Chapter 1: List
Toast, pasta and potatoes.
People liked to think that they were the reason for his thinness, the reason that he looked frail enough to snap if the wind were to blow too hard. That his unstable meagre income from being a man with a van did not allow him a proper meal at the table each morning, noon and night. It was something that the students he lived with were painfully aware of, when they dined on a slapdash meal of noodles in broth, or rice with various frozen vegetables and pieces of meat. On a particularly good day, there may be soup on the stove, stewed meat and roots, and an easy-make dessert to finish, and they would watch Martin walk into the kitchen to retrieve a slice or two of white bread, the cheapest sort at the supermarket, and nibble on them as he made his way back to the attic, leaving them to their meal in a strangely uncomfortable atmosphere.
Sometimes, the students invited him down for a meal together, or left food out for him. Fried rice, open-faced sandwiches, potato salads of perhaps someone's experimental meal of something pickled with sesame and bread. He would always accept, taking the food back up to the attic with him, returning later with a clean plate or bowl to the shy and pleased smiles of the students, that their pilot had accepted their offerings. Fruit salad, ham and curried egg sandwiches, rice with miso soup and a poached egg. He ate them all, and thanked the students afterwards. If asked if there was any food in particular that he craved, he would give them a sheepish smile, and duck his head. I don't want to trouble you, he would say. I'm not picky at all. There would be reassurances that it was all fine, and that it was no trouble at all. Martin was aware of the game that they played, to find out his favorite food and their combinations. Could it be a fruit, a root vegetable? Eggs, the most versatile and simplest of foods? Those ghastly potatoes that he lived off of? A sort of jam? The list went on, with all sorts of food scrawled on and crossed off, and he would smile, amused, each time a new entry was added to it. No harm in letting them guess, he figures.
It was nothing that they could give him.
In him, the hunger stirs with its sharp claws.
Chapter 2: Hunger
Bit of disturbing thoughts in this chapter.
There isn't a day when he is free from hunger, from pain as it digs its claws in deep and rends, shredding at iron control and discipline, tipping rationality down the drains until it was all he could do to stumble away to prevent himself from feasting and gorging himself silly.
He's much better at it now as he grows older, blaming paleness and trembling on a lack of breakfast, of a low blood sugar. He still gets dizzy, and sick, from the hunger as and when it strikes, but he is much, much better at covering the truth up now. It's just the work, he says. The long flights coupled with barely any sleep. Nothing that a good rest cannot fix.
He does not allow himself to forget what he is.
He frequents the hospital, volunteers in it. To keep the elderly patients company, to read to the kids. They are all familiar with him, as they greet him whenever he drops by. He catches up with the old patients, and makes friends with the new ones, amuses the children. They like him, for his candid personality, the stories that he brings from a place they once came from beyond a metal-framed bed and snow-white sheets. He is familiar with the identical halls and corridors, the smell of sickness and antiseptic as he passes by rooms and doors, through a world living on borrowed time. He talks, he amuses, he waits.
Waits for when the borrowed time runs out, and the heart falters, and stops.
The soul is a beautiful thing, if anyone were to ask him. It is pure, in all its being, without conscious form or thought, a living thing without a goal or motivation, shimmering and swirling with colours and light. It is what makes up a human being, their emotions and their drive, and what is left of them when the flesh dies. No one sees them, or notices when they detach away from a body that has finished serving its purpose, not through the tears, the grief, the regret and the pain. Martin does, and he would cup his hands, carrying the soul carefully, reverently. Admire it, watch the colours swirl in it, before lifting the cupped hands to his lips, tipping it in, down his throat, swallowing the blues and the greens, the yellows, the pink. Sorrow tasted bitter on his tongue, and happiness was sweet. He got to know them through his tongue, tasted their fears and dreams, before settling for digesting a life away. More often than not it was always people he knew: the old woman in room 206 ( heart attack ), the little girl in 501 with the pretty ponytails ( car accident ). It sated the hunger, for awhile. Gave him dreams, of what they used to do, what they used to be. Glimpses and flashes of their lives before they are well and truly gone. His stomach settles, the colour returns, and he is able to sleep for better than most days.
The hunger is sated, but it does not make him any less of a monster.
