Full Title: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue. I had to shorten it because of the limited character count in the title bar.
A/N: This is the edited version. Many thanks to my amazing beta!
Warnings: Some mild violence, nothing too graphic.
Disclaimer: Kazuki Takahashi owns it all and I'm making no money out of this.
Part 3 – Something Borrowed
Bright sun was shining down upon the earth and its inhabitants on the day when he stopped right in front of his old home. Soft breeze rustled the leafage of the century old trees beneath which he was standing, his solemn gaze slowly travelling all over the old, decrepit house. Ghostly images were swimming in front of his vision, echoing whispers glided just within an earshot, almost there, but not quite so – all the people from his past whom he had loved very much. The bygone days seemed to be so very close, as if all he needed to do was to take just one step and he would once again be there –surrounded by people who loved him just as much, who cared for him just as much, and who would give and do anything for him. It had been a happy life, back then...
Until one day it ceased to exist...
Now, faint cerulean eyes were gazing at a broken-down house, once his home, now – merely a place for ghosts of old, dear memories. In his mind, they were all still there – Sonia, Julian, their parents. So happy, so careless as if nothing could ever ruin this heavenly idyll...
Ghosts of his past were all around him, whispering inaudible words, lingering nearby and weighing him down with their presence, making him wonder whether all of it had been a mere dream. Had it ever existed? Had it all been real once? Had he lived in a dream? Or did he need to wake up from this dream to be reunited with them again?
"Look, brother! I've got a kitty!" Sonia chirped happily, holding up a brick-red, brown-striped cat. The animal was dirty and quite wild-looking, but in the little girl's arms he behaved so well as though it had been cuddled and petted all its life.
"Where did you find it?" Raphael blinked at the animal in confusion before outstretching his arm to pet the feline. The cat let out a loud, contented purr and tried to claw at his hand in a – as it seemed to Raphael – attempt to win his friendship.
"Down the street behind Pierre's Bakery." The little girl cooed soft words to the feline, cradling it in her arms as if it were the greatest treasure of the world. Her dress was covered with random stains, but she paid no heed to that. Her world had narrowed down to the fragile life in her hands.
Raphael frowned. They were not allowed to wander outside the garden on their own. If their mother or father were to find out, they could get in trouble. "What were you doing there alone?"
"I wasn't alone. Julian was there, too." Sonia looked so innocent as if she were an angel lowered down to Earth from Above, and she came rather close to that image with her summer-sky-blue eyes and golden locks that framed a perfect porcelain face.
"I hit it!" Julian announced happily, lowering the self-made bow. It was just a piece of a flexible branch slightly bent and its ends tied together with a piece of an old cord. They had only three arrows each, and therefore only three tries to hit a chosen apple dangling at the end of a branch.
"That was unbelievable," Raphael confessed, picking up the apple in which a self-made arrow had found its place of rest, and inspected it. Instead of hitting the stem, the arrow had embedded itself within the apple, but it still counted as a hit. "You hit it with the second try on your first time."
"Yup!" Julian nodded energetically, soft cinnamon locks flailing around. His cerulean eyes were full of sparkling joy. "Now we can compete to see who's better."
"All right." Raphael pulled out the arrow and handed it back to his brother before picking up his own bow. "Let's try with that one over there."
It was cold and rainy outside, the fierce wind throwing raindrops against the windows, but inside the house it was warm and safe. Mother was sitting in front of the piano, Sonia at her side, and they were playing a light melody four-handed, their gentle voices entwining to create a wonderful symphony. Even though Sonia's little fingers hit a wrong key every so often, it did not take away a single thing from the charm of the evening.
Raphael and Julian were sitting side by side on the couch opposite the piano. Several steps behind them their father was leaning against the side of the fireplace, keeping half an eye on the warm flickering flames, the rest of his attention concentrated on the two most loved women of his life.
