Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it.
This started as a little drabble during Mammalogy class and turned into...this. I confess I was somewhat inspired by the whole Rumplestiltskin/Belle story arc from Once Upon a Time (my newest obsession...SO GOOD), and my imagination ran away from me. I do hope you enjoy...you have been so patient with me, and more than deserve a longer update to enjoy!
I do ask that you please review. It's been a while since I've written a longer oneshot, and any and all critiques are welcome (and begged for). Cheers!
"Julia!" Paton burst into the cell-like attic, thrusting aside the termite-worn door and sending it flying into the adjacent wall so forcefully that it shook the entire foundation of the house. His face blazed with wrath, his body radiating pure, unadulterated fury. His eyes were pitch black, sable mirrors that glowed with an astonishing amount of ferocity.
The reason for his rage lay curled in a shaking ball in the corner, a slim chain wrapped around her too-thin ankle and securing her to the wall behind. Julia's hair was matted and unkempt, falling in tangled curls to brush the slatted floor on which she lay. Her clothes hung in shreds around her too-thin frame, the shredded remains of her shirt and trousers peeling away from raw, red skin. There was no sign of food, no blanket or scrap of cloth to be used as a barrier against the icy January cold.
Paton burned, fury rolling over him in a burning crimson tide.
They would pay. They would pay dearly.
He stooped and with one mighty tug yanked the tether securing Julia to the wall from its socket. With a gentleness contradictory to his violent state, he knelt by her side and gathered her into his arms, cradling her head to his chest and burying his face in her mess of curls.
"Julia," he breathed, overwhelmed with horrific guilt. "Oh, m love, I'm so sorry." Tears pricked at his eyes, remorse and soul-wrenching guilt temporarily overwhelming his rage.
Julia stirred, eyes fluttering open to stare up at her savior. "Paton?" she asked hoarsely, disoriented. Her body shook, wracked with sobs and shivers alike. The chill grip of winter had done her stint in the attic no favors, and she quivered with a combination of exhaustion, relief and cold.
Noting her tremors, he whipped off his long black trench coat and wrapped it around her frail frame, bundling her up in his arms. The thick fabric engulfed her, offering physical asylum against the winter cold and the memory of the past month's horrors. Paton felt her shivering slowly cease as her body slowly caught up with her sluggish mind, acquiescing that it—and she—was finally safe.
"Is this real?" Relieved as she was to see him, a very large part of her was terrified that this was simply a scene conjured by her imagination, a mirage concocted by a mind desperate for some sanctity and security within a hellish nightmare. "I've dreamt about this moment, imagined your arriving every day, but each time I awaken to ore of the same." She clutched at his shirt lapels, fingers astonishingly weak in their grasp. She had all the strength of a newborn, weakened by weeks of exposure, starvation, and torture at the hands of her captors.
"It's real," Paton assured her, half sobbing the words as he took in the state of his beloved. She was far too light in his arms, shaking and pale and hollow eyed, a washed out shadow of the vibrant woman she usually was. Her haunted expression spoke of days spent in torment, subjected to who knew how many horrors, and he fought desperately to keep his expression schooled into one of absolute calm. His fury was not something Julia needed to see right now; she did not need wrath on her behalf, but rather composure to invite security.
Even so, his mouth twisted into a ferocious snarl as he identified the specks of rusty red flaking from her ruined blouse as blood. The had tortured her, beaten her—because of him.
Oblivious to the war Paton waged internally, Julia tried to find a smile, thin pink lips twitching and curling upwards as she dropped her head back against his chest, letting him cradle her to him. "I knew you would come," she murmured tiredly. "I knew you'd come for me." Giving way to fatigue, she went limp in his grasp, the haven of his arms allowing her to drop into a state of respite she had been denied for over thirty days.
