Jason hurt. That's the only way he could process the sheer overwhelming rush of emotion running through him. Anger, grief, shock and disbelief, sorrow, disgust, a dozen emotions he couldn't process ran amok. His own father. His father had done it. His former father.
Jason Dustin Koken. The name burned. The name seared itself into his soul. He couldn't believe what his had father done, and he couldn't believe what he'd done in response. He couldn't believe he'd gone as far as he had, and he couldn't believe he hadn't simply pulled the entire house down on the man.
Ronan, perhaps sensing Jason's need for space, didn't say anything as he drove home more sedately. Not simply to the gym, but 'home'. The place behind Jason would never be home again. Never. Every loving memory that place once held was a burning poison now. Jason looked out the window at the passing streets and couldn't even cry. The tumult within was to great to be given any vent, it simply grew and grew; eventually it would consume him. He should care. He did care. But he didn't care enough. He felt his stomach churn in reaction to his inner turmoil, and barely managed to suppress the urge to vomit.
Ronan took a hand off the steering wheel and placed it on Jason's leg and squeezed, reminding Jason of his support. Jason took the hand in his own as he struggled to find his emotional center, to start processing and dealing with these emotions before they destroyed him.
Time held no meaning for Jason; they arrived a the gym both hours and seconds later as far as he could tell. Jason staggered out of the car after Ronan parked, and made it all of about three steps before collapsing, vomiting horrendously. Tears ran down his cheeks as he started sobbing deep, wracking sobs that hurt, physically. Ronan picked him up with ease and held him for a minute, whispering comforts that Jason couldn't hear, but still felt. Still appreciated. Ronan took a moment to wipe Jason's face off with a kleenex he'd grabbed from the car, before shifting his grip.
Ronan carried Jason upstairs, waving off people who wanted to talk, slamming the door in Lara's face as she tried to come in. Jason sensed all of it going on around him, dimly, and appreciated it. Finally Ronan dumped Jason into bed and started pulling off their clothing. There was nothing sexual about what he was doing, he simply removed their clothes and pulled the covers over them for warmth. Jason curled around the warmth Ronan tried to provide, as much emotional as it was physical. He sobbed until hours later, with the sun peeking in through the windows, he fell asleep.
When he woke up, Ronan was still there, holding him gently. Jason shifted his head on Ronan's shoulder, leaning into the cuddle with renewed force. Ronan responded by tightening his grip. "Thank you," Jason whispered as tears began to rise again. Ronan kissed them away.
"I love you Jason," Ronan told him, heartbreak clear in his voice. Jason felt it. There was nothing magical, nothing mystical about this. Simply two people whose lives had become one. He knew Ronan, and he felt Ronan's pain, the pain that was an echo of his own, and somehow it helped. Pain shared was pain halved... or at least, diminished. Jason realized he was thirsty.
"I need a drink," he croaked.
"I figured as much," Ronan nodded, and leaned over, nearly dumping Jason out of his lap to grab a glass of water on the nightstand. "Here."
The lukewarm water was the most delicious thing Jason had even tasted, and he forced himself to drink it slowly rather than chug it. "I don't even know what day it is," he sighed. "Do I have classes?"
"Not today," Ronan told him. "Not tomorrow, either. I had Paul drop by your professors and explain the situation."
"Thanks," Jason said as he dropped the emptied glass on the bed and relaxed back into Ronan's chest. "Thanks for everything."
"Jason, I..." Ronan broke off. "When you were gone..."
Ronan fell silent, and Jason didn't prompt him. For a while they just cuddled, ignoring the world around them. It was a healing time for Jason, a chance for his wounded heart and soul to come to terms with the things he'd done, the things he'd felt. The things that had been done to him.
"How bad was it?" Ronan asked eventually.
"Bad," Jason admitted. "I'm strong, but there is a limit in all things," he sighed. "If they'd been able to hold me there long enough..." Jason shuddered. "No one could survive that, Ronan. No one. Eventually, it would crush them, kill them. In soul, if not in body."
