Chapter 19: Fear
There have been times in my life where I've woken up in places I didn't fall asleep in. But never, not once in my life, have I woken up in a place I've never been before. Not until now, at least. As soon as my eyes drooped open, lids heavy with an unnatural exhaustion, I knew something was wrong. Really, terribly, wretchedly wrong.
For one thing, my vision was blurred. A bad sign. I lifted my hand to my eyes and rubbed them raw, until I could finally see a little clearer. Still, it was like looking through a curved watch glass - the world bubbled around the edges and arched outward. I closed them for a moment and focused my other senses, but I found myself straining impossibly to train my ears and understand what I was hearing, if anything at all. I sniffed, and knew I smelled something in the air, but I couldn't think of a name to put to the smell. My brain was fried. I couldn't concentrate.
After a long while, or maybe a couple of minutes - who knows - I realized I was lying down in a rather uncomfortable position. I put all of my energy and focus on moving my limbs, which after a few heart-pounding moments I finally did. The ground was hard and gritty, like it was covered in dirt and dust. I opened my eyes as I lifted myself into an upright position.
What I saw confused me at first. I was in a box, the height being too tall for me to stand, and the width being barely spacious enough for me to maneuver around in a circle. The ceiling and floor were solid, but the sides were not. Thick wires crossed along each other all the way around me, in every direction, forming a fence pattern.
I was in a cage.
Slowly, the confusion edged into something else, a feeling spurting to life inside my chest that I had no control over. It was just a spark, but it was a lively one. It was enough for my breathing to become quick and my heart to pound harder.
Where am I? I struggled to remember what happened. I was in the alley, with Greg. Something ... happened to him. Someone attacked us. I closed my eyes again and pressed my hands around my temples as the uncontrollable drowsiness consumed my mind. Why couldn't I remember? Maybe if I went backwards...? Attack. Greg. Alley. Shampoo. Lexis.
Lexis! Did she do this to me? I didn't think so. No. No, I left Shampoo and she left me alone after ... after something. Think, Remi. Think. Lexis. Dancing. With Greg. Right, okay. Drinks. Bartender. Blue hair... black clothes... His image is in my head, but I can't put a finger on the...
SPIKE! My eyes flew open as it came in a rush, a wave rolling over me in a rhythmic yet crashing weight. Spike did this. He knocked out Greg, injected me with something. My hand crawled down from my temple to the side of my neck, where I could feel a small tender bump poke through the numbness. A needle mark. He injected me with something, and I blacked out. And then ... nothing. Now I'm here.
But where is here? What is here? Knowledge... I whispered, Knowledge, I need your help. Where am I? I waited. For what felt like centuries I waited, but the voice did not respond. Hey! I said, a little stronger. I said I need help! I don't know where I am! I don't know what happened to me!
"Who are you talking to?"
I jumped at the voice, for it had broken through the quiet of my mind like a hammer into glass. I looked slowly to my left, finding myself unable to move at a faster speed. And I saw a woman in the cage next to me. I blinked hard, trying to keep my eyes open. Her hair was brown and messy, thrown across her head and sticking to her dirty face. She was wearing a tank top and a long skirt, but they weren't ... right. Something was off about it. Like it had been tampered with. In fact, the woman herself looked like she'd been tampered with.
"You were mumbling to yourself," she said, her voice loud and echoing inside my skull. "Who were you talking to? What were you saying?"
I must've spoken aloud when I was calling to Knowledge. Whatever drug Spike pumped into my neck did something to my brain. "I was saying," I whispered, my voice rough as if I had been sleeping for hours, "that I didn't know where I was. That I needed help."
"We all need help," the woman said. I stared at her, and she waited for me to feel confused about what she had just said. "I don't know where we are on a map," she continued, "but I do know we're somewhere underground. No place above sea level can possibly be this dirty." She gave a small grin, as if she just made a joke. But it didn't touch her eyes. They were dark, glassy orbs, eyes that have seen too much. Eyes that have endured pain, that are still enduring it.
"How long have I ...?" I tried to finish, but my mouth dried up and I felt the need to lick my lips repeatedly. They tasted like mud and were cracked, moisture-less. The mouth of the desert.
"There's no clock, but I'd guess you got here about three hours ago." Three hours, I thought, I've been here for three hours. Do they know I'm gone yet? Did they find Greg in the alley? All these questions... The woman watched me again, her empty black eyes taking in my wobbled appearance, my intense focus on little things like staying upright or keeping my head straight. "The drug, it knocks you out, paralyzes your senses. You woke up about twenty minutes ago, so the symptoms should be wearing thin in maybe another twenty."
It's already been twenty minutes since I woke up? Jeez... I dropped my head down and relaxed the muscles in my neck, preserving what little energy I had. From this new angle I saw that I was still wearing Jory's black dress, and my boots were still on, though one was halfway unzipped and my foot felt loose in the other. The air was rigid and stale, but I felt a chill on my shoulders and chest, the kind that told me I had to pull up my top a little so as not to reveal so much. So I did. I ruffled my hand through my hair, but I couldn't distinctly remark a difference about it without a mirror.
I heard a door open in the distance. The sound reverberated through the ground, and I flinched. The spark inside my chest flickered, growing larger and consuming my insides like fire. My fingertips tingled in anticipation. But then the door creaked closed, and there was silence again; the flames died down. I looked back at my neighbor.
