It was a good thing he was still cranky when he woke up. That one dart wouldn’t have effected him otherwise, but he needed a nap. He felt… completed, and what a better reward than a nice, deep sleep. The problem was, of course, the stabbing pain in his forehead and the cloudiness the drugs caused, but nothing came without a price. Every good deed always had a nice anal fucking right behind it, after a-
Every muscle locked up. He tasted copper. And wood. He saw stars and stripes, but he hoped those wouldn’t last forever, coiled into the lances of blue that crackled and pulsed through him. His hearing was the first to return, and he heard that stun gun clacking away. It had been pressed against his neck, the metal tips slipping into his skin with ease from the heat of the bolts it sent cascading through him –which, sadly, feeling was the next thing. It couldn’t have been sight or smell- no. Not smell. The last thing he needed was to smell more burning fl- and of course it did! Man, his body was a dick.
Sight was actually the last. Not that it did much good; he couldn’t see a thing through the dark rope wrapped around his face. The cloth they used was smooth enough, but those thick straps to keep it and the chains on his arms, legs, chest, and wings in place, well, they were made of sterner stuff. He was placed upon a chair just short enough to bend his knees up, for his thighs to be inclined, while the seat was angled down, giving him no true way to apply force. His arms were stretched out on either side, raised enough for his shoulders to ache, his elbows to be bent the wrong way, and for his hands to be clenched, a fate his wings, all four of them, met. Cute.
He gasped, and flames began to roil at his lips, at his tongue- garnering him a round of flame retardant. The fire extinguisher hissed louder than him, but it was a close call which one was more pissed by the sudden rush of the cool, bitter concoction. Whoever was manning it did not stop until his face was saturated with it, through the cloth and rope and another bag if he had to wager, all now sticking, suffocating him.
The metal tin clanged on the ground, and he heard Lilith huff.
“You put on quite the show,” she stated, her tone so cold, so… repulsed. Showing her true colors. At fucking last. “What exactly were you hoping to accomplish with your little stunt?”
“Wasn’t it obvious?” He said, chortling. “You kill them all, none of them can stir shit later. I was following Johnny’s advice and taking care of my demons. Properly.”
“Not like that, Junior,” Johnny said, and he sounded exasperated, annoyed yet understanding. “It was never meant to go this far. I told you to not stir the nest up to begin with.”
“It was going to happen regardless, and the only solution is to burn it down. Burn it all down!” Flames threatened again, but the bag was still so condensed with that liquid it simply “laughed” at him. He huffed, growled, groaned as he adjusted in his seat, pushing up just to slide back down. “Interesting set-up. Take it this wasn’t initially meant for me.”
“No,” Lilith said. “There’s a gorgon causing trouble on campus. This was made in preparation if she tried anything else… Still. It’s serving a purpose right now-”
“Until Eve gets here, you mean. Do you really think she’ll be happy to see me like this?”
“No, but something must have been done. Even in your sleep, there was no calming your rage. Three of our soldiers died restraining you.”
“Only? I must have worked out A LOT of my aggression on those useless cunts –speaking of, which of them are coming back? I know Bridget is since I had the honor of killing her twice. Lycans are rare, and you love having them as an asset most likely. I take it Cassidy will be reborn-”
“Really? Even with Mister Crane as a benefactor of the Academy?”
“It was his choice,” Johnny said. “All his family has an… agreement. It’s a part of the contract with the Academy and Panacea Pharmaceuticals, but it was a stipulation. None of his family can ever be put in the System.”
“Ah. So that murderous fanatic stays on ice. Good riddance.”
“And what makes you so certain she was the killer?” Lilith exclaimed, and he could see her golden flames through the bag. Oh… He finally got under her skin- “You damn well believe it! Really, Francis? You couldn’t have left it to us?”
“Right. Like you solved Des’s murder? How did that go?”
“That wasn’t even two weeks ago!”
“We both know that’s more than enough time!”
“Under normal circumstances, but nothing this year has been normal!”
“Oh, so sorry for ruining your perfect little family sitcom. What, did you expect me to be like a lovable tramp that rebels but does silly shenanigans? Was that what you were hoping to program me into! Don’t act as though I didn’t know you were fucking with my mind, trying to change it.”
