A/N: Heya, so this is my semi-regular "I'm not dead!" reminder for all you folks who don't follow me on Tumblr or aren't on the Discord. Hello! Still alive! :D This was based on the prompt: "You turned me into the person I am today and I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing" sent by fanlove873 on Tumblr.
For information The Bureau Files, please check out the note at the end of this ficlet! Thank you!
"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good."
- For Good, Wicked
Although it didn't always look it, life in the Bureau was dangerous.
Haru forgot that sometimes.
Baron almost always did.
He also forgot – and this was perhaps a more serious offence – to warn Haru that he was hardier than your average mortal.
He remembered just as the cutlass ran through him.
For a moment there was pain, pure pitiless pain, and his hitched, somewhat disbelieving gasp that the pirate had landed a blow, and then his Creation magic flooded over him. Severed flesh solidified to wood and the pain vanished. A slight numbness tingled at the intersection between blood and wood.
There was shouting. The ringing of magic in his ears subsided enough for him to recognise it as Haru's and he turned to her and gave a little "not dead" wave.
She looked like she was going through all five stages of grief, except usually it didn't circle back round to anger. He'd deal with that later.
He looked back to the pirate, who had released his hold on the cutlass and seemed to still be waiting for Baron to fall.
Baron prodded the blade. It wobbled but remained firmly in his chest.
"Colour me impressed," he said. "Most people don't even scratch me but you would have clean cleaved my heart had I been anyone else."
The pirate was looking decidedly uneasy. Baron imagined that not many of his opponents congratulated him on a killing blow.
The pirate licked his lips nervously. "Can I have my sword back please?"
"Considering that you might just try again, and I'm already upset that you've put one tear through my favourite waistcoat, I think not." Baron pulled up a chair and sipped at the tea on the desk. It was cold. Naturally. "Now that we seem to have defused the situation, I think it's time we got to the bottom of this case…"
"Doesn't it hurt?"
Back in the safety of the Bureau and far away from pirates and cutlasses, Haru gently prodded at the wooden scar running across Baron's chest.
"It doesn't feel anything," Baron replied. "My body reverts to its inanimate form when injured. As such," he rapped his knuckles on the sealed wound, "no nerves."
"Huh. So not even if I…" She knocked a rhythm against the wooden scar.
"Still nothing. But somewhat rude—"
She punched his shoulder. "How about that?"
Baron's hand flew to his shoulder and pointedly massaged at it. "Definitely rude. And it's not even in its inanimate form, so of course it hurts—"
"I thought you had died, you jackass."
Baron closed his mouth sharply. "Oh," he eventually managed. "Yes, about that…"
"He stabbed you and I thought…"
Haru took a long steadying breath that had the opposite effect on Baron's own nerves. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. "It's not that I'm not glad you're not dead—"
"Always a good start to a conversation," Baron said.
"—but some warning next time would be nice. I thought he had killed you! Are there any other superpowers I should know about before I get a heart attack the next time you're mortally wounded, or is that it?"
"Well, I'm not in danger of drowning—"
"Burning? You revert to wood, so…"
"Fire is always a distinct danger—"
"So if someone stabbed you with a flaming sword of death, you'd be…"
"In serious trouble." Baron hesitated. "Although I'm not sure that's a thing."
"You know some magical idiot has looked at a sword and gone, you know what this needs? More fire!"
"Fair point. I will do my best to avoid magical idiots bearing flaming swords of death."
"You'd better. I'm not going to mourn your death twice." Haru was quiet for a second longer, the silence suddenly heavy about them and Baron felt there was something lost in those passing moments. Then she looked back up with that bright smile and went, "Poison?"
"Would poison kill you?"
"Depends on how fast-acting it is, but I've found myself to be generally resistant."
"Not much fun and would not recommend, but I have survived through a couple."
"If someone beheaded you, would that kill you?"
"Yes. But beheading tends to work on most things."
"True. You know, I'm suddenly far less impressed by your duel with the Cat King. And here I was, all this time thinking you risked getting stabbed in order to help me."
"In all fairness, I was at risk of being stabbed."
"But it wasn't going to kill you, was it?"
She had him there.
