Part 4: Perception and Control

There was one dream Fay had that never changed. The first time it came he knew he was dreaming, always knew, because as real as it felt there was another
feeling. Cloudy, echoing, some weight that tickled in his ears that this wasn't alive, genuine, but it could have been. He wondered if maybe at the very end he'd
been so lost that everything he saw and did was through a bent glass, that it all felt like a dream because he couldn't separate and see things for themselves
anymore. It was horrifying and amazing because if it were true, if he'd been that far gone and still managed to walk away, then he had more inside than even
he knew.

He had walked away. He never doubted that. He remembered the rain on his skin, wet and numb and dazed, and looking up for the first time. He'd been
bewildered in a vague way, outside somewhere, and it was raining on him. He remembered looking up and staring at the sky as if he'd never seen it before,
faintly, so faintly surprised at how common it looked. And then the rain had struck his eyes and he'd dropped just like that.

It had felt as if that sky crashed down on him and he realized he didn't know where he was, what he'd done, what he was doing, anything at all. He'd felt hollow
and lost and he'd wanted to break, to just shatter under the weight of the rain. A gray stream rushed along the road beside him, little more than a trickle really,
and he'd imagined the pieces of him washing away. Bits of clay scraping along the gutter, some caught on clumps of refuge, others swirling together until they
hit the grate and went around and down and through, swallowed up by the dark under the street. It felt so simple but just out of reach. He'd wanted to break
and wash away but couldn't.

He'd thought he was crying but he couldn't tell because everything was so wet and his eyes didn't hurt. He remembered curling up right where he'd fallen. He
hadn't thought about danger or people, or anything at all. He felt he'd woken up in a tunnel gray world and there was nothing left but him and the rain and it
wasn't fair that he didn't care. He wanted to care, be angry, abandoned, afraid, anything but empty. He'd curled tighter all lanky and awkward with his cheek
cold and wet on the ground, just watching that stream that was little more than a trickle as it blurred and swirled its way down the grate. And he'd closed his
eyes, just walk away, and seen that dream for the first time.

He'd known it was a dream because Ashura was young and Fay wasn't. How long had it been since they were children?

He was sitting somewhere dark, it was always dark, and there were glittering pieces of glass all over his lap. He'd heard the whisper of bare feet and guilt
sprang up to hunch his shoulders. He knew who that was. Ashura had the lightest steps, even quieter than him, and wasn't that funny because he was the one
who'd taught him to move like the wind. He hadn't looked around, just sitting tighter where he was and staring down at the piece of glass in his hand. It was
long and thick, all wrapped up on one end so it wouldn't cut him when he gripped it. He'd been so careful it was hard to grip it at all, but he'd had to because
he couldn't stand the sight of his own blood.

"What are you doing, FayD?"

He'd known he was dreaming, that something was wrong, because Ashura hadn't called him that in forever. He couldn't remember the last time he had. He'd
looked around, finally, guilty and afraid, and Ashura was so young part of him cringed and protested that this wasn't real. He wanted to wake up now, please.
He didn't wake up, though, he never did, he wasn't even surprised to see him so young when he wasn't.

"I'm cutting it," he whispered back, and he wasn't afraid anymore because Ashura wouldn't tell.

He turned back and sawed with that awkward piece of glass. The boy crawled over to sit beside him, plucking one of the thicker ropes of hair off his lap and
staring at the mess he'd made. He looked horrified and awestruck like the time Fay had shattered every doll in his room and refused to tell anyone why. Or
how...

"Does it hurt...?"

He told him it didn't even though it did. The glass wasn't sharp enough to cut without pulling tight and scrubbing the edge until the strands broke or ripped
free. He said it because he could, and it was easy because Ashura had been so innocent at that age. He'd looked at him then, wanting to wake up right now,
please wake up, because they weren't young anymore, or innocent. There was no such thing.

"Go back to bed," he'd whispered, as if everything were fine, as if he weren't talking to a boy who no longer existed and sawing off the hair he'd been growing
for longer than he remembered.