"…your home is where your heart lies. Do not fear the stormy skies! The clouds will quickly fade away, and sun will come to warm the day. You've gone so far away from home, you wander unknown paths alone, but I'm still here to you unknown. And one day you will realize, that I am where your heart lies..."
The memories were faded and strangely distorted, and quite likely no where near reality, but what little moments he could recall, Raphael held dear. The fights he had had with his siblings, all the times he had been punished instead of his brother or blamed for breaking something his sister had broken were pushed away to the farthest recesses of his mind. The longing for his lost family allowed him to recall moments that had been lost in the long years, that had not even been of particular importance. Now even the tiniest remembrance had a bittersweet feeling to it. Suddenly even the smallest things he had done together with his siblings mattered more than ever before.
Raphael sighed softly to himself and stepped out from the shadows of the oaks and into the sunlight, finally gathering the much-needed courage to approach the house. So many memories had haunted him on the way here, and now everything suddenly fell silent. A new reality was taking up their place, all the things he was seeing now worked to further harden him. Memories and reality overlapped, leaving a bittersweet taste at the end of his throat. There was nothing left from the place he once called his home. Nothing... Nothing but an empty carcass.
Part of him had desired to see this place exactly as it was the last time he saw it, and another part was anxious to see what it had turned into right now. He did not want to enter the house, he did not want to see the safe haven of his childhood lying in ruins, nor did he want to face what he had lost. And at the same time he wanted to see it all. To see and make sure which one of these two realities was the genuine one. Which one was the beautiful dream he never wanted to wake up from, and which – the nightmare he needed to escape, to wake up from and forget forever.
Raphael remembered that, after losing his soul, for one desperate second he had wished to stay with his family. He had wished that the Pharaoh would not win, just so he could stay with his parents and his siblings. He had been stripped of his family at the age of twelve, ripped away from all that was familiar and thrown into a reality he was not ready for.
Was it not only human to wish to be once again reunited with his loved ones and never part with them again?
On his way home, he had acquired himself a new mantra. With each step he had taken, he had softly chanted to himself, Please, be okay. Please, be okay. Like a parent looking for his lost child. Please, be okay. His most treasured memories, almost vanished from his mind, yet he tried to recall them in full colour, wishing to make them real again. Perhaps, if he tried hard enough, all the things and people he had valued so much would still be alive in this world as well and not only his mind. Please, be okay. Even the minute he had finally noticed his old home in the distance and seen that some things were not as they should have been, he had still hoped. Please, be okay. When he was close enough to see the blind windows, he did not interrupt his mantra, and hoped, hoped… Please, be okay. Perhaps the inside of the house was still the same way he remembered. Perhaps at least his room was still the same way it was the morning he and his family had left the house to never return again...
Please, be okay.
As his feet numbly carried the blonde French man onwards, his mind slowly registered all the changes. Windows not just shattered, but ripped out with all the frames. The door was hanging in half-broken hinges; dirt on the steps leading up to it, dirt behind it. Raphael shuddered involuntarily. He knew he would later regret coming here and wondered if he should turn around and leave. But something drove him onwards, and he could not stop.
He had had that feeling – that he was going to regret this visit – all the time on his way here, and it had now proved right. Although… I shouldn't be so surprised. It was only something to be expected.
As he slowly made his way up the stone stairs, his cerulean eyes travelled over the cracked walls, all covered with brown, wilted ivies. They had once been a vivid green wilderness, covering the biggest part of the façade. Now they were only a skeleton of the previous lush richness. Behind the door, litter was covering almost every part of the floor. Raphael recognized a lot of familiar things there: shattered dishes, shattered glass, pieces of old rags, splinters of broken wooden furniture, torn up photographs, human dung… His eyes registered everything, every last bit of the destruction, but his mind had a hard time accepting the fact that someone had dared to violate his home in such a way. And the further he went, the worse it became. And it hurt. It hurt much more than he would ever like to admit.
