light up, light up
as if you have a choice
even if you cannot hear my voice,
i’ll be right beside you, dear
-Snow Patrol, Run
light up, light up
They’re running and her wings stir the air, flattening grass as they charge through the fields. Behind them Raven and Siri shriek happily, trying to catch up, and Charles laughs because they won’t.
Iskierka banks, flying fast and high beside him, and the sunlight glints golden off of her wings.
You’re quite taken with this shape, Charles calls to her, and she laughs. She’s been a golden eagle for nearly an entire week now, and it looks good on her.
Yes, she says. I think I am.
They run through the sprawling grounds, stretching out and feeling everyone for miles in all directions, the sudden rush of knowledge and insight making Charles’s head spin and Iskierka fly dizzying, wild loops.
Charles must’ve slowed down somehow because Raven tackles him from behind, crowing in victory, and Iskierka lets Siri bowl her out of the air.
Raven’s skin flickers from pink to blue and she frowns a bit, locking down and changing, and he loves the way it happens.
Charles is fourteen and he wants to know everything about people like him, like Raven. What makes them different? Will it happen to everyone eventually? Are there more of them out there, just waiting to be discovered?
Iskierka drops onto his shoulder and Raven laughs at something Siri says. Charles likes the weight of his daemon, the feel of her feathers against his neck.
“We’ll find them all,” she says, and the swirl of thoughts running through her, through them, makes her glow, somehow. “We’ll learn everything about them, Charles.”
He grins widely. “I know,” he says. “Imagine how many of them—of us—are out there. Do they know what they can do?”
Charles sees it for a second, vivid in his mind; people like him, like his adopted sister, who can fly, breathe fire, or turn invisible, all laughing and sharing what they know, and the happiness of the daydream nearly overwhelms him.
Iskierka laughs, flaring her wings as if to leap into the sky. “We’ll find them,” she promises. “All of them.”
“Can they come live here with us?” Raven asks. Siri flicks into a puppy, wagging energetically. There’s still some running to be done, Charles can feel it.
“Of course, Raven,” he tells her with a smile. “We’ve got plenty of room.”
Don’t go giving the house away, Iskierka says, and he laughs.
He wants them, the people like him, to come and live with him, to be near him. He wants to wake up in the morning and feel a hundred thousand minds like Raven’s, different, beautiful, alive in ways that normal people aren’t. He wants them to feel him in their minds and laugh, welcome him, instead of shrink away in confusion and fear.
We’ll make it happen, he tells Iskierka, running a knuckle down her feathered back. Can’t you imagine it? How beautiful it would be?
“Charles,” Iskierka says softly, her wings half-spread. Raven, apparently bored with the conversation, wanders through the field to find wildflowers.
“Charles,” she repeats, and the sunlight bounces off her golden wings. She’s beautiful, Charles realizes suddenly. Completely, stunningly beautiful. “I don’t think I’m going to be changing much, anymore.”
Settled, Charles thinks with a vague jolt. She’s settled.
Iskierka looks at him with her new, permanent eyes, sharp, all-seeing. He’s never really worried about her settling, choosing a shape for the rest of their lives. It never seemed to matter much, really, because they’re different and beautiful no matter what shape she chooses.
“A golden eagle,” he muses, stroking her feathers. The birds of kings, he thinks. Of leaders. He likes the sound of that. He smiles widely and joy bubbles between them. “Perfect.”
“Good,” she says with a laugh, and she lofts from his shoulder to fly.
Charles watches her and grins, shading his eyes to look at her wingspan, her gleaming feathers. “Iskierka,” he calls, and she looks down at him. “Iskierka, you’re beautiful.”
They’re running and Siri can’t catch up. He’s a bird, a cheetah, a greyhound, but he can’t catch her, and she doesn’t want him to.
“Raven,” he cries. “Raven, wait.”
She doesn’t turn, doesn’t answer. She’s so angry it hurts, cuts ragged into her chest, and Siri howls mournfully.
“I’m sorry,” he says, dropping into an alley cat’s shape, misery shining brightly in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Raven, I can’t—”
“You’re supposed to!” She screams at him and he cowers into the ground.
Raven is seventeen and her daemon can’t settle, and the disappointment and shame swell in her throat as her skin flickers blue.
“Why,” she says and it sounds broken. She can feel Charles touching the edge of her mind, worry pulsing, and she shoves him away.
“I’m sorry,” Siri whispers, and he changes again. Raven wants to throw up, to cry, to scream, because her daemon won’t settle, she’s a freak—
“Sorry,” he whispers over and over again, hunched to the ground like he wants to disappear.
Her own skin ripples, uncontrollable, and the irony is another spike through her chest.
It’s not your fault, she wants to tell Siri. I’m the freak. I’m the one who can’t settle, it’s not you, it isn’t your fault, I’m so sorry.
She can’t tell him, though, and he cowers in the mud miserably, flicking from form to form so fast it hurts to watch him.
Raven looks at him bleakly, and he’s a rat-dog-lion-hawk-lizard. “Will you ever settle?” She asks, and her voice is hollow.
