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The Gardener and Psycho

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Once upon a time, there was a… well, one could call him a scientist, but seeing as there wasn’t much need for scientists at this particular point in history, he got on by selling his inventions to people in town. So, honestly, he was more of an engineer failing as a farmer at the same time. He had two sons as different as night and day. His older son was plain. Completely average with a forgettable presence next to his brother’s exuberant expressions. He seemed to follow his father’s interests, always doing experiments and staying inside more often than not. He was, by far, his father’s favorite, but the lesser of the two by their late mother and the others in town’s opinion. His name was Don, though he isn’t particularly important at this time.

The younger brother, Finny, was pretty much the opposite. He was small, cheery, and absolutely adorable in the eyes of nearly everyone who met him. He was the one who took care of the family’s small garden, even if he sometimes messed it up with his abnormal strength. When he went to town, people always smiled back, ruffled his strawberry blond hair on the odd days when it wasn’t pinned back, and offered him a sweet.

One day, the small “family” was sitting at their table, eating breakfast quietly, their father reading papers, Don making notes about his latest experiment in a small journal, and Finny happily flipping through a book about different plants that his father had given him to avoid talking to him. Slowly, their father set down his papers, sighing. Finny glanced up, tilting his head curiously, but not saying a word as he knew it would annoy his family.

Don lifted his eyes, raising an eyebrow. “What is it, Father?”

The scientist sighed again. “I don’t have enough supplies for my latest project. I’m going to have to go to the coast to pick up a shipment of them.”

“Isn’t that a three-day trip?” Finny asked.

His father turned to him; eyes slightly narrowed in annoyance. “By cart, yes. If I can get my newest invention to work before lunch, it should only take about half the time.”

Don put his book aside. “I meant to ask you about that actually. The metal in some places is beginning to corrode. I believe I can make a sort of sealant to prevent that, but you’ll need to leave it behind while I run some tests.”

Their father sighed, annoyance playing across his features. “Very well. I’ve been meaning to look into that. So, I suppose I’ll leave after breakfast. I’ll be gone for roughly seven days, so you two need to look after yourselves. Is there anything you’d like for me to purchase while I’m there?”

Finny bit his lip, unsure if the question was for both of them or just his brother. He knew his father loved him (at least, he hoped), but his father also had a habit of forgetting he was there or forgetting his birthday (it was in 13 days. He hoped his father wouldn’t forget his own son’s 18th birthday, but there was a pretty good chance he would… like Finny’s 16th and 17th birthdays…), but he sometimes could be sweet.

Don nodded. “I need a new journal, a few pens, and maybe a few scalpels if you can swing it?”

Their father nodded, adding the items to his list. “Alright. That should be easy enough. And you, Finnian?”

He perked up. “Do you… Do you think I could have a little birdy?” He clasped his hands, chest filling with hope. “Just a little one? I swear you won’t have to do anything. I’ll take care of it, and you don’t even have to get a cage or anything.”

Don sent him a look of pity, already knowing the answer. Their father sighed, his look of irritation only worsening. “You know I can’t do that. And besides, how would you even care for it? You know pets are a waste of time,” he said, his words severe.

Finny wilted, the hope draining away to leave the pitiful empty pain that usually resided there after a conversation with his father. “Oh… Well then, what about a feather?” He offered weakly. “A pretty one?”

Their father let out a huff. “Why don’t you ever ask for something useful?” He closed his eyes, massaging his temples. “Is that all?”

The boy nodded, close to tears. “Y-yes, sir,” he whispered, dragging his unfinished food across his plate with his fork. “That’s… That’s it…”

“Well… Seeing as it is the only thing you’re asking for… Fine. I will bring back the most attractive feather I can find.”

He lifted his eyes, blinking back the tears that cling to his lashes. “Thank you, d – I-I  mean Father…”

Don reached over under the table, placing a hand on Finny’s knee and squeezing it slightly to give his brother some comfort. The brothers were not close by any means, but Finny always tried helping and spending time with Don. In return, though he wasn’t particularly good at comforting, he did try to step in after a particularly harsh verbal lashing from their father. He had always thought that their father was too harsh on the boy, though he would never dream of stepping in the line of fire. Finny lifted his eyes to his brother’s face, giving him a weak smile.

Their father stood, taking his plate to the sink. “Finnian, would you go ready the horse and cart?”

He nodded, leaving his plate and book on the table as he fled the room, ready to be out from under the piercing gaze of his father before his tears began to fall. By the time he reached the stable, he had finally calmed down enough to give a semi-genuine smile to the horse and the two birds that were normally by the flowers. The smaller of the two – the one a little girl from town had named Wren – always seemed to be tending to the flowers, dropping seeds and covering them to be planted. A lot of what Finny had learned about gardening, he had learned from the little bird. The larger of the two – a beautiful raven – was always near Wren. It seemed that it took care of Wren, attacking anything that seemed like a threat to the smaller bird. In return, Wren took care of the larger bird. Finny had named the raven Sebastian when he was very small, telling his mother than the raven had told him that was his name. While he loved these birds and considered Wren to be his friend, he by no means considered them his pets. He had a feeling Sebastian would bite off a finger of he came anywhere close to petting him.

He quickly brought the family’s horse out, attaching it to the cart his father would be taking. He had barely finished when his father came out, carrying his bag, followed by Don.

