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A Special Case [2/2]
Tracy: wings
wafflestories


The sound bursts from him, revulsion and terror, and he throws himself clear of the chair, sending his glass shattering to the floor. The thing in the window-mirror, sluggish and swollen, snakes after him, oozing over the arm of the chair in heavy wisps, tendrils reaching out for his chest. Blake hardly seems to be breathing, barely-verbalised horror tumbling from his mouth in a blurry, fractured stream.

“Oh jesus oh god what's that, what's that, oh Mary mother of god WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!”


The feat of keeping his eyes on the mirror while warding off the invisible thing that appears to be coming straight for him would probably be beyond Martin Blake if he was sober- as it is, he barely lasts three steps. He stumbles on the rug, loses his balance, sprawls backwards on the floor. The thing spreads out complacently in the air above him, keeping shape like a lazy, matted blanket of fog, and begins to settle towards his face.

Tracy grabs his shoulders. He's no great weight-lifter- and Martin is heavy, as hard to budge as a petrified tree- but with a tremendous panicked yank he somehow manages to get him up and moving. In the mirror, the thing is eddied into grey shreds by the rush of Martin's body, reforming as it turns after them, darkening ominously- but Tracy doesn't stop, hauling the human's deadweight after him into a clear part of the room, never taking his eyes off the mirrored glass.

“It's an antifidian parasite!”

“It's a what?”

“It's a bloody faith-leech, that's what it is! And, and, here's an interesting little fact for you, concerning faith-leeches- they're supposed to be flipping extinct! Oh, godmothers, the paperwork alone, it is going to be dire-”

Martin is staring at the window. Under Tracy's hand, his shoulder is shaking and clammy through his shirt, pulse hammering in his neck. “It's coming-”

Tracy pulls him away, out of the path of the parasite's slow, ominous advance. “Alright, it's alright, we're fine, they're not too dangerous unless they absorb enough faith to physically manifest, and that never happens, which is lucky 'cause if it did-”

The parasite doesn't make a noise- if anything, it makes the absence of one, a great ear-hurting lack of a sound, belting through the air like a vacuum suddenly released. They both turn just in time to see the thunder-black pool of fog boil into existence at the centre of the room, folding in on itself and rearing back like a furious cobra. Formless suckerlike tendrils bunch and spasm outwards, spiking in a silent Mexican wave, powerful, pointed, and very clearly angry.

“-we'd be in serious trouble,” says Tracy, slowly. “Right...”

Martin points a shaking finger. He's paper-pale. “It-it was on me-”

“Course it was! Someone like you, all that imagination, all that belief to spare, you're a dream come true for a faith-leech! Yum, free-range writer!” Tracy is trying to think, trying to remember everything he's ever learned about things- things- like this. They're old. They're nasty- humans, unlike fairies, don't need faith on a basic physical level, but they don't last long without it, either. If it isn't dealt with, a faith-leech will usually kill its host- and leave spectacular collateral damage in all directions, because dream-killers beget dream-killers, and nobody is better at poisoning faith than someone who has absolutely none left themselves. That's why faith-leeches died out- supposedly died out, he reminds himself, because this one still looks pretty bloody lively- because humanity as a whole no longer had enough faith to spare, and faith-leeches aren't bright enough to limit the damage they do. Once latched onto a human, draining their belief, they will eventually take it all.

He hates to think how long this one must have been feeding, killing Martin's faith inch by thirsty inch, completely unnoticed until its host's behaviour happened to catch Fairy's disapproving eye-

“See, this is not my department, definitely not under my purview, this sort of thing- oh god duck-”

The faith-leech barrels forwards. Tracy throws himself flat, dragging Martin down with him. They land heavily behind a rather nice leather sofa, and the faith-leech strikes the wall and splashes, foaming outwards across the flat surface.

“This isn't real,” gasps Martin, into the floor. He sounds like a man who has just managed to cram five hours worth of sobering up into just under five seconds. “It can't be real.”

“Oh, brilliant, brilliant, glad that's sorted- do you want to tell it that, or shall I?”

