Elias Bouchard has, of all things, a butterfly. It is a Cabbage White, not even an uncommon or beautiful kind. Plain. Her name is Pierisa, and Elias calls her Pie, and she calls him Eli.
People usually have butterfly daemons when they consider themselves to be beautiful, dainty, fragile, delicate. Innocent. Crass, casual Eli is none of those things, although James supposes that he has the potential to clean up nicely if he bothered to wear clothes that actually fit and got himself a proper haircut for once in his life. After some idle consideration, he decides that Pierisa is probably just a reflection of Elias’ defining character trait: vapid airheadedness.
Jonah Magnus has a snake. Adonia. She was a beautiful, slim thing that could neatly curl around his shoulders during his life. She grew slowly throughout her entire life. She doesn’t move now, curled around his unmoving body, forever aging, forever growing. She is the longest snake in the world now, almost a hundred feet long. She is surrounded by shed snakeskins.
He can’t take her with him, out of the Panopticon. She is tethered to Jonah Magnus. He visited her often, in the first few years after he got his first new body. He remembers feeling terribly unnerved without her familiar weight on his shoulders, her voice hissing in his ear.
He hasn’t been by to see her for about six years now, and it isn’t unusual. Talking to her is like conversing with an almost stranger, an old childhood friend that he’s outgrown. Tiresome, a waste of time, a little bit pathetic. He has surpassed the mortal need for a daemon. He needs no one’s counsel or advice but his own, much less an out of touch snake’s.
She never really says anything when he bothers to visit, anyways. She just watches him. Her eyes don’t look the way they used to, back when he was fully human, although he can’t really remember what color they’re supposed to be.
(They’re not her eyes at all. Adonia isn’t what looks out at him, and deep down he can feel it. He avoids the Panopticon, his aging body, his growing snake drowning in shed scales.)
Elias Bouchard has a plain little butterfly for a daemon, and James Wright bonds with him about this.
“I have a cricket,” he confides. “I’ve always been afraid of accidentally crushing her, so I keep her safe and sound inside this capsule.”
He takes a capsule out of his breast pocket with discreet air holes that is of a size to conceivably hold a cricket. It’s not an awfully uncommon thing for someone with an insect daemon to own.
“Oh, cool,” Elias says, blinking at him. “Was wondering where your guy was. I thought maybe it was, like, a chameleon and it was just blending into the color of your suit really well.”
“Sounds claustrophobic as fuck,” Pierisa says, landing on Elias’ nose so that he looks at her crosseyed. Vapid.
James gives them a friendly smile. “She likes it in there just fine.”
“Can I see her?” Pierisa asks.
“She’s shy,” James demurs.
“Oh, okay,” Elias says, accepting this answer with unthinking trust. Airheaded. “A cricket’s kind of cool, though. Never would’ve guessed it from you, boss.”
He remembers the way the little bug had crunched in his teeth as he closed his hands around James Wright’s removed eyes and squeezed until they gushed up from between his fingers, blank fluid mingling with diluted to pink blood dripping down his wrists.
Pierisa flutters away from Elias’ nose and lands on the top of his head instead. The man smells faintly of weed, still, the scent clinging to his clothes.
“Thank you,” he says. “The butterfly doesn’t seem to fit you at first, either. But as time goes on, I can see it.”
“Thanks?” Elias says, squinting at him like he’s not quite sure if he’s just been insulted or not. And then Pierisa takes flight and lands on his shoulder instead, and by the time she’s settled in her new position Elias has shrugged and let the moment slide off and away from him, unconcerned, dismissed. “I don’t think I could ever do that bug capsule thing, though. Pie really likes flying.”
“I’d die,” she says with dramatic conviction.
“Perhaps you’ll see the charm when you’re older,” James grants.
“If you say so,” Elias says, clearly not believing him, but not hesitating to agree, to bend. Elias has been pressed his entire life to try harder by his parents, teachers, bosses, and every single time he has nodded and easily promised to do so. He has never done so, and he has never even meant it as he made his pretty promises. He’s not a malicious man, merely one that likes to avoid confrontations, effort, difficult or unpleasant things.