He does not know what he is, not specifically, but he is old, older than the rest of them put together around them, and he does not remember anything from his previous time. He isn't sure that he wants to know, and leaves that particular door in his mind locked as it is. Sometimes, he dreams, of people and names and places that do not exist where he now lives, but when he wakes, they slip away like sights seen in cobwebs, put there by the fairies, leaving him with nothing but a vague sense of loss as though something has been taken from him. He tries not to dwell on those dreams too much, and concentrates on his day instead. On days like that, he brings out his flight manuals and reads them from cover to cover, committing each word and procedure to memory, letting his love of flight anchor him to the present: Martin Crieff, Captain of MJN Air, the only employee in Icarus Removals, the pilot in the attic for the many generations of students living there.
He does not allow himself to think of anything else.
On certain days, he would wake with a terrible pain in his belly, wake up gasping, shuddering from dreams dark and damp and vile and not know his name. Those were the bad days, the danger days. His control was fragile, at best, and on days like that, it takes everything in him to not reach out to take what isn't his, isn't time yet. He takes to pacing his room, talking to himself feverishly, reciting the emergency procedures, the flight manuals, models of planes. When that doesn't work, he turns to repeating dates, the ones that mean something to him. His birthday, the day he took his CPL for the first time, the day he passed, the day when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm... When he is calmer, he dresses himself, combs his hair, and looks at himself in the mirror, before heading to the hospital once more, his gut twisting, a strange ache in his heart. He tries not to think of who would die, or to hope for someone dying just so the pain would stop. Tries not to think of what he is doing, will be doing. It is necessary.
A little bird had flown into the attic, one day, and he had reached out blindly, starving, seeking. When he came to, it is nothing but a mess of feathers and bones on the ground. He scraped it off, and kept it in a jar, sealed the opening in glue and cork. A mistake that he will not make again.
He tries to feed himself as regularly as possible. It would not do for the hunger to strike in the middle of a flight, with his friends and crew around him, in an aluminium tube 6,000 feet in the sky. They trusted him with their lives, and he would not betray their trust, no matter what. Douglas. Carolyn. Arthur.
He will not steal from them what isn't his to take.
Maybe when they're free game.
Everyone is, eventually.
Chapter 3: Rain
Author is bad with dialogue yes. All of these are un-betaed.
As the stories of children go, monsters and creatures that live in the dark and the damp, in the dusty corners and closets, must be vanquished, for they steal away the smiles of children, the light of day. Draws from them screams, of terror and fear instead.
He is of no exception.
"The old girl has finally given up, now?"
He tries to start up the van, in vain. She refuses to budge, deciding that enough was enough for a day. Never mind that flight standby was over and that everyone was looking forwards to going home for a good rest, she wasn't going anywhere in the near future - and neither would Martin.
"Damn it." He nearly kicks the van, throws the keys down, but he doesn't. He restrains himself, and settles for a frustrated growl instead.
"It looks like Sir could do with some help, if I am not mistaken. Which, I rarely am," Douglas was saying behind him. "Shall I give you a lift home?"
He tries again, and sighs when the van remains stubborn. "C-could you? I mean, if- if its no trouble. I- I can walk home too."
"It is always nice to have someone owe you a favour," his first officer simply sounded pleased. "It is of no trouble, at all. Who would have the heart to make our poor Sir walk for miles on foot, when the sky is about to break open? Unless, of course, if Sir is keen on walking for miles on foot in harsh weather conditions, I am in no position to dissuade him. I am, however, not quite certain about the medics in the ambulance that would have to fetch him, though..."
"Alright, Douglas," he shut the door of the Lexus with a little too much force than was necessary. Clouds rolled across the sky, a dark steel grey, a storm brewing in the distance. He wouldn't want to be caught in this rain. "Thank you, I mean."
"Sir is very much welcome."
The first few minutes of the drive was quiet. Pleasant, even. Opera was playing softly, the sounds of traffic muted by the glass as people hurried on their ways, the wind at their heels, chasing and nipping. Go home, home, it whistles, through cracks and rustling trees and the flapping of jackets and coats. It is quiet, however, inside the car, and he feels calm. Peaceful.
"Could you - drop me by the florist?" he speaks into the silence, over the sound of the woman's soprano.
"The florist. May I ask why?"