"What's your name?" I asked.
She hesitated, closing her eyes for a moment. A line appeared on her forehead as she thought about the question, but then she muttered an answer. "A... Amita. It's Amita. I'm Amita." She let out a small sigh and looked back at me, her eyes even duller than before. "You?"
"I'm sorry you're here, Remi. You don't deserve this. Nobody does."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I thought about how she had to think hard to remember her name, as if she had almost forgotten it. "How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to know," Amita said, and I waited for the rest. It didn't come.
"To know ... what?" I persisted.
"That it isn't worth fighting anymore," she whispered. "There's no escape." Then, as if she forgot I was there, she turned away and drifted off into la-la land, her hands curled around her knees as she stared forward at nothing. I felt I should respect her moment alone, but I yearned for human contact. The spark in my chest fluttered again, and a thought popped into my head - Would this be me someday? If I didn't get out of ... whatever this was ... would I be like her sometime soon?
It had to have been another twenty or so minutes, because the effects of the drugs were finally wearing off. I was still weak and tired, kind of like how I felt when I healed myself at the construction site. But I could think a little clearer, speak a little better, move a little faster. And I think I could keep my thoughts to myself again. Knowledge, are you there? I glanced at Amita, but she was still out of it. So I fixed my boots and my dress, got on my hands and knees, and crawled over to the end of my cage. Hello? I snapped with more attitude. I said are you there? I really freaking need your help right about now. I thought I heard a whisper, and my body froze as my mind strained to listen. But the whisper faded away again, inaudible. A voice at the end of a hallway, facing the wrong direction. It freaked me out even more. Damn, where the hell did you go? I thought in frustration.
I put my hands on the cage and rattled it a bit, testing its durability. It seemed pretty stable, and I noticed a padlock on the side that held the door closed. The lock was unbreakable, but the cage was weak. And I was stronger than I looked, that much I knew. I shook the door hard, back and forth, to see if I could maybe bend it in a different direction, break it from the lock. I just needed that one little piece connecting the door to the padlock to break, and I was gold. Amita turned her head at the sound of chattering metal that echoed around the silent room. I tried for three whole minutes before I decided my arms weren't enough. So I rolled over onto my back and started to kick, both feet at the same time.
"Stop..." I heard Amita whisper, but I was determined. The kicking would work. It had to work. I shoved at the cage harder, with as much might as I could muster. But soon I was exhausted. I paused for a moment, took a couple long, deep breaths, and then lifted my knees forward and kicked again, closer to the padlock this time. A grunt of exasperation escaped me every time it didn't work.
"I said stop!" Amita cried out. "Stop! Stop, they'll hear you!"
"It doesn't matter if they hear me or not, as long as I get out!" I retorted, still fighting the cage. "They won't know until after I'm out. And then they'll-"
"But they can see you," Amita said, and I broke off mid-kick and stared at her.
"They can see you..." she repeated, and her slender, almost bony finger pointed out of the cage. I followed her gaze to the top of the south corner of the room we were in. A video camera, hidden in the shadows of the grimy ceiling with a red light blinking every second, zoomed in on me as I gazed at it in horror. "They already know you're awake. They know you're trying to escape. And they're coming."
I looked at her again, breathing in asphyxiated gasps. She watched me with her glazed over eyes. "Who's coming?" I asked fervently.
She began to shiver ... shake, really ... and had to take a deep breath before she could answer. "They're coming to collect you now that you're awake," she said in a tearful voice. "You should have pretended to stay asleep. They won't bother you when you're asleep. They only like it when you're awake." She started to cry, and the spark began to grow inside my chest again.
"Amita, please," I said, "What are you talking about? Who are 'they'?"
She closed her eyes and shook her head, her arms coming up to wrap around her shoulders in protection. There were black bruises on her wrists, as if she had been bound for a long time, over and over again.
Suddenly, the spark in my chest burst out in a full scale explosion as I realized where I was ... why I was taken. "Amita," I said, quickly but quietly, "Amita, the people you're talking about? Did they ... hurt you? You know ... did they..."
"I tried to stop them!" she burst out, sobbing. "I t-told them no but they wouldn't l-listen. They just shot m-me up with the drug and I w-woke up in a cage. I tried to shout for help, but they came again. They were s-strong ... mean ... horrible. And Spike..."
"Spike? What about Spike?" I could hear something happening in another room of the building, but I was so engrossed with what Amita was saying, or warning me of, that I foolishly ignored it.
"He tied me up," she cried quietly, almost whispered, "He made fun of me, hurt me. He ... broke me." Amita gasped another sob, and just like that she was back in her trance, tears still rolling out of her empty eyes.
"Amita?" I said, but just then the door to my cage was ripped open and three guys were standing outside. Startled, I scooted to the very back of the cage, my heart beating a mile a minute. I didn't even hear them come in - I didn't even see them unlock the door!
"C'mon, darlin'," one of the guys cooed, "The big guy wants to see you."
