sermocinare: (Silhouette and her nurse)
[personal profile] sermocinare
Fandom: Watchmen
Title: A Host of Seraphim (2/4)
Rating: R
Warnings: none
Characters/Pairings: Adrian/Dan
Disclaimer: Watchmen belongs to Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons.
Summary: With Dan's help, Adrian gets accustomed to his wings. Family secrets are revealed.
Previous chapters: 1

When Dan awoke, the sun was high in a crisp, clear early autumn sky, illuminating everything with sharp, new clarity, and for a moment, Dan was sure that everything had just been a dream. A very realistic, tactile dream, but a dream nonetheless. But if it had been a dream, what was he doing sleeping on Adrian's couch?

Rubbing his eyes and blinking against the brightness, Dan fumbled for his glasses, plucking them off the coffee table and wiping them against the silken bedcover before putting them on. The apartment was quiet, the only sound provided by the air conditioning, which was humming away almost below the edges of perception. Adrian was probably still asleep.

Dan sat up and stretched, yawning, then cast around for a clock. Almost midday, if the sleek digital affair sitting on one of the shelves could be believed. His stomach gave a small but audible rumble, reminding Dan that yes, he had skipped breakfast by sleeping right through it.

Swinging his legs off the couch, Dan ran a hand through his mussed-up hair. There had to be a kitchen around here somewhere, and he assumed that Adrian wouldn't mind if he just helped himself. After all, it was either that or wake him, and Dan thought that Adrian could really use some more sleep, after all that had happened.

Besides the doors that opened to the bathroom and the guest bedroom, Dan could make out two further doors leading off the large living room that took up most of the floor space of the penthouse. Well, one of them had to be the kitchen.

Padding over to the nearest one, Dan opened it and immediately lost his appetite. It had been the wrong door, the one that opened into the master bedroom, and Adrian hadn't been joking when he had said he would probably need to re-decorate. The bed, the floor, the walls, even parts of the ceiling were splotched reddish-brown, and the slightly metallic smell of blood assaulted Dan's nose almost immediately. The carnage was especially bad on and around the bed, blood having pooled, then caked into the bedding and the sheets. All in all, it reminded Dan of one or two of the grislier murders he had been witness to.

Shutting the door, Dan drew a deep breath, and for a moment the fact that there weren't any windows to open made him claustrophobic. But then, the penthouse was too high up for that kind of window. Shaking his head to get the images out of his mind, Dan paced the living room, and found himself standing in front of the door to the guest bedroom.

Carefully, holding his breath as to not make a sound, Dan turned the doorknob and pushed the door open a bit, just enough to stick his head through and cast a glance at the bed that stood in the middle of the room. He couldn't hear anything, couldn't see Adrian breathe, and for a moment, Dan's blood went cold. But then he saw the slight twitch of a wing, the feathers sliding against each other soundlessly, and Dan exhaled quietly. Adrian was all right. He hadn't died from exhaustion or blood loss in his sleep.

Actually, Adrian looked more alive now than he had last night, with the dark rings beneath his eyes and his carefully controlled features. Sleep had taken years off Adrian's features, making him look a lot younger than he was, lips half opened and eyes roving underneath his lids, following the sights of his dreams. His hair was tousled, the large wings lying slack, covering his body like a strange fluffy blanket, only parts of his calves and feet sticking out from underneath. Yesterday, when he had seen Adrian for the first time, Dan had been reminded of medieval paintings of archangels wielding swords and smiting sinners. But right now, he looked more like a grown-up, many-winged cupid, all sweetness and innocence.

Dan smiled to himself, and quietly pulled the door shut again. He would make himself some breakfast, and leave Adrian to his dreams a while longer. And maybe, by the time Adrian had woken up, Dan would have come up with a plan as to what to do next.

“All right. I figured that the first thing we should do is get you a bit more familiar with your wings. After all, you probably don't want to go around bumping into things and destroying valuable antiques for the rest of,” Dan caught himself just in time, and bit back what he had wanted to say, replacing it instead with: “the time you have them.”

Adrian nodded. He was sitting on one of the dining room chairs, his arms resting on top of the backrest. It had taken Adrian some time before he had found out how to sit down in a comfortable position, how to slope his wings so that they rested on the floor instead of being forced into some uncomfortable-looking angle, and really, it had been a pitiful sight. If Dan was completely honest with himself, he had always envied Adrian for the complete mastery over his body and movements that the other man seemed to possess. Gaining a set of rather large extra appendages had shot that grace and control straight to hell, though.