It was always risky bringing a human along on Bureau cases. Not that Haru ever let that stop her. Baron had to admire that. Still, after discovering that he was at a substantially smaller chance of dying on cases, she didn't dispute too much when he got between her and danger.
It was easy to be chivalrous when the risk was low.
Even so, it wasn't always fun. A misjudged jump that would have fractured bone splintered wood instead, and he still had to use his cane seriously for a few weeks while the magic healed his limbs. Jaws that went for his face scarred the grain and not flesh, and his smile was wooden for a month.
"You know, there's chivalrous, and then there's just plain stupid," Haru told him one day while she made tea for the both of them. Baron sat at his desk, trying to write with his left hand while his right was cast in wood. "You should look up the difference sometime."
An inkblot smeared across the page and Baron bit back several ungentlemanly words.
Haru plonked a cup before him with a raised eyebrow that indicated she hadn't missed the mouthed words. "Will you be okay with this, or do you need a straw?"
"Haru, I'm not a child."
"I didn't say you were. I just called you an idiot." She laughed. "Oh, don't make that face," she said, and she leant down on the desk. She gave a smile that had a strange way of scattering Baron's thoughts. "How about you dictate and I write?"
"Just don't use any unnecessarily fancy words. I'm not a dictionary."
It was always risky bringing a human into the Bureau, but as time passed Baron discovered that this was true in multiple ways. For instance, falling for a mortal woman would always have… consequences.
Falling in love usually did.
And Baron had always been aware of his immortality - well, not always, but often enough - but Haru suddenly made it all the clearer. She would age and die. He would not.
A human lifespan suddenly looked so short compared to the unforgiving future of forever.
"Haru, look out!"
Baron twisted Haru out of the way and the tin soldier's dagger sank through his shoulder. He staggered, then brought his uninjured arm around and elbowed the soldier away.
"Haru – get to the crystal! Remove it from its pedestal and it'll break the animating spell!"
The soldier snarled and started for Haru as she ran across the room, but Baron hooked his cane on its wrist and yanked it back. "Oh, no you don't," Baron said. He went to pull the dagger out, but pain ricocheted along his limbs and he cried out.
The tin soldier unsheathed its sword, and Baron backed away, one hand gripping his shoulder. Something sticky oozed from the wound. "Haru…" he called.
The tin soldier took a juddering step towards Baron and then slumped where it stood. Baron shuddered and lifted his hand. His white glove came away red.
He pulled his shirt down to see the blade piercing flesh, muscle mangled and skin torn, and he felt bile rise in his throat. As Haru came running back across the room, animating crystal in hand, he quickly covered the wound.
"I got it! Now what do we do with it?"
"Take it to Toto and Muta outside; Toto knows how to deactivate it," Baron said. His breath was tight. He hoped Haru didn't notice. "I need to check on our soldier friend here and see if his remains can tell us anything about his maker, so I'll meet you outside in a moment." He hesitated, and then added, "I'll need to borrow your bag with the lapis lazuli in, just in case there's any loose magic that needs siphoning off."
"Oh. Sure." Haru dropped her bag into his hand, and he tried not to hiss as he moved his arm. "By the way, do you know you've got a knife in your shoulder? Do you want me to take it out or…?"
"Really? I thought it looked rather dashing."
Haru laughed. "Suit yourself."
Baron waited until she was gone before dropping down to his knees with a pained gasp. He rummaged through Haru's bag until he found the first aid kit she always kept and located the bandages inside. He would replace them later, he assured himself as he tugged the dagger out and set about binding the open wound.
The result was shoddy and one-handed but it covered the blood and hid the damage, and that was all he needed for now.
"Toto, I have a problem."
Toto fidgeted on the Bureau's balcony rail. "Is this about the tea prank Muta pulled? Because I had nothing to do with it–"
"No, although now I'm considering that I may have two problems. No, I'm thinking of something slightly more serious." Baron revealed the injured shoulder. Blood was already seeping through the makeshift bandage.
"Oh," Toto said.
"Yes. 'Oh.' What do I do?"
"Have you considered not getting stabbed?"
