ​you.”​ ​Sabyn​ ​offered​ ​a​ ​half​ ​smile​ ​to​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​had​ ​returned​ ​him​ ​to​ ​her.
“It’s​ ​no​ ​trouble.​ ​My​ ​girls​ ​are​ ​pretty​ ​rough​ ​and​ ​tumble​ ​too​ ​so​ ​don’t​ ​be​ ​too​​ ​hard​ ​on​ ​her.​ ​They​ ​play​ ​hard.”
“Yes,​ ​and​ ​apparently​ ​boys​ ​worse​ ​than​ ​girls.”​ ​She​ ​chuckled​ ​softly​ ​until​ ​she​ ​felt​ ​the​ ​slight​ ​flinch​ ​from​ ​the  child​ ​in​ ​her​ ​arms​ ​and​ ​instinctively​ ​moved​ ​to​ ​smooth​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​the​ ​way​ ​she​ ​always​ ​did​ ​when​ ​she​ ​was  comforting​ ​him.​ ​”He’ll​ ​be​ ​fine​ ​after​ ​a​ ​bath​ ​and​ ​some​ ​food.”
“He…​ ​I’m​ ​so​ ​sorry.​ ​I​ ​thought…​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​long​ ​hair​ ​and…​ ​he…”​ ​The​ ​woman​ ​was​ ​nearly​ ​stuttering​ ​and  was​ ​flushed​ ​when​ ​Sabyn​ ​looked​ ​up.​ ​She​ ​swallowed​ ​hard​ ​before​ ​she​ ​continued.​ ​”He’s​ ​just​ ​such​ ​a​ ​beautiful  child.”
“It’s​ ​alright.​ ​Really.​ ​This​ ​happens​ ​all​ ​the​ ​time.”

*​ ​*​ ​*

“Sir,​ ​might​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​word​ ​with​ ​you​ ​before​ ​you​ ​go.”​ ​The​ ​doctor​ ​pushed​ ​his​ ​glasses​ ​up​ ​and​ ​cleared his​ ​throat​ ​before​ ​letting​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​rise​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​the​ ​steely​ ​gaze​ ​of​ ​the​ ​detective.
“Have​ ​you​ ​found​ ​something​ ​new?”​ ​The​ ​detective’s​ ​tone​ ​was​ ​far​ ​lighter​ ​than​ ​he​ ​meant​ ​for​ ​it​ ​to be.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​not​ ​looking​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​his​ ​return​ ​to​ ​the​ ​office.​ ​At​ ​least​ ​here​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​he​ ​was​ ​doing something​ ​useful.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​justify​ ​his​ ​time​ ​spent​ ​by​ ​telling​ ​himself​ ​it​ ​was​ ​good​ ​for​ ​the​ ​boy.​ ​No one​ ​else​ ​even​ ​called​ ​him​ ​by​ ​name.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​close​ ​to​ ​finding​ ​out​ ​once​ ​and​ ​for​ ​all​ ​what​ ​that​ ​was.
“He’s​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​moved​ ​and​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​you​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​first​ ​to​ ​know.​ ​You​ ​have​ ​seemed​ ​more invested​ ​in​ ​this​ ​case​ ​than​ ​anybody​ ​else.​ ​His​ ​care​ ​will​ ​be​ ​continued​ ​at​ ​an​ ​institution​ ​more befitting​ ​his​ ​condition.”​ ​The​ ​doctor​ ​looked​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​was​ ​momentarily​ ​struck​ ​with​ ​guilt.
“Moved​ ​but…”
“His​ ​condition​ ​is​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​repairable​ ​with​ ​physical​ ​care​ ​so​ ​he​ ​will​ ​be​ ​referred​ ​to​ ​one​ ​of​ ​our sister​ ​facilities​ ​that​ ​specialize​ ​in​ ​mental​ ​illness​ ​and​ ​disability​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​continued​ ​care​ ​until​ ​he can​ ​be​ ​sorted​ ​out.”
The​ ​detective’s​ ​brow​ ​creased​ ​sharply.​ ​”You​ ​mean​ ​he’s​ ​going​ ​to​ ​a​ ​convalescent​ ​home​ ​where​ ​he’s expected​ ​to​ ​die.​ ​What​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​the​ ​other​ ​tests​ ​you​ ​were​ ​going​ ​to​ ​run?​ ​What​ ​happened​ ​to the​ ​records​ ​you​ ​were​ ​going​ ​to​ ​find,​ ​his​ ​birth​ ​certificate,​ ​something?​ ​What​ ​about​ ​his​ ​physical injuries?​ ​He’s​ ​just​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​left​ ​to​ ​rot​ ​in​ ​some​ ​place​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​death​ ​and​ ​you’re​ ​okay with​ ​never​ ​knowing​ ​what​ ​happened?”​ ​
The​ ​detective​ ​had​ ​become​ ​animated.​ ​It​ ​felt​ ​like something​ ​was​ ​afoot.​ ​Wheels​ ​were​ ​turning​ ​that​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​see​ ​and​ ​he​ ​was​ ​becoming​ ​trapped in​ ​the​ ​mechanism​ ​of​ ​a​ ​machine​ ​that​ ​was​ ​too​ ​large​ ​for​ ​him​ ​to​ ​see​ ​the​ ​details​ ​of.
“It’s​ ​not​ ​a​ ​matter​ ​if​ ​that.​ ​He​ ​is​ ​a​ ​ward​ ​of​ ​the​ ​state.​ ​With​ ​no​ ​living​ ​mother​ ​or​ ​father​ ​he…”
“A​ ​ward​ ​of​ ​the​ ​state?​ ​This​ ​is​ ​bullshit!”
“This​ ​is​ ​not​ ​something​ ​that​ ​I​ ​recommended.”
“Not​ ​something​ ​you​ ​recommended​ ​but​ ​not​ ​something​ ​you’re​ ​fighting​ ​either!​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​the​ ​tests would​ ​give​ ​us​ ​some​ ​clue​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​still​ ​in​ ​there.​ ​He’s​ ​the​ ​only​ ​lead​ ​I​ ​have!”
“Keep​ ​your​ ​voice​ ​down​ ​and​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​ran​ ​the​ ​tests​ ​and​ ​that’s​ ​why​ ​he’s​ ​being​ ​moved.”
“What?”
“He’s​ ​still​ ​in​ ​there​ ​and​ ​very​ ​much​ ​alive.​ ​He’s​ ​never​ ​been​ ​on​ ​life​ ​support,​ ​not​ ​this​ ​entire​ ​time.​ ​His body​ ​rejects​ ​all​ ​pain​ ​medications,​ ​all​ ​medications​ ​of​ ​any​ ​kind​ ​within​ ​minutes,​ ​hours​ ​at​ ​best,​ ​and he’s​ ​been​ ​physically​ ​healed​ ​since​ ​the​ ​second​ ​day​ ​he​ ​was​ ​here.​ ​Something​ ​happened​ ​that​ ​night you​ ​were​ ​here​ ​so​ ​late​ ​and​ ​he’s​ ​been​ ​physically​ ​perfect​ ​since.​ ​His​ ​birth​ ​certificate​ ​does​ ​list​ ​his legal​ ​name​ ​as​ ​Elia.​ ​It’s​ ​Elia​ ​Darkstar,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​different​ ​than​ ​his​ ​mother’s​ ​name.​ ​You​ ​were​ ​right about​ ​that​ ​much​ ​which​ ​is​ ​only​ ​minimally​ ​odd​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​everything​ ​else​ ​about​ ​him.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a hidden​ ​strand​ ​within​ ​his​ ​DNA​ ​but​ ​everything,​ ​everything​ ​I​ ​did​ ​has​ ​been​ ​taken​ ​and​ ​if​ ​anyone finds​ ​out​ ​i​ ​told​ ​you​ ​any​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​this…​ ​They​ ​can’t​ ​take​ ​him​ ​from​ ​you​ ​though.​ ​You​ ​could​ ​go​ ​public with​ ​what​ ​you​ ​already​ ​have,​ ​so​ ​you​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​him.​ ​You​ ​may​ ​be​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​who​ ​ever​ ​wants him​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​up.​ ​You​ ​may​ ​be​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​who​ ​ever​ ​finds​ ​out​ ​what​ ​he​ ​is​ ​because​ ​I​ ​certainly won’t​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think​ ​you’re​ ​the​ ​only​ ​reason​ ​he​ ​hasn’t​ ​just​ ​disappeared​ ​into​ ​the​ ​system​ ​so​ ​someone else​ ​can​ ​dismantle​ ​him​ ​before​ ​he​ ​opens​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​again.”​ ​The​ ​doctor’s​ ​voice​ ​had​ ​been​ ​nothing more​ ​than​ ​an​ ​impassioned​ ​whisper.​ ​His​ ​fists​ ​clenched​ ​as​ ​he​ ​went​ ​silent​ ​in​ ​an​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​hide shaking​ ​hands.​
​That​ ​night…​ ​that​ ​night​ ​he​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​an​ ​apparition.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​since​ ​blamed​ ​it​ ​on exhaustion.​ ​It​ ​hadn’t​ ​happened.​ ​But​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​said​ ​that​ ​something​ ​had​ ​happened.​ ​He​ ​had been​ ​told​ ​the​ ​boy’s​ ​name​ ​by​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​had​ ​known​ ​who​ ​Elia​ ​was.​ ​Could​ ​that​ ​person​ ​have done​ ​something​ ​to​ ​Elia,​ ​something​ ​that​ ​would​ ​explain​ ​what​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​was​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​him?
He​ ​would​ ​follow​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​had​ ​sworn​ ​since​ ​that​ ​first​ ​night​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be​ ​there when​ ​Elia​ ​opened​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​his​ ​voice​ ​sounded​ ​like and​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​beg​ ​the​ ​boy’s​ ​forgiveness​ ​for​ ​not​ ​having​ ​found​ ​him​ ​sooner.​ ​Then​ ​the​ ​world caught​ ​up​ ​with​ ​him​ ​and​ ​he​ ​fought​ ​to​ ​find​ ​his​ ​voice.
“Is​ ​Elia​ ​even​ ​human?”​ ​Of​ ​course​ ​he​ ​was.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​a​ ​child​ ​born​ ​to​ ​a​ ​mother,​ ​but​ ​his father…​ ​what​ ​if​ ​that​ ​apparition​ ​had​ ​been​ ​his​ ​father?
“I​ ​can’t​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​for​ ​sure.​ ​He​ ​is…​ ​more​ ​than​ ​human.​ ​Look​ ​at​ ​him.​ ​Look​ ​hard​ ​when​ ​you​ ​sit​ ​with him.​ ​Does​ ​he​ ​look​ ​like​ ​a​ ​normal​ ​human​ ​boy​ ​to​ ​you?​ ​I​ ​think…​ ​I​ ​think​ ​we​ ​stumbled​ ​on​ ​to something​ ​here,​ ​something​ ​far​ ​bigger​ ​than​ ​that​ ​serial​ ​killer.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​Elia​ ​is​ ​human,​ ​but​ ​also something​ ​else.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I​ ​could​ ​confirm​ ​that​ ​if​ ​I​ ​had​ ​the​ ​mother’s​ ​body,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​taken​ ​away before​ ​I​ ​could​ ​find​ ​more​ ​than​ ​that​ ​they​ ​shared​ ​the​ ​same​ ​DNA​ ​and​ ​were​ ​most​ ​definitely related, that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​his​ ​mother.”
“Why​ ​would​ ​the​ ​body​ ​be​ ​taken​ ​anywhere​ ​when​ ​I​ ​haven’t​ ​finished​ ​the​ ​case?​ ​It​ ​never​ ​should have​ ​been​ ​touched.​ ​I​ ​haven’t​ ​even​ ​scratched​ ​the​ ​surface​ ​of​ ​this.​ ​What​ ​if​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​recover​ ​the bodies​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​kids​ ​that​ ​man​ ​killed?​ ​What​ ​will​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​that​ ​boy​ ​when​ ​he​ ​wakes​ ​up​ ​and​ ​wants to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​to​ ​his​ ​mother?”
“Nothing.​ ​You​ ​tell​ ​him​ ​nothing​ ​because​ ​he​ ​already​ ​should​ ​know​ ​that​ ​she’s​ ​dead.​ ​He​ ​saw​ ​it before​ ​you​ ​did​ ​undoubtedly.​ ​You​ ​won’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​him​ ​anything​ ​because​ ​Elia​ ​has​ ​all​ ​the answers.​ ​You​ ​just​ ​keep​ ​him​ ​in​ ​your​ ​sights.​ ​No​ ​matter​ ​what,​ ​don’t​ ​lose​ ​him​ ​if​ ​you​ ​want​ ​to​ ​know the​ ​truth.​ ​They​ ​will​ ​give​ ​him​ ​physical​ ​therapy​ ​and​ ​care​ ​for​ ​him​ ​like​ ​any​ ​other​ ​non​ ​responsive patient.​ ​So​ ​long​ ​as​ ​they​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​he​ ​still​ ​has​ ​ties​ ​to​ ​you​ ​they​ ​will​ ​keep​ ​things​ ​looking​ ​normal and​ ​try​ ​wait​ ​you​ ​out,​ ​and​ ​you,​ ​you​ ​might​ ​get​ ​some​ ​answers​ ​if​ ​you​ ​just​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​him.”
The​ ​doctor​ ​briskly​ ​walked​ ​away​ ​looking​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​more​ ​agitated​ ​than​ ​he​ ​actually​ ​was.​ ​The​ ​detective scowled​ ​after​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​show.​ ​Anyone​ ​watching​ ​would​ ​believe​ ​they​ ​had​ ​argued, not​ ​exchanged​ ​information.​ ​There​ ​couldn’t​ ​be​ ​this​ ​much​ ​deception​ ​surrounding​ ​one unconscious​ ​child.​ ​There​ ​couldn’t​ ​possibly​ ​be​ ​anyone​ ​who​ ​would​ ​make​ ​Elia​ ​disappear,​ ​right?
He​ ​passed​ ​through​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​into​ ​the​ ​quiet​ ​room.​ ​There​ ​he​ ​was,​ ​as​ ​pale​ ​and​ ​frail​ ​as​ ​he​ ​had been​ ​the​ ​day​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​first​ ​laid​ ​eyes​ ​on​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​an​ ​IV​ ​going​ ​to​ ​one​ ​arm​ ​that​ ​was​ ​taped at​ ​his​ ​elbow.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​remained​ ​closed.​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​almost​ ​peaceful,​ ​almost.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​nearly imperceptible​ ​crease​ ​that​ ​marked​ ​his​ ​features​ ​in​ ​a​ ​vague​ ​feeling​ ​of​ ​distress.​ ​The​ ​detective sighed​ ​as​ ​he​ ​sat​ ​in​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​by​ ​his​ ​bed.
“How​ ​are​ ​you​ ​today,​ ​Elia?​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you​ ​have​ ​been​ ​well.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​had​ ​a​ ​rather​ ​uninteresting​ ​day myself,​ ​right​ ​up​ ​until​ ​I​ ​got​ ​here.​ ​You​ ​know,​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​move​ ​you​ ​because you’re​ ​doing​ ​so​ ​well.​ ​That​ ​makes​ ​me​ ​happy;​ ​that​ ​you’re​ ​doing​ ​well,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​that​ ​you​ ​are​ ​going to​ ​be​ ​someplace​ ​else.​ ​Don’t​ ​worry​ ​though,​ ​I’ll​ ​still​ ​come​ ​visit​ ​you​ ​each​ ​and​ ​every​ ​day.​ ​I’m​ ​going to​ ​have​ ​to​ ​start​ ​bringing​ ​my​ ​case​ ​files​ ​with​ ​me.​ ​You​ ​wouldn’t​ ​mind​ ​that​ ​would​ ​you?​ ​I​ ​thought not.​ ​I​ ​really​ ​wish​ ​you’d…​ ​you’d​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​me…”​ ​The​ ​detective’s​ ​face​ ​momentarily​ ​contorted​ ​in pain.​ ​When​ ​he​ ​continued,​ ​his​ ​tone​ ​was​ ​light.​ ​He​ ​hoped​ ​that​ ​somehow,​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​this​ ​was getting​ ​through.​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​not​ ​known​ ​him​ ​before​ ​but​ ​he​ ​hoped​ ​that​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​someone saying​ ​his​ ​name​ ​in​ ​a​ ​caring​ ​way​ ​would​ ​be​ ​enough.​ ​Then​ ​it​ ​dawned​ ​on​ ​him;​ ​the​ ​words​ ​the​ ​doctor had​ ​said​ ​quietly​ ​played​ ​in​ ​his​ ​mind​ ​as​ ​he​ ​sat,​ ​talking​ ​about…​ ​anything.
Was​ ​Elia​ ​really​ ​different​ ​from​ ​any​ ​other​ ​normal​ ​boy?​ ​Sure​ ​he​ ​was​ ​delicate.​ ​Even​ ​healthy,​ ​his small​ ​long​ ​build​ ​gave​ ​him​ ​a​ ​foreign​ ​quality.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​pale,​ ​though​ ​not​ ​so​ ​much​ ​that​ ​he​ ​appeared to​ ​be​ ​ill.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​a​ ​small​ ​overbite​ ​which​ ​was​ ​accentuated​ ​by​ ​lips​ ​that​ ​looked​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​had been​ ​stained​ ​by​ ​strawberries,​ ​wine​ ​if​ ​he’d​ ​been​ ​older.​ ​Freckles​ ​covered​ ​his​ ​cheeks​ ​and​ ​the bridge​ ​of​ ​his​ ​nose.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​probably​ ​outgrow​ ​those.​ ​His​ ​dark​ ​hair​ ​framed​ ​his​ ​face​ ​in​ ​long lustrous​ ​silk​ ​that​ ​had​ ​only​ ​the​ ​slightest​ ​hint​ ​of​ ​warmth​ ​to​ ​it.​ ​All​ ​of​ ​these​ ​things​ ​were​ ​things​ ​that a​ ​normal​ ​boy​ ​could​ ​have,​ ​even​ ​the​ ​androgyny​ ​because​ ​of​ ​how​ ​slight​ ​he​ ​was,​ ​how​ ​stark​ ​the contrast​ ​between​ ​his​ ​freckles​ ​and​ ​the​ ​rose​ ​of​ ​his​ ​cheeks,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​gentle​ ​his​ ​features​ ​were, even​ ​when​ ​marked​ ​with​ ​the​ ​hint​ ​of​ ​some​ ​secret​ ​suffering.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​a​ ​normal​ ​boy!​ ​He​ ​was!​ ​There was​ ​no​ ​reason​ ​to​ ​think​ ​otherwise​ ​based​ ​on​ ​his​ ​appearance.​ ​So​ ​what​ ​was​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​talking about?
For​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​since​ ​he​ ​had​ ​come​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​this​ ​room,​ ​shared​ ​it​ ​with​ ​him,​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​feel that​ ​Elia​ ​was​ ​really​ ​there.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​was​ ​real​ ​he​ ​would​ ​feel​ ​it,​ ​know​ ​it​ ​in​ ​his​ ​bones.​ ​Hesitantly,​ ​he stretched​ ​his​ ​fingers​ ​towards​ ​black​ ​hair​ ​until​ ​they​ ​smoothed​ ​dark​ ​silky​ ​strands​ ​away​ ​from​ ​a young​ ​face.​ ​How​ ​could​ ​anyone​ ​have​ ​hurt​ ​this​ ​child?​ ​His​ ​stomach​ ​turned​ ​at​ ​the​ ​thought​ ​of​ ​it.​ ​He tried​ ​to​ ​be​ ​soothing,​ ​like​ ​he​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​the​ ​apparition​ ​be,​ ​and​ ​watched​ ​as​ ​Elia’s​ ​expression changed​ ​ever​ ​so​ ​slightly.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​was​ ​reacting​ ​this​ ​much,​ ​why​ ​wasn’t​ ​he​ ​opening​ ​his​ ​eyes?​ ​Why hadn’t​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​thought​ ​to​ ​do​ ​this​ ​before?​ ​Wasn’t​ ​there​ ​a​ ​nurse​ ​or​ ​something​ ​who​ ​cared that​ ​this​ ​boy​ ​was​ ​alone,​ ​like​ ​this,​ ​lost​ ​inside​ ​his​ ​own​ ​frail​ ​form?​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​be​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​who touched​ ​him​ ​in​ ​a​ ​caring​ ​way.​ ​It​ ​broke​ ​his​ ​heart​ ​to​ ​think​ ​it.​ ​His​ ​hand​ ​slipped​ ​away​ ​as​ ​Elia’s​ ​lips parted​ ​and​ ​he​ ​took​ ​what​ ​may​ ​have​ ​been​ ​a​ ​contented​ ​sigh.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​just​ ​a​ ​boy,​ ​just​ ​like​ ​any other,​ ​but​ ​then​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​noticed​ ​something​ ​he​ ​hadn’t​ ​noticed​ ​before.​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​an​ ​overbite, not​ ​unusual,​ ​until​ ​you​ ​came​ ​upon​ ​canines​ ​that​ ​extended​ ​down​ ​far​ ​further​ ​than​ ​they​ ​should have.​ ​He​ ​should​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​see​ ​the​ ​edges​ ​of​ ​those​ ​teeth​ ​but​ ​he​ ​couldn’t.​ ​His​ ​canines​ ​were longer,​ ​like​ ​an​ ​animal’s.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​scowled​ ​and​ ​craned​ ​over.​ ​This​ ​could​ ​still​ ​be​ ​normal. There​ ​were​ ​all​ ​sorts​ ​of​ ​teeth​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​It​ ​didn’t​ ​mean​ ​anything.​ ​Then​ ​he​ ​noticed​ ​the​ ​soft round​ ​of​ ​each​ ​ear​ ​that​ ​ended​ ​in​ ​a​ ​point​ ​at​ ​the​ ​upper​ ​tips.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​hidden​ ​by​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​but​ ​was unmistakable.​ ​The​ ​detective’s​ ​scowl​ ​deepened.​ ​​ ​What​ ​had​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​found?

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​was​ ​sitting​ ​in​ ​the​ ​chair,​ ​perfectly​ ​still,​ ​with​ ​the​ ​exception​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hand​ ​that​ ​moved​ ​across​ ​the​ ​page,​ ​a  color​ ​pencil​ ​gripped​ ​tightly​ ​within​ ​it.​ ​His​ ​hair​ ​was​ ​still​ ​wet​ ​but​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​much​ ​better.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​changed  into​ ​soft​ ​flannel​ ​the​ ​moment​ ​he​ ​stepped​ ​from​ ​his​ ​bath​ ​and​ ​had​ ​a​ ​blanket​ ​wrapped​ ​about​ ​his​ ​shoulders.  Now,​ ​he​ ​was​ ​just​ ​waiting​ ​for​ ​dinner​ ​to​ ​be​ ​ready​ ​and​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​unwind.
His​ ​eyes​ ​slipped​ ​closed​ ​as​ ​his​ ​pencil​ ​moved​ ​over​ ​the​ ​page.​ ​His​ ​expression​ ​changed​ ​to​ ​one​ ​of​ ​contentment​ ​as he​ ​called​ ​and​ ​heard​ ​the​ ​unmistakable​ ​answer,​ ​the​ ​rich​ ​whispered​ ​male​ ​voice​ ​who​ ​responded​ ​to​ ​him​ ​more than​ ​the​ ​others.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​they​ ​would​ ​be​ ​bound​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​guardian​ ​and​ ​wolf.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to meet​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​owned​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​that​ ​whispered​ ​to​ ​his​ ​mind.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​know​ ​his​ ​name​ ​so​ ​that​ ​they could​ ​share​ ​in​ ​the​ ​joy​ ​of​ ​their​ ​bond​ ​and​ ​walk​ ​the​ ​many​ ​planes​ ​together.​ ​Elia​ ​began​ ​to​ ​gather​ ​himself within​ ​his​ ​own​ ​mind.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​do​ ​was​ ​ask.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​asked,​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​would​ ​tell​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​would know​ ​the​ ​name​ ​he​ ​should​ ​call​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​never​ ​be​ ​alone.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​do​ ​was​ ​put​ ​his​ ​intentions forward.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​be​ ​accepted​ ​so​ ​long​ ​as​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​falter.​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​doubt…
The​ ​crash​ ​from​ ​beside​ ​him​ ​nearly​ ​made​ ​him​ ​jump​ ​out​ ​of​ ​his​ ​skin.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​and​ ​took​ ​a​ ​sharp​ ​breath​ ​as  his​ ​mother’s​ ​arm​ ​folded​ ​around​ ​him.​ ​What​ ​had​ ​happened?​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​found​ ​what​ ​had​ ​broken;​ ​a​ ​glass​ ​of  milk​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​smashed​ ​into​ ​a​ ​thousand​ ​pieces.
“Mom?”​ ​Elia’s​ ​eyes​ ​darted​ ​about​ ​his​ ​room,​ ​uncertain​ ​why​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​may​ ​have​ ​had​ ​such​ ​a​ ​response.​ ​He  nuzzled​ ​into​ ​her​ ​arm​ ​in​ ​an​ ​effort​ ​to​ ​comfort​ ​her.
“Where​ ​did​ ​you​ ​see​ ​that​ ​Elia?​ ​Where​ ​did​ ​you​ ​see​ ​this​ ​person?”​ ​She​ ​was​ ​crying​ ​into​ ​his​ ​hair.​ ​Elia​ ​didn’t  understand​ ​what​ ​she​ ​was​ ​talking​ ​about.​ ​Who​ ​was​ ​she​ ​talking​ ​about?​ ​Then​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​strayed​ ​down​ ​to​ ​the drawing.​ ​His​ ​fingers​ ​released​ ​the​ ​pencil​ ​and​ ​touched​ ​the​ ​features​ ​he​ ​had​ ​clearly​ ​drawn​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​page.​ ​Is that​ ​what​ ​he​ ​looked​ ​like?​ ​Had​ ​he​ ​drawn​ ​the​ ​face​ ​that​ ​matched​ ​that​ ​gentle​ ​voice​ ​that​ ​soothed​ ​the​ ​rough edges​ ​of​ ​his​ ​mind​ ​like​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​a​ ​breeze​ ​through​ ​leaves?​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​answer​ ​and​ ​traced​ ​over​ ​his rough​ ​work​ ​another​ ​time,​ ​pursing​ ​his​ ​lips​ ​as​ ​he​ ​did​ ​so.​ ​His​ ​mom​ ​shouldn’t​ ​know​ ​who​ ​that​ ​was.​ ​It​ ​had  been​ ​his​ ​father​ ​who​ ​had​ ​the​ ​fae​ ​blood,​ ​so​ ​how​ ​did​ ​she​ ​know?

