He Shot The Messenger
Ben didn't feel scared.
He didn't feel sad.
He might have felt relief, if he'd been aware enough to think about how he was feeling.
Because for the first time in weeks, Ben was feeling nothing.
Ben's mind had fallen into a dreamless sleep, finally sheltered from the violence inside him. Now, silken whispers threaded into that sleep, teasing at the edge of Ben's awareness until he stirred.
Time to rest.
Ben's body curled up in the back seat. Ben's presence flowed, in gentle pulses, back down along his nerves. He pulled his hands together, and tucked them under his head. His knees were his again, and he folded them in tight. His face relaxed, peace settling over his features by degrees. He didn't have a blanket, but he felt tucked in, all the same. Something inside was still wrapped tight around him, keeping everything else at bay.
I've done what I can. We've gotten too far away.
Ben could see Nathan, but the vision was faraway-- hazy, like when he dreamed. Nathan had the scythe tucked under one arm, and he was hopping out of the back of the pickup. He was OK. That's what really mattered.
All I can do now is help you to watch.
Ben was grateful to see it, and grateful for the feeling of peace that floated around him as he watched it. Ben floated in and out of the vision, following Nathan out into the middle of the road. Nathan kept his eyes down, long lashes drifting close to his cheeks.
Learn the truth of the one you call 'Nathan'
Nathan didn't even look up, when the first bike swept past him. He sidestepped it, and then whipped the scythe out and around behind him. The bike did all the work, driving the rider across the far edge of Nathan's weapon. That thin, curved blade fetched the man's head off so neatly, the motorcycle didn't even wobble. The headless rider coasted all the way to the divider before his bike finally fell down.
The Malakhim were created with their wings dipped in blood.
Nathan didn't look back to see what had happened. His head was still down, his eyes still closed. He stood, whipping the scythe forward. There were ribbons tied to it, Ben noticed-- they traced a wide arc behind its sweep. They were pink and red, and he remembered them from his dream. They meant something, but it kept slipping away from him.
They are messengers of death.
The next rider had his gun up before he reached Nathan. Ben saw a muzzle flash, then the scythe's wicked point erupted from the man's back. Nathan hadn't even ducked. He'd let the man ride straight down the end of his weapon.
That is why this one keeps asking you to die. That is all it knows.
The man slid down the scythe until he snagged, hanging up where its angle widened. Nathan was already lifting him off his bike. There was red seeping across the angel's chest, and he'd fallen back to one knee, but there was no strain on his face.
Never will you see this creature more comfortable. Peace comes to it only in the stir of battle.
The bike fell on its side, and skidded away, throwing sparks here and there where metal struck debris. Nathan swung the rider, still impaled at the end of his weapon. The force at the end of that scythe had to be ridiculous. Ben could see its shaft bending under the strain. Nathan let the rider's momentum spin him, his strength concentrated on redirecting that force rather than fighting it. Still-- that kind of strength, it wasn't natural. It wasn't human.
It looks like you, but it is nothing like you. It will never care about you.
Nathan yanked the scythe back. The man's momentum kept him going, drawing him off the weapon. Ben heard the Jeep's brakes squeal, saw it try too late to get out of the way. The rider's body smashed into its hood, and slipped up into the windshield. Blood from the man's torso painted the battered windshield, covering it from edge to edge.
To it, you are a distraction. It will never understand your brief flicker of existence.
Nathan stood, steadying himself, the shaft of his scythe braced against the ground. He opened his eyes slowly. His eyes were still filled with unearthly fire, but they seemed to look over his work with quiet satisfaction.
Do you have any doubt that it will end you once it tires of waiting?
Nathan walked up to the Jeep. The driver's door was hanging off its hinges, scraped with two different colours of paint from its collisions. Nathan pulled on it, and it tore away like a loose tooth. The man inside tried to pull at his helmet-- they were all wearing helmets, Ben realized, all hiding their faces. The man's hands were too clumsy. He couldn't dislodge the catch on his chin-strap.
It will never let you join its place of honour in this war.
Nathan's hand came down flat on the man's helmet. His fingers tightened, gripping it with inhuman strength. His face was a mask of its own, contempt carved into those pale features. He yanked the helmet, hard, and the strap finally came loose. The man's eyes were sunken, his features withered away. There was hardly anything left to see.