“I’ll admit. I was.”
“So fuck you! Fuck you, and everything that you stand for! You better believe the moment I get out of here I will continue to make your life Hell!” He tried to lunge from the chair, gnashing, snapping at the bag on his face as he aimed for those golden flames, but only succeeded in budging the chains a bit forward. Now his knees were even more bent, digging into his middle. “And now you can see the result. You made me want a ‘single’ life, and, when that has been denied, this is the blow-back.”
“Again, I’ll admit I was. I… goaded your mind more than guided. I lead it down the proper paths- Francis, the ideas you had, the changes you were going through? That was all you. All I did was help show the w-”
“And look where it landed us!” Flames sparked again, and the scent of burning cloth finally made its presence known- giving him another facial from the extinguisher. Wasn’t waterboarding illegal in the states? Then again, it didn’t matter. So long as the person in question was in power against the powerless. He grunted, and flung back onto the sloped seat. Making it crack… Interesting-
“I wouldn’t try it,” Johnny said. “It’s reinforced with titanium underneath the faux wood seat. All you would be doing is making it more uncomfortable.”
“Oh. Well, in that case, I better not make this torture any worse on me… Besides, we all know the killer was hidden in that roster I slew-”
“We actually don’t,” Lilith interjected. “Due to your capacity to build a social circle, and make enemies, what you did was a shot in the dark. A refined shot, but a shot nonetheless.” She sighed, and he could hear her reach into her purse, rustling in it as she most likely retrieved her phone. “I’ve been going over the footage from the past few hours for the apartments-”
“What’s the point? It was a night. Have you seen that area? Poor lighting.”
“Yes, but you can still see who enters and leaves… Sadly, you were probably right about it being possibly the harpies. No one came in from the ground; however, a shadow passed over the parking lot about two hours before you pulled in. It disappeared over the roof and, upon inspection of the cameras along the back, went through the window to the bedroom. There was a glint of something, most likely the metal container that was used to house the carbon monoxide, then, after a few minutes, the shadow left.”
“And? What about them returning? I didn’t see a fucking can of carbon monoxide –hell, I didn’t even smell it!”
“Given your emotional state at the time-”
“Don’t give me that shit! I can still smell things when I’m feeling sad. I was scoping out that scene long before your pretty head had even an inkling to look into it.”
“Then why did you burn it down! Why didn’t you leave it intact?”
“Oh, so sorry for making your job harder. Meanwhile, my girl and children are dead- and you knew to watch out for them! You knew something was going to happen.”
“And that’s why it’s not adding up! I heard every single person’s thoughts, all of those that you killed, and they were thinking more about winning you over. Not a single one wanted to kill Jessica… Maybe you should have come talk to me instead of going on your little temper tantrum like a petulant child when he breaks his favorite toy!”
“Jessica was not a toy!”
“She wasn’t? Then what was she to you? Really? Your thoughts and actions as of late made her more into bait. You wanted this to happen, so drop that facade about wanting to be a family guy. You might have had it in mind, but you were hoping, deep down. You were begging for her to die.”
“You fucking c-” Francis shrieked, lost to his roar and rant as he thrashed and flailed at his bindings. The room echoed with the clangor of metal, the rips and groans of rope on skin. The chair creaked and squeaked, but it wasn’t going anywhere. His teeth managed to snag the first layer of cloth, tearing it away, allowing more of those golden flames to be seen as his own kept wisping and hissing on the sodden material.
“That was too far, Lil,” Johnny muttered, putting his hand on Francis’s shoulder. “Way too far… Junior, I understand the pain you are going through-”
“Do you? You still have your girl. She still has her baby in the oven, too!”
“He’s not talking about mine,” Lilith grumbled, groaning. “I’m stepping out. Johnny, you can continue to deal with him until Eve gets here, but I’ve had enough today.”