*​ ​*​ ​*

His​ ​hand​ ​rested​ ​on​ ​the​ ​files​ ​in​ ​the​ ​seat​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​on​ ​the​ ​road​ ​for​ ​about​ ​twenty minutes​ ​and​ ​had​ ​twenty​ ​more​ ​before​ ​he​ ​reached​ ​his​ ​destination.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​made​ ​this​ ​trip,​ ​as promised,​ ​every​ ​day.​ ​He​ ​actually​ ​looked​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​the​ ​quiet,​ ​the​ ​peace​ ​that​ ​came​ ​with​ ​talking to​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​waited.​ ​Elia’s​ ​condition​ ​was​ ​unchanged.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​even​ ​think​ ​they​ ​were​ ​doing anything​ ​for​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​much​ ​as​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​said:​ ​they​ ​were​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​wait​ ​him​ ​out,​ ​see​ ​if​ ​he would​ ​lose​ ​interest​ ​and​ ​stop​ ​making​ ​the​ ​drive.​ ​That​ ​wasn’t​ ​going​ ​to​ ​happen.​ ​He’d​ ​given​ ​his word.​ ​This​ ​boy​ ​deserved​ ​an​ ​explanation​ ​when​ ​he​ ​woke​ ​up.​ ​This​ ​boy​ ​deserved​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​up. Whomever​ ​they​ ​were,​ ​he​ ​was​ ​not​ ​going​ ​to​ ​allow​ ​them​ ​to​ ​ferret​ ​this​ ​boy​ ​away​ ​and​ ​ensure​ ​those big​ ​blue​ ​eyes​ ​would​ ​never​ ​open​ ​again.​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​going​ ​to​ ​happen.
He​ ​pulled​ ​away​ ​from​ ​a​ ​light​ ​and​ ​sighed.​ ​He​ ​needed​ ​a​ ​lead.​ ​He​ ​needed​ ​more​ ​than​ ​a​ ​name​ ​and smoke.​ ​He​ ​needed​ ​something​ ​substantial​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​wrap​ ​his​ ​fingers​ ​around.​ ​The​ ​case​ ​ran through​ ​his​ ​mind​ ​over​ ​and​ ​over,​ ​like​ ​a​ ​gruesome​ ​carousel.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​even​ ​more​ ​questions​ ​now,​ ​so many​ ​more​ ​questions.
The​ ​car​ ​passed​ ​below​ ​the​ ​stone​ ​arches,​ ​through​ ​the​ ​iron​ ​gate,​ ​and​ ​pulled​ ​up​ ​to​ ​a​ ​booth​ ​and​ ​a guard​ ​that​ ​had​ ​a​ ​bar​ ​which​ ​blocked​ ​his​ ​path.​ ​He​ ​frowned​ ​as​ ​the​ ​guard​ ​asked​ ​him​ ​for identification​ ​and​ ​then​ ​again​ ​when​ ​it​ ​was​ ​checked​ ​against​ ​a​ ​list.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​they​ ​do​ ​this​ ​every single​ ​time?​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​there​ ​every​ ​day.
His​ ​identification​ ​was​ ​returned​ ​and​ ​he​ ​slowly​ ​pulled​ ​through​ ​when​ ​the​ ​guard​ ​cleared​ ​the​ ​way. He​ ​shook​ ​his​ ​head​ ​as​ ​he​ ​collected​ ​the​ ​files​ ​from​ ​the​ ​seat​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​nearly​ ​a​ ​year and​ ​he​ ​was​ ​still​ ​being​ ​treated​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​the​ ​first​ ​day​ ​he​ ​passed​ ​beneath that​ ​arch.​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​expected​ ​a​ ​warm​ ​welcome​ ​but​ ​he​ ​had​ ​perhaps​ ​expected​ ​a​ ​little​ ​more​ ​than this.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​through​ ​the​ ​doors​ ​and​ ​two​ ​of​ ​the​ ​three​ ​check​ ​points​ ​without​ ​even​ ​thinking.​ ​The only​ ​good​ ​thing​ ​about​ ​this​ ​place​ ​was​ ​the​ ​view​ ​and​ ​the​ ​child​ ​that​ ​waited​ ​for​ ​him.​ ​No​ ​one​ ​could possibly​ ​heal​ ​here.
Another​ ​patient​ ​bumped​ ​into​ ​him​ ​on​ ​their​ ​way​ ​past​ ​and​ ​mumbled​ ​something​ ​unintelligible before​ ​being​ ​collected​ ​by​ ​a​ ​nurse.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​almost​ ​there.​ ​He​ ​rounded​ ​a​ ​corner​ ​and​ ​passed​ ​two closed​ ​doors​ ​before​ ​stopping​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​that​ ​was​ ​his​ ​destination.​ ​Maybe​ ​something would​ ​be​ ​different​ ​today.​ ​Maybe​ ​there​ ​would​ ​be​ ​some​ ​sign​ ​that​ ​this​ ​had​ ​all​ ​happened​ ​for​ ​a reason.​ ​He​ ​took​ ​a​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​the​ ​knob,​ ​letting​ ​himself​ ​into​ ​the​ ​room​ ​before​ ​he​ ​allowed his​ ​eyes​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​bed​ ​where​ ​Elia​ ​lay.​ ​His​ ​blood​ ​went​ ​cold​ ​in​ ​his​ ​veins.​ ​Gone!
The​ ​folders​ ​almost​ ​fell​ ​from​ ​his​ ​hands​ ​as​ ​he​ ​fled​ ​the​ ​room​ ​without​ ​even​ ​closing​ ​the​ ​door​ ​behind him.​ ​He​ ​all​ ​but​ ​flew​ ​to​ ​the​ ​nearest​ ​nurses’​ ​station.​ ​There​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​some​ ​explanation.​ ​Dread seized​ ​his​ ​heart​ ​as​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​counter​ ​blinked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​him.
“Where​ ​is​ ​he?”
“Sir,​ ​you’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​have​ ​to​ ​calm​ ​down​ ​before​ ​I​ ​can​ ​help​ ​you.”
Calm​ ​down.​ ​Calm​ ​down?​ ​Each​ ​moment​ ​that​ ​ticked​ ​by​ ​Elia​ ​could​ ​be​ ​further​ ​away,​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​being truly​ ​lost.​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​become​ ​calm.​ ​“Where​ ​has​ ​Elia​ ​Darkstar​ ​been​ ​moved,​ ​please?”
That​ ​was​ ​as​ ​good​ ​as​ ​she​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​get​ ​and​ ​she​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​somehow​ ​know​ ​that.​ ​Slowly​ ​she turned​ ​to​ ​a​ ​clipboard​ ​and​ ​began​ ​to​ ​leaf​ ​through​ ​its​ ​pages.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​taking​ ​every​ ​ounce​ ​of​ ​his​ ​being to​ ​not​ ​snatch​ ​it​ ​from​ ​her​ ​and​ ​look​ ​at​ ​it​ ​himself,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​would​ ​have​ ​if​ ​he​ ​thought​ ​he​ ​could decipher​ ​what​ ​those​ ​pages​ ​told​ ​her.​ ​Her​ ​finger​ ​slid​ ​across​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pages​ ​before​ ​she​ ​reached for​ ​a​ ​book​ ​that​ ​was​ ​beneath​ ​her​ ​counter.​ ​He​ ​took​ ​a​ ​deep​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​let​ ​it​ ​out,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​temper jangled​ ​nerves​ ​and​ ​swallow​ ​the​ ​growing​ ​constriction​ ​in​ ​his​ ​chest.
Then​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​it.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​as​ ​though​ ​a​ ​cool​ ​breeze​ ​had​ ​entered​ ​and​ ​the​ ​pressure​ ​in​ ​the​ ​room​ ​around him​ ​changed.​ ​The​ ​woman​ ​before​ ​him​ ​didn’t​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​notice,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​shivered​ ​before​ ​he​ ​turned toward​ ​the​ ​hallway​ ​he​ ​had​ ​come​ ​from.​ ​There,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​lingering​ ​shadows​ ​that​ ​the​ ​florescent​ ​lights couldn’t​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​budge,​ ​stood​ ​a​ ​figure.​ ​His​ ​breath​ ​caught​ ​in​ ​his​ ​throat​ ​as​ ​his​ ​feet​ ​turned, carrying​ ​him​ ​away​ ​from​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​and​ ​her​ ​books,​ ​the​ ​spot​ ​of​ ​brightest​ ​light​ ​that​ ​now​ ​seemed garish​ ​and​ ​painful​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​the​ ​looming​ ​dusk​ ​before​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​hear​ ​the​ ​woman​ ​who called​ ​after​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​see​ ​the​ ​doors​ ​he​ ​passed​ ​or​ ​the​ ​lights​ ​going​ ​dim,​ ​as​ ​if​ ​to accommodate​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​walked​ ​before​ ​him.​ ​How​ ​had​ ​it​ ​become​ ​so​ ​dark?​ ​It​ ​hadn’t​ ​even been​ ​overcast​ ​when​ ​he​ ​arrived.
The​ ​garments​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​before​ ​him​ ​flowed​ ​about​ ​him​ ​as​ ​he​ ​walked,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​suspended​ ​by the​ ​air​ ​and​ ​unaffected​ ​by​ ​gravity​ ​itself.​ ​His​ ​hair​ ​was​ ​red,​ ​like​ ​blood,​ ​and​ ​framed​ ​his​ ​shoulders. He​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been​ ​his​ ​imagination.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​thought​ ​the​ ​pale​ ​skin​ ​and​ ​cold​ ​burning​ ​eyes had​ ​been​ ​a​ ​fabrication​ ​created​ ​by​ ​the​ ​gore​ ​and​ ​pain​ ​he​ ​witnessed​ ​and​ ​the​ ​exhaustion.​ ​He​ ​still had​ ​nightmares​ ​but​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​use​ ​those​ ​excuses​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​away​ ​the​ ​being​ ​that​ ​had​ ​appeared before​ ​him​ ​a​ ​second​ ​time.
“Elia?”​ ​His​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​a​ ​tentative​ ​whisper,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​feared​ ​breaking​ ​the​ ​silence​ ​around them.​ ​The​ ​being​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​him​ ​and​ ​fixed​ ​him​ ​with​ ​his​ ​icy​ ​eyes​ ​before​ ​he​ ​nodded​ ​and​ ​turned away​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​forward.
“Are​ ​you​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him?​ ​Are​ ​you​ ​real?”​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​say​ ​anything​ ​else​ ​but​ ​he​ ​had​ ​so many​ ​questions.
“I​ ​am​ ​like​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​protect​ ​him.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​from​ ​someplace​ ​else​ ​and​ ​can​ ​only​ ​come​ ​here​ ​when​ ​he​ ​calls,​ ​if he​ ​calls.”​ ​His​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​quiet,​ ​distant,​ ​and​ ​carried​ ​sadness​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​were​ ​leaves​ ​blown through​ ​a​ ​burning​ ​forest.​ ​“I​ ​am​ ​like​ ​him.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​not​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​be​ ​this​ ​but​ ​I​ ​am.​ ​I​ ​remain​ ​because he​ ​can​ ​not​ ​send​ ​me​ ​away…​ ​but​ ​I​ ​will​ ​use​ ​the​ ​time​ ​he​ ​has​ ​given​ ​me​ ​to​ ​make​ ​things​ ​right,​ ​one soul​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​believe​ ​in​ ​him,​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​be​ ​with​ ​him​ ​and​ ​someday​ ​he​ ​will​ ​open​ ​his​ ​eyes. That​ ​I​ ​promise​ ​you.​ ​He​ ​is​ ​there.”
A​ ​long​ ​pale​ ​hand​ ​rose​ ​before​ ​a​ ​finger​ ​extended,​ ​pointing.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​beside​ ​a​ ​door​ ​that​ ​was framed​ ​by​ ​giant​ ​windows.​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​even​ ​realized​ ​until​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​follow​ ​where​ ​the​ ​hand​ ​was pointing.​ ​The​ ​light​ ​made​ ​him​ ​blink​ ​and​ ​obscured​ ​his​ ​view​ ​before​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​figure who​ ​had​ ​directed​ ​him.​ ​Now​ ​the​ ​blood​ ​of​ ​his​ ​hair,​ ​the​ ​ice​ ​of​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​was​ ​even​ ​more​ ​pronounced and​ ​the​ ​design​ ​on​ ​the​ ​far​ ​side​ ​of​ ​his​ ​face​ ​was​ ​visible​ ​as​ ​scarring​ ​and​ ​not​ ​just​ ​decoration.​ ​Even​ ​in the​ ​light​ ​there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​glow,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​ghostly​ ​fire​ ​burned​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​the​ ​swirls​ ​were​ ​the paths​ ​that​ ​fire​ ​took.
“What​ ​are​ ​you?”​ ​It​ ​was​ ​another​ ​question​ ​he​ ​hadn’t​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​say​ ​but​ ​didn’t​ ​regret​ ​until​ ​the creature​ ​fixed​ ​him​ ​with​ ​a​ ​stare​ ​he​ ​hadn’t​ ​expected.
“I’m​ ​nothing.​ ​I’m​ ​what​ ​happens​ ​when​ ​a​ ​soul​ ​gets​ ​so​ ​angry​ ​it​ ​must​ ​live​ ​upon​ ​others.​ ​I’m​ ​the corruption​ ​of​ ​purity.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​a​ ​darkness​ ​that​ ​should​ ​have​ ​remained​ ​light.”​ ​Those​ ​eyes​ ​were​ ​trained upon​ ​him,​ ​unblinking​ ​as​ ​he​ ​absorbed​ ​the​ ​words​ ​that​ ​were​ ​barely​ ​a​ ​whisper.
“Is​ ​it​ ​your​ ​fault​ ​he​ ​won’t​ ​come​ ​back?​ ​Did​ ​you​ ​do​ ​this​ ​to​ ​him?”
Before​ ​he​ ​could​ ​react,​ ​long​ ​elegant​ ​fingers​ ​circled​ ​his​ ​throat,​ ​cold​ ​and​ ​dry,​ ​​ ​holding​ ​him​ ​still despite​ ​his​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​flee.​ ​Their​ ​eyes​ ​met​ ​and​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​answer.​ ​This​ ​creature​ ​would​ ​never harm​ ​that​ ​boy.​ ​This​ ​creature,​ ​who​ ​was​ ​so​ ​close​ ​and​ ​so​ ​fearsome,​ ​with​ ​its​ ​unearthly​ ​appearance and​ ​presence​ ​that​ ​exuded​ ​harm,​ ​empathized​ ​with​ ​the​ ​child​ ​he​ ​guarded​ ​on​ ​a​ ​level​ ​no​ ​one​ ​else would​ ​ever​ ​understand.
“You​ ​should​ ​go​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​You​ ​need​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​him​ ​because,​ ​if​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​you​ ​are​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​necessary, you​ ​will​ ​be​ ​very​ ​sorry.”
With​ ​that,​ ​he​ ​was​ ​released,​ ​choking​ ​and​ ​sputtering​ ​as​ ​though​ ​his​ ​body​ ​had​ ​forgotten​ ​how​ ​to draw​ ​breath.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​watered​ ​and​ ​he​ ​braced​ ​himself​ ​against​ ​the​ ​window,​ ​steadying​ ​himself until​ ​he​ ​could​ ​straighten​ ​and​ ​turn​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​had​ ​held​ ​him.​ ​Gone.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​alone​ ​in front​ ​of​ ​the​ ​great​ ​glass​ ​doors​ ​that​ ​were​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​their​ ​many​ ​windows.​ ​Now​ ​he​ ​could​ ​see a​ ​wheelchair​ ​outside​ ​on​ ​the​ ​venerable​ ​stone​ ​patio,​ ​and​ ​within​ ​it,​ ​Elia.

*​ ​*​ ​*

It​ ​had​ ​almost​ ​gone​ ​back​ ​to​ ​normal,​ ​almost.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​still​ ​this​ ​pending​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​doom​ ​that​ ​loomed​ ​over  them​ ​as​ ​they​ ​ate.​ ​When​ ​they​ ​caught​ ​each​ ​other’s​ ​eye​ ​across​ ​the​ ​table,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​the​ ​customary​ ​smile  that​ ​was​ ​shared​ ​and​ ​had​ ​been​ ​since​ ​he​ ​had​ ​learned​ ​how​ ​to​ ​smile.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​the​ ​promise​ ​of​ ​things​ ​to​ ​come  that​ ​lurked​ ​and​ ​darkened​ ​their​ ​mood.​ ​Elia​ ​didn’t​ ​even​ ​understand​ ​why.​ ​All​ ​that​ ​she​ ​had​ ​said​ ​was​ ​that​ ​it  was​ ​time.​ ​When​ ​he​ ​had​ ​asked​ ​what​ ​she​ ​meant,​ ​she​ ​simply​ ​ruffled​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​before​ ​she​ ​smiled​ ​down​ ​at  him​ ​and​ ​whispered​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​time​ ​for​ ​him​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​about​ ​his​ ​father.
His​ ​father.
His​ ​father​ ​whom​ ​they​ ​hadn’t​ ​spoken​ ​about​ ​because​ ​the​ ​one​ ​time​ ​he​ ​had​ ​asked,​ ​when​ ​he​ ​was​ ​so​ ​young​ ​he  hadn’t​ ​learned​ ​about​ ​emotional​ ​pain,​ ​he​ ​had​ ​learned​ ​to​ ​never​ ​ask​ ​again.​ ​Something​ ​had​ ​happened.  Something​ ​bad.​ ​Something​ ​that​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​had​ ​saved​ ​him​ ​from​ ​and​ ​still​ ​protected​ ​him​ ​from.​ ​If​ ​she​ ​was  afraid​ ​then​ ​it​ ​must​ ​have​ ​meant​ ​the​ ​worst.​ ​Maybe​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​that​ ​she​ ​feared​ ​the​ ​other​ ​wolves.  Maybe​ ​there​ ​were​ ​no​ ​other​ ​wolves​ ​anymore​ ​and​ ​it​ ​was​ ​only​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​that​ ​she​ ​feared…
He​ ​had​ ​never​ ​seen​ ​her​ ​change.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​the​ ​color​ ​of​ ​her​ ​fur​ ​or​ ​how​ ​her​ ​eyes​ ​looked​ ​when​ ​they  filled​ ​with​ ​her​ ​spirit’s​ ​fire.​ ​He​ ​wished​ ​that​ ​he​ ​did.​ ​How​ ​could​ ​something​ ​that​ ​felt​ ​so​ ​good​ ​be​ ​frightening.  He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​run.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​earth​ ​beneath​ ​his​ ​paws​ ​and​ ​know​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​it.​ ​He  wanted​ ​to​ ​dance​ ​with​ ​the​ ​voices​ ​in​ ​the​ ​woods,​ ​feel​ ​their​ ​wild​ ​breath​ ​ruffle​ ​his​ ​fur.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​the  world​ ​as​ ​it​ ​unfurled​ ​before​ ​him,​ ​with​ ​his​ ​senses​ ​tuned.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​be​ ​free.
He​ ​blinked​ ​as​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​cleared​ ​his​ ​plate​ ​after​ ​smoothing​ ​her​ ​hand​ ​across​ ​his​ ​now​ ​dried​ ​hair.​ ​He  watched​ ​as​ ​she​ ​did​ ​the​ ​dishes​ ​and​ ​then​ ​turned,​ ​resting​ ​herself​ ​against​ ​the​ ​counter.
“Are​ ​you​ ​ready?”
He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​she​ ​hoped​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​say​ ​no.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​really​ ​asking​ ​if​ ​she​ ​was​ ​ready​ ​and  he​ ​was​ ​simply​ ​there​ ​to​ ​witness​ ​her​ ​dilemma.​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​do​ ​what​ ​she​ ​wanted…​ ​not​ ​this​ ​time.​ ​He​ ​needed  to​ ​know.​ ​He​ ​gently​ ​nodded,​ ​watching​ ​her​ ​reaction​ ​as​ ​she​ ​pushed​ ​herself​ ​off​ ​of​ ​the​ ​counter​ ​and​ ​into​ ​the  room.
“It’ll​ ​be​ ​okay,​ ​mom.”​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​she​ ​wouldn’t​ ​believe​ ​him,​ ​but​ ​if​ ​it​ ​was​ ​her​ ​job​ ​to​ ​make​ ​him​ ​feel​ ​better  when​ ​it​ ​hurt,​ ​to​ ​give​ ​him​ ​answers​ ​and​ ​reassurances,​ ​than​ ​it​ ​was​ ​his​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​her​ ​comfort,​ ​even​ ​if​ ​she  didn’t​ ​believe​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​that.​ ​He​ ​couldn’t​ ​convince​ ​her​ ​that​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​when​ ​he​ ​met​ ​the  being​ ​that​ ​owned​ ​that​ ​beautiful​ ​voice,​ ​the​ ​one​ ​that​ ​made​ ​him​ ​feel​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​weren’t​ ​so​ ​small​ ​and  alone,​ ​he​ ​would​ ​join​ ​with​ ​his​ ​guardian’s​ ​spirit​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​be​ ​consumed​ ​by​ ​it.​ ​Some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​was​ ​sure  that​ ​her​ ​fears​ ​were​ ​unfounded​ ​while​ ​another​ ​trusted​ ​her​ ​judgement​ ​implicitly.
He​ ​got​ ​up​ ​and​ ​followed​ ​her​ ​into​ ​her​ ​room.​ ​She​ ​disappeared​ ​into​ ​a​ ​door​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​recall​ ​seeing​ ​opened​ ​at  any​ ​time​ ​before.​ ​The​ ​smell​ ​in​ ​there​ ​was​ ​different.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​just​ ​see​ ​the​ ​edge​ ​of​ ​colored​ ​fabric,​ ​a​ ​pale  blue,​ ​something​ ​soft.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​color​ ​that​ ​he​ ​liked.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​have​ ​anything​ ​that​ ​was​ ​that​ ​color​ ​because  when​ ​he​ ​picked​ ​something​ ​out,​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​would​ ​smile​ ​and​ ​gently​ ​guide​ ​him​ ​to​ ​something​ ​else.​ ​Were​ ​those his​ ​father’s​ ​things?​ ​He​ ​had​ ​no​ ​point​ ​of​ ​reference.​ ​He​ ​tested​ ​the​ ​air,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​memorize​ ​the​ ​smell.​ ​It​ ​was  just​ ​slightly​ ​different​ ​than​ ​his​ ​own.​ ​Perhaps​ ​that​ ​was​ ​just​ ​age.​ ​Perhaps​ ​it​ ​was​ ​just​ ​maturity​ ​that​ ​had been​ ​tempered​ ​with​ ​hints​ ​of​ ​dried​ ​leaves​ ​and​ ​a​ ​faint​ ​lingering​ ​dark​ ​musk.
He​ ​hadn’t​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​until​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​had​ ​said​ ​his​ ​name.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​up​ ​at​ ​her​ ​and  smiled,​ ​which​ ​didn’t​ ​help​ ​the​ ​look​ ​of​ ​concern​ ​that​ ​took​ ​over​ ​the​ ​pout​ ​on​ ​her​ ​face.​ ​She​ ​held​ ​a​ ​box,​ ​an​ ​old  file​ ​box​ ​made​ ​of​ ​cardboard,​ ​that​ ​she​ ​gently​ ​pushed​ ​into​ ​his​ ​lap.
“What’s​ ​this?”​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​but​ ​asked​ ​anyway.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​this​ ​was​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​something​ ​but​ ​couldn’t  understand​ ​quite​ ​what​ ​that​ ​was.​ ​He​ ​watched​ ​as​ ​she​ ​pursed​ ​her​ ​lips,​ ​frozen​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment,​ ​before​ ​she  collected​ ​herself​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​sit​ ​beside​ ​him.
“It’s​ ​your​ ​father.”

