By Katie Lynn Daniels
Word Count: 3989
Summary: A retired hero deals with the demons of his past.
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm; all is bright.
Round thy head the demons wait,
’til thou sleep and meet thy fate
Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!
Silent night! Holy night!
Kneel in fear at the sight
All thou wert is in the past
All thou art will never last
Christ the Saviour is born! Christ the Saviour is born!
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God. Love’s pure light
Alien outcast, fallen from grace
Ever forbidden to know his face
Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
Snow was falling gently outside the windows of Scotland Yard. Jeffry Floyd had abandoned any pretense of work and stood with his nose pressed against the glass like a five-year-old, watching.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Joseph said, finally joining him. “You don’t see it very often here.” He paused and thought for a moment. “I don’t actually remember ever seeing it snow this hard. It won’t last long.”
Floyd didn’t answer, or even show any sign that he’d heard him.
“Did you have anything like that on your world?” Joseph asked conversationally.
Floyd ignored him.
“Is everything okay?” Adams asked finally, concern tinging his voice.
Floyd sighed and turned away. “Everything is fine,” he said in a tone of voice that suggested exactly the opposite.
“You know you can talk to me,” Adams suggested.
Floyd didn’t answer, shrugging into his coat and hat. “I’m going out,” he said.
“Fine,” Joseph said, rebuffed. “I’m staying in.”
“Fine,” Floyd said.
The wind outside was cold and biting. People hustled to and fro, finishing last minute shopping and hastening home to be with family and friends. Floyd ignored them all, walking with head bowed, no particular destination in mind. Before he understood where his feet were taking him, he’d left the traffic of the city behind and was headed towards the river.
Tower Bridge was little more than a pile of rubble after the fight that had taken place there, but everyone was already excited about rebuilding. It was the same all over the city—a bright light of hope and looking forward to the future, of rising above the circumstances and the supervillains.
Floyd hated it. He hated the hope and the optimism and the pointless, futile lies that the government fed to their people. He hated that human nature dictated that they rise above their circumstances only to be crushed—again and again.
The wind whipped his long coat about him and stung his ears, and he wondered, if he screamed, would anyone be able to hear him? He swallowed the thought and turned away as a voice in his heart answered, a voice he pretended not to hear.
“I would,” the Telepath whispered.
“Is everything all right?” Joseph asked again.
Floyd was getting tired of answering, or not answering, as the case may be. No, nothing was all right. How could it be when every time he saw Adams he wanted to touch him, just to make sure he was really there? How could everything be all right when every time he closed his eyes it came back to him: the nightmare of darkness, and fear, and death he’d only barely survived? How could everything be all right when he knew that if he let his control slip for even a second, she would be there again, controlling his mind?
“Floyd?” Joseph repeated anxiously.
Floyd shook his head to clear it. “Fine,” he said quickly. “Everything is fine.”
He was lying and they both knew it. Adams watched him for a moment, and then gave up. “I was wondering if you would look into something for me,” he asked. “There have been multiple disappearances reported in the same vicinity—I think they might be connected.”
Of course they’re connected, Floyd wanted to say. You know that already.
Instead he took the stack of files, flipped through them, and said, “I’ll look into it.”
The snow had turned to rain, or maybe some kind of freezing sleet. It was hard to tell. The killer in the sewers had been harder to destroy than Floyd had anticipated. He had fine needles embedded into his skin that pierced his victims and injected poison, to stun, to kill, Floyd wasn’t sure. He didn’t know what archetype the powers had come from and he didn’t care to guess. The needleman was resilient, getting up again and again no matter what Floyd threw at him. Finally Floyd had stabbed him with one of the bones from his own victims, slicing and tearing until the villain’s insides were more visible than his outsides, and he twitched and lay still at last.
