Homesick

He knew she had been homesick ever since she crash landed into this world. There are some obvious habits she developed, too: she would always curl up by the window to stare at the sunset, casually holding her owl like a dog as she can’t decide between ruffling and smoothing the feathers until the last ray of orange fade into purple bruises in the inkling skies, then she will sigh and get up to wreak havoc or ask him stupid questions. Or she would take over the kitchen in lame attempts to imitate a dish she claimed her father always make before effectively setting the pan she wasn’t even using on fire. Or she would randomly assault him with a string of her language before she realized he was confused, then she would try to laugh off the deep sorrow in her eyes.

The point is, he knew, and she probably knew that he knew.

He always didn’t know what he could do. It wasn’t that she was completely alone: she consults Saphira or talks gibberish to her owl, but sometimes, when he was brave enough to be quiet with his thoughts, he wished he could help. So, when he woke up in the middle of the night to the luminescent amber eyes of that feathered piece of shit on his bedstead, he fought the instinct to crush it and asked instead.

“What are you doing here?”

“Hoot.”

“Well, I am going back to sleep,” As soon as he turned his back to the fluffball to seek warmth and sleep again, he heard the scuttling movement followed by a sharp sting to the back of his head. “What the fuck?!”

It made to peck again, but he threw it off his bed with a wave of his hand.

“Okay, what do you want?”

It started scuttling for the door, pausing only to stare at him; of course, it wanted him to follow, so he did.

As he expected, it led him to the guest room downstairs where Vega had taken over for the past couple of months. After congratulating himself for his patience as he stupidly waited for the bird to slowly hop down each step as it fended off his help with angry squawks and pecks at his toes, he listened to find slight shuffles of movements and decided to knock on the door.

“Is everything alright?” He ventured, only to be met by silence; the shuffles behind the door paused before they drew closer, he waited.

The door opened by a sliver, but that didn’t stop him from noting how red and puffy her eyes were as she stared at the floor to help her efforts of shepherding her wayward owl back into her room with her foot, “Apologies, I didn’t notice he’s escaped.” Her voice sounded so small, he could hear something break within him. “Good night.”

“Hey,” The door paused, she was still avoiding eye contact as though she didn’t know how obvious that she had been crying for hours. “You can talk to me.”

“No, it’s fine. You’ve been kind enough to me already.”

“What’s wrong?” Perhaps he was being a prying asshole, perhaps he should have just leave her alone, but the idea of her being so upset would have deprived him of any sleep anyway, he might as well be nosy even though he was no good at that either.

But when she finally managed to raise her head and look at him, he knew it was right for him to have pried: fresh tears were already streaming down her cheeks and she choked out a word or two before sobs wrecked all semblance of control she had left.

“What if…what if they are dead? I will never see them…I am so selfish…” While she wiped at her face, he tugged her into a tight embrace and tried to piece together her incoherent torrent of jumbled words with information he already learned from Saphira — it’s strange to think that he knew so little of this naive child, that she could talk and ask so much without him knowing more about her family and what ‘they’ entailed in the first place.

“It’s alright,” He felt dumb and awkward, but he tried. “We will find him soon. We will find a way.”

He relocated them to the living room in hopes that she would calm down enough to rant or something, but instead she was content with slowly washing his nightshirt with her tears and — he tried to not think about it — snot as he just held her, this special, little girl with more emotions than her petite little frame can contain, wasting away her energy crying until she was too tired to care or be embarrassed that she fell asleep right there in his arms.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do with you?” He merely chuckled before giving up on his efforts to move her or himself before he suddenly remembered how tired he was and allowed sleep to claim him.

Advertisements

Flickering Lights

Darkness flickered in and out of focus, but he could clearly see that it is winning in this whirling world of nothing but cliché agony. His lips were cracked and his tongue tasted like sand, his eyes and mind competed to become the most unreliable narrator. He tried to summon his voice even though he knew it was out of futile stupidity. Nothing.

