Reavers Chase Serenity

Music: Reavers Chase Serenity
From: Firefly
Composer: Greg Edmonson

Warnings: minor language warning, lack of editing warning, allusions to torture.

Universe: apocofic!verse

 

They can block the windows, they can keep the room constantly lit to try and block the world outside, but the angels can’t stop the grace within me aligning with the outside world anyway. I know the turn of the world, almost as well as they do. I can feel the subtle shift in temperature that heralds the night, can hear the silence that falls at midnight even through the soundproofing.

Did their Father know, even back then, that this would happen? Was this a glitch of a rushed job, or an awareness of what His children were capable of doing to each other in the name of winning?

I’m not sure I want to know.

The midnight guard change is soon. Soon, two angels will wander the corridor. One will rush down to the other end, to where the other prisoner is kept. I don’t think his name. Not anymore. He was caught trying to save me- he would have escaped, easily, if he hadn’t tried to protect me. Every scream is a reminder that his kindness is getting him killed. Every scream from him is my fault. So many screams, all because he didn’t want me to drown. If I put a name to the screams that echo down the stonework, I think it might kill me. He’s just the prisoner. Nothing more. The first guard will go inside the prisoner’s cell, and his screams will sound soon after. They will last about forty minutes, and then the guard will leave. They do not lock the doors when they enter because there is no reason to do so, but worse because a locked door implies concern that they cannot control the broken, pitiful creatures they’re torturing.

It doesn’t look good to management, so the doors stay unlocked.

The second guard will come into this cell to check on me. He- always a he, somehow- will stride in, angel blade already drawn, sadistic grin already in place, and soon after, I will scream and bleed, too. Usually. Not tonight. There are precious few weapons capable of actually killing an angel, but they can be knocked out, same as any other creature. It’s taken days to dig the stonework from the wall beneath and behind the lumpy, vile smelling mattress in the corner. Days of shaking hands, slick with blood from the torture and slick with blood from the scraping of random objects against stone in hopes of digging away enough to be of use. Days of his screams ringing in the brickwork like the worst kind of motivation.

It’s not much of a plan, when you get right down to it. It relies far too much on hope and prayer. But it’s going to work. It will work because there is no other option. We’re going home, or we’re dying in the attempt. Anything is better than this.

The thick wooden doors slam open, fueled by grace because the sound lets the prisoners know that they’re about to be tortured, and lets them get good and afraid before their cell doors open. Usually.

It’s easy to hide in the blind spot beside the door. Too easy. Something could go wrong. No. Nothing will go wrong. It’s all going to be okay. It’s the only option left. It’s going to be fine. 

The door creaks open, because unlike his tormentor, mine likes to prolong the anticipation between us, likes to build the tension to the crescendo only he can feel or see. It’s fun to see the grin falter and fall to open mouthed shock, to watch his hands clench into fists. His eyes scan the darker parts of the room, assuming I’ve hidden there. It’s the smart call, after all.

He steps into the room, fast, slams the door shut behind him like it’s muscle memory rather than intention, his gaze focused on the darkest corner, the corner furtherest from him. One more step, that’s it. One more step, and I can swing.

He falters, mid-step. He’s shaking his head, slowly-slowly, his fists clenching and unclenching as though trying to calm himself enough to continue searching.  It’s going to be okay. He’ll step. One more step. It’s going to be okay. 

His head swivels, side to side, like he’s hunting something. Like he’s hunting me. A string of words- cursing in Enochian, if I’m not greatly mistaken- hissed out under his breath as he steps forwards, towards the darkness.

The piece of rock is heavy, hard to swing. He’s half-way to turning when it collects the side of his face, collects his ear and jumbles his brain about his skull for a moment. There’s no shout for help, no cry of pain, just the sound of stone and skull colliding, and the thud of a body collapsing onto the floor. I snatch the blade from his grasp, drop the rock only long enough to check him for hidden keys or weapons.

I aim the rock’s fall towards the angel’s nose, find myself grinning at the crunching break that results. Maybe he’s not the only sadist in the room. When he’s good and unconscious, I drive the blade into his heart, hope he isn’t able to feel the death coming to claim him.

No food, no keys, no weapons. No point to him, really. The rock’s texture catches on the skin of my hand, my hand bleeds like it’s been attacked with a grater.

The screaming from the other prisoner is loud, too loud. Loud like it’s right outside my door rather than down a corridor with heavy wooden doors to silence it. Go anyway. Anything is better than this. The door swings open, though it’s an effort. Human bodies, even powered up on grace, require food and water, and it’s been days between meals.

The stonework is painfully cold, rough under my feet, catches and tears at the skin until I’m leaving bloodied footprints wherever I go. Who cares? Go. The screaming is so much louder now, so much worse. It’s a physical presence in my mind, hurts the way the angel’s head must hurt now it’s been cracked in with a rock. I hold the rock more tightly in my hand, ignoring the pain.The pain can stop when the screaming does. Make it stop. Save him.

Angels could be lurking in any shadow, and it’s hard not to run like hell at the first sign of movement. Humans are born and die in the time it takes me to reach the other cell.

When the door creaks open, the sound is lost to the screams. The prisoner is curled in on himself, trying to protect his organs while his torturer drives his blade into the prisoner’s wing, over and over. No wonder he’s screaming.