Siri’s eyes are wide and startled, and she knows.
“No,” he says. “No, Raven, I can’t.”
Her flickering face twists into an almost-smile and she’s crying now, a little. Charles touches her mind again, anxious, but he won’t dive in and she’s grateful. She looks down at her hands and her skin shudders, blue-pink-blue.
Siri edges closer, his eyes large and mournful and bright. “Raven,” he says softly, tentatively. He changes again, becoming a large black, spotted cat, his fur alive with colors. It’d be beautiful if he kept that shape, but Raven knows he’ll shed it in a few hours.
“Sirion,” she says heavily, and she wants to touch his fur but she won’t. (She can’t.) “Don’t.”
They’re running and her paws don’t make a sound. Their breath stutters and their injuries throb, but they don’t (can't) care. They have to run.
Erik doesn’t know exactly what he’s running away from—Schmidt, the Nazis, the Americans—but each step is like jagged, cleansing fire.
They don’t touch. Aliyah bounds at his side, separated by a few meters of empty space (knives fear pain sickness, crying out aliyah, aliyah but she doesn’t answer, she can’t, because she’s not there) and she doesn’t try to touch him.
He hasn’t touched her in months.
The soldiers who freed him from the camp—but held him back when he tried run after Schmidt—were frightened because of it. It wasn’t normal, they said, for a child not to touch their daemon.
(Freak, they said, broken. He’s not human anymore, whatever they did to him broke him, look at him, he won’t even touch his daemon, how wrong is that?
If they’d seen what else Erik could do—)
Erik feels her though, closer than she’s been in a long time, and a hurt deep, deep inside seems to ease, just a little.
They don’t speak. Aliyah hasn’t spoken in nearly eight months (she’s had no one to talk to) and Erik forgets how to talk to his soul when it’s been missing for so long.
They don’t touch, and they don’t speak, so they run.
On and on—for days, it feels like, and maybe it is—and their pain is like rebirth, fire, and dying all at once.
Erik doesn’t really have a good grasp on time anymore so what feels like weeks might be only days, or months, or whole years of running, but somewhere in the fire he abruptly realizes three very important things.
He’s going to destroy Schmidt for killing his Mama (Aliyah snarls in agreement), and Aliyah runs in the shape of a tigress, and she hasn’t changed since they left.
“Aliyah,” he says, and her name is harsh and unfamiliar in his mouth. He’s forgotten how it sounds, and from the way she jerks her head suddenly, she has too. “Aliyah, you’re a tiger.”
She stops running and he keeps going, and he's a hundred meters away (so far, too far, he shouldn't be able to go that far from her) before he stops.
"Yes," she says, and her voice is low, rough, cracked from disuse. The sound of it startles him; he's forgotten her voice. She looks down at herself. She's as painfully thin, battered, and filthy as he is. Her fur is matted in brown-orange clumps and her bones stand out sharp, her eyes dull, her tail drooping.
She looks less like a tiger and more like an overgrown, half-drowned cat, and as soon as Erik thinks it she snarls at him.
He sees her teeth then, long and white, and her sharp claws. Her tail lashes and her fur crags along her shoulders, fierce, furious. Her eyes burn suddenly, brightly, and he can see anger in them, and it echoes in his own mind.
“Aliyah,” he says softly, and her name doesn’t sound as harsh, this time. “How long?”
She glares, proud, fierce. “Awhile,” she rumbles, her voice deep, lovely. “Since you were taken.”
Stabs of old pain flare suddenly and Erik grabs them, tattoos them into his memory. He needs to remember what Schmidt has done, to him, to them.
“Can you change?”
She looks at him and the expression on her battered, gorgeous face is like physical pain. He suddenly knows her answer. “It was for you,” she says. “To protect you.”
He looks at her and he suddenly wants, needs, and the terribly deep, lonely hurt that’s been present for months threatens to crack him in half. “I know,” he whispers, because he does. “Aliyah.”
He licks his dry, cracked lips. He hasn’t had anything to drink since the canteen the soldier with the wolverine daemon gave him emptied, his thirst doesn’t matter. His hunger doesn’t matter. His wounds don’t matter. Nothing matters but Aliyah, because she was gone and she’s back again, and he needs—
“Aliyah,” he says raggedly, and he throws out his hand for her to come.
They’re running and Alex can hear them behind him, and fear and sunlight twist in his bones.
“Come on,” Arinna whispers, and she flutters into a bird, a cat, a rabbit. “Alex, we’ve got to hurry.”
They’re running, but they can’t—
“Summers!” The leader’s voice is deep, furious.
Alex runs, diving down alleys, through empty buildings, anything, everything to get away—
The sun burns hot and bright inside him (always, always, he can never get rid of it, he’s going to explode with it) and Arinna groans. She drops into a lioness’s shape and the light in her veins makes her fur glow.
Alex swallows, shudders. They have to get away so they don’t hurt anyone when they let go.
