Teito remembers little and never questions it.
He knows that once he opened his eyes, and he was sitting—hands in front of him, maybe he was inspecting them, and the ground was so hard and so cold. He knows he saw right into the ground, into the cracks and dirt, and right past his hands that were made of liquid. They had to be, because they were dripping.
There is no sound in that memory, despite the thick voice that comes in bits and pieces from above, and the crackling pause left behind. He knows he stood up, and he knows he was led away in chains, but not as a criminal because it's not him that they step over on the floor.
His hands feel cold when he remembers it, or things like that. They're all too similar for him to tell the difference; far too insignificant for him to try. Even if he knows this much, he still feels like he's giving up, but the cold grip on his hand seems to disagree.
Each battle slave was given a small black cell to call their own, by the courtesy and generosity of the Empire. There were no expectations for how they should take it, inhuman as they were, and there was little care for it.
Every time the door fell shut behind him, his head echoes the sound of rusted metal mixed with static, and he finds his hands running along the stones in the walls. He finds his hands solid, and the walls just as cold as the floor from before and before and before. There's still too much red for his taste, though, but he's never found himself to have much of a taste for anything.
Every stone on every wall, as far as he could reach. Because sitting down was only worse, and standing up only made him more tired. But no matter where he stood, every draft would settle on him and every needle would pierce the soles of his feet and his legs and wherever else they could reach, because it there was too much black as there was red.
But it's because of that, thoughts like dust settled at the back of his mind, that they can take it for me. Because, the walls were always colder than when he first touched them, and it was a cycle. He didn't want to carry it all by himself; they'd beat him for it if he found himself too heavy. He didn't want that, he couldn't even consider it. He didn't know why.
I can keep you warm, it said. But what it was, he doesn't know. If he ever hears it, he closes his eyes, and knows he heard nothing at all.
And when he opens them, he's still looking past his hands.
Sometimes he's stubborn for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes he doesn't mean it. Sometimes his feet refuse, and sometimes his voice breaks through even though he doesn't know what it's saying.
Sometimes he wakes up, and he doesn't see the ground or his hands but black stones jammed tightly against each other in the ceiling, and the quivering of the bars beside him.
Because his legs were defiant, they were broken. Because his voice was the offender, it was taken out. Because his body was guilty by association, it was shredded into a fine black and blue and red all over.
But when the soreness forces him to sit up, he sees it's all still attached. But it shakes him like it does every time, because so many bruises and sprains left him wide open, and he shudders as he empties his stomach and everything inside him, because the cold has run through him.
He does not cry, because someone was holding back the tears, and he does not choke, because he began to feel so cold he almost mistook it as warmth.
Who are you? they ask him, he asks him. He doesn't know, because the voice asks him from the other side of the wall. His neighbor, if one could call it that. At first Teito is surprised, because he's become so used to the silence in the cell that he doesn't know if he was hearing something that never made a sound again, or if it was an order.
The voice was strained, wretched, and older than he was. His voice was much like static, and maybe that was why it doesn't surprise him when he speaks a second time. Who are you?
But how was he supposed to answer?
As if he had spoken, the voice continued, dissatisfied. He says, I'm jealous of you. I hear you, all the time, day or night . . .
Who are you, that I'm so jealous of? It's so much darker over here.
Teito's mouth opens halfway, but he is sure nothing comes out, because there is silence on the other side of the wall. He presses his ear against the stone, against the corner of a crack, and not even static remains.
Teito remembers little, but now it was the hushed whispers that told him that he didn't need to remember.
He closes his eyes, and there is silence.
One day he opens his eyes and he sees no stones or black, but red on white on red. He's been there for a long time, but he doesn't know when to start remembering.
But the only difference is that he wakes up thinking he's sore, and finds blankets and sheets and a pillow fully stuffed under him, and more food than could fit on one plate. But that would be a lie—Teito knows there's more than one thing different. When he eats, he can look up with his head still down and see a calm sentinel standing by the side, patiently, patiently. She says nothing to him, and he finds a way to fumble words back to her silence.
The other difference is that from whenever he opens his eyes, he remembers things more clearly. He does not wake to see his hands, but the body of the dead. He regards it, and waits for the static to reemerge.
They slice so cleanly, he notices sometimes as they remove the blades. If there's a muscle or bone on the way, another push cuts straight through it. This is the one of the few idle thoughts that entertain him as he is lead down the hall, deaf to the unanimous battle cries every soldier made. He is not there, he thinks, but not anywhere else. Slaves do not fear, no matter what. That was all.
Through the static noise, sometimes Teito hears someone trailing behind him, but never turns his head to look.