It’s easy to run, easy to slam the blade into the side of the angel’s throat and watch it startle, struggle, and die. The prisoner stares at me, eyes blown wide in pain and fear. I pat his shoulder awkwardly, unable to say his name, unable to say anything more than ‘can you move?’ He runs his hands over his body, checks himself for injuries in a way far too human for my tastes. Slowly, warily, he nods.

‘Good. Let’s go.’ I drop the rock, snatch up the other blade and hand it to him before helping him stagger upwards. His weight settles against me, arm thrown over my shoulder. Every step hurts worse with the added weight, and time slows to a crawl almost as slow as our movements.

There’s no flying out of this, no rescue possible. We’re going to have to sneak our way out. Stupid as angels can be, I’m pretty sure they’ll notice the footprints eventually. And they can certainly outpace us right now.

No, we’re probably going to die.

Death is the better option. 

*

Mal told me once that they designed all of the facilities and safe houses to be the same. Makes it easier to fall into line, to not get lost when you’re transferred. Left should lead to the morgue, and the back entry points. Right should lead towards the front of the building. Left it is. The prisoner nods when I point that way, too scared to speak in case anyone is nearby. The blade shakes in his hand, shakes so hard I’d take it off him if I had the hands to hold it. Shakes so hard I’m scared he’s gonna drop it, scared the echo of metal hitting stone will bring someone running.

I pray to Dad because I can’t quite bring myself to pray to Grandfather for help, wish for salvation, or at least no attacks. We’re shit outta luck if someone finds us. It’s not like the prisoner can stand on his own, let alone fight.

It’s unlikely an angel will give me time to help the prisoner lean against a wall or something before they attack. Better dead than here. It’s not much of a mantra, really not a great motivator. But it’s true, and it’s enough right now.

The prisoner falters, grabs my shoulder hard enough that it’s near impossible not to cry. He’s shaking, shaking more, his head turned so far to the right it has to be painful. He’s listening to something. I’m good, but I’m not an angel. If he’s acting like that, there’s a good chance that he’s hearing something I haven’t noticed yet. Shit. I shake him, gentle as possible, watch his exhausted gaze slide towards me, not quite focused.

He holds up two fingers, but his face is scrunched in confusion, like he’s not quite sure anymore. I’d be surprised if he realised there were two of us. It’s hard to drag him forwards, to try and get him to stop trying to count and move faster. We can still do this, maybe.

The staircase looms to the left, dimly lit. Follow it up, and there’s the front door, bold as brass. But then, it’s likely there’s a mess of guards there. And an open space between door and safety.

No. It’s safer to keep going this way. I force the prisoner to move faster, force him towards the shadows.

I can hear the footsteps now. Soft, unhurried. It feels like someone runs an ice cube along my spine. Angels, no matter which side of the fight they’re on, were trained the same way. That’s the way Dad moves when he’s hunting. The way I move when I’m hunting. If you weren’t trained to it, you’d never notice anything wrong until it was too late. Most don’t.

The prisoner slows, grabs weakly at the wall. There’s no chance to talk, not now. All I can do is turn, hope he can see the frustrated question in my eyes. He gestures for me to go, to leave him behind.

No. Hell no. I did not work this hard to abandon him. I shake my head, heave him forwards until he falls into line behind the plan again. We don’t have time for this.

The footsteps speed up, just a little. Another set joins them, keeping perfect time with our original stalker. Shit.

We’re nearly at the morgue. There are weapons there, at least. And a hearse. That’s the important part. We’re nearly there.

The white morgue door is barely visible before an angel calmly steps in front of it. The prisoner almost stumbles when we stop so suddenly, and my shoulders ache at the strain of stopping him falling. The footsteps behind us are loud in the silence now, like they’re wearing shoes designed to be loud, like it’s for dramatic effect rather than practicality.

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me.

‘I really thought you’d go upstairs, try to get away that way.’ Michael’s voice is a quiet drawl, politely confused, but there’s something there in the tone that screams of violence, and rage. There’s something in his voice that screams to the primal part of my lizard brain to run like hell, no matter what. But there’s nowhere to run, and no real ability to manage it anyway.

Better dead may not be an option anymore.

 

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Dreamcatcher

Music: Dreamcatcher by Alexandre Desplat
From: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (The Score) don’t judge.
Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Warnings: language warning, lack of editing warning

Universe: possibly a new idea for the Rom!verse

I imagine it, playing out like a movie in those moments I finally think I can move on.

You’ve always been the dashing hero in need of humility. Me, the sin-eater who has spent far too long as the side kick and martyr in her own life story. It’s not hard to imagine us in one of those ridiculous movies we’ve always loved to mock (and maybe, if I’m honest, we mock them so harshly because we see ourselves too clearly in the idiots on the screen). You, Tarzan. Me, Jane.

We’ve fought, because of course we have. Even in my imagination, reality comes slinking in like a particularly unwelcomed cat, jaws bloodied, rat corpse dangling from overly proud jaws. And just like every other hero in every other story, you’ve stormed away the second you realise I’m me, not the manic pixie dream girl you’ve built me up as in your mind. Just like life. Pound your chest and storm away, Tarzan. Jane will wait here and emotionally eviscerate herself for never being enough. Jane will learn to hate herself for being unable to fill the shoes of a ghost that never even existed.

