"Look, look-- I could never do this in real life."
His eye flickers my way, though his expression is bored.
I grin, eyes on the brightly-colored balls I have conjured for myself. I am juggling them easily; it is a simple thing to imagine doing a task so flawlessly. "I remember trying to juggle when I was a kid," I admit, still gazing up as the balls circle from hand to hand. "Ran-niisan did it once with apples to amuse me, and I thought it was so neat, I wanted to learn." I laugh a little. "I couldn't do it; the apples kept falling and rolling across the floor, or I'd belt myself in the head with one."
He looks away, obviously unimpressed, but I am quite pleased with myself. I begin roaming in a vague circle, still juggling.
"Kites are rising in the sky,
Catching fair winds far up high
Rise and rise to the clouds that float,
Fly high up in the sky!
Kites are neat in the sky,
Dancing, leaping way up high,
Rising to the white clouds,
Fly high up in the sky!"
He scratches at his head in what might be an impatient gesture, grimacing. "Stop singing," he commands.
I stick out my tongue at him, continuing impishly. Annoying him has become an amusing pasttime lately.
"Falling, falling is the kite,
Run and run to keep it high,
Oh, the kite is rising now,
Hold, hold your string tight!"
"Stop, I said," he repeats, an edge to his voice.
"That's the end of the song, anyway," I inform him sweetly, and grin just because I know it will irritate him more.
I lower my hands, and the balls continue to spin lazily in the air before me. "You never seemed to mind me singing before," I point out.
He glares across at me, voice flat. "I hate it."
I roll my eyes.
I have gotten sick of wasting energy being afraid of him. If he finds a way to kill me, so be it. There was never any guarantee of me ever waking up again, anyway. Besides, he'll die with me.
And I have seen too much of the darkness in him for his foul moods to intimidate me much anymore. The last time he snarled at me, I shouted back. He was in shock for all of two seconds before he started threatening me, and we just ended up going back and forth for quite some time before we both sulkily hid ourselves behind our barriers and ignored each others' presence.
Childish, maybe, but... well, he started it.
Besides, a good argument keeps one on their toes.
"You know," I say abruptly, flicking my fingers and transforming the balls into bells, "you piss me off most of the time, but really I'm glad you're here."
He peers through his thorns at me suspiciously. His barrier never comes down like mine does; he can not manipulate it like I can, and he cannot go unprotected in my mind. I have noticed, however, that it is a bit less thorny lately.
"If I had been stuck in here all this time by myself," I continue quietly, spreading my arms so the bells' circling rotation expands, "I would have gone insane by now. No one to talk to, no reason to really expand on my powers in here...." I feel a humorless grin tug at my mouth. "Locked in a prison of the mind." I shake myself, turning my unwanted attention his way. "Do you know any songs? Any Irish songs you learned when you were a kid?"
He arches a brow at me. "Even if I did," he points out dryly, "why would I let you slaughter them?"
I make a face at him. "All right, so you sing them then."
He just stares at me.
"...Not that I can imagine you singing," I admit, amused at the thought.
"All you sing are brats' songs," he points out, hand moving unconsciously by his side as if he is petting something. I remember the horrible wolf-like apparitions that prowl inside his barrier and shudder inside.
"Well, I didn't really think you'd appreciate an Utada love song," I admit. I hesitate, lifting a hand to let one of the bells fall into it. "I can sing something else... There's this song I've been thinking of lately..."
He sneers and stretches on his back. "Do what you want," he says dismissively, obviously preparing to doze off.
I flex my fingers a bit, and the bell in my hand transforms into a rose. I think of the scent of fresh flowers that always accompanies my brother when he comes to visit me, and of the smell of cologne and cigarette smoke that wafted into my room when that man with the suave voice came to find him. The one I hope to meet if I ever get out of this. The thought of him always brings this song to my mind, and I sing softly, imagining for the millionth time the day I will finally see him.