“What did you do? The window-”

“Simple mirror spell, not much to it- well, for a fairy-”

“But you don't look anything like a fairy!” Martin wails.

Tracy, who has been peering nervously over the top of the sofa, trying to ascertain the dream-leech's whereabouts, stops, and looks down at him.

Thanks for that, that really helps, he wants to say. Tell you what, if you could just sort of shelve your ableist preconceptions for the moment and focus on the thing that's trying to kill us in the most hideous manner imaginable, that'd be lovely. Alright?

What he actually says is, “Disguise. A glamour, basically, standard procedure, dealing with mortals, because- because, if you'd seen what I really looked like, ha, you would have absolutely wet yourself the moment you opened the door. Oh, yes, very, extremely eldritch and impressive, believe me. But we don't want it to know that, do we? Lull it into a false sense of security, that's the plan here.”

“Oh,” says Martin, and all of a sudden Tracy feels very slightly less sick, because- despite the dazed, dreaming tone- Martin believes. Believes in a flat-out lie, yes, admittedly, but it's a start.

The faith-leech is circling the ceiling, moving in a tight, concentrated swirling pattern, prowling like a big cat about to pounce. It wants back on its host, and it wants this maddening interloper out of the way, and it's not about to give up either objective without a fight. Tracy watches it, warily. After a moment, Martin recovers himself sufficiently to kneel up and join him.

“Can you... can we kill it?”

Tracy manages a wry smirk. At least Martin is reasonably quick on the uptake. Functioning, upright, lucid- well, just about, anyway- he's doing better than a lot of humans would in his situation. Ironically, this is probably a symptom of the dream-leech in itself- denial takes belief, if only in a comforting scenario of your own making, and Martin just doesn't have enough left even for that.

“Tricky. You can't hurt it with ordinary objects, I'm afraid- not going to be able to just hop up and clock it with a chair.”

Martin stares at the faith-leech with horrified eyes. “Oddly enough, the thought hadn't occurred.”

“Where does that door go? Big one just there?”

“Uh, the kitchen-”

“Right, well, on three, we're going to make a run for it. One...”

*


Tracy skids into the pitch-black room, decides as the door slams behind him that he doesn't have time to faff about hunting for the light-switch, and forks a quick cantrip at the high halogen spots. They blink and spark and snap on, leaving him and Martin blinking in the sudden glare of a kitchen that looks as if it was installed yesterday by a company that usually specialises in designing government labs. Steel glows. Tiles shine. Tracy whistles.

“Wow. This must have cost a couple of quid, who set all this up?”

“I'll give you their website,” says Martin. He's leaning heavily against something which is either a fridge or a cryogenic storage unit, his forehead pressed against the cool steel. “If fairies use the Internet.”

Tracy opens a couple of cupboards. “There has got to be something useful in here. Got any herbs, or-”

Something hits the kitchen door with an almighty thump, rattling it in its frame. A pause, and then a thin, ominous grey mist starts to seep around the edges, trickling through the narrow gap and beginning to pool on the spotless floor. Tracy backs up until he hits the oven.

“In your own time!”

Martin snatches at a drawer. “Uh- uh- oregano?”

“Oregano?? Right, of course, because it's well-known for its mystical qualities, isn't it, oregano? You call yourself a Shakespeare buff, you ever heard the three witches going 'eye of newt, toe of frog, sprinkling of oregano?'

“How was I supposed to know?”

Tracy lunges for a puffy-padded oven-glove hanging from a hook, pulls it on. “Oh, sorry, you've only written twenty-seven books exclusively about fairies, obviously silly of me to expect you to have done any research whatsoever! Just use your head! Salt- do you have any salt?”

Martin grabs a steel shaker from the counter and tosses it. He's wide, but Tracy fields it with one long arm, pops the cap, and pours a generous measure into his protected palm.

“Here we go-”

The last vestiges of the faith-leech drain from the edges of the door, and in the space of a second the dark rolling puddle pulls itself together and rises up, building into a bulging thunderhead that turns hungrily towards Martin like a blind shark seeking lunch. Just as it bunches up to strike, Tracy steps in front of him and hurls the handful of salt hard, sending a slash of bright powder hissing crosswise into its churning bulk.

