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Would That I Were Golden Dust

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[IMAGE ID: A dark body of water that's lit from beneath, with golden glitter just beneath the surface. The text in white Vivaldi font reads "Would That I Were Golden Dust." END ID]

His father's daemon is named Agape, and she's a black Belgian shepherd whose tail never stops wagging. She loves napping with his mother's daemon, and often bounces around him like a puppy, trying to get him to play with her.

It rarely works, but the few times it does Callidus bats her around with his large paws and just the slightest suggestion of claws behind each strike, and she's elated for the rest of the day.

It is Agape who names Gerry's daemon, and Eric who comes up with the nicknames only the two of them use.

"Ridiculous, both of them," Mary says, rolling her eyes with a scowl. "Gerard is a respectable name, there's no reason to shorten it."

"What about Boni's?" Agape asks, her ears low against her skull and her tail curled between her legs. 

Mary's face softens the slightest bit; sometimes that happens when she looks at Eric's daemon, and he treasures the occasions, rare as they are. "Bonitatem is a decent name too, I suppose," she replies, and the tail wags again.

Callidus rarely ever addresses Eric, for his part. He prefers to lurk along the corners of the room, staring at him with his stunning green eyes. 

"You look at me like I'm prey, Calli," Eric jokes once.

"You are," Callidus replies, without missing a beat. "We caught you. Nothing else can touch you now."

And Eric thinks that at least in the world Mary opened his eyes to, this is nothing short of a declaration of love. 

That last evening, after dinner and tea, Callidus curls around Agape and grooms her to sleep. The dog daemon's tail wags softly even in her sleep, and Eric smiles weakly at the light thudding on the floor. 

"It's been a rough few months," he says, already giving in to the drowsiness coming through his bond with Agape. "It'll get better, I promise." He can't see her holding the garden shears, or Callidus' jaws preparing to close around Agape's neck.

"It will," Mary responds.

 


 

"Do you remember them?" Gerry asks in the safety of their little cave made of blankets and pillows. Mum left on an errand for a while, and they took the opportunity to turn their bed into a fort. Boni (Mum hates it when they don't use each other's full names, but Gerry finds that he likes their nicknames a lot more, even if they only get to use them when they're alone) even turned into a bird to get some snacks from the higher shelves, since the food on the fridge ran out last morning.

"Not really." Boni sighs, turning into a large dog, which for some reason is the form they end up regressing into when they need comfort. "But sometimes I think I dream about them."

"...Yeah. Yeah, me too."

 


 

Soon enough they have more important things to focus on than the fading memory of the man that left them alone with mother.

Gerry learns his letters from old leather bound tomes that speak of monsters and fears; his mother makes him recite the list of fourteen every night before bed, and failure to remember one results in a very detailed bedtime story featuring the forgotten party. 

Those are the tame punishments, the ones she gives when she's feeling gentle. 

When Gerry runs her patience thin, when he accidentally makes a tear on a page, or interrupts her when she's deep in conversation with her associates -the kind of beings that look at Gerry like he's a snack, and only stop when Callidus rumbles a low warning growl in his throat- she's a lot more severe. 

He learns to fear the outstretched hand more than the entities she tells him about, because the hand won't retreat, won't give up until Gerry digs his daemon -Boni tends to take the smallest forms she can in those occasions, changing rapidly as she tries to hide in his clothes- out and places her on it. 

 


 

"It was nothing too terrible," he says many years later, as he recounts the story at a dingy diner on the side of the road. "Just a twist to her ears, or a pull at her tail. I always did feel bad about handing Boni over but she didn't really give us another choice."

Gertrude's face across the table is impassive as always, but he can tell Dekker is horrified by the indignant poof of his daemon's feathers. Boni's hackles raise to show her fangs before she growls, as she does whenever they feel nervous.

Gerry averts his gaze, and signals the server for another beer before changing the topic.

 


 

Boni settles when they're around twelve years old. 

Gerry's heart stops for a second before he realizes -the wave of relief that washes over him is destabilizing- that she's not a panther like he thought at first glance. 

Only when she gives him a shy wag of her tail and a weak, pitiful whine does Gerry go and wrap his arms around her. Of course this is his Boni, silly and gentle and sweet. 

