Define Neverland: Interlude
“You can win back your love, young rakefire! Always be gentle at the breaking of your heart. Always be soft like crab without shell!”
“Screw you, Circus Man.”
They passed in front of the greenhouse. A group of boys around Zelo’s age were tending to plants and scribbling down their observations.
“Why have you consistently declined the opportunity to become a healer, Zelo?” asked the professor.
Zelo turned to the professor and said, “Forgive me, but I have been trained to kill people, not save them.” He watched the professor turn red.
“Of course. This way.”
The tap-tap of Zelo’s cane echoed loudly against the stone and did not falter when Brigham Tigress leaned over to murmur, “That was less than polite, Zelo.” His breath gust out hot against Zelo’s ear, a marked contrast to the chill air.
“The guilt overwhelms me,” said Zelo.
Brigham pursed his lips and did not offer any more opinions as they followed the professor down some stairs that looked like they led to a cellar. Dust rose in flurries from the ground with the movement of Zelo’s coat.
“It doesn’t look like anyone has been down here in — ” Zelo started. Behind him, he heard a sharp thump and the distinct wet crack of a breaking bone. “Professor?” He turned and saw the professor crumpled on the floor like he’d been lashed to it, one of his legs bent in an odd way.
“Brigham, you idiot, this man is our only lead to finding Xiu.” When Zelo looked Brigham’s way again, he had a revolver pointed at Zelo’s head.
Zelo frowned and took two steps back.
“My apologies, Zelo, but I simply cannot allow you to proceed with the investigation,” Brigham said, his eyes glowed an unnatural coal-red for half a moment.
Lines on the floor flared up in response and Zelo widened his own eyes.
“The Seal of Solomon?” he asked, outraged. “What is wrong with you?”
He disregarded the revolver that was pointing at him and bent down to check the professor’s pulse.
Brigham laughed, a high-pitched hysterical sound. “Stop worrying about him. I suggest you abandon your search for Xiu, or this man will be dead in a moment.”
“Why would you do this?”
“My dear sister won you from Wendy Darling. A lowly man like Xiu has no right to you. So if you please, Zelo.”
“If you please. Don’t say things that invite misunderstanding,” said Zelo, wishing he was still young enough to give in to the urge to stomp his foot. “First of all, I am not some possession of Lily Tigress, and secondly, Xiu is my brother. Break the seal, Brigham.”
“I cannot. Binding spells do not work that way.” Brigham pointed the gun at the writhing professor. “What is the matter? The institute can replace him with just about anyone.”
“Promise you won’t go looking for Xiu any more. Promise to remain faithful to my sister.”
Blood began to leak from the professor’s nose and ears.
He could see Brigham Tigress still pointing the gun at him in his peripheral vision; Brigham was sweating, fat droplets running down his face, the whites of his eyes visible all around the pupils. His desperation stunk so badly that even Zelo could smell it.
“Xiu is dead, isn’t he?” Zelo asked, not looking at him. “Lily Tigress asked you to kill him, didn’t she.”
Brigham started, lowering his gun.
Taking advantage of this, Zelo brought his cane down hard on his hands. A shot rang out and Zelo grunted when a sharp pain seared through his shoulder, but the gun clattered to the floor. “Let me ask you, again. What will break the seal?”
“Perfect. I don’t want to do this but — ” Zelo drew back and punched Brigham in the jaw “ — this is for Xiu.” His ring left an angry red mark on Brigham’s face, an indentation of cut stone and the clear imprint of the brotherhood emblem. Brigham reeled, catching himself on the wall after Zelo kicked him into it.
“You dare bite the hands that feed you?” Brigham said, wiping his mouth. It came away red with blood and the corners of Zelo’s lips turned up in cruelty.
“This man probably has a family. A wife and a child back home — ” Zelo dodged down and to the side when Brigham rushed him, punching him in the gut as he passed, altering his trajectory just enough that he ran herself into the opposite wall. “Waiting for him.”
You are lean, Xiu said in his memory, running his finger down the inside of Zelo’s arm, but strong and unyielding like a bamboo shoot. Concentrate on using your opponent’s momentum against him.
Brigham heaved himself off the wall again and Zelo took in his stance: the wrist Zelo hit with his cane looked broken from the way Brigham was holding it, but it didn’t change the fact that he was built like a brick house, like the boxer that he was.
Hit me, Xiu’s voice whispered. Come on then, beautiful boy.
Stop calling me beautiful, Circus Man! Zelo grouched at him.
Adrenaline surged through his blood and his hands shook with it, with anticipation, with eagerness and the desire to hurt. He thought of the boys above the cellar and wondered if any of them had ever felt anything like this, them with scrubs in rain-soaked fields, the sweetness of violence and the clarity of pain, the world narrowing to a single throbbing point.
Brigham clipped Zelo’s shoulder but he was too slow, so slow compared to —
Hit me, Xiu’s voice whispered and Zelo wanted to so badly, wanted to feel soft flesh give under his knuckles, wanted to hear the pained sound his opponent would make. Zelo had managed it just one time, just once, fist against Xiu’s jawbone; then Xiu kicked his legs out from underneath him and sat on his chest, slit black eyes gleaming with suppressed laughter. Well done, he had murmured, his own blood staining his mouth bright red.
Zelo caught Brigham’s broken wrist and twisted it behind him to force him to the ground; Brigham yelped and Zelo used his own body to force him down, yanking the man’s hair with his other hand and using it to bash his face into the cold stone beneath him until his struggling subsided.
Zelo shifted his gaze to the professor. The old man’s breath came in quick pants, matching the rhythm of Zelo’s own heaving chest.
“What the hell do I do now?” said Zelo, at lost.
The professor groaned, hacking out blood.
“Bleed…bleed him out on the circle,” whispered the professor.
“I would rather not,” Zelo said, but he shifted his weight and freed Xiu’s silver dagger he had strapped to his calf, pressing it against Brigham’s jugular. “Well, then. Any last words?”
“Go to Hell.”
“Wait for me there, I suppose.”
Zelo sliced Brigham’s throat open. There was a gurgle, and blood splattered the edge of the seal and the professor’s jacket, invisible against the black. The professor let out a low sound and rolled onto his back, lying there for several seconds before Zelo helped him sit up. The professor winced, pushing the bone on his leg back into place before turning to Zelo.
“We should tend to that,” said the man, pointing to Zelo’s shoulder.
Surprised, Zelo looked down and remembered that he’d been shot. He saw blood seep through his white hospital scrub and beige coat, and suddenly he felt lightheaded.
“I will be fine,” said Zelo, although he wasn’t so sure. “I work at the hospital remember? Although, probably not any more.” He tugged his handkerchief out and tried to clumsily stop the bleeding. “Er, Professor, we just killed the son of our employer. You should think of retiring. Take your family and move far, far away.”
The seal had burned blistering red sigils into the side of the professor’s face that had been pressed against the floor.
“And please accept my apologies.”
“I understand. Thank you for saving my life,” said the professor. “Perhaps you should train to be a doctor, after all.”