“Like I said, I’ll be gone around 7 days. Donald, you’re in charge of the money and my customers in town. Finnian, you… Just take care of the chores and try not to burn the house down.”

Finnian lowered his eyes, slightly hurt by the comment. Half of the time, his father basically treated him like a nuisance, the other half like a servant. He really didn’t mind the work, but some sort of acknowledgement would have been nice. A simple “good job” would have made him glow.

Don nodded, fighting the urge to wince at the sound of his full name. “Yes, sir. I’ll keep an eye on everything.”

Finny ducked his head. “Bye, d – Father.” He turned, disappearing back into the stable, using it more as a passage than an actual hideout. He just wanted to be alone…

Behind him, he heard his father talking to Don. “Make sure he doesn’t get into anymore trouble than usual. People in town have already started gossiping.” He didn’t hear his brother’s response.

Running through the building, he dashed out the back door into the woods. He didn’t know how long he had been running when he stopped, sitting by a tree with tears running down his face.

Chapter Text

The scientists hated travelling. There was absolutely nothing he hated more than having to travel anywhere farther than a day’s journey. He didn’t like being so far away from his house, and his workshop, and (though he would never admit it aloud) his wife’s grave. It was bad enough he had to trust the house to the care of his two sons. Donald was responsible enough, but he often got so caught up in his experiments he forgot to take care of anything, including himself. Finnian… Finnian was little more than a toddler in the body of what looked like a 14-year-old. He got the chores done well enough, but he wanted to spend the entire day outside and take care of every animal and every bird he came across. The scientist let out a huff, wrinkling his nose at the ass of the horse in front of him.

The boy just didn’t seem to understand that animals weren’t that important. He knew his wife had thought the boy was adorable and supported his love of animals, but still… He just couldn’t bring himself to like the boy. He tried to tolerate him and even then, that was a struggle. He hoped this trip would be a nice break from the boy and a productive gathering of information and supplies.

Looking back on that thought a few days later, he couldn’t believe how wrong he had been.

 


 

 

Finny had fallen asleep at the base of the tree he had collapsed against, too exhausted from crying to bother finding his way back home. Don, now caught up in a new experiment, didn’t realize he was missing, even after the rest of the day and the entire night had passed. He wasn’t even aware time had passed as quickly as it had until he was startled out of his intense concentration by a knock on the door. He rubbed his eyes, stumbling over to the door and opening it slowly.

“Yes?” he yawned.

Pluto, Finny’s friend from town with disturbingly dog-like actions and white hair, stood in front of him, his eyes narrowed, taking in the bags under his eyes and the rumpled hair. Don’s cheeks went red under the scrutiny of the man he privately called the Demon Hound. “Oh, hi, Don. Have you seen Finny? He was supposed to meet me an hour ago, and he never showed.”

He blinked in surprise, adjusting his glasses. “Oh, um… I-I suppose…” He glanced behind him into the deserted living room. “Maybe his room?” He murmured quietly, his brain struggling to catch up with the sudden shift in attention.

Pluto raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know?” He moved into the house, taking Don’s wrist a little roughly as he stormed through the house, searching for his friend and dragging. He didn’t seem to realize how rough he was being at any given moment, so Don was fairly used to this kind of treatment, but it was still jarring. “How hard is it to keep track of him? I mean isn’t he the one the cooks?” He stopped, catching sight of the table with the two plates of food from the previous morning. “You’ve been working on something, haven’t you?” He groaned, swatting lightly at Don’s head. “I swear, you are so dense! What if something happens to Finny? What if a witch finds him?” He was ranting now, opening the door to Finny’s bedroom, finding it looking almost deserted. “Look at this! It looks like he hasn’t been home all night!”

Don froze, his eyes widening. “Um… He… might not have?” He closed his eyes, wincing. “He ran off yesterday morning. I thought he would come back afterwards, but I started working and…” He winced away as Pluto swatted at his head again, more gently this time. “He normally comes back on his own! I didn’t think he’d stay out all night.”

Pluto let out a huff, dragging Don through the house once more and out the door. “We need to go find him then!”

“Um… weren’t you just worried about witches dragging people off?”

“Small people, you nerd. Like you and Finny. I’m too big to drag off.”

“Point taken…”

 


 

 

The scientist could not believe it. In a matter of about two hours, he had practically signed his own death certificate. Rain had started falling an hour or two before sunset. After nearly two days of relatively pleasant travel (if travel can ever be called pleasant), he was more than a little annoyed at the delay. If the weather hadn’t just taken a turn for the worse, he might have gotten to the town early the next morning. Now, if he didn’t get out of the rain, he would catch a cold and end up trapped in the care of some woman or another in town hoping to catch themselves a widower.

“Damn it,” he spat, huddling underneath his jacket. Suddenly, lightning crashed, catching a tree just off the path on fire. The horse took off, nearly throwing him from his seat. He clung to the reins, knowing if he were thrown from the cart, there was a high probability of injury, if not worse. The horse dashed down a side path, hurtling past trees with low handing branches that slapped at his face and shoulders. He cursed again, getting a mouthful of leaves. He spat them out, tugging desperately at the slippery reins. After a moment or two, the horse slowed until it gradually came to a stop at a large wrought iron fence. He straightened up, spitting again and swiping at the mud and leaves he had picked up during the ride, pulling a twig from his hair.

