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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.”
“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.
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, catalogued, and collected. It wasn’t 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.
“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 off 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.”
“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 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 they 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 doorframe 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 echoe 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 and 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.
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? He hadn’t expected another wolf to even be there. 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 the 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