A/N: Since this is going to be ongoing and from three separate POV I am going to title them with their names- to make it easier to keep track of who’s story we are on.
Talia didn’t go back to the house for two days. After leaving she spent hours debating flying back at first light. She wanted to observe, to watch them again to just confirm what she had seen that night. Those two faces would not leave her mind. What had happened? Were they both still alive? Had the conniving, smiling woman killed the man? Or did he still believe she was some desperate woman who he had saved?
In the past two days she had decided on a few things. The woman was not some poor woman who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was not someone to be pitied. She was twisted. She was crazy, evil or a combination of the two. She wasn’t a damsel in distress that needed saving.
Anyone else who had thought their life was about to end and then had been saved would have been an emotional mess. For the last two days she had been debating using her gift. A gift she had had since she was very young. A gift she didn’t understand the point of, but it was fun to use sometime. And sometimes it was incredibly useful. She could visualize a situation perfectly, almost like putting herself into a movie scene. She pictured the moment and let it play out in front of her. In any other time she would have become a writer or actor, in this world it was more a form of escapism if nothing else.
She knew diving into the scenario and playing it out would do nothing good for her. She would end up wrapped up in this whole mess just that much tighter. But she didn’t care, they were inside her head; and she wasn’t completely sure she wanted them out. She sat cross legged on her bedroom floor and closed her eyes. Seconds later she was sitting on the soft, damp grass. Her heart was racing, she could feel the panic pouring through her veins unchecked and uncontrolled. They were coming for her. All her efforts to survive had ended with her dying, right here and now.
Her life, life as she understood it, was completely over. He emerged from the house, all tall and handsome and full of power. He saved her, connecting them for life. With a few words he gave her back a life worth living.
Relief flooded her life, a cool shower softening the panic and letting her feel whole once again. She was indebted to this man and she wanted nothing more than to wrap her arm around him and thank him until she lost her voice. He was her savior and she owed him everything she had.
She opened her eyes and felt her heart sink. That was how the event should have played out, how it should have gone if they were any normal people. But what she had been trying to deny for the last two days came crashing down on top of her now. They weren’t normal, they were wrong. That woman was not helpless, she was not about to die. There had been no true desperate emotions, just cold and calculating looks and triumphant smiles. All of it was so wrong. The woman was an actress and a terrible one at that. There had been no relief or confusion shown as she had followed him into his home. Just satisfaction.
Talia paced her apartment trying to decide what she should do. Should she fly over and confront the woman? Attempt to show the man that the woman was a fraud? Or should she watch a bit more? Did he actually need saving? Maybe he knew and he was playing her to save himself and others.
But then again the man wasn’t normal either. His reaction was cold and uncaring. It was as if he barely cared that he had won. He didn’t hug the woman or confess love to her. He had turned his back as if disgusted. He hadn’t won. He hadn’t done it to win. He did it for another reason, one that did nothing for him. So why did he save the woman?
For two days she had gone back and forth desperately trying to determine what to do. Save him? Her? Run away and never look back? Her head was swimming and she could barely get the ideas into a coherent thought.
The suns as slowly setting into the horizon. Here she was again trying to determine what course of action was best for her. She didn’t make a conscious decision, just opened her wings and took off. She let her wings guide her. Let her body move where her mind wandered. Within minutes she reached the top of the street. Down at the end was the house. It was half an hour before nine. She had thirty minutes before the hospitality rule was over for the day. He or the woman had to let Talia in. It was one of the new laws created by the Winged Ones, something about bonding and strengthening society, creating a community. It was all a bunch of words that she could careless about.
She arrived at the front step and raised her fist. She hesitated for half a heart beat before she finally knocked. There was no answer and no sound. She stood and waited for a minute more before she raised her hand and knocked harder. She held still for a second before repeating the action. Still no response.
She hesitated. According to the law she had every right to turn the knob and enter the house without permission. The door had to remain unlocked. She twisted the handle and tried to push the door. It wouldn’t budge. She tried again and pushed harder. Still nothing. It was locked.
She glanced down at her watch, it was 8:45. The door was not allowed, under any circumstances, to be locked at this hour. The mystery man could be imprisoned or worse depending on his previous record. The woman could be prosecuted as well, since they were now connected. At least that was how it should go but that word didn’t seem to mean much to this pair.
