-Back into the arena we go-
Claudia shuffled her notes and tapped her pen on her clipboard, then, with a resolute breath, opened the door and walked into her ‘brother’s’ suite, moving to seat herself at the large dark wood desk before glancing at her patient.
"You're looking brighter today," she noted with a smile.
He looked up at her from where he sat in the plush velvet armchair, closing the leather-bound Dostoevsky he held and placing it on a side table carefully. Sombre blue eyes narrowed and he nodded in silence, his gaze skittering away almost nervously, as if he were afraid to look at her for too long.
"When did I get moved back in here?" Baelian asked slowly.
Claudia turned the page of notes - the days blurred for her so the information and records were essential.
"A few days ago. You've been gone a while,” her eyes softened, "I've been worried. How are you feeling?"
A myriad of emotions washed through his pale features - confusion, fear, sadness, mistrust...then weariness.
"Nauseous mostly,” he replied, “Dehydrated...I keep drinking water but it's never enough...um, it's hard to eat anything..."
She nodded and scribbled some notes, checking his blood work.
"No infection, no sign of physical illness...your alter is finishing his meals...and some of the nurse's...a psychological effect perhaps? The medications can cause a dryness in the mouth. Are you feeling light headed? Tired?"
Baelian listened to her words with a frown, blinking as if he did not at first understand them. Then he nodded again, a hand rising to rub at the back of his neck.
"I'm always tired," he murmured, "Have any of my family...have they come to see me?"
-No. They haven’t bothered. They prefer excuses and lies-
She lowered her eyes, heartbroken for both of them.
"Bella comes. Grigori came. Ivory and Opium…I didn't see them personally, but their names are in the..." her voice cut out on her and she coughed, "Er...the guest register. Asinoe has also visited, though the records have been expunged...I believe one or multiple of your alters spoke with her."
Baelian’s eyes darkened somewhat and he looked away, then nodded.
"I've seen her," he whispered, swallowing and scratching at an invisible marking on the velvet arm of the chair, his head tilting slightly as his gaze shifted to the large windows, "It's my birthday this week...should we cancel the party? Is it safe for...everyone," he asked softly, "I don't remember how...how therapy is going? Am I improving?"
Claudia wanted to reach out and touch his hand, to tell him everything was going to be ok…that his whole family and all his associates had visited and that everything would be fine. But she refused to lie to him.
"You are, actually. A week or so ago you couldn't communicate clearly, you mostly deferred to other personalities and when targeted could only speak in riddles."
The tiniest ghost of a smile graced his lips for half a second at her words.
"So...I was you then," he murmured, "Imaginary Lyra..." His hands gripped the arms of his velvet chair, fingers flexing against the plush fabric.
Her face echoed his, albeit her smile was a little colder.
"Yes. You were Little Lyra," she said simply, "Funny how it works" she frowned and flipped a page, "Memory problems?"
He caught her tone, cobalt hues widening as they fixed on her across the way.
"I don't know..." he murmured, shrugging slowly, "I guess so. I don't remember...I'm..." words trailed off, a sigh racking his form. She shifted her chair closer to him.
"It's ok. You are doing so well," she said warmly, "Honestly, you were starting to worry me, but you are a tough one." She looked him over, anything was better than the almost incoherent babbling, though she still would have liked some more colour in his face. "After all this, you may be a little more erratic, but at least you'll be you…" she sighed wearily, "Then, when you are stable, we can sort out Alina and Asinoe...”
-If I can-
She smiled reassuringly, hoping the promise of a future would focus him. Baelian’s eyes lowered, a scowl twisting his lips.
"When this is over?" he murmured, "you mean when you merge us..." he shook his head, "What gives you the right, Lyra?" Haunted blue eyes lifted to meet hers, a weariness in them that spoke of months of unrest. He didn't seem angry...just hurt and very very tired.
"Yes,” Claudia sighed, “When you complete treatment. When you can function out in the world without an internal battle that leads to damaging yourself and family," she lowered her eyes, "As for ‘rights,’ I have no rights. I’ve burned more moral bridges than I care to discuss. I have done what needed doing, taken the steps that needed taking. I deserve nor request 'rights'...I just want you out of here and back home."
-And away from me-
"For who?" Baelian asked flatly, tilting his head, "Please tell me who we are murdering me for, and what greater purpose it will serve...?" his words trailed off and he held up a hand, "Never mind, forget it..." a shadow fell over his face and he turned towards the window, "How's your new toy? Fucked him yet?"
Claudia raised her eyebrow and looked at him coldly.
