Marcus' words had appeared when he was five, starting like a bruise across his collarbone. He'd thought nothing of it. Bruises were a common gift in their house. It was just another dark smudge to add to growing patchwork of them.
It took a week or so before it started to become clearer. Faint shapes became letters with slight elegant lines, inked black across his skin. It was neat writing, angled up towards his left shoulder.
When he was six, he'd asked his mother about it. She was always more accommodating than his father. Where he would drunkenly scream and hurl his fists around, or even the jug cord if he could get to it, she would be patient and courteous, her words only turning sharp when she got sick of his questioning. Where his father would roar his insults, her's were sugar-coated and easier to swallow. She'd looked at him in a soft way, an almost sad smile on her lips.
"They're a gift from God, Marcus." She said, sitting at the kitchen table, bills strewn across the surface. "Those are the first words your soulmate will say to you."
Marcus frowned, looking like a six-year-old trying to solve the mysteries of nuclear physics. "What's a soul mate?"
"A soul mate is like a friend. They're meant to be the best friend you'll ever have. When God makes a soul, he splits it in half. One half goes to you and the other half goes to your soul mate. One day, everything permitting, you'll find your soulmate."
"So," Marcus cocked his head to the left, running his tiny fingers over the words on his collarbone, " you and Dad are soul mates?"
His mother hesitated and frowned, a crease forming on her brow. "Not... Exactly, Marcus. God didn't intend for me to meet my soul mate."
"Oh..." Marcus nodded, shrinking a little. The thought of never meeting the person who was meant for by God's choice was sickening. But above that, he could tell his mother was lying to him. That look to the side and grimace told him everything a six-year-old needed to know. He chose to play along. His mother had already cried this morning, her eyes puffy and red. He didn't want to be the cause of more tears. "So you married Dad?"
His mother waved him away then. "Yes. Now go play in the lounge, I've got things to do."
He scuttled away as she got up to herd him out of the kitchen. As he disappeared down the hall to the lounge he heard the kitchen door click shut and the sound of his mother sobbing. It was nothing new to Marcus. His mother would always cry when she thought he wasn't listening.
He peeked into the lounge, leaning in the doorway and being careful not to step on that one floorboard that creaked. It was like stepping into enemy territory. Hell, it was enemy territory. His father was there, passed out on the couch, no doubt from coming home piss drunk early in the morning. Marcus could see his father's words standing out against his neck. 'I'm flattered but no.' The lines were straight and clean, letters linked together. His soulmate's words were written in Marcus' mother's handwriting. It was out of place on his father, something pretty on a man who was pretty horrible. Marcus, even at six years old, had no qualms about hating his father. He made his mum cry and that was reason enough in Marcus' mind.
Marcus wasn't looking forward to waking him up and getting reacquainted with the buckle end of his father's belt. Instead, he snuck back out and rushed further down the hall as fast as his legs could carry him. His mother would let him sleep it off, praying that today might be better than yesterday, make sure there was dinner waiting for him when he woke up. Marcus slipped into his bedroom, hiding away until his mum called to say he'd be late for school, tracing his fingers over the letters and looking at them in the mirror.
When Marcus was seven, he caught a glimpse of his mother's words. 'She's beautiful' was written in a messy scrawl across her shoulder. Her blouse was ripped from his father finally losing it, finally taking it that step too far. It was hanging off her shoulder, the top buttons popped off and scattering across the floor. Marcus didn't think she was beautiful now. She was ugly in her terror, huddled against the kitchen cabinets she'd crawled to, trying to cover her head and stop the bleeding.
His father was striding towards her, bellowing insults at both her and Marcus. Marcus was pressed against the pantry, eyeing the back door and the kitchen door simultaneously and subconsciously weighing up which he'd get to first. The hammer was hanging almost loose in his father's fist. It was like he didn't expect Marcus to stand up to him, Marcus' mother certainly wouldn't. Both had learned after fiery bouts of defiance that if you wanted to be able to leave the house the next day, then you bit your tongue and didn't dare swing back. It would be over quickly and he'd get bored as long as you didn't retaliate. A fat lot of good that was doing.
His father swung the hammer again. His mother screamed. The sound of bone cracking hit Marcus in the gut, something sickening. His father roared at her again. He raised the hammer again, barking at Marcus to "Stay where you bloody are, boy, I'll deal with you fucking next, you little bastard."
The hammer dropped. Marcus' mother was sobbing. It was a hoarse sound. It hiccuped and gasped as she tried to scoop her brains back into her skull, tried to hold on just a little bit longer so her baby boy could get away. It was the only time she really worried about him, only because that was what was expected of her.
Marcus eyed his father's poaching rifle. It was leaning by the back door. He lunged for it as his father dropped his hammer again.
Seven years old and Marcus watched as blood came spraying out of his mother's mouth as she sobbed on the ground. She was practically dead where she lay despite still huffing out a sob or whine. Seven years old and Marcus loaded his father's poaching rifle with a practised hand. Seven years old and Marcus aimed for the man who was supposed to be his father, his dying mother's soul mate, the best she could get, the one God intended for her. Just a kid when he shot his father in the throat. Just a kid when his father, spitting blood and insults with every last breath, took him to the floor.
Just a kid when his father killed his mother with a hammer. Just a kid when he shot his father in the throat. Just a kid when his father tried to kill him too.
It was lying on the floor, struggling for breath and covered in bits of what might be his mother's brains and the blood of both his parents, that he decided soul mates were overrated. He decided that they weren't everything they were cracked up to be. After all, his parents had been soul mates and look where that got them. Arguing day in and day out. This time it was over him. It wasn't bills, as usual. It was over him. His school had called earlier about him being in the middle of a fight. His father blamed his mother. His mother dared to snap back at him. That's when his father disappeared to the shed and came back five minutes later with blood on his brain. He saw the fear in his mother's eyes when she stumbled in from the hallway, blood dripping down her forehead. One of her arms had been cradled to her side, a bone or two clearly broken. He could still see the crazed look in his father's eyes.
Marcus sat up, feeling numb. His fingers skirted over the words tattooed on his collarbone. Two years and it seemed fitting. His soulmate would be unlucky to meet someone like him. He was worthless. His parents had made well enough aware of that. He made a quiet promise to run from his soul mate if he ever met them. Or he would warn them away, keep them at a distance for their own good. Either way, he didn't want to end up like his parents on the floor.
It was hours before the police found him, covered in blood. He was curled in the corner of the kitchen, between the counter and the stove. The rifle was still clutched in his hands. He was crying, tears cutting through red and wiping it away. It took another half hour to coax him out. They were nice. Nicer than most people had been. Some had words around their wrists or on their hands. One had his under his eye. Each had their sweet words. Seeing them made Marcus feel sick to his stomach. Where theirs were gentle, his were a warning. He hated the idea of soul mates.
The boys home was the worst. Ten years old and Marcus was trapped up a tree by a group of surly sixteen-year-olds. There were younger boys as well, throwing insults and bricks and broken bottles. Each seemed like they knew their place in the world. Apparently Marcus' was up that damned oak tree at the back of the home. It wasn't the first time they'd chased him up there. It had become a routine. Classes would end, they'd have an hour where Marcus did his best to slip away from everyone and try to take some solace in the bible that had been in his bedside drawer. Then, like clockwork, they'd chase him up the tree and try to knock him down into the bramble under the oak's branches.