He turned to glare at the horse. “Really? Stupid animal. It’s going to take forever to get back to the main road.” He shivered as the rain poured down harder. “Hm… I suppose I could ask the person who owns this place for shelter…”

He slipped down from his seat, trudging over to push open the gate, wincing away from the screech of protest the metal gave. “Come on, you stupid thing,” he growled, pulling the horse behind him on the path leading where he assumed a house to be. The path was overgrown and looked as though it hadn’t been used in years.

Still, he thought, an abandoned house is still preferable to spending a night in the storm.

After walking for what seemed like forever to the exhausted man, a house suddenly came into view. It was large and calling it a house was like calling a lion a kitten. It looked as if it had been a castle built for royalty and abandoned soon after it was built. The walls and ceilings were intact, but ivy grew over the walls and any low structure on the grounds, beginning to crumble some of the bricks. Everything was wet and strangely green for the mid-autumn chill in the air.

What a dump, he thought, pulling his jacket tighter around himself. If someone does live here, they have no respect for themselves or others. The extravagance and so little care for it. The frivolous plants everywhere…. Finnian would love this place. He loves bringing filthy plants into the house…

He pulled the horse under a covered area, walking slowly up the front steps to the looming, dark doors. He studied the doors a moment before knocking, only to be met with no answer. He waited a few moments, thinking that if someone did live there, it may take a while for them to reach the front. Hell, if they were at the back of the building, they may not even hear the knocking.

As he stood there, rationalizing, he didn’t notice the curtains in one of the windows moving slightly as someone within the house watched him. The dark figure shook its head slightly, eyes narrowing at the scientist. He generally didn’t care for visitors, especially ones who looked as… self-important as this man. Leaving the window, he moved silently through the house. The man’s next moves were obvious, so why not have some fun?

The scientist shifted his weight from foot to foot impatiently. Finally (though it really only took a couple of minutes), he huffed and pushed on the heavy door, only mildly surprised when it swung open. “Hm… Just as I thought. This place must be abandoned.” He walked in brushing his hands off. “Huh. It’s not in such disrepair as I expected… Still unpleasant, but not completely unbearable…”

There was a rush of air behind him and the door slammed shut. He whirled around, at once terrified. While others might have rationalized it with themselves that the wind would have blown it shut, he knew there was no way the angle could have made anything like that possible. Someone – or something – was inside the building with him.

“H-hello?” He called, a shiver running up his spine. “Who’s there?” He knew it would be a foolish thing to call out, but he felt slightly better once he had said it. He supposed it was similar to children feeling safe when hiding under their blankets. Though, every adult knew if something was really there, monster or otherwise, blankets would do nothing. There was a reason for the rosaries and salt circles. He shook his head as if to clear the thoughts from it. He needed to focus on the danger at hand. Something moved near one of the windows.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a soft, somewhat kind sounding voice said. “My master isn’t particularly fond of unfamiliar guests. You should leave. Especially since the rain won’t let up for weeks once it really gets going.”

He couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female. “Who are you? And who is this ‘Master’ of yours?”

A sigh came from the air beside his ear, but when he turned, the space was empty. “Inquisitive, aren’t you? Well, as you do not seem inclined to follow my advice, I might as well introduce myself. I am Breeze, one of the few servants here. I take care of the cleaning and keep him informed of the changes in the weather.” The voice spoke with a matter-of-fact tone, no trace of emotion in the airy words.

“And your master?” The scientist pressed, edging away from the disembodied presence of Breeze.

“That would be me,” a dark voice said behind him. While Breeze’s voice had an airy, nongendered quality to it, this voice was deep, dark, and most undoubtedly male. It brought to mind the dangerous men hired to accompany the more expensive shipments he ordered into the port. The scientist whirled around again, nearly tripping over his own feet.

The figure behind him was tall, much taller than the scientist’s fairly delicate, though average build. He couldn’t see much of the man, as he wore a long black cloak and stood in the shadows, but even the silhouette sent thoughts of every monster he had ever been told to avoid through his head. Terror shot through him, blood running cold in his veins.

“What are you doing in my home?” the dark figure asked calmly, though he thought he heard a tinge of threat in the tone.

“I-it started storming and I was lost and my horse was spooked by a bolt of lightning and-and please don’t kill me! I have a family! And – And,” he stuttered, momentarily stopping his ramble. His mind raced, searching desperately through everything he knew about monsters and beasts. “I – I have a daughter!”

He couldn’t see the figure’s face, but the shadow fell silent, eyes studying the man. “And?”

The scientist swallowed nervously. “I-isn’t that what beasts – ahem, I mean c-creatures like you normally want? A-A daughter in exchange for a life?”

The man in the shadows felt his lip curl in disgust at the small intruder’s words. This conversation had not gone where he had expected. “So, you would trade your daughter to save your own worthless life?” His voice had taken a sinister turn, growing more and more threatening with each moment. “You’re a poor excuse for a father.” He expected the man to be offended, but his reaction…

The scientist cowered away, backing himself into a wall. “Y-yes! Just please, take her and don’t kill me!”

The muscles in his jaw tightened at the sight of the cowering man. He hadn’t even done anything in a conscious effort to be intimidating and this man looked as though he were about to piss himself. And what kind of father willingly offered his daughter to a beast?