The faith-leech recoils, screeching, another silent, terrible sound, a fistful of nails dragged down a chalkboard at the heart of a black hole. Across the kitchen, glass-fronted cabinets explode into shrapnel, sending debris showering across the counter. Tracy winces and shields his glasses with the oven glove. Foul vapour rises from the faith-leech's bubbling cloudy mass, suckery tendrils thrashing in all directions as it writhes in agony.

“Get the door!”

Martin's there, elbowing the handle, piling helter-skelter out into the main room with Tracy just behind him. The air reeks of spilled whiskey and the burnt-sugar-electric tang of magic. Tracy shucks off the oven glove, looking around wildly.

“That's never going to hold it long, we're only making it angry! We've got to find something strong enough to-”

He never finishes his sentence, because at that moment the faith-leech slams out of the kitchen and hurls after them in a splaying, spasming streak. It smashes into Tracy with bruising force, knocking him off his feet. He hits the hardwood floor beneath the bookshelves shoulders-first, the dream-leech piling ravenously into his thin chest like acid candyfloss, burrowing intangible tendrils through his shirt, through skin, flesh, bone. Somewhere, he can hear Martin yelling, but it's incredibly far off, and he feels-

-heavy, paralysed, helpless. He's way out of his depth, he's drowning, he could die out here in the human world and nobody would care, because he's expendable, of course he's expendable. They sent him out here all alone without so much as a wand to protect himself with, hoping he'd have an accident, hoping something like this would happen so that some other more able fairy can take his place, because no matter how hard he works or how much he believes he'll always be second-best in their eyes. None of them have any faith in him, the crippled liability that he is, impaired, incomplete. Why should they?

He's dimly aware that he should be trying to fight, that something's wrong- but it's all around him now, crushing into his chest, and the worst part is that this feeling isn't strange, it isn't alien to him at all. This is how he always feels, in some small briskly-fenced-in place in his head, whenever he senses their stares on him, their pitying glances, their careful whispers behind his empty back. It's an old friend, a part of him- this choking, killing despair- and he can't believe he was stupid enough to ever believe-

SCRUNNNCHH.

It's a horrible, wet sound- very close and shockingly loud. It's thick and explosive and rushing, and the world comes rushing back with it, as if he was underwater and someone has just cannonballed in directly over his head, parting the sea. Tracy gasps once, hugely, and twists away, curling up, wheezing into the floor.


After a moment, he lifts his head, which still feels far too heavy. His chest feels cold and punctured- violated- his ears are ringing, and his back is soaked with sweat under his perfect dove-grey shirt, but he's still sharp enough to take in the scene in front of him, and understand it.

Martin is backing off, hands out, white as a sheet. The faith-leech, dislodged from Tracy's chest, is sliding slowly across the floor towards him. It appears oddly flattened, lumpy, dragging along like an animal that's taken a glancing blow from a speeding car. It seems to have solidified, or at least half-liquefied, sagging under its own bloated weight, leaving a scummy oil-slick trail in its wake.

The object that did this unbelievable damage is still lying where it slipped from Martin's nerveless fingers. It's one of his awards- the big, heavy one, shaped like a growing tree.

Trying not to think too hard about what he is about to do, Tracy scrambles across the floor towards it. Senses and balance still shot to hell, feet slipping drunkenly on the polished wood, he bears a striking resemblance to a swatted daddy-long-legs trying to take off.

The wounded faith-leech senses movement behind it and starts to turn on him, but before it can, Tracy grabs the award. One-handed, glasses askew, teeth bared in a manic grimace, he swings it above his head and slams it down, hard- once, twice. Goo splashes across the floor in thick gouts, and he makes a disgusted, agonised noise and staggers to his feet. He chucks the award hard across the space between himself and Martin, who catches it to his chest, his bewildered, appalled eyes nailed to the thrashing thing on the floor.

“It's got to be you, Martin, it's yours!”

“But-”

Tracy, one hand clamped under his arm and eyes squeezed tight-shut, says something that, roughly translated, vents his opinions about parasites, humans, fairies, bureaucracy, and several other choice topics that he happens to be feeling quite strongly about at the moment. English might be the lingua franca this millennium, but nothing rivals the Old Speech when it comes to having a good old swear.

