Halo: Angel and Demon

By: Crazyeight

Chapter: 4

The light of day touched the landscape with a gentle caress, rousing many of its residents to wakefulness. The time to rest was over. Life began anew.

The crater still smoldered a bit, but otherwise it had cooled down enough that the life surrounding it no longer cared. Squirrels, birds, and rodents went about their business without much care for it, pausing only to investigate it for food. Not finding any, they would soon abandon it and go searching elsewhere for their needs.

Except for one. One squirrel, whether through a genetic twist or just a part of its own nature, was a might more curious or investigative than its fellow woodland creatures. It raced over to the crater and sniffed the air cautiously before scrambling down into it. Sniffing some more it dug around the broken dirt until… The squirrel suddenly jumped back as its paws met with something sharp. Yes, it had found something, and after a quick inspection of its paws it began to approach what it discovered. It was small, no smaller than the nuts that it was its normal delicacy, and round in appearance. It would easily fit into its mouth with little trouble. Except the memory of a faint pricking played at the edges of the animals mind. Its tail twitched as it looked the seed-like sphere over. Light glinted in the air just at the edges of the seeds surface. The squirrel's tail twitched again, as though asking what it was. A barb? A needle? Either way, it looked to be something to be avoided. Further inspection showed that there were a number of the thin, shining lights surrounding the seed. Experience proved that it couldn't just be taken away.

Still, the squirrel was curious—more so than its brethren, and it wanted to confirm its experience. Just to make sure. As anything that lived could tell you, when you didn't know where your next meal was coming from, you took your chances with what was in front of you.

The squirrel approached cautiously, sniffing the seed carefully. It could feel the bristles brush up against its nose. They tickled.

The squirrel's tail twitched again, as if to say, "Okay. I've seen enough", but no sooner had it begun to withdraw the seed began to shake and then exploded, dousing the squirrel's face with a green liquid. The squirrel jumped backwards, paws already rising to its face where they immediately began removing the green liquid. The squirrel paused, sniffing first and then licked some of the liquid off its paws. Slowly at first, and then with increasing fervor. When it finished, it looked at the remains of the seed. The liquid covered it and some of the ground around it. It wasn't much, but it was there.

The squirrel's tail twitched, as if to say "might as well eat the rest while it's there." With that, the squirrel hopped forward and dove into its first meal of the day.

***

Michael hit the side of his head in agitation as he finished getting dressed, hoping that by doing so he would wake himself up. No such luck. Indeed, as if in complete defiance of his attempts at motivation, his mouth stretched open into a yawn.

"God damn it," he muttered, smacking his lips tiredly. This is not going to be a good day. I can tell that already.

Scratching his shoulder idly, Michael grabbed his bag from off his chair and exited the room, heading towards the kitchen. He didn't hurry. Unlike most houses, everything, with the notable exception of the basement, was all on one floor. No stairs, except with the noted difference with the basement, separated the kitchen from any of the bedrooms or the two bathrooms. It wasn't quite a small house, but it wasn't a large house either. As such, Michael never felt any concern that he would be held up by anything involving distance. He was experienced enough to know the exact amount of time it took him to do everything he needed and not have to cross any 'gulfs' to get from room to room.

If the ceiling were a bit lower and the walls more curved, you could almost call this place a hobbit house, thought Michael, a small smile curving on his face.

"Mornin' grammum," he said upon entering the kitchen. The aged woman waved at him over her shoulder.

"Your raisin bread is already toasted and waiting for you to butter it up," she said in her usual, curt morning manner. Tired as he was, Michael felt like laughing a little, but desiring to not draw any questions this morning he kept quiet and quickly buttered up his breakfast.

Twenty minutes to seven, he noted, glancing at the clock.

"Gramps is still asleep?" he asked.

"He's always slow in the morning. As are you if I'm not mistaken. The buss will be here in ten minutes. You haven't even showered."

Michael frowned. "I slept funny last night. Had a weird dream."

"Why don't you tell me about it then? I could use something to start off the day."

