Everyone, it is a new year. That means it's new beginnings. Especially in the case of 9.
I took this story down two years ago after it was hailed as one of the best 9 fics of all time. It was fashioned as a sequel to 9. Why I took it down, I cannot say. Even now I've forgotten. I hope everyone who has ever asked me to repost my favorite story of all time will be happy, and will have a chance to read it once more. 9 will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I hope he will for you too.
Disclaimers: 9 and 7 is the single pairing for this story. 4 and 3 are brothers in my universe. There is ONE OC, and it's a Machine - there will be no stitchpunk OCS for me, now and never. I do not own 9 - that privilage will forever belong to the brilliant Shane Acker and Tim Burton.
Sit back, relax, as I now re-present 9: The Savior Returns.
Chapter 1: Nightmares And Moving Onwards
His legs ached and his artificial lungs burned. His heart was pounding so hard, it felt as if would soon beat itself out of his chest. The burning cathedral seemed miles upon miles away. He couldn't reach it fast enough – no matter how fast he was running, no matter how hard his feet were pounding the earth below. However, he could clearly see the sky-licking fire coming from the church off in the distance, illuminating the inky night sky.
Over hills, past broken wheels and splintering wood, he ran. He ran until he finally infiltrated the cathedral. The cold night air was quickly replaced by burning smoke and a dancing inferno. He didn't slow, however. He dodged the flames, time running short. He ran through the cathedral that he had once called home, racing room after room. The blaze obscured his vision as he searched the church desperately. He needed to find them, he needed to – before it happened. Before history repeated itself.
He could hear the screams of each stitchpunk all around him. It was as if they were everywhere, and their cries surrounded him. Yet no matter where he looked, he still couldn't find them. The screams he heard were all out of fear, out of rage, pain, and hurt, as the souls were sucked from their – his – friends. Those who were dead were dropped to the floor, bodies limp and lifeless. Thirsty for more souls, it pounced for its next victim. It was his fault, everything was. He woke the monster, and now it was killing them all. Each and every one. They would never be freed now.
He was badly burned all over his body and thoroughly exhausted. He finally reached the place where he knew the massacre of his coven was taking place. It was situated in a large room of some sort. Long wooden benches were piled against the walls, nothing more than splintering, blazing wreckage. A beautiful stained glass window of a male angel decorated one wall. He skidded to a stop on the burned, blackened wooden floor, and gasped in horror, eyes widening as he looked upon the horrible sight...
The Fabrication Machine was full of life and no longer dead, lying out in the Emptiness. It was roaring in triumph as it dropped a body from its razor-sharp clutches. The sparks of life surrounded its gleaming, crimson-red eye, body illuminated by the fire.
He saw that the body it had dropped was one of the twins – 4. 4 was dead, his small, innocent spirit now absorbed into the Machine. His small, lifeless body fell onto the ground, where he lay, limp, next to his dead brother, 3.
As he saw this, he gasped as he now saw the entire scene. His heart broke. 2 was lying on his side, the frail elder broken. 1 was lying sprawled on his back, a few inches away from 8. The guardian had obviously tried to save his leader. He failed in doing so, as he was lying on his chest, dead, his mouth gaping grotesquely wide. His outstretched fingers nearly touched 1's arm. 6 was lying, crumpled, on his side. He was covered in ink from his broken fingers.
5 was nearest to him, eye patch burned through, reflecting the image of the last time he was killed. He lay sprawled on his back. He gave a cry of horror as he looked down upon his best friend. Running towards him, he kneeled beside his body, laying his hands upon 5's chest. He shook from the grief, knowing it was useless to try and wake his friend. His head then snapped up to the sound of a familiar battle cry.
7, had her skullmet bravely pulled over her face, her spear clutched in her hands. Her pale white body was illuminated orange, yellow and red, tinged with black from the burns she had on her body. She was trying to fight off the Fabrication Machine, trying to stab the talisman it had mounted upon its chest. The brave and dauntless female stitchpunk dodged the claws with intrepid grace, her ferocity keeping her alive. She wasn't dead yet. He wanted to call out to her, to tell her not to stab the talisman. He needed it to get the souls back and kill the Machine…
Suddenly, shrieking angrily, the metallic monster overwhelmed her with its claws. It knocked her spear into the fire, and then tripped her. She fell to the ground with a cry.
"No!" He yelled, and tried run towards her, panic more powerful than pain.
Not her, not 7. Please, don't kill her, not her, he pleaded inside his whirling mind.
