The Batter is a peculiar fellow.
He appeared in this world with no warning, preaching about faith and purity and his holy mission, but perhaps he had always been there? There is a familiarity about him, like he was someone. The Queen seemed to know him, somehow, never elaborating how, but Zacharie knew she wanted him gone. Why? He doesn’t ask, for he is only a merchant, and his only role is to sell his wares to those that need them. Or that’s simply what he wants others to think.
He always has such a severe, focused expression on his face, four pairs of red eyes casting a glow across skin as white as the very spectres he strikes down. He appears human, with his dark hair and silly little baseball uniform, but there are still so many things that seem off about him, things that tell Zacharie that he is so much more than that.
But the Batter has no interest in idle conversation, in revealing too much about himself, in elaborating on just what his mission of purification entails. Blunt, to the point, never hesitating to call something stupid or saying ‘I don’t care’.
It was a simple relationship between the two, strictly professional: Zacharie, the seller; the Batter, the customer. He would assist the Batter along the way in exchange for credits, maybe give a word or two of advice, and then the strange man would be on his way once more. There was still some intrigue, however, on Zacharie’s part, each time he would watch the Batter walk away.
And he begins to think a little too much about him, watch a little too closely. He chalks it up to simple curiosity over someone who keeps so much about him a secret ( much like himself, no? ), but there’s a tight feeling in his chest that he elects to ignore because it’s something far too inconvenient, and it’s best to shove it down sooner rather than later.
Yet, slowly but surely, his resolve begins to crack. When the Batter is handing him credits in exchange for a new bat, the skin of their hands brush for just a brief moment and something electric shoots through his veins. If the Batter notices him tense up, he doesn’t comment on it, just giving a gruff thanks before leaving. But Zacharie is left staring after him, with the feeling of callused fingers and cold skin still lingering.
He breathes in deep, ignoring how his hands shake as he gathers up his wares to put them back in his too-large bag.
This begins to happen more and more, Zacharie notices, and he can’t help but wonder if the Batter is doing this on purpose. Teasing him, maybe? But the Batter does not seem like a man who likes to joke around. If the Batter wanted something, he would have said it by now. And Zacharie wishes he did because he can’t stand how his heart pounds and these warm, unprofessional feelings well up in his chest for a man who does not know the meaning of warmth.
Something happens so suddenly one day that it knocks all of the breath from Zacharie’s lungs. The Batter leans over the counter, crowding into his space, all four eyes narrowed into thin slits and his expression appearing thoughtful. Long fingers take hold of the bottom of Zacharie’s mask and every instinct tells him to lash out for daring to touch it, for getting too close, but he stays stock-still. He can’t hide the tremble in his breath, or in his voice.
“What is it, amigo?”
“Be quiet,” the Batter responds without missing a beat.
“That’s a bold request to make while you are invading my personal space,” comes his reply, a desperate attempt to joke and stay cool even with his mask being pulled up. He thinks it may come all the way off, but then the Batter stops and Zacharie feels how his lips have been exposed to the air and that he can’t really see past his mask now, the holes for his eyes now over his forehead. “What are you--”
“I said be quiet.”
The Batter’s lips are as cold as the rest of his skin and it sends a shock through Zacharie’s body. His hands have a white-knuckled grip on the edge of the counter, while the Batter has one hand grasping the front of his shirt and the other gripping his jaw so tight it might bruise. He kisses him in a way far from gentle, with too much teeth ( does he have fangs? Zacharie never noticed, but he feels them graze his bottom lip ) and too much tongue, but Zacharie is melting into it because-- goodness, how long has he wanted this? Certainly, he’s thought about it a few times, but that ache in his chest grows and grows and he thinks his heart may burst from his rib cage.
He almost tumbles back when the Batter moves with ease over the counter, but a firm hand on his waist keeps him upright.