Still, the all-black pitbull looks menacing and dangerous, and mother nods approvingly when he brings the matter to her attention.

"It's a good form, Bonitatem," she says without lifting her gaze from the elaborate runes she's drawing. 

"It's a relief to see you're finally starting to live up to your legacy," her daemon adds with something that sounds like pride. It's something Gerry isn't used to, especially coming directly from his mother's soul.

"I- thank you, Calli."

It's the first and last time he uses the nickname. 

Whenever anyone asks what the four long scars on his forearm are, he just tells them he got into a fight with a feral cat, which is not too far from the truth anyways.

 


 

"Where did you get that bone?" he asks as they go back to their motel room. Gerry wants nothing more than to take a hot shower and rinse off the remains of the Flesh avatar they just killed. 

Wait.

"Boni, where the fuc k did you get that bone?" he goes to grab at her, but she's already trying to squeeze under the bed like she's a Chihuahua instead of 80 pounds of muscle. "Don't make me lift the bed-"

"Ecdurus gave it to me!" she whines. "He said Gertrude got it from the kitchen."

"You don't even need to eat!"

"...Chewing it is fun."

Gerry groans, rolling his eyes fondly at the three quarters of her still protruding from under the bed. "Don't make a mess. I'll go take a shower."

Gertrude and Ecdurus are... they're different. 

A lot of the rules that applied to Mum also apply to them, but not all, and Gerry finds that he's even more confused by those grey spaces that are neither forbidden nor allowed. 

She doesn't say anything when he thanks her for the bone the next morning, but out the corner of his eye he sees her enormous cat daemon swatting at Boni's nose, and through their bond it feels like being slapped on the face with a woolen mitten; a bit perplexing, but not bad. 

 


 

He's not blind enough to not notice she's using him, that her 'affection' is entirely dependent on his utility, on the slightest hint of power that the Eye has insinuated upon him, because she refuses her own. 

It's not terribly different to how he felt with his mother, aside from knowing that this time he's at least being used to save people from terrible fates.

Still, it almost feels at times like what Gerry imagines a normal life to be.

Gertrude tells him to quit it with the smoking and to sit up straight, wishes him good night before they go to their respective cheap hotel rooms, and curtly points out the breakfast options she knows he'll like in the morning.

Her Ecdurus' staring used to make him uncomfortable at first -feline daemons have that effect on him-, but sometimes when their gazes meet, he closes his eyes slowly in a long, drawn-out blink, and Gerry finds that he's forcing a smile back. 

Maybe Gertrude is using him, but it doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't care for him, he thinks.

He hopes.

 


 

Gerry wakes up at the hospital, with Boni's heavy head laid down on his chest.

"...Hey there," he greets. His voice sounds -and feels- like someone made him swallow a cheese grater, and his hand spasms a little before he's able to bring it to rest between Boni's ears. "I'm... I'm guessing it wasn't just a migraine after all, huh?"

"They left." Boni sounds heartbroken , and Gerry fixes his gaze on the off-white ceiling of the hospital, trying to ignore the dull ache on his chest. What's that story about the scorpion and the frog?

"Well, it looks like it's finally just you and me, then. Free to do what we want at last." he tries for a smile, but it doesn't quite take. Just who is he, when he's not being used by someone? What does he want ?

"What if they need help with the Unknowing?" she asks. Sometimes it's easy to forget she's his soul, but it's hard to deny it, when she's so willing to forgive the ones that hurt them just because they're so desperate for a scrap of love.

"They will manage," he says, scratching softly behind her ears. "They always do. I think- they'll be fine."

Gerry was useful, but he was never necessary , and this is nothing if not a clear reminder of that.

"I'm tired, Gerry." Boni whines at his chest. She's a beautiful daemon, and she deserved a much better life than the one she got by his side. "I want to go home."

It's the longing in her voice that resonates with the absence he's carried around for almost three decades, what finally brings a burn to the corners of his eyes. They survived, they have a life now, but there's nothing left of them after so many years of giving it all away for others.

"I- Boni, I don't know where that is."

 


 

The call comes from an unknown number.