"Can't remember it," said Michael between mouthfuls.

"Too bad. Don't talk with your mouth full."

"Yes 'M."

Quickly downing the remainder of his toast, he got up and headed towards the bathroom without a further word. Quickly brushing, going to the bathroom, washing up, greeting his grandfather…counting down all within the time space of five minutes, and he was out the door. A typical morning.

The morning air washed over him and he breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for its fresh spring scent. It was times like these that he could forget about his troubles. That is, until another yawn forced its way out of his mouth.

"Ugh…crap," he grumbled, rubbing his eyes to clear them of what he affectionately called 'the sand man crusties'. "Damn. What was that all about last night?"

As was the norm, no answer came to him. The only thing that he knew for certain was that he had been disturbed out of a fit sleep, and after that had been hard pressed to return to that state of complete and utter bliss until a few minutes before his alarm clock went off.

God, Michael decided, had a cruel sense of humor.

And it's all because I couldn't get rid of that nagging feeling in the back of my head… Shit. I better make sure that I'm not missing anything.

"Let's see…got my bag, got my homework…" Michael quickly went through the mental checklist and looked himself over to make sure that he himself was presentable so that he wouldn't be met with any unnecessary surprises when he arrived at school. Double checking his memory he reminded himself that, yes, he did spread his wings before dressing to relieve the pressure. He didn't have any concerns about them unfurling in public anymore, as he had gotten quite used to keeping them hidden in…wherever it was that they went when he was hiding them.

Michael blinked and frowned.

Now that I think about it…just where do they go?

As always, he wasn't given any answers. Shrugging his shoulders, he decided that it was most likely another one of those riddles of his that would remain forever unsolved. Just like the bizarre feeling that nagged him all last night. It was still there, sitting there like an elephant in the room, but it felt fainter now, making it all the easier to ignore. The elephant, he decided, could stay as long as it didn't bother him.

Still…I just know that this is going to be a problem.

The honking of the school bus' horn snapped him out of his thoughts, alerting him to its presence. Looking up, startled, his eyes met his bus drivers, who waved his hands impatiently and gave him a look that most definitely wasn't a how do you do. Michael shrugged his bag into a more comfortable position and raced onto the bus, offering a quick apology. He scanned the bus for any open seats. He didn't expect much, and he was right. The bus was filled to the brim—a consequence of being one of the last students to be picked up before they were all delivered to school. Although it wasn't the case, Michael felt as though everyone were looking at him, and he immediately became more self-conscious.

Take it easy… Breathe in…and out. Smiling, he made his way down the aisle and towards the back where he saw one open spot. Alex Kennedy, a thin bespectacled boy with more brains than body builders had muscles, rarely had anyone sitting with him. Michael could even say that he was his 'seat saver' though they didn't exactly talk much, nor did they often sit together. From Michael's perspective though, Alex's isolation from the others was convenient for him as he was ensured a place to sit when all others were taken.

Michael was abruptly brought out of his reverie when a foot stuck out in front of him, catching him and sending him toppling to the ground with a surprised squawk.

"Watch your feet, Mikie," chuckled a playful voice that was quickly followed by a chorus of laughter.

Right, thought Michael as he awkwardly got to his feet, face flaming. The middle of the bus is Jacob's 'Great Barrier'. More 'day in the life of Mike' drama. Great.

"What's up Mike?" asked the voice of Jacob, the boy who had tripped him up. He sat up with a wide, cocky curve of a smile that was both good natured and malicious in nature. He was tall, blonde, and in excellent shape—something that he owed to his experience on the track team. "No 'good morning'?"

"Good morning," he replied stonily. He knew it wasn't a good idea to even encourage talking with Jacob, but it was an equally bad idea to just flat out ignore him too. The best thing he could do in this situation was reply, keep the talk short, and move on. The sooner it was over, the better.

Too bad that I have to put up with him all day.

