Leon and Noel
“My name is Noel Bovary.” he announced to the mirror. He believed it.
They walked down the road. It was a nice, sunny day – perfect for frolicking out in the park and running amok the main street. He'd been eight and heading back home from school with his friends. He’d been sad, because school would end soon and then he’d have to leave this place and go to some other town. He’d really liked it here, too.
“You can stay at my place over the summer if you want, Leon.” his good friend at the time, Tihomir, had offered. He’d smiled at him, gratefully unfortunate. His dad would never allow such separation.
“Nah, I wouldn’t want to trouble your family.” he’d said, as kind and polite as any eight year old could manage.
Tihomir had frowned at him but let it go, after that, he’d become just another shadow in Leon's mind.
“Why are you moving anyway?” someone had asked him.
“Oh, well, ‘cuz my dad got a new job.”
“Huh, so it’s not because your house is haunted?”
“Well, you know, they say your house is haunted.”
You were nine and he was walking with his friends again. You trailed behind everyone else, almost sullenly, and watched through the thick bangs that hid your face almost shyly.
“Come on, hurry up! You wouldn’t want to be late for supper!”
“Hey Leon, who are you talking to?”
“Yeah, is someone hiding in the field? There’s no one there!”
You were nine and you didn’t exist.
Just because it was night and just because the child was in its room didn’t mean it was actually sleeping. Most parents just liked to assume that was the case at hand – especially when there were other things to be done. Words upon words of unspoken rants, unfitting for a child’s ear.
He knew them syllable for syllable – every word, every letter. A bright child, they’d said, with such a curious mind, very imaginative. Just... we need to make sure he has a friend or two. It’s hard, since we’re always moving, but I’m sure he’ll outgrow his imaginary friend eventually.
Leon had a brother, you know, but we don’t talk about him. We’ve never even told him. He died when he was a baby. They were twins.
On those nights, Leon would sit on his bed, hugging his knees to his chest like the phantom in the corner. Mirror images would share mournful, understanding glances. Then, Leon would beckon the other into his bed. It was too big for him anyway. He could stretch sideways on it and both the tips of his fingers and the tips of his toes would barely reach the ledge.
Noel would uncurl from his ball in the corner. He’d approach, slowly, like a foal ready to bolt. He’d stand on the edge of the mattress, unsure, until Leon tugged him down with a giggle, tickled him and laughed until they both fell asleep. Leon didn’t believe in the imaginary, he’d told his brother as much. The adults were just stupid like that, always fighting and arguing when they could all just be a family if they just stopped and saw what was in front of–
And Noel would tell him, in his raspy croak, that it wasn’t their fault. They were good parents and they took care of Leon.
His brother would just glare at him and say that that they either cared for both of them or neither of them.
Too curious for his own good it would seem. At ten years old, it was evident that Leon saw and understood more things than anyone really wanted him to.
When people were angry, they tended to shout, that’s what you’ve observed anyway. But despite the echo with witch the old house provided you with, as if to muddle the message of wrathful tones, the words were relatively easy to distinguish.
But you’d heard them before: Money. House. Falling apart. Death. Love. Child. Home. No way. Separate ways.
It’d been going on for months.
You wonder when it was going to end.
Next to you, Leon slept like the dead.
Leon was a happy child, a klutz and a dreamer. That was what people marked him as. Leon followed his Father as they moved across the country, followed him even after Mother stayed behind to start her own life. Leon ran after his Father, every step equally unsure as the last. Noel followed.
It was summer and they were living on Golija at the time, both thirteen and always together, always alone. Noel was dead. Leon understood as much now, as well as the fact that he was the only one who could see his brother’s Ghost. There was the fact, also, that as Leon aged his brother did likewise. In regards to appearance, there was no real difference between them except for their dress and hair – since Noel had a strong aversion to anything sharp and pointy being near his scalp.
Noel usually wore Leon’s old cloths along with a few things his brother bought for him. Noel, despite his spiritual status, could still affect the material world to a great degree – most likely because of his bond with his brother. Cloths were, for Spirits, something that they made part of themselves – soaked it with their spiritual signature and embroidered it with a special quality that made the cloths sink along with them, into the unseen oblivion.
Leon had lost interest in making friends in earnest. His relaxed, unassuming nature made others approach him easily and he liked everyone around him well enough. He liked everyone in the world well enough, Noel joked.
The brothers sat on the porch one day, waiting for their Father to return. Leon called him Father. Noel called him by his given name. To them, it was the same difference.
