Welcome to Character Development by Force, the fanfic you haven't been looking for.
Liberties will be taken.
Chapter One: A Slow Death
He clawed his way towards the surface, but the closer he got, the farther away it seemed. His lungs were on fire. Beams of sunlight waved in the water, lancing into his eyes and cutting into his skin. The taste of iron flooded his mouth. He gasped, and water poured in. He coughed, choked, spasmed.
One last look towards the blinding sky as the sullied water pulled him under.
One last look at the face staring down at him.
Adam shot up, arm outstretched, eyes still dazzled from the light. His chest heaved once, twice, before the pain hit. He grunted, folded, fell. His head hit a pillow. He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut against the dull ache that suffused his entire body.
"Welcome back to the land of the living."
His hand went to his waist, only to encounter empty air. Of course; Wilt and Blush were in the ocean. Where he had been. The ache intensified, his bones remembering the crunch of his body against the rock and the shock of hitting the water.
The afterlife was a cruel place, to keep the pain like this.
He opened his eyes. A stone ceiling rested comfortably far above him, the dark crags lit by the soft golden glow of lamps spaced along the walls. Full bookshelves covered the wall to his left, where the voice had come from. He was near to the ground on a thick mat. He levered himself up on one elbow, ignoring the agony that radiated through his bones. Cool air brushed over his skin; his jacket and shirt were gone. Bandages covered his chest. Fresh blood bloomed on the highest ones.
The afterlife was…not this.
"Here." A person held out a second pillow in a hand partially covered by a fingerless black glove. They were barefoot, treading over the exposed stone just as casually as the rugs scattered around. Loose brown pants a few shades lighter than their skin led up to a purple hoodie mostly hidden under an unzipped black leather jacket. Curly black hair shaved close on the sides spilled over their forehead without quite reaching the blindfold. Their lips twitched, undoubtedly seeing Adam cataloguing their appearance and, most importantly, lingering on the two short swords sheathed on their hips.
He made no move to take what was offered. "Who are you?"
They shook the cushion a little. "If you keep putting strain on your wounds, it's possible that the internal wounds, not just the external, will reopen."
Wounds. From when Blake had stabbed him. He tried to call on his aura. It flickered pathetically over his skin in a patchwork of crimson before sputtering out. He scowled, refocusing on the person. "I asked who you are."
They raised an eyebrow. Purple light bled out from between the embroidered fibers of their black blindfold.
"Stay still," they said, their voice cutting deep into his skull. He went rigid, muscles locking as the person knelt next to him, set up his pillows, and then pulled him back into a sitting position against them. The wall curved out behind his mat, giving him something to rest against, now cushioned by pillows. His wounds protested, knives in his chest—
A knife in his back.
"There," said the person, satisfied. They stood up, and the purple glow disappeared. Adam slumped against the pillows, his body his own once again.
"What did you do to me?"
The person crossed their arms. "After all the effort I put into saving your life, I'm not going to watch you undo my work just so you can put up a hollow show of strength." They jerked their chin at his chest. "How do you feel?"
He searched for eyes in the black but came up empty. He had no weapons, no aura, and was too weak to even stand. This was pathetic.
He couldn't even die right.
The person tilted their head. "Well, I guess that's the answer I should've expected."
"Who are you?" he asked again.
"You can call me Deus," they paused long enough to let him know it was deliberate, "Adam."
Once more, he reached for the weapons he didn't have. Once more, he tried to summon his aura. It didn't even bother to flicker. "How do you know who I am?"
"It's not hard." Deus gestured towards the mouth of the cave beyond Adam's feet, which had a single metal door letting in some natural light through the slats of its small window. "Out there, news of what you've done isn't hard to come by. You're a very wanted man." They crossed their arms again, mouth falling into a frown. "Or you were. But I've known about you for longer than that."
He tracked Deus as they strode to the far wall and sat on one of the desks a few feet from the bookshelves. The other, the one deeper into the cave, was covered in books. Seated, Deus held up their hands in the universal sign for peace, a gesture entirely undercut by their weapons and Adam's lack thereof. "I'm not here to turn you in. Not here for revenge, either. I'm here to save you."
"Save me?" His throat, dry from who knew how long without water, caught, and he coughed. "I don't need saving," he managed through the short fit.
Deus raised an eyebrow high enough for him to glimpse it above their blindfold as they stood. They walked to the kitchen farther back into the homely cave. The counter, as well as the cave's wall, worked to block Adam's view. "Yes, because half-drowned people with two fatal stab wounds and a—how should I put it—pulverized spine usually get up just fine on their own."
Adam heard a tap running, and then Deus returned with a glass of water. They held it out. "Take it. You've been unconscious for two weeks; I did what I could, but now it's your turn."
Without much choice, Adam took the glass. He drained it immediately, his sudden thirst nearly making him gag on the first gulp. He held out the empty glass. While he couldn't tell exactly where Deus was looking because of the blindfold, their face shifted in a way that made him guess they had looked from the glass to his face.
"If you want something," they said, voice dangerously soft, "I suggest you bother to ask for it. While I fought for the White Fang, I am not one of your subordinates."
Adam shivered, then scowled. He would not be intimidated, especially not by someone who was, at most, only a few years older than him. "Then may I have another glass," he growled, "please."