"Go screw yourself," I spat at him, not moving an inch. But they only laughed at my defiance. Two of the guys went around to the back of my cage and lifted it up, and I found myself clinging to the wire with my fingertips in a vain effort not to slide down to the entrance. "No!" I shouted, but my grip wasn't good enough. The guy who was waiting at the bottom grabbed my ankle in a vice-like grip and pulled me out of the cage with no effort.
I had barely any time to react before he twisted his fingers in my hair and started to drag me, away from the cage and towards the door. I kicked and shouted and scratched at the bastard, but he was immune. The other two guys came up behind us and followed, making sure I didn't escape.
"It's no wonder the big boss likes this one so much," one bozo said to the other, pointing at me. "She's a feisty one."
"He likes them when they fight back. Me ... I like 'em quiet and crying, when they know I'm in charge." They shared a good, hearty laugh, and I continued to kick at them, aiming for their groins, but to no avail. They were too far away. I could feel my hair knotting and getting pulled out by its roots, and I restrained myself from crying out in pain. Through bleary vision I saw the wretched place that I was in. I was being dragged down a dimly lit hallway, the walls lined with cages - some empty, some occupied with women. Their cries shattered my ears, and one of the guys following us actually kicked a cage to shut them up. The spark in my heart, now a flame, burned hotter than the sun. And through the tears and screams and shouts, and the feeling of my scalp being yanked off, I heard a voice. It was quiet at first, but I closed my eyes and concentrated.
Knowledge? I asked. Is that you?
You're going to die.
My eyes flew open again. What?
They're going to kill you. Oh no, you're done for. I'm done for. There's nothing left to do. We're not strong enough to fight back.
Knowledge? Are you okay? This doesn't sound like you. I was so confused, but the feeling inside of me was growing with every word the voice spoke.
Death is coming, Remi. But first, they're going to hurt you. You know it. I know it. It's just a matter of what's at the end of the hallway.
Stop it... I muttered, but it was ranting now. Escalating. I squeezed my eyes shut and screamed at it to shut up. This voice wasn't Knowledge, that much I knew.
You know as well as I, Remi, what they did to Amita. They'll do the same to you. Over, and over, and over... We're cursed! We'll never leave this place! They'll keep us here forever! And there's no way for the others to find you. No communicator. No witness. We're lost. Oh, no, we're lost for good. Can't you feel it, Remi?
I didn't reply. I was practically hyperventilating by the time I opened my eyes again, and I was surprised to find I was no longer being dragged. The three men had disappeared. And I was in a room with red brick walls, a big bed with extravagant drapery around it, and a fireplace burning in the center of the room, like a pit. I leaned against the wall, close to the bed but not close enough to touch if I just reached out. I shifted my arms and heard a clank of metal. That was when I learned I was chained, my wrists bound by cuffs.
Can't you feel it? repeated the voice. I stared at the fire burning in front of me, watched as the flames engulfed the blackened wood with an infinite hunger. I could feel that same flame eating away inside of me, tearing me apart. And then I realized ... what the feeling was ... who the voice was...
It was Fear.
And it was eating me alive.
Suddenly, the double doors to the big, fancy bedroom opened up, creaking creepily with rusty hinges, and in walked a young, familiar, disgusting face.
"Spike," I growled, but my voice was too shaky to be threatening. The boy in black smirked devilishly as he stood before me and took in my appearance - chained to a wall, his wall, waiting to be his ... plaything.
"I hope my men didn't damage you on your journey down here ... Remi," Spike said, his dark eyes glinting. I should've known he was the pack leader. It was blatantly obvious, yet I couldn't-
He's going to hurt you... the voice of Fear wailed in my ear.
Shut up! I snapped, watching with wary eyes as Spike sauntered around the room, staring at me hungrily. But it was a different kind of hungry than the dragon people. I can't deal with this if you keep talking to me.
You can't deal with it ever, Remi! I've given up. You should, too. All there is left is the fear.
"What do you want?" I barked at Spike, who was circling the fire-pit at a painfully slow pace. I pushed myself to a stand, but I still leaned against the wall. The chains dangled down from my bound wrists and attached to the cement ground. Unbreakable.
"You know what I want," he remarked. "The same thing I wanted back at the club, and in the alley, and every single second I spent waiting for you to wake up. I want you, pretty girl, all to myself. And now..." He rounded the corner of the pit and started to rush at me. "I've got you!"
Fortunately for me, I was still quick enough to swoop up my leg and kick Spike square in the chest just before he reached me. He stumbled backwards, but didn't fall. And he was laughing. Maniacally, he was laughing. "This is why I adore you so much, Remi," he said, breathing heavily as if he couldn't wait for this battle to begin. "The thrill of the fight is always so pleasureable. You're just like Amita."
I stared at him, frozen, conscious that he could see my legs visibly shaking.
"She fought back, too, for a while. That's why I kept her in a separate room from the rest. She was ... special." He started to pace in front of me, waiting for an opportune moment. "That's why you were in the same room as her, because you're a challenge. My challenge. Amita was getting weak and boring, not as much fun as before. I had to replace her. And then ... I met you." Spike charged in again, but I didn't expect it. I wasn't fast enough this time. With my wrists bound, I only had my legs to defend me. And he had just moved in too close for my legs to do any good.
"Stop!" I screamed, squirming away from him. He had grabbed my throat with one hand, his other on my wrist cuffs so they couldn't move. And he was trying to put his slimy, revolting lips against mine.