Paton gathered her limp form close and pressed a tender kiss to her temple. He sat like that for a long moment, unmoving but for a series of carefully controlled breaths, breathing in the same air as Julia and trying desperately to battle back the vengeful urges that threatened to overwhelm him. Finally he stirred, the cold beginning to seep into his bones and reminding him that he had to get Julia to safety.
Rising, he cast one final, furious glance around the dismal attic dungeon, his fury returning in an acrimonious surge. There would be hell to pay—his sisters could count on that.
He bore Julia down the stairs and out to his van, arranging her in the backseat in as comfortable a position as the vehicle could allow, then jumped into the driver's seat and sped off to the hospital. His sisters would have to wait—Julia and her safety were far more important, far more precious, than any vengeful quest.
Paton blazed into the hospital, a black comet storming in with his distressful burden carefully clutched in his arms, a dark god bearing his queen to safety. "She needs help," he snapped at the bemused intern seated at the desk, eyes ablaze with feverish purpose. When she continued to sit stationary, blinking in astonishment, his mouth turned downward in a stern frown. "Now, woman!" he barked.
She scampered, springing up and speaking rapidly into a walkie talkie as she sprinted down the hallway. Within moments, Julia was ensconced in a mound of blankets and on her way to a primary evaluation, borne away on a gurney by a wave of doctors and nurses. Paton made as if to follow, but found his way barred by two double doors bearing the forbidding words, "Employees Only". Agitated, he paced over to the waiting room, spending the entire hour-and-a-half wait working himself into a state of righteous wrath, plotting his revenge and using his fury to drown out the worry and fear that threatened to overwhelm him.
When he was finally permitted to see Julia, he all but sprinted down the white-washed hallway, feet carrying him rapidly along the stark white corridors, ever closer to Julia, fluorescent bulbs flickering and crackling in his wake. He paid them no mind—what were a few shattered lights when his Julia needed him?
She laid back in a hospital bed, back heavily bandaged, body all but hidden by warm blankets and sheets. She was awake, he saw, eyes tired but aware. "Paton," she hummed, her face lighting up. "You're here."
He crossed the room to her bedside, taking one of her hands in both of his. "I will always be here," he promised, pressing a light kiss to her knuckles, dark eyes never leaving hers. She sighed and leaned back against the pillows that propped her up, tiredly closing her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she sighed, keeping her eyes closed to block out the tears that threatened to fall. It wouldn't do for Paton to see her cry. "So sorry…I thought I could be stronger."
Paton looked at her, aghast. "You are strong," he assured her, fingers tightening around her wrist as if to impress the truth upon her with his touch. "You are so strong, Julia—you survived horrors, nightmares that would break most people within a day. You refused to give in to them." His voice cracked as he imagined those horrors, the thought of his love being so harmed almost too much for him to bear. Dismayed, he traced a gentle hand along the curve of her cheek. "How can you think yourself at fault?" He shook slightly. "How can you not hate me?" Layers of self-loathing caked his words. "It's my fault any of this happened. They went after the one thing they know I can't live without—you."
Pained he closed his eyes and relaxed his grip, her hand slipping from his numb fingers to fall back against the soft cotton sheets, the hand at her face dropping listlessly to his side. "By loving you, have placed you in the greatest of danger," he said, voice hoarse. "You should not love me, dear one. None of this would have happened if I were stronger."
Julia could not help herself; she snorted, opening her eyes to give him a firm glare. "Paton Yewbeam," she declared in stern tones, "don't you dare start this again." She softened her gaze, her free hand rising to capture his, fingers dancing lightly along his knuckles. "I love you," she said earnestly, "and nothing—not you, your sisters, or any amount of torture—can change that. I decide my fate, and that is to be with you, forever, regardless of what may happen."
Their gazes locked, an entire conversation taking place in the course of a single exchange. Finally Paton bowed his head in defeat, silently accepting that nothing he could to or say would keep this woman from him. It was a warming thought, one that filled him with such an extraordinary amount of love for Julia that he felt he might burst. All but falling into the chair by her bedside, he took her gingerly into his arms, taking great care not to jostle her mosaic of cuts and bruises.