Then all the sudden, light cheated and won. Someone entered the room. Someone whom he thought was a light in his life.

How funny, to think she cheated, too, and all he got was the shadows, the flickering shadows the effects of whatever drug they decided to poison him with.

So he closed his eyes to paint prettier pictures on the back of his eyelids.

The light was too bright, too close, he just wanted to throw up.

“Canopus…”

He wondered if he had enough power left in him to snap his own neck.

“I am sorry that it came to this, I truly am.”

Maybe he can break his wrist and bleed out instead. Maybe that would do. That would finally shut up those voices that tell him to trust, forgive, to seek a mere reason to explain that he wasn’t a fool. Even if he is a paralyzed, mangled mess he knows that voice would never leave him.

“…Your power…no one should have such a thing.”

So, she would love me if I was a simple human being? But, his power was the only reason that brought her to him, and it’s only right that it is the same reason that drove her away.

A monster deserves nothing but darkness. And he was apparently less than a monster in her eyes, she deprive him even of his claim of darkness.

Then he woke up again. For the thousandth time he woke up catching himself about to break his own wrist.

Not even sleep was safe. He sighed, retreated to the living room to see if the sun bothered to come up yet and try to test again if working himself to death worked. It didn’t. He clenched his temples, pulled at his hair, tried to count how many times he sighed.

He hardly heard the shuffle of movement gliding down the stairs, but only saw the bird nest of a bed head where an actual bird nestled, “Why are you up so early?”

He scoffed at the notion that the small, childish whine dissipated the storm clouds.

A Weekend’s Chat

It’s strange how fast people form habits: within weeks of her coming to this world there began an unspoken truce between the four of them to congregate at Saphira and Gabriel’s — it was as though she was the excuse that Canopus needed to hide his fondness of his brother and his sister-in-law — and ramble about life after a fruitless attempt at figuring out what they should do about her mission.

“Mr. Adler seems like a nice guy,” Saphira assumed her usual spot curled up against her husband on the couch on one such meeting. “He has an impeccable taste for coffee beans.”

“…And he was born and raised in NorCal, studied anthropology, got married to another relatively normal person at 30, taught at a community college, did a lot of hiking and nature-related volunteering with his wife, went to a lot of classical music concerts, retired when his wife passed to travel around the world, settled here and there to build schools and libraries, barely had any problems with the law, have no children but kept in touch with a lot of his students…just your typical modern saint,” Canopus recited uncited research to the ceiling, stretching himself across a couch opposite to the couple.

“I’m not even going to ask you where you found that information,” Gabriel muttered and rolled his eyes.

“Contrary to your erroneous assumptions, I have friends, Gabby dear.”

“I said, I wasn’t even going to ask.”

Vega attempted to contribute to the conversation, “I think Ellie likes me.”

No one was sure if the “Good job” from Canopus was genuine, but the confusion from Gabriel was.

“Who is that?”

“It’s Mr. Adler’s cat! She loves snappers.”

The enlightened twin straightened up from his seat, “Wait, so I wasn’t imagining things: my snappers didn’t just melt into thin air.”

The girl colored, “I was…planning on informing you of that…earlier. Apologies.”

“No worries, I’m glad you made a new friend.”

Despite the restoration of Vega’s bubbly disposition, Canopus remained skeptical, “I still don’t trust that old man.”

Saphira smiled, “When do you trust anyone, anyway?”

“Never, but especially here. This old man and his weird, child-luring cat are definitely up to no good.”

Vega grew defensive, “Ellie is not weird.”

Gabriel started. “If he is indeed an agent after us, he probably would have already acted considering how much Vega seem to visit. It’s been a good while.”

“Plus, I think I trust a good coffee aficionado,” Saphira jested before the song of her voice lowered. “And an agent shouldn’t be so eager to introduce himself to the neighborhood and have such a regular, daily schedule.”

She waved a small note she fished out of her pockets, and the flimsy paper glided across the room to Canopus.