Putting the incident out of his mind, Michael made his way towards the back and plopped down next to Alex with a heavy sigh. The day wasn't even five minutes old and already it had a dark cloud hanging above it. He could feel Jacob's eyes watching him the entire way, but as there were no further challenges he expected not to have too much trouble. Hopefully.

"Quite the jerk, isn't he?"

Michael turned towards Alex, surprised that he had spoken.

"Huh?"

"Never mind," the boy said, pushing his glasses up onto his face. He had a slightly irritated look on his face. After a moment, he contradicted his words. "It's just…I've seen you put up with him and I thought…I don't know. You needed something to say about it. I know I…" Alex hesitated, and pushed his glasses onto his face again. "…Forget it."

Oookay…this is a bit weird, thought Michael, wondering how best to approach this. He was at a loss for words though. In the three years that they had sat next to each other, always out of necessity they had never once spoken a single word. Now Alex had broken the ice, but no sooner than he did he clammed up, and the status quo returned.

Can't say that I blame him. He's in the same boat as me…well, as far as being antisocial that is. Doesn't talk to people. I think I've never seen him do anything other than sitting in a corner reading or drawing except when we're on the bus together.

Michael considered Alex for a moment. He wasn't much by the school social standards of excellence. Introverted, allergic to athletics, very high grades, already suffering from the accursed teenage affliction of zits…he practically everything that a comedian would have defined as protection from pretty girls. Better than a condom and twice as effective as the pill. Still, he attempted to say something to him, which was a lot in Michael's book. He had been so caught up in his problems that he drove away everyone who tried to be friends with him. He could count on one hand the number of people that he talked to on a regular basis, and they were all people who didn't know him from before he began seeing Dr. Kafka.

Unless you count Amelia I guess. Crap. That's right. She lives behind me now…

All thoughts of Alex flew out of his mind just then as the bus turned the corner and slowed to a stop. The doors opened and he peeked around the seat. Sure enough, Amelia Thornburg ascended the stairwell and greeted the bus driver before scanning aisle for an open seat. Emerald eyes flashed merrily beneath bangs of red and gold, and for an instant Michael could have sworn that their eyes met.

"Hey 'Licia!" called out Jacob. "Since when did you start riding this bus?"

"Since today, obviously," replied another student, a dark haired teenager by the name of Michael Stevens. Alicia smiled at Michael and slid into the seat with him with a graceful ease. Michael felt his heart sink forlornly and withdrew, contenting himself with the seat in front of him. Alex eyed him before pushing up his glasses again and turning his attention out towards the window.

"I hate spring," Alex muttered under his breath. Michael raised an eyebrow at him.

"Huh? What?"

"Never mind."

***

"Why did it have to be spring?" asked Lilly as she looked out the window of her hospital room. Majel Walker, who was in the middle of fluffing the girl's pillow, cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Something wrong with spring?"

"No," she said turning away from the window. "I just find it a bit…ironic. A new beginning for the world, and I wake up during it. I'm wondering why it had to be spring of all times."

"I don't know about the why part," replied Majel, propping the pillow behind Lilly, "but I know that I'd be glad to wake up during spring. If I were in your position that is. If it were summer all I would think about is the fun, relaxing things that I'd be missing out on, and winter is just depressing."

"I guess," said Lilly simply. Majel shrugged.

"Anyway, do you think you're up to another round of physical therapy today?"

Lilly nodded matter-of-factly. She had begun it almost immediately once it had been confirmed that she had regained a reliable sense of awareness of her surroundings. She had been given a clean bill of health as far as her brain went, which had been nothing short of a miracle due to the circumstances that caused her to enter a persistent vegetative state.

"A car accident is not something that can be laughed off," the doctor had said. "Especially when trauma to the head is involved. You are very, very lucky to retain all of your faculties."

"I can move," Lilly said, more to herself than to the orderly with her. To demonstrate her point she reached out towards the Boo toy and picked it up. Her arm shook a little as she brought it over to her and placed it in her lap. She scowled at her thin arms. "But I don't want to stay like this."