"Do mine, too. Please?"

He flinched and sawed harder, faster, trying to outrace the guilt and fear eating away at his insides. He wasn't looking anymore, but he knew those eyes were
glassy and empty but not. He knew because that boy had been dead for a long, long time. What looked out of those eyes was festering behind the glass, Him,
eating his fill and watching, until there was nothing left and it was his turn. He couldn't help anyone but himself, it was too late to do anything but run and
maybe too late even for that.

Those eyes were closer now and his throat closed up, pain splitting his palm as his motions grew more frantic. He didn't look. He couldn't look.

"I can't," he whispered. "I'm sorry, so sorry, but I can't. Don't look at me. Please, just stop, stop looking at me like-"

Then it came, cutting him off as if he'd slit his own throat, and no matter how many times he had the dream he was always caught, shocked and terrified, as if
he couldn't remember what was coming, that it was always the same. A hand clamped over the back of his neck and he cried in shock, a panicky sad little
whisper of no more, no more no more, and something inside him burst.

And he'd wake up, always the same, his eyes dazed and half blind from the flash, his mind unable to comprehend what had happened. If anything had. He
knew it was a dream because Ashura was dead, he'd died at the age of fifteen, nothing more than a pretty shell with glassy eyes. Even if bits of the dream
were part of some forgotten memory, he knew the confrontation hadn't ended the way the dream did. It couldn't have, because mere days after he'd woken in
the rain he'd felt Him watching, looking for him out of the eyes of anyone. Just as he'd grown strong enough to use the mark without it controlling him, He had
grown strong enough not to need to mark anyone.

Fay had suspected as much. He'd found himself hiding more and more, aware that even random strangers would sometimes turn when he was nearby,
seeking something they couldn't see. He wouldn't let them see him, but he knew he was the one they were looking for. His suspicions were proven that day in
the alley. He'd felt them all over, spotting the crowd around him, watching from nearby buildings, and he couldn't sense a single mark on any of them. And then
the man who'd approached him finally, when he was down and cornered, he hadn't had a mark at all. Fay had hesitated for one moment, just long enough to
look into the stranger's eyes and he'd seen Him looking back.

I see you.

Even then, he hadn't meant to kill that man. He was just a puppet, some poor weak body to be used and discarded, not even worth the effort of devouring until
only the shell remained.

It was a matter of control. All the problems in the world came down to control, too much control, not enough control, none at all. Humans had learned to control
almost everything through technology and mutants had been born to control the rest. They could control physical things as easily as some could control the
mind, the elements, even life itself. There were mutants who could heal even the most life-threatening injuries and someday, a day Fay feared more than any,
there would be a mutant who could reverse death itself. When that day came he'd destroy himself so there would be nothing left to put back together, not even
pieces of the shell.

It all came down to control and when he'd found himself cornered in that alley, Fay hadn't had any. Whatever they'd struck him with had taken all of his
hard-earned control and tossed it away. And so he'd killed for the first time in years and the sudden backlash was like dying inside. All because some foolish
misguided little man hadn't used the proper dosage of whatever drug they'd mixed up for him.

At least he'd had something left, just enough control left not to kill the dark man who came next. That one had no part of any of it. He'd known it the moment
he'd seen him across the way, that he was being used but not controlled. He was impenetrable, he couldn't be controlled. So he must have been tricked. Fay
had seen it in his eyes, so confused and even guilty. It wasn't his fault. Fay knew enough about being tricked not to blame him. So he'd taken what little control
he'd had left and used him to get out of the open. He couldn't control that man, but he'd hoped to manipulate him, at least a little. Take me somewhere safe,
leave me there, and forget you ever saw me. When he woke in the hospital he thought it had worked. It should have.

He woke to find a man leaning over him, cool fingers and cold metal against his chest. The drug kept his reactions slow and dazed, but he understood where
he was and what he needed to do. He pushed the doctor's hand away gently, his gaze soft but firm.