He is perhaps a little bit innocent, after all. He certainly doesn’t suspect anything.
James tucks the empty capsule back into his breast pocket, smiles blandly, and takes his leave.
One day, Elias Bouchard takes a sudden liking to pressed suits and nice haircuts, and Pierisa grows shy and spends all of her time in a capsule.
Here is a secret: Not Them can choose their appearance. They could look exactly like the people whose lives they steal for themselves if they wanted to. But what would be the fun in that, in a perfect replica? Everything should be just a little bit off, in their opinion. Not enough to give people the certainty that something is not right, the comforting solidness of knowing what has gone wrong. But just enough to leave unease simmering in the back of their minds.
Sasha James was tall and had glasses. Sasha James is short and has excellent eyesight. Sasha James had blue eyes and blond hair. Sasha James has green eyes and red hair. Sasha James had pretty skirts and pink lipstick. Sasha James has decent jeans and freckles. Sasha James had a kind smile. Sasha James has just slightly too sharp teeth.
Sasha James had a cute little parrot. Sign of a keen mind, that. Good at memorization, and beautiful too. So colorful.
Sasha James has a cuckoo bird, and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
Basira Hussain’s daemon Baqir settles as an owl. No one is surprised. It is very fitting, everyone agrees. She’s such a bookish little girl, after all. The name Basira means wise, even.
She quietly accepts this explanation. She reads books, she studies, aces tests, gets good grades. She enters the police academy, and eventually gains a partner. Her name is Alice but she likes Daisy, but Basira calls her Tonner at first. It seems like the proper thing to do, and she’s very proper. Everyone agrees. It just fits her. And Tonner is intimidating; quiet in a much less peaceful way than Basira or Baqir are. Scarred, a seasoned veteran in the force. The only reason she has Basira as a partner is because her old partner just… disappeared one day, apparently. The way people whisper, Basira’s fairly sure that he’s actually just dead. And they’re both Sectioned, of course. It seems like only good sense to be polite in the face of all of that.
Tonner’s daemon is a wolf, and he prowls and stalks and growls. He has very, very sharp fangs. He can follow the scent from a crime site nine times out of ten, and he can run fast enough to down even a gazelle daemon, fangs buried in its haunch. Tonner always manages to keep up, tackling the human at the same time that her wolf takes care of the daemon.
Tonner tells them to call him Buddy. It’s just as incongruous a name as Daisy, just as much of an affectation. There is no way that that is his official name, his birth name. Baqir carefully avoids having to use a name at all, half certain that it must be some sort of trap, a fake offering that will be met with violence when used.
The first time Basira and Baqir use their real names is when they manage to catch the perp before them. Their daemon is a magpie, and it flies high, high above from where Buddy could possibly hope to tear it to pieces. He chases after it regardless, as if he intends to keep running after it until it finally has to land out of exhaustion. He doesn’t have to do that.
Baqir has sharp talons. Bloody feathers float down onto the ground, and the magpie makes a pitiful, horrible noise, and Baqir makes a noise of triumph as Basira can’t stop herself from feeling proud.
Tonner and Buddy seem half annoyed at having their catch snatched away from them, and half satisfied that their partners can apparently keep up.
“Good one,” Tonner says, voice as quiet and expression as flat as ever. The wildness in her eyes is already fading, going back to her usual silent watchfulness. Tonner seems like she never lets her guard down, always ready to snap to action at a moments notice.
“Thanks, Daisy,” she replies, and feels her face go hot as soon as she realizes what she said. Daisy doesn’t react at all, as if this isn’t the first time that Basira’s used her preferred name. She’s looking up at the sky towards where Baqir is slowly wheeling down to the ground with the magpie clenched tightly in his unforgiving talons. The perp whimpers on the ground, shaking, cuffed.
