Music: Suite From ‘Hush’ (Silent Night / First Kiss / Enter the Gentlemen / Schism)
From: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling soundtrack (2002)
Composer: Christophe Beck
Warnings: language, talk of death, lack of editing
Universe: Mortician’s Rose ‘verse
Our rooms aren’t what you’d call pretty. Functional, sure, but the truth is that the Academy doesn’t bother wasting funds on slaves with a limited shelf life. There’s enough to look like it’s a choice on our parts, rather than a rule from on high, but there’s nothing here to take my mind off what’s happening. There’s no music to listen to, to quiet the restlessness. No books to throw myself into, to hide from the gaping, sucking wound in my chest. There’s nowhere to hide a journal, to write honestly about what’s happening. There’s no one to talk no, no chance of sneaking out to talk with Ava.
Not with the house on lockdown.
The room feels tiny in a way it’s never felt before. It used to feel cosy, not cramped. But it feels like the walls are shifting inwards, the ceiling downward. I read Alice in Wonderland in my life before, I remember, vaguely, Alice suddenly feeling too big for the room. This feels like that, like I’m growing and it’s shrinking and any second not I’m going to die crushed against the badly painted plasterboard hiding the bricks from view.
I miss the rose garden. I need to be outside, need air because there’s precious little in here. I want to scream, want to cry, want to do something other than sitting on a shitty, too-hard single bed and try to remember how to breathe.
In. Out. It’s not that hard. Why is it so fucking hard?
The air is too little, too much, too something. It catches in my mouth, refuses to go any further. I’m surrounded in air and I feel like I’m suffocating. I gasp, and gasp, and all I can think is that I’m a fish, thrown onto the boat to die. I’m gonna die. I try to look to the security camera, try to say the word ‘help’, but there’s no voice left in me. Callie, the mute girl, and me: all trying to talk, and all failing miserably.
There’s a window- tiny enough to prevent escapes- a tiny sliver of air that does nothing to stop the stifling heat building here. Maybe if I can get there, I can breathe. But I can’t move. Can’t do anything beyond ball my hands into fists and drive my nails into my skin as hard as I can to stop the screaming. Inside my head, there’s nothing but screaming, so loud I wonder how the hell no one is hearing it but me. It hurts. I feel like my ears are bleeding from the sound of something inside me shattering into pieces and screaming itself to death. I can’t move enough to check.
She didn’t have to die. She’s dead. I should have protected her. That’s on me. I should have… what? Killed him when I had the chance? How? Where was the chance? She’s dead and it’s my fault and oh god has he found a way to fill the room with carbon dioxide? Am I dying? Is he killing me, even with the Academy here?
She’s dead, and I couldn’t, didn’t, save her.
I’m gonna die, too, and Ava’s gonna be alone, trying to keep everyone else safe. Ava is kind, sweet, and gentle- she can’t protect them. Not for long. She’s not devious enough to manage it.
I die, they die.
The thought snaps through the panic like a slap to the face, forces my muscles to work.
The window is barely a few meters away, but it feels like a marathon to stagger over to it, to press my face against the glass and try to breathe. There’s no difference, no air.
There has to be. There’s no way there’s no air outside- nobody is that good. Think. I can figure this out. Panic attack? It has to be, right?
Callie used to have them, back when she first arrived. The pain in my chest grows. If I could move, I’d be clutching my chest. Am I having a heart attack, too? Oh, god, I’m really gonna die, aren’t I?
No, you’re panicking. Just… don’t think her name. Don’t think about her directly. Focus on the solution, not the person. Breathe. Just… just breathe. Focus on each breath. Doesn’t matter that you’re panting rather than breathing, just keep focusing.
It feels like the air is slowly returning to the room, feels like I’m drenched in sweat and tears as the horror starts to leech its way from my system. But I can breathe, even if only a little, and with the air comes the reality, and the anger.
I don’t have the luxury of panic. It’s my job to protect them. That’s all that matters. I will not fail again. Never a-fucking-gain.
The second the dizziness passes, I head to the bathroom, hands still locked into fists, nails still drawing blood. The pain focuses me. I need it. It’s a small price to pay to get back to work.
I’ll survive. Callie didn’t. How can I complain about a few stupid scratches?
I keep my gaze low. If I don’t look at the mirror, it’ll be okay. I don’t doubt Callie will have joined the mute girl, don’t doubt that her large, terrified eyes are gonna be haunting me for a long time to come.
Tonight, though? I can’t bring myself to find out for sure.
There are sharks in the world who call themselves men. They wear the suits, do their hair, shine their teeth and their shoes to a threatening polish. They walk around, play at innocence for all they’re worth, but there’s no hiding- not forever, at least- the apex predator lurking in their gaze.
In the ocean, it’s easy enough to deal with a shark. You shove a big ol’ harpoon right into their predatory brains, and you’re done. It’s not so easy dealing with the human varieties. People tend to frown if you harpoon an actual person, even the ones that have it coming.
Jake? He has it coming.
Her eyes were hazel, though more green than brown. Every emotion danced in those eyes, and in death, it was the fear that got frozen in time.
There are predators in every species, but humans are the worst of them. They don’t hunt for food, they hunt for sport. They hunt to feel manly in their pathetic, miserable little lives. Callie was sport to him, the weakest in the herd, easy to separate from the rest. And there are far too many replacements.
Maybe the Academy would intervene- but then, would they just move him somewhere else? Would I just be pushing our problem onto another house of innocent people? I can’t do that. I can’t hope someone else will carry the burden for me. That’s not fair. I won’t dishonour Callie’s memory by hiding from this. I owe her that, at least.
Besides, can I be sure the Academy would actually move him? It’d probably be easier just to punish me for speaking out- and it’d keep Ava from trying to intervene in the future, too. Two birds, one stone. They’ve never cared much for our wellbeing before. Would Callie’s death actually change that, or would they just keep it quiet, the way they keep everything else quiet?
It’s easier to keep a secret than change a system. They’d likely just poke about in my brain until I couldn’t even remember who Callie was. I can’t protect my family if I can’t even remember them.
No, the Academy can’t know. There’s too much risk. Whatever happens, I’m on my own.
There’s a thought tickling at the back of my mind like a warning. The kind of thought there’s no coming back from if I give myself permission to even contemplate it.
We’re all gonna die monsters. It’s our fate, thanks to the Academy.
But what if it was a choice?