"I never met you, never learned your name
But you were always there
When everything falls apart inside
You reach out to me
You hold me together
Beautiful wounded prince
Won't you come see me again?
I wait for you, I wait for you
Mysterious beautiful prince
If I could see you smile
I would be so happy
I would sing for you
Mysterious beautiful wounded prince
I finish the song quietly, still staring at the rose. Abruptly I clench my fist, crushing it with a flash of resentment. After a moment, I open trembling fingers, allowing blackened and dry petals to drift away.
"Who am I kidding?" I ask myself in a harsh whisper. "I'm never getting out of here."
I'm not sure what awakens me from my dreams some time later, and I sit up in bleary confusion. I wave my hand, drawing my wall down to wrap around myself like a cloak, and stare across at Farfarello's thorn barrier. Was he having another nightmare? Did he make another go at my wall? Is that what woke me up?
No, he's stretched on his side, single eye unfocused as he dozes.
Then I feel it again-- a sharp tug. I wince, looking around in bewilderment. What is that? It's similar to the times Farfarello attacked my wall or when our minds would clash painfully, but it isn't his doing this time.
Something stretches, tearing a bit, and I gasp at the unexpected pain. What is this?? Instinctively I look upwards into the vast whiteness that surrounds us, and see a flickering high above. Another pull, and I give a surprised shriek of pain. The light above flashes, and cracks spread across a ceiling that isn't really there.
Farfarello jolts at my cry and sits up, glaring across at me warily. He follows my gaze, and goes very still, eye widening slightly.
I clap my hands to my head at the sudden pressure that begins building, making it hard to concentrate on anything. I gasp for air and grit my teeth, forcing myself to focus. The barrier around me that was wavering becomes firm once more, and the cracks above stop spreading, alleviating the pain and the pressure somewhat.
Something is coming.
Farfarello scrambles to his feet, knives in hand, as the light from above suddenly falls downwards, and something begins to materialize between our two minds.
It takes on a vaguely human shape, and as I watch, it begins to solidify into a man.
A tall man wearing a hideous green trenchcoat with sharp eyes, a wide mouth, and long sunfire hair.
"You--" I gasp in shock.
The Jerk has finally pushed his way into my mind.
His image flickers every time he moves, as if maintaining his presence is difficult. Whether it is because of my shields or my drugged state, I am not sure, and at this point I don't care. All I know is that someone has finally come to pull me from this nightmare.
The Jerk grins mockingly at me, then turns his attention on the man behind the thorns. "That was a pain in the ass," he admits, his voice sounding almost alien after so long of hearing only my own and Farfarello's. "I'm a bit impressed, princess. I thought Farfarello would have killed you by now. You seem to have figured out shields pretty damn fast."
I get to my feet slowly, unable to tear my gaze from him.
"What took you so long?" Farfarello growls, fists tightening on a thick vine of thorns as he glares through them at his partner.
"Gimmie a break, Farf, we've been busy," the Jerk huffs, hands on his hips. "But shit's about to hit the fan; we're near the final steps, and Crawford said I needed to pull you out. Don't be so grumpy; it hasn't been that long. Hope you enjoyed your little holiday."
"It's been ages," I blurt out.
He turns and regards me with twisted amusement. "Ah, that's right. You're not used to this, I guess. Time always seems slower in the mind, chica. You two have only been tangled in here for three days in the real world."
I gape at him in complete disbelief. Farfarello's eye has also widened marginally. "Three DAYS??" I repeat incredulously. "Impossible! It's felt like months..."
He shrugs, dismissing me carelessly as he extends a hand to Farfarello. For the first time I notice the shimmering barely-there presence around him. His own shield. I can tell by the pressure that surrounds it that it is even stronger than my own.
"Come on, Farf. Time to go. Sorry you had to put up with this twat so long."
"W-wait a minute!" I step forward, imaginary heart pounding. "You can't just leave me here!"
