Friday, April 22, 2011

The Price of Justice

Merely an attempt at trying to get some things out of my head involving a story for one of my classes. Also a little bit of inspiration via Dragon Age II (but very very minor).

His mother was dead.

He turned seventeen today and his mother was dead.

Edwin Fell dropped his head into his hands, long fingers lacing into his blond hair, and shook where he sat on the front steps of his house. Yet even as he closed his eyes he could still see her body where it hung from the upper half of the stairwell. The image seemed like it was seared into his brain from the moment he'd walked in the door after school.

What he didn't understand was why.

She had been fine before he'd left in his brand new car, before she'd gone to work. It had been her idea to celebrate his birthday with just the two of them since they hadn't had time together in so long because of her work. "Pizza and whatever movie you want," she'd told him with that same bright smile she gave every morning when he came downstairs. He'd been looking forward to time spent just with her all day too, barely able to pay attention in class.

And now...she was dead.

"Eddie?" A small body dropped next to him on the steps, an arm moving to wind around his waist as the hand attached to the other curled fingers gently around his wrist. "I'm sorry."

Edwin lifted his head at those words, trying to ignore the sharp pinprick of tears that threatened the corners of his eyes, and frowned at the girl next to him. Melanie Stark gave him a look that was far too old for her fourteen years as he asked, "The hell do you have to be sorry for, Mel? It's not like you killed her."

She just kept giving him that look until his skin started to crawl and he opened his mouth to speak. Melanie moved at that moment, throwing her arms around his neck, her sudden weight pushing him back into the stairs until his spine dug into the concrete steps. She buried her face in his shoulder and Edwin blinked a few times before he slowly wrapped his arms around her, his expression edging on worried.

"Mel? Are you...all right?"

"Am I all right?" she gasped into his shirt, voice slightly muffled. "Me? That's not the question that needs asking." Melanie lifted her head then and stared him right in the eye before she said sharply, "I'm not okay. You're not okay. Nothing about this is okay, Eddie."

Edwin attempted a scowl at the nickname but the effort was halfhearted. He then laid his head back against the porch, closed his eyes, and let out a heavy sigh. "I'm not okay," he admitted.

"No," Melanie agreed. She then shivered and said, "Mom's talking to the police about letting you come with us. That's how I got past."

"Oh," he said. He hadn't even wondered how she'd gotten past the ring of officers and police cars that had blocked off his yard from the street and the errant passersby. Edwin was barely even aware of the blue and red lights that still lit up his yard. He then frowned as his chest tightened, something seeming to grow quickly within him. It swelled and he found himself choking on a sob, his arms tightening around Melanie as he lifted his head to bury it in her hair and gasped, "She's dead. My mom's dead."

"Oh, Ed," he heard her breath then he couldn't keep it in anymore. The great monstrous thing growing in his chest demanded release, clawing at his throat and lungs for purchase. For a moment he couldn't breath, couldn't speak...then Melanie's arms tightened around him and it all came bursting free.

For a moment he lost track of time and he was...nowhere. There was no house, no steps, no Melanie, no dead mother. Just...emptiness.

And he wondered if that nothing, that silence, was what death was like.

Then the world caught up - or did he catch up with the world? - and Edwin found himself practically cradled in Melanie's mother's arms. He shook and tried to pull away but Elizabeth Stark held on to him tightly until he went limp again, all the fight gone out of him. What was there to fight for? He had no one with his mother gone; all of her family was dead and his father had left when he was five to have another family. The Starks...they were all he had. And he...

Well, they had always called him their second son. Even, he didn't want to think about that now.

"Officer," he dimly heard Elizabeth say, "please let me take him away. This isn't any place for a child to be."

"Ma'am, I..."

"We live just down the road: number 305." There was silence then Edwin felt her fingers in his hair and leaned into the touch. "I've known the boy since he was seven. He's like a son. Please. He's been through enough today."

