A/N: Oops, has it been a year already? My bad guys. Just know that none of my fics are abandoned and they're constantly on my mind. Feel free to ask me about them and tell me what you think! If you want, just hit me up on my writing Tumblr: mortesangrizwrites
I'm always eager to talk about DGM and any of my fics. C:
The sounds of fighting continued, the splintering of pews, the cracking of stone- she heard it all, but refused to look at it, shaking and gasping as the sobs tore from her throat.
Sofia was… she had-
An explosion shook the church, rattled the empty window panes, sprinkled dust down from the altar onto her hair. The necklace around her throat dimmed its unnatural light, and its heat faded.
The sound of footsteps crunching on gravel echoed in the hollowed church. Rénee curled into a smaller ball, ducking her head and squeezing her eyes shut tighter. Her limbs trembled.
Then, everything went quiet.
She could no longer hear the praying, the weeping, the reverberating boom of the Akuma's bullets striking the walls of the church blindly. Her heart pounded erratically in her chest. Rénee choked on her sobs and tried to muster up the courage to look out at the church.
It wasn't true silence, although it was equally as deafening. There was a shrill sound in the air, a warbling echo rising and falling outside the church- chilling, but easy to dismiss as white noise, as ringing left over from the screaming that had ceased only moments before.
What would she see if she looked out again? More demons floating in the air, where they basked in the victory of all the lives they had taken? More death and dust and blood? Her dreams had shown her enough of that, but she had been a fool to think that nightmares could live up to the horror of watching carnage and desperation firsthand.
Sofia's scarf was wrapped around her mouth and nose, but still, Rénee thought she could taste the ash. The ash that was made up of the dead, choking the life of anything that breathed it in. She gagged, tried to push the taste out of her mind so she wasn't sick. Look at what's left, she thought to herself, Look at what's left until you're ready to think about what's no longer there.
She took a deep breath through her nose, curling her hands around the fabric keeping her hiding place under the altar out of sight. She pushed it to the side and looked out.
The first thing she saw was an enormous hole in the ceiling and the blue cloud-specked sky beyond it. The sun was bright. It filtered down on what remained inside the soiled church, rays of light settling over the piles of ash, the chunks of shattered pews, the scattered clothing spread all across the ground. It illuminated the blood, the crumpled bodies- the people struck by the falling ceiling, by the shrapnel. They bled on the church floor. Unmoving. Still.
Bile rose to her mouth so quickly, she nearly threw up at that moment. Anything else, she thought, look at anything else but that. Where were the Finders, the Exorcist-
(this was all their fault)
-had they died too?
She inhaled sharply, bottom lip trembling at the sight of what was left- of the destroyed church where she had spent happy days with her Abuelita, where she had first met Sofia, where the townspeople would share stories and food and laughter. Destroyed. Irreparable. Gone.
In the center of the ruins stood the Exorcist, weapon lowered, head bowed, skin glistening under the sun- like a statue carved of flesh and bone. His dreads cascaded over his face, casting his expression in shadow. He stood as if the pressure of all the people he couldn't save pressed down on him. As if the Rose Cross on his chest was something unbearably heavy and he was trying to remember how to stand upright with the added weight.
The sound of her gasp, though, was enough to make the Exorcist's head snap in her direction- gaze dark and threatening. Renee recoiled, she'd never seen so much hatred in someone's eyes before.
"Sal de ahi," ("Come out of there,") he growled, weapon in his hand faster than her eyes could follow, "Muestra tu cara, creatura." ("Show your face, creature.")
Renee felt her eyes grow wide in terror, and she dropped the fabric like it was aflame. She scampered backward, breath coming short in her lungs as the pounding of footsteps came closer. She came out of the other side of the altar just as the Exorcist pulled aside the fabric with the tip of his spear.
For a moment, she was frozen there, unmoving in her fear, staring at the Exorcist only feet away from her. Then, adrenaline took over and she scurried onto her feet, taking off down the hall, hearing shouting and curses from behind her.
If they caught her would they kill her? If they caught her would they see what she really was?
Please, she thought- no begged an absent god.
I just want to go home. Don't let them get me.
But almost like an answer, like a curse, like a reminder that God didn't love unnatural girls in dead children's bodies- only seconds later, Renee tripped over a chunk of the fallen ceiling and hit the ground with a dusty thump. It knocked the air from her lungs with a woosh.
She couldn't even cry out when the boot landed heavily on her back, pinning her to the ground. Nor could she struggle- for when the Exorcist had placed his foot on her, he had also moved his weapon, until she could feel the sharp point of the spear against the base of her neck.
She held very, very still. Her heart was a writhing, frantic thing inside her chest.
"Tienes su cara," ("You have her face,") he commented, voice dangerously calm. "Se supone que eso es coincidencia?" ("Is that supposed to be a coincidence?")
