I don’t like them innocent
I don’t want no face fresh
Want them wearing leather
Begging, let me be your taste test
I like the sad eyes, bad guys
Mouth full of white lies
Kiss me in the corridor,
But quick to tell me goodbye
cs au week // day 1 // alternative version ghosts AU
A/N: this is really different from anything I’ve done before. Huge thanks to swallowedsong for her guidance and cheerleading. :)
It’s been a few days shy of a year. Keeping track is easier
than expected; blatantly reading newspapers over people’s shoulders, hours
spent watching the news in airports despite never having a ticket, seasons
changing without the need to bundle against the chill in the air. As the days
pass she ponders ceasing count, but each one feels like an anchor, something to
hold on to as eternity threatens to swallow her whole.
The first few months she wandered in places she knew, the
diner on the corner that served the strongest coffee at 3am when she had been
on a job, the laundromat on 5th with the loud Greek family fighting
and laughing from behind and on top of the counter, the lonely bench near the
fountain just long enough to sleep on for a few hours, all pieces of a life she
never thought would be possible to miss.
But she does.
In an ironic twist of fate, even in death she had found
herself alone. Never giving much thought to God or an afterlife, she had been
wholly unprepared for whatever this
is, this seemingly endless and useless non-existence. There was a time she had sought
out churches, hoping other lost souls would seek refuge there as well, spent
hours and days waiting for nothing and no one. Hope was dwindling, her will to
keep searching almost at its end when she got an idea and hopped on a bus to
New York City. In a city of over 8 million living people, the number of the
dead walking the streets had to be higher, at
least she hoped.
But now, 7 months in this useless city, she’s done
searching. She’s done with all of it. Having not moved for the past 4 days on
the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway, countless people passing
through her without notice, she ponders the idea of hell and if maybe she’s
found herself there. Then she sees him
and he, well, he sees her, too.
Time has ceased all meaning, years, decades, all just
markers for the living, not for him, not anymore. He had expected to find death
a comfort, maybe a joining with all those he had lost, a second chance or a
third. But, naturally, even in death he somehow managed a form of survival. Walking
amongst the living, he felt immortal and forever untouchable, irrevocably disconnected
and forsaken until the end of time or
longer, knowing his luck. At first, being unseen proved to be a balm to his
broken soul, no longer having to deny his sorrow or mask his anger, raging at
the masses with clenched fists and words laced with fury. Bellowing to all who
could not hear until the ache in his heart lessened, the knowledge that they
were all forever lost, never to be his again, anger eventually shifting to hope
for a more content afterlife for them all even if he was doomed.
At least she recovered quickly from the shock. Still staring bleakly at the banners, the terror and danger that they promised, her own half-serious conviction that Gold was some sort of dark sorcerer conjured up to hunt them for all time, Emma’s next thought was that there was no way, in this life or any other, that she had saved Killian’s wretched pirate skin just to lose him now. She didn’t care what was coming, she didn’t care what must be faced, only that it would be. Jaw grimly set, surveying the walls of Eboracum a moment longer, she started to turn to explain to Killian, thinking he might not have recognized them. But the look in his eye, the muscle tensing in his throat, put paid to that idea. He recognized them.
“Here’s what we’ll do.” Emma was surprised that her voice sounded so steady. “I’ll find a house in the village and hide you. They won’t be here for long; they’re planning a new wall to be built much further north, in Caledonia, and that was why my father sent for more men. For the love of the gods, stay out of sight. Once they’re gone, I’ll… I’ll find a way to take care of you.”
“If you say so, love.” His voice was carefully neutral, almost too much so, at odds with the deranged hatred stamped in every line of his face. “But if that miserable reptile comes within strangling distance, I’ll not be responsible for what I’ll do.”
“Killian, how fast can you make it down to the docks?” Emma asked without so much as a “hello” when he answered his phone.
She had worked the overnight shift at the Sheriff’s station and was due home shortly. Killian had spent a restless night until he gave up on sleep completely. He never slept well without Emma to anchor him to the here and now, and before she called, he lay in bed watching a thick fog roll in from the ocean outside his window.
Suspecting the weather had something to do with Emma’s call from the waterfront, Killian asked, “Is something the matter, love?”
“I don’t know…just…well, you’ll see when you get here, and then maybe you can tell me?”
“Aye, I’ll be there straight away.”
He pressed the “end” button and placed the phone on the side table. He’d rarely heard Emma sound so conflicted when it came to her job, and he wondered what strange thing was defying explanation now. This town was many things, but boring was not one of them. Cleaning up and dressing quickly, Killian hurried out the door and over the few blocks to the waterfront.
The dampness from the fog clung to him, beading up on his hook. Killian gave a fleeting thought to all the times he’d been at sea mired in a heavy mist such as this. An exemplary sailor could maneuver through it in an emergency, albeit reluctantly, but reason dictated the safer course was ceasing activity altogether and waiting for the woolen clouds to lift. Sound carried in strange and unsettling ways—some noises echoing in all directions—causing inexperienced crews to lose their bearings in confusion. In especially long instances of dense fog, with frayed nerves increasing among the men, more than one new sailor would take a shot into the gray, sure he’d seen or heard an enemy ship off the port bow. Without fail the result would generally be extra duties for the waste of ammunition or a flogging for a second offense.
