This is about three updates late, but what the hell. I had a complete lack of motivation, then a sinus infection that REFUSED TO GO AWAY GOD DAMMIT. Anyway. I'm doing better now, and hopefully this story will start getting regular updates again. That is if anyone gives a shit anymore.
I give a shit, at any rate.
"In a perfect, perfect world, you could fuck people without giving them a piece of your heart. Every glittering kiss and every touch of flesh is another shard of heart you'll never see again, until walking, waking, calling, on your own is unsupportable."
"Oh, you idiot," Beverley groused, spinning the steering wheel a little harder than was completely necessary, lurching them all slightly to the right. "How could you not expect her to freak out after that?"
"I didn't do anything to her." Steven slumped back into the passenger seat, folding his arms, looking like petulant three-year-old who had just learned the meaning of the word 'won't'.
"Right." Beverley hit the turn signal, hanging a U-turn and trundling back up the street, which would turn One-Way in a matter of yards. There was a screech of breaks and a couple of angry yells from the car she'd cut off, but she didn't even bother to flash her lights in recognition.
She didn't really know what had gotten into her--she was usually such a careful driver, respected the speed limit, followed all safety procedures. But she didn't feel like being reasonable today.
"Right," she said again. "You didn't do anything. Only scared her so bad that she fell out a freaking window and disappeared."
"She didn't fall," Steven growled, for what must have been the fiftieth time. "She jumped."
"You seriously can't expect us to believe that." Beverley attempted to fix him with an angry glare and keep one eye on the road at the same time. "Are you stupid all of a sudden, or just more high than usual?"
"Calm down, Bev." Greg leaned up from the back, resting his chin on the passenger seat. "The police said Steven didn't do it."
"The police are morons," Beverley hissed, but without any real venom. She didn't really believe that Steven had done anything, but it was much easier to take out all her frustration on him than to let it fester. She hated letting things fester.
"So tell us what happened again," Greg said. Beverley could feel the rustle of his silky, salon-treated hair on her shoulders. She pushed him back.
"Stop nuzzling me," she said, distracted, turning onto Ari's street with a keen sense of trepidation.
"I'm not nuzzling you," Greg shot back. "I'm trying to see the clock."
"You're nuzzling. That's nuzzling. Go look it up. If you have to nuzzle someone, go nuzzle Steven. I think he could use it right now."
Steven shot them a look. "Don't you dare."
Greg laughed. "So, go on. Tell us what happened."
"I've already told you. About a billion times."
"Tell us again. It's funny."
Bev shot him a look in the rearview mirror.
"Steven getting so horribly regected, that's funny," he said hastily. "Not Ari disappearing and everything."
"I feel like a sideshow," Steven grumbled, as Beverley parked and they all tumbled out of the SUV into the breezy autumn afternoon.
"Of course you do," Bevrley said. "And you will as long as you keep going on about stupid stories with people growing claws and electric blue eyes and smashing their way through windows." Beverley's family had moved to the United States when she was eleven, just in time for puberty and teenage angst to hit. Her accent had been all but swallowed up in the intervening seven years. Still, it tended to come out every so often, a flavor of her native Leeds, whenever she was annoyed or angry. She was both, at the moment.
"What are we doing here, anyway?" Greg asked, as they climbed the front steps to the old brick and plaster confection that was Ari's house. Ari's mother's house, really, but Ari was the only one who'd lived there for years. "Looking for clues?"
Beverley shrugged. "Something like that," she said, before raising her hand and knocking.
The three of them stood motionless on the stoop, their reflections thrown back at them from the streaked glass of the storm door. A girl with curly brown hair and wire-framed glasses, cargo pants ragged around the edges. Two boys on either side of her who couldn't have looked more different from each other--one blond and neat, in a dark red Abercrombie and Fitch sweater and washed-out jeans, the other in a denim vest and torn black painter's pants, dark hair sheened with blue, rings through his eyebrows and nose.