Please, be okay…
There it was – his childhood lying in ruins, his memories now stained with the brute reality. The part of him that treasured his long lost life was screaming at him to leave, it could not cope with it, but the other part – the one that had pulled him through and kept him alive during his stay on the desert island – coldly, emotionlessly accepted everything. Raphael knew he never would be able to banish this sight from his mind. It would wear down and lose most of the details, but… His memories would overlap with this destruction and always leave a bitter taste in his mouth.
Each his step, each familiar and now so foreign scene brought back memories. In is mind's eye, he saw Sonia running through the hall, dressed in blue and her blonde hair flailing wildly. And there was the staircase and the ornate banister. He had often slid down it in a competition with Julian to see who would get to the bottom of the stairs first. Blink of his eye, and the vision was gone. Raphael's fist clenched as if on it's own accord. There was not a thing in this house that would not remind him of the bygone days and the happiness they had been filled with. The change was shocking, painful and bitter.
Raphael walked into every room, checked throughout the house, and silently acknowledged the damage done. What he saw – hurt. Hurt so much that it was almost unbearable and yet he took his time. Stopping for a few seconds in every room, he tried to accept what his eyes saw. It seemed as if someone else was walking those corridors, someone else was breathing this air. It hurt, yes, but he wanted this pain. He wanted all of it.
His childhood memories would never be the same again, now that he had seen this place. He also knew that he would not return here for a second time. He doubted he would even walk by this house ever again. The blonde debated this possibility as he walked upstairs to his old room, on the way stepping into Julian's room, the one that used to belong to Sonia leaving as the last place to visit.
The sight did not improve. If anything, it was even worse than on the ground floor. Windows gone along with all the frames, ground littered with all kind of rubbish and dung, walls covered with peeling-off tapestry and spots of mould, doors either lying on the floor or barely hanging in the hinges, pieces of old rags scattered all around the floor...
The floor itself was a huge mess, its planks almost rotten, a few dents implanted here and there, allowing him to see what was under them. He had to watch his every step unless he wanted to fall through it to land on the litter downstairs. Slowly he approached Sonia's room. The once light blue door was dirty grey now, lying on the floor of the corridor, and Raphael leaned down to pick it up and lean it against the wall with peeling tapestry. Once the way was freed, he discovered a faded out fur and bones of what was once a cat. The blonde suppressed a shudder. The dead animal did not frighten him – he had seen things far worse than that. It was the idea itself that made him feel strange. Sonia had once had a cat. Who knew – perhaps this one was the same.
He stepped over the sad skeleton and entered his sister's room. The same destruction that he had seen all around the house greeted him here as well. Raphael knew that what was left behind were only the most worthless things. Everything with at least some value had been carried away and sold off. That thought both angered and saddened him. To think that someone unknown to him had entered his house, no, his home without permission, carried away, no – stolen something that belonged to him and sold it off, and then spent the money on, most likely, alcohol or drugs…
But there was not a thing he could do about it. The damage had been done years ago and tracking the perpetrators down would be impossible now. Turning back time was not within his powers. Not even Dartz's.
Perhaps he should have come home earlier, perhaps he could have prevented all of this from happening, perhaps he would have been admitted to an asylum by his dear relatives so that they could split his money among themselves and enjoy their lives for as long as it lasted. There were too many possibilities and too many answers that could never be found. For one odd reason or another, Dartz had preserved his inheritance, and so Raphael was not in a dire need of money. He guessed it was because Dartz had needed his complete trust and devotion, otherwise there was no real reason for him to do anything that resembled an act of goodwill. He now knew that his inheritance was still quite impressive even though his old master had, no doubt, used the biggest part of it for his own needs.
As Raphael's eyes roamed over the destruction, he spotted a dusty and torn doll that his sister had always carried around with her. She had forgotten to take it on the trip that took their lives. The blonde faintly remembered the rivers of tears that flowed when Sonia discovered Lolita's absence, and smiled softly. It had been so treasured because their mother had sewn it herself, injuring her fingers on the way since she was not very good with needlework. But she had done it nonetheless.