“Owls are good for hunting,” Daisy says, and it almost sounds like just an idle comment. “Keen eyes.”
It’s a compliment, she realizes, and her face goes even hotter.
“It means that I’m wise,” she says stupidly, grasping for a response.
Daisy snorts derisively, and Basira’s almost offended. Scratch that, she’s definitely offended. “With your plans?” she asks dryly. “Sure.”
“My plans work.”
“Your plans aren’t plans at all.”
“Overly detailed and complicated plans fall apart almost immediately. It’s good to leave things a little vague, leave yourself some wiggle room.”
“‘Winging it’ isn’t a plan.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
Daisy doesn’t bother to keep the back and forth going. She’s not a talkative woman. For the first time, it doesn’t make Basira feel vaguely uncomfortable, on edge. Catching the perp before Daisy has changed something today, she feels. She’s crossed a line, jumped over a cliff, gotten past a wall. She’s in now.
This is when Baqir lands, and Buddy comes trotting over immediately to sniff at the downed prey-- the perp’s daemon.
Basira means wise.
Baqir means to rip open.
She decides that she likes Daisy’s interpretation a lot more than the one that she grew up with.
Helen Richardson’s daemon is a chameleon. The stereotype that you see in cartoons, movies, television series is ‘the shifty liar.’ Never true, never sincere. She prefers to think of it as social adaptability. Everyone does it. It’s just that she’s better at it. She adjusts and shifts the facets of her personality from client to client, finding the Helen that meshes with them best, that can win their smiles and confidences.
Helen walks into a doorway and her daemon is… he is…
What was his name?
She doesn’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Names aren’t important, she’s realized.
Helen walks through hallways for days and days, and eventually stumbles into her daemon. His beak is as long and sharp as her fingers.
“Oh, it’s been a while,” she laughs.
“Yes, it’s good to see you,” he replies. He smiles with all of his fangs.
“I’m hungry,” she confides in him.
“I’m hungry too,” he agrees, scratching his fur.
“Let’s go and eat,” she says.
“Let’s,” he hums, and takes flight, feathers flapping. She follows the beat of his hooves on the twisting ground.
People are so, so fluid, more than she had ever realized back when the world had made sense and she’d liked it that way. But she will always be an adaptable person. She’s gotten used to even this, after all.
Tim has a golden retriever. Friendly, popular, happy, handsome. Her name is Jolie.
She dies snarling and dangerous, but she's been that way for months anyways. They've been waiting to be put down for a while now.
Georgie Barker has a rabbit named Geoffrey. It’s a bit of a tired joke, the person with an anxiety disorder with an easily spooked rabbit. When she hyperventilates, his heart beats so quickly that he trembles with the force of it, pressed tightly up against her side. He has white fur and red eyes, and likes to be as close to her as possible.
After a corpse whispers into her ear as she desperately tries to cover them up, she lies catatonic in her bed for months. His heart beats so slowly that it’s like listening to the tide. Her mother’s dog moves him by the nape of his neck as she carries Georgie to the bathroom to clean up, and he doesn’t so much as twitch.
When she eventually stands up, she feels numb and dead on the inside, even as she starts to move again. Her feelings return to her slowly, like a seeping, dripping thing. She doesn’t get all of them back, and she makes her peace with that.
Geoffrey’s fur slowly grows in black, as she gradually comes back to life. It’s an old joke, the rabbit daemon for the scaredy cat human. But he never shakes again, never trembles, never screams or squeaks in terror. He is a calm, quiet thing.
Melanie is, much to her annoyance, a tiny woman. Short and petite, she tries to bristle and puff herself up as much as possible to get people to see how big she is, to stop trying to shove her away, ignore her. She is so, so gleeful when her Abraham settles as a bull, large and inconvenient. Her dad laughs with delight and starts making DIY home modifications to make it easier for Abraham to be there. They’re too poor to get it done professionally, and he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, constantly getting splinters and bruises and scratching his head at some new problem. It’s the only time in her life that Melanie feels even slightly guilty about having a bull.
