A/N: Birthday fic for Arrowned. See what you've done, you monster? At least its long and pretty. Well, girl-pretty, anyway. Lots of touchy-feely-ness, which is a little unusual for me. Angst alert.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ARROW!
That smile on your face is just for show
Inside you're screaming let me go
Loneliness doesnt make a sound
Till I head back underground
--Hello, Hello by SR-71--
Music is the saving grace behind everything I do, the drive that pushes me forward. I hear the beats echoing out of the drive to school every morning, and when I lay down to sleep. The imposed rhythm of life, caught for a few milliseconds every now and then by a wandering soul.
That's why I started to deejay. I wanted to see how many songs contained that spark, that something of the author that when combined with the right audience can do anything. Those songs that can bring a tear to the eye of the most savage beast, or incite a crowd to certain suicide.
It isn't so much about finding the perfect dance mix, or the perfect beat, but about the perfect soundtrack to life.
Working the register at the Rock Porium, that's a quirky, upbeat Kink's song. Never know what kind of utterly random customer or combination of music is going to go through there. Watching the news, that's a mournful, eerie Pink Floyd album. Nothing good ever shows on the national networks; it's all war, disaster, disease, and war. A commentary on the nature of the human race suited to experimental Floyd. Driving my friends to their activities, that's the easy, relaxed Gorillaz. The reggae/rap group produced some laid-back songs perfect for emphasizing the camaraderie with my friends.
Becoming the stuff of nightmares, only to almost directly and indirectly destroy my best friend?
I tried out several metal bands. None of them fit. Not Static X, with their techno rage, nor Linkin Park, with their hardcore emo. Disturbed and NIN were a waste of my time, and Cobain's vocals are more suited to isolation.
There is no soundtrack for crushing guilt, just as there is no reprieve from it.
With no soundtrack, I have no real way to cope.
Luckily, insomnia stops bothering you around the time you forget what sleep feels like.
I slip quietly into the already palely lit kitchen, intending to find an easy way to occupy my hands, if not my brain. Only, I find my twin leaning into the pantry. "Maddie?"
"Huh!" She whips around fast enough to send her tangled hair flying, peering through the dim light at where I stand against the counter. "Oh, Vida. You scared me. I thought you…" She trails off, and shrugs helplessly, turning back to the pantry.
"So, why are you up at this ungodly hour?"
"Couldn't sleep. So I figured I'd make myself a cup of tea, only we don't seem to have any…"
I glanced around the kitchen. Yep, there was Mom's rarely touched teapot, sitting forlornly on the stovetop, waiting for love. "Why tea?"
Maddie pulled her head out of the pantry, and leaned tiredly against the doorframe. She eyed me, as if sizing up my receptiveness, and then spoke softly. "I heard somewhere that it was the cure for all ills."
Oh. Pajamas, tangled hair, bags under her eyes. Maddie's not sleeping, either. "Well, you heard wrong. Every teenage girl worth her salt knows that chocolate is the best medicine."
Maddie laughed, softly, and closed the pantry door, moving to put up the teapot. "I can't have that, either. Someone ate all of it, and Mom won't buy hot chocolate from the store until fall."
I follow her, as she moves about the kitchen, thinking silently to myself. We are two sleepless teenage girls on a weeknight. What do normal kids do when they're bored this late at night? Go out and terrorize civilization, of course.
I touch Maddie's shoulder gently, turning her to face me. "I think I know a way to fix that. Know where I hid my car keys?"
Maddie blinks at me, and then reaches familiarly a drawer, pulling out those blasted keys. "They're right where they always are, Sis." Here's the Maddie that hardly anyone else sees. She's quiet and unassuming, but is always behind you, all the way. Doesn't even ask questions, my twin, just trusts that you know what to do, and helps you get there.
I don't even bother with clothing; there's no point to it. It's not like there are people around to see us in our pajamas, anyway; everyone's doing what we should be, in their cozy, safe little beds.