She should leave the thing alone. This was none of her business. Maybe one of them worked for the government or was being held prisoner? Maybe they were criminals now, locked up to keep everyone safe? But none of those scenarios made any sense to her, something more was going on here. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the woman was holding the man prisoner though. Question was, was it sinister? Harmless? And was getting involved dangerous for Talia?
She slid off the porch and flapped her wings gently. She drifted to the side of the house inches above the ground, trying to remain soundless. She rose a few inches, peeking in the gap between the curtain and the top of the window.
She was looking into the living room. Standing in front of a sofa, a mirror behind him was the man, shirtless. He was flexing his back attempting to observe the slits in his back where a few grey strands were peeking out. He pushed at them and they didn’t budge. He tried to flex his back to make the tips move in some manner. They remained immobile, not pushing forward or sinking back into his skin. He growled and pulled a grey T-shirt over his head.
Talia watched with fascination. He was becoming a Winged One, very slowly it seemed, but it was happening, which made her head ache with confusion even more. He had saved that woman from her fate of becoming Winged, yet he was giving in now? Would that mean the woman would turn to? Why save her to only end up right in this spot?
A creak on the floorboards made her jump. Someone was walking through the house. She quickly took off and headed back toward her apartment. As she landed on her balcony she had made up her mind. Those two were absolutely none of her business. Their decisions should mean nothing to her. Again there was that word, “should.” She should stay away, should ignore this whole thing before it killed her. She shouldn’t make her life revolve around those two, be so determined to figure out what was going in their secret world. She never was good at listening to that word, she sat at her desk and pulled a piece of paper towards her, making a plan
He laid flat on the concrete, arms spread out along the hard cold ground. His knees were bent up, obscuring his view of the world in front of him. He only saw the wide open sky above, nothing more. Just a long black expanse with only a handful of puffy grey clouds.
As a child those clouds were animals, household objects or weird shapes that he had made up names for. Now they are mounds of water that he could never hope to reach, never understand and never wanted to be a part of. Feet flat on the Earth, that was his place. No matter what she said.
He let out a slow breath, slowing his heart rate and closed his eyes. Here he was safe. Inside his head he was free. Inside his own thoughts no one could come after him. No one could tell him he was wrong. Tell him yet again he had broken some stupid rule. He was a failure in the outer world. In this one he was just a man. Just a man who wanted to end up on the side where good was still a way of life. If good was even still a knowable concept.
A pitter-patter of footsteps pulled him out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes, the sky was still mostly black. He had been a child the last time the night had been anything but a suffocating blanket.
“You have wings?” the voice was gruff and angry.
The man on the ground didn’t bother to answer. He just acted as if he had not heard the speaker at all.
“I said,” the speaker kicked the man’s side. “You have wings?” He wasn’t asking now, he was demanding an answer.
The man set up, giving the intruder a clear view of his unobscured back. No slits, no scars and no feathers.
“That answer your question?” he snapped, looking up at the person who had disturbed his minute of solace.
“Name,” the tall man demanded. He was dressed in a black coat and black pants. His feet were covered by granite grey combat boots. With only using half his strength he could break ever finger in the man’s splayed hand.
“Julius,” the man answered, pulling his hands into his lap for safety.
“Julius, go home,” the man bent down and stared into Julius’s eyes, completely black and pupil-less. “You don’t belong here. You and your white shirt,” he plucked the shirt from Julius’s chest. “You’re lucky I’m at quota for the month.”
Julius gave him a scowl and nodded. He could argue but that would only end up with him in the constantly restless ocean behind him. Where he would be forced to tread water until he passed out. Tomorrow he would end up in the pile that burned. No one would know he was gone and no one would care, except maybe her. If she still had the capacity for any real emotion.
The officer strode off, hands in his pockets. Julius watched him get swallowed by the darkness before he pushed himself to his feet. He looked out across the inky ocean, wondering if drowning was really as horrible as everyone said.