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​woke​ ​with​ ​a​ ​start.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​dozed​ ​off​ ​and​ ​slumped​ ​across​ ​his​ ​papers​ ​again.​ ​The​ ​file​ ​he​ ​had been​ ​looking​ ​in​ ​actively,​ ​dripped​ ​into​ ​his​ ​lap​ ​and​ ​then​ ​made​ ​its​ ​way​ ​to​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​in​ ​bits​ ​and pieces.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​still​ ​snowing​ ​outside.​ ​The​ ​only​ ​sound​ ​was​ ​the​ ​hush​ ​of​ ​winter​ ​punctuated​ ​by​ ​the pops​ ​and​ ​gurgles​ ​of​ ​the​ ​water​ ​in​ ​the​ ​pipes​ ​that​ ​heated​ ​the​ ​building.​ ​He’d​ ​been​ ​here​ ​more​ ​than he’d​ ​been​ ​in​ ​his​ ​own​ ​apartment.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​something​ ​different​ ​about​ ​this​ ​place.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​still horrible,​ ​but​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​it​ ​had​ ​become​ ​a​ ​comfort.
He​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​home​ ​stretch.​ ​They​ ​had​ ​thrown​ ​a​ ​rather​ ​uncomfortable​ ​retirement​ ​party​ ​for​ ​him at​ ​the​ ​office.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​felt​ ​so​ ​tense​ ​he​ ​could​ ​have​ ​cut​ ​the​ ​air​ ​in​ ​the​ ​room​ ​with​ ​the​ ​cake​ ​knife.​ ​It​ ​had been​ ​a​ ​long​ ​time​ ​since​ ​anyone​ ​had​ ​expressed​ ​any​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​empathy,​ ​friendship,​ ​with​ ​him​ ​in​ ​that room.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​all​ ​relieved​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be​ ​gone​ ​though​ ​they​ ​knew,​ ​as​ ​a​ ​private​ ​detective, they​ ​would​ ​still​ ​occasionally​ ​have​ ​to​ ​deal​ ​with​ ​his​ ​relentlessness.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​received​ ​criticism​ ​for his​ ​inability​ ​to​ ​let​ ​go​ ​of​ ​the​ ​cases​ ​that​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​solve,​ ​and​ ​then​ ​smug​ ​dismay​ ​when​ ​he​ ​did eventually​ ​solve​ ​them.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​found​ ​the​ ​other​ ​children​ ​who​ ​had​ ​been​ ​murdered​ ​before​ ​Elia had​ ​been​ ​taken.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​found​ ​them​ ​with​ ​instinct​ ​and​ ​luck,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​had​ ​brought​ ​their​ ​families closure.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​kept​ ​his​ ​word​ ​with​ ​not​ ​only​ ​this​ ​case,​ ​but​ ​others.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​looked​ ​for​ ​the​ ​answers while​ ​he​ ​sat​ ​in​ ​this​ ​very​ ​chair,​ ​in​ ​this​ ​very​ ​room,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​in​ ​the​ ​office​ ​with​ ​his​ ​big​ ​empty​ ​desk that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​leaving​ ​within​ ​the​ ​week,​ ​or​ ​in​ ​the​ ​comfort​ ​of​ ​his​ ​own​ ​cozy​ ​apartment​ ​that​ ​was​ ​only good​ ​for​ ​collecting​ ​dust.
His​ ​gaze​ ​strayed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​breathed​ ​quietly​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​were​ ​open​ ​again.​ ​They were​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​they​ ​had​ ​been​ ​the​ ​first​ ​day​ ​he​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​him​ ​lying​ ​so​ ​flat​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​cold​ ​hard floor,​ ​so​ ​blue​ ​and​ ​big​ ​that​ ​it​ ​felt​ ​as​ ​though​ ​you​ ​were​ ​falling​ ​to​ ​look​ ​into​ ​them.​ ​Eyes​ ​like​ ​that never​ ​belonged​ ​to​ ​men.​ ​Eyes​ ​like​ ​that​ ​were​ ​those​ ​of​ ​a​ ​child,​ ​haunted​ ​by​ ​a​ ​pain​ ​they​ ​should never​ ​have​ ​known.​ ​He​ ​wondered​ ​briefly​ ​if​ ​their​ ​color​ ​would​ ​change​ ​when​ ​Elia​ ​woke,​ ​if​ ​Elia woke.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​sighed.​ ​Gently​ ​he​ ​reached​ ​forward​ ​and​ ​closed​ ​them,​ ​spilling​ ​the​ ​remaining contents​ ​of​ ​his​ ​file​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​so​ ​long​ ​and​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​change.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​a young​ ​man​ ​when​ ​he​ ​had​ ​walked​ ​into​ ​that​ ​place,​ ​filled​ ​with​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​of​ ​blood,​ ​cloaked​ ​in​ ​fear and​ ​pain,​ ​and​ ​found​ ​Elia.​ ​Each​ ​day​ ​since​ ​he​ ​had​ ​kept​ ​his​ ​word​ ​and​ ​returned​ ​to​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​still slept​ ​before​ ​him.​ ​Each​ ​day​ ​he​ ​asked​ ​if​ ​Elia​ ​would​ ​come​ ​back,​ ​come​ ​home​ ​to​ ​his​ ​little​ ​self.​ ​He wondered​ ​why​ ​there​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​man​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bed​ ​before​ ​him,​ ​but​ ​still​ ​a​ ​child.​ ​After​ ​all​ ​this​ ​time, how​ ​had​ ​he​ ​remained​ ​so​ ​young?
He​ ​busied​ ​himself​ ​re-collecting​ ​the​ ​many​ ​papers​ ​that​ ​had​ ​scattered​ ​about​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​before​ ​he sat​ ​back​ ​in​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​to​ ​organize​ ​them.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​so​ ​much​ ​hurt​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world…​ ​so​ ​much​ ​pain.​ ​He didn’t​ ​understand​ ​why​ ​there​ ​were​ ​some​ ​that​ ​could​ ​only​ ​thrive​ ​on​ ​harm.​ ​What​ ​would​ ​their victims​ ​have​ ​been​ ​if​ ​they​ ​had​ ​never​ ​been​ ​victims.​ ​His​ ​fingers​ ​sifted​ ​through​ ​the​ ​papers,​ ​placing them​ ​in​ ​order,​ ​reattaching​ ​fallen​ ​photos​ ​into​ ​their​ ​clips​ ​and​ ​checking​ ​the​ ​little​ ​numbers​ ​at​ ​the bottoms​ ​of​ ​each​ ​carefully​ ​printed​ ​page.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​old​ ​fashioned.​ ​The​ ​laptop​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​provided with​ ​lay​ ​sleeping​ ​within​ ​the​ ​bag​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​​ ​He​ ​still​ ​printed​ ​everything​ ​out,​ ​just​ ​the​ ​way​ ​that​ ​he had​ ​when​ ​he​ ​had​ ​taken​ ​on​ ​his​ ​first​ ​case.​ ​Back​ ​then,​ ​there​ ​had​ ​been​ ​no​ ​alternative.​ ​Now​ ​it​ ​was only​ ​he​ ​that​ ​scribbled​ ​notes​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​printed​ ​pages​ ​and​ ​scribbled​ ​more​ ​before​ ​he​ ​even​ ​thought to​ ​transfer​ ​anything​ ​into​ ​the​ ​sleeping​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​tech​ ​that​ ​only​ ​hurt​ ​his​ ​eyes.
He​ ​gently​ ​closed​ ​the​ ​file​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​it​ ​with​ ​his​ ​fingers.​ ​It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​good​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​his​ ​services to​ ​the​ ​public.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​actually​ ​help​ ​people​ ​find​ ​things​ ​that​ ​they​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​find,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​only deliver​ ​bad​ ​news.​ ​The​ ​change​ ​of​ ​pace​ ​would​ ​give​ ​him​ ​some​ ​happy​ ​stories​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​the​ ​one​ ​in​ ​the bed​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​allowed​ ​one​ ​of​ ​his​ ​lips​ ​to​ ​quirk​ ​up.​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​been​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​who​ ​had listened,​ ​who​ ​had​ ​let​ ​him​ ​talk​ ​through​ ​his​ ​thoughts​ ​on​ ​cases.​ ​He​ ​felt​ ​they​ ​had​ ​solved​ ​most​ ​of them​ ​together.​ ​He​ ​wished​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​say​ ​thank​ ​you​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​just​ ​stand​ ​watch.​ ​Elia​ ​had been​ ​his​ ​sounding​ ​board,​ ​no​ ​matter​ ​how​ ​crazy​ ​the​ ​idea,​ ​and​ ​never​ ​offered​ ​negativity,​ ​which​ ​is why​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​able​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​every​ ​outcome​ ​and​ ​find​ ​the​ ​best​ ​way​ ​to​ ​uncover​ ​every​ ​piece of​ ​whatever​ ​case​ ​he​ ​was​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​solve.​ ​His​ ​career​ ​had​ ​been​ ​made​ ​in​ ​the​ ​many​ ​moments​ ​they had​ ​shared.
“Elia,​ ​I​ ​wish​ ​you​ ​knew​ ​how​ ​glad​ ​I​ ​am​ ​that​ ​you​ ​are​ ​here.​ ​I​ ​wish​ ​that​ ​you​ ​could​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​wish that​ ​you​ ​would​ ​come​ ​back.​ ​Elia,​ ​you​ ​will​ ​come​ ​back,​ ​right?​ ​I​ ​have​ ​so​ ​much​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​you…”
He​ ​scrubbed​ ​his​ ​face​ ​with​ ​his​ ​hand​ ​before​ ​letting​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​stray​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​winter​ ​scene outside.​ ​The​ ​wind​ ​gusted​ ​which​ ​made​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​shiver,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​it​ ​did​ ​not​ ​touch​ ​him. The​ ​walk​ ​to​ ​his​ ​car​ ​was​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​painful,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​drive​ ​even​ ​worse.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​worth​ ​it.​ ​For​ ​this peace​ ​and​ ​quite,​ ​worth​ ​it.​ ​Slowly​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​one​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​Once​ ​more…​ ​his​ ​eyes were​ ​open.

*​ ​*​ ​*

His​ ​heart​ ​was​ ​pounding.​ ​He​ ​wouldn’t​ ​believe​ ​it,​ ​couldn’t.​ ​His​ ​feet​ ​wouldn’t​ ​carry​ ​him​ ​fast​ ​enough.​ ​The  wind​ ​bit​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​made​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​water.​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​true.​ ​It​ ​couldn’t​ ​be​ ​true.
He​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​get​ ​to​ ​the​ ​woods.​ ​There​ ​he​ ​would​ ​find​ ​answers.​ ​If​ ​only​ ​he​ ​could​ ​change,​ ​then​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be  able​ ​to​ ​run​ ​faster.​ ​His​ ​vision​ ​blurred​ ​as​ ​he​ ​ducked​ ​behind​ ​a​ ​bush,​ ​hoping​ ​to​ ​avoid​ ​the​ ​headlights​ ​of​ ​a​ ​car  that​ ​had​ ​just​ ​turned​ ​down​ ​the​ ​street.​ ​He​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​know​ ​for​ ​sure.​ ​He​ ​needed​ ​answers​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​just  couldn’t​ ​give​ ​him.
The​ ​box​ ​had​ ​been​ ​placed​ ​in​ ​his​ ​lap​ ​and​ ​he​ ​had​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​her​ ​with​ ​no​ ​small​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​confusion.​ ​When  she​ ​told​ ​him​ ​to​ ​open​ ​it,​ ​his​ ​fingers​ ​had​ ​gently​ ​trailed​ ​across​ ​the​ ​cardboard​ ​before​ ​removing​ ​the​ ​lid.​ ​It​ ​felt  fragile,​ ​like​ ​it​ ​was​ ​made​ ​of​ ​pressed​ ​onion​ ​skin​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​tree​ ​pulp.​ ​It​ ​didn’t​ ​smell​ ​musty​ ​or​ ​like​ ​it​ ​was  dusty​ ​or​ ​wet,​ ​it​ ​just​ ​felt​ ​as​ ​though​ ​the​ ​contents​ ​had​ ​aged​ ​the​ ​thing​ ​well​ ​beyond​ ​its​ ​years.
With​ ​the​ ​lid​ ​removed,​ ​Elia​ ​found​ ​papers.​ ​Once​ ​more​ ​he​ ​gave​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​a​ ​sidelong​ ​glance.​ ​She​ ​nodded​ ​for him​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​even​ ​as​ ​tears​ ​filled​ ​her​ ​eyes.​ ​Elia​ ​picked​ ​the​ ​first​ ​piece​ ​up​ ​and​ ​opened​ ​it.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​letter,  a​ ​letter​ ​in​ ​writing​ ​that​ ​was​ ​similar​ ​to​ ​his​ ​own,​ ​perhaps​ ​more​ ​refined​ ​but​ ​similar.​ ​How​ ​could​ ​he​ ​have known​ ​that​ ​he​ ​wrote​ ​the​ ​way​ ​his​ ​father​ ​had.​ ​His​ ​fingers​ ​traced​ ​the​ ​faded​ ​ink​ ​impressions​ ​on​ ​the​ ​page in​ ​wonder,​ ​before​ ​he​ ​even​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​read​ ​them.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​letter…​ ​to​ ​his​ ​mom.​ ​It​ ​made​ ​him  smile.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​a​ ​love​ ​letter​ ​and​ ​more​ ​than​ ​half​ ​of​ ​it​ ​was​ ​written​ ​in​ ​verse.​ Never​ forget​ ,​ ​Elia​ ​read​ ​more  than​ ​a​ ​few​ ​times​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​passages.​ ​He​ ​spoke​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​he​ ​would​ ​not​ ​survive.​ ​​ Never  forget​ ​ how​ ​ much ​ ​I​ ​ love​ ​ you. ​ ​ Never​ ​ forget​ ​ that ​ ​I​ ​ will​ ​ be​ ​ waiting. ​ ​​ Elia​ ​heard​ ​his​ ​mom’s​ ​breath​ ​hitch.  What​ ​had​ ​happened​ ​to​ ​him?​ ​Why​ ​wasn’t​ ​he​ ​here​ ​any​ ​longer?
There​ ​were​ ​more.​ ​So​ ​many​ ​letters.​ ​If​ ​they​ ​had​ ​been​ ​together,​ ​why​ ​had​ ​he​ ​written​ ​so​ ​much?​ ​He​ ​was  afraid​ ​to​ ​ask.​ ​They​ ​had​ ​been​ ​together​ ​for​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​time​ ​or​ ​he​ ​wouldn’t​ ​exist.​ ​Then​ ​he’d​ ​blurted​ ​it​ ​out  and​ ​regretted​ ​it​ ​the​ ​instant​ ​that​ ​he​ ​did.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​know​ ​but​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​cause​ ​her​ ​any​ ​more  pain​ ​than​ ​he​ ​already​ ​had.
They​ ​had​ ​been​ ​chased.​ ​His​ ​mother​ ​had​ ​told​ ​him​ ​they​ ​were​ ​hiding​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​wolves.​ ​Now​ ​she  explained​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​because​ ​of​ ​four​ ​wolves​ ​that​ ​were​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​wolfen,​ ​but​ ​had​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​demons because​ ​of​ ​tainted​ ​blood​ ​they​ ​had​ ​consumed.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​them​ ​was​ ​to​ ​blame​ ​for​ ​the​ ​curse​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Darkstar  family​ ​line,​ ​and​ ​one​ ​of​ ​them​ ​had​ ​been​ ​responsible​ ​for​ ​their​ ​separation.​ ​Elia’s​ ​father​ ​had​ ​gone​ ​to​ ​draw them​ ​away​ ​and​ ​been​ ​cornered.​ ​He​ ​escaped,​ ​narrowly,​ ​but​ ​was​ ​never​ ​the​ ​same​ ​again.​ ​His​ ​mind​ ​was different.​ ​She​ ​couldn’t​ ​reach​ ​him​ ​anymore.​ ​She​ ​couldn’t​ ​feel​ ​him​ ​through​ ​their​ ​bond​ ​anymore.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​as  though​ ​something​ ​had​ ​stolen​ ​his​ ​soul​ ​from​ ​him​ ​and​ ​left​ ​only​ ​the​ ​shell​ ​behind.​ ​Then​ ​he​ ​began​ ​to​ ​wither  until​ ​there​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​left​ ​at​ ​all.
She​ ​reached​ ​into​ ​the​ ​box​ ​and​ ​found​ ​a​ ​sketchbook​ ​that​ ​had​ ​pages​ ​which​ ​had​ ​been​ ​worn​ ​soft​ ​at​ ​the​ ​edges. When​ ​she​ ​opened​ ​it,​ ​Elia’s​ ​eyes​ ​went​ ​wide.​ ​All​ ​the​ ​pages​ ​held​ ​one​ ​thing,​ ​a​ ​face,​ ​beautiful​ ​and  frightening​ ​and​ ​so​ ​very​ ​familiar.​ ​When​ ​his​ ​mom​ ​had​ ​turned​ ​away​ ​and​ ​covered​ ​her​ ​face​ ​with​ ​her​ ​hands,  his​ ​fingers​ ​strayed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​worn​ ​paper​ ​and​ ​ran​ ​across​ ​its​ ​surface,​ ​tracing​ ​lines​ ​he​ ​had​ ​drawn​ ​himself.​ ​It  was​ ​unmistakably​ ​the​ ​same.​ ​Then​ ​she​ ​turned​ ​back​ ​and​ ​stole​ ​it​ ​from​ ​his​ ​fingers.
That​ ​was​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​his​ ​father​ ​had​ ​wasted​ ​away.​ ​That​ ​thing​ ​had​ ​stolen​ ​his​ ​soul.​ ​That​ ​thing​ ​was​ ​a​ ​curse  on​ ​his​ ​family​ ​line​ ​and​ ​one​ ​day​ ​would​ ​come​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​would​ ​come​ ​to​ ​do​ ​the​ ​same.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​no​ ​guardians  any​ ​longer,​ ​only​ ​nightmares​ ​that​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​the​ ​forest​ ​and​ ​called​ ​with​ ​honeyed​ ​tongues.​ ​Why?​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​it  feel​ ​so​ ​different​ ​if​ ​that​ ​was​ ​how​ ​it​ ​was?​ ​It​ ​felt​ ​more​ ​right​ ​than​ ​his​ ​own​ ​skin,​ ​as​ ​natural​ ​as​ ​it​ ​would feel​ ​to​ ​embrace​ ​the​ ​change.​ ​Why​ ​was​ ​it​ ​a​ ​curse​ ​if​ ​it​ ​felt​ ​so​ ​right?
He​ ​was​ ​up​ ​and​ ​running​ ​scrambling​ ​for​ ​the​ ​treeline​ ​before​ ​the​ ​car​ ​had​ ​completely​ ​passed.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​just​ ​at  the​ ​far​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​park.​ ​He​ ​just​ ​had​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​past.​ ​How​ ​ironic​ ​was​ ​it​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​go​ ​through​ ​there,  a​ ​place​ ​that​ ​was​ ​joyless​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​to​ ​get​ ​to​ ​where​ ​he​ ​most​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​be.​ ​He​ ​wiped​ ​at​ ​a​ ​tickle​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​cheek  as​ ​the​ ​drawn​ ​image​ ​once​ ​more​ ​flashed​ ​into​ ​his​ ​mind.​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​down​ ​to​ ​see​ ​a​ ​tear,​ ​wet​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​fingers.  He​ ​slowed.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​it​ ​hurt​ ​so​ ​much?​ ​If​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​way​ ​that​ ​it​ ​could​ ​be​ ​true,​ ​why​ ​did​ ​he​ ​feel  betrayed?​ ​He​ ​had​ ​to​ ​know.
He​ ​was​ ​right​ ​at​ ​the​ ​edge​ ​of​ ​the​ ​treeline.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​temperature​ ​change​ ​in​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​beneath​ ​his  feet.​ ​A​ ​few​ ​more​ ​steps​ ​and​ ​he​ ​would​ ​know.​ ​His​ ​breaths​ ​came​ ​in​ ​sharp​ ​gasps.​ ​He​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​as​ ​he  began​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​the​ ​whispers​ ​that​ ​emerged​ ​from​ ​the​ ​forest.​ ​The​ ​wind​ ​sang​ ​a​ ​lullaby​ ​as​ ​the​ ​trees​ ​welcomed  him,​ ​the​ ​breeze​ ​sighing​ ​and​ ​turning​ ​to​ ​soft​ ​words,​ ​then​ ​to​ ​his​ ​name.​ ​The​ ​forest​ ​would​ ​always​ ​know​ ​him. He​ ​tuned,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​what​ ​they​ ​said.​ ​A​ ​warning.​ ​All​ ​at​ ​once​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​snapped​ ​open.​ ​They​ ​told him​ ​to​ ​run.​ ​Over​ ​and​ ​over,​ ​​ Elia​ ​ run​ .
A​ ​strong​ ​arm​ ​clamped​ ​across​ ​his​ ​chest​ ​before​ ​his​ ​feet​ ​could​ ​move​ ​and​ ​something​ ​soft​ ​was​ ​held​ ​over​ ​his  mouth​ ​and​ ​nose​ ​as​ ​he​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​wriggle​ ​free.​ ​It​ ​smelled​ ​sweet​ ​and​ ​acrid,​ ​unnatural.​ ​His​ ​body​ ​was​ ​failing,  his​ ​eyes​ ​staring​ ​into​ ​the​ ​woods​ ​as​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​resist​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him.​ ​There​ ​before  him,​ ​like​ ​a​ ​ghost​ ​among​ ​the​ ​trees​ ​was​ ​the​ ​face​ ​he​ ​had​ ​drawn,​ ​his​ ​father​ ​had​ ​drawn,​ ​the​ ​eyes,​ ​and​ ​then  the​ ​name​ ​as​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​overtook​ ​him.