"The one near the hospital," he says. "Just getting a flower."
He is aware of when Douglas begins to take interest, sensing rather than seeing his gaze on him through the rear view mirror.
"So. Sir has finally found someone."
He senses the questions, colours at the implication. "No, nothing like that. Nothing like that at all."
Douglas does not speak, allowing his silence to speak for him instead. The woman continues to sing, her voice dipping gently.
"It's just, for a girl. She's barely 10. She hates storms." His eyes flicker upwards to the rolling clouds, the lightning in the far distance.
" Good God, Martin. "
" Douglas. She has leukemia." He turns back to the window in the embarrassed silence. "I volunteer at the hospital."
The rest of the ride was silent, the opera soft between them, until the Lexus pulls up smoothly outside the florist. The clouds looked worryingly solid overhead, the only few pedestrians scurrying home, head bowed against the wind.
"Thank you." Martin picked up his bags, opening the side of the door. "Get home safely, I guess. Bad storm."
Hurrying into the florist, he sighs quietly, before beginning his task. He had settled on a stalk of sunflower with a giant, bobbing cheerful head when a hand plucked it out of his grasp.
"Two sunflowers, please," Douglas says.
"Douglas, what are you doing here?" Martin hissed.
"I just thought that I could... " Douglas waved a hand about, vague. "I have a daughter about her age, too."
It was the closest to an apology that Douglas would make, and Martin sighed, closing his eyes briefly. "Fine, but please just don't upset anybody."
"Ah, Sir wounds me," Douglas sighs.
The hospital was a walking distance away, with Martin shielding and protecting the flowers from the wind. It was an unplanned visit, but he was loath to let Julia be alone on her own in a storm like this one in the hospital. It wasn't her time yet, and if she continues to be strong, it would be long in coming. It was the worst, seeing children confined to hospital beds, unable to leave, to live their dreams. He knows the taste of their souls, the uncomplicated sweetness, the taste clean, bright for a moment before it is swallowed, the regret that wells in him that they couldn't have lived for just a little longer, if just to fall in love with the world outside the hospital once more.
Douglas reveals himself to be surprisingly good with children, but it isn't entirely unexpected, with him being the father of a few himself. Martin smiles, and receives a warning look in return from his first officer. He would not speak of this, wouldn't think to, and simply leaves the two sunflowers bobbing in a vase by the bedside with Julia's brave smile as the first raindrop hits the windows.
He walks, down the halls, checks in with the patients. Tries not to think of them as friends, for it would be inappropriate. A couple of them discharged, a couple expired, and he murmurs his condolences to no one in particular. Inside, he is thankful, if only because their souls were spared the fate of being devoured. Perhaps they found salvation, perhaps not. He never knows, and never finds out. He does not want to add to the guilt in his chest, and leaves the 'what-if's alone.
Douglas finds him after a while, a child's drawing neatly folded and tucked into his pocket. "Is this what you do all the time?"
He shrugs. "A little of this, a little of that. I mostly talk to them. Amuse the children. A-and, you know..."
"I can see how that might be rewarding," Douglas says, but makes no usual jibe about Martin needing to prove himself useful or overly useful in some cases to others.
Douglas follows him around, later, as he moves from room to room, pouring a glass of water for one, adjusting the bed for another, the little things that nurses neglect to do sometimes. He is aware of Douglas' eyes on him, of his hovering presence behind him. It is a quiet day, so far, as the thunder rumbles and the rain falls heavier outside, pelting against clear glass panels and running down in clear rivulets. The world outside distorts, and blurs, a picture of vague shapes and colours, but inside, they are safe, and he tucks the patients in, drawing the sheets up to their chins.
"I'll best be off," Douglas clears his throat, with a glance at his watch. Martin nods, fluffing up a pillow for someone. Douglas has no interest in this, in what he does here. There is nothing here that he can hold against him except for the displayed kindness that he sees.
"Right, uh, thanks, I guess? See you tomorrow." He nods, a little awkwardly, straightens up. They do not have a reason to linger, to stay. Not for the whole and healthy.
Douglas nods, and his footsteps fade gradually down the halls. He watches him go, thinks of the many people who walk into the hospital and never make it out. He is never quite one for the philosophical, but when the mood does strike, it turns him maudlin, and sick. He blames it on the rain.
