Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.


21. Twenty: Blood or Not


    Taryn too had fallen asleep somewhere along the line, and both she and Nemi were shaken awake by the plane shuddering. Taryn checked her watch, figuring that the turbulence was due to the plane coming in to land. Her stomach clenched. Would Damian be waiting for them at the bottom, or would Baxel? Would she have to face her brother or the one who had taken him from her? 

    “What’s happening?” Nemi whispered as she woke up.

    “I think we’re landing,” Taryn explained, reaching over and making sure Isaac was awake. She still couldn’t see well in the darkness, but he touched her hand to let her know that he was. 

    Nemi shifted in her seat. “What happens then? When we get off?”

    “I don’t know, exactly,” Taryn said. Almost as if she could feel the worry radiating from Nemi, she added, “But it’ll be okay. I’ll be with you the whole time, and I won’t let them hurt you.”

    “Thank you, Taryn.” The way Nemi said her name held such reverence that Taryn both felt humbled and scared. She knew her own limits, and lately, they weren’t as high as she would have liked. She wasn’t sure she could keep the promises she made to Nemi, or even live up to the reverence she placed upon her. 

    They were quiet until the plane had stopped moving, and when the door finally opened, the light flooding in was almost blinding. The three sat in the half light until their eyes adjusted, then Taryn led the way off the plane. They were on a private runway, and a car was waiting for them only a few yards away. 

    “I feel like the president,” Isaac muttered from just behind Taryn.

    “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she replied. 

    Nemi frowned at the car when they were only a few feet away. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Does this one fly too?”

    “No,” Taryn answered, her voice practiced and patient. “This one only goes over land.”

    “Oh,” Nemi said, seeming almost disappointed.

    A man stepped out of the driver’s side of the car, and Taryn almost bowled Isaac over as she ran to him. “Professor!” she greeted as he turned and caught her in a hug. Taryn felt like a child again, wrapped in the older man’s arms like she had been shortly after her parents died. “You have no idea how good it is to see you,” she said as he released her.

    Griffiths smiled at her. “Right back at you,” he said. He looked up at the other two. “And you too, Isaac. And this must be-“

    “Nemi,” Taryn filled in. 

    “Nemi,” Griffiths repeated. “Good to meet you,” he said, walking forward and offering his hand. The tall girl looked at it, but didn’t shake. 

    Isaac intercepted, shaking Griffiths’s hand. “You’re supposed to shake,” he told Nemi. “Like this.”

    Nemi frowned a little, but when Griffiths offered it again, she copied Isaac. Griffiths didn’t seem overly bothered by her confusion, and instead ushered them to the car. “Come on,” he said. “We’re not supposed to leave you all in the light for long.” It was dusk, but it was still brighter out than within the blackened windows of the car.

    Taryn took the passenger seat in the car, leaving Isaac to sit with Nemi in the back. He didn’t seem to mind, and she needed to talk to Griffiths. She needed to know where Damian stood on all of this, but she didn’t bring it up right away. The right moment would come. 

    The ride from the airport to the GITS headquarters was about an hour long, and Griffiths took that time to fill Isaac and Taryn in on the important parts of what was going on. He tried to be as sensitive as he could when he talked about the Watchers and the army of Nephilim that they were creating, sending glances back at Nemi every few sentences. She listened intently, but didn’t say a word. 

    “It’s up to us to stop them, and re-capture the angels,” Griffiths finished. “Baxel’s on our side for this.”

    “We’re supposed to work with him?” Taryn demanded. “We’ve been fighting him for months now!” 

    “We don’t have a choice,” Griffiths replied as the calm voice of reason. “Besides, he did save us earlier today from those angels. We wouldn’t have stood a chance without him.”

    Taryn licked her lips, deciding that the time had arrived. “And he did it all alone, did he?”

    Griffiths sent her a glance. He wasn’t stupid; she was sure he knew what she was getting at. “Damian helped.” 

    “He helped Baxel.”

    “To save us,” Griffiths pointed out.

    “He’s working with Baxel,” Taryn said again. “How long?”

    Griffiths was clearly reluctant to say anything at all about her brother. “These are questions I don’t have any right answering.”


