The girl had sat for half the night hugging her knees and staring straight ahead. On occasion a voice would call her name, try and brush the black hair from her face, shake her...but nothing registered.
Her daddy wasn't there.
She hurt, everywhere. It seemed there was no inch of her body that didn't ache. Her eyes, her arms, her stomach, her heart.
"Bethany," a soft, firm voice called her name, a familiar voice. She frowned and lifted her head.
Lyra smiled warmly and touched the girl's cheek.
"Where is daddy?" Bethy's voice sounded distant.
"Not here, my love," her aunt responded.
"Doctor," an orderly called her over and she signed some paperwork, waiting until the door closed behind the man before returning to Bethany.
"Where is everyone?" asked the same distant tone. Lyra paused slightly before answering.
"They are at home, they put you here because they think it will help."
"They abandoned me, you mean."
"No. Not really. They still care, they just...can't help," Lyra sighed and shifted to sit beside the girl, surprised as Bethy collapsed against her chest. Lyra slowly wrapped her arms around her niece and kissed the top of her head.
It was strange, Lyra reflected, that this wisp of a girl had come to mean so much to her. The little creature who had gone from accusatory to adoptive in the space of an offered lollipop and, recently, has sat opposite her in some of the finest bars and cafes in Europe. She could see the wreckage of Bethany Black stretch back through her life as if the history of her was written on her pale skin. But that wasn't all there was to her. Not in the slightest.
"Why are you here?" Bethany broke the silence.
"Because I can help," she paused and pulled away to look the girl in the eye. "But it has to be our secret, ok? Daddy and Grigori don't trust me, they think I’m a bad guy."
"But you are not bad, are you?"
"Oh, my sweet. " Lyra paused to gather her explanation. "I am a bad person, but for all the best reasons. I love you and Jasper, and I would watch the world burn for you both. Daddy has just forgotten that, and all he sees is me holding the matches."
Bethany processed this, "So you’re like a double agent?"
Lyra smiled, "I suppose so, yes."
"Who works for me and Daddy?" Bethany uncurled her legs and moved to a more comfortable position.
"Works to look after you, not for you," Lyra corrected quickly, "But we have to keep all this a secret. This hospital is owned by the bad guys, and I had to trade something very important to be your doctor, so I can't have Grigori or Daddy coming in and ruining this."
"Are you going to make me forget Daddy?"
"No, no my love. I wouldn't do that to you. Or him. We are just going to make thinking of daddy not hurt so much, and find something else to make you want to live. We can help you use that magnificent brain of yours for good."
Bethany's face fell and she lifted a hand to her temple to rub irritably at her forehead "My brain is empty."
"Your brain is one of the brightest I have seen, child. You could do anything you wanted with it."
"I don't believe that," came the pouting, mumbled reply.
Lyra chuckled and pulled Bethany's hand from her face gently.
"Thankfully, I’m long past the need for other people to believe in me. You’ll come to learn that I’m right in time." Lyra pulled a watch from her pocket and checked the time, "Right. Bedtime for you, Miss Black. We have a long, tiring road ahead of us."
Replacing the watch, she pulled a container with two white pills from another pocket.
"To help you sleep…exhaustion is not productive. I’m assuming you won't need water?"
Bethany took the pills from her and downed them without even registering the need to respond. Lyra nodded and got to her feet, helping the girl up and walking her to her bed.
"Aunty....I mean, Doctor L?"
"What did you have to give up to be my doctor?"
Lyra's face fell and she looked away, "Nothing more important that you, my sweet one. Get some sleep and we will start sessions in the morning."
Lyra hurried from the room and down the hall to her office. Slipping into a large leather chair behind the mahogany desk she switched on a desk lamp and opened the file labelled ‘Black, Bethany Belladonna’ and poured herself a shot from a bottle in the desk drawer.
It would be a long night.