He continues his round, his self assigned route, nodding to the nurses that walk by. It is still raining outside, and there is only his empty attic waiting for him at home, at the end of every day. It would be cold today, and he would have to bring out his extra blankets. The heater was broken the other day, and he does not look forward to the cold shower later. The hospital is equally desolate, and cold, but he takes comfort in the presence of others around him.
He doesn't see it until he looks up from where he was surveying his own feet. Hovering near a doorway, at the end of the corridor close to the windows. The colours were still vibrant, still bright, purple bleeding into pink and blue, a tinge of yellow around the edges. He tilts his head. The corridor is empty, silent. There is no one to see him, the walls his silent witness, and he approaches, quietly, reaching out a hand to brush against it, seeing rather than feeling when it senses him and falls into his cupped hands.
A woman, two floors beneath him. It wasn't a painful death, and a rather quick one, considering the alternative. He watches it, watches it morph in his hands, colours interchanging, a pool of brightness that he cannot compare to, feels the warmth from it, even though that is just his imagination - souls are merely souls, and nothing else. He sighs, quietly, just once. "I'm sorry," he murmurs, as he brings the cupped hands to his lips, and drinks, tipping it back. It flickers, once, but he does not notice. The gentle sweetness spreads across his tongue, and he tastes, stands witness to the sorrows in her life, the regrets, the anger. There is sourness, and bitterness, and something curiously tart and sweet. He closes his eyes, savours it, before swallowing it, condemning it to a darkness that it will not return from.
He feels the hunger twist, and settle down. Its teeth remain sharp, but it is slightly more bearable, a little more tolerable.
He opens his eyes, and sees Douglas standing a distance away, watching him.
Time freezes, for the two of them, his heart thudding in his chest, painful. Douglas' eyes glances at his hands, and back to him, the first officer's expression unreadable.
"Martin," he begins, quietly, approaching Martin slowly as one might an injured woodland animal.
Martin holds still, and lets him approach, tense as a violin string. He tries to smile, and fails. Sees Douglas take in the sterile hospital corridor, the rooms, and the patients beyond.
"Martin," he says again, carefully, as though treading on thin ice, a hand reaching out slowly.
He had seen, and had guessed. Sees the wary look in his first officer's eyes, and trembles, feeling sick and dizzy all at once. He isn't stupid. He would know. He already knows, he knows .
Chapter 4: Martin
Logic has been thrown out of the window. Here, have a cliff hanger.
I am cruelty. Everything is un-betaed, sorry for all grammar / spelling / everything else errors.
English really isn't my first language...
The only who knows his secret is his grandmother. That was when he was five years old, a time long past in history. He was a small thing back then, a little boy full of hope, with dreams unsullied and free. A dirty mangled little thing, as they told him affectionately from when he would scamper back in covered in garden dirt and leaves, and chirp about adventures of birds and planes and tree top dreams. A time when he still believed in himself.
You mustn’t let anyone know, his grandmother had said, sternly. Her fingers were hard against his shoulders, bony, digging into the soft flesh. Not a single soul, do you hear me?
By their feet, the body of the family dog lay, mangled and broken, blood matting into its fur, dead.
Please, he sobs, begs through the tears and snot running down his face, hands grimy and dirty and he tugs helplessly on its coat, runs his hands through the fur, feels the blood twisting and tangling it between his fingers, the bones, broken and shattered beneath the skin. Please.
You cannot help him, grandmother had said, her hand hiding poor, dead Tony from his sight. No one can help him now.
He had been sent to his room alone, on the excuse that he was ill, where he huddled up beneath his blankets and pillows. He did not understand, was too young to understand what death was, and what he had done. There was something wrong with Tony, and Tony won’t be well again. No more playtime with Tony, or delighted barking when he has barely stepped into the house. No more crying into the thick and fluffy fur when he is sad, no more whispering of secrets into Tony’s ear. It is a fact that is simply reinforced by the following days of unfamiliar silence and a cold kennel for the next few days, and a fresh mound of earth in the backyard.
Thinking back, perhaps this was where his fear of dogs began.
This is your secret.
He does not realize, not until he was older, much older, and his family has forgotten about Tony and his accident.