"I didn't know that facility was there, or I'd probably have made a visit myself," Ronan admitted. "We're too few in number. It's all we can do just to patrol the city itself."
"We need more people," Jason sighed. "And we can't get them."
"We've started actively recruiting," Ronan reminded him, "searching for people who can fit our requirements rather than just snapping them up when we see them."
"Still not enough," Jason shook his head. "Not many people match the requirements, and sooner or later we'll have tapped the city out."
"Which is why I'm going to start hunting elsewhere," Ronan told him. "Lara had a job offer the other day."
"A job offer?" Jason asked, confused.
"Lara has done a lot of good for a lot people," Ronan told him. "Word has spread. The city here won't touch her because of her relationship with me, there are too many city councilors that just don't care for me. But other cities don't have that issue, and want her as a social worker."
"I thought her degree was in psychology," Jason asked.
"For a proven professional such as herself, the normal requirements can sometimes be waived," Ronan said dryly. "Especially when the departments recognize pure gold and want to snap it up before someone can beat them to it."
"It's a huge step forward," Jason admitted.
"Yeah, but she'd have to move," Ronan sighed. "And she's not the only one."
Jason figured it out. "They take the jobs, and set up... cells? Units? In the other cities."
"Divisions, lets call it," Ronan smiled. "It's something to discuss."
"And we, of course, would be the HQ division," Jason sighed.
"Unless you can find a way to move the Arch somewhere else," Ronan shrugged.
"Won't be perfect," Jason smiled, "but I guess it's way better than what we have now."
"Yeah," Ronan sighed. "But what we have now might change too."
"Oh?" Jason asked.
"One reason I've been so paranoid about making sure everyone can fight is because one bad apple would have the potential to do a lot of harm," Ronan reminded him. "If someone goes bad, we need numbers to make sure we can take him down. And since our numbers are small, that means everybody fights."
"Increase the numbers..." Jason trailed off. "Scale. Once we get to the kind of scale we're headed for, you don't need everyone to be able to fight."
"Yeah," Ronan nodded. "We'll still want people that are completely trustworthy, but we can pick people to be eyes and ears, support, or combat instead of all three. Have people whose only 'job' is to look for trouble, others who help clean up after the trouble. And then a smaller, core force, which is closer to what we are now. Soldiers, who also heal. Healers, who protect."
"It's a good dream," Jason agreed. "But... the Arch is getting more dangerous."
"All the more reason to grow," Ronan told him. "If we need more people, this way we have them."
"Makes sense," Jason sighed. "Don't you wish, sometimes, that you could make it all go away?"
"Do you?" Ronan asked.
"Sometimes," Jason told him. "It scares me. The Arch is dangerous, if it ever fell into the wrong hands..."
"But then we'd never have met," Ronan told him. "That's worth a lot."
Jason sighed. "Yeah, it is."
They fell silent again. "You still haven't told me what happened to you," Ronan said eventually. "You need to talk."
"I don't want to," Jason told him. "It was... terrible."
"I've been to that kind of place before," Ronan told me. "Terrible is a good start, but you need to say more."
"I don't remember a lot of it," Jason said eventually. "I blanked myself out, hid within my own mind to avoid facing them."
"Clever, I suppose," Ronan sighed. "It must have frustrated them."
"It did," Jason admitted. "They tried aversion therapy, but you taught me how to retreat too deep into my own mind to feel it. They tried 'counseling' sessions, but they consistently lost. It was the other things that I couldn't counter."
"Other things?" Ronan asked.
"Sleep deprivation," Jason said. "They wouldn't let me sleep. And they didn't feed me enough; I was constantly hungry. Malnutrition and exhaustion was breaking down my defenses one day at a time."
"Shit," Ronan swore. "Nasty."
"What's worse is what I found in my file," Jason told him. "Not just... Dad. Their plans."
"Plans?" Ronan asked.