Fine. This man wanted a beast? He’ll get one.

Stalking forward, he bared his teeth slightly, growling. “Fine. I won’t kill you,” he said before he grabbed the man’s throat. His nails felt like claws against the sensitive flesh and, if he calculated correctly, a thin sliver of light should be falling across his eyes, lighting up only the vivid green of his  irises. “I won’t kill you because I can’t think of a way painful enough to end your pathetic life.” The man whimpered, struggling weakly against the grip around his throat. “However, I will take you up on your offer. You will bring your daughter here, and, in exchange, I will not kill you.” His grip tightened as the man relaxed slightly at the words. “But, if you do not honor our contract, I will find you, and I will kill you and your family, one by one, until I’ve had my fill of blood.”

He really didn’t care to have some girl around. Nor did he really desire to kill anyone, but she was probably better off with him rather than a father so quick to barter her life for his own. And anyway, he could use a companion whose conversations he hadn’t heard a million times over.

The scientist just nodded frantically. “I swear! I’ll bring her here! J-just give me… two weeks! I can have her here in two weeks!”

“Make it a week.” Two weeks were enough for someone to forget about a deal. “If she isn’t here on the seventh day, you’ve broken your word.”

“That’s not enough time! I need to get supplies from town and, by the time I make it back, she’ll only have a day to pack and come here!” In truth, he was thinking that would give him a day or two at most to go into hiding, but the beast didn’t need to know that.

He dropped the man, watching with some satisfaction as he dropped to his knees. “I’ll send someone to pick it up. In that case… five days. That should be plenty of time.” He turned on his heel and began walking away, back into the shadows, but the intruder’s pathetic voice stopped him.

“Wait! How will she find her way here? I couldn’t possibly make the trip that many times, and if I send her with someone, neither will know the way.”

The dark man sighed. Of course, this man wouldn’t bring his daughter himself. Yes, it was definitely for the best the girl was coming there. “You would send her on her own?” He heaved another sigh, not allowing the man time to respond. “I will send someone to guide her when she gets close. Now, go, before I decide this deal isn’t worth making.”

He felt the tension drain from his shoulders as the man scurried out of his home. “I’ve never met such a repulsive man,” Breeze chimed once the door had closed.

Another voice let out an annoyed sound from somewhere behind them. “Try dipping into his thoughts.” A shadow near the top left corner of the room shuddered. “One thing’s for sure, this guy is not a good person, let alone a good parent. You don’t wanna know what half of his memories were.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Breeze said impatiently, “but did you get the information so someone could go get the supplies?”

“Or about his daughter?” the man added, walking to the window to watch the scientist scramble to leave.

“Well,” the owner of the voice drawled, sounding as though they were smirking, “I found out lots of interesting things. I know everything we need to pick up his things, so don’t worry.”

“What about the girl, Jokester?”

Again with the smirk in his voice. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Psycho. She,” he emphasized the word, almost sarcastically, “seems really sweet. You’ll like her.”

Psycho narrowed his eyes at the shadow. “What are you not telling me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jokester said innocently. “All I know is things are going to get very interesting very soon. It might actually make this whole eternal life thing pretty bearable.”

Chapter Text

By the time Don and Pluto found Finny, still asleep outside and now running a fever, and brought him back to the house, the sun had gone down. Don was in the kitchen, searching for their mother’s book of medicines while Pluto was attending to his brother, putting him into bed after letting him change and clean up a bit. After he was done, he walked into the kitchen to find Don balanced precariously on a chair, searching the books they kept on top of the cabinets.

“Of course, he would get sick right after Father leaves,” Pluto heard the boy – really a man, but their family just didn’t look their age – mutter as the chair wobbled. “He’s the only one who knows where this damned book is and of course he doesn’t remember. He’s got to look for it himself to find it.” He huffed in frustration, stretching to look up on the shelf. “Why would he even put it up here? He’s shorter than I am! Where is th-” His quiet rant was cut off by a shriek as the chair slipped, and he began falling. Before he could process what was happening, he found himself set back on the chair, Pluto’s arms around his waist. The taller man had caught him and was steadying him on the chair.

“Careful. One of you is already sick. We don’t need the other to crack his skull open,” Pluto scolded gently.

Don’s cheeks reddened. He hadn’t even realized Pluto was in the room. He had probably heard him talking to himself. “Thanks… How’s Finny?” He has to keep him talking, otherwise, he’d burst into flames. He had known he felt something for the “Demon Hound” for quite some time, but in the same thought, he also knew there was no way the man would ever return his feelings. As far as most people were concerned, he was a copy of his father. In truth, he hated his father and how he did his experiments, but he had learned very young that the way to avoid his father’s anger was to push down everything he believed and pretend to be the perfect son. Oh, wait, Pluto was answering his question.

“He’s asleep now. Still running a fever, but it’s not too high.” Pluto shrugged, causing his hand to slip just slightly, barely under Don’s shirt, sending shivers down Don’s spine. “I think that with some sleep and a bit of medicine, he’ll be fine. No luck finding the book, huh?”

He stretched farther, just barely able to reach one book that had been pushed to the back of the shelf. He had to hold in a squeak when Pluto’s hold tightened slightly. Once he was able to see the cover of the book, he sighed in relief. “Here it is. Father must have shoved the damn thing up here.”