“Is there any place where we could, you know, put the wings through their paces? Without having to move half the furniture first?”

“The gym. In addition to having enough space, we could also go there without anyone seeing me.”

“You know that at some point, you're going to have to show yourself to someone besides me, right?” Dan said gently, trying to catch Adrian's eye. But Adrian averted his gaze, choosing instead to look out of the window. When it didn't seem as if Adrian would give any reply, Dan got up out of his chair: “All right, then. Let's go to the gym and see how those wings of yours move.”

Adrian's private gym was an elegant affair with a polished hardwood floor, ample lighting and enough space to park several cars in, not to mention several winged humans. Although just how many, Dan wasn't quite sure, having only been able to estimate Adrian's true wingspan up until now. One of the walls was covered in mirrors, and Adrian was standing with his back towards it, having studiously avoided looking at himself when they had come in. He seemed a bit ill at ease, almost nervous, his arms crossed in front of his chest protectively, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“So. What now?”

“Just move around a bit.” Dan's suggestion was answered by a tight-lipped frown, and more nervous shifting around. Dan held back a sigh. The way Adrian was behaving, you'd think that he had just been dragged in front of a panel of first-year medical students and asked to show them some kind of horrible deformity, and Dan really had to wonder why. Yes, having wings wasn't exactly normal, and a bit frightening, too, but it wasn't as if he were monstrous. Quite the contrary, actually.

“Just... take it easy. Do some simple things. Like, oh, flapping them or something.”

There was another second of nervous inactivity, and then, slowly, as if he were afraid that something horrible would happen at any second, Adrian fanned out his wings, stretching them until they were fully spread.

In some small part of his mind, Dan was aware that he was gaping, his mouth as wide as his eyes, but he really didn't care. At the moment, all he cared about was the sight of Adrian's wings in all their glory. Their span was enormous, even wider than Dan had anticipated, their lines and curves utter perfection. He could see right away that these wings were built for gliding, riding the currents, for swooping through the air with the unhurried grace of a large bird of prey.

“God, Adrian. They're perfect!”

Adrian just shook his head with a small, almost indulgent smile. Then, he gave the wings an experimental flap. Once again, Dan heard the rushing noise he'd heard last night, and this time, he could feel the gust of air on his face, which increased as Adrian started to move his wings faster and faster, until he was rocking back on his heels from the force of his own movements.

“You know, I really do think you would be able to fly,” Dan commented once Adrian's wings were still again, grinning excitedly. “We should try it.”

“I'm sorry to have to disappoint you, Daniel, but I really don't feel like plunging to my death any time soon,” Adrian replied with a sardonic smirk, folding his wings above his back again.

“Well I didn't mean that you should jump out of the highest window you can find, obviously. There are safe ways to try. Like, oh, we could go out with Archie. Some time at night, fly out over the harbor so that no one will see us. Just hover a few feet above the water. That way, you won't hurt yourself if it doesn't work.”

“I'll just get soaking wet,” Adrian said with a chuckle.

Dan rolled his eyes and grinned with fond exasperation: “Oh come on. Don't tell me you're not at least a little bit curious about if you'd be able to fly.”

Adrian crossed his arms in front of his chest and shrugged, smiling enigmatically: “Maybe. But,” he continued, holding up a hand to stop Dan from butting in before he was finished, “first, I need to know how these things move while I'm still on the ground.”

“Well, what are you waiting for, then?”

They stayed in the gym for quite a while, and Dan felt his heart lift with every passing hour. Watching Adrian move, seeing how he slowly grew accustomed to his new body, was a thing of beauty. The movements invariably started out cautiously, almost scared, but grew bolder and more smooth as time went by. As for the wings themselves, they had an amazing range of motion, given the obvious disadvantage of their location on Adrian's back, but they made up for the lack of rotating joints with great flexibility along the leading edges.

In the end, Dan was standing in front of Adrian, surrounded on both sides by Adrian's wings, almost as if in a feathery embrace. And for the first time since Dan had set foot into Adrian's apartment the night before, Adrian was smiling. Not just a cautious little curl along the corners of his mouth, but a real, genuine, wide smile. It suited him.

“So, are you ready to go out?”

“You make it sound like a date,” Adrian teased, wings still curving forward around his own and Dan's shoulders, and suddenly, Dan was even more aware of how close they were standing, of the light in Adrian's eyes and the soft, warm, comforting smell of feathers surrounding him.

He blinked, flustered, and adjusted his glasses, cutting short whatever unbidden but not unwelcome thought it had been that had crept up on him from the back of his mind.