Jane will take your sins as her own. Drink them down like gospel truth and arsenic.

And like every one of those witless damsels I’ve mocked, I’ve pined for you in the way of the great lovelorn heroine. I’ve sighed, and I’ve begged the universe for something to change, and gradually accepted when the only change could come from me. I’ve cried, and I’ve hoped that secret fundamental hope that you’ll snap the fuck out of your mood and realise that I’m not actually the enemy. That maybe, given time, you’ll be the man I know exists beneath the bullshit and the drama and the compelling need to stamp your will upon the world in hopes it’ll stop stomping its whims upon your heart.

After the tears have finally dried; when there’s no more wine to soothe the ache, no more ways to avoid inevitability, finally, I drag myself from my bed, stare myself down in the mirror (and wonder at the waif like damsel staring me down in return). It’s time to move on. I know this, the audience knows this, god himself (or perhaps merely the script writer) knows this. And today is that day. Today is the day I banish that damsel back to whatever hell she sprang from.

Today is the day I release the sins that aren’t my own.

I straighten my spine, and bathe in the holy waters. I scrub away the memories of you until my skin is red raw and there’s no trace of you left on my body. I scrub away the layers of skin infected by you, until there’s nothing left of you on me. I choose clothes with care, rather than throwing on whatever is soft and warm and easy to hide under blankets in. I let the ruby lips and the darkened eyes be my war paint, the mask I wear to hide the cracks remaining in my armour.

I’m looking like I’ve finally gotten myself together. I feel good, I look good. I even remember how to smile and how to laugh. My heart doesn’t ache to hear your name, like my body is an open wound that’s finally healed enough to tolerate. I don’t feel so raw, don’t feel so broken. The bitter aftertaste of self loathing is starting to fade.

But then, the dream comes in, because there you are. Beautiful as ever, because no matter how many stab wounds my heart is struggling to heal, it’s never quite lost the ability to see the worth and the beauty in you. Maybe you lean in the doorway a moment, or maybe you’re just a blur of motion until you’re in front of me. And maybe you cry and maybe you don’t, but it’s you again. Not the creature you are when it’s all going to shit, but the man it’s impossible not to be hopelessly in love with. The one who cares. The one who isn’t made of sighs and growls and frustrations.

The truth of it, the guilty truth I’ll spend a lifetime denying if pressed, is that if I’m going to be that lovelorn girl in the movie- and it’s increasingly clear that I fall into line behind the tropes I hate most- I want that big romantic gesture. I want the happily ever after. I want that moment, the one where you ride in and apologise, the one where you learn that you don’t need to shoot at everything that moves in order to keep your heart safe, and I learn that I don’t have to try and guess which side of the room survival is hiding in and throw myself towards it. I want that moment when for once I’m not wondering if you even like me at all.

Your arms are warm wrapped around me, your lips against mine feel fated.

And somehow, that hurts worse. Dreams and sins are best let go of, and yet, for a sin-eater, I’m terrible at that. You’ve been absolved of your sins. But they’re still drowning me. I don’t know how to let go of the idea of never enough. And it’s killing me. It kills me to take on burdens not by choice, but by force.

And my darling, I don’t want to die.

Musical Challenge: The Arena

Music: The Arena by Lindsey Stirling
From: Brave Enough (album)
Composer: Lindsey Stirling

Warnings: language warning, lack of editing warning. Vague blasphemy warning, maybe?

Universe: apocalypse ‘verse

 

There’s a moment where I think I can make it, if only I run a little faster. If only I fight a little harder through the crowd of people and angels trying to kill each other. There’s screaming, echoing like thunder, screams like hymns in Sunday choir, all absolution and blind, faith-riddled terror.

You fight enough battles, you get good and used to ignoring the screams of pain and death. You have to, or you go crazy. Crazy in the field helps nobody. Doesn’t matter that you know those voices like they’re your own, nothing matters but the battle. You win, they survive. You lose, you all lose in a kind of permanent way.

The roar? That’s new. The angels pause in the fight, step back to let the humans admire their handy work. That’s the thing about angels- God made himself an army of vaguely sadistic sorts. Then again, no one can kill anything without at least a little disgust at whatever it is they’re killing. The angels are watching our reactions, some even crack a smile at the confusion, pain, and panic.

The humans, we pause, too. Some in shock, some of the better trained look for attack. Me? I just try and find her.

I know, though. How can I not? Michael is gleeful, too gleeful to have caught anyone but her. His wings span outwards, catch the light like they’re dipped in gold, like they’re on fire. The sky pales around them, like they leech the colours out of anything that gets too close.

She’s too close. Unmoving, aside from the hands struggling to free herself from Michael’s grip. Both of his hands are wrapped around her throat as he flies them higher, too high for us to do a damned thing about. There’s no panic to her, nothing but the sort of movements that come with far too much training. Had Gabriel made her practise even this, just in case? Or is she so tired of fighting that she can’t even muster the energy to fear her oncoming death?

Or maybe, just maybe, she’s hopeful that her uncle won’t have the heart to tear hers from her body. She wouldn’t still be alive if he didn’t want to take her prisoner. Do something NOW. It’s lightyears beyond stupid to try and shoot him, but it’s the day for stupid, clearly. ‘Snipers, aim for Michael’s right wing, central area. Rip a hole in it. He needs to drop her, now. Everyone else, protect the snipers.’

