"Zephyr's looking good, Matt."
She approached the garage carefully. The possessed motorcycle had been parked outside for almost an hour now and Matt still hadn't come inside. That could only mean that something was wrong. Archie had warned her not to go outside tonight but, with Matt possibly in danger, what else could she do.
Then she saw him, sitting on her dad's old Crafter's workbench.
"You... not so much. Are you okay? Do you need any...?"
She stopped in her tracks. In the dim light, he was only barely visible but she could see enough to know the answer to her first question was clearly no. Matt was leaning forward on his left hand, gripping the edge of the bench tight enough to make his knuckles bone white. There was an old military style duffel bag on the floor at his feet, laying open and slightly spilled.
And he was covered in blood.
It was clinging to his shirt, what was left of it, and it still dripped from his shoulders and his long black hair. Even his boots were drenched, oiled leather slaked in crimson. His eyes were dark, as always, and there was so much scarlet on his face it looked like he was weeping red tears.
"Gods, Matt!" She started running to him.
"It's okay, Mercy. Most of it isn't mine."
That didn't stop her or even slow her stride. Mercy got to his side and started checking him over, not really caring if he wanted to be cared for or not. If he was still injured, if he was bleeding out...
...but he wasn't. Though his shirt and trench coat both had a few dozen holes, some of which went through both front and back, he wasn't hurt. There were no open wounds, even though his clothes clearly stated there should be. She was grateful, of course, but also confused. She could heal fast too but not this fast. And last she'd known, neither could he.
"What happened?" she asked softly as she went over him again.
Matt sighed, staring down at something clenched in his right hand. "I had to fix my bike."
She stared at him. Even for Matt, that was pretty oblique. "What?"
"Do you remember high school, Mercy?" His voice was calm. Almost too calm.
Frowning, she stepped back and got a chair from the corner of the room. Coming back to join him, she sat down. She'd seen this look before, heard this tone. Matt wasn't really here right now. Something had happened. Something ugly. All she could do was be with him and try to talk him through whatever was going on in his head.
"Sure, sort of. I spent most of it possessed, of course, so things aren't as clear as they could have been. Why?"
Matt opened his hand slowly, showing Mercy what he had been holding so tight. A half-crushed pack of Taj Ma cigarettes with a small, plastic lighter engraved with a cross tucked into one side. Even from four feet away, she could instantly smell the cloves. Goth smokes, she used to call them. That smell brought back memories...
"Did you have many friends back then?"
Mercy shook her head sadly. "When the demon had me, I just used people. I never got close to anyone. Heck, I couldn't. If I tried to make friends when I was in control, the demon would go out of its way to hurt them when it took over later."
Matt nodded slightly, his gaze still quite vacant. "I had friends. Not many, but I did."
"That's... great. Right?" Mercy wasn't sure what to say. From the wound of Matt's voice, great wasn't really the right word.
He kept talking in his low, dark voice, seemingly oblivious to Mercy having said anything at all. In a way, she was grateful for that. "Brad, Roy, Janet, Kimmie and Ariel. Those were my friends Senior Year. "
Mercy stayed quiet, just waiting for him to go on. She'd heard him mention Ariel before but the others? They were new.
"We were total idiots trying to be cool with magic. We had a coven. Straight out of The Craft. We even had out names in Enochian on our binders. So lame..." He looked down at the cigarettes again, staring at them so long that Mercy started looking for a lighter for him.
She found one on the other workbench and held it up, silently offering him a light. He looked at the tiny flame, shook his head, and closed his hand around the pack again. "I don't smoke, but thanks any way."
Mercy wanted to ask why he was holding a pack of cigarettes if he didn't smoke but thought better of the question after another look into his emotionless eyes.
"Ariel and Kimmie smoked. Maybe they still do. Funny, isn't it? Out of my five friends, the only two still alive are the ones that lit up. I'm no Morrisette but that sure seems like irony to me." He shrugged, the joke never reaching his face.
