Is this what dying feels like?
Agony. Agony, pressure, and the foreign taste of fear on his lips. And darkness took him, but it was not the unresisting embrace of death. Rising up it consumed him, ripping him from home nonetheless.
The last image burned itself into his vision as he was forcibly thrown into the inky divide. The in between of one existence and another. Mother, standing erect before him. Features contorted in that mix of rage and sorrow that was the expression of one betrayed. Her hand outstretched; not reaching for him, but casting him away.
The pain chased after him and then, nothing. Time had no meaning. No beginning, no end, only now. The physical ceased to exist and with it all sensation dropped away.
It would be easy to remain there. To lose himself to the void. Body scattered but thoughts intact, reliving those last heart wrenching moments when they discovered what he had done. Over and over again until there was nothing left of him but the remembrance of his crime.
I did it for you. It had to end. Somehow, it had to end.
No. That was behind him now. They would not take him back but they would live, and he would use that knowledge to sooth his guilt in the coming days of exile. He was not done. His life was still with purpose and he would be needed elsewhere. The void would not make a claim of him – he would not let it.
Reaching out with his mind he touched on existence and grabbed for it. Hauling himself from a dark too complete, a whirlwind of luminous stars whipped up around him as he crossed the threshold from nothing to something. A blinding dance of colors that capered and dazzled. And then there was pavement beneath him.
Buckling with the force of his haphazard arrival, Lowell went to his knees. The impact rattled his teeth and a hiss escaped between them as he hunched in on himself. Reformed and raw, feeling returned and pain with it. The world in which he did not belong spun, threatening to throw him off it.
Blinking the afterimage of colors from his dampened vision, he took quick stock of his location. A dingy alley, cast mostly in shadow save for the sickly yellow shaft thrown by a sodium vapor lamp standing on the sidewalk. To one side was a dumpster, hunkered against a wall soiled by graffiti. The pungent odor of stale beer and piss dominated the airspace.
With a grunt he sought to gain his feet. Blood slick hands finding purchase on the brick of the nearest wall. Rough beneath his palms, he let it take his weight as he got his legs under him.
Forcing his breaths to deepen he waited out the spark of pain his moving had kicked up. Everything he possessed had traversed the divide with him – injuries included. When the discomfort had ebbed to a deep throb, he stepped carefully from the mouth of the alley and onto the side of the street.
It was deserted. No life forms stirred, and the windows within his sight were blackened. The moon contended with the lamplight, striking off the paint of the cars parked in driveways, or on the roadside.
No humans. Good. That was good. It would not do to be seen, not as he was. Garbed in robes of brown, darkened to a deeper shade where the material hung over his midsection. Not with his hair in disarray, his skin slick with sweat.
Not with his power subdued, trampled, beaten down. Cursed.
For what you have done-
You disgrace us-
No family of mine.
Fingertips pressing to his temple, he wrestled back the ghost of voices raised in anger. With his thoughts his own again, he shoved off the wall and limped along the sidewalk.
Each step was an agony in which he was not familiar. Over the lengthy span of his existence, Lowell had never been made to suffer through it. Always capable of calling upon his skill to neatly knit back together any injury sustained. Now, though…
The knife plunges in. Sinking to the hilt into the soft flesh of his abdomen. No pain, at first; not until she gives the thing a vicious twist, wrenching it free and cocking back her arm in preparation for another jab.
And him, catching his sister by the wrist to stay her assault. Reaching down to the core of power that was a constant warmth inside him. A churning, molten thing ever ready for his calling. But it came free wrongly. Tainted. What had been meant to mend his flesh had shifted of its own accord. And she had screamed. Oh, how she had screamed.
A black that had nothing to do with the night encroached on the edges of his vision. Catching himself on the hood of a car he bowed his head, struggling with the threat of unconsciousness. It would not do to sink into the depths of unwilling slumber. Not here, not now.
Panic stroked him with frightful fingers. He needed refuge, before the looming dawn awakened the denizens and brought the streets alive. Out there he would not be safe. Without the reliability of his power, he was vulnerable in a way that was entirely and unsettlingly new.
Marginally the dark receded and he went on. A hand pushed firmly to the ebb and flow of throbs radiating from his stomach. He would heal. Faster than any human he would heal, even without the use of his skills. In order to do so, he needed to be off his feet.
