Llewellyn Ivanova hated being perfect. Hated being a so-called genius. Hated being the child who had to deal with more than many adults came across in their lives. Hated that she got what she wanted by pulling strings and threatening people, not by asking for it from the people who really loved her. Hated not being like others. Hated herself with every fiber of her being.
Who knew what went on behind her coolly amused façade and intensely bright, dangerously cold eyes? Who knew what her hands, that calmly twirled pencils during lectures she could compose within five minutes, were really capable of?
Who knew her?
No-one, not even herself. Not even Kage, who had taught her the game of chess with people in place of pieces. Not even Boris, who had taught her to wield a blade with deadly accuracy and crushing strength. Not Andre, who had ensured that she was, as they put it, 'the only girl in this whole dratted school who can actually hit a moving target with a rifle'. Least of all Ilya, who had taught her her mind games, who had tried to talk her into believing she was something she wanted to be, but wasn't.
Everyone saw the genius. They didn't see that the genius was not, technically speaking, a genius. They didn't see that this particular 'genius' just happened to have a knack for ferreting out the weaknesses in people and using them to her advantage. And most of all, they didn't see that she did that only to survive.
No, all of them put together had only one word for her: Perfect. Even Kage, who knew how hard she was trying to keep her voice intact so she could stay in the choir because it was the only group activity she could actually tolerate. He saw it when she got sick, saw it when she got angry, saw it when she actually broke down – yet he still thought she was perfect.
"Perfect, perfect, perfect…" It repeated itself in her head like a mantra. There were those who tried to deny it, like Ilya. She flung their claims in the dust with the perfect arguments she invariably devised, parried their blows with the perfect timing Boris claimed she had possessed even before he'd started training her, whipped their minds into a frenzy with the perfect mind-games she and Ilya spent hundreds of sleepless nights devising and, later, playing.
But why was she arguing with what she so desperately wanted to believe?
There was no way out, was there? It was a perfect trap – her own perfect trap. So she was trapped in her own mind? Perfect. That word again? No, perdition, this time.
Was she perdition, then? She didn't know. After all, what does one ever know for sure? All she had known was that she was Kage's cousin, and all she knew now was that Andrei had lied to her about that. So, who and what was she, and what was her name? Because that dreaded sound, 'Llewellyn', a reminder of the fact that power – by the gods, did she wish that concept had never been invented – existed, wasn't really her name now, was it? It had never been, maybe. Such an..outlandish name for an ethnic Russian. Why hadn't she seen it before? Could she choose something else, then, something peaceful? Stella, maybe? She'd like a connection with the stars. Would they leave her in peace to be the person she was under that horrible façade? She thought not. It would just start over: The oily praise and fake compliments when she succeeded in being perfect, and the savage taunts and beatings when she did not.
Perfection. So, maybe, she was perfection. Could she have her perfect life back, then? Before she was trapped in the confines of her mother's womb? She'd like to be a wandering zephyr again, free to fly and cause mischief, not because it had to, but because it wanted to.
The mantra continued, and she knew there was no escape from it. So it would be best if she picked herself up off the floor – oh, she wasn't lying on the floor, there was a nice man – boy? – holding her – and got on with her work. Why was she crying anyway? It didn't have any effect on the current situation, and if Andrei found out then she'd be as good as dead. But she thought she heard something.
"Hush. Don't cry. I'm sorry; we're all sorry, we know how much that hurt. You don't have to be perfect. Nobody says you have to be, not anymore. Can you – can you please come back?"
She tried opening her eyes. It hadn't occurred to her that she had been crying in her sleep – was it sleep? – and she wanted the nice person to feel better. She thought she heard him gasp, even though her vision was still clouded, but it sounded like a good gasp anyway so she supposed it didn't matter.
"Who are you?" she asked, voice a little soft and uncertain.
Oh? It was Kage? But Kage had been… Oh. Andrei was sleeping in the corner – was it a corner? She couldn't see yet.
"Will he wake up?"
