Picture What It's Like.
If I were a big boy i wouldn't cry
but since I'm not a big boy
i'll have to close my eyes
and picture what it's like
"Almost Human", Voltaire
There was this way Zaphikiel tended to not-look at him sometimes that made Raziel positively nervous. He would have been hard pressed to explain why exactly that not-quite-look made him nervous, just that usually after lord Zaphikiel would lean his face on his chin and focus on him, Raziel had to resist the impulse to check his hair to make sure it was combed or to see if his uniform wasn't dirty. It had something to do that usually when lord Zaphikiel put that expression, he would ask Raziel something difficult. Not impossible, but definitely something that would push Raziel out of his comfort zone.
It was quite a good thing that he didn't get along with the rest of the candidates and thus no-one ever asked him. It was also quite good that although lord Zaphikiel was the Great One of the Thrones, he also tended to be alone rather than not. As it was, Raziel could, more or less, decide that it was mostly his paranoia working against him (because, despite the years since Zaphikiel had rescued him, his paranoia still remained deeply ingrained in him, and it was one of the reasons why he still tried to avoid being surrounded by people).
And he had, quite frankly, grown to believe that his master most likely did that just because it got him nervous.
"Here's the tea, lord Zaphikiel," he said once he had pored him cup for his teacher, with his twist of lemon and one sugar.
"Thank you, Raziel. Please, sit," Zaphikiel smiled at him, and Raziel allowed himself a silent sigh, relaxing, deciding that this time it had been definitely his paranoia working against him.
He sit down, allowing the scent of mint from the tea to calm him, even as he stirred the sugar in it, just the clinch of the spoon against the china heard. If Zaphikiel hadn't really meant to tell him anything, then he had, perhaps, thought about cutting off. Raziel frowned, because lord Zaphikiel still had backlog from last week when he had deemed to disappear for two meetings, and if he did that again...
"Raziel?" he stopped thinking about the schedule and all the work they still had left, shaking his head, focusing his attention on his teacher.
"Yes, lord Zaphikiel?"
"I was wondering," his superior started, leaving his cup on the table, which Raziel took as a prompt to do the same. "Have you been practicing your abilities?"
Ah. Raziel did his best not to squirm. Even knowing that they were alone and that now-a-days Zaphikiel was the only one who knew about his 'gift', he didn't like much talking about it. Still, he owed it to Zaphikiel that he was able to be here instead of in a lab, talking and drinking tea rather than reduced to a guinea pig.
"I... yes, sir, just as you have told me to," and at least lord Zaphikiel's help had meant that he had learned how to block the thoughts from other people from his. It had felt so foreign, at first, being able to hear his own thoughts rather than everyone else.
Zaphikiel nodded, and then he put his hands on the table. Raziel stopped wanting to fidget: instead he had to remind himself that Zaphikiel wouldn't hurt him because, quite frankly, he could have just left him to rot at the labs forever and ever and no-one would have missed him.
"I think I'll just ask this. Raziel ... do you want to learn how to use your abilities?"
Raziel stopped breathing. It was instant panic, blinding him, blood rushing through his ears. Memories: the way the rest of the students had seen them, the fear and hate, the way their faces had changed as they pressed close. So many thoughts and voices inside his brain, driving him crazy. The scientists voices as they tried to cut him into pieces.
Then, hands on his shoulders (they wanted to force him, wanted to break him, the would put needles and scalpels and--) -- Zaphikiel's voice. "Raziel!" his master ordered, and behind the red haze that the world had become, Raziel was able to see his master's face, and Zaphikiel was putting all his rank and experience behind his voice and into his orders. "Calm down. Take a deep breath, and then let it go slowly."
He did manage to do that, though it took time for him to be able to look at things without that red haze covering his every thought and sight. Zaphikiel kept with his hands on his shoulders, tight enough that Raziel was sure he was going to have bruises, breathing with him until Raziel was able to take a deep breath on his own, closing his eyes before he opened them... only to be horrified.
"Lord Zaphikiel! I'm so very sorry!" He cried. The vases in Zaphikiel's office had exploded, his table was turned over, books and reports destroyed. Even lord Zaphikiel had a cut on his face that was slowly bleeding down from his cheek towards his neck: it either came from his destroyed china or the window. What had he done? "I didn't mean to-- oh, lord Zaphikiel, please--"
"Have you calmed down, Raziel?" Zaphikiel asked, ice and command still in his voice, and he must have felt the way Raziel desperately nodded from his hands on his shoulders, because he then smiled, letting go of his shoulders, instead putting a hand on his head. "Good. Take another deep breath."
"I'm so sorry, lord Zaphikiel," he said, trembling. Surely Zaphikiel was going to sent him to the laboratories again, or to prison. He was doomed, and he had betrayed his master's trust. He had proven that he didn't deserve this opportunity.
