AUTHOR'S NOTE: Welcome to the last installment of the Compass Points series. If you're new to the series, don't worry, they're all stand-alones. You absolutely don't have to have read the rest of them to understand this one, this is me building a story up from the ground. If you're interested, though, you can find them on my profile page, "South" (Jasper Fic), "East" (Leah Fic), and "North" (Benjamin Fic). Anyway this is about Benjamin from "Breaking Dawn" (or Avatar Benjamin :) as I've heard people calling him). Obviously there wasn't time in the book to really get into his character, so I went for it myself. Offhand notes: 1) If you spot mistakes or inconsistencies, please point them out to me. I count on you guys for that, and you are dang good at it :). 2) Unlike previous fics, darling Benjamin will not be heading off on an immediate road trip in the direction of the title. Don't be concerned. He will just be heading west later this time, rather than sooner. This is pre-vampire Benjamin, and his story all the way through vampirism and right up to Breaking Dawn.
God, I always hate it when these things end up so long. Sorry. Enjoy!
"I don't believe you, Ben. You can't do it."
"I can do it."
"You can't. It's impossible!"
"I can do anything."
True statement? Not necessarily. But there were some days when I believed it, and anyway it was too late to back down now. I was standing with Ashai next to the highest wall in Cairo, giving ourselves neck cricks by staring up the full height of it. Sizing it up like we would a rival.
Did I want to climb this wall? No way. Did I look crazy? You could kill yourself falling off something like this, not to mention what was on the other side of it. But, well—she was really pretty.
All right, so maybe, technically, I'd gotten myself into this. I guess I had, technically…bragged that I could steal Lord Amun's cane.
See, here's the problem—my brain seemed to be directly attached to my mouth, with nothing in between. If I thought it, I said it, and it always seemed like a good idea at the time. It was just afterwards, when I really started to realize what had come out of my mouth and had to deal with the consequences—it was only then that it wasn't as fun.
It was especially difficult while I was a teenage boy, because I was automatically obligated to back up any stupid boast I might make. It had gotten me into a few tight spots before—but not this tight. No, this one was definitely the new record for Let's See How Stupid Benjamin Can Be And Still Get Away With It. Depending on how it turned out, actually, it might end up being a totally different record altogether.
But what the hell, you know? I was broke anyway, hadn't pulled off a successful job in almost a week, and if I didn't steal something I was going to starve. I was a good thief. Maybe I could do this. I didn't see any other options at the moment, because she was so pretty. I had been trying for so long to impress her—I'd climbed national monuments, I'd stolen neckties off of sleeping men. If this was finally what I had to do to impress her, then that only meant she was a really top-notch sort of girl.
"Oh yeah," I said with transparent false confidence. "I've climbed higher walls, Ash, this is…nothing."
She was not buying it. "Well then, let's see you do it," she said, crossing her arms. I don't even know if you could technically call us friends. She mostly seemed to just tolerate me, which I was okay with. As long as she still wanted me around.
"What, now?" I had been plotting alternatives already—where could I steal a really expensive walking stick that could maybe pass for Lord Amun's? But that would be hard, everyone recognized that stick—with that famous silver lion head at the top, everyone was used to seeing him striding through the streets with that walking stick, and God help you if you got in his way. It would be nearly impossible to pull off a fake. "It's not even dark!"
"So?" she challenged. "I thought you could do anything."
"I meant that in a really impressive, vague way!" I said, exasperated. "You're not supposed to take me seriously!"
Instead of responding, she grabbed me by the back of my shirt and threw me behind a fruit stand. This wasn't the reaction that I usually got from girls, but for Ashai it was always possible something like this was going to happen. I'd gotten used to it.
"Hey!" I objected anyway, pulling myself back up. "You can't just go around—"
"Get down," she hissed. "It's Suliman! Are you stupid? Get down!"
All objections gone. I hit the ground like it was suddenly my best friend, pressing myself back against the wooden cart so hard I could feel the splinters. I watched out of the corner of my eye for the fruit seller—I doubt he would be crazy about me hiding behind his date display, I didn't exactly look like an upstanding member of society—but most of my attention was devoted to the person who was walking up to Ashai right now. If I tilted my head to the side, I could see half of his face—small-eyed and spatulated, black-hole black-eyed. I was careful not to lean out too far.
"Where is he?" No mistaking that voice. Not that screwdriver nastiness, its sound seeming twisted and dried from too many days in the sun. I made a face.
