A/N: This story contains themes of suicide and abuse.
The gun was locked up in the basement.
It was one of Dahlia's greatest fantasies to find the key, take the gun, and shoot her father in the head. Then she would deal with her useless stepsister and stepmother as well. Then, she wouldn't make one of the most basic mistakes that most people tended to do in this situation. She would not turn the weapon on herself. She was no coward. She was the only one willing to do something; her stepmother just shook in the corner, the bruises covering her body while Valerie stared out the window, saying nothing, tears running down her face.
Her stepmother and stepsister, they were the cowards. They deserved to die too.
After the deed was done, would she wait at the house calmly for the police to take her away? Would she wipe the gun free of her fingerprints, lock it back up and hide? Or did she take the gun with her; take it all the way to the temple where her twin sister lived now? Did she kill her sister too, for not being there to do something about their father? Was Iris a coward too, even if it had been Dahlia's idea to leave Iris at the temple? Was she a coward for not arguing back when their father dumped her outside the front gates, never to return?
Was Iris a coward for leaving Dahlia all alone?
If there was anything Dahlia hated in the world, it was cowards. Sometimes when her father was angry and locked her in the basement, she would stand outside the cabinet where the gun was and shake the lock angrily, hoping that one day, it would break. Until that time, her fantasies would remain only that—fantasies.
In the five years she lived with her step family, she was never able to get her hands on the gun; her father kept too close an eye on it. She found no solace in the fantasies now—there was no comfort in imagining the weight of the metal in her hands, the look on her father's face when she pressed the barrel against his forehead, and the smell of gunpowder in the air if it would never become reality.
Instead, she just envisioned a life of her own away from her family. Disgusting, snivelling, cowards: they all deserved each other. She was not one of them. She would save herself, and one day, maybe when she was old enough to buy a gun of her own, she would return to take care of unfinished business. If she didn't come back, it was running away, and then she would have no-one left to turn the gun on but herself; the real coward in this hypothetical situation.
She knew just the place she would run to, when things became bad enough. She would run to her sister; sweet, innocent, naïve Iris, who had probably never seen a gun in her entire life. Sweet, innocent, naïve Iris, who would do anything for her strong, courageous sister.
The night she left was the first night that her father hit Valerie, who went tumbling to the floor with an angry red handprint on her face. Her stepmother did nothing, nothing but cry, like the useless bitch she was. These people disgusted her. Her father was tall and very, very drunk, but Dahlia was no coward as she raised her knee to his groin while swinging her arm into his stomach. "I want you to die, you fucking bastard!" It was the first time in five years she had spoken to him.
Her assault had little affect—after all, she was still just a thirteen-year-old girl, and a large arm pounded into her own stomach and the wind was knocked out of her, and she could feel another hand wrapping itself around her neck and she couldn't breathe.
She woke up in the basement, her throat feeling so awfully, awfully tight. But what her father didn't know is that she had started to teach herself to break locks—the one on the cabinet that hid the gun away was too complicated, but the one on the basement door was easy enough. She crept through the hallways of the house; listened carefully for the sobs and the sound of breaking china that came from the kitchen. Her first step outside the house that night was her first taste of freedom—the feeling so strong in the air that she thought it was almost tangible enough to be captured between her fingertips. She looked at the front door of the dilapidated shack. No-one could tell that the man who lived there earned millions of dollars—millions of dollars that he gambled away; what little remaining of it wasted on drink.
However, she knew she had to come back some day. If she didn't…she knew what she would have to do.
It took her three days of walking to reach the temple, her legs were cramping but anything was better than being at home, wanting to kill them all, but being too weak to be able to. She hadn't had much water and her head spun as the temple's main gate came into view, and she collapsed face first onto the ground.
The first thing she saw when she when she woke up was herself—or rather, someone who looked a lot like she did—her twin sister, Iris. "Dahlia?" her sister asked shyly. "I haven't seen you in years."
She was still exhausted from her journey. Her sister was so innocent it makes Dahlia wish Iris had been there too, to see the punches fall, to see the blood, to hear the cries in the middle of the night. Then again, then Iris would have been a coward for sure, just like Valerie, and Dahlia would then definitely have to kill Iris. When the day came, she would not let any cowards live, even if she became one herself. Everything hurt, in that moment, and she could feel the tears falling down her cheeks, and could hear Iris's voice soothing. "It's all right, Dahlia, you're safe now. You never have to go back there. Sister Bikini says you can stay with us."
Dahlia struggled to sit up straight, but as soon as she managed to do so, she found Iris latching onto her, arms wrapped around her torso and Dahlia struggled and pushed Iris away. Iris, not expecting resistance, fell to the ground in shock, her eyes betrayed.
"Don't touch me," Dahlia hissed, "or I will kill you."
Tears welled up in Iris's eyes. "It was just a hug…"
Dahlia didn't know what a hug was, and she didn't care. She just knew that touching other people was a bad thing to do, and that if Iris was one of those types of people, she would have to kill her too.
The Sister came around the corner next, and Dahlia raised her fists in anticipation of another attack, but the Sister didn't come too close, and instead laughed an odd laugh. Dahlia didn't understand it but it seemed to come from the nun's heart. The Sister didn't try to sooth her, or placate her with meaningless lies, but instead, she laughed, and announced that dinner would be ready soon.
Dinner that night didn't come in a cardboard box or a greasy paper bag. It came in the form of stew, in a big ceramic bowl. She'd never seen such an odd thing in an entire life, but the Sister and Iris seem to think that it was normal. She had never tasted a better meal in her life either, and for the first time since she could remember she went to bed full, warm, and satisfied instead of angry.
She was standing in the garden, two weeks after she had first arrived, staring off into the horizon when Sister Bikini came and stood next to her, close, but not touching. "How are you liking Hazakura?"
