So much of what happened today I wanted to omit. Forget that it ever happened. I really, REALLY considered doing it. I thought... that maybe I could sidestep any flack and pretend everything was peachy. I thought that maybe I could save face.
But then I realized... what difference does it make if I give you guys yet another reason not to trust me?
So... Val and I have still been Running. Not really in some insane sprint, but... just moving every day or so. She's still completely unresponsive to me. I can get her to eat by putting food in front of her. Same with drinking. She sleeps on her own schedule, thankfully, so that's one less thing for me to stress about. She's... stable, at least. Not deteriorating... but certainly not getting better. Least in my opinion.
As for me... I've been healing. I'm not limping anymore and my head doesn't spin when I turn too quick. Both eyes open. Still have shadowing from all the bruises though. Other than that, things have been as they were before... except for the odd trick my mind has grown fond of playing on me. I... keep thinking I see someone tracking us. The troubling thing about that being that I wasn't/am not FEELING anything. I figure it must be a Runner, but... that in itself has been putting me on edge. I've been trying to figure out who would be after me since Twinkle's departure, but aside from Spencer wanting coffee (give it a while, alright?) and Nightprick, I haven't a clue how many others I need to be on the watch for.
So, today, when I was certain I saw someone not even ten feet from our motel room door... I chased them. I didn't even get FAR. We were on the second floor and I just... I followed it outside and down the side of the building. An alleyway, of course. Where else would THIS kind of shit take place?
I slowly came to a stop in my pursuit after a little while of running. I could still see the motel behind me. I wasn't willing to leave further than that, as that would put Val out of my... my range to sense Him and other Proxies... if that makes any sense at all. I barely understand it myself. I couldn't see or feel a damn thing as I glanced around me, though. Whatever/whoever it was was gone. If... they'd been there at all. I hate the admit that could be a explanation but... I don't know. It could be. I'm not about to start denying any option without proof one way or another...
I cursed and turned to head back to Val in our motel room, only to jolt and stumble backwards as I came face to face with someone who hadn't even BEEN there a second earlier. The presence he brought with him hit me like a goddamn train. I made a grab for my knives, expecting a fight... but I honestly really DIDN'T want one. It's not like I'm in the best condition of my life here. I honestly doubted how well I could even use my knives... especially against someone who just felt so... wrong.
Dangerously confident. And Wrong.
His eyes locked onto mine immediately. They were this.. deep amber colour with slitted pupils. His tone seemed a bit amused when he spoke, not at all worried about the measly weapons I had. "Chasing ghosts, are we?"
I just kept my glare set, holding my knives tight at my side and hoping to all Hell I wasn't going to be asked to use them. "...Who the hell are you?"
"One of Our Father's Attendants. Here to reclaim you."
I felt myself tense. "Oh, really? Fantastic. But it's kind of a rerun, don't you think? I've heard the pitch enough already." I dared to move forward, giving him plenty of space as I went around him. "Maybe some other time, okay? I don't have time to play today..."
There was a second's pause before he spoke again. "A pity you never got to see the light fade from Cifer's eyes."
I hesitated in my step. "...Right, well... we can't always get what we want, can we?" I muttered bitterly.
"Yes we can. Provided we're on the correct side. Fulfilling our destiny."
I looked back to him blandly. "Really? You're playing the 'Destiny' card? That work often for you?"
He smiled. It seemed so... bizarrely friendly. "Michelle... You have fulfilled some of your destiny already. But your refusal of Father's love... That is why you failed to get revenge against Morningstar."
"I failed to get revenge against fucking Twinkle because some idiot couldn't goddamn DRIVE. Shitty luck. It happens. I try to get comfort from the thought of him CONTINUING to burn in Hell right at this very minute."
"It was a quick death. Rather painless really. I should know. I was there."
My eyes narrowed. "...What the fuck do you mean 'you were there'?"
"Michelle... Without us... Without Father, you will never accomplish any of your goals. Those around you will continue to hate you, the one single person that you care about... She will suffer, you know that? She will suffer and you will be to blame."