He decided not to test the idea tonight. He had already played fast and loose with his life enough for one night. He turned his back to the expanse and faced his home. A city of tall, square identical buildings stared back at him. Every single one was grey, with the exact same brickwork and number of windows. Addresses were the only identifying markings on the buildings. Finding where you were going always took an extra twenty minutes and ended up with you wanting to punch something. He stood on the perimeters guard wall. It towered above the rooftops, giving a clear view of the entire settlement. No one was out, no lights shone.
He started down the stairs he had come up. Stopping on the first landing he looked up at the set of wings that adorned this side of the wall. They were made of steel, cold black steel. The detail work would make any artist feel like an amateur. Each wing had intricate lines and veins criss-crossing the sculpted feathers. From here they looked so real. He wanted nothing more than to hold them and disappear into the sky with them on his back.
But he knew better. Those were cold and hard, created by machines. They matched the pair on each side. There were exactly five hundred of them spaced intermittently over the whole wall. Like the real thing they held no warmth and no worth. Just pretty images to please the eye and excite the heart with falsehoods.
He turned away from the facade and slowly picked his way down the cold stone stairs. It was stupidly dangerous to be up here, he knew that. Only the winged ones were allowed on the wall. The winged ones could enter every building and walk every street. Those like him, the unfeathered, were restricted to their specific streets and their own homes. Nowhere else.
He made it back to his hovel without incident. It was the end of the month, the officers are enjoying a night off. Tonight was the only sort of safe night of the month.
He closed the door to his apartment and slid the lock into place, as if it actually did anything. He didn’t change, his white shirt and pants were not close to dingy yet. They remained on until their glow faded. Only then would he change. Only then would he begin to feel the cold slipping through his veins. The pain would start to crawl over the skin on his back. Once the first spots began to form on the whites the slits began to open and the wings started to grow.
He never let the first feathers appear. They could not see the light of day or he was doomed. If those feathers were seen he would become one of them and he would cease to be human, to be Julius. He must not become a winged one, ever.
He slept in intervals of sixty minutes, same as every night. One hour of sleep, twenty minutes of surveillance. It was a tactic he had learned from his parents. It had served them well for years but no practice was perfect. Sooner or later it alway failed. Sooner or later they came and the charade would be over.
The night was a calm one. No one was taken and no one became a winged one, as far as he knew. He saw no new faces being ushered up steps and heard no screams or hurried footsteps. The calm nights were the worst. He had no clues and no hints of what was hiding behind his neighbors walls. Tomorrow could be the end or it could be just another day. At least with noise he knew what was coming.
The sun began to rise straight into the clouds as it did every morning. He loved the last hour before dawn, because it was the only time he saw just pure sunlight, nothing around to obscure those beautiful rays. For a very small amount of time the world was bright and alive once again, like it had been when he had been very young. There was no darkness, only bright vibrant colors that just begged for your smile and laughter. For a handful of minutes the world wasn’t dead and then it all faded away and he reentered reality.
He unlocked his door at nine o’clock like he did every morning. It was law that during the day anyone could enter your rented space whenever they liked. You played gracious host no matter if they were winged or unfeathered.
He prayed he would be left to himself today. He was not in the mood to be a play actor. He hated his part, all smiles and kind words when in realty he was screaming for them to leave or kill him.
The knock was a quiet one. It was not a winged one, they never knocked. He opened the door just as the second knock finished. On the stoop stood a small female child, hands folded in front of her. Her face was covered with a tangle of black hair and her whites had begun to fade.
“What?” he asked gruffly. He saw the tears free-falling to the ground, the wobbly legs, and shaking hands. This child was in sever pain.
“I need a new set,” she cried. “I don’t want to become one.” she finally looked up at him. Her face smudged with dirt and the tears had left deep stains on her cheeks. She had been begging house to house. As she looked up, her hair moved the side a few inches. Just through the tangle he saw it, a dark grey tip of a brand new feather.
“Too late,” he slammed the door on the doomed child. He turned away as her cries increased in volume. She could scream and curse him. Her tiny fists could try to break down the door but it wouldn’t make him flinch or turn to help. She was gone.
He knew she would lose control, try to tear out the new appendages until they were nothing but bloody strings. That was what his mother had done. It would do no good. Minutes later fresh feathers would reappear and that would be the end of it all.
You stopped screaming and you stopped crying. The wings unfurled and you soared up into the free air, never looking down and never looking back. No longer did anything or anyone matter again.
