Now Hang On A Moment
"So this is our last lead."
The guy had a pretty voice, smooth like Nathan's, but soft and welcoming like nothing about Nathan could ever be. In any other context, Ben would have loved to hear it. But Ben didn't want to hear anything, anymore.
Ben didn't even look up at them. He just stayed, cross-legged, on the floor where they'd dropped him. Nothing they said mattered anymore. He hadn't saved Charlie, and he'd lost the Thorn. Whatever they were going to do to him, he deserved it. It didn't matter anymore.
"All that remains to tell us what happened."
Like he was going to tell them anything.
"I told you if we kept the other, we could draw him out."
The second voice was harsh, and had a rasp in it. The guy sounded like he smoked too many cigarettes.
"It's hard to believe this little monkey could have destroyed one of us," that soft voice seeped into Ben's thoughts, and he almost felt like it was poking around in there. What a weird thing for a sound to do.
"He and the girl were the last to see him before his name was lost to us," that rough voice insisted.
One of us... Ben bit his lip. The black nails. The light in the guy's eyes. The weird language. Ben felt like an idiot. Of course the guy was an angel. But so what if he'd lost his name? What did that matter? Why were they saying Ben destroyed him? Did somebody catch him, did they punish him for strangling little boys? Hope leapt up a little in Ben's chest. Maybe that would keep them from hurting Charlie, at least for now. But if they thought he destroyed an angel, what if they wanted revenge?
"So frightened," that soft voice mused. The pressure on Ben's thoughts eased. "It thinks it knows nothing."
"You've heard her story." Smoker-voice had thick boots on, they made rotten floorboards creak uneasily beneath him. Ben heard him turn, probably to face the other guy. "She fled and left them alone. He is gone." Gone, Ben thought. Not just punished. Destroyed, and gone. "I thought he might be a witness," that raspy voice got harsher. "No longer-- this creature is unnatural. Where are the tears? Where are the cries for mercy? No mukhat is this calm."
Ben opened his eyes. The soft voice had to belong to the guy to Ben's right. Everything about the guy looked soft. He had eyes that were blue like robin's eggs, and fine blonde hair that made little curls around his face. It tumbled in little curls down over his shoulders, too. His face was narrow, but everything about it looked gentle, and kind. His skin was soft and pink like a baby's, and his peaceful expression just made that everything about him look warm, and kind. Now THAT was an angel, Ben thought. If he hadn't been wearing a starched shirt and tie, Ben would be sure the guy had stepped right out of a stained glass window.
The guy beside him had to be the smoker. He even smelled like ashes from here. He was the one who'd grabbed Ben, a guy with fine black hair and a charcoal gray jacket. It was only a little darker than the reference guy's, and he wore it over a T-shirt too. He was pale, with a scar sliced through his left eyebrow, and he looked a little gray, like the reference guy had. Maybe they were besties, or related. Or boyfriends. Ben had heard of that, too. But then, religious people didn't believe in that. Ben wondered if their angels felt the same way. Whatever the connection, the black-haired guy was way more angry at Ben. His eyes were dark, but when they moved Ben caught little red glints inside them.
"You could see it if compassion did not blind you," the black-haired angel snapped.
"Perhaps," the blonde angel said softly.
"There's something you're not telling me, Amib." The smoker's eyes fixed on the golden-haired angel. Amib, Ben rolled the sound over in his mind. Amib. It even sounded better to Ben, like it was closer to a real angel's name.
"I'm not hiding it," Amib soothed, "I'm just not sure." His eyes locked on Ben's. It felt nice to be looked at by a real angel, to be open to Heaven's eyes. Ben wished he could show the angel everything, so the angel could take all that guilt and sadness away. He kept trying to reach back with his own eyes, to show Amib what the angel wanted. But as hard as he tried, he couldn't connect with the light behind that stare. He couldn't reach Heaven, and Heaven couldn't reach him.
"I care very little for its guilt or innocence." The black-haired angel's fist clenched and unclenched at his side. "If it can tell us nothing, I will use it to express my anger." That red glint was stronger now, bubbling up from the black depths of the man's eyes. "Make some blood music," he seethed. "Make it die."
"You won't be satisfied." Amib closed his eyes, and losing sight of them made Ben feel so lonely. He needed to see them again. "It's immortal," Amib said flatly, turning away.
"So what? Your call."
"I need more time," Amib's delicate shoulders rose and fell slightly, a subtle shrug. "Its mind is hard to penetrate-- there's a duality I don't understand." He looked at Ben again, and relief swept over the boy. "On the surface it seems overwhelmed, swept along by fate it can't comprehend. Memories either hidden or stripped away, leaching back in tightly controlled ways." Amib shuddered, and his eyes swept back towards the other man. "Some of them troubling."
Amib waved a distracted hand in Ben's direction. Ben felt like something had been holding him up, and now it let him go. He rocked forward, and held his head. His mind swam, all chaos and confusion. He didn't really understand what he'd been feeling, or why. All he knew was that it was gone.