“Caffeine is a drug, Saph,” He grumbled before studying the note, gave a slight “hrmm.”

Seeing that silence was growing, Vega volunteered again, “He showed me how humans tell if a rose is sick.”

“Just how many times have you went over? Every day you walk your dumb owl?!”

“I mean, he is right next door…and also, stop belittling my owl!”

“Hoot!”

“I mean, your owl requires someone to walk him. I would like to quote you and remind you that ‘owls fly’, Vega.”

She scoffed while the said owl scuttled from the arm of the sofa to her head, its little amber eyes transfixed upon Canopus with determined judgement throughout its little trek. The target of their scorn merely burst into laughter.

“You have no idea how ridiculous you look right now.”

“You have no idea how ridiculous you are, always,” The girl crossed her arms and pouted, the bird shuffled and settled into a fearsome, feather ball.

“Anyway, I still advise everyone to stay away from the old man,” Canopus settled back into the couch. “Who knows, maybe he more powerful than all of us combined and we just don’t know.”

“Still, I don’t think he bear ill intentions,” Saphira grumbled. “We don’t have to live every second of our lives in fear. Why don’t we start practicing that by talking about literally anything else? Oh yeah, how is Angelica, Canopus?”

“…Hrmm…” He wasn’t paying his sister-in-law much attention as he stared at the humble schedule that just seemed too regular and turned it over his mind to make sure there are no stains, no dots to connect.

The New Neighbors

The first “meow” drifted across the yard with the same gentle elegance that preceded the second utterance and the success of a calculated pounce.

That second utterance also summoned the girl from her engrossment with a volume she singled-out to be the only series that was written in a language she could understand. She shuffled to the screen door, inspected the corner of the well-tended little garden in view. Nothing. So she ventured out.

On her left were Gabriel’s selection of decorative flowers and small fruits; on her right were the general pleasantries of Saphira’s random whims sprouted from her haphazardly discarding plant seeds out the window. No cat in sight. Her search continued. Then she rounded the corner, and there it was.

The pastel calico fur ball had dared to sniff a haphazard mint, testing the sharp tinge before the bright green orbs fixed upon the human that had dared to disturb it from its little piece of trespassing heaven. The girl asked the cat if it was lost or looking for something. It merely stared and slipped to the opposite corner of the garden, investigating a turned leaf it didn’t meow at before.

The girl begged her calico visitor to stay put before she disappeared into the house and returned, equipped with a sliver of bribe in raw fish. Almost at once, the feline visitor decided to show some interest in the girl who tried ever so hard to please it.

As the cat wolfed down the last piece a voice from the front fences, a gentle good afternoon filled to the brim with gratitude. An old man the epitome what one might stereotype as a scholar: wrinkles, greying hairs and an air of observant indulgence in new environments he entered with a slight lean forward, dressed in an orderly hurry.

“Good afternoon to you, too!” Unlike what Saphira told her to, Vega continued her strategy of attacking strangers with enthusiastic friendship.

He spoke like how Vega imagine him to speak, gently and kindly as he apologized and introduced the intruding cat.

“Ellie is a lovely name,” She commented, trying to hide the fact that she was really flattered by the way the cat purred and brushed against her legs.

The old gentleman introduced himself as a new neighbor, and Vega vaguely remember a line or two mentioning an old trusted neighbor and her new ugly, but loveable dog. Solomon Adler, he said. She decided to call him Mr. Adler.

They chatted about the weather, why he moved to Southern California from the Bay, Ellie’s favorite perch basking in TV radiation. Then Solomon finally convinced his cat to stop sniffing at his new neighbor’s every plant. She bade them good day and made to return to her volume, humming and trying to remember what song this tune came from before giving up: she was too excited about visiting their new neighbors officially with Saphira.

An Atypical Morning

“Why are you up so early?”

“The same could be said about yourself.”

“…I am a morning person, thank you for noticing. Coffee?”