She was here, and she was safe; everything else could wait.
Two days later saw Paton escorting a still-feeble Julia into the bookshop, one large, lean hand splayed firmly across he lower back as support. She walked slowly, limbs still stiff from a month of confinement and abuse (as well as two days spent immobile in a hospital bed) but she walked proudly, head held high, independent and undefeated despite the trials.
Once inside, Paton fussed over her like a mother hen, seeing that everything was arranged to her liking and comfort. As per doctor's orders, she was confined to bed rest for another day at least—a small price to pay, though, for being back in her own bed and home.
Emma fluttered around as well, sliding pillows behind her auntie's head and beaming to have her safe and sound and home. Once settled, Julia dropped almost immediately into a deep sleep; brave she may be, but even strength of will could not completely overcome the bone-crushing exhaustion that still plagued her.
Paton stood at her bedside looking down upon her with such a soft, intimate expression flickering in his dark, fathomless eyes that Emma, lurking gin the door, felt awkward and intrusive. He trailed a gentle finger from her temple to her jaw, tracing the smooth porcelain skin with the lightest of caresses, a feather-light touch just brushing its established path. His finger brushed over a half-healed cut along her cheekbone and his mouth momentarily tightened, a flash of fury appearing in his eyes.
Julia was healing, home, safe. Now, he had some business to attend to.
He turned to Emma, making an obvious effort to contain the dangerous rage that threatened to overwhelm him. "Emma," he said, voice low and flat, "look after your aunt for a while, please." It was not a request, and Emma nodded, dragging a chair over from the corner and moving to sit at her aunt's bedside. She guessed the intent of Mr. Yewbeam's errand, and wholeheartedly approved.
The black rage that sparkled in his eyes was all but tangible, crackling about him in a ferocious sable aura. Emma swallowed, intimidated by this rare display of ferocity from the normally-reserved man. He gave her a sharp nod, cast one fleeting look at the slumbering form of the woman he loved more than anything in the world, then left the shop, striding down the stairs and out the door, pausing only long enough to grab his long black coat and cast it about his broad shoulders.
It seemed mere seconds before he stood before the three Number Thirteens on Darkly Wynd, Venetia's only recently re-erected after its earlier demise. A toothy snarl rippled across his face as he gazed upon the trio of identical houses. A light shone in the window of the middle one—Eustacia's. It seems his sisters had convened for their weekly coven.
To business, then.
Paton passed through the door without knocking, booted feet padding softly across the worn wood. He paused outside of the kitchen, listening intently to the conversation within.
"Gone?!" Grizelda's snarling voice escalated into an irate shriek. "How could she be gone, with no trace of a rescue or escape?" Paton allowed himself a self-satisfied smirk. It seemed in delaying his revenge he had managed to add an additional layer to their consternation.
"Well, she's gone," Eustacia answered, her anger apparent, "so someone must have taken her."
"Clearly our darling brother discovered her whereabouts," Venetia all but drawled. Through a crack in the door, Paton watched her too-red lips curl up into a cruel smile. "And that means we know just where to find our little doll, doesn't it."
Paton's blood turned to ice.
That they would dare to assume they could take Julia, could harm what was his, what should never be touched, not just once, but twice—he shook with uncontrollable rage, self-control rapidly deteriorating. Grimacing, he forced himself to remain stationary for a few moments longer, ears trained on the conversation occurring within the closeted kitchen.
Lucretia chose that moment to add her thoughts, drawling in an almost bored voice, "But what to do with her once we have her? Clearly the woman is made of sterner stuff than we anticipated."
At that, a wolfish grin stole across Paton's face, and he swelled with a rush of satisfied pride. That was his Julia—slight and supple and strong as steel.