He is shivering, when he makes his way into the attic, soaked through to the bone with rainwater, shutting the door behind him and then slumping down against it, burying his face into rain numbed hands. His clothes are in ruin, his hair a shock of tangles, but he does not notice any of it.
Douglas. Douglas knows.
Had seen him, watched him swallow another’s soul.
A high-pitched giggle escapes him.
Now Douglas knows, too.
It really isn’t anyone’s fault, though. It is simply the nature of secrets, and he cannot fault that. It is what he is, undeniably, and a secret like that cannot be hidden forever. There will be a day when he will slip, go mad with hunger and pain, and forget who he is. In a way, he is glad that someone has found out before then, before he makes a mistake that he cannot forgive.
The soul was delicious, though, and he would not deny that.
Would Douglas be horrified? Shocked? He entertains the image of himself being burned at the stake, or drowned in a duck pond or river, but shakes his head. Those methods have long since outdated in the modern times. Instead, there would be sterile white cells instead of dark and damp cellars, needles and syringes instead of clubs and red-hot iron and stones. It is still enough to make him shudder.
It is frightening, how easily he senses them, needs them, feeds on them. Takes from them what isn’t his, devouring the essence of what makes them human so that he in turn could resemble and pretend to be one. While it is true that he waits, ever so patiently, for people to pass away naturally before snatching them up in his hands, it does not make him any less of a monster, or any better than horrors that live in stories between words and sentences. And when he catches himself wishing, wishing for someone to die just so he could feed, it frightens him, scares him, terrifies him, but it is the nature of what he is.
This will be the end now, he knows. No one will side with a monster that steals souls. Never mind that he has never willingly taken from a living human before: it is simply a detail that they will not care about when their lives are at stake, and he does not blame them for it. It is human nature to fear what dangers them, what they cannot understand, and logic to destroy what threatens their existence. He thinks of the little girl, the sickly children in the wards. Does Douglas think that he will tear their souls from their chest to sate his hunger? Leave them bloody remains and smears of what used to be a living and thinking being? Perhaps, that he might steal his daughter’s soul in the middle of the night when everyone is safe and warm and asleep in bed to wake to a fresh horror in the morning.
Humans often think the worst of what they do not understand.
He laughs, bitterly. It had been a long and painful existence, for him. No one knows. Not his siblings, not his parents, and when his grandmother had passed away in her sleep one quiet evening, he was left on his own. It is a secret that he cradles to sleep each night, lying awake beneath the blankets, one that he hides behind smiles and laughter, disguised as kindness. There were wonderful moments worth living for, sometimes, a bright ray of light in the dark. Flying was one of them, and MJN was another. For the first time in his life, he had a family, albeit a rather strange and dysfunctional one. It may not be the same way that they see him, but it is the way that he sees them. Friends, family, lives that he cares for, people who aren’t strangers.
He thinks of the MJN, thinks of GERT-I, the first time when he had stepped into her flight deck. He wasn’t paid, but he was disgustingly happy to be able to be a Captain, pilot of a plane. She was small and old, but it doesn’t matter when they ground drops away, the wind beneath her wings carrying and lifting her up into the blue skies, the exhilarating and liberating sense of freedom that comes with each flight carrying him through his days.
The first time he had met the crew, he remembers being nervous, stammering twice as much as usual. Remembers the easy way Arthur accepts him as Captain despite of his stammering and nervous fidgeting unbefitting that of a Captain, and instead asks if he could borrow his hat in a very Arthur-like manner. Remembers Carolyn’s scathing remarks, although he has learned that she means no harm, merely concerned about the future of her company. She would have sharper teeth than him, either way, and the thought brings a smile to his face. Douglas, standing by the side, condescending and patronizing, teasing him and making fun of his Captain status until the day he lands GERT-I in a rather hairy situation. Remembers the grudging respect in their faces, and the relief he felt when they touched down, safe and sound on the ground, alive and breathing.
Remembers the trust that they place in him with their lives in a rickety aluminum tube that might fall out of the sky.
No more of that, now.
It is only a matter of when they find out, and he does not want to stay around till then. Does not want to see the fear and disgust in their eyes, see them flinch away from him, turn their backs upon him.
He might have survived without flight, but he cannot live without them.
