I couldn’t look.
Henry just dove into the middle of the mess barehanded, ignoring my shrieks. One minute he was dashing across crumpled pavement, miraculously never losing his balance on the shattered earth, arms pumping in time with his legs, muscle shifting under his skin with a ragged trail of loosening bandaids fluttering in his wake. And then the distorted sea glass glint of the attack swallowed him whole.
Ok, of course I looked. And looked. And I even got to my knees and crept a little closer to look better.
Do you remember those ripply glass blocks that people used to build with? Thick and hard like cinder blocks or great square bricks, but translucent. I think people used to put them in houses back in the ‘80s or something. Probably in bathrooms. They were great for letting light through, but distorted the light so much you couldn’t get much more than a smeared blur of colour from whatever was on the other side.
It was like that, kind of. A little darker, a little more transparent. There were flashes of bad things. Eyes inside of eyes, clustered, impossible. Rows of teeth in a too-wide grin with painted lips. Scuttling grasping reaching rending things. And the flash of human paleness, the artificial brightness of a woman’s handbag or a tasteless shirt, and so, so much red. And in the midst of it all, a growing brightness, a silver-sharp flash at the heart of it that turned the thick distortion more transparent moment by moment.
He was at the heart of it, of course. The miracle was, he was still on his feet. Still fighting, the silver light flashing as he lashed out at the monsters. It was kind of beautiful, as long as I didn’t let my eyes drift down, focus too much on what puddled and pooled on the ground. I didn’t hear any screaming now. The play of the silver light across his face, across his body, tense, agile grace and a face alive with determination and focused rage. The contrast, that light against the darkly insubstantial forms that imploded on its piercing rays.
I moved closer, tripping over the broken ground and barely feeling sharp pain followed the warm rush of blood down my shins. I couldn’t look away.
Henry was beautiful, lit up from within, the light of the sword in his hands seeming to pour also from beneath his skin. An avenging Michael come to slay the serpent on holy fire. Before him, the darkness quailed, retreating in fits and starts, devious as it flowed to the side, behind, but futile as well. He was, against all odds, winning.
I don’t like people very much. That should come as no surprise, by this point. All I really ask for in life is to be left alone as much as possible. In the ancient world, I would have been one of those hermits, off in a cave or a tree or something (except, yeek, spiders). In the old world, I would have worked freelance, or maybe for one of those remote heavy industry sites, on a rig or forestry station or something. People are just… too much. Too much noise, too much want, too much feeling and needing and expectation and… It’s easier without them.
What? I didn’t say I wanted anyone to die. Just that I preferred my world without complications. The human kind.
But this was one complication I couldn’t look away from. I’d had Henry pegged as a nuisance. Sure, he might’ve saved my life (ok, yes, fine, he absolutely did, but still) but he was a guy. Guys are the worst human creatures, besides infants. So full of want and need and hurt. And he’d expected me to trade my space for protection. As if my life would be worth living, with him in it every second of every day.
I know it sounds terrible, ok? It’s not like I go around explaining that to everyone I meet. I mostly just try to avoid meeting anyone. But here’s the thing; I couldn’t look away.
You’re thinking, well duh, hot guy, fighting, muscles, sweat, hero moment, you don’t have to spell it out for me. You’re still not getting it. I cared. About him. And I knew it. Sure, maybe I’d taken pity on him last night - in my defence, I was exhausted and probably still in shock - and sure, I might have felt a twinge about making him sit outdoors all day, and yeah, I’d made him join the fight for his own good. And then I’d realized.
Henry was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. Henry’s existence was unlike anything I’d even imagined existing before. And maybe, just maybe, he was someone I wanted to have around for a bit.
All that was before the beast sprang past Henry and barrelled toward me, coalescing into one-two- -six-seven-eight-oh shit.