It was just as he was finishing dinner that Jack showed up. He burst through the door letting it collide with the wall. He always entered the same way with a flourish of sound and energy. Julius didn’t even flinch.
He just gathered his plate and fork and turned to the sink. He began to clean them while his former best friend entered the room.
“Ugh, still?” Jack asked. Same question every month.
“Always,” Julius replied placing his dishes in the drying rack.
“I just don’t get it,” Jack sat at the table, his great wings folding around the back of the chair, making it completely disappear. “Why do you bother? It isn’t changing. Every day our numbers grow and your numbers shrink. Give it up already,” Jack said.
Julius leaned against the counter his sparkling white outfit almost glowing in the dim kitchen.
“I will not bend. I will not become you,” he nodded at his friend. “This is my home, my life. I choose how to live it.”
“As a prisoner. As a man who has to jump at every sound and hide in the darkest shadows at night. You live with one eye always on your clothes, just watching for that one dark spot to begin to grow,” Jack threw up his hands. “Why?”
“Because,” Julius felt his teeth clenching. His neck was stiffening. He took a gulp of breath and let it out as slowly as he could. Losing control would do nothing for either man. “Because it is not my time.”
Jack stood up, nodded at him with a twisted scowl across his lips and left out the front door. Julius let out a relieved breath. He still remembered the words.
He went and closed the door behind his visitor. The sun would begin its downward decent. Soon unfeathered would be hurrying home to stay out of the dark while the winged ones would begin their nightly hunt.
He sat on the bottom stair and let his head fall into his hands. He closed his eyes and opened them back in his past, in that one moment where he had learned the words that had kept him alive and whole for so long.
“Because it is not my time,” his father grasped his son’s tiny hands. He was ten, just old enough to understand what any of the words meant, let alone remember them.
“Repeat them,” every night it was the same routine. His father would say the phrase and Julius would repeat it until his father was satisfied.
“No other words are more important. Do you understand?” his father demanded.
“Yes, father,” young Julius always replied. His father had kissed his head and left the room for the night.
He had been only a child when the world had become dark. His parents had known, had tracked the coming beings for months, maybe even for years. They had always had their noses in books or were watching new programs. He hadn’t understood then. He just knew that as the sun had become dimmer and neighbors had begun to disappear his parents had become more and more protective. He didn’t go anywhere alone and he had no friends any longer. Only her, she was a secret friend. His parents had never known that she had existed. Maybe if he had said something, they would still be here and he wouldn’t be constantly hiding behind walls and words.
“It is not…It is not…,” his father sputtered over and over falling to his knees.
Julius’ eyes snapped open and he was back in his home. The sky was almost black now. He checked his watch, it was nine o’clock. He was allowed to shut himself away for the night.
He turned the lock and the click instantly sent him into another memory.
His mother shrieked and screamed like a wild animal in the throes of death. She tore the beautiful wings to a shredded mess. He had watched her scrambling, tearing skin with feathers. The dust had gathered into a pile that resembled ash with a tinge of dark red.
“Help me!” she screeched, crawling toward his father. His father only backed young Julius into a corner, holding his wife away with an outstretched foot.
“Out!” he commanded.
“No!” the screamed echoed through the night and had become trapped in the walls. At night he would fall asleep to that echoing din.
He had never see his mother after that last moment of desperation. She had crawled out the door and his father had locked the door with a click.
Julius was back in his home. Alone and on high alert once again.
The night was not as quiet as the night before. Many turned or were taken. The yells and begs for mercy seeped through the cracks in the windows and under the door like a stealthy spirit.
He had just been about to fall asleep for his hour when one voice penetrated through the cacophony.
“Julius!” she cried. It wasn’t her usual fake cry that was their signal. This was a genuine cry for help. Her time was done, she had been found.
Julius ran to the door and threw it open. On his lawn stood two winged ones. Inky black wings as tall as they were, just barely brushing the grass at their feet. Their faces were hidden completely in the shadows. Between them she was held by each arm. Her white T-shirt and shorts shone like a beacon in the night.
“Stop,” he cried. The pair stood still. He ran out and knelt in front of her. “Say it,” he begged her. “Say the words.”