I told you, Remi! Fear shouted in terror, and I found myself shouting, too. "Get away from me! No! Get off!" I felt his hot breath against my face, and I couldn't take it anymore. I brought up my knee, square into his gut, and he grunted in surprised pain. I twisted my cuffed hands out of his fingertips and brought it across his face in a double-punch.
"AAH!" he screeched, falling down at my feet. I kicked him while he was down, but he managed to roll away, out of reach. So I scuttled as far away from him as I could manage, closer to the bed. Despite all my efforts to stay strong, I was trembling with fear. I ... I was terrified. What if ... what if he wins? I'm not strong enough to take him on forever. And he has guys to back him up.
See, Remi? You're doomed. We're doomed.
I shook my head. I shouldn't be accepting this fate. I may not be able to fight for much longer, but my friends ... they'll come for me. They'll save me!
No, they won't, said Fear sadly, They don't know where you are. They don't know how to find you. You're lost, remember? Lost...
Fear was right. I was lost. And I was doomed. Oh, god, no! No!
"NO!" I screamed, watching Spike run at me again, feeling him tackle me to the ground just as I felt my hopes of escaping slip away. My strength was fading me, and I started to go numb. Maybe ... maybe if I turn everything off, I won't feel any of it? Then I won't remember as much. Then I won't ... be as afraid as I am.
The tears were flowing down my cheeks by the time I had given up, my body gone limp beneath Spike, who was standing over me. He watched, with obvious dislike flowing in his face and out his expression, as I just whimpered beneath him, waiting for him to do what he wanted. "No," he said in building anger, "What happened to that flare, pretty girl? What happened to fighting back? You're not done yet. I'm not done yet!" He leaned down and picked me up by my throat, and threw me to the ground. I felt my head smack against the floor in a brain-crushing manner. The pain was nothing compared to what I was waiting for.
"Just get it over with, you bastard," I whimpered, still crying. The fire of Fear was blazing inside of me. For a small while, I was hoping Knowledge would intervene, would help me out, but Knowledge had abandoned me, today of all days. And I had succumbed to the flames. It was a horrible feeling, being burned alive from the inside out.
Spike, furious with my surrender, leaned me up against the wall and brought his hand down on me in a backhand slap. His knuckles cracked against my cheekbone, and I tasted blood. But I had been through worse. I just never showed my pain back then, not like now. "Fight back!" he screamed at me, hitting me again in the other direction. I was starting to feel dizzy, and nauseous, but I bit my tongue and did nothing. Spike growled in frustration and picked me up by my hair.
"You bitch," he muttered in my ear, before throwing me atop the bed. The chain caught my wrists and yanked them backwards, so my head, body, and legs were on the bed but my arms were dangling over the side, pulled by the chain. Spike went around and jumped on top of me.
This was it. I could sense it.
The dark moment.
His face was so close to mine that I couldn't see the whole thing. All I could see were his eyes, boring into mine, the anger flaring inside of him. Maybe he should give me to one of his guys, the one that likes it when girls cry and whimper. But even though I had given up, I couldn't bear to look into this monster's gaze for such a long period of time. I turned my head away from him, ignorant of his hands roaming my body. There was something bright red lying next to us on the bed, red and round and somehow familiar.
I lifted my head up and stared at it a little harder, blinking away the tears for a moment. Why was this small little object so significant, you may ask? In a heart-breaking, body-breaking time such as this? Because this little item had, in one moment, restored my hope, my optimism, my feeling, and my defiance. As I stared at the cherry-colored object not even a meter away from me, a small smile broke across my face.
It was Greg's communicator.
Spike must've snatched it after I blacked out, so Greg couldn't call anyone for help. But Spike didn't know that our communicators could be tracked.
The Titans did know where I was! And now that my hope was alive and kicking, so were my empath powers. And I could sense them.
They were close. No ... not close. They were here!
I turned back to Spike, who had stopped what he was doing and was staring at my smile as if it were the furthest thing to what he wanted to see. "What's so funny, bitch?" he spat at me.
"You're a damn idiot, that's what," I said, and I pulled my legs up and kicked him off of me with all the force I had. He soared into the air and onto the ground with a loud thud and a grunt, and I rolled backwards off the bed so I landed on my feet. I went to grab Greg's communicator, but the chain wasn't long enough. I couldn't reach it.
It didn't matter. Just when Spike's head popped back up again, the double doors swung open and one of the henchmen rushed in, looking like he was about to shit his pants. "Spike!" he shouted, and I heard crashing noises from outside, like a war was going on. "Spike, we don't know what to do! They're pulling girls out of the cages and knocking us out one by one, and what should -"
A bright red flash flew through the doorway and hit the guy in the back. Screaming, he shot across the room, over the fire-pit, and onto the bed, where he promptly bounced off and onto the ground, motionless. I could recognize that red light anywhere.
"GREG! Greg, I'm in here!" I shouted towards the door, struggling against the chains.
"Shut the hell up!" Spike yelled, and I turned around just in time to get a punch in the face. I collapsed like a tent with no support, my knees scraping against the hard cement. My head felt like it had its own pulse. But when I looked up again, through the strands of my dark, grimy hair, I saw him. He stood in the doorway, his eyes glowing a righteous red, his fists burning with fire. Well, not fire. But close enough.
