(A/N) Hello, everyone. My name is Iwovepizza, nice to meet you. This was one one my very first AU stories, and now I have come back to edit it and make it better than it was before, which must've been really good considering the favorite/follow count. I hope you like the longer, more quality version of Black Feathers.
Disclaimer: I own only the plot, which I guarantee is completely and entirely original as far as I know
Jason had a secret.
A dark, dirty little secret.
Only problem was that it wasn't really so little.
This secret kept him looking over his shoulder, kept him on his toes, and shivers arc up and down his spine when he was alone and without protection. He wasn't what most would consider skittish, but there was a certain wariness about him that would remind one of a wild animal. Jason lived in a world of eat or be eaten, and in this world he was a coyote. He was swift and crafty, able to pick off the mice and the deer, but the wolves and mountain lions watched him from the shadows, waiting for him to make a misstep before they lunged. His reflexes were astounding, but his demeanor was like a wave of battle calm; he acted like an experienced soldier in the heat of a battle, level-headed and making each of his moves precise and lethal. People from Jason's day jobs whispered of him, of his sharp, agile movements and of his even sharper tongue. Nobody knew much about him except from the fact that he was like everyone else in this god forsaken part of the city; scraping along and doing anything for that extra wad of bills.
They said that he dealt in drugs, which wasn't a surprise since the whisperers themselves usually dealt in drugs themselves, and that would explain how swift on his feet he was, how calm he always managed to be, even when someone, whether it be a customer, a coworker, or his boss, was trying their best to pull an emotion out of him. They said he was hooked on speed and steroids and was taking a whole heap of other drugs to keep his reactions minimal and measured. Others thought that he was part of a gang and had to be vigilant and agile in order to fend off members of rival gangs. That was true in a way, but Jason never spoke unless spoken to, never gave away information about himself, and he was a clouded mystery that everyone was trying to solve, though they never got very far.
Some tried following him home, only for him to turn a corner and disappear into thin air. Some tried to confront him, both at work and after his shift was over, but the former were met with a reserved and chilling distance while the latter were never the same. They refused to talk about what had happened, never participating in gossip again and avoiding Jason like he was the plague. A few even quit their jobs not an hour after their meeting with the blond-haired, blue-eyed teen, but one of the handful of things they did say was to stop. To forget Jason exists and only interact when they had to. Because if Jason was capable of showing remorse or sadness or even mercy, he didn't show it. The workers all thought they were joking, but the haunted look that their colleges and acquaintances boasted told them otherwise.
They didn't know the whole story, however, wouldn't believe the whole story. If they knew just what Jason was up to, they'd label him a demon and a beast, one incapable of showing feelings, whether it be joy or depression or sympathy. But sympathy was a weakness. It's what would get you killed in Jason's line of work, because if you show even the slightest hint of pity, the hunter will become the hunted. They will latch onto it in a death grip, reel you in with sad words and baleful stares and unimaginable beauty, their voices sirens' songs that would lure the unaware to their deaths, and once you decided to let them out of the trap they would tear you to shreds, piece by tiny piece, until you were just a patchwork on the ground of whatever alley was closest. Perhaps one would be incredulous; whatever big game that Jason was hunting certainly wouldn't talk, and even though lions, tigers, and bears were all deadly, none of them made their homes in this decrepit district of the city. No, what Jason hunting was far, far worse, and they could do a great deal more than just shred you physically.
To get to the point, Jason was hunting angels.
Most would cry for him to be sent to hell, call for his blood and for his eternal damnation. Not even the cruelest would dare to hunt angels in such a manner, and those who would either didn't know of their existence or were just too fearful of an untimely, and rather painful, death. Jason didn't care, though, and tried to ignore the immoral side in favor of the reasoning behind it; he needed to support his family, needed to keep them going so they weren't sucked into the darkness that was drifting behind them. Besides, it wasn't like Jason was actually killing the angels. Angels were immortal, practically untouched by minute things like aging, and their wounds healed relatively fast depending on its severity. All that Jason wanted was their wings.