With everything that had gone down he feared his memory would fail him. That he would wander the twist of streets until the sun came calling, beaming its attention down on him for all to see. But there was familiarity in the shape of the buildings, of the scattering of trees dotting the sides of the roads.
And there, yes. An inconspicuous two story Victorian, painted a soft blue edged in white trim. A wrought iron fence wrapped it, and the thickness of the hedges and leafy bushes shielded it from the view of the distant neighbors. Heavy curtains thwarted any attempt to peer through the windowpanes; if there were lights on within, they did not penetrate the material.
Cutting across the street he reached for the gate. Fumbling at the latch and then swinging it inward, gliding on silent hinges. He could not be bothered to close it as he moved up the walkway. The dark was returning, pressing with eager greed into the corners of his mind.
The walk and the short flight of steps he ascended left him winded. Bracing a hand on the paneling, he gave the front door a hard rap. It occurred to him that he did not know the time. So vastly different to that of his home, there was nothing offered for him to make a guess. A glance at the stars procured no answers. He needn’t have worried. Escalating the beat of his heart, the tread of approaching footsteps sounded from within not half a minute past.
When the door came open, he was there. Silhouetted by the light of the hall at his back. Filling the space of the entryway with a force that surpassed physical. Occupying it with the strength of his presence, a near tangible aura so rarely found in humans.
Relief drove the tension from him and he sagged. “Benjamin.” Arriving unannounced was not uncommon between them. There was no known form of communication that could reach across the planes. Not one that a human might wield, anyway. Though courtesy had always seen Lowell coming upon the man in locations other than his house. And certainly not at night and looking, no doubt, a wreck.
The man started at the sight of him. “What are you-” doing here might have been the intended ending of that question. Cut short as Lowell did more than sag.
Bled by exhaustion, his legs gave out when his strength flagged. Stumbling forward, his collapse was arrested by Benjamin catching him. Slumping against the man, Lowell twisted his fingers in his shirt. Anchoring himself, clinging with what little energy he still possessed.
“What’s wrong?” A high note of concern seeped into the usual tranquility of Benjamin’s voice. “What’s happened?”
“Cast out,” Lowell mumbled. He did not fight the forward pitch of his head; his face came to rest at the junction of Benjamin’s neck and shoulder. “Did a thing… a bad thing.”
You dare to-
-went behind our backs?
Does this family mean nothing to you?
You lost us this war.
Consciousness slipped. Seconds passed without his knowing. One moment leaned against Benjamin in the doorway, and the next being dragged down the hall. One of his arms had been looped around the man’s shoulders, while Benjamin supported him around the ribcage with one of his own.
“-die on me,” Benjamin was saying.
“Why would I?” Lowell slurred.
“You’re bleeding.” Lowering him to the couch, Benjamin ducked out from beneath his arm. “Why are you bleeding?”
Illuminated copper eyes followed the man as he knelt on the floor beside him. “Stabbed.” On his back, the world had at last ceased its spinning.
He might have tried for further words, were it not for Benjamin’s ministrations. Snagging the closest material – a doily off the coffee table – he reached between the flaps of Lowell’s robe and pushed it flush to the wound. It elicited a sharp groan and he snared Benjamin by the wrists.
“It’ll heal,” he ground out. And it would. Agonizingly slow for someone unaccustomed to waiting, but swifter than any human body on the mend.
“It should already be healed,” Benjamin threw back. Knowing full well what Lowell was, what he was supposed to be capable of. “What’s wrong with you?” There was heat in his tone, but worry tightened his expression. And pain.
Registering it, Lowell forced himself to loosen his grip. Pulling his hands from Benjamin’s, a pang of guilt hit him at the sight of reddened flesh. The exertion of inhuman strength on mortal skin too easily damaged.
“Cursed,” he said. Turning his gaze aside, he settled it on the ceiling.
“What do you mean?” Benjamin asked lowly.
Everything you touch will fall to ruin beneath your hands.
“I’ll be alright,” Lowell said softly. “I just need to rest.” Bringing his eyes to Benjamin’s, he found the will to work up a smile. Small and wavery and not at all convincing, he suspected, but it was something. “I may need to borrow your couch for awhile.”
Benjamin huffed out a laugh. “I can live with that.” Concerned continued to shadow his face, but some of the tension left his shoulders. “When you’re able, we’ll move you to the guest room.” With a shaky hand, he brushed strands of red hair from Lowell’s forehead.
You will burn, Lowell. And all that you love will turn to ash.