Happily Ever After (But The Saving Never Stops)
Movie-verse. Spoilers, post-movie. For YuriChallenge, 2007. Prompt: "Cybil/Rose, Beast, In the end there is despair / in the end there is you."
- - - - -
She shouldn't be surprised when Cybil comes back.
- - - - -
Rose has never been as strong before as she is now. It's what they always say, she figures -- mothers respond to threats against their children with inhuman fortitude. They lift cars. They fight off innumerable attackers. They walk through hell and back.
Not all of Rose's newfound strength comes from just herself. Ever since she walked out of Alessa's hospital room, a peace has taken root inside her chest: a peace that has devoured all her terror whole, washed it aside underneath a transcendent sense of belonging. Like Dahlia, Rose has been granted sanctuary by the darkness that wore Sharon's -- Alessa's -- face. She was its carrier for a time. And in doing so, the bitter power of Silent Hill recognized Rose as an extension of itself: bearing the creature incarnate inside her, pregnant with a child that held no blood ties.
Rose remembers how it felt to be so completely surrounded by the darkness, to understand it and become submerged within its flow, cradled in safety. She had left Alessa's hospital room knowing that the nurses outside would not hurt her, knowing that the insects and pyramid-men would accept her presence and safeguard her route.
Knowing that she was one of them now.
That's a power that doesn't go away.
She and Sharon have been through so much, so many threats and scares and reversals of fortune. Even the peace of their home might not be completely safe from angry cultists. So Rose sits there, and just watches her daughter, every muscle in her body calm and waiting. If she looks away even once, then people might come and take her girl away again. And Rose doesn't feel sleepy or hungry very much these days, so it's okay, it's okay to be like this, to live like this. Sharon's safe.
Rose wears her t-shirt sleeves long now, but with the fabric tight, long enough that the cuffs lap over the lower palms and tight enough that they don't snag on any corners. When Rose shrugs, she can pull the cuffs all the way down to her knuckles, and bunch them in place whenever she makes fists. They're like little gloves in case she needs to touch anything that might hurt her. When she walks through doors, she always opens them without handling the knob -- one hand in a low guard, able to shield her stomach in case something is on the other side, waiting. When she must handle the knob, then the hand closest to the hinges pushes the wood open; her arm is always bowed, palm ready to ward away any blows that might come towards her face.
She wonders where she learned these instincts, but she doesn't let herself become concerned.
Rose walks barefoot in the house whenever she can, and each of her steps are all the more careful because her soles are naked. She's placed a spare pair of slippers at each end of each hallway in case she might need to run over broken glass. Rusty nails. Grasping hands. Anything that could appear at a moment's notice to break the skin and leave infection and slow her down when she needs to run after Sharon, and cost her precious seconds that she cannot afford.
She walks barefoot and she walks soft. She walks circles around Sharon, who sits cross-legged on the back porch when it's not raining. She walks and watches her daughter color, and watches the mist for any irregular breezes, and watches the trees for any sudden movements, and the world for evidence of danger.
On her third -- or thirtieth, or three hundredth -- circuit, Sharon speaks up. "Mommy. We're safe here."
Rose affords herself a small smile. "I know, honey. But someday, we might not be, and when that happens --" When that happens, she will be ready, ready to kill the creatures that will hunt her girl, no matter what face they wear.
But she doesn't say those things, the truth sticking in her throat and causing it to swell, so Rose just stays mute. They both know what matters, anyway. What's important.
Sharon purses her lips, and then returns to coloring.
Rose sits eventually, and watches the sun start to roll across the lawn: murky, faint through the mist, but casting subtle shadows that are gentle on the eye. She thinks aimlessly about making lemonade. Moving to the kitchen would put her out of reach of Sharon, though, unless she interrupts her daughter's playtime. Rose feels the minutes slide away while she debates; time moves as thick and warm as honey, until evening comes and it's time for dinner instead.
She gets up and waits for Sharon to come to her side before they relocate to the kitchen. There's macaroni and cheese in the fridge. She's not very hungry, and it's relaxing to just focus on each bite her daughter is taking. Finally, Sharon's plate is clean. Rose's stays untouched.
Afterwards, while they're sitting on the couch and flipping through the static on the TV, Sharon pipes up. "I want you to be happy too, mommy."