She heard an uncertain sound. Oh well. It didn't matter. Life was perfect now, if only for a while.
And if you ignored the fact that she was bleeding to death.
Her eyes flew open to see white. Nothing but white. White walls, white sheets, people walking around in white. Okay, so the people were an exception to the 'nothing but white', but she wasn't perfect.
No, she thought not. The old, perfect, her would have sat up straight away, assessed the damage, and demanded that the doctor be brought in to explain the situation. Instead, she asked in a soft, rather babyish voice,
"Where am I? This isn't Heaven, is it?"
One of the women in white came over to her, and she recognized the red cross on the white, white uniform.
"You're a nurse," she observed lazily, voice still surprisingly soft and innocent but hiding a trace of the arrogance she had been bred to carry. "If you're a nurse, this must be a hospital, and if this is a hospital, then there must be something wrong with me. So…" A slight panic widened her eyes as she remembered her earlier mention of Heaven. "I'm not going to die, am I? Hospitals aren't white to prepare people for Heaven, are they?"
The nurse shook her head, smiling pleasantly.
"You're not going to die, dear. Though you were pretty beaten up when your cousin brought you here."
A slight gasp caught in her chest and proceeded to wreak havoc on the entire respiratory system, leaving her sitting up, almost doubled over in a hacking cough. There was a strange pain in her abdomen she wasn't used to.
Ignoring it, she asked, "Kage's here?"
The nurse blinked. Under normal circumstances, she would have called the girl crazy, but the circumstances were not normal. It was not normal for a girl to be carried in from a thunderstorm, dripping with rain and blood that may or may not have been all her own.
"Kage? No, not Kage. Some Russian name. Ira or something like that."
The girl managed a weak chuckle. So it was Ilya. But hadn't she been with Kage? Confused, she looked up at the nurse.
"Where…is he?" she enquired, her courtly British accent creeping back into her speech. She shook it away.
"Out there, waiting to see you. Are you well enough?"
Normally, visits would have to wait for a doctor's approval, but this was not a normal situation. The Russian was brandishing a bread knife and threatening to get violent if he didn't see his cousin very soon.
"Actually, I think he'll make me better." She managed a weak smile.
The nurse nodded and went to get Ilya, who raced to her, looked her up and down, and sat down on the edge of her bed with a heavy 'thump'.
"Don't you ever do that again. Have you got any idea how worried we were? If I went ballistic, Kage went nuts. He got a one-way ticket to the psychologist today after he nearly threw someone out of the third floor window when they made snide comments about your absence, I'll have you know."
"Oh. I forgot. You've been out four days."
"Simply put, you cut yourself." He leant in to look at her curiously, realizing she had no idea what he was going on about. "Okay. What's your name?"
"Do I have one?" she asked uncertainly in response.
Startled, Ilya backed away from her just ever-so-slightly.
"You don't even remember that?"
"No, I remember you, Kage, Boris, Andre, Andrei… But I'm not sure now, because since Andrei lied to me about being Kage's cousin, then he could have lied to me about my name as well, right?"
"And your birth certificate lies?" Ilya asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I don't have one. It's more of an adoption certificate."
He had no answers to that one.
"Well, what do you want us to call you, for now? Kage says we're getting you transferred and as far away from the old man as humanly possible."
"Kage's not human," she remarked, lazily tracing the creases in the sheets. "Stella?"
Ilya blinked again, then nodded.
"Okay, we'll call you Stella. I think Kage was expecting something Russian or Japanese, not so quintessentially English."
She blinked, finger stopping where it had been mid-way through tracing out an imaginary polar bear.
"Hoshi. Hoshi Minamoto. On second thoughts, Hoshi Tayla Minamoto."
"Weird name," Ilya remarked, chuckling. "I didn't know Japanese had middle names."
"You wanted a Russian name, you got one," she said, simply. "Just don't announce the middle name part."
Ilya nodded. He would see about getting her that anthology of Russian literature she'd always wanted…
"So we'll start again, won't we?"
"Yeah. Russians can survive anything."