Pluto picked him up from the chair and set him down on the ground, turning to set the chair back at the table. While Pluto’s back was turned, Don hugged the book to his chest and tried to calm his heartrate. “Why was it up there? You don’t like studying it?”

He jumped in surprise, looking up at him. He wasn’t expecting the question. Looking down at the book, Don adjusted his glasses. “Oh, well… I used to really like studying that kind of thing…” As he spoke, he flipped through the pages, touching the small, neat handwriting on each page almost fondly. “Our mom used to be amazing with this kind of stuff. She liked to teach us how the body worked and how to heal it, but Finny was always better with it… I think it was mostly because he cared so much about the people he helped, they just had to get better. Mother thought it was because he was blessed by faeries as a baby.” He sighed. “When she got sick, we both took care of her, but she always seemed to be better off when Finny took care of her… She… She died while I was supposed to be in charge… I was so… So fucking useless… Finny took responsibility because he said he knew how much it tore me up. So, ever since then, Father has… hated Finny more so than before. And… Well, I quit studying medicine.” He adjusted his glasses again, trying to hide the tears welling in his eyes, clinging to his lashes.

Setting the book on the kitchen counter, he began gathering supplies for the recipe on the page, hoping that if he kept his hands busy, Pluto wouldn’t see his pain. As he passed Pluto to grab lemons, the taller man put a hand on his shoulder. He lifted his eyes to a gentle expression on the demon hound’s face. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He pulled away, continuing with his task. “Thanks.” His voice sounded hollow, devoid of emotion.

The white-haired man watched him for a few moments, quietly studying him. The scientist’s son had been acting weird around him for a while now, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. Don opened one of the cabinets and reached for the whiskey on the top shelf. His hand barely touched the bottom of that shelf, let alone coming even remotely close to the bottle. Pluto moved behind him, grabbing the bottle and placing it on the counter. He noted Don stiffening when he came close to him. Did Don not like him?

“Thanks,” he squeaked, picking up the bottle. He would never be used to how familiar Pluto was with everyone. Not to mention the way he always smelled of the forest and rain and that fucking scent seemed to fill the whole house every time he came over…

“Finny is going to be fine. The medicine you make will be perfect.”

Some of the tension ran out of his shoulder. He hadn’t even realized why he was so on edge until Pluto spoke. “I hope so…”

 


 

 

Two days later, Finny was back to feeling how he normally did. Don was relieved that as soon as Finny was well enough to leave the house, he and Pluto left him alone to do as he pleased. Finny brought Pluto out to the garden, excited to be outside despite the rain that hadn’t stopped since the day the boy had gotten sick.

“Finny, should we be outside?” Pluto asked as he was dragged outside toward the back of the property. “I mean, you were just sick…”

Finny laughed. “I’ll be fine. Besides, the rain feels amazing!”

He laughed, shaking his head and decided to enjoy himself. “It does!”

Don watched them from the window, shaking his head. “How he isn’t sick more often, I’ll never understand…” He glanced around the room he was in. While Finny rested, he and Pluto had cleaned the house. It wasn’t absolutely spotless, but it was much neater, which had never been something he was known for. He walked over to his desk, sitting and studying his work. The sealant was a complete disaster. He had no idea what was missing from the compound, but until he found it, the entire project was a lost cause.

Meanwhile, his other project was going remarkably well. By studying the effect of human interaction with plant life, he hoped to figure something out to help the farmers in the area to set themselves apart from the fae that had begun to come to the markets. While their father berated behavioral studies, the thought of helping people while doing something he enjoyed had always been a draw for Don. He opened his notebook and began recording observations, but the tension in his spine remained. Normally the process was relaxing, but he couldn’t shake the uneasiness surrounding him. Premonition was completely fiction, of course, but the feeling just wouldn’t leave.

The door behind him flew open, startling him. His father stumbled in soaked and dirty with a crazed look in his eyes. Judging from the way he swayed and the gauntness to his face, he had either been drinking or hadn’t slept for days… Or both…

“Damnit, Donald! Where are you?” He shouted into the house, slamming the door behind him.

Don jumped up, rushing to grab a towel from the hall closet, knowing that if he hid, his father’s temper would get so much worse. “Father, you’re home early…” The front door opened, and Finny and Pluto came in, dripping on the rug. Don tensed, waiting for the explosion his father would undoubtedly have at seeing Finny had been out in the rain. He ran to grab two more towels, handing one to either of the dripping men.

The scientist turned to Finny, the younger man tensing up visibly. “Finnian, you need to pack.”

Everyone stood, silent for a few moments, not quite certain they had heard him correctly.

“Um, Father?” Don spoke up, adjusting his glasses. “What happened? You said you’d be gone for seven days and it’s only been four-”

The scientist cut his eyes to Pluto, giving him a begrudgingly polite look. “Finnian, I think it’s time your friend goes home. There is an important matter we must discuss.” He turned and began stumbling into the other room, but stopped on the threshold. “Oh, and tell him you won’t be seeing him again. You’ll be going to school and won’t have time for ‘friends’.”

The three froze as he stumbled away, meeting each other’s eyes with confusion, panic, and anger in their eyes.

“I’m coming back,” Pluto growled so low only Finny could her. He finally left, leaving the “family” in dead silence.

Finally, Finny opened his mouth, calling out to their father, who was stumbling back into the room, shoving a hunk of bread into his mouth. “Wh-what did you mean? Are… Are you really sending me to school?”