He and his older sister, Thalia, had been drowning in poverty and debt their entire lives. Ever since their father left and their mother, an alcoholic, had passed on (not before draining their savings until all their credit cards were maxed and they were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt), every day had been a struggle to earn money. Jason worked two jobs during the day, one as a waiter and the other as a cashier in the local Walmart. It wasn't that easy to find a job since he'd been forced to drop out of high school, and he had so little money that the thought of college couldn't haunt him in even his wildest dreams. Both jobs didn't give him much of a profit and he spent every single dollar that he'd ever made working on paying off the crippling balance that was due. With the combined salary of his sister's two jobs, they were paying it off little by little. These jobs were strictly for paying off the debt; they couldn't afford to buy new things if it meant that the debt could be paid off as soon as possible without them.
"Hello, young man," came a very rich and rather husky voice from Jason's right, causing him to jump. He turned to see Father Rick standing next to him, and his eyebrows climbed up to his hairline as he regarded the priest's expectant look. Only then did Jason realize that he was looking for a response.
"Um…hello," he replied, his voice a bit on the raspy side but otherwise portraying absolutely nothing about Jason whatsoever. The Father smiled softly at him and gestured to the open space next to Jason on the pew.
"May I sit?" he asked, and the teen knew it would be a bit rude to deny him, considering that this church was technically "God's house" and the priest was the housekeeper.
"Uh, yeah, sure." Jason shuffled over a bit and took a moment to really observe the Father as he sat down. His black cassock, whose color was so light (from being worn for a while, Jason assumed) it could be mistaken for a dark grey, was neat and tidy, and the white strip that encircled his collar called for reverence and respect. His salt-and-pepper hair was thinning and in the process of receding, and the crinkles on his face were just starting to become more defined. His skin was a mocha color, but his eyes were a dazzling Carolina blue as they peered at Jason over his spectacles.
"You seemed deep in thought," Father Rick noted, giving Jason a quick once over. "And those thoughts were troubling you." It wasn't a question but more of a statement, and Jason didn't give a reply, just ducking his head and looking away, which wasn't really the politest thing to do. "That's what I supposed." His voice was neither angry nor judgmental, and for a while the two just sat side-by-side in the pew of the small church that was probably the only one on this side of the city that was actually well-kept, though on the outside there was graffiti, which was useless when it came to removal since they'd just come back again) and wear-and-tear. Jason's gaze wandered to the stained-glass windows, the things that vandals were either A) too reverent to break or B) too worried about the karma that would come with breaking them. They depicted the sacred mysteries, but what caught Jason's eyes were the angels. They were always in the background, their hands clasped in prayer and their mouths open in song, and sometimes they framed the picture, their wings blazing gold as the fading sunlight passed through them.
The sight made him too bitter and he averted his gaze, and the Father seemed to notice this.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and think that you don't come here often," he stated, and Jason's jaw clenched as he nodded, though reluctantly. It was a bit awkward when you admitted to a priest that you weren't really that rah-rah about Jesus or religion. When the Father spoke again, there was no irritation in his voice, which was filled with easygoingness that soothed Jason's nerves, "Are you questioning your faith? Don't feel embarrassed to admit it; a lot of people go through the same bumps in their road to eternal life." Jason withheld a remark about how he was taking the elevator straight downstairs once he kicked the bucket.
"No," Jason said softly, and with a jolt he realized that's really the first semi-private thing he's relayed to a stranger. This felt different, though, because Father Rick was a priest. Priests could keep secrets, right? "I just think…" he paused, unsure of what to say, and the Father waited patiently for his response as he worried his bottom lip in between his teeth, "…that the man upstairs doesn't like me."
"And why is that?" Father Rick asked, and Jason gazed around the church warily, though the only other person was an old lady that was sitting in a pew well out of earshot.
"I've done some…pretty bad things, padre," the blond admitted, knitting his fingers together and letting out a laugh that sounded all too bitter to his ears. He had to be emotionless. A closed book. Yet for some reason he was spilling his guts for a man he'd only known about for a few months and had only spoken to just now.
"We've all done some bad things in our lives," the Father soothed, and Jason flinched away when he tried to put a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah, but I can assure you that the things I've done are much worse," Jason sighed. In a smaller voice, he whispered, "So much worse."
"Surely they can't be that bad," the Father assured him. "And besides, as long as you're seeking and longing for forgiveness, the Lord will forgive you."
"These sins are mortal. They can't be forgiven. I'm surprised there isn't fire raining from the sky because I'm sitting in here right now." Father Rick looked surprised, but his expression was still gentle.