“I can’t remember them,” panic filled her eyes. “Say them for me, please,” she begged. Her knees gave out and she collapsed onto the grass, head hung low.
“I,” he looked up at her captors. This close he could see the outline of their features. One was a no name, the other was Jack. His face was stone cold serious.
“You know the rules,” his voice was pure steel. “Say them and take her or let us go.”
“Julius,” she her eyes begged him to save her.
“Because,” he felt his chest tighten. He knew what this meant. If he said these words, it was all over. She was his. Their fates would be intertwined forever. No longer were either able to make decision for themselves alone.
“Because it is not her time,” he let the words fall from his lips, barely discernible. Apparently it had been enough because Jack and no name released her, letting her fall into a heap onto the ground.
“Good call. I’ll see you soon,” Jack left with a twisted smile on his face.
“Thank you,” she crawled to him, moving to curl up into his lap. He stood up abruptly, causing her to fall into another heap. He turned for his home. She followed him, his home was now hers.
“Thank you,” she said again as she locked them inside.
“Don’t,” he spat at her. “Don’t say a word,” he turned to go into the kitchen, he needed a drink. Her hand grabbed his upper arm.
“Now it is our time,” she moved to kiss him but he stepped back.
He walked to look out the window. Neighbors unfurled their wings and flew up into the air, whoops of laughter and joy following them up. Others begged for mercy trying to remember those few word that would give them one more day.
“Because it is not…,” he paused, his brain becoming fuzzy. The words were on the very tip of his tongue, if only he could just form them.
“My time,” she whispered in his ear and he let a tear fall down his cheek, as she wrapped his her soft yet cold wings around his body. She had finally won.
The tears cascaded down her cheeks. She grasped the front of her navy blue T-shirt taking deep breaths, in and out, in and out. Her head was swimming and the room was beginning to blur into nothing but a melting water color. Her knees gave out and she hit the ground. She tried to even out her breathing and slow her heart beat, the last thing she wanted to do was pass out right now.
She let go of her shirt and splayed her fingers on the ground below her. She scraped her nails over and over on the hard floor wishing she could make some type of mark in the hardwood. She couldn’t even make a knick let alone a scratch to mark her presence, to mark her pain and her complete and utter desolation. The world swam before her as if she was on the front of a ship being tossed around at sea. She knew she should want the whole thing to end, knew she should want the world to right itself but she just couldn’t bring herself to care.
Something should matter to her right now. Nothing was penetrating her pain, her completely hallowed out self. Everything had slipped through her fingers in a matter of minutes. She knew this pain well yet the desperation and hopelessness never got easier to handle.
Her head was light as air, and her neck rolled to the side as she fell to the ground like a rag doll. She curled up into the fetal position and let it all go. She didn’t try to breath or stop the sobbing. She didn’t try to tame the world around her, make it come back into a solid comprehensible reality. The room was nothing but waving lines and colors now peppered with black dots that were growing and expanding.
She saw the dots taking over the scenery in front of her. She knew she was going to succumb to the darkness any moment now. She knew she couldn’t hold on any longer. She didn’t care, she didn’t even want to try.
With one last whimper she let go. Black clouded over her vision and her body went still. She sank into a beautiful unconsciousness.
She opened her eyes, closed them and slowly pried them apart once again. Nothing had changed. She was in complete blackness. She stood up, rubbed her eyes, expecting to wince at the rawness but her eyes didn’t even sting a little bit. She pulled her hands down to examine them they were smooth and unblemished. There were no read marks from rubbing them together, no crescent shaped scratches or bruises from clenching them too tightly. There was no haze in her head no dizziness threatening to throw her to the floor.
She stood up looked down and instantly felt like she was going to return to the ground. Lying curled up in a ball at her feet was herself. She knew that dark brown tangled mess of hair. She knew that skinny barely shaped body, it could not be anyone else. She knelt down and tried to find a pulse to feel some warmth coming off her completely still form. She found nothing it was like touching a statue, completely cold and hard.
She stood up and rubbed her face over and over again. This was not real. Just some horrible dream from her exhausted and saddened mind. She was just hallucinating, she had to snap out of it.
