With Opened Eyes
The first shot hit the SUV in its spare tire, making a *thunk* that shuddered up through its frame. White tried to swerve, but traffic was getting thicker and harder to avoid. Behind them, the gunman was levelling his rifle over the pickup's rusty cab, and White couldn't keep that barrel out of his rear-view for long.
The second shot hit the windshield pretty square. Glass exploded into the SUV, and thudded into the backs of their seats. Stuffing began flying out of ragged tears, whipping in a wind that now flowed through the SUV unresisted from tip to tail.
White jerked the wheel hard, but he was too late. He clipped a green sedan, spinning it all the way around. The SUV wobbled, and for a heart-stopping instant it felt like it was going to flip. A pale yellow town car slammed into the left front bumper, and the impact set the SUV back on its tires.
The SUV was hard to handle now, light on the ground and tossed by more wind currents the faster White tried to go. Time was running out, and the angel still hadn't managed to tap that weapon. White set his jaw, and concentrated on the road. One thing at a time. A bullet took a chunk out of the passenger seat headrest, but the angel didn't move.
"Damn it!" The voice coming out of Ben was dark, inhuman. It didn't need air to travel, it didn't fight the wind. It simply became sound, hissing between the boy's teeth. "How am I supposed to concentrate with all these interruptions?"
Ben's eyes were rolled up, their whites dominating his expression. His face contorted into a twisted mask of rage. "These petty little losers with their petty little feuds!" His sightless eyes fixed on the truck behind them. "Vermin!"
Nathan's head tilted subtly. He followed Ben's movement in the rear view mirror. The boy's hand was up, sticking out between bits of broken glass. A pulse hit the air, shoving the SUV forward. Nathan's lips tightened into a thin, straight line. The force behind Ben's gesture couldn't be seen, but it could be felt-- a pulse that reached that pale town car, and lifted it into the air. It tumbled, picking up speed. The red pickup caught it mid-roll, and they crumpled like cheap toys. Truck and town car slid into the flow of traffic, and the pile of wreckage grew.
"Take Ben and get out of here," Nathan said. His calm, grim tone cut through the wind. The little hairs on the back of White's neck stood straight up, goosebumps racing up his arms. "As long as you stay together, I can find you."
Nathan shifted forward, putting a hand past the empty windshield frame. He eased up in his seat, getting used to the push of racing air. "Get as far away as you can, as quickly as you can, understood?"
"And you'll do what," White forced his voice to stay casual, "Reason with them?"
"If I'm going to use the Thorn, I need to be rid of distractions." Nathan slid up onto the dash, gripping the SUV's weather-stripping for balance. He turned to face White, turning that inhuman glare on the tracker. "Just take Ben out of here, and don't go to Esa's without me. All right?"
"Yeah, yeah, I gotcha." White fought to keep his eyes up. The light from that stare was hard to look at for long. He fixed his eyes on the road ahead. "Just be careful out there. I've got no backup, and I sure as hell ain't leading these jokers back to Juno."
Nathan was already sliding out onto the hood, pulling his long, thin legs up and out of the SUV. "They won't be a problem," Nathan said. His eyes fixed on Ben, though Ben couldn't look back at him. "You're safer than you realize."
White opened his mouth to ask what that meant, but Nathan had already gotten his feet under him. The angel put a hand on the SUV's roof, and eased himself up onto it. His coat flapped past him, dragging him along the length of the SUV. He didn't seem to mind it. He moved like someone at home in a riot of air. Like someone more comfortable with the wind tugging at his shoulders.
Too late now.
Ben suddenly realized he was watching this, all of this, as though floating alongside the car. He knew his body was somewhere in there, in the rocking frame of metal and glass. But all he could really feel were those words, the words that had taken him over a few moments before.
I'm sorry, he thought, I don't know what happened. Forming the thoughts was painful, but the pain seemed to come from everywhere. My head hurts, he thought. Wherever it is. I'm confused.
Didn't you want to stop him?