“For god's sake, SQUASH THE BLOODY THING!!”

The faith-leech screams. Martin stares down at it. It's still grasping upwards, spitting up tendrils like twisted snarls of wet-black hair, trying to reach him. Trying to feed.

His eyes narrow.

On the third strike, the faith-leech pops like an ink-filled balloon. An arterial jet of grey ooze splatters across the floor, the books, Martin's front. There's a final queasy sound that tears at the very edge of hearing, a silent death-rattle- and then true, blessed, ordinary silence rolls back in to fill the void.

Martin stands like a statue- amost in the attitude of one, back too straight, hand to chest. When Tracy turns to him, he rocks back as if slapped, the sludge-soaked trophy clattering to the floor.

“Thuhh- thhhhh-” Tracy's too adrenaline-fried, too out of breath to talk. He waves a bear-with-me finger, then sags, against the wall, sucking in air.

“Third time's the charm,” he manages, finally, in a high wheeze, then ducks again, gasping.

“Isn't it always?” says Martin. Tracy manages a tired giggle, and after a moment, Martin laughs too. It's a fragile sound, rusty from disuse. He's out of breath as well, leaning back against the splattered bookshelves, his wiry, disarrayed hair sticking to his forehead with sweat.

“I- I thought you said it couldn't be hurt by ordinary objects.”

Tracy tucks his hand behind his back and looks down at the award for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Someone- one of Martin's neighbours- is banging angrily on the wall next door. Tracy can hardly blame them. A lot has happened since he first set foot in Martin's apartment, barely ten minutes and several hundred years ago, and none of it has been very quiet.

“I did say that, yep- but, but, it's not an ordinary object, is it? Can't get much more extraordinary than an award. All those people, wanting you to have it, believing you deserve it- that thing, right there, is a tangible symbol of their absolute faith in Martin Blake. Poor old leechface over there didn't stand a chance. I mean, not to belabour the point or anything, but I'd bear that in mind, if I were you.”

A faint prickly-buzzing sensation from his waistcoat pocket draws his attention. Blinking, he rummages inside one-handed and pulls out the summons, stares- then grins and turns it over, showing it to Martin. It's wiped clean, shiny-blank on both sides.

“Looks like you're off the hook,” he says. “Sentence rescinded due to the mitigating circumstances currently spread all over your floor. You're going to want to get that up quickly, by the way- all that antifideous ectoplasm is going to be a nightmare to shift once it sets.”

Martin nods, dazedly. Then he looks up at Tracy- studies him, thoughtfully. His eyes are shocked and wet and sore-looking, but no longer flat, or dead. He looks like someone who is just starting to wake up from a long, painful sleep.

“This... is what you really look like, isn't it? You were lying. This is actually you.”

“Er... what makes you say that?”

Martin shrugs. “Like you said. Twenty-seven books, I've done my research, and that is no glamour.”

He points. Tracy's expression takes on a slightly defensive edge.

“Right, not sure where this is going-”

“Because you just look like you,” says Martin. “You don't need to look like anything else, do you? You don't need wings, or a wand- call it writer's conceit, shock, whatever, but I can just tell, alright? This is just- this is just who you are.”

Tracy blinks, surprised, starting to grin. A human who has spent who-knows-how-many months or even years as a faith-leech's private all-you-can-eat buffet is not the first place he would have expected to look to find any kind of reassurance, but then, Martin is quite an extraordinary human. After the number the faith-leech did on him, in the seconds it was latched on- he still hasn't forgotten that awful, draining misery- Martin's words are welcome, warming. He is him, Tracy, competent and complete, and he has a job to do.

“Well... yep, yes, you got me there,” he admits. “This is me, you're right. Little bit of misdirection, just trying to get you going. Worked, though, so don't knock it... what about you, though, you think you'll be alright?”

Quietly. While his left hand squirrels into his pocket- the other pocket- while his chest notches up yet another small familiar twist of regret, because while Martin can heal now, can recover, can write the next Harriet Skull, can believe again- there's one thing he can't do.