Many things are unknown ever since he woke up. The Watcher no longer whispers in his ear -the doctors had been horrified, he hears, after the main surgeon dropped his tumour on the floor, and the eye turned to look at each of them in turn-  and for all that Gerry's ultimately relieved, he misses the convenience of it. It's hard to trust people, without knowing their intentions, their motivations. 

But still, here stands Gerry Delano, no longer a puppet, no longer a tool. Just a man standing at the produce aisle at the supermarket, holding a pineapple on a hand, and a phone ringing with a call from an unknown number on the other.

"Who is this, and how did you get this number?" he asks into the receiver. 

'How are you doing, Gerard?' the caller asks, and Gerry feels his knees grow weak. 

Boni raises her hackles and growls in response to his anxiety, and the other shoppers give them an even wider berth. He drops the fruit back on the shelf before leaning heavily on the half-full cart.

"...Fine. If you really care to know, that is." The words leave a bitter aftertaste in his mouth, like waking up alone at the hospital, like knowing you were disposable. 

Half the world away, the woman sighs.

'That's good, at least.'

"What do you want, Gertrude?" 

'Nothing. I have some things to do now, while the Eye is distracted.'

"The Unknowing?" he arches an eyebrow. Is this some weird sentimentality because she thinks she won't make it?

'The Dark. Or not, hopefully. We'll see.'

"I'm- what does that even mean? Gertrude, I'm not going anywhere. You can't just call me back like a dog when you-"

The call clicks to an end.

 


 

She doesn't need to call him back, it turns out.

He holds strong for two more years, but in the end he goes back himself, leaving behind the meager semblance of a life he'd managed to scrape together in LA. 

He never really planned to stay here, he realizes when he sees every possession he's managed to gather in the last years fit into two suitcases. Also notable are the lack of goodbyes and wish-you-well's. For all that he teased Gertrude about being a hermit, it looks like he wasn't too different himself. 

Much to his frustration, they're back into their old roles as soon as they step off the plane. Boni's tail is stiff behind her, every muscle tense in preparation for a fight. It's jarring, after seeing her so relaxed for the last three years, but this is the armor they wear. It has served well against the monsters, and to keep everyone away.

The Institute looks like it's waiting for him, and from what Gerry knows, it very well may have been. The receptionist gives him a shocked look, but he doesn't acknowledge her, and she doesn't greet him. It's understandable that she's surprised, he never thought he'd be back either.

He never asked for her name, he realizes, and it's yet another evidence of how little he cared. 

The door to the Archives is open, and the one to the Head Archivist's office is too. 

"They'll be happy to see us," Boni whispers when he hesitates. It sounds wistful, and Gerry doesn't bother to acknowledge it before he strides into the office. 

"Before you even start, I'm not doing anything until you apologize for not telling me- who are you?" he asks, stopping abruptly at the threshold. 

Gertrude isn't sitting behind her desk, which is covered in half-burned... statements, apparently.

Instead the only people in the office are a tall, fat man with tears streaking down his face and a mouse daemon peeking out from his hair, and a short woman with brightly dyed hair, clutching a tape recorder and looking at him warily.  

"I believe that's our line. Who are you?" she asks, climbing to her feet and planting herself firmly between him and the other man. He likes her immediately, when he realizes the hare daemon squaring off against a growling Boni -who is easily thrice his size- must be hers. 

"You're him, aren't you?" The man stands up as well, and he's even taller than Gerry thought at first, or rather he looks that way when compared to the woman. "Gerard Keay."

Gerry straightens up, squaring his shoulders as Boni makes herself look bigger. "Looks like you know a bit more than me. Now tell me. Where is Gertrude Robinson?"

The man grimaces at the same time that the woman lets out a bark of laughter. 

"You're a bit out of the loop, huh?"

 


 

Gertrude is dead.

The words cycle in his mind like a curse, like a bad joke. Gerry feels numb, as he drives the rental car towards the House of Wax, just like he did when he walked across the street to the little coffeeshop with his mother's blood on his hands.

Gertrude is dead, and if she is then what will happen to him? What is he supposed to do? What hope is there, if these things managed to take Gertrude Robinson down?

"We go on," Boni says from the copilot seat. "We're the only ones left. We're her legacy."

Gerry's hands tighten around the wheel as he grits his teeth. "She left us. She didn't care , Boni."

"She called to ask how we were," his daemon replies, and then she turns to the window, and says nothing more.