"I know," but Zaphikiel smiled. "Do you think you can help me fix this mess, though?"
"I-- yes! Of course! Don't bother yourself, lord Zaphikiel, it's my fault!" he was dizzy, but he didn't allow himself to focus on that. If there was even the tiniest chance that Zaphikiel wouldn't throw him away, he would do anything.
"I'm not bothering myself, Raziel," his master chirped. But before Raziel could go and try to turn the table as it was, Zaphikiel put his hand on his shoulder again. "And this is, actually, the reason why I asked."
Fear spiked inside Raziel again, but he clenched his hands tightly, letting his fingernails press unto his palms to keep him focused.
"... after this, you can't really think it's a good idea for me to learn that, sir."
"Raziel, this happened because you're scared," Zaphikiel said. "Right now you have an unreasonably powerful weapon, fully loaded, in your hands, and this weapon is so very sensitive that many things can trigger it, as we just saw. But if you knew how to handle it, you'd be able to lock it properly."
Raziel bit his lip, looking down. "Lord Zaphikiel..."
"It's okay, Raziel, you don't have to answer right now," Zaphikiel was still smiling, squeezing his shoulder gently. "Think about it for a few days. Once you have made up your mind, tell me. If you say yes, I'll help you. If you say no, I won't mention it again. Alright?"
Raziel nodded again, not trusting his words, even though the correct thing should have been say thank you. But Zaphikiel just squeezed his shoulder again.
"Now! Let us fix this place, and then you can make us some more tea," Zaphikiel's said with another smile. "Just think about it, please."
Of course that Raziel thought about Zaphikiel's offer. It was constantly on his brain, making him jumpy and distracted during his obligations.
'Use his abilities'. That had been the one constant thing he had done, at the labs, wired to computers and machines to measure his brain activity, his aural response, his heartbeat, his everything. The scientist had done everything in their power to get him to use his abilities. It had scaled from simple telepathy to seeing if he could make use of someone's memories against them (he could) to seeing if he could drive someone mad (he could) to seeing if he could kill with his mind (he could). All those screams were locked inside Raziel's mind, all the hate and sheer blind terror all those they had brought to test his abilities.
And now... now Zaphikiel wanted him to learn how to use them? Wasn't it enough that he now knew how not to use them? Shouldn't they be trying to find a way for him to be able to block them for good? Why would Zaphikiel care of--
But Raziel didn't allow himself to think that. Even if he knew he was more likely going to be paranoid forever, he would never allow himself to doubt Zaphikiel.
And it was thinking that that he thought about another side of this equation.
What if his abilities would come to be of use to his master one day? He knew that if he said that no, he didn't want to learn how to use them, Zaphikiel would never bring it up again, but Raziel also wondered if there wouldn't come a day when he would regret that. Not because of him: if there was a way for him to give up that curse he would do it in a beat, but what if, in the future, Zaphikiel would have been able to use those abilities.
Raziel had promised himself that he would help Zaphikiel, no matter what. He knew, without an ounce of doubt, that he wouldn't have lasted much longer in the labs. Raziel wasn't sure how much longer he would have been able to answer, but he did knew that he had become more and more unresponsive to the procedures that were effected on him. He simply had stopped caring.
Zaphikiel had saved him from that. He had brought Raziel back from the nothing he had been, and had helped him become someone again, not just a number or a failed experiment. Zaphikiel was always there with a kind word, a soft smile, a warm cup of tea whenever Raziel needed him. Even when he got angry, even when he yelled...
Was it really that much, learning how to use his abilities to repay that? Really?
Raziel knew what was his choice.
The wound on Zaphikiel's face had faded into a thin line by the time Raziel had finally gathered his courage. It still made Raziel feel guilty, though, and he almost lost his courage when he saw it, as Zaphikiel turned toward him, smiling.
"Ah, Raziel, you're rather early today, aren't you?" Zaphikiel said, cocking his head. "I hope you're not skipping lessons, because if you are--"
"Of course I'm not, lord Zaphikiel!" He interrupted, almost offended; but if he let himself fall into that, he would lose what little courage had left, so he stepped inside Zaphikiel's office, closing the door behind him. "I've been thinking about... about what you offered me. About, ah. My abilities."
"... I see," Zaphikiel closed the book in front of him, putting it aside. He offered him a chair, but Raziel didn't sit down, letting his nails press against his palms. He didn't trust himself not to do something embarrassing if he allowed himself to relax like that. He was half terrified that Zaphikiel was going to ask if he was sure, because if he did, Raziel was going to have to answer that no, he wasn't, and please, not to make him do it. "I think it'd probably be wise for us to start immediately. If I'm not mistaken, you're free tonight, right?"
"Tonight?" Raziel swallowed. He had thought that it'd be a few days, at least... not that a few days would help much, not really, but still...
