Cracks

The cracks on the old window spiderwebbed, elegant little fingers reaching across the glass and forming beautiful, twisted patterns.

It had been on a wet Wednesday, walking home from school down a rarely-used street, that Lil had noticed it, and now she ran a hand across it, slightly open-mouthed. What could have caused it – a stray ball, an enraged fist?

None of these things, in fact.

Daniel gasped for air as he was slammed back against the window, praying his heavy coat had softened the blow. If he fell through some poor soul’s window…

He looked down at the hands gripping his collar, the knuckles only slightly whiter than his own face, and swallowed. “Gentlemen…” he began, with a nervous lick of his lips.

The response was a rough laugh close to his ear, and he smelled fetid breath. “Many things, we are, but gentlemen?” Daniel heard a mutter of something that sounded very much like “Pull the other one” from another of them, and then he was wrenched from the window, nearly losing his footing. He looked back at the window – there was only a small crack, a jagged line, not nearly as bad as the damage could have been.

He was brought back to that same foul-smelling mouth, now wearing a black-toothed smile. “Please…” he tried one last time, his eyes wide and pleading. “I only maintain his books.”

That same scummy laugh, and then the leader replied, obviously enjoying himself, “You have debts you owe. Begging for your life won’t pay ’em.”

Daniel halted abruptly, his struggling stopping, and his voice became very, very quiet. “I know,” he said, eventually. “I was begging for yours.”

Another scraping laugh, and then one of them reached out a foot in what would have been a hard, very painful kick – except it didn’t connect with clothed flesh. No, instead there was something… else.

Funny all the things a greatcoat could hide, Daniel mused, even through the pain.

A sudden cry of alarm rose, most of them stepping back, and Daniel took his opportunity, pushing his greatcoat aside and drawing with a steady, practised hand.

They should have stopped to wonder why an accountant had such scarred hands, such excellent posture.

The blade was simple, nothing fussy – only leather wrapped around the hilt, no decoration, made for stabbing rather than finesse – but sharp and obviously well-maintained. Even in the darkness of a winter’s night, it gleamed as it briefly caught the light of a nearby gas lamp.

Many turned and ran. One or two hung back, waiting for events to unfold. Only the leader stepped forward, grinning like a man with a deathwish.

Well, at that moment, Daniel was very happy to oblige.

The man was big, very big, in a way Daniel had never been even at his peak; but he hadn’t let himself go too badly to seed, and the element of surprise and a pair of swift feet were enough to switch their positions. Suddenly, it was the thug who hit the glass with a resounding crack, and it was Daniel’s blade at his throat, Daniel watching him without compassion. Strength would barely matter here – if the man moved an inch, it would be very, very unfortunate for his throat. “My debts are paid,” Daniel stated firmly. “I think, my good man, that you should run along and tell Mr. Farson, don’t you?”

A moment where their eyes met, and it could have gone in either direction, then Farson’s “hired help” nodded. Daniel stepped back, consciously not sheathing the blade – he let it rest in his hand, at his side, deceptively casually. He breathed a sigh of relief when the other man walked (not quite a run; too proud for that, Daniel supposed) swiftly from the scene.

Daniel managed to sheathe the sword before he bent over, holding a trembling hand to his back, his eyes watering. He had to steady himself by putting a hand to the window, and he noticed belatedly that the glass was rough under his fingers.

He looked up to see a brutal, scrawled web of cracks where the thug had hit the window, and was unsure whether to feel guilty or very, very pleased. Straightening after a long moment, breathing heavily and wiping blood from his mouth, he began the long, limping walk home.

Amelia looked up as he entered the door, and he could determine only too well from her wide eyes and the sudden tremble in her hands what he looked like. Then her eyes turned hard, and she marched up to him, pulling the coat aside and glaring at the sword. “You shouldn’t be carrying it,” she told him curtly, and he nodded, distantly wondering whether there was blood on his moustache.

She was right, of course. Those days were over, and it wasn’t exactly an ordinary thing to have on one’s person. He opened his mouth to try and explain, but before a word came out of his mouth she had his coat off, hanging it by the door, and was unfastening the sword from his hip with familiar ease. She pushed him into an armchair, and he complied, sinking into it with a sigh and watching the fire.

That was, until she came into his view, her eyes shining far, far too brightly in the firelight. “You knew Farson’s books were corrupt as rot. You knew and yet you worked for him… bought from him this house…” She gestured around them, the motion despairing. “You knew this would happen. He had to be seeking payment, and yet…”

He took it upon himself to say… something, then, and his reply was quiet. “No longer. Some of his men… visited me, tonight. I had been expecting it…” He waved a hand at the sword. “Not unprepared, no, yet surprised.”

She looked at the blade and then to him, the question phrased in her eyes.

“No,” he sighed, “no blood was spilled. It was… closer than I would have liked, however. I doubt they will be bothering us again.” He closed his eyes, exhaling heavily before he could open them again. “Forgive me.”

She glanced upwards, as if she could see the children where they were sleeping, and then at him, levelly and clearly, the fire and the war reflected in her gaze. She took the chair opposite, resumed her knitting, and then replied quietly, “Always.”

Just a little scene that entered my head (unremarkably, from a crack made by a football close to where I live – no exciting story there). This also fits into the fictional universe of Something Wicked, if you want it to, but it’s a completely separate story.

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