He could see a small crowd gathering on the adjacent beach, some pointing toward the water and others shaking their heads. He spotted Emma, finally, leaning against the railing of the boardwalk near a local fish market and jogged over to her.
“Swan?” he huffed as he approached.
She turned at the sound of his voice and gave him a thin-lipped smile that was not the heartwarming greeting he’d been hoping for. She looked…bewildered and tense.
Killian shook his head and frowned. “What is it, love? You look troubled.”
“Yeah, you could say that,” she answered as she turned again towards the bay. She nodded toward the open sea, where the fog was shifting and trying to break apart in some areas. “I got a few calls this morning from some fishermen and dockhands who said they saw a ship out there.”
He shrugged, still puzzled. “What of it? I’m sure lots of ships come in and out of the harbor.”
Emma turned her head and looked him squarely in the eyes. “Yeah, but none of them are your ship,” she said, her concern finally breaking through her own confusion.
As the great gate groaned open and Emma trotted through, the wind caught at her hood and almost pulled it back, and she had to take one hand off the reins to pull it tight. Then steered them through the steep, narrow streets of Eboracum, bent low over the horse’s neck, the fresh air still coursing through her blood. With a sword slung on her back, riding astride like a man, she felt more alive than she had in months, and considered that it was the one good thing to have come of her parents discovering her training regimen. They knew she was miserable here, and despite their misgivings, had allowed her to continue, as well as to be properly instructed. They had strongly objected to her going out by herself, thinking it much too dangerous, but Emma had ignored that. If they had known her real occupation these days, they would have objected more.
She wasn’t sure how she had fallen into it, exactly. Just that when she met Roland in the early mornings and gave him food, he would sometimes mention certain individuals who were troubling the tribes, and one day she had gone out with him to do something about it. And after that, never bothered to stop. Bounty hunting was something she had turned out to be quite good at, and since she spoke Brythonic and could pass herself off as a lone-wolf mercenary, she had started taking jobs for a few of the local clan chiefs, who certainly did not know either that she was Roman or that the governor was her father. They did not care that she was a woman; among Celts, women were known as some of the fiercest fighters, and they paid well to boot, in goldwork and amber and beads and runestones, the sort of thing Emma could get a servant to discreetly trade for Roman denarii at the market. Yet every time she plunged into that other world, where nobody told her what she could not do, where she was fighting back against the powerful men who had destroyed her, it was harder and harder to return to Eboracum, change back into her Roman clothes, and pretend to be a dutiful daughter again. One day soon, she would ride into the forest and never return, and the thought both thrilled and terrified her.
She had been dreaming of him, for the first time in months. Had seen him close enough as if she could reach out her hand and touch him, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to hold onto every scrap of it. He would be – what, twelve now, almost thirteen? He had been born in June, in the high heart of summer; she could still remember the way the sweat and heat and dampness clung to her skin as she struggled in her travail. Only the midwife, a slave, to hold her hand. How it had torn her in two to hear him crying as they carried him away, as she didn’t dare to look. But at least he is happy. He had his adoptive parents, he had Regina, he had all the privilege and future that Roman money could buy. Doubtless the woman who had patronized him was just a fading memory, once upon a time. Henri. She called him that only in the privacy of her own head, didn’t even still have the chance to speak it aloud. These night visions of him were both solace and torment.
No chance of getting back to sleep now. Emma sat upright and tossed the coverlets aside, padding across the room to strike a light in the lamp. By its uncertain glow, she pulled clothes out of her trunk and began to dress. Not the stola and palla of a proper Roman lady, but a tunic kirtled up into a belt, leggings, cross-gartered boots, and a cloak. Last of all she shouldered on her shortsword in its scabbard across her back, and – feeling far too old for this, she was a woman of thirty, not a child – glanced around to ensure that the coast was clear, that the rest of the household was still peacefully slumbering, before she slipped down the hall and outside.
For every one of his twelve years of life, Marius Henricus Maximinus had always known exactly who he was. The adored only son of Marius Victorus Maximinus and his wife Rubinia, scion of a noble plebeian family, who lived in a comfortable townhouse near the Forum and attended its business with his father daily, who had his own tutor to teach him Greek, logic, grammar, geometry, music, and other arts of the civilized man, and who was surely destined for a post as legionnaire commander or provincial prefect. Until he was ten, Henricus had been sponsored by Emma Julia Aurelia, the daughter of the praetor urbani, but then her father had been made governor of far Britannia, and she had left Rome for good. Sometimes he missed her; she had taken a personal interest in him that went beyond the usual, and he had always thought of her as a favorite aunt or elder sister. Now in her place, Regina Sabina Milia saw to the maintenance of his interests instead, and Henricus was often reminded of what a fortunate lad he was, to have had two such great women as his patronesses. With the world at his disposal and a future as bright as the midday sun on the sea, he had never had cause to question anything about his life, and greatly doubted that he ever would.
It was the ides of February, the celebration of Lupercalia, in the year of the consulship of Hadrianus and Caesar, when Henricus’ tidy existence fell to pieces.