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​had​ ​felt​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​silly​ ​when​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​out.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​made​ ​him​ ​late,​ ​but​ ​now​ ​it​ ​was​ ​worth​ ​it. Elia​ ​needed​ ​clothes.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​known​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​for​ ​longer​ ​than​ ​any​ ​other​ ​person​ ​alive.​ ​This​ ​person who​ ​was​ ​trapped​ ​as​ ​a​ ​child​ ​at​ ​least​ ​deserved​ ​the​ ​dignity​ ​of​ ​dressing​ ​in​ ​something​ ​more​ ​than​ ​a hospital​ ​gown​ ​for​ ​his​ ​entire​ ​life.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​nearly​ ​thirty​ ​years​ ​since​ ​that​ ​dark​ ​and​ ​horrible night,​ ​almost​ ​long​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​forget,​ ​and​ ​all​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​remember​ ​seeing​ ​clothe​ ​this​ ​small person,​ ​whom​ ​he​ ​cared​ ​for​ ​very​ ​deeply,​ ​was​ ​a​ ​hospital​ ​gown…​ ​unacceptable.​ ​It​ ​went​ ​round and​ ​round​ ​in​ ​his​ ​mind​ ​as​ ​he​ ​set​ ​the​ ​small​ ​things​ ​out​ ​on​ ​display​ ​for​ ​the​ ​nurse,​ ​who​ ​had accompanied​ ​him,​ ​to​ ​see.
“I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​what​ ​he​ ​might​ ​like,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​got​ ​him​ ​a​ ​bunch​ ​of​ ​things.​ ​Now​ ​you​ ​can​ ​just​ ​pick​ ​through. I​ ​hope​ ​he​ ​likes​ ​it…​ ​any​ ​of​ ​it.​ ​I’ve​ ​never​ ​seen​ ​him​ ​dressed​ ​in​ ​real​ ​clothes​ ​before.”​ ​He​ ​was​ ​second guessing​ ​himself​ ​before​ ​he​ ​even​ ​got​ ​a​ ​start​ ​picking​ ​an​ ​outfit.​ ​“Do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​you​ ​could​ ​get​ ​him dressed​ ​before​ ​I​ ​take​ ​him​ ​out​ ​for​ ​our​ ​walk​ ​while​ ​I​ ​get​ ​the​ ​wheelchair?”
He​ ​didn’t​ ​really​ ​give​ ​the​ ​girl​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​argue​ ​before​ ​he​ ​left​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​Elia​ ​would​ ​be​ ​dressed when​ ​he​ ​returned…​ ​or​ ​not.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​jump​ ​that​ ​hurdle​ ​when​ ​he​ ​came​ ​to​ ​it.​ ​His​ ​shoes​ ​tapped on​ ​the​ ​linoleum​ ​and​ ​only​ ​quieted​ ​when​ ​he​ ​paused​ ​before​ ​what​ ​appeared​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​closet.​ ​He hoped​ ​the​ ​door​ ​was​ ​unlocked​ ​and​ ​tested​ ​the​ ​knob​ ​before​ ​letting​ ​himself​ ​into​ ​the​ ​darkened portal.
Green,​ ​where​ ​was​ ​it?​ ​There​ ​was​ ​one​ ​that​ ​was​ ​smaller​ ​than​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​and​ ​had​ ​a​ ​green​ ​seat​ ​and rest.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​crocheted​ ​pads​ ​on​ ​the​ ​foot​ ​rests​ ​that​ ​matched​ ​the​ ​blanket​ ​that​ ​was​ ​at​ ​the​ ​foot​ ​of Elia’s​ ​bed.​ ​He​ ​scanned​ ​the​ ​row​ ​of​ ​folded​ ​wheelchairs​ ​twice​ ​before​ ​he​ ​spotted​ ​it​ ​on​ ​the​ ​far​ ​side of​ ​the​ ​dimmed​ ​room.​ ​He​ ​tested​ ​the​ ​knob​ ​before​ ​he​ ​went​ ​for​ ​it,​ ​afraid​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be​ ​locked​ ​inside and​ ​forgotten​ ​if​ ​he​ ​didn’t,​ ​before​ ​he​ ​was​ ​plunged​ ​into​ ​complete​ ​darkness.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​as​ ​the soft​ ​greys​ ​came​ ​into​ ​focus​ ​first,​ ​then​ ​the​ ​shadows​ ​of​ ​the​ ​place​ ​stood​ ​back​ ​from​ ​those​ ​in​ ​slightly darker​ ​contrast.​ ​The​ ​only​ ​light​ ​source​ ​was​ ​the​ ​small​ ​window​ ​on​ ​the​ ​door.​ ​He​ ​reached​ ​and​ ​gently pulled​ ​the​ ​wheelchair​ ​out​ ​from​ ​the​ ​others.​ ​Someday,​ ​hopefully​ ​someday​ ​soon,​ ​Elia​ ​would​ ​walk beside​ ​him​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​requiring​ ​this​ ​thing.​ ​For​ ​now…​ ​It​ ​worked.​ ​They​ ​would​ ​go​ ​for​ ​a​ ​walk together​ ​and​ ​he​ ​wouldn’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​worry​ ​about​ ​Elia​ ​getting​ ​cold.
A​ ​shadow​ ​obscured​ ​the​ ​light​ ​as​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​and​ ​he​ ​froze​ ​as​ ​he​ ​found​ ​his​ ​exit​ ​blocked.​ ​Eyes​ ​of​ ​icy fire​ ​watched​ ​as​ ​he​ ​slowly​ ​straightened​ ​and​ ​swallowed​ ​hard.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​like​ ​this,​ ​the​ ​scars on​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​illuminated​ ​the​ ​gentle​ ​curves​ ​of​ ​his​ ​face.​ ​Something​ ​so​ ​beautiful​ ​should not​ ​cause​ ​such​ ​repulsion.​ ​This​ ​creature​ ​had​ ​said​ ​it​ ​was​ ​an​ ​angry​ ​soul,​ ​but​ ​for​ ​once,​ ​the​ ​detective wondered​ ​why just​ ​as​ ​he​ ​wondered​ ​what​ ​had​ ​happened​ ​in​ ​that​ ​room​ ​full​ ​of​ ​blood.​ ​Now​ ​he tried​ ​to​ ​fit​ ​the​ ​pieces​ ​that​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​together​ ​and​ ​he​ ​still​ ​didn’t​ ​have​ ​enough.
“You​ ​have​ ​done​ ​well.​ ​Soon​ ​things​ ​will​ ​change.”​ ​His​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​soft,​ ​only​ ​a​ ​whisper​ ​in​ ​the darkness.
“Change?​ ​You​ ​mean,​ ​he’s​ ​going​ ​to​ ​wake​ ​up?”
The​ ​creature​ ​before​ ​him​ ​nodded​ ​then​ ​took​ ​a​ ​step​ ​towards​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​became​ ​immediately​ ​aware of​ ​how​ ​small​ ​the​ ​room​ ​was.​ ​His​ ​breath​ ​froze​ ​in​ ​his​ ​lungs​ ​as​ ​delicate​ ​fingers​ ​smoothed​ ​along​ ​his throat.
“Bring​ ​him​ ​back​ ​to​ ​where​ ​it​ ​all​ ​began.​ ​Bring​ ​him​ ​back.”
The​ ​detective’s​ ​brows​ ​shot​ ​up​ ​as​ ​a​ ​horrified​ ​expression​ ​gripped​ ​his​ ​features.​ ​He​ ​never​ ​wanted to​ ​see​ ​that​ ​place​ ​again.​ ​He​ ​still​ ​had​ ​nightmares.​ ​Twisted​ ​bodies​ ​with​ ​outstretched​ ​hands, reaching​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​waited​ ​to​ ​be​ ​saved​ ​and​ ​died,​ ​frozen​ ​in​ ​a​ ​state​ ​of​ ​false​ ​hope.​ ​The shattered​ ​body​ ​of​ ​a​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​was​ ​missing​ ​half​ ​her​ ​face.​ ​Parts​ ​of​ ​a​ ​man​ ​that​ ​were​ ​spread​ ​as though​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​ripped​ ​apart​ ​from​ ​the​ ​inside​ ​out,​ ​and​ ​Elia​ ​at​ ​the​ ​center,​ ​made​ ​androgynous by​ ​his​ ​captor,​ ​staring,​ ​empty,​ ​his​ ​body​ ​just​ ​as​ ​used​ ​and​ ​broken​ ​as​ ​all​ ​the​ ​rest,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​had remained​ ​alive.
“I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​go​ ​back​ ​there.​ ​Don’t​ ​make​ ​me​ ​bring​ ​him.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​him​ ​to​ ​be​ ​happy,​ ​not​ ​like​ ​them, not​ ​like​ ​that.​ ​He’s…​ ​he’s​ ​my​ ​only​ ​friend.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​him​ ​to​ ​hurt​ ​anymore.”
The​ ​detective​ ​had​ ​begun​ ​to​ ​shake​ ​as​ ​the​ ​creature​ ​smoothed​ ​tears​ ​away​ ​from​ ​his​ ​cheeks.​ ​Now hands​ ​that​ ​surely​ ​must​ ​have​ ​caused​ ​so​ ​much​ ​pain​ ​to​ ​others,​ ​collected​ ​him​ ​gently​ ​and​ ​he​ ​found himself​ ​held.​ ​It​ ​shouldn’t​ ​have​ ​been​ ​comfortable​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​comfort.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​like​ ​being​ ​gripped by​ ​a​ ​nightmare​ ​that​ ​was​ ​so​ ​familiar,​ ​that​ ​its​ ​terror​ ​brought​ ​peace.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​smell​ ​blood​ ​on​ ​the clothes​ ​he​ ​was​ ​held​ ​against,​ ​and​ ​oak​ ​leaves,​ ​long​ ​dried​ ​and​ ​withered.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​not​ ​the​ ​way​ ​of things.​ ​Something​ ​had​ ​changed.​ ​Some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​his​ ​plea​ ​had​ ​meant​ ​something,​ ​his​ ​fear.​ ​He​ ​took​ ​a breath​ ​and​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​as​ ​deadly​ ​fingers​ ​combed​ ​through​ ​his​ ​hair.
“You​ ​dear​ ​old​ ​man.​ ​I​ ​meant​ ​the​ ​woods.”

*​ ​*​ ​*

His​ ​head​ ​swam​ ​as​ ​he​ ​fought​ ​against​ ​the​ ​darkness.​ ​Slowly,​ ​so​ ​slowly​ ​he​ ​became​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​little​ ​things.​ ​His  body​ ​lay​ ​on​ ​something​ ​hard,​ ​a​ ​table,​ ​perhaps​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​The​ ​air​ ​was​ ​chilled.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​ringing​ ​in​ ​his  ears…​ ​wait,​ ​that​ ​was​ ​wrong.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​screaming.
His​ ​mouth​ ​was​ ​dry​ ​and​ ​he​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​lick​ ​his​ ​lips.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​he​ ​feel​ ​so​ ​sluggish?​ ​How​ ​had​ ​he​ ​come​ ​to​ ​be  laying​ ​against​ ​the​ ​hardness​ ​that​ ​was​ ​beneath​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​sounded​ ​like​ ​there​ ​were​ ​so​ ​many​ ​people​ ​in​ ​the  room.​ ​Was​ ​he​ ​laying​ ​in​ ​the​ ​road?​ ​Had​ ​he​ ​been​ ​at​ ​the​ ​park​ ​again?​ ​This​ ​was​ ​worse​ ​than​ ​the​ ​last​ ​time.  Usually​ ​they​ ​only​ ​hit​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​like​ ​this​ ​where​ ​they​ ​knocked​ ​him​ ​unconscious.​ ​Something​ ​was  wrong.​ ​Why​ ​couldn’t​ ​he​ ​make​ ​his​ ​limbs​ ​work.​ ​His​ ​mom​ ​would​ ​be​ ​worried.​ ​Usually​ ​she​ ​would​ ​call​ ​for him.​ ​Maybe​ ​she​ ​was​ ​and​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​hear​ ​it​ ​over​ ​the​ ​screaming.​ ​What​ ​were​ ​they​ ​saying.​ ​He​ ​recalled​ ​the last​ ​thing​ ​he​ ​had​ ​heard.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​at​ ​the​ ​treeline​ ​and​ ​it​ ​was​ ​night​ ​time.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​heard​ ​them,​ ​the voices​ ​as​ ​soft​ ​as​ ​the​ ​wind,​ ​soothing,​ ​calming.​ ​Run!​ ​Now​ ​they​ ​were​ ​screaming,​ ​muffled,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​the  were​ ​restrained​ ​by​ ​a​ ​force,​ ​unable​ ​to​ ​break​ ​through.
“You​ ​are​ ​so​ ​beautiful,​ ​little​ ​one.​ ​Can​ ​you​ ​open​ ​your​ ​eyes?​ ​I​ ​know​ ​you​ ​can​ ​hear​ ​me.”
Elia’s​ ​brow​ ​furrowed.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​that​ ​voice.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​quiet​ ​compared​ ​to​ ​the​ ​screaming​ ​but​ ​he​ ​had  heard​ ​it​ ​anyway.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​with​ ​this​ ​person.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​who​ ​they​ ​were.​ ​Why​ ​was​ ​it​ ​so  quiet​ ​and​ ​so​ ​loud​ ​all​ ​at​ ​once?​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​run​ ​but​ ​his​ ​legs​ ​wouldn’t​ ​move.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​sit​ ​up,​ ​to  crawl​ ​away​ ​but​ ​his​ ​body​ ​had​ ​betrayed​ ​him​ ​and​ ​lay​ ​still​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​hardness​ ​beneath​ ​him.​ ​​ ​He​ ​took​ ​a  shuddering​ ​breath,​ ​the​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​do.​ ​Breathe.​ ​He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​one​ ​voice​ ​in​ ​the​ ​screaming.  He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​anything​ ​of​ ​what​ ​they​ ​said.​ ​​
Bad​ ​ place! ​ ​ Bad ​ ​ place!​ ​ Pain!​ ​ Hurts! ​ ​ Get​ ​ up!​ ​ Get​ ​ up​ ​ Elia!
It​ ​came​ ​clear​ ​just​ ​before​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​hands​ ​upon​ ​him​ ​and​ ​the​ ​screaming​ ​became​ ​a​ ​ringing​​​ ​in​ ​his​ ​ears.​ ​All  that​ ​they​ ​did​ ​was​ ​brush​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​from​ ​his​ ​face.​ ​He​ ​felt​ ​eyes​ ​upon​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​but​ ​could​ ​only  manage​ ​a​ ​small​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​distress.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​he​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​this?​ ​Why​ ​couldn’t​ ​he​ ​move?​ ​His​ ​heart​ ​began​ ​to  race​ ​as​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​the​ ​hands​ ​shift.
“How​ ​old​ ​are​ ​you,​ ​my​ ​sweet?​ ​You​ ​can’t​ ​be​ ​more​ ​than​ ​twelve.​ ​You’re​ ​perfect.​ ​Will​ ​you​ ​open​ ​your​ ​eyes like​ ​a​ ​good​ ​girl?​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​see​ ​the​ ​color.​ ​It’s​ ​okay,​ ​honey.​ ​You​ ​won’t​ ​feel​ ​a​ ​thing​ ​and​ ​it​ ​will​ ​all​ ​be​ ​over soon.”
He​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​himself.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​girl!​ ​He​ ​was​ ​nearly​ ​fourteen!​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​move!​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to  run​ ​to​ ​where​ ​the​ ​voices​ ​were.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​say​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​would​ ​make​ ​this​ ​all​ ​go​ ​away,  but​ ​his​ ​mouth​ ​refused​ ​to​ ​do​ ​anything​ ​so​ ​all​ ​he​ ​could​ ​do​ ​was​ ​whimper.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​before​ ​him​ ​was​ ​pale,​ ​too  pale,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​curtain​ ​of​ ​hair​ ​that​ ​fell​ ​like​ ​cobwebs,​ ​a​ ​mix​ ​of​ ​blond​ ​and​ ​white,​ ​into​ ​his​ ​eyes.​ ​His​ ​shirt​ ​was  untucked,​ ​unbuttoned,​ ​his​ ​pants​ ​were​ ​open,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​that​ ​instant​ ​Elia​ ​wished​ ​he’d​ ​never​ ​opened​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​at all.​ ​Why​ ​would​ ​someone​ ​like​ ​that​ ​expose​ ​himself​ ​to​ ​a​ ​child…​ ​unless…
“There’s​ ​my​ ​good​ ​girl.​ ​You​ ​really​ ​are​ ​the​ ​most​ ​beautiful​ ​one​ ​that​ ​I​ ​have​ ​found​ ​yet.​ ​Don’t​ ​worry.​ ​I​ ​told you​ ​it​ ​won’t​ ​hurt​ ​and​ ​I​ ​meant​ ​it.​ ​None​ ​of​ ​the​ ​others​ ​ever​ ​complained,​ ​but​ ​then​ ​again,​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​really  sure​ ​how​ ​this​ ​stuff​ ​all​ ​works​ ​so​ ​maybe​ ​you​​​ will​ ​ ​feel​ ​it​ ​and​ ​just​ ​won’t​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​do​ ​anything​ ​about​ ​it.​ ​I’ll  be​ ​the​ ​last​ ​thing​ ​you​ ​feel.​ ​Won’t​ ​that​ ​be​ ​nice?”
Elia​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​shake​ ​his​ ​head​ ​no.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​could​ ​do​ ​was​ ​breath​ ​as​ ​a​ ​growing​ ​constriction​ ​gripped​ ​his​ ​chest  and​ ​his​ ​breaths​ ​became​ ​ragged.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​change.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​was​ ​a​ ​wolf​ ​he​ ​could​ ​run,​ ​run​ ​far​ ​away​ ​from  everything.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​run​ ​until​ ​there​ ​was​ ​nothing​ ​left​ ​of​ ​him​ ​and​ ​he​ ​could​ ​be​ ​free.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​his  pulse​ ​drumming​ ​in​ ​his​ ​ears.​ ​He​ ​desperately​ ​searched​ ​the​ ​room​ ​looking​ ​for​ ​anything​ ​that​ ​could​ ​help​ ​him,  anyone.​ ​Branches​ ​scraped​ ​across​ ​the​ ​window.​ ​Branches​ ​that​ ​turned​ ​into​ ​screams​ ​as​ ​gruff​ ​hands​ ​began​ ​to fumble​ ​with​ ​his​ ​clothes.

*​ ​*​ ​*

He​ ​had​ ​to​ ​school​ ​his​ ​expression​ ​as​ ​he​ ​walked​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​The​ ​wheelchair​ ​caught​ ​the attention​ ​of​ ​the​ ​nurse​ ​as​ ​one​ ​of​ ​its​ ​wheels​ ​hit​ ​the​ ​door frame​ ​when​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​hastily entered.​ ​She​ ​had​ ​just​ ​finished​ ​pulling​ ​his​ ​pants​ ​on​ ​and​ ​startled,​ ​dropping​ ​the​ ​shirt​ ​she’d​ ​picked on​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​handing​ ​it​ ​to​ ​her​ ​just​ ​as​ ​she​ ​fumbled​ ​to​ ​balance​ ​Elia​ ​so​ ​that​ ​she​ ​could reach​ ​it.​ ​His​ ​slight​ ​body​ ​nearly​ ​slipped​ ​from​ ​her​ ​grip​ ​and​ ​she​ ​let​ ​out​ ​a​ ​little​ ​eep​ ​as​ ​she​ ​steadied him.​ ​Gently​ ​the​ ​detective​ ​helped,​ ​pulling​ ​long​ ​dark​ ​hair​ ​out​ ​from​ ​the​ ​collar​ ​and​ ​settling​ ​it​ ​about Elia’s​ ​shoulders.​ ​Once​ ​he​ ​was​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​the​ ​shirt​ ​was​ ​pulled​ ​down​ ​around​ ​the​ ​body​ ​that​ ​was warm,​ ​but​ ​nearly​ ​lifeless,​ ​he​ ​cradled​ ​him​ ​with​ ​one​ ​arm​ ​while​ ​wrapping​ ​the​ ​blanket​ ​about​ ​him before​ ​lifting​ ​him​ ​into​ ​the​ ​wheelchair.​ ​Without​ ​a​ ​second​ ​thought​ ​he​ ​had​ ​grabbed​ ​the​ ​socks​ ​that had​ ​been​ ​beside​ ​where​ ​Elia​ ​sat,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​shoes​ ​so​ ​he​ ​could​ ​finish​ ​dressing​ ​him.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first time​ ​he​ ​would​ ​see​ ​him​ ​in​ ​actual​ ​clothes.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​always​ ​been​ ​too​ ​thin​ ​hospital​ ​gowns…​ ​or​ ​his own​ ​blood.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​took​ ​a​ ​shaking​ ​breath.
“Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​any​ ​kids,​ ​sir?”​ ​The​ ​woman’s​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​soft​ ​but​ ​he​ ​still​ ​spooked.​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​even realised​ ​that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​still​ ​there.
“No.​ ​None​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​of.”
“I​ ​thought,​ ​when​ ​I​ ​first​ ​started,​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​your​ ​son.​ ​You​ ​treat​ ​him​ ​the​ ​way​ ​that​ ​a​ ​parent would​ ​treat​ ​one​ ​of​ ​their​ ​kids.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​nurses​ ​told​ ​me​ ​the​ ​story​ ​of​ ​how​ ​he​ ​came​ ​to​ ​be here​ ​and​ ​how​ ​old​ ​he​ ​is.​ ​I​ ​still​ ​can’t​ ​believe​ ​it.​ ​Now​ ​it​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​you​ ​could​ ​be​ ​his​ ​grandfather​ ​and he’s​ ​still,​ ​just​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​he​ ​was.​ ​Has​ ​it​ ​really​ ​been​ ​fifty​ ​years?”
The​ ​detective​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​with​ ​such​ ​a​ ​tortured​ ​expression​ ​that​ ​she​ ​visibly​ ​bit​ ​her​ ​tongue​ ​and gasped.
“I’m​ ​sorry,​ ​sir.​ ​I​ ​shouldn’t​ ​have​ ​said​ ​anything.​ ​You’re​ ​just,​ ​very​ ​good​ ​with​ ​him.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​the​ ​most caring​ ​person​ ​that​ ​comes​ ​here.”​ ​She​ ​offered​ ​him​ ​a​ ​smile​ ​and​ ​turned,​ ​leaving​ ​them​ ​alone.
Had​ ​it​ ​really​ ​been​ ​that​ ​long?​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​it​ ​had​ ​even​ ​as​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​believe. He​ ​sighed​ ​as​ ​he​ ​carefully​ ​checked​ ​how​ ​Elia​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​chair.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​were​ ​open.​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​so sad.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​stretched​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​his​ ​thumb​ ​around​ ​Elia’s​ ​face,​ ​wishing​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​him comfort.
“It’s​ ​okay,​ ​Elia.​ ​We’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​the​ ​woods​ ​today.​ ​You​ ​will​ ​feel​ ​better,​ ​I​ ​just​ ​know​ ​it.​ ​Maybe soon…​ ​soon​ ​you​ ​will​ ​talk​ ​with​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​want​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​that​ ​nothing​ ​can​ ​hurt​ ​you​ ​now.​ ​I​ ​fixed everything.​ ​There’s​ ​no​ ​more​ ​pain.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​them,​ ​I​ ​found​ ​all​ ​the​ ​other​ ​children​ ​and​ ​now​ ​they have​ ​peace.​ ​I​ ​just…​ ​I​ ​wish​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​you​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​Elia,​ ​I​ ​​ ​tried.”
His​ ​hands​ ​wrapped​ ​around​ ​the​ ​handles​ ​of​ ​the​ ​wheelchair​ ​and​ ​he​ ​careful​ ​maneuvered​ ​them through​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​into​ ​the​ ​hallway.​ ​Before​ ​going​ ​any​ ​further,​ ​he​ ​grabbed​ ​another​ ​blanket which​ ​he​ ​settled​ ​about​ ​Elia’s​ ​shoulders​ ​and​ ​then​ ​across​ ​his​ ​lap.​ ​He​ ​almost​ ​looked​ ​like​ ​a​ ​normal little​ ​boy,​ ​not​ ​one​ ​who​ ​had​ ​been​ ​through​ ​what​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​through,​ ​not​ ​one​ ​who​ ​should​ ​have grown​ ​into​ ​a​ ​man​ ​and​ ​known​ ​life​ ​and​ ​love,​ ​not​ ​pain.​ ​The​ ​detective​ ​took​ ​a​ ​deep​ ​breath​ ​before he​ ​began​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​them​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​door,​ ​to​ ​the​ ​yard,​ ​and​ ​further​ ​to​ ​the​ ​trees​ ​that​ ​grew beyond.