Rose swaps the remote to her other hand, and reaches down to give Sharon's arm a squeeze. "As long as you're here, baby, I am," she says, and it's true. Nothing else in the world is as important as Sharon. Nothing.
But her daughter is still frowning. She's studying Rose now with a thoughtful expression, chin upturned, one heel kicking against the couch. "I think you need to take a nap now, mommy."
"No, honey, I'm fine," Rose protests, but the warm lassitude of the afternoon is suddenly catching up with her, and her head feels heavy and full. The couch cushions are so soft. Her daughter's weight is a reassuring presence beside her. Sharon's hand is warm as Rose clutches it for reassurance, and that's the only reason she lets herself fall away into sleep.
- - - - -
Rose wakes up.
Her daughter is gone.
The absence of Sharon at her side is enough to jerk her into full alertness -- but no, Sharon is at the living room table, glancing up first at Rose and then at the front door, which is swinging open to reveal a figure dressed in full uniform.
(She shouldn't be surprised when Cybil comes back.)
At first her mind functions very rationally. Cybil looks completely human, lacking even a single blister from the pyre, which means that she must be the kind of monster who will suddenly burst acid out of its chest, or will sprout extra limbs, or will be a distraction while another beast comes clawing through the porch doors behind them. Rose waits.
Then, when none of these things happen, Rose breaks the impasse first.
"I saw you burned," she says.
Cybil is looking at her with an expression that is more weary than threatening. "I know."
Flame is not always an ally of the dark. Flame claimed Alessa, and though it cannot harm her the same way twice, it still isn't her friend. Not to her -- and not those of her, which includes Sharon, and now Rose as well. If Cybil secretly contains fire, then she is an enemy and a monster and Rose will apologize as she kills her, but without much feeling in the words.
But if fire hurt Cybil, then she might yet be on their side. What remains is to determine which force has claimed the policewoman for its own.
Cybil hasn't moved from the doorway. She hasn't yet crossed the threshold. Rose climbs to her feet; Cybil spreads unblemished hands and speaks, her voice raspy and dry. "I woke up in a hospital bed in one of the buildings. Brookhaven, I think. Someone must have moved me there, after --" She breaks off, closes her eyes for a moment, keeps going. "The hospital was completely empty. No one was around. It took a long time before I felt strong enough to leave. The first thing I thought... the first thing I went looking for, was you and your daughter."
The sound of Sharon's coloring whispers in the background, patient scribbles of wax.
"Do you believe it's really me, Rose?"
Rose's mouth makes the appropriate noise, even as her thoughts fill in the outlines of Cybil's story, as neatly as one of Sharon's crayons. The nurse. The burn unit. Alessa. "Yes."
It is a very long way from Silent Hill to home, and Rose can't remember the entire distance. The road went on forever. There had been fog. The engine had hummed, comfortable and steady. She hadn't needed to refuel on the way back; the needle had never gone below half-empty.
When she takes a step forward, she sees there's no second car in the driveway. Cybil must have walked.
"How did you know?" Rose's voice feels thick and rusty from all the silence, and she has to clear her throat to keep going. Her tongue tastes like ash. "How did you know where to find us?"
In answer, Cybil holds out a piece of paper. A crude, crayoned map is on the front, with stars and words: Here. Home. Come.
- - - - -
Cybil makes pancakes the next morning.
When night came, she'd slept by the door of Sharon's bedroom -- on the outside, gun hanging muzzle-down between her drowsy hands, so nothing creeping could catch her in the hall. Rose hadn't begrudged her that. Monsters could be anywhere.
Besides, Rose slept on the inside.
After a week spent like this -- with Cybil on one side of the door and Rose on the other, and Sharon resting peacefully through each night -- Rose finally starts to think that Cybil might be real after all. She's not sure. Not completely. But then, she doesn't pay attention to much these days that doesn't involve Sharon directly, and Cybil hasn't caused problems yet.
The pancakes are good. Cybil makes them each day. Sometimes she adds bacon on the side, or slices of ham, or mixes in fruit with the pancake batter. Sharon likes the strawberries best. They have those two days in a row.
"You're a good guardian," Sharon chimes in happily the second time the strawberries show up, swinging her feet. When Cybil brings over a fresh stack, Sharon reaches up and tugs on Cybil's sleeve with her hand. "Even gods need someone to watch out for them, you know."