'What do you mean, I have her face?' she wanted to ask, 'How do you know what that person looks like?' But the words were caged in the panicked breaths she took, trapped in the inside of her gasping lungs. She whimpered instead, fingers clawing uselessly at the stone floor, trying to keep still but having every cell in her body urge to run away.
The rubble near the door shifted, until a hand shot out of it, followed by another. Stone and wood were pushed away, revealing the strange orb that had formed from the Finder's machines for a brief moment before it shattered, black smoke rolling off the machines as if pushed to their very limits. There were people inside; people she recognized, people she didn't- the Finders standing among them. The church had been full this morning. It had been full of laughter and hope and gossip. That meager amount of people with the Finders couldn't be all of them, right?
There was no way that these were the only other survivors… was there?
So much death. So much loss. Would this have happened if Ayamonte hadn't been harboring something unnatural? Would this have happened if the Finders had never come? Or was this a tragedy etched into fate, the result of a world where reviving the dead had a steep cost?
Tears dripped down her cheeks, drops falling silently on the dusty ground.
She hadn't asked for this. She hadn't asked for any of this.
All she wanted was to stay dead, and when that didn't work- to stay alive alongside Maria Elena, besides the one person she could truly say she loved with all her heart. How had it come to this?
The point of the spear dug deeper into her skin, almost breaking the skin, at the sound of her crying. A threat. But she couldn't stop the grief from rising from her chest, the mourning of all she had lost in a single moment- all that she would lose when the truth of what she was came out.
But then, without any more warning than the sound of running footsteps- and the weight was gone. Renee scrambled on her feet, wide-eyed, still crying, staring at the scene before her.
The Exorcist was on the floor, Señor Oscar pinning him down.
"Nos han matado!" ("You've killed us!") Oscar screamed, grabbing the lapels of the Exorcist's coat, shaking him violently. "Confíe en ustedes y trajeron monstruos. Los ayude y han matado a mi gente! Han atacado a nuestros niños!" ("I trusted you and you brought monsters. I helped you and you've killed my people! You've attacked our children!")
The Exorcist's spear was on the floor besides him, within grabbing distance. "Disculpeme por no llegar más rápido. Por no prevenir que esto pasara." ("Forgive me for not arriving faster. For not preventing this from taking place.") There was a haunted look in the Exorcist's eyes, the face of a man that was drowning in guilt, that understood his part in what had taken place.
"Y que es su disculpa para mi? Regresaría toda la gente que falleció? Cambiaria como tenia una nina en el piso como si no uvieran otros monstros afuera de aqui!?" ("And what is your apology to me? Would it bring back all who have died? Would it change how you had a girl on the ground as if there weren't still other monsters outside!?")
The Exorcist's gaze sharpened. "Otro monstros?" ("Other monsters?")
Oscar's laugh was hysterical. "Que no escucha los gritos?" ("Can't you hear the screaming?")
Those words roused her from her haze, snapped her back into the reality of the situation, shot down her spine like electricity. She took a step back, away from Oscar and the Exorcist. She took another step away, the shrill sound outside the church crystalizing, becoming clear and distinct and unmistakable.
How could she have missed the screaming?
Renee spun on her heel and sprinted to the doors, past the wide-eyed Finders, past the pale and ashen survivors that stared at the bodies scattered across the once hallowed ground. She ran and frantically clawed at the door, struggling to unlatch the lock with her shaking fingers, hyperventilating as the wails outside rose in volume and echoed off the cobbled streets.
The lock came undone underneath her hands at last, and the loud clunk of the doors starting to open captured the attention of everyone inside the church with her. There were whimpers, survivors praying and crying for mercy, for no more monsters. There were sharp inhales, foreign voices calling out to her, reaching fingers and panicked words telling her to-
Sunlight, harsh and bright and blinding, forced her to squeeze her eyes shut. The sun stained the back of her eyelids a dark red, reminding her of the blood spilled across the church floor, seeping into the cracks in the stone. She inhaled sharply, eyes snapping open, ears buzzing with the rising of another scream in the distance.
She wanted to move outside, to run and run until the terror in her chest abated; to hide and hide until everything that could hurt her went away. But she didn't, couldn't, move. Frozen in place.
The breath was stolen from her lungs, staring in mute horror at the carnage that continued out beyond the church doors, that filled the empty streets- from the empty clothing and collapsed buildings and spreading fires, to the screaming, screaming, screaming.
Her arm was gripped suddenly, strong and trembling fingers wrapped around the exposed skin of her forearm in a bruising hold. "No salgas aqui! Es peligroso!" ("Don't come out here! It's dangerous!")