Jason swallowed, wishing he could avoid this conversation. "They didn't get a chance. Events were... timed to cut them off first."
"A chance to do what?" Ronan asked.
Jason didn't want to answer, but Ronan wasn't going to let it go. "They knew about my rape," he said eventually. "It was... it was a way 'past' my defenses."
Ronan's eyes blazed. "The bastards. They were... No. No!"
"They never had a chance," Jason told him. "I broke free first."
"That's what I don't understand. How did you break free?" Ronan asked angrily.
"The drugs they gave me... they suppressed most of my abilities," Jason told him. "But they couldn't quite block my ability to channel God's power. It... He could have burned the drugs out in an instant, but he didn't. He wanted me to understand."
"Understand? Understand what?" Ronan growled, still enraged. "What possible excuse could there be for leaving you there?"
"I needed to understand that what happened was necessary. Was, in a way, right," Jason said. "I killed them, Ronan. Not all of them. A few... a few I let live. Those that were there because they needed the money, those that were trying to quit. Four or five of them, at most. Only... I wasn't really the one who did it."
"What do you mean?" Ronan asked.
Jason took a deep, ragged breath. "I called God's power into the world, and... I channeled His will. I was nothing more than an instrument in his hands. I made myself a tool for death and destruction. For vengeance."
Ronan had nothing to say to that. "I love you," he said eventually. "I don't know how I can help you with this, but I love you."
"I need time," Jason said. "Time to think, time to pray. I think I'll talk with Pastor Ramirez a bit, though I'm not sure how I'll avoid sounding like a madman."
"If... you need it, he can be brought into the secret," Ronan offered. "Lara and I have both been thinking for a while about bringing a few religious leaders in, though your... nature changed the dynamics of those discussions."
"I can imagine," Jason sighed. "I'm not sure. Let me pray on it."
"Alright," Ronan kissed his head. "I need to use the restroom."
"So do I," Jason admitted. "I guess it's time to get up..."
Jason drew his sword in a slow, even motion, breathing deeply and keeping his eyes unfocused, open. Every motion was slow, practiced, graceful as he shifted from stance to stance. It was a slow, stately dance, in time with the music playing in the background. Jason felt his emotions stir, reacting to the song, and suppressed them, focusing on the image of a plaid lake, of a leaf falling. Striving, constantly, to keep both his physical and mental centers as he moved through the practice kata at a slow, deliberate pace.
It was a form of meditation as well as exercise, relaxation as well as practice. Jason sought to loose himself in the sound, the motion, the perfect balance that the kata demanded of him. Still, though, the words spoke to him, driving past the detachment he strove to hold on to. The song mirrored too strongly his own fears. And his mind already drifted forward, to the coming part, that echoed the situation too strongly. Jason felt his detachment begin to fail and gave up.
Cursing, he snapped the music to the next song. 'Roland' was a good song, but The Cruxshadows just weren't a good thing to listen to right now. He was halfway back into his meditation when the song switched over again, and the random playlist pulled up 'Citadel' instead. "What is it with you and the damned Cruxshadows today?!" he swore at the stereo. Giving up any pretense of peace, of calm, he sighed and locked the door. It would not be safe to be interrupted in what was about to happen... not for the interrupter, anyway. Restarting the song, he let it's driving beat move him. This wasn't a meditation, it wasn't a warm up. Jason felt his powers answer him, and his blade cut through the air with a strange, keening whistle he'd never heard. Energy crackled up and down it's length as Jason's rage peaked.
This wasn't peaceful, it wasn't calm, it wasn't quiet. Jason wasn't doing anything that could be called a 'dance' anymore. The sword in his hands spun and twirled in a lethal, flashy sequence of moves, attacking and defending against an opponent. Normally grace would accompany such a display, but Jason had foregone any grace or subtlety in this, substituting brute force. As he spun and twisted his way around the circle marked out for the exercise, energy began to build around him. Slowly, the energy inside the circle began to move with him, spinning around. Gradually energy outside the circle began to follow suit. The faster and stronger Jason moved, the more power moved with him. Too angry to notice, or care, he continued his lethal, dangerous catharsis.