"Toy? Interesting you call him that. I don't treat any of you like a toy. That is your behaviour pattern, not mine…” she tapped her pen irritably, "And it won't be murder. In fact, with things as they stand, it seems more and more likely that you are one of the more dominant and stable personalities…and likely to be a large percentage of the resulting 'merge.'"
"Yes, well, forgive me for not jumping for joy at your 'likely' outcome..." he muttered, "You're avoiding my question..." Blue eyes slid sideways and he perked a brow, "He knocked your stockings off yet or what?"
"No," she replied in irritation, "We play chess, and talk," her eyes drilled into him, challenging him to continue pressing her for what she considered 'irrelevant' information. "Does it make a difference to you? Are you concerned that we haveand that I’m fond of him, or that I’m not, but that it’s his therapy that is progressing you, and not your own efforts...or lack thereof…" she eyed him pointedly.
Baelian gave her a pretty and mocking smile, batting his eyes.
"I’m not concerned," he crooned at her, "But apparently you are..." his smile faded and he shook his head, "You don't know anything about what I do or how much effort it takes Lyra, don't presume just because it's not in your little journals that it doesn't exist..."
Claudia laughed, though there was a sad anger in her eyes now. After all of her studies, the long hours and times she had nearly lost her own mind, or Simon’s...in Baelian's eyes she was still the Professor’s stupid blonde mouthpiece.
"Then tell me, what are you achieving, locked away in here? Are you resting and about to restore yourself to your role as shield and protector? Are you here helping me with my studies to help get Alina back?"
She didn't sound accusing; her tone was calm and every bit the gentle enquirer and guide. But there was something hollow and hurt in her, whispering just beneath the surface.
Baelian’s eyes narrowed and he smirked, a cold and cruel smirk that spoke of walls instantly rising, a barrier being formed between himself and that which sought to harm him. It hardly mattered, whether her intent was to attack or not, the 'protector' was already on high alert.
"Why should I do either of those things, Lyra? Tell me...when they were carving Jasper up on that table and a dog was eating his little friend's face, did they stop to ask me, before throwing me in front of him like a fucking shield, what I wanted? Did anyone stop to maybe think that I didn't want to be a fucking moat protecting a jumping castle?"
His tone matched hers in calm, though his blue eyes were blazing.
"No...no one bothered to ask me, when I woke up to see Abigail screaming with what was left of her face while my father's dogs fucked and fed on her at the same time...there was no 'Hey Baelian, we need you to protect this kid cause we'll need him to be sane when he grows up so he can run around with all our money and be an idiot, doing whatever he wants no matter who he fucks over'...there was none of that..."
A hand rose to smooth back his hair, fingers shaking slightly.
"I have been, for almost thirty years, taking hits for the 'team' in one way or another...I have almost died more times than I can count...I have taken every drug and drank every bit of booze that I was told. I have self-medicated, self-mutilated...I have fucked everything that moved whether I felt like it or was required to, I’ve taken my goddamn pills and I have had them shoved down my throat. I was a good boy...a very good fucking boy...all to protect that motherfucker from what I've seen and what I know..."
Baelian’s knees drew up and he turned his body into the large chair, wrapping his arms about them.
"So you'll forgive me if I'm not overly willing to just give up the life that I so begrudgingly fought for, because that son-of-a-whore has decided that he wants what I'm holding. You and I both know that he doesn't really want it, Lyra...he only demands it because I've got it..." he wrinkled his nose, "And what kind of protector would I be, if I just let you give him everything I've been lying, stealing, cheating and fighting to keep from him all this time? So I took more than I should have for myself...don't you think, after all my years of 'loyal service,' I deserve at least that much?"
Claudia stared at him.
-You don’t know-
"Jasper isn't the one requiring protection any more, Baelian," she said softly, "When was the last time you even saw your ‘expression of innocence’?" Frowning, she shook her head at him, “Is it possible you don't need something to protect anymore, in order to live? You haven't even asked about Bethany, or Alina, or any of them. Maybe the choice isn't about fighting for your place as a fracture, maybe it’s more the fear that this life is actually yours? I doubt that you could override a core personality so easily if you were only there to protect it. Jasper’s role has become simplified and stylised…surely you’ve noticed..?" she paused, pondering the possibility as the realisation came to her.
-Is Baelian the core, or will this merge blend them all?-
He stared back at her, frowning, confusion filling his face. His lips parted and he started to respond, then stopped as he looked away again.
"You're just trying to confuse me..." he murmured, "I'm not the core...I don't remember anything before...before the dogs..." his breath caught, then quickened, and he closed his eyes, shaking his head and trying to stop himself from hyperventilating, "Just breathe..." he whispered to himself, "Breathe..."