They always hoped to send him to the infirmary for the night, let the nurse cluck over him and huff out her own brand of degrading words coated with kindness. It had all started after one of the younger kids saw his words. 'Oh no.' They'd sprinted off, even at six years old knowing that by informing the older boys that the new kid had something different to the usual sweet nothings tattooed on his body could save them a whole lot of trouble. That was the way it was. Every boy for himself. If you could deflect attention to someone else to save your own skin, you did. The caregivers didn't care. They knew. Of course, they knew. They just didn't care.
"Boys'll be boys." They'd say with a grimace and a shrug. Even they looked down on Marcus. He supposed it was his own fault really. He hadn't exactly been a model kid. First week and he had already gotten into three fights with three different boys. He was the outcast and he was happy that way. That was what lead to him being stuck up a tree with a crowd of angry, vindictive boys below him: his soul mate's first words to him, his unwillingness to bend to their petty insults, and the sharp words always on the end of his tongue. He didn't do much to help himself.
Honestly, it still shocked him a little when it would sting to hear people calling him worthless. He supposed it was just one of those dignity things. He was fine dealing with the fact that he thought he was useless and worthless and he could deal with his parents thinking that. They'd been his parents, after all, and they'd known him better than anyone. But when it came to other people thinking it, he felt his blood boil. The urge to lash out with either his fist or his words built up behind a sarcastic smile and scars that no ten-year-old should be carrying with him. It got worse when they'd found out why he was there. They gave him a week's reprieve, just a week of quiet as they all shrunk away, muttering "murderer" among themselves. Of course, it didn't last long. Soon enough they were hurling it as another insult. Funnily it didn't sting so bad when he remembered he was the son of one and that he'd killed without being drunk.
After a year, it stopped stinging. He reacted more out of annoyance, spitting out words more scathing than the ones they threw at him. He'd learnt how to pick at weak spots as a toddler, something left over from his parents.
Sitting on the branch and clinging to the trunk, he supposed he deserved it. What they said was true. He was worthless. He didn't deserve to survive. He had killed a man with barely a second thought. His soul mate should be pitied for God allocating him to them. Either that or they were just as bad.
He was about to return an insult from one of the younger boys below him when one of the sixteen-year-olds lobbed a chunk of brick at him. It struck him on the side of the head and sent him backwards out of the tree, smacking his back against one of the branches on his way down. The brambles tore at his skin and he heard the boys cheering. They dragged him out, some getting in some early shots to his gut and ribs, making him gasp for breath. They jeered at him, using knees and knuckles to keep him on his knees. A fifteen-year-old with bad teeth and a face Marcus would have loved to rearrange picked him up, held him on his feet. One of his friends, the leader that most called Jimmy, landed a solid blow to Marcus' face. His head rocked back as blood ran from his lip. This was nothing compared to what he used to get, barely a love tap. He spat at him, a smirk on broken lips, turning his cheek as if daring the other boy to hit him. Marcus knew that took the fun out of it. A willing participant isn't worth the time. It's when they struggle that they get their kicks.
Another voice rose above the others. The Head. He was striding across the lawn towards them, a look of righteous anger on his face. All the boys, Marcus included, shifted as if they were going through the motions. It was an unsaid agreement. Everything was sorted by the time the Head stood in front of the group. The boy who had been holding Marcus in place was now supporting him like he'd been intending to help. Jimmy was smiling a saccharine smile, intending to charm his way out of this. Possibly also throw Marcus under the bus if possible.
"Just what is going on here?" It was a demand more than a question, one that screamed 'this better be worth my time'.
"We were just having some fun, sir," Jimmy shrugged, "and Marcus slipped in the tree. He'd offered to get Matthew's ball out from the branches and fell on his way back down." He turned to Marcus, a threat clear behind green eyes. "Didn't you, Marcus?"
"Is this true, Marcus?"
Marcus swallowed and nodded. "Fell into the brambles. Jimmy was helping me out, offered to get me to the infirmary."
The Head narrowed his eyes for a moment. He was trying to get Marcus to contradict. It didn't work and he nodded after a moment of consideration. "Alright, get yourself to the infirmary, Keane, and the rest of you run along. I'm sure there's something else you can do."
Marcus split off from the group, following the Head towards the house. The boys were already back to mocking him, yells of dramatic 'Oh no! Marcus fell out of the tree!', 'Oh no! Poor wittle Marcus!' and 'Oh no! He's gonna cut himself up more!' following him up the lawn. The Head didn't turn or even acknowledge them. Marcus knew he heard them. He was only a step in front of him.
The nurse took one look at him standing in her doorway and shook her head with a terse frown. "Back again, Keane. What happened this time? Did you fall out of the tree again or did you have an accident in the kitchen?"
Marcus muttered out an "It was the tree," as he limped over to one of the beds, the one that had pretty much become his. The was a kid at the far end watching him with scared eyes. He'd probably heard of Marcus. Marcus tried a little smile, tried to seem friendly. The kid squeaked and rolled over, hiding under his blanket. The room smelled strongly of disinfectant, probably from scrubbing sick out of the grout between the tile.
"Stay still." She huffed, pouring rubbing alcohol on a cotton bud held in a pair of tweezers. She dabbed at the cuts and grazes roughly, picking out pieces of broken bramble regardless of Marcus' wincing. She'd dropped the gentle act a month after he started turning up in the infirmary, acting more like his mum used to. Sharp words covered with sugar and a rough hand. She wasn't afraid of snapping at him or him breaking. She'd leave him with his problems after patching him up. He never liked when she pried.
Out of everyone on the staff at the boys home, she was his favourite. It was like a taste of home, weird as it was.
She left after commanding him to stay in that bed tonight, just in case he had a concussion from being clocked in the face. It was another routine, one that Marcus was happy for.
Night fell quickly and the nurse retreated to her rooms, leaving Marcus alone in the infirmary. The other boy had left earlier, skirting metres around the bed Marcus was sitting cross-legged away without looking at him. It was like he thought that Marcus would bite or turn his anger on him. Marcus had no want to do that.
He lay there, watching the sunset, reds, oranges and yellows running across the ceiling. He was waiting for the nurse's door to close. Ten minutes later and she closed her door, leaving Marcus alone in the dark. He waited for another five before digging in the bedside table drawer. His fingers closed around the razor blade he'd hidden there. For a moment he wondered whether the nurse had found it at some point. Sitting back on his pillow, he rolled back his sleeves. There was already a pattern of silvering scars across his forearms. The nurse had never questioned. He had enough scars across the rest of his body that they could pass as injuries from the brambles under the oak tree at the end of the lawn. It was his last grasp at some kind of control over everything.
Looking down with a sigh at the blood seeping out onto his skin, stinging with the leftover antiseptic on his skin, he caught sight of his soul mate's words written on his collarbone. Despite his growing hate for them, he still found them pretty. He felt they didn't belong on his body. He'd tried scratching them out but they reappeared, darkening over the top of the thin scars. It was like God couldn't, wouldn't cut him a break. He felt sorry for his soul mate. They definitely didn't deserve to end up with someone like him.
Eleven-years-old and a priest came to the boys home. He smiled at the Head and the other staff. All the boys were in their best clothing, sitting in the dining hall as the priest explained why he was there and how happy he was to see somewhere where lost boys could find a home.
'Bollocks,' Marcus thought. He was sitting at the far end of the hall, away from the priest and the other boys. It wasn't until the priest said he was taking a few boys to become part of the Church that his interest was piqued.
