The easy crunch of snow beneath black boots was the only sign of life in deserted streets. His burgundy trench coat brushed the fresh flakes while his boots sunk to the ankles with each step. He had blood red hair that caught on the chilled wind and danced down his back like a flapping cape. His kind, yet hard midnight blue eyes came to rest upon a figure tucked away in a darkened doorway. The man allowed his chilled lips to curl up into a smile as he stopped a foot away from the shivering bundle and kneeled in the snow. He did not seem to notice the cold that crept into his knees while he reached out to lay his warm hand against what could now be identified as a shoulder.
There was a quiet squeak and two large, dark brown eyes appeared from behind the barrier of arms. She couldn’t have been any older than perhaps seventeen, yet he could see a wildness dancing inside of her. Her dirt smeared cheeks, the clenching of her jaw now that she could see the threat, one hand tightening on something underneath her sleeve; it all spoke of too much time in the unstable world of the streets.
She was scared and a moment away from certain death. The chill had left long ago and she had already accepted that she would not see morning. She had been hoping her final night could see peace, but she was still ready to fight for what was left of her life.
He wrapped her in his arms easily, muffling her protests with his solid, warm chest.
“I am not here to harm you,” the wind itself seemed to carry his soft words.
She didn’t trust his claim, yet the knot inside of her chest loosened with the words. The girl couldn’t remember the last time she breathed clear without fighting it passed the block settled behind her collar bone. Tears pricked her eyes with awe and she relished one long breath.
“Come with me,” the wind whispered again.
It was a command that should have frightened her all over again. Instead, she found her shaking legs rising with a strength she was certain she didn’t have moments ago. Logic screamed at her to be suspicious, but it couldn’t seem to override the strange effects of his peaceful words.
“I mean no harm.”
And this time, she believed him without resist.
He led her back down the way he’d walked until they came to a black car idling by the icy sidewalk. Again, she should have questioned the intent of being stolen away from the silent winter. No fear still. Only free breathing and lightened shoulders and so much confusion she could fill her belly with it.
She glanced around the empty street as if it could answer her questions: why was this man being so kind to a rat, and why could her streetwise gut not sense any ulterior motives as she allowed him to ease her into the vehicle. There came no answer before the door was closed behind her and still her fractured nerves were silent.
“It will be a long drive, feel free to allow yourself some rest.”
As if on cue, warmth spilled through her body where only minutes before had been a cold cord that once choked her.
She slept for the first time in days.
When her dark eyes opened, they were greeted by an empty chair next to the bed she found herself laying in. She investigated her new surroundings with a quiet, collected desperation now that her old friend, anxiety was creeping back into her throat.
Violet curtains blacked out the window beside her bed, keeping her in shadows. She could make out the shapes of a dresser, a small couch, and three chests. There was a ribbon of light shining in the corner of the room which she assumed was the door.
She clambered out of the bed, astonished to discover that her ratted old hoodie and burlap sack pants had been replaced with a long, silken, red gown that reached the floor and trailed behind her. Without the need of a mirror, the girl knew that she was clean as well. Her long, curling, dark hair was still slightly damp.
With a pounding heart that deafened her ears, she ventured to the door. Her throat constricted until she thought she may choke when the light washed over her prematurely. There stood her strange host, now without his long trench coat and dressed in a fine black suit. His hair was tied back into a braid, leaving his layered bangs to frame his face and darken his midnight eyes.
“Come join us,” he said around a wide, welcoming smile.
The breeze his words harnessed had followed them even here, pulling at her knotted chest all over again, releasing the pressure with a long exhale that she relished.
He held out his hand as an invitation, but still she hesitated, even as she appreciated the comfort he gave.
“You are safe here, you have my word,” he assured her, and that was all she needed.
The warmth returned while she received his outstretched hand without having to issue a conscious command to move.
He led her out into a short hallway and then down a flight of stairs into the booming busy chaos of a small gathering of people. Her nerves lit up for the breath of a moment, but they were silenced quickly by the man at her side whispering in a strange language. His floating voice embraced her and easily tucked those fears away.
The first thing to catch her eye was a rather extravagant fir tree in the middle of the room, decorated in colored lights and jeweled ornaments. It glowed in gold and red and blue and green, sparkling with invitation and familiarity.
