Warnings: This story contains violence, abuse, conspiracies, lawbreaking, use of dubious substances, bad language, and in general a whole lot of not-nice. Also it will probably eventually contain slash. Read at your own risk.
The Fearful Darkness
Collin growled with frustration, slamming his pen down, and rammed his forehead into the back of his hand. In front of him was a sheet of paper, only half covered in writing, and the source of his frustration and overall murderous intent. The writing had started off precise and clean before tapering into a general mess, to the point that not even Collin could read the words that he had just written. His fingers had seized up and refused to wield the pen, although they were functional enough to continuously inform him that yes, they hurt. Putting pressure on them now was a masochistic punishment; they throbbed with every pulse of blood that fought its way through busted veins, and screamed as sweat and grease from hard work and infrequent washing met broken skin.
Actually, all of Collin was a mess at the moment, and his hands weren't even the worst. His face was OK—he'd learned to keep it protected, curling arms and legs into a tight ball of defense—but his arms were scraped up and bruised, as was his back, and one of his legs wasn't operating quite the way he thought it was supposed to. Even now it sort of dangled from his chair, lifeless, uncomfortable, and the wrong color. Not a good sign.
He tried to pick up the pen, and it fell out of his fingers all over again.
Angry at the world, Collin pushed back from his desk, blundered into a wall because his leg was shot, and stayed there because it was reassuringly solid, cold, and calming. It was odd that there was a part of his home that kept a pleasant temperature in the violent southwestern summers, but Collin had learned not to question the few things in his life that hadn't gone horribly wrong. This wall was always cool, and somehow soft, making the buzzing in his head less abrasive and more liquid, if a little louder. When he was very tired, it almost sounded like words, and he liked to pretend that it was his mother talking to him, watching over him, and not hating him for how things panned out. Maybe she would even tell him he was doing the right thing.
On their bed, Sean stirred, mumbling in his sleep. Collin glanced over at him, momentarily guilty about slamming the pen around, but Sean was just being Sean, and he was still fast asleep. Everyone in the house seemed to be asleep except for Collin, who'd been hit with far more homework than usual and had stayed up late, straining his eyes for the streetlamp that illuminated the Big Room. For a moment, Collin stared at the small bed where he and Sean slept, remembering a once-upon-a-time third inhabitant, someone who would understand his frustration and his anger and know what to do for fingers that were too swollen to move.
The coolness seeped through his matted hair, his aching skin, and began to calm his musing mind. Muscles he hadn't even been aware of clenching began to relax and uncoil. His hands hurt, but far away, and he didn't feel so tired anymore, just… strange. Almost as if his body was gone and he was something else that floated above it, painless and peaceful. His headache was subsiding, liquid whispering pouring in to replace the usual maddening din. He closed his eyes, gray-blue and hard, unknowingly at the whispering voice's request, and sank to the concrete floor into a dead sleep, unaware that his leg bone was re-knitting and the bruises on his hands were slowly receding, like a tape of a blooming flower set to rewind, curling into a bud, and then into not-at-all.
Since Collin had gotten home, prepared dinner for his extended family, and ultimately collapsed into the Big Room to try and do his homework, to try and be more, Fain had not spoken once. He spoke only very rarely now, because he had learned that his speaking somehow caused Collin pain, and also, because there was no one to speak to. His thoughts were enough to communicate, made solid with will, and when placed into the mind carefully, worked better than actual language. It was also good practice for Fain's clumsy foray into the world of bending (which he'd learned entirely, depressingly enough, from watching Fury try to kill him), his attempt to make Collin's life a little less miserable. And secretly, Fain sometimes believed that he would take all the misery away one day, and see Collin bright and smiling, see him happy.
Fain was putting the thought of sleep into Collin's mind at the moment, and after he'd succeeded, the barrier decided to reject his next issuance of power. Frowning, Fain pushed his palm flat against the pearly, glass-like structure and squeezed his will through. Using his will, his magic, his psy, his power, whatever the current name was; felt strange. It was sort of like turning his brain inside out, and instead of looking out of it, looking through it. Once that big reversal had taken place, it was like everything, even thoughts and feelings, were made of clay that he could plainly see, some of it brittle, some of it malleable, and it was just a matter of learning how to mold it right. Bending was the ultimate easy button, especially on Collin himself, who had something of a bond with his caretaker—although he had no idea that anything was watching over him, and probably wouldn't have been reassured in the least if he did.