"Beneath the surface there is something darker and more malevolent than I've ever perceived." That drew a raised eyebrow from the dark-haired man. Amib turned the rest of the way, to question him face to face. "Have you stopped to ask yourself why we captured it so easily? Why it carries an angel's weapon?" Amib began to pick at the cuff of his left sleeve, worry spoiling the grace of his features. "Why let such a thing fall into our hands?" he asked. "What about this isn't wrong?"
"Ha." The black-haired angel tore his eyes away from Amib, and stepped up to Ben. He grabbed Ben by the forearms, and twisted as he lifted the boy. The pain made Ben scramble to his feet, anything to relieve the pressure in his arms. "If there's some sinister answer to your questions, I doubt we'll wait for it long."
That light in the dark-haired angel's eyes wasn't a glimmer anymore. It was a red glow, with swirls of fire blazing in the center. They were all scooped out, filled up with that angelic light, and there was nothing human in them anymore. His features looked twisted, distorted, and Ben couldn't focus on the man's face anymore.
His eyes were stuck on the swirls of black burning into the man's head. There was a curl coming off the bottom of something that looked kinda like a fancy cursive "y". In the shelter of that curl, three parallel lines that for some reason made Ben think about blades and swords sticking up out of the ground. And on either side, little crimped jagged lines that swept out like wings. All of this added up to something, and all of a sudden, Ben could understand it. It all added up to a name.
Rahab. Just like that, Ben knew him. Ben knew what he was in for. And all the other panic Ben had ever felt seemed like nothing now. Because he was staring into the face of pure violence, and it was grinning back at him.
"If I wanted to ponder imponderables," Rahab purred through that smoker's rasp, "I would have stayed in that pathetic sewing circle Michael calls an army." He lifted Ben off the ground, still holding him by the arms. "Complex machinations bore me," he growled, carrying Ben back toward the wall like the boy weighed nothing. "We'll settle this with the sword."
And Ben remembered the first thing he'd seen, when they shoved him into this room. It had taken him a minute to understand why there were stains down the wall, and on the floor. There was a small pile of garbage against the wall, but it was like the muck had flowed up the wall behind it, which made no sense at all. It had taken a minute to realize his understanding of all that was upside down. It wasn't until his eyes adjusted that he saw something hanging over a coathook or something above the stains. It dangled down, and there were tatters of leather, paper, cloth or something all over it so it was hard to see. But once he saw it, it changed his perspective entirely.
It was a ribcage, and some bits of arms, and what looked like most of a skull. And suddenly the coathook didn't look like a coathook anymore. Ben leaned to one side, and saw it a little better. It was a big fat rusty spike sticking straight out of the wall. It had been bolted there, and the stains ran down from the plate it was bolted to, all the way down to the pile on the floor. And that's what that pile of garbage was. It was everything that had fallen off the spike and been left to rot on the floor. And they'd pushed Ben towards it, made him sit right under it, right on that awful stain. And he hadn't even cared.
"Until then," Rahab was saying-- and then he shoved Ben, hard. Ben felt something punch him in the middle of his back, and then there was fire, everywhere, and he couldn't breathe. His chest hurt so bad, so much pressure, and then something came crunching out right under his collarbone. Rahab let him go, and he swung a little, the spike crushing against his bones and making this funny, sick pain shiver up to his scalp and down to his toes.
Nothing below Ben's waist would move, it wouldn't even twitch. His hands would move, just barely, but not enough to fight back. He didn't have much fight left in him. He kept struggling to cough, because it felt like he was drowning. Rahab dusted off his hands. They weren't even bloody. He acted like just touching Ben disgusted him. But he seemed satisfied as he looked over his handiwork, and the light went out of his eyes.
"Let it enjoy our hospitality," Rahab muttered. The angels left Ben in the dark, terrified and alone.
Ben felt like he kept falling asleep. He kept slipping in and out of somewhere dark and cold. It was a fight to stay focused, to try to look around him. He wasn't bleeding as much as he thought he would. There was blood along the spike, and blood dripping down his shirt, but it didn't even seem like he was bleeding as much as he had when the homeless guy hit him. Ben's mind flashed back to one of those emergency medical shows, where the guy got impaled on a road sign that stuck through his windshield. There was something special about being impaled, something that meant they couldn't get him out of the car. That's right. When somebody was impaled, they wouldn't really start bleeding until they pulled the thing out. Then it would all gush out at once.
So these were probably his last moments. He felt weak when he lost blood. Even if he was walking around dead, he probably couldn't keep walking if he lost it all. He'd walked right into a trap, and he'd given Nathan's weapon to the same guys that killed him, and it had all gone so wrong, so horribly wrong, and-- and--
They're right, aren't they! He thought of that voice inside him, of all the prompting and warning it had dealt him. Where was that warning when Rahab grabbed Ben? You lured me here, you wanted me to be caught! Ben was sure of it. You did this to me!
And what of your precious free will?
His bones definitely were rattling when the voice rose up inside him again. It wasn't just Ben's imagination. That sick tingly pain came from his bones pushing right against the spike, and Ben could see it quivering. Little droplets of blood flew off the metal, he was shaking it so hard. The pain was excruciating, and Ben couldn't even do anything to express it. He couldn't even scream.