Cybil doesn't seem to mind the oddity of the statement. "You've been thinking of my badge, kiddo?" she offers, and then touches her chest where metal might have once shone. There is nothing there now, but Cybil closes her eyes and recites. "'To serve and to protect.'"
Rose is surprised that all three of them are able to eat meat now -- cooked meat, after all they've been through, what they've seen. The sight and smell doesn't turn her stomach, though she expects it should. Instead, ham makes her mouth water. So does sausage.
Cybil's gun is in its holster. The policewoman wears it even during breakfast. In order to distract herself from what's on the stove, Rose tries to estimate how easy it would be to close the distance between them and seize the gun by force.
"The coffee tastes different today," she observes suddenly. "Did you change the blend?"
Cybil's eyes crinkle. "Well, you're drinking it, for starters."
Rose blinks, glancing down at the cup she's cradling in both hands. It's half-empty. "Don't I usually?"
"No. Usually you just let it sit there until it gets cold, and then I have to throw it out." With that, Cybil slides the coffee pot off its burner and swings over to the table, giving Rose a pat on the shoulder while topping off the cup. Bacon sizzles on the stove. Sharon hiccups from eating too fast, and takes another swallow of juice.
Later, they all go outside, and Cybil teaches Rose how to shoot, hour after hour with the same clip. The noise leaves Rose's ears ringing, half-deaf, and her arms and hands aching, but the tinny vibration fades quickly after they're done. Static on the television distracts them all through the evening, and by the time that Rose tucks Sharon in, she feels like she spent the day blowing soap bubbles instead.
Sharon's pictures are back to normal. Mostly normal. They aren't scrawled over with crying children and blackened tears, but they don't contain butterflies and flowers either. Sharon draws intricate patterns, circles and triangles and squiggles that could be letters, but that hurt Rose's eyes to look at for too long.
Red faces, yellow faces. Red gods, yellow gods. Cybil with a crimson police uniform, with a knife in her hands as she menaces huddled figures against a wall. Sharon works on an entire landscape during one afternoon, Cybil leaping from page to page, pursing the unjust.
"Sweetie," Rose tries, wondering if it's a bad thing for Sharon to be so worried still about being attacked -- but the girl gathers her crayons and slides along the floor to a fresh piece of paper, humming.
Cybil's watching from the kitchen counter, perched on a wooden barstool. She fills out Rose's shirts comfortably -- a little tighter on the shoulders and across the chest, but close enough. It's not like Cybil has anything else to wear except for a police uniform, and it wouldn't be fair for Rose not to share. There are enough clothes in the closets. There's enough everything.
"Take a seat," the woman calls out. There's humor in her voice, warm and rich; she doesn't sound like she's choking on smoke anymore. "The view's better from up here, and there's less risk of your toes coming up with rainbow stripes on 'em."
Rose sighs and accepts the offer. Cybil pushes her own cup of coffee over, and Rose takes a sip, tasting sugar and cream. "I can't help it," she confesses suddenly, and the words feel less momentous out loud than when they just rattled around in her head, alone and ponderous. "I sacrificed everything to be Sharon's mother."
Cybil's smile is wry, not bitter. "I know. I sacrificed everything so that you could be."
Later on that night, they make popcorn. Sharon digs out a recipe book from one of the shelves and suggests homemade caramel to drizzle on top, so Cybil goes along gamely with that plan. Rose searches for ingredients in the kitchen. When the first pop goes off, it sounds so much like a bullet that both Rose and Cybil jump -- but Sharon is there, giggling and asking when the popcorn will be ready, when they'll be able to eat, and Rose finds herself relaxing again.
Once Cybil finishes squinting at the glass lid and finally proclaims everything to be done, Sharon bounces on her feet until the caramel is cool enough to eat safely. She gets her fingers sticky and globs of caramel everywhere: on the stove, on the floor, dabs on her chin and on Cybil's nose. She gets fingerprints on Rose's shirt when Rose tries to get a damp washcloth to wipe down everything, and makes a happy face on the counter out of popcorn.
Rose laughs at the sight, and the sound is sudden enough that it hurts something inside her.
She touches her chest afterwards, wondering.