The priest smiled then murmured something to the Head next to him. He looked shocked and possibly angry before he nodded, looking around the room. Marcus felt the need to sink down into his chair as the Head's eyes settled on him. The mere feeling of the Head's eyes on him felt revolting these days and he longed to still be holed up in the infirmary. The nurse had sent him off only an hour ago. "O'Reilly, Sallow and Keane. Would the three of you please stay here. Everyone else, you are free to go."
Everyone rushed out. Marcus and the two other boys were left, looking at each other. No one seemed to know what was going on.
"Boys, would you come over here." The Head beckoned, smiling but giving each a look of 'don't screw this up'. His look finished on Marcus and Marcus wanted to vomit.
Jimmy Sallow was the first to get up, Marcus and Matthew O'Reilly following behind him. Marcus felt like he was walking to his death. 'May as well get it over with then', he figured.
"Father, these are Jimmy Sallow, Matthew O'Reilly and Marcus Keane." The Head gestured to each of them and the priest nodded at each, smiling in a way that was meant to be kind but looked way to practised to be of any comfort. "Boys, Father Joseph is looking for boys interested in joining the Church, particularly ones having... Troubles here." The Head's smile turned to a leer for a moment while Father Joseph was distracted, aimed solely at Marcus.
Jimmy and Matthew stayed quiet, shifting from foot to foot without looking Father Joseph in the eye. Something about the way he was looking at the three of them seemed like a challenge to Marcus. He was looking for something in particular. Marcus knew not to look the opportunity to get out of there and away from the Head in the mouth. He wanted out, and if the Church was an out, the Church was an out.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Father." Marcus tried a smile, his usual false one he used when the Head asked for a favour in front of other people, pulling his sleeves down a little further to cover any of the silver, purple or dark red pattern visible on his wrists. The movement caught the eye of Father Joseph and Marcus felt like maybe he'd just given away everything. He waited for the shoe to fall.
Instead, Father Joseph just smiled, gentler and more real than before. His eyes lingered on Marcus before spending a moment on the other two. "The three of you know that God doesn't challenge us with more than we can handle. What I'm looking for is someone capable of handling more in the name of doing God's work. The three of you were suggested to me. Would any of you be interested in considering a life closer to God?"
Matthew and Jimmy continued to stay silent. It looked like Marcus was going to be the spokesperson. "What would we be doing?"
"Learning to help people and guide them, show them the path towards God. Be there to support them when they need it and forming your own support network. Essentially working towards being a pillar of the community. Above all, doing something good for the world. Beyond that, would be your choice depending on what you chose to study within the Church."
Marcus nodded, reaching up to scratch his soul mate's words. It had become a thoughtless action, as much as he loathed it when he caught his fingers tracing the letters.
Father Joseph focused in on the action, the way Marcus' sleeve dipped a little and showed silver in particular. "I believe we'd have something particular for your skills, Marcus."
Marcus risked a glance at the others. They were looking at him out of the corner of their eyes, asking what he was going to do with quirked eyebrows. Since when was he leading this? Wasn't Jimmy the one who was the leader before? All of a sudden he was expected to know what he was doing, just for being polite? Well, screw them. He was making his own choice here, and if they followed, well, that would be their own fault.
"It would be an honour, Father." Marcus nodded, much to Father Joseph's delight. Jimmy and Matthew baulked for a split second before nodding along. Marcus guessed they wanted out too.
"Brilliant. I suppose an hour for packing would be sufficient while we sort out the details?" It was a question aimed at the boys but the Head was the one who answered.
"That would be ample time for the boys to say their goodbyes and gather their things." The Head's voice was tight, strained. There was an icy anger in his eyes, directed at the three of them. It only struck Marcus then that maybe he wasn't the only one looking for a way to get out from under the Head's thumb.
"Right then, I'll meet you three outside at say 10 o'clock?" Father Joseph glanced at his watch and waited for three nods. Something about the way the Father lingered until the Head moved was comforting to Marcus, made him feel safer than he ever had really. It was like Father Joseph knew everything without any of them having to say a word. Maybe God hadn't forsaken him after all.
Once the door had closed behind the two adults, no doubt going to discuss paperwork or potential "issues", Jimmy got all his confidence back. He looked down his nose at Marcus.
"This better not be a mistake, Marcus." He huffed.
"It's not my fault if you follow me." Marcus frowned, his bottom lip jutting out a little.
"Whatever you say, Mistake." Jimmy rolled his eyes and left to pack his things, maybe say goodbye to the girl he'd been dating down the road. She wasn't his soul mate, Marcus knew that much, but Jimmy didn't seem to care. He liked her and that was enough in the meantime. Apparently, it was a pretty common occurrence, with people losing soul mates or maybe never even meeting them.
Matthew shrugged and grimaced at Marcus before scurrying off after Jimmy, leaving Marcus to trail along behind them. He didn't have much to pack anyway. There was no rush. It wasn't like he had anything to begin with when he was dropped off by the police and the social worker.
Half an hour of agonisingly slow packing later, Marcus was waiting in the reception area of the boys home. The bible from his bedside drawer was open in his lap and his duffel was tucked under his legs. He was sitting off to the side by the front door, waiting for the others to finish packing and turn up. He was happy enough alone, but he'd rather not be stuck longer than he had to be. He was rather out of the way so that boys passing by wouldn't take any notice of him as they left to spend their Saturday afternoon playing football or tormenting shopkeepers in the area.
The door to the Head's office opened with a loud creak and the trio of boys walking by hurried past with heads bowed. Father Joseph stepped out, still speaking with the Head in his office. Marcus looked up cautiously from his bible, not wanting to be called out for eavesdropping. He caught some words from them but nothing useful. Just a "Oh no... He'll be fine... He's used... Hardship... Patricide..."
Father Joseph reached into his pocket and pulled something out, a wad of paper. Money. The Head was selling them to the Church. The Church was buying them. Marcus wasn't sure what was worse. Both were horrible in their ways but, like his mother used to say, 'devil you know versus the devil you don't'. He wasn't sure how it related but knew it was somewhat relevant.
He'd much rather the Church, honestly. At least the Church offered some sort of protection to his soul mate. He could hide behind his vows and use them as a barrier. It was perfect, even if he was essentially being sold into it.
Father Joseph bent to pick up his bag and Marcus' eyes locked with the Head's. Everything seemed to stop for a moment. Marcus felt sick. It was like someone had jammed their fist into his gut. He watched as Father Joseph froze in the middle of picking up his bag. The Head smiled, twisted and maniacal and cruel. Marcus watched as the Head's eyes rolled back. Three pupils slid into his eye and his teeth sharpened as he focused in on Marcus. He clutched his bible closer as if it were a shield.
"Oi, what're you doing down there?"
Marcus snapped out of it, looking up. Jimmy was standing over him with his own duffle over his shoulder and a raised eyebrow.
"Waiting for you lot." Marcus mumbled, slinging his duffle onto his back. His bible was still in his hand.
"Getting a head start there?" Jimmy gestured to Marcus' bible. He was trying at least.
"Always been a Catholic."
"Cool..." Jimmy nodded, scuffing the toe of his shoe on the tile. He'd changed into a clean t-shirt and Marcus could see the words of Jimmy's soul mate wrapped around his bicep. 'The coffee's shit' was written in a scrawl, barely legible really with t's and f's towering above the other letters. It somehow matched him. Messy and straight to the point. Marcus had a feeling in different circumstances they might get along. "What were you staring at the Head for?"
