First Layer

"My goodness, Heaven, you didn't tell me you were having a friend over. I would've made snacks, or put on some make-up… and my nice dress and… how old is this friend of yours Heaven."

Words swam in Heaven's head with a plug stuck in his throat keeping water levels high. He still couldn't speak and, even if he could, nothing truthful could explain this situation.

"I'm sorry, Miss White. Excuse my intrusion. My university introduced a program where students studying for a teacher's license are allowed to take on a willing student and teach them a subject of our choice. A further apology for your son's silence as he will be studying psychology, and my first lesson will show how people communicate without words. "

This guy was crazy. That's what Heaven thought. Lying like that didn't sit well with Heaven, and lying to his mother was even worse. Because, yeah, Heaven liked his parents and they never lied to him about anything, never even trying to act like Heaven was a normal kid whom his mother went through nine months of pregnancy to deliver. Lying was dirty.

"Heaven, why don't you and your friend go up to your room? I'll bring some snacks up later, what would you like? Oh, that's right, never mind. I'll just make some sandwiches, okay?"

Heaven nodded and lead the lying stranger (which Heaven resolved not to describe him as again, as he had saved his life and seemed good beyond anything) to his room, trying to sneakily tidy anything major.

"Lay down."

Throwing a pair of boxers into the hamper, Heaven turned to the stranger. Sitting besides Heaven's bed, he looked like a ghost from long ago, paled with dingy, fitted clothes that really held no style or flare as if they were only to cover his body and nothing more.

Heaven held up a finger, grabbed a paper and pen, and handed it to the stranger after he had written something on it. The stranger didn't respond until Heaven lied down.

"My name is Tetsu."

Heaven made a rolling gesture with his hand.

"Tetsuhiro Mori. Now stay still."

Bringing his arms to the side, Heaven waited.

Tetsu sang.

The words were in another language, probably Japanese, as it were, but Heaven wasn't sure. They were sweet and Tetsu's face sad. Heaven felt a place in his stomach lurch and the song might have faltered; the melody was so light and different that Heaven could only say that something sounded different for a moment.

The song went on and on and Heaven tried hard not to focus on the gurgling pain of having one's crushed throat heal in warped speed. By the time everything was fixed Heaven barely blinked back any tears and certainly wasn't angry with Tetsu for doing that without warning.

"You… suck."

Heaven coughed and sat up, feeling along his fixed neck.

"Why didn't you do that earlier?"

The man closed his eyes. "I can only use a human's spirit to heal humans. Yours isn't very stable at the moment, so I had to take some of the spirit hanging around a place you're in often, such as your room."

Many things were odd about that sentence, and Heaven decided to not care.

"What should we do… about him?"

"Your friend has already been taken care of. His family has been informed and his body disposed of."

"Disposed of?"

"I apologize, we've properly managed your friend's burial in a nearby graveyard, which is very well cared for."

It didn't sound like they were talking about James, and Heaven wasn't sure it ever would. Too many difficult things had happened. Forever this day wouldn't be real and would only appear at night when everything else unimaginable or locked up surfaced.

Heaven leaned back, breathing and sinking and trying to feel the room through his mind, trying to calm down.

"You've been talking to me like I'm going to hit you."

"Have I?"

"Yeah, I won't, by the way."

"Thank you."

"Seriously, please don't talk that way."

"I apologize, but I can't do that."

"Why?"

"We should get going."

"Huh?"

The man stood and looked at Heaven, waiting as if he hadn't just completely dodged that question. Somehow an urgency appeared in his presence, though, so Heaven stood and followed Tetsu out of the room.

"Oh, honey, I was about to come up with your snacks. Is your friend leaving?"

Heaven's mom stood at the bottom of the stairs, and Tetsu brushed by her, saying they were going to spend the rest of the lesson outside.

"Be careful, dears. Some dumb teenagers' pranks have been plastered all over the news since you came home. Bring your phone and a jacket, okay, honey? I love you."

Heaven made a heart with his hands and smiled. He put on a jacket and followed Tetsu out of the house.

"Woah."

Assuming the scene continued behind Heaven's home, a giant circle with his house as the epicenter had been drawn using giant mounds of grey rock that extended far into the distance. Heaven felt the place on his cheek where a stone monster had hit him earlier and turned to Tetsu, whom simply walked on, weaving through the odd art and turning back for a moment to jerk his head forward and tell Heaven to keep moving.

Heaven ran towards the man, becoming unsettled enough to start taking the fetters off of the dark creature cowering in the back of his mind.

"Who did this?"

"Who sent them, or who killed them?"

"Is one of the answers on our side?"

"The ones destroying them are ultimately friend."

"Ultimately?"

"Yes." The man clenched his fists. "Don't worry about anything. I'm here to protect you, and I will protect you."

