A/N: Thanks to my lovely readers, and especially to Alouise Briggslay for the amazing reviews.
Just a heads up, there is some disturbing imagery in this chapter. Nothing too graphic, since Leon is blind at this point in the story. For the most part, it's pretty canon-typical, however, toward the end of the chapter, we venture into some uncomfortable territory (but like I said, it's nothing graphic).
With that said, enjoy a chapter from Leon's perspective.
"Don't be silly
Turn on Billie
She's singing us to sleep
So we can dream our lives away"
-Turn On Billie, The Pierces
LEON sits with his eyes closed. The smooth surface of the boulder beneath him is normally cool to the touch but is warmed by the rays of the sun today. Cold water flows over his bare feet which dangle over the side of the rock. The silky touch of the river water helps to sooth his temper.
Initially, he'd come here to throw stones across the river and watch as they collided with trees on the opposite bank, spraying bark and tearing out pieces of trunk like the tree had been hit by a bullet. It was gratifying to see those jagged edges bleeding sap. But then he'd heard the sounds of other people nearby and painstakingly reined himself in. Experience from his younger days told Leon that his mother would find out if he decided to scare any of the locals.
So, here he sits, forcing himself to be calm and not draw anyone's attention. It takes all his energy to remain on this boulder and not explode and lash out. Leon has always had a slippery grasp on his temper, something that pleases his brother to no end.
Rush 'Cool Head' Fairchild. Fury roils within Leon.
After his youngest brother Kane was born, there were no shortage of jokes that, should their mother ever have more children, it would be inadvisable to name any of them Abel. Leon and his mother are the only ones who never laugh at that joke. Monikers aside, Lilith Fairchild already birthed two murderous brothers. Leon can't always predict Rush's actions, but he knows that if he himself was ever presented with an opportunity to dispose of his brother, he would take it in a heartbeat. Leon can safely say that he's never hated anyone the way he hates Rush.
Rush, who never loses his temper. Rush, who effortlessly excels at everything. He's probably going to be the one to inherit the family business, and if anyone can weasel ownership of the house away from their mother, it will be Rush. Not to mention that he is likely to be the only one of them who won't end up either alone or with someone he despises.
Rush the golden child. The third eldest. Leon's blood pressure spikes when he recalls the way his brother likes to smirk and say, Third time was a charm.
Shaking, Leon's body tenses. He's ready to leap into the river and cause it to violently flood, consequences be damned, just as soft footsteps approach. Maintaining his façade of calm, Leon opens his eyes. The breeze blows his hair in front of his face, but he leaves it be. Every inch of him is focused on the approaching steps walking down the riverbank.
"Um… hey," says a feminine voice. "Do you go to Round Lake High School?"
Looking over his shoulder, he spies a girl with strawberry blonde hair. She's pretty, he thinks. In the nonthreatening way that humans are. Not perfect and predatory like faery girls. She smiles at him, creating tiny wrinkles around her clear blue eyes. They're not blue all the way through like his, Leon notes. Her eyes are a darker blue in the center, fading to a lighter shade around the rim.
This girl seems familiar.
"I know you," he murmurs. The breeze whips past him, carrying his words away on an updraft. The girl's smile turns dreamy.
"That's not your line, babe."
"My line?" What is she talking about?
She shuffles forward, kicking pebbles into the water. For the first time since she appeared, Leon notices that her clothes are dirty. The girl is wearing jean shorts and a blue t-shirt caked in wet clay. She reaches out to run her fingers across his chest from shoulder to shoulder. He spots gunshot residue on her right hand. His eyes trail up to her face again only to find that she's not so pretty anymore.
Her skin is ashy gray with bruise-like discoloration where her body has started to decay.
"Have you already forgotten how this dance goes?" She walks around the boulder, a coy twinkle in her eye. "First you lie to me, then I lie to myself, and then we all come tumbling down." The last part she sings, as if it's part of a child's nursery rhyme.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he snaps at her. "I can't tell a lie."
Leon expects his anger to burst forth, given his hair trigger, but instead he feels cold. Numb with apprehension. This isn't right. It isn't how this encounter is supposed to play out, he remembers that much. The girl raises an eyebrow.
"So that means you can't deceive?" She swings around and plants her hands flat on the boulder. "Look me in the eye, Leon, and swear that you never knowingly allowed me to believe something that was untrue."
Leon presses his lips together, because he can't. He can't promise her that.
All he wanted was to have something his brother couldn't have. He wanted a changeling to love him simply because that was the one thing Rush didn't seem to be able to attain for himself. Now, though, he wonders if Rush wasn't simply laying the foundation for his grandest scheme of all time. Leon snarls. Rush has always been better at playing the long game.
Her smile grows wider. "See, Leon? I told you. This is how our dance goes."
She turns away to face the river. The breeze plucks at her long, blonde hair. Once she's facing away from him, Leon sees a gaping, bloody hole in the back of her skull.
The girl falls forward into the river. As she falls, he hears a tiny bell ringing madly. Cold water rushes over her body, changing her skin from gray to blue.
He knows that voice.
