It was late. The sky had gone from smoggy grey to suffocating black, the horizon still lit by stubborn flames. We were at least ten miles from the nearest of the fires, but I could still smell the smoke, and, if I listened hard enough, I could still hear freaks screaming.
The raids had been happening for as long as I could remember. Whenever clusters of half-breeds and bastards got too big, too noticeable in the Outskirts, the raid leaders would gather everyone in the town square, work everyone up into a mad frenzy, and then charge into the Outskirts guns blazing, hatred burning.
When I was little I'd thought it exhilarating, watching all the men get together in town, brave and heroic. Off to kill the bad guys. Everyone always cheering, whooping and hollering, waving like it was some big parade or something.
I didn't know then that it was murder.
Funny how a change in your DNA can so change your perspective on life.
I was six when I was bitten. The wolf was sick, mangy and shaking, when it stumbled into our backyard. We were standing on the porch, Dad with his gun, and Mom trying to shield me from the 'horrible monster'. At first I thought the wolf was just going to keel over right then and there, but it summoned one last burst of strength. The last thing I remember was the flash of it's teeth when it lunged and a gunshot.
Two days later I woke up. It had been a werewolf.
By law my father was required to kill me. I was tainted. Turned. No longer All Human. But he couldn't do it. Couldn't kill his only son.
He made me say goodbye to mom, and then took his gun and led me by the hand out to the backyard.
"You have to run now," he told me. "Run and don't look back. You have to go to the Outskirts. Don't ever come back, Jamie."
I was a kid, I wasn't sure what was happening, but I knew that that was goodbye. I would never see my parents again.
I started to cry.
My father had never raised a hand against me in my life, but that time he slapped me hard across the face, told me to run, and cocked his gun.
I ran. I ran fast as I could; took off through the darkness and never looked back. Clambering over rubble, broken bricks and crumbled concrete. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but all the sudden in the silence I heard a single gunshot, and the noise went straight through my heart just like a bullet.
I stopped. I cried until I couldn't breathe, until I was sick, and then I started running again. I didn't know where I was going, what I was doing. I just ran.
I went back not long ago. I got an earful from Gabriel for doing something so risky, but I snuck back to my parents house. There were two grave markers planted in the rocky, dusty earth. A big wooden cross, and an older, smaller one. The big cross had my father's name on it. He'd died two years after I'd had to leave. The smaller grave I knew for a fact was empty, and it chilled me to the bone.
James J. Holden
I was looking at my own grave. Dad had pretended to shoot me. He'd dug an empty grave and filled it in, and James Holden was good as dead.
The thought made my insides crawl.
Gabriel, a lonely, bitter boy of sixteen at the time, saved my life a few days later.
I guess six-year-olds aren't particularly smart, at least I sure wasn't. There was a raid in the Outskirts, a big one.
Fire, screams, and exploding guns. And I was trapped in the middle of it, frozen with fear. I had no ideas where to run, to hide. I'd always cheered with the other kids when our parents went out on raids. I had no idea this was what happened.
The Outskirts are like a crazy maze of rubble and half-demolished buildings if you don't know where you're going. I tried to run, and I succeeded in getting myself hopelessly lost.
Not so luckily, a familiar face caught my eye in the madness, an old friend of my fathers. 'Uncle Gavin', he'd been to me, and I ran at him, thinking he'd help me. Seeking safety from the storm of hate and fire.
The was no recognition when he saw me. Just gleeful, malicious hate as he cocked his gun, aiming right between my eyes.
Enter Gabriel, all human hating fury and avenging angel power. He dropped out of nowhere, before I'd even processed the gun pointing at me, the fear that rushed into my veins. Gabriel had hit him over the head with a tire iron and Gavin dropped like a rock.
We sort of adopted one another after that. I was six, I needed someone to look after me, to teach me the ways of the Outskirts. And Gabriel, who'd been alone for far too long, angry and bitter and hopeless, needed someone to fix him.
That became my job. To fix Gabriel. To remind him that there was still love in a world so full of hate and prejudice.
Gabriel doesn't see the good anymore. I don't think he's seen it since his parents died. I'm scared that he's been lost in the darkness, that there's no light for him.
"You're my light, Jamie," he tells me when we sit out on the fire escape. He wraps an arm around me and knocks our heads together. "You are the only good thing this world has ever given me. And you, little brother, are all I need."
I worry about Gabe. It's like he's got a big, gaping hole inside of him. A hole made of hurt, and loss, and a lifetime of pain, and me, I'm like a Band-Aid over that wound. I try to put him back together, to fix him and remind him of love in a dark, dark world. But he's so bitter, still stuck in all that pain and hate, that the big hole inside of him can't heal. It just festers and grows bigger, and I can't keep fixing it. It scares me. There's nothing I can do and I might lose him because of it.
I heard him move in the dark. And a moment later: "You're not asleep."
"Neither are you," I pointed out, rolling onto my back.
Man, I could feel him rolling his eyes at me. "You're thinking about the raid aren't you?"
"Tomorrow we'll head out, see if there are any survivors, take a look at the damage." He ruffled his wings irritably, opened his mouth, and closed it again. For a minute I thought he wasn't going to say anything. Then he said softly, "I'm tired of being bullied by Humans."
I wasn't sure what to say, so I didn't say anything.
He sighed and I could hear him shifting on the cement. "Come on, I'll sing if you'd like."
My brother has the most beautiful voice. Pure and rich and effortless. I drove him crazy when I was little, I made him sing to me all the time. Every night, and whenever I was scared. He tried to teach me once, but me? When I sing people keel over dead.
It reminds him of his mother, when he sings, and he always gets this bittersweet look in his eyes, like he's remembering and it hurts. But it's a good hurt.
"Could you sing to me?"
For a moment everything was silent, and then his voice came from the darkness, soft at first, but strong.
As he sang the pure notes of some song he referred to as 'Hey Jude', I stared into the moonlit darkness feeling myself drift as I studied the outlines of the rafters. Shadow sketched on shadow.
The humans thought my brother was a monster, a freak, just because he'd been born Half Human and Half Fey. I thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world.
Gabe is Half Peri. Peris are kind of like angels, I guess. They have the wings, but no halos. According to what mythology Gabriel's father taught him, peris are from some place called Persia, and they're the spawn of angels and demons. I don't think I quite buy that part.
He looks just like his father; he showed me a picture once. Same dark slash of eyebrows, strong features, and golden tan skin. But Gabe has his mother's eyes. A light hazel, almost gold. Intense and piercing. It makes him look exotic. Hawkish and beautiful.
Nobody'd believe me if I claimed Gabe was my brother. His hair is black as night, mine's the color of a dust bunny. His eyes are gold, mine are sunset purple. My mom used to tell me I was handsome when I was little, but I'm pretty sure I'm completely unremarkable.
My brother, however, is extraordinary.
The soft notes of his song faded into the darkness and I smiled as I drifted off to sleep.
The humans thought my brother was a monster. A freak. I thought he was an angel.