A/N- This story takes its name from the Michael Jackson song, and is a study of human selfishness. It is set in our world, with the addition of beings known as 'Guardians'- esentially guardian angels. I'm not sure I believe in guardian angels, but this story springs from the belief that there really is someone who is watching over us. I'm rating this 13+ for rather dark themes and a suicide.

Human Nature

Someone- the idiotic building engineers, Stella presumed- had turned the central heating up too high again. Whoever had built the five floor office block had used too little insulation between the storeys, leaving the bottom floors freezing and the top a sweltering Sahara. And- being the smallest office, paying the least rent, the office workers of top floor Crunchy Cream Crackers & Co found their pleas to reduce the heating fell on deaf ears.

In the languishing heat of the office, dressed practically in beachwear, Stella stared at her screen displaying cracker sales over the past year, despite having already spent half an hour gazing at the same page, and not really taking any of it in. Sitting bored out of his wits, Stefan- her Guardian, shot her a look which clearly said, Isn't this unbearable?

"Tell me about it…" Stella murmured under her breath. Around her, her co-workers were discreetly doing nothing, their email inboxes popping up every time the boss Mr Roades rounded the corner. Their Guardians wore expressions ranging from boredom to complete misery, their people determinedly ignoring them. Though Stella felt no sympathy for her peers (Claire, a vain WAG-wannabe; thoughtless Jacob; Ted, who was so stupid he could never find the save button for his day's work; and many more Stella preferred to exclude from her mind) she did feel sorry for their Guardians. Pale beautiful people with delicate wings sprouting from their backs- sometimes large and feathery, others small and weathered- they did naught else than protect and comfort the humans they were born with- and those same humans refused even to acknowledge their presence.

Stupid idiots, thought Stella, watching Ted bump into his Guardian, look confused for a moment, before shaking off the feeling and walking around her. The Guardian- a pretty woman with Ted's eyes- did not fail to look hurt.

"You should try not to hate them so much," said Stefan in his low voice. "They've been brainwashed into reality, that's all."

"That doesn't mean they're not stupid," whispered Stella.

The day dragged on torturously, her co-workers throwing layer after layer of unnecessary clothing till they were almost sat in their underwear. Stella's armpits felt wet and uncomfortable, her clothes sticking to her skin. She scratched at her reports irritably, her eyes flicking up to the clock every five minutes. Half to six… quarter to six… she willed that little hand up with everything she had.

It became too much for even Mr Roades, who set off to the refrigerator that was the bottom floor, not even mumbling a reason. As soon as the door closed behind him, the office exploded into life, workers jumping up to gossip loudly, the atmosphere visibly lifted.

"-And so the party's tonight?" Sandra was saying.

"—Yeah, a surprise," Jacob said.

"-And then she spilled her drink all down her dress. I thought I would die laughing…"

"But you know, it's my son's play tomorrow. Learnt all his lines-"

"—She was so embarrassed she cried!"

Stefan rolled his eyes, Stella's head sinking dejectedly onto the desk. Her colleges did not bother her with their talk- they learnt quickly that there was little to be gained by acting friendly with strange, quiet Stella, who sometimes talked to herself- apart from odd half-sarcastic comments they could never understand. She was the type of person to be gossiped about, but not with.

The clock crawled to five to six, and Stella was begging it now.

"—I'll bring the drinks. But I'm not paying for the pudding- you'll have to do that."

There was a terrible distant scream. Stella's head snapped up immediately. She heard it again, closer, agonized and tortured, like the sound of a dying man. Stella looked around; strangely, none of her peers had shifted at all. She swiftly added the facts up in her head—it had to be someone's Guardian.

She looked at Stefan, who nodded briefly, his eyes fixed on the wall. Out past that, there was nothing but a five-storey drop.

Stella stood up, the chair toppling over behind her. Claire and Sandra stared at her dimly.

Like a deranged bat, the Guardian came shrieking in through the wall, acting as though the bricks and plaster didn't exist. He crashed onto the carpet, panting from the exhaustion of being so far away from his person. His grey wings were trembling uncontrollably, his eyes glazed. Stella ran to him and knelt by his side, ignoring her peers who stared at her as though she were mad.