What she saw next took one full minute to comprehend and an extra thirty seconds to convince herself she was fully awake.
There were three distinct features to the creature. First, it appeared as if a child had taken different shades of flesh colored clay and balled it up into an ugly clump. Second, it had a great frowning red mouth with dried, cracking lips. And thirdly, it was completely covered in hundreds of hands that appeared from short wrists. It skittered across the room on thick, awkwardly shaped fingers beneath itself. One of the wrists directly below the mouth was adorned with a scarlet bow tie. These appendages could grow, too, as this creature held at least ten platters filled with food and drinks, all at different arm lengths grown out from those originally short wrists so as not to bump each other.
Her mouth dropped open upon instinct alone, ready to release her building scream, but at the last moment a hand clapped over the opening.
Lips then pressed against her ear and a strong baritone rumbled quietly, “I wouldn’t scream if I were you. You don’t want to see what happens when the household pet is irritated. Trust me, you want Cat to remain a waiter instead of rolling about and destroying the lovely furniture as well as quite possibly strangling all of you to death simultaneously.”
Her eyes widened a fraction, but she nodded her understanding. Slowly, the hand removed itself. Sporting a maniacal grin, a young man stepped out from behind her. He had thick, wild black hair that naturally spiked in all directions and fell loosely about his shoulders. His large, excitedly sparkling eyes were two distinct colors; one an icy clear blue, the other deep chocolate brown like her own.
“You can call me Gabe,” he introduced with a mocking, overly flourished bow. “And you are…?”
“Confused,” was the only response she could give.
Gabe winked and hooked his arm through hers, dragging her along before she could protest.
“Well Confused, allow me to show you around and we’ll see if we can’t make some sense of this increasingly weird night, shall we?”
She knew full well it was not actually a question.
He dragged her into another, quieter room where two men stood talking beside a table of food. One was her red headed friend whom she couldn’t recall leaving her at the stairs. The other was shorter with the same kind face as her savior. This one had pastel moss green eyes set into a tanned face underneath dark brown, curly hair that was teasing the pale irises.
“Look what I found,” Gabe announced beside her.
The two turned together and upon seeing Gabe’s point of interest, the red head frowned deeply. She thought the expression to be very strange for a man with peace waiting behind his lips. The other lifted an eyebrow at her before raising his eyes up to the man beside her. This was the moment she realized just how tall Gabe was, towering over her by an extra foot at least and suddenly making her feel vulnerable.
“Don’t start this, Gabe,” it was the first time that the kind man’s voice was a whip instead of gentle breeze.
“I haven’t the slightest clue what you mean,” he quipped back.
Even she could hear the bait on his deep tone, and she didn’t know what they could possibly be talking about.
“She seems a little impish for your tastes,” came the moss eyed one sarcastically.
“Nah, she’s a fighter. I can tell,” Gabe shot back easily.
“Uh huh. Do you even know her name?”
“She said it was ‘Confused’.”
“Of course, how lovely. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? What’s it mean, I wonder?”
The banter was beginning to taste like anxiety, coiling behind her collarbone quickly. That pressure was going to shatter the bone, she was sure. Gabe’s long arm snaked around her shoulders, the spidery fingers of his hand resting against her bicep. It should have been the final thread to shatter her nerves, but his lips returned to her ear with a familiar promise that seemed to be an ongoing theme tonight.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispered almost sincerely.
Unlike before, her fear did not float away on a gentle breeze like it would have with the other man. Still, the spring did release slightly while her mind whispered foolishly that he was telling the truth.
“Anyways, Confused, allow me to introduce you to my closest, and quite possibly my only friend, Edge Vasis,” he gestured to the one who wasn’t angry.
Then he moved his hand to bring her attention to the other man and continued with a much less interested tone, “that party pooper over there is your new friend, Abdaziel Lazyre. If that’s too much to remember, he doesn’t mind being called Zade for short. Now… Fellas, this is Confused. Let’s all try to play nice.”
She glanced up to catch the corners of a devious smirk playing on Gabe’s full pink lips.
“You know that is not her name,” Abdaziel’s whisper could have cut him if he’d been any closer.
Still, the deranged man remained smiling, ignoring the comment without a single shred of subtlety. She began to suspect that these two were quite used to each other’s distaste.
