Jeremiah now sits in a room set aside just for him in the mansion he lives in. He reads a book- his curled brownish-blond hair that ends at the nape of his neck, his eyes a light and curious green despite his seventeen years of seeing the best life could offer, relaxed frame embodying the portrait of leisure- when a knock sounds on his door, an echo through the large room. Not even sparing a glance from his book, he ignores the sound, a human walks inside and begins tidying up the room. Jeremiah spares a look of mischief towards his brother as if to say 'you missed a spot'.
The brother, Adrian, contained his anger, his shoulders shuddering before continuing on. Adrian was tall, even for his age, his hair a reddish blonde and eyes blue- filled with badly concealed hatred. Soon after, Cain joins them, cleaning the dirty room. Cain's eyes a piercing, confident green and hair like his older brother's, he watched his younger brother Jeremiah with disgust in his eyes.
Jeremiah watched them, peering over his book as he watched them work, sipping the tea that Adrian poured for him. He let his sharp tongue do the talking, always ignoring his brain's better judgement. Ever since he was 7 years old, he lived in the house of Gabriel, the ruler of the Western District in Arya and was preened and groomed by tutors to believe that he was special- different from human barbarians like his brothers and father- even if he was never good enough to be better than a pure-blooded angel. Jeremiah believed in this idea, that he was above all humans, wholeheartedly.
Adrian, catching Jeremiah off-guard, asked if Randoms- genetically randomized angels, like him- were all so ungrateful. Jeremiah stood up quickly, stomping over to his brothers, an order for them to leave on the tip of his tongue, but before he could, he felt a sudden sensation of motion-sickness and collapsed onto the ground, unconscious. His brothers knew that Jeremiah's mentor Gabriel was visiting the Central District for the next several days to discuss matters of the three districts, so they knew they would not be caught for doing what they were about to do.
"Glad to know the sedatives work." Adrian huffed, setting down the damp he was dusting off.
"Took 'em long enough." Cain complained, poking Jeremiah with the broom he'd been holding.
"Stop that, he might wake up." Adrian scolded, handing Cain the silencing mask he'd gotten for the occasion.
Cain attached the metal-forged mask to Jeremiah's face, it hugged against his jaw and covered his mouth. They had to ensure that if he woke up, no one could hear him call out for help. Cain stuffed their brother in a large bag they brought along, Adrian tossing the bag onto his back. They were careful, quiet, as they weaved through alleyways and empty lots to reach a barn they knew was empty. The land taken after the death of the family in an "accidental fire", or so everyone assumed- the common folk didn't know the local arsonist had done it, lending it to the brothers in exchange for hush money. Jeremiah began to regain consciousness as Cain pulled his limp body from the bag, no longer being gentle.
Cain made Jeremiah sit on his knees as Adrian pulled his arms into a V above his head. Jeremiah felt limp, unable to move as they chained his wrists. His head felt heavy, lopping to the side as his brothers secured the chains before heading to the sliding door.
"Sleep well, baby brother." Cain cooed, blowing Jeremiah an exaggerated kiss through an evil smile.
"And don't let the Black Widows bite." Adrian huffed, slamming the door shut.
Jeremiah felt bitterness at the words they used to whisper when they tucked him into bed at night. Then all that remained was silence... Complete and utter silence.
The sky had grown dark, looking up through a hole in the ceiling, he could see the faded stars and a full moon hanging in the sky. Trying to pull himself down to lay his legs out the best he could, he realized his ankles had been chained too, allowing him to sit on his haunches at best. In anger, he cursed as loud as he could manage, his tongue feeling too foreign and unusable in his mouth. The sound was muffled.
Leaning his head forward, he stared at the cement ground and exhaled sharply, frustrated at himself. His wings must've been filthy by now, he told himself, groaning. He slowly lowered himself into a sitting position on his ankles, the shackles pulling at his wrists and trembled in bewilderment. He couldn't even conceive the idea before that moment but, now he realized, he's always had a target on his back.
However, he had never once considered his older brothers could do such a thing, and to their own brother! He exhaled a deep sigh, forcing his eyes shut. He breathed slowly, listening to the crickets nearby, and slowly fell asleep. He would be able to think more clearly in the morning.
The sleep was light and fitful, waking up in terror he realized he was not the little boy in his dreams, he wasn't beaten or bruised. He was just chained, his mind corrected him. Jeremiah's stomach growled, making him roll his eyes. He had skipped dinner the evening before because he was going to wait for his brothers and father to leave, but now he immediately regretted it. He felt his stomach rumble and echo in his ribcage, causing him to sigh listlessly.