The Rules are the Rules, after all.

“Yeah,” says Martin, slowly, then again, more firmly, nodding into Tracy's approving mile-wide smile. “Yeah. I will.”

His face goes regulation-blank when the bright puff of amnesia dust hits him, leaving him wrinkling his nose and blinking slowly at what is suddenly a perfectly empty (and spectacularly wrecked) living-room. For a moment he simply stands there, like a robot that's run out of orders, until the sound of the front door closing with a quiet, precise little click echoes through from the hallway, breaking the spell.

Then his brow crumples, and he clutches his chest, knuckles digging in above the high point of his sternum.

“It feels so light, he says, to nobody in particular, and- exhaustedly, unashamedly- he starts to cry.

*


Tracy jogs down the stairwell, stopping just short of DI LUVS CHEZ, and prepares to Cross back over. He can't wait to get home, back to the bustle of the Dock, back to his small office where a small mountain of paperwork is no doubt waiting for him by now, piling up in drifts in the wake of this little incident. When it comes to paperwork, Fairy does not do things by halves.

He looks down, somewhat ruefully, at his right hand, sucks in a hissing breath. His splayed palm is already swelling, taking on an angry, scalded sort of look. A blister the size of a penny is rising in the pad of his thumb, and the whole thing blazes furiously under his skin, like he's voluntarily grabbed a hot poker. The irony isn't lost on Tracy- he can't help wondering who, exactly, had originally taken the interesting decision that an award given to the world's best spinner of fairytales should obviously be crafted from rowanwood and solid iron.

Tracy's not at all sorry that he refrained from giving Martin the whole truth- Martin will need all the self-belief he can get to start off with, just to build back up to an average, human level- but he's not easy in his mind, either. The bigger implications of the thing that was quietly killing Martin Blake are deeply worrying. If the parasites are coming back, what else might be lurking at the edges of the human world? Who knows what could be lying low out there? Unseen, unlooked for, getting stronger, while Lily and the rest of her lot up there in the Ivory Tower turn a blind eye and keep everyone hard at work reinforcing the Rules and punishing infractions, focusing on the small stuff. To Lily, humans are simple sources of belief, faith-generators, teeth-generators, otherwise unimportant.

It's been too long. Fairy's fallen so far out of touch with the human world, and Tracy sometimes wonders if he- and the others like him, working on the frontline, shoring up the slipping tides of belief- are the only ones who can see that.

Godmothers, he's tired. He needs to get home, he needs to fix his hand- a trip up to Medical and a bag of frozen peas are probably in order- and he needs to sleep, before he passes out right here in the stairwell like the world's longest and most neatly-tailored draught excluder. Then, maybe- before the next case lands on his desk, before the next irritating, maddening, fascinating human with a crisis of faith shows up and demands his time, he can think.

Think- and maybe even plan.

Tracy- who, even burned and bone-weary, can never stay solemn for long- grins in anticipation. When he fades from the world, the grin is the last thing to go. It hangs in the air, lingering like the last trace of a certain cat from a certain tale- then vanishes completely.


-The End-



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I have to say, I hadn't watched Tooth Fairy since my baby sitting days, and, since you've set me off on a Stephen Merchant kick, I was delighted to read this. The part about the movie that I found interesting was the environment it created and the structure of the fairies and the hints about the related mythologies, it was great to read this to find a little more meat set to the bones they threw us in the movie. You did a great job and I really enjoyed this. Will you be writing anymore in this verse?

http://marshtwain.tumblr.com/post/16130603084/a-little-wip - We are writing this verse, yes! It'll be a few months, but here's a snippet.

BLESS YOUR HEARTS.
May you live forever.
I hope you don't mind my gushing, I haven't read or written any fanfiction in years and it's just so refreshing to come back and find some really thoughtful, well done fanwork. I'm looking forward to reading more.

OH HEY I'm very late to this party but YES thank you, that was the aspect of the movie I liked the most as well, the part I wish we'd seen more of on screen. Probably most of the reason why this story was ridiculously fun to write, and awesome to know you found it fun to read as well! :D!

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