*​ ​*​ ​*

Elia​ ​blinked​ ​tears​ ​from​ ​his​ ​eyes.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​was​ ​across​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​Pain​ ​enfolded​ ​him,​ ​so​ ​much​ ​pain​ ​from​ ​between his​ ​legs​ ​and​ ​within​ ​his​ ​pelvis​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​do​ ​nothing​ ​more​ ​than​ ​lay​ ​there.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​dropped​ ​on​ ​the​ ​floor from​ ​the​ ​table.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​had​ ​said​ ​he’d​ ​ruined​ ​everything.​ ​He’d​ ​ruined​ ​everything​ ​because​ ​he’d​ ​been​ ​a​ ​boy​ ​instead of​ ​a​ ​girl.​ ​Then​ ​the​ ​man​ ​had​ ​found​ ​a​ ​knife​ ​and​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​make​ ​him​ ​a​ ​girl.​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​never​ ​known​ ​that​ ​there​ ​could be​ ​so​ ​much​ ​pain​ ​that​ ​it​ ​could​ ​make​ ​you​ ​numb.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​was​ ​the​ ​blood​ ​pumping​ ​in​ ​his​ ​ears​ ​and screaming,​ ​screaming​ ​that​ ​was​ ​muffled​ ​as​ ​though​ ​it​ ​was​ ​still​ ​through​ ​glass​ ​through​ ​the​ ​walls,​ ​screaming​ ​from the​ ​trees​ ​that​ ​normally​ ​whispered​ ​softly​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​that​ ​now​ ​reacted​ ​to​ ​his​ ​pain​ ​and​ ​horror.​ ​No​ ​one​ ​would​ ​save him.​ ​He’d​ ​run​ ​from​ ​the​ ​one​ ​person​ ​who​ ​always​ ​had,​ ​and​ ​had​ ​yet​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​would​ ​protect​ ​him,​ ​be​ ​by  his​ ​side,​ ​when​ ​he​ ​grew​ ​to​ ​be​ ​alone.
Slowly​ ​he​ ​tried​ ​again.​ ​He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​move.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​away​ ​tears​ ​as​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​intensified​ ​and​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​fresh​ ​blood well​ ​from​ ​between​ ​his​ ​legs.​ ​His​ ​fingers​ ​twitched​ ​and​ ​his​ ​arm​ ​sluggishly​ ​obeyed.​ ​He​ ​bashed​ ​himself​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face  with​ ​his​ ​wrist​ ​and​ ​fought​ ​not​ ​to​ ​whimper.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​would​ ​happen​ ​if​ ​he​ ​drew​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​himself.  He​ ​turned​ ​his​ ​head​ ​and​ ​saw​ ​a​ ​bloodied​ ​bit​ ​of​ ​flesh,​ ​not​ ​far​ ​from​ ​where​ ​he​ ​lay,​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​discarded​ ​like​ ​it was​ ​garbage.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​narrowed,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​place​ ​what​ ​it​ ​was.​ ​It​ ​looked​ ​foreign,​ ​alien​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​but​ ​then​ ​he realized.​ ​That…​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​sobbed​ ​and​ ​reached​ ​for​ ​the​ ​piece​ ​that​ ​was​ ​missing.​ ​He​ ​wanted to​ ​feel​ ​whole​ ​again.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​go​ ​home.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​the​ ​woods​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​the​ ​music that​ ​the​ ​the​ ​whispered​ ​voices​ ​made​ ​as​ ​the​ ​wind​ ​blew​ ​through​ ​the​ ​trees.​ ​He​ ​heard​ ​the​ ​one​ ​he​ ​shared​ ​a​ ​room​ ​with shift,​ ​his​ ​attention​ ​drawn​ ​by​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​him​ ​crying.
“You​ ​want​ ​it​ ​back,​ ​you​ ​worthless​ ​little​ ​brat,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​have​ ​it.​ ​It’s​ ​all​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​over​ ​soon​ ​anyway.​ ​You​ ​ruined  everything!”
Elia​ ​flinched​ ​when​ ​worn​ ​boots​ ​came​ ​into​ ​his​ ​field​ ​of​ ​vision.​ ​He​ ​waited​ ​to​ ​be​ ​kicked,​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​braced for​ ​it,​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​felt​ ​something​ ​cold​ ​hit​ ​his​ ​leg.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​been​ ​kicked​ ​but​ ​that​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​wasn’t​ ​attached  anymore​ ​so​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​pain.​ ​He​ ​swallowed​ ​hard,​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​opening​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​stood​ ​over​ ​him.  What​ ​was​ ​he​ ​waiting​ ​for?​ ​Elia​ ​could​ ​tell​ ​that​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​hurt​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​who​ ​stood​ ​over​ ​him​ ​bled​ ​with​ ​a maliciousness​ ​that​ ​stained​ ​the​ ​room​ ​more​ ​than​ ​the​ ​steady​ ​stream​ ​of​ ​blood​ ​that​ ​dripped​ ​from​ ​those​ ​mutilated  places​ ​between​ ​Elia’s​ ​legs.​ ​He​ ​stood​ ​there,​ ​quietly​ ​regarding​ ​him​ ​before​ ​rubbing​ ​the​ ​crotch​ ​of​ ​his​ ​pants​ ​with​ ​a hand,​ ​smearing​ ​the​ ​blood​ ​from​ ​it​ ​on​ ​the​ ​fabric​ ​carelessly.
“You​ ​felt​ ​good​ ​anyway,​ ​didn’t​ ​you​ ​beautiful?​ ​I​ ​barely​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​difference​ ​once​ ​I​ ​was​ ​inside​ ​you.”​ ​The​ ​man’s  voice​ ​was​ ​a​ ​soft​ ​croon.
All​ ​Elia​ ​could​ ​do​ ​was​ ​fight​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​still​ ​as​ ​everything​ ​in​ ​him​ ​suddenly​ ​began​ ​to​ ​burn.​ ​He​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​only heard​ ​the​ ​man​ ​leave,​ ​his​ ​footsteps​ ​on​ ​the​ ​rough​ ​wooden​ ​floor​ ​and​ ​then​ ​the​ ​door​ ​before​ ​his​ ​footsteps​ ​were muffled​ ​by​ ​soil.​ ​It​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​an​ ​eternity​ ​that​ ​he​ ​lay​ ​there.​ ​His​ ​hands​ ​began​ ​to​ ​ache,​ ​his​ ​mouth,​ ​his​ ​very​ ​bones protesting​ ​against​ ​the​ ​confines​ ​of​ ​his​ ​flesh​ ​as​ ​he​ ​took​ ​panting​ ​breaths,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​calm.​ ​He​ ​wanted​ ​to run.​ ​HE​ ​WANTED​ ​TO​ ​RUN!
The​ ​door​ ​creaked​ ​open​ ​and​ ​Elia​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​tight,​ ​curling​ ​his​ ​hands​ ​into​ ​fists,​ ​digging​ ​claws​ ​into​ ​the​ ​flesh​ ​of his​ ​palms​ ​as​ ​he​ ​waited​ ​for​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​boots​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wood​ ​of​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​Instead​ ​it​ ​was​ ​paws,​ ​the​ ​soft​ ​sound​ ​of  leathery​ ​paw​ ​pads​ ​surrounded​ ​in​ ​fur​ ​and​ ​the​ ​distinguishable​ ​click​ ​of​ ​claws.
Elia​ ​turned​ ​his​ ​head​ ​and​ ​opened​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​just​ ​as​ ​she​ ​changed.​ ​Now,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​the​ ​wolf​ ​who​ ​had​ ​let​ ​herself​ ​into  the​ ​room,​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​knelt​ ​beside​ ​him​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​from​ ​his​ ​face​ ​in​ ​a​ ​touch​ ​that​ ​was​ ​so​ ​gentle.​ ​No!  No!​ ​How​ ​had​ ​she​ ​found​ ​him​ ​when​ ​he​ ​had​ ​run​ ​from​ ​her?​ ​What​ ​did​ ​it​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​she​ ​had​ ​been​ ​a​ ​wolf?​ ​She​ ​never changed!​ ​She​ ​said​ ​that​ ​they​ ​should​ ​never​ ​change​ ​because​ ​bad​ ​things​ ​happened​ ​when​ ​wolves​ ​changed.​ ​Her​ ​hands  ghosted​ ​touch​ ​over​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​him,​ ​her​ ​eyes​ ​wide.
“Elia,​ ​Elia​ ​I’m​ ​sorry.​ ​I’m​ ​so​ ​sorry.​ ​I…”​ ​She​ ​looked​ ​back​ ​up​ ​to​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​a​ ​tear​ ​from​ ​his​ ​cheek.
“Mom,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​you​ ​to​ ​see​ ​me​ ​like​ ​this.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​you​ ​to​ ​worry.”​ ​He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​move​ ​his​ ​hands​ ​to​ ​cover​ ​the  damage​ ​that​ ​she’d​ ​already​ ​seen​ ​and​ ​drew​ ​his​ ​legs​ ​together.​ ​She​ ​blinked​ ​at​ ​him,​ ​a​ ​furrow​ ​growing​ ​upon​ ​her​ ​brow.
“Baby,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​it.​ ​You​ ​have​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​it​ ​right​ ​now​ ​because​ ​if​ ​you​ ​change,​ ​you​ ​might​ ​die.”​ ​Her​ ​voice​ ​was  quiet​ ​as​ ​a​ ​whisper​ ​and​ ​shook.​ ​She’d​ ​already​ ​seen​ ​too​ ​much.​ ​“You​ ​have​ ​to​ ​heal.​ ​I​ ​know​ ​it​ ​hurts​ ​but​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to…”
She​ ​stopped​ ​in​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​her​ ​sentence,​ ​or​ ​maybe​ ​that​ ​was​ ​all​ ​she​ ​had​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​say.​ ​She​ ​cocked​ ​her​ ​head​ ​and,  in​ ​the​ ​blink​ ​of​ ​an​ ​eye,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​a​ ​wolf​ ​again.​ ​She​ ​gently​ ​stepped​ ​over​ ​him​ ​and​ ​under​ ​the​ ​table,​ ​only​ ​leaving​ ​a couple​ ​paw​ ​prints​ ​made​ ​of​ ​Elia’s​ ​blood​ ​as​ ​evidence​ ​that​ ​she​ ​existed​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​He​ ​heard​ ​boots​ ​outside​ ​before​ ​the​ ​door opened​ ​and​ ​they​​ ​could​ ​echo​ ​on​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​he​ ​shared​ ​with​ ​them.​ ​Elia​ ​didn’t​ ​look​ ​at​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​fighting​ ​for​ ​even breaths,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​force​ ​a​ ​calm​ ​that​ ​seemed​ ​so​ ​distant​ ​in​ ​this​ ​world​ ​of​ ​pain,​ ​losing​ ​to​ ​a​ ​body​ ​that​ ​only​ ​wanted​ ​to run.​ ​Everything​ ​hurt​ ​so​ ​much.​ ​He​ ​wasn’t​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​a​ ​rifle​ ​being​ ​loaded​ ​and​ ​cocked,​ ​wasn’t​ ​aware​ ​of  anything​ ​until​ ​a​ ​deep​ ​growl​ ​began​ ​to​ ​rumble​ ​from​ ​the​ ​spot​ ​where​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​was​ ​crouched.​ ​He​ ​looked  to​ ​find​ ​what​ ​she​ ​was​ ​growling​ ​at​ ​only​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​the​ ​muzzle​ ​of​ ​the​ ​rifle​ ​as​ ​it​ ​became​ ​level​ ​with​ ​the​ ​line​ ​of​ ​his​ ​eyes.
“I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​last​ ​one​ ​to​ ​know​ ​your​ ​beauty.”
He​ ​didn’t​ ​even​ ​get​ ​to​ ​blink​ ​before​ ​she​ ​erupted,​ ​jumping​ ​for​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​aimed​ ​for​ ​her​ ​only​ ​son​ ​like​ ​he​ ​meant​ ​to put​ ​an​ ​animal​ ​out​ ​of​ ​its​ ​misery.​ ​Elia​ ​blinked​ ​again​ ​as​ ​the​ ​rifle​ ​went​ ​off,​ ​the​ ​shot​ ​missing​ ​him​ ​and​ ​finding​ ​one of​ ​the​ ​table​ ​legs​ ​before​ ​it​ ​embedded​ ​in​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​The​ ​sound​ ​startled​ ​him,​ ​the​ ​smell,​ ​then​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​of​ ​blood.​ ​He  blinked​ ​and​ ​cried​ ​out.​ ​His​ ​body​ ​turned​ ​to​ ​fire​ ​as​ ​his​ ​senses​ ​tuned​ ​and​ ​he​ ​rolled​ ​to​ ​his​ ​feet.​ ​The​ ​door​ ​was​ ​closed.  He​ ​couldn’t​ ​run​ ​so​ ​he​ ​paced​ ​through​ ​his​ ​own​ ​blood,​ ​still​ ​fighting​ ​for​ ​control,​ ​his​ ​paws​ ​skittering​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wood​ ​as  the​ ​man​ ​and​ ​the​ ​larger​ ​wolf​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​crashed​ ​about​ ​the​ ​room.​ ​The​ ​smell​ ​of​ ​blood​ ​was​ ​making  him​ ​dizzy,​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​overloading​ ​him​ ​as​ ​he​ ​fought​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​his​ ​feet​ ​under​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​scrambled​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​way​ ​as  they​ ​fell​ ​towards​ ​him​ ​and​ ​whimpered​ ​when​ ​his​ ​hind​ ​legs​ ​began​ ​to​ ​give​ ​out.
He​ ​stood,​ ​stone​ ​still​, so​ ​afraid​ ​that​ ​if​ ​he​ ​moved,​ ​he​ ​would​ ​fall,​ ​shaking​ ​with​ ​his​ ​need​ ​to​ ​collapse.​ ​Soon,​ ​he​ ​could run​ ​soon,​ ​even​ ​as​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​never​ ​know​ ​what​ ​it​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​to​ ​run,​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​breeze​ ​in his​ ​fur​ ​and​ ​the​ ​soil​ ​between​ ​his​ ​toes,​ ​the​ ​forest​ ​around​ ​him​ ​and​ ​its​ ​song​ ​embracing​ ​him​ ​in​ ​warmth​ ​and​ ​calm,  making​ ​him​ ​feel​ ​whole.
Gentle​ ​hands​ ​smoothed​ ​through​ ​his​ ​fur​ ​and​ ​he​ ​whined.​ ​He​ ​leaned​ ​into​ ​the​ ​touch,​ ​unable​ ​to​ ​do​ ​anything​ ​more.  He​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​a​ ​dripping,​ ​hear​ ​a​ ​dripping​ ​from​ ​somewhere,​ ​maybe​ ​it​ ​was​ ​from​ ​him.​ ​Then​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​registered.​ ​It  was​ ​his​ ​mother’s​ ​voice.​ ​His​ ​mother​ ​was​ ​asking​ ​him​ ​for​ ​something.​ ​She​ ​sounded​ ​so​ ​sad.​ ​Why​ ​was​ ​she​ ​sad?​ ​She  was​ ​asking​ ​him​ ​to​ ​change.​ ​He​ ​looked​ ​down​ ​to​ ​where​ ​hands​ ​should​ ​be​ ​and​ ​found​ ​paws.​ ​He’d​ ​changed!​ ​Some​ ​part of​ ​him​ ​hadn’t​ ​realized​ ​and​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​went​ ​wide,​ ​gleaming​ ​like​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​on​ ​snow​ ​during​ ​the​ ​coldest​ ​day​ ​of​ ​winter.  She​ ​had​ ​told​ ​him​ ​not​ ​to​ ​change​ ​and​ ​he​ ​had​ ​done​ ​it​ ​anyway.​ ​Now​ ​she​ ​seemed​ ​like​ ​she​ ​was​ ​afraid. Her​ ​hands​ ​were​ ​such​ ​a​ ​comfort​ ​that​ ​he​ ​involuntarily​ ​sat.​ ​Just​ ​as​ ​quickly​ ​as​ ​he​ ​had​ ​become​ ​a​ ​wolf,​ ​he  transitioned​ ​back​ ​and​ ​collapsed​ ​into​ ​her.
“Elia,​ ​my​ ​strong​ ​Elia.​ ​It’s​ ​okay,​ ​somehow​ ​it​ ​will​ ​be​ ​okay.​ ​I’ll​ ​make​ ​sure.​ ​Please​ ​just…”    Something​ ​happened.​ ​Her​ ​words​ ​stopped​ ​just​ ​as​ ​there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​loud​ ​noise.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​still​ ​having​ ​problems  understanding​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​was​ ​happening​ ​around​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​still​ ​wasn’t​ ​only​ ​human.​ ​Her​ ​hands​ ​had​ ​gone  limp​ ​and​ ​he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​brace​ ​himself​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he​ ​wouldn’t​ ​fall.​ ​She​ ​slowly​ ​move​ ​away​ ​from​ ​him,​ ​her​ ​hands​ ​slipping  from​ ​their​ ​embrace​ ​until​ ​he​ ​saw​ ​that​ ​she​ ​was​ ​falling​ ​back​ ​to​ ​the​ ​floor.​ ​Something​ ​was​ ​wrong.​ ​Her​ ​face.​ ​She  only​ ​had​ ​half​ ​a​ ​face.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​as​ ​her​​ ​head​ ​hit​ ​the​ ​floor,​ ​the​ ​remaining​ ​contents​ ​spilling​ ​from​ ​it​ ​as​ ​it​ ​made​ ​a hollow​ ​sound.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​rose​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​man​ ​braced​ ​against​ ​the​ ​wall,​ ​reloading​ ​his​ ​rifle.​ ​He​ ​had…​ ​he​ ​had…
Rage,​ ​like​ ​nothing​ ​Elia​ ​had​ ​ever​ ​felt,​ ​gripped​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​window​ ​smashed​ ​as​ ​the​ ​branch​ ​struck​ ​it,​ ​driven​ ​by​ ​the  screams​ ​of​ ​the​ ​wind​ ​outside,​ ​the​ ​door​ ​cracked​ ​open.​ ​Elia​ ​sobbed​ ​once,​ ​took​ ​a​ ​great​ ​breath,​ ​and​ ​screamed.
“CISCO!”
He​ ​was​ ​at​ ​once​ ​enveloped​ ​in​ ​a​ ​darkness​ ​that​ ​was​ ​so​ ​comfortable​ ​and​ ​familiar​ ​he​ ​could,​ ​at​ ​last,​ ​take​ ​a​ ​gentle  breath.​ ​He​ ​closed​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​relaxed.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​this​ ​for​ ​so​ ​long.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​the​ ​place​ ​he​ ​had​ ​almost come​ ​so​ ​many​ ​times.
“Cisco…”​ ​he​ ​repeated​ ​the​ ​name,​ ​meaning​ ​only​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​it​ ​within​ ​his​ ​mouth​ ​one​ ​more​ ​time.
“I’m​ ​here,​ ​Elia.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​not​ ​alone.”​ ​Cool​ ​hands​ ​found​ ​him​ ​and​ ​moved​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​him​ ​comfort,​ ​just​ ​as​ ​his​ ​mother’s  had.
“Why​ ​did​ ​this​ ​happen?​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​understand.​ ​Wasn’t​ ​I​ ​good​ ​enough?​ ​Why…​ ​why​ ​is​ ​there​ ​so​ ​much​ ​pain?”​ ​Elia  opened​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​just​ ​as​ ​he​ ​was​ ​drawn​ ​into​ ​an​ ​embrace​ ​that​ ​felt​ ​as​ ​though​ ​it​ ​were​ ​made​ ​of​ ​spider​ ​silk​ ​and  shadows.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​uneven​ ​breaths​ ​against​ ​his​ ​hair.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​growing​ ​within​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​could​ ​sense​ ​the presence​ ​of​ ​another,​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him.​ ​This​ ​one​ ​who​ ​smelled​ ​of​ ​blood​ ​and​ ​leaves,​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him​ ​so​ ​close,​ ​this person​ ​wasn’t​ ​really​ ​a​ ​person​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​a​ ​Fae.
“I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​child.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know.”
“Why​ ​is​ ​everyone​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​you?​ ​Why​ ​wasn’t​ ​I​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​you​ ​before?”​ ​Elia​ ​felt​ ​so​ ​tired.​ ​He​ ​just​ ​wanted  to​ ​give​ ​himself​ ​to​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​so​ ​the​ ​pain​ ​would​ ​stop.
“Aren’t​ ​you​ ​afraid?”​ ​There​ ​was​ ​hesitation​ ​and​ ​Elia​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​a​ ​wave​ ​of​ ​doubt​ ​from​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him.    “No.​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​afraid.​ ​I​ ​know​ ​what​ ​you​ ​are​ ​and​ ​I​ ​could​ ​never​ ​be​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​you.”​ ​He​ ​fought​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​open  and​ ​he​ ​nuzzled​ ​against​ ​a​ ​strong​ ​chest.
“What?”​ ​Surprise​ ​colored​ ​the​ ​voice​ ​that​ ​reverberated​ ​beneath​ ​his​ ​ear.
“You​ ​are​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​me​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​want…​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​know​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​with​ ​you​ ​and​ ​find  out​ ​what​ ​you​ ​are​ ​like.​ ​I’ve​ ​dreamt​ ​about​ ​that​ ​for​ ​so​ ​long.​ ​You​ ​could​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​about​ ​my​ ​father,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​could​ ​tell  you​ ​about​ ​the​ ​sunshine.​ ​I’m​ ​not​ ​afraid.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​my​ ​only​ ​friend.”​ ​He​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​his​ ​arms​ ​up​ ​but​ ​his​ ​body protested.​ ​“I’m​ ​happy​ ​you​ ​are​ ​here.”
The​ ​one​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him​ ​shivered​ ​before​ ​responding.​ ​“Dear​ ​sweet​ ​child,​ ​though​ ​I​ ​belong​ ​to​ ​you,​ ​you​ ​should​ ​be  afraid.”
Elia​ ​used​ ​the​ ​remainder​ ​of​ ​his​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​pull​ ​away​ ​so​ ​that​ ​he​ ​could​ ​see​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​had​ ​come​ ​to  him.​ ​Hair​ ​the​ ​color​ ​of​ ​darkest​ ​garnet​ ​framed​ ​a​ ​face​ ​that​ ​held​ ​swirled​ ​ghost​ ​fire​ ​markings,​ ​almost​ ​as​ ​though​ ​the scars​ ​that​ ​made​ ​them​ ​still​ ​burned.​ ​Eyes​ ​that​ ​were​ ​just​ ​as​ ​cold​ ​gazed​ ​at​ ​him.​ ​This​ ​Fae​ ​did​ ​not​ ​look​ ​like​ ​it​ ​was  alive,​ ​but​ ​a​ ​shadow​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​born​ ​from​ ​death.​ ​Elia​ ​would​ ​have​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​him​ ​why​ ​when​ ​this​ ​was​ ​all​ ​over.​ ​He knew​ ​that​ ​face.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​it​ ​a​ ​hundred​ ​times.
“You​ ​don’t​ ​belong​ ​to​ ​me​ ​or​ ​to​ ​anyone​ ​else.​ ​You​ ​are​ ​free.”​ ​​ ​his​ ​breaths​ ​came​ ​in​ ​shallow.​ ​“I​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​die.​ ​It’s  not​ ​fair.”
“I​ ​won’t​ ​let​ ​you​ ​die.​ ​You​ ​said​ ​you​ ​would​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​about​ ​the​ ​sunshine​ ​and​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​about​ ​it​ ​very​ ​much.​
I want​ ​to​ ​know​ ​it​ ​through​ ​your​ ​eyes.​ ​You​ ​rest.​ ​You​ ​rest​ ​and​ ​I’ll​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​everything.​ ​When​ ​you​ ​wake​ ​up,​ ​I’ll  be​ ​there.​ ​I​ ​promise.”
Elia​ ​nodded​ ​even​ ​as​ ​he​ ​felt​ ​himself​ ​lowered.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​carefully​ ​laid​ ​out​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​floor,​ ​but​ ​somehow​ ​it​ ​wasn’t​ ​as hard​ ​as​ ​it​ ​was​ ​before.​ ​The​ ​pain​ ​slowly​ ​faded​ ​from​ ​his​ ​perception,​ ​the​ ​fear,​ ​and​ ​all​ ​that​ ​was​ ​left​ ​was​ ​the  darkness​ ​that​ ​surrounded​ ​him,​ ​even​ ​with​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​wide​ ​open. He​ ​didn’t​ ​hear​ ​what​ ​happened,​ ​the​ ​screaming​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​hurt​ ​him,​ ​the​ ​slow​ ​torture​ ​that​ ​happened​ ​as​ ​a  form​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​human​ ​was​ ​twisted​ ​beyond​ ​recognition​ ​as​ ​his​ ​soul​ ​was​ ​consumed​ ​while​ ​he​ ​still​ ​lived.​ ​Elia  didn’t​ ​hear​ ​the​ ​sirens,​ ​the​ ​foot​ ​falls​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​responders,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​words​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​would​ ​someday​ ​consider  him​ ​to​ ​be​ ​his​ ​only​ ​friend.

