Summary: In the Gray House, Tilda isn't doing well. Pre-Monstrous Regiment. Contains major spoilers. Rated T for mentions of physical and sexual abuse and self-inflicted injury. Tonker/Lofty.
Warnings: Enormous spoilers for Monstrous Regiment! Self-inflicted injury, mentions of physical and sexual abuse, and very unfortunate circumstances. This is not humor. It is just depressing. I was in a Mood.
Author's Note: Contains huge-ass spoilers for Monstrous Regiment. The pairing in this story is canon, as is the situation. Magda and Tilda become Tonker and Lofty. The abuse mentioned is canon, as well as the baby and what happened after. This is not in Terry Pratchett's style, but the allusions to it by Tonker made it irresistible material for a sad day. After all, they are all they have.
Disclaimer: All characters, situations, and settings contained herein belong to Terry Pratchett and are taken from his most brilliant work, Monstrous Regiment, on war and women and the world. Read it. The title is taken from Tonker's description of life at the Girls' Working School to Polly in the book.
She Had It, And They Took It Away
It was dark inside the Gray House. It was always dark. No daylight penetrated the thin hallways, and the window in each tiny room was small and dirty, shutters always closed in any case.
It was a bit much, Magda felt. One got the impression that the designer of the House had learned of its eventual use and gone slightly over the top to make it depressing and shut-in. It had worked, but it wasn't tasteful.
She walked down the hallway to her room, her footsteps muffled by the thick layer of dust on the floor. The movement of her legs caused the cuts on the backs of her thighs to sting; she winced, making no noise, as they opened again and began to leak clear fluid in a worrying way. She didn't even bleed much, not anymore, because of all the scarring. She'd stopped bleeding on her back, so they'd moved on to her thighs. She didn't like to think where they'd go next.
There was always the snap of the whip.
She was trying to protect her. She hadn't had a choice. The poor thing wasn't doing well—understandably, but no use trying to explain it to those in charge; after all, it was their fault—and she needed watching. There was always the possibility that she'd do something she'd regret.
Well, regret at least a bit. Not that much, but a bit, after the wounds had healed.
They had wanted to take her away. What could Magda do? She'd have broken if they'd taken her. She might not have come back. Magda was barely holding on as it was, and with her gone…
She shook her head. No. Either of them without the other wouldn't work. It was both or nothing.
When they came for Tilda, she'd looked up helplessly, hopefully, pleadingly—help me. What could Magda have done? Screamed? Shouted? Punched? Bit? She hadn't. She had just stood up straight, the way she did, like she had a rod of iron down her spine, and said, "No". And then: "She needs to stay with me."
They'd taken her anyway. She'd expected that. They didn't listen. They were faceless, and they were always changing, and they didn't listen. They didn't care. At first the two of them had hoped one of them would care; when one left and another took her place, they'd watched her, looking for any signs. There never were any.
They'd taken Tilda, limp and tired, away from her, and then they had taken her to be whipped. The whole time she thought: Give it to me, not her… leave her, please… please… she can't…
Who was she praying to? She wasn't praying, surely. She was done with praying.
She was done with praying for herself.If they've done something to her…
Her hands, too large for her body, balled up into fists. She found herself hoping that her hair was standing on end. It never seemed to do this when the moment called for it.
Her legs were bleeding now, and still leaking that odd fluid. Her dress would be stained (more stained). She would be dirty (dirtier) and uncomfortable (even more?).If they've hurt her…
She wanted to hit the wall. She didn't. She would probably break right through the wood. It wasn't called the Gray House for nothing.
Scuffing her shoes deliberately on the floorboards, she reached their door. (How was it, she occasionally wondered, that they had been bunked together? Two people who could only ever manage to keep each other afloat if they were together, who would have been helpless alone. It must have been luck, although that made it sound so trivial.) She laid her hand on the knob.
She froze. She put her ear to the door. She heard:
She rattled the doorknob frantically. It didn't turn. "Tilda!" she hissed, trying not to scream. "Tilda, let me in! Let me in, please, Tilda, let me—" stop you—
There was quiet and labored breathing. Then: "Mine…"
Magda rattled the doorknob again. No use. She kicked instead. The door burst open, and there was Tilda, next to the candle, which was lit (she'd blown it out! Had she left matches lying around?), staring and staring and whispering, "Mine…," taking no notice of Magda and—
No. Not next to the candle.
Magda made a strangled noise and leapt across the room to blow the flame out. She managed it, though only barely; she seemed to have forgotten to breathe a moment ago.
"Tilda!" she whispered. "Tilda!"
The girl looked blankly at the place where the flame had been, its reflection fading in her eyes. Then she looked up at Magda, and her face was empty.
"Why?" she said. It was almost a moan. She clutched her hand to her chest. It was red and blistering from where she'd held it in the flame, but not blackened. Give thanks for small favors, as some would say, though not Magda.
"Yes. Why?" Magda asked, shaken and relieved. She closed the door with her foot and sat down next to the hunched figure on the floor.
Tilda looked out at her from behind a straggly curtain of hair. What its original color had been was impossible to guess, except in spring, after the baths; then it was a mutable brown, sometimes blond, sometimes red. Just now, as usual, it was the color of dirt and dust and blankness.
"Mine," she whispered.
"What is?" asked Magda, though she knew.
"They took her from me, Magda," Tilda told her confidentially, her lip wobbling, though her voice was steady.
"Oh, Tilda…" She sighed, putting her arm around the girl. "I know they did," she said. "I know."
"But she's mine, Magda."
"I know she was. I know."
"She is. You don't know." Tilda pulled away.
