Once a Thief

By: E.R.M. Griffin

Summary: Starting before the events of The Thief of Always, Hood has always had loyal servants to aid him in his conquests, until Rictus encounters a situation that may turn him from his master forever.


CHAPTER 1

The day was a short one, as was the case more and more with summer over and fall quickly approaching. September was upon the world, and the first hints of a cooling breeze had begun to creep into the sweltering air. Soon the warmth would vanish completely. Not to mention it meant school would be beginning.

On such a short day, when the night had come far quicker then it should have, and only mere days remained before she had to return to High School, Rachel Rivers tried to make the night last as long as possible. But the book in her hands offered little distraction from the temptation of sleep. But she knew the moment she submitted, the night would fly by and she would be one day closer to another school year. To the monotony of a schedule and the almost constant feeling of being insubstantial.

"I'm going for a walk!" She announced suddenly, her eyes shining with intent. There was nobody in particular that she meant to say it to, as there was nobody else in her room. But it meant doing something, which was far more important then simply lying down and going to sleep.

She reached out to grab a ribbon with which to tie her plain brown hair, suddenly wishing that just for once she could look as pretty as some of the other girls in her school. Glancing into a nearby mirror, she was astounded at how ordinary she looked. Her hair was long and earth-colored, her eyes brown. Her face was a bit full, and she possessed no particularly outstanding features. She was simply ordinary.

When her hand closed around a hard object, Rachel turned and saw she had brought her razor out of her drawer. She kept it hidden out of sight specifically for night such as that one.

"Right..." she murmured, slumping slightly on her bed. Pulling up the sleeves revealed dozens of thin, even lines. Cuts she had inflicted herself, over the course of many years. The same of which covered parts of her legs as well.

She was in no way suicidal, and yet she continued to do it, even when swearing to herself that each cut would be the last. She couldn't explain her fascination in the act, her need for it. Even now she brought the razor to her hand, a few centimeters under her left thumb, to the left and clear of any major veins. It was raining outside now, a gentle pattering on her windowsill that calmed her as she almost expertly brought the blade across her skin.

There was a sudden rush of adrenaline and pain which abated a second later, replaced by a sweeter relied. Almost instantly, a redness seeped out through the wound and created a thin trail over her skin, no larger than a paper cut. A tiny drop managed to come to the surface, dropping to the ground as Rachel turned her hand upside down. She was glad she had no carpet in her room. Wiping specks of blood from a shiny wooden floor was far easier then dried wet streaks on a carpet. All the less necessary to explain as well. Her parents had no idea of her rather unnaturally hobby, and she was in no way intent on telling them. It would be too difficult to explain. She already felt stupid enough.

She felt so calm, that she brought the blade against her skin yet again, preparing to make another cut right under the first. She brought the razor down, cutting into the skin once more, intensely intent on her task. Yet when the sudden crash of her window panes coming in contact with the walls startled her, Rachel found the blade cutting too deep. She cried out in pain, biting down on her lip. The cut was deep indeed, running the length of the area between her thumb and finger. That hurt. It also bled. A lot.

"Oh no..." she stared at it, her eyes opened in horror. More blood, though this time far less controllable. "No no no..." Rachel shook her head, coming to rest on the floor against her bed. She stared down as the blood collected into a tiny pool and started to move slowly across the floor, eased on by the sudden breeze in her room. The pain was intense, white hot in her hand. She was panicking now, adrenaline rushing through her. She couldn't call her parents. What would they think if they saw her in such a state? Then they would see the other cuts, and would send her to a hospital and have her locked up, she was sure of it. But she didn't know what to do about this. Had she nicked an artery or something? The way the wound bled she might have just believed it.

"Honestly now, does it rain every single night here or simply when I choose to come about?" A voice demanded, edged with sarcasm and a slight bit of disdain.

Rachel gasped, her eyes flying up towards the window. It was still open, and rain flew in to mix with the blood, thickening the pool. At the head of it all, standing only slightly taller then Rachel's own rather scrawny frame, was a strange looking man.

