I'm starting to hate me
A little more and more each day
I don't know me
It's like I can't get out of my own way
And you don't love me, you don't love me
If I knew better, I would do better
Chris Brown feat. Brandy
"I remember the day Keegan was born. We were in his father's flat in Stockwell and my mother was on the bathroom floor being cheered on to push by this poor midwife while my mother screamed back at her and the doctor because she was convinced that Keegan wasn't ready to come out. His father wasn't up for witnessing childbirth so I had to step in. I was thirteen. The midwife told me to hold my mother's hand and breathe with her...she squeezed my hand so hard that I thought she was going to break it, which considering the size of my mother sounds ridiculous to say..." Aiden didn't add that a part of him believed that Grace was squeezing his hand more out of maliciousness than to deal with her contractions.
A soft murmur of sympathetic laughter floated in wafts through the pews more out of politeness than because it was actually funny. It was awkward. Speaking about Grace, who everybody knew was as skinny as she was because of her drug problem, was awkward.
The only people who didn't laugh were Dougie and Heaven.
Aiden sighed, "But she was right; Keegan was hard-headed even in the womb and was determined not to come out until he felt like it. Hours of hand squeezing and my mother's screaming was making me irritable so I put my other hand on her belly and I said in my firmest voice, "Ahhh bruv, you're on some long ting ya know. I beg you come out before me and you fall out." Would you believe it worked? At eleven pm Keegan finally decided to stop being a wasteman and come out. I was so happy...not to mention relieved to have my hand back." Genuine laughter wafted from the pews this time. Aiden smiled to himself and cast his gaze over the coffin to his right, "I knew then and there that he was my person. Me and Keegz, we were a team and I was going to have his back no matter what. He was my person..." His smile dissolved into a frown. He swallowed and stepped back from the podium to rid the hard lump burning and building behind his tonsils. "Keegan was one of the few family members that I could actually call my family...and I miss him. Every day I miss him...and I know you all do too. I've been to more funerals than I can count and this is by far the largest turnout I've ever seen. Keegz is loved so much and I'm glad for that because despite his flaws, he was a great kid, so thank you acknowledging that. He loved you all too. And even though things didn't end the way they should have...so did Ash." Murmurs floated through the pews again but this time they'd lost their softness and their sympathy.
Aiden cut it short with an abrupt clearing of his throat.
"Though it hurts to let them go, at least they are both in a better place now. They have peace now, and with the lives they've had, honourable or not, they deserve it. We all do." He looked pointedly out at the congregation. "I don't think you ever get used to losing people. Even long after they're gone that pain doesn't go away, you just get better it tuning it out. I've lost so many, and I'm tired...I'm tired of losing people. We've got to take better care of each other -we're all we've got. I did my best by Keegan and I wish I could say the same for Ash. I know things ended badly but that's on me. I take full responsibility for her lashing out, so if you're going to be mad at anyone, be mad at me. Ash was family, with us since the beginning when we were just a bunch of struggling kids who didn't have two pennies to rub together, and we shouldn't forget that. If I had done better by her maybe we wouldn't be burying two of our own..." His eyes found the coffins again his face started to crumble from the inside out like splintered glass with a building pressure behind it ready to fall to pieces. He gripped the side of the podium and bit down on his lip, "Though I'd prefer not to have to bury either of you, but what's done is done and all we can do now is move forward and make sure that you did not die in vain." He unlatched one hand from the podium and curled it into a tight fist. His eyes rested briefly on Heaven. "I love you both." He stepped down from the podium.
Heaven watched Aiden curiously as he returned to his seat, studying the change in his usual proud stance. His shoulders were slumped slightly, his predatory glide was heavier -he looked tired, soul weary and so ready to be done with it all. She wasn't surprised; he'd done a terrible, unforgivable thing. His mother lay dead on the grimy floor of her flat with no evidence pointing to her son to take the rightful fall for it, he'd mistreated his 'Siren' to the point that she'd broken under the pressure of a broken heart and turned against him then ended up dead, and his baby brother was gone because he'd provoked a man as malicious and cruel as himself. His monster was eating away at him...and Heaven was glad for it, glad to see that all of the blood on his hands was making his grip too slippery to hold onto the steely mind he'd reinforced many a time that allowed him to do the things he did and still sleep soundly at night. Ironically it was his monster that was forcing him to be more human, to face exactly who and what he'd become...and possibly give him a chance to rectify it before it was beyond too late.