"Yes, I do," said Magda, reaching out for her. "I know it hurts. But you can't do that to yourself, you can't—"
"Don't you tell me what I can't! Don't you tell me what hurts! Just don't, Magda!" shrieked Tilda, jumping to her feet. She backed up against the wall, waving a hand accusingly at Magda. "You don't know—"
"You don't know anything! Nothing! She was mine! Part of me, can't you understand that? Can't you understand that you'll never understand, you idiot? She was mine! That—that—somebody gave her to me, gave me… what I needed, and she was mine! He gave her up, he gave it to me, they can't—I'll never—s-see—all I did—she was mine!" She was sobbing now, clenching her burned hand in her other so hard it must have hurt, backed up against the wall and banging her head against it.
"He didn't give you anything!" shouted Magda. "He took from you! He took and took and took, and you—" you let him "—you didn't have a choice, but he didn't give you anything!"
"He let it go, then!"
"That baby had nothing to do with him! It was yours!"
"'It! It! That baby! It!'" Tilda laughed weakly. "You're worse than they are, Magda! You didn't want anything to do with her, did you? Good thing she's gone, then! It's all okay! I let him, I created her, I made her, I held her, I had her, and now she's gone, but it's okay!"
"I never said it was okay!"
"You might as well have!"
"I don't think it's okay! I think we should get her back! We should fight! She's ours—"
"She's mine!" Tilda screamed. Her throat sounded raw. She closed the gap between them in a second, raw fist punching Magda in the stomach, the throat, the nose, as she kicked at shins and stomped on feet and kneed groin. With every impact, she choked out, "Mine—mine—mine—mine!"
Magda sat down, still under attack, a bit stunned. She hadn't been fought, not seriously, since she'd come to the Gray House. Word got around about fists like hers. She wasn't out of practice, but she couldn't—wouldn't—hit Tilda. They both got enough of that anyway. Besides, Tilda seemed to need this, and her blows weren't too accurate anyway.
Magda lowered her head, sat on her thighs, and let her get on with it.
Tilda kneeled on her legs, screaming, raging, flailing her arms, bruising her bones. She was making so much noise, but no one heard her. There were girls a few doors down, of course. They came and went, too, just like the maids. But no one heard.
Magda closed her eyes. Behind her eyelids, he drowned in salt water. He will die.
At last Tilda began to lose energy; screams begat sobs begat sad little whimpering noises that had to fight their way out of her throat. She slumped down and lay across Magda's legs, in a clearly uncomfortable position.
"I'm… sorry…" she said weakly. Then she vomited across the floor.
Magda held her hair back and supported her shoulders, moving her own legs out of the range of fire. She could see that, despite what she'd said, Tilda hadn't been eating; the only thing coming out of her stomach was bile.
The girl retched, gasping, and slumped against Magda again, this time for support. She took huge, gasping breaths, clutching at Magda's chest (what there was of it, which wasn't much) and shoulders (there was rather more involved in these), trying to steady herself. She was trembling. Then again, she was always trembling.
After several minutes, she asked tremulously, "Did… did I hurt you?"
Magda attempted a grin. Her lip was bleeding, and one of her eyes would soon turn an interesting greenish-black color. "I'm fine," she said.
Tilda looked away from her. She watched a spider crawl up the opposite wall. Her expression was unreadable.
"She's gone, isn't she," she said flatly. It was not a question.
"I don't know," said Magda, gently but truthfully. She paused. "I don't know," she said again.
Tilda gave a great, gusting sigh, like she was trying to breathe her lungs right out. She said, "I thought…" and paused, a frown creasing her forehead. "I thought," she began again, "that she was my compensation. You know? For what happened. For what… was done." She gave a small, bitter laugh. "But life doesn't work that way, of course."
"It should," said Magda fervently.
"Yes. But it doesn't."
"Don't do that again, Tilda," said Magda forcefully, gripping the girl's shoulders. "You haven't done anything. You couldn't have done anything. Don't do it again."
Tilda averted her eyes from Magda's gaze.
"Look at me!" Magda grabbed Tilda's chin and pulled her face back in line with her own. "Don't do it again," she repeated, looking the girl straight in the eye. "I need you."
Tilda sighed and wrenched her face from Magda's grasp. "It's a lot to ask of me, Magda." She didn't sound upset, just tired.
"I know. But I have to, because it's true."
Tilda said nothing.
"Tilda," said Magda softly. "Do you still want compensation?"
She gave a soft snort. "You can't bring her back, Magda."
"I know that. But…" She looked at Tilda, whose head was still turned away from her, and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "We can get him back," she said under her breath. "Somehow… you know we can. So he can't do it again. We can stop him."
Tilda looked at her blankly. "Kill him, you mean," she said, her voice emotionless.
"Yes," said Magda. "Kill him. And the wife." She felt suddenly as if she was full of static, prickly and jumpy on the inside, ready to snap at something, or shock.
Tilda gazed at her steadily, her expression betraying nothing of her thoughts. Finally she said, "If you think that will help."
"Yes," said Magda firmly. It would help. He'd be gone then. No more nightmares.
Magda had nightmares. Tilda never did.
Tilda nodded, just once, and turned her attention back to the spider.
Magda regarded the back of her head. She was thin, straggly, terrified, and brittle. She was strange and off-putting. She wasn't beautiful, and she wasn't smart. She looked directly at the sun and put her hands in flames.
Still, there was no one else, and there never had been.
"I love you," she said. Then: "It will be better, Tilda."
"I know," said Tilda. She kept watching the spider.
Later, a house burned down. The man and his wife burned to death.
They never found Tilda's daughter.