“Come along, there’s other swell fellows to meet,” came the booming baritone again.
She was dragged away before she had the chance to respond, her hand subconsciously reaching out to Zade for the space of a flash as if he would stop the forced adventure.
“Alright, so let’s get the boring and predictable human introductions out of the way first. They all come from the same background as you, though I like yours better. Our part angel pal, Zade, has a heart of gold…”
She got the feeling that he did not mean it to be a compliment. Carefully, she tucked away his ‘half angel’ comment in the back of her mind on the high chance she was in for more surprises. Just the thought of saving those words alone was almost enough to make her laugh. Almost.
They had come back to the tree room and finally, she saw passed the multi handed monster apparently known as Cat. There were at least a dozen people eating cheeses and meats from small plates while drinking either wine or Champaign; she didn’t know for sure what the difference was.
Some of the men were freshly shaved, the women had clear, smoothed skin. All with sparkling, still damp hair. Every single one had been pulled from a nightmare, cleaned, and dressed nicely in easy suits or dresses that didn’t quite appear comfortable for them. She understood the feeling, though; she wasn’t used to being clean, let alone dressed up like someone who should be important.
“Of all these people, why am I the one you get attached to,” she didn’t look up when she asked.
His chuckle gave her chills.
“Well, you have a genuine story, Confused. The rest of these guys and gals are just self pitying morons that built their own problems and expect people like our poor friend, Zade, to feel bad for them. I don’t care that much about the woe is me mind game. But you, you’re fascinating and sincere in your broken pieces.”
This raised a brow as she turned to meet that deviant grin.
“And what makes you think you know that my story is any different,” she asked with a clear challenge ringing strong from her tongue.
Gabe threw his head back and barked a hearty laugh that caused half the room’s occupants to flinch with practiced reflexes being fought back down.
“Let me get this straight,” he began around the laughter. “You were coerced here by a man with a voice of calming wind, you’re in a mansion with a blob of hands serving people, and yet psychic is where you want to draw the line of possibilities?”
And he laughed again, howling as if this was the greatest joke he’d ever heard and he’d been starved of mirth before it.
She stood transfixed with the edges of near hysteria creeping into the edges of her mind. Gabe settled his mania long enough to try casting her a reassuring smile, but it only chilled her more. As if on cue, they were interrupted.
“Gabe, you’ll scare her off before the night ends if you keep that up,” a brand-new voice declared from behind her.
All her muscles tightened at once, but the only outward sign of this was the harsh fists she held at her sides. She turned to face the new arrival with her teeth clenched hard enough to bring black spots into her vision.
He wore a black suede fedora with only the tips of equally black hair peaking out beneath it. Even though the left side had longer strands sweeping into that eye, the spidering scar was not fully covered. It crossed over the eye, distorting the color to a pale, creamy blue. The other was healthy, though; it’s strong violet shade holding laughter within. There was a cigarette caught in his lips which mirrored the mirth above in what was now a cobalt iris.
Wait, hadn’t it been-
Purple again. She was mesmerized by the transition.
“Kivas? How the hell did he convince you to show up here? I thought you hated the holidays!”
Gabe’s exclamation shocked the girl back into her surroundings as Kivas quirked up the corner of his mouth.
“Soon as I heard you were going to be allowed within ten feet of a gathering of broken humans, I was sold.”
Beside her, Gabe was nodding with his trade mark grin. That long arm encircled her shoulders again and she suppressed a shutter. Kivas observed her reaction closely, his smile faltering and the shifting colors darkened in his good eye.
“Well, my friend, may I introduce you to Confused? I think this one has to be my favorite so far,” Gabe introduced with a wink.
The man kept her gaze locked with his as he bowed slightly, one hand pressed over his heart formally. She didn’t realize her own heart was pounding until it calmed with the strange building of pressure inside her head which came in time with him returning upright.
“My Lady, I am Kivas Sabotage. Allow me to be at your service for the duration of your stay.”
She could have laughed at the sudden shift into the formality she’d expect of a knight in a fairy tale, if she wasn’t so frightened by the arm possessively holding her.
“Awe, there’s no reason for official bureaucracies, you know,” Gabe surprisingly sounded irritated.
“You’re the one carting around an innocent, lovely young lady. It is not my fault if you do not have the eloquence to treat her as such.”