What surprises Zacharie the most is when the Batter stops, grabs his belt buckle, and waits; he waits for permission, when he always took what he wanted without asking first. Maybe he did have a heart after all, hidden somewhere deep in the dark pit of his chest.
It doesn’t take long for Zacharie to be bent over the surface of the counter as the Batter fucks him at a brutal pace, chest against his back, a rough hand around his throat. He has to bite into the sleeve of his sweater to keep himself from moaning too loud, his knees shaking, his face hot, sparks flying up his spine and pleasure-pain making him jolt, the hand around his throat making him dizzy.
When they’re done, the Batter pulls his pants up and leaves without a word. Zacharie’s legs buckle and he has to keep his weight forward on the counter so he doesn’t collapse. One shaking hand reaches up to push his mask all the way up to rest on the top of his head while he looks down between his legs. Spunk still stains his thighs and it’s drying on the front of his sweater. He curses softly to himself, then buries his face in his arms because now their relationship is far from professional and neither can escape that. They can pretend, of course, but it won’t erase what they’ve just done.
Was a few minutes worth of pleasure worth the cold grip on his heart tightening and digging in its claws?
I love him.
The realization comes to him so suddenly in that moment that it almost blinds him. He loves him, this mysterious holy agent who seems to care for no one but himself and his goals. Or, well, maybe he does care somewhat, in his own way.
They don’t do it again, but each time Zacharie sees the Batter after the tension in the air is palpable and it often looks like the Batter might do it again. But he doesn’t. Zacharie doesn’t know whether he should be thankful or not. He just laughs like he always does, counts the money, gives the Batter whatever items he chooses and then stares at him as he leaves and continues staring even long after he’s gone.
The world is pure white.
It’s silent, except if you stood there too long you might even hear whispers, echoes of desperate cries for help from those long dead. There is black blood on Zacharie’s sword from the Secretaries that wander the now “purified” zones. They are of no challenge to him, to his power kept hidden so he can continue posing as just a simple merchant.
The Queen has been vanquished, and Zacharie’s heart feels hollow. So this was the Batter’s goal, was it? To turn the zones into barren landscapes, rid of the Guardians keeping them alive, wiping out all those left in the process? Is this what purification meant to him? Is this truly purity ?
Pablo had passed by long ago and said not a word to Zacharie, only sharing one knowing glance before passing by.
Zacharie sits, and he waits.
The Batter is gone. Pablo has emerged victorious, but at what cost? Zacharie finds his feline companion in front of the lone switch on the wall, standing over the now-monstrous form of the man he knew as the Batter. The man he had unfortunately loved, despite everything.
“There is one more survivor,” Zacharie says, looking anywhere but the corpse.
“Let us find him and take him from this place, my dear friend,” Pablo replies.
As they turn to leave the room, Zacharie allows himself to spare a glance to the corpse of the Batter, the one he now knows as a monster instead of a man, but there is a brief flicker where he sees a face, a regular human’s face with four eyes fallen shut, blood seeping from his mouth.
“Zacharie,” Pablo says, firm. “Come, now. This is no time to grieve, not for those undeserving of your far-too-gracious heart.”
He only nods, then follows the cat out.
They have traveled through the Nothingness for a long time now, the single surviving Elsen trembling in his sleep as he rides on Zacharie’s back, arms around his neck, while Zacharie’s heavy wings beat. Pablo travels ahead of him, seemingly walking on air. Far ahead he sees a light.
“I must ask,” Pablo suddenly breaks the silence. “And you must forgive me if I am being too inquisitorial…”
“What is it?”
“Do you still love him? In your heart, is there still any love left for him, despite everything?”
He had never told Pablo, but of course Pablo knew. Knew about those feelings as he knew about everything, knew more than even Zacharie himself did. For a long moment Zacharie does not respond, his eyes cast to the side. The answer should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Despite everything…
A lie, an obvious lie because Pablo can read him like an open book. But Pablo does not press further, accepts the answer that he knows not to believe.
And his heart hurts.