"Ha-bloody-ha." Baron tried not to wince as he buttoned his shirt back up. "Very funny. Look, you've lived far longer than me; do you know what's causing this? Is it dangerous? How do I stop it?"
"You're not dying, if that's what you're worried about."
"That's something, at least–"
"You're just becoming mortal."
Baron stopped gingerly rubbing his shoulder. "What?"
"I guess you've never heard about this before. Oh boy."
"Mortal? What do you mean mortal?"
"Well, you're becoming blood and flesh with a limited lifespan, which is what mortal means to most people…" Toto trailed off, sighed, and started again. "Most Creations have a…" He narrowed his eyes as he searched for the right word. "A failsafe. Immortality can be a curse, so for many Creations, once they reach a point where they want to spend the rest of their life, they become mortal."
"Well, for instance - and let's just say this is a purely hypothetical situation - if a Creation fell in love with a human woman and wanted to grow old with her." Toto's bird eyes shone. "For instance."
Baron didn't answer immediately. "For instance," he echoed.
"Sure. And let's, for instance, theorise that if this, entirely-hypothetical Creation was fairly young, say… still within a human lifespan… and hadn't really had to deal with human morality before on a long-term scale, but was already watching one close friend grow old… well then, who could blame him for no longer wanting immortality? Or her. Them."
Baron was silent for a long moment. Sometimes Toto was just far too clever for his own good. Finally, he asked, "And what should this entirely hypothetical Creation do under such circumstances?"
"Well, they could reject their newfound mortality." Toto was watching him closely. "If they moved on, left behind that which was tying them down to that desire of mortality, they would become fully immortal once again. At least, until they grew close to new mortals."
"Are you saying I'd have to forget Haru?" Baron asked quietly.
"Who said anything about Haru? I thought this was purely hypothetical."
Baron scoffed and sank into his desk chair, suddenly feeling all of his many years. "Toto, what do I do?" he murmured.
"Well, first of all, I recommend you get that wound seen to before you bleed onto your best shirt."
An almost-smile twitched on Baron's lips. "And then?"
"And then? Well, you've got a choice to make."
Being mortal was a pain.
Baron couldn't understand how anyone lived with it. He tired easier. Constantly. Apparently bodies needed an inordinate amount just to keep them functioning. Food - but not just any food, there was a bloody food wheel, and all the nice things were in the tiny slices. And sleep. No more could he work through the night and power on through the next day. No, now he needed proper rest otherwise his body malfunctioned. Not just physically either, although that was no fun; memory, responses, rational reasoning all suffered if he didn't close his eyes for eight wasted hours a day.
And then there were the nitty-gritty things. Socialisation. Sunlight. Physical exercise. Things that his body apparently needed or it would rebel in a hundred tiny ways, usually mentally.
Not enough socialisation? Pain. (Loneliness.)
Too much socialisation? Pain. (Over-stimulation.)
Not enough sunlight? Pain. (Depression.)
Too much sunlight? Pain. (Temporary sight.)
Not enough physical exercise? Pain. (Irritability.)
Too much physical exercise? Pain. (Pain.)
These were all things he had known in principle, but it was quite another thing to experience and abide by them.
Being mortal was a lesson in moderation and Baron wasn't enjoying it.
"Hey, for some of us, it's all we've known," Muta reminded him when he voiced such thoughts. "Not all of us got to be a fancy-smancy immortal. Ya'll get used to it."
"And if I don't?" Baron asked.
In hindsight, Muta probably wasn't the person to consult on being mortal.
But that only left Haru.
"So this is just temporary, right?"
Baron creaked one tired eye open to see Haru leaning over the back of the sofa he was sprawled across. "This whole mortal thing?" she finished.
"Maybe," he mumbled. His eye fell shut until someone sat at the far end of the sofa, shifting his legs out of their way.
"Told you you shouldn't have done all that running," Haru admonished lightly. "You're lucky you didn't sprain any muscles on that jump."
"A month ago it wouldn't have done anything," Baron said.
"Well, we're not a month ago, are we?" She prodded his ankle. "We're now and you're mortal and you've got to learn to act it. No more dramatic risks."
"But that's half my personality gone," Baron mumbled. He forced his eyes open to meet Haru's. "What am I without my dramatics?"
