The first thing I find myself becoming aware of is the absolute silent stillness of the world around me as I emerge from my trance-like sleep. My eyes slide open of their own accord and I'm struck with how dry they—and my mouth—are. I blink hard a few times to get some moisture back before looking around.
The infirmary. I recognize this place; it's where we humans go every time we need anything; a shave, a haircut, a check-up. But this must be some side-wing; the light blue wallpaper is the same, but I'm in a tiny room I've never seen before. There's only a bed, a table, and a mirror. On the table is a basin and pitcher. I hope there's water in the pitcher; I'm very thirsty.
I try to sit up but can't at first; I can't feel most of my upper body, it seems. Reaching a tentative hand back, I touch the back of my neck. I feel paper—bandages of some sort? Glancing down at myself I see that I'm wearing a loose cotton nightgown, tied in a toga-fashion over one of my shoulders as well as around my waist, leaving much of my back bare.
It takes a little more effort, but eventually I manage to get to my feet. I'm very lightheaded and have to have one hand braced on the little bed to stay upright as I totter my way to the pitcher. It is full of water and I bend my head to it, sipping from the top like a bird at a fountain. The bandaging prevents me from employing full movement of my neck, but I manage.
I test the door next—locked, but I didn't expect anything else. Then, nervous curiosity brewing inside me, I peek into the mirror.
I look a fright—my eyes are red-rimmed and puffy; outlined in dark circles. My face is chalk-white. My hair is a frizzy, untamed mess. I turn at an angle and look at my neck; neat, precise little stitches covered in see-through paper; probably antibacterial. Each suture is covered in clear goo; probably to prevent infection or, more likely, to numb the area. There are nine areas with stitches in all; some of them crossing over the other, some larger than others, in a circle pattern over the scruff of my neck. What's not stitched up is red, irritated-looking skin, scraped raw. I reach up to touch it again and still feel nothing; I must be completely numbed.
Fumbling, I untie the knot around my waist; the toga falls apart, leaving me completely bare except the loop under my arm and around my neck; shrugging, I loosen that one, too and let the cloth pool at my feet.
I have a deep purple bruise just above my backside; dimly, I remember Gideon planting a knee there to keep me in place. There are tiny bruise-bracelets around my wrists as well; his hands, gripping like iron cuffs. I shudder and look away. I always knew he was strong. They are all strong. But with him, I was able to forget for a while that he is… different than what I am.
I won't ever forget again.
The mirror is bent twice; one facing me directly, another portion to my left, and a third to my right. The reflections bounce off of each other and I'm able to see myself from three different angles, reflected over and over until I disappear into eternity. Looking into my own eyes that way, I'm reminded of what I saw in my delirious fever-dream; myself as a child. Myself as a wild and free woman. What am I now?
It's been a long time since I've really looked at myself in a mirror like this. I see what Paolo meant when he made me that new dress—I have grown. My breasts are large, spilling over my hands as I move to cup them. The areolas are brown, lighter than my eyes. I notice that the left breast is slightly larger than the right and wonder if that's odd… what basis of comparison do I have?
My waist is thick, but not necessarily flabby. I'm sturdy, I realize; like an oak tree. I could never be described as 'delicate'. My hips flare like the sides of a characterized heart with curly dark hair nestled at the point. My legs are long. I'd never noticed before…
I look into my eyes again and am surprised at what I see in their depths. Determination. Passion. Strength. I feel a wave of reassurance washing over myself as I examine my own gaze. I can trust myself. I like the way I look, I realize with some surprise. It had never before occurred to me before to like or dislike myself.
Pulling the cloth back over myself, I tie it in place once again, and give my reflection a nod; a thousand me's nod back.
I like myself. And I won't allow myself to be hurt again.
There's a rap on the door and, barely a moment later, the medic steps in. His black eyes bore into me like always; no hesitation or courtesy to be found within them.
"Good evening, little tramp!" he coos in his sickeningly-sweet voice. "I was beginning to think you'd never wake, I was!"
"How long have I been out?" I ask, realizing with dismay that my little walk around the room has already fatigued me.
"About a day and a half," he replies. From the pockets of his long coat he extracts a plastic bottle and a tub with a screw-on lid. "You've missed all the fun!"
Without preamble he plants a hand on my sternum and shoves me backwards; I fall until I land on the bed, which creaks loudly. I feel the impact on where I've just been stitched up; like a fire just under the surface; not enough to hurt but suggesting that, once the medication wears off, there will be pain.
I'm surprised at the anger I feel as I sit up and he crawls upon the bed, planting his knees on either side of my hips and turning his attention to my neck.
"Don't," I say, and I find that I'm shaking a little, but not in fear.
He's just dipped his fingers in the clear goo from the tub and looks up in surprise at my tone. "Don't what, slut?" he asks, reaching over and touching the first set of stitches on the back of my neck, patting the gel in.
"Don't push me around like that." There is no hesitation in my voice, nor fear. I realize that I'm overstepping a boundary by saying this, but I do it just the same. "I'm not a toy."