"Where is who?" Ashai asked—she'd already assumed a careless lounging pose against the far wall, the casual street girl with absolutely nothing to hide. It worked okay if you were cute.
"Benjamin," Suliman said, with the frustration of a person who knew they shouldn't have to explain. "I know you were with him this morning, so why don't you just tell me where he is."
"I haven't seen Benjamin in days," she lied with a straight face. That was about the first thing you learned to do in the street, was lie your head off. Right after stealing. You got those two down, and you were going to be okay. "Maybe he died."
"Oh, are you going to lie to me, Ashai? Do you really think that's smart?"
Here's a short primer on the Cairo police force. First and most importantly: they are crooked as a bendy straw. You must take this into account in everything that you do, especially if your chosen career happens to fall on the wrong side of the law. If you're a well-off criminal type, no worries—bribery is your best friend. Learn it. Live by it. Pay it on time. If you are, on the other hand, one of those people who wake up in the morning wondering if they'll manage to eat today, you're in a slightly different situation. Mostly you should just avoid the police, and you should learn that there are places and organizations that you do not steal from. You just don't do it.
Most of these people and places are those who are handing out the bribes, but on a simpler level, it's probably best not to steal from the policemen themselves.
Maybe this seems like a no-brainer. Yeah, well. You haven't heard the story.
The first part was down to a stupid mistake—cops don't always dress like cops, you see. But even when they're off duty, if you try to pickpocket them, they are going to catch you. And they are not going to like that so much.
Long story short, this guy Suliman broke my jaw. It was…not good. First of all, when you're on the street with a definite lack of medical care, a broken anything is very bad news. I still shudder to think what would have happened if I'd gotten an infection, if it hadn't set right—well, I got lucky. But I was not going to let it go.
It took me awhile to set up my revenge, I'll tell you that. I had to find out who he was with only my vague memories to go on—well, he's got this sort of a nose, right? Like someone maybe hit him with a bat? And alligator eyes—you know what I mean by alligator eyes? Then once I'd finally found out who he was, I had to find out where he lived, when he worked, what shifts he took regularly, everything about his schedule. What his house looked like. How many rooms. What restaurants he liked to visit. Everything. And then I made my move.
First, I took everything of value—money, watches, electronics…vaguely metallic-looking belt buckles. Then I turned everything else upside down—and I mean that in a totally literal way, like I really picked up everything in his house and turned it was quite a production—he worked eight-hour shifts on a normal day, and it took me nearly that long to finish it. I turned over furniture, food, potted plants, plates in cabinets, everything that wasn't nailed down.
Then I went in his bedroom, found his sock drawer, and took every single left sock.
It was awesome. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful heist, and I've been trading on the legend of it ever since. Unfortunately, Suliman didn't find it quite so hilarious, and he's been after me to tell me so in person. I didn't care. It was worth it. It did, I'll admit, make my life a little more difficult. I wasn't sure whether he wanted to arrest me or kill me, but either way he definitely wanted to get his hands on me, and that necessitated a lot of hiding behind fruit carts, most days. I was sure he'd eventually get over it.
My friends and acquaintances took a significantly less chill approach to my personal Javert, though, because they were the ones getting harassed by Suliman day in and day out. "All of you," Suliman was currently snarling at Ashai. "All of you protecting that little son of a bitch, you all need to learn to get out of the way. He's not worth it to you, I promise. He's not worth what'll happen if you don't."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Ashai said icily. She wasn't having fun anymore, and I could see her starting to move away, blowing him off.
He let her get a step and a half away, and then he grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "I don't think you understand me," he said. This was a man whose patience had entirely run out—I could tell by the sound of him.
"Oh, I think I understand you perfectly," Ashai told him. "And I said no."
This was the point where things were about to get ugly. Suliman was ugly already, no two ways about that, but for Ashai to get ugly too? Well, that would have been a travesty. So I sighed quietly to myself, got my feet under me, and stood up.
"Hey," I said loudly, appearing suddenly from behind the dates. "Hi. Right here."
"Huh. Weird," Ashai deadpanned. "How on Earth could he have gotten there."
You can go ahead and give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I was being a gentleman here, that I was out to save Ashai and defend her honor or whatnot. That's possible. That might have been it. Or maybe it was another one of those things that just seemed like a good idea at the time.
At any rate, it worked. Suliman turned and saw me and forgot about Ashai altogether, dropping her arm and coming after me like he might climb straight over the date display. This worked out for us too, because it gave Ashai the perfect opportunity to hook her foot in front of his and trip him neatly before we both split off in separate directions.