He leaned down to pick the damaged doll up and brushed the dust off of it. The mouth was now more askew than it had been all those years ago, one black button eye was missing and the other one was hanging at the end of a long thread. The doll's body itself was dirty and torn, obviously chewed on by rats or mice (or maybe both), and the stuffing material showed through the gaping holes. The only arm and leg left were barely hanging onto the body, the once pink and frilly dress was now torn and covered with mould, and the long yellow yarn hair were now merely a few pathetic shreds. It looked just as pitiful as the rest of the house.
As Raphael walked down the creaking staircase to the only room that he had not yet visited, he still held the doll in his hand. He approached the living room in which his family had once spent many happy evenings when their mother would sing and play the piano. Sonia sometimes joined her in playing as well. He had left this room as the last one to see because he did not want to part with those memories quite yet.
As he walked through the now nonexistent door and descended those three steps down, his eyes locked on the piano. It was bruised and damaged, and was no longer standing in its old place. It seemed as though it had been moved, but turned out to be too heavy to get it anywhere and was left to be. Raphael approached it, and extended one hand to touch the scraped wood as if afraid that it would disappear any other moment now. It did not. He took a step closer, noticing the absence of the key lid and the bench on which his mother had sat on while playing. The blonde placed the doll on top of the instrument and walked around to face the black and white keys. He let his fingers run over them, brushing the cobwebs and dust away. A few spiders scurried off and over the torn doll, running from the sudden intrusion. Raphael brought his other hand down, letting his fingers press on the keys, drawing a few distorted sounds from the piano. It was detuned during the years, and some of the keys gave no sound at all.
He let his fingers wander over the keys aimlessly, producing a cacophony of sounds. He tried to replay the song from his memory, the one, his mother had played almost every evening, but could not. With a final hit on the keys, he straightened himself up. Ridiculous. He was standing in the middle of his old living room in his old home and trying to play a melody that he had never even known how to play.
"Home is where your heart lies. Yet one day you will realize, that I am where your heart lies," Raphael whispered silently. Ridiculous. He spun on his heel and strode out of the house, and away from his old life and his memories. Coming here was a waste of time.
Finding a job was not an issue for him, considering the money he still had left, but he decided to find one nonetheless. He needed something to concentrate on, something that would demand the most of his time so that there was none left for him to waste on thinking about things he could not undo.
He had no idea what he could do, now that he had so much free time on his hands. There had been little time for him to develop any hobbies while serving Dartz, other than duelling and relieving his targets of their souls, but none of that would help him now. One of his skills that he knew would be appreciated in the world he had been so suddenly thrown in was piloting a jet. Even if he could find someone who needed a pilot, he doubted they would accept him just like that, without a diploma, recommendations and a whole lot of other papers that he did not have. Also, his cold logic told him that even the smallest connection with Paradius Industries could become a serious roadblock in his path if it became known.
While all of those obstacles could be easily bypassed, he was more concerned about one thing – would working as a pilot provide the needed distraction from his thoughts and memories?
In the end, Raphael decided on becoming a construction worker. Tearing down houses and building new ones was a heavy and dirty job, one that demanded all of his strength and concentration, but he saw it as a blessing. Every evening he returned to the cheap apartment he was renting on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne completely exhausted. He only had enough energy for a quick shower before falling asleep on the worn-out couch the previous inhabitants of the apartment had left behind.
Ever since the day Raphael had returned to France, he had dreamed only once. It had been the second day after his visit to his old home. Dreams came to him no longer; he had made sure of it by working himself to exhaustion. Maybe he did work harder than necessary, did more than his co-workers, but he did not care. Memories did not haunt him anymore and that was good.