Damage was seeping away from Collin in short bursts, knitting up tissue and draining away the swelling. It made Fain start to grin. Now that he had the basics down, he was getting better at using his will to alter the world beyond the barrier, but sometimes the power was weak, and other times it refused to come at all. There had also been a rather nasty experiment previously when trying to ease an infection in Collin's foot had resulted in making the human sick for the following day, unable to get out of bed, panicking the smaller children. But Fain was learning.
Fain's attention moved to the work lying on Collin's desk. There was a new sheet of paper lying beside it for the second half of his report, and of course the hated pen, and also, everyone in the house was asleep, as Collin should have been hours ago. Encouraged by the settings and by his success, Fain focused, making the pen spring jerkily into the air. He lowered it slowly to the paper, where he began to spell out words in abrupt scratches. I, came first with comparative ease, just three lines, and then think the…
The pen clattered out of Fain's grasp, and he gritted his serrated teeth, dragging it back up. He made it through four more words before the pen dropped again and he was forced to start over. Fain's head was pounding, protesting, and he knew his image was flickering, losing its stability each time he pulled will from the same pool of energy from which it took its sustenance. But again and again he snatched at the pen, scrawling out a few more words, until everything Collin had written was legibly copied down. Fain was not above cheating for him and writing out the rest of his report, but Collin was already afraid of his impending insanity, and Fain would prefer not to convince him. So instead, on the home stretch now, he dumped the ruined sheet into the pile Collin saved for weekends, for the children to draw on and play with. He fell back from the barrier, regaining corporal integrity.
That—breaking world laws—was no easy feat. Technically, it wasn't even supposed to be possible, much like the existence of a being like Fain. But it was, obviously. The worlds needed to come up with a better system.
Fain returned to his feet, eyes slipping over to Collin's sleeping figure. Collin would have to get washed eventually, really washed, because the smell and grime that accompanied him after several days would probably be labeled a health violation otherwise. A haircut wouldn't hurt either. The school saw Collin as a problem child, always in fights, always covered in about an inch or so of dirt, always handing in messy, hasty homework assignments. They had never seen him the way Fain had, without a care in the world. Fate—the fate that Fain was not acquainted with—had taken the bright, eye-catching thing that Collin had once been, and crushed it into something hard and cold. But underneath the surface, Fain could still see the beautiful child from before. Collin never let anything stop him, never passed blame or cried over the unfairness of it all. Everyone was strong. But Collin was strongest. Collin was everything Fain wanted to be.
He was, to put it simply, brave.
There was a noise like a whistle and Fain screamed, a high, avian note biting through the not-air around him. Pain obliterated images in front of him. Collin awoke, hissing sharply, hands clapped over his ears, and Fury crowed with laughter, crouching down in front of his brother with a wide, friendly grin. "Fain! Fain! My dear brother! Miss me?" Fain choked back another sound of pain, hands closing over the blade that had been thrust through his midsection. He ripped it free, flinging it at the laughing creature's feet. "I sure didn't, though, right?" Fury laughed again, bowing low. "I aim to please!"
As soon as the blade was gone, so was its pain, and Fain sprang to his feet, wary and glaring. "Fury."
Collin had doubled over.
"This again?" Fury complained, drifting close to the portal, where he eyed Collin, whose hands had retreated from his ears as Fain stopped talking. The human's face briefly contorted in miserable, self-hating anger, and his fist slammed into the floor. Fain winced. "Don't you ever get tired of the human world? Just because we visited there…" Fury rolled his eyes skyward. "It was a vacation, stupid." He proceeded to launch a dart of some kind at Fain, lightning-fast, but Fain sidestepped it easily now that he was aware of his brother's presence. He kept his mouth set firmly, stilling his over-excited heart and trying to keep calm.
"Well, I liked it."
"You can't have liked it that much," Fury pointed out, smiling sweetly as he threw a casual punch at Fain, who didn't bother to dodge, and simply turned to where his brother had passed through, shaking his head at Fury's childish antics. He propped a tight, clenched fist—because at some point they had turned into fists and refused his orders to relax—against his hip, praying that Fury wouldn't look back at the barrier.