I ignored his words the best I could and moved up close to him, anger revving high and not willing to come down again so easily. "What the FUCK did you mean 'YOU WERE THERE'?! Y-You son of a BITCH, that... the explosion, the... you bastard... you BASTARD, you stole my revenge from me!"
And that's when I finally knew who I was talking to. I had no real proof, but in my gut I knew.
This was Valtiel. Morningstar's old handler.
"You know everything I said was true. Don't ignore it... Accept it. And Accept this offer: Become the new Morningstar. Serve Father. Be accepted into a family that cares about you... And who you care for in turn."
"Go. To. Hell. Why would I even WANT that fucking name? Or to be w-with... any of you? Hm? Just... go to Hell. Say hello to Twinkle for me."
"You want this. I know you do. You know you do. But you continue to deny your destiny. You continue to flee from the future that is happiest for you. Why?"
I tried to ignore the shiver down my spine. I wasn't even looking at Valtiel anymore - instead choosing to watch the ground, the wall... the end of the alleyway which was open for my taking. He wasn't keeping me there. I knew that. But... it was like I didn't WANT to leave. Not at that moment. Which makes even less sense, since I now knew who I was having a chat with. 'Stupid' does not even begin to describe staying. I know.
"I... made a promise..." was my answer. It came out as a mutter. Pathetic.
"You did. But don't you think Valerie would release you from this promise if it meant you had a better life? I think she would. She wants the best for you. You know that. And this... This is the best option for you. Anything else? THAT is a Betrayal."
I twitched a bit, but still forced a bite into my tone. "She c-can tell me w-what... she goddamn wants when she wakes up from what YOUR F-Father did to her!"
"OUR Father." He corrected, not missing even a single beat. "Do you not think she would sacrifice her life? Her SOUL for you? Would you be so SELFISH as to cling to a promise that only leads to ANGUISH FOR BOTH OF YOU. So that when Valerie dies, her lasts thoughts are regrets. About you. About your death. Would you put her through such sadness?"
"SHUT UP!" I tried glaring at him, but I could feel the sting of tears in my eyes. I ignored it, blinking it back. "Just SHUT UP! You don't know her and you don't know me so just SHUT UP! Just... p-please, just... please j-just shut up..."
"But I do, Michelle. I know you. I know her. I know all your little secrets... All your inner most desires. Your wants. And I am offering all of them... Everything you could ever want. All you have to do is say 'yes.' One little word and all your suffering... All of Valerie's suffering... Becomes worth something."
I tried to ignore the twist I felt in my gut. I knew truth when I heard it... but I still shook my head. "...N-No." I turned in a haste, sheathing the knives I'd actually FORGOTTEN I'd been holding. I hoped to be gone before he could think of another way to twist my thinking against me. He was way too good at it to stay around anymore. I had to leave and leave NOW.
"Running Away? Does the truth pain you that much? You realize you are only going to increase Valerie's Pain. And Yours."
I didn't stop. Snapping back over my shoulder, "I'll p-pro...tect her. Just s-stay the hell away from us!"
"You can't even protect yourself. Look at you. Falling apart. Beaten. Broken. I could kill Valerie before you even made it back to the motel."
I stopped dead in my tracks, letting the words - the threat, the truth - sink in before I slowly turned back to him. I wasn't holding a front anymore. I just felt... lost. He wasn't doing a thing to keep me here... except getting inside my head. Except cutting off every option until there was only one left. All with words. Just words. I couldn't help but wonder if this is what he put Morningstar through constantly. If so, no wonder he was so up and down and everywhere. Constantly getting mindfucked can't be good for your head...
"Why c-can't you just... leave us alone? Can't you see I'm not worth it, Valtiel? C-Can't you goddamn SEE THAT?! Y-You... said it yourself. I'm Nothing. Broken. WEAK. I'm... not worth your effort."
"Cifer too was broken. Nothing. Weak. Look at what he did. You have the potential to be so much more. A Brighter Morningstar than he could have ever HOPED to be."