When the construction site moved, Raphael moved as well. He lived in trailers and poorly decorated apartments, adapted to the eating habits of his fellow workers and the sleeping patterns of a person who works too hard to forget. There were a few women in his life: passing by, stopping for a moment, and vanishing after one night; sometimes even sooner. Short, tall, level-headed, feisty, blonde, black-haired. They were always the ones to make the first move, to initiate the relationship, knowing that it would not be a long-lasting one. They changed every time he moved to a new place. It was a life he chose to replace the old one and to shut up the ghosts that were not all that eager to leave him alone.
It was not what Raphael had really wanted, but it was something that got him by, and with time, he was used to living this way. He got to know the people he worked with, took part in their hobbies and started sharing their ways of spending the free time. Slowly but steadily he was moving onwards; and one day came the moment when he could look back at his past without any regrets. He was no longer haunted by the memories of the decrepit house. He could think about it, could go back to it in thoughts without any risk of getting caught into sad memories. The bitterness was still there, but he had long since accepted it. And sometimes, when he thought back to the time he had spent under Dartz's power, he wondered what had become of Varon and Amelda. It was not like he missed them; it was just human curiosity, a silent wondering about the fate of the people he had worked together with.
What were they doing now? Where they alive at all? He knew that, if anything, Varon was a survivor. Amelda... he was not so sure about. Something about the redhead companion told him that he did not possess too stable a psyche. If there was one person capable of laying hands on himself, it had to be him.
A chill passed down Raphael's spine and he shook the thoughts away along with the stale remains of low-grade coffee from the disposable carton cup which he crumpled in his fist afterwards. The break was over. He had to go back to his work.
That night, Raphael did not return to his apartment. He went out with the rest of the construction site workers and did his best to partake in the partying they started in a pub not too far from their apartment block. Coincidentally, there was a football game going on between two French teams and the place was already crowded with fans. The waitress was running around, sweat rolling down the sides of her face, as she tried to cater to everyone's needs. She passed Raphael a few times, balancing the round metallic tray in one hand and herself on incredibly high heels. He would have not paid any attention to her, but a rather snide comment one of his co-workers made allowed him to look at the girl through their eyes.
No taller than 1.60, chin-length black hair, excessive use of glittering blue eye shadow, tight white blouse and short black skirt – an idol of perfection and beauty as seen by the men of his level. "Irene," read her name tag when Raphael caught a glimpse of it the next time she passed by his seat.
Later thinking back on the night's events, Raphael could not figure out what exactly had prompted him to speak up and start a conversation that dragged on until the wee hours of the morning when he was the only customer and the owner of the pub was about to call it a night (even though it was already close to morning) and close the business. He accompanied Irene on her way home, even though she ended up half-supporting him when he stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. From that point on, it was a done deal.
They found each other on the floor in Irene's tiny apartment that was even smaller than Raphael's temporary dwelling. Sated, intoxicated, and the ache in their backs slowly starting to sink in, they lay side by side for a while, waiting for the world to stop swaying. But once they had reached her bed, Raphael caught a glimpse of her alarm clock and cursed. He was running late for work and even though Irene was trying to cajole him to take the day off, he left her in a hurry with a promise of returning.
And return he did. Right after work he came to the same pub and sat in solitude, slowly consuming his drink. The time dragged on, but this time they did not wait for the pub keeper to announce closing. Right after the three last customers had walked out of the pub, they left as well.
It continued like this for a long while; even after his brigade had finished working in that area, Raphael stayed behind. He took up small insignificant jobs that kept him occupied during most of the day. The nights were always spent in Irene's apartment. At around the tenth time they met, Raphael already knew most of her background. She was not native French, had no family, and she had come to this country in hopes of becoming a model. Then a scandal in that business had made her leave Paris. Not wanting to go home (for there was no place for her to return to) and having fallen in love with the country and the people, she stayed somewhere conveniently far away from the capital in hopes the bad rumours would not follow her.
Even though Raphael learned more and more about Irene, she was not given the same privilege. All he allowed were hints and glimpses and half-truths. He feared that she was not able to take all the truth about his past right away. Just knowing the basics that he was French, that his family had died in a shipwreck and that he had spent years working for a company that went bankrupt in the end was quite enough in his opinion.