"That's good, Lil'," cheered Majel. "I've been working at this place for about ten years, and I have to tell you that the major difference between some of the people who walk out of here and those that don't is that the ball lands in the court of those who have the guts to work for it. The ones who don't want to be chained—who have a strong need to kick butt and take names—they're the ones who will walk out of here on their own."

A small smile appeared on the young girl's face.

"I want to walk on my own. You know…before my accident…I used to be involved in sports. I loved to run and everything. I wanted to play lacrosse in high school and college. I still want to do those things."

"Then as long as you've got a goal in mind, I'm sure you'll do fine. Just don't be impatient. Take it from me. Impatience won't get you there any faster. It's no different from being stupid and…" Majel chuckled and abruptly swatted her hand. "Listen to me talking like this. I'm supposed to be a bit more formal. The doctors are always telling me to show some tact around patients."

"I don't mind."

"Well, you're one in a million. Thanks. Anyway, like I was sayin', impatience is the same thing as being dumb. It won't get you anywhere faster except on a trip to the emergency room—and that's if you're lucky. My brother was that way."

"Impatient?"

"No." Majel grinned. "Just stupid. But I suspect that every sister thinks that about their kid brother. Damn fool broke his leg even when I told him it wasn't a good idea."

"What'd he do?"

Majel laughed. "You wouldn't believe me even if I told you." Looking down at her watch, she sighed heavily. "And it looks like I won't be able to tell you now. My shift is ending. Rachel will be in shortly, and she'll help you get to where you need to go. Just remember, keep your chin up and keep your eye on your goal."

"I don't intend to be chasing a ball in a wheelchair," grinned Lilly.

"That's the spirit. All right. You don't worry yourself none and I'll see you again at my next shift. Later."

"Later." Lilly raised one shaky hand and waved goodbye. As soon as Majel left the room, her smile dropped and she fell back into her pillow. "…Damn it," she whispered, pounding one tightly balled up fist into the bed. Her eyebrows drew into tightly packed thunderhead. "No one came again…"

Images of her friends flashed through her mind. Amber, Jessica, Elizabeth…all of them, but not a single one of them had visited her when she woke up.

It's only been the second day…and…today's Monday, right? Everyone had school I'm sure. But…they could have at least visited yesterday.

Lilly rolled her head to one side, allowing her hair to spill over her face. She pushed such thoughts to the side. She didn't want to be angry nor did she want to feel sorry for herself. She was sure that her friends had their reasons for not visiting, but still. Even a short visit…

Can't go down that road, she chided herself. She looked out the window, looking for something…anything to distract her from her present train of thought. It didn't take her long.

Her gaze followed a cloud as it floated on its journey through the sky. It was circular, with a bit of a fuzzy top to it. Almost instinctively her mind fitted a face to it. A face that of late she had seen in her dreams. Brown hair and dark-brown eyes. A boy and one that was younger than she was. She had never seen him before, but for the strangest reason, she felt as though she knew him. The sense of familiarity was…overpowering.

"Who are you?" she asked the cloud, a part of her wondering why she was even asking such a question to begin with. The whole thing was just ridiculous. After all, he was just in a dream…or rather dreams to use the plural form. It had been the first thing she remembered when she first woke up in the hospital, and the dream only repeated itself since. Not over and over endlessly, but at least once a night.

I've only had it three times. This is stupid. Since when do dreams mean anything?

***

The squirrel twitched as it lay on the ground. Convulsions wracked its body and green foam bubbled past its mouth. Only a scant few hours had passed since its encounter with the tasty treat it found in the dirt, and now it was seriously regretting having anything to do with it. It chattered as another series of tremors quaked through it. Its eyes felt heavy. It felt as though something was slipping away from it, but it could not tell what that was. It wanted its misery to end, but at the same time, it wanted to live. It hated just sitting there with this slipping feeling, all the while out in the open where anything could come after it. It…

Its eyes slid shut, and its breathing stilled with one final heave of its stomach. Time passed without noticing the little creature, or the changes that were already beginning to form within it.

4