Granted, the thin fabric isn't going to be very warm in my topless truck, but that's what the blankets I keep in the backseat are for. I started keeping them there after the third time I found Chip napping on my backseat, cold enough to be curled in the fetal position but exhausted enough to not wake up. Rangering really took it out of the guy; hell, it took its toll on all of us.
Maddie hops into my truck, her normal practiced grace hampered by the lack of sleep, grabbing at a blanket as I try to start the truck as silently as possible. It doesn't pay to wake up parents when sneaking out for late-night munchies.
I turn off the radio suddenly, not wanting to listen to whatever crap late-night stations play. There's nothing worse than the entirely wrong song playing at the entirely wrong moment; the moment, if anything, becomes even more jarring. Besides, this is me, silent Ninja!Vida, able to drive through entire neighborhoods without disturbing a single soul. Maddie raises an eyebrow at my movements. Okay, so maybe they were a little bit more violent than necessary, there's nothing wrong with that. When I look over at her, challenging her to tell me it was wrong, that I was overreacting, I'm only answered with a frayed painting of a smile.
The silence between us is deafening. I can feel it itching at my fingers, misting over the world until there is nothing but grey blurring past my senses, suffocating and featureless grey, magnifying my flaws until they drown out the light.
It's by pure luck that we make it to our destination.
"Welcome to Wendy's, may I take your order?" That one simple, ingrained phrase shatters the illusion, bringing everything else into sharp focus. Far too sharp compared to the blur of before. My mind is starting to play tricks on me, again, refusing to let me forget the turmoil of being a vampire. But I'm tough, I can shake it off; tonight is not about me, it's about my sis.
"Yea, can we get two large chocolate Frosties?" Maddie laughs imperceptibly next to me, my ploy finally revealed. We don't come to Wendy's often, but they are open at unfortunate hours, and have decent shakes.
"This is your chocolate cure? I'm surprised, Vida. I thought you'd make us raid the candy aisle at a convenience store." Her smile is a little more natural, and there's that love I've been missing.
"That's enough out of you, missy. I'll have you know that I do have some class."
"Right, because we all know how a 24-hour fast-food drive-thru has more class than a 24-hour gas station store."
"Damn straight. I don't have to get out of the truck."
The silence after this exchange is easier. It's filled with smaller, meaningless noises that have no real purpose. The complaint of my truck as I turn onto more uphill roads, headed for a mountain lookout, the slurp of Maddie fighting to suck up thick ice cream with her straw, the jingle of my keys…
The crunch of gravel underneath my truck's gigantic wheels as I park facing the road is loud. I hop out of the truck, grabbing my frosty and a couple of blankets, then head towards the back. Maddie climbs out of the other side, trying to navigate the feet she can't see through armfuls of blanket.
Maddie raises an eyebrow at me, tossing the pile of blankets into the trunk. "The lookout? What is going through that head of yours, sister mine?"
I spend a moment in contemplation, trying to stir the frosty with my straw. It's like trying to stir molasses. Pointless. "I thought we should do something to occupy ourselves. We both know we're not going to sleep. This is the only place aside from a sketchy 24-hour store that's open. Plus, it's a nice view."
Slurping her frosty in contemplation, Maddie turns around and hops up in the trunk, letting her legs dangle out the back. "Vida…"
"Yeah?" The lights twinkle in the thinner air; streetlights and headlights and floodlights and neon lights, all going about their business and making the world clear and visible. Beacons against the darkness.
"Thanks." She sounded more forlorn than pleased; woeful enough that I scooted forward, sitting right next to her and dangling my own legs off.
"You don't sound very happy, Madison." I bumped shoulders with her, a sort of chastisement for lying. She wasn't very good at lying; she was too trusting to ever need to develop the skill. Which is why it was up to me to always make excuses to our parents.
"I just…" Maddie sighed, and took another mouthful of chocolate ice cream, visibly swallowing it down. "We don't get to do this much anymore, y'know? When we're not working or going to school, we're training, fighting—" Her voice cut off suddenly, muffled into her cup, as if she'd just realized what she was saying.
Oh no, twin, you're not getting off that easy. "Dying? Is that what you were going to say?"