All the colors fade into memory, leaving him in total darkness. And pain. It seizes him, grappling with his limbs, until it wraps his whole being in its unbearably hot embrace. It's a conscious effort to remember to pool all of his other senses together to create the barest image of his surroundings. He becomes vaguely aware of the outline of a person. The person saying his name like a question. He doesn't need to ask who it is.
"Do you have a question, Maggie," he says evenly, "or do you just enjoy the taste of my name in your mouth?"
Leon hears her shoes against the stonework of the greenhouse.
"I… I have a question."
He feels the vibrations of her quiet tread tickle the soles of his bare feet. Her walk is skittish, just like the hesitant tone of her voice. Maggie sounds scared and… well, not at all like Maggie. Rage boils over hot and fast. Leon swipes at the nearest flowerpot, sending it sailing across the greenhouse until it explodes in a shower of broken terracotta.
He doesn't want Maggie to be scared. He wants her to be angry and defiant. If he beats her like this, then it doesn't feel like a victory. It just feels like she has given up. Which is unacceptable.
Leon inhales. Deep and slow. Then exhales. "Ask away, Magpie!" he says as cheerfully as possible.
He hears her swallow thickly. "Is there… Have you…" She huffs and then tries again. "Did you make an illusion of your mother to frighten us?"
The skin around his empty eye sockets becomes uncomfortably taut as he raises one eyebrow. "Do you refer to the decoy on the porch?"
"No," she answers predictably. Of course, that's not what she was talking about, but he had to be sure. "I've already seen that one. I meant to ask if you made a different illusion. One that's inside the house and not a decoy."
He frowns. Not a decoy? That's the easiest type of illusion to make, besides creating a glamor. Decoys and glamors use things that already exist and alter their appearance. While glamors are generally used to change facial features or disguise inanimate objects, decoys can move and speak; although they're more easily seen through than glamors. Leon hasn't utilized either of those methods to create an image of his mother inside the house.
"You saw my mother?" he asks through clenched teeth.
"Yes." Maggie's voice quivers. "She spoke, too. And moved through the table in the library."
He laughs, because isn't this just typical. It sounds like his mother has put a curse on the house. She couldn't just claim the garden; she had to have it all. "Well," he mumbles, completely forgetting about Maggie's presence, "things are getting interesting."
He keeps hearing that ridiculous bell. No matter where he goes, he can't escape it. Even down in the training yard or the barn, he can distantly hear it. But the bell is loudest when he's in the house.
Leon paces from room to room, tripping over the occasional changeling that Maggie has left lying around.
Where are Sailor and Giles with Rush? That was the final request he'd made at the Floating Diner. He can't move forward with his plan until his brother returns home. If that doesn't happen, then all his hard work will be wasted. It took him days to put together that crude little cage up in the attic. Although, he thinks he made decent time considering he had to wear oven mitts while handling the iron bars.
That damnable bell is going to drive him insane before he has the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
It's only a small bell, like one that hangs above a shop door. It's persistent, though. Leon has hunted it all over the house. Sometimes the ring is louder and sometimes softer, however, he can never locate exactly where it's coming from. It's the world's most asinine game of cat and mouse.
Besides the bell, Maggie's words from the greenhouse are also distracting him. If his mother cursed the house, it's only a matter of time before she speaks to him, too. All the barbed words he wants to hurl at her race through his mind on a loop. Who's fatally arrogant now? he imagines sneering at the ghost of Lilith Fairchild. You were killed in your sleep by a wisp of a changeling.
The bell rings again, interrupting his train of thought. Leon freezes, listening. It's above his head somewhere.
He barrels up the stairs, uncaring if anyone or anything is in his way. Prowling up and down the hallway, Leon pauses to listen in front of each and every door. The bell rings, but it doesn't sound like it's coming from any of the rooms on the second floor. The sound still seems to be coming from overhead. In his frustration, Leon almost sends his fist through the wall, when a thought occurs to him.
Could the bell be in the attic?
He hasn't been up there since he completed the cage, but he wasn't hearing bells back then. That has been a recent development in the past couple of days. Ever since he started thinking about…
Strawberry blonde hair and warm skin flash across his memory. Leon shakes his head, which threatens to result in a throbbing headache.
He walks down the hallway until he believes he is standing beneath the hanging string which, if pulled, releases the foldaway steps leading up to the attic. Leon waves his arms in the air above his head. It takes several tries, but eventually, his right arm hits the string. It wraps around him, and he quickly latches onto it before it can swing out of his reach.
The steps slide down from the ceiling, and the unobstructed song of a bell teases him.
The musty scent of the attic greets him as he climbs up the steps. He crawls over the lip of the opening and onto the floor. A cool draft comes from the small window overlooking the front yard. He can't forget to be careful while he's up here; it would be far too easy to accidentally run into the iron bars of the cage he built. Staying away from that side of the attic, Leon shuffles across the floor.
He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth, listening for echoes. It's easier to locate larger objects with this method, so the object on the floor takes him by surprise. He stumbles over it, stubbing several toes. Cursing under his breath, Leon reaches down to feel what tripped him.