"I believe," Grizelda said, voice cutting through the murmurs of the other three like a knife through butter, "that it is time to utilize a more…permanent means of control."
That was enough for Paton. Curling his fingers around the hilt of the sword that had been his companion for nigh on thirty years, he gripped the supple handle with white-knuckled hands, sliding the blade out from his plain sheath with a quiet 'snick'. He could bear the conversation no longer.
Closing his eyes, he reached out with his senses, feeling the electricity coursing through the house. It was a living entity, each surge of power through an outlet the beat of a heart, every power cord an artery or vein filled with pulsing life. He could sense the activity in the kitchen as well; his foolish, careless, darling sisters had two lights on—the rickety, four-bulbed chandelier above the table, and the inset ceiling bulbs above the counter. The refrigerator and microwave hummed with power as well, and he could feel an answering flicker form the oven and electric stove over in the corner.
Delightful, and so very convenient.
His eyes rolled back in his head as he channeled his endowment, grasping more power than he had ever attempted to hold. He bit back a gasp as the electricity surged through him, static crackling in the air, blue sparks rippling along his skin, dancing across the pale dermis and prickling him with their static caresses.
Paton strode into the kitchen, eyes shining sable and stormy, an avenging god borne upon the wings of a hurricane. "Hello ladies," he said, the softness of his voice belying the pure fury that radiated from him in blue, crackling waves.
His sisters were entirely blindsided. Grizelda gave a startled little gasp, hand fluttering shakily to her chest, while Lucretia and Eustacia both jumped to their feet, though to fight or flee Paton wasn't sure; judging from the rapid way their eyes darted about, though, he presumed it to be the latter. Venetia half rose from her chair, hands palms-down on the table as she stared in alarm at her younger brother. It was the most unnerved he had ever seen the four of them, and he reveled in their discomfort.
Paton could sense their fear. It rolled off of them in waves, tainting the air with its sour reek. Paton's nostrils flared, lips peeling back from his teeth in a feral smile. "Do you know why I'm here, sisters dear?"
Grizelda always was the brave one. Regaining a modicum of composure, she sneered at him, masking her alarm behind her customary antagonism. "Do enlighten us on the matter, Paton," she said, the iciness in her eyes inviting him to do anything but.
He blinked, one slow open and close of his eyelids, and a bulb on the chandelier burst, sending a fine rain of glass pattering down to shower his sisters' hair and shoulders. Once the requisite shrieks had died away, he took another step into the kitchen, his great height and gathered power commanding absolute attention.
"You know," he hissed, voice deadly quiet. "You know quite well. You took her. You locked her away. You hurt her. You were planning to do it again."
Never before had he felt such an overwhelming surge of primal rage. He pulsed with it, the fury beating with each throb of his heart, coursing through his veins and filling him with murderous purpose. He took another step forward and the remaining three bulbs shattered. "You touched what was never yours to touch. You meddled with someone far better than you, who should never have had to experience what she did. You have interfered in my—in our—affairs for the last time."
He glared at the four of them, eyes burning sable, whites all but eclipsed by his dilated pupils, and met each of their gazes with his searing stare. "Now," he said simply, voice reverberating throughout the silent kitchen, "you will pay."
Hands on the sword he held, he allowed his eyes to flutter closed and took a deep breath and exhaled, allowing all of the power he had accumulated to seep out of him with the breath. It poured from him in rolling waves, filling every bulb and appliance in not only that Number Thirteen but the other two as well, leaving the room tacky with electrical tension. The air sang with static and power, blue sparks crackling and popping with forbidding hisses.
His sisters made as if to run, but Paton chose that moment to open his eyes, and the power of the raw emotions built up in his eyes held them pinned in place. "Should you survive," he said in a voice he barely recognized as his own, "you would do well to stay out of our paths." As the final syllable passed his lips, he released his hold on the power
The air shrieked as he loosed the electricity, the freed energy bursting forth like an arrow from a taut bowstring, surging into every available outlet. There was a brief pause—the calm before the storm—where the five of them stood silent, Paton waiting expectantly, his sisters staring in horror, not a sound or movement in the house.