Renee slowly raised her head, moving her eyes away from the ash and fire and rubble, to the white-knuckled hand on her arm, long fingers clenched tight enough that her tan skin was bloodless and aching. She looked up at the Finder, meeting blue eyes, the pupils inside them tiny pinpricks of black, feeling his full body flinch as he met her hollow, hollow gaze.
It was the same Finder that had met her eyes that first day they had come to Ayamonte. The one that had seen her and immediately realized what she was, that had known she was a monster from a single glance. She had dreamt of those blue eyes. She had dreamt of them for days after they finally left, had agonized over what they had seen in her that had left them so haunted.
The Finder jerked back in surprise. He released her arm as if burnt by contact. What little color that remained on his face drained out of it in seconds, "Eres tu… La hija de-" ("It's you… The daughter of the-")
A frigid, glacial chill spread from her heart to her bones- seeping into every cell of her being, nauseating in its intensity, making the ground beneath her spin and spin and spin.
Ah, she thought, you know, don't you?
I was scared of you, she wanted to say, I thought you were just as bad as the monsters until the monsters showed up. And for that I'm sorry.
I'm sorry that I blamed you for the things this necklace showed me. I'm sorry that I still can't stand the sight of you. I'm sorry that between this war and ignorance, that between giving myself up to the Order and fighting so things like this will never happen again, I will always choose the path where I can stay with Maria Elena for just a little longer.
Renee backed away from him, unable to tear her eyes away from the Finder's face. She carefully stepped down the steps, waiting for any hint that the shock would wear off and he would grab her once more; but as she whirled around and sped away, trampling over dusty clothing, trailing bloody shoe prints across the stone streets, no one followed.
And I'm sorry for running away.
"Why didn't he chase you?" Allen asked, confusion furrowing his brows, "Even if you looked like your mother, you were still a little girl. Letting you run off like that, it doesn't make sense to me." He crossed his arms across his chest, trying to understand what the Finder had been thinking that day over a decade ago.
Renee had no answer to give him either. The reason the Finder had let her go wasn't one she was sure of, even now. There must have been a chain of events that led to him not chasing her down, that allowed her to escape from the grasp of both Akuma and Exorcist and Finder, one after another, so she was able to reach home.
"Not everyone is like you," she settled on saying, "Sometimes fear is stronger than duty. Sometimes we want to live so desperately, we do things we shouldn't just to survive. You can't judge him too harshly for just wanting to stay alive. He didn't know I wasn't actually an Akuma, just that I hadn't attacked him yet, even as defenseless as he was at that moment."
"I can't understand that kind of reasoning," Allen said, "But I can't blame him for wanting to live." He looked back up at her, "I'm glad you were alright, even though I wish that something so awful hadn't happened at all."
"Yeah, me neither."
He looked hesitant to ask. But Renee could guess just what was eating him up. She sighed, "Just say what you want to say while I'm still in a sharing mood."
His shoulders slumped, and he laughed softly, "I'm that obvious?"
You're a master at poker, she thought. If you really hadn't wanted me to see that, I would have been none the wiser.
"Sorta." She said instead, closing her eyes and dropping her forehead to her knees. It was hard to look at him sometimes. It was hard to look at him and have past, present and future overlap right before her eyes. She felt tired, not only from reliving the past, but from having to share it with the one person she had been trying to avoid growing attached to for the second time in her life.
(Do you really not remember me at all?)
She knew just what kind of things awaited him- just what kind of heartache he was going to go through in order to find the other side to this war.
(It's like I'm drowning in the memories.)
She couldn't bear to look him in the eyes, unsure if one day it wouldn't be Allen but Neah looking back at her- with her unaware of the change. She couldn't bear looking at him for too long without feeling as if she was staring at a collapsing sun, brilliant and blinding but no other fate awaiting him but death.
(I can't stand being so close to you like this.)
There was an ache in her chest that had nothing to do with Ayamonte, the same painful sting that surged every time she saw Allen Walker, every time she saw just how much he had changed from when she had known him; everytime she brushed aside his invitations for friendship because she couldn't stand befriending someone fated to die.
"Just spit it out already." Please.
Another long pause, she could feel his eyes on her ducked head. Could almost sense the frown on his lips as he felt her shutting him out, little by little, all over again.
"Did you find her?" He asked, seeming to know that pushing any other topic would stop this vulnerability, would desecrate this hallowed space in which Renee had finally let him see who she really was, if only a glimpse- where she had allowed her stoic mask to fall to the side, if only for a moment. "Did you find your grandmother?"
"Yes," she said, thinking back to how fate had made a mockery of her then, of how it had shoved all her fears in her face and laughed at her terror. The bright part of that dark day was simple, a single reason that she hadn't given up completely to either the Akumas or the Order. "I found her in the end."