    “Taryn,” Griffiths shot back, taking on his professor voice. “Whatever Damian has told me, he told me in confidence. I’m not going to violate that, even for you.” Taryn scowled a little, but didn’t push it. Griffiths continued, “But… when you do talk to him, please don’t be too harsh, alright? All of this has been hard on him too.”

    “He abandoned me to join up with the demon we’ve all risked our lives to fight,” Taryn snapped. “And you want me to go easy on him?”

    Griffiths sighed. “Just hear him out, alright? He’s changed, I’ll admit that. But fundamentally, he’s still Damian.”

    “I’m not so sure.”

    “I’m not asking you to be sure,” Griffiths insisted, his voice low but firm. “I’m asking that you give him the benefit of whatever doubt you have.”

    Taryn didn’t reply to that, choosing instead to stare out the window for the final few minutes of their drive. After months of searching, she was finally going to see her brother. As much as she missed him, he shouldn’t help but feel anything but terrified of what she was going to find. 

    When they pulled up in front of the familiar building of the GITS headquarters, it was like coming home after a long - and very tiring - vacation. Only, instead of the comforting sense of home that came with short times away, this was more like the sudden awareness of the musty smell in the air, the sudden claustrophobia of the familiar. 

    Taryn spotted Baxel and Damian standing at the door to the building, and she took a moment to consider them before she got out. Damian looked older, a little more worn down and weary. His expression also bore a mixture of underlying, deep-seated anger as well as fear. Taryn didn’t know what to make of that. 

    Griffiths put the car in park and turned to Taryn, saying, “Remember what I said.” She nodded and pushed the door open. 

    Instead of heading for her brother, Taryn opened the back door and helped Nemi out. Nemi almost tripped on the curb, but regained her footing with Taryn’s help. Getting used to her own body was still quite the adjustment. “Stay behind me,” Taryn whispered to her. Wide-eyed, Nemi nodded. 

    Isaac rounded the car and took position off Taryn’s other shoulder, and together the three of them approached Damian and the demon. Griffiths hung back, hesitant. Taryn stopped a few feet away from them and locked eyes with Damian. She couldn’t seem to look away. 

    For a moment, the awkward tension reigned, until Baxel - bless him - clapped his hands, saying, “Well, welcome to America, Rirnemis! ’Tis truly the land of…” he faltered in his dramatic greeting. “Plenty, is it?”

    “Nemi,” Nemi said, her voice soft, but loud enough to carry. 

    “What’s that?” Baxel asked, brows shooting up. 

    “I am Nemi,” Nemi insisted, a little louder this time. 

    Baxel looked both delighted and surprised as he sent a look to Damian, who met his gaze without inflection. “Well, Nemi it is, then. Come on in, folks, I imagine there is quite a lot to talk about.”

    Taryn didn’t say a word as she followed them inside, back in the familiar halls that she knew so well. Part way down the hall, Baxel turned, saying, “So Taryn, Damian, why don’t you go sort out your… sibling stuff, and meanwhile Nemi and I will get acquainted, huh?” 

    “No,” Taryn said, wrapping a hand protectively around Nemi’s wrist. “You’re not going anywhere alone with her.”

    Baxel bristled. “I’m not? According to who?”

    “I won’t let you hurt her,” Taryn insisted, refusing to back up when Baxel stepped forward, only a few inches away from her. 

    “I’d like to see you try and stop me,” he challenged, his voice a low, smooth growl. 

    “Baxel,” Damian’s voice cut through the air. “Please.”

    His eyes flicking between Taryn’s, Baxel gave a reluctant sigh and stepped back. “Fine. We’ll only talk, I promise. Happy?” 

    Still, Taryn didn’t trust him. She wasn’t her brother. “Let Isaac or Griffiths come.”

    Baxel huffed. “What if we talk about sensitive stuff that’s not common knowledge?”

    Damian took a step forward, muttering low, “Baxel, come on.”

    “Fine,” he said again. “The boy can come - Griffin has better things to be doing. Now are you happy?” 