"Are you positive that they can't be forgiven?" he questioned, sounding a bit dubious though not critical.
"Pretty positive," Jason replied. "And I keep doing it over and over again even though I know it's wrong, but I'm doing it for my family of two. Doing it for us so we don't have to live in this shithole and we don't have to scrounge for any money we can find. My…my sister hates me for it. She wasn't supposed to know but she does, and she won't even look me in the eye anymore." Jason dragged his hands down his face, knowing that he was going to regret spewing his secrets and personal information later, and despite this he continued, "I don't know how to fix it."
"I'm sure you'll find a way, but I doubt you're going to tell me what it is that you do." The Father sighed when Jason shook his head vigorously, rising to his feet and bidding him farewell, though the blond didn't reply as he buried his face into his hands and forced the tears back. He could feel the eyes of the angels in the stained glass glaring at him unfeelingly, and that only made it worse.
He never went to the church again after that.
Needless to say, Jason and Thalia had needed another source of money, since their jobs were solely aimed at paying off the debt that they were left. There was no available work that would be able to pay for food and replacements for their raggedy clothing, and the ones that did required a high school and/or college degree. Those were the things that Jason didn't have, but what he did have was raw determination, as well as the willingness to do anything and everything to get back on their feet. Surprisingly, Jason had found his opportunity to a better life through a stranger that he'd met on the street two years ago.
Even when he was fifteen he knew that talking to strangers wasn't the best thing to do, especially in his neighborhood, where most of it was simply slums. Buildings were crumbling, the streets were riddled with cracks and potholes, and everything glass had been shattered from old age or by the local crime. No one could afford to fix them, so everything just kept withering and falling apart, and most of the places that people lived in would've been condemned long ago if the inspectors ever bothered to pay a visit. There were various frequenters that hung around the area that offered candy, the "candy" being crack, cocaine, meth, and devil's weed, with a bit of heroin and marijuana thrown into the mix just to make it interesting. He knew that if you decided to sit down for a "beer" with them, you'd be as high as a kite when you finally stumbled away with flushed cheeks and bloodshot eyes.
Predictably, one of these people, known to the locals as "Candymen", approached him one summer morning, approximately a week and a half after Jason's birthday. It was so hot and there was no air conditioning to be found, so the people retreated into their homes to dodge the heat. He was a rather buff guy, with thick, corded muscles and a wicked scar down his face whose origin was questionable, considering it looked like a claw mark from some sort of animal. His blond hair, which was a sandier blond than Jason's, stuck up in some places, but overall was neat and tidy. His clothes weren't too ragged, a huge contrast to Jason's tattered jeans and faded T-shirt that he'd had since he was thirteen. Needless to say, Jason seen worse people on the streets than this guy.
"Cigarette?" was the first thing he asked as he pulled out a pack of Marlboro and lit a joint, offering it to him. Even though a cigarette sounded really good to him, if he got addicted he'd have to worry about another expense.
"No thanks," Jason told him, his anxiety flaring a bit when Luke's expression didn't change. There was a sparkle in his eyes that Jason really didn't like, and he was a bit wary as he turned to walk away. That would've been that and there wouldn't've been any fantastic story to tell, but the fact that a frighteningly large and callused hand fell onto his shoulder changed everything. Jason tensed up, for Candymen usually didn't touch people they offered to unless they were super pissed off for some reason. If the victim wasn't interested, they'd try a trick or two but would ultimately let them go if they stood their ground. "The name's Luke."
"Hello, Luke," Jason said in a tight voice. He really didn't need to know this guy's name, which probably wasn't the one on his birth certificate…if he even had a birth certificate. "I really need to be going-" Luke moved in front of him before he could leave, and that's when his heart began to slam against his ribcage, his blood roaring in his ears. Jason swallowed the lump in his throat as Luke pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, exhaling a cloud of grey fumes that twisted and whorled in the air, and then flicking it away, grinding it against the ground with his shoe until it was snuffed out.