Her two best friends in the world. Apart from Ari, of course. She'd been the one to introduce Steven to her in the first place.
Ever since they had met in sixth grade Beverley had thought of the two of them as a pair, a team. Beverley had been one of the only people who retained any interest in Ari after she'd been pulled out of school after that incident toward the end of middle school, one of the only people to worry about her when her mother had disappeared.
Which, now that she thought about, seemed strange. In the real world, when something like that happened, steps were usually taken. The child would be taken into protective services, an investigation would take place. Had no one missed her mother at all? Had Ari not even thought to go to the police? Had she not cared that her mother could be dead?
Beverley shook the thoughts off, knocking again, though she knew there wasn't much point to it.
"There's no one here," Greg said. "Let's get out of here before someone sees us trying to force our way into a crime scene."
"It's not a crime scene," Beverley protested, though she sighed and turned away, clunking back down the steps.
"Hey, wait!" Steven's voice was sharp. There was rattling sound and a slow creak as the door swung inward. He let the storm door slam shut again. "It's open."
Beverley looked back over her shoulder. "Are you serious?"
"Dead serious. Check it out."
Beverley cupped her hands around her eyes and peered through the storm door. The hallway was silent and dark, the only light filtering in from the shady window in the kitchen. "I don't think there's anyone in there." She opened the storm door cautiously, as if waiting for something big and nasty to jump out. "Let's go."
"What?" Greg looked dismayed. "No frickin' way! I am not getting arrested for breaking and entering."
Steven shrugged. "We didn't break."
"Yeah," Beverley agreed cheerfully. "Just entering. And it's not like we haven't been here before."
"I haven't," Greg said gloomily, but he followed them inside.
It was chilly, and the whole place smelled like old coffee. Beverley walked down the hall into the kitchen, stopping to stare at the slowly swaying trees in the backyard, lazily losing their leaves, one at a time. The kitchen was clean, like it always was, dishes neatly stacked in the draining bored, counters wiped down, table clear except for a small stack of letters and ads that had come in the mail. By every account it looked as if a responsible adult lived here, not a strange, reclusive girl who didn't really seem to care about anything important, much less housework.
"There's nobody here," Greg said, having come to stand at her shoulder.
"He went to look upstairs." He glanced over her shoulder, out into the yard. There was a dusting of broken glass and broken window pain across the patio, along with something dark and crusting that looked unpleasantly like blood. "I guess that's where..."
"She jumped out of the window?" Beverley snorted. "I still don't believe Steven. Ari's not stupid, she doesn't just do stuff like that."
"So you think Steven pushed her out?" Greg asked. "Like, really?"
"I don't know," Beverley admitted. "I just really have no idea. I hope she's okay."
"Oh, I assure you, she's quite healthy," came a voice from behind them.
Beverley and Greg stared at each other for a moment, as if confirming that neither of them had spoken, before turning as one.
There was a guy leaning against the kitchen wall where, Beverley knew for a fact, there had been no one less than thirty seconds ago. He had his arms crossed over his chest, looking very at home. He was dressed strangely, in a silver and black muscle shirt and jeans so tight it looked like he'd have to lie down to get into them. He'd look like he was ready to hit the clubs, if it hadn't been for the oversized raincoat hanging off his shoulders and what looked like a late nineteenth century top hat perched jauntily on his head.
"Who ordered the hooker?" Greg commented, eyeing the guy up and down. "Expecting a rainstorm sometime soon?"
The man arched his eyebrows.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Beverley asked. "You can't just waltz into people houses when they're not around!
"Is that right?" His accent was as varied as his clothes--a touch of British, maybe a little Russian. Slightly hispanic on the r's. Nothing like anything Beverley had ever heard before. "Aren't you doing the same thing?"
Greg snorted, as if this was all just a game, or they were watching it from a distance, happening to someone else.
"We're Ari's friends," Beverley said, feeling petulant. "We have a right to be here."