Kivas held the perfect air of amusement and disinterest, but the girl felt deep inside that there was strong tension behind the nonchalance. The hand on her shoulder twitched tighter for a flash in response. He was not fooled either, apparently. She carefully snuck a glance up at Gabe. His eyes were harsh, but still he was smiling. It was twisted, though. She felt as if she was staring at the perfect description of raw insanity in its purest form.
Her hands began to shake furiously and for a long, terrifying moment, she thought her lungs had collapsed. Each beat of her heart brought physical pain through her body while she was held hostage by the poster boy for psychosis who was maniacally challenging the stranger across from her. It would have been safer if she’d stayed out in the streets over Christmas. Damn that lying voice of peaceful promises!
“He never lied to you,” Gabe answered her thoughts without looking down, his irritation rising. “He promised he wouldn’t hurt you. He hasn’t. If you’ll remember, I made that promise too.”
Kivas scoffed, interjecting with a glare. “You don’t need to hurt someone in order to leave them with scars and you know that.”
Dull pain throbbed through her shoulder when his fingers tightened in response. She closed her eyes, focusing on stopping the yelp that waited in her throat. She knew bruises were blooming.
“You haven’t the faintest idea what I am capable of,” it came out as a low growl.
Edge seemed to appear out of thin air at the mad man’s side with his hand pressed against Gabe’s chest, a strange glow coming from the palm. She watched in stunned awe as the towering menace took two leaden steps backwards, his hold on her falling in time with that smile tipping downward and pulling the mania down with it.
Edge drew close to his friend with fire in his pale eyes as he raised them high to meet the towering insanity, though his tone remained abnormally monotonous, “not. In. My. House. You promised me that your games and your study of the humans would not take place under my roof. Leave the girl alone.”
She stumbled away from the scene, heart racing while Gabe’s eyes followed her until she could duck into another room. The girl gulped down long, hard breaths as if she’d just been choked. Her palms were sweating, yet she was chilled to the bone. With a harsh clarity, she realized there were tears streaming down her cheeks and she was violently shaking.
Upon well practiced instinct, she forced herself to examine the room she’d entered while forcing her breathing to match the analysis. The wall to her left was lined with two fully stocked bookshelves while the other on her right was decorated with a dozen strange paintings. A black desk sat before her, and behind it were two curtained windows. Leather chairs were set in front of that desk with a small, dark brown, circular table between them.
Pressure built up within her head as if it would pop like a balloon. Strangely, as the pressure grew, she found herself calming down faster. Her breath quieted and her heart no longer wished to break through her ribs.
‘Don’t be frightened,’ whispered a masculine voice behind her eyes. ‘I will keep you safe. Don’t run.’
Didn’t anyone have a new line for her? She allowed herself to pull in another long inhale, and as she let it out, Kivas came to stand before her. She gaped rather foolishly.
“That was you. I-in my head j-just now. Wasn’t it,” her pale voice broke.
He nodded slowly.
The girl let out a hysterical laugh. “Of course. As if this couldn’t get any more confusing.”
He let an easy smile take his lips, “oh, I am quite sure it can still become much worse. The night is young and I am positive you have realized your company tonight is glaringly peculiar.”
“Are you trying to comfort me, or make fun of me?”
“That makes all of the sense, doesn’t it?”
He chuckled then, the banter helping to further ease her hysteria.
“So… would it be considered impolite to ask what exactly you lot are? I’m beginning to understand that there is a reason you keep specifying ‘humans’ like we’re separate from you,” she was genuinely wary, as if she meant the question as respectfully as possible.
Kivas smiled softly for both her intellect and her consideration. The two were rare to come by. She found herself further comforted by the lack of madness accompanying his expression. A moment longer with Gabe and she’d have quite possibly lost her own mind.
“There is nothing wrong with a healthy curiosity. It may be hard to explain though… We are not all the same in our strange group. To put it easily, I am basically a glitch between two creatures you will find difficult to believe exists. Gabe was created. Edge is an ancient and powerful being the same as Abdaziel, yet the two are nothing alike in what they are. Any further details will require an education in things that will only frighten you.”
“So… are you guys like some kind of dysfunctional family of incredible weirdness?”