"Why are you still here, anyway?" Fury wanted to know. "You're supposed to be up there, fighting me." Contrarily, he gestured to the dark expanse below their feet, although really, who was to say what up and down were in this nothingness? "Come on, Fain. I'm bored."
Fain shook his head, trying to come off as bored and probably failing. "Whatever. I'm not going, Fury."
"You're going," Fury informed him. "You have to. I mean…" To prove his point, he dashed through the misty form Fain used, swinging his arms to disrupt as much of it as possible, and fired a few arrows from within. Fain gasped soundlessly, falling to one knee, feeling for the shafts. Fury watched with feigned concern. "This really can't be fun for you, Fain. I'm weak, you can't even touch me, and you're in constant pain. You can't survive in limbo."
"Try me," Fain growled, yanking out a few of the projectiles, hurling them at his brother. His lip curled back, baring sharp teeth identical to those of his twin. "I'm staying."
"No, no, I'm supposed to be the rebellious one," Fury protested, kneeling down, pretending to put his hand on his brother's shoulder. It hovered just above, completing the act, because otherwise, his hand would be lying half in Fain's shoulder, and that wasn't quite the message he wanted to send. "Come, Fain, let's fight. You want to fight me, don't you? You know, we're at war forever. Endless war…" Fury giggled absently to himself, eyes momentarily glazed with pleasure. "I can't fight the others—they'd die too easily. I miss you. I want to kill you again."
Fain stood up, ignoring the spasm of pain this caused, as Fury's hand drifted through a good bit of his form. He shrugged for good measure. "Sorry. War's over. I quit."
Which went over like a ton of bricks.
"You can't quit!" Fury burst out, face marred with ugly rage. He launched spears in earnest, spinning the ancient weapons through his hands like a metallic spider. "You can't! When you quit, I kill you, and then you have to declare war again! This isn't quitting, Fain! It's NOT!! IT DOESN'T COUNT!!" Metal sank into the shadow of Fain's flesh, shredding it as Fury himself could not. Fain was dead, wholly a spiritual entity. He was refusing to return to his body, and in that, denying an ongoing war that Fury prized above all else. Hence the general congeniality of his brother's visit.
"Fury—" Fain intoned, only to be silenced as a flurry of spears disrupted his head. It reformed, snarling, and Fain shot forward, through the onslaught and then through Fury, wisps of self reforming behind the aggressor. But Fury wasn't having any of that; again Fain was reduced to wisps as a bow staff materialized in deft hands and cut through Fain's middle. "Fury!" He shouted, and his brother ignored him, attacking again and again like a hornet, endlessly stinging.
Fain tried to throw punches of his own, but he was the only one hurt by them, and even if he wasn't, they would be far too weak to defeat his brother. Of course they were—Fain had never been able to defeat Fury. It was part of who he was and how he was made. But he started to panic again, not foreseeing an end to the conflict, scared to keep fighting, scared to stop, scared of Fury destroying his very essence. An animal sound, a cornered growl tore itself out of his throat, and he tore free an offending blade and hacking with all of his might at Fury. The weapon dissolved into colored lights right out of his hands, refusing to turn upon its wielder, who stared back with frozen, hurt eyes. But at last Fury was still.
"Fate is getting angry," Fain's brother murmured, face dark and unhappy in a place where even Fain's desperation was futile. "He'll come here too, if you're not careful. He'll make you come to Forever."
Again Fain shook his head, like he hadn't just been beaten within an inch of his life, and like he wasn't currently having extreme difficulty holding his image of self together. He scowled. "You can tell Fate to shove it. I'm not going."
Fury simply glared at him, and winked out of existence. Fain stared at the emptiness in front of him, not blaming his brother at all. Limbo was desolate, empty, and painful. And it was true—Fain knew the score, and exactly what he was doing to his family by not going home. He knew what he was doing to Fury. He knew what he was doing to himself.
Fain's eyes strayed back to Collin, who, he saw, was crying silently, even though the pain from their voices had faded away. Crying helplessly, because everything was broken, even himself, and he couldn't do anything to fix it. Fain touched his own eyes, vividly purple with gold ringing the sharp, predatory irises. No tears came out, of course. None for himself, and none for an apology. Instead he put arms around Collin that couldn't be felt.