Summary: Alex never managed the knack of asking questions. Talk is silver, and Silence… OneShot.
Warning: Another dive into a world that doesn't belong to me. I shall regret it one day. Warnings for angst, time skips, chemical talk (I'm sorry, my everyday life took over!) and backgrounds which aren't canon.
Disclaimer: Standards apply.
Dedicated to useless knowledge, who requested a fic starring Alex and High School and Reunions, and who gets something sliiightly different.I spend my entire Thursday evening on finishing this instead of doing homework, so... I hope you'll like it!
She sits with them.
A whole table of teenagers, just her age, a wild arrangement of colors, sounds and shapes. A boy chuckles in deep tenor, a girl falls into it with her contralto pearl laugh. Dark and red and golden hair, pale porcelain and milk chocolate skin. She listens, because listening is what she does best. They talk about school and homework and finals, about human TV shows and books and the latest news. A girl launches into a funny tale of how she and her sister got lost in a city during their holidays. The crowd cheers and laughs and questions. All the while she sits there and smiles, her attention raptly fixed on the speaker, and enjoys. But she is seldom addressed and rarely the center of attention.
She can listen, she can be silent and she can talk. But Alex never managed the knack of asking questions.
I. Water Colors
There wasn't enough of the background visible in the picture to recognize the place.
It doesn't matter because she knows the room by heart. A bed, covered in red bed sheets and by pillows and plush animals. The desk at the right wall, carefully kept tidy by a hand that prefers clean-up to homework. A few pencils are strewn across a new sheet of paper, another half-finished image of a beautiful mind. Leena loved drawing and she was good at it. Notebooks and loose sheets in Alex' room still remind her of the fact and she takes a morbid pleasure in looking at the black-and-white pencil scribbles colored pictures again and again. Most of them are drawn with crayons, others in water colors. Leena always preferred those to everything else. On the other side of the room there is a wardrobe and a chest of drawers, containing little knick-knack, card games, drawing utensils and everything a young girl collects in the early years of her life. The lamp is covered with a pattern of blue fish, the laundry bag in the corner is half-full. Alex knows the room like she knows her own – she has spent half her life here.
One of the first memories she has of someone who isn't Sarah is the one of the first day they met. She remembers the hall of the kinder garden, wide and open, and the chatter of grown-ups overhead. They have met for the first time just now and they already are holding hands. They will spend most of their time together in the years to come: whenever Alex isn't visiting Leena, Leena comes over to visit her. They have tea parties, they run a grocery store, they play and draw and giggle and listen to cassettes. Sometimes Sarah joins them, bringing milk and cookies, inventing stories for them and watching as the girls draw out a world of never-ending possibilities onto the huge white wall-paper they use to create their colorful reality. They have dinner together and sleep-overs and nobody knows Alex as well as Sarah and Leena do.
When they are old enough for elementary school Leena is placed in a different class than Alex and together they cry and plead and howl until both Alex' aunt and uncle and Leena's parents go to see the principal. The girls are regrouped. They breeze through elementary, both equally gifted with intelligence. What makes them different is something else: where Leena is an artist, Alex is a story-teller. They develop their skills together. Alex tells the story, Leena contributes the images. They spend hours together, hunched over a sketch book or a spiral note pad. The day after Leena's twelvth birthday they promise each other to always stay together.
Nobody ever told Alex where exactly Leena had died but it doesn't matter since she knows, anyway. She doesn't need a picture to remind herself of where they have found her best friend. Her imagination polishes up the last dark spots in her knowledge. Sarah has valiantly tried to keep them away from her. It isn't her sister's fault that Alex has seen the picture: it was in the file, and the file was on the desk of the psychiatrist she was supposed to see. Alex cannot remember much of that time but the gruesome photograph – in color, too – is enough to make her stand, stock-still, in the middle of the room and stare horrified. Leena's eyes are wide and sightless. Her face is twisted in a grimace of pain and something else, something she doesn't recognize because it doesn't belong to her, doesn't belong onto her face. Her body is twisted into a terrible form. Her beautiful, long, dark-brown and curly hair is matted with her blood. The stepladder she had used to reach the ceiling had to be there, somewhere, too, but it wasn't visible on the picture.
One of the two girls' favorite human TV series had been Cold Case. Alex found herself regarding the picture detachedly. Head injuries really do bleed a lot.
On Leena's funeral, when she and Sarah stand in the back of the long row of mourners who want to pay their condolences, Alex is unable to cry. There is a hole in her chest, too big to be filled, to black to ever disappear. It draws everything she sees into it, drains the last bits of color from her life. She is afraid to look up in case the world and the people around her will disappear, too, just the way Leena disappeared, and she will be the only one left. She clings to Sarah's hand, the last bit of familiarness anchoring her to reality. And then they are in front of Leena's mother and Alex wills herself to look up. But in the eyes of the woman who was like a second mother to her she sees only darkness.