Then, all hell broke loose.
The power surged, bursting light bulbs and shorting circuits, sending sparks licking out of exposed outlets and cords. Tongues of flame, brilliant, burning flickers of a hypnotic scarlet and vermillion, burst forth and swept across the room, the blaze seizing the worn wood of the ancient house and devouring it as a starving man grasps at bread.
One particular lick of flame darted between Paton and his four sisters, separating them with a fiery veil, slowly eclipsing their visages. Paton's last impression was the stark terror that shone in their eyes.
Without conscious thought, devoid of all emotion and intent, he turned on his heel and left the house, shouldering his way past burning boards and rugs and bursting forth from the conflagration, a scorched and coughing example of humanity. He staggered away from the fire; it was already working its way into a roaring blaze, the flames from the other two houses creeping over to join that of the central.
Standing back in the shadows of Darkly Wynd, pressed back against the face of a rotting apartment, Paton listened for the wail of sirens, ears pricked for that first sign of a response as he watched the conflagration seize the three Number Thirteens, the flames flickering and roaring and curling upwards to taste the gray sky.
Ancient wood crackled and popped, creating a roaring inferno whose intensity left Paton breathless. Face impassive, he watched as four fire trucks pulled to a screeching halt outside the three burning buildings, stood stony-faced as four forms—badly burned beyond all recognition, but still breathing—were borne out of the blaze. The firemen did not even attempt to save the buildings—the flames were too fierce, the temperatures too high, to salvage even a single ounce of flooring or wallboard.
Paton could feel the heat of the inferno even from where he stood, removed from the scene as he was. His fingers flexed, wrapping around the hilt of his sword. The coolness of the metal against his skin offered a modicum of comfort, soothing his rattled nerves. His own skin was pink, seared from his own exposure to the flames, and his lungs burned from the smoke he had inhaled during the course of his escape.
He should have felt something, he knew, as he watched the two ambulances depart, bearing his sisters' mutilated forms to the emergency room. He should have felt satisfaction, remorse, guilt, a sense of justice—something, anything. Something to make him feel, something to remind him that he was human, that he was not a monster.
He felt nothing.
He was empty, a dried out well, a husk devoid of any and all emotion. Face blank, he watched the houses burn, standing straight and tall and motionless until, with a great tumultuous crash, the final frameworks caved in upon themselves and cascaded to the ground to be devoured by the ravenous flames. Only then did he turn away, stoic and hollow eyed.
Somehow his legs bore him back to the bookshop, the vindictive energy from before having long since dissipated, leaving him feeling fatigued and old—an ancient campaigner, worn down by the day's evils and bearing the trials of the world upon his back. He grasped the handle of the heavy wooden door, content to simply lean against it for a moment, allowing the handle to support the majority of his weight. A brisk blast of wind ruffled his hair and nipped at his skin, reminding him of the season's frigidity. Numb fingers turned the brass door knob, and he shouldered his way into the shop, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Feeling old beyond his years, he dragged himself up the stairs to the bedroom where Julia lay curled in the center of the plush queen bed, cocooned in multiple layers of blankets, sheets, and covers. A sliver of angry red peeked out of the collar of her pajama top, a souvenir from her imprisonment.
Then, Paton did feel, emotion trickling back into him, slowly filling his numb shell with an overwhelming despondency. Julia…Julia was so pure, so noble and righteous and wholesome. She deserved none of this. She should not have been locked away from all she loved, did not deserve the accusations and cruelties lauded upon her by her captors. Their brutality horrified him; that Grizelda and the others could stand, impassive, and flay an innocent woman within an inch of her life day after day left him feeling so ill he could barely stand.