His thoughts stopped midway and he backtracked, his dad had shown up that day for work, meaning he must have known that Adrian and Cain were planning. Jeremiah tried licking his lips, tasting metal. Suddenly, his situation came into full focus. His jaw was heavy, and his body was already feeling limp from exertion, tired from hanging there all night and for most of the morning. A shuffling sound was made outside the door, then a few chuckles before the barn door slid open. His father had no idea, Jeremiah knew deep down, Abel may hate him but he would never raise a hand or allow anyone to hurt any of his sons.
"Rise and shine, baby brother! Oh, good, you're already up. That'll make this much more interesting." Cain said cheerfully, tying back his long hair with a strip of leather.
Jeremiah's eyebrows drew together and he snarled behind the mask, unable to do much more with it on. Adrian walked around Jeremiah in a circle, like a predator evaluating it's prey. In anger, Jeremiah yanked his wrists down, rubbing them painfully against the hinges of the shackles. He pulled his feet forward as far as he could reach, lunging his entire body forward to get out and get away from how his brothers look at him. To lunge at his brothers and maybe tackle them so he could run.
Cain looked around the barn, humming an indistinct tune before he let out an excited "Aha, found it!"
Jeremiah heard a loud crack and began pulling at his restraints again, "Oh no, no, no, little brother. You aren't going anywhere." Cain laughed, throwing the tail of the whip over his shoulder before letting it snap in the middle of Jeremiah's back.
He let out an inaudible hiss, curling in on himself the best he could manage. Adrian put a hand on Cain's arm, stopping him. Cain flashed a look of confusion but followed Adrian as he rounded to the front of Jeremiah. They stood there, watching until the Random's eyes opened, a look of resentment burning in them.
"Here," Adrian offered, handing Cain a serrated, fixed-blade knife with a bone handle, "He won't feel the whip with that many layers on 'im."
Cain smiled, as if he'd been given a glorious gift, and took the knife greedily. He sliced through the front of Jeremiah's silk shirt, not caring that he cut through a few spots of skin in the process, and cut mid-thigh to ankle off of Jeremiah's pants legs. Now there was more skin to mar.
"Great, now the party's really gonna be in full swing!" Cain yelled, pulling the cut fabric and setting it in a pile. "We can sell those at the Hub, even those scraps will get us at least an extra week of ration tickets." Cain circled to the back of Jeremiah again, handing the knife back to Adrian. "Come on, Jer, let's play." His smile turned up at the corners, his teeth flashing white and full of menace.
... Cain struck Jeremiah with the whip countless times, each of the cuts eventually overlapping one another and the blood half-dried on Jeremiah's back and calves. Looking out of the hole in the roof, Adrian took a long look at Jeremiah who long since gave up trying to pull free, sitting on his ankles. Jeremiah's entire body stunk of blood and sweat, but not once had Jeremiah shed a tear, his anger held them at bay.
"It's getting late, we should head back to the house to cook dinner for dad." Adrian told Cain, to which he nodded.
Cain rolled his shoulders in a circle, face devoid of remorse for the pain he just inflicted. "I've finished, anyway." he said absently, circling his hand around the whip and pulling his hand the length of it, the blood catching onto the creases of his hands. "Sleep well, baby brother, try not to move too much or you may just bleed to death."
Jeremiah raised his eyes, watching as they left at a contented pace and felt his eyes sting when Adrian turned around. How could they do such a thing, Jeremiah wondered. How could anyone do such a barbaric, inhuman thing?
"It's for your own good, Jeremiah. You need to learn your lesson." Adrian's eyes showed a hint of remorse before disappearing behind the door to the barn, but it was so quick that Jeremiah debated whether or not it actually happened.
The words hit a nerve and it sent a shiver down his spine, he'd heard the words before and he'd hoped he'd never hear them again. The room around him seemed to fade away as he remembered the day of his seventh birthday, the day that Gabriel had sent for him to bring him to the mansion so he can be settled into his new lifestyle. A life fit for an angel of Western Arya.
His brothers woke at the crack of dawn every morning to go to school but this morning they stayed home to see Jeremiah off. Jeremiah's father Abel had already left to the House of Gabriel to fulfill his duties as a servant for the day when Cain dragged Jeremiah out of bed by his ankles. Cain's 9-year-old body, much larger and stronger than Jeremiah's, pinned his little brother to the ground.
Cain's voice rang with petulant anger and whine, "Heard you're leaving today. I'm glad you'll be gone. Maybe then, dad will finally see that I'm better than you, that I should be his favorite!" Cain was inconsolable, picking Jeremiah's body up by his shoulders and slamming him roughly onto the concrete floor.
"Cain! What are you doing?!" Adrian ran into the brightening bedroom, the sun casting a gentle glow across Adrian's face as he picked Cain up by the collar of his shirt, the fabric cutting into his neck.