    Taryn was certain she didn’t look happy, but she nodded. Nemi looked at her, eyes filled with worry, but Taryn squeezed her wrist in reassurance. “It’s okay,” she promised. “Isaac will be there the whole time.”

    After a hesitation, Nemi nodded and allowed Isaac to put a hand on her back and lead her off to follow Baxel down the hall. Griffiths had disappeared the moment they entered the building, which left only Damian and Taryn standing in the middle of the hallway with several pairs of eyes on them. 

    “We should go somewhere private,” Damian suggested slowly. Taryn nodded, and Damian looked at her for a moment more before leading the way to one of the old classrooms that they used to use as a hangout spot. As soon as Taryn realized where they were going, she spoke up. 

    “No,” she said. “Not there.” I don’t want to fight there, is what she thought, but wouldn’t say. Damian deferred to her, letting her lead him to a small sparring room that probably hadn’t been used since Baxel took power. Damian closed the door behind him and took a seat on one of the benches, mirroring Taryn’s position on the opposite side of the tiny room. 

    For a minute, they both looked at each other, then away, at the floor, the ceiling, the dusty weapons, then back at each other. Taryn didn’t know how to begin. She got the feeling that Damian was just as lost. He kept glancing at her like she was either going to attack him or disappear. 

    “So…” Damian began.

    “You left me,” Taryn accused, her voice cutting through the air. “Without a word. Just… gone. Disappeared into that fucking cloud of shadows.” Damian closed his eyes, pressed them tight like he was in pain. Taryn could feel tears prickling at her own, and she didn’t want to see him spared. He had avoided her long enough, he should open his eyes and see what he made her feel. “You didn’t even say goodbye,” Taryn almost shouted. 

    Her words and tone had the desired effect. Damian’s eyes snapped open, fell on her face, traced the trail of the tears down her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. 

    “That’s all you have to say?” Taryn demanded. “That you’re sorry?” 

    Damian opened his mouth, then closed it again. 

    “Damian, you left me here. Alone. You left me to fight that demon like it wasn’t your fault that he had the goddamn ring in the first place, and now you’re best friends with him?” Taryn’s voice gained more emotion with each word, no matter how much she tried to keep it even. 

    “It’s not what you think,” Damian almost pleaded. “I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know that he was going to-“

    “To what?” Taryn interrupted, heat rising to her cheeks again. “Destroy the world? Cause mass casualties? Ruin entire countries?”

    “I didn’t think he would.” Damian’s voice was small, and he wasn’t looking at her. 

    “He’s a demon, Damian. What did you think? That he was going to be some blessed savior for humankind?” she snapped. 

    “Look it wasn’t easy for me to leave,” Damian shot back, his voice taking on anger of his own. “Do you know how guilty I felt?”

    Taryn threw her hands up. “Guilty,” she repeated. “Oh, that’s rich. Yes, please let me pity you for all the guilt you felt while you were off hiding in Africa and we were here fighting to clean up the mess you made.”

    Damian dropped his voice. “You know I didn’t have a choice. He was going to hurt you if I didn’t help him get the ring.” He jerked his head in frustration. “Damn it, Taryn, you should know. You helped him too.”

    “But he never trusted me like he trusted you,” Taryn replied even though she knew it was a weak response. “After he got the ring, you could’ve gotten through to him. If you had taken him up on his offer to work alongside him, you could’ve prevented the worst of this.”

    “You can’t blame me for inaction,” Damian growled.

    “I think I can,” Taryn insisted. “Those people are still dead, aren’t they?” 

    “I didn’t know,” Damian tried to defend himself. “I didn’t know what was happening until it was too late.”

    “That’s still not an excuse,” Taryn said. “You could’ve tuned into the news whenever you wanted; you told me how you could travel in the Nether. It’s your own fault that you didn’t leave that little hut.”

    Damian’s jaw clenched. “Taryn, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to stop Baxel, and I’m sorry that the world is shit. But I had reasons for the things I did, and even if I can see that they weren’t always the best choices, I’m trying to fix them.”

    Taryn felt another hot tear fall from her eye. Her voice was a near whisper as she repeated, “You didn’t even say goodbye.” She looked up at him, incredulous. “What possible reason could you have for that?”