The building around him groaned as the growing vortex began tugging at the energies built into the structure. The vortex grew, and built, and reached out. Jason finally began to notice something was happening and tried to disperse a bit of the power he'd built up. As he tried to ground the energies safely, they flowed down easily enough. But he didn't only ground his own, personal energies. The power that had built up around him dragged with it everything it had touched. Like pulling the plug on a tub of water, the power he grounded simply drew more power, which drew more, which drew even more. As far out as the spinning vortex had reached, power flowed inwards. The bare concrete under his feet began to glow with the sheer power flowing into it, the defenses woven into it channeling the power safely into themselves.
The entire building shuddered as power rushed into its magical defenses. Where the energies of those defenses had earlier been effected by the vortex, they now shrugged its power off effortlessly. If they hadn't, it might have caused a feedback loop that would have increased until it overwhelmed Jason. Instead, the raw floating magic generated by thousands of people, the love and hatred, jealously and selflessness of a city flowed into the building and strengthened the defenses around it. Jason groaned as he felt the massive tidal wave of power flow through him. He couldn't have hoped to summon or control that much power, and simply being on the edge of its flow strained him to his very limits. It didn't last long, and then Ronan started kicking the door in. "What the hell is going on? Jason, are you all right? Jason!"
"I'm... fine," Jason panted as the door frame snapped. "Just a bit tired. Not sure what happened."
Paul wandered around the fair rather listlessly. "Go buy yourself a weapon!" was a nice enough order, but he didn't know what he wanted yet. Not a sword was about all he'd come up with. Swords were alright, but... anything else would be better. Staves, clubs, knives, nun-chucks, tonfa, he could use them all. But none of them was 'right', none of them had that little extra something that everyone else had described.
So here he was, wandering around a craft fair in the section reserved for medieval arms and armor. Some of the crafts he saw around him were beautiful, despite their nature. Others were merely functional, which frequently held a beauty all its own. He'd already spent more money than he'd intended to on a few items. The long, thin chain that he'd seen in the jewelry section wasn't exactly a 'normal' weapon, but he had a few ideas for the two he'd bought. And with Ronan's fascination with Japanese weapons, the nunti he'd arranged to have delivered would make a wonderful gift. He'd considered a pair of sai, but eventually passed them by.
The European weapons eventually gave way to Native American designs, and Paul still hadn't seen anything especially interesting. And then something made him turn towards a stand displaying a number of tomahawks. Most of them weren't very interesting, but something drew him to the display anyway. Something called out to him.
Entering the booth, he glanced over the wares inside. The craftsman was selling more than just tomahawks, but Paul couldn't spot whatever it was that was calling to him, drawing him in almost against his will.
Paul froze as the thought crossed his mind. Against his will... it wasn't quite true, but it would definitely take an act of will to turn and leave. He needed to find out what was here. And while that need wasn't completely external, a large part of it was being imposed.
"May I help you?" the vendor asked after a moment.
"I'm not sure," Paul said slowly as his eyes scanned the many items on display. One, on the back 'wall' of the booth, caught his eye. Walking over, his hand raised up of it's own will as if to touch it.
"I'm sorry, the vendor said regretfully, "that one isn't for sale. My grandfather lets me display it, but he doesn't want it sold to just anyone. Nice eye, though; that is most assuredly the best piece in the entire booth."
Paul's hand didn't make it all the way up to touch the weapon. It didn't need to. He could feel it. "How much?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, my grandfather just won't sell it, for love or money," the vendor shrugged.
"I want... I need this weapon," Paul whispered. "I'd like to talk to your grandfather," he said, hands reluctantly dropping to his side. "Please?"
"He's wandering the fair, I'll ask someone to find him," the vendor sighed. "He won't sell though."