"Get the hell away from her!" Greg demanded, and he put both hands together and shot a starbolt right at Spike's chest. Spike hit the wall behind him and dropped to the ground, heavy as a rock. He was out of sight now, on the other side of the bed. Greg, his black hair waving as if it reflected his fury at Spike, looked over at me and raised one hand. I watched without fear as he shot a small starbolt at the chain, breaking it in two. Then he put his hands out and went over to where Spike landed, his fists still curled and his eyes still glowing. A vengeful demon.
I was no longer chained to the wall, but my wrists were still cuffed together. I was trying to somehow slide my slender hands out of them when Syrus ran in the room. He glanced over at where Greg was, paused only a moment like he was watching something happen, then ran over to me. "Are you okay?" he asked, his hand on my bare shoulder. I stared at him as if I couldn't comprehend what he was saying. I had no idea if I was okay or not. Syrus waited no more than a second before he tried to get me to stand.
A moment ago I was stronger than ever, the hope inside of me dousing my flames of fear. But now I was as weak as the crumbling pile of wood left over in a campfire. Sy practically had to carry me beside him in order for me to stay upright.
Just then, Darien appeared. His relief to see me alive was conflicted with his rage in seeing the state that I was in. "Is she okay?" he asked.
"She'll be fine when we get the hell out of here," Syrus replied, still holding me up. I clung to his arm like a life raft. I think I was still crying, though they were probably tears of relief. Sy took my arms and held them out to Darien. "Do you mind? There's no key."
Darien made a karate-chop shape with his right hand, and bolts of low-level, controlled electricity sparked around his fingers. In a quick, easy motion, he had chopped the cuffs free from my wrists; there were red marks, soon to turn blue, no doubt, where the bindings used to be. I couldn't find my voice in time to thank him.
"Where are the others?" Syrus asked.
"Still tying up bastards and releasing the girls," Dare replied, his eyes remaining fixed on me. I must be a sight to see if he was giving me that pitying expression. "They're waiting for you."
"Go stop Greg from killing the scumbag who did this to her. He's bashing the guy's head in."
"What?" I mumbled, trying to turn around and see. But Syrus didn't let me. Instead, Darien left us and Syrus started to lead me out the door and into the hallway, where it looked like a bomb had dropped. "Syrus..." I muttered, looking up at him. He glanced at me, a feeling in his eyes I was too dazed to understand.
"Come on, we're getting out of here."
And so we did.
Strands of dark violet hair drifted down to the sink, layering in swirls. The soft, crunchy sound of the scissors at work was hypnotic, and I didn't want it to stop. But I was done. My hair was cut, and I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror like I was looking at a stranger. That's all I am nowadays - a stranger. I set the scissors down and picked up the photograph of my mother and father. I glanced at the young Raven in the picture, then at my new reflection. Everything was nearly the same: the hairstyle, the face, the skin tone. The only real difference? The girl in the photo was smiling. I was not.
I haven't smiled once since that day. Not to Greg. Not even to my mother. But I can't think about it, because it hurts too much when I do. To think that I had given up? Surrendered myself to that rapist sicko? It made me want to vomit, or slap myself in the face. Whichever comes first.
I hate that Greg didn't kill him. That's probably horrible of me, but I don't care. I want him dead, by any means necessary. Instead, he was sent to jail, along with any other member of the group.
I shook my head and started to run the water in the sink. I tried to clear my mind of the memories, thoughts of the pain, the cages, and ... him. Every time they popped into my head, Fear started to whisper in my ear. Knowledge would be there, too, trying to shut Fear up. It tried to explain why it abandoned me, why I couldn't hear it; the emotion was blocked out from my mind by the drugs. When I couldn't think clearly, neither could Knowledge, so it was like it was caged as well. And then Fear was unleashed.
I sighed and turned off the sink when all the hair was down the drain. I picked up the scissors in one hand and the photograph in the other, then made my way down the hall and back to my room. It was more like my sanctuary now. I could be alone there. I wanted to be alone. I can't see everyone's worry on their faces, even though I could still feel it. I made it into my room with no interference, and locked the door behind me. I put the photograph back in its frame and set it back in place on my nightstand.
I walked over to the mirror on my wardrobe and sat down next to the new make-up kit I bought. Dark eyeshadows of blue and violet and black, eyeliner, mascara, and some dark-shaded lip gloss, all in one neat pack. I've been feeling so much like my old self lately, and I hated it. So I thought, Hell, maybe change will do me some good. I already got the haircut, a short bob with swooping bangs, and now it was time for decoration. So I took the eyeliner first, unscrewed the cap, and got to work.
Ten minutes later, I examined my work. Not bad for an amateur artist; the liner wasn't too thick, but not too thin either. It chased the lower curve of my eye in an elegant yet bold style, coming off the corners a little in a jagged point. Smokey blue and dark gray eyeshadow clouded my lids, fading lighter towards the eyebrows and heavier at the lashes, which were lengthened with mascara. A light layer of deep red-violet lip gloss glistened upon my lips, but the taste made me cringe - raspberry. Gag. I took a paper towel, rolled it to a tip, and carefully dabbed it off, leaving my lips their usual pale, pink-ashen color.