"Well, if it's proximity that allows entrance, then I think I win. Arisaya is my sister."
"Arisaya?" Beverley repeated. "You mean Ari?"
"You don't look anything like her," Greg said.
"Yeah, you don't, and besides that, it doesn't even matter--Ari doesn't have a brother."
The man shrugged. "Yes, there is that, and yet here I am. My name is Benrimae Violeteyes."
Greg grinned. "Sounds like a hooker name to me."
"Would you stop fucking around?" Beverley snapped before she could help herself. Her stress meter was getting near the critical end, what with friends missing, other friends possibly the culprit of why said friend was missing, and now a potientially dangerous lunatic in the friend's house pretending to be her brother.
"Hey, guys, there's nothing upstairs, we'll just have to..."
Steven strode into the kitchen, trailing off as he noticed Ben. Something strange flickered over his face, a glimmer of confused recognition, just for a moment, before it was swallowed up again. "Who is this?"
Benrimae Violeteyes smiled, offering a hand. "Hello, I'm--."
"He says he's Ari's brother," Greg cut in. "And we think he's full of shit."
"But I'm not," Benrimae said, by way of argument. "I am most certainly Ari's brother." He said the whole pronouncement very clearly and slowly, as if he was speaking to a group of particularly dense ten year olds.
For a moment Steven just stared at him, and then he nodded. "Alright, I believe you."
"What?" Beverley looked from Steven, to the psychopath, and back again. "How can you say that? He's probably the one who kidnapped her in the first place! I mean." Beverley paused for breath. "He doesn't even look like Ari, and he definitely doesn't belong here."
"I could say the same thing about you people. What am I supposed to think, coming into my sister's house and finding a bunch of strangers?"
"We're not strangers!" Beverley reiterated. She could not believe that she had to stand here justifying herself to a guy in a girl's jeans and a top hat. "We're Ari's friends!" She glanced at Greg. "Help me out, would you?"
Greg shrugged. "I don't know. He seems fairly believable to me." There was something funny about his eyes when he said it, something fogged and unfocused and bizarre. Looking at Steven, she saw that he had the same sort of glaze to his expression, as if he was seeing something that wasn't there.
"You're...you're doing something to them," Beverley said. "You're...I don't know, but you're doing something."
Benrimae leveled his eyes at her, and for a moment she realized how silly she was being. Of course this man was Ari's brother, how could she have ever doubted him--before reason caught back up with her. Whatever he had done to Greg and Steven, he was trying to do it her too. Well, it wasn't going to work. She shook herself mentally, fighting it off.
Benrimae was frowning. "You're right," he said after a moment. "I am doing something to them. I'm doing it to you as well." His frown deepened. "And it should be working." He stared at her for a few moments more, Beverley's heart pounding out the seconds so loudly it seemed to echo through her body. "Are you a witch?"
"What?" She thought she might have misheard him. "Who the hell are you?" she asked, voice shaking slightly. She had no idea what was going on, and it scared her. Everything about this scared her--this man, Ari disappearing. Everything.
"I told you. I'm Arisaya's brother." He grinned. "We'll leave it at that for now."
"You're fabulous at this, by the way," Matt had said to Ari on their way back from the zoo.
Ari was puzzled. "Fabulous at what?"
"At keeping me off the subject of yourself and all that demon stuff. You're excellent at evasion." He'd grinned wryly. "But we had a deal, right?"
Ari had winced internally, but she hadn't denied it.
So she'd told him--starting with the bit that she didn't know, hadn't been alive for. The things her mother had told her when she started to think about things like where she came from, why she didn't have a dad, and why she had to spend a couple of days every month chained up in a room.
Then, of course, they'd gotten back to the YMCA and Matt had to say, right when they got into the empty pool. "Everybody shut the fuck up, I'm listening to Ari tell a story."
"What kind of story?" Oreo asked, looking up in interest.
"It's not important," Ari said quickly, giving Matt the most evil glare she had the energy to muster up.