“Okay, okay.” He waited for those heels to clack away… then for a metal door to creak open then slam shut behind, booming into the room. Then he sighed, rustling his hair. “She’s in one of those moods today… Sorry, Junior.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Well, I was slow in waking up this morning and she was… It’s not important. What is was that she wasn’t able to get what she wanted before she was rushed out to… this… But yes. I understand your loss somewhat… When I started here, I got another girl pregnant. A lycan. She stated she was going to turn me, that we were going to make such a lovely pack together-”
“And that’s when Lilith decided to kill her, right? Or at least the child?”
“No… Lil and I weren’t even an item yet at that point. The problem, essentially, solved itself… Her pack mate grew antsy and decided to throw a coup, killing her baby and trying to turn me in the process of making her own.”
“Oh. Well that sounds lovely.”
“And what came after was just as wonderful… There was a drider. Sweet girl. Meek, but driven when she wanted to be… She tried to take me away from it all.”
“Well, what usually happens to those that try a daylight kidnapping? She was caught… Can’t say I wasn’t too happy about it, though.”
“Yeah… Once upon a time, I was sweet on her. Out of all the girls at the time, she cared about me the most. That was to be expected, though. Driders tend to be rather… doting… Sadly, I didn’t put my foot down soon enough, and she paid the price for it. To this day, I still blame myself for what befell her… and why I tried to warn you not to play with women’s hearts… Do you mind if I take that bag off your head?”
“Depends. Do you like to be flambeed?”
“Are you going to try if I take it off?”
“With you? Probably not… for Lilith, though-”
“Again. Don’t hold it against her… She’s been under a lot of stress lately.”
“Haven’t we all?”
“True enough, but… business. Lots of business. Including with a certain hobby store harpy. She’s still pressing to get you working there… She didn’t mean what she said, by the way. She knew you weren’t hoping that for Jessica… Let me take that bag off. I’d rather see your face as I’m talking to it.”
He removed the bag first, allowing Francis to see his tired face, his puffy eyes, bloodshot. His fingers tugged at the rope, shaking as he grunted, working those thick coils away, laced into the chain that was wrapped up and over his head. He managed to lower it to the drachen’s neck at least, then removed the last of the inner cloth, letting Francis’s ears breathe once more. Francis took stock of where he was, but more than a glance wasn’t necessary. It was obviously the Black halls. There was no denying that stainless steel box he was in and where it sat, one of thousands that descended underneath the Academy.
Johnny sighed, sitting in a normal chair across, and creased his hands together, leaning towards the drachen.
“I have to ask, though,” he said, pointing his fingertips to Francis. “Did you truly love her?”
“You can read my mind, can’t you?”
“You keep pointing that out… Yes, but the mind isn’t the only place one’s voice is stored. As sappy as it is, some words, feelings, can only come from the heart.”
“Well, that’s pointless. My heart is dead right now.”
“No… I think it’s quite the opposite. I think your heart is more alive than it ever has been before. And that’s why you’re in such pain. That’s why you’re acting out.”
“You know, I don’t remember asking for a therapist. Would you kindly stop trying to fuck my mind?”
Johnny chortled, shaking his head… but sighed again.
“I… could see myself with her. For a long, long ass time, yes. I didn’t hate the idea of making a family with her, doing stupid shit, seeing through hard stuff-”
“Did you love her… It’s only the two of us. There’s no recording devices at all, and you know I won’t tell anyone.”
“There are some things I keep to myself, things not even she knows.”
“Fine… No. I didn’t love her… but, then again, I don’t really know what love is. And that’s what pisses me off: Lilith was probably right… Most likely, all I did see her as was bait… I’m… I’m a monster.”
The words burned in his chest, seared more than the fresh tears that stained his reddening cheeks.
Johnny hummed… but shook his head. “That’s not true-”
“But it is. The man that might have been was lost in the blaze that took his father that fateful Taco Tuesday, as the monster claimed the boy, forced him to dodge truant officers, live off the streets, fight off bums then gang-bangers as he turned to a dark life. I have killed, raped, stolen, ruined so many lives… and that was before coming into what I am now. The only reason I was caught at all was a stroke of luck; if those two didn’t pass through my little part of the world, I would still be there, killing, raping, ruining so many more lives.”