Ropes slipped from Heaven's hands. The further the creature in his mind crawled towards the light the harder it became to hide. His hands were bleeding and the creature roared, breaking its muzzle and bursting Heaven's ears.

"Why do I need protecting? Why are you protecting me? Who are you?"

"I can't tell you that yet."

The man had yelled. Not with his voice, but with his essence and Heaven's hair stood on end. It felt dumb to be scared of the man, and Heaven wasn't because his gut told him not to be and his gut had been very perceptive that day so he listened to it, which was a dumb thing to do, because he wasn't sure if it was really his gut speaking.

Tetsu continued to walk through the piles of gray rock. When they made it ten blocks from Heaven's house the piles were noticeably less in quantity and larger in size. He had noticed a thinning in number before, but that was the first time the contents of the piles changed.

A pain nudged its way into Heaven's legs as they walked on and on. Perhaps the damage he took on earlier still had a hold on him; he had trouble catching his breath and the endless scene of crumbled monsters made him feel nauseous.

Heaven was in the arms of a new stranger.

"Aha, I know you're focused and all, Tetsuhiro, but don't forget your mortal baggage."

Heaven looked back up at a smiling girl with long blonde hair, the kind of girl his dad expected him to bring home. He tried to straighten his legs and get his head off of her chest, but she pulled him close and Heaven performed what had to have been yoga in order stay standing.

"Maybe I should be his guard dog instead of you. What do you think, boy?" Her voice became sweet and Heaven was terrified that his body would react before his brain "Should I take care of you instead of that boring harp-tuner?

"No, ma'am… please let go of me."

Heaven dropped to the ground.

The woman walked away, muttering something like 'Brat. I'm not a ma'am.'

A scraping sounded in front of Heaven, and Tetsu sat down before him.

"Is that one of our ultimate friends?"

Tetsu sighed. "Yes, May is an ally, and if she's here, the others aren't far behind. We'll rest for now."

"You're a little late."

"I know… I'm sorry."

It was becoming uncomfortable, having an adult apologize to him. It felt like he had a whip in his hand and that stirred up an emotion Heaven wasn't proud of.

The woman, May, sat atop one of the rock piles with her back facing them. Her back slumped forward so her head was in her hand and Heaven wondered if she was sleeping. It was a tempting option as he thought of it.

"How long can we rest?"

"A few minutes… you should stay awake. I'm unsure of the situation, but we may need to leave as soon as the others gather."

Heaven thought of his mother, of the books she read him as a kid and of the nail polish she wore. He thought of how she believed vitamin C and clean sheets could cure any sickness and how she sang in the morning. Heaven thought of the way his dad's boots smelled when he came home from the butcher shop and how, when he was younger, he would put them on and carefully tie the laces like his father had taught him, loose enough that you could move but tight enough that you could fight if the need arose. He remembered that his father probably didn't even know how to make a fist.

"Will I get to go home?"

The words lifted Tetsu's chin and Heaven saw that he had brown eyes.

"You will. I can't say when, but you will be returned home."

At that time, the man stood. The sun started to bleed into the sky and he faced the Earth's star, looking on past May and into the air.

"Tetsu?"

"They've come."

Heaven resisted jumping to his feet. He looked up to the man who had given him many promises and reasons to tame the beast inside of him. The scene turned into a painting he needed to interpret and Heaven thought staying down while Tetsu stood was the respectable thing to do.

"Who's coming?" Heaven waited for the ground to start shaking again; his gut was telling him to be strong.

"Our allies."

The sky shook instead of the ground. The sun's glint faded out as pressure built in Heaven's stomach and everything was released by a pull-switch that sent eight new presences into a painting that Heaven could no longer decipher. Tetsu backed up so that Heaven could reach out and touch his heels if he wanted.

The eight new people all had blonde hair like May and wore gray clothes like Tetsu. Among them were a pair of twins whispering to each other, a man with a large package on his back, an Amazonian woman with deeply tanned skin, a child with a flower crown, a built man with inked skin, and two more women who had their hair pulled back in tight braids that barely stayed clean off the ground.

The child dashed up to Heaven, clamping onto his arm and giggling. The child, too young to even bare a decipherable gender, nestled against his jacket and closed its eyes, smiling.

The child's hair, young and stringy to the touch, whisked away from Heaven's hand just as he felt it. The child's hands pulled away from his arm and a cry made the air cringe. Restrained by the Amazonian woman, the youth cried with an open mouth.

"Hush, William, that boy is not her." The braided girls were drying the boy's eyes. "I know it seems it, but that's only her spirit. It's not really—please, William, May will hold you if you stop crying. You like May, right? That's it, good boy. Here, May, take him."

May took the boy in her hands, hushing him softly and walking away from the group to sit back down on her pile.