The pew creaked as Aiden sunk down onto the worn wood. He sat half slumped beside her with red eyes and a quivering line of liquid threatening to spill over his waterline.
Heaven pitied him.
He was awful -awful, awful, awful, but still she pitied the broken and gnarled soul next to her, trying to hold his brokenness together in front of everyone. His mother –God rest her gnarled soul –mistreated him over and over, no matter how hard he tried. She even caused the wound in his face and he still tried. He had been so desperate to be accepted, to have his efforts acknowledged, to be made to feel like he mattered to her and she refused him each and every time.
Monsters are born from shadows and with that much darkness, it was inevitable that he would grow to devour those who denied him the luxury of even the smallest taste of light.
These things start in the home; what kind of people your parents are, how they live and how they respond to your existence is undoubtedly a huge part in shaping who you are. They are your first point of contact. It matters the most how you are loved in your own home because if the people that made you can't bring themselves to love and treat you right, when you venture outside you carry that chip on your shoulder with you. It's a heavy chip to carry.
A burden like that can break even the strongest backs.
In the end it had been her compromising Heaven's safety, Heaven, the only light he'd ever seen burn so brightly, who for some strange reason had burned for him, that made him finally break.
Hymns filled the church. Out of tune voices and mumbled words trying to keep up with the unfamiliar lyrics printed in the funeral programme melded with those who were familiar and could carry a tune, to make a decent sounding choir. Aiden knew all of the words to every song. His baritone carried the alto and bounced off of the baroque carved stone and multi-coloured stained glass windows where the virgin Mary smiled upon them and Jesus wept on the cross reminding them how he died for their sins.
Before their mother' behaviour cut them off from their family, Aiden would regularly attend Sunday school with his grandmother up until the age of five. He never forgot those songs of praise and worship. They represented a different time to him. A better time. He'd invited his grandmother and the rest of his extended family to attend the funeral but not a single one of them showed up. He wasn't surprised. Grace was poisonous to be around and the whisperings of her children being very bad men didn't help.
He wished they had.
Trish cried when the priest recited his sermon. It was a heart-breaking sound that made baby Jamie twist around in her arms and stare up into her face. Looking at Keegan's baby boy and knowing that he was too young to understand that he was an orphan in the midst of his father's funeral only made her sadness more unbearable. Jamie's lip trembled and soon he was crying too.
"Pass him here," Aiden croaked, his unshed tears making his throat swell so that his voice came out thick and coarse, "You go outside and take a minute."
Trish sniffed and passed his wailing nephew along. She slipped her wide lens Versace shades on and shuffled out of the aisle.
Aiden cradled Jamie against his broad chest bad tried to hush him. The child didn't stop until the next hymn began and his uncle's voice vibrated against him.
Heaven watched the exchange from the corner of her eye; how closely and desperately Aiden held his nephew like this tiny human was all he had. It was saddening how true it was. Jamie was all he had.
When Trish returned, Aiden held onto him until it was time to head to the cemetery.
Max had been waiting in in the thick of the oak tree since dusk broke. He'd watched the graves being dug whilst the sun rose. He'd seen Chris and his fellow Syndicate soldiers pay a hefty fee for more plots to be dug out nearby. He saw the men lower themselves into the shallow graves, three to one, and the men who tucked themselves into nearby bushes, and the ones in the nondescript clay coloured grounds keepers vehicles out of sight behind grandiose gothic crypts, and the remaining few ducked behind moss covered tombs that stood proudly above ground. He'd seen the funeral procession arrive in its blinding white glory with its hearses gliding along with the romanticised deceased inside. He'd seen the coffins removed, placed at their gravesides and readied to be lowered into the ground. He listened to the final hymn sung by the sad, pretty girl with the bleached blonde curls in the Versace shades just before...
Chaos broke through the fluttering wings of doves escaped from their basket too soon as Trish's rendition of Amazing Grace was interrupted by a gunshot.
Men in black crawled out of graves like the night of the living dead.
The sea of glorious white became checkered as the opposition in black spread like a virus of darkness consuming light, with gleaming steel gripped between practiced hands.