It was all perfect; as perfect as it could get given the circumstances and both their backgrounds, Raphael thought. Slowly, he was learning to feel again. He had locked his emotions away for years and now Irene was teaching him to trust people again. And when she confessed love to him, unable to speak the words aloud, he let his needy mouth and feverishly roaming hands tell of everything that needed to be said. For the first time in forever he was considering having a family again.
Four months after first meeting each other, they were already having plans of moving to live together. Things were looking up for them and Raphael dared to hope that everything would turn out well.
A week after they had moved into a nice clean apartment in a rather green and partially rural area of the city, his dreams of a brighter future got crushed. He had gotten off of his job earlier and was in a particularly good mood, going over the things he wanted to share with Irene. Among other things, he wondered what her response would be if he proposed a civil marriage. Raphael was never one to make rash decisions, but something inside urged him to go for it this time.
When he reached the pub, police cars with blinking lights were standing in front of it. Even from afar he could see the shattered windows and trashed interior. Strange fear gripped at his heart and, from that point on, every step he took seemed like a rinse-repeat of an old nightmare. Such a horrible sense of déjà vu, he thought. All wrong, but perfectly right in that inexplicably cruel and twisted way. Entirely different, but exactly the same as the time long, long ago when the ship he was on with his family went down.
Slowly walking forwards, Raphael kept catching fragments of conversations among the people gathered.
"...shooting and a robbery..."
"No one survived."
"...visitors... personnel... all dead... some psycho..."
"...teenage druggies... lots of money..."
Raphael ground his teeth. It could not happen twice. Not again. Not to him. Dartz was gone; he could not interfere in his life anymore. Those and many other thoughts ran through his mind when he walked up to the closest police officer and questioned him. 'My fiancée,' were the words that opened the man's mouth. He looked apologetic and sincere as he gazed first at the trashed pub, then back at the blonde man.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it seems that no one survived."
Why? It was the only word that echoed in his mind, the only coherent thought that he still clung to even as he watched the paramedics come out of the low building with a confirmation that none had lived. That one word kept ringing in his ears when coroners came and carried out the concealed bodies and he would never know which one of them was Irene. He remained standing in front of the pub long into the night. The last remaining officers tried to guide him away by telling him that there was not a thing he could do and that they would take him home if he gave them their address. Why?
Raphael remained silent. It did not look like he even acknowledged the policemen being there. In the end, he was left alone in front of the sealed building. Slowly, as if through haze, he walked towards it, stopping as close as the police barriers would allow him, and looked at the familiar interior. Now the inside was one big racket: shards of glass lying everywhere, shattered bottles with spilled liquid almost on every surface, broken dishes and scattered food, blotches of blood. Involuntarily, he shuddered.
It did not feel real to him even though his mind had started to acknowledge and accept it. Part of him still wanted to believe that some kind of mistake was made here; that Irene had not come to work today, that she was still safe somewhere out there. Perhaps she was already home, waiting for him and worrying because he was not returning. Perhaps... Raphael shook his head as if shaking off a bad dream. He needed to make sure first. When he turned around, he discovered one of the policemen still lingering around, watching him closely in case he attempted something stupid. With his mind made up, the blond man approached the officer. He wanted to see Irene.
The policeman was slightly surprised when Raphael demanded to see his fiancée. His colleagues had tried to tell this man that he needed to follow them to identify the woman, but he had not listened. He had not even acknowledged their existence and now... Of course, they had found her personal documents in the pub and had already established her identity, but her friends and relatives would still need the closure that only seeing her dead could provide. The officer shook off his slight incredulity and went along with the man's demand. If he recovered enough, he might get the chance of taking him to the police station for a routine questioning.
Raphael did not know how he ended back at their apartment. It seemed so empty without Irene. The walls seemed to be rounding in on him, pressing close. The air felt stale in his lungs and he slumped down in the corner of the old couch they had brought from Irene's old apartment. He could feel her presence in every little thing and he could not stop waiting for her to come into the room and sit down next to him.