There’s no answer, of course. They’re too busy aiming, firing. The thing about angels is that they’re powerful, but their wings are vulnerable to damage, just like any other bird. Though angels have stronger feathers that are a pain in the ass to tear apart, they’re not strong enough to withstand a prolonged assault. Not like this.

It takes maybe five seconds for the rest of the angels to figure out our play, and then they’re in motion. The scariest thing in the world is an army of angels. Demons’ll kill ya, but angels move as one. An infinite number of furious beings moving in perfect synchronisation, hurtling towards you to rip you apart? Whoever taught them that gets top marks in psychological warfare and intimidation.

Bullets and blades. If you’ve got a clear shot at a wing, you use a gun. Wings not in play, you use their own blades against them. God made a failsafe, to make sure his lesser creations couldn’t take over the sandbox: angels only die from angel made blades. Only grace can kill grace, though high powered weapons can fuck it up some.

The angels throw themselves towards the snipers, and those with the urge to fly start getting shot down pretty damn fast. My guys are damn good at what they do. Two teams, competitive slaying. Gun toting crazies draw the focus. The rest of us shock and awe their asses back to the pearly gates.

You fight with Michael, they give you a blade. A lot of the big name demons started out on Michael’s team- the only way to kill them is a blade. It’s treason of the highest kind to use it against one of Michael’s angels.

Doesn’t stop us.

Angels don’t scream or cry when they die. They just… stop. Hit them through a vital bit with a blade, and it’s like hitting the power switch. Boom, gone. Kick out a kneecap, more to startle them into stumbling a moment, rather than to do damage (good luck kicking and actually doing much damage to anyone but yourself), slam a blade through their ribcage if you can, their stomach if you can’t, and watch them stumble and fall. Gotta be a vital area though: they’re ornery bastards when they’re waiting to bleed out, and it doesn’t count as a victory if they kill you on the way back.

Everything narrows down to simple steps. Kill the angel about the hit the ground, his wing a gaping hole of blackened, broken feathers. Stab him in the neck, keep moving. Run. Shoot the SOB sneaking up on O’Malley right in the back of his halo, just to buy the kid a few seconds more time. Run. Dodge the angel trying to tackle me, like we’re in some C grade football movie of the week deal. Asshole. Turn at the last second, drag the blade across his cheek as I fall. Shoot him in the forehead, pointe blank range to daze him a few seconds while I jam a blade in his heart.

Run.

The angels have overrun the snipers, there’s no one shooting at Michael anymore.

There’s a second, just one, where the world slows down to a crawl and I can see everything. The angels have taken the teams down, hard. But they’re not trying to kill them unless there’s no other choice. They’re cats toying with their prey. We’re not a threat. We’re losing, bad. And nothing we do is gonna make an ounce of difference in this thing.

When it all goes to hell, remember your training. Rule one: complete the mission.

‘Alpha team, you got the hostages?’

‘Got ‘em and gone, Boss.’

Rule two: get your people home alive. May God forgive me for this, because I never will. ‘Retreat! All teams, move out!’ no one waits for a second telling- they’re in motion before I’ve finished saying ‘out’. The angels don’t try to stop them beyond a few playful swats. Without the battle raging, I can hear her.

May God show me no mercy for this.

Musical Challenge: Hush

Music: Suite From ‘Hush’ (Silent Night / First Kiss / Enter the Gentlemen / Schism)
From: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling soundtrack (2002)
Composer: Christophe Beck

Warnings: language, talk of death, lack of editing

Universe: Mortician’s Rose ‘verse

 

Our rooms aren’t what you’d call pretty. Functional, sure, but the truth is that the Academy doesn’t bother wasting funds on slaves with a limited shelf life. There’s enough to look like it’s a choice on our parts, rather than a rule from on high, but there’s nothing here to take my mind off what’s happening. There’s no music to listen to, to quiet the restlessness. No books to throw myself into, to hide from the gaping, sucking wound in my chest. There’s nowhere to hide a journal, to write honestly about what’s happening. There’s no one to talk no, no chance of sneaking out to talk with Ava.

Not with the house on lockdown.

The room feels tiny in a way it’s never felt before. It used to feel cosy, not cramped. But it feels like the walls are shifting inwards, the ceiling downward. I read Alice in Wonderland in my life before, I remember, vaguely, Alice suddenly feeling too big for the room. This feels like that, like I’m growing and it’s shrinking and any second not I’m going to die crushed against the badly painted plasterboard hiding the bricks from view.

I miss the rose garden. I need to be outside, need air because there’s precious little in here. I want to scream, want to cry, want to do something other than sitting on a shitty, too-hard single bed and try to remember how to breathe.

In. Out. It’s not that hard. Why is it so fucking hard?

The air is too little, too much, too something. It catches in my mouth, refuses to go any further. I’m surrounded in air and I feel like I’m suffocating. I gasp, and gasp, and all I can think is that I’m a fish, thrown onto the boat to die. I’m gonna die. I try to look to the security camera, try to say the word ‘help’, but there’s no voice left in me. Callie, the mute girl, and me: all trying to talk, and all failing miserably.