It will never let you learn to use the power I have given you.
The scythe came down smoothly. A quick yank separated the driver's withered head from its shoulders. The severed head rolled out of the Jeep, splattering black ooze across Nathan's shoes. Nathan stepped away. He took long, even strides towards the highway shoulder, leaving heaps of carnage behind him-- and he never even glanced back.
It imagines itself perfect.
Nathan stumbled just as he reached the sand. He tried to catch himself with the scythe, but its shaft sank past the ground, offering no support. It was growing diffuse, getting insubstantial. The fire in Nathan's eyes was dying down, receding into pale blue irises where Ben thought it belonged. He could see more of the Nathan he knew in that face, and it was comforting, no matter what the voices told him.
But it is not truly immortal.
Nathan was always pale, but this was something else. His face was chalky. When his lips peeled back from his teeth-- a pained grimace-- his gums looked almost as white.
It hates me for taking your life, yet look...
Nathan let his hands drop. The last traces of his weapon escaped, turning to vapor on the wind. Gingerly, he pulled his coat back-- blood was still oozing from his chest, so much that the coat had begun to cling to it. That stain was so dark against the soft cream trim of Nathan's coat, but Ben was somewhere safe and warm, and he couldn't bring himself to worry.
That body is flesh, and sheds living blood.
And it was true. Ben had never seen Nathan look so vulnerable. But wait... was that right? Flashes of his dream started coming back to him. Nathan with his wings out, his face so serious, standing over him with that symbol blazing out from between his eyes.
What explanation has it given you?
"You can't possibly understand." He heard Nathan's voice, but there was something different in it. He could see more. He could see Nathan the way May had taught him to see angels. He could see the blue-white pulse of spirit racing along Nathan's bones, but those pulses weren't just his bones-- they were overlaid with the structure of something else within him, tumbling through his body like it was barely being held inside. "No one could ever expect it of you."
But he'd said something else, too, hadn't he. And there was something. Something else in his eyes. And that's what Ben was starting to see now. There was blood on Nathan's hand, dripping into the eye of the Thorn. Nathan was looking at it, his eyes half-lidded. He was getting so pale, even the corners of his eyes were turning white.
His eyes! The pupils were open now, dark pools of black, and when he looked at them, Ben saw pain. Pain in the eyes of an angel! And it didn't feel like the first time. The memory came flooding back. Tightness in the angel's voice, the way he'd looked down and away.
... has trapped a man.
"I'm sorry, Ben." So soft, the words just washed over Ben from deep in his memories. They felt like almost like a touch, as though he were being brushed by those glowing wings. All the fear had started to drain out of him, because those wings folded back, they lowered down. Those wings were so soft on the inside. They were so downy, so fluffy-- the white bits almost looked like when Dorik had puppy fur. Ben saw wisps of little tan-gold pinfeathers, drifting in a breeze that smelled like flowers. Like fresh-cut violets, the ones he brought his grandmother when they visited her in the home. And just like that, those wings didn't scare him anymore. He wanted them to stretch over him. He knew he'd be safe in their shadow forever.
You have seen the proof.
"Let me free you of this, so you can move on."
"Move on?" Ben heard himself saying. Peace was settling over him, soaking through him. Even the regret didn't feel so bad anymore. "I can't be dead..." he murmured. "I never got to live." A last tear tumbled free, draining down his cheek. "I'm nothing."
When I saw his wings, I started to accept it. I think... his virtue could make me.
"So that's it, then," he heard himself mumble, "They were right about me. I'll be nothing forever."
No, you are the proof.
Nathan had turned away. He'd closed his eyes, and the vision of his wings had vanished. He'd dropped his face behind those blue fringes hanging down around it. And he looked... he looked...
Why did he stop? Ben wondered distantly. Why did he look away? It looked... so... human.
Ben pulled his eyes half-open. Something bubbled to the surface of all those memories, something he couldn't believe he'd forgotten.
And Charlie-- Ben thought. Charlie was there. He blinked, trying and failing to call some image of her to mind. He wanted to remember her face, her smile, the way she looked at him when she laughed. Did she die too?
And then the hardest question to ask himself, but he had to--
Why haven't I thought about her before?