With a flick of his wrist, Matt tossed the pack into his duffel. The pale white box disappeared into its cavernous depths, lodging somewhere between a bag of beef jerky and an old issue of Easy Rider. "If I'd known, I'd have tried to get the others to smoke too. I used to hold a lit one but I never took a drag. Can't stand the smell... though cloves are lot better than normal tobacco, you know?"
His words were friendlier but his tone was still frigid, still a hollow echo. Unsure how to respond, Mercy chose not to do so at all. When he was done talking, she had a feeling she'd know.
"The night before graduation, we got caught up in this damn war. The Dark Ones must have decided something about us was valuable. They sent a son of a bitch to 'lead us' in a ritual. We thought it was for prosperity but we were dead wrong."
He shifted on the workbench, changing out hands and leaning on his right. "The bastard shot Janet and Brad, put Roy into a coma and left Ariel and Kimmie pretty fucked up. I took a round here..." Matt tapped his shoulder. "...but I didn't go down. To be honest, I didn't even feel it until later. That's because I'd already be bound."
He took a long breath before continuing, drying blood cracking at the edges of his mouth. "That's where my demon came from. The D.O. decided I didn't need to be a healer. They corrupted that gift and out this... thing in me. It's a good thing Ariel killed the fucker because if she hadn't, I would have. Slow."
"He took almost everything from me and that night, the Dark Ones took what was left."
Mercy couldn't stop herself from murmuring, "Your parents?"
He nodded coldly. "While I was out at the park getting soul-raped, they were busy sacrificing my folks and burning down my house."
There was a low growl in the back of Matt's throat. "That's D.O. standard procedure with recruiting. Leave nothing for a potential new witch to go home to and eventually, they join up rather than be alone."
Mercy hissed, "Those bastards." Then, trying to find some light in all this, she forced herself to smile and say, "But you broke the system. You didn't go to them."
Matt nodded again, very slight and very distantly. "But it works, Mercy. It works all over the world. Maryland, Oklahoma, California... even right here in Tennessee. The Dark Ones make young, stupid pagans too scared to fight back and too isolated to have any hope. They don't have the strength to run and so they fold just to have somewhere to belong."
She knew he was right; alone and afraid, even she had been temped a long time ago to just give in to her demon. What she didn't know is what brought this on tonight. Why was Matt dwelling on the past? He wasn't the sort to just brood without a reason.
"Matt? What happened? Why were you staring at your friends' old cigarettes?"
He finally reacted to her with more than just murmurs and slight gestures. Matt turned to look her in the eyes, his own looking utterly haunted. "I got angry, Mercy. They hurt my bike. I wanted to make the Order pay. Pay in blood to fix her."
Mercy looked over his drenched clothes and ruddy skin. "I'd say they even tipped."
"My friends and I... we were just stupid kids playing at witchcraft. We didn't know any better."
He was drifting again, falling off-topic. She tired to bring him back around by holding his hand but the gesture, while not refused, was otherwise completely ignored.
"The Dark Ones recruited us young, just like they are doing everywhere. Just dumb kids, scared and confused. Not knowing any better. But it's like an arms race, Mercy. I didn't know. I was just so angry. I killed everything but the Bishop escaped. His bodyguards got in the way... I didn't even look at them until it was too late. Until they were all dead."
She looked at him, bewildered now. "What are you talking about, Matt?"
"Those cigs... in my bag... those didn't come from my friends."
Mercy narrowed her eyes, trying to understand what a pack of cigarettes had to do with recruitment drives and an arms race.
Matt closed his eyes, trembling.
A red-stained pack of clove cigarettes. And a lighter with a cross on it...
Her eyes widened. "Oh Gods, Matt."
And looking at his face, she could see it clearly now. He was crying; the tears were just dissolving the blood around his eyes and moving it in rivers down his face.
"Stupid kids... stupid, stupid kids..."