Nathan was up on one knee now, poised as though getting ready to strike. The closer he got to the end of the roof, the more tense his body became. But it was a strange kind of tension. Ben could tell he wasn't scared. It was more like... more like...
I tried, he thought, and now he knew that was true. I really did try... That tension really made Ben worry, and so did the glow rising off the Thorn. Will it be OK?
He's going to use it now.
The disappointment ringing through those words made Ben desperately unhappy. He scrambled for the reply. He'll see through the illusions his humanity imposes on him. It seemed obvious to Ben, now.
When he loses himself...
That purple iris was almost entirely gone now, swallowed by the pupil in the middle of the Thorn's eye. The eye had filled up now, lit the same way as Nathan's eyes. There were swirls of flame coming off it, and they were forming into something around Nathan's hand.
... he could forget you.
Nathan reached the edge of the SUV's roof, and everything seemed to slow down. Nathan launched himself into the air. He drew the Thorn back, the other hand ahead of him and waiting.
When that eye opens...
The brighter those flames got, the worse Ben felt. He could feel his body now, and it was pulling him down, drawing him out of the air. The wider that pupil got, the deeper the pain in Ben's chest became.
... he could see the truth of you.
Ben folded in on himself, clutching at his chest.
It hurts... he thought, It's still too close, it hurts! He wanted to scream, to pray, to do anything that might reach out to the angel for help. Nathan, he begged, it's still too close to me, don't let it pierce me!
His guts felt like they were twisting into knots. Ben prayed with everything he had left, begging the pain to stop. He pulled his knees almost flush with his chest. He shuddered, and slammed his back against the back seat. The glass in his back bit deeper, but that couldn't even hold a candle to what was happening everywhere else.
Why does it hurt like this? Ben thought desperately, directing the question at anything that could hear him. Help me...
Why should I help you?
I didn't mean you. I don't even know who you are.
Ben felt like his body was tearing, like something was giving way in the middle of his being. The world just got slower and slower, until the air felt too thick for Ben to push it in and out of his lungs. Ben mouthed a soundless cry to White, but White looked like he was stuck in place. Ben twisted in his seat, trying to catch sight of Nathan, to see where he'd landed. Nathan was still hanging there, suspended in midair.
Only the energy was moving. Ben could see it, glowing bright against the black that still dimmed his perceptions of the world outside. He tried to think of May, and the way the world looked like putty when she talked about it. Thinking of it that way made it easier, and eased the pain.
You're always fighting me.
I fight you because you hurt me.
The world fuzzed out, and Ben could finally see what Nathan was grabbing for. It was a pole, at first, but then it sprouted a wicked, narrowly curved blade. The scythe-- Ben knew it well. Not wide like a Halloween decoration, but curved in acutely, with a wicked point at the far tip where it began its widening bend. He kept seeing it in his dreams. The weapon Nathan used in Heaven. A scythe not for a reaper of grass-- he thought, and the words sounded familiar, like something he'd heard a long time ago-- but for a reaper of men. The more solid the weapon got, the more Ben's insides wrenched. The closer that weapon got to the human world, the more Ben felt like he was being forced out of it.
It hurts because you're not truth anymore.
Is that why? Because I'm not alive? That makes me...
Nathan's fingers closed over the weapon. It was solid now, just as solid as he was-- Ben let out a breath, grateful he could take the next one. The world sped up abruptly. Nathan's right hand clamped down over the scythe's shaft, his left guiding the blade's path.
Illusion. The Thorn pierces illusion. I see it now.
And he could see it. He could see everything. The truck's windshield shattered. The scythe's pointed tip sank into the driver without resistance-- Nathan's momentum carrying it through the man, and through the back of the seat behind him. The shooter ducked behind the cab, frantically pumping shells out of his gun.
That's why I couldn't let Nathan use it so close to me.
Nathan vaulted over the truck's cab, pivoting on the scythe. His long legs gathered up under him, and just barely cleared the roof. The gun came up, but so did Nathan's boot-- the shooter ducked back, and Nathan's kick swung past his chin.
