The man's sharp eyes narrow. They glint like metal beneath the feathery strokes of his eyelashes.
"You know something." He says.
Zacharie laughs airily. "Everyone knows something."
The Batter stares and says nothing, gaze of glinting metal sharp behind downey hair and flurries of lashes.
"No need to idle. You should get back to your Game, mi amigo." Zacharie says, pushing the merchandise forward.
The Batter snaps it up between winding fingers and stuffs it into his bag.
"See you again soon." Zacharie says.
The Batter is already stepping through the door.
It's like that, always. A rhythm between them. Money on the table, money in his hand. Fingers dancing through wares of metal and plastic and glass and sugar. Prodding at red bloody meat. Picking an object from its perch and sealing it away in that leather bag.
Wares, coins, the click of a clasp.
No matter what, the Batter will find him, or perhaps the other way around.
"You really are everywhere, aren't you?" The Batter says, pushing his coins across the table.
"Anywhere you need me to be," Zacharie says.
Today is different. Zacharie sees those rusty cinereal clouds forming in the horizon before they even appear. The air is smothering. Energy crackles and furls between curtains of atmosphere.
The sky is never clear. Sometimes Zacharie wonders how far up it goes, and what truly lies behind it.
Sometimes Zacharie wonders if it's even a sky at all.
The Batter is absent today. Everyone is absent today. A lone Elsen buys a scrap of meat on the verge of blooming into rot.
And then. Nothing.
The watchful eye that crawls somewhere beyond the horizon is turned from him.
The air is left for nothing else to do but feed Zacharie's quiet breath.
The silence is anything but calm. Zacharie is left alone with the thoughts he tries not to indulge. He sorts his wares, picks at the thread at the end of his shirt, all to occupy himself.
Far above him, the clouds continue to gather, meeting as one, as though trying to eat each other. They flood the air with choking moisture.
Nothing but wet smoke.
The Batter returns to him, as he always does, but not to purchase his wares.
He stumbles towards him, bag swinging on the end of a leather noose, his bat nowhere to be seen.
His hand is clasped around his side, red seeping between his fingers.
"Zacharie," his voice is scraping and choking. "I didn't know where else to go."
The blood drips from The Batter's ribs, winding across his fingertips to the ground, and the sympathy drips in equal measures to the center of Zacharie's chest.
"I am not a healer." Zacharie says. The words eke out with finality. His attempts to be firm. To stay the course.
"You provide healing." The Batter says, a wheezing ache to his breath.
"I provide a means to healing," Zacharie corrects. "I supply the tools for others to heal themselves. Do you understand? You are responsible for your own salvation, mon cher."
He doesn't know why he says this. There is no salvation, not here.
The Batter coughs, and he grips the table. His hand shakes.
He glances up at Zacharie beneath his cap. Wisps of hair fall into his eyes.
His whole body trembles.
"I'm not a healer." Zacharie repeats. When did his voice get so soft.
Before he knows it, his arm is already under that of The Batter. Their shoulders pressing into each other.
Somewhere, thunder rolls through the dusk.
Outside, the rain that isn't quite rain falls soft into its harsh bed, staining the ground with crimson. It smells like metal.
The Batter is sitting on a crate, the blood being pressed into submission beneath tight bandages.
Zacharie is already closing up his apothecary chest. It folds and then snaps into places, much like everything else. Or rather, how they should.
The Batter takes off his cap, holding it between delicate fingers. His hair is dead goldenrod, and settles around his face like myst. Like the down the birds grow out of.
"And what might you be thinking, hrm?" Zacharie says, glancing at him. "Having reservations? Having doubts?"
As though internal cognition and emotion means anything at all to the likes of them.
Zacharie shouldn't be so cruel, to all but taunt him like that, but intentions aside, he can't help himself in this case.
The Batter stares up at him, something in his gaze too conflicted to be cutting. There's some distraction from his goal, guttering his assurance.
Corruption of steely purity.
A single-minded man considering other truths.
What other truths mattered, in a world such as theirs?
The Game takes precedence. Zacharie doesn't have to tell himself something he already knows.
He doesn't have to tell this doubtless creature of twisted iron and choking certainty something he already knows too.
Because The Batter does know. Some part of him. Some whole of him.
Why is Zacharie reminding himself of the only truth he understands?
His breath echoes itself behind his mask. He opens a drawer and pulls out a candy, wrapped in waxy plastic.
He unwraps it deftly between his fingers as he crosses the room. The Batter lifts his gaze, his eyes never leaving him.
"Here, eat this." Zacharie says, plucking the candy from its cocoon. It's a frosted amber between the pads of his fingertips.
He presses it into The Batter's lips, and they part without complaint.
He hears the candy sweep against teeth, and there's a lingering sensation of soft skin brushing across the ends of his fingers.
"That'll take care of the pain, and the poison." Zacharie says. "Don't chew it." He adds.
The Batter nods curtly, rolling the candy in his mouth.
Zacharie crumples the candy wrapper and stuffs it into his pocket.
"I'm gonna have to charge you for this, I hope you know." He says, rolling the words like a joke.
The Batter throws him some kind of look, but nods again.
So serious. Always so serious.
Zacharie lifts his mask.
The Batter looks surprised for a second, but then his features fall into some deep abyss of unreadability.
"This can't end, in any way good for either of us y'know." Zacharie says quietly.
The Batter says nothing, his gaze holding steady.
Zacharie knows what's behind those eyes, and the face he wears. How the tips of those delicate fingers truly end.
He doesn't know for certain, but he knows at any rate.
Zacharie stares. His thick black hair falling across his forehead. It twitches under his own breath.
"This can't end in any way that matters." Zacharie whispers.
An iron god watches them, its thoughts beyond interpretation.
His lips are sweet. His tongue tastes of sugar.
"Will you stay here with me?" The Batter says.
His hair sways with Zacharie's breath. The rain folds down upon the rooftops, and Zacharie imagines the ground turning a delicate rust.
"Stay with me." The Batter says softly.
Zacharie's gaze lingers on his irises, fluid and shining with mercury. Like rain clouds from somewhere else.
"Of course, mon cher." Zacharie's voice is not much more than breath and gentle rainfall. "I'm wherever you need me, aren't I?"