“At 5 a.m.?”

“I will take that as a no.”

“…”

“…what, did you forget what ‘coffee’ is?”

“…”

“It’s that dark, bitter stuff that Saphira is addicted to.”

“Oh, that. I don’t like it.”

“…okay, I will go make you some chocolate.”

“I can make it myself.”

“Nah, I treasure my mugs’ and my kitchen’s safety.”

“Oh please, that was only one time!”

“…Right.”

“So, why are you up so early?”

“Unlike you, I have worries and responsibilities. I work.”

“…What’s lingering on your mind?”

“…”

“What is it?”

“I am almost done. Go play with your owl or something.”

“Did you have nightmares?”

“I am not a child — ”

“– My mother said that adults can have nightmares, too.”

“None of your business. Go find that feathered piece of shit before it runs off again.”

“Flies off. Owls fly, Canopus.”

“Whatever.”

“…”

“No.”

“What, I didn’t even ask anything!”

“And I already know it’s none of your business.”

“It was her, wasn’t it?”

“Please, fuck off. Oh, and take your chocolate.”

“…”

“Do I need to define ‘fuck off’ for you? Please just take your chocolate and let me think in peace.”

“If you never talk about it, the nightmares won’t go away.”

“Oh, did your dad tell you that?”

“How did you know?”

“…Please just let me work.”

“But you are just conjuring nonsense on your writing apparatus.”

“Laptop. It’s called a laptop.”

“You can trust me.”

“Sure.”

“I mean, I know what she’s capable of. She was the one who cut me open and stuff.”

“…You don’t have to pretend that you are fine with it.”

“And nor do you.”

“…”

“…”

“Please just go find your owl.”

“Stop blaming yourself.”

“…”

“Hoot.”

“Where the fuck did he come from?”

“He agrees with me.”

“That does not answer my question. And, I don’t really want to talk about it right now.”

“…So you might tell me later?”

“Maybe one day, of coure, I will pour out my heart and recount my life’s trauma at your disposal.”

“…”

“…”

“Sorry for asking too much.”

“…”

“…”

“…Sorry for being an asshole.”

“What? Did you just apolo — ”

“ — Nothing.”

“Ha.”

“Hoot.”

“Shut up.”

Crashed

She was there.

At that moment, he forgot why he agreed to take Saphira to find the girl, forgot that he was practically indestructible and usually lived to test said indestructibility, forgot it was his twin’s voice calling him to reality until the usual gentle baritone raised to an alarmed exclamation.

“Sorry,” he muttered.

But, the damage was done, they didn’t have to probe to know.

She is here.

His hands were trembling, his eyes gave some deceptive images of broken bones and his own personal sea of hellish scarlet, and no matter how calloused he pretended to be he trembled, still.

God he wanted to break that hand that betrayed his fears.

So when they adhered to their plan and Saphira left the two of them to spy and look out while she assumed a disguise of the unlucky guard they subdued, melting into the temporary camp about the crash site, he merely breathed.

So when the alarm sounded because of course the alarm sounded and Gabriel leapt into the chaos without a doubt, he merely breathed.

So when he heard his own gasping and realized he forgot to breath he reached out to the nearest thing and pulled it from the tug of gravity and crushed it he felt okay again. Air was returning. The familiarity of folding guns and trucks like bad origami.

He always mess up his paper cranes.

So when he brush those soldiers aside with more force than necessary he fucking saw her. And instead of burying her in a fury, tomb of metal and concrete and dust he paused. She turned, that head of light curls swung. Bright blue fears.

He merely breathed.

Then he remembered to smile. She always said he should smile more, so he did. That only seemed to terrify her, though; she turned and sprinted, yelled some commands to her fast-dying underlings. He smiled, laughed even.

There’s a grave worse than concrete and metal and he knows it too well.

He turned his palms, raised them to his waist level, and the earth responded.