She jumped up and down trying to get some blood flooding into her head. Nothing changed. She kicked her still form, nothing happened. She pinched and slapped her dead self, still nothing. She screamed at the top of her voice, stomped the ground and bellowed like a dinosaur, nothing. The darkness didn’t ebb and her dead body still didn’t spring to life or gain any type of warmth.
“Help,” she whimpered though knew that wouldn’t do anything either. She was utterly alone.
She took two steps to her right, intending to walk around until she found some sign of life or something other than her own dead body and utter darkness, when a flicker of light caught her eye.
At first she thought it was just her desperate mind messing with her but then it shone again brighter and more intense. It was about a hundred feet away, a ring of light that couldn’t be coming from anything bigger than a 60 watt bulb. It would glow as bright as it could then fade away. A minute later it would brighten once again then fade.
She had no idea what was over there, if she would be walking to her death or to her salvation. Hell, it could still be an act of her imagination. She didn’t care she needed something other than to stand next to a dead form of herself.
She left herself behind without a glance and walked quickly to where the light was coming to life and slowly dying. She reached it just as it went into its faded moment. She waited, rocking on her feet, for the light to return and show her something, anything. The light glowed brightly, making her blink tears from her eyes before she could truly focus. She caught sight of what was in the ring of light just as it began to dim again. She let out a groan.
Lying in a curled ball was another body. She knelt down, and carefully removed the hands from the face and she let out a scream. It was her own face, only what appeared to be ten years older.
“What?” She fell back onto her heels, staring at the lifeless face before her. Was she really seeing what she thought she was seeing? Could her present age self really be lying a mere hundred feet away? She felt her head beginning to spin and ache.
She had understood her present form, it was who she was when she had collapsed. But this? This made no sense. Why would she dream up a dead form of her older self? She stood up and quickly backed away. The light was no longer growing and fading. It was hovering on the edge of dying. Just a low warm glow that was getting dimmer and dimmer each second that passed.
She retreated back into the darkness. She didn’t go back to her other self, she just wanted to get as far from these eerie beings as she could. She just wanted to wake up. Heart aching pain was better than whatever this was.
Her foot hit something hard making her fall backwards, hands barely catching her from smacking her head into the hard floor. Her legs were draped over whatever had tripped her, something cold and hard. She quickly scooted backwards on her hands, freeing her legs. She curled her feet underneath herself, terrified to take a closer look at the obstruction.
Her gut told her exactly what it was. She felt it in her blood, tingling though her veins. He heart beat sped up and her head got tight and hazy. She crossed her arms over her chest and tried to get the haunting faces out of her head.
She knew she had to look no matter how much it scared her. She couldn’t just sit here, staring, forever. She crawled forward and grasped the arm of the small body. She kept her eyes closed as she removed the arm and revealed the face.
Her heart sank directly into the heels of her feet as she opened her eyes. She knew this face, she had seen this face so many times before, her ten year old self. Her small little body was wrapped tightly into the now familiar ball, curled into itself, completely disconnected from the world. At first it just looked like she was hiding, until you saw the slackened face and dead eyes.
“I don’t understand,” she sobbed. She gently replaced the small hands over the young child’s eyes.
“Why?” she cried. She wanted to run, hide in some corner or hit a wall and just completely crumple into nothing but a heap. But she had no direction, no clue as to where to go or what to do. She knew what would happen if she kept aimlessly wandering around this graveyard, she would keep finding these things. Dead forms of herself, forms that never had a chance, or ones that had a chance and wasted them.
“Can’t I save them?” she asked the darkness. No grand voice or ghostly form came out to respond. No one showed up with a full satisfactory explanation, she got nothing but silence.
“I can’t,” she whispered. She couldn’t handle this, this failure, it was hitting too far deep down. Down in that hallow part of her, that part that had given up long ago. She stood up and began backing up, foot over foot until she stumbled and fell to the ground once again. She laid on her back, looking at the darkness above her, feeling a strange cool calm stealing over her.
The black was so comforting, all consuming. It was like looking into space but without the shining stars making you feel less alone. It was just absolutely nothing. No tears, no hurt, no fear, no screams, no nothing. A silent stillness that held out wide welcoming arms to her.
She pulled her legs up and tucked them into her side. She curled her arms around her legs and laid her head sideways. She watched the dark coming closer and closer. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her head.