“Of course not, idiot,” his father snapped. “But we can’t have him spreading rumors around town that might ruin my business. God knows what he’s going to say, even now.” He let out a huff of irritation. “You need to pack your bags. You have until the end of the day tomorrow to do whatever you need to, then you’re leaving.”

Finny winced away from the harsh tone in his father’s voice, tears gathering in his eyes. “Wh-what? Why? Where am I going?”

His father gritted his teeth. “A beast. I ran into a beast on my journey and he demanded my youngest son in exchange for all of our lives.”

Don frowned. “How did he know you had children?”

His father sent him a dirty look. “It was probably magic for all I know. Just get your stuff together. If you aren’t there in three days, he’s going to kill all of us.”

Finny appeared as though he was one hard look from losing it. Don didn’t even know how to comfort the crumbling boy, if it was even possible. “How far away is it?” Don asked, desperately hoping it was all a joke.

His father toweled off his hair. “About two days walk. I suggest you bring as little as possible. The rain looks as though it won’t be letting up for a while.”

The small boy clutched the towel around himself, trembling. “I… I’m not coming back, am I?” His voice held a heartbreaking mix of terror and resignation that cut through Don’s chest.

His father shook his head. “Most likely not. Now go pack your things.”

Don stared after his brother as he shuffled back to his bedroom. “How did the ‘beast’ know you had children? You said before you didn’t believe anything had that type of magic,” he pressed, crossing his arms.

The scientist narrowed his eyes. “Evidently I was incorrect on one account.”

The way his father said it made it frighteningly clear he was lying to the both of them. And knowing his father, the truth wouldn’t be revealed, even if their lives depended on it.

 


 

 

Finny looked around his room, a sort of depression overcoming him as he studied the familiar walls and bookshelves he had grown up with. In his bag, he had packed another set of clothes, the book he had recorded all of Wren’s gardening tips in, and a book of birds Pluto had given him for his birthday. He was leaving a lot behind, but he wasn’t even certain he’d be able to keep these few possessions (as well as the few toiletries he tossed in just before leaving the house). Still, the things he was bringing were important to him. He pulled the bag onto his shoulders and turned, stopping at the sight of Don standing awkwardly in the doorway.

“Hi,” he said softly, adjusting the bag.

Don shifted, biting his lower lip. “Hey… So I guess you’re leaving now, huh?”

Finny nodded. “I figured I might need the extra day with the rain…”

Don kept his eyes trained on the ground. “You know you don’t have to do this, right? Even if the beast does come for us, you’ll be safe. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself for this.”

Finny shook his head. “No, Don. I have to. What if he tries to kill you or Dad?”

He closed his eyes, the words piercing his chest. “Maybe that would be for the best. A corrupt scientist and a spineless doctor in exchange for someone who makes everyone’s lives better? Sounds like more than a fair deal…” He let out a long breath, trying to steel himself. “I… I just wanted to say I’m sorry I wasn’t a better brother. You deserve a better family than what you have, and I’m so sorry…” The words all came tumbling out at once, out in the open before he could stop them.

His eyes shot back open as Finny wrapped him in an almost painfully tight hug. “It’s okay, Donny… Really, I’ll be fine. And you’re going to be a great doctor, I just know it.”

The older brother’s eyes filled with tears. He wrapped his arms around Finny, hugging the boy for the first time since they were both children. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered again and again. They stayed like that for a long time. Finally, when they separated, both wiping their eyes, Don offered a weak smile. “Maybe it’ll turn out okay, and the beast won’t be that bad.”

Finny laughed softly. “I hope so.” He pulled the straps more firmly on his shoulders, about to leave but was once again stopped by Don’s hand on his shoulder.

“By the way… Happy Birthday…”

Finny smiled. His birthday wasn’t for nine more days, but it was the last chance Don would have. “Thank you… Can you promise me something?” He asked suddenly.

“Of course.”

“Look out for Pluto for me. Don’t let him try to follow. And…” He looked sick for a moment. “Don’t let Angela hurt him.”

Ah, Don thought. That’s why he looked sick. Angela had been the boy’s first love, but it quickly became apparent she was only toying with the boy. The thing that had really drawn the line was when he found out the angelic looking girl was simultaneously involved with four different people in town – including poor Pluto. To make matters worse, she seemed determined to either keep Sebastian as her pet or to kill him.

Finny’s heart had been broken, but he had become closer with Pluto after the Demon Hound had been tossed aside by the woman. Finding love through pain seemed to be a specialty of Finny’s… If only Don had even half that luck…

He nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on him.” He paused, walking with Finny to the front door. “Stay safe. I know you feel obligated to do this, but if you feel like you’re in danger don’t force yourself to stay.”

Finny smiled at him, nodding. He pulled his bag off to pull on the cloak his father had begrudgingly given him the night before. “Don’t worry,” he mimicked playfully. “I’ll be fine, trust me!” He pulled his bag back on and hugged Don one last time. “Everything is going to be fine! I promise!”