Marcus lifted one shoulder in a lazy shrug. "Something seemed off about him."
Jimmy raised an eyebrow.
"More off than usual."
Jimmy turned to stare at the Head now standing in his doorway, watching Father Joseph stroll towards them. His eyes were normal now and he had a sour look on his face, like a toddler whose favourite toys had been taken away.
"Whatever you say, Marcus." Jimmy sighed as Father Joseph stepped up beside them.
"We're just waiting for Matthew, is all."
Marcus risked a glance back at the Head's office door as Matthew went jogging past. The door was closed, a shadow visible behind frosted glass. Something about the way it moved still made Marcus feel anxious.
"Alright, off we go, boys."
Marcus was happy to follow. It meant safety. It also meant excuses for avoiding his soul mate. Both were good reasons, whatever may come.
Marcus was twelve when he was shoved into a dark, dingy cellar and told what he was expected to do. Anxiety was making his stomach flip and twist. It felt like there was a fist clutching at his chest and each step into the dark made it squeeze tighter. The candle in his lantern sputtered as the priest who'd ushered him into the cellar shut the door with a heavy click before leading him forward into the space.
It smelled of vomit and other equally disgusting fluids, urine mixed with sulphur being the most nauseating. The dark was already beginning to give him a headache as his eyes strained to see the other side of the cellar. Marcus swallowed and stepped further in, following the priest's quick steps. He was a sharp man, stern and faithful. Marcus only hoped he wouldn't disappoint him. The last boy had gotten a pitiful look as he rushed for the bucket, throwing up what was left of breakfast. Marcus had been called up then, asked to pick his bible and crucifix from the pile as the boy emptied his guts. He was glad he hadn't eaten that morning.
Chains clinked down the end of a dark passage. The priest held a hand out for a tense moment as the chains stopped moving. He gestured for Marcus to head down the end, towards the noise.
"God help you." The priest muttered as Marcus passed him.
The words on his collarbone started growing cold. Ice cold spreading across his chest as a feeling of dread set in. He could just see someone down the end of the passage. They were crouching against the wall, muttering to himself. They looked up when Marcus' foot scuffed the floor, the noise echoing around the cellar. His breath caught in his throat. The candle in the lantern flickered, only just staying a light. It flashed against the stone walls of the passage, throwing light and plunging back into the dark in milliseconds. There was shuffling, the rattling of chains and then it was screaming at Marcus. It was up close and personal, the abruptness of its appearance enough to send Marcus back a step, a cry dying in his throat.
He bent to place the lantern on the floor, clutching his bible tighter and never breaking eye contact as the demon struggled against his chains. It was decaying, rotting away it's host in an effort to break him even more. There's horror in his eyes. Marcus' stomach drops and his blood turns to ice as the demon's eyes roll showing multiple pupils, all focused on him.
A moment passed with them staring each other in the face. Strangely, Marcus was taken back to when he had to face his father in one of his drunken rages, to when the Head would call him into his office and tell him to strip. His fear disappeared. In its place, his anger rose from where he'd bottled it all those years. There was a man in there, held hostage by the demon, and he had the potential to help him. He wanted to be the saviour he never had. His blood boiled in his veins as he flicked open his bible. His soul mate's words warmed on his chest.
Words tumbled into his head, the feeling of something behind him, lending it's strength to him as he spoke. It was whispering in his ear all the right things to say, prompting his sharp tongue into action, letting that rebellious streak go wild. It stoked a fire in him. He felt right, relieved that he'd found his place. It was right in front of evil, doing everything he could to send it back from whence it came. God hadn't forsaken him.
The demon fought him every step of the way. It brought up horrible memories: lashings with the jug cord, cigarette burns, words to break him, groping hands, nights alone with a razor blade, the too long hours spent bent over a desk for the Head's pleasure. Each was meant to break him, drive him over the edge. He understood now. God hadn't forsaken him. He'd provided him with tools, training to do his work. He'd broken him down and toughened him to deal with whatever a demon might throw his way. He'd needed that understanding that he'd survived before and he'd survive again. God was on his side for once.
His soul mate's words throbbed against his collarbone.
"He'll never want you." The demon spat at him, trying to reach him to choke him. "You're too broken, too rough around the edges for him. Why would he waste his time with you ?"
Marcus narrowed his eyes at it, continuing his prayer. Of all the things it could insult him with, that one shouldn't hurt as much as it did. The thought weaselled in under his ribs and left a dull ache. The thought of his soul mate not wanting him was a painful one. It wasn't one he wanted to think about, not with a demon bearing down on him. He focused in on the power flowing through him and shoved the thought to the back of his mind.
It was later, after the demon was exorcised and he was escorted back to the room where the other boys were waiting, that he allowed it to settle. He allowed himself to mull over the thought that maybe he was too scarred inside and out for his soul mate. He'd never thought about it that way. He'd always thought of it in the way that his soul mate deserved better, not that they'd be disgusted by him. That he wouldn't be worth the time of the one person God made for him. God had scarred him up pretty damn good to get him ready for this. He supposed his soul mate was forfeit enough for the relief of knowing what he was meant to do. He'd rather they weren't involved in a world like the one he was getting into.
His soul mate's words were slowly cooling on his skin. The warmth stayed nestled in his ribs. God hadn't forsaken him.
Twenty-three years on this Earth, over a decade doing God's work and successfully putting theory into practice, and Marcus had never met someone so blind to the signs that something was wrong. He'd never seen someone who could rationalise, albeit badly, a possession. The father was wrapped around the possessed girl's little finger. Anything Marcus said was shot down and buried like a dead dog. The demon knew what it was doing. Of course, it bloody knew what it was doing.
The mother knew. She'd picked it out without hesitation. Arguments were breaking out between her and her husband like an infection, each biting. They'd been going at it for about ten minutes, Marcus had left for the solace outside at three.
He tapped out the ash from his cigarette and stared out across the backyard, counting the knots in the wood of the fence. Their voices were rising again and Marcus got a flash of his childhood cutting across his mind. Loud voices and louder bruises. He could see it wouldn't come to that here, was grateful for it. They cared too much for each other for that. The demon may have found something bad in the home but it didn't have abuse as a foothold to cling to. Thank fuck. That would've made Marcus' job all the harder.
He rubbed some sleep from his eye as the door opened, slamming behind whoever came out. Getting used to being five hours behind the time in London was going to kill him. If he was back there, he'd probably be crashed out by now, staring at the chipped ceiling of some hotel room. But he wasn't. He was stationed in America until further notice from the Vatican. Bloody perfect. He took another drag from his cigarette. The words on his collarbone were still warm from his last attempt at expelling the demon.
"I'm sorry about that." The mother took a seat next to him, flexing her fingers out of the fists they'd been curled into. "He shouldn't have gone barging in like that. He's always been pretty sceptical."
"It's understandable. People don't trust what they don't know, especially when it's something outside their realm of thinking." Marcus shrugged, breathing out a stream of smoke.
"How do you do it? Get through all this? Deal with people who don't believe?" She asked. She shifted on the deck step, glancing up at her daughter's bedroom window and frowning.
"I give them evidence and usually they come around. There have been times where I've had to nearly shove the truth and reality of what's going on down someone's throat to get them to listen. Those are rare, though. Most people just need to see their loved one crawling up walls and speaking a dead language to figure it out. I think your husband will come round."