“I guess you could sum it up that way.”
“How are both you and Gabe psychic if you’re not the same… uhm… thing?”
“Ah, little one, there is much more to us than our abilities and it is quite possible for two opposite creatures to share similar aspects. What is much more important is what we do with these… enhancements.”
The girl heard the warning behind the answer: do not compare him to the other again. She quickly shifted to another topic.
“What was the point of me, or any of us being here anyways?”
Now he fully smiled and for a moment, she thought her heart had stopped beating.
“Now that is a fun question to answer.”
He motioned for her to sit in one of the leather chairs near them while he dropped himself into the other. For a brief moment, he remained quiet while he chose his approach to the topic, nodding to himself when he had his thoughts in order.
“Well, you’ve got Mr. Lazyre who is part angel and can’t see his family because of his not-so-angel part. So, he wants to give sad people who have no family a warm, welcoming place to spend the holidays so that he can be sad and lonely in the company of strangers who are equally sad and lonely. But he’s awkward and couldn’t do this on his own, so he asked the psychopath’s best friend to help him. This was furiously discussed for days because obviously, psycho boy was not initially invited. Their bromance is stronger than steel, though, and so a deal was struck to allow him here under certain laws. This sparked my own interest for yet again; obvious reasons, and viola. You’ve become a guest to probably the worst Christmas party thrown in the history of all the time Christmas has been celebrated.”
He had said the entire thing on one breath. The way he dropped his formal mannerisms was more surprising than his lung capacity.
She took a long moment to process the explanation. Surprisingly, it made a lot of sense. Another question was waiting on her tongue, but it was cut short as Gabe’s voice boomed in the other room. She flinched at his voice, but stood despite the reaction. He was calling them back to the tree room for the ‘main event’ and she wasn’t about to make him come looking for her.
Abdaziel stood next to a new group of guests who were all hidden beneath white robes, heads bowed and tucked away inside hoods. She locked her jaw again and readied herself for more surprises.
The rest of the guests were creating a horizontal line a few steps away from Zade’s formation. Edge stood in front of the first person on the side the girl was joining, while Gabe was next to the half angel. Kivas was careful not to leave her side, and for that she was grateful, especially after registering the laughter inside two differed eyes appraising her.
Her mind was racing trying to interpret the strange scene, pointedly ignoring the tall man. The first thought she had was of cult sacrifices considering the robes and strange atmosphere, but the idea felt more comical than possible. Plus, it seemed Gabe was the only volatile presence here.
Edge led a limping young man dressed in a suit of pale blue to stand before Abdaziel. The red head then gestured next to him at the first hooded figure, his eyes solemn, but gentle. Shaking hands reached out to grasp the hood and an ugly moan ripped from the boy when he pushed it off. He collapsed against the woman in wailing sobs, his arms clutching her like he would fall to pieces if he let go. She was much more composed, smiling down at him while she carefully returned his desperate embrace, silent tears dripping off her quivering chin.
“I’m sorry,” he screamed wretchedly. “I’m so sorry, ma’!”
Gabe stepped forward to press his hand against the boy’s back with measured care. The sobbing grew quieter and with a command whispered to the pair, they were escorted into another room. She wondered if his power reached their hearts to still that anguish until they could move into private. The gentle exchange seemed strange to her.
Edge led the next man up. This one was older, sporting a long curling beard that he likely didn’t allow them to clip, and a powerful, thundering step. His vibrant irises spoke of anticipation and of fear.
Zade gestured again to his side.
The next hood fell. It was a clean shaven spitting image. This time, the tears were quiet. The men shared a brother’s embrace, clapping each other on the back twice. In silence, they exchanged short, curt nods that easily spoke volumes of their forgiveness. Gabe didn’t have to intrude on this scene before the men took their leave.
The girl began to understand what Gabe had meant when he said she had the only ‘genuine’ story here. All of these people were being given a second chance with the families they had scorned for selfish reasons. They would all go home tonight with tears in their eyes and warmth in their hearts and be welcomed by loving people who had missed them dearly. Each time the hood fell, she watched as all the love of the world settled into one solid moment between two people who’d feared they would never see a night like this; where they could bury their petty hatchets.
But not her.