There’s a window- tiny enough to prevent escapes- a tiny sliver of air that does nothing to stop the stifling heat building here. Maybe if I can get there, I can breathe. But I can’t move. Can’t do anything beyond ball my hands into fists and drive my nails into my skin as hard as I can to stop the screaming. Inside my head, there’s nothing but screaming, so loud I wonder how the hell no one is hearing it but me. It hurts. I feel like my ears are bleeding from the sound of something inside me shattering into pieces and screaming itself to death. I can’t move enough to check.

She didn’t have to die. She’s dead. I should have protected her. That’s on me. I should have… what? Killed him when I had the chance? How? Where was the chance? She’s dead and it’s my fault and oh god has he found a way to fill the room with carbon dioxide? Am I dying? Is he killing me, even with the Academy here?

She’s dead, and I couldn’t, didn’t, save her.

I’m gonna die, too, and Ava’s gonna be alone, trying to keep everyone else safe. Ava is kind, sweet, and gentle- she can’t protect them. Not for long. She’s not devious enough to manage it.

I die, they die.

The thought snaps through the panic like a slap to the face, forces my muscles to work.

The window is barely a few meters away, but it feels like a marathon to stagger over to it, to press my face against the glass and try to breathe. There’s no difference, no air.

There has to be. There’s no way there’s no air outside- nobody is that good. Think. I can figure this out. Panic attack? It has to be, right?

Callie used to have them, back when she first arrived. The pain in my chest grows. If I could move, I’d be clutching my chest. Am I having a heart attack, too? Oh, god, I’m really gonna die, aren’t I?

No, you’re panicking. Just… don’t think her name. Don’t think about her directly. Focus on the solution, not the person. Breathe. Just… just breathe. Focus on each breath. Doesn’t matter that you’re panting rather than breathing, just keep focusing.

Inoutinout-in-out-in-out—in—out—in—out—in—out

It feels like the air is slowly returning to the room, feels like I’m drenched in sweat and tears as the horror starts to leech its way from my system. But I can breathe, even if only a little, and with the air comes the reality, and the anger.

I don’t have the luxury of panic. It’s my job to protect them. That’s all that matters. I will not fail again. Never a-fucking-gain.

The second the dizziness passes, I head to the bathroom, hands still locked into fists, nails still drawing blood. The pain focuses me. I need it. It’s a small price to pay to get back to work.

I’ll survive. Callie didn’t. How can I complain about a few stupid scratches?

I keep my gaze low. If I don’t look at the mirror, it’ll be okay. I don’t doubt Callie will have joined the mute girl, don’t doubt that her large, terrified eyes are gonna be haunting me for a long time to come.

Tonight, though? I can’t bring myself to find out for sure.

 

*

 

There are sharks in the world who call themselves men. They wear the suits, do their hair, shine their teeth and their shoes to a threatening polish. They walk around, play at innocence for all they’re worth, but there’s no hiding- not forever, at least- the apex predator lurking in their gaze.

In the ocean, it’s easy enough to deal with a shark. You shove a big ol’ harpoon right into their predatory brains, and you’re done. It’s not so easy dealing with the human varieties. People tend to frown if you harpoon an actual person, even the ones that have it coming.

Jake? He has it coming.

Her eyes were hazel, though more green than brown. Every emotion danced in those eyes, and in death, it was the fear that got frozen in time.

There are predators in every species, but humans are the worst of them. They don’t hunt for food, they hunt for sport. They hunt to feel manly in their pathetic, miserable little lives. Callie was sport to him, the weakest in the herd, easy to separate from the rest. And there are far too many replacements.

Maybe the Academy would intervene- but then, would they just move him somewhere else? Would I just be pushing our problem onto another house of innocent people? I can’t do that. I can’t hope someone else will carry the burden for me. That’s not fair. I won’t dishonour Callie’s memory by hiding from this. I owe her that, at least.

Besides, can I be sure the Academy would actually move him? It’d probably be easier just to punish me for speaking out- and it’d keep Ava from trying to intervene in the future, too. Two birds, one stone. They’ve never cared much for our wellbeing before. Would Callie’s death actually change that, or would they just keep it quiet, the way they keep everything else quiet?

It’s easier to keep a secret than change a system. They’d likely just poke about in my brain until I couldn’t even remember who Callie was. I can’t protect my family if I can’t even remember them.

No, the Academy can’t know. There’s too much risk. Whatever happens, I’m on my own.

There’s a thought tickling at the back of my mind like a warning. The kind of thought there’s no coming back from if I give myself permission to even contemplate it.

We’re all gonna die monsters. It’s our fate, thanks to the Academy.

But what if it was a choice?

 

Musical Challenge: The Imperial March

Music: The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)
From: Star Wars
Composer: John Williams

Warnings: language warning, blasphemy warning (we-ell, really it’s a work of fiction, so not really), lack of editing warning.

Universe: Apocalypse ‘verse (Mal POV)

 

 

There’s no trace of fear to her as she shoots us a grin and climbs from the truck. She hesitates just long enough to take off her jacket and throw it beside me. There’s a joke there, glinting in her gaze, but she’s good enough to keep it to herself. Instead, she stretches, closing her eyes and smiling a soft, almost childlike smile so out of place with the reality of what’s going on here.

Maybe she’s just glad to be out of a tin can that reeks of man-sweat and dried blood. Not like there’s much time for detailing work in a warzone.

