The trembling man in front of John didn’t seem like the stuff of nightmares. Oh, he was imposing, to be sure, but not terrifying. More offsetting, if anything. And he certainly didn’t seem like he wanted to drink his blood or tear him limb from limb as John’s comrades had said. Well…his claws were digging into his collarbone– enough so that John could feel blood running down his shoulder slowly – and there was a knife being held at his throat – that too was drawing a bit of blood – but the look in Unsub 052’s eyes didn’t reflect a malicious desire to kill. More like a frantic wish to live.
The poor guy looked ready to cut and run. He kept leaning in, as if to finish the job and slit John’s throat wide, and then pulling back a bit with a hesitant tenseness in his shoulders. He eyes darted from John to the dark buildings around them at a rapid pace. Too thin, scared stiff, and smelling suspiciously as if he hadn’t washed in weeks, maybe months, this man seemed as far off from the monster the army had described as possible. John shallowed his breathing, no need to push any harder against that knife, and took a chance.
“Hey,” he whispered.
The winged man flinched at the word and gave a feral growl, the knife digging in a little deeper.
John didn’t let that deter him. He relaxed his muscles and tried to make himself appear as non-hostile as he could. Given that he had no gun anymore – that was crushed somewhere behind him – and had close to two hundred pounds kneeling on his stomach, it wasn’t that hard. Still, it couldn’t hurt to give some extra credence to his demeanor.
“I didn’t mean to scare you back there.” He resisted the urge to indicate behind them both. “I just saw something move behind the dumpster. Thought you were someone else.”
The knife didn’t waver nor did the man say a thing in return. John stifled a sigh. Well, this didn’t instill any encouragement. Just who did this man think John was?
'Oh, sure,' his mind snorted at him, 'focus on that instead of the BIG, HULKING WINGS right in front of you.'
'Stuff it,' he snapped back. But his inner critic had a point. Where had those wings come from? They were massive, black things, stretched out on either side of the man like two guarding dogs. John didn’t doubt that a hit from them could break a rib or two. His head still hurt from the slight clip he’d received just a few seconds ago.
“Say, do you mind not pushing that knife in so deep? It’s kinda getting a little hard to breathe, yeah?” He met those turbulent eyes with calm order. “I’d rather not risk you killing me by accident.”
'Cause on purpose is so much better.'
The knife drew back a teeny bit. Close enough still that John could feel it brushing against his skin if he took too big a breath, but not so close now the he feared he might end his life with one little movement. Nevertheless, it was an improvement. Meant the guy’s guard had lowered, if only a tiny margin. John marked that as a victory on his mental scorecard.
“You wanna let me know why you’ve been following us for a couple months now?” he asked as casually as he could. Like a friend asking about the weather, not a soldier trying to get Intel.
That’s how long the rumors about a dark shadow stalking the soldiers of Squad Seven had been circulating. At first, it’d just been a flicker of something out of the corner of one or two soldiers’ eye. Then, a few men swore they’d heard footsteps on the rooftops and circling around them. But nothing was ever found, so command chocked it up to stressed nerves and battling hungry troops. Tagged the “shadow” Unsub 052 and stuffed the details into a forgotten file.
Now John was staring up at the very thing everyone talked about. And boy, was he ever real. If the boney knees grinding into his ribcage weren’t incentive enough to believe, then the claws and growling covered it. Unsub 052 had gone from unlikely to very real in three point two seconds flat. Now, all John had to do was live through this and…well, he didn’t know what he’d do after that. He’d work on it later.
“Look,” John said firmly. “If you’re going to kill me I’d rather you do it already. This lying about with you on me is, frankly, annoying. And weird.”
The man blinked. Hard. And blinked again. As if he didn’t know how to process that. Good, John could work with uncertainty.
“If you’re not going to kill me, could you at least get off me and let me sit up? I think you proven quite nicely that you’re faster and stronger, so I’d have no chance of getting away or winning in a fight.”
The man tilted his head to the side, a curious look growing in his eyes. He sat there on John for what seemed like hours before his claws gradually released John’s shoulder and he moved off to crouch several feet away. John sat up on his elbows and eyed him.
“Thanks.” He licked his cracked lips. “I’m going to sit up now. Nice and slow. No funny business, kay?”