A pause answered then a man sighed before saying, "Officer Grady will escort you home, Mrs. Stark. Just bring the boy by the station tomorrow so we can talk to him."

"Of course. Thank you. Come on, Edwin." She was pulling him up then, his hands in hers, and Edwin felt Melanie's hands pulling at his sides until he stumbled upright. Between them and the officer they somehow got him to the Stark home though he didn't remember the trip. After that outburst, he had gone numb in mind and heart.

It was like every emotion had poured out of him and now he had nothing left to allow him to feel.

Edwin was barely aware of being prepared for bed and he automatically swallowed the pills that Elizabeth pressed into his hand. He felt trapped in his own body as she tucked him in, kissed his forehead, then left with a soft promise to come check on him later. There were so many things he wanted to say - thank you, I'm sorry, you don't have to take care of me - but none of the words would come.

Exhaustion caught up with him and the pills kicked in as the stress that had been keeping him going melted away. His eyelids were fluttering despite not wanting to go to sleep for fear of seeing his mother's body hanging again and terror welled in the back of his throat.

Then Melanie ghosted into the room and burrowed under the blankets next to him almost before he was even aware of her presence. Edwin was grateful for the company though, for the comforting press of her arms against his ribs, and shifted across the pillow to lean his head against hers. She kissed his nose and gave him that sad knowing look older than her years again before she closed her eyes.

He wanted to say something about how inappropriate it was for her to be there but he didn't. After the day he'd had...after the year they'd both had...he appreciated the move. Plus, he'd known her since she was four years-old so she was nothing more than a little sister in his mind.

So instead Edwin gave into the silence, the comfort, and the exhaustion, falling into a troubled sleep that was miraculously absent of his mother's hanging body.


Edwin Fell woke screaming from the image of his mother hanging and stumbled from his bunk. Fumbling in the dark for the door, he staggered into the hallway of his group's latest little hideout and slumped against the wall. His breath came in harsh gasps as he slid down to the floor, fingernails clawing for purchase in the cheap wood of the wall paneling of the old house.

Eighteen years of moving past them and one little hidden file brought all the nightmares about his mother rushing back.

Swiping a hand over his face, he started to get up when a door down the hall opened. When Melanie stepped out and rushed down to his side, he wasn't surprised.

She'd probably been expecting this sort of reaction.

"I shouldn't have let you drink," she muttered as she brushed back his blond hair. Edwin made a noise at that, though he wasn't sure whether it was disagreement or yes, you should have, then lifted a hand to cup her cheek. Her hand was instantly over his and then their fingers were tangled. "Ed?"

"I'm okay," he muttered and shrugged at her dubious expression. "I got over Mom's death a long time ago, Mel. It's...knowing she was trying to stop them, that they killed her to keep it quiet. I just..."

Edwin paused, frowning, then sighed as he leaned his head back against the wall with a hearty thump.

"Is that the price of justice? To fight for what's right only to die for that cause? Is that what I've doomed us all to?"

Melanie opened her mouth to answer then closed it as she turned to sit down next to him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and then they leaned their heads together as she whispered, "There's only one question that needs asking."

Eerily he was reminded of that night, of the question of whether he was okay. He knows that isn't the question this time though.

"What?" asked Edwin.

"If that's the price of justice, is it worth fighting for?"

He flinched at the question then Edwin thought of his mother, of her brother, of their friends, their fellow rebels, and so many more. Every innocent life taken because of the technology his mother had developed and then tried to destroy. Had her attempt at justice been worth it?

Was the freedom of the world worth it?

Edwin closed his eyes as he answered, "Yes," and then Melanie's arms were wrapped around him again like they were that afternoon so long ago in a silent acceptance of that answer.

If they got justice for the dead and the living then died, the price was worth it.

Maybe it wasn't pretty. And maybe the way they'd get it wouldn't be right in the eyes of others when their story is told in the aftermath.

Nobody ever said justice was easy though.

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