It's made of wood and metal. That narrows down his options considerably. There are very few items in the house made of metal; the metal pieces that are around the house were mostly specially crafted so that the Fairchilds knew without a doubt there was no iron in them. His fingers skim over a handle. At his touch, the handle flies out of his grip and begins to crank all on its own. A whirring, grinding noise fills the room.
Ah, it's the meatgrinder. But what is it doing up here? Leon takes a step back. He's also never known the meatgrinder to move of its own volition.
All of a sudden, the sound changes. A moment ago, the gears and teeth were working away at nothing. Now, the sound is less hollow. He hears something wet being pushed through the mechanism. Hesitantly, Leon crouches and feels along the floorboards. At the base of the meatgrinder, he comes across something viscous and wet.
Curious, Leon brings his fingers to his nose. It smells bloody. He touches one finger to the tip of his tongue. Tastes like blood too, with a hint of rancid meat. Leon feels for the other end of the meatgrinder to see if he can identify what's being chopped into mush. He accidentally gets smacked by the handle, which is still cranking away without any help from him.
When his searching fingers touch what he assumed would be a chunk of meat getting pushed through the grinder, he's taken aback to discover that the meat being pulverized feels a lot like an arm. He feels a hand sticking out of the mechanism, complete with all five fingers. The hand shudders as the trunk of the arm is pulled further into the meatgrinder.
Behind him, a bell rings.
He cocks his head in that direction. The draft from the window wafts a familiar scent past him: apples and cinnamon. In his mind, he pictures her as he remembers her, with strawberry blonde hair, fair skin, and pink lips. But her image rapidly deteriorates into decaying flesh. Leon swears he feels her hair brush his neck as she bends down to whisper in his ear.
"She killed me too, you know. Just like she killed them."
"Of course I know," he replies. "You're just a figment of my imagination. It's impossible for you to tell me anything I don't already know."
She snorts, her breath tickling the shell of his ear. "Well, if you're so smart, then why did you come up here?"
"I was looking for…" I was looking for you, he almost says. But if he's so smart, then why was he looking for a dead girl? With a growl, Leon stands up and pushes her aside.
He wants to storm off, but if he does that, he risks running into the iron bars of the cage or falling through the opening in the floor. He's forced to walk slowly, feeling for the edge of the opening with his toes.
"You're not going to question why the meatgrinder is in the attic?" she asks tauntingly. "Or why it seems to be cursed?"
An appliance that spontaneously comes to life, manifesting phantom blood and gore? That does sound like a curse left behind by a dead faery. The only dead faeries in this house are that of his family. Killed by Maggie. But she wouldn't have used the meatgrinder as a weapon, so why is it…
"If the changelings couldn't enchant their own food," she says, "then what do you suppose they ate?"
It's so practical yet horrific that Leon is positive whose idea it must have been. Maggie might be a House Pet, but she's the toughest changeling of the bunch. He wonders how many of the others know what she must have fed them.
Leon feels splinters dig into his knees as he falls to the floor, dissolving into giggles.
Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Always full of surprises.
The drop in temperature is the only clue Leon has that night has fallen. Maggie had been setting the table for dinner when he heard a bell ring outside. So now here he is, walking across the yard and feeling the brisk air tug at his clothes.
He stops on a patch of raised earth. It's all dirt here, no grass. Leon takes a knife from his pocket. Carefully, he breaks a line of skin on each of his palms. He pushes the release of magic at the mound of dirt, telling it to move aside. Impatiently, he waits for the filled hole to empty itself. Ever since his extensive injuries, magic has been harder for him to manipulate. Everything takes twice as long as it used to.
"Oh, be honest with yourself for once." That familiar voice mocks him. Just like in the attic, he smells her perfume. Apples and cinnamon. For the first time, Leon wonders where she used to get it. He never bought her perfume. "You were never a patient person, even when you were at your best."
Turning to her as best he can without being able to see her, Leon holds his fist up and swings it back and forth like he's shaking something. "I think I prefer it when you ring, ring, ring your little bell," he sneers at her. "Your voice just reminds me of how annoying you were."
After that, she stays silent. Leon paces, using his magic to probe at the hole in the ground, waiting to hit the bottom of the loose dirt. It seems to take forever to scoop out the last of it, but eventually he gets to a place where the ground is more solidly packed. Folding his legs, Leon lowers himself to the grass and sits on the edge of the hole. Before hopping over it, he wiggles his bare toes.
He lands on dirty clothes, fragments of exposed bone, and shriveled, decayed flesh. The smell is atrocious. Leon has no issue with death, however, the long-term effects it has on a body doesn't sit well with the meager contents of his stomach. He kneels in the grave and feels around until he touches tangled hair, lips peeling away from teeth, and the remnants of a nose. Holding his breath, he stretches out beside the body, resting his temple against hers.
It takes four minutes before he musters the courage to release the air in his lungs and inhale again. The pungent odor of death is strong, but underneath it is something else.
Apples and cinnamon.
Leon sighs and drifts into a deep, dreamless sleep.