“We'll have to wait until it's dark, of course. Since you don't want anyone to see you.”

Adrian folded his wings back, the movement no longer awkward, but almost as natural as if he'd folded his arms behind his back. Then, he nodded.

“Of course.” Gazing over at the clock that hung above the door to the gym, Adrian said: “It should be dark enough in about five hours. There's a helicopter landing pad on top of the tower, you can set the owlship down there.”

About six hours later, Archie's headlights were casting two wide cones of illumination over the otherwise dark and deserted waters way out in the bay, the light shimmering on the crests of the small waves a slight wind was whipping up on the water's surface.

Dan had lowered the rear cargo hatch, and Adrian was standing on its ledge, looking down on the black waters a few feet below. Even though he had sounded quite confident only moments ago, Dan could see by the way he held himself, the sharp, stiff angle of the wings, that Adrian was growing more and more nervous by the moment.

Dan punched a few buttons, setting Archie into hover, and raised his voice a bit over the slight din of the engines: “Don't worry. The worst that can happen is that you'll get a bit wet. Archie's equipped for water rescue, so I won't have any trouble pulling you out.”

“I'm not sure if it's failure I'm worried about,” Adrian muttered, spreading his wings halfway to test the wind.

“What?” Dan got up, crossing the short distance to the rear and giving Adrian a quizzical look.

“Never mind.”

With that, Adrian took a few steps back, angling his wings back and upwards as best as he could in the confined space of the owlship. Dan could see him draw a deep breath, and then Adrian was running, jumping, wings fanning out with a sharp snap as he plunged towards the water...

“Yes!” Dan whooped, almost jumping with joyful excitement as he watched Adrian catch the wind, turning his wings into the breeze and giving them a long, powerful stroke that took him soaring upwards, a silhouette of white against the darkness of the night, climbing into the sky.

The three pairs of wings were working in perfect unison, and even if Adrian's flight was a bit wobbly and insecure, like that of a juvenile bird taking its first flight, it was clear that he was operating on the same deep, basic instincts. Instincts that, it shot through Dan's mind, Adrian shouldn't have, not after millions of years of evolution that separated birds from mammals. But there was no other explanation for this, for the ease with which Adrian was flying, the immediate knowledge of how he had to tilt his wings to turn, flying in a wide circle above Archie and looking for all the world as if he had been born to do this.

Mysterious or not, though, Adrian's flight was a sight to behold. His wings moved in a kind of wave-like motion from the front pair to the back, and undulation that was almost sensual in its grace. It looked easy, almost effortless, but Dan had witnessed the raw power that lay in those wings, the strength of their muscles. Dan stood in the middle of the hatch, his eyes glued to Adrian's form as Adrian soared and dipped, curved in circles and eights. Finally, Adrian approached the ship again, and Dan stepped back to give him some space to land.

Which, apparently, was a lot harder and less instinctual than the actual flying. Wings twisted to the front and flapping almost frantically to slow himself down, Adrian nonetheless almost crashed into the open hatch, scrambling to keep on his feet but finally landing on his hands and knees, panting and shaking his head: “Who would have thought that landing is the hardest part about flying?”

Dan reached out his hand and helped Adrian up, grinning from ear to ear: “Don't worry. A lot of large birds look kind of clumsy once they touch down again. But in the air, they're a picture of elegance. Kind of like you.”

Adrian chuckled, brushing the dirt off the front of his pants' knees: “Why, thank you, Dan. I must admit, I did feel quite at home up there.”

“Yes.” Dan cocked his head to the side, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully: “It did look quite like you were running on instinct. As if you didn't even have to think about what you were doing. What, exactly, was it that you got infected with at the lab? Maybe it didn't just change your physiology, but your neuronal pathways, too...”

Adrian looked away, running a hand through his hair, which had become disheveled during the flight. Dan could see him work his jaw, the fingers of his other hand clenching slightly. Finally, Adrian looked back at him, his face sombre: “It was a retrovirus. One that was supposed to activate inactive DNA, ancient bits of code that aren't usually expressed any more.”

Dan blinked, shaking his head in confusion: “But that's impossible. I mean, that thing should've maybe given you fur or a tail or... but not wings. And especially not three pairs of wings! Something must have gone wrong.”

Adrian sighed, wrapping his arms around his torso and shivering slightly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “I guess it's time I introduced you to some family lore. Because believe me, the retrovirus did exactly what it was supposed to do.”