"I am not trying to confuse you,” Claudia shook her head, “These things are…complicated…and so little is known about DID...though the natural assumption is that you would block out a traumatic childhood until a better coping mechanism came along…"
She sighed as she shifted her chair closer, frowning at his hyperventilation. Her thoughts turned briefly to Nikolai and she shook her head, banishing them.
-Don’t let your ache for company play with your bias, Claudia-
"Breathe..." she whispered and watched Baelian, wondering if he could quell the panic on his own.
It took some doing, but eventually he seemed to get himself under control, his ragged gasps subsiding as he pressed his face against his knee and peered out the window.
"I'm breathing..." he muttered, "Watch me breathe all over the place..."
"Excellent," she murmured, noting his control with a flicker of pride.
'Memories of triggering events seem to come more readily, however control is becoming easier with self-disciplined breathing. Strength of opinions seem strong - promising…’ she scribbled, keeping her eyes on him.
He’d fallen silent, watching the shifting colours of the world outside, his forehead creasing as random thoughts and concerns danced through his mind.
"You said you saw Sin when she came to visit. What about Grigori…did you manage to speak to him at all?" she asked, certain she already knew the answer.
"I never saw Grigori…are you sure he was here?" Baelian blinked, surprise registering on his face, "He was here and he didn't kill me...?" His head turned and he gazed at Lyra forlornly, eyes flickering to her notes. "Is Bethany okay?" he asked after a long moment, genuine concern in his tone.
Hurt flickered through her features again, quickly tucked back behind her calm mask.
"I believe so. Grigori didn't stop to talk and Bethany hasn't..." she blinked and reconsidered her words, "I've not had a spare moment to chase them up."
-Or leave Oakleaf at all-
"I assume that Eden would keep an eye on her,” Claudia told him, forcing a smile on her face, "Don't worry, you can check on her yourself when you leave here…"
Baelian blinked, studying her for a long moment.
"...when was the last time you saw anyone outside of here, Lyra?" he asked, his brows furrowing slightly, "You look awful."
"Thanks," she sniffed, "If you haven't noticed, I have a particularly difficult patient I’m trying to help...besides, where would I go? My only friends are your family…and all they want from me is you."
Claudia blinked at her own summation of the situation. She hadn't said it out loud before. Again her thoughts trailed to Niki. She needed a drink.
And a distraction.
"You'll forgive me if I excuse myself. I...need some air," she stood, almost anxious.
"He's fucking with you Lyra..." Baelian said flatly, "Whatever he's doing and whatever he's saying...he's only telling you what you want to hear..." Blue eyes turned to her, completely devoid of any guile or mocking. "I don't want to die, Lyra...I don't want to be merged, or assimilated, or whatever the fuck else you want to call it. It will not make me better...if being one person was what was best for me I would never have fractured in the first place..." His head lifted and he dropped his feet to the floor, "If this is killing you as much as I suspect, then you need to stop. I will fix myself. Just…go shopping or something, for fuck's sake..."
-Oh fuck you-
"He’s playing me. You’re playing me. That's all any of you ever do,” she laughed coldly, “It's all anyone does." Brushing off her jacket, she looked him dead in the eyes. "What differs is why we are playing. If the Professor couldn't break me, Baelian Black, I bet my life that you and your family can't either…" she shook her head, "No, you will be you. Alina will be Alina, and you can fuck off to Prague, or stay here with them...I don’t care…"
"You think that's what I want to do? Break you?" he seemed surprised, his eyes widening, "Jesus Lyra..." When he looked at her now, there was nothing but genuine concern in his eyes,
"What...what else...have I said to you? And what the fuck has Prague got to do with anything..?"
Her eyes softened and she walked over to his chair, kneeling beside him in concern.
"That's not what I meant,” she murmured, avoiding his question, “Prague was where Belladonna said you’d take Alina when you ran away. I don't think I’ll ever forget that…but I shouldn't have brought it up. I just..." she touched his hand, "You need to fight, not for your fraction, but…but for your whole life. I need you to work with me. These walls are no place to live a life between, but you will come back here...again and again, causing more and more damage until we can get some coping skills and solid controls in place."
A flicker of pain shot through Baelian’s eyes at the mention of Belladonna and Alina, but he blinked it away, frowning and trying to focus on keeping his breathing steady. He flinched when she touched his hand, shifting it away from hers unconsciously, his body shrinking somewhat in the chair, as if he were suddenly afraid of her.
"...but...I can't hurt anyone here..." he said after a moment, "Here I can be..." he struggled with the word 'safe,' something dark moving behind his gaze as he tried to find another way to express it, "The world outside doesn't understand us...they don't know..." he blinked, his eyes glazing over, "Here is safe. Home...with our family…"
Claudia withdrew slightly as he recoiled, used to his rejection by now.