People have to move aside for her on the sidewalk now, instead of forcing her to duck to avoid a collision. People look at her. They see that she’s big, even if she’s only five feet tall.
There’s a lot of bull in a china shop jokes, but she can handle that. So long as people can’t ignore her any longer, she’ll take it. She doesn’t regret what Abraham is even a little bit.
Elias ignores and dismisses her anyways. The monsters ignore and dismiss her, fuck her over, don’t care how big her daemon is. They try and kill her like she’s some weak little nobody anyways.
Their bones break like fine china underneath Abraham’s hooves, and their skin splits and weep entrails at the sharp points of his horns and her knives. Let’s see them ignore her and Abraham now.
No matter how many monsters they kill, they’re still stuck here though, trapped in this miserable place. Abraham’s nostrils flare and his tail whips and his eyes are bloodshot, his hooves stamping, and it makes Jon cower and flinch when he comes back from his little nap, his Felicia’s ears flattening against her skull. It’s almost satisfying until he takes the bullet out of her, and then nothing is satisfying any longer.
Many, many therapy sessions later, Georgie kisses her, and she feels quiet and peaceful for the first time since she was a little kid. This is satisfying. She’d do anything for this.
“Do it,” Abraham says. He sounds firm, urgent, even as he can’t stop his tail from whipping against his flanks with anxiety. She can’t tell if he’s scared of what she’s about to do to him, or scared that if they don’t get this done quickly enough that something terrible will happen like always and interrupt them. Or worse: that she’ll lose her nerve. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if that were the case. So she might as well just go ahead and do it.
She’s already lost her freedom and her dignity and her life. What cost is her sight, if she gains the potential to get those things back?
She can’t imagine how painful it’s going to be, having to do it to herself as well even after she’s done Abraham. She thinks about kissing Georgie, the serenity of it. She’s going to get through this. She’s going to be strong enough. She won’t give up halfway through, she won’t flinch, she won’t miss.
“Okay,” she says, voice shaking. “Don’t move.”
The horrible thing about blinding yourself with an awl is that you have to aim and thrust it forwards twice to do get the job done. Four times, if you’re doing it to your daemon as well.
Daisy’s Buddy has always been a lone wolf, as much as a daemon can be alone. The solitude has never bothered them before, with the warm blood of the Hunt coursing through them, drowning everything but their own gleefully racing heartbeats and the panicking footsteps of their prey out.
When they realize that Basira and Baqir are capable, are worthy, they gain pack for the first time in their lives. It feels good. They like being around them. They become important, vital. Enough so for Daisy and Buddy to resist the urge to go hunting with them, because what if Basira and Baqir leave them when they see them at their most feral, when Daisy is growling as wildly as Buddy?
Daisy and Buddy are buried alive, and there’s no warm blood here, no glee of the hunt, no Basira, no Baqir. It’s just them separated by so much earth. She can hear his muffled keening whines of fear and pain through the dirt. He sounds like a wounded, dying thing, desperate and afraid.
She is desperate and afraid.
Jon comes digging and crawling and struggling through the dirt for her, his daemon tucked up underneath his shirt and digging her claws into his flesh until it draws blood to stop the Buried from ripping them away from each other. He finds her. He finds her.
Buddy digs his teeth deep into her leg so that as Jon pulls her up and away, he comes along. When she comes up for air finally, finally, finally and she can breathe she gasps and hiccups and sobs, pants, cries, undignified and desperate and broken and weary and more relieved than she ever has in her life. She’s still holding onto Jon’s hand with a deathgrip, and he’s clutching back at her just as desperately. He came for her.
Pack, her mind sings, and this isn’t the Hunt she thinks, she hopes. She has a wolf daemon. That can’t all be the Fear she’d worshipped her whole life without even thinking about it.
Felicia lies small and crumpled on the floor, and Daisy remembers how Buddy’s fangs had rested on her neck, ready to bite down and wrench as Daisy held her gun up to Jon’s temple.