    For a moment, Damian just swallowed and let his head fall to his hands. Them, he dropped them and admitted, “I was afraid. Of what you would think of me.” His jaw tightened again. “I couldn’t stand to see you disgusted by me or afraid of me, even for a moment. Even long enough to say goodbye.”

    Taryn didn’t have an immediate response to that. She swore she could feel her heart ache in her chest. “Did you really think - after everything - that I would hate you? Because of something beyond your control?”

    “Don’t you?” Damian demanded, his eyes wild when he looked up. “Tell me you think I’m the same person I was six months ago. Your brother. Tell me.”

    “I can’t,” Taryn admitted. “Because you’re not. You’ve changed in ways I don’t even know yet, but that doesn’t make you a totally different person. I’ve changed too, but I’m still your sister.” When Damian didn’t seem convinced, she pushed, “Damian, I’m not mad at you because of your blood. I’m mad at you because you left me. You left us. You left the world in the hands of Baxel.”

    Damian’s head snapped up at that. “The moment I realized what he had done, I went back to him. He promised that once this whole angel thing is over, he’ll let us fix the mess he’s made. You don’t have to worry about defeating him anymore.”

    Taryn had stopped crying, but she could still feel her eyes stinging. “How do you know? How do you know he won’t go back to the way it was before the moment you leave?” 

    “Because I’m not going to leave,” Damian answered. “I’m going to do what I should have done before and stay with him. Babysit him.”

    Taryn couldn’t say anything. After all, this is what she had encouraged him to do just a few minutes ago. They sat in silence for a moment, but not the same tense sort as before. Taryn felt calmer, like all the negative emotions that had been plaguing her had been purged from her system. “So now, you’re what?” she asked eventually. “His servant again?” The derision in her voice was unmistakable. 

    “I know you hate Baxel,” Damian began, “but he’s more misguided than evil, I swear. He’s surprisingly decent when he’s tries.”

    “I don’t know if I’ll ever change my mind on him,” Taryn admitted. 

    Damian shrugged. “That’s fair. It’s hard to get past his asshole exterior.”

    “And you have?”

    He shrugged again. 

    Taryn studied her brother, wondering how she was supposed to feel in this situation. There was likely no precedent for her brother finding a new father in a demon and actually getting along with him. She still felt residual anger at him, but it was hard to justify when he had more or less agreed that she had a right to be angry. That was the worst.  “Are you okay with this?” she inquired, a little hesitant. “You know, Baxel being your father and all?”

    “Not entirely,” Damian confessed. Taryn knew that tone well; they had always told each other all their secrets. “I still feel… unclean. Like I’m a monster and I just haven’t reached my final hideous form yet.” He looked down at his hands, hanging between his knees. “But I have to admit, the shadow power is really useful. I understand it in a way that I never understood energy magic.”

    “You were almost top of your class in the magic training here,” Taryn pointed out.

    “But I worked so hard for that,” Damian replied. “With the shadows, it just comes. I don’t have to work. It’s easy and comfortable, and even though it’s a dark power, I enjoy it.”

    Taryn watched the look that flashed across his face. “That doesn’t make you bad,” Taryn said. “It’s all in what you do with it.”

    There was something that Damian was holding back, but Taryn didn’t push it. They were still on tender footing, and she didn’t want to risk breaking their healing bond. “Yeah.” Damian looked up. “I swear I’m going to make this up to you, and the GITS, and the world. I won’t stop until I’ve fixed everything.”

    Quirking her first smile, Taryn replied, “That’s a pretty big order.”

    Damian responded with a smile of his own. “Once these angels are gone, I’ll have plenty of time.”

    Taryn could feel her eyes prick with tears again. “I missed you.”

    “I missed you too.”

    Almost at the same time, they stood from their benches and met in an embrace in the middle of the room. Taryn buried her face in Damian’s shoulder and let out a breath when his arms wrapped around her back, holding her tight. “Don’t ever leave like that again, understand?” Taryn muttered next to his ear.

    Damian laughed, and Taryn felt it more than heard it. “Don’t worry.”

    Taryn closed her eyes. She would always be worried.

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