The decision to come here was yours. You chose to linger, so you were caught.
I don't know... what are my choices anymore. Ben tried to swing himself, tried to bring his arms forward to see if he could grab the spike. Anything was better than hanging here. Better to pull it out and die all at once. But every time he tried to lift his arms, the pain in his chest blacked out his vision. Even when he tried to force his way through that pain, there was only so far his muscles could even go.
What... are you? Ben slumped forward, giving up for now. From the beginning, Nathan tried to tell me. But I-- I didn't listen. Ben wished with all his heart that he'd listened. If that was the last wish he'd ever make, it felt like the right one. You're using me.
The voice made Ben's body twist in pain. Even his legs, which Ben couldn't move, bounced and jerked miserably.
Looking for someone to blame.
Oh, it was awful. Ben's hands flailed uselessly at the ends of arms that refused to even lift anymore.
Emotion is weakness. It is why you were caught. It is why pain is stopping you now.
What the hell? Like the giant metal spike had nothing to do with it? I can't lift my arms! That's what's stopping me!
Push past the pain.
Ben tried. His mouth opened in a soundless scream. There was no air to push past his vocal cords, no way to even gasp. Everything felt like it was flopping useless, inside him and out.
I can't, I can't! Ben's thoughts screamed. OH GOD it hurts!
My power is with you. Overcome this.
The shudders got stronger, and Ben watched his legs jerk. They looked like Dorik's, when he was dreaming. They twitched on their own, and he couldn't even swing them. Maybe if he could swing them, he could slide further up the spike. But the pain! The pain was bigger than he was. The pain made everything go limp and useless.
I can't do that! Ben's mouth was filling with blood. Blood was welling up in his throat, his nose, it felt like it was coming from everywhere. I'm only human!
Are you calling out for me?
Yes, damnit, yes! HELP ME!
"All you had to do was ask."
That dark voice was coming from him, Ben realized dimly. He couldn't really hear it-- it still sounded like it was all inside his head-- but he could feel the words escaping, like air getting out of a balloon. His left hand came up, and took a casual grip on the spike. The spike began to vibrate harder, until a shrill, almost inaudible scream started ringing through the metal.
"Silly little creatures."
The metal was getting hot under Ben's hand, and his chest felt like it was full of molten lead, like the kind they used to melt robots in movies.
The spike gave way with a sharp 'crack'. It snapped like wood. Ben dropped gracefully to the floor, taking most of the impact on his left foot. The other dropped behind him, and braced against the wall. He'd never have stuck a landing like that in his life, Ben thought. That was like something action heroes do!
"To attend to some business."
He was still holding the broken-off spike. Ben could see it wasn't even hollow, and it looked really old. There were little cracks running up inside it, like something had split it into pieces from the inside.
Ben's body was already walking, and he felt like he had to catch up to it somehow. The lights were on in the hallway, but Ben's eyes didn't need to adjust. This was cool, he thought. Nothing hurt anymore.
Ben's body closed its eyes. Ben could still see the walls, and then little wisps of forms began to show through them. He could hear a tiny little thread of sound, a wispy little voice, float through the world to him.
"Poor child," it was so musical, it sounded almost like singing. "So desperately lonely. It's all right." It was a woman's voice, so unbearably gentle. "You've confessed your sins, haven't you. You know you failed those who love you."
He could see a snowy, almost gray light in one of the rooms. It was tangled around something brighter. The bright curl is what drew Ben the most, because it felt so familiar. What was that? The walls started to get less substantial, as Ben's body turned in place to face one particular door.
"You were put on this earth to love and comfort them," the gray wisps were winding around and around that brilliant curl, pulling that pure light down into their murk. "But you've led them astray."
That bright light! He knew it! It was something his body ached for, something it missed more than warmth, or air. It was the life he'd left behind, the essence that went missing when he lost what made him whole. It was a human soul. And it was wrapped up in silver tendrils. It was going dark, and growing cold.
"But it's all right," the silvery voice soothed. "There is forgiveness for you. You can pay for what you've done." Something sharp and wicked lifted behind that bright curl. Ben could see cruel glints coming off it, like they were shining right through the door. "Find release--" came the whispers. "Find peace--"
Ben kicked the door in. His left hand whipped out, and the spike went sailing into the air.
The sound seemed to come from everywhere. It made what was left of the window-glass rattle.
"NOT THAT ONE!"
Ben's roar startled a woman in the middle of the room, who had Charlie curled up in her lap. The silvery threads seemed to come from her, winding around the girl. Charlie looked like she was asleep.
Amib dove between the woman and the spike, snatching it out of the air. It had been aimed straight for the woman's throat. Amib's beautiful features twisted up in unspeakable hate.
"Yanet maksilap!" he hissed, and that gentle voice split into a thousand venomous shards. "You will pay for that mistake!"
But Ben didn't care if he paid. The pale woman had dropped her knife. Charlie stirred, and mumbled. That was all Ben needed. The spirit wanted to save her. She was gonna be okay. Whatever happened next didn't matter. It was okay if he paid.
Ben slipped into the dark, and let the world fall away.