He's already dead and covered. You can't help him now, and you don't know him enough to grieve over the loss. There are people here who need your help,
you want to help them because you can, and you will, you want to. It's not your fault you couldn't help, whatever poison was used is something you've never
encountered before, no one has, some mix of drugs that were never meant to be injected into a single body. And he was a mutant, no doctor knows how to
treat them, anyway. Just walk away and help those humans who need and appreciate your efforts. It's for the better.

The doctor sighed and turned away. Fay watched him go with a faint smile. He liked people like him. They cared, they honestly did, and it hurt them when they
couldn't help. If he'd thought that man could have countered the poison, Fay might have let him try, even if it meant staying in one place long enough that
someone might notice him. Because even though he'd made it easy for the doctor to put this aside and go on, he couldn't make the man forget entirely. Fay
never pushed hard enough to change a person's morals, and that man believed it was morally wrong to forget patients he'd been unable to help. He couldn't
help them all, but he believed he was obligated to try and to remember when he failed. Yes, Fay liked people like him. Far too much.

His body hurt when he slid off the bed. It still felt as if he were dying, acid in his veins that flowed in to stutter his heart and then up to twist in his brain.
Alarming in a blurry way. Fay winced and smiled and pushed aside the need to vomit or scratch at his wrists. None of that would help. He'd have to bleed it to
get it out and this really, really wasn't the place for that sort of thing. Whatever it was, it affected his powers more than anything. He was a danger to everyone
around him right now. No doctor would be able to help, and he'd likely lash out and kill any who tried without meaning to. Being in a crowded hospital was good
for throwing off stalkers, but he'd have to find some privacy before he took care of himself.

He found his shoes and coat near the bed. They must have been in a hurry to admit him. There were too many people in hall. Fay kept close to the wall and
did his best to ignore that. He concentrated on being unimportant, insignificant, and normal. In the beginning he'd had to reinforce that sort of push by
humming under his breath, or looking into the eyes of as many people as possible, brushing or making physical contact with the rest. He'd gotten better with
time and now a simple calm focus was enough to convince people that he was no more significant than a wet spot on the floor. Don't step on it, but don't worry
about it, either.

His sights were set on a light above double doors at the end of the hall, one of those convenient signs that were sure to read 'Exit' no matter what language
they were written in. He was nearly there when he felt eyes snap to him and burn tight. His first thought was that he'd lost his concentration and that was why
someone had noticed. His second thought was that he couldn't do anything in this crowded hall without hurting someone who'd only come here to be healed or
to help those in need. He tensed and looked back over his shoulder, one hand curling against the wall he'd been following like a guide line in a cave.

I see you.

Stop it. Fay wasn't sure if he'd said it aloud or not. His barriers snapped up and he narrowed his focus on instinct. Stop it, don't look at me, don't see me, I
don't want to hurt you, I don't-

Then a hand was holding his shoulder, touching him, and everything snapped back into focus. Fay inhaled and coughed so quickly it must have sounded like
a hiccup. It was that dark man from the alley, black clothes, dark feeling around him, black hair, dark glower, and dark impossible red eyes that saw. Could see
right through him.

"You," Fay managed, a sickly smile struggling to take over his face and failing. "What are you doing still here...?"

"What the hell?" the man growled. He sounded angry, but he looked more confused and relieved than anything. "That guy said you died on the table - nothing
they could do..."

Fay swallowed and the smile won its battle, hiding the prickly cold nervousness that was spreading fast under his skin. He couldn't remember the last time
anyone had touched him. And this man was dangerous because he could see, and they'd followed him once, they could be there now, just waiting for him to
come out of the building. Even if he couldn't be controlled, they could still use him, or kill him for not being useful enough. Fay felt responsible and apathetic at
the same time. Was it his fault? He was still touching him, holding his shoulder and waiting for some sort of explanation. Fay wanted to run away.