Next thing Heaven knew, yelling took over the silence. This group of people didn't like to keep an atmosphere for long; Heaven often avoided persons of that type.

"You haven't told him anything yet?" The Amazonian towered over Tetsu.

Tetsu stood a little straighter and made his presence stronger. This didn't seem like a fight he wanted to loose. "Of course not." His voice was soft but harsh, and he glanced back at Heaven. "What was I supposed to say? I'm a stranger that helped kill his best friend. How can I do anything else to him?"

"Shit, man," The guy holding a package hadn't seemed like one to curse. He came across more as the good guy that would shovel snow off the whole block's sidewalks along with his own as if it were only natural, "it's not like he's a normal kid. You could probably say anything to that brat and he'd want to follow you around."

"It's not like that, and that's not the point anyway. You know what she said, it's not safe to be careless with him."

At least the braided girls were soft-spoken. "But, Teddy, Danny's right. He'd understand somewhere deep down, and you're probably the best one to tell him. We're happy to help explain things, but you can't leave the poor boy in the dark forever. For Heaven's sake, Teddy, tell him."

"As if any of you even care about him like she would've wanted us to."

The package carrier laughed. "And you do?'

"Well…"

"None of us are happy with this situation and we're not asking you to be a hero, we're asking you to be a man."

Everything sort of quieted down after that; Tetsu and the package man huffed and puffed for a few seconds. All eyes focused on Tetsu and the young man looked over all of his allies with labored breath. He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, gently coming back to Heaven and sitting once more.

Heaven kind of wanted to ask if he was all right, but thought that wouldn't be wise. Instead, he waited for the man to speak first.

"What," Tetsu paused and took the hand out of his hair, sitting straighter as he did so, "How much do you understand."

The monster bucked.

"I don't know. I'm honestly not entirely sure of anything right now."

"You don't need to be sure. Just tell me what you think is happening."

The monster snarled.

"I really don't know if I can tell you what you want me to say."

"Well try to, Heaven."

The monster ran.

Something sparked when Tetsu said that and lit Heaven's mind aflame. He could see pathways and secret doors that connected all of the rooms filled with the thoughts he shoved away like a parka in the summer. Everything revealed itself and Heaven's monster roared.

"You're here to protect me; you told me that. These people are here for that too, but I really shouldn't rely on them personally. They're protecting the world, not me. And you're all fighting against whatever made these rock things, someone bad that you've hated forever, and I'm supposed to help because I'm the kid of whoever used to be your leader… or something… like that."

Heaven was used to being stared at, but he'd never felt this intensity before. Eight pairs of gleaming gray eyes, and a soft pair of brown held onto his gaze like it was a fugitive. They thought he was crazy.

"I'm sorry, is that wrong? I just got that feeling and thought that everything sort of… fit… so…"

Heaven went through a stage when he was younger where he read comic books non-stop. James had gotten him into them. Maybe, he thought, everything he felt only came from an imagination influenced by superheroes, sound effects and graphics.

But maybe, he thought, not.

"No, you're mostly right." May had rejoined the group sometime during the argument, and still held William in her arms. "It's probably because of our lady's influence that you could gather that much. She's probably still alive somewhere in you."

Apparently May spoke a taboo, and she blew on her nails as the others stared at her. "What? It's not like you're not thinking about it too." She kept looking at her nails and everyone else kept on staring.

It was weird, because Heaven always knew he didn't truly belong in the White family, but he also never felt a connection to those TV drama kids that needed to journey and find their real parents. Now all of a sudden he didn't have to go on a journey and the answer was right in front of him, and he became curious.

"So… you all knew my real mother?"

Having all of these new characters work on the same wavelength exhausted Heaven. Every little reaction appeared bigger and longer and left more weight on Heaven's spirit, and pity and sadness bared great heft."

They brushed the question off, leaving Tetsu to answer.

"No, she was not your mother. She chose you, but our lady had no children."

"But… wait, aren't those two her kids." Heaven looked at May and William, thinking that the boy had mistaken Heaven for his mother, and ended up in May's, his sister's, arms.

May looked surprised and childish. She wore a faint smile. "Ah, yeah, I guess you would think that. I spent a lot of time with our lady when she was alive, and I was the first person William met when he came to our city, so he's gotten attached to me, but we're not real kin."

There was a cloud moving over every question Heaven had, where the sky would clear above one but another would go dark. Heaven felt like there wasn't enough time to be scared and not ask everything he wanted to know, but his monster had already begun to break Heaven's arms.

Tetsu continued the story. "You are only holding the soul of our lady."

"The… soul?"

"Yes. In order to prevent what's happening now, our lady gave us her spirit, and you her soul. We were sent to protect you, so that when her powers fully awaken you would be able to fight with us."

"Fight who? And what's going to happen to me when her power awakens that you think I'll be able to fight whoever that is?"