The words have a tangible reaction on the atmosphere. It's as if my magic is going wonky, and sucking all the air out of the area. I can't catch my breath.
"Maddie, you nearly died. That fucking mess turned you to stone. It left you a morbid statue, left us unsure that you'd even survived the spell. Unsure whether you were aware of what was going on, or if you felt every atom turn to rock; if you were suffering, helplessly, or past the threshold. I thought you were gone! Gone over a stupid word from a blind moron, without even a goodbye." The intensity in my stare burns even my eyes.
Her responding voice is small, as she crumples her almost finished frosty in nervous hands. "I—I still have nightmares about that. I felt so cold and empty, like everything that'd ever made me, me, had been taken away and frozen. The sun never existed, there, and it was all timeless. I might have died… I don't know. No one does. I knew I wasn't coming back. "
Maddie looks like she's going to start sobbing any second now, there's such pain on her face.
I'd limited my damage control to making damn well sure Nick knew how wrong he had been. Maddie, she'd seemed to bounce right back, forgiving Nick and teasing that random boy. I was wrong, I see that.
"That's what it feels like now, all the cold…Vida, you, the you I know, she died. She got written over by this… heartless, mindless thing. You were gone, but there was something there wearing your face, your voice, your fucking personality!"
I wrapped Maddie up in my arms, rocking her gently, listening, stunned, to the words that just flowed out of her like a flood. No matter how hurtful it is to hear, she shouldn't have held it in so long… but Maddie's wrong. I didn't die. I just changed. It was still me, underneath. All of it was my fault, not to be laid at the feet of some nameless devil. I didn't fight hard enough, and now even Maddie's suffering because of it.
"I didn't… I couldn't… that thing was pretending to be you, and I didn't notice. You're my sister, my best friend, and I didn't notice. Am I still that detached—that empty—that I couldn't see that my own twin just wasn't!"
I shook Maddie at arm's length a little too harshly, trying to get her attention and maintain a small bit of composure at the same time.
"Maddie, it's not your fault, you hear me? I didn't fight hard enough, I let myself get assimilated; for god's sake, I almost killed Chip. You didn't notice because it was me. You're not heartless, or detached, or stupid, or any of those other names I can hear you thinking. You're nicer to everyone than yourself, and so easy-going everyone loves you. Nothing could be your fault."
Well, there went composure.
Maddie's sobs tapered off, to be replaced by silence. Dread silence. Her grip on me didn't lessen, her nails digging into my skin, and I was still sniffling into her shoulder.
"It's not yours, either, Vida. Chip told me about how you tried to fight, about how you didn't bite him, about how you didn't want to be a vampire. Necrolai, she was just… too strong for you. You try and be so tough for the rest of us, but you can't admit that you might be the one to need help too, sis. It's not your fault." She hugged me tighter, and then released me to look in my eyes. "I don't know why I try, sometimes. I know you're not going to listen to me. You're more stubborn than a mule."
"And prettier, too." The joke was totally inappropriate for the mood. I shouldn't have said it. But it just… slipped out. Shit, Maddie looks really shocked.
But then, she laughs. Free, uninhibited laughter… and contagious to boot. The laughter is just as freeing as the sobbing, and we fall backwards onto the blankets, uncontrollable giggles shaking our exhausted frames.
I quiet before Maddie, and we both just lay there… watching the stars and the moon track infinitesimally across the sky.
I'm not sure how much time passes in that content, relaxed atmosphere. It's like they say; there's nothing like a good cry to make you feel a hundred times better.
Our hands meet on some unspoken urge, twining into a grasp full of love and friendship and support.
It's at that moment that I know what the soundtrack, the counter, to the guilt and shame and fear is. My sister: her own voice reaching out in pain and horror, searching for that connection. We need each other. This bottling up feelings, being a lone wolf, it's not healthy. I'm not alone in feeling horrible things. Her, her anguish, that's the song I needed to hear, the one I needed to let go of my own.
I'm not alone.
As long as I remember that, I know—I know—I can deal.