She might have been thinking about Christopher's mysterious absence -- but even her husband seems so far away now, left behind along with everything else that couldn't follow them into Silent Hill. It works out. Christopher didn't make it into the town; he didn't catch up with them, and Rose couldn't spare the time to find him when cultists were hunting her daughter. All the things that had to be stripped from Rose are regrets, in their own way, but Sharon matters more than anything else.
Rose will not change that.
Not even to get her husband back.
- - - - -
Cybil's presence does not interrupt the schedule entirely. Rose still spends the night on the inside of Sharon's door, and her days watching the girl at play. Rose is patient and terrible and waiting, always waiting, always ready.
And nothing changes. Sometimes Cybil sits with her whenever Rose finds herself trembling -- not crying, she's too empty of tears these days, because tears get in the way when she's trying to be strong for Sharon. But she's a little bit tired. Her world is the space of a room, each room of the house that she can sit and watch Sharon play in. Open spaces are dangerous. She won't let Sharon play outside any further than the house's lawn; she won't let doors be closed between herself and her girl, though she does sit in the hall when Sharon uses the bathroom to grant her daughter some privacy.
Sharon is a big girl now. Rose can't forget that. She's a big girl, but the monsters are big too, big and small and human-shaped and very, very dangerous.
As she's tucking Sharon in that night, though, her daughter fidgets. "Maybe you want to sleep in your own room tonight, mommy."
"No, honey," she protests, but Sharon turns away from her, towards Cybil.
"Make sure my mother gets some rest." It sounds like an order. "Make sure she's okay."
Cybil seems to accept the command with good humor, circling an arm around Rose's waist and urging her towards the door. But even she knows caution. "Call if there's trouble, all right? And keep a knife under your pillow."
Sharon grins, hugging one of her stuffed dogs tight and snuggling down underneath the covers. "Nothing will hurt me here."
That's true. Rose knows it's true, as deep-down real as the way she's no longer afraid of the dark, and never will be again. She knows it's true, and then Cybil is ushering her into the hall and waving Sharon goodnight, reaching for the doorknob to pull it shut and erect a barrier between Rose and her girl.
Rose is pacing even before the door has finished closing. If she cannot see Sharon, then Sharon could already be captured. The monsters might be coming. The monsters might be there already, and Rose's hands are sliding over the door without catching on the knob and her heartbeat is in her throat as she's calling for Sharon to answer her, to make sure that Sharon's all right.
Cybil catches her from behind, wrapping her arms around her waist to keep Rose still. Automatically, Rose struggles; then she slumps, leaning back, breathing hard.
"Your kid's right," Cybil's saying, over and over. Her arms are tight. She refuses to let Rose go. "Get some rest. I'll keep watch."
- - - - -
It takes careful nights of trust for Rose to start accepting that her daughter might be secure. She trusts in her knives; she trusts in her senses, eternally primed for any hint of danger. She trusts in her ability to chase after intruders if they come, and, slowly, she trusts in Cybil's ability to help her kill them.
They discuss it, a little, when Cybil finds Rose crouched against her bedroom window. The streetlamps stamp fuzzy halos in the fog. The darkness is quiet tonight. Rose can see only her car in the driveway, and none out on the road, but just because she can't sense a threat doesn't mean it's not out there.
Cybil knocks before entering, which is the only reason Rose doesn't instantly assume the visit is an attack.
"You're still awake," Rose whispers. It's meant to be a question, but doesn't feel like one.
"Yeah." Cybil's voice betrays her; she sounds tired, but alert. She takes a few more steps into the room after a moment, letting the door slide off her fingers, streaming a trail of light behind her from the hall. "Hey. I promised I'd help you find your kid. What kind of person would I be if I just abandoned you like this now?"
Rose shakes her head automatically. "Sharon's fine."
"No," Cybil counters, sharp as a knife. Then, softer, "You're here to save your daughter. I'm here to make sure that you can."
"She's fine. I'm fine -- "
"You're as tense as a rock," Cybil observes, and she's already crossed the distance between the door and the window. She slides a hand across the muscles of Rose's shoulders, across the shoulderblades like a balm.
She obeys dully when Cybil leads her to the bathroom. Cybil plugs the drain and twitches the shower curtain aside, turning the knobs and testing the water; the room fills with steam, and Rose feels the cool porcelain of the sink against her palms as she leans on the counter.
Cybil strips her methodically, holding her hand to help guide her into the tub without slipping. The water swirls milky trails around Rose's legs. She holds herself completely frozen, unwilling to relax, and the water eventually comes to a tepid halt.