"What's wrong?" she asked him. Guardians rarely spoke to others than their person, but this cry had obviously been for help.

"Please. My name is Liam, Guardian of Lizzie," he said frantically, his smooth masculine voice distorted by panic. "She is dying- she is trying to kill herself. I could not stop her! Please, I know you can see me- please help us!"

For a moment, Stella was caught of guard, hesitant. What business of hers was it to save people who wanted to die? If they wanted to die, then let them die. She had no compassion for such selfishness as suicide. But then Liam heaved a great sob- and Stella remembered this was not just about one person. Stefan put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Where is she?" he asked.

"24, Bowerdean road," Liam whispered weakly. His form seemed to shimmer, as though he was a mirage, a sure sign that he was telling the truth. When the human he was linked to died, he too would be blown out like an extinguished candle.

"Hold on- did you say here name was Lizzie?" demanded Stella, who instantly recognised the road. It was her own, and probably the reason why Liam had known she was the only one who would be able to help. "As in Liz Boardman? "

Liam nodded quickly. "Please- let us go," he implored desperately. Stella wasted no more time. Grabbing her bag from the rack she hastened out the office door, saying nothing to the workers who merely gaped at her. She flew down the stairs, taking three at a time, and following the two Guardians. At the same time, she switched on her mobile phone and mashed three numbers.

"Hello- yes- I need an ambulance. 24, Bowerdean road…"

The cold wind hit her suddenly as she left the building- the adopted beachwear of the office was not at all practical in dead winter. But she did not stop, running the five minutes walk back to her street. She knew Liz's house, though she had only spoken with her a few times over the past years, and knew only her name and that she had married recently.

"The key's under the flowerpot," said Liam, as they ran up the garden path.

A twist of the key, and the door flew open. Liam flapped into the living room and crouched down by a lifeless shape in the middle of the floor, crooning small noises of comfort. It was dark, with the lights off and the curtains drawn. As Stella's eyes began to adapt, she saw a spotlessly neat room with matching settees and brass ornaments. The only thing out of place was the dying woman sprawled out on the shag carpet, lying in a pool of her own blood.

She had lost too much blood, Stella realised, but if the ambulance got here soon—

Wordlessly, she picked up the embroidered cloth from the glass coffee table and knelt down by Liz's side, looking for the source of blood loss. Weeping, Liam pointed to Liz's wrists, black with bubbling blood.

Of course. Angrily, Stella ripped the table cloth in half; half for each mutilated wrist. She had to kneel over Liz with one leg either side of her waist to apply pressure for each wound, firmly pushing the cloth in place and grumbling under her breath at her neighbour's idiocy. Liam was sobbing her by head.

At that moment, Liz's eyes flickered open. She was bewildered to see Stella above her.

"What are you doing here…" she struggled for her name, "Stella…?" she said, almost questioningly.

"I'm here to save your life," Stella said coldly, pressing down harder on her cuts. Liz let out a tired little groan.

"Don't bother," she murmured. "I want to die."

Stefan was comforting Liam now, an arm around his shoulder- but he was watching his person die before his eyes, and by her own hand. He was inconsolable.

"Don't be so selfish," Stella spat, shaking Liz when her eyes drifted closed. "What about your family? Your friends?"

"Don't joke—nobody would care," whispered Liz. "Not even my husband. He's seeing another woman. I just know it. He's barely said a word to me these last weeks… he's always busy…" tears shined on her cheeks. "He didn't even remember… that today is our first anniversary. Oh, Jakie, how could you?"

She sobbed quietly, and a small voice in Stella's head asked, So what? She had faced crumbled relationships before. It was hard, but she had pulled through each time. You couldn't kill yourself just because part of your life went differently than you planned. Hell, she had been left at the alter. But that was in the past now, and she knew she was never truly alone. Stefan had always been with her.

Only… Liz couldn't see. When Liam comforted her, she ignored him. He might as well not have existed. Science and logic denied his presence, and so he did not exist.

How could humanity be so blind?

But Liz had not finished. In what might be the last minutes of her life, she bared her soul for all to see.

