It started, as it often did, with a migraine.
Leon was used to this by now, they’d been enduring them for years. Medication didn’t help. Magic didn’t even help. However, the reality was that it meant a vision would come soon. Not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point within the week, something bad would happen. If they were lucky they might see it in advance and be able to do something… More often than not, they weren’t. More often than not they wound up in trouble.
That was how they’d first met Declan so many years ago. He’d been “in trouble,” if you could call it that. The vision had been so weak and unclear that Leon hadn’t known what to do other than to just show up. So they had, and they’d nearly died at the hands of some feral beast… Except that Declan, Declan who they had come to help, had saved them instead.
After that, Declan always seemed to be there. Their relationship was odd at best in the beginning - Declan was never sure how to manage boundaries, or how to curb his very barbed tongue - but Leon was nothing if not a tolerant soul. The migraines took so much out of them that it was hard to really get riled up, and Declan always seemed so apologetic after his crueler outbursts. Once, in exchange for their forgiveness, Declan offered to help Leon understand their powers better and learn to focus. The surprising side effect was that Leon became a lot more in tune with predicting things about Declan, occasionally better with people they came into physical contact with… But always the Monsters rather than the Humans.
Declan simply said it was because they were an old soul, from a different time when the line between mundane and the magical wasn’t so miserably stark. Leon was never sure if he was being honest or just poetic, so they rarely worried about it.
So the migraine was frustrating but acceptable. It meant they had the opportunity to help someone, which was always nice. Except, this time, it was a familiar face that finally swam into his visions. Ziya was upset and he was prepared to do something incredibly stupid in his grief. Of course, as helpful as their visions usually were, they couldn’t see what had triggered this moment just that it was going to happen and probably soon.
Without a second thought, they raced out to Ziya’s apartment. Where was Ash? Usually, they were all but inseparable when she wasn’t working. Ah, no, that must have been it. Ash was probably on a hunt. So why hadn’t he called her if he was struggling this bad?
Their small hand wrapped around the doorknob, stumbled as another vision slammed into them, this one of Ash - crying? A ghost of her rushed by Leon, luggage in hands, and shoved it into a car. Disoriented by the vision, Leon jerked back toward the door as they became aware of the sounds from inside the apartment: things were breaking, and there was a horrific sound like some nightmarish mix of howling and screaming. Leon turned the knob, found it open, and rushed into the room.
And there was Ziya, utterly inhuman, large claws grabbing vases and paintings and anything else within his inhuman reach, and smashing them to the floor, against the walls. He was covered in little cuts from the broken items but he seemed oblivious to everything.
“Ziya?” Leon made their way toward their friend. “Ziya - Zed! What’s going on?”
No reply, but the monster spun toward him, eyes alive with ghostly fire.
“Ziya, please, you need to calm down.”
“Why?!” The creature howled as it tore a couch cushion to pieces. The couch itself splintered next.
“SHUT UP!” A massive clawed hand swung out abruptly and Leon suddenly found themselves against the far wall, dazed.
They fluttered in and out of consciousness for a second, reeling from the blow to the head… And then Declan was there. The pale demon was arched over Leon, posture tense and eyes burning, using his body to block a piece of the sofa that was chucked towards them both. For one unsettling moment Declan looked utterly helpless, eyes wide with terror as his hands fluttered over Leon, checking for broken bones or anything that might be truly ruptured.
“I’m okay… Help Zed?” Leon urged. “It’s just a scratch and maybe a concussion. He’s not going to come to his senses alone, Declan... please.”
Declan shot a cold glare over his shoulder at Zed then turned back to Leon. He tenderly pressed his forehead against Leon’s, trying to reclaim some of his self-control. When he leaned back he had ripped off a sleeve of his shirt and tied it firmly around the gash dripping blood down Leon’s arm.
“Okay, okay… Just don’t ever scare me like this again, Leon. I was… I thought I wasn’t fast enough.”
“I promise,” Leon whispered sadly. “Thank you.”
Try as he may, Zed couldn’t process what he was seeing.
He stood in the middle of what had been their apartment for the last three years. Everything of hers was gone. It felt like she’d purposefully carved through every corner of the house, taking away whatever she could that linked them together. All that remained were paintings and photographs… Or, rather, some paintings and photographs.
That was the biggest source of his confusion.