The mother nodded. When she spoke, her voice was soft, quiet. "Is... Is she going to be okay?"
Marcus stared at her for a moment, frowning. Her husband's words were wrapped around the side of her neck up to behind her ear. 'Are you Sarah?' was written in tight small letters, all capitals. She was running her fingers over it in an effort to soothe herself.
He sighed and looked away, watching the sun dip over the distant city tower blocks. "It's going to be a long night and the demon's not going to leave without a fight," all the blood rushed from her face and she was trying to steel herself for what's coming. She was holding her breath. "But, I reckon she'll be fine. Maybe a little scared for a while. This will stick with her for the rest of her life, but she'll live."
"That's good. That's really good." The mother let out her breath in a shaky sigh and wiped at her eyes. She took a moment to look at him, the tired twenty-three-year-old exorcist who had eyes of a man thrice his age. He probably looked a right state in his sweat-soaked tank top and jeans, nothing like a traditional, vow-keeping Catholic priest. He certainly wasn't traditional and keeping vows with his life was like trying to put out an oil fire with water: it made things worse. In all fairness, it was the middle of summer and hot enough that he felt like he was melting. Inside it was even hotter. Her gaze lingered on the words across his left collarbone. Her expression became one of contemplation and curiosity.
"Have you found them, your soul mate?" She asked with a raised eyebrow.
Marcus choked on the smoke in his throat, coughing sharply as he stubbed the cigarette out. "Er, no. I haven't. It'll be for the best if I never do."
"Surely you want to meet the one God intended for you?"
"If we meet, there's a good chance I'd never be able to stick around to be with them. Being an exorcist is forever." Marcus wasn't sure why he was spilling so much about his inner thoughts but it felt good. It was probably because she was hanging on every word without judgement. Confessions within a church always had a little bit of judgement sprinkled in. Out there in the open air, it felt fine.
"Pity. I'm sure they'd at least want to meet you if only to know they were destined for someone good."
"I'm not good."
"You're doing God's work. Helping us get our baby girl back. How many people and families have you helped? All in your early twenties." She smiled at him. "You're a good person, Marcus. Maybe not conventional, but good."
"Cheers." He smiled back after a moment and got to his feet. "It's about time to try again. If you'd like, I can help you lock your husband in a closet or something. It'd make my job a hell of a lot easier."
She shook her head. "He won't interfere again if he knows what's good for him. Go save my daughter's soul, Father."
"I'll do my best." He grimaced and slipped back into the insufferable heat of the kitchen.
The girl's father was sitting in the lounge, looking angry as a caged bull. He glared at Marcus as he walked through, heading for the stairs. It was going to be a long night.
Marcus is thirty-five and has gained quite the reputation for himself. The Church commends him for his work and ignores how he's broken almost every rule in the book. As far they're concerned, he's doing God's work and that's all that truly matters. As long as he saves the eternal souls of people and manages to keep himself together after the job's done, they'll look the other way. Marcus has come to understand the what they call The War. It's meant as a metaphor yet here he is, God's soldier, standing in the garden of a nunnery in New York. He's the Church's knight, waging war against Hell and everything it can throw at Earth.
He's looked down upon by many with the Church. His methods are seen as unconventional and there are whispers about how he sidesteps the rules and breaks them with abandon. He's seen as a necessary evil by some, a true warrior by others. He's got the will to go where others fear. Somehow he's become known as one of the greats. "Send Father Marcus," is a phrase that follows him. The mumbles of him being sometimes terrifying and whispered about by demons as the "Grey Lion". It had become a bit of a joke to a young priest, Father Devon Bennett. He claimed it was because of his morally grey nature, though it could easily be because he was starting to go grey around the temples. Marcus had told him to sod off, the cheeky bastard.
He still hadn't met his soulmate. There was a moment back when he was twenty-four and his words burned hot in the middle of the night, waking him up. He'd been alone in his hotel room, sleeping off a slight drunkenness. It had taken him a minute to realise what had woken him up. A long cold shower later and he'd managed to chalk the reaction up to it being a dream he didn't remember. He was happy enough without a soul mate. It would get lonely but the knowledge that his soul mate likely won't have to face the broken soul he was was comforting, to say the least.
Demons had tried using it against him. Thirty-five years old and he's alone, he'll always be alone. The taunt lost much of its power when he convinced himself that it was by choice, that God wasn't screwing him over.
"You did well."
Marcus managed not to start at the voice behind him, staying focused on the white roses that were just beginning to bud. "Thanks, he was worse off than I heard he was. I trust the sisters' are taking good care of him?"
"He'll live. We're more worried about you at the moment." Bennett pressed gently, standing over Marcus with his hands in his pockets.
"The Church is worried? Isn't that a surprise."
"You froze up in there, Marcus. They're worried that this is getting to you."
"It was a moment of weakness, won't happen again."
"I got the job done, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did, but they're beginning to wonder whether you're... Well..." Bennett trailed off. He'd been keeping an eye on Marcus for a few years. It wasn't often Marcus lost focus in an exorcism. When he did, it was when something caught him by surprise and cut deep.
"Whether I'm what, Devon?" There was an edge to Marcus' voice, something that hinted at what kind of man Marcus could be. It was a show of what the demons saw lurking around in Marcus' mind. The Church's warrior in armour made from sharp broken bits of himself. Bennett supposed if he was already broken, there wasn't much left for a demon to hurt him with.
"Have you thought about trying to find your soulmate?" Bennett tried carefully, aiming for it to be an offhand suggestion disguised as a subject change. Marcus' eyes narrowed.
He shifted in his spot on the grass, his back and shoulders becoming tense. "You know as well as I do that soul mates aren't a good idea for us."
"You need someone to talk to who won't turn their back on you. Someone you can trust."
"No, Bennett, I would break every rule in the book."
"Keane, the more you avoid it, the more they can use that against you."
"Lord, either give me strength or give me an untraceable handgun," Marcus muttered, rolling his eyes towards the sky in a mock prayer.
"You joke but I mean it. It could make things easier for you."
"Or make things worse. You say it yourself, it's a danger to get too close to someone, for both them and us. My soul mate is better off not knowing me, Devon."
Bennett huffed and nodded. Marcus could be a stubborn son of a bitch when he wanted to be. It was what made him good at his job, but right now it made him a royal pain in Bennett's ass.
"Just think about it, Marcus. Promise me that."
"If it'll get you off my back, then fine."
"I mean it. God intended you for someone, Marcus, don't forget." Bennett gazed up at the sky, watching the night creep in slowly with purples, greys and dark blues.
Marcus grunted and brought his knees up to his chest. "No offence, Bennett, but I'll wait for God to give me a sign if you don't mind."
Bennett frowned deeper, turning on his heel and leaving. Marcus was stubborn and it was hurting him. He'd come around though. Marcus always was a romantic at heart, even if he buried it under miles of broken armour and witty sass. God would show him the way.
Marcus' shoulders slumped as soon as Bennett's footsteps faded off the grass and onto concrete, eventually echoing of tile. He was stonewalling and Bennett knew it. The demon knew what it was on about, getting in that last sharp jab before the bastard died. Maybe if he kept this up, this whole soul mate situation would disappear. Spoiler alert, it didn't. Bennett's nagging got worse.