"Yes," Zaphikiel probably knew the reasons behind Raziel's sudden stammer, but he didn't press unto that. Instead he stood up, walking close to Raziel, leaning to touch one of his trembling fists gently. "It'll be okay, Raziel."
He made himself relax, but even though he wanted to believe in Zaphikiel's words, he wasn't so sure.
They started with small things. At first, Zaphikiel would just ask him to try and see if he could read small animal's brain, which he could, even if most of their thoughts didn't translate into words. But slowly, with Zaphikiel's help, he started working his way up.
Zaphikiel asked him to see if he could get inside a bird's mind, make it fly, make it chirp it's song (he could). Zaphikiel asked him to get inside a cat's mind and afterwards Raziel ended up rolling on his back and blinking lazily, with an extremely amused Zaphikiel baiting him and yet, at that moment, Raziel didn't care much (except that afterwards, when he had broken the link between the cat and him his blush had threatened to cause him to self-combust). Zaphikiel had asked him to touch a dog and see its memories, and Raziel had ended up smiling.
None of them had died. None of the animals he had touched - either with empathy or telepathy - had been hurt at all.
"This is why you needed to learn, Raziel," Zaphikiel told him over tea, when he asked. "Your gift is not evil. You can use it for good just as easily as you could use it for evil."
"So... in the laboratory..."
"Even if you weren't asked, you were scared and in pain," Zaphikiel didn't quite shrug, but he did purse his lips in distaste for a moment, before he smiled at him. "I think, Raziel, that self-defense is a perfectly natural response for when you're being attacked."
Raziel smiled into his cup, allowing both the warmth from those words and the tea to warm him inside, before he asked:
"... what now?"
That well translated into Zaphikiel, once, taking him down to Earth so that he could use his abilities with humans. Humans, as a whole, were completely different from the more simple minded animals he had tried his abilities with, which made him more nervous than he ever cared to admit.
Still, it hadn't proven to be too difficult. Once he had been able to properly block his thoughts and just open enough for him to listen to one human at a time, it was easy. Zaphikiel had asked him to try and convince a woman to go left rather than right, and then for a man to stop smoking. Then he had asked him to touch a young child, see if he could find out the happiest moment in his life so far.
Raziel was almost, almost starting to believe that Zaphikiel had been right. Yes, his powers could be terrible, and they were terrifying, but they didn't have to be. He could bring something would through them, if he used them carefully enough for no-one to find out and sure, he wouldn't be able to use them in public - lest he wanted everyone in Yatzirah to see his red eyes - and he would never even try to think of use them for his personal gain - he still hated this gift too much to even try and think on using them for himself - but surely...
"You sound happy," Zaphikiel told him one night with a smile, when he and Raziel were having tea at his place, and Raziel nodded before he thought about it, relief making him feel loose limbed, almost as if he had had wine.
"Oh, yes, sir, thank you," Raziel said. He could try to tell Zaphikiel why all this meant so much, but he doubted he had enough eloquence for that. And he knew that Zaphikiel had to know at least how much this meant to him. He had been his confident for long enough to know about his nightmares, the oens that were his own and not just overheard from someone else's subconscious.
Zaphikiel smiled, even as he knelt in front of him. Then, his expression sobered.
"You do know we're not done yet, right, Raziel?"
His mood sobered a little. "I... well, I thought there might be more, or you would have told me. But what would be next, sir?"
"Angels," Zaphikiel said, and Raziel did nothing to hide his wince. He had thought as much, and yet, he had hoped that it wouldn't really come to this. "With the things you have learned, I'm sure that, if you needed, you'd be able to use your abilities to defend yourself. But most angels would have their astral power to consider as well, and you have to be able to overcome that without them noticing it."
"... I know," Raziel agreed, pressing his hands on his thighs. But then he added, hopefully. "But... it'd be too dangerous to try, right? I mean, even if they don't notice me, they would realize my eyes..."
"Yes," Zaphikiel said, but before Raziel could relax, he smiled, adding: "That's why you're going to try on me."
It took Raziel a few moments before he could answer. First he had to make sure he wouldn't just panic again, letting free of his power. He also had to be able to breath again, hopefully without hyperventilating, which was much more harder than the first.
"No," he said finally, backing away, because even if he had managed to keep his powers in check, there was no way he was going to use them in Zaphikiel. The experiments he had been part of in the laboratory came back, full force. Use your abilities to kill another failed angel, tear them apart, destroy their minds.
"Raziel," Zaphikiel said, his voice commanding again. "This is something you still have to learn how to do. Look how much control you have gathered? You are scared and yet you're in control. Now, you need to be able to do this."
"But, Zaphikiel-sama!" Raziel started, his back against the wall. He was trembling.