Leon had never truly paid attention to his Father, except to analyze his dealings in his family life. He’d always suspected, though silently, that his Father could see Noel. He’d never told his brother about that hunch, because it was too painful for him to consider, but on days like this, when their Father was returning after weeks of absence, he couldn’t help but contemplate the possibility.
That day, his Father brought back company. A young associate of his, very bright and focused, he told them. Very ambitious, was said with a bitter snort. Leon regarded the newcomer with a curious eye. He was rather tall, somewhere between his late teens and early twenties, with a serious look in his eye that made him seem older.
The man – who his Father called Agapito Rais – stared back at him. Leon frowned when he realized the man was not actually looking at him. He was looking a bit over his left shoulder, where – where Noel was leaning against him, one hand on his back as if to anchor himself.
Eyes widening, Leon regarded Mr Rais once more. The man had looked away by then, back stiff and looking as blank faced as he had moments before. It was then that Leon realized that he didn’t really know what, exactly, his Father did for a living. For some reason, that thought frightened him.
Mr Rais came to visit every once in a while, mostly to talk to his Father about things Leon made sure to eavesdrop on.
Leon overheard his brother talking to Mr Rais a couple of times as well, whenever the man came over and the occasion was such that neither Leon nor his Father were in the near facility. Usually, Mr Rais would achieve such a feat by saying he was stepping out for a smoke.
“You know how this is going to end, don’t you?” Mr Rais had once said to his brother.
At the time, Leon hadn’t been able see Noel’s face from his spot on the window-sill, but from the way he was holding himself Leon gathered that his brother was uncomfortable with the subject Mr Rais had just broached. They’d been fifteen, then.
“You’re Father hunts your kin, you filthy little beast, and sooner or later he’s going to eradicate you too.” Leon froze. It felt like someone had cut all the circulation in his body. Mr Rais went on, words ringing with a cold lilt inside Leon’s numbed brain. “I know you’ve been hiding your presence from him and Lord knows he’s not the brightest in the business – but, sooner or later, he’s going to notice. You’re brother drops enough hints as it is.”
Noel was quiet. Leon felt conflicted and caged. He wanted his brother to say something, but at the same time he feared the words that may be uttered.
Mr Rais chuckled, though it seemed sad somehow – almost ironic. “Go. Spare yourself the pain. Spare your brother the pain, if you don’t care enough for your own state of mind. Don’t be selfish. You know how this is going to end.”
He looked at the house then, so abruptly Leon had no time to duck his head under the curtains, and claimed:
“You both know.”
Leon let the curtain fall with a cringe, knowing that he’d been seen by Mr Rais and thanking whatever Deity or Spirits was out there Noel hadn’t turned around.
Later, Noel learned that Agapito had two younger brothers. The youngest was called Ermete; he was fifteen and lived in a white-washed room in Padinska Skela. Noel knew the stories, about how pitiful the hospital was and about how the psychiatric cases were always trying to escape. He knew they were still using lithium on their patients, despite it being banned in several other European countries. Of course it was banned – it was lethal, after all.
Agapito’s other brother was eighteen a bit emotionally unstable, what with one brother in a nut house and the other absent a few months at a time.
Noel learned, also, that Agapito – twenty now – had left home years ago to work for the Organization, in which his Father did business also. It was a branch of the Restricted Government, apparently, though it held a certain autonomy compared to the rest. Apparently, they were the “Magical police” or something.
Noel felt both sad and pitiful in the knowledge that he could understand the other. He went to Padinska Skela a few times. Ermete, thin and white and almost unfit to be called a Human being, saw him. That was why he was in this place, Noel gathered – because he could see Spirits in a world where Spirits were not supposed to be seen. He hadn’t learned to lie when he should have and he'd been deemed a paranoid schizophrenic.
Noel raised a finger to his lips and begged the other not to say anything.
Orfeo didn’t see him. He was doing some homework on the bed-side table. The hospital was understaffed and there was no one to watch the two brothers. Orfeo had been coming as often and as long as some doctors had worked here and they let him in without a second glance.
Ermete asked his brother for a pen and a piece of paper. His voice was soft and controlled, it didn’t hitch or lilt or give any indication that anything was wrong. Ermete knew how to behave and, more importantly, knew what would happen if he didn’t. Noel already knew he’d tried to escape a number of times.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Noel asked, unheard by those who did not listen. That wasn’t the reason he’d come here, he didn’t know why he came here, but it’s what he intended to do. Noel tried to tell himself this wasn’t just to get on Agapito’s good side, but Noel knew he wasn’t that good of a person. He wasn’t a person at all.