Here in this place that was supposed to be theirs, she had vanished almost completely… but she’d still taken some of the photos of them. A small collage he’d gifted her on one of their anniversaries, a few of her graduation, and, oddly, one of the few photographs of them after one of the only hunts he’d ever joined her on. He’d discovered, after escaping the disturbing and very slimy beast they’d encountered on what should have been a camping trip, that he preferred to just leave the messy business of killing monsters to her. So, of course, she’d thrown her gore-covered arms around him and snapped a photo of him looking like a drowned rat. A rat that drowned in slime. It never failed to make his skin crawl or her laugh, and she never let him live it down.
The paintings were similar, though most of those remained. His preferred subject was Ash herself and he did try his best to keep those tucked into his small portion of the apartment that he considered his “at home studio” as they embarrassed Ash terribly (though he had his suspicions that she secretly loved it). One of those was confirmed because a painting of her had been taken. It was a simple thing from when they’d first started dating, from when he’d been so intoxicated by her that he couldn’t even fathom how deeply he’d fallen for her. At that time she was in every painting he did, much to the frustration of his professor. Over time he eased out of his obsession with painting her, but it never faded entirely. He just sucked it up and did actual schoolwork once in a while, or commissions, whatever.
Never could get over painting her nude though. It didn’t matter how long they were together, he always found her too beautiful for words. Even when she was self-conscious about scars collected from hunts, he committed every inch of her to paint and memory. How could he not worship every inch of her?
It was foolish of him, he knew, to walk around and look for every little detail that had been taken from him but he somehow hoped that he’d find something, anything, that announced that this was all some horrendous prank.
He never found it.
In the end, he returned to the entryway where the stupid landline sat, the answering machine blinking balefully at him. She hadn’t called him on his cellphone, hadn’t given him the chance to protest what was happening. No. None of that. Instead, she’d left a message on that stupid landline the salesman had forced on them so that they could get a discount on some silly internet package. No one had ever been given the number, but they’d use the archaic machine from time to time just to leave each other or themselves dumb reminders. For the longest time, the machine had announced: “So help me, Zed, if this is paint in my hair I’m going to kick your ass!” Which was followed by a long pause and then uproars of laughter from the both of them. He left it as such to tease her. Eventually, she changed it when he was having a bad day, to something sweet that she intended to cheer him up. It had worked, of course. How could it not?
The last time he’d played it, he was certain it was something they had both recorded. A teasing mock at themselves for whatever it was they’d forgotten to remind themselves of. He tested the recording, knowing full well that the message would be different.
It was. Ash had recorded something for him. He knew this steely tone in her voice, the hard determination. She wanted him to believe she meant what she was saying, that it was over, she was gone, and he wasn’t to come looking for her. He couldn’t believe it. Almost refused to, but the answering machine still had a message. He played it and almost immediately felt his heart wrench. This wasn’t the steely overly confident Ash anymore. There was pain, a pain he hadn’t anticipated after she’d already been so clear.
And all she said was, “I’m so sorry.”
Zed hit the button to end the message before the machine could try to replay it, and he slumped down to sit on the floor. For a long time, he just cradled his head in his hands, trying to think clearly. It wasn’t possible. Everything was wrong. What had happened? Why had she left? Her first message had been so final, it hardly left any room for questions… So then why did she sound so lost in that message? What had happened? His head kept spinning, his thoughts racing uselessly around without making any sense. It just kept coming back to the same hopeless question. Why why why?
He played the answering machine recording once more, then tried her cell phone again. It had been off all morning but now it simply stated that the number was no longer in service. She had no intention of letting him find her again. He dialed the number several more times. At least… several more times that he was able to remember.
The next thing he remembered was being slammed into the wall so hard he could hear the paintings rattle against the plaster, and Declan snarling in his face. He blinked, suddenly weary beyond belief, and saw Leon just past Declan’s shoulder. He knew from their expression that something was very wrong… Declan frequently kicked his ass for losing control, he was certain that was why he was here, but why had Leon come?
“Ziya…” They were holding a cloth up against their arm, a piece of Declan’s shirt. “What happened?”
He knew immediately what had happened. Leon had arrived first and Zed had been out of his mind. He’d hurt his friend like the idiot he was. He had intended to apologize, but that thought brought back the rest of reality. The voicemail, her apology. Instead of apologizing, he broke down into tears, and all he could choke out was “She left”.