"Teaching this little twerp a lesson! I'm tired of being second best! Dad loves him more than us!" Cain screeched, stomping his foot.
Jeremiah's lip quivered as he watched his brothers yelling, an unspoken 'daddy says he wishes that I had died during birth instead of mom' bubbling in his throat. He remembered his father, bitter over the anniversary of his wife's death, say so. It must have been true, that he was unwanted, Jeremiah always told himself. As his brothers fought, the words repeated over and over in his head, bring him close to tears when Gabriel himself walked through the door, pushing past the two boys and pulling Jeremiah into his arms.
Gabriel, not even an adult at the time, frowned down at Jeremiah before pulling him close and walking towards the mansion. It was a long walk, but Gabriel didn't care about the soreness in his arms, he only cared that the one he was going to be taking care of from now on had a very troubled view of the world around him. Jeremiah stared up at Gabriel as the words cycled through his head in an endless loop 'I'm glad you'll be gone.'
Jeremiah looked around and felt the bitterness crawl under his skin, for the first time since he arrived at the barn, he screamed. It was muffled drastically by the mask but he still felt the pain in his throat. His eyes watered as he began crying in anger, frustration, every feeling he had never felt before that moment, and a feeling he didn't even understand before they shackled him, resentment. Eventually, his voice became scratchy and practically unusable so he stopped, tears now dried on his cheeks. He wished he could wash his wings before, but the current experience made him reconsider his priorities. He needed a doctor and then a refreshing shower, that will no doubt hurt like hellfire, if he managed to escape.
If he escaped. The thought sent him reeling, he could die in that room and no one would know. They could search but he didn't have any human friends, his brothers and father were the only humans he knew, he had no Random friends. Randoms were one in 400 and he knew none of the other 21 of them in town. The only person who might even look for him was Gabriel but considering how busy Mayor Gabriel was, he might not even notice his protegé's absence.
Jeremiah couldn't sleep much after conceiving such a thought. The most he could sleep was a fitful half hour at a time and once the light was high in the sky he no longer even considered the possibility of sleeping anymore. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't have slept even if he wanted to; Adrian walked in first, his knife held at his side.
"Are you ready for your final lesson, Jeremiah?" Adrian asked curiously, checking the sharpness of the blade.
Cain smiled, looking over at Adrian, "Do it quick, if he refuses, do it slowly and painfully."
Jeremiah watched as they talked to each other, talking about all they ways they could inflict the final blow with the knife upon him, as if they were unaware that Jeremiah was still there. It made him sick to his stomach. After a few minutes of whispered deliberation, Adrian walked behind Jeremiah and murmured in his ear quietly.
"Hold your breath," Adrian warned.
As soon as Jeremiah took a big breath in, his wing was unfurled completely by Cain. Adrian, close to the base of the bone of the wing, sawed into the flesh of wing attached to Jeremiah's left shoulder blade. Blood poured from the wound as the knife sliced roughly into the muscle. Jeremiah felt his chest heave and a sob escaped his lips, his eyes shedding fat tears that left shining streams on his face.
Once the bone was reached, Adrian broke it with a sharp tug and made a clean break, sawing the rest of the way through the wing. Jeremiah felt ashamed and hurt, ashamed that he has led himself into his brothers torturing him this way and hurt that the brothers he looked up to as a child were now taking from him the only thing that made him feel special.
Adrian moved to the other wing, doing the same thing as he did on the previous. Jeremiah's sobs racked his body, he shook violently with tears, causing the knife to cut deeper in areas that Adrian had not meant to cut. His shoulder blade left with irregular gouges.
"Brother, stop moving, this is for your own good." he repeated to Jeremiah like a mantra, pointedly ignored how hard his brother cried and begged for him to stop.
... Jeremiah's screams and pleas were muffled but could still be heard by Cain who screamed at him to be quiet, obviously disturbed by his brother's weakness. Jeremiah had never acted that way before, he seemed so small and remorseful, as opposed to his usual cocky swagger and narcissistic attitude. It pained Cain to hear. Jeremiah breathed in sharply, looking up to the sky and praying for the pain to stop.
After an hour of nonstop pain and bleeding, Jeremiah's wings were gone and all that remained was a few feathers imbedded in his skin and red, blotchy skin covered in dry blood. Cain unchained Jeremiah's wrists, causing him to fall forward and catch himself with his forearms. His ankles were released next, then the mask that hindered his speech.
"There you go, Baby Brother, I hope you've learned your lesson." Cain's usual childish spite was gone, replaced with a solemn and unspoken disdain. He felt no remorse, but pity still lingered in his gut.