“I hope so…”

Chapter Text

It was a miserable walk. Finny was wet and shivering, holding his bag to his chest in a desperate attempt to keep his books dry. He had been walking for most of three days, stopping frequently when the rain was coming too hard for him to see where he was going. The cloak kept out the rain, but only when the hood stayed up and the body of it was wrapped around him. All he wanted was a warm bath and to get out of the mud. He really wouldn’t have minded the rain except he didn’t have much of a chance to get out of it. He had to reach the beast’s house before the end of the day. His father had said there would be someone waiting for him where he would have to leave the main road, but he hadn’t met anyone his entire walk. He hadn’t even seen any animals. Was it the rain scaring everything off or something else?

Just as he thought that, two birds hopped out on the path in front of him, staring up at him a tad eerily. He gasped as he recognized them.

“Wren! Sebastian! What are you two doing in the rain?”

They silently jerked their heads toward a little hidden path. Though, from the look of it, someone had recently run off the road, leaving two muddy gouges on either side of the path. Finny looked back at the two birds, frowning.

Sebastian looked annoyed – a strange look on a bird – but Wren hopped a little way down the path, glancing back as though to see if Finny was following. The boy hesitated, his eyes drifting to the road. He had to hurry if he was going to make it before the end of the day…

Sebastian had clearly lost his patience, moving closer to peck angrily at his legs.

“Ow!” he cried, stumbling down the path. He followed Wren, occasionally glancing back at Sebastian to make sure he wouldn’t try to peck at him again. He walked between the two birds he considered friends, feeling strangely like a prisoner walking to his execution.

Why? He was sure everything would be fine. Maybe it was the way the two birds would occasionally make a sound as though they were talking to one another. He sighed, moving with the birds farther and farther into the woods. What was he supposed to do? He still had to go to the beast’s house. How would he explain he was late because he was taken captive by two birds? His cheeks reddened at the thought.

“Birds?” He could hear his father saying with scorn. “Of course you would get caught by birds.” Wren glanced back curiously, hearing his sigh, but didn’t make a sound.

They continued in silence for a while, the trees around them growing darker and darker until they were completely surrounded by the twilight. Finny couldn’t help but glance behind himself in dismay. He’d never make it to the beast’s home in time.

Well… Unless Wren and Sebastian were the “people” who would be sent to guide him to the house. Had he unwittingly befriended servants of the beast?

 


 

Psycho was pacing a hole into the floor. At least, that’s what Breeze kept telling him, but he couldn’t help it. The sun was going down, and the girl still hadn’t arrived. “She should have gotten here by now,” he growled for the millionth time, casting an accusatory glance at Breeze.

The disembodied voice sighed. “You are aware it’s raining, correct? She was probably slowed down by that in a best-case scenario.”

He growled again, peering out the window before returning to his pacing. “It’s almost night. He probably didn’t send her.”

Breeze sounded annoyed. “Just wait a bit longer. I swear, if you complain one more time, I’m going to leave you in here by yourself. Even Jokester doesn’t want to be near you in this state.”

“Then go!” he snapped, wearing a literal path into the rug.

The voice sighed again. “I’ll go tell Oz and Blaze to start getting some water heated. The poor girl will probably be freezing.” There was the sound of wind, and what looked like the vague form of a tall, graceful person left the room, leaving Psycho alone.

He stalked back to the window, pulling the curtain slightly aside to peer out again. He was just about to scream in frustration when he saw movement at the gate.

There.

The girl, wrapped in a cloak, no doubt to protect from the wind and rain, was being led by Wren and Sebastian to the castle. He couldn’t really see her, but she seemed to be clutching a bag to her chest.

She didn’t bring much with her, he thought. She looks so small. She can’t be older than 15, if that…

As their little party came closer, he was just able to make out her scared pale face, looking up at the building. Her blond hair, though mostly hidden by her hood, was pinned back so her bangs didn’t fall in her wide blue eyes. He waited for the sound of a knock, already planning his entrance so he wouldn’t scare her.

 


 

Finny stared up at the castle with large eyes. It was amazing, if a little scary. He looked around, delighted the gardens, though generally unmaintained, took up most of the grounds. Now, if the beast was at least semi-kind, he would be in paradise.

Wren led him up to the door hopping a few times and tilting his head at Finny. The boy bit his lip, taking a moment to study the dark wood. “Thank you…” The small bird bobbed his head in a nod, then flew off with Sebastian. He bit his lip, staring off after the two birds. He was honestly a little terrified now that he was alone and right outside of the door. He had been able to fend off the fear while he was far away and near others, but now…

He was shaking as he knocked lightly on the heavy door, breathlessly waiting, though for what, he wasn’t sure exactly. He was not expecting the door to open seemingly on its own, and to be pushed into the house by what felt like hands made of soft, warm air?

He shivered, his hands beginning to tremble. A beast he could handle, but ghosts? He curled up tighter around his bag, trembling. The nearly invisible person shut the door behind him, sighing. “Awful weather. You poor dear, you’ve been walking in this for days, haven’t you?” There was a soft tutting sound. “I swear, I’d like to smack the two of them – your father and my master. Making such a little thing like yourself walk in here in this weather. He wants to meet you. After that, we’ll get you into a warm bath. Oh, don’t worry about your shoes, dear. I’ll just clean after we get you warmed up and dry first, but everyone else figured you should meet your ‘host’ first. To put you at ease. Oh, silly me, I’m Breeze. I keep house here.”

Finny wanted to laugh at his fear. Breeze was practically mothering him within seconds of being in the door. As the vague figure led him to some sort of study – dark and abandoned looking, despite being clean – they chattered on, almost not requiring an answer.