Luke leaned in, his breath hot on Jason's face. "Listen, kid. I know potential when I see it. You look like you could use a job." He gestured to the teenager's ragged grey shirt and mangled jeans. Jason was about to point out to Luke that his clothes were only slightly less tattered, but he kept his lips sealed. He didn't want to fight with one of the Candymen. What if he was a part of one of the many local gangs? Jason would be minced meat if he took even one false step out of line around this guy. Slowly, he nodded. Luke gave him a crooked smile, revealing teeth that were surprisingly intact despite the fact that he probably got into at least three fistfights a day.
"I'm not talking drug dealing, if that's what you're thinking," Luke said in a low voice. "I'm talking angel hunting." Jason regarded Luke for a moment, searching he face to see how high he was off of the drugs he sold, or how drunk he was. However his blue eyes were clear, shining with intelligence, and his face was far from flushed, pale even.
"Um, I'll pass. Err…sorry, but I really have to go-" he lied while slowly backing away from the crazy guy, hating how his voice quivered slightly with the fear. He didn't think he could outrun this guy if he tried, and he certainly couldn't take him on in a fight. Luke took a step forward and Jason backed up a little more, his eyes darting around to look for a possible opening from which he could make a valiant attempt at escape.
"I'm serious," he relplied, his voice now a growl. "And it wasn't an offer, it was an order." Jason had to cross his eyes to look down the barrel of the handgun Luke had just produced from his belt. "You're coming with me." The teenager gulped and put his hands behind his head, not making any sudden movements in case Luke's finger slipped on the trigger and his brains were blasted out. He walked obediently down the street and felt the cold metal of the gun pressing in between his shoulder blades. He involuntarily shivered. What was he going to do? Thalia would be worried sick if he didn't get home before dark. She'd be hysterical, knowing what kind of people lurked in the streets. What if Luke intended to kill him? All of these thoughts rattled inside Jason's skull as Luke prodded him along.
Absolutely nobody passed by, everyone holed inside of their sorry excuses for homes, and Jason felt sweat dribbling down his temple as the heat caused the air to ripple in front of him. The dirt underfoot was so dry that it was practically sand, and their feet sent clouds of dust billowing into the sky. Luke led Jason down an alley, looking around warily to see if anyone had followed. The cops here were horrible; they looked the other way when they saw things like these in action, probably because they purchased drugs off of the people committing the crime. Jason had finally figured this out when he saw them in their police cruiser smoking and laughing as a guy got mugged not ten yards away, the irritable scent of marijuana tinging the air around them.
"Stay here and don't move, or a bullet is gonna find a way through your skull," Luke growled and turned to face the brick wall. Jason trembled against it, his hands shaking violently. Luke couldn't have specifically wanted him. He had just been one of the unlucky ones that happened to be passing by; Luke would've probably done this to anyone, but it just had to be Jason that had been there at that moment. He cursed his luck, cursed the Heavens that had given him this luck, and blamed the angels and their stinking leader for thrusting him into this difficult life. Then again, some people had to shoulder all the bad stuff so others could get the good stuff, though that didn't keep Jason from growing bitter.
Luke ran his hand over the brick wall and Jason was sure that he was somehow intoxicated, even if he didn't show any signs of it. He hadn't staggered or stumbled and he could walk in a straight line. Could he just be plain crazy? There were a lot of mentally unstable people here, but he'd never seen one that acted so…sane, he supposed. Perhaps the screw loose in his brain didn't affect the way he spoke or carried himself? Jason was highly doubtful as the other blond's fingers skimmed over the coarse and crumbling blocks, mumbling numbers under his breath.
"Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty- got it!" Jason nearly jumped out of his skin as Luke turned to grin triumphantly, pressing on one of the bricks that seemed to be the same as all of the others. Jason felt his heart rate quickening even more, if that was even possible, and his hands shook as he heard a low beep sounding from the building to their right and one of the windows opened.
"Climb the dumpster and get inside," Luke demanded and nudged Jason with his gun for emphasis. He knew that there was the chance that the gun wasn't loaded, that Luke was just bluffing, but he didn't want to test his already crappy luck. Eying the layer of grime and wrinkling his nose at the ungodly stench, Jason clambered up the dumpster, making faces that seemed to amuse Luke to no end, and slipped through the window, which was surprisingly low to the ground. Luke followed with an easiness that showed that he'd done it more than once, his gun still trained on his hostage's back, and closed the window behind him. The sound of a lock clicking into place made Jason gulp.