"May I at least handle it?" Paul asked as the vendor turned.
"Don't try to leave with it, and don't break it!" the vendor warned. "Otherwise, sure."
Paul took the weapon up reverently. The slight shock as he touched it confirmed his suspicions, absurd though they'd seemed. He let the weapon rest lightly in his hands, then stood in the middle of the tent and swung it, slowly. It's design wasn't traditional, like many of the other pieces in the shop. The haft had a slight angle in the middle of it, and both sections curved gently, but it fit nicely in his hands. The wood had been polished until it glowed, and the metal of the head could function as a mirror. He didn't have to check the edge of the cutting head to know that it could serve as a razor. Opposite that a chunk of metal protruded out, like the head on a hammer, providing a slight counter weight. And in a complete break with tradition, and the other axes on display, a spike of metal extended out from the head, in line with the handle. Perfect to stab with.
Paul felt the perfect balance of the weapon, and it's lightness in his hand. He had to have it. He had to. Reluctantly, he put it back on the mount it had come from. As he stepped back, someone walked in behind him. Turning, he saw the vendor had returned with an old man, who stared querulously at Paul. He gabbled in a language Paul didn't recognize, dismissively.
"My grandfather insists it's not for sale, at any price," the vendor shrugged. "He won't sell."
"Ten thousand dollars," Paul heard himself saying. It was all he could afford at the moment. Unlike his brother he hadn't received a multi-million dollar inheritance, and the money he'd received from his 'real' job was more than enough to live on. He'd found a few ways to line his pockets with some extra cash, but hadn't really pushed very hard. Just enough to be able to pay for his leathers, which were due to be delivered 'soon', and put a bit aside for weapons. Hopefully he had enough. He had to get this axe.
"My grandfather says the amount of money is not the issue," the vendor shrugged after he'd talked to the older man. "It's a special weapon, somehow, and he won't sell to just anyone. The rest of it is a bunch of mystic junk that I don't really understand."
"Translate it as best you can," Paul asked. Ordered, really. The man frowned, and chewed his lip.
"He says the blade holds power, and that he won't sell it to anyone who doesn't understand and respect that, to anyone that doesn't hold power of their own," the vendor said after a moments thought. "A lot of it doesn't really translate, it's references to folk lore and the old ways."
"Tradition," Paul nodded. He stuck his hand out to the older man in an invitation to be shaken. The older man took it, hesitantly, then his eyes snapped up to Paul's. He looked deeply, stepping into Paul's personal space. Paul was shocked to feel an actual pressure on his auras, and pushed back. Lightly, holding his position, but back. The old man's eyes widened further, and he looked Paul up and down and began babbling more.
"He..." the vendor shook his head. "He demands -- his words, not mine -- that you tell him where you were trained, how. He wishes to know how you came by such power."
"Translate my words, exactly," Paul told him. "If a word doesn't translate, tell me and we'll find the one that works."
"Alright," the vendor shrugged, clearly not understanding a thing.
"I am one who watches over a thing of darkness. I guard against the night of the human soul. I stand as sword and I stand as shield against that which would destroy my fellow man," Paul told him, the metaphors and allusions coming together in a rush. It wasn't his own words, it was something speaking through him. They were the right words. "My power is that of the human soul. My strength is that of a man's will. I am the light in the darkness, and the blade that cuts the shadow. I need only my weapon."
After the vendor translated everything, the older gentleman nodded. "He says to take up the weapon," the vendor said hesitantly.
Paul turned and reached for the weapon. As he did so, he felt something flicker around him. Weak, but still dangerous, the older man slammed an attack of pure will into Paul's defenses. Paul let the attack slide off the armor of his auras, hardening them with his will. He didn't need to call any extra defenses up, the attack was just too weak to be a credible danger against him. As he picked up the axe, he felt something snap into place. The older man backed up a step or two, rocked back on his heels by the sheer power of that moment. He gabbled something else, and a fight quickly broke out with the vendor. "Is something wrong?" Paul asked.