To taint such innocence, to take a white canvas and stain it blood red—he exhaled, a tortured, shuddering breath whispering out into he darkened room.
Julia did not deserve him either, should have nothing to do with him. He was just as bad as his sisters, if in different ways. They shared the same blood, the same taint—he was corrupted, a haunted, broken man. He did not deserve the angel who lay before him, was far too shattered to merit the purity of her touch, the sweet ambrosia of her kiss. She was a goddess, a being deserving of the highest seat on Mount Olympus, and he a monster, relegated to the darkened realms beyond the banks of the Styx.
He looked down at his sooty hands, unconsciously passing one across his face and leaving a long, ashy streak. Here, too, was further evidence of his inner darkness, physical and symbolic proof that his hanger, once aroused, knew no boundaries, that he had the capacity for absolute, callous cruelty.
After the events of today, how could Julia want to be with him? He was a monster, no better than the ones his actions had eliminated. Now the emotions set in, the fury, terror, guilt, and overwhelming horror at his actions finally sinking in, seeping into him and filling him to completion.
He barely had time to stagger into the bathroom, retching, his sisters' horrified eyes staring accusatorily out at him from behind ghastly burns. He retched again, the day's lack of meals resulting a series of dry, heaving breaths as he knelt doubled over beside the toilet.
How long he remained like that he couldn't say, afternoon passing unobserved into evening, trading streams of late winter sunlight for silvery lunar rays. A light touch at the back of his neck broke him from his stupor, drawing him out of his semi-comatose state.
"Paton?" Julia knelt beside him on the cold tile, drew him into her arms. "Tell me what's wrong, love." Her voice was so sweet, her presence so soothing, that Paton thought for a moment that he was dreaming, that his exhausted mind had finally given out and released him into the world of dreams. He shuddered, resting his forehead on her shoulder, letting her wrap her arms around his shoulders and draw him close.
"I—" his voice, hoarse from the rawness and dryness of his throat, cracked and died. Wetting his lips, he tried again, not looking up from where his head rested. "I hurt them Julia." He sounded so lost, like a child who has realized the outcome of a harmful action and doesn't know how to cope with the results. "They hurt you, so I hurt them in return."
His throat hitched in a desperate half sob, one hand fisting itself in the loose material of her top. "I'm no better than they are."
Julia let him speak, her eyes overflowing with compassion. She gathered her into her embrace, holding him tightly and letting him emote at his own pace, his face pressed into her neck as he wept, silent tears of remorse streaming from clenched eyes and trickling down her skin. She raised a hand to his head, carding her fingers tenderly through his hair, silently soothing him and offering as much comfort as she could.
When it seemed he would say no more, she drew him back slightly, tilting his chin up with soft, delicate fingers. "Paton," she said sweetly, honeyed eyes brimming with earnestness and goodness and everything that was right with the world, "you are nothing like your sisters."
He shook his head, tried to draw back and flinch away from her forgiveness, retreating into the blackness that threatened to engulf his heart. "I am," he croaked, "I am, I am…"
She refused to let him escape, curling one hand behind his neck and reaching the other up to trace his cheek. "You're not," she insisted, a touch of iron sneaking into her voice. "You have something they could never have, a gift they could never understand."
He looked at her, hollow-eyed, and she smiled, full of tenderness. "You have love, Paton," she said. "I love you, you silly, self-depreciating man, and I know you love me. You act because of love; they, because of hate. There is a difference."
Paton took a slow, shaky, breath, looking into the cinnamon eyes of the woman he loved more than life itself. Finally, his head slumped in defeat and he nodded, a short jerk of his head, and leaned forward into her caress. "I love you, Julia," he whispered, a touch of the old Paton returning to the broken shell she held sheltered in her arms.
Julia smiled, and brought him closer, her lips millimeters from his own. "I know," she breathed, then closed the distance between them, bringing their lips together in the softest of kisses.
They had their love, their tenderness, and for now, that was enough.