He sends a mocking smile my way. "Watch me." He beckons impatiently, and slowly, warily, Farfarello allows his barrier to fade to a barely-there idea and walks towards him.
Cold fear seizes me. If three days felt like months, how long will I be here now? And by myself, with no one to talk to....?
"Don't-" I gasp. "Please-- don't leave me in here by myself. At least get the drug out of my system so I can hear my brother's voice--"
"No can do, sweetcheeks," he cuts me off, gripping Farfarello's shoulder so that some of his own shield protects the Irishman. Farfarello glances towards me, but remains silent. "You were drugged for a reason. We can't have you blabbing shit to that ice-eyed moron and his pathetic little friends." The Jerk wiggles his fingers in mocking farewell. "See you in the next life, princess." And they begin to slip away as he pulls the both of them carefully out of the hole he made in my outer shields.
Panic and fury rush up so intensely I almost lose myself in the emotions. "STOP!!" I scream, and swipe my arm, lashing out fiercely.
The force of the blow surprises even me.
It brings the both of them crashing back fully into my mind, but I am too angry to acknowledge the sharp twinge of pain. Schuldich is sitting looking a bit stunned; I must have delivered his mind quite a blow. Farfarello looks towards me sharply, suddenly wary.
Above, the cracks in my shields are rapidly healing themselves. Schuldich gets to his feet quickly, eyes narrowing. "Bitch. I see you've gotten a bit stronger, little girl," he notes. "But you've still got a lot to learn." He grins unpleasantly and flicks a finger my way.
The cloak-like barrier around myself practically shatters, cracks spreading across its surface in the blink of an eye like a spiderweb. I gasp in horror and stumble back, throwing all of my concentration into strengthening the shield and blocking myself from him.
He's strong. Much stronger than I am. He has years of experience on his side-- and--
"He was one of Rosenkreuz's top students..."
"Stop it!" I protest frantically. I can feel the force of his mind beating at me all around. It will crush me and leave me nothing more than a broken shell.
"Stop playing around, Schuldich," Farfarello snaps. "Let's go."
"But this is fun," Schuldich protests, still grinning like a demon. "Don't you want to see her brought down a few pegs? Watch this." He waves his hand almost carelessly.
The pressure and sharp pain are intense. I scream, fingers clawing in my hair as I throw all of my strength into keeping my barrier in place. It is thin now, like glass. One more blow will shatter it.
I watch, shuddering with effort, as his grin widens and he lifts his hand again.
"Schuldich," Farfarello barks impatiently.
The Jerk pauses, frowning in irritation. "Fine, fine," he sighs at last, dropping his hand. "I guess it's more fun this way, anyway. She can go slowly insane all by herself in here forever for all I care." He salutes me mockingly. "Farewell, princess."
They begin rising, aiming for the hole in my outer shields that he made on his entrance, and I watch them go helplessly.
No... he can't do this to me... How will I hold onto my sanity if I am trapped in here by myself?
They are nearly out now. I throw caution to the winds and collect all my remaining strength. I don't care anymore if he manages to deflect it and retaliate. Even if he destroys me, it has to be better than sitting in this nothingness for the rest of my life with no one to talk to.
I gather all the strength available to me and hurl it up after them just as they are fading away. Will I make it in time--?
Out of the corner of my eye I see something move slightly. My eyes flash that way instinctively.
It is a tiny vine, left over from Farfarello's barrier, curling up slowly as it fades with its owner's disappearance.
Abruptly I twist with my mind, redirecting the blow I have aimed upwards. Schuldich senses the activity and turns to look-- too late.
My concentration crashes down and explodes against that piece of vine. High above, Farfarello arches suddenly, hands flying up to clutch his head. Schuldich wraps one arm around him to hold him steady, and the look he turns on me is murderous. But he has gone too far now to turn around.
The pain that rips through me at his rough exit tears my world apart. The barrier around my body crumbles to dust, and everything goes black and empty.
They are gone, leaving me broken and utterly alone.