Dan had dropped Adrian off at Veidt Towers, and then brought Archie back to the owl's nest. Now, he was hurrying back towards Adrian's apartment, his mind circling around what Adrian had said. He had asked Adrian to further explain, of course, but Adrian had just clammed up as usual, telling Dan that he would explain everything once they were both back at the apartment.

Once there, Dan found Adrian sitting backwards on a chair, his arms wrapped around the backrest, staring gloomily at a huge leather-bound book that was sitting on the table in front of him.

“So,” Dan said, pulling up a chair for himself and sitting down on its edge, leaning towards Adrian expectantly, “are you going to give me some more explanation about how the hell a retrovirus could have caused you to grow wings?”

Adrian cast a sideways glance at Dan, and then nudged his chin in the direction of the book.

“What's that?”

“The family bible.”

Dan blinked. “Huh. I didn't know you were religious.”

“I'm not.” There was a moment of silence, but then Adrian heaved a sigh and straightened up a bit, reaching out to carefully open the book. Dan didn't even need to see the yellowed pages, the hand-drawn pictures and script to realize how old that tome must be. The reluctant, almost cautious reverence with which Adrian handled it was more than enough for that.

“This is more than a simple religious text, Daniel. It's almost 500 years of family history, written on blank pages and later into every margin the original text left open. A lot of it isn't even legible, at least not if you don't speak medieval German, but...” Adrian broke off, looking down at his fingers which were hovering only a fraction above the page. “It's the only thing I kept when I gave everything else away. I thought about giving it to a museum, or simply destroying it, but I just couldn't. I wanted a clean break, to wipe everything out and make my own history, but I couldn't bring myself to really do it.” Adrian's voice was hushed, almost as if he were talking to himself. Then, his lips twitched into a short, bitter smile: “It would have been futile, anyway, seeing how everything that is written down in there is also written down in the code at the heart of each and every cell in my body.”

Dan leaned in even more, until he was close enough to make out the words and letters that covered the page Adrian had opened, scanning the text. He recognized the style of the letters from other medieval books he had seen on display, but he couldn't make out a single word. The same went for the hand-written scribbles that covered almost every available margin in a number of different hands, some so close to the original text that they seemed to weave in and out of it like the strands of a tapestry. Then, his gaze fell on the page next to it, and he drew in a short breath.

The other page held not text, but an illustration, a picture drawn in little detail, but with vivid colors that still seemed to glow after hundreds of years. It showed a kneeling person, a woman in a simple dress, who was looking up at another figure that was hovering above her. An angel. A six-winged angel, whose body was surrounded by flames, and who was pointing gravely towards some hills that could be seen in the background.

“That,” Adrian said, providing an answer to the question Dan hadn't even had time to pose yet, “is St. Theresa. Who, according to family legend, is my ancestor. The story goes that she helped the Catholic bishop and his army take back her home town from the Anabaptists. She was able to tell them when and where to launch their attack, because, and this is the relevant bit, she was visited the night before by an angel, a seraph, who told her how they could take back the city. The official version states that the seraph visited her, and not the bishop himself, because she was a devout virgin.”

Dan had been squinting at the picture, and yes, there was the silhouette of a city, barely visible on top of those hills. Now, he turned his attention back to Adrian: “But that's not the whole story, is it?”

Adrian chuckled, and flashed him an almost wicked grin: “Not by far. The part that is usually left out in the official version is that she was still devout, but not quite as virginal any longer the morning after the angel had visited her.”

Dan sat back in his chair, adjusting his glasses and running a hand through his hair. It was painfully obvious where this story was going, but at the same time, he just couldn't believe it. Saints and angels and... “So you're saying that the picture actually shows both of your ancestors? That you're...?”

“The descendant of an angel. Yes.”

“But, Adrian.” Dan shook his head, as if by doing so he could somehow jumble his thoughts and make them arrive at a different, logical conclusion. “Angels aren't real.”

“That's what I always thought, too. That it was all just an attempt to explain... certain things. But I guess we've been proven wrong.” Adrian spread his wings a bit and smiled, but it was a tired, sad smile, the little humor it contained merely an attempt to mask a deeper pain.

“My mother used to tell me the story about St. Theresa and the angel a lot,” Adrian went on, his eyes unfocused, looking back into memory. “Usually when I was crying because I had been teased again. You see, I had been born with six small, well, lumps on my back. They looked almost like blunt spikes. I hated them, because they made me different. And of course everyone in the neighborhood knew. I was the local freak boy.” Adrian's face had hardened at the last words, and he swallowed visibly, slowly shaking his head: “I begged them to take me to a doctor to have them removed, but all my parents did was tell me I should be proud, because they were a mark of how special I was. That I was the descendant of a messenger of God himself, and that I was the first one in generations to have them, which made me extra-special.”