It was a tiny moment of reprieve, seeing the shack still standing when behind her, pillars of black smoke rose above Ayamonte. It was a miracle, she had thought then, how she had been allowed to see Maria Elena again, even if it was not inside their home. She had been lucky, she had thought then, to hear the shouts of her Abuela calling her name- frantic and scared, but alive.
She had followed the sounds to see her grandmother unharmed, clustered in with a group of townspeople that had survived the blitz attack on the marketplace. Even when the Akuma came once more, blotting out the sun with their metallic shells, casting ominous shadows on the burning stalls, on the empty clothing scattered across the ground like litter- Renee thought she was lucky, to have her abuelita by her side in the end. That this time, if she was going to die again, it wouldn't be alone.
(It wouldn't be until much, much later, that she would wonder just how she knew she had been alone last time she had died. She didn't remember anything about her death... Or did she?)
Death did not come for her then, not like she had thought. Nor did it come for her Abuela, the one kindness it had ever gifted her, not stealing away her one reason for living right before her eyes. Although, not for lack of trying.
When the Akuma came, Renee stood beside her Abuela, hand clenched tightly in hers, shaking in terror but unwilling to run if it meant she would leave Maria Elena's side. Even when they floated closer, even when they aimed their guns at their small group and prepared to shoot- Renee didn't regret leaving the tentative safety of the church to find her grandmother.
I don't want Abuelita to die. I want to live with her for as long as I can.
She was scared. Even with her abuelita by her side, she was terrified. But she couldn't run. Not if it meant being alone again, not if it meant she would lose everything she had left.
The Akuma drew closer, blank dead eyes meeting her own from a distance. It looked like it smirked, lifeless face twisting into a grotesque expression for a moment-
I don't want to die. Not again. Please not again.
The necklace around her throat burned, growing hotter and hotter as her thoughts repeated the same thing, over and over. It started to glow, a bright green light pulsing in time with her frenzied heart. It was burning, stronger and stronger, as heated as the blood in her veins- almost painful against her bare skin. It was that green light that made the Akuma freeze in their tracks, that seared her flesh and shone through her dress like it was nothing more than tissue.
I know what you are, she thought stunned and stomach spiralling down to her feet, you're-
"Inocencia," ("Innocence,") The Akuma exclaimed, delighted, robotic voices surging in eagerness. "Tienes Inocencia para nosotros, pequena Renee? Da lo aqui, como los regalitos de antes. Nos haria muy feliz." ("You have Innocence for us, little Renee? Give it here, like the little presents from before. It'd make us very happy.")
Renee forgot how to breathe. Her knees nearly gave out.
How long had these Akuma lived among them all, how long had they been masquerading as human beings- to know that she liked giving gifts to her favorite townspeople? How long had they watched her, empty eyes better hidden than her own, corpses puppeteered into pretending to be alive- like her, but so, so much different.
"Inocencia?" ("Innocence?") A voice whispered from behind the Akuma. The Exorcist, spear in hand but dark eyes locked on the viridian glow coming from her chest. "Eres Compatible con la Inocencia?" ("You're compatible with the Innocence?")
The Innocence burned even worse at his words, like it was denying them- like it hated the truth of what he had said. Like it hated the creature it was bound to, like it resented her enough to hurt.
She wanted to say that she was brave that day, that she had nodded at the Exorcist and made a decision to fight by his side, to give her life to a cause that would one day save the world. She wanted to say that she and the Innocence came to an agreement, that it stopped feeling like a heated iron against her flesh and burned hot and fast through their mutual enemies.
She wanted to say that she wanted so much for her grandmother to live that she was willing to part from her, to keep the world safe so her grandmother could live out her days content and without demons or the church hunting them down.
But there was a reason that the Innocence loathed her so.
There was a reason Renee Luz Castillo was hated so much by the Innocence and adored so much by the Akuma.
They saw themselves in her, in the emptiness in her eyes, in the shape of her face that mirrored one of their own. They saw the hollow space in her chest, where her black hole of an existence had consumed the soul of an innocent girl, probably the one that was originally chosen by god to wield the Innocence.
There was a reason that unnatural girls were not meant to wield crystals from God. There was a reason that the power given to her in the shape of that necklace did nothing but hurt her and mark her and burn so furiously. It was a tempest of rage contained in a small amulet, eager to destroy everything, including her- the false apostate, the not quite real human but not quite Akuma.
There was a reason that it wouldn't be until much, much later that the Innocence stopped hating her, that where it sat against her collarbone would burn so badly it left a scar in the shape of it that would remain there for years.
Because the truth is, in that moment, when faced by demons and saviors alike, when faced with the choice between the world and her grandmother- the moment the Akuma swooped down and attacked the Exorcist, Renee took Maria Elena's hand and ran.