Usually I liked to have specific escape routes planned out, just in case this kind of thing happens (it happens more often than you might think). This wasn't exactly our part of town, though, so the plan here was more just pick-a-direction-and-run. I picked left.
Left worked out okay for awhile—ran through a few side-streets, yelled sorry for pushing a few people out of the way—but then it abruptly and upsettingly stopped working. This was because of a thing we like to call a dead end. I don't know if you've run into any of those before, but a dead end when you're going down a street that you think leads somewhere, and then bam! You run into a wall. No way out. Dead end. In the best of circumstances it's an inconvenience, but sometimes—like when you're running away from an angry, vengeful cop—it can be downright lethal.
I'd managed to run in an almost half-circle around Lord Amun's wall, and now I was at the end of an alley with that wall directly in front of me. Just standing right there, waiting for me. Right in front of me.
Okay, life, I said. All right. I can take a hint. At least it was darker than it had been twenty minutes ago—the evening starting to hit that dusky pre-night phase where the temperature dropped from Scorching Egg-Frying Death to Mild Sunburn. It never fully cooled, not in the summer—not even during the night. Just as the pavement and sand were starting to lose their sun heat, the instant that they finally cooled—well, the sun would come back up again. Welcome to Cairo.
It was just barely getting dark, though, and it gave me the necessary cover and courage to size up that wall again, quicker this time and with more purpose. It seemed to be made of some kind of rough sandstone, which was better than what it could have been, but still, to climb this kind of wall you usually wanted to have rope, or something. Oh well. Desperate times. I heard Suliman turn into the alley behind me, and I put my hands on the wall and started climbing.
I'd always been good at climbing stone. Even things that seemed sheer, that seemed impossible—I don't know, I always managed to find niches in the stone, unexpected holds. I don't know what it was. It had just always worked that way for me.
All right, if you must know, weird things like that happened to me a lot. Things that didn't hurt me as much as they should have. Things that didn't stop me like they should have. My entire family had gone into the water when our boat had gone down off the coast of Alexandria when I was nine, and I was the only one who had ever come out. Didn't drown. Never came close.
I was just lucky, I guess.
The luckiness was definitely coming into question, though, as I scrambled up the wall and left Suliman yelling at me below. Yeah, this was really subtle. Really hanging onto the element of surprise here. I made it to the top of the wall and pulled myself up, not daring to stand—I was something like thirty feet off the ground, and my balance wasn't great. I didn't want to die.
So here I was kneeling on the top of the wall, with Suliman yelling on one side and the guards on the other side starting to notice the yelling. They looked up, saw me, and chimed in with some yelling of their own, pointing and shouting things that I wished I could hear.
This, also, I think could qualify as a dead end.
Emphasis on dead.
I pushed myself reluctantly up to my feet and ran carefully down the length of the wall, away from the wall ladder about fifty feet down the line from me, the one that was being immediately climbed by not one but three guards, all apparently crazy enough to want to get up on this eight-inch-wide walltop with me.
I wasn't sure what my plan was exactly, but even the instinctive running-away plan came slamming to a halt when I saw where I was headed. Toward another wall ladder about ten feet in front of me, also being swarmed up by overexcited guards. I had no other options, though, and there were less guards headed up this ladder, so I kept going. I got there first.
Every step I got down that ladder was less far I potentially had to fall, so I was happy to make it even halfway down. That was where I ran into the first guard, and we had an extremely awkward, short squabble over the next rung. I won, but mostly by accident—my foot slammed right into the back of his head, and he was out, falling soundlessly the last ten feet. I scrambled quickly down another few rungs, but as I got closer to the ground I felt a hand wrap around my ankle and drag me down, jerking my grip free of the ladder.
I only had a few seconds to panic before I hit the ground right next to the fallen guard, but I wasn't as far up as I thought. I wasn't dead when I hit—I was just in a lot of pain. I broke my fall a little with my forearms and rolled with it, flopping gracelessly over onto my back, breathless, a thousand bruises forming—I could feel them already, every spot that I'd be hurting in the morning. Assuming that I was—you know…alive.
As I rolled over, a boot came down hard on my chest, pinning me to the ground and adding pretty badly to the breathlessness. It was a guard. He was really big—or maybe he just seemed like that because I was looking up at him from the ground. But no, he was probably just that big, and he was scary. I looked up at him and he did not look happy. He was not thrilled to see me, he was not happy that I'd gotten in here where no one was supposed to be able to get in, and he was going to do something about it.
Well. There went my luck.