Ermete bit his lips and looked at his brother. He wrote:
Will I be able to see Agapito, if I do? Or Orfeo?
Noel smiled, it was a smile he’d only ever given Leon, and hoped it comforted the Human boy as much as it scared Noel himself. “I’ll make sure of it.” he promised, even if he wasn’t quite sure.
Ermete looked at him for a while. He looked sickly, with his skinny frame and his sunken eyes, almost like a Ghost himself. Those eyes, however, big and round and tinged with the slightest of red were tired and trusting, as if doubt and hate and bitterness took too much of an effort to summon.
Alright. What do you want in exchange?
“To be seen.” the answer all but escaped his lips, surprising them both. It was a wish he’d buried deep inside many times before, and perhaps it was the shock or the elation of talking with someone that drove the words out of his lungs with a painful lurch.
For a while, only the scribbling of Orfeo’s pencil against his math notebook could be heard.
Ermete looked at him, blinking, and wrote:
I’ll be seeing you then.
Noel knew Leon knew as well. Neither spoke of it.
Noel was very close to his brother, which was why he didn’t tell his brother everything. He didn’t tell Leon of the multitude of ghostly friends he had the pleasure of being acquainted with or that he had a job in the postal service.
The logic behind the Magical Postal Service was such that only Ghosts could be mailmen, because A) A Ghost knew where it was going, thank you very much B) They never tired or needed nourishment and C) How in the name of the Seven Haunts of Nevermore did anyone plan to intercept a bloody Ghost? The risk of being found out by the common folk was minimal and most Ghosts were not the gossiping types and only revealed information when asked.
Noel had landed himself a job in the Scouting Unit, just because his Father was suspected of corruption.
Agapito Rais did not exist within the records of the Grandharve Organization.
Ermete Rais was sixteen years old when he disappeared from a locked room one simmering summer night.
“Where is he?” Agapito thundered. It was a cold day and the Mountain was unforgiving. Soon, all the roads would be closed. Noel gave no reaction.
“We're all in the same boat here.” Agapito pleaded now, desperate and angry. Noel smiled.
“Yes, and we’ll all try to push everyone else overboard,” he told the other, meeting his gaze squarely “at least, everyone who isn’t our own kin.”
Noel sighed then. He was victorious, despite the tired, defeated look in his eye. Agapito hated him for it. Noel shook his head, as if trying not to accept this reality. Finally, he said “It’s called survival, Agapito, I can’t blame you for any of it.”
Agapito scowled, his eyes simmering like a dying flame – desperate for something to rekindle it, for something to devour and destroy.
“Then hate me.” he demanded hotly.
Noel shook his head again, with the same expression and same tone of voice “Will that make anything better?” It only served to make Agapito even more pissed at him, himself and the world.
“Yes,” he bit out “it will at least sate my conscious.”
Noel looked at him. He looked Human, in Leon’s spare cloths and with his long hair combed and pulled back into a messy pony-tail. His skin was pale and Agapito could see the blue veins, almost black in colour, zigzagging across taunt skin. Noel’s lips, eye-lids and finger-tips had a blue tinge to them as well, singling him out as what he was. A monster borne from an unnamed child. Except now he had a name, given to him by his twin after his death.
Agapito felt sick. It would be so easy to feel for the other boy, with their situations being so infinitely the same. No, they were irrevocably different and he couldn’t sympathize with one of the beings that had been terrorizing his youngest brother since childhood.
Noel’s eyes were almost kind in their dark sockets, their chestnut hue. There was a plea somewhere in there, but Agapito could not read the language it was written in. “No,” the Ghost said “you will not find peace in hate. Agapito, please, if you do not believe anything else, believe that.”
Agapito turned, furious, and snow flew up from his boots like a miniature tidal wave. He wouldn’t be getting anything out of this thing today – perhaps tomorrow, perhaps their Father could be of assistance.
The urge to run away was a common thing, really. Life could be stressful. Life could be tough. You couldn’t always win. So, what do you do when you know things are maybe/probably/definitely hopeless?
Run? Yeah, that sounded pretty appealing at this point, didn’t it? Run, don’t look back. Run, because it’s all good when you’re at a safe distance. Run, because you don’t want to stay here anymore. You can’t. It’s like that damn Wraith, Spiridon, was whispering in your ear – all laughter and fickle tragedy.