If he did, it would shatter the illusion of life I have, wouldn't it?
The scythe pulled free of the driver's seat, though not completely free of the driver. Nathan twisted it, and caught the edge of the windscreen in the crook of its blade. He clung to the scythe, and his weight dug the blade firmly into the cab's roof.
But it's more complicated than an illusion, isn't it...
The driver's corpse slipped off the blade, and fell heavily onto the wheel before sliding to the floor. The truck started oscillating wildly, and it wobbled onto two wheels. The corpse's weight floored both the brakes and the gas, and smoke began to pour out of the front wheel wells. The shooter used the butt of his rifle as a bludgeon, wild blows connecting when they could. Both men were whipped back and forth by the runaway truck. All Nathan could do was hang on.
It's the relationship between Awas and the pieces of you inside me. That's what would break apart. And just like that, Ben knew where those words were coming from, what the voice inside him really was.
You only live because I sustain you. Yet you deny me.
Nathan finally got his feet under him, and threw himself hard against the back window of the truck's cab. The lodged blade came free, and he hoisted the scythe up, pulling it back and in towards him. The shooter opened his gun, fumbling with one hand to try to get his last few shells out of the box sliding past him.
So what is it you want from me?
Haven't I always acted to protect you?
Nathan's scythe whipped down, and the butt of its shaft came up beneath the shooter's chin. A quick swivel, and Nathan knocked the gun down into the truck bed. The next blow was to the man's throat, a quick thrust that nearly shoved the man over the side.
Didn't I help you save the angel?
You were the voices... Ben was sure of it, speaking me to me all at once...
A compact sedan braked hard, trapped between traffic and a cement divider. The oncoming pickup swerved back into its lane, but there was just nowhere to go. The driverless truck hit it head-on, throwing Nathan and the shooter against the cab. Nathan used the scythe to brace himself, and bore most of his weight on one braced shoulder. He hit the glass hard. His shoulder went through, and his head smacked hard against the cab roof. The back of the truck pitched up, lifting off the ground. Its wheels were still spinning, stripped-down brakes shrieking uselessly. Both hoods crumpled. Ben could see everyone, in both vehicles, but no one was moving.
So call out to me. Let me protect you now.
All right. Ben would have done anything, said anything, just to stop seeing this happen. Whatever it is you want to do-- just do it. Nathan was crumpled over the shooter, but he was still gripping the scythe tightly. I won't fight you. Ben wished he could close his eyes. I'll trust you.
Ben's consciousness sank mercifully into the dark. He heard himself speaking, but he didn't care anymore. Everything ached, and he couldn't hold on to anything, anymore. All he wanted was a little rest. This time when the dark closed over him, he welcomed it.
"Annoyances." Ben's eyes rolled back again, and narrowed with irritation. The two fastest bikes came sailing off the overpass, dark shapes against a bright blue sky. They landed hard behind the SUV, chasing it past the shadow of a semi. They were faster, and more agile than the wounded four-wheel drive could handle. He just couldn't shake them off.
"If you ever had a purpose," The little boy's body relaxed, draping casually across the back seat, "you've certainly served it, poppets."
Little pinpricks of black began to erupt across the lead biker's chest. A tiny, crimson dot began to spread away from one of them. The guy took his hand off the brake, frantically patting at the spots. Between pats, little jets of flame erupted from between his fingers.
"My brother should count himself lucky I dispose of you rather than send you back to express my displeasure."
He looked back at the other bike-- it was tumbling free, its driver twisting mid-air. The guy was screaming, completely engulfed in flame. The first driver tried to tear off his helmet, but his fingers stuck to the metal as his flesh melted away. He lost control of the bike. He left smouldering pieces of himself along the blacktop for a quarter mile.
"Scream back along your strings."
The sound reached him, even inside his melting helmet. Nothing could shut it out.
"Let him know I am not amused."