The fire seemed to grow hotter as he tried to run through it. It seemed like he was becoming slower the harder he tried to reach 7. His legs ached terribly as he tried to save 7 before he was alone. However, his knees were trembling violently, and they were unable to hold the rest of his body up any longer. The weakness and the pain were overwhelming him…
The talisman glowed eerily green as the Machine held a fiercely struggling, screaming 7 in its iron clutches. Three long trails of green light burst from the talisman plates. The deadly light struck her, full-force, in the face. She was jerked forward involuntarily as it sucked the living soul, her spirit, right out of her body. He finally collapsed to the ground, incapable of taking another step forward. His eyes widened and he reached for the dying 7. His heartbeat grew slower as he succumbed to the smoke. The billowing flames grew larger…it was killing her…
"NOOO!" He screamed as flames engulfed him. "NOOOOOOOOO!"
In an instant, the inferno and sweltering heat were swept away. It was replaced by cool night air, a slight breeze flowing through the city. The stars twinkled serenely in the inky night sky. The dead stitchpunks, the fire, and the Fabrication Machine all disappeared as 9 awoke from the nightmare. He sat bolt upright. His mechanical heart was beating painfully against his chest, his breathing extremely fast. His shaking fingers were clamped so tightly in fists it was a wonder his palms didn't crack. The echo of his scream of "no" hung in the crisp night air above him. He was blinking rapidly, trying to figure out exactly where he was. He was no longer in the burning cathedral, but lying out in the open…dead 5…dead 7…7…
"9?" The voice that had been yelling and screaming as the Machine grabbed her, and killed her asked him. He blinked, turned a bit, and faced 7. Her brows were furrowed in worry, and she was sitting up as well. The twins, lying beside 7, were looking up at him in worry. Their eyes flickered apprehensively. It appeared that he had woken the three with his scream of horror. The twins still lay on the ground, curled up against the cold night breeze.
Oh…sorry." He gasped, averting his eyes. The shock of the dream nearly overwhelmed him as he struggled for a breath that seemed reluctant to fight its way past the panic and alarm.
"It's okay, guys. Go back to sleep." 7 said soothingly to the twins, reaching forward with a hand and stroking their shoulders in reassurance. They glanced at one another, but conceded. Lying back down, they curled up and closed their eyes. As soon as 7 was sure that the twins were calm and falling back asleep, she turned to 9. He was rubbing the sides of his optics resignedly, eyes closed, trying to wash the images of the nightmare from his mind. His brow furrowed, his breathing slightly calmer now. It was just a dream, he told himself. Just a dream…he and the others were safe…it wasn't real…it was just a dream…
"9?" She asked him gently. He sighed and dropped his hands to rest on his knees before turning to face her.
"I'm sorry I woke you." He murmured softly. "Are the twins okay?"
"I'm fine, and so are the twins. But what about you? Are you okay?" She asked him. Looking worried, she peered into his face anxiously. He managed to nod, trying to keep the shaking of his hands under control.
"I…I'm fine, 7. It was just a dream. A nightmare." He said. His tense body finally relaxed, and he leaned against the wooden wall behind him. 7 lay a hand on his shoulder in concern.
"Are you sure you're alright?" She asked persistently.
"I'm fine." He reassured her, reaching up and covering her hand with his own. 7 blinked, looking unconvinced, but then withdrew. She lay back down, closing her eyes and fell asleep once more. Her soft, slow breathing filled the desolate silence. 9 watched her and the twins for a moment before he lay back down, staring fixedly at the sky. He looked at the stars for a moment, sighing to himself. His heart felt like it was ripping in two as he relived the memory his friend's deaths, just as he did in the nightmare. Closing his eyes, he too fell asleep, the images of a dead 7, dead twins, dead 5, dead everyone filling his mind. They were unable to be pushed aside, troubling his sleep for the remainder of the dreadful night.
The calm shadow of sleep abruptly ended as something shook his shoulder gently, jerking him into awareness.
"9," a familiar voice accompanied the shaking. "Come on. It's time to move."
"Alright." He said sleepily, stretching. He yawned widely and sat up, pushing himself up off his side with a hand. "I'm up, I'm up."
"Well, good morning to you too." 7 teased, smiling gently at him. He blinked, and managed to give her a small, tired smile.
"Good mornin'." He replied, getting to his feet, stifling another yawn as 7 followed. "Where are the twins?"
"They're playing nearby." 7 replied, her brows furrowing and her smile disappearing. She faced 9. "But the one I'm currently worried about is you. You seemed pretty freaked out last night. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Don't worry, 7." He replied, trying to smile at her again, but finding out that he couldn't bring himself to. He turned away, rubbing the back of his head wearily.
"You sure?" She pressed.
"7. Really, I'm sure I'm fine." He said, finally pushing himself to give her a reassuring smile. She sighed in defeat, shaking her head and turning away from him.