Forty-two years old. Forty-two years of cracking up and carrying on and people were beginning to wonder how long Marcus could keep this up. Sure, there'd been older exorcists doing the same level of work but they tended to stay in one area as they got older. Marcus, ever the one to run from his personal problems by helping with others problems, had no intention of staying still.
With the years passing, priests who had trained with him thought he'd mellow out. Boy, were they wrong as Marcus threw another punch. It was sloppy, more aimed at getting the bastard away from him and the twenty-year-old drag queen with running mascara with her boyfriend, but it landed anyway with a resounding thwack. The man, six foot of homophobic asshole, stumbled back. He was tipsy and looked about ready to go down as his friends went to haul him off. He stayed up, still spitting insults and swinging a fist towards Marcus. It was miles off, cracking against the bar. He howled, swinging his other fist while leaning against the bar. The punch was sloppier than Marcus' had been and barely would've left a bruise. The guy was stumbling, barely staying up.
Marcus rolled his eyes and gave the man a disgusted glare. Seriously. Using bible quotes against a priest wasn't a good idea. Using homophobic bible quotes against a priest was asking for it. Using homophobic bible quotes against a queer priest who'd spent the day being sworn at by a demon was suicide. The man wasn't worth it. Marcus turned to leave him sliding around at the bar and chaperone the young couple away from the group when something solid cracked against the back of his skull. It shattered, glass and warm beer raining down over Marcus's face, neck and shoulders. His head snapped forward, a hand going up to protect his head from further attack. His other grabbed the bastard's smug drunk face and slammed it into the bar. He dropped like a sack of bricks off a bridge. Marcus had the overwhelming urge to spit on him until the young drag queen took his arm, pulling him away with the help of her boyfriend.
Marcus resisted until she mumbled between stifled sniffles, "You're bleeding. He's down for the count. Let the bouncers deal with him. Let us help you. Please."
Marcus let himself be lead behind the bar and up into the apartment above by the drag queen and a bartender who kept giving him these awed and strangely proud looks. Marcus dimly wondered whether it was because he'd come in a few days ago with the whole priest get up and made pleasant conversation with a bit of flirting thrown in. Though, he thought, it was probably because he'd taken a decent blow to the head with a beer bottle and still had the wherewithal to stand. They steered him into the kitchen, flicking on the lights and pushing him down into a chair. The bartender muttered something about needing to find the first aid kit and hurried out to look for it.
Marcus shifted in his chair, picking a piece of glass out of the collar of his shirt while the drag queen filled a bowl with lukewarm water. She picked out a tea towel and sat in front of him, soaking it and dabbing away the blood from the split in his eyebrow.
"That looks pretty nasty."
"Could be worse." Marcus winced as she scrubbed lightly around the wound to loosen the already drying blood.
She frowned, bright pink lips turning down at the edges. Marcus hated to think how much time went into putting together her look only to have it ruined by some drunk idiot.
"I'm sorry that you had to go through that."
"It's fine. People say I'm a bit too emotional anyway. Shows that I should just toughen up, huh?" She gave him a sad half smile. There was swearing coming from down the hall, possibly the bathroom. A roll of toilet paper rolled out of the bathroom's doorway, followed quickly by another. Marcus watched it carefully, tense and ready to fight again. She noticed, turning to yell down the hall. "You alright, Nick?"
"Fuckin' peachy." The bartender called back. He scampered out, gathering the rolls that had fallen.
"We kinda need that first aid kit before Christmas, you know."
"Keep your hair on, Electra. I'm trying to figure out where Michelle put the damn thing."
"It's under the basin."
"It's not under the basin, I checked."
Electra rolled her eyes, giving Marcus a 'see what I have to deal with' look. "Did you check under the basin cabinet?"
There was a silence, full of stubborn defiance then-
Nick trudged out, carrying the box with him. Electra raised an eyebrow at him, a smug smile on her lips. Nick sneered at her before turning to Marcus.
"The police should be here soon and they'll probably want a statement from you."
Marcus nodded, trying to keep his head still as Electra went about covering his cuts and getting rid of the last of the glass in his hair.
"I doubt that you'll be charged with anything. There're enough witnesses downstairs who can corroborate that was in self-defence."
"Cheers," Marcus grunted as Electra pulled a small shard of glass out of a cut just lower than his hairline.
"It's no problem. That dick's been coming in for the past week or so. His friends are alright, keep to themselves, but he's just a nuisance." Nick's expression seemed thoughtful, it was like he was trying to find a way to phrase a question.
"Spit it out, would you?" Electra huffed, noticing the way he was lingering in the doorway.
Nick hesitated for a moment, his mouth opening then closing a couple of times before he managed to get it out. "You're the priest who was taking care of the Henderson girl, right? The Exorcist?"
Marcus pinned him with a glare, waiting to see if his eyes would roll back. His hand itched to grab the tweezers sitting on the table by his elbow. It wasn't ideal but they'd do to buy himself time to get Electra down the stairs and out of the bar. Nick didn't snarl, didn't throw insults, his eyes didn't roll back. He just looked sheepish and rather scared. Marcus eased himself out of the frown that had taken over his face, smoothing out the lines. Nick's face also relaxed, growing less scared as Marcus let the tension in his body go.
"Yeah," Marcus took in a deep breath, "I'm the one who exorcised the Hendersons' daughter."
"Um, thanks. I heard she was doing well."
"What's it like-"
Electra put on her best smile and glared at Nick. "Don't you have patrons to deal with?"
He nodded jerkily, still not moving and about to try asking again.
"Right. Going." He practically ran to the stairs, Electra glaring after him until he disappeared.
She sighed, shoulders slumping. "Sorry. My brother's a real horror nerd. If you let him start asking questions, he'll never leave you alone."
"It would've been fine."
"Nah, I can't let the man who saved me be subjected to that kind of torture." She grinned, digging through the first aid kit for a butterfly stitch. "Do you enjoy it?"
"I wouldn't call it enjoyable, but it's... It's a rush, knowing that you've helped someone, staring evil in the face and laughing at it. It's not fun, but it works for me."
"Sounds like it takes a very broken, twisted soul to do what you do. Not in a bad way."
Marcus raised an eyebrow, a sarcastic smile already making its way onto his face. "Thanks, you're too kind."
"Like," she sighed, grimacing, "it's a necessary thing. An ordinary person would crack facing a demon. It'd take an extraordinary person to not only face it but laugh in its face. Someone who's looked evil in the face before, you know? I reckon you need to be special in some way, chosen for it."
Marcus snorted. "Tell that to God. He can give me break right about now."
"A bitter, badass priest who engages in bar fights and laughs at demons as he exorcises them? Now I'm sure I've seen everything."
Marcus couldn't help himself. He laughed, wide and happy, feeling better than he had in years. God, he liked this kid. She was quirky and read him like a fucking book. Electra was taken aback for a moment then smiled like a lunatic, suddenly very proud with just a touch of confused.
"Doesn't sound like you laugh much."
"Don't get enough of a chance to. The boy you were with, he's your soulmate?"
Electra nodded, a dopey looking smile twisting her lips up at the corners. "Yeah. We met downstairs with a cheap pick up line and a glass of whiskey."
"Honestly could've been worse. Could've been the guy you sucker-punched."
"That's true. Are you happy with him?" It was meant as a general question. Marcus had learnt from his own parents that soulmates weren't always the best option for a person.
"Happiest I could be. That looks like you should be good, not falling apart anymore. You got someone waiting for you?"