Now for the outfit... I said to myself.
Why bother? Fear whimpered. It's not going to change anything. You'll still be afraid to close your eyes.
Maybe looking different is the next step in feeling different, Knowledge analyzed. Remi, I think-
NO. Don't you two start up again. I snapped, digging through my wardrobe and practically ripping out the new shirt I bought. I don't want to hear it. ANY of it.
Shut your trap! All I want is silence. Is that too much to ask? I growled.
I could hear Fear start to cry inside my head, and I plugged my ears with my fingers, as if it would help snuff the sound. It didn't. "Be quiet!" I said out loud. But Fear's cries only got louder. Remi doesn't like me! It wailed. I wouldn't like me either. I'm a horrible emotion to have. Wuahhaaa!
"SHUT THE HELL UP!" I shouted, and in a sudden burst of anger I threw the shirt across the room. There was the sound of the fabric catching the air and whooshing around, then a small thud, and the tiny sound of something breaking. "Oh no..." I breathed, rushing over to the spot where the frame had fallen, face-down and half covered with the shirt. I picked it up cautiously and flipped it over. A single huge crack had broken the glass in two, splitting the image apart. My heart became painful in my chest - the crack had cut right between Mom and Beast Boy. A visual representation of their break up.
I might have had time to cry if someone didn't knock on my door.
Who could it be this time? I pondered, annoyed at the interruption. Each member of the team, parents and teens alike, has individually approached me these past ... however many weeks it's been. First it was Mom, and though we probably connected on an emotional level - you know, with our powers - I didn't say much. She wanted me to know she was there for me if I ever wanted to talk about it. Yeah, that never happened. I told her to give me some time, and she has. This might be her knocking on my door now, though, here to tell me I've been taking advantage of this "time-taking" deal and she wanted to chat.
Or it might be Greg. He's probably the most worried of all the warts, and he's checked up on me more than once. But, just like when Nightwing and Starfire and Darien and Cyborg tried to talk to me, I didn't communicate back. I didn't worry about hurting feelings or anything remotely like that. I just wanted to be left alone. What's wrong with that?
Even Jory tried to talk to me through the door, saying she "didn't know what I was going through, but she was, like, there for me or whatever". She sounded really awkward when she was saying it, so I assumed it was being forced out of her by someone else.
Whoever it was at the door was getting impatient, for they knocked again, harder. I stood where I was, broken frame in hand, contemplating on whether to ignore or acknowledge. After another round of knocks, and what sounded like a couple of kicks, I finally put the photo down. I unlocked the door and opened it barely an inch, just to peek out and see who it was.
It wasn't who I expected it to be at all.
"Get off your sorry ass and get down to the beach in five minutes," Syrus demanded, staring at me with an emotionless expression, the kind I used to be able to control.
"What?" I said, real genius-like.
He scowled a little, but simply repeated, "Five minutes." Then he walked away without another word. I shut the door and thought about this for a moment, because apparently a moment was all I had. Syrus hasn't tried to talk to me like the others have, not since he practically carried me out of... And I never expected him to, either. We're not exactly considered "friends". So why now? What's his ulterior motive?
"Whatever," I said, looking for my shoes. I wasn't in the mood to think, and if I stayed in my room for much longer, that's what I'd be stuck doing. Thinking. But if I go, the worst that could happen is Syrus tries to kill me again. Been there, done that. Nothing new.
I trudged out of my room in black shorts and a hoodie. The shorts were because it was summertime in August, but the hoodie was for the breezy night air down by the water. It was close to midnight, I realized. That got me even more curious as to what Sy was up to. And it made me wonder why I was going along with it.
A moment later, I was out the doors and under the stars, a beautiful sight that was sadly hidden behind a layer of light pollution. That's the city for ya. I took a moment to adjust to the darkness and used the full moon's faint glow to guide me to the beach. The sound of small, calm waves rolling up the sand was pleasing to the ears, but I didn't enjoy the sensation as much as I would have before. I sensed him with my powers before I saw him. He was sitting on Big Boulder, a huge rock that came up next to the Tower and spread out all the way to the shoreline. His silhouette was sharp against the moonlight background, and I took a taste of his emotions in my mind; they were jumbled, a little confusing and hard to distinguish, almost like he was debating with himself about something. There was a faint sense of frustration underlying everything, though, but before I could figure out why, he heard the pebbles crunch beneath my feet and was aware of my presence.
"Took you long enough," he snapped, "I said five minutes. It's been an hour already."
Rude and overexaggerative, as always.
"What do you want?" I demanded, folding my arms against the chill of a salty breeze. Syrus turned towards me, and I squinted through the darkness in effort to see his expression.
"I'm gonna make this as short as possible," he said, and I felt his serious stare bore holes into my brain. "Stop moping around and move on already!"
I was taken aback - I totally thought this was going in a different direction. "What?" I replied, aghast, my face curling into a glare.
"You heard me!" he barked, and suddenly he was on his feet, towering over me. "You've been cooped up in that cave you call a bedroom for weeks, while the Teen Titans have been going on missions one man short. I'm sick of picking up the slack!"