The man’s upper lip curled back, but he didn’t growl or throw the knife at him, so John took that as a ‘yes’. He pushed off the warm bricks that made up the street for this back alley and inched his way up until he was in comfortable position. He even crossed his legs, Indian style, to make it seem as if he’d given himself a handicap. All the while the winged man stared at him and gripped his knife tight.
Once up, John ran a practiced eye over the guy, his doctor coming out.
Underweight. The problem, John suspected, came from those black wings. They looked healthy enough and could easily be fifty pounds each. 052’s height came to a good six feet. This man’s body just didn’t have enough energy to give, other than to those wings.
'How does he even walk? He looks thin enough to crack in half with just a stiff breeze.'
Shoulder length, greasy hair curled wildly around 052’s ears and neck. It gave the man a savage air, cementing that fact that he wasn’t a civilized person. But then, the nondescript, grey jumpsuit kinda screamed that too. The thick clothing threatened to overwhelm the man, so big was it on him. Almost as if whoever had given it to him hadn’t cared enough to make sure it fit him, but still wanted him to live and so gave him a means to keep warm at night.
'Cause Heaven knows it gets bloody freezing here at night.'
052’s breathe rattled in his chest, making John think he had the beginnings of a cold or flu. Or maybe that was a norm. Maybe whatever had given him these wings had changed how he breathed too. John couldn’t say, but he filed it away with the rest of the information on 052. Something to keep in mind should the rattle turn into a cough.
'Well, first things first. Make friendly with the locals.'
John made sure to telegraph his every move as he reached into his right jacket pocket. The worn edge brushed against his fingertips. “You look kinda hungry. I’ve got an energy bar. You want it?”
The man coiled and snarled a little when his fingers disappeared into his pocket, but then blank surprise washed out everything as John pulled out the bar and unwrapped the crinkly packaging. Crinkle, crinkle. Blink, blink. The man watched John with a focused gaze that unnerved him. As soon as the wrapper was off the man sniffed the air and hissed as he back up some more.
Wasn’t he hungry? Didn’t he want the bar? If the ravenous stare meant anything, then yes. But yet the man continued to pull away, body now hunched like a feral cat. Why?
'It’s not as if I’m going to…Oh…Oh, you poor bastard.'
It made sense now. Those wings couldn’t have come by natural means. That meant illegal science experiment. And, judging by how quickly 052 had jumped him, the tall man was a fighter. He’d probably struggled at every turn.
But what better way to control a person then by handling their food? Their water? Their very existence. Food, clothing, everything controlled by others for the sole purpose of making their subjects do whatever they wanted. John could just bet this man had escaped before – there was an intelligent spark in his eyes – and been recaptured by whoever’d had him before, using food or water.
It wasn’t as if the guy could just fly away or ask someone for help. His body mass was too weak to support those wings, let alone use them, and anyone who saw him would either shoot at him or probably faint front shock.
'Well, at least I’m not fainting on him.'
And he hadn’t meant to shoot. His finger had just been on the trigger when 052 had tackled him. Reflex had done the rest. He didn’t think he’d hit the man, but it was a little dark in the alleyway to tell. He hoped that if he had it had only clipped the man and not worse. He could be bleeding out and I wouldn’t know until he collapsed from blood loss.
'Right then. Time to cement my ‘friendly’ status.'
John stuffed the wrapper back into his pocket and tossed the grain and nut bar gently towards the man. It landed with a muffled thump on the street and the man scrambled back a good five feet. Enough so that he no longer knelt in the alley anymore. No sir, he was in plain sight for anyone to see if they came around the corner of the main street.
'Not good. They’ll shoot him…and it’ll be on purpose this time.'
“Hey,” he said, but didn’t smile. Whoever had abused this man probably smiled all the time at him. John had to show him that he was different. Serious. “That bar’s yours now. I promise I’ll stay right here while you get it. No moving….or I could back up a bit, if you want. Your choice. Just nod if you want me to back a few feet.”
To be fair, John didn’t know if 052 could understand that much. He could’ve gotten off of him because John asked or because John’s tone was soothing enough to convince him to back away. But John would rather go on the assumption that 052 understood. It was nicer to think that 052 hadn’t been stripped off all humanity. And who would want to be treated like a dumb animal just because they had wings and hadn’t said a word yet anyway?
“Want me to back up?” he asked again.