"You're not going to hurt me," Zaphikiel said, as if he was the one who could read minds. "You won't allow yourself to do that. I trust you."
It was daunting, to hear that. How could Zaphikiel do that when Raziel didn't trust himself? It made him feel warm as well as overwhelmed, but Raziel made himself move away from the wall, standing up until he could get close to Zaphikiel again. He knelt in front of him, trying to keep breathing.
"... are you sure, lord Zaphikiel?"
"I am," Zaphikiel said with a smile. He took off his glasses, leaving them by his side. He sighed. "I'll block my mind as much as I am able to. Of course, this time I'll know that you're trying to get in, so it might be harder, but remember, Raziel: try to get inside from a weak point."
That was easier said than done. Zaphikiel wasn't only the person who had saved him, something that would have made Raziel loyal to him no matter what. He was also someone who Raziel had grown to admire and respect, and the idea of trying to get into his mind through a weakness, even if his teacher had given his consent, made him feel not only ungrateful, but as if he was betraying him.
Raziel bit his lip before he allowed himself to use his powers, feeling the subtle way everything was more present, for him. His empathy made it so that even things around had memories attached to them, soft hums that could distract him, if he wasn't careful. But he focused on Zaphikiel, trying to find a way for him to get inside his mind without, actually, allowing himself to see any of Zaphikiel's memories.
And then, he saw it: the small scar that his first outburst had caused. It had left a small line upon Zaphikiel's cheek that grew fainter and fainter each day. Raziel knew that in a few days there would be nothing left, thanks to the accelerated rate angels healed, but it remained there, a tiny timestamp with attached memories and emotions.
Raziel doubted for a moment before he reached forward, touching that small mark just with his fingertips. It was enough: Zaphikiel gasped, apparently not having expected him to go as far as touching, but before Raziel could even hope to apologize he was sucked in by Zaphikiel's memories of the day he had offered to help him control his abilities.
There were no images, which was something that Raziel had come to expect from his experience, but there were a myriad of sounds, a chair scraping against the floor, china chinking, his own voice the way Zaphikiel heard it, soft and a little exasperated as he berated Zaphikiel for not doing his job. There was the scent of the mint tea he had prepared that day, butter of the biscuits Zaphikiel had gotten for their tea, of the flowers that had been in the office, magnolias and chrysanthemums.
And then Zaphikiel's memories shifted from sound and scents just to feel, and what he was feeling was Raziel's powers, Raziel's fear. Though he was an empath, Raziel had never felt it. Each time so far, he had been too afraid, too blinded by the moment to pay attention at what he had felt. His only response had been to try and get others to leave him alone. But now, as he was within Zaphikiel's memories, he could feel his anger and fright, the way Zaphikiel had felt them. Raziel had never realized that when he had a crisis, he projected them. Zaphikiel could have felt his astral power and he had, and he had been amazed at the raw intensity of his abilities, and worried as well as surprised, but there was no way that Zaphikiel would have been able to feel Raziel's anger, his fear, his exhaustion at the mere idea of having to have all those voices inside his head again.
But then there had been worry, and care, and chilling determination to calm him down. Raziel felt how in Zaphikiel's memories Zaphikiel moved towards the place where he could feel Raziel had frozen, felt the slight wince when his cheek got hurt, and then he felt Zaphikiel's hands on his own shoulders, and he remembered the ten imprints that had been left there, afterward, and he pulled away with a gasp, breaking contact, shaking as he did so.
Zaphikiel also gasped, though, which at least told Raziel that this time he wasn't the only one shaken. But he didn't dare turn to look at his master's face, see if Zaphikiel now feared him as much as everyone else had ever had. He tried to calm himself as quickly as possible: he would go to his dorm room and he would lock himself up and then perhaps they both could forget this for good.
Zaphikiel's hand on his shoulder startled him, making Raziel jump. "L-Lord Zaphikiel!"
"I told you you wouldn't hurt me, didn't I?" He was smiling. There was no fear, no disgust on his face and when Raziel allowed himself the tiny little peek into Zaphikiel's feelings, he found he was being honest. There was some surprise, there, and he was startled, but he wasn't afraid.
He had used hi powers on Zaphikiel and he wasn't afraid.
"Raziel?" Zaphikiel asked, surprised, softly concerned.
"I-I'm fine," Raziel said, trying to stop his tears, wiping his eyes with his hands, but he couldn't stop crying. He had been so certain, so sure that after this, Zaphikiel would fear him, would push him away the way everyone else had done.
And he hadn't. He wasn't hated. Zaphikiel still didn't consider him a monster.
Zaphikiel sighed, and he moved his hand from his shoulder, but only to put it on his head.
"Silly boy," Zaphikiel muttered, but he sounded as if he was smiling, and he didn't say anything else at all, just letting Raziel cry until he had no tears, no doubts left.