“Summers!” Huge hands grab his shoulders, throw him down. He hits the ground with enough force to shake his bones and knock the sunlight loose, and his skin feels hot, bright, and prickly.
Arinna snarls—Alex has a second to think that a lion’s form suits her, she’s beautiful—and the man’s daemon, a tough, tattered jackal, snarls back.
“Summers,” says the lead thug, looming above Alex. The rest of the gang files in, carrying crowbars, baseball bats, their daemons grinning sharp and wicked.
Alex looks up at the thug through sun-blurred eyes and hears Arinna snarling low and constant.
“You owe me money, Summers. Where’s my fucking money, huh?”
Alex can’t answer because his mouth is burning, if he opens it he won’t be able to stop it from pouring out—
“Hey,” snaps the thug, and his daemon bites at Arinna. “I’m talking to you, Summers, you listening to me?”
Alex, Arinna says in his heart. Alex, they’re going to kill us, we have to—
No, I can’t—
The thug grabs a bat from one of his flunkies, rolling it in his huge hands. “See, kid,” he says. “I liked you. You seemed like a pretty smart kid. We coulda used you, so I’m gonna regret this part, but you shouldn’tve crossed me. Nobody takes money from me and gets away with it. Nobody.”
Alex hears maybe two words out of five because the sun is screaming in his ears, how the fuck have the thugs not noticed the glowing, and Arinna builds a roar deep in her throat and Alex knows what’s going to happen when she lets it out.
Alex, she snaps, and a lioness’s shape really does fit her. He wonders why she’s never tried it before. Alex, even if you don’t, I will.
Okay, he says thickly, and his mouth tastes like heat and blood. Let’s do this.
The thug draws back with the bat and his daemon bares her teeth.
Alex screws his eyes shut, tangles his hands in Arinna’s fur, dives deep into the swelling, bone-breaking heat, and lets go—
There’s searing heat, a scream, an agonized, startled yelp, and then nothing.
When the dust settles the alleyway is on fire. The thugs, now leaderless, scream and panic, calling for help, for the police. Alex is pale and shaking but the sunlight is mostly gone now, he can breathe again, and he holds onto Arinna like he’s never going to let her go.
“Alex,” she says, as they hunch in the dirt waiting for the cops to show. “I’m not going to change anymore.”
He looks at her tiredly, shock and guilt (we just killed a man) coloring his eyes. “Don’t,” he says hoarsely. “You’re perfect.”
He’s standing very still and his breath comes in stutters. His hand is pressed flat to his chest, and his fingers aren’t wet with blood.
They should be.
Pele hisses, startled, angry, and the man who just shot him in the chest stares with wide eyes. The aftershocks ripple through Sebastian’s skin, his bones, all the way down to his fingertips, and he feels strange, like he’s swallowed lightning.
The bullet slips between his fingers and bounces off the ground. He’s vibrating, and he looks at his attacker with wide, wondering eyes.
“You shot me,” he says, and Pele hisses again. She’s taken on a lizard’s shape, bright green and magnificently plumed, and her eyes are venomous and yellow.
“Y-you’re not dead,” the man stutters, his daemon tripping over herself to get away. Pele advances, baring her new lizard-teeth, and Sebastian feels power shivering through his veins. His chest doesn’t hurt at all.
He takes a step forward, experimentally.
“G-get away,” the man shouts, pulling back. Fear whitens his face and Sebastian likes that look on him, just a little. “Get away, you freak.”
“You shot me,” he says pleasantly, smiling gently. He takes another step and his hair stands on end, electrified. “That wasn’t very nice, now was it?”
“Sebastian,” Pele says, swishing her tail. She’s got the man’s daemon, some sort of ragged dog, backed into a corner and her scales gleam like emeralds. “Can you feel it?”
He grins. “Yes,” he breathes, because he does. The bullet’s heat—its power—thrums in his veins, in hers, and it gives them strength.
They’re different, and magnificent, and this pathetic scum will die.
“You shot me,” he says to the man again, still smiling, and he reaches out with his slightly shaking fingertips. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Don’t touch me—!”
Sebastian Shaw presses his fingers to the man’s forehead, and he snaps back like he’s just been shot, eyes blown wide, head cracking against the brick wall, neck snapping.
Pele leaps and the dog has time for one last, terrible howl before her claws shred into it and its human dies and it explodes in a swirl of dust.
He is fifteen years old.
“Sebastian,” Pele whispers softly, scrambling up onto his shoulder. She hasn’t left the lizard’s form yet and Shaw finds himself hoping she doesn’t; she reminds him of a basilisk, the most ancient and powerful of Egypt’s monsters, and he likes it.
“Pele,” he says, trailing his still-vibrating fingers down her new, beaded scales.
She blinks at him with her yellow eyes. “We’re special,” she murmurs, and it sounds like a dance, like a seduction. “We’re better than them.”
He grins widely and he knows she’s settled; Pele will never change again.
“Yes,” he agrees. “We are.”
Her tail flicks lazily. “We’re meant for great things,” she hisses.
He grins even wider. "My dear Pele," he says. “We’re meant to rule the world.”