She's right about something though; if Gertrude is dead -stop thinking about it, stop thinking about her -, then they're the only ones left to lift the mantle. This new 'team' seems woefully unprepared and uninformed, but maybe he can whip them into shape. Maybe he can ensure at least some of them will survive.

He only pushes harder on the gas pedal, when the explosion shakes the whole block. Gertrude is dead -stop- , and he's got to make sure her replacement isn't too.

There's a woman sitting before the wreckage, as passersby scream and run and sirens start screeching their song in the distance. Her owl daemon (he thinks of Dekker immediately, even though the woman's daemon is smaller and sharper, built for speed and a good fight) is perched on her shoulder, his face hidden under his wing.

"Where are the others?" Gerry asks as soon as he reaches her. "You're Basira, right? I need-"

"I am Basira," the woman repeats quietly. "I was in a place, but I got out. I just- I need a moment."

Boni barks once, loudly enough to call the woman's attention and make her daemon look up. "We don't have a moment," she snarls. "Get in the car!"

Gerry pushes and pulls at her as gently as he can, until he maneuvers her into the backseat- she's mumbling something about a Daisy, about a Jon. "Stay here, try to- think of someone that wasn't in there with you. The two from the Institute, your pet. Just... anything you know ." 

He slams the door shut, before running back to the remnants of the museum. 

"Do you think anyone else made it?" He asks Boni, who's sniffing around in the debris and going as far as their bond will allow her. "I mean, they-"

Boni lets out a surprised bark when some of the rubble near her shifts. Gerry rushes to her side after picking a hand-sized lump of brick and mortar; it's not a great weapon if a Stranger survived, but it's better than nothing.

The rubble shifts a bit more, and a daemon comes out. She looks normal enough that Gerry drops his improvised weapon; Stranger daemons are easy to identify, uncanny stuffed things with cold, lifeless eyes, the same sense of uneasiness to them as there is with good taxidermy. They look real enough, but not alive .

"Where's your human?" Boni asks, coming closer until she can press her nose to the other dog daemon's flank. It's not entirely unexpected, when she yelps and turns and bites, her tail curled between her legs. Boni doesn't move, and Gerry doesn't flinch from the pain blooming across his nose and cheek; they're used to this, and whoever this person is, they need to know he's on their side. "Where's your human? We can help you get them out."

The other daemon doesn't answer, turning back to the rubble instead. She goes back in, digging and whining until she seems to find what she's looking for.

Gerry approaches carefully after Boni nods, shifting the debris around until the daemon is able to drag a tall, limp man from beneath. He's only barely conscious, his dark skin bruised and scraped and sticking out here and there with bits of broken crystal and wood. He'll have to leave this one, Gerry knows immediately; he needs a hospital, or he won't make it. 

His daemon lets go of his shoulder and gives his cheek a lick, but where Gerry expects her to curl down around him and pass out as well, she instead dives back into the remnants of the wax house.

She pulls out a small unconscious cat daemon, their fur black with white patches at the chest and paws, and arranges them carefully close -but not touching- to her human, before she turns to them with bared teeth. 

"If you touch them, I will kill you," she snarls, before going back down.

"Well, that's unnecessary." Gerry sighs. "Come on, we should-" he cuts himself short then, because the dog daemon is back again, and her teeth are clamped down on the shoulder of a slender, shorter man. 

Gerry and Boni watch in stunned silence, as this daemon touches another human so purposefully, pulling him out until he's laying next to the cat daemon, which must be his, considering how even in unconsciousness they seem to curl towards the other.

"What do you want?" The dog daemon snarls again, standing over both humans with her fur standing on end and her teeth bared. She can't possibly be of the impression that she'll win a fight against Boni, Gerry thinks, not in her current state. But she seems very willing to go down biting. 

"Martin and Melanie sent us," Gerry says. Lying was what Gertrude did, and he won't start that way. If they've come this far, they deserve the truth. "Basira's in the car, she's safe. But I think you four need a real doctor, so I'm going to leave you here, and tell the others you're alive."

"Are we?" The dog daemon looks at him as she curls with her head on her human's chest.

"I'm sorry," he says, because there's a certain sadness in her eyes that Gerry has seen often enough in the mirror.