Floyd climbed out of the sewer to breathe the fresh air of the city and collapsed against the wall, too tired to move. The rain dripped off the eaves of the building above him and ran down the back of his shirt, but he didn’t care. The poison of the needleman coursed through his veins, but he had a thousand invisible robots filtering it out and setting things straight again. He would be fine. Everything would be fine. Exhausted, he closed his eyes.
Images exploded behind his eyelids, of dark cells and bright ones, of white polished walls and a disembodied voice explaining to him what he must do, of things he loved being twisted into horror, of every villain he’d ever killed coming back to this place and time to kill him again, and again, and again…
He woke up, sobbing from the nightmares and the pain, and looked up into shouting, angry faces. They were only kids, lost angry children taking out their hatred on the first helpless being they found, and he couldn’t bring himself to hurt them. He curled up on his side and hid his face in his hands and waited for them to lose interest and go away. They called him names, and screamed angry curses at him until a policeman’s whistle cut through their voices, scattering them like vultures.
The constable knelt over Floyd, shining a flashlight in his face. It was someone he knew, someone who recognized him from the station.
“Mr. Floyd?” he said. “What’s going on? What are you doing here?”
Joseph was angry. From where he sat, Floyd watched him pace and ask questions, but he didn’t hear the answers. He was wrapped in a warm, dry blanket, but the needleman’s poison still ran in his veins, making him shake uncontrollably and giving him hallucinations.
Maybe it was wrong to blame the hallucinations on a supervillain. Maybe they had always been a part of his own psyche.
Joseph came over to him then and Floyd cringed away, afraid of his anger. Seconds too late he realized it wasn’t directed at him, and felt guilty at the regret that passed across the policeman’s face.
“Are you all right?” Joseph asked quietly.
Christmas lights decorated houses, bridges, and shops. Christmas trees were erected in lobbies, foyers, and open spaces. Fake snow lined the bottoms of shop windows, drawing in children to stare at the wonders beyond, faces pressed against the glass. Christmas music played at every train stop, on every station. Something festive was in the air, despite the supervillain takeover. Floyd stared through the window at the world outside. Daylight flooded every street, every corner, chasing away nightmares as easily as shadows. There was no snow. Strangely, he realized he missed it.
“Hello, Jeffry,” said a soft voice behind him, and he turned to see Kate Adams standing behind him. She was more beautiful than ever, dressed festively in black and red and a smile that lit the room.
“Kate,” he said, and stepped into her embrace, holding onto her like the world would end if he let go. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“That was the idea,” she said with a smile. “Are you all right?”
He hesitated, and didn’t answer.
“I know,” she continued, “You don’t like to be asked that, Joseph said.”
“If he knows, then why does he keep asking me?” Floyd asked harshly.
“He’s worried about you,” Kate said, touching his cheek.
“What has he said?”
“You weren’t answering your phone,” Kate replied. “I was afraid something had happened to you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I had some things to sort out.”
“And did you?”
“I don’t know,” he said honestly.
“It’s okay,” she said, moving her hand to his shoulder. “I’m here.”
“Thank you,” he blurted out. “I never said thank you. For—for everything you did on that bridge.”
“For shooting you?” she teased.
“Especially for shooting me,” he said with a faint smile.
“You’re welcome,” Kate said. “I wish I could do more.”
“It’s all right,” Floyd assured her. “Or—it will be.” I hope.
They went out to dinner together, Joseph, Kate, and Floyd.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Kate pointed out. “What are you losers doing tomorrow?”
“Sleeping,” Joseph said. “You know I never do anything for Christmas, Kate.”
“I know,” Kate said, putting her hand on his arm. “But you could change.”
“Christmas is for family,” Joseph argued. “You’re the only family I have, and we don’t even live in the same place.”
“You could always come over,” she suggested.
“No, I don’t want to. You have your life and your friends, and I don’t want to intrude.”
“This is why you should get your own life, and your own friends,” Kate suggested.
Joseph laughed and shook his head. “I’m fine, Kate. Really.”