"I'm sorry." Jeremiah croaked out, sobbing face-first into the hay that littered the cement floor.
"Be good, Jeremiah." Adrian chided, grabbing Cain's elbow and leading him out of the barn, leaving the door open and unlocked.
Once Jeremiah caught his breath, he stood shakily; hungry, tired, and bleeding. The clothes that had been cut from his body were no longer in the barn but an old leather jacket had been left by the previous land owner on a hat hook. Taking the jacket from the hook, he put it on and ignoring the shiver of pain it caused his back, he zipped it up and headed back toward Gabriel's mansion where he could dress his wounds and eat a nice meal. Something he will never take for granted again.
The walk back was a long one, he was slowed down not only by the fact that if he opened the wounds on his back, it would hurt much worse, but Jeremiah was more than a little lost. Jeremiah stuck to the backroads, kept his eyes on the darkening horizon and eventually found the shape of Gabriel's mansion along the horizon and walked towards it until he eventually got there. The walk through the grove of trees settled him, the familiar smell of apple trees blowing in the wind. Reaching the front door, he retrieved the key from inside a potted fern and opened the door. He closed the door quietly, hanging the jacket on a coat rack beside the hall mirror and hissed in pain.
"Jeremiah! There you are, I've been worried sick- Oh my god, your back. Holy hell, come on let's go dress that, let's go to your room." Gabriel said with worry, walking ahead of Jeremiah and getting the first aid kit from the bathroom before joining him in Jeremiah's bedroom. "Lay on your stomach, I'll get these all clean so try not to move too much, 'Miah."
Gabriel was focused as he poured alcohol onto a cloth and wiped the cuts, exhaling sadly whenever Jeremiah winced in pain. "I hadn't gotten a telegraph from you in the past few days, so I got worried. You usually send one every day. I'm glad I came home early... God, who did this to you?"
Jeremiah took a few shallow breaths before croaking out, "Adrian and Cain, they were punishing me."
"Some punishment." he growled, soaking the rag in a basin, getting the blood out. "They could've killed you."
"I deserved it."
"You may have needed to be taught a lesson, but you sure as hell did not deserve being tortured or having your wings cut off," Gabriel retorted, his eyebrows knitting together.
"It's not like you can fly with the wings, anyway," Jeremiah mumbled, turning his head away from Gabriel.
"My brother Castiel told me a few days ago the reason why angels can't fly, wanna hear it?"
"It's not exactly like I can say no and fly away to avoid it."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Gabriel grinned, looking fondly at Jeremiah. "Anyhow, the reason is because our wings are located on our shoulder blades which renders them unmovable and useless. So, even if we didn't have the excessive body mass and heavy bones, we still couldn't get a foot off the ground. Our wings are purely a status symbol, it's not all that special. Sure, it's kind of rare, but that status does terrible things to people."
"Like it did to me. I was a complete jerk."
"No, you did that on your own."
"Wow, that is a wonderful boost you just gave to my self-esteem," Jeremiah muttered sarcastically.
"Really, though, 'Miah, you were acting like that all on your own. Sure it may not have been as bad if you didn't have wings but- Oh, sorry."
"It's fine," Jeremiah sighed, his stomach growling.
"When's the last time you ate?"
"About 3 days."
"Then I guess you finally get to try my tomato soup," Gabriel smiled to himself, finishing taping the gauze and bandages down.
"I hate tomatoes but I'm starving so bring it, oh, and a straw."
Gabriel smiled, "Now that's the 'Miah I know."
Gabriel returned shortly after with tomato soup in a tall glass and a straw. Jeremiah stared out the window, tears rolling off the bridge of his nose.
"Hey, 'Miah, does something hurt?"
"Not really, it's just... I'm glad my brothers won't hate me now, their brother isn't an angel anymore, but I'll have to leave won't I? I can't study here if I'm not an angel."
Gabriel ruffled Jeremiah's dirtied blonde hair and whispered with fondness, "I would never kick you out, you're family."
"I'm your protegé."
"Family doesn't end in blood, 'Miah. You're staying here as my personal adviser."
"Adviser?" Jeremiah laughed dryly in disbelief.
"Basically, you travel with me so I won't have to stay in that dumb carriage all by myself. Your brothers will be reassigned to a different occupation, one that is held by half-bloods like you and they'll no longer have a reason to resent you."
"You can do that?"
"Anything for you, Jeremiah. You've learned your lesson and I believe that it's made you a better person. I'll leave this soup to you, I'm going to call a doctor to check in on you. Eat and then have a good rest, alright?"
"Make me proud." Gabriel smiled, patting his head before leaving Jeremiah to smile a little to himself.
"'Family doesn't end in blood'..."