She snorted. "I didn't say you couldn't be dramatic. Just less of the jumping off buildings and towards sharp spiky weapons. That still leaves plenty of options." She patted his ankle again. "For instance, moping on the Bureau sofa after pulling a few muscles is definitely allowed."
Baron smiled at that. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, trying to ignore the aches running along his calves. "Haru," he said gently, "what if… this is permanent?"
"You'll definitely have to learn to act mortal then," Haru said with a grin. The smile softened as she read something in Baron's look. "Why?" she asked. "Is that likely to happen?"
"Unless certain things change, very possibly."
"What kind of things?"
Baron was silent a moment. "It just might be permanent," he said.
She looked at him, and he wondered if her eyes could see straight through his unspoken words. The smile was sad. "Okay then," she said. "Keep your secrets."
He should[n't] tell her.
He was becoming accustomed to being mortal. Not enjoying it - he wasn't sure anyone really enjoyed being mortal - but accepting it. Tolerating it. He guessed there were worse things to be.
He wasn't sure what, but there probably were.
Still, when Haru complained that her legs ached or Muta gripped that they shouldn't have skipped breakfast for a case, Baron felt it too and empathy was stronger than sympathy. He found himself watching the other mortals around him – Bureau members and clients alike – for signs of what he had come to call mortal fatigue. And the more he felt the limitations of mortality, the better he was at seeing it in others.
"Of course you will," Haru said, when Baron aired these thoughts aloud. "You know what it's like now." She looked up from the book she was reading and flashed a smile. "Is there something wrong with that?"
"No," Baron said. "It's just unexpected."
Haru hummed to herself, and then decisively bookmarked her page (with one of his feathered quills, he noted) and set the novel aside. "Look, I know being mortal hasn't been much fun for you, but it's not all bad."
Baron didn't say anything, not wanting to speak badly of being human, but something of his doubt must have shown in his face for Haru sighed and sat up.
"Look, the only reason it looks so terrible to you is because you're thinking all in matters of physical differences. Yeah, so you can't take an arrow to the knee and walk it off anymore. Yeah, so you have to actually eat and drink and go to the bathroom now. Big whoop. We all have to learn to deal with that. Just most of us learn in our toddler years and not when we're eighty-something."
"Is there a 'but' to this?" Baron asked.
Haru wrinkled her nose. "It'd be a pretty bad pep-talk without one. 'Cause, you see, being mortal isn't just about dying. It's about… living. It's about making mistakes and facing them because you know you only have so long in this world. It's about actions having consequences and apologies and finding your limits and pushing your limits and sometimes breaking your limits and that's okay because we are constantly growing. Because when you only have so much time, you can't waste it away being the same person. You have to grow and change and sometimes you have to backpedal and even if you think you find out who you are, you have to keep moving because there is always more to learn.
"It's about making sense of living a life you know can only end one way – that it will – and choosing to care anyway. About yourself. About the world. About other people. It's about doing the best you can in the time you're given and that's the challenge." Haru smiled softly. "You think it's a weakness to be human, but actually it's our greatest strength."
"But I've never been mortal before." Baron said. "I don't know how to."
"No one does. That's why we take a lifetime to learn." Haru's eyes scanned over Baron's, searching. "You said this might be permanent," she said eventually. "But you made it sound like there was a way to undo it, if you wanted. So why not do that?"
Baron hesitated, and he thought of what she had said and he thought of the perils of being mortal, but most prominently he thought of what his immortality would cost.
"I can't," he said.
"Because I would have to lose too much."
"Too much?" Haru echoed. "What does that mean? What would you have to lose?"
You, he thought. I would have to lose you.
She had turned him into the person he was today, and he didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing.
But, for her, he would be mortal.
A/N: So, here's the TBF5 update I promised you. Firstly, thank you for your patience. I know it's been, uh, a bit of a wait, but we are finally there! TBF5 is all written up and, save for some last edits and some decompression time, it. Is. Finished. (*ungainly celebration noises from the author*)
And so… (drumroll, please):
The Bureau Files: Series 5 will return on 21st March 2020, with Episode 1: One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (Part 1)
I hope to see you there!