To tell the truth, Dahlia never wanted to leave. The bruises on her own skin had almost faded. However, she knew she would have to go back to her family someday, even if it was just to kill them. Maybe the Sister saw the flash of anger in Dahlia's eyes, because she stepped back in surprise. Dahlia tried her best to smile, like she knew how to a long time ago, maybe if she tried to be as sweet as Iris, she would one day become as innocent as Iris. She knew, deep down, that it was futile. She wasn't like Iris, wasn't like any of the other cowards, either.
Sometimes she still dreamt about the gun. "It's quite nice here, Sister," Dahlia answered.
"No-one will be able to hurt you here in Hazakura, Dahlia." The Sister's voice sounded so angry for such a gentle woman. "I will make sure of it."
Dahlia wondered if the Sister is like her; if the Sister hated it when people didn't protect each other. She didn't look like the type, Dahlia admitted to herself. The Sister looked just like another coward; she didn't look as though she had the same thoughts running through her head that Dahlia had.
"One night," the Sister started to tell her, "a strange man came up the mountain, thinking he could rob the temple—not that there was anything to steal anyway. During his desperate search for anything of value, I picked up one of the wooden poles we use in our training and then—THWACK!' the Sister shouted, smacking her lips together to make the loud sound, "I hit him over the head and called the police. No-one's tried to rob us ever again."
Dahlia wondered what her stepfamily would have done if someone had tried to rob their dishevelled shack—they'd have cried in the corner together, she supposed. The Sister laughed heartily, and Dahlia wondered if one day, she would learn to laugh too. The Sister was strong, the Sister wouldn't stand by and do nothing like those disgusting excuses for human beings. And yet, the Sister was still so happy; able to laugh with such ease. Dahlia wished she could too, but the only time she could laugh was when she imagined her father's dead body, cradled in her arms, as she held the still-smoking gun.
She decided then that she would become strong like the Sister, strong enough so that one day, when she went back to her family, she wouldn't be thrown into the basement like a helpless little kitten. She would end it all, and then and only then would she feel free enough to smile, free enough to laugh, free enough to live.
Five years later, Dahlia had started to suspect that she was the coward.
Every few months for the past few years, she had tried to convince herself that she was strong enough to deal with her family, to deliver to them what they ultimately deserved. But then all she had needed to think about was Iris's and Sister Bikini's sad faces, their voices pleading, asking her to stay for just one more month and she had found that she couldn't leave: she had clearly not become strong enough yet.
When she had turned eighteen it hadn't been too hard for her to procure a gun. The feel of the metal in her hands made the fantasies seem so real somehow, but she was slowly starting to come to terms with the idea that she never wanted to see her family again, even though she had promised herself that she would. She could stay at Hazakura with Iris and Sister Bikini, and she could be happy.
But then, she reminded herself, if she didn't go back, if she didn't kill them all, there was only one thing left to do, what she promised herself when she was thirteen that she would do if it ever came down to this. She had run away—just like a coward. The situation she had pondered in her darkest moments was no longer hypothetical, but a reality.
Every morning she sat in front of the bathroom mirror, the gun pressed to the side of her head. Her face was pale, her heart was thumping, but every morning, she chickened out and hid the gun again, and promised herself that she would do it tomorrow.
Coward, coward, coward.
Today, she decided, there would be no tomorrows. Her hand was so shaky that at this rate, she would end up shooting herself in the nose. She would do it, though. She had to do it. For her sake. For her family's sake. She just hoped…she just hoped that Iris and Sister Bikini wouldn't be too sad.
Despite herself, she had grown fond of them. She could hear them now, arguing outside the door. Iris had a boyfriend, apparently, a boy at the college campus near the small town. Dahlia could hear Sister Bikini's voice. "Don't fret, Iris! I think this Feenie of yours will think you look beautiful no matter how long you spend in the bathroom. Dahlia always spends so much time in there these days, but you still both look exactly the same."
"You think so?" Iris asked quietly. "I hope…"
Dahlia started laughing then: what sort of man wouldn't love Iris? She was the sweet one, the pretty one, the innocent one, who didn't have the disgusting thoughts running through her mind all day. Iris was one of the most honest and heartfelt people Dahlia had ever met.
She stared at the gun in her hand.
Could she really do this to either of them?
She could be strong in the way that the Sister had taught her how. Only a coward would have pulled the trigger a long time ago. When she was younger, when she had first thought of shooting her father, she had decided that killing herself too would be the coward's way out. Why had she forgotten that? Somewhere along the way, she had become a coward, too scared of her recurring thoughts and dreams.
But now, she was definitely no coward. It took strength to live, despite the odds, it took strength to realise that after all these years she could not stop seeing the death of her father and stepfamily as justice in her mind, that it wouldn't make her feel any better, wouldn't make her any freer. She was free from them now, wasn't she? She would help people when they needed it the most; she had learnt that the disgust she had felt as a child was the helplessness; the fantasies she had conjured in her mind had dealt with the problem in the only way she knew how. But she knew better now.
Pushing the door open, she saw Iris's exasperated face waiting in the hallway. "Finally," she muttered.
"Sorry." Dahlia smiled, her fingers playing with the material of her sleeve. "I was just taking care of something."
Iris smiled too. "Why, are you also going on a date, Dahlia? Without telling me?"
Dahlia laughed. It was the first time she had ever laughed without a gun in her hand. "No, silly. It's nothing." Five years ago, she had received her first taste of freedom. Now, she was completely free. Her past wouldn't haunt her anymore. She was no longer a coward.
That night was the first night since she was a young child that she didn't dream of her father's death. Instead, she dreamed of the smiles on the faces of her sister and her sister's boyfriend when they had returned home that evening.