He lurches to his feet, and stumbles across to collapse onto his bed. It is almost comical the amount of relief that this brings him, knowing that this is the end. It should frighten him, but it does not, not when he would be doing a favour to them all, not when things are still semi-perfect in his mind, when they still remember him as Martin Crieff, as who he had tried to hard to prove himself to be.
Just to satisfy his morbid curiosity, he presses his hand to his chest, reaches in, and rips.
The pain that follows turns his vision white, has him screaming. The students won’t be home for a week, there is no one to hear him. He thrashes, he screams, as something in him tears, snaps and breaks. The pain is twisting, in his head, in his chest, white-hot needles burrowing into him, his eyes rolling back into his head even as he cries out soundlessly. Just as suddenly, it stops, the pain disappearing, leaving him limp and boneless and exhausted and dizzy on the bed-
And there it is.
It floats before him, hovering inches above his chest, a strange shade of blue that he has never seen before, one that reminded him of the skies, of dreams. Vaguely, he wonders why he isn’t dead yet, but if the humming in his ears is any indication, that is simply a matter of time. His body feels heavy, clumsy, and he smiles, smiles at the sight of his soul. He had fancied it to be dark, and slimy, something heavy and thick, dripping of sickness and death, like phlegm. He had not expected something this – beautiful. It was the only word to describe.
It shimmers, and hovers, and does nothing for a while, even as he struggles to stay awake, to breathe. His body feels heavier, and his thoughts grow slower. No one lives without a soul, and he is glad that he has one. Something to show that at least, he was once alive, and feeling. He grows colder, and his breathing slows, and everything is a pleasant blur around him.
He thinks of flying, and thinks of MJN again. His eyes were just drifting close when the door to his attic is thrown open, to reveal a rather unhappy Douglas in its frame.
A Douglas who pales, and stiffens in shock at the sight of his captain lying lifeless on the bed with his soul outside of his body.
“Martin,” he was by his bedside immediately, grasping hold of his wrists in his warm hands, as Martin belatedly realizes “Martin. Put it back in.” He gives him a shake, the pilot’s head lolling to the side instead. “Put it back in.”
Douglas was a rather frightful sight, his tone urgent, and he fancies that he hears fear beneath his words.
I’m sorry, he mouths, or tries to, but he is tired, so tired… Surely he is allowed to sleep, where this one will take him?
He last thing he sees is Douglas, pale and frightened above him.
Chapter 5: The Dream
The last bit of the entire prompt fill. I've had fun writing this, and I hope that you all had fun reading this as well. If anyone has any prompts that you want to shoot my way, feel free to drop them at my tumblr ( http://221-inkfish.tumblr.com/ )
x-posted from lj
All chapters are unbetaed. This last bit was written when I was half asleep from many sleepless nights due to rushing for work deadlines, but that bit is over now.
Even through the many years, he remains beautiful.
The rain is loud, outside the window, a pitter-patter symphony upon tiles and glass.
Martin was lying on the bed, pale and limp, and quieter than Douglas has ever seen him. The paleness is unsettling, as is the coldness in his limbs when Douglas touches him. His hair was damp, a horrifying mess of tangles plastered to his pale skin, his clothes soggy and soaking into the bed sheets. Smoothing the captain's hair back from his face, he presses his warm hands to his forehead, his cheeks, trying to coax warmth back into his captain's lifeless body. He surveys him, the closed eyes and pale lips, and feels for a pulse in his neck and wrist.
The fact that this isn't the first time that Douglas has found him in this state does not make the situation any less horrifying. It reminds him of charred corpses, of a man that he loves, left in a bloody mess beneath tons of stones, his face unrecognizable, mutilated, or of a bloated body, left to rot beneath water with the pond weeds. The fact that Martin had inflicted the punishment by his own hand to himself does not make it any more reassuring, nor does it do anything to sooth the pain in his heart. At least, this was still something that he could fix, unlike a charred corpse, black and crisp, or a mangled body, twisted and broken and maimed beyond recognition.
Getting up, he fetches a towel from where he knows Martin keeps them, and carefully dries his hair. Martin does not stir, or wake, but the warmth in his chest and the steady, slow beating of his heart beneath his hand is enough to calm Douglas down.