"And how is your new patient, Claudia?" the Professor's voice jerked Lyra out of her daze. She had nearly fallen asleep over a cup of soup with her case notes in her lap. She straightened immediately and put the soup down on a side table. It was getting a dim in the library, though it had always felt a little oppressive if not for the dark wood shelves and small windows, then for the ever present shadow of the owner.
"Good. Thank you Professor,” she responded automatically.
"I must say, it is so nice to see you with a project again, my dear. You were getting positively maudlin without your so called 'brother' around. Tell me, how is Jasper? Or is he still more Baelian these days?" His every word seemed carefully selected to twist a knife in her, his southern accent lilting over Jasper's name.
She tried not to wince. Jasper was angry at her, Baelian <em>had</em> been…then they'd had a moment...but she had no doubt that nothing had changed. She was on the outside for a reason. Grigori was getting married and drinking himself into a stupor and conspiring with the family he had left to rot, and she was still working alone. Drinking alone.
If it weren’t for Eden she wouldn't have any conversations that weren't yelled at her or hissed threats. But she had forbidden Eden from visiting, particularly given the Professor's sudden interest in her. The Underground needed no more split personalities.
"Jasper is fine," she replied more tersely than she would have liked.
"Oh, my dear Claudia...you are a terrible liar, you really ought not try to avoid my questions. I only care for your well-being, which is more than I can say for any of your little friends."
"They have their own lives. I don't need them right now anyway," she countered.
"Honestly, I wouldn't look to them, Claudia. Grigori got a small glimpse of what you are capable of and ran for the hills. Do you think any of them would stand by your side if they knew?"
She stayed silent. The Professor paced to the window, as he often did during one of his lectures.
"Precisely. A unique mind like yours needs a certain level of respect and control, but it is to be admired - not shamed. Your work here, your actions, are for the greater good. They waved the terms 'family' and 'loyalty' around like flags at war, and recruited sweet little Lyra to their cult...but give them a weapon such as my Claudia, and they shun her. They are only out for themselves, they have only ever been out for themselves."
Still she stayed silent, lowering her eyes as if she were reading.
The Professor smirked and wandered over, and for a moment she thought she would get punished….but he simply leant in, kissing the top of her head before leaving her alone with her thoughts.
And the thoughts he gave her.
Bethany's treatment was all consuming. Every paper, every study had been turned inside out. She'd stayed up all hours of the night phoning experts half a world away.
It’s nice to have someone to care for again, Lyra thought.
Bethany was brilliant - underneath all the damage - she was quick witted and thoughtful, and Lyra never hesitated to tell her as much.
Still, the road to recovery was agonisingly slow, and she tried not to think of the people in similar situations that she had simply killed in the past, the brief release of death giving them all peace and rest.
No, Bethany is strong, she told herself. This would all work, if she just tried hard enough.
Lyra’s hand reached out for a pill bottle and she downed two of its contents, followed by a strong belt of whiskey, before returning her attention back to the crude translation of an Indian medical journal.
The day of Grigori's booked visit arrived and Lyra checked in once more with Bethany before disappearing in to the early hours of the morning.
The phone call came dead on schedule.
"Doctor, Mr. Katorga has cleared security and is now with Bethany Black under surveillance. We have confiscated his personal effects except for some chocolates and a kitten, as instructed."
"What personal effects have you got?"
"Assorted keys, though it looks like some have been removed from the key ring, loose bills, medication made out in the name of Grigori Alec Katorga"
Clever, Katorga…no ID or anything of perceived value, she mused. Some clever clog is used to institutions.
"Make note of the prescribing doctor and text me their details. I want to check what he is taking."
"If he is going to be involved in my patient's life when she returns to her family, I want to ensure that he is adequately treated."
"Yes doctor. Sending now."
"Good. Send me the security camera footage when he leaves. I'll be back at 9pm for bed checks."
She hung up and moments later the details of Grigori's doctor and prescriptions came onscreen.
She didn't recognize the name, but the internet obliged her with all the career highlights, low lights and issues she could desire.
She immediately sent an email requesting a coffee to discuss 'career options' to the doctor.
Written by Lyra Monere.
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.