I scoffed. Of course! This was about him! Everything had to be about him, didn't it? "Go screw yourself," I growled, and spun on my heel; I was not in the mood to deal with an angry, stubborn, self-concerned Syrus. I started to stomp away, but didn't get very far before a wall of water swooshed up in front of me and blocked my path. With a frustrated sigh, I realized I should have known better than to walk willingly onto his field without knowing what was up.
"You know what you are?" Syrus started, and I turned around again to face him, a look of pure annoyance I couldn't control bursting from my eyes. Sy stepped down from the boulder without looking away from me. "You're weak. You're stuck lingering in the past because you're not strong enough to get over it. You still aren't worthy of the Teen Titan title."
I pursed my lips together and held my tongue; each word stung like a dart to a board, one after another striking the bulls-eye, but I refused to play along with this "game" or whatever it was.
"See, that's what I'm talking about," he continued, shoving his finger in my face. "You hold yourself back, so you never learn from what might happen if you let go and actually do what you wanna do. You're a disgrace to the Titans ... and to Raven."
I whipped my head around to look at him, my building anger suddenly bursting into fury. He was starting to sound like Fear, and I hated it. "Shut up," I snapped.
Syrus laughed, not slowing his pace. He stopped right in front of me, so close I could smack him if I wanted. I just might. "Ooh... Did I hit a nerve? Because it's true. I know it, the Titans know it, and you know it, too, don't you ... Goth Roth?"
"I said SHUT UP!" I yelled, and I lunged at him, my fist swinging. He pulled backwards and out of the way. Instead, my hand hit the wall of water, which had swooped around from behind to block my shot. The fact that he even remembered that name, when Lexis used it ... it only made me more furious.
"But I'm wandering off topic, aren't I?" he spoke from an unseeable direction. I spun around and tried to find him, only to find myself surrounded by the water. It was swirling around me in a whirlpool, slashing my hair across my face and splashing my eyes. "You could've taken that guy!" he shouted over the whirlpool.
"You could've beaten him to a pulp, but you didn't. Why?"
"I was drugged!" I cried out to the nothingness, "My senses were off. I didn't know up from down. I couldn't have-"
"That's no excuse and you know it! A real Titan would overcome the drugs. In fact ... a real Titan would never have gotten drugged in the first place."
"That wasn't my fault!" I exclaimed helplessly, feeling the tears form. But they were tears of both rage and fright. I still couldn't see Syrus, and the only way of escaping the whirlpool that I could think of was jumping right through it.
"I bet you'll say that the next time you screw up. And the next, and the next, and the time after that! Excuses! That's all you've ever given."
"No! There will never be a next time!" I shouted. I'd given up on trying to see him; now I was trying to sense him. But my own emotions were clouding my judgement. I closed my eyes and concentrated on calming down. "I'm not a screw-up and I won't let this happen again."
"Yes you will. Sooner or later, you'll slip up. And that guy's gonna find you, and drug you, and rape you, and you won't be able to stop him!"
I spun around behind me and threw my strongest roundhouse kick through the rushing wall; my foot made contact with something solid on the other side, and the water suddenly stopped moving. A moment later, the droplets simply fell to the ground in a waterfall, forming a ring of wet sand and mud around me. And I could see again.
Syrus was bent over, clutching his gut with one hand and leaning on his knee with the other. He looked up at me with a grin on his pale freckled face, and I clenched my fists. "That tickled," he gasped, and I brought my fist down on his skull. He staggered backwards several feet, and I chased after him. I punched him again in the face, ignorant of the pain in my knuckles, and while he was hunched I wrapped my elbow around his neck and kneed him, right in the groin. His cry was music to my ears, and I watched with sheer enjoyment as he doubled-over in the sand.
"You think you can just pull me out of my bedroom in the middle of the night and taunt me?" I screamed at him, wanting so badly to kick him while he was down. I had to remind myself that I wasn't that kind of person. "Well, you're wrong! Everything you said? It's all wrong! I'm better than you make me out to be."
He coughed, and it sounded like he was trying to say something. "What?" I said, "What else could you possibly say to humiliate me, huh?"
"I..." he wheezed, and then coughed again. By the time he could talk, I was thinking about just leaving him there and going inside. "I said ... I couldn't agree more."
"Oh, yeah? Well ... wait, what?"
Syrus's head poked up from the ball he had curled up in. "You really think ... I meant any of that?" he gasped, breathing like he was suffocating. "Well, sure maybe ... the part about me picking up the slack, but ... nothing else... You and me? We're ... on the same page." He tucked his head in again and focused on not throwing up. I stood and watched, my fists curling and unfurling alternatively. Finally, I had to look away.
"You crazy idiot," I muttered. "You used reverse psychology on me? Seriously?"
He coughed again, but the struggle to sit up wasn't as bad as before. "Did it work?" he asked. I didn't answer. Instead I retorted with my own question.
"Why did you do this? You tricked me into beating the snot out of you!"
"Okay, first off, no snot was lost. Just a couple drops of blood and ... an ounce of my dignity. And secondly, I did it because you needed it. Everyone's been off in la-la land, hoping you'll magicallypull through this on your own like some Houdini. So, I thought I'd step in and bring back some reality." He finally got to his feet, although he was still hunched over a little. "Don't tell me it didn't help, not even a little bit."