You feel like you’re slowly going mad, like your very essence is beginning to fray and unravel at the seams.
Yet you know living without purpose was even worse than suffering for the cause of that purpose.
“I should cut your hair soon.” Leon said to Noel when they’d been walking in the market place one day. Leon had taken to talking into his mobile phone when out in public, just so it would seem like he wasn’t talking to thin air. Noel approved of the tactic full-heartedly, though he knew his brother despised the “radioactive contraptions”, as he’d dubbed them. Noel would answer with a grin and a teasing: You’re a real Amish, Leon.
Today, Leon had decided on making his favourite dish and, in the heart of the market, was picking out all the vegetables he’d need for the sauce when a voice called out.
“Hey, you there in the khaki shorts, you dropped your cabbage!”
Leon, slightly dumbfounded, turned to see that, indeed, he’d dropped his cabbages all over the street. When he looked down, he realized the plastic bag he’d been carrying them in had a gigantic whole at the bottom. Feeling sheepish, he accepted the salvaged pieces from the stranger. Maybe he could just throw away the outer layers...? Hm.
The stranger grinned at his embarrassment. “Here you go. Can’t believe you hadn’t felt that, these things are pretty heavy and your brother’s pretty careless not to notice either. Honestly, what were you thinking about? Because if it’s a girl and if she’s nice, blond and works at the library – I may or may not know her.”
Leon found himself blinking as the stranger babbled on. He was taller than him and very... enthusiastic? Melodramatic...? Why was he talking so fast again? Had he said... something about his brother? He looked to his side sharply to see that Noel had gone a shade or two bluer than usual.
Leon gulped. “T-Thank you Mr...?”
The man grinned. The fish took the bait. “Oh, how rude of me! I got so caught up in the moment I forgot to introduce myself!” he did a mock-bow for them, smiling in a way that made Leon wonder what, exactly, was so funny.
“Vid Balshic at your service, Mr Bovary and Mr Bovary.” the strange teen announced, merrily. Leon gulped.
“Noel.” he found his brother saying “Just Noel.”
Leon nodded. “Likewise, I’m not one for formalities.”
Who was this person, who’d so casually striped into their lives like an old friend? Leon didn’t get it. He wracked his brain for the names of his Father’s acquaintances, leafing through the memorized pages of his dad’s little black book of names no one was supposed to know about. (The phone company was rather susceptible to bribery; Leon had heard him say once.)
Nope. No Vid Balshic, still, it sounded familiar. Perhaps they’d gone to school together? It wasn’t impossible, taking into account all the schools Leon had transferred in and out of. Still, this guy had a particular type of accent – one Leon was unfamiliar with. If he was not from his Father’s Organization, the Grandharve, was he from a rival one? Had he been sent here to meet him, purposely? Why would he have been? Was Father in trouble?
“Are you from the Toutes Agir?” he blurted, wide-eyed. His wiry figure, unconsciously, shifted towards his brother.
Vid chortled at him tactlessness. “No, I’m a selfish man with a selfish wish – something, I think, you’ve already had experience with.” Vid laughed a lot, Leon found it evident from their minute long acquaintance. There was something lively about him, something undeterred and unbothered with everyday troubles. Something about the other teen made him almost defensive, though he tried to remain relaxed and easy going as usual.
His brother, however, was a different story “What do you want?”
“I need you to steal something for me.” Vid answered, his smile unbroken, almost before Noel had finished asking. “And I also want a friend on the other side.”
Leon laughed nervously “Quite demanding for a stranger.”
“You’ll forgive my arrogance for disguising my kind nature.” apologized Vid, doing that little mock bow of his again.
Noel snorted “How humble you are.” He kept looking at the people around them, going this way and that with transparent plastic bags of varying colour. They didn’t seem too interested in the two youths standing off to the side. Still, being in a crowd had always set Noel on edge. Currently, he found himself thankful for the mass of people walking by. If Vid was any kind of threat, at least he wouldn’t try anything here.
Leon would have called him paranoid, perhaps, but something was definitely off about Vid. Noel felt it. He couldn’t decide what it was, yet, but he knew the boy couldn’t be Human. A Hybrid or a Magician, most likely, or both. Noel didn’t want to ostracize Vid for that, but he vowed not to let his guard down just yet.