"We are dead here. You know that. We eat, we sleep, we shit, we take our meds…then we do it again. And again. Is that the life you fought for?" a small fire flickered behind her eyes, "And what family is here? There is you and I. You get the occasional visit out of pity or duty, I get neither. This is not what we deserve. Not even us. At least in Hell there are fire pits to warm us."
Her lips twisted in a wry smile, a sickening feeling starting in the pit of her stomach as he stared at her…as if she were a stranger.
"What is it you think we deserve, Lyra?" he asked her, "We're monsters...just like...just like them. We need to be here...we need to be away from the world..." his words trailed off and he narrowed his eyes at her suddenly, "Dream," he murmured, a fine tremor running through his form as he eyed her.
"He's afraid of Dream..." he whispered.
"I know,” she nodded, “I’m sorry. I’ve been asking questions and I think I upset him. Apparently he’s quite sensitive about the topic. So is Asinoe…not that she would say much. Both of them had some sort of triggered flashback when I spoke to them about it…" she shrugged, as if it were unimportant, "But I am sure, once you are more solid, we can hunt him down without any upsetting side effects."
"No!" his reaction was sudden and violent. He leapt from the chair, shoving past her and stalking a ways across the room, his head shaking vehemently, "No you're not understanding me..." a shaking hand rose, raking through errant locks, "No more hunting...no more...no more being like THEM. This isn't a game Lyra...we turned it into a game..."
This time he made no attempt to quell his reaction to her words, his breath coming hard and fast.
"It has to stop, WE have to stop...we can't do this anymore..." he told her, "We can't be them, Lyra...we can't be like them...it's wrong..."
Her face fell cold and she stared at him bitterly.
"I am at peace with my nature, Baelian. You can't even decide if you want to live or die," she said, her words overly clear. He stopped, staring at her, searching her expression for a long moment before his face fell.
"What does it matter, when the choice isn't even mine?" he asked, turning away, "You're going to do whatever you want...or whatever he wants...or maybe whatever the Professor has groomed you into thinking you want..." He moved to the vanity, eying himself, his lips twisting in disdain.
"Did he pick these clothes?" he asked, making a face, his eyes lifting to study her through the mirror, "You understand what's happening here, don't you Lyra? Please at least tell me that you're conscious of the choices you're making..."
"Unlike the choice I made to follow you around, doing whatever you wanted? Was that a nobler choice, Baelian?" She was tired, tired of him and his games, "Was it? You collected us like a set of china dolls…it didn’t matter what was best for us, at the time. We needed to be together. And now? You can't check out now. The Underground needs a King, Baelian…" she rubbed her forehead, sick of his constant dance around her, "You can't refuse to die but avoid living. It's crazy."
"And if I agree? If I play the game your way and be the dazzling ruler that you all seem to think you need, will you be gracious enough to NOT kill me?" Baelian gave a short, bitter laugh, "What price do I need to pay, to stay in your good graces? What if I displease you? What if the rules change?" His eyes narrowed and he shook his head.
"I sent you to the Professor to grow stronger Lyra, to fight your demons and learn from our mistakes...not to just become one of them...and now that you have the power, now that you can trigger us at will, you decide that you suddenly know what's best? I'm sorry, how many years have you been a real live Doctor? Because I remember a time not too long ago when you thought you were a fucking figment of my imagination..."
Claudia’s expression darkened, her smile turning almost vicious.
"We might want to stay away from that particular topic," her voice was almost a snarl, "My graces are not what you should be worrying about, Baelian...nor my qualifications, as I can assure you I was tutored more vigorously than anymed student alive.” Curling her lip, she glared at him.
“If you can tell me what you want to do with this half-life of yours, give me some idea of what good mental health should look like for you…or even a doctor you would prefer, then I am all ears…" she folded her arms.
"How the fuck should I know?" he shouted, then stopped, turning away again and covering his face with a hand. After a moment he sat on the floor where he stood, burying his face in his knees and wrapping his arms around them tightly. It was a good few moments before he composed himself enough to speak, his voice low and shaking when he did.
"I'm sorry...I don't know how to do this. I can't do this. I don't have the answers, I don't even know what the questionsare..." he stared at her with wide, sad eyes, "What they did...the way we grew up, there's no guide book, there's no precedent for the things we've seen...how are any of us supposed to live a normal life?" his eyes closed, pain etching over his face, "If I even knew what normal was..." He drew in a ragged breath, his eyes glazing with tears, "All I know is that we survived it, and we did it together...and now you want me to go away...and I don't know why..." his voice cracked and he stopped, pressing his face into his knees and looking for all the world like a lost child, "Why do you hate me Lyra? Did I hurt you that much?"