"I… I recently had a miscarriage. I wanted to be a mummy so badly… and Jacob… he patted me on the head and said… he said we'd try again! Why couldn't he understand? I wanted my baby, not a replacement! The baby that laid bloody on the floor, all small and tiny… And then- he… he put her in the bin! How could he?"

Liam kissed her forehead, uttering small cries of sympathy and sorrow.

"And nobody- nobody… understood."

You idiot! That person has been there all along!

Liz was fading now, her thoughts tangled, slipping—

"Alone. I've been alone for such a long time. And I've never found someone I could… talk to- completely honestly…"

Although this was only a dying woman's delirium, Stella could not contain herself. Tears were on her cheeks when she exclaimed, "How could you be so stupid? You'd had that person since the beginning! How can you be so selfish? If you die, Liam will too! Even if you're willing to harm yourself, think about him. Do you only care about yourself?"

Liz wasn't listening, her consciousness fading fast.

"Liam…" she murmured wonderingly, and he clung to her. "Ahh, that sounds familiar… like an old forgotten dream…"

She exhaled one long breath of relief, and her life went with it. She was still, motionless. Liam fell upon her with a great wail of grief, his essence shimmering, wings shining. Only a moment later he vanished, flickering out like a light.

Stella knew then that there was nothing more she could do. She slumped back onto her knees, emotionally drained, her eyes reaching up to the heavens. Stefan wrapped his arms around her.

She sat in a daze. Her hands and arms were covered in blood, and it soaked into her trousers. But she did not budge an inch. Time passed her by, and she did not register its passing. Even Stefan could not snap her from her trance. Only once did she move- to lean forward and close Liz's eyes as if in sleep.

A key rattled in the lock. Hazily, as if from far away, Stella heard muffled giggles and whispers, many footsteps in the hallway. The sun had set now, and the room was nothing more than shadows.

A rustle of silver foil. The squeak of helium balloons.

The light was thrown.

"SURPRI—"

Someone screamed. A dozen people, balloons and wine bottles in hand, stared in shock at the illuminated scene. Liz, eagle-spread on the floor, dead. Another woman, kneeling, covered in blood. A knife.

Stella broke from her trance, looking up to see Jacob- thoughtless Jacob from work- staring at his wife in disbelief. His Guardian threw herself before his eyes.

"Don't look!" she screamed.

Jacob stared right through her.

Stella stood up; she felt dizzy. Immediately the spotlight was thrown on her- on her bloodied clothes and hands.

"Stella!" a woman exclaimed. It was Claire and Sandra from the office. "What—what happened?"

And a shrill cry, "She killed her!"

Jacob strode forward, full to the brim of white hot anger. His eyes fell on the knife by Liz's side.

The words rang like an echo; "She killed her! She killed her!"

"I always knew what you were," Jacob said, his voice trembling with rage. "You monster! Murderer!"

Stella looked at him icily, her face streaked with dried blood as if paint.

"Humanity is the monster," she said simply.

Jacob picked up the knife; Stefan pulled at her arm.

"Let's get out of here," he said urgently. Stella stood solidly.

"I'll make you pay for what you did!" Jacob roared.

"STELLA!" Stefan cried.

She awaited the blow, the embrace of the knife. She could not move. Screams erupted around her. But, it did not come. Jacob's Guardian pushed against his chest, her blazing determination transfiguring her dream-flesh into solidity.

"No more death!" she said, crying, "no more, Jacob!" And in that moment, Jacob saw her, and his face turned pale. He stumbled back as if he had seen a ghost.

Stella ran. She pushed past her co-workers, the party-guests, all frozen with shock, shoving her way out the front door into the darkness of the coming night.

She did not stop. She ran, Stefan running with her, passers by turning to stare at the woman covered in blood. She did not cease running till her muscles failed and her breath caught, and she slumped down in a deserted alleyway.

There, recovering her breath, Stella and Stefan watched the last remnants of light fading from the sky.

"We don't deserve Guardians," she said bitterly, wrapped in Stefan's arms. "Humans… we convince ourselves we have no one. We push everyone away. And by the time we die… we really are alone. People really are… idiots."

Stefan said nothing; what could he possibly say?

Stella raised her bloodied hands and gazed at them. But, she thought, I'm the biggest idiot of them all- for even trying.

Fin