“Alright, I’m going to go get some things together for you. Would you like me to take your bag? I swear, I won’t look through it. I’ll just put it away into your room.”

He nodded, slowly handing Breeze his bag. The airy figure disappeared out the door, leaving him in silence. He pulled his cloak tighter around himself, shivering slightly as he wandered around the space, gently touching the wood as he breathed in the almost soft air.

The door at the other side of the office slowly opened. A tall figure stepped into the shadows. They were also wearing a cloak, but they were much taller and more… masculine than Finny. The boy bit his lip, raising his eyes to the man’s face. The man who must be the beast…

“Hello,” the man said, his voice sending shivers down Finny’s spine. He let out an embarrassed whimper, lowering his head. He had never reacted like that to anything, let alone some stranger’s voice, but the way it rumbled out of the beast’s chest made his stomach twist in ways that weren’t uncomfortable.

The man seemed to mistake this for fear and took a step forward.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to startle you. I wasn’t certain what your father had said and…” He stopped at the door opened again, Breeze blowing back to Finny.

“Sorry to interrupt, but you must be freezing in those wet clothes! May I take your cloak? Just to go hang it up and get you something warmer.”

Finny paused, a little surprised. He had forgotten he was still soaked, but now that he had realized, he was freezing. The gentle circulation of air that would normally keep the rooms comfortable seemed to cut through him. “Oh! Thank you,” he said quietly, allowing Breeze to take the soaked fabric. But, once the cloak was off, he felt rather than saw them both pause. Breeze disappeared out the door, the air currents suddenly feeling… angry? Well, as angry as a not-quite-corporeal person could. He bit his lip, hoping he hadn’t done anything to offend the kind servant.

The tall man took a few steps forward, now close enough to practically wrap his arms around the small boy, but still in the shadows so Finny couldn’t quite make out his features. Still, despite his being much taller than Finny, he looked human enough.

“You’re… not a girl?”

Finny frowned, confused. “Um, n-no?”

“Um… I, ah… How many, or, ah, who do you normally live with?”

“My da- um, I mean, Father and my brother.”

“So, you don’t have a sister?”

Finny shook his head. “No, but… I thought you knew that?”

“How would I have?”

“Father said you asked for his youngest son. D-didn’t you?”

The man growled, suddenly much more like the ‘beast’ his father had described. “That coward,” he muttered, turning away and stalking a short distance. “Not only sacrificing his son, but lying to the both of us…”

Now Finny understood. “He said I was his daughter… And offered me in exchange for his life, didn’t he?” He wilted in place, shivering. His father had offered him. He wasn’t forced. No wonder Don had looked so skeptical. “I-I’m sorry. I’m not exactly what you were expecting. If I had known…” His father had lied to get rid of him. Made him walk for three days in the rain, just to push him off on some man who probably wanted to be left alone. Tears welled in his eyes. “I’m so sorry…”

Even with his face hidden, the man looked panicked. “H-hey, don’t cry. Really, it’s not your fault…”

Finny looked up at him, eyes wide. “Y-you’re not mad at me?”

“Of course not. Your father was the one who lied.”

He bit his lip. “You’ll probably want me to leave…” He started to turn, but the beast’s voice stopped him.

“Actually, as I see it, you’re probably better off here than with someone so willing to barter you away to save his own life. If you’re fine with it, I’d actually prefer… if you stay?”

“You… you really don’t mind?”

“Not at all.”

The boy bit his lip. “I don’t want to impose… Just until the rain stops,” he said firmly, seeming a little surer of himself.

The man chuckled. “Alright. Until the rain stops. Ah, I forgot to ask. What is your name?”

He smiled up at him. “Finny! Well, Finnian, but you can call me Finny!”

The man chuckled again. “Well, then, Finny, you can call me Psycho.”

Finny tilted his head slightly. “Psycho? Is that your name?” The hood bobbed once in a nod. “I like it!” He said, face brightening.

Before either could say another word, Breeze blew back in with a huff. “I swear, that Jokester liked to see me behave badly. Half the people here heard me yelling at him. If you two are finished, I’d like to get the poor dear out of those soaked clothes.”

Finny glanced back at Psycho. “Can I… Can I see your face?”

The man, Psycho, shifted. “Why don’t you go get warmed up first?”

He bit his lip, but nodded, allowing Breeze to lead him out of the room. Psycho sighed in relief, glaring when Jokester snickered in the doorway. “Aw, what’s the matter?” The shadow taunted. “You don’t like Finny?”

Psycho growled. “You didn’t tell me he wasn’t the man’s daughter.”

“Seems obvious to me. And you didn’t answer my question.”

He glared at the shadow. “You should have told me. And anyway, how old is he? He looks barely older than 13… And to have walked all that way alone…”

“Why don’t you ask him at dinner tonight?”

He bit back a sarcastic remark, pausing. “Dinner?”

If Jokester had eyes, he would have rolled them. “You haven’t eaten all day, and he’s been walking for three. If you two aren’t starving, there’s something wrong.”

Psycho growled again. “Just make sure everything runs smoothly.”

Jokester chuckled. “Aye aye, captain.”

“Oh, and if you do something like this again, I’m going to hang your invisible corpse above the mantle.”

“Aw, you know you love me.”