Slowly, he reached for something he had not touched in quite some time – a small metallic box that encased his most treasured things. He pulled out the Guardian cards and placed them on the low table in front of the couch. He did not know how long he sat just staring at them. Elbows propped on his thighs, fingers curled in his hair and digging in his scalp painfully, he gazed at the cards. And then he laughed. Silently in the beginning, but it grew in volume eventually; and soon the bitter and broken sound was echoing off of the walls and jarring his own ears. He was alone again.
Everything he had had, everything had been borrowed. The emotions he had borrowed from Irene. The illusion of a family he had also borrowed from her. But in the end, all that prevailed and stood intact by his side at a moment like this were his Guardian cards. There was Eatos. There was Grarl. And there was Kay'est. It was the only real family he had left, no matter how borrowed it, too, was.
He remained in the same pose for hours. The laughter had died away and emptiness had settled in his chest. Time slowly dragged along as Raphael lingered between slumber and reality until eventually the exhaustion won him over and he fell asleep, still crouched over.
Morning came and found him in a heap on the floor. He had fallen off of the couch and once on the ground, had remained that way. Half awake and half asleep, he spent hours in that uncomfortable position. Sometimes, when he was awake and acknowledged it, he would gaze up at the backs of his three Guardian cards on the glass table. Had they, too, turned their backs on him?
Slowly, he reached up to swipe them off the table, but his intention changed in half-motion and he fiercely brought his fist down onto the table right down on the three cards. When the glass did not yield, he lifted his fist again and slammed it down once more. Again and again, until the glass shattered and rained down on the floor and over Raphael, cutting his face, but he paid no heed to it. As if in a deep trance, he looked at Eatos, Grarl and Kay'est among the bits of glass. It had been a while since he had last held them in his hand and tentatively he reached out and traced his fingers over them and over the glass, wiping the shards away with more force than was necessary and cutting his fingers as he did so.
The pain registered. He stared at the twinkling transparent shards sticking out from his fingers and the blood gathering around them and starting to drip down. Drop after drop right on his precious Guardians.
Suddenly he was seeing a different time and a different place. There was blood on his hands and he had lain on the ground in a similar pose. His hands had been raw and bruised from clinging to a plank for his dear life. He was back on the island all alone again and the ship that had passed not too far away from the shores had disappeared beyond the horizon. They had not noticed the boy who had tried to row his way through the waves towards them and towards his own saviour.
No one was aware of his existence.
The situation repeated itself now. He was alone again. He had lost a family for a second time.
His eyes fell back on the three cards. This substitute family was all that he would ever have. Disregarding the glass and his own blood, he reached for the cards and grasped them tightly in his hand. They had seen better times and better handling, but right now Raphael simply did not care.
It had been long since he last held them. It had been long since he last sought protection and love with them. They were the Guardians. That was their fate.
A horrible desire to destroy took a hold of Raphael. The cards crumpled in his hand for the first time in life.
The next day, Raphael left the city and Irene's final resting place behind to return to his roots. What happened with Irene's remains no longer concerned him.
Remembering his time in Doma, he bought a motorcycle and set out on a rather long trip back home. Memories had come together and mixed, different voices from different times were calling out to him and he knew that they were all dead, but the wish to respond was almost too great to resist.
Once Raphael had arrived at his destination, he left his motorcycle leaning against a tree in the old garden and headed for a petrol station he had seen during his previous visit here. With a convincing story (though it was quite unnecessary) that his bike had died a few kilometres from the station, he bought a can of petrol and returned to his old home. For one last time he wandered through the decrepit and slowly crumbling building. Whether he was saying goodbye or cursing the walls, it was hard to tell. Upon returning to the ground floor, he picked up the can and spilled it in the living room, on the stairs to the second floor and in the kitchen, leaving small poor right in front of the main entrance. For a moment Raphael stood in the middle of the corridor, breathing in the smell of dust, dirt and petrol and watching light streaming through the windows and other cracks in the walls. Up until that point he had not paid any attention the weather outside.