Her first instinct told her to scream for her parents, but was quickly extinguished by her impending bloody problem. But as she studied the man, he seemed rather unimposing. In fact, he didn't look the least bit threatening. His build was, as her second good look confirmed, no more imposing then her own. On his slightly pointed nose rested a pair of thin spectacles. He was dressed in an immaculate fancy white suit, down to a pair of black shiny shoes. His skin was pale, and almost a strange yellow sheen, as though he had recently been ill. His ears were strange, almost violently pointed, as though he were an elf from a storybook.

But perhaps his most striking feature was his smile, a wide grin with two rows of perfect gleaming teeth, so wide-spread that they resembled a shark's smile.

"Um...hi..." Rachel managed to utter, one hand holding on to her bleeding wrist. Still, the flow continued un abstracted.

The man at the window grinned at her, then did a quick double-take as he noticed the scene.

"...did I come at a bad time then?" He finally inquired, his grin only slightly faltering.

Is he for real? Rachel blinked, a bit taken aback by his lack of suitable reaction. Most normal people would be calling for help or trying to aid her in some way.

"No...I...cut myself," she replied dumbly.

"So I see."

Rachel felt her defenses suddenly flare. "Look, did you want something...cause if not I'll just sit here and bleed to death then..."

"-Oh you won't bleed to death!"

"Excuse me?"

"That cut is all wrong. I mean, you just need a hand with that. You were going to call for help, weren't you?"

"Uh..."

"Well?"

"Hey, I don't have to tell you anything!" She huffed, a bit angry at the man's indifference. "I didn't invite you to come...climb up through my window. Who are you anyway, some kind of pervert?" She demanded.

"What? No!" He laughed, though his tone was less sugary then it had been moments ago. He seemed rather agitated. "I was merely coming to inquire if you were up for a little trip, so I flew on up to..."

"-You flew?" She cocked an eyebrow. "Right, so first you climb a tree to peak in on me, then you talk about flying. So you're a pervert, and your crazy!" She scoffed.

"Are you always this rude when someone interrupts you while your killing yourself?" He demanded, now a bit angry.

"Do you always stand around doing nothing when you see someone bleeding all over the place?" She countered. "Besides, I didn't invite you up here, and I wasn't trying to kill myself!"

"Right," he scoffed, and was kneeling next to her in three quick strides. Rachel shrank against the bed behind her, suddenly a bit afraid. "Relax, will you woman. If I wanted to hurt you I would leave you here and let you do it for me." He muttered, pulling a handkerchief out of his suit pocket. He wrapped it around the wound, his thin fingers holding it in place tightly. A rather flatulent smell rose from the handkerchief, stunning Rachel slightly. "Honestly, teenagers and their fascination with suicide..." he muttered under his breath as he tended to the cut.

"I wasn't trying to kill myself," Rachel insisted again, scowling at him as he worked at tending the wound. "I just...slipped."

"Right, so you just upped and decided to slit your wrists..."

"-That's not even my wrist, you-"

"Oh for the love of..."

They continued bickering as he held the handkerchief tightly, loosening his hold a bit only when he noticed a brief flicker of pain cross her face.

"So why did you say you came here for?" She asked after a moment of silence. She felt a bit calmer, wether it was from growing used to the stranger's presence, or simply from loss of blood, she wasn't sure.

"Well peeking in on you of course, I tend to do that to most attractive young ladies when its raining out. I like to leave a lasting impression you know!"

Despite everything, Rachel couldn't help but let out a laugh. This seemed to please the man, who's already large grin widened to almost caricature proportion.

"My name is Rictus!"

"Rachel."

"I know."

"Right, I forgot. You flew on up here to take me on a trip, of course you know my name." She gave him a wry look.

He cocked an eyebrow, seeming a bit annoyed. "You are far too sarcastic, has anyone told you that before?"