“And what about you, Floyd?”
He was startled by the question. “What?”
“What are you doing for Christmas?”
“Not my world,” he said automatically. “I don’t even know what Christmas means.”
“How long have you been on this planet?” Kate asked.
He shrugged. “Two and a half years, give or take a few months.”
“Don’t you think it’s high time you learned?” Kate asked him. “You don’t have to keep being an outsider, Floyd.”
“I don’t mind,” he said honestly. “It’s easier that way.”
Kate looked at him anxiously, and then glanced at her brother. “I was going to fly back to Cardiff tonight,” she said. “But what if I didn’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me come over to your place tonight,” she said. “We could be together for Christmas again.”
“You have plans,” Joseph protested.
“You’re family,” she said, squeezing his arm. “Shouldn’t that be more important?”
“If you really want to spend Christmas Day at my house, doing nothing, you’re more than welcome,” Joseph said, giving up. “I take no responsibility.”
“Floyd?” Kate said, turning back to him.
“Huh?” he said, starting once again.
“You can come, too,” Kate said.
Floyd glanced at Joseph.
“You know you’re welcome anytime,” Joseph said. “And Kate’s right. You shouldn’t spend Christmas alone.”
“Not my holiday,” Floyd said. “And thank you, but no.”
“Oh, come on,” Joseph started, but Kate gestured him to silence.
“If you change your mind,” she said, “you know the way.”
“I know,” Floyd said, starting to stand. “I think I’m done. Thank you for dinner.”
“Floyd, wait,” Kate said, stopping him. “There—there’s something I want to say to you.”
He sat again, and watched her suspiciously.
Kate smiled disarmingly. “I know that, like most people in this world, your work is severely underappreciated. I want you to know that I appreciate you. You put your life on the line every day, and you’re willing to die for what you do. In fact, you have died, several times. You’re unselfish and dedicated to people you don’t even know, and you’re willing to go to any lengths to protect them.”
“I don’t protect anyone,” Floyd hastened to clarify.
“Yes, you do,” Kate smiled. “But you can’t admit that or it would hinder your ability to actually do it.”
Floyd had no answer to that, so he shut his mouth and said nothing.
Joseph sat silent, watching.
“You’re noble and self-sacrificing,” Kate continued. “And you’re incredibly brave. And I thank you for it.”
“I didn’t volunteer for this, you know,” Floyd said uneasily.
“Yes, I know. You were torn away from your life and thrown into this, and what did you do? You went at it with all your heart. You did the best job you possibly could. And that is an incredibly beautiful, noble thing to do.”
Floyd started to answer, then wavered. “I don’t know what to say to that,” he said finally.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Kate assured him. “I just wanted you to know.”
Floyd was tongue-tied and Kate knew it, and she knew Floyd knew she knew it, but she just sat there, not laughing at him, just smiling gently.
“I—” Floyd started.
“—have work to do,” Kate finished for him.
He opened his mouth, but was speechless again.
Kate laughed. “Go on,” she said encouragingly. “You’re a busy man.”
He stood, but didn’t leave.
“Or don’t go,” she suggested. “You could stay. We could have dessert. You could come home with us.”
“I have work to do,” Floyd repeated finally.
“Merry Christmas,” Kate said. “It was nice to see you.”
“Merry Christmas,” he repeated uncertainly.
“Kill a supervillain for me,” she added, and blew him a kiss.
December 25th. Christmas Day. Floyd had never bothered to notice its existence before, and now he couldn’t seem to shake the knowledge from his mind. It didn’t help that he couldn’t get his mind off of Kate. He’d never met anyone even remotely like her before, and he didn’t think he ever would again. She was beautiful and talented and bold, afraid of nothing, and clearly she cared about him. He wanted to spend the day with her and Joseph, teasing and laughing and pretending the world was normal. He wanted to know more about her, what she loved and what made her excited. He’d been good at such things once; he could be good at them again.
