Title: On Damned Wings
Universe: BtVS/Anita Blake
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns BtVS, Laurel K Hamilton owns Anita Blake
Rating: caution for language and implied violence
Summary: Edward leaves a letter for Anita, explaining how he came to be Death.
Notes: This is the sequel to Running with Phantoms. It is actually concurrent in timeline, encompassing the entirety of that story from Edward’s perspective. If you’ve not read that fic, this should still be understandable, though you may wish to read Faith’s POV on her situation.
Dedication: For Fan’s birthday, albeit a bit belated. Hope you enjoy.
Click to read Running with Phantoms
first.~~~On Damned Wings ~~~From the estate of Theodore Forrester
To be delivered upon death to Anita Blake, care of Animators, Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri
If you’re reading this, it means I am dead. Perhaps you finally bested me, proving that you are indeed the better predator than I. But perhaps it has been something mundane as disease or vehicular homicide. Man always wishes to believe he’ll go out in a blaze of glory, but I know better.
I leave this information in your hands rather than Donna’s because you deserve it. She knows only the part of my life I show the public, and I think Ted loves her for it. You, Anita, know everything. And so you deserve to know the truth, as I see it. Perhaps you can learn from it, the mistakes I made, and save yourself from the monsters. I know I never could- as much as I believed myself separate, one cannot hunt the beast without becoming it, even if it is in small amounts.
So I leave you this, a small token of my vanity, the tale of how I became Death. It is the end, Anita, the bitter end. I wish you well and good hunting.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Death. The Undertaker. Edward. Ted. What’s in a name, anyway?
I relieve multitudes of their lives, killing with an utter lack of regret. After all, what are they to me? I have killed men and monsters, humans and terrible creatures. They might fight, but in the end it did not matter. They always fell.
I serve no heavenly master; I am simply a man with a gift, and the venue to use it. I am paid well for my endeavors, from both saint and sinner, and I am lucky to do what I love. Is there an Angel of Death, a horseman, a biblical demon that threatens my moniker? Perhaps, but if there is, I’ve never met him.
For now, I am the best. I have blades, guns, weapons both conventional and otherwise. There are those who test me, try my title, but they always lose. There is one though, my apprentice, who may one day best me. She will come close, whether she knows it or not, but not today.
Right now Anita, my Anita, is but a student, learning how to extinguish the monsters. She learns the lessons well, paying attention to the minutia, exacting and driven, but she ignores the fine print. Those little words we never speak in my line of work, that every person you kill brings you closer to the end, the time when you are no longer a member of humanity.
She sees me as I am now, but doesn’t understand. Perhaps she thinks I sprung fully formed from Van Cleef’s forehead, an assassin from the very conception. This amuses me, even as I contemplate her future. How can she believe that this is all I was?
Maybe she’s right, that Death was always within, hidden inside Edward the way I wear Ted Forrester on my skin. Maybe this is all I ever was, and time will out what lies inside.
But she’s wrong. Maybe there is some fundamental defect that allowed me to become Death, but that is too simple. There are other things- events- shining like beacons, mapping out a path from bouncy baby boy to hard-eyed murderer.
Where to begin? The moment I realized that the monsters were real? Too simple. I always knew, even if I didn’t understand. I understood all too well the night I watched my older brother dismembered by a vampire in the front yard. I saw the splashes of crimson, the bone-white sparkle in the moonlight, and I understood.
Yes, that was the beginning. When I saw a path to take, even if it was only in the deep recesses of my mind. Outwardly, I was the ideal child. Edward the Wonderful, my mother used to say. Never a toe out of line, quiet and studious. I was drowning in the act of normalcy and didn’t even know it.
Maybe that’s why Van Cleef selected me. Even early on, when I didn’t belong to him, he flagged my file. The comments and markings, each saying I possessed a special aptitude, a peculiar moral flexibility. Was it then, when he hand-picked me and taught me as I teach Anita?
That peculiar molding that new recruits receive, the brainwashing that creates the perfect soldier, assassin, murderer, didn’t seem so foreign to me. Maybe I’d already started down that path on my own. At first it was exciting, hunting for a target, the delight in the perfectly executed kill. Then it lost its luster. It was all too easy, killing the mundane. Humans were boring in their uniform responses. But the monsters? Now, they were a challenge. Pitting myself against superior strength, alien intellect. I felt truly alive.
So Anita would say that was it: the formulation of Death at the hands of his handlers. Simple really, a linear progression. So it would seem.
But Anita would be wrong, because she didn’t, she couldn’t, even begin to postulate about her, sweeping into my life, first as flashes of dementia, then finally coming to rest in a flurry of deathly efficient beauty.
Her name was Faith. In a peculiar twist of fate, it took faith to believe in her existence at all. I am a null- there is no supernatural in my being. I take pride in this, the ability of a pure human to triumph over the monsters.
She set that security on end. I felt her first in Saint Louis, an electrical charge on my skin. I thought it was my imagination then, but I know better now. It was my first contract killing outside of the special government projects. They train killers to be the best, but when they’ve outlived their usefulness, the government doesn’t always know what to do with us. We’ve cost them a great deal, and it’s wasteful to destroy a weapon that they may need in the future. So we’re let loose on short tethers, told to make something of ourselves.
It was an easy switch from being ordered to kill to being paid. Those were the wilder days, before all of the rights and constitutional liberties were granted to every shape-shifter and vampire in sight. I had my first free contract on a werewolf in Saint Louis, of all places, an easy kill. He was rogue, completely wild, and the populace was grateful to have him off the streets.