It was fairly dim in the room that he and Luke had crawled into, almost as dim as it was dusty. Weak sunlight filtered through the windows that had excess grime and dust gathered on the panes, casting sickly yellow squares of light onto the bare floor. There wasn't any furniture as far as Jason could see, and there wasn't anyone else inside the building besides him and Luke. The silence within caused Jason's ears to begin to ring, and had it not been a sweltering day he would've shivered at the eeriness. His captor marched him forward, growling for him to speed up or slow down with an 'or else I'll shoot' after every order, and he would've laughed if he hadn't been so utterly terrified. Jason's heart was beating so loudly that he was afraid that Luke would hear it and take even more advantage over his fear, but if that was the case than the other man didn't show it.
They reached a very foreboding-looking door and the hinges squealed from the rust on its hinges as Luke opened it, gesturing towards the stairs that wound down to a lower floor. Jason let out a ragged breath and began his descent, with Luke not far behind. Their footsteps echoed through the deadly quiet building, fading away like dying screams. Jason's ears rang and he tried to concentrate on anything except the incredibly hopeless situation that he was in right now. The walls were painted a bland, faded beige and in many areas the paint was chipped and cracked. Several bugs skittered by and electric lights hung here and there, emitting a faint and droning buzz as they brightened and dimmed.
At the end of the stairs there was another door, which was just as noisy as the first, and the two of them filed inside after it was unlocked using a key Luke had produced from his pocket. This room, unlike the room that they had just been in, was illuminated by candles, though the only things that could be seen were the dancing flames and the things that were revealed in the small radius of light around them. Judging from the elevation of the lights, which were too high to be set down on the floor, they were on a table of some sort. Shuffling could be heard, as well as the scraping of chairs, as Luke escorted Jason towards the sound of hushed whispers. The faint outline of people could be seen, their eyes reflecting the light, however the forms were too distorted for Jason to really pick out their features.
"Well what do we have here?" asked one of the indistinguishable people. The voice was clearly male and had a rather tantalizing and taunting tone to it, though it was on the reedy side. Jason could clearly picture the mischievous smile on the owner of the voice. "Looks like we got ourselves a newbie."
The hostage finally found his voice. With clenched fists he asked, "What am I doing here?" There was a chorus of chuckles, including one from Luke, and Jason heard the sound of someone's chair scraping as they got up. He was terrified that the person would come over to him, but abruptly the electric lights blazed to life overhead, washing everything in a blinding white light that took a few moments for Jason's eyes to adjust to. What met his eyes were five people, all who really didn't look like the sort of people that Jason would trust on a daily basis. They were wearing all black, as if they were Goth rejects without the makeup, but surprisingly their clothes were intact, and leather. If they have enough money to afford black leather jackets, what were they doing here in this mess of a town? Jason thought, bewilderment racing around his skull, along with a whirl of emotions and thoughts that made it difficult for him to concentrate on the present. That's when his eyes drifted behind them, and he opened his mouth in a silent scream that never reached him lips.
Behind the people was a glass case that stretched the length of the wall and rose to the ceiling. Jason couldn't process what his eyes were seeing, and he rubbed them to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. Perhaps Luke had given something that he wasn't aware of? Was a hallucinogen in the fumes from his cigarettes? He didn't feel woozy in the slightest, his head a torrent of feelings and thoughts but still clear, but when he looked up again they were still there. Inside the case, glittering like two stars, was a set of wings. They were each twelve feet long and composed of thousands of downy white feathers, which altogether made a stunning image that artists would be scrambling to paint. That image was ruined, however, when Jason glanced at their bases, where they should've been fused to the flesh of some sort of humongous bird; they were clearly severed, and not in a nice and friendly way. The skin was rough and torn, as if they'd been ripped out of the bird's back, and the feathers around the area were crusted with dried blood. Jason forged down the bile that was rising in his throat as he noted the circle of ragged flesh surrounding the gleaming white bone.
They couldn't be real, but the more Jason looked at them, the more genuine they seemed. You couldn't duplicate this, and that flesh certainly looked like real flesh. Nobody would have the time to lay out all of the individual feathers on this, and some looked as if they'd been in the process of molting, with shafts poking out only partially as some clung to the wing by the force of sheer will. Each of them shimmered in the light, but Jason had a feeling that it would be much brighter and more beautiful if it was still attached. But to what exactly? Jason asked himself.