“Yes, yes, you flatter me.” Vid waved them off, smiling still, like a kid in a candy shop “So, do we have a deal?”
Leon bit his lip and looked to his brother. He wasn’t good it these kinds of situation, since he was more of a spur of the moment type of person. Noel, however, always had everything figured out. He’d know what to do.
His brother met his eyes. Coal in colour and seemingly hardened, those irises held a tinge of uncertainly. Noel sighed. “Under one condition.” he bargained.
Vid raised an unconcerned brow “Which is?”
The two looked one another in the eye. For the first time, Noel noticed only one of Vid’s eyes was truly visible. Under the ridiculously large sunglasses and the messy hair covering half his face, he thought he could almost glimpse something white. A bandage.
“Don’t trust me.” he told Vid.
Vid stared at him, then he laughed outright. Noel scowled. He was beginning to really dislike the guy, despite Vid’s apparently amicable intentions. Vid, in his spontaneously over-dramatized fashion, surprised him again. “Give me a reason why.” he said, meeting Noel's gaze once more.
The sunglasses slid down Vid's nose minutely, enough to reveal a cheerful hue of brown bark and the scratches around it. Leon shivered, reminded of one of his Father’s acquaintances.
“I’m not the friendly, trust-you-with-my-life-because-we’re-on-the-same-team type of guy.” Noel answered. Leon smiled. That was his brother, unable to joke unless it was in the worst possible situation.
Vid, though, seemed to find some humour in Noel’s jaded remark. “Fair enough, I don’t want people dying for me anyway.” Leon blinked. Wait. What?
Noel blinked, before a grin spread across his face as well. They almost looked alike, his brother and this stranger – they almost had the same aura about them. “Don’t worry about that, I’m far too selfish to die for someone else’s cause.” Leon groaned, thinking No, Noel, come on, you’re not supposed to join in the game of confuse-your-dear-little-brother!
Leon felt utterly confused. Where was this conversation headed again?
“I’m glad to hear that.”
He asked the waiter in a road-side rest stop if he could use their phone. The man had raised an eyebrow at him, smiled and joked that what, a teenager without a cell phone? Never thought I’d see the day again!
Vid went along with the man’s little speech, nodding along and expressed his consent when asked. The phone rang three times before it was answered.
“Vid,” a deep voice greeted “how are you doing?”
“Hey, mom! Wouldn’t you believe it, I’ve just made a new friend!” Vid, merry in his own mind, still checked if anyone was eavesdropping on him.
“That’s nice. Will he be of use?”
“I do believe so.” Vid affirmed with in a luke-warm tone. Spirits, this man always had to bring him back to earth, didn’t he? “You know, this job is a pain in the ass. You send me to every bloody hill and valley you can think of and don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken me under your wing and all, under the noses of your little pals in the Alliance and the ones from the–”
“It’s worth it, isn’t it?”
Vid sighed “Totally. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to ask... how’s Drina doing?”
There was no answer for a second, two, five – which was, regarding the person he was speaking to quite... worrisome.
“She’s going.” The sudden announcement startled Vid enough that he almost dropped the receiver.
“Going?” Vid spluttered “Going where?”
“Olympic Agones Magiae.” This time the answer was instantaneous, the tone plastic. Vid’s head was spinning. Perhaps shaking it was having an even more negative effect, because he was slowly becoming nauseous.
“What?” he asked, dazed and breathless “No, no, no. That’s not supposed to happen! I warned you! How could you?!”
There was a chuckle on the other side of the line, it sounded scratchy and automatic. “How could I what?”
Perhaps it was just in his mind, perhaps he was Humanizing something in an effort to understand it – but damn it he knew people and he knew affection and kinship to something that that wasn’t like you changed you for the better. Unity, equality, freedom – wasn’t that the perfect solution?
“Why haven’t you dissuaded her yet?” he asked, feeling as if he wasn’t the one speaking at all.
“Because it’s her life.”
“And your battle.” Vid all but growled.
“I agreed to be your asset.” Vid confessed, shaken and feeling like a cornered, beaten animal “I agreed to be your little messenger-boy, to go around searching for everyone and anyone who could be partial to your cause. I agreed because I believe in what you’re fighting for, because you made me believe... don’t... don’t tell me you’ll use someone else.”
For a while, there was no answer – but just as Vid began to fear the silence, it broke.
“People die, Vid, get over it.”
“My name is Sibin V. Radoman.” he said to the shadow in the mirror.
He didn’t believe it.