He laughs at this, throwing his head back and hooting with mirth. "Of course you're a toy, Songbird. You're everybody's toy. Wind her up and hear her sing. And lord knows what kinds of buttons Master Gideon can push on you. Pull her hair and she'll moan. Bite her neck and she'll…"
I hear power echoing in my voice; something I've never heard before. I stare deep into the medic's eyes. "Do not treat me lightly, Medic."
I can hardly believe what I'm saying right now. The words leave my mouth with a slight melodic lilt to them; the undertone brimming with authority and confidence. "I am worth more than this, and you will do well to believe it."
He stares back, looking bewildered; then his jaw goes a little slack.
"Do you understand?" I press, my voice now lowering to a growl.
"I…" he looks more than a bit confused, and his eyes have gone quite vacant. "Yes, Songbird."
"Good. Now please give me my medicine and send me back to my bedroom, please."
It's not until a few days later when there's a soft knock on my bedroom door and it slides quietly open; Gideon hovers in the doorway with a tray of covered dishes emitting an enticing aroma.
I look at him silently for a long moment. There is shame on his face, and sorrow. And also my scratches; they divide his face up and serve as a reminder for what he did.
"May I come in?" he asks. I consider telling him no. I consider telling him that if he ever speaks to me again, I'll spread the secret of his mole and his musical ambitions around the mansion. But I can't bring myself to do it, because the bigger part of me wants him in the room, wants him next to me. I want to go back to singing with him, and listening to music.
My neck gives a particularly nasty throb, and I frown at myself. Things can't go back to the way they were—he attacked me. He pinned me down and, even though I begged him to stop, he turned my skin into hamburger. And he liked it.
Because he is a monster.
I can't forget that again.
"You can come in," I tell him, giving him my most steely expression, all of my guards up. "But you're going to answer all of my questions, and you're not going to leave anything out. Anything less than that and you can just turn right around and leave."
He fidgets from side to side, and then seems to resign himself.
"I do owe you that, don't I?" he asks. "But please don't judge me too harshly, because I think I know what you're going to ask."
I beckon him into the room, but when he tries to sit on the bed beside me I stop him. "You can take the chair," I say. His face falls a little and my heart twinges.
Monster. Don't forget it.
He pulls the chair to my writing desk next to my bed, and then sets the tray down carefully beside me.
"I brought you some of your favorites," he says hopefully. "Hot cocoa, toast with blackberry jam, vanilla pudding, oatmeal raison cookies…"
"How do you know those are my favorites?" I ask, hand already grabbing for a cookie.
He gives a little smile. "Tai told me. You have quite the sweet tooth."
In the center of the tray there is a small bouquet tied together with a white ribbon. Purple hyacinth and yellow asphodel; the colors clashing horribly but the fragrance rather appealing. I'm familiar enough with the symbolic meaning of flowers to get the message: sorrow, regret, remorse. I bite my lip and fight off the urge to forgive him. What he did was wrong and he needs to know it.
But it seemed he already knew it…
I will not allow myself to be hurt this way.
I sip at my cocoa and am surprised by the steamed milk on top, the hint of caramel and salt making the chocolate all the sweeter. Dammit, Tai.
"So," Gideon says, fidgeting uncomfortably. "You said you have questions."
"Yes," I say primly, trying to sit up and then falling back onto my pillows with a wince. I'd never known how much I use my back and neck muscles with ordinary every day movements until they'd been damaged, and then any movement hurt. "First off. What is all of this about your mother? She's 'eccentric'? You're learning music for her sake? I don't understand."
Gideon grimaces. "Oh, that's a difficult one. Next question?"
I raise my eyebrow. "That mole on your back? What's up with that. And don't tell me it was a trick of my imagination; I know what I saw."
He gnaws uncomfortably on his lip. "That one's difficult, too…"
"Well pick one and answer!" I say. I snatch up my spoon and lick the gloopy, delicious pudding off the back. Gideon eyes my mouth for a second too long and I color slightly, putting the spoon back down.
"They're sort of connected, so I suppose I'll answer both." His face has gone ashen, sick-looking. "I… it's not safe for me to say this…" he reaches into the pocket of his slacks and withdraws a silver ball about the size of a walnut and hands it to me. "Open it," he says. I take it from him, and he doesn't seem to know what to do with his hands; putting them into his lap, his fingers fidget restlessly.
I slip my fingernail into the slit of the ball and pry it open on tiny metal hinges. It's a locket, I realize, and there is a small picture inside. There are two people in the picture; the beautiful blonde monster who's photograph I'd seen on his desk—Gideon's mother. She's pressed her cheekbone affectionately close to that of a man; vibrant red hair, a nose covered in freckles, bright blue eyes. He has a boyishly handsome face, and something about the curve of his lips and the slant of his eyebrows is very familiar.
Gideon begins to unbutton the sleeves of his long shirt and holds his arms close to my face. I see three very tiny, faded freckles just beside his wrist bone. "I have more," he says. "That woman in the locket is my mother. And that man beside her was my father."
Hi, guys; sorry it's been so long since I've last written. I've gotten really tangled up in my life recently and haven't been able to find the time to do so… I hope this chapter was to your liking. Please leave a comment; it doesn't have to be a long one if you don't want to write much (but I appreciate long ones too!) Tell me if you liked it… or if you didn't! I'm very curious.