When she told him to go, he ran. He did not dare to look back, but came to a stop a full block away to catch his breath. And assess the situation. He watched a man die, who he wrote off as insane and criminal. He'd failed. 'You should have stayed out of it and called the cops.' And then he'd go home, eat dinner, and curl up in his bed with his phone or a book.
Guilt free, duty done. Rise and maybe see news about the man's death on TV, if there was nothing better to report on. Highly unlikely, as the victim was just a bum. His wounds were fairly straightforward, too. Deep slash marks and maybe some broken bones, if his killer got a little zealous. Just another bum killed by one of his own or some thugs, in human eyes.
Panther leaned against a boarded up bookstore. He was beginning to feel ill himself. Not from the death, but the pain slowly radiating around his groin and hip, towards his gut. His shoulders also burned from where he was grabbed. Later, he would find finger shaped bruises and one big one on his side. But for now, he worried about returning home in one piece.
His body pleaded with him to head straight home, with his family. His mother wouldn't be there, but his aunt and sister were, which was more than enough. And his aunt had all the answers. He'd collapse into her arms, maybe cry a little, and she'd hold him close and rock him, vowing to keep him safe and the monsters out. Just like when he was a child.
He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself, drawing on memories of his eight-year-old self. It allegedly started as early as five years old, but he had little recollection of the nightmares then. Just that they were so bad they kept him up at night, sometimes even for days. They'd tried everything: doctors, hypnotists, herbal remedies... but nothing worked. Panther would fall asleep for maybe an hour before waking the entire house with his shrieking.
It drove his sister, who shared a room with him at the time, mad. Their bond as twins nearly made them one, but Blair was fortunate to not share the nightmares. It was the overwhelming empathy that caused her to rise and echo his cries of terror. Separating them only made matters worse, and inconvenienced everyone else.
Night terrors, they said. Insomnia and anxiety, they said.
He refused to sleep… when he could help it. But that was before his mom gave up and opted for drugs. Sleeping pills, muscle relaxants... his aunt was furious at the notion of doping a child. But his grades were slipping, as was his sister's by default. His mental state was at an even greater risk, and the bullying, god, the bullying. He broke out in tears when they tested his limit, leaving his sister to fight his battles for him. She'd just give him a look, after. No hug. No words of comfort. Blair loved him in her own way, but like their mother, lacked affinity he could only seek from his aunt.
His aunt, who would crawl into bed with him and hold him until he fell asleep. His aunt, who remained patient and did not snap at him over her own loss of sleep. His aunt...
The picture was crystal clear in his mind: a willowy redhead, cradling a small boy with bags under his eyes. She'd wipe his red curls from his brow, damp with sweat, and hum. A haunting, but pleasant hum.
A soft smile crested the woman's face. Green eyes shined upon him. "A snake without venom is naught but a belt. Much like a dragon without wings is a worm."
Panther sat up with a jolt. He saw them. The long, black fingers, long as arms, skin cracked and peeling, nails broken and discolored. Sliding in from beneath the crack of his door and window, reaching, reaching, always reaching but never making contact–
He slapped at his face to get himself moving. He was not going to fall apart. He was 15, too old for nightmares. Too old to hide behind his aunt's skirts. But not too old for tears, which he desperately wiped at as he hurried home.