These people were pushing Heaven into a conflict he didn't want to have. Many things happened where Heaven could've gotten angry with them or refused to listen, but Heaven really didn't wish to hate these people. The only problem was that he didn't know why.

Tetsu wasn't answering, probably because of whatever he had said earlier about them needing to be careful. Before Heaven could ask another question or get him to talk, the package carrier growled, using heavy steps to stand next to Tetsu. Gray eyes managed to hook into Heaven's skin and the man crossed his arms.

"If this bitch," Heaven glared at the man speaking, "doesn't want to tell you shit then I will. All these monsters," he gestured to the mounds of rubble all around, "are here to attack you. Hell made them to destroy the Earth, but he's sending them to get you now because you're Heaven's reincarnation, and he wants you dead. Hell possessed your friend back there, killed him, and sent these demons to take you down while you were nearly pissing your pants. You've probably been seeing dreams and having feelings that aren't yours, and that's because our Heaven is trying to tell you what's going on. That's why you understood so much, that's why Tetsuhiro came to get you, and that's why you need to hurry up and accept this before anyone else you care for dies."

Heaven kept his glare on the man, glancing down for a second to get a confirming nod from Tetsu. The feelings in his stomach weren't helping him sort any of this out, but now he wasn't sure if those were his own impulses or if they belonged to the woman who had his name, and had probably laid out his path in life to keep him safe and bring him to this moment where all of these odd people were trying to get him to fight for the world.

Suddenly, Heaven felt nauseous. Not like before, where it was a warning. There was something inside of him that he didn't know about, sending his brain messages and controlling his feelings and… it was disgusting. The nausea boiled until it became hot and angry and Heaven felt like he was jogging, he was running, he was tired and confused and he was loosing hold on his monster.

"Did you all name me Heaven?"

They all looked surprised, and May fumbled out an answer. "No… that was your mother… or maybe it was the late Heaven's influence… but we did not name you."

Heaven's influence, huh?

"What about James… and my neighbors and my parents? Were they with me because of Heaven's influence too?"

Heaven screamed as his monster ripped at the ground, desperately pulling to get free.

The silence sickened Heaven. No one had an answer and, on top of that, everyone just stared and stared, analyzing him like Heaven might burst into flame and burn them all to ash.

"Heaven, we don't know. Without her soul, you probably would have lived a different life, but the decisions you made were your own… Heaven?" Tetsu reached out his hand, as if to touch Heaven's face which had been facing the ground, "Are you listening to me, Heaven?"

"Shut up." Heaven's fingernails dug into his palms.

"Heaven?"

"I said shut up! And stop saying that name. It's hard for all of you, too, right?" He was screaming and he didn't know why. Everything was just so messed up that if he couldn't yell he wasn't sure the words would come out. "You all want your leader back and you think she might come out through me but I'm not going to let her. I'm not going to give myself to you people just because you decided I was supposed to save you all. The decisions I make are mine, right? I don't want to become your new leader, and... and I'm not going to let her wake up."

"Wait, Heaven, you don't understand, please, just listen to-"

"No. You listen to me. This is my life and I won't let her, or any of you, take it from me. I won't become your leader."

"Brat," the package carrier squatted down so that he and Heaven were face to face. His breath smelled like menthols, "we don't want a shitty kid like you for a leader, we're only trying to help you. Do you even realize how many demons Hell is going to send to kill you? You know the ones here are bigger than the ones at the front line, and they'll only get stronger. And if Hell finds out you're not on our side, he'll go straight for the humans."

"Well then I'll just kill them myself. If I have your leader's powers, then I should be able to do that right? I'll get away from here, let them come for me, and destroy them when they do. You won't even have to see my face."

"Don't tempt me to let you go and do it, kid."

"See. None of you want me here and you're all pissed that I'm not exactly like your old leader. Well, I'm me, and I plan to stay that way, so don't come near me again."

Heaven stood and hit Tetsu's hand away when it touched his wrist. "Thanks. But I can protect myself." Heaven turned away and walked, wondering if they'd come after him and how long it would take to walk to the country or the woods, somewhere solitary.

"Heaven, you don't understand." Rushed footsteps crumbled behind Heaven. "You won't turn into her, I promise. We never expected that of you."

Heaven stopped and waited for the footsteps to catch up to him before he turned around and spoke to Tetsu's face.

"How can I believe you? You just don't want me to snap, and, at best, you only want me to be your weapon. I'll do my share in protecting the world. I'm a bomb that won't be near you anymore. Be happy."

Tetsu went to say something else.

Heaven couldn't stand hearing another lie or any more words directed at the Heaven inside of him. A connection between his brain and the gurgling in his stomach made the world around him disappear, and he left Tetsu and the others to breath in a sky full of stars and a field that extended far into the distance.

The countryside.