It was a hot summer. There had been no rain for a few weeks and the building was thoroughly dry. The wood would catch fire easily. With that thought in his mind, Raphael reached in his pocket and drew out a pack of matches he had found in the kitchen. They were old and did not want to burn when he struck them. One after another he kept striking them and tossing them to the ground until one produced a strong enough spark, but did not burn long. Muttering curses under his breath, the man went to fetch some old newspapers from the kitchen. He dipped them into the petrol, crouched down and laboured again to light a fire.
Eventually, a few matches lit up and burned long enough for the paper to catch a flame. For a moment, Raphael only watched in wonder how it burned and grew in power. Slowly, he reached for a broken chair's leg and stuck it into the flame, waiting for it to light, too. Once that was done, he carried it like a torch throughout the ground floor and stuck it into the small puddles of petrol, traced it along anything that could quickly catch fire and eventually wandered into the living room and put the burning piece of wood inside the old piano.
A good while Raphael just stood there, watching how the flames grew in might and spread around, crawling along the walls and eating away at his home, but not his memories. Heat increased and only when the fire got too close to him, he remembered that he needed to get out. He looked around, his head incredibly clear, and assessed the possibilities. Taking his time, Raphael walked towards a window that the flames had not yet reached and climbed outside. Lightly, he jumped down and landed on a patch of soil overgrown with gone-wild flowers: it had been his mother's flowerbed once and some of them still bloomed among the weeds, but their blossoms were weak and small in comparison to what they had once been like.
Slowly, Raphael headed to where his motorcycle was standing and, leaning against the tree with his shoulder, he watched the fire spread and reach up into the sky. The old house groaned and crackled in protest, and the fire roared as if answering it and set to work even more viciously.
At one point, Raphael became aware of sirens. The sound was growing in volume and heading his way, but he did not run. He had no intention to do so. Come here with a certain goal in his mind, he would stick around and see it done: he would see the house of his childhood and the source of his now-bitter memories burn to the ground and disappear from the face of the Earth. To secure this plan, the French man straightened himself up and headed for the old rusty gates. For the first time in several decades, the gate moved and closed. A shiny, new chain twined around the old rusty bars and a brand new key turned in a brand new lock, shutting the world out and leaving it on the other side.
The first fire-fighters' truck came to a halt in front of the locked gates of the old villa. That was an unexpected hindrance in their path. Though they fire-fighters could use the break in the fence to get inside, the hose would not reach. One of the men noticed Raphael and seeing the situation and his calmness, got a pretty good idea of what was going on here. Nevertheless, he walked over to him with a demand to unlock the gates.
Raphael did not even look at him. He could not unlock it even if he would want to. The key had been tossed away somewhere in the depths of the overgrown garden and he had not bothered to look where it landed.
"Let it burn," was all he said.
The man glanced at the house. It was an old wreck, everyone in the town knew it and no harm would come from burning it down, but he was on a duty and could not allow such actions take place. He should have let the police handle this, but, for some reason, they were being late.
When the fire-fighter pressed on, Raphael moved as if some other force would be guiding him, punched the man in the face and repeated his new mantra again.
"Let it burn."
The minute the man fell to the ground, police had already arrived and quickly interfered in the increasingly dangerous situation by taking Raphael into custody. In handcuffs and positioned in the police car, he kept looking back on the burning house for as long as he could. He watched the fire-fighter's truck break down the gates, men rushing around and trying to save what could never be saved.
It was borrowed, he thought. All borrowed. Their lives, their goals, their ideals. Their will to fight threats to the humanity. Why else would they try to save old burning memories that deserved to be put to rest?
He only had his three Guardian cards with him, his borrowed family that was always by his side, always ready to protect him. It was all he had on that night in the cold cell at the local police station.
And that was where Amelda found him.