I don't know how long it is before I finally flicker back into awareness, but when I do, it is to a world of dull throbbing pain and emptiness.
It takes me awhile to realize I no longer have a body, and for an instant I panic. It is just my thoughts here in this place. With nothing to see, no noise, no anything, it makes my own mind into something very much like hell.
Quickly I try once again to imagine a body for myself, but that only intensifies the pain. I reach out tentatively with my thoughts, exploring my surroundings.
My outer shields are still badly battered from Schuldich's violent entry and exit, and the loss of my most inner barriers has left me broken and vulnerable. If he takes it upon himself to come back and finish the job, it will be pathetically easy for him to destroy me once and for all.
One more attack will kill me.
That realization only makes me more determined, and I set to work. It is slow and painful, and takes entirely too long. But gradually, achingly, I begin to repair the damage done, fixing the holes and cracks he left in my shields. Something in the back of my subconscious makes it harder; some dark churning spot barely discernable that sometimes interrupts my work and makes me have to backtrack and start over. Studying this dark place in my mind will only break my concentration, so I do my best to ignore it. I can worry about it later, when I have fixed what was broken so ruthlessly.
Finally it is done; my outer shields are firmly back in place, and I can turn my attention on repairing my inner ones. This is even more difficult. The outer ones are the breach to my mind, but it was the inner ones that protected everything that I am, that kept Schuldich and Farfarello from invading my mind completely. They need to be much stronger than the outer walls, and it takes what feels like days before I finally succeed in repairing the brick wall that encircles the deepest parts of my mind.
I take a brief break after that, then painstakingly bring back the image of myself.
At last it is finished. My walls are up again, but this time they are as strong as I can make them. I stand behind my wall, staring blankly through a window I built without meaning to, looking out into the vast white canvas of my mind at the spot where Farfarello used to crouch behind his thorns.
I am alone.
I reach up, touching my fingertips to the golden ornaments in my ear, but they fail to comfort me this time. I feel almost numb with exhaustion, pain, and loneliness.
I never thought the day would come when I would actually miss a homicidal lunatic. The thought almost makes me laugh, but it dies before I can voice it.
I quickly search for a way to distract myself, and as my mind wanders it encounters again that dark flurrying spot on the outskirts. Curious but wary, I concentrate on it, drawing it closer to my consciousness to study it. Is it just a new part of myself? The desperate pain and anger that Schuldich caused me?
No... there is something strange yet familiar about it at the same time.
It... isn't me at all. Now that I'm examining it, I can see something like a shining cord connecting it to the rest of my mind. Puzzled but still cautious, I stretch my thoughts across this string and touch the dark spot tentatively.
I gasp, jerking back from the spot and stumbling in shock. What the--
That was Farfarello's voice.
Curt and faded, but-- there's no mistake. That was him.
I race back along that slim thread again, touching the unfamiliar dark spot in my mind. Farfarello??
I get the sense of something pushing at me, coming between me and that spot. Go away.
I fall and land hard on my ass, my mouth open in disbelief.
The image of a tiny vine, curling up in death, comes to mind.
When I struck at it... when I enveloped it with my mind....
I've opened a link between us. A channel.
Farfarello! the desperation in my mental call is unintended.
One last, trembling link to the outside world, to an outside mind.
I almost choke on a sob of surprise.
His icy silence doesn't bother me; I can still feel him, there on the outer reaches of my mind, a presence.
The realization makes me sob with relief.
I am not alone after all.
I never thought I would be so grateful in my life to feel his prickly mind touching my own.
Author's Notes: The kite children's song Aya sings is from the same site as the
lullaby (http://www.mamalisa.com/world/kites.html). When she mentions "Utada", she's
referring to Utada Hikaru, a pop singer in Japan. The second 'song' she sings is made up by
me to fit the story =p
The chapter's a bit short, but this one and the next one are fairly important, and the things
that happen next I would rather have in a new chapter. ^^ Whee~ this is fun
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