When they turned around this time, Adam got a good look at the pattern stitched in brown thread into the back of their jacket: a hawk mid-dive, its talons extended towards prey beyond the jacket's end. It was familiar, but his fatigued mind couldn't place it.
As Deus took the glass and refilled it, he cycled through what little he knew of his situation. Foremost was the small fact that he was alive. That fight was supposed to have been the end of everything: either of Blake and all the complications she caused, or of him. He was supposed to be done with it. Done with everything. And yet, in the end, even carrying out a plan as simple as that was beyond him. Deus had painted themselves as an ally, but he had no idea where he was or what they wanted. Why save him? For the reward? But the payout for just his body would undoubtedly have been worth more than all this time spent dragging him back from the deep. They wanted something else, but he had nothing left to give.
He gingerly pressed against his bandages, trying to get a sense of how recovered he was while he asked, "Where am I?"
"The forest outside Argus."
Not too far from where he'd fallen, then. "How did you heal me?"
"Luck, mostly," Deus said, handing Adam his second glass. They then pulled up a simple wooden chair, spun it around, and sat with their arms resting on the back. "But after that, well. My semblance can do a little more than hold injured people in place."
"Do not give me orders."
Adam winced, nearly spilling his glass. "What did you—"
Deus cocked their head. "Try to give me another order. Anything you can think of."
Knowing he was being led into some kind of trap, he set his water down. He particularly disliked that Deus was looking down on him. If he had his weapons—
An idea struck.
"Give me a weapon," he tried to say, only for nothing to come out. His mouth wouldn't even move. He tried again with the same result.
Deus's lips curled into a smile. "I'm guessing you just tried." The purple glow vanished. "When I tell your organs to heal, they heal. When I tell your spine to reform, it reforms. I can't make your body do what goes against its fundamental nature, though, which is usually to keep living. I can't tell your heart to stop, or your neck to snap, or your eyes to burst. Would've made my old profession much easier. Your body wanted to heal, so it healed."
"I get it."
"When you reached the point where your aura would heal you on its own earlier today, I stopped treatment. My methods tend to be rather painful when people are awake. Things usually have to break more in order to get better. And it's exhausting." Deus leaned back, stretching. "Anything else you want to know?"
It didn't seem like another trap. There was no more of that ear-splitting, bone-shaking voice. Still, he would be foolish to reveal his greatest concern—their purpose—so easily.
"Why do you cover your face?" he finally asked.
"A fascinating question to hear from you. Not for the same reasons you did, if I understand that scar correctly. It's a personal choice. Makes talking to people easier." They took his glass immediately when he finished it for the second time.
Adam, taken aback by how flippantly they had mentioned his scar, waited until they returned to ask his next question. "How do you know me?"
"A few ways. As I mentioned, the bounties. But I was in the White Fang for years. Rumors of you weren't hard to come by; fighters of your caliber don't come up often. My former colleagues compared us often."
"I left. After my exit, I decided to keep tabs on you. I wanted to know…" they hesitated, jaw working. Adam waited. They sighed. "I wanted to know if you would make the same mistake I did. And you tried. You really tried. I was impressed."
"You watched that fight?" He hadn't seen anyone else. Not that he'd really been looking.
"Couldn't help it. You've never been so close to here before. And let me say: you didn't disappoint. Your sword skills are worthy of envy. If that blond girl hadn't interrupted, you would've killed the Belladonna girl. Now, that would have put you and I on far more similar footing, but with what actually happened…well, you became an even better opportunity for me." Deus's expression shifted into unreadability. "So I saved your life."
Adam scrutinized Deus, but he couldn't get a hint of their true intentions. They gave off no signs of hostility, favor, or pity. "Is that all I am for you? Some kind of guinea pig for your own amusement? I won't play your games—"
"No games, though you are an experiment. Whether or not it's a good experiment is up to you." They stood, sliding the chair out of the way. "Remove the bandages on your chest. I need to redo your stitches. You're lucky the ones on your back are intact; that cut was a lot cleaner than the front."
He scowled, but Deus ignored his paltry resistance and went to fetch a small medical kit from a nearby cabinet. He gritted his teeth, but to refuse treatment when even he could see the red blooming on the bandages, and when he was far too weak to defend himself, would be self-defeating. There was no way they would let him die from neglect. Seeing no other real option, he gingerly peeled back the gauze pads and tape. Blood oozed up from the narrow but jagged cut where Blake had impaled him with the broken hilt of her blade. Vertigo threatened to take over, and he closed his eyes against it, but that only plunged him back into the water. Nausea it was.
Deus returned and cleaned the wound, mopping up the new blood and disinfecting the area. Adam braced himself against the stinging, but, without warning and only the bare minimum of numbing salve, Deus removed the old stitches and began redoing them. Adam sucked in a breath.
His body locked. He swore in his head, unable to do anything but watch as the needle wove in and out of his flesh. If nothing else, Deus was quick. When they finished, they applied a fresh gauze pad and let their semblance fade.
"You shouldn't try to get up until tomorrow," they advised. "Once your aura recovers, your healing rate should increase as well. The more you rest, the faster that will happen. I'll bring your dinner in a couple of hours. Until then," their eyes glowed again, "sleep."
He went limp, eyes sliding shut, head filling with fog and thoughts slipping away before he could even think to fight it.
Updates will be every Sunday/Wednesday/Friday until completion.