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.
The day was a short. The summer was over and fall quickly approached. 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.
On such a short day, when the night had come far quicker then it should and only days remained before fall classes, 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. Yet she knew the moment she submitted, the night would fly by and she would be one day closer 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. She spoke to no one in particular. 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 back her hair, when her hand closed around a familiar object. Rachel turned and saw she had unconsciously brought her razor out of the drawer. Kept hidden specifically for nights such as that one.
"Right..." she murmured, slumping on her bed. Pulling up the sleeves revealed dozens of thin, even lines. Cuts she had inflicted herself, over the course of many years. Most healed and faded only to memory. Some fresher.
She wasn't suicidal. She didn't do it for attention. She didn't want her friends to know. Yet she continued, even when swearing to herself that each cut would be the last. She couldn't explain her fascination for the act, her need for it. Even now she brought the razor to her hand, a few centimeters under her left thumb. A gentle pattering on her windowsill 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 relief. A line appeared, no thicker than a paper-cut. Red came to the surface and a drop spilled to the ground. She was glad for the bare boards. Wiping specks of blood from a shiny wooden floor was far easier then wet streaks on a carpet. All the less necessary to explain. Her parents had no idea of her rather unnaturally hobby, and she was in no way intent on telling them. She already felt stupid enough.
She felt so calm, that she brought the blade against her skin once more. Intent on her task, the sudden crash of window panes startled her, Rachel found the blade cutting too deep. She cried out in pain, biting down on her lip. That hurt.
"Oh no..." she stared at it, her eyes opened in horror. More blood this time. Rachel shook her head. The pain was intense, white hot in her hand. She was panicking now, adrenaline rushing through her. She couldn't call her parents. Couldn't move to clean her hand of its evidence without risk. What would they think if they saw her? They would see the other cuts, and would send her to a hospital and have her locked up, she thought.
"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 opened wide. Rain already pooling and washing away the blood. 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. This 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 frightening than her own. On his slightly pointed nose rested a pair of spectacles. He was dressed in an immaculate fancy white suit, down to a pair of black shiny shoes. His skin was pale, with an odd yellow sheen, as though he had recently been ill. His ears were strange, almost violently pointed, like an elf from a storybook.
But perhaps his most striking feature was his smile, a wide grin with two rows of perfect gleaming teeth. A shark's smile.
"H-Hi?" Rachel managed stuttred, clutching her injured hand. Still, the flow continued.
The man at the window grinne, then did a quick double-take as he noticed the scene.
"Did I come at a bad time?" His grin only slightly faltering.
Is he for real? Rachel blinked, a bit taken aback.
"No, I...cut myself," she replied dumbly.
"So I see."
Rachel felt her defenses flare. "Did you want something?" She snapped. "I'm kind of busy bleeding to death and all-"
"Oh you won't bleed to death!"
"That cut is all wrong. I mean, you just need a hand with that. You were going to call for help, weren't you?"
"Hey, I don't have to tell you anything!" She huffed, angry at the his 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. He seemed 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 you're cutting yourself?" He demanded, not without disdain.
"I didn't invite you up here!"
"Right," he scoffed, kneeling next to her in three quick strides. Rachel shrank against the bed behind her, suddenly a bit afraid. "Relax, will you! If I wanted to hurt you I would leave and let you do it for me," he muttered, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket. He wrapped it around the wound, his thin fingers holding it in place tightly. A rather flatulent smell rose from the handkerchief. "Honestly," he muttered under his breath as he tended to the cut.
He held the handkerchief tightly, loosening his hold only when he noticed a brief flicker of pain cross her face.
"Why are you here?" She asked after a moment of silence.
"Peeking in on you of course! I tend to do that to most attractive young ladies when it's raining out. I like to leave a lasting impression, you know!"
Despite everything, Rachel couldn't stifle a laugh. This seemed to please the man, his already large grin widened to caricature proportion.
"My name is Rictus!"
"Right, of course you do." She gave him a wry look.
He cocked an eyebrow, annoyed. "You are far too sarcastic, has anyone told you that before?"
"And you are far too weird. Do you do this a lot?"
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 held a gloved hand out to her, his other still holding hers.
"Tempting though it may be, I have no time to play tonight. I came here to ask if you wanted a remedy for your sorrow. For the reason you do...what you do," he gestured to her cuts, his eyes sweeping over them.
"Don't interrupt! Let me finish! It's like a script you know. You never talk during a movie, do you?" He huffed.
"Well good." He paused. "I can take you to a place unlike you've ever seen. A place where 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."
"There is no such place," Rachel broke her silence, interrupting again. "There couldn't be. This is the real world, not some dream."
"And just where do you think I come from?" He demanded. "You think ordinary folk fly about whenever the mood strikes them?"
She hesitated. "No, I guess not."
"Right! 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 you're totally insane...why me?" She asked, sceptical. 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? My classes are-"
"Overrated!" He shook his head. "How old are you? 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. "Yes..."
"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. "Listen, you can't let them know where you're going! You know they wouldn't let you go. You can call them once you're there to let them know, but for now it's better we keep this between you and I. Our little secret, alright?" He leaned in closer, smiling.
"It's not like you've had trouble keeping secrets in the past," he raised an eyebrow. Rachel shifted uncomfortably.
"Alright then, I won't tell anybody. But if this is a setup to kidnap me or something..." she started, her eyes narrowing.
"Sweetling, as I already said. 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. He smiled and laughed.
"Watch for me then, won't you?" He asked, sauntering over to the open window.
"Wait, what are you-" She started, cut off as a sudden gust of wind found itself into her room. It filled Rictus' suit and lifted him 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!" He let out a long peal of laughter, which echoed and eventually vanished along with him into the night.
To Be Continued...