Without her warm blood to heat her up, she feels so cold and alone, and it’s crushing. She can’t handle crushing right now, not ever again.
Buddy struggles over towards Felicia. Starts licking at her fur, cleaning her up. She goes tense for just a moment, and then goes limp. Jon’s breathing is strained, and it doesn’t sound like gasping for air any longer. It sounds like he’s trying to control himself with every single fiber of his being. Keep himself composed. She doesn’t smell fear on him.
“Is this okay?” she croaks.
“Y-- yes,” he says, and tears cut through the dirt smeared onto his face. His hand shakes in hers. She’s not the only one who’s been longing for a pack, she thinks.
So incredibly tired (but grateful, so grateful) she squeezes his hand once, and doesn’t let go.
Peter Lukas lost his daemon in the mist when he was a young man, and he never tried to go looking for her. That’s just the way he likes it.
Martin has a dog.
No, that isn’t really right.
Martin has a mutt. She has one ear that always ends up getting turned inside out, and her fur is muddy and patchwork, and she is no defined breed. Not a dalmation or a poodle or a husky or a sheepdog or a anything. She’s boring, plain, and common. Dog daemons are a dime a dozen.
He remembers the daemons that he’d have her shift into when he was a kid. Spider, rat, bug. Pests and rodents and unwanted animals. The outcasts, the underdogs. He’s always been fond of them, related to them.
A dog isn’t exactly an unpopular animal, even if he likes them. But he realizes quickly that Caria fits him perfectly like this. Overlooked, dismissed, ignored. Nothing special. It was stupid to think that he’d get something cool and unusual like a tarantula, really. Even if his mum sometimes sneered at spiders the exact same way she sneered at him.
It sort of bothers him sometimes, though. Jon scolds him and he tries to defend himself even as Felicia bristles her fur and hisses at Caria until she’s got her tail between her legs. Afterwards, when Jon has slammed his office door shut and Martin is left outside with a hot, humiliated, angry face Tim cracks a joke to defuse the tension about fighting like cats and dogs, and it irks him for some reason. He supposes it looks sort of comical, doesn’t it. Martin, being shouted down by a man two feet shorter than him, but with more presence than he could ever even imagine having. Caria the large dog, cowering before the might of a small black cat.
It really bothers him, sometimes.
And then Martin and Caria get chased to their flat and trapped there, as Martin has to dig a worm out of her flank with a too big kitchen knife as she yelps and howls.
And then Jon believes him and gives him a place to stay and he hadn’t expected that. Felica very tentatively, but also very deliberately briefly brushes up against Caria before darting away back to Jon to lick her paw and act like she definitely hadn’t just done such an unprofessional, friendly thing. Jon looks deeply embarrassed by her actions. Martin doesn’t know what to do with that.
He especially doesn’t know what to do when Caria’s tail starts wagging against her will whenever Jon and Felicia are in the same room as them after that, so painfully, obviously, embarrassingly pleased to see them.
Here is the stereotype about dog daemons: they are loyal. Martin’s never thought of it as a defining character trait. Maybe that’s because he didn’t have someone that was worth it, before. After the whole Prentiss thing, he can’t stop himself from being loyal. He resigns himself to it, accepts his fate. Tries to look after him. Refuses to believe that he’s a murderer. Asks him if he’s okay. Worries about him. Hopes that he’ll be okay.
Stands vigil by his hospital bed for three long, sad, pathetic months, face blotchy with tears as he begs for him to wake up, Caria nosing fruitlessly at Felicia’s limp form curled up on Jon’s chest like it’ll make a difference the thousandth time.
There’s an animal that just curls up to die if it gets too lonely, right? He’s heard that somewhere. Why isn’t Caria that?
“Please,” Caria begs Felicia, even after Martin’s gone quiet. He knows that it’s time to give up. But she follows their feelings, their heart, and it will never be able to give up on Jon. Like a dog with a bone. “Please, please.”