052 nodded once. A rigid motion that seemed a bit forced, but John still rejoiced that he’d gone with option A and handled the man like a human being. That had to put a few good points in his direction. Least give 052 pause on killing him after he finished that bar.
'Okay, John, let’s make good on your promise and hup-to.'
John shuffled back three feet and cocked an eyebrow. “Good enough?”
In answer, the wings drew in closer to the man as he crept into the alley again. John hid a sigh of relief. Good, no one would see them now, unless they went into the alley. By that point, John would have enough time to try and mitigate any tensions going on.
'Or, at least, tell 052 to run for the hills. Which either comes first.'
John focused back on the present and watched as the wings dragged on the ground while the man picked up the bar. John wondered if the man was too just tired to keep them up anymore or if the bar had claimed dominance on all his mind. John thought it might be a mixture of the two. Regardless, the wings drooped as the man stuffed the bar into his mouth, all the while eying John with trepidation.
'Well, at least I was right about the hunger.'
John cleared his throat once he saw 052 was done. The man jerked at the sound and hunched inward, wordlessly snarling at him. John ignored the hostile posturing. “So, you got a name? Cause, I got to admit that calling you 052 is rude.”
The man’s jaw trembled and his eyes bounced from one location to the next. His breathing picked a bit, but settled just as quickly, leaving only the anger to show. John frowned at that. The guy was obviously terrified, but yet he had enough control over his nerves to calm his outward appearance. Smart…and dangerous. John wouldn’t be able to tell the truth from the lies.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to give it to me. I haven’t given you mine.” Now John let a small smile come up. “My name’s John. John Watson. I’m a medic.”
“Medic.” The man rasped.
“Yes,” John said, grinning. “That’s right. I –”
“Medic. Healer. Poser. Liar.” The man interrupted. “Fix you only to break you open again.”
'Oh, crud.' John’s grin fell with each new word and his panic rose at the last sentence. 'This is bad.'
“No, no,” John said, making sure to keep his posture lax and easy. “I’m not like that. I only heal so people can stay healed. I wouldn’t hurt them. It goes against my code.”
“Code?” The man tried the word out. “Coding to not hurt.”
“That’s right. It’s called the Hippocratic Oath. It means I swear to never willingly harm anyone under my care.”
The man seemed to turn this idea over in his head.
John pushed on. “That oath covers you too now.”
The man recoiled, his eyes wide with shock. So great was the surprise at this that all those barriers crashed down and John could see the thoughts racing across his face.
He cares about me? He won’t hurt me? But why? They always hurt me. Why’s he not? Why won’t he? Will he?
John headed him off before those thoughts could get any wilder. “You ate that bar, which helped your hunger. That means I healed you a bit. So, now the oath includes you.”
“Hippocratic oath not to hurt.”
“Yes. I swear to never hurt you.”
“And when I heal and leave?”
John straightened his shoulders. “I’ll still apply it to you. No one will hurt you while you’re with me. I’m your guardian now. If you need something, you ask and I give it. Someone bothers you, tell me and I’ll set them straight.”
The man blinked rapidly at all this and even John had to admit he’d promised a tad more than he’d meant to, at first. Not that he regretted it. No, looking at 052, John couldn’t say he would take anything back. This man needed someone in his corner and John wanted to be that person. He’d seen enough bullies to last him a lifetime. 052 was his friend now and Heaven help whoever came to get him.
'I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it and where to point it.'
“So,” John said. “Thing is, I will help you, but I got to go right now. I’m on patrol and if I don’t check in soon they’ll send someone out to find me.”
“You’ll get into trouble.” And now worry sparked in those eyes.
“That too.” John took a deep breath. “Can I get up and go report in?”
'Oh. Well, that’ll be interesting to explain.'
John glanced back at the mangled mess. “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.”
The man cocked his head to the side like a raven and then abruptly dashed up the wall and over the side, disappearing into the night.
John scanned the dark sky and roof, but no sound or sight came back. The man was gone as if he’d never been there. His wings hadn’t even made a sound when he’d run off. Someone had really spent a lot of time and effort to make 052 a good weapon – cause what else would a winged creature be for?
'Could be an exotic pet.'
But that whole thing about doctors hurting him sounded too much like a government attempting to make a better weapon. Upgrading him so he’d be ready for any mission. John just hoped it wasn’t his own government that had authorized this.