Her eyes flutter open, her gaze shifting around the groups like she’s saying goodbye without saying a word. The other trucks? They’re here to liberate the hostages. We’re here to give the angels something else to be focused on. Chances are high none of us are driving back outside of body bags.

‘Be safe.’ It’s a command for the entire group, but the weight of her gaze constricts my chest.

‘You too.’ She nods, and the playful smile drops away as she lies. She doesn’t bother trying to quietly close the door, simply slams it shut and spins with a dancer’s grace to start walking up the stadium stairs. There’s no such thing as sneaking up on angels waiting on your arrival, after all. Why bother trying?

There isn’t a single thing alright in watching her throw open the stadium doors like she’s completely at her ease. Part angel or not, she’s far too young, too inexperienced, to be walking into an obvious trap to buy us time. But here we are. Stupid damn angels.

Bailey hacked the stadium feeds before we left, and the cameras follow her as she walks through the labyrinth of corridors and out towards the field. There’s static from her comm, grating and loud, before her soft, too amused for her own good voice fills the cab of the truck.

‘Wanna see a magic trick, kids?’ Her tone promises a world of ridiculousness to anyone stupid enough to say ‘yes’. I close my eyes, offer a prayer to her wayward father to show up and control his far more wayward child. It doesn’t work.

‘Only if it’s all of us surviving this shit.’ The sound of a softly blown raspberry, and a click of her fingers done just so we can hear that she’s been stupid enough to do something. Of course she has.

‘Don’t-‘ the request dies away at the sound of The Imperial March echoing from every loud speaker in the stadium, so loud that we don’t need her comms to hear it. Of course she’d take a wander to her death blaring Darth Vader’s freakin’ theme. It’s just that kind of day.

My gaze shifts to the vid, to her matching her strides to the beats, her eyes moving to the cameras just long enough to wink at us. Idiot.

The rest of the team are laughing. It’s hard to hear over the chaos of the music, but the sound stops my rant before it starts. Kid has a reason for every damn thing she does, and I don’t have it in me to yell at a dead girl walking for easing the tension for the dead humans walking.

We’re all probably gonna die today, why the hell shouldn’t we die laughing?

‘We’re gonna lose the main vid feed when she reaches the field. Too much static for traditional cameras. Readying the drones.’ Bailey’s voice is loud in my ear piece. He’s huffing with amusement, struggling to keep professional as Mya conjures a black cape that billows behind her as she walks, and pauses to spin, adopting a ballerina’s pose for a few seconds longer than safe or polite before calmly getting back to her march.

Well, at least she’s definitely distracting them. Keeping them guessing too, no doubt. I almost wish I could see Michael’s reaction to her lack of fear, her almost cruel disinterest in his plans. He’ll be pissed, certainly. Then again, I’d rather not know in advance how painful her death is going to be. It’s far too good an indicator of how much screaming we’ll be doing in our final moments.

That? Not a thought I want to linger long with.

‘Thanks, Bailey. Good work.’ He mumbles something, awkward like he’s not used to the praise, and I promise myself if I get out of here alive, I’m getting better at telling people they’re doing good work. These people signed on for a suicide mission. The least I can do is make sure they know their efforts are appreciated, even when the stakes aren’t high.

Especially then, perhaps.

I hit the comms, alert the rest of the team. ‘Heading to drone footage soon. Start getting your kit prepped. Once they’re distracted, we go in. Bravo teams, get ready to deploy. Once we’re in motion, Bravo Leader is in charge. Get in, get the people, get gone. Don’t risk their lives for our dead. That’s an order.’

A chorus of ‘yes, Sir’ from a peanut gallery all half focused on Mya’s Imperial March efforts. She’s conjured a Darth Vader mask, is reciting Hamlet as she holds the mask like a skull, every movement flamboyant as hell. The group falls to laughter. It’s hard not to remind her to pay attention.

Her father’s been teaching her to fight since she was a kid. She knows. And if I’m honest, I don’t doubt she’s more focused on the world around her than she seems. Playing the fool is a damn good con if you can pull it off. Mya? She can pull it off. If we’re all damn lucky, it might even be enough.

The doors she’s chosen aren’t close to the field, but that’s kinda the point. The longer it takes her to get to the meeting point, the more on edge the angels are, and the more focused they get on her. Hopefully. Maybe. The doors slam open seconds before she reaches them, a pointless show of power that’ll no doubt be setting Michael’s angelic teeth on edge. He’s never been a fan of wasting energy on useless gestures. To someone so focused on military efficiency, she must be an agony.

Only Mya would troll an archangel who’ll soon be directly responsible for deciding her fate.

Bailey, who has spent more than enough time with Michael to know just how much she’ll be irritating him, sniggers as he starts the drones flying. Mya walks forward, graceful as a cat preparing to attack, glancing with disinterest at the battalion of angels watching her coldly. She’s a damn good actress if you don’t know her tells. She strides down the stairs, leaping onto the balcony railing almost absently. Her voice, suddenly soft and sad in the ear pieces, stops the laughter dead.

‘There are hostages in the dug outs. Not many, so the rest are elsewhere. Good luck.’ She shatters the comm device, making sure it can’t be used to hear our communications if, when, she’s taken. The third drone starts its audio feed.