The vendor looked at him, nervously, and bit his lip before answering, "Nothing is wrong, just a small disagreement. Nothing to worry about. How much did you say you'd pay?"
"Ten thousand dollars, and I insist you take it," Paul heard himself say. "It is the least I can do for one learned in the Old Ways, and who practices the Greater Arts. Translate that."
Paul didn't understand why that shut the old man up, but it did. Glaring at Paul, he shook his head and spat on the ground before growling out commands at the vendor.
"He thanks you for the offer, but the blade is worth far, far more than that," the vendor said slowly. "He insists the money offered isn't fair recompense."
Paul felt his lips compress. He didn't have-
"Odahingum, you lying tart!" someone screeched from outside the tent. "Don't you lie to the boy!" An elder woman stepped into the tent, and looked Paul over. "Wakanda here didn't quite say what his grandson wished he had. A better translation would have been that the blade is worth far more than any sum of cash, and money can't pay for it."
"Orenda!" the vendor snapped. "Please!"
"You wish to lie, that's your watch, boy," she snapped back. "I don't think your grandfather would be very happy to hear of it."
The vendor glanced nervously at his grandfather, "I merely translated his words as literally as possible."
"Literally, but not accurately," the woman growled back. "Get out. I'll handle this, and if you shut up and leave now I won't tell your mother what you tried."
The vendor turned on his heel and walked out. "Now, boy, what are you doing holding that axe?" the woman asked angrily.
"I want it. I need it," Paul told her. "I'll pay."
"Wakanda won't sell it for cash," she told him. "The price would be a different one."
"What?" Paul asked. The woman spoke for a moment with the man, who finally nodded.
"A favor," she told him. "A favor of equal worth."
"What do you want?" Paul asked, spreading his hands.
"You won't like it, boy," she told him. "Are you sure you're willing to pay?"
"You haven't told me the favor," Paul reminded her, suddenly nervous.
"The favor is something you are already sworn to," she told him. "When I woke this morning, I spent some time meditating. It was not a peaceful meditation. Someone I used to know, many many years ago, gave me a message."
"A message?" Paul asked.
"Yes," the woman nodded. "A message. Margie wanted me to tell you to hold to your oath. When the time comes, don't quit. Stand, alone yes, but stand. Stand and wait for the years that shall pass between now and the end of the battle, the time you give up the weapon."
"I don't understand," Paul shook his head.
"I don't ask a new oath of you, boy, but an old one. Stay true to that oath, when all else fall to the wayside," the woman ordered. "You will understand when the time comes, when the price seems too high to pay. But pay you will. Swear it! Swear!"
"I will," Paul said hesitantly. "I don't understand, but... I will."
The woman nodded, and then stepped aside. "Leave. Go home. Show Ronan what you have."
Paul froze mid-stride. "Ronan? You know him?"
"Tell him Margie said hi, one last time," the woman smiled. "Tell him she also said 'bye'. Her debt is ended. Soon enough I will be joining her. Soon enough..." the woman shook her head. "All men -- and woman -- die sooner or later. It isn't always a thing of sorrow," she said, almost to herself. "Go. Go!" she shooed him out when she noticed he hadn't left. "Don't you have better things to be doing?"
Paul walked back to the car, slowly, fingering the axe gently. On his way out, he went ahead and made a few more purchases. He'd have to get a custom holster of some kind made for his new axe, but the craftsmen here probably weren't the best choice for that. He'd talk to Ronan first. For now, he felt the gratifying weight of his bag as he left, several extra weapons on hand. He hadn't trained much with sai, but a few of the Guardian's used them, and they seemed like a decent backup weapon. At least he knew how to hold them, and could avoid the really poorly designed ones. He also added a pair of daggers, curved and straight. To round out the ensemble he added a pair of wind and fire wheels and a rather special urumi.
Loaded down with dangerous, lethal weapons Paul made his way home. He had a lot of practicing to do!