“But they did. They passed through your world, crossed your path, and changed your destiny. They gave you a second chance, another life you can live, surrounded by people who understand you and want the best for you. There will be… bumpy moments, but, so long as we are here, we will never give up on you. All we ask is that you don’t give up on yourself.”
The door squeaked, and hissed as it lazed into the metal hallway. Eve stepped through, along with Lilith, a competition for whom had the more sour look on their face. Lilith sauntered over to Johnny, flinging her arms around his neck, while Eve stomped up to Francis.
“You. Insolent. Little…” She said, striking him harder with each word. Upon the fourth, though… she hugged him, groaning into his hair. “What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t,” he said, and wanted nothing more than to shrink into himself as she pulled back, looking him in the face. “Sorry.”
“Oh… you’re not sorry. Not yet,” she said, and dug her fingers into the top chain. The metal shrieked, and fell apart, as did the next link and every single one down, freeing him. Even with him free, though, he refused to move, not as long as those pearly whites glared at him. “This cannot go unpunished. Not this time. You’re coming home with me for the rest of the holiday, and, when you return, there’s going to be severe limits. You aren’t allowed out of your apartment except to go to school and go to work. Penny is to escort you directly to Johnny’s classroom every day, where you will stay until she comes and escorts you for lunch only to be returned to the classroom until either end of day or your job, where you are taken there and only allowed to leave at the exact time, directly back to your apartment. You are not to talk with anyone else. Not even your classmates in Johnny’s class- hold on.”
She reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone.
“You aren’t allowed this. You aren’t even allowed a radio. Even at your job, you are to be free of any such device. You aren’t even allowed to talk to your boss. Do you understand? The only people you can talk to are Penny, Johnny, Lilith, and me. Absolutely no one else at all. If you break this -and I will know if you do- what awaits is so… so much worse. After a few months, you will be evaluated, and only then will maybe some of the restrictions be lifted. Do you understand… I SAID, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
She barked the last part, making the metal around quake in its wake. The chair he sat upon shattered, skewering his rump, turning it into a pincushion, but all he could do was nod. Nod and allow himself to be raised by his arm, guided by his “mother” out of the room. They were at the beginning of one of the Black Halls, at least, the door to the outside open, showing the musty undercroft of Vereor Nox. It had gotten better recently; Crane Consolidation had started to clean it up, polishing the mud into true clay before placing bronze tile on it. However, after what transpired, it was in question if it would be finished.
And it was all his fault.
She guided him up through those dank halls, winding randomly yet directed, truly a beeline that managed to find the exit, marked by thirteen, creaky steps. Each one was so heavy under his feet, his body so tired, even without the tranquilizer coursing through it. Made even worse as they stepped into the light. They emerged from under the left staircase in the entry, the chandelier still broken, left upon the floor.
But Cassidy was gone. As she would be. Forever.
He could feel the eyes of those that hated him once upon a time, turned to adoration… only to return to their true feelings again. He could hear their voices, hissing, reaffirming their hatred, their disdain for his existence… and he could no longer blame them. Each one was another whip upon his back, another dagger in his heart, leaving a trail of them as he lumbered down the steps into the cruel dawn that rose behind him, that peeked over the dark turrets above.
Eve opened the door for their limo, but he felt as though he should be tied to the bumper, forced to feel miles of asphalt upon it. For Jessica if for anyone. She forced him in, though, and he sat across, looking down at his hands. It was better than acknowledging the green blight also sitting back there.
“Well, look who it is,” Francine exclaimed, shoving a garment bag into his arms. “Went out of my way to go get this for you, and this is how you repay me? You have any idea how much that set-up cost me?”
“I will be his voice, as I forbade him otherwise,” Eve said. “He is truly sorry for what happened, and will do what he can to atone.”
“Oh, he’s finally wanting to atone, huh? Guess all it took was for his pocket pussy to be gassed.”
Flames frothed from his jaws again. Blood fell from his nails, digging into his palms as his hands shook… but… he fought so hard to remain still, those pearls still upon him. He didn’t say a thing, simply looking forward, ignoring as she continued on and the car rolled onto the highway. Ignoring how she gloated.
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