George was crouched in front of the fire, attempting to cook a sausage on a stick. Ari wondered where she'd found a stick in Dupont Circle. "Stories are cool. Come on, tell us. You guys want to hear, don't you?" She called it back over her shoulder to Right and Left, who seemed to be sitting in the exact same position as the night before. They nodded enthusiastically, the first acknowledgement Ari had seen them make to anyone.
Ari sat down on her mattress (she couldn't believe she thought of it as 'her' mattress) and sighed heavily. "Fine. But it's not very exciting."
Oreo shrugged. "Bore us."
"It's...I guess it started when my mom met my dad."
"As many things do," George interrupted. Oreo elbowed her, and she subsided into silence. Matt had left Ari's side to go sit beside Razor, resting his head on the faerie's shoulder. He made a flapping sort of motion with his hands, urging her to go on.
"Apparently it was a one night stand sort of thing. She didn't even know about what he was until after he found out she was pregnant. He came back and told her that she'd have to get rid of me. Like, right away."
There was an eerie sort of silence, as all of them considered this fact.
"But she obviously didn't," Matt said after a moment. He'd raised his head from where he'd been resting it on Razor's shoulder. He looked strangely concerned, as if there was some sort of threat to Ari at the moment, instead of seventeen years ago.
"No, she didn't. She...well, she told him to fuck himself and filed a restraining order."
"Does that work on demons?" George asked dubiously, eating her sausage in all of three bites.
Ari shrugged. "I don't know. He never showed up again, and I'm alive, aren't I?" She sighed. "Anyway. I don't know when I knew that I was a demon. There wasn't any particular moment when my mom dropped a big dark secret on me. I guess I just grew up knowing. Everything was pretty okay until eighth grade."
"What happened in eighth grade?" Oreo had put down whatever he'd been tinkering with this time, and was watching with his head in his hands, elbows propped on his knees. The firelight made his skin gleam ghostly white.
"I killed someone. By accident," Ari added, as the silence grew, broken only by the sound of Razor's lighter clicking on, the little rustle as he lit a cigarette. "He was...he was a boy in my school. A total asshole. He made fun of my clothes and the weird things I said. I remember him calling me a slut, because all girls with big boobs were sluts." She shrugged. "Eighth grade logic, I guess."
She noticed Matt was staring pointedly at her chest, as if trying to figure something out, while Oreo and George were looking everywhere else.
"I beat him up once," Ari said. "In the playground. He was bothering me and I punched him in the face. I got suspended for that.
"He didn't stop when I got back, either, just kept pushing me, even while he still had a black eye."
"Brave kid," George whistled.
Oreo snorted. "More like stupid. No survival instincts." He smiled toothily, his face whiter than his teeth. It was unbelievably strange looking.
"So one day I just sort of snapped. Freaked out on him."
"You killed him?" Matt asked.
Ari nodded. "I don't really remember it. I...I sort of blanked out and wake up with blood under my fingernails. That sort of thing."
"Does this happen a lot?" Oreo asked, looking a little more wary, as if he expected Ari to snap at any moment and attempt to tear his throat out.
"Every few months or so." She stared into the flames. She didn't want to see the looks on her newfound friends' faces. "Well, anyway, somehow some lawyer got it to be just an accident. And my mom pulled me out school. She taught me at home."
"That must have sucked," Matt said, taking a drag on Razor's cigarette before the faerie snatched it back.
"It could have been worse. She was a good teacher."
Ari hesitated here. She was getting to the part of the story about her mother disappearing, and she found herself with absolutely no desire to go any further. This was already a painful enough subject in her head--she didn't think she could handle spitting it out for a group of--let's be honest--strangers.
Matt was looking at her with something hovering between annoyance and pity in his eyes. "You don't have to keep going if you don't want to," he said gently. "I know there's some things you just don't want to talk about. God knows we all have them."
Ari took a deep breath. She shook her head. "No. It's okay."