*​ ​*​ ​*

Elia​ ​blinked.​ ​The​ ​world​ ​felt​ ​so​ ​out​ ​of​ ​focus.​ ​It​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​he’d​ ​just​ ​been​ ​moving,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​was​ ​clearly sitting​ ​in​ ​a​ ​chair.​ ​He​ ​blinked​ ​again​ ​and​ ​swallowed.​ ​He​ ​was…​ ​he​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the​ ​forest.​ ​The​ ​trees grew​ ​up​ ​from​ ​the​ ​rich​ ​dark​ ​earth​ ​and​ ​he​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​the​ ​various​ ​worms​ ​and​ ​insects​ ​that​ ​nestled amidst​ ​the​ ​detritus​ ​on​ ​the​ ​forest​ ​floor.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​crisp,​ ​but​ ​warm,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​could​ ​smell​ ​the​ ​ferns​ ​that had​ ​just​ ​raised​ ​their​ ​fists​ ​against​ ​the​ ​cold,​ ​angry​ ​to​ ​have​ ​been​ ​made​ ​to​ ​wait​ ​as​ ​frost​ ​and​ ​snow ruled​ ​the​ ​land​ ​during​ ​the​ ​winter.
His​ ​head​ ​rose​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​path​ ​before​ ​him.​ ​His​ ​gaze​ ​fell​ ​to​ ​one​ ​of​ ​his​ ​hands​ ​before​ ​rising​ ​as​ ​well. He​ ​felt​ ​bigger​ ​than​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been.​ ​He​ ​felt​ ​different.​ ​He​ ​remembered​ ​hearing​ ​a​ ​voice​ ​that sometimes​ ​he​ ​had​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​say​ ​something​ ​back​ ​to.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who spoke​ ​to​ ​him​ ​but​ ​he​ ​found​ ​that​ ​voice​ ​to​ ​be​ ​such​ ​a​ ​comfort.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​his​ ​name.​ ​He had​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​him​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been​ ​listening.
His​ ​eyes​ ​found​ ​a​ ​darkness​ ​before​ ​them.​ ​It​ ​wasn’t​ ​a​ ​shadow,​ ​though​ ​it​ ​was​ ​made​ ​from​ ​them.​ ​He knew​ ​that​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​shadow.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​comfort​ ​of​ ​its​ ​embrace.
“Cisco…”​ ​just​ ​a​ ​whisper​ ​from​ ​his​ ​lips.​ ​That​ ​one​ ​had​ ​been​ ​promised​ ​and​ ​made​ ​promises.​ ​That one​ ​was​ ​free,​ ​but​ ​still​ ​held​ ​him​ ​as​ ​though​ ​some​ ​part​ ​of​ ​him​ ​belonged.
“I’ve​ ​brought​ ​him.​ ​He’s​ ​here.​ ​Please,​ ​please​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​that​ ​he​ ​will​ ​wake.​ ​Please!”
Elia​ ​flinched.​ ​He​ ​hadn’t​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​there​ ​was​ ​someone​ ​else​ ​so​ ​near.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​voice.​ ​It was​ ​him,​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​always​ ​spoke​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​one​ ​who​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​say​ ​something​ ​to.
“I-I’m​ ​awake.”​ ​He​ ​took​ ​even​ ​breaths​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​his​ ​hair​ ​from​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​with​ ​one​ ​of​ ​his​ ​hands. “I’m​ ​awake…”
A​ ​warm​ ​hand​ ​gripped​ ​his​ ​shoulder.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​this​ ​touch.​ ​This​ ​touch​ ​was​ ​caring,​ ​loving,​ ​and always​ ​warm​ ​and​ ​gentle.​ ​His​ ​fingers​ ​covered​ ​that​ ​hand​ ​before​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​his​ ​head​ ​toward​ ​it. This​ ​belonged​ ​to​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​had​ ​cared​ ​for​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​this​ ​touch​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​the voice.
“So​ ​you​ ​are…​ ​Elia,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​waited​ ​for​ ​so​ ​long​ ​just​ ​to​ ​hear​ ​your​ ​voice.”​ ​Those​ ​words​ ​were​ ​just​ ​a low​ ​murmur,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​made​ ​them​ ​was​ ​afraid​ ​that​ ​some​ ​spell​ ​would​ ​be​ ​broken​ ​if he​ ​uttered​ ​much​ ​more​ ​than​ ​that.​ ​Elia​ ​felt​ ​the​ ​hand​ ​that​ ​gripped​ ​him​ ​shift​ ​until​ ​the​ ​man​ ​who had​ ​been​ ​behind​ ​him​ ​rounded​ ​his​ ​seat​ ​and​ ​knelt​ ​before​ ​him,​ ​carefully​ ​keeping​ ​hold​ ​of​ ​his fingers.​ ​“I​ ​tried​ ​Elia,​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​make​ ​things​ ​right.​ ​I​ ​found…​ ​I​ ​found​ ​all​ ​of​ ​the​ ​others​ ​and​ ​brought them​ ​back​ ​to​ ​their​ ​families.​ ​You​ ​were​ ​the​ ​only​ ​one​ ​I​ ​could​ ​never​ ​find​ ​anything​ ​out​ ​about.”
“That’s​ ​right.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​others.​ ​That​ ​person…​ ​I​ ​never​ ​knew​ ​him.”​ ​Elia​ ​got​ ​a​ ​shiver​ ​and​ ​another warm​ ​hand​ ​rose​ ​to​ ​steady​ ​him.​ ​“I​ ​only​ ​knew​ ​my​ ​mom.”
“Your​ ​mom,​ ​she…​ ​she’s…”
“She’s​ ​dead.​ ​I​ ​remember.​ ​She​ ​came​ ​to​ ​find​ ​me,​ ​somehow​ ​she​ ​found​ ​me​ ​and​ ​then…”​ ​his​ ​voice trailed​ ​off.​ ​Elia​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​this​ ​person​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​rest.​ ​The​ ​infinite​ ​regret​ ​within​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​said more​ ​than​ ​his​ ​words​ ​ever​ ​could.​ ​“I​ ​had​ ​run​ ​away,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​came​ ​to​ ​find​ ​me​ ​anyway.​ ​I​ ​see​ ​now… it​ ​was​ ​stupid.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​only​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​me​ ​because​ ​she​ ​didn’t​ ​understand,​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​is not​ ​the​ ​danger​ ​and​ ​the​ ​one​ ​within​ ​it​ ​is​ ​not​ ​to​ ​be​ ​feared,​ ​but​ ​free.​ ​We​ ​both​ ​belong​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other and​ ​are​ ​ourselves,​ ​Fae​ ​and​ ​Wolf.”
“Fae…”​ ​his​ ​fingers​ ​tightened​ ​the​ ​smallest​ ​amount​ ​as​ ​his​ ​words​ ​shook.​ ​“…and​ ​Wolf.​ ​The​ ​one who​ ​came​ ​to​ ​you,​ ​was​ ​with​ ​you…​ ​he​ ​is​ ​the​ ​wolf?”
Their​ ​eyes​ ​met​ ​and​ ​Elia’s​ ​momentarily​ ​lit​ ​with​ ​ghost​ ​fire.​ ​“No.​ ​I’m​ ​the​ ​wolf.​ ​My​ ​guardian​ ​is​ ​the Fae,​ ​though​ ​he​ ​is​ ​more​ ​than​ ​that​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​a​ ​wolf​ ​long​ ​ago,​ ​but​ ​something​ ​happened​ ​so he​ ​is​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​what​ ​he​ ​was.​ ​I​ ​know​ ​that​ ​now.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​learned​ ​so​ ​many​ ​things​ ​while​ ​I​ ​was​ ​in​ ​the darkness,​ ​and​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​listening.”
Elia​ ​watched​ ​the​ ​man​ ​before​ ​him​ ​take​ ​a​ ​shaky​ ​breath.​ ​He​ ​studied​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​wore​ ​a​ ​long​ ​coat​ ​that swept​ ​away​ ​from​ ​him​ ​and​ ​lay​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ground.​ ​It​ ​looked​ ​a​ ​little​ ​big​ ​on​ ​him,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been picked​ ​when​ ​the​ ​person​ ​who​ ​bought​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been​ ​larger,​ ​where​ ​this​ ​person​ ​was​ ​almost uncomfortably​ ​thin.​ ​His​ ​hands​ ​were​ ​warm​ ​and​ ​gentle,​ ​but​ ​weathered​ ​by​ ​time​ ​and​ ​his​ ​wrists disappeared​ ​into​ ​the​ ​sleeves​ ​of​ ​his​ ​shirt​ ​and​ ​then​ ​coat,​ ​once​ ​more,​ ​much​ ​the​ ​way​ ​that someone’s​ ​might​ ​if​ ​they​ ​had​ ​lost​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​weight​ ​and​ ​forgotten​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​new​ ​clothes​ ​that​ ​fit.​ ​Hair that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​red​ ​but​ ​now​ ​faded​ ​to​ ​blonde​​ ​and​ ​grey​ ​shifted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​light​ ​breeze.​ ​His​ ​face​ ​was kind,​ ​honest,​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​warm​ ​but​ ​held​ ​a​ ​sadness.​ ​Those​ ​eyes​ ​had​ ​seen​ ​so​ ​many​ ​things,​ ​so​ ​many horrible​ ​things,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​as​ ​though​ ​those​ ​visions​ ​had​ ​stolen​ ​his​ ​life​ ​away,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​knelt here​ ​was​ ​a​ ​shadow​ ​of​ ​what​ ​he​ ​had​ ​been.​ ​It​ ​hurt​ ​to​ ​see​ ​such​ ​a​ ​good​ ​proud​ ​man​ ​devastated​ ​by the​ ​course​ ​of​ ​his​ ​life​ ​and​ ​Elia​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​but​ ​reach​ ​and​ ​place​ ​his​ ​other​ ​hand​ ​upon​ ​a​ ​cheek that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​sure,​ ​should​ ​have​ ​been​ ​more​ ​rounded.​ ​Those​ ​brown​ ​eyes​ ​came​ ​back​ ​to​ ​find​ ​him, and​ ​a​ ​smile​ ​crossed​ ​the​ ​lips​ ​who​ ​had​ ​said​ ​his​ ​name​ ​so​ ​many​ ​times.
“You​ ​are​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​needs​ ​comforted,​ ​Elia.​ ​I’m​ ​fine.”
“That’s​ ​not​ ​true.”
Neither​ ​of​ ​them​ ​moved​ ​as​ ​wisps​ ​of​ ​shadow​ ​slowly​ ​settled​ ​around​ ​them.
“It’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​go,​ ​Elia.​ ​They​ ​will​ ​notice​ ​that​ ​you​ ​are​ ​missing​ ​soon.”​ ​A​ ​cool​ ​hand​ ​settled​ ​onto​ ​the detective’s​ ​shoulder.
“Go​ ​but…​ ​you’ve​ ​only​ ​just​ ​woken.​ ​I​ ​got​ ​some​ ​things​ ​for​ ​you​ ​that​ ​are​ ​back…​ ​back​ ​at​ ​the hospital.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​wanted…​ ​I​ ​have​ ​shared​ ​a​ ​lifetime​ ​with​ ​you​ ​and​ ​haven’t​ ​known​ ​you​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​You were​ ​the​ ​one​ ​mystery​ ​I​ ​could​ ​never​ ​solve​ ​and…​ ​my​ ​friend.”​ ​He​ ​choked​ ​on​ ​tears,​ ​closing​ ​his eyes.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​cause​ ​Elia​ ​any​ ​more​ ​pain,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​the​ ​sting​ ​of​ ​knowing​ ​that he​ ​had​ ​to​ ​leave.​ ​Just​ ​as​ ​he​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​admit​ ​it,​ ​if​ ​Elia​ ​returned​ ​alive​ ​and​ ​awake,​ ​he​ ​would​ ​be taken​ ​instantly​ ​by​ ​those​ ​who​ ​had​ ​been​ ​waiting.​ ​He​ ​had​ ​already​ ​been​ ​through​ ​so​ ​much.​ ​A​ ​pain grew​ ​in​ ​his​ ​chest​ ​and​ ​spread​ ​down​ ​one​ ​arm,​ ​an​ ​ache​ ​laced​ ​with​ ​fire.​ ​He​ ​gasped​ ​and​ ​clutched​ ​his chest.
“Cisco…​ ​what​ ​is​ ​happening​ ​to​ ​him.”
The​ ​detective​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​soft​ ​fingers​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​face​ ​wiping​ ​away​ ​the​ ​tears​ ​as​ ​Elia​ ​shifted​ ​forward, closer.
“He’s​ ​dying.​ ​He​ ​has​ ​waited​ ​for​ ​you​ ​since​ ​he​ ​was​ ​young​ ​and​ ​now…​ ​this​ ​must​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​you​ ​are rejecting​ ​him.​ ​Human​ ​hearts​ ​are​ ​fragile​ ​things​ ​even​ ​if​ ​wolfen​ ​hearts​ ​can​ ​be​ ​shattered​ ​more completely.”
“Reject…​ ​no.​ ​I’m​ ​not.​ ​Cisco​ ​save​ ​him.”​ ​Elia’s​ ​voice​ ​sounded​ ​desperate.​ ​Why​ ​did​ ​he​ ​sound​ ​like that?
“I​ ​wish​ ​that​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​how.​ ​I​ ​only​ ​know​ ​how​ ​to​ ​consume.”​ ​The​ ​cold​ ​grasp​ ​squeezed​ ​his​ ​shoulder​ ​in an​ ​attempt​ ​at​ ​comfort,​ ​even​ ​as​ ​the​ ​words​ ​sounded​ ​as​ ​though​ ​they​ ​were​ ​filled​ ​with​ ​regret.
Dying.​ ​That​ ​was​ ​unexpected.​ ​At​ ​least​ ​he​ ​wouldn’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​how​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​what happened​ ​to​ ​Elia.​ ​He​ ​just​ ​wished​ ​he​ ​had​ ​more​ ​time.​ ​All​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​was​ ​more​ ​time​ ​and​ ​he​ ​didn’t know​ ​why​ ​it​ ​was​ ​so​ ​important.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​all​ ​happening​ ​so​ ​fast.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​having​ ​trouble​ ​breathing​ ​as his​ ​body​ ​spasmed.
“Look​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​Please​ ​look​ ​at​ ​me.​ ​Tell​ ​me​ ​your​ ​name.​ ​You​ ​never,​ ​ever,​ ​told​ ​me​ ​your​ ​name​ ​in​ ​all that​ ​time.​ ​You​ ​only​ ​called​ ​mine.​ ​Names​ ​are​ ​important​ ​if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​find​ ​your​ ​way​ ​back. You​ ​may​ ​not​ ​understand​ ​but​ ​I​ ​need​ ​you​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​me​ ​for​ ​one​ ​moment​ ​longer​ ​before​ ​you​ ​can be​ ​free.​ ​Will​ ​you​ ​do​ ​that?”
The​ ​detective​ ​nodded​ ​even​ ​as​ ​he​ ​could​ ​feel​ ​a​ ​numbness​ ​settling​ ​over​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​would​ ​try.​ ​Slowly he​ ​forced​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​open​ ​and​ ​brought​ ​dark​ ​hair​ ​and​ ​pale​ ​skin​ ​into​ ​focus.​ ​Elia’s​ ​eyes​ ​were​ ​burning, illuminated​ ​from​ ​within​ ​and​ ​a​ ​warmth​ ​bloomed​ ​from​ ​that​ ​light.​ ​He​ ​sighed​ ​and​ ​settled​ ​back​ ​into arms​ ​that​ ​steadied​ ​him​ ​from​ ​behind.
“Gabriel…”​ ​he​ ​whispered.​ ​“My​ ​name​ ​is​ ​Gabriel.”
He​ ​wasn’t​ ​sure​ ​if​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​about​ ​the​ ​edges​ ​of​ ​his​ ​vision​ ​were​ ​from​ ​the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​held​ ​him​ ​or the​ ​one​ ​who​ ​slowly​ ​rose​ ​from​ ​the​ ​wheelchair​ ​with​ ​a​ ​look​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​face​ ​that​ ​said​ ​so​ ​many things.​ ​So​ ​young,​ ​Elia​ ​was​ ​still​ ​so​ ​young​ ​and​ ​had​ ​the​ ​same​ ​quality​ ​that​ ​an​ ​early​ ​spring​ ​flower would,​ ​delicate​ ​but​ ​somehow​ ​so​ ​strong.​ ​He’d​ ​missed​ ​it​ ​before​ ​but…​ ​now​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​see​ ​the child​ ​that​ ​had​ ​been​ ​so​ ​still​ ​in​ ​that​ ​bed,​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​would​ ​never​ ​grow​ ​up,​ ​had​ ​done​ ​just​ ​that. Elia​ ​took​ ​his​ ​face​ ​in​ ​his​ ​hands,​ ​so​ ​warm,​ ​and​ ​smoothed​ ​years​ ​of​ ​pain​ ​from​ ​weathered​ ​cheeks and​ ​fixed​ ​him​ ​with​ ​a​ ​look​ ​that​ ​only​ ​made​ ​Gabriel​ ​wish​ ​he​ ​had​ ​more​ ​time.
“Gabriel,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​find​ ​you​ ​again​ ​and​ ​we​ ​will​ ​be​ ​one.​ ​Our​ ​souls​ ​will​ ​run​ ​together​ ​and​ ​I​ ​will​ ​know​ ​you in​ ​this​ ​life​ ​and​ ​the​ ​next.”​ ​Elia’s​ ​eyes​ ​became​ ​even​ ​brighter​ ​as​ ​he​ ​leaned​ ​in​ ​so​ ​close.​ ​“Come​ ​back to​ ​me.​ ​Come​ ​back​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​Gabriel.​ ​I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​waiting.”
He​ ​took​ ​a​ ​shuddering​ ​breath,​ ​then​ ​another,​ ​trapped​ ​between​ ​those​ ​hands​ ​and​ ​those​ ​eyes.​ ​The darkness​ ​threatened​ ​to​ ​close​ ​in​ ​around​ ​him​ ​but​ ​he​ ​just​ ​needed​ ​one​ ​more​ ​moment,​ ​just​ ​one​ ​last look,​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​name​ ​one​ ​last​ ​time.
“I​ ​will​ ​find​ ​you.​ ​I​ ​will​ ​return​ ​so​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​run​ ​together​ ​and​ ​become​ ​one.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​next​ ​life,​ ​my heart​ ​will​ ​belong​ ​only​ ​to​ ​you…​ ​Elia.”​ ​His​ ​hands​ ​rose​ ​and​ ​found​ ​strands​ ​of​ ​ebony​ ​dark​ ​hair.​ ​He couldn’t​ ​look​ ​away​ ​as​ ​tears​ ​touched​ ​flushed​ ​freckled​ ​cheeks​ ​and​ ​fell​ ​like​ ​glittering​ ​jewels​ ​to​ ​the ground.
“You​ ​will​ ​be​ ​free.​ ​We​ ​will​ ​walk​ ​side​ ​but​ ​you​ ​will​ ​always​ ​be​ ​free.”
Elia​ ​bent​ ​down​ ​and​ ​sealed​ ​his​ ​lips​ ​in​ ​a​ ​kiss.​ ​Gabriel’s​ ​eyes​ ​momentarily​ ​went​ ​wide,​ ​then softened,​ ​then​ ​the​ ​light​ ​slowly​ ​faded​ ​from​ ​them​ ​and​ ​they​ ​were​ ​only​ ​brown,​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​warm. His​ ​body​ ​was​ ​gathered​ ​carefully​ ​and​ ​carried​ ​brought​ ​by​ ​Faery​ ​arms​ ​to​ ​a​ ​place​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dark​ ​where he​ ​could​ ​rest,​ ​slumber​ ​eternally​ ​undisturbed.
The​ ​next​ ​day​ ​the​ ​wheelchair​ ​was​ ​found​ ​in​ ​the​ ​woods,​ ​abandoned.​ ​The​ ​clothes​ ​the​ ​detective had​ ​bought​ ​were​ ​missing.​ ​All​ ​that​ ​was​ ​left​ ​was​ ​a​ ​shadow.​ ​The​ ​room​ ​was​ ​sealed​ ​off,​ ​the​ ​nurses and​ ​orderlies​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​the​ ​eyes​ ​that​ ​watched​ ​from​ ​dark​ ​places.​ ​So​ ​only​ ​animals​ ​came​ ​to​ ​visit those​ ​places​ ​until​ ​it​ ​was​ ​taken​ ​over,​ ​returned​ ​from​ ​its​ ​moldering​ ​state​ ​to​ ​be​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​and​ ​made to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​place​ ​of​ ​love.​ ​Still​ ​only​ ​animals​ ​lived​ ​there,​ ​only​ ​wolves​ ​and​ ​their​ ​humans​ ​graced​ ​those walls​ ​and​ ​were​ ​accepted​ ​among​ ​the​ ​many​ ​ghosts.

*​ ​*​ ​*

Elia​ ​blinked.​ ​He’d​ ​been​ ​thinking​ ​about​ ​him​ ​again.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​happened​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​lately.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​as​ ​though there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​familiar​ ​pull,​ ​though​ ​this​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​he​ ​had​ ​felt​ ​that​ ​pull​ ​lead​ ​him​ ​to​ ​another person….​ ​but​ ​that​ ​was​ ​impossible.​ ​Someday​ ​maybe…​ ​maybe…​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​even​ ​remember how​ ​long​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been.
He​ ​glanced​ ​at​ ​the​ ​one​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​Red​ ​hair​ ​framed​ ​a​ ​young​ ​freckled​ ​face​ ​on​ ​a​ ​lean​ ​frame​ ​that looked​ ​like​ ​it​ ​could​ ​use​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​more​ ​weight.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​to​ ​say.​ ​Should​ ​he​ ​say​ ​thank you?​ ​Then​ ​he​ ​cocked​ ​his​ ​head​ ​ever​ ​so​ ​slightly.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​something​ ​about​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​felt​ ​so familiar.​ ​Even​ ​the​ ​sound​ ​of​ ​his​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​familiar,​ ​a​ ​comfort.
“What’s​ ​your​ ​name?”​ ​He​ ​asked​ ​so​ ​tentatively,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​the​ ​answer​ ​would​ ​crush​ ​him​ ​if​ ​he​ ​was wrong​ ​even​ ​though​ ​he​ ​couldn’t​ ​have​ ​known​ ​ ​what​ ​it​ ​would​ ​be.
“Ginger…”​ ​The​ ​one​ ​who​ ​spoke​ ​turned​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​him.​ ​His​ ​eyes​ ​were​ ​like​ ​the​ ​Caribbean Sea,​ ​almost​ ​too​ ​green​ ​to​ ​be​ ​called​ ​blue.​ ​Elia​ ​leaned​ ​in​ ​a​ ​little​ ​closer.​ ​He’d​ ​missed​ ​it​ ​before. Within​ ​the​ ​blue​ ​was​ ​a​ ​ring​ ​of​ ​soft​ ​brown,​ ​warm​ ​and​ ​rich.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​the​ ​same​ ​color.​ ​That​ ​color​ ​was like​ ​the​ ​one​ ​he’d​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​know.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​momentary​ ​flash​ ​of​ ​light​ ​that​ ​illuminated​ ​that ring​ ​of​ ​color.​ ​Elia​ ​was​ ​sure,​ ​somehow​ ​it​ ​was​ ​him.​ ​Somehow​ ​this​ ​person​ ​was​ ​the​ ​person​ ​who​ ​was free​ ​even​ ​though​ ​they​ ​would​ ​say​ ​their​ ​heart​ ​belonged​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​It​ ​had​ ​been​ ​that​ ​heart​ ​that​ ​had stopped.​ ​Elia​ ​squinted,​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​place​ ​his​ ​memory​ ​of​ ​the​ ​one​ ​he’d​ ​spoken​ ​to​ ​once,​ ​onto​ ​the​ ​one before​ ​him​ ​and​ ​he​ ​only​ ​became​ ​more​ ​sure.​ ​“What’s​ ​your​ ​name,​ ​hmmm?”
“Elia.”​ ​Elia​ ​blinked​ ​as​ ​Ginger​ ​turned​ ​away.​ ​Maybe…​ ​maybe​ ​he​ ​was​ ​wrong.​ ​Then​ ​he​ ​watched​ ​as Ginger’s​ ​fingers​ ​rose​ ​and​ ​covered​ ​his​ ​lips,​ ​as​ ​though​ ​he​ ​were​ ​remembering​ ​something​ ​that there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​way​ ​he​ ​could​ ​know.
“Elia…​ ​Elia…”​ ​Ginger’s​ ​voice​ ​was​ ​soft,​ ​lost,​ ​and​ ​trembled​ ​ever​ ​so​ ​slightly.​ ​“Elia,​ ​I’m​ ​glad​ ​that​ ​I found​ ​you.”

 

CREDIT : Shawnti Therrien

 

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Posted in Creepy Pasta and tagged by with no comments yet.