I didn't reply, couldn't reply. Of all the people who would do something like this, offer themselves up for a beating session just to make me feel better about myself, I never expected it to be Syrus. Not in a million years. And it did help - it helped a lot! I felt more alive than ever, and for once my blood was pounding in my veins because of adrenaline, not terror. There was still a lot of stuff to think about, stuff to deal with, but I didn't need to do any of that right now. I finally felt like I could move past what happened. So there's a lesson for you, folks: if you're ever in a funk, just go punch the crap out of somebody and make outrageous yet believably declarations about yourself, and it'll be okay.
Syrus walked past me and sat down next to Big Boulder, leaning his back against the stone and gingerly touching his bleeding face with two fingers. A couple moments later, I traced his footsteps and sat down next to him. This small action was followed by the longest awkward silence I have ever endured in my life. It was hell, it really was. And it took me even longer to realize that I was going to have to break it, because it appeared that Syrus was dozing off.
"I'm sorry," I said, and he looked at me in surprise. He looked like he wanted to say something in reply, but before he had the chance, I put my hand over his mouth. Immediately he freaked out and yanked my hand off of him. "What the hell?" he said, but I just told him to shut up and trust me. After a second, when he realized I wasn't trying to suffocate him - though that would be ironic - he let my wrist go and I put my palm over his swollen lip.
The familiar feeling of warmth seeped down my arm and into my fingers; the white light glowed brighter than ever it did before. And the process took only half as long, meaning Damn! I was getting good at this. When the light extinguished, I retracted my hand and heaved a silent sigh. Syrus watched me, a confused expression on his face, as his fingers lightly touched the freshly healed skin of his lip. He moved his jaw up and down, side to side, testing it. Then he cast me a sideways stare, as if to ask, Why did you do that?
"That's my way of thanking you," I responded, looking away from his eyes and staring out at the moon. "Nothing more, nothing less."
"Don't think we're gonna get all chummy after this," he said.
"Of course not," I said. "You're still a jerk."
"And you're still a hopeless wannabe."
"Gee, thanks." I said it with sarcasm, but I couldn't help it when the corners of my lips turned up just slightly. Another strange anomaly today - Syrus made me smile.
"Yeah, no pr-" He broke off mid-sentence, and jerked his head to the right. At first, I thought he'd suddenly got a splitting headache, but then he looked back at me and I saw the alertness in his face.
"What?" I asked.
"There's something on the shore. I can feel the water pushing up against it."
"Maybe Nightwing and Starfire went out for a walk?" I suggested, but Syrus leapt to his feet with urgency.
"They're not moving. And there's more than two of them." He jumped up onto the boulder and started to climb over to the other side. I got to my feet and followed him.
"What's the big deal?" I called after him.
"Don't you get it, nimwad? Someone could be attacking the Tower."
Oh. Right. Duh. Well, that made me run faster. I was nearly keeping pace with waterboy when we spotted dark figures on the shoreline. We slowed our feet and approached cautiously, eyes peeled for danger. There were three of them, all lying half in and half out of the bay.
"They're people," I noticed, and started to walk closer. Syrus held up his hand to stop me. "It could be a trap," he whispered, unmoving. But when I heard a groan, like someone was in pain, I had a feeling that it wasn't. So I brushed past Sy's hand and crept over to the one in the middle.
"Are you okay?" I asked. The person who groaned looked up at me, and I noticed it was a girl with long, curly hair. There wasn't much to see, on account of it being dark and all, but I could've swore the girl had a black eye. "What's your name?" I repeated, kneeling down next to her. She stared at me for a long time, her eyes big and round and thoughtful. But finally she answered in a pained, yet somehow sweet voice.
A/N - FINALLY, RIGHT? MAXIMUM RIDE CHARACTERS AT LONG LAST! But who are the other two lying next to Angel? That's for next time. I want to apologize for the confusion on this chapter. I updated it once, then realized how short it was and knew I could make it longer. So I took it down and added more. Hope you liked it!
I LOVE CLIFFHANGEEEERRSSS! They're fun.
Expect the unexpected next chapter of My Life.
Special A/N from the FUTURE - It's been a long time, over two years, since I've updated a new chapter to this story. I didn't want to stop writing it, but as things happened in the real world and I found new shiny objects to distract me, My Life didn't exactly stay at the top of my priorities list. I started this story at the end of my Freshman year in high school. Now, I'm a first year in college. That seems so surreal, doesn't it? I'm an adult now. It's ... strange.
Keep in mind I still have everything written down for this story - literally every detail of how it pans out, like J.K. Rowling had with Harry Potter before the first book was even published. I think I even have some of the next chapter written down somewhere on this here laptop. And someday, I hope to finish it and finally post it. :P
I'm writing this because I still get reviews and PMs sometimes, telling me they want me to finish this story. When that happens, I get a flurry of memory telling me, "Oh, yeah. That story," which gives me a temporary boost of motivation on writing again. Alas, it's a little too temporary, because I never wind up finishing anything.
I'll end this note from the future with this little tidbit - expect the unexpected. You might go on your email one day and see a notification telling you a new chapter has finally been added. Surprise!
Alright. I'm gonna get out of bed now. Being a college student, I slept in until 5 in the afternoon. Yep. I'm a lazybones.