"No." The word comes out quietly, his hand going up to touch his soulmate's words without thinking about it. Maybe Bennett was right. A partner would be good for him at some point, but that would mean getting close. Marcus didn't want to get close. Not with Hell's sweet little gifts wanting to play whack-a-mole with his skull.
Electra gave him a sympathetic smile, patting his upper arm as she got up. "I'm sure you'll find them eventually."
"Thanks. Likely they'll find me first." Marcus nodded with a sigh. He got to his feet with a groan and stopped at the top of the stairs, looking back at Electra putting away the supplies she'd gotten out. "You know, you're not too emotional and you shouldn't have to toughen up. People just shouldn't be dicks. You have a lot of courage, Electra. Keep doing what you're doing and you'll be fine. Maybe throw in some self-defence courses for the hell of it to, you know, knock homophobic assholes on their asses."
Electra grinned and gave him a thumbs up, stuffing a bandage away with her other hand. Marcus waved and disappeared, already thinking about what she'd said. He was a broken and twisted soul, but maybe that was okay. It made him good at what he did and perhaps a partner would be good for him. Just maybe he thought as he slipped out the bar's back door, barely noticed by the police in the back alley.
Fifty-one years old and Marcus is in Mexico City. He loses a child. The first person he's ever failed to save. The mark on his collarbone feels like ice. He thinks that God has forsaken him. The Vatican thinks he's broken. Bennett got a stick up his ass about having a gun pointed at him. Marcus is sent to St. Aquinas to die among the broken. He asks God for a sign that he hasn't been forgotten. That he hasn't been hung out to dry.
A year later and Marcus gets his sign. At least, what he'd later know was his sign. He sees a young priest on one of the benches, talking with one of the broken priests Marcus barely knew. His name was Abraham or something. Marcus didn't care. What Marcus did care about was the young priest staring at him, his pretty mouth just slightly open. He was gorgeous, slightly tousled black hair and kind eyes, eyes that were watching Marcus like he wasn't sure whether Marcus was a gift from God or a curse from Hell. Naturally, Marcus, who had faced demons with a smile, who at seven years old killed his father and at twelve faced a demon, well, Marcus turned tail and fled because fuck , he was beautiful . God had to be testing him. Had to be. Otherwise, this was just unfair bullshit.
He wouldn't admit later that he'd jogged down the corridor to his room with his hat pulled low, but he had, slipping past priests talking in doorways with barely a glance. He'd become known as a bit odd to those who hadn't heard of him and a freaking walking nightmare to those who had. Bennett's words echoed across the world more often than not, something proper and oddly charming where Marcus would just swear. That was probably why Bennett had become a glorified bodyguard, he knew what to say and when to say it.
Marcus practically dove into his room, swinging the door almost shut, sending out a quick prayer that he wasn't the one the young priest had been looking for. He could feel his soulmate's words heating up on his collarbone, getting hotter with every passing moment. He tried to distract himself, jabbing at the play button on his tape player. Older music filled the room. It was just quiet enough that he could hear people talking outside, catch little snippets of their conversation. Marcus managed a glare at the outline of a cross on the wall above his bed, the only area with no charcoal sketches covering the pea green paint.
"Why now? You must think you're so funny..." He mumbled, focusing instead out the window. Maybe if he stayed still enough nothing would happen. Maybe the burning starting to spread across his chest would disappear and he wouldn't have to deal with it. It was a pleasant burning though, like hot water on sore and stiff muscles. It was the scalding shower you took to get rid of a blocked nose on a freezing morning. He loved the feeling in his chest, the heat of a fire. It was the same feeling he got when he exorcised a demon. A feeling of completeness, usefulness, just generally feeling good. He knew it wouldn't last, that if it was the young priest he would carry on down the hallway, leave and likely never return. And that would be that. Marcus would be here to stay with the people who thought of him as broken and the outline of a cross on the wall. Oh well.
The sound of someone coming closer, stopping and talking to one of the priests in the corridor made him pause.
"... Third room just past the door... Careful... Bad reputation, you know... Yeah... Suppose stories spread like ivy..."
Well, fuck. Marcus took a deep breath, mentally counting the rooms from the door and hoping it wasn't his. His heart was going a million miles a minute, thrashing against his ribs. His palms were dry, he'd never really been one to have sweaty palms when nervous, but he felt the paranoia set in a little more as he strained to hear over his music.
Footsteps come closer, clacking in time with the thud of his heartbeat. He's a statue in the window at this point, still clinging to the hope that if he's still enough he'll fade into the room and out of sight. The burning on his collarbone was white hot but there was still no pain there. Not yet. The footsteps passed by his room then faded away down the hall. Marcus, thinking he was safe, dropped his shoulders and let out a breath. The tension rolled out of his body.
The tension in his body was back and it brought friends. In the split second Marcus had before he reacted to the sudden feeling of elation in his chest, he noted the man's voice. It was soft, an accent partially hidden but still peeking out the corners, something that would sound heavenly in a growl or purr. His voice was bordering on deep, soft with just the hint of the potential power there. Marcus felt his stomach drop, a shock rolling down his spine. A voice that Marcus knew he'd follow anywhere if it asked him to. All that in a millisecond.
Marcus couldn't help himself. When it came to impressions, he always made a bad one as a force of habit. Anger welled in his gut, aimed at the cross imprinted on the wall's paper rather than at the man with the amazing voice in his doorway.
In one movement, he's jammed the stop button on his tape player, spun around and yelled at the man. "WHO THE FUCK-"
Marcus was stopped before he could say anything else by the small gasp that left the young priest's lips and the look on the gorgeous man's face. Surprise coated his features, dark brown eyes blown wide, mouth just a little open, eyebrows raised just a little. He stayed stock still in the doorway, dressed in his white collar, black shirt, black pants and black coat. Marcus feared for a moment that he would leave. It was a strange feeling, wanting him to leave but wanting him to stay. He felt his chest tightening as they just stared at each other in silence. Marcus felt blood rushing to his cheeks, aware that the tail end of his soulmate's words, this man's words, could be seen over the edge of his collar. He had royally screwed himself and prepared for the man to leave, his anger already burnt away as a knee-jerk reaction.
But the man didn't leave. He stayed in the doorway, a flush on his own cheeks. Something changed in his eyes. They became brighter, brighter than any Marcus had seen before. They were warm and murmured about things he'd never really had. Home, safety, comfort, unconditional love, maybe someone he wouldn't have to leave. The man's lips spread into a grin, one that was relieved and bright as his eyes. Marcus swore he felt his heart stop and restart in that moment, looking at that gorgeous man. His smile lit up the room as he looked Marcus up and down with interest.
"Are you..." The man raised an eyebrow, his smile still in place as he stepped further into the room and closer to Marcus.
"Sorry. About," Marcus blurted and waved a hand in a vague gesture, "yelling and swearing at you."
"Don't apologise. I was hoping to hear those words from someone." The man was still smiling like he couldn't help it. Marcus thought it was sweet, felt his own mouth quirking up at the edges. He couldn't quite believe it as the man rolled up the sleeve on his right arm, showing tanned skin and lean muscle, and he saw his words written along the inside of the man's forearm. It was in his handwriting, letters linked and on the messy side like the ones covering the pages in his bible. Every letter was a capital, there was even a dash at the end of where he broke off.
The man was still grinning at him and he'd come even closer so they were barely a foot apart. He held his arm out to Marcus who took it gently, running his fingers over the letters carefully. He was afraid to taint this man or to break him by accident with his sharp corners and hard edges.