She doesn't know how long it is before Cybil finally reaches out. The policewoman hauls Rose from the bath without caring about puddles; she wraps Rose in her arms and sits with her spine against the wall, toes propped on the linoleum floor. Rose can see the dampness soaking into Cybil's clothes like a hungry infection, spreading from points of contact between them.
The air is cold on wet skin, but warm near Cybil.
"I don't know anything anymore," Rose admits aloud, and the words ring differently in the confines of the bathroom. They sound human, empty of the monstrous confidence that does not care about mysteries so long as it is not being threatened. The bathroom spins. Rose sees it intact and crumbling simultaneously, two universes overlapping: the world of mist and ash, the world of darkness and blood. Part of her is not frightened. Part of her knows it's home. Part of her worries only for Sharon, and this fact sends a fresh jolt of panic up her spine: Rose doesn't know which reaction is inhuman and which is not.
She must protect her girl. Whatever gives her that strength is more than necessary -- it is to be loved and embraced wholeheartedly, just as the darkness took her, or maybe she accepted the darkness first.
"Shh," Cybil's saying, rocking Rose against her chest, in her arms. Rose's body is shuddering. Her eyes are aching. She could dig them out of her skull to relieve the pressure. Tension is pouring out of her like an infection ruptured. She is bleeding bloodlessly, surrendering up her own humanity, beast and not-beast and a creature of the dark.
She wants to throw up. She wants to cry. She's so tired. She's fine.
Cybil's wiping tears off Rose's cheeks that Rose doesn't feel, fingers wet and glistening, made sloppy with the byproducts of sorrow. This is not like Silent Hill. Instead of pulling Rose up and telling her to run, run, Cybil only holds her until Rose no longer has the energy to weep.
"Don't worry," the woman soothes. "I'm here. I'm here. You're not alone. I'm here."
- - - - -
At nights now, Rose sleeps in her own room. Sharon's down the hall. Cybil keeps Rose company, curled up behind her like a warm lion in bed, their contours evenly matched. Cybil's arms are strong, and her waist fits perfectly in line, and she sleeps with a gun under her pillow and a knife under Rose's.
"I'm happy," the policewoman whispers drowsily into Rose's back one evening, soft enough that Rose feels the words as a tickle on her skin and a hot lick of breath. "I'm happy that you were able to rescue your daughter."
Rose shifts, pressing back against the ridges of Cybil's hipbones, feeling Cybil's hand glide along her stomach. The familiarity is so easy that it's natural; like the smell of sizzling bacon, it should disturb Rose, but doesn't. Cybil is a woman who spent days at the bottom of a mineshaft to save another child, who spent even more days saving Rose from people shaped like monsters, and then from the monsters shaped like people. A woman who stayed behind to guard Rose's descent. A woman who fought to protect her.
For all Cybil's gruff exterior, she too is a creature who gave everything for another.
She gave everything for Rose.
And something in Cybil's presence is enough. Enough to make up for all the nights spent sleepless watching over Sharon, for all the caution and exhaustion and weariness -- to make everything normal again, as if Cybil is here to save Rose again, day after day after day. Especially when Rose isn't sure where the real monsters are anymore: only that she'll kill them when they come. Until then, she can wait.
The days are perfect now. Sharon is happy and well-protected, and Cybil's nearby in case Rose slips in a moment of inattention. There's someone else to help Rose watch over everything. Rose can let the time trickle by at leisure, relishing each moment instead of simply counting off the seconds until an eventual attack comes oozing through the cracks in the walls.
When she takes deep breaths, there's an ache in her muscles that feels fresh each time, as if there's a new bruise or they're just waking up after a long sleep. Whether she ends up taking a shower or a long bath, Cybil's there, murmuring words like prayers, palms sliding wet and soapy over Rose's flesh. Sometimes they simply curl up together on the couch, hand in hand, Rose's chin on Cybil's shoulder as they watch Sharon scribble pictures of pyramids and knives.
It's not a lifestyle that Rose expected, but she never thought that demons could be real either -- or that the darkness could be kinder than people, as kind as Cybil's fingertips.
The cultists screamed about eternal damnation. Rose closes her eyes, feeling Cybil's body tight against her own, and thinks: this is paradise.