Cacophonies of bullets were unleashed into the atmosphere slicing through the air with loud bangs and whistles.
It became a film noir as the first bullet hits and the white is marred with red, red, red. Blood.
Bodies hit the floor as panicked footsteps beat against the ground in a percussion of mayhem against soft grass and hard concrete like a drummer in a heavy metal band.
There were women and children amidst it all. Innocents crying out and falling, falling, falling.
It was wrong, oh so very wrong. Max knew that this was not the code but what could he do? His fellow soldiers were doing what good soldiers did -followed orders from their damn superior.
There was meant to be peace on this day, but Chris, drunk on power without Vince around to reign him in, became the Shakespearean Prince of Cats. Peace? He hates the word. As he hates hell, all Diamond Mafia, and him -Aiden Michaels. If only his mission were about more than revenge upon a provoked sin and gaining more power. If only his cause fostered something honest and true at its roots. If only war had been struck that dark day to salvage something pure, to save love, then maybe, maybe the twisting feeling in Max's gut wouldn't be there. It would still be wrong but it would be a worthy cause.
Worthiness stood alone on the other side of the cemetery with her eyes scrunched shut, her trembling hands clamped over her ears, her body tensed and hidden behind the spectacular wingspan of a stone angel that watched over the grave of a poor unfortunate soul long forgotten. The wig had thrown Max off initially, but when she'd braved her fear enough to open her eyes and check if she could make a run for it and the springtime sun sprinkled sunbeams out from behind a veil of wispy clouds to dance in her autumn eyes, there was no mistaking it was her. There was no mistaking it was_
He couldn't find her anywhere. It all happened so fast. A part of him had expected it. He would have been stupid not to. The Syndicate had stopped playing by the rules long before he had, but Aiden had hoped, dear God he'd hoped that they would give them this day, just this one.
Since he'd woken up things had gone from bad to worse and now on top of everything he couldn't find her.
His hardened coal eyes scanned the mayhem, his right arm cast in front of him solid and firm as his veins danced beneath his black skin every time his trigger finger took another man down.
Trish mirrored his footsteps, her back adjacent to his with Jamie crying out blue murder in one arm and her pearl handled pistol firing shots in the other as the three of them navigated towards one of the white bulletproof trucks lining the cemetery pathway. Dougie was a few yards away keeping a close eye on their opponents and peppering seamless rounds of kill shots to make sure they got away safely. They were an impenetrable unit, highly trained and deathly efficient. Anyone who was stupid enough to aim for them or got too close was down on the ground bleeding into graves before the thought could form into action.
"HEAVEN!" Aiden called again.
KAPOW! Another Syndicate body hit the ground.
"She's gone, Aiden. For fucks sake, forget about her! How many more people have to die for that bitch before you see what she's doing to our family? To you? Look around you; everybody's dying. This is it. You're done with the Lockewood girl. I will fuck you up if you let anything else happen to any more of us for her. Do you hear me?"
Aiden bit his tongue then with a sharp grunt he nodded. Little mama Trish. When she was this bold she was usually right so she could get away with mouthing off to him.
They hurried along to the truck they arrived in. Trish got in and strapped Jamie into his car seat with a quickness while Aiden guarded them from the outside. The moment she was done he tossed her the keys he'd fished out of Driver's pocket as his dear friend's body twitched on the ground while he went into shock. Multiple bullet wounds but no kill shots –a terrible way to die. He was probably somewhere amongst the scattered bodies, still and silent like a prop in the background, almost like he had ben when he was alive.
"Get out of here. I'll be right behind you."
Trish furrowed her brow, "What? You're not coming with us?"
"I can't leave my people to fight my battle."
"That's kind of the point of them, Aiden. They fight so you don't have to."
"Not on this one. This is personal and you know it. Trish, this is Keegan and Ash's funeral. How am I meant to walk away from this disrespect?"
"Listen to me," she grabbed his arm through the window, her lullaby features contorted in fear, "Your nephew is strapped in the backseat screaming his head off_"
"Exactly, so get him out of here." A bullet ricocheted off of the truck door near Aiden's shoulder. "Wind this window up." He crouched down and fired two shots behind him taking his assailant down.
Max is back so you know shit is about to get realer than real. How do you picture his rescue mission going down? Lemme know in the comment section.