‘Good morning, Angel City.’ Her voice booms outwards, and not a single angel looks impressed with her sarcasm. ‘Oh Uncle Mike! Where are you, Mikey?’ she singsongs the words, dragging them out in a way that’ll drive Michael insane. I shouldn’t have let her watch Frozen with the kids; she unlatches the cloak, and it’s lost on a breeze only she can feel, swirling and vanishing into nothingness, her hair glinting silver blonde for a moment before falling back to its natural colour. And then, sudden and unsettling, her voice becomes devoid of it’s amusement. ‘Come out and play, you fucking coward.’ She steps calmly from the edge, hurtles downwards and nails a superhero landing worthy of Wonder Woman, her expression utterly calm.

‘You know what I think, Uncle? I think you’ve lost your way.’ With every word, she moves towards the field, not bothering to rush her steps, her voice echoing around the stillness of the stadium. ‘Your Father told you to protect the humans, and yet here you are, happy to butcher them for your own amusement. You’re no better than Lucifer, you know. Both so busy trying to be right you’ve forsaken your Father’s final wish for you. No wonder He left. How shameful to raise such utter disappointments.’

‘Enough!’ Michael strides forward, sword bloody. Angels? They bleed blood and grace, a metallic red that glints rainbows in the right light. There’s not a hint of grace on the blood of his sword. Her eyes take in the blood, her calm demeanor suddenly rabid.

‘Oh, I’m nowhere near finished, you heretic. You disobey the very word of God Himself, and claim yourself as His worthy heir- as His right hand. You and I, though, we know the truth, Michael. You’re not acting on His orders, you’re acting from your own pride. Your Father would be ashamed of you, boy.’

Bailey whistles lowly. ‘Well, she sure knows how to get a guy’s attention and keep it.’ She’s dragging it out, making sure her Uncle’s focus is entirely on her as she walks calmly towards the field.

‘You dare speak of the word of God? You who know nothing of His word? I’ll rip your tongue from your mouth!’ Her grin is a violent baring of teeth, her laughter the sort of cold and cruel I’d never thought her capable of. And if a shiver works its way down my spine, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in the instinctive rush of fear.

‘I was raised by Gabriel, you foolish brat. I was raised on the word of God himself by God’s own messenger. Do you still believe I don’t know what I’m talking about? God’s last word, and hey, the rest of you overgrown feather dusters might want to listen up here: His last word, Michael, what was it?’

Michael falters, refuses to answer. Her violent expression shifts to a cold, deadly amusement. Love them as you love Me. Protect them as you protect Me. Serve their interests as if they were My own. The word of God, going utterly ignored by his own son. Tsk, tsk, tsk.’

Michael roars ‘kill the heretic’ into the awkward silence that follows her pronouncement, and the angels move as one, their shock lost in their battle training. She throws herself into the fight like an avenging goddess, blades drawn and in constant motion. She kills like a dancer, all twists and turns and movement like water. It’s hard to keep an eye on what’s happening around her, to wait until the angels are good and distracted before we start to drive to the closer entrances, ready to start the attack.

It’s gonna be a hell of a day. But at least, with her focus on the fighting, the music dies away.

Writing Spark Challenge #11

Brissy writer and all-round wonderful sort Melanie Edmonds has started posting weekly writing challenges over at her site. Because friends support each other, and more writing is always fun when you’re trying to hit 2k of writing daily, I’m gonna give it a crack on top of my other challenge work. Expect things to get weird. So without further rambling, here’s this week’s challenge:

You are so tired of burying your friends. It’s time to make a change.

They’re crying, but then, it’s a funeral. We’re meant to be crying. But the heaving sobs are a little melodramatic for my tastes. There’s a bet going between Cass and I on who’ll throw a fake faint into the mix. Must be the cameras. Makes everyone act a little more pantomime than usual.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s wondering who’ll be next. Superheroes are falling from the sky like hail these days. It’s a bad time to be a hero in the Captain’s crew. But then, given the assholes I work with? It’s not necessarily looking likely there’s a good time for it, either. Oh, sure, they’re friendly enough. Throw us in front of cameras and they’ll hug me, tell the world we’re the best kind of besties.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m tired of burying my friends. I just wish they were actually my friends once the lights and cameras are gone for the day. It’s hard to cry for Mandy- code named the Viper for reasons beyond her lightning fast reflexes- even though the squishy bits of her are mouldering in a leak proof box right now. Sweetness and light when interviewed, the cow was only too happy to put a knife to Cass’s throat when she suggested, politely and professionally, that perhaps the reason Viper’s legs kept getting injured in battle was the utterly unhelpful battle properties of fishnet stockings.

Cass isn’t a fighter, she’s the armourer. No doubt she’s been worked to death making sure everyone has suitably sombre costuming for the event. But Cass? She’d spent weeks designing a replacement that looked like fishnets without, y’know, actually being stupidly pointless in battle. Do you know how much eye strain goes into designing filamented motion activated battlewear that looks exactly like fishnets until a second before impact? How much energy goes into creating a force field sentient enough to anticipate a strike and react instantly? Do you know how smart you have to be to take that technological leap in weeks instead of years?

Do you think anyone was impressed with little Cassy’s efforts?

Of course not. Mandy took that prototype and threw it into the furnace. Weeks of work ablaze because Mandy didn’t think the world deserved to lose the chance to peak at her ass-cheeks when her stupid leotard rode up.