“Canopus what the fu–”

Comedic timing, apparently he wasn’t good at that, either; he didn’t let Gabriel finish his sentence, he hate it when his mild brother raise his voice. He shut him up by turning the structure they were in into dust, swirling, massive clouds of dust that parted into pillars of grounded flesh and blood and powdered bones and screams of agony.

He chuckled a little. This is so cruel it’s almost biblical.

And there was her face. He wanted to forget that face, but suppose he never will. She was screaming something at him. Probably more insults. Definitely more insults melting into pleading apologies as she saw that all was futile. Even though she shrunk behind her raised arms she realized she was alive, still, under his mercy all along.

And his point made, the storm stopped; Saphira already obtained the hardly conscious girl — he saw the needle marks, the ugly scars where the tubes went in and he almost remembered what she did; so she did that to this poor girl, too — perhaps it was not a good idea to spare her after all.

As they drove away, he could almost see her fading facade amidst the flattened facility, left with nothing but the need to explain to her paranoid superiors why she was the sole survivor.

He only sank into his seat, weighed down by the realization that no, his mother was wrong, someone else’s suffering could be the most enjoyable thing in the world.

Supermarket Flounder

“You just had to sneak him here with us,” Judging from the depth of the frown upon her companion’s brows, Vega was not in as much trouble as she thought she was. “He would’ve been fine in the hotel.”

“Sorry,” She muttered regardless, twiddling with her thumbs while darting furtive glances about as though they don’t already stand out like sore thumbs. “Li gan wu qua deuh jileh…owl?” Nokshan may have its familiarities with the native tongue here, but the locals remained just as confused as her.

Canopus had his hands stuck deep into his pockets, deathly glares brushing aside any looks of interest thrown in their general direction, “Can’t you ‘summon’ that piece of shit?”

“It’s not my familiar.”

The older one gave an exasperated sigh, “I swear we spend more time looking for that feathered piece of shit than anything.”

“Don’t call it that.”

Seeing that his companion appeared visibly dismayed, he grunted, “Whatever.”

So they acquiesced to a silent fellowship, allowing the bustle of haggling, gossiping, and marketing permeate step’s distance between the two of them with Vega shuffling closely behind her tall companion’s long strides that didn’t pause even for sputtering motorcycle and sleek cars proceeding in the same selfish haste.

Vega eyed each mountain of fruits and vegetables still glowing with their recently severed energy from the earth kissed by common rain and dew, each stand of many hooks where hunks of parts of pigs suspended against gravity in an anatomy lesson that no one asked for, each large beds of ice where fluttering gills, clear, staring eyes and glistening scales determined the desirability of the day’s catch; no sign of her pet but a sudden realization of how out-of-place her companion was, even more so than her, as he stood a good head taller than the waddling local grandmas and middle-aged vendors, hair a chocolate’s shade lighter, and features and grey eyes sharper than any experienced blade filleting an aged fish.

“Ah,” Canopus paused, his sight landing on a stand in the far end of the crowded aisle. “That feathered piece of –”

“– Where?!” She stood on tip toes to see, but unfortunately she lacked the vertical advantage and was left with a sea of busy, moving heads of dark hair.

But they squeezed through, and besides a vendor animatedly discussing the merits of snappers while wagging said fish in her gloved hands, was their pet, eyeing the catch in the woman’s hand while perched upon an empty hook across the stand. As amber orbs trained upon delectable seafood, Vega contemplated possibilities though her companions decided for her.

“Do you think they would notice if I just…” Canopus turned a palm, and Vega barely heard the squawk of protest before a brown blur of movement and a flutter of feathers signaled her owl in her companion’s hand, amber eyes widened by the shock of the unexpected trajectory it was hurled through, flying through the air like a helpless iron scrap to magnet.

“There’s your bird, now let’s get the hell out of here,” He stuffed the animal into her hands, storming off for the exit while she chastised the thing, suddenly found herself standing alone in the sea of people before hollering and elbowing her way after her grouchy friend.