"I don't believe you, you know. I'm going to get the twins." She said, brows knitting in annoyance. 9 sighed, watching her as she disappeared around a corner to go find the two young boys. Closing his eyes for a moment, he jadedly leaned against the wall behind him. He felt a fresh wave of dismay crash upon him as he recollected the horrendous nightmare the night before. How real it had been. Even the pain and the heat from the fire felt real.
Later that day, 9 and 7 were walking together while the twins frolicked around. They jumped on and off rubble and other things strewn all along the ground, flickering to one another excitedly. 7 and 9 smiled and laughed as they both tumbled into one another, falling to the ground and getting themselves back up again quickly. Their eyes were alit with silent laughter. As he watched them play, 9 found himself wishing that the others were here to see the twins' adorable antics as well. The smile slid off of his face and he looked at the ground below him.
"9. I know something is bothering you." 7 said, peering into his face, noticing his sudden change of mood. He looked up at her and then averted his eyes once more, ashamed to even look her in the face. He was overwhelmingly reminded that she had once loved them too.
"It's just…hard. Hard to live on, while the others are…" he trailed off, and the sentence hung in the air before he continued. "I wish I could just make things right again…just to have a second chance." He finished softly, closing his eyes and sighing quietly. He opened his eyes again when 7 gently took his hand in hers.
"I know, 9. But it will be okay. The others are alright. They're at peace now, and there's nothing we can do. But we still have the twins, and sooner or later, we will have a place to call home. We're safe now." She said, clutching his hand tighter. He gave an answering, grateful grasp. The two continued to walk together, hand-in-hand, dark clouds above threatening rain. 7 cast a wary glance up at them before turning back to the young man, who was watching the twins play.
"I think we need to rest tonight. Get down early." 7 said to him. He tore his eyes from the twins and looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face.
"But we need to find a…" 9 began, sounding worried.
"I know we need to find a home, 9." 7 said, finishing his sentence. "But I don't want to exhaust the twins. We've been getting up at dawn and going to sleep at midnight for over five weeks now." She said, sounding worried about the two little ones. She glanced at them, and 9 did as well. 4 had sat down on a torn and tattered book for a moment. The pages were covered in what looked horribly like blood stains, and he was yawning widely. 3 was sitting beside him, rubbing his optics and sighing silently.
"Alright, 7. We'll rest longer tonight." He agreed, still watching the two small boys, his eyes strangely blank. 7 smiled faintly.
"Thank you, 9." She said, sounding grateful. 9 looked down at her, and she swore she saw the flicker of a smile pass through his lips. The two stitchpunks continued to watch the twins. 3 then took 4's hand, heaving him to his feet. Their weariness was pushed aside for a moment as they continued to frolic and play happily...
That night, they stopped to rest once more. They nestled together underneath a metal overhang, which appeared to be part of a rusted automobile door. 9 had found some old, but clean flannel sheets. They made a little nest in the corner of their shelter, and there they rested. 9 had taken heed to 7's words before, and the moon was barely in the sky at this moment. The twins were curled up together, already sound asleep. 7 was stretched out on her side, her back against 9's hip. He, however, was still awake. His knees were held to his chest, arms crossed over them, chin on his forearms. He was staring up at the stars through a small hole in the overhang. They sparkled serenely once the clouds from earlier had moved on elsewhere. The half-moon seemed to mirror his heart – half gone, the remaining half filled with love for the rest of his family.
"5," he said softly, not wanting to wake 7 and the twins again. He needed an answer, and his deceased friend was the first to come to mind. "I need help. I need a lot of help. I don't know what's best. I don't know what to do anymore. Please answer me." He pleaded up to the starry sky, up to the moon. It remained silent. 9 received no reply at all, not one. Disappointment overtook him. For a very long time, he had been longing to talk to 5. It was cruel that someone he had grown so close to in such a short amount of time was ripped away from him so quickly, so soon…too soon.
His eyes seemed heavy. 7 was right: they did need to rest more. He had been pressing them too much. What a stupid leader he made. He was even worse than 1 had once been, he thought to himself. He lay down, resting his aching joints. A low metallic creaking noise broke the silence as he stretched out his legs. He was still quite new to the world, and all this traveling without much rest took a toll on his body.
9 glanced at 7 and raised a hand. He slightly touched her elbow. She was too deeply asleep to acknowledge this simple, but tender touch. 9 vaguely wondered if she had simply fallen asleep next to him, or if it was on purpose. 9 was forever grateful that 7 was still his friend after all he had done to her coven, how much pain he had caused her. He withdrew his hand and looked back at the stars. They were still silent. He knew they were never going to answer him.
Sighing sadly, he closed his eyes slowly, the warmth from 7's body making him all the more tired. He was quickly thrust into a quiet sleep.