Wear

by cnkguy
Wear

wearReading Time: 15 minutes

Wear

Deep breath, I thought to myself turning the key. The door swung open. Nothingness, well, at-least not until we unloaded all of our furniture. For now, it was just an empty living room leading into a kitchen, with a bedroom on the left and a hallway with two bedrooms on the right. The house was entirely devoid of history, aside from an ancient coffee maker that the previous owner left sitting on the counter.
“It has that new house smell,” I chimed looking at my wife Sarah who was holding our six-month-old, Emma, in her arms.
“You mean old person smell? You know the last person to live here was eighty years old. I feel like I’m visiting my grandma” she retorted.
Good to see her sarcasm survived the move.
Getting everything set up wasn’t very hard, probably because we didn’t have much to move. Even though the house was small it wasn’t easy buying the place; between Med-School and taking care of the baby, this was an exhausting ordeal.
Everything was moved in but that didn’t stop the house from looking any emptier. A bed, Emma’s crib, and a couch were the only things we had. Oh, and a small box television set that we only watched movies on. Sarah insisted it was because T.V was for peasants, but ironically the real reason was because we couldn’t afford it.
I decided to go in the kitchen and make some coffee; the caffeinated potion that kept me alive these past few years. “I’m making your favorite. Want some?” I asked looking over the counter.
“I know, you know I hate coffee,” Sarah responded, sitting on the couch.
“Your loss”
“What you put extra dirt in this time?” She said jokingly.
To a degree she wasn’t wrong, I was using enough coffee powder to keep me up for days, but that was kind of the idea. Pouring the black liquid into my mug I couldn’t help pondering that a man died in this kitchen. After drinking his morning cup of coffee no less. Swallowing the bitter concoction, I tried shaking the idea out of my head. It was no use, however. The sour liquid began to turn into a nauseating, poisonous mass sliding down my throat.
“You coming?”
We had just put Emma to bed and decided to watch the old Blade Runner movie. Sarah insisted we watch it again before seeing the sequel.
“Be right there,” I answered gulping down the rest of the venom as if trying to swallow those morbid thoughts along with the drink. I sat down on the couch and we started watching the film.
“Shit,” I exclaimed face-palming.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah inquired, a confused and equally worried look on her face.
“I have a shift tonight, I have to go or John is gonna kill me,” I sighed getting up from our newly moved old couch.
“It’s cool we’ll watch it another time,” she said pulling out the DVD
I grabbed my keys and made my way to the door.
“Hey!”
“Yeah,” I responded looking back towards the couch.
“Pick up some air fresheners on your way home, I was serious earlier,” she said pinching her nose.
“Top of my list,” I smiled, grabbing the doorknob.
“Have a great day at work! God knows you did last night. It’s just sad the only time we get alone is usually at three in the morning.”
I looked back at her and raised an eyebrow in confusion. When I came home last night, Sarah was asleep. We didn’t even say a word to each other.
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I haven’t seen you that energetic and crazy in a long time,” she said, with a small grin lining her face.
I looked at her with an even more perplexed expression.
“Stop messing with me, there’s no way in hell you don’t remember last night. I know I do,” she giggled.
Am I just not remembering? How many things have I forgotten? A thousand questions flooded my mind. The coffee I had just drunk bubbled in my stomach until it rose upwards. The septic mixture of bile and sludge built in my chest rising to my throat. I swallowed, forcing the vomit back down. I probably just forgot.
“You caught me,” I smiled softly, gripping the door-knob so tight the color drained from my knuckles.
“Are you okay?” Sarah asked, genuine concern in her voice.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just wondering if John’s face can finally reach tomato shade when he sees how late I am. Last week, he was pretty close,” I chuckled, opening the door. “See you when I get back, if I survive,” I smiled, as I walked out the door, closing it quietly behind me.
I chose to forget what she said. Her words had floated silently through my ear and into the back of my mind, with all the other memories I deemed best not to remember. They sat there fermenting and growing like a parasite in my brain, waiting for the right moment to drive me into madness.
I barely made it to the hospital on time. My work was easy enough but the late hours mixed with my supervising physician John McAllister breathing down my neck every chance he got didn’t help my psyche. He was one of those fifty-somethings who probably got alcohol poisoning in high school but swears to have found Jesus. He would just as soon tell you the good word as he would burn you at the stake.
I got off work at two A.M. My eyelids felt like they were weighed down by anchors. I had to get home. The parking lot was a sea of vehicles but I somehow found my car. An old 1985 Toyota Supra I inherited from my dad. Whew homestretch, I thought taking out my keys. One of the reasons we bought the house we did was because it was closer to the hospital. Before it took twenty minutes to get to my apartment, but now it took around five.
Before I could leave I heard something below my feet. I froze and listened.
A low growl emitted from underneath the car.
Whatever was under there wasn’t happy, but I was nothing if not curious. Placing my keys on the hood, I leaned over to peak into the dark void beneath. Two black eyes met mine in the darkness.
I shined my phone’s flashlight into the black expanse, shedding light on the creature, its black eyes reflecting the light back at me. “It’s ok, boy,” I said reaching my hand toward it. The growling grew louder, but I kept reaching farther until I felt its fur. “That’s a good boy,” I said stroking its back softly.
The growling eventually subsided as I coaxed the animal out from underneath the car. Blood soaked my hands, poor thing had cuts and scratches on its chest. I pulled off my jacket and wrapped it around the German Shepherds back and stomach knotting it in place to help stop the bleeding.
I carefully picked up the dog as it whimpered. “It’s, ok, It’s, ok boy almost there,” I whispered placing him on my passenger seat. I drove to the nearest pet clinic as fast as I could, the blood on my jacket already becoming more and more visible the longer I drove.
Thankfully the dog hadn’t been bleeding for too long before I found him under my car. It only took some stitches and a whole lot of liquid to get him stabilized. He had no chip or any way of identifying that he had an owner, so I did what any rational new father and homeowner would do and decided to take him in. Before I left, the vet explained that he must have gotten into a fight with a wolf. She said it was the only explanation that made sense because of how deep the gashes were. A lot of wolves will wander around the woods surrounding the city, so this didn’t surprise me too much.
On my way home I stopped by the supermarket to pick up pet supplies. I bought all the essential dog stuff, and an air freshener. Driving back I tried not to think about how much all this cost me on top of the clinic visit.
When I pulled up to my new house it had to have been five A.M, but for some reason my next door neighbor was wide awake standing in his yard, staring at me. He had piss yellow eyes and a perpetual scowl. With shaggy white hair and a long curly beard. He looked like a mix between Santa Claus and my second removed drunk uncle Steve.
“You just moved here?” he asked behind the line of bushes that marked the intersection of our properties.
“Just moved in today,” I said forcing a smile, but it couldn’t be more obvious I was creeped out by the man. “Did you know the last owner?” I asked.
“That old fucker was a piece of work, can’t say I’m sad he died,” he scowled “But it’s good to see new blood” he declared forcing a full smile of sharp, shiny white teeth. He paused for a moment rubbing his long fingernails over each other as if he were sharpening cutlery. “There’s something I need to tell you since you’ll be sleeping one hundred feet away from me. I’m a killer.” His face was dead serious and his cold yellow eyes tore into my soul.
For a few brief moments, all I could feel was the cool breeze hitting my skin, before the loud thumping of a heartbeat brought me back to reality. I was holding the dog. He was perfectly still but his heart pounded so fast I could feel its pulsing beat on my skin. He was afraid.
My strange new neighbor continued his deathly stare, and I wondered if I should call the police. His serious expression gave way to a booming laugh that echoed to the end of the street. “Scared you for a minute there didn’t I?” he said, holding his chest like he’d gone for a long run. His face turned back to a blank stare. “I served in Nam. It’s funny how many people you can kill overseas, and when you get back home they call you a patriot, but if you kill someone on home soil it’s murder. When I got home my wife was the only thing that kept me from myself, my true self. When she died I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t trust myself around my own children. So I moved here,” he said staring off into space.
His comments shocked me, but I kept a cool visage. “Well, I should be heading in, this guy has some healing to do after all,” I said looking down at the dog in my arms. “It was nice meeting you, Mr…?”
“Call me Mr. Rodgers,” he said his glinting yellow eyes glaring at the dog in my arms.
“Nice meeting you Mr. Rodgers, I’m Tom. If you ever need anything I’m your man. Don’t be a stranger,” I said, shifting slowly towards the door.
He didn’t say a word, just smiled and peered at me as I went into the house.
Well, that wasn’t weird at all, I thought walking into my new abode. I could barely see but I carefully placed the dog on the couch. The emptiness of the house took on an eerie nature in the darkness, so I turned on the light.
That’s better.
I poured my new companion some water and food. Then I placed his bed next to the couch.
“You’re safe, there are no wolves out here,” I whispered scratching behind his ears. He gazed back at me, patting his tail on the couch.
“Night boy, if Sarah doesn’t freak I’ll see you in the morning”
I stretched out my arms and yawned as I walked to my room.
What a weird day.
I grabbed the knob, but before I could open the door I heard a loud crashing sound.
Oh God, what now?
Turning around, I saw the dog limping from the couch towards me with his tongue hanging out. It took him awhile, but finally, he made it to the door and sat down. He just stood there looking at me.
“C’mon, you don’t want to sleep in there,” I begged, but his soft expression pleaded back at me. He looked down at the door and whimpered softly.
“Ok, I’ll let you sleep with us,” I said opening the door.
Even in his wounded state, this gave the animal a rush of adrenaline as he jumped on the bed curling into a ball at Sarah’s feet. She was fast asleep, probably wiped from the move. As quietly as possible I closed the door and got into bed, falling into a deep slumber instantly.
“You got a fucking dog!”
I guess I don’t need my alarm today.
I sat up to see Sarah playing with the canine and being licked furiously.
Ok good, she isn’t mad.
“Yep, He needed some help last night, wouldn’t feel right dropping him off at the shelter,” I responded wiping my eyes.
“That explains the bandages”
“So…we can keep him?” I asked, putting on the most innocent expression possible.
“Yes, but only on one condition”
“Which is…?”
“I get to name him,” she stated, still petting the dog.
“Fine by me” I sighed, rolling out of bed.
With that, my morning ritual of coffee making began. The hot beverage still seemed like poison, but I drank it anyway.
Time never moved normally in this kitchen. I could see the days rolling past, one cup of coffee at a time. Weeks, months and finally four years hastily took me by surprise.
A lot changed, and many things stayed the same. Ridley was the name Sarah chose, and he definitely had a favorite. Even Emma didn’t interest him.
My life took on a pattern beginning with coffee and ending with the yellow-eyed man. Without fail, every night he would stand in his yard when I got home. I almost looked forward to it in a strange way. The more we talked the less strange he seemed. He had some interesting secrets, and no, one of those didn’t include him being an old children’s T.V show host.
He had a strange fascination with Ridley, always asking me if I knew where he was, or if I knew how he was injured. I thought nothing of it.
Besides, when I came home I knew exactly where Ridley would be, curled up next to Sarah.
I got my Medical license, but still worked at the same hospital, John McAlister found new ways to torment me.
Last year my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He had her golden blonde hair and blue eyes. We named him Max. Our little home started to look a little less empty.
Ridley took a liking to Max and would always sit by his crib for hours on end. Watching me closely when I walked by.
That brings us to today, I had just come home from work. Mr. Rodgers, however, was not standing in his yard.
I thought about going to bed but my curiosity got the better of me.
I walked into my neighbor’s yard the dead grass pulling at my feet.
Maybe he took a day off from being creepy. Why is this so odd?
Making it to his walkway I could tell something was wrong.
His door was wide open.
Standing in front of the old decrepit house I could feel my stomach churning. Not a single light was on. The darkness of the entrance beckoned to me. Without thinking I took one step into the void, and then another.
“Mr. Rodgers!” I called into the darkness.
My eyes began to adjust.
Cobwebs lined the supports above. Bottles of liquor and vodka were strewn across the floor, and a particular half-drunk bottle sat on a dusty countertop to my left. A small static silhouette stood in a doorway in the corner.
The aged wooden floor creaked underneath my weight as I crept closer to see what created the strange shadow.
Ridley was standing at the door. He didn’t move.
“What are you doing in here? It’s time to go home”
The creature just stood there with an unblinking stare, before running back into the darkness.
Shit
I ran to the back of the house, each step causing the wooden floor to cry an unearthly scream. The door opened up to a small hallway, which in the darkness appeared to stretch on for miles. At the end, I could make out a small room. I froze in place halfway to its entrance. I could hear something, a light dripping sound, that’s what it was.
Squinting I found the source of the noise. Long pointed nails dug into the top of the doorframe, while liquid dripped from them flowing down until it fell off an old wrinkly wrist.
I stood in shock for a few seconds before realizing that he was staring at me. Nothing was visible of the figure, aside from a pair of bright yellow eyes that illuminated the pitch black doorway.
The top of the doorframe broke as Mr. Rodgers pushed himself forward using it as leverage.
“I found your dog!” Mr. Rodgers said walking into the hallway, shaking Ridley’s collar in his hand.
“Where is he?” I asked hoarsely, taking a step back.
“Can’t you see? He’s right here,” he yelled throwing the collar at my feet.
“Do you want to know how my wife died?” he asked, his lips parting to show his teeth.
“You…you told me she died in a car accident,” I stated taking another step, almost out of the hallway, ready to sprint towards the exit.
“No!” he screamed running towards me at a breakneck pace before stopping suddenly in-front of my face.
I should have run but I simply jumped back into the main room of the house petrified by the old man’s agility. Even though he couldn’t be younger than seventy-five I stood no match for his speed.
“I lied to you Tom, I lied,” he whispered placing his hand on my shoulder digging his claws into my skin.
“I…I used to drink Tom. I used to drink to keep the demons away,” he paused as a tear rolled down his cheek, his nails digging deeper.
“They were too loud. I couldn’t stop them, Tom. Her brakes failed,” he stated rolling his eyes in his head till they faced mine.
“I broke her brake pedal. I didn’t leave because I felt grief, I left because I was ashamed that it brought me pleasure killing her.”
“I killed my neighbor too, I put silver in his coffee. An innocent man Tom!”
What the fuck is he talking about?
“But none of that matters now,” he said letting go of my shoulder and moving his hand to the side of the wall. “Because I’m dead,” he grinned flipping on a light next to the door.
Mr. Rodgers body lay in the center of the room, his blood soaking into the old floorboards. A small silver knife stuck in the man’s chest, glinted in the light.
My head pounded with intense pain. I was dreaming, this didn’t make sense. My stomach ached with nauseating intensity. Falling to the floor I gagged breathing in heavily between dry-heaves.
I’m going insane. A dead man is lying on the floor and simultaneously standing in front of me.
I mustered all my strength and slowly picked myself off the ground.
“Where’s Ridley,” I asked once more.
“He’s right here! I already told you.” Mr. Rodgers shook his head, looking at the ground.
“I might as well just show you, you’ve been such a great sport thus far.” His face melted like rubber under fiery heat. His arms shrunk and twisted. His whole body soon collapsed into a large lump of goo on the ground. The monstrous pile of bubbling biology turned and took shape into that of a dog, Ridley. While it had the shape of the animal its skin was that of a man, with patches of fur around its misshapen body. Mr. Rodgers yellow eyes bulged out of the thing’s head, before shrinking into small black orbs.
Ridley walked towards me panting. He licked my hand, his odorous breath seeped into my nostrils; it smelled like rotten eggs. The fumes awakened something in me as I breathed them in deeply. All the thoughts in the back of my head cracked open like a spider’s egg and forced themselves to the surface of my consciousness. A monster had taken the form of an innocent animal, and I had left it home with my wife every single day. Nothing but this creature’s death mattered now, not even my life.
I stepped away from the “dog” towards Mr. Rodgers body.
I have to make a run for the knife. I thought advancing towards the body. I ran faster than I had ever run before, each step was an eternity. Jumping I reached out to grab the knife out of the corpse. A mangled fleshy hand grabbed my leg mid-leap, slamming me to the ground. Blood coated the side of my face, fragments of the wooden floor stuck to my cheek. My vision was blurred but I could see the monstrosity pulling my body closer, and closer to itself. The warped hand was thick with a wet slimy substance that soaked through my pants and dripped on the floor. It was connected to an irregularly long arm protruding from a shaking cocoon of veiny skin and blood.
Adrenaline rushed through my body as I clawed at the hardwood floor sending splinters up my fingernails. The beast’s unnatural strength dragged my body back until I was facing its ungodly mass of tissue. The pulsating puddle grew until it loomed over me. Its arm cracked and broke as it shrunk, becoming part of the figure forming above.
“Trying to stab your best friend Ridley?” the carnal atrocity sputtered above me, sending saliva and bodily fluids spilling onto my face. The creature had pearly white teeth that shifted in its moving warped body. Two holes formed where its eyes should have been.
The arm had disappeared into the monstrosity and my leg let free with it. This was my chance. I stood up slamming my fist into the misshapen mouth from which it spoke. My fist cracked the creature’s teeth, but it still stood unmoving. Though injured the creature’s mouth curved into a tilted smile that quickly opened up and grabbed my hand sucking it into itself. My arm was fully constricted and all I could feel was the loud thumping pulse of a heart. The sound of bones cracking bounced off the walls as the figure fully took shape. A hand formed around my arm gripping tightly.
I looked up and saw its morphed figure. Mr. Rodgers’ large yellow eyes slowly filled the empty sockets like egg yolks being squeezed into a bowl. Ridley’s snout jutted out of its face, if you could call it that. It had my height, my legs, and my arms. Something else that resembled an arm was coming out of its chest, it was perfectly smooth and liquid dripped off of it. It pulsed uncontrollably with the beat of what I assumed was a heart in the creature. It slowly shrunk back into the things chest. “You’re going insane Tom,” The creature said in my voice as it swung its other hand down on my arm, snapping it at the elbow. I shouted in pain as it flung me out the door into the walkway.
My body flew through the air before crashing into the solid ground. I landed on my back, the force of the fall hit squarely between my shoulders forcing all the air in my lungs to be expelled in a quick exhale. My body slid shortly thereafter before rolling down three steps causing my head to slam into the ground. Blood dripped from my face as I tried to pull myself up the steps. I didn’t even have enough strength to climb them. My body was broken.
Laying on the concrete I took a jarring breath that rattled my ribcage. I could see my own legs walking slowly towards me. I raised my hands to fight but it was no use. It picked me up again and pushed me to the ground behind the bushes.
“You’re losing your mind. You’re a fake, you aren’t real. I’m the real Tom. That’s not your son in that house,” it said pointing over the brush. “That’s my son.”
A light flicked on in the house. Sarah had probably woken up from hearing my scream. I drew a breath to yell, but the monster’s leg crashed into my chest breaking at least eight of my ribs.
I tried to breathe, but that only caused my chest to further collapse. My sight was fading from pain but I could see “him”. It had fully taken my appearance, even as far as mimicking a small scar above my left eye I obtained after crashing my bike at the age of twelve. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else who resembled you perfectly. A dark shadow that would follow you as you walked away from the reflection, a darkness you think you can control. Except now my reflection was controlling me.
It towered over me with a slight grin signifying victory. “Stay right here,” it growled walking towards my home.
Sarah opened the door and waited for me with Emma in her arms, while “I” strolled up to them. I could see their mouths moving but it was too quiet to make out. When it arrived at my home, it promptly locked its lips on Sarah’s while stroking her shoulder firmly. Its eyes were open staring at the bushes, staring at me while it embraced her.
I choked as my lungs filled up with blood. All I could do was watch, while my wife was caressed by a monster

 

CREDIT : TimedMistakes

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Dead Man’s Bluff

by cnkguy
Dead Man’s Bluff

Dead Mans BluffReading Time: 26 minutes

deadmans bluff

Dead Man’s Bluff

By

Shannon Higdon

Jacob stumbled through the double-doors of the Atlantis Casino and into the crisp, night air; lurching to the closest decorative shrubbery where he proceeded to unload the meager contents of his stomach. He had never known this type of pain. When he was sixteen he had been jumped by a group of guys who proceeded to beat him to within an inch of death. The physical and emotional pain from the experience and subsequent recovery had been an incomparable low in his life…until now. No bones were broken now but his spirit was; crushed in a way he hadn’t imagined possible.

He had leveraged every asset to his name in order to play in this tournament; a last ditch effort. For nearly twenty years Jacob Leroy had made an extremely comfortable living playing professional poker; having very nearly won the World Series of Poker twice. It had provided for a beach house and a city loft, several expensive vehicles as well as opportunities to travel the globe; all for sitting and playing a game he would have done for fun anyway. Not exactly the best of the best, he was the one thing that most players weren’t: consistent. Despite the natural ebbs and flows that come with the profession, he had managed to clear close to seven figures every year…until last year.

It was an ebb of unprecedented size that coincided with the rest of his life crumbling away. First the domestic accounts, then the foreign accounts, then the stocks and bonds and then when luck could be no crueler, the possessions. They seemed to go the quickest, especially when he thought about the amount of time spent gaining them. Going to a pawn shop with his jewelry or motorcycle was one thing but when things like the couch and coffee table began to disappear it became obvious how bad a drought it had become to more than just himself.

Jacob played the numbers and not the “feelings” of the game. There was a stringent set of rules he played by that always paid off in the long run. But the biggest hands of the last year saw epic failures of the odds. Like the all-in, ace high flush that lost to the straight flush; or the all-in, four of a kind kings that lost to four aces. There are bad beats and then there are brutal, bend you over beats that just shouldn’t exist. So many of those hands that held only infinitesimal chances of winning had beaten him in big situations he began to wonder if the whole damn thing wasn’t rigged. Time after time he would think there’s no way this can happen again…and then, what do you know?

Finally he had reached a point of desperation that, while most poker players are familiar with, Jacob had never known. Every last thing he could liquidate, every favor he could pull, every loan he could take out (including groups not listed in the Better Business Bureau) and several trips to the blood bank gave him just enough for this last tournament. He was putting all his fish in one basket on this one. Just finishing in the top thirty would give him enough money to be able to pay off his debts and start fresh.

Everything that he ever was or had was put into this tournament and as luck would have it, he got stuck with a “donk” on his first table. Donk’s were players who had no interest in winning at all. Usually millennials with too much money and not nearly the attention span for an entire tournament. Their thrill is messing with people, especially professional players. They want to see people lose big and rely solely on luck to do it. The donk on this night was a kid who wanted to be called Chriz-is, because apparently Chris was too mundane. From the very beginning this punk had gone all-in on every hand despite what he was holding; somehow knocking three players out in three hands with his suicide bluffs.

Finally, after folding off nine decent pockets which gave way to a couple of straights and one flush, Jacob got a pair of aces. Chriz-is, of course, goes all in again with his reckless, kamikaze style, making it very clear that it was going to be the only way to see the flop. There was no way he could fold then. The donk wouldn’t let any real poker be played so this would be his best scenario. Not to mention, he would double his pot and move up considerably in the rankings early on. Jacob called the donk and saw what he expected, a three of hearts and a six of clubs; basically nothing: idiot poker.

His joy compounded when the dealer flopped a red ace with a nine and a three. There was no way this jack-ass was going to beat his three aces despite his pair of threes and Jacob couldn’t help but to grin as he struggled to not bask in the kid’s anguish. But then the turn card was another three and there was a twinge of nervousness. It would take an absolute miracle for the donk to pull it out but he still had a chance. When the river planted a six in front of them, Jacob doubled over. It was a gut shot and he felt it physically. Was it even possible that fate could be any crueler? His entire future, which has seemed so bright seconds before, was now destroyed and the dipshit across the table chuckled in his face. To him it was all a big joke and now, Jacob was the punchline.

He wasn’t really sure how he made it out of the casino as it all passed as one big blur but once he was outside and his stomach was relieved of the only beer he’d had time to consume, his vision slowly came back to him although everything still seemed bathed in a red hue. What the hell was he going to do? For that matter, where the hell was he going to go? He hadn’t even played long enough to get a comped room and the thirty cents in his pocket wasn’t going to help at all. Having come on the bus, there wasn’t even a car for him to go sleep in. Jacob had literally lost everything to an asshole with a lucky full house.

Falling to his knees there beside his retch, Jacob couldn’t move. Both body and mind shut down entirely, shocked into submission and there he sat for nearly an hour. If it weren’t for the annoying laughter of the donk walking past him he might not have snapped back at all. Chriz-is was walking with an attractive young lady in a short skirt, probably a pro, and yammering on about what a talented and calculating poker player he was while the young lady laughed insincerely. They didn’t see him and he found himself rising up and following behind them quietly. There was no plan involved, just a pure seething hatred that urged him to stay behind the couple.

Blocks began to pass and Jacob was wholly unaware; singularly focused on the back of the little punk’s head. He had never considered himself a violent man, let alone one capable of killing, but in this moment…he wasn’t sure anymore. Suddenly, they’re in a stairwell and he’s following behind. Several flights pass and then they’re all outside again. They were on the roof of a carpark and the donk was clicking the alarm on his Lotus Sport 380 while the girl gushed over the supercar. It wasn’t until they were at the doors that they noticed Jacob.

“Yo? You sneakin’ up on me asshole?” The kid, clearly pasty white, tried to add a stereotypical ghetto emphasis to his vernacular; what many would call a “wanna-be”. “What the fuck you want, O.G.?” Jacobs balled his hands into fists as blood filled his cheeks, but he couldn’t speak; couldn’t really move at all.

“Wait…I know you.” Jacob could see the recognition in the younger man’s eyes. “You that pathetic dude I wiped with the boat.” He laughed cruelly and stepped up to Jacob until the two men’s faces were inches apart. “You got sumptin’ you wanna’ say about it grampa, then step up. Go ahead yo, if you feelin’ froggy.”

Jacob’s teeth were gritted so hard his head began to ache and every ounce of his being wanted to start swinging at the younger man. He had nothing else to live for anymore anyway, so what difference did it make? If he somehow went to jail because of it then at least that would be a place to spend the night. There were no rational reasons he could come up with to not attack but something he couldn’t place wouldn’t let him; something deep down that held him like a statue. It was the same mechanism that holds a deer in the headlights and that’s what he was. It was like his “flee or fight” instinct just wouldn’t kick in; he was frozen.

Chriz-is lunged at Jacob causing him to flinch instinctively. The younger man only laughed and began to walk away.

“You ain’t doin’ shit, old man.” Jacob screamed at himself internally to rush forward and pour every ounce of his anger into the little shit’s face; but he didn’t…he couldn’t. Unable to move or speak, he only watched as the kid got into the supercar with the prostitute and then as he paused on the way out to spit through the window into his face.

Blinding rage kept him in the same spot for a full minute after he heard the roaring engine drive away and out of his life. What the hell kind of man was he? Not only does he let the punk essentially end his career but then he stands by to be insulted and spit upon. The anger continued to bubble as he made his way to the edge of the carpark’s roof and it was completely focused on himself. He was a spineless coward and there was really nothing left in this world for him other than to endure one last insult and then end it all.