"So you're mine." He hummed at Marcus, gentle and easy. There was no fear in him. Something else, a hidden worry which brought him to Marcus but that could be dealt with soon.
"I'm yours..." Marcus managed to choke out, his tongue feeling like lead. What on Earth had he done to deserve him? Obviously something right.
"Are... You okay?" He asked, ducking to look Marcus in the eye.
"Oh, yeah. Just shock. Nothing big. Normally I have a something snarky to say but," Marcus shrugged, already getting back to his usual self, "you kind of took me by surprise."
"I heard not much takes you by surprise. I must be special then."
"Clever as the devil and twice as pretty it seems."
The man frowned in confusion, a pretty little pout with narrowed eyes. "Is that meant to be a compliment?"
"My name is Tomas Ortega."
"Marcus Keane. I believe you were here for a reason other than shocking the life out of me?"
"Right, right." The man was flustered, getting his bearings again. "There's a girl in my parish whose mother fears she's been possessed."
Marcus locked up, tense all over again. At this rate, he was going to pull something. He feigned relaxation and sat on the edge of his desk, bringing him down just a short distance to look Tomas in the eye. "Oh, I'm surprised the Vatican gave you my name."
"They didn't. Actually, they forbade me from going any further with this."
"A rule breaker, are you?" Marcus smirked slyly. This was a man after his own heart.
Tomas' eyes went wide and a little sheepish. "I had to come. I've seen you in my dreams, with that boy. You called him Gabriel?"
Marcus' smirk dropped in an instant. He was on his feet, crowding Tomas back towards the wall. Now he was suspicious, muscles tight and leaning over Tomas. "You dreamt of me performing an exorcism? You saw me performing an exorcism? Prove it."
Tomas' jaw tensed, defiance in his eyes. Marcus felt a sick at the sliver of fear there too. "How do you want me to prove it?"
"There were drawings, on the walls. The kind that only the truly disturbed draw. Horrible ones. You were scared, not for yourself, for the boy. His head..." Tomas struggled for a moment, looking sick to his stomach and refusing to look Marcus in the eye. "His head twisted and you screamed for him. Like he was your child, not someone else's." Tomas' eyes flickered up, looking helplessly at Marcus through his lashes. "I don't want to see that happen to Casey because of complacency. I was hoping you could help."
Marcus' breath left his body. All the air in the room gone. Did this man realise exactly what that look did? Or was it something he didn't notice? Either way, he was waiting for an answer. Marcus gently touched the side of Tomas' face, coaxing his head up. "I believe you, Tomas. How long ago did this start?"
"Just after their other daughter came home from the hospital. About a week ago."
"Alright. I'll help you, Tomas."
"Because we're soulmates?"
"Because it's my job." Marcus chuckled as he stepped back, allowing Tomas some room. "Though that may have sweetened the deal."
A ghost of Tomas' previous smiles came back onto his face as Marcus moved away. "When can I expect you in Chicago?"
"I'll surprise you."
The Rance case was both a disaster and a success. A disaster because of Marcus' ex-communication and Kat and Angela's broken bones. A success in that the demon was gone and Marcus and Tomas were walking side by side down a dingy alley, laughing like they were free men. Tomas was snorting at Marcus' quips and Marcus was laughing at the buzzed Tomas walking next to him. They'd worked well together, despite having a few spats along the way. Usually, they were due to Marcus being sharp and barely letting Tomas in. Tomas, to his credit, had stayed even with Marcus' harsh words. Marcus was more than grateful for Tomas' perseverance, falling just that bit further into the pit he'd sworn to never step near. He was happy, for once.
Halfway across a dark carpark, Tomas turns to him with a sly, nearing seductive smirk. "Tell me, how much did you want to kill me when I let that demon in? On a scale from one to ten?"
"Honestly? I was somewhere in the high thirties when you told me." Marcus admitted, unable to deny Tomas much of the truth. He had wanted to slap some sense into him, wring his neck and yell all at the same time. "You better not let that happen again."
"It helped though, you can't deny that." Tomas was sauntering closer with his head ducked, watching Marcus from under his lashes.
"You nearly killed yourself."
"You were egging me on." He stopped so close to Marcus, head slightly tilted and jaw defiant. The lights from a nearby neon sign reflected in his eyes and Marcus had the sensation of falling into them, getting lost and being so happy about it.
"That wasn't me and you know it." Marcus snorted, doing his best to cover the nerves that were building up in his gut. The words on his collarbone were searing hot. Marcus wondered idly whether his words on Tomas' arm burned the same way.
"It still hurt, mi amor."
Marcus could almost see what was coming next, could almost see what Tomas was doing. "Not much I can do about that. Sorry."
"Kiss it better?" Tomas said it with such a casual tone that Marcus couldn't help chuckling, leaning in to press his forehead to Tomas'.
"That I could do, darling." He hummed, looping his arms around Tomas' waist and pulling him closer.
He hesitated only a moment before leaning in and kissing Tomas. He could feel Tomas smiling, his hands running up Marcus' arms to the back of his neck and side of his face. Tomas coaxed him out of tentative kisses and into something deeper, teeth clicking together and tongue over chasteness. Marcus let out a growl, Tomas matching him move for move and responding with a snarl of his own.
Tomas was the first to pull back, lips red and pupils blown wide with a hungry look. Marcus assumed he looked about the same.
"Mi amor... You kiss like you do everything, you know that?" Tomas laughed, breathless and still wrapped tightly in Marcus' arms.
"Care to explain, darling?" Marcus asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Violent, determined, just this side of dirty," Tomas listed. His eyes were slowly drifting down to Marcus' lips. "And just a little bit broken."
Marcus snorted and gathered Tomas closer in his arms as the man laughed at his. The words on his collarbone were warm now, like Tomas' body pressed against him. A comfortable warmth that wrapped around his heart and sticking stubbornly under his ribs.
Tomas rose up on his toes and kissed Marcus' nose. "Train me."
"Hmm?" Marcus blinked, mind catching up with the change of subject. If Tomas had asked, Marcus probably would have told him the truth about how he'd gotten lost for a moment in Tomas' eyes, cheesy as it sounded. "It's not an easy life, you know. You'll have to leave Chicago, your family-"
"I've always wanted to travel. I can keep in touch with my sister over Skype. Other than that, I have you and God and that's all I need."
"What about that shiny new parish?"
"Let them keep it. I'd rather not be sucked into a Church made of integrated demons hell bent on taking over the world."
"It sounds a little less daunting and a little more ridiculous when you say it like that."
"Have you seen yourself in that hat? You look ridiculous." Tomas shrugged with a shit-eating grin.
"I should just leave you behind."
"Nah, you love me too much, mi amor."
"Yeah, I do." Marcus couldn't help his smile widening, slinging an arm around Tomas' shoulders and guiding his slightly drunk partner to their truck.
He had spent years dreading this, running from any chance and hoping for what most would call a worst-case scenario. It wasn't half bad, really. He hadn't felt this happy in years and sure, Tomas had some... quirks that they would work out, but he was happy . He wouldn't turn out like his parents, wouldn't allow himself to end up like that. The only thing Marcus feared was losing Tomas and he'd walk through hell and back to make sure that wouldn't happen. He wasn’t forsaken. For once in his life, he was willing to admit that Bennett was right.
Even if he still had a stick up his ass.