She even counted the gathered lines to find the discrepancy that she already predicted. She didn’t have anyone to bury a hatchet with. No one to share an apology and realize that ‘it was such a ridiculous thing’ the way all of these couples muttered together. She’d left home for her own protection, and it was obvious these strange men knew better than to send her home with monsters because she had no one waiting for her. Why was she here, then? Why couldn’t they have left her in the snow to freeze? She would have already been warm by now in a peaceful sleep that would never end.
Flash backs took hold in her for the breath of a moment before she shut them down harshly. Fists painting bruises on her skin, foul smelling air stained brown with chemicals that turned gentle eyes into bottles of rage, screaming in the other room that she wouldn’t investigate, too many hands on her skin. And pain. The anguish in that moment of recollection almost buckled her knees when its memory washed over her body.
She slammed the door shut again in her mind, forcing these nightmares back into the abysmal depths of her subconscious. There were tears in her eyes and she realized the last pairing had left the room, leaving her alone in silence with four strangers who seemed to suddenly understand their mistake. She caught the piercing look from Gabe that was stabbed at Abdaziel, who stood frowning with his dark eyes locked onto someone beside her.
Kivas stepped forward with his hand placed over his heart again. “May I?”
The man nodded and Gabe’s mouth dropped open with an audible pop. She took a wild guess that she’d missed the full conversation due to her lack of mental gifts. Kivas offered her his free hand while he kneeled to come to eye level with her. How had she not noticed he was almost as tall as Gabe until now?
“If you would make me a promise, I will take you in. I can protect you and I can give you a home where no one will be able to bring you harm. The offer will remain open after tonight, but I cannot guarantee you will be able to reach out to me when you need to if you choose to wait.”
She gaped. Her mouth couldn’t form words for a long moment, and fresh tears found their way back into her eyes. Her mind suddenly woke, racing back to the fairy tales he reminded her of.
When she found her voice again, it was small and quivering as she asked, “what promise do you want me to make?”
“Train under me.”
Oh. That was not what she was expecting.
“If you become my apprentice, I will teach you to protect yourself and wield weapons for self defense. No one will be able to harm you again. In return, you will have a warm bed, a full belly, and you won’t always be alone anymore.”
Oddly enough, that offer was much less intimidating than her fairy tale ending.
Not trusting her voice again, she nodded slowly, reaching out to shakily place her hand into his. He grinned like a little boy, stopping her heart again. Behind him, Gabe’s differed eyes were raging. The fire in them shook her down to her core, but the large hand around hers squeezed gently and pulled her gaze back to his.
“Don’t give him the attention, he can’t do much more than pout,” Kivas whispered, continuing slightly louder with the obvious intent for Gabe to hear his next words, “you see, it is in his nature to chase that which intrigues him, especially when he cannot have it. Minds like yours that have witnessed the horrors you have… they’re practically a drug to him. Alas, he is not foolish enough to touch someone under my protection ever again. Therefore, as I said, all he can do is glare at me and wish my imminent demise.”
By the time he ended, Gabe was nowhere to be seen. Her nerves settled down and she let out a long breath. The night had begun with a desolate chill that promised death, and now it would end beside a decorated tree and a promise of change. She wasn’t quite sure how to handle this development.
Instead of acknowledging the fact that she’d been weeping this whole time, the girl forced all her energy into something entirely different. She launched herself into the arms of her new teacher. It had been far too long since she’d felt safe inside the warmth of an embrace and this seemed the perfect opportunity to remedy that. He easily accepted the assault, pressing a reassuring kiss to the top of her head.
There was still one more important question she had to ask, though. The fresh memory of their discussion in the office chased her excitement away, replacing it with modest concern.
“What is it that you do with it?”
Kivas pulled away from her with confusion on his eyes.
“You said what mattered most was what you did with your abilities.”
His lips pulled back into a devious smirk that darkened his good eye, “I protect people most of the time. Sometimes, I am also paid to kill people.”
And so it was that Confused found herself in a new home, accompanied by new friends, and had a precarious story to share that no one was likely to believe. She’d had a wondrous night filled with the strange, inviting companionship of a madman, a mystery, half an angel, and her psychic assassin house mate.
It was a magical and bizarre merry Christmas for Confused.
Note: You can now read more about Confused and Kivas, here where she’s lived with him for two years and is still having some difficulties with her new life.