Adrian wrapped his arms tighter around the back of the chair, still not looking at Dan, but rather at the host of painful memories he was going through, his gaze dark and faraway. His voice was quiet, soft, and he sounded almost like the lonely child he had been: “I didn't want to be special. I wanted to be normal. I wanted the other children to play with me and be my friends, but even when they weren't calling me names, I was still never one of them. I was always apart, always different. Always the freak. I was relieved when my parents decided to leave Germany.” Here, Adrian smiled, casting a short glance at Dan: “They were worried that something would happen to me. That I would be taken away, or worse. Once again because I was different. Defective and unfit, as the doctor who visited our school had said.”

Dan's heart ached in sympathy for Adrian, and for the boy Adrian had once been, and he had to keep himself from reaching out and taking Adrian's hand. Instead, he tried to smile. “Seems like your parents loved you very much.”

“Seems like it, yes,” Adrian echoed, but there was an unmistakable bitterness to his voice. “That doesn't mean that they didn't put me through years and years of alienation and abuse with their refusal to just let me be normal. Because, you see, those things could have been removed by a simple operation, leaving me with nothing but a few small scars. I did have them removed, once my parents were dead and no longer able to withhold their permission. I fixed my appearance, but I guess there are some things that cannot be fixed.”

Silence stretched between them, Adrian looking lost in thought, and Dan trying to get his in order, to somehow make sense of what he had just heard. In a way, though, it made almost too much sense. Adrian's inability to really connect with people, his obsession with being perfect. His devastation at what had happened. The desperate need to get things fixed while at the same time not wanting anyone to see him like this.

“I'm sorry,” Dan finally said, trying to sound empathic while keeping the pity out of his voice. He was quite sure Adrian didn't want pity. “I'm sorry you had to go through all of that. But you're not a freak. You're different, yes, but that's not a bad thing.”

Adrian smirked: “Please excuse me if I'm not convinced, Daniel. You're a good man, but unfortunately, good men are about as rare as angels.”

“No,” Dan said, shaking his head, “you're wrong. I know you've suffered, but Adrian, people aren't like that any more. The world isn't like that any more. I mean, come on! We've got Jon, who is a glowing blue... whatever who can rearrange atoms with nothing but a passing thought! Really, an angel, that's nothing compared to that. That's just a pair of extra limbs.”

“Jon's just one, for the lack of a better word, person, Dan. The only metahuman on the whole planet.”

“Well, now you're the second!” Dan got up and paced a few steps around the room. Adrian's pessimism was beginning to grate on him. Sure, the situation was anything but easy, but it seemed as if Adrian didn't even want to consider the possibility of it being anything less than a total catastrophe. Dan sat down again, looking straight at Adrian: “Really, what's the worst that can happen?”

“I could lose my company because no one wants to do any business with me any more?” Adrian replied smoothly, raising an eyebrow.

“So what,” Dan shot back, “you've build an empire from nothing before. You're the smartest man in the world, you can do it again.”

“The government seizes me and uses me for medical experiments or other nefarious purposes?”

“There's a chance that they would do that, yes,” Dan conceded. Then, though, he smirked: “But there are laws against that kind of thing. And remember, where the law ends, there's still us.”

Adrian chuckled fondly, shaking his head: “That is a very touching thought, Daniel.” Then, his expression hardened again: “People will call me a freak, and I will be ostracized. All of my friends will leave me, and I'll be alone for the rest of my life.”

“Name one friend who isn't me.” The moment he had said it, Dan could have slapped himself for it. Leaning forward, he reached out towards Adrian: “Damn, I'm sorry, that was a horrible thing to say...”

“No.” Adrian sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, a pained smile on his face. “It's the truth. You're the only person I have who's something like a friend. So I guess at least there, things wouldn't change all that much.”

This time, Dan didn't hold back on reaching out and covering Adrian's hand with his: “I'm not something like a friend, Adrian. I am your friend. After all, I'm here with you, right?” Dan smiled gently, giving Adrian's fingers a slight squeeze. Yes, it was true, Adrian didn't have many people who, at the end of the day, really cared about him. But Dan would be damned before he would let Adrian believe that he had absolutely no one.

Slowly, cautiously, Adrian returned the smile: “Right.”

Chapter 3


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May 2013

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