Martin takes Peter Lukas up on his offer. It’s easy to be numb at first. And then Jon comes back. It’s a bit more challenging then, even with how important it is to keep up the act for Peter now that he’s actually got something to lose again. He’s a good liar, but Caria’s tail wags.
But it’s easy, actually, because Peter doesn’t approve of daemons. Caria and Martin aren’t allowed to talk to each other. Eventually, when Peter decides that they’ve come far enough, they aren’t allowed to be within three feet of each other. Five. Eight. Ten. Then they’re not allowed to be in the same room as each other.
It’s like building up a muscle. The more he strains, the farther they can get from each other the next day, even as something in him screams to get as close to her as possible and never let her go. It’s easy to ignore that scream, to muffle it with numbness.
It’s almost nice, really, not having to see and hear a reflection of himself, not having the whole world see how he truly feels. It’s like escaping himself.
Peter takes Martin down into the tunnels, and Martin says no to him, refuses to fall into his trap.
Peter looks so, so angry, so affronted, and it’s ridiculous, really. How stupid does he think Martin is? How stupid does everyone think he is?
But then Peter raises his hand to snap his fingers, and Martin realizes that he doesn’t even know where Caria is any longer. He’s lost his own daemon. He’s…
The Lonely is a cold in a way that numbs you instead of biting or nipping at you. He is utterly, completely alone here.
He never wanted a dog anyways.
Jon and Felicia come and find him, and Jon is carrying Caria as he does, a limp, unresisting weight. He found her for him. Martin doesn’t even feel it, doesn’t even care. He doesn’t care, it doesn’t matter, none of this matters--
Jon pushes Felicia into his hands, shivering, and what is Martin supposed to do? Drop her? He cradles her close to his chest and she purrs like a rusty engine.
“There,” Jon says shakily, “there, now it’s fair, it’s fair like this. Can you feel her, Martin? Can you feel me? Look at me.”
He Looks. He Sees. He cries, he laughs, he trembles, and Jon clutches at him and Caria and Felicia nestles in close to him like that’s at all normal or okay, and it feels like so much, too much, and he needs it.
Caria’s tail wags, and Jon gives him a wobbly smile.
Jon has a black cat. For bad luck. Ha.
“It’s going to be okay,” Martin whispers, hand on the back of Jon’s neck, a warm, reassuring pressure. His other hand is on Felicia.
She’s covered in eyes. It isn’t even a new development; they started appearing from when he woke up from his coma. It’s just that she could keep them shut then, keep them hidden in her black fur where no one had to look at them and see what a monster they are. Where Jon could try and pretend like he’d never seen them at all.
Ever since the eye in the sky opened, she’s been unable to close any of them. Martin is seeing them.
Jon feels too numb and overwhelmed to try and do something about it. Martin keeps acting like it isn’t even a thing, like it isn’t disgusting and wrong and horrifying. He won't stop gently petting her.
“I’ve got you, I’ve got you.”
Caria is pressed up close against his back, more warm, comforting weight. Felicia is in Martin’s lap.
He can see though all of Felicia’s eyes, as if they’re his own.
Caria snuffles against the exposed skin of his neck, her wet nose poking at him.
Even when he closes his eyes as firmly as he can, he can still see. He sees so much, too much.
“You’re going to be fine, Jon. You’re going to be fine.”
He realizes that he’s making noise. That he’s sobbing. At least the laughter has stopped.
Martin kisses the space below his eye (the eye that he was born with, the eye that he’s had even from back when he was a human). Kisses his brow, his cheek, his nose, his lips. Jon comes back to himself enough to feel how desperately he’s breathing, shaky and unsteady. Martin is stroking his back. Felicia is a limp thing made of eyes and rotten luck. Caria is pressed close.
“We’re going to get through this,” Martin says, and his voice is firm and steady and determined where Jon feels like he’s on the razor edge of flying apart into pieces on the ground. “We’re going to figure this out. Together.”
Like a rusty, broken engine, Felicia starts purring in Martin’s lap despite everything. He’s good at scritches.