"I'M NOT FUCKING WORTH IT. I can't even t-take revenge in the name of my f-family, and THAT'S the t-track record you w-want for your New And Improved M-Morningstar?" I laughed a bit, but even to my ears it was a broken laugh. Dead. A mockery of a real one. "Th-There... will only ever be... one Morningstar... and he is dead. That's... that's all there is..."
Valtiel frowned for the first time. "There will be a new Morningstar. Whether it is you, or my backup plan. Be warned however that every life he takes is partially on your head. This will be the final time I offer you salvation for yourself and Valerie. Be the new Morningstar. Serve Father. Save Yourself. Stop the Pain. Prove your worth to the world... And Yourself."
I shook my head, eyes looking to the ground just for the sake of focusing on anything but at him as he approached me. I felt sick to my stomach. All his words gnawing at me. It felt like truth then... and it still does now. I couldn't help but flinch when he placed a hand on my shoulder in what was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture, then there was this... warmth that spread into my body. Like rays from a hot sun. The kind we used to get on clear days on the farm while we were out making hay... out with the John Deere tractors with my brother and dad...
I almost got lost enough in the memory to not notice Valtiel suddenly pull back... had the warmth not gone with it. I was back as the chill of the alley immediately sunk back in and I tiredly glanced back to the man. His eyes were wide - startled - looking at his hand.
"What is this..."
The next thing I knew was those amber eyes burning with rage as he grabbed me. I immediately thrashed against him out of pure reflex alone, but he'd already grabbed my sleeve and torn it right off my jacket. I bit my tongue to stop from yelling out in the pain that spiked up my limb from being jerked around, ending up clutching it with my other hand as I found myself against the damp wall for support. Valtiel's face contorted into an inhuman shape when he saw the burn across my arm - the temperature suddenly spiking and becoming a searing heat against my skin that reminded me of That Night. Of the first burn.
I scrambled backwards along the wall, not daring to turn my back on him. Not ABLE to pry my eyes from the burning rage I saw staring back.
Then he suddenly turned without a single word and disappeared into... a warped image. That's all I got to see before near-deafening noises tore at my hearing and I bolted out of there with my hands pressed over my ears.
Only one thought kept repeating in my head: Get back to Valerie.
Then it would all be okay.
Least that's what I told myself.
I... did stop on my way for a moment to get a new jacket from the car. I didn't want Valerie - aware or not - to see my arm. It was just another thing. Another thing she didn't need to worry about. I did find something that would do the job fine and started back into the motel... when I thought occurred to me: How Valtiel just seemed to come and go at the blink of an eye. No warning. No Feeling until he was right THERE. I remembered the rage he had when he saw my burn... and how had threatened Valerie's life just minutes beforehand. I shot back up to the room, cursing myself. Cursing my stupidity. Cursing my uselessness. I mean, mother of fuck, you think I would have learnt by now? Never leave. Never leave. Ever. Stay and watch. Stay and protect. Just FUCKING STAY. But no. I left on some wild goose chase and... left her alone. I had just been just down the street, but goddammit I left her ALONE. I’m somehow able to sense if Proxies are in the area, but if they can disappear into thin air and reappear elsewhere then WHAT FUCKING GOOD DOES THAT DO?
I threw open the door without even stopping, knife already out. I could see someone leaning over where I left her on the sofa. I heard them... talking, muttering, to themselves. It was a string of curses, actually... in a voice that I only recognized after I had already bolted halfway across the damn room. When it clicked though (and thank all mercies that it did), I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He was, indeed, standing over Valerie... but his eyes were closed and one hand was pressed to her forehead.
He seemed to decide to take note of my presence, but didn't turn to me despite how I blasted in. Keeping focus on Val. "Ah. You made it."
I was speechless. Frozen. Knife still in hand. "...Sage?"
He turned around, a soft look to his eye. "You've never been on the run before, have you? You need to get to that point where the paranoia becomes more subtle and gnawing... the less violent, the better." He looked so much paler than I remember. Thinner too.