But the world wasn’t normal, was it? He didn’t have any right to her concern, and he didn’t have the privilege of forgetting responsibility for even a day. With everyone else taking the day off, there was probably more trouble abroad than ever.
Resolute, Jeffry Floyd went to work.
In his dreams he was pursued by formless creatures of darkness, red eyes blazing like coals. They held him down and ripped him apart and whispered unspeakable things into his mind. He couldn’t get away, and he couldn’t die, and over it all a deep voice kept chanting: “Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.”
He woke up screaming.
“It’s okay,” Joseph was saying, pinning him down. “Jeffry? Jeffry, it’s okay. It’s only a dream. Look at me, Floyd.”
Slowly his eyes focused and he stopped struggling, realizing he was awake.
“Joseph,” he said, and Adams sat back, letting him up. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Joseph said. “You didn’t turn up on Thursday so I came to check on you. It looked like something had clawed you to shreds. Do you remember?”
Floyd shook his head, knowing as he did so that he would remember soon enough. “How long?”
“She’s home. She said to tell you Merry Christmas.”
Floyd took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“You could have come,” Joseph said, almost accusingly. “You could have spent time with her if you wanted. She would have loved that.”
Floyd shook his head, and went to get dressed. He didn’t want to think about it.
Kate called the next day. He hesitated before answering the phone. “Hello?”
“I heard you tangled with something nasty,” Kate said. “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” he said automatically. “Nothing keeps me down for long.”
“So you spent Christmas Day getting killed,” Kate said. “Jeffry Floyd, you need a life.”
“I don’t have time—” he started, realizing seconds too late that she was teasing.
“If there’s anything I can do,” Kate said, “let me know. Promise me that, Jeffry.”
“I looked up this holiday of yours,” he said, seeming to ignore the question. “It was very enlightening.”
“Christmas is a celebration of a messiah sent here by an all powerful, omnipotent being to be tortured, and die, for a race that neither acknowledges his existence nor is grateful for his sacrifice. They murdered him and, since he’s omnipotent and all, he must have known that in advance. And came anyway. So I just have one question…”
“Why? It seems to me that they deserved what they had coming. So why—why in the name of everything sane—why would he do that for them?”
“Oh Floyd,” Kate said, “don’t you know? It was love.”
The nightmares didn’t fade over time. If anything, they got worse. Floyd couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept without dreaming of horror and pain. Sometimes he welcomed it as no more than he deserved. Other times he fought back, refusing to sleep until his vision was blurred and his ears buzzed and he was too exhausted even to breathe. Tonight was one of those nights.
Floyd stared at his phone and thought of calling Kate, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit to her how bad things really were. He thought that if he started talking, it would end with him begging her to hold him, and he had no right to ask that. He wasn’t her family. He wasn’t her lover. He was just… scared of the dark.
“Not if you embrace it,” a voice whispered, sinister and ingratiating. He knew she wasn’t real—but the image of the Telepath flickered in his memory all the same. “You can’t run from the darkness forever,” she taunted. “Give into it. Become a part of it. Let it consume you and it will no longer be a threat.”
That was when he realized he had fallen asleep, after all.
“When was the last time you slept?” Adams asked, and Floyd lost his patience.
“Stop,” he said in frustration. “Just stop.”
“Stop asking me!” Floyd shouted. “Stop trying to fix things! It’s all falling apart, Joseph, so just close your eyes and pretend it isn’t happening. It hurts less that way. It can’t get into your head then, and lie to you…”
He didn’t realize he was crying, didn’t see what Adams was doing until the policeman had his arms around him, holding him and telling him everything was fine. Floyd held onto him and finally let himself weep for everything he had ever lost, and would continue to lose in the future.
The world is a funny place. Just when you think you’ll never see the sun again, you get one of those drop-dead gorgeous nights where the sky is crystal clear and the moon is nowhere in sight and it feels like a thousand degrees below zero, but who cares because you can see every pinpoint of light in the inky sky like a beacon of hope shining from another world.