"Did he really say that?" Fay asked, his voice high and surprised, and maybe more panicky than he liked. "He must have been confused. As you can see, I'm
fine now. Thank you for being such a good Samaritan, but there was no need for you to stay just because you were the one to drop me off here. I'm sure you
have more important things to-"

"Shut up."

The man turned to look over the people around them, his eyes narrow and suspicious. Fay stopped talking. He didn't feel as cornered without that stare being
directed at him, but the hand remained, fingers pressing through his clothes and skin until they were firm against bone. If that grip tightened just a hair it would
hurt him and he wouldn't be able to stop himself from lashing out in response.

Fay brushed his fingers over that hand and smiled when the man snapped back around to frown at him. "You're bruising me. I'd rather you didn't."

The man pulled away with a sharply muttered apology. Then he frowned at him again. "What was going on back there? And how are you - what are you doing
to these people?" He jerked his head to the strangers in the hall. "Why do I get the feeling I'm the only one who can see you?"

"Because you are?" Fay asked, as if they were playing a guessing game.

"I'm serious!"

"So am I," Fay smiled. "As for what was going on in that alley, well, I could ask you the same question. Why were you following me? It was nice of you to bring
me here, but I hardly expected you to wait around to accost me on my way out. I can't decide if you're a good Samaritan or a stalker in disguise."

That frown was turning into an outright scowl, wrinkles between the man's eyebrows that were almost cute. If Fay hadn't felt like he was a few minutes from
burning up inside or passing out again, he would have laughed at the sight of him.

He eased closer to the man and told him in a confiding whisper, "I'm leaning toward stalker, myself. That security man at the end of the hall thinks so, too. He's
thirty seconds away from rescuing me from that dark manhandling meanie. Best bet to avoid that? Walk away like a gentleman."

The man straightened with a fiery expression on his face. Fay found it adorable despite the circumstances. He saw him shoot a look at the uniformed man Fay
had warned him of. Sure enough, the guard was staring quite a bit. Fay hadn't mentioned that the man was staring because Tall Dark and Intimidating had
been - as far as the guard knew - threatening a blank wall and talking to himself. Fay used the distraction to slide away.

He was followed out of the hospital. He'd expected that. Whoever the would-be stalker was, he seemed to be dripping with stubborn curiosity. Fay knew he'd
have to deal with that eventually. For now he simply extended his push so the man was as nondescript as him. He couldn't manipulate him, but he'd could
make certain no one noticed either of them. That would have to do until he found an isolated spot to fix his little control problem.

Poison. The very idea of it made him want to smack someone for being stupid. Clearly paying people to look for him was a bad idea. Fay thought He should
have figured that out the last time they'd tried to disable him with an illicit substance. They'd tainted the entire water supply of an innocent little town and Fay
wouldn't have even known about it if he hadn't seen news reports of it a few days later. He'd been in an entirely different county by then.

At least this time they'd limited it to him alone. He thought he had that dark stalker of his to thank for that much. He still wanted to smack the idiot who'd given
him a drug that made him liable to kill anyone who threatened him. As tired as he was, he missed the old days when hired thugs had approached him openly.
They'd fight and lose and Fay would disappear without adding another unnecessary death to his count. Poison. Really. Even kidnappers were lazy these days.

"I'm getting too old for this," Fay sighed, as he pushed open a dingy door and left it wide behind him.

The building was musty and stale and just the sort he'd been looking for. He knew it because he could smell and almost feel it on his arms - drugs, rape,
murder, and a good dose of mutilation and dismemberment. The perfect private setting for some blood-letting. He dropped bonelessly to the floor and sent a
tired smile at the dark shadow that slipped in after him.

"Hey, there, Tall Dark and Intimidating," Fay called. "Please close the door behind you."

"Kurogane," the man snapped, looking annoyed at the off-handed greeting. Or maybe he was annoyed at being led halfway across town. Who knew.

"Mm," Fay smiled, "how fitting. Fay, a pleasure to meet you Mr. Steel, Kuro-san. And now we've been properly introduced. You have a knife?"

.-.
TBC



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