He once thought that time would diminish the love that he has for him, but instead the heart grows fonder, and he learns sentimentality, learns selfishness, and greed, even as he carefully tousles the red hair dry, pats the towel over pale cheeks.
He is still as pretty as the day that Douglas had found him, a porcelain doll abandoned upon the ground, naked as the day that he was born, creamy skin smeared with equal parts mud and equal parts blood, unseeing blue eyes gazing upwards at the skies, a prayer lingering just past his lips, a whisper of a wish, a plead.
He had answered, and he had taken, and given. Taken him, kept him, throughout the many lifetimes and centuries past. Witnessed the joy, the pain, and the horror, an unrequited love story that repeats itself on the pages of Humanity's time, over and over again, if someone like him would know of the concept of love. It is a foreign concept, and a strange one, but if Humanity has it, he must have dreamed of it, somehow.
They are all dreamers, in a way, but he is the Oldest - the First, to dream of the world that they now live in.
The humans, the wee little things, have many names for him. Gods, Deities, Fairies, he is all of them and yet none at all, and is simply content to live among them, sharing the living dream.
He sets the towel aside, and carefully removes Martin's soaked through clothes, peeling them away from the chilled skin and depositing them on the floor, before wiping the towel over the newly exposed skin as well. His chest remains unmarked, but he does not think that souls will ever leave any indication of them having been there once, except for sadness, and grief, and a terrible, aching, loneliness that lasts throughout for as long as it takes to accept and forget.
It is pure selfishness and greed when he made the decision to keep him, keep this breathtakingly beautiful and fragile soul by his side. Caged him, and trapped him to suffer eternity with him. To witness humanity - the joys, the happiness, the miracles and the hope, together with the anger, the pain, the horrors that unleash upon themselves to each other by their own hands, each one more terrifying and gruesome than the last as time progresses.
It is a minor comfort that Martin does not remember, that he is still allowed to start his life anew each and every time, but even that will not come to last, even as the humans' belief in Douglas fades with each passing year and day, his powers diminishing, and the dreams dimming.
The fact that this pitiful, beautiful creature was suffering was completely and entirely his fault, and yet he cannot find it in himself to regret his decision.
Somehow, without quite remembering how, he had gotten it back into Martin, even as its colour fades, its edges blurring, and had settled rather contentedly back into its vessel. Shock does not quite agree with Douglas' age, and he had to confirm, again and again that Martin's heart was beating normally again. The kind and vulnerable heart that had been betrayed, hurt, and used for so many countless lifetimes, beating on for another repeat of history.
Grief has always been the price of love.
And as his own power diminishes, and his own existence fades, Martin pays the price for being forced to remain in the loop of time over and over, to consume the energy and the material of souls in return for his own remaining pure and strong enough to withstand the wear and tear and friction of immaterial dimensions. It is a burden, a heavy price to exact, and one that kills him each and every time, and it is one that Douglas will willingly continue to make him pay for as long as he continues to exist in this world.
It has been a weary existence, for Douglas, for the recent few centuries, and he feels himself fading, the dreams ebbing away, his own hold over his power slipping. It won't be long now, he knows, sensing the end of a dream, a world that had lived and dragged on past its prime. He brushes fingertips over Martin's closed eyelids, and breathes a kiss upon his cold lips.
And for as long as it takes until then, their pitiful existence will continue, living off of weakening dreams, of the taint and filth, waking up each day to a tomorrow that will bring more pain, and sorrow, and grief - that he knows.
And for every day, he will be with Martin. Watching him, supporting him, until he is no more, and neither will Martin.
The captain will wake, eventually, and he will have to explain, to reassure him, and allow him to know that it is fine, that everything will be alright. He will remain by his side, keeping his secret for him, shouldering his burden of guilt and pain together with him, until the day he breathes his last, and draws in a new one again with the prospect of a new life, and repeated histories, and Douglas will keep him safe, for as long as he is able. To watch over, watch over the little monster that he had created in the name of love, from the day he had set eyes upon him in the dirt and rain, an unnamed emotion taking his breath away.
Not long now, perhaps just a few lifetimes more, he thinks as Martin's lashes flutter, the man groaning quietly as he wakes once more in a world that he does not want to exist in.
And until then, I'm sorry.