And when I tried to shut off the furnace, to save Cassy’s work? The viper threw me straight in after the prototype, didn’t even matter that the furnace was full of freakin’ flames. Cass barely yanked me back.

So, no. I’m not crying for the little snake. Or the assholes who laughed, who treated it like an attempted murder was just a giggle between friends. Murderer’s remorse is a patheticness I’m not likely to suffer through. Even if Cass is shooting me little looks like she’s worked it out. If anyone would, it’s her.

Little swot.

It’s possibly mean of me to note that it takes four dead heroes for the team to go ahead and order themselves mourning costumes- their garish, ugly as sin outfits in pure black, little veils added to the girl’s hair like we’re in some B grade cartoon. Leotards and veils, stiletto thigh-high boots, weapons forged black for the occassion- Cass would have been a wreck trying to get it all done.

Unlike the rest, she’s in a simple black dress, veil there to cover her features from the media rather than draw more attention to herself. She’s smart, Cass. Too smart to show her face to the media when she’s the best and brightest tech developer in the world. You can’t kidnap someone you can’t find, and that girl has managed to keep herself hidden while living the high life with the rest of the crew. Even the team aren’t quite sure what she looks like.

A whole world of admirers, and I’m the only one who knows who she is behind the mask. Then again, the same’s probably true in reverse.

*

It’s hard not to laugh at the holier than thou competitiveness of the team, of eulogy after eulogy promising that they were Mandy’s bestest friend, the one who knew her best, all the while spewing the generic facts the media already knew. There’s nothing here that you couldn’t find in a quick Wiki search, and I don’t doubt that’s all the effort that’s gone into the speeches. God knows, they needed to focus their energy on filling the oversized, garish church with the most sickeningly cloying flowers known to mankind, and the airwaves with statements about their grief and their refusal to give up the fight. They’ve got the best minds (mine, and Cass’s) on the case- it’ll be broken soon.

Cass’s hand sneaks out to grab mine, to cling tightly. Before the end of the service, her face is buried against my neck, her breath warm and stuttering against my skin. It takes me far too long to realise she’s laughing her ass off.

*

Cass’s office is chock full of the kind of tech bad guys would cream themselves for. Once she’s set the code, she’s the only one who’ll ever know what’s said or done in there. She hands me a wine, bloody red in the dim light, and settles in beside me on the couch we’ve both spent far too many nights curled up on.

‘Why’d you do it?’ There’s no judgement, no recrimination. Just mild curiosity, like she’s asking why I drank the last of her milk and didn’t bother replacing it.

‘Why do you think?’ She sips at her wine, nods to herself, and fixes me with the sort of intense, amused look I hadn’t expected from the little do-gooder.

‘Whose next?’ It’s the anticipation in her grin that gets me.

(Z is for) Zoo

Warnings: language warning, randomness warning, lack of editing warning.

A swing of the hips, a lick of the lips, meet his eye and lead him forwards.

Boys like him will follow you to the ends of the earth if they think there’s a bed waiting there for them. Or, y’know, some randomly kinky shit for them to grin to their buddies about later on.

It’s why we’re here, after all.

His lips are rough from constant biting, face fuzz too far gone to be called stubble but too short to ever think of calling itself a beard. Like sandpaper haphazardly glued about his face and neck for effect. His tongue feels like he’s learned his trade from a washing machine, all hard jerking motions and uncomfortable amounts of slobber.

Everything about him is the wrong side of rough. His hands grab, never caress. I can feel the bruises forming already, like he’s trying to grab a breast and yank it off as a souvenir. It wouldn’t surprise me.

He falters a moment, brain catching up to the situation, cock trying to decide if he wants a quick root or the promised show. For a moment, I wonder if the plans are about to change, and then he’s backing away, smiling and taking my hand. ‘It’s this way.’ He doesn’t make eye contact, just starts walking and tries to yank me along behind him like a particularly wayward dog.

He nearly stumbles when I hold my ground, turns to look at me like he’s never seen me before. ‘I’ve got a surprise for you. It’s this way.’ Boys like this are a sucker for a dirty, promising smile. He grins like Jesus has just handed him everything he’d ever wanted, falls into line beside me, too eager to fall behind.

Not until he sees the sign, at least. He stops dead, looking at the big cat enclosure with a frown.

‘What the fuck?’

‘My uncle raised these lions. They know me. And the big guy? Well…’

 

A slap to the ass, painfully hard, and it’s divine intervention that keeps me from reeling back and slugging the little bastard in the face and then the balls. The giggle is the wrong side of fake, too easy to spot if you’re not too busy thinking with your dick.

The lions circle, wary of the new arrivals, but not wary enough to move away. They’re more active now, because they know me. They know what happens next. The male moves forward, huffs out a sound that seems utterly amused by it all. ‘Come on, there’s a better view from here.’ The viewing platform is for the staff, but with the cameras hacked, who’s gonna know? He follows me, shaking with fear and excitement.

Below us, the pride are moving, waiting impatiently. He grins to me,all bravado now he’s safe from the claws.

‘I can’t believe you’re gonna do this.’

‘Neither can I, baby. Kinda like the way Cara couldn’t believe it when you tried to throw her into your car and drag her here. She called me, Mick. And baby, you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble.’ He screams as he falls, and then there’s roaring and ripping. It’s easy to walk away, to leave the kits to their dinners.

They’ll hide the evidence. They always do.