"And you are far too weird. Do you do this a lot?"

"Of course."

Rachel grinned, warming up to the man slightly. He seemed to pick up on this, the annoyed expression vanishing. Replacing it with one of casual indifference, he raised a gloved hand towards her, his other still holding hers.

"Look, as interesting as this evening has been, I don't have time to play around here all night with you...as tempting as it sounds," he shot her a suggestive look, which caused Rachel's eyes to bug out in mild shock. "I came here to ask if you wanted a remedy for this sadness in you that I see. For the reason you do...what you do," he gestured to her cuts, his eyes sweeping over them.

"What remedy would that be?"

"Don't interrupt girl, let me finish. It's like a script you know, you never talk during a movie, do you?" He huffed.

"No."

"Well good, let me finish then." He paused, waiting to see if she would say anything. Satisfied when she didn't, he continued on. "I can take you to a place unlike you've ever been. A place where the magic of flight and transformation would not be so strange to you. A place that would help you fill the void inside of you that you fill with..." his eyes flitted to the fallen razor, "...all the wrong things."

"Your lying, there is no such place," Rachel broke her silence, interrupting again. "There couldn't be."

"And just where do you think I come from?" He demanded. "You think ordinary folk fly about whenever the mood strikes them?"

"No, I guess not."

"Right then, the place is real! Just because your limited imagination can't conjure it doesn't mean it doesn't exist!"

"Okay, supposing for a minute I don't think your totally insane and maybe think your telling the truth...why me?" She asked, a bit skeptical. But Rictus' charms, chameleon-like as they were, were slowly working.

"Why not?" He shrugged. "I only want to make you feel a bit happier without having to resort to these..." he gestured to the cuts, "...fake feelings."

"I guess that's good..." She trailed off with a sigh.

"Excellent! Then I shall have them reserve a room for you..."

"-but wait, what about my parents? What about school, I am in High School you know, and senior year..."

"-is overrated!" He beat her to the punch, shaking his head. "How old are you now anyway? Fifteen? Sixteen?"

"Seventeen, actually," she muttered.

"My my, I am cutting it rather close." He grinned. "We do have age-restrictions of sorts you know. Can't very well have fun with adults mincing about and messing it all up can we?"

"I guess not..."

"Of course not. But I think we can make an exception with you. You've still a ways to go before that unhappy chapter in your life rolls in, I think." He stood suddenly, pulling her up with him with a gentle tug at her wounded wrist. "Come now, why not play a little at it before it's too late?" He winked, his tone honey-sweet. "Don't you want to escape this monogamy, at least once in your life?"

She thought about this for a moment. "Yeah, I do."

"Then it's settled. I'll pop in on you a few days from now, once all the arrangements are made..."

"-I'll let my parents know."

"No!" he countered sharply, though quickly continued with a less agitated tone. "Listen, you can't let them know where your going, you know they wouldn't let you go. You can call them once your there to let them know, but for now its better we keep this between you and me, our little secret, alright?" He leaned in closer, smiling.

"Well..."

"It's not like you've had trouble keeping secrets in the past," he raised an eyebrow, and Rachel knew he was referring to her cutting.

"Alright then, I won't tell anybody. But if this is a setup to kidnap me or something..." she started, her tone dark.

"Sweetling, if I wanted to hurt you, I could sit back and watch you do it for me." His words stung, hitting home hard enough to silence her.

"Don't call me sweetling," she scowled, causing his grin to widen and a brief laugh to escape him.

"Watch for me then, won't you?" He asked, sauntering over to the open window.

"Wait, what are you..." She started, but was cut off as a sudden gust of wind found itself into her room, filling Rictus' suit as though he were inflated, and lifting him clear off of the floor and into the night sky.

"Watch for me sweetling." He called over the din of the wind. "Till we are together again then!" He let out a long peal of laughter then, which echoed and eventually vanished along with him into the dark.


To Be Continued...