"I thought... I just..." I stopped myself. It didn't matter. Valtiel. Did. Not. Matter. I went a different route as I put the knife away, shifting a bit awkwardly. "I, uh... I'm sorry. Forgive me... I guess I'm still... not used to people breaking into our motel rooms." I really didn’t mean for it to come out as… sharp as it did. It was meant as a joke... just a joke...
He didn't seem to take offence. "I didn't know how long you'd be... I should have put a sign up or something. 'Sage At Work' has a nice ring to it, eh?" He smiled weakly at me.
I smirked a bit. "Heh. That may have helped. It's... good to see you."
Valerie - still sitting in her usual daze on the couch - took the attention of both of us at that point as she made a soft wheeze-sort-of-noise. I've heard it before. She does it every once in a while... but it still worries me just as much as it did the first time I heard it. I watched as Nick put his hand to her forehead again, frowning when he did. I... didn't know what to do with myself. I wanted to walk over and sit beside my best friend like I have been... but I also didn't want to get in the way. Didn't want to do the wrong thing. I don't know HOW Sage found us... but you guys have no idea how glad I am that he did. Standing there, watching, I hoped beyond hope that he could tell me what we should do. What we CAN do. What... I can do more than what I have been doing... which isn't much to begin with. I bit my lip as I waited, letting Sage do his thing... until I decided to ask. I used a whisper. Hoping that way if I was interrupting some mental-viewing or whatever that he could just ignore me.
"...How is she? What... what is...?"
To my surprise, he answered immediately. He sounded a bit frustrated. "If she comes out, she'll have to do it on her own. It's serious, mental trauma. She's sealed tight like a drum."
My chest ached. So much for hope beyond bope. "You... can't do anything for her? At all?"
"I've done what I can. All we can do now is wait."
I nodded slightly, looking at Valerie with knots in my stomach. Valtiel's words came back to me in full force - all his points sharpened like a razor to drag across my mind... and all I could do was shoved them away the best I could. I know this was all my fault, I... really don't need to be reminded. What I needed now, was to focus. Think. "...You said 'if', Sage." I couldn't bring myself to look at him. Keeping my head low. Hands in my pockets. "This... can't be an 'IF', Sage. How the hell long can she stay like this for before...?" I stopped myself from saying anything I didn't want to.
"Is she eating at all? Some people in this state retain basic functioning, and I haven't been around to observe her."
I shrugged a bit, keeping my voice low as I spoke. "Autopilot, basically. She looks after herself, but... doesn't react to anything. Still hates any kind of music... though the 'reaction' for THAT still isn't much at all."
Sage looked back to Valerie, sighing again. Not saying a word in response.
That's when a motion caught my eye. From her. After weeks of not responding to anything at all, Valerie slowly rose a shaky hand up from its spot on her lap... and gently placed it on Sage's chest, over his heart. I couldn't help but grit my teeth as I glanced between the two. Sage's face lifted with the slight twitch of a smile as he leaned in and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. Val's gaze remained indifferent - staring straight ahead of her - but I swear I thought I saw her lean into it ever so slightly.
Then... she was right back to how she started.
"Th-That's..." I had to clear my throat. "That's more than... I've gotten out of her these past weeks." I told Sage quietly, not really looking at either of them anymore. "That's... a good sign... right?"
"Yeah." He stood, walking over to me. "Keep an eye on her alright? If I stay too long, it'll bring trouble down on your heads."
I nodded. "I understand... I'll look after her."
Sage patted my shoulder. "Stay alive. I'll see you later."
"You too, Sage... thanks for everything."
He left a few hours ago. Now I feel like a dick for not asking him more on how HE is doing but... I kinda forgot to. I had a lot in my head. Not that that's a good excuse but... whatever. It was good to see him again. Really good. He's... always been very nice to me...
I know... Valtiel told the truth about a lot of things. I know it. Part of me wanted to say It. To believe that Valerie would be better off without me... but I guess I really am a selfish bitch. I just... don't want to let go yet.