As I bent to examine the still-furry body, something touched me, an electricity if you will, something that made my body hum with the very idea of ‘yes’. This was what I was meant to do, trained to do. It was exhilarating. And the money sent my way was no small fee, either.
I brushed off that initial strangeness until I saw her reflection in a store window in Los Angeles. It was an ordinary hunt, for all purposes: a were-panther businessman had embezzled three million from his partner. The man was utterly inept, bleeding to death on a grimy sidewalk. But the remarkable thing was feeling her behind me- watching me. Null as I may be, I knew predation, and she looked at me with such hunger it made my bones cold. That same electricity burned my skin and startled my heart. It was not fear-- the man who was slowly becoming Death didn’t have fear like other humans, but a sort of cautious pause. This woman was a real predator; she wouldn’t hesitate to pounce.
But she wasn’t real, I told myself, this mirage in the storefront window. A famished wraith from another world, looking out at me. I even read up on the possibility of displaced nymphs or dryads taking up residence in human constructions. She was inexplicable.
I touched her cheek in Santa Barbara.
It seems like such a simple thing, tracking a miscellaneous beast that was terrorizing the coastal town through an elaborate cave system. I’d just found spore marks in a low pool when it felt as if I had been gutted with a cattle prod. I knew she was there, this hungry apparition, and when I stepped back, she was standing only inches away- just this side of real. I touched her face, firm flesh over high cheekbones, dark eyes burning with a flame I couldn’t understand.
In my world, death was cold. I dealt in the deaths of hundreds, but it was never personal. Enjoyment was academic, pride in a job well done, the elegance of perfection. I was efficient and precise, enjoying the challenge for the challenge’s sake. She was something else. The embodiment of the chase; hunter in human form. I knew this even as a noise drew my attention away and she faded into nothing.
After that, I saw her night after night in my dreams- sterile places that usually reflected the mundane in my life until she invaded. Invaded, like an infection, an itch under my skin I didn’t even know how to scratch until she appeared outside of Tucson. Fever turned flesh, a pale phantom in leather looking at me with eyes that reflected the death I hid in my own.
She knew what it was to live with death, to embrace it, to become it. I was only a child compared to her. I had the mechanics, but none of the drive. She was lit up from the inside like deadly lightening, and it moved through her muscles like wildfire.
She spoke such ordinary words, explaining who she was, Faith, and where she came from. If you can believe it, a reflection of here, my world twisted so that the supernatural was hidden, moving under the noses of society like a cancerous growth, feeding on the healthy cells of humanity. Fascinating tales, ones I wouldn’t have even thought to believe if I were just a little older and a little wiser.
I think it was because I was so new to this world outside of the governmental regimentation. My childhood had been rife with the ordinary, the mundane, the don’t-make-waves. The time since, adolescence and young adult, had been so perfectly prescribed, each move choreographed with deadly efficiency to create the Undertaker, the ultimate student of Van Cleef.
On my own, it was different. She was different. She taught me to kill with a new purpose. There was a wild abandon to her, even bound to me as she was, and it was exhilarating.
Ah, yes, bound to me. That was the catch to my beautiful angel. She wasn’t all here, stuck halfway between her life and mine, a figment of my imagination, solid only to me, visible only to my eyes. I could feel her life pumping under my hands as we coupled, bodies twined together, but she evaporated when she left my side. At first we didn’t understand what happened to my Faith, trapped by a coma in her own land, but as time went on, we learned our limitations.
She could hunt with me, but only my chosen target. The average man had no idea she existed, walking by her hunting form, lean and pale. She passed right through, a wisp of bound violence. But my prey? Well, I may have been a dealer of death, but she was my instrument. Not always, mind you, but when she burned with suppressed rage, I had to let her loose on them or risk her venting on me.
It was a very easy choice.
She was sublime. No weapons against the most ferocious shape-shifters and vampires. She removed all advantage they had with grace and power, and left them helpless. When hands wouldn’t suffice, she used knives and stakes, despite vampires being different where she was before. Faith was exhilarating.
But there was always the cloud overhead: she would one day leave. Even as I focused my attention on her, she was looking over her shoulder waiting for the day she would wake and seek vengeance against those who took her life. It could have been the next moment or the next year.
She did leave one sharp winter dusk. My last glimpse of her was standing with bloody stake in hand, her face bright with exultation. Her prey, a hapless vampire with his head ripped from his shoulders, bled onto dry ground. Faith’s teeth were bared in ecstasy of the fight, when suddenly she froze. She gave a mighty shudder and looked at me with haunted eyes.
She smiled a bit, making an aborted move to me, stopping herself with effort. “Do me proud.”
With that, she vanished as immediately as she appeared.
Anita wondered once why I took her as my student. When she asked, my frozen silence stopped further questions. The young animator burned with a fire to learn her trade, a devotion that impressed even me. My student should guess now the reason: she reminded me of Faith. A shadow of dark hair, the ferocity she showed taking down an enemy, the diminutive frame hiding a power unsuspected by most.
I trained Anita because she reminded me of Faith, but she could never replace her. I told Anita once she was the other half of my soul, and I believe that wholly. What Faith had was my heart, Death’s heart. Donna loves Ted, and I think Ted loved her as well. He’ll be sorry he left Donna and the kids alone. But Death, Edward, whatever name this body wears: I’ll look forward to meeting her again. Perhaps she’ll be waiting. Perhaps we’ll be together. I couldn’t ask for a better end to my story than to be reunited with her, my angel on damned wings.