She crouched and reached for his cheek.
-Don't look at me like that....fuck you. Fuck you. Of course you hurt me that much. You and your whole heartless family...and you call me a monster. You haven't seen the half of it.-
"You know I can't hate you,” she crooned at him, “I am trying to help. Regardless of what any of you do, you are all I have. I don't want you to go away, I want to make you stronger...so you never have to set foot in here again. But...we don't have to try a merge, if you aren't comfortable with it yet. If you work with me, we can get you up and about again.”
-Liar liar skirts on fire…-
"There isn't a manual...but there was no instructions for surviving in the first place," she added gently, "We can figure it out together…and get you back to your harem and family."
Baelian gazed at her, those wide glimmering eyes full of a weariness he saw matched in her own. There was suspicion and mistrust there too…he knew it, just as he knew that they were still both playing their roles to perfection.
Always, always playing. It was how they survived.
"I can't go out there," he whispered to her, "I'll hurt them."
"You can't stay here," she said quietly, her words clear and weighted, "Monsters thrive in the dark....and your low opinion of us is clear,” she shook her head, "He'll end up doing more than just picking your clothes if you continue like this."
Claudia’s jaw tightened, a small tremor of delight running through her.
-And I can’t be here with him any longer-
Baelian searched her face, lashes flickering as he studied her in silence. Then his expression changed and his face fell, sorrow twisting his features.
"I lost you, didn't I?" he whispered, "We gambled you to the Professor...and we lost..." his eyes averted and he let them slide closed, "You're right," he said slowly, "I can't stay here."
"No, you didn't lose me to him,” Claudia shook her head, “You just lost me…" her voice sounded empty. She was sick of fighting for people who didn't lift a finger for her, who had the loyalty of a dying snake…who thought she was stupid or a puppet. She wanted nothing more than to give up, to throw herself out the window to the giant birds who waited just beyond, along with the cake that she fed them day and night.
Unfortunately she wasn't a quitter...and he wasn't allowed to quit either.
"Let me help you get your life back,” she murmured to him, “Then at least we can know that we gave it our best."
"I refuse to be merged, Lyra...do you understand me?" his voice was barely a whisper, but his words and his expression were full of resolve, "I'll get better and I'll do what needs to be done, but I will NOT give up my life for a child or a psychopath, and I'm done chasing monsters. If the kids in the towers haven't figured out how to save themselves by now..." his features contorted in pain, then smoothed over as he scowled and shook his head, "Then fuck them. It's not our problem anymore."
Her face darkened but she nodded, forcing a smile and avoiding defending her 'psychopath' and 'child'.
"You’re right. We'll fix you, get you back to your family…"
-You and Alina…Scarlett and Eden…Bethany and Grigori…-
Her mind kept playing and replaying the sad narrative it had been writing for itself after her precious 'happily ever after', but she shook it off and stood.
"I'll see you tomorrow. Bright and early. We have some behavioural therapy to do!"
Baelian remained on the floor, watching her, his sad eyes filled with the mistrust and suspicion that had steadily grown between them since the Professor returned to their world.
"Thank you," he said, meaning anything but. Forcing a soft and affectionate smile, he nodded at her, trying and failing to hide the sorrow behind each word and the unspoken truth they both knew.
-We are not on the same side anymore-
"I appreciate all you're doing..." he added slowly, "I'll see you tomorrow, Lyra..."
About Asinoe and the blue pills, or Bernard and his visits Baelian said nothing. What was there to say?
"You have no idea what I am doing…" she muttered softly, her mind flicking to Simon sitting alone in his room.
"Neither do you..." he replied.
Ignoring his response, she pushed a bright smile onto her features and looked to him to match her optimism. Baelian would no doubt consider her monstrous, if she said anything about her recent experiments and what she had done, would do, to help him. Lowering her eyes, she nodded to herself.
-He doesn't want you…and in a few weeks you won't be needed at all. You are not family, not really. You are alone.-
"I have to feed the birds," she muttered, making her way to the door.
"Don't let him fool you Lyra," he called after her as she retreated, concern crossing his features at her mention of birds, "You're not like him, no matter what he says. And he’ll throw you away quicker than you believe I do, once he's bored..."
Claudia stopped in her tracks, features twisting in anger for a brief moment before the bright smile returned and she kept on her way. Turning to nod him a goodbye, she said nothing until the door had closed between them. Then she scowled.
"Thanks for the advice, doctor."
Written by N Ristovski and Luna Madness.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.