"I see that you've noticed our prize. Yes, these wings can fetch for over six thousand dollars, but we keep them because they are one of our biggest sets of wings," one of the assembled people, a teenaged girl who looked about a year older, informed him in a tone that was rather matter-of-fact She had curly, honey blonde hair and calculating grey eyes that sparkled with cold, deadly intelligence, and they bored into Jason like he was a particularly interesting specimen that she wished to dissect. "Apparently you're here because Luke here thought that you might be worth training."
"I don't know what's going on here." Jason desperately tried to fight the quivering out of his voice, but to no prevail. The five people, now six due to the fact that Luke had joined them, chuckled amongst themselves as if they were old friends sharing an inside joke. Jason knew that he could make a break for it; the door was wide open and Luke wasn't there behind him, but even so, all of the people in this room besides him were armed; Jason could see the glimmer of knives and daggers in their belts and all of them had holsters hanging by their hips.
"Listen, you've been brought here for a reason. You have the potential to become an angel hunter. Like us," the blonde girl told him.
"So you mean that those wings are-" Jason was cut off by the voice that had greeted him earlier; the one that had sounded mischievous.
"Angel wings," he replied proudly. Jason turned to see that it had come from a rather scrawny boy. He looked funny in all black, along with all the weapons that he was carrying that altogether weighed heavier than him. He had curly brown hair and brown eyes that were filled with a rowdy and mischievous light. Jason knew it was probably best if he avoided him.
"You kill angels?" he hissed. "Who would do that?" He sounded calm, but his insides were raging, trying to process all of the information that was being shoved towards him. His heart was raging, blood roaring in his ears as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Two sides were at war, the side that denied this existing and the side that was an enthusiastic believer. Both were tearing each other apart inside Jason's head, a clatter inside of his skull that made his head pulse with pain.
"Us," was the boy's snarky reply. "We need the money. Do you know how much a set of average-sized angel wings can go for?" Jason shook his head. "One. Thousand. Dollars." He stiffened. One thousand dollars? He could use the money, for both him and Thalia. They wouldn't be in poverty anymore. They could pay off their debt. They could by a mansion far away from here and live in the lap of luxury just in exchange for a few dozen sets of angel wings. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Of course you have to go through a year's worth of training before you can actually get to the hunting part. Angels are dangerous as well as beautiful, kid. But we want you to join us. We can be your family," Luke told Jason, for the first time since they'd confronted each other his voice was gentle, though the blond still didn't fully trust him. He didn't trust anyone, except his sister, however he had to admit he was curious. The training sounded quite exciting, learning how to attack and defend against feathered foes that were must faster and stronger. He shook his head clear of the thought, thinking of how that'd earn him a first-class ticked down to the fiery pits, and he didn't even really believe in heaven and hell until before then. Now he was doubting his actions because of some afterlife that he hadn't even thought about since he still believed that there was some higher power watching over. He'd thought that there was nothing; that it was just him and Thalia and his wits and the debt, and it was just them against the world, with nobody keeping them safe but each other. Now he was rethinking that; if there were angels, there was a heaven and a hell and there were people who went to each when they died. Jason didn't want to burn, but he wasn't sure if he was ready for paradise, either.
"I have a sister who needs me and I need her, too. I have loads of debt and two jobs and I can't pile angel hunting on top of that," he ground out through clenched teeth. "So I'll pass. Plus, it's immoral. I can't just…" He shook his head and waved his hand, not wanting to say the terrible deed out loud.
"It'll just be a night job. You don't have to do it if you don't want to," the blonde girl told him. "But you'll regret it, and the guilt wears off after a while." Jason thought of all the opportunities of a good life slipping away if he denied, but the thought of the remorse that would come with it clashed for the prospect of middle-class life, wealth, even. Would he ever be happy if he didn't become an angel hunter? Would he spend the rest of his days wishing that he'd taken the job? Or would he spend his days of angel hunting begging for forgiveness to the God that he hoped was listening. But he couldn't really think about himself, though; he had to think of Thalia. What would be best for his older sister? What would make her life so much easier. There was really no contest after that. Jason looked up at the six people who were watching him expectantly.
"I'll do it."