Floyd was standing by the bridge again, breathing the cold air and letting it slice through him, cleanse him. He wondered why he kept coming back here—like a mourner visiting a grave. He stood with his hands thrust deep in his pockets and his head tipped back as far as he could go, watching. Staring at an alien sky and pretending he could see his home from here.
“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” spoke a phantom voice in his head. He didn’t recognize who it was at first, and when he realized who he wanted it to be, it gave him a jolt.
He wanted Kate to be here with him on this night. He wanted to hold her hand. He’d had his chance to hold her, but he’d froze like a deer in the headlights and then she was gone. She given him an invitation and again he’d turned her down.
He reached for his phone and then stopped, paralyzed again.
“Do you love her?” his demons taunted.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “And I don’t want to find out.”
“Scared of a woman?” another voice whispered.
“Scared of losing her,” he corrected.
In his mind the Telepath laughed, and a thousand long-gone villains joined her.
“Is there anything you’re not afraid of, Jeffry Floyd?” they asked.
Floyd knew the answer and he smiled. “Dying,” he said simply, and let himself fall.
The water was freezing, but he didn’t care. He stayed under until his lungs were screaming for air. He could have stayed down longer and the ‘bots would have kept him alive, and he laughed with the knowledge as he broke the surface and stared again at the crystal-clear sky.
It wasn’t over, he knew that. It wouldn’t be over for months—perhaps it would never end. But it was a start.
It was three in the morning when he got back to his flat and called Kate.
“I hate to wake you,” he said, “but there’s something I need to say, and I was afraid that if I waited I wouldn’t want to say it.”
“That’s all right,” she said gently. “What is it?”
“Remember what you said last time?” he asked. “About—about doing things that don’t make sense for love?”
“Yes,” she said instantly. “That’s what love is, Jeffry. Putting others above yourself.”
“I have a job to do here,” Floyd said. “I don’t know why I do it, but I don’t want you to get caught in the crossfire.”
“Let me finish. You’re a distraction to me, and also a weakness. Anything I love—they can use that against me. If you keep trying to see me, someone will find out. You’ll become a target. And I won’t let that happen.”
“Isn’t that my decision to make?” Kate argued. “I know the risk that comes with seeing you. I know what you do, and I’ve accepted that.”
“I’m trying to protect you,” Floyd said. “Please—it’s the only thing I can do.”
She was silent. He wished he could see her face, or touch her, or anything. He didn’t know if she was angry, or understanding, or betrayed. He wanted to know if she would forgive him, but didn’t dare ask.
“I don’t want to choose,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to choose between you and saving the world. It’s better just to not make it a choice.”
It was all she said. He had the unsettling sensation that she was trying not to cry.
“I wish I could say that I loved you,” Floyd said. “I wish I could come over tonight and never leave again. I wish that the world was a place where I could have that. But it’s not, and I can’t. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” Kate said, choking back her tears. “That’s the most incredible thing anyone has ever said to me, Floyd.”
“I wish—” he started again.
“Shhh,” Kate said. “It’s all right. You don’t have to say anything.”
Her understanding only made it harder. He had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could answer. “Thank you.”
“And if you need anything,” Kate promised, “I’ll be right here. I will always be here.”
“I know,” he whispered, and hung up before she could say anything else to weaken his resolve.
That night, for the first time since he could remember, he slept without dreaming.
About the Author
Katie is a writer of many talents, constantly branching out into new fields and genres. She primarily writes novels and short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres, along with an assortment of hilarious and sentimental poetry. When she’s not writing she’s acting, directing, singing, playing her Celtic harp or songwriting, often engaging in more than one at a time. She lives in the beautiful hills of Kentucky with her parents and eight siblings.
Visit her website at katielynndaniels.com
Or follow her on twitter @danielskatie