Jacob climbed up to the edge and peered down. There really was nothing left to live for; his soul filled with hate and regret, he just wanted it all to be over. So tired of the anxiety and fear of losing everything and then the pain of actually doing so; this was the best decision. There would be scary people wanting money looking for him very soon anyway. Staring down at the concrete sidewalk four stories below, there was no doubt in his mind. That was where is wanted to end up; nothing more than a stain for some poor city worker to clean up. Except…he couldn’t do it. He wanted to; really wanted to; but just like he froze when it came to standing up to the punk several years his junior, he was stuck again.

His brain screamed at his body over and over to jump, but the muscles refused to respond. Trapped in a state of catatonic stupor tears began to fill his eyes. It was impossible to imagine being any more disgusted with himself. He wanted nothing more than to take one step forward with the stoic determination of a Japanese warrior committing hara-kiri and he was unable to achieve even that small feat.

“You need a hand there, buddy?” Low and gravelly, the voice came from behind Jacob; startling him nearly over the edge by itself.

“Who’s there?” Jacob called back, not even able to turn his head in his momentary state of rigid immobility.

“Just a guy, buddy.” Jacob felt a hand pat him on his lower back. “Just a guy who doesn’t seem to be having as bad a day as you. You planning on jumping?” There was something about the candid nature of the man’s question and the irrelevant nature of his voice when he asked that brought about an honest response. There was an irrational comfort that he felt immediately; as if they were discussing the weather or UNLV basketball.

“Yea…that was the plan.”

“But…?” the man behind him pressed.

“But…I can’t do it.”

“You want to live then?”

“NO!” Jacob screamed. “No, dammit, no. I want to be dead more than anything in the world. I just…can’t. I don’t know why. I mean, it’s just one step. One little step and this nightmare can be over with.”

“Well, gee whiz buddy, that sounds rough.” The man’s wording could’ve easily been construed as sarcastic were it not for the sincere nature of his voice. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Jacob needed only a spilt second to answer. “Push me. Please…just push me.”

“Oh wow buddy, you really want me to help kill you?” He sounded almost amused.

“More than anything. I’m begging you. Please help me.” After a moment of silence the man replied.

“Okay, buddy. You seem like you’re in some real need of help. I can help you with this problem. But…not here. Not like this. I’m not trying to spend the rest of my life in prison for aiding you in your time of need.” As soon as he started with the word “okay”, Jacob’s muscles began to untighten slowing releasing their control back to him. He felt man grab his hand to help him to turn and climb down from the short wall as he spoke.

“I know you probably think it’ll just look like a suicide, but…hell man, you’ve seen those shows: Law & Order, NCIS and such; there’s no telling what kind of evidence that I could leave behind. You don’t want Olivia and Stabler puttin’ me away too, do ya?”

Jacob shook his head and now, with both feet firmly on the ground again, was able to get a good look at his new companion. A little ashamed of the thought, his first reaction was that the man was homeless. There were plenty in the area, often appearing much like him with ragged clothing that never seemed to fit quite right; the pants too short, his shirt too big and a coat which practically buried him. His shoes were wrapped tightly with the same grey duct tape that covered several holes in his pants and coat and somehow seemed to hold his entire outfit together.

The man was short, maybe not even five feet tall, with unkempt hair and a scraggily long beard that hung to the third row of buttons on his coat, if the coat still had buttons. He carried with him an odor that can only come from not showering in many, many months; not a body-odor scent necessarily but more like the smell of dirt itself or a moldy, old house. It wasn’t pleasant, but also not unpleasant. For reasons too random to question, it brought about images of his grandparent’s attic he had spent so much time exploring as a small child.

“So if you really want me to help you to…oh, let’s say, kick the metaphorical bucket, then you’ll need to work with me. We’ll need to go someplace else for starters; someplace safe to do what we need to do without any…issues.” Jacob just nodded. In his current state of mind it made perfect sense. On top of everything else, he didn’t want to be responsible for ruining someone else’s life as well. If this man was really willing to aid him in his effort then he would definitely do whatever he said.

“Do you know someplace like that?” he asked. The wild looking little man smiled enormously in a manner which would make most people cringe but which Jacob found reassuring; he really didn’t care about anything at this point even if it meant going to an unknown location with a possible crazy person. That was probably the only type that would help him now anyway.

“Oh yes, my friend, I have exactly the perfect place in mind. Why don’t you come with me then?” Jacob couldn’t find the downside and followed the other man to the stairwell. As they made their way down to the base level of the garage they spoke briefly.

“By the way, buddy, what’s your name?”

“Jacob…and yours?”

“They call me Leon. Lean, laughing Leon, livin’ like a lion; lovin’ like a liar. That’s what they say anyway.” Leon was obviously out of his mind. When they reached the bottom Jacob asked, “Why are you going to do this for me Leon?” The question stopped him in his tracks and he turned to look back at Jacob.

“I don’t know if I can answer that yet, Jacob. You got your reasons for wanting to check-out and I got my reasons for wanting to help you. Maybe when we get to where we’re going I can answer that for you, but for now…” he patted Jacob on the arm. “For now let’s just get to where we’re going.”

Where they were going turned out to be a door in the basement of the garage that level to a sewer system access tunnel. They passed several “authorized personnel only” signs on the way but Jacob was well beyond caring. Knowing death was imminent and embracing it even was liberating in a sense. It gave him the freedom to look beyond the traditional societal constraints or at very least not give a damn about them.

The tunnel turned into another one and then another until Jacob was completely disorientated and placing his full trust that Leon was actually leading them somewhere. It was dark except for the occasionally placed service light that provided very little actual light and the smell of damp urine and other un-pleasantries hung in the air. After a short while they stopped in the middle of a tunnel and Leon bent down to remove a metal grate from a side panel.

“We’re going in here.” Leon motioned.

“You’re kidding?” Leon just chuckled.

“We need privacy. Trust me…no one’s following us in there.” Leon climbed through first; reluctantly Jacob followed struggling to fit through in a way that Leon didn’t. A short crawl through the vent led to a larger room which was apparently Leon’s humble abode.

“Make yourself at home,” he said as they shambled in. Once Leon lit a gas lamp Jacob was surprised to see the number of amenities the little man had actually managed to bring in. There were several chairs, a table, a mattress in the corner and even a television hooked up to a portable charger which baffled the mind as to how it was even brought in. It was far from the lap of luxury but at the same time held a degree of homey comfort that was wholly unexpected.

Two of the walls were adorned with pictures cut from magazines; a third wall held a number of sewer system maps, while the last was filled with a large, red pentagram. Jacob gasped in surprise.

“Is that…blood?” Leon chuckled again.

“Oh no. Of course not. It’s Valspar Premium Latex. Although, I believe the color was ‘blood red’. Actual blood would never have stayed that red. It tends to brown with time. So…not great for decorative purposes.” He motioned to a chair. “Have a seat Jacob. Let’s talk about this for a bit. Make a plan so to speak.”

“I don’t need to know why you’re doing this for me I guess.” Jacob pulled up a seat next to Leon so they were face to dirty face. “I guess all I’d ask is that we make it quick and as painless as possible.” Leon nodded.

“I can do that. I’m not wanting to cause you any physical pain. I’m here to help.” Jacob was grateful. He would have been lying if he had said the thought hadn’t occurred to him in the tunnels that he was heading straight into a scene from one of the “SAW” movies. It was an acceptable risk however; he would do whatever was necessary to end this pain and if that included some degree of torture then…so be it.

“I have just what you need.” Leon jumped up and began digging through a box in the corner. Jacob watched him for a moment but there was something about the pentagram that drew his gaze. That was where he was looking when Leon slid the needle into his neck and injected him with…something. The room began to fade to dark and realization that he was going to pass out came only a split second before the action.

Jacob slept for a while; a dark, dreamless sleep and he had no idea how long it had lasted when he awoke. As consciousness returned, panic came with it. Jacob couldn’t move his arms or legs. It took a great deal of effort to even open his eyes and when he did Leon was there before him.

“Hey sleepy-head. Glad to see you’re back.” As hard as it was to move his eyelids, his mouth was that much more difficult; Jacob’s tongue felt like it was wrestling through molasses to get the words out but somehow he managed.

“What…did…you…do to…me?”

“Relax Jacob. You said you didn’t want the pain…right?” Leon leaned forward and flicked the middle of Jacob’s forehead with his finger. There was an audible pop in his head and a sense of reverberation…but…Leon was right: he couldn’t feel it at all.

“You see, my friend. I could chop off both your arms and legs and you wouldn’t feel a thing. I realize the not being able to move is probably a little un-nerving, but…well, I think the trade-off is worth it; don’t you?” Jacob did. He was actually overwhelmed by the action and tears blurred his vision a bit. This was really going to happen; the pain was really going to come to an end.

“Thank you…Leon. I don’t deserve this. Thank you.” Leon nodded.

“Yea…ok. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I haven’t actually done anything yet. I have to be honest Jacob. I’m not sure that I can kill you yet.”

“What the hell?” Jacob tried his best to yell.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to. Let’s see…how do I say this?” Leon’s brow furrowed as he struggled to explain. “I don’t have a problem ending your life buddy, but you have to convince me that I should. As it stands, I can’t kill you. I’m not sure you’re…ready.”

“I’ll beg you if you want,” Jacob cried, “Please, I’m ready. I need to die.”

“Well, you see, that’s just it. Look, I know you don’t understand.” Jacob didn’t. “But all I’m asking is that we sit here for a bit and talk. Tell me more about yourself and your situation. After all, you might be leaving this world but I’ll still have to live with this act. I need some more information to make this okay with my…religion.” Jacob thought he understood and that it even made some sense.

“Religion?” he asked.

“Not important for now. Besides, you’re the one that need to answer some questions.” Jacob nodded for him to continue as best he could.

“What do you want to know?”

“Great!” Leon clapped his hands together. “Where to start? Why don’t you tell me about your family Jacob?”

Without thinking he answered, “I don’t have any.”

“None? No mother, no father? No siblings?”

“No. I never knew my birth parents. I was a ward of the state…grew up in foster care and orphanages for the most part.”

“Your whole life?” Jacob let out an involuntary giggle as the notion of being on the world’s most bizarre talk show shot through his mind. It was all very surreal.

“No…not my whole life. I was adopted by my foster mother when I was seventeen. I was practically on my own by that point anyway so it was mostly a symbolic act. But she did love me and I did love her. Her husband had passed away a good twenty years before I met her and she filled her life and home with children who needed it and although she’d adopted a lot of kids over the years, for one great year it was just the two of us. She’s the only family I’ve ever known.”

“She sounds nice. Is she gone now?”

“No. I mean…I don’t think so. We’ve not spoken for a while.”

“What’s ‘a while’?” Leon prompted.

“I don’t know. It’s been a number of years. I was travelling a lot and we just kind of…fell out of touch.”

“But you still love her?”

“Yea…of course. Very much so.”

“She’s old now?”

“Yea. Pretty old. Late seventies now, I think. Why do you ask that?” Leon nodded thoughtfully.

“Just wondering how she’ll react when she finds out that you’ve died. If she’s old…well, it might not be too good for her.” Jacob hadn’t thought about that and suddenly felt shame. How would she react when she finds out? The last time they’d spoken she talked about having heart issues; there might have even been something about a pacemaker but he couldn’t remember. This was the kind of news that could kill someone her age.

There was a period of silence while Jacob wrestled with the notion. Was this something he could really do to her? He was more than ready to end his own life but…he wasn’t ready to end hers. Finally, “Leon…?”

“Yea buddy?”

“What were you planning on doing with my body?” Leon crossed his legs and put his notched finger to his chin with a considerate expression.

“Good question buddy. I guess I’m not too sure. I have access to a number of sewer maps so I could drop it off top-side in a number of places. Or…for that matter…I suppose there’s a number of places I could hide it down below as well. I’m open to suggestions, I guess. Do you have any requests?”

“I just…I don’t know…I just don’t think I want Miss May to find out about my death.”

“That’s your mother?”

“Yes. May Sarah Leroy: Miss May”

“And you think your disappearance will be easier on her?” Jacob honestly didn’t know. It was possible that she might not even know he had disappeared. He hadn’t tried to contact her in a long time and she was old. He might be able to spare her that way.

“I think it might be best if I’m never found.”

“Best for Miss May, you mean?”

“Yea. That’s what I mean.”

“Well that might be difficult. Might even involve a degree of dismemberment or some other method to destroy your remains entirely. You got any problems with that?” Jacob nodded his head “no”; or at least he though he did. When Leon didn’t respond he realized that the movement probably wasn’t as extensive as it was intended to be. He didn’t know what the hell the old man had injected him with but while he wasn’t entirely immobile; it was damn hard to move at all. Jacob had never realized at acutely attached his sense of touch was with his ability to control his limbs. It felt like Novocain for his entire body.

“You have my permission to do whatever you think is best. Just promise me that you’ll go through with this. I just can’t…can’t…can’t do this anymore.” Leon smiled and patted Jacob’s knee despite his inability to feel it.

“I give you my word Jacob. If you convince me that you’re ready then I promise I’ll go through with it.” Jacob was becoming slightly agitated but did his best to smile and nod. “So let’s continue then. Why don’t you tell me about your friends?” Jacob sighed.

“I don’t have any.” Leon chuckled.

“You didn’t have any family either…but lo and behold, we got a Miss May. Everyone’s got at least one friend; even me. You telling me you’ve never had a friend…ever?”

“Well…I didn’t exactly say that. Of course I’ve had friends before.”

“Ok then, that’s some progress. Why don’t you tell me about the one you considered your ‘best friend’? What is it they say…your B.F.F.?” The agitation began to rise a little.

“I don’t understand why you want to know this stuff. What does this have anything to do with killing me?” Leon leaned forward and put both his hands on Jacob’s numbed knees.

“This is no little thing you’re asking of me buddy. I think the very least you can do it humor an old man before you cast off your mortal coil. You’re not giving me anything for this job; and I can assure you, this is gonna be one hell of a job for me once you’re gone so you can just consider this your payment for services. Plus you’ve still not convinced me that you’re ready yet; and if I want answers to these questions to help convince me then perhaps you should just answer them.”

Jacob sighed and pushed the agitation deep down. Leon was totally right. “Okay…you’re right. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay buddy; nothin’ to die over.” Leon chortled again and Jacob found himself beginning to find the old man’s quirky humor a little endearing like the Mad Hatter or Doc Brown. “And now back to our interview, ladies and gentlemen,” Leon turned to an imaginary audience, “where our new buddy, Jacob, was about to tell us about his B.F.F.” He turned back to Jacob and held an invisible microphone to his face before laughing again and waving it off.

“Okay…” Jacob tried desperately to tune out the surrealistic nature of the moment. “Okay…I guess I’ve really only had one close friend. I’ve known a lot of guys from the poker tours that I liked and was friendly with; maybe grab a beer from time to time, but only one that I would have done anything for. I probably would’ve give my life for him if I could’ve.” Pain was evident in his voice and eyes which peered down at the dirty floor.

“Past tense…I see. So your friend’s not with us anymore?”

After a few seconds of silence Jacob answered, “No. Paul died a few years ago. He’d spent the majority of his life as an alcoholic; it finally caught up with him: liver failure. He was on a list for a while but we all knew it was bullshit; someone with that kind of history always gets pushed to the bottom if they even get on it at all which he had to pull some strings just to do. He was in the hospital for a week before he finally succumbed; hooked up to machines. Each day more machines. In the end he was put into a chemically induced coma and they were the only things keeping him alive. It was hell watching him wither away in just a few days.”

Leon shook his head with sympathy. “Oh buddy…that’s really a shame. I’m very sorry to hear about that. Kind of ironic though, don’t you think?” This brought Jacob’s gaze back to his own.

“What do you mean? What’s ‘ironic’ about it?”

“Seems pretty obvious to me buddy; kind of surprised you don’t see it.”

“Well I don’t; so enlighten me.”

“Okay…don’t lose your head…yet,” another chuckle, “just seems to me that if you were ready to make the decision to check out then, you know…instead of now, then you could’ve saved your friend’s life. After all, unless I’m mistaken, you’ve got a perfectly good liver in you now. A liver that could have saved his…Paul, was it…Paul’s life; or even one that could save someone else’s life now.” None of this had even occurred to Jacob and even with his numbness he felt like he had been slapped in the face.

“If fact,” Leon continued, “seems to me that you’ve got all kinds of organs that could be used to save several lives: a heart, liver, kidney…hell, they could probably use your brain at this point. Just seems a shame to waste it all.” Once again, the crazy, old man was right and it was starting to piss him off. He had been so cowardly and…selfish in his life and now in the hour of his death nothing had changed. Jacob had a good heart; he wanted to help people. Much of the money he had made over the years had been given to various charities and people he found in need.

Now he had an opportunity to actually save lives in his death and he didn’t even have the balls to do that; spineless…just spineless.

“You’re right Leon. You’re totally right.” Jacob shook his head, it was getting a little easier. “There’s got to be a way for me to give my organs to someone that needs them. Like…I don’t know…maybe drop my body off near a hospital or something and…with a note or something. That might work.”

“Perhaps,” Leon replied, “but then, what about Miss May? If you give your organs away she’ll definitely know that you’re dead. Then maybe she’s donating her organs as well.” Jacob scowled.

“That’s too far Leon! Don’t joke about her.”

“Keep your britches on buddy. It may sound like a joke to your but ask yourself if I’m wrong.” Again, he wasn’t; it was starting to get old. This was turning into a decision involving the lesser of two evils. Leon kept going, “Let’s move on for now. Paul died and his was very hard on you. We don’t have to go into that. Have you never been married…no kids?” The question helped to disarm the quandary in his mind brought Jacob back into the moment.

“No…not that I know of.” He was able to muster a small laugh at the clichéd joke. “I dated several women but was only serious with one: Sarah. We were engaged for a while but it just didn’t work out. In the long run, most of the women I was with couldn’t take the lifestyle that came with my profession.”

“Cards right? Poker I think you said?” Jacob nodded.

“Yea Poker. I was on the World Series of Poker tour. There was a lot of travel, a lot of late nights…a lot of women hanging around. You’d be surprised at the quality of the poker groupies; I was. We never got around to having any children, but we talked about it. I always wanted to be a dad, believe it or not. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me though; pun intended.”

Leon didn’t laugh. “You’ve got some bad ones, buddy.”

“What’s that…kids?”

“No…puns. They’re not good. Coming from me that should tell you something. That being said; why can’t you have kids still? I mean, hypothetically speaking, since we know that you’re not going to be alive to do so, but was there some reason you couldn’t have met a different woman and have had children? Did you never want to do that; or was poker more important.” It was a little unnerving how the old man was getting into his head.

“I…don’t know. I guess there’s no reason why I couldn’t. I just never met a woman on the pro circuit that I could have seen that working out with. You know what I mean?”

“But you’re not on the circuit anymore; right? From what I could gather, that plays a large part in your decision to shove off, unless I’m wrong?”

“Well, it’s not a simple as that.” Jacob paused. “But yea, I’m not able to play professionally anymore.”

“So you could say that you entered a new portion of your life where it might be possible to meet a different type of woman; the type of woman you might consider loving and having those kids you wanted with?” Jacob had to think for a moment. Through all the anguish and pain of losing his old life, he hadn’t given any consideration to what a new life could be like. He could only see his current circumstance as a culmination…an ending; if he had his way, the ultimate ending. There had been no thought given to the possibility of happiness beyond this point; no credence given to the concept of a new beginning.

Was it even possible? Could he find a life past this? Could he find love? These were new ideas rattling around a dark canyon, sparking points of light wherever they touched. He was broke, but he had been broke before. There was a point where he built something out of nothing so he knew it could be done. It wasn’t like he was completely devoid of other skills.

“I guess you’re right. But I’m broke and I own money to people who would kill me anyway if I didn’t pay them.” Leon stood and stretched igniting a twinge of jealously in Jacob. He began pacing in the small space in front of their chairs.

“What do you owe these bad people exactly?” Jacob sighed again. He really didn’t want to reveal this type of information but at this point they were beyond the point of concealing anything. What good would it do?

“I owe twenty-five grand to one group and fifteen to another.”

“So forty thousand then? That’s not too bad. I mean, it ain’t chicken scratch, but I’ve heard of guys gettin’ in for hundreds of thousands…millions even. Seems hard for me to believe that you’d get offed for forty gee. Seems to me that if you worked with those guys they’d probably listen. I happen to know that they’d much rather get back their money than have to deal with a possible murder investigation.” More sensibility. Where the hell was this coming from?

“You watch a lot of the ‘Dr. Phil Show’ Leon?” Leon stopped pacing for a moment and brought his face down next to Jacob’s with a stern expression. He could smell the old man’s breath.

“Let me tell you one thing buddy: Dr. Phil is not who you think he is! That creature from the Oprah lagoon is a black magic high priest with more power than the president. What you see on T.V. is his ‘as above’ and you don’t get to see his ‘so below’ and, trust me, you don’t want to.” He leaned back up and returned to pacing. “And to answer your question: yes. I enjoy his show quite a bit. There was a woman yesterday who was sleeping with her daughter’s husband and a friend of her grandson’s; quite gripping television.”

“Okay…sorry I asked. But all of that aside I don’t see any way that I could build a constructive life while being under the thumb of the mob for that much money even if they didn’t kill me.” Leon continued the apparent intervention.

“So there’s no one you could borrow the money from to pay them back? Mortgage a house? Sell a car? A rich Nigerian prince? Say…what about Miss May? Does she have any money? Does she own her home?” That actually sparked a possible idea. Miss May did own her home. Jacob knew that because he was the one that paid off her mortgage a decade before with his winnings. He had the entire house renovated at the time as well increasing the value of the property extensively. It was actually entirely reasonable to think that Miss May would let him take out a mortgage on the home. It was probably his in her will anyway.

“You know Leon, as much as I loathe to admit it, you might be on to something. I could actually get the money from Miss May. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before but I could probably get enough money to pay my debt as well as a cheap car and apartment. I’d be at rock-bottom, but it would be possible.” Leon, apparently paced out, sat back down.

“Take a look around buddy. You really think that’s ‘rock-bottom’? I live in a hidden room in the sewer system.” Jacob smiled; or at least he thought he was. There was no sense of feeling returning at all.

“Point taken Leon. By the way, what the hell did you give me; I’m almost afraid to ask.”

“Does it really matter buddy? After all, you’re getting ready to die; what do you care what I shot you up with?” That was the question that tilted the scales for Jacob.

“I guess it matters…I guess it matters because I’m not so sure I want to die now.”

“Oh really?” Leon feigned surprise…poorly.

“Oh please; I’m an idiot but I’m not dumb. I know what you’ve been trying to do…and it’s been working. I was so caught up in the intense pain and loss of my situation and couldn’t see anything beyond that; but you’ve helped me see further ahead. You’ve shown me the pain it would cause and the selfishness of the act itself. You’ve made me see that there could be a future for me; a very real chance for happiness and love. Damn you Leon, you’re a friggin’ ‘Clarence’!”

“Clarence?” Leon asked.

“Yea, you know, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. ‘Clarence’ was the angel that showed Jimmy Stewart how bad the world would be without him. That’s you, man. You’re my ‘Clarence’. So…how long does this stuff last? I think I might be ready to get out of here.” Leon stood up and walked over to only table in the meager room and returned with a large Bowie knife in tow.

Jacob’s brow furrowed instinctively. “What’s the knife for, Leon?”

“Well buddy, a promise is a promise. Don’t worry, it’s not gonna hurt in the least.”

“No Leon! I don’t think you understand; I changed my mind. I don’t want to die now.” Leon nodded in agreement and smiled his massive smile.

“I understand buddy. You’ve convinced me; you’re ready. You don’t have to try to convince me anymore.”

“What the hell are you talking about? I said I DON’T want to die! Put that fucking knife down, Leon. You’re scaring me! This is more of your psycho-bullshit, right? You’re bluffing me. This is a big bluff, right?” Jacob tried to push forward to his feet but still couldn’t master control of his numbed muscles and nearly fell to the ground. Leon gently caught him and held him back into the chair.

“I’m not trying to scare you buddy. Thing is, due to my religion, I was unable to help you as long as you actually wanted to die. Now that you want to live again…well, you’re ready. I can keep my promise.” Jacob’s eyes widened in fear as his mind struggled the other man’s words. He was still trying to piece it together fully when the knife slid into one side of his abdomen. There was a slight tug as it sliced from one side to the other spilling his intestines to the floor.

Jacob looked down at the gore with horror. It didn’t hurt at all. He tried to raise his hand but the strength was ebbing away exponentially. The last thing he could see before the darkness took him was a bright red pentagram on the wall. The last thing he heard was Leon’s soothing voice.

“You’re welcome buddy. I’m glad I could help.”

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