You killed my daughter.
Sarah can tell her again and again that she didn't kill Leena. Leena fell from a ladder, trying to hammer a few nails into the ceiling in order to hang cheap, papery stars from them. Alex has given them to her a day ago. They glowed silver in the darkness. The ladder collapsed. Leena fell and hit her head on the window sill.
You killed my daughter.
Twelve years old and already the weight of the world seems to be weighting down her shoulders. Alex has repeated the sentence so often in her mind she has come to believe it. She died because of me. In the course of the next months, it becomes She killed herself because of me, not because she resents her best friend but because her death wouldn't have been necessary, should never have happened. And besides, the first version of the phrase doesn't put the blame on Alex but on Leena, as if she had decided to die on her own volition even though it is Alex fault, utterly and entirely. The second one puts the blame where it belongs. And, to validate the story that comes to be her reality, there was a scrap of paper next to Leena's dead body. They told her it carried only a name: Alex' name. Maybe it had been positioned on Leena's desk and had fallen, had been caught in a drift of air coming through the open window, carrying with it fall's cool winds. Maybe it had been laying on the floor. Maybe… Sometimes Alex even believed Leena had put it there, had clutched the paper when she had died. Accusation and curse, all in one, because whatever the authorities concluded nobody could make Leena's mother believe that this wasn't a farewell note but simply a piece of paper bearing the deceased's best friend's name. But Leena's mother's story becomes Alex' story because the simplicity and the reasoning behind it is stunningly realistic. You killed my daughter. She even left a note blaming you. And yes, Alex is to be blamed. She wants to be blamed, even now.
Sometimes, she dreams of her. Leena, her best friend, her other half. Then she tries to do it. She fights the currents of her nightmares, trying to open her mouth, desperate to utter the words that have been accompanying her for the last two and a half years since her death. But she never is able to speak them. Her tongue feels like sand paper, her throat is raw from unshed tears, and she can feel even in her dream how Leena slips from her grasp again and again and again, leaving her behind. An accident. A few, cheap, glow-in-the-dark-stars. A ladder and a piece of a scribbled note and a hole, a black void, and Alex will never leave it again.
The one thing she always wanted to ask escapes her grasp, again and again, and however much she fights to recapture it she is bound to fail.
Will you ever forgive me?
She is a part of her peer group and yet stands at the side.
Because questions are the essence of communication and a person cannot go on listening forever, cannot keep up talking about himself only. Life depends upon coexistence, coexistence depends upon communication.
Communication depends upon asking questions, silly they might be. A person who cannot ask is a person who isn't asked and, thus, becomes a social outsider.
Her parents died when she was two and all that Alex knows are their faces, smiling at her from a faded photograph, and the stories Sarah tells about them. You look just like Dad. But you have Mom's eyes. Secretly, Alex wonders whether her sister is telling her the truth. Or is she just altering reality as to make her feel better? Whenever she looks at the pictures she cannot see any familiarity in the frozen faces staring back at her. Yet another question she never will be able to ask.
In her life of temporality, Sarah is her only constant.
The truly first thing Alex remembers of her life is the view of her sister's head bowed over some or another book, red and golden hair spreading out across the pages and the white carpet beneath her. Sarah has the ability to fall asleep wherever she is. And she doesn't wake up. In their aunt's and uncle's house, where four other children create a constant background of noise, Alex learns to walk, to talk, to read and to write. It is her room in this house to which Leena comes first. Here is the place Alex lives, eats and breathes during the first twelve years of her childhood. Her aunt, her father's sister, is a tiny woman who cannot sit still. Her dark-brown eyes are wide and sparkle and her dimples show almost permanently. She hustles around with endless energy, arranging, preparing, supervising: captain on a busy war ship who never loses sight of what has to be done. She rarely loses her good mood. Her four children, all around the same age as Alex is, are a handful and represent conflicting characters from the most intricate of stories: Dana, the eldest, one year her senior, loves music of every kind, but classical one most of all. She can sit in a corner silently for hours but has a temper to match her mother's. Chris, the second-eldest, two months younger than her, probably will turn out to be soccer pro one day if he manages to reign in his endless enthusiasm and impatience. He picks on his siblings and half-siblings in a cheerful way, sometimes going too far and always managing to upset everyone. Even the twins, Lisa and Lionel, fifteen months younger than Alex, seem to share only the outer appearance inherited by their parents: Lionel is calm and quiet like his father while Lisa is a regular terror, thankfully not in a spoiled way. Her uncle, at last, is a kind man, calm and quiet, his wife's complete opposite. Leaving the house early for work every morning he tries to return as soon as possible and they have dinner together around the big table in the kitchen. Dana hums to herself while Lisa and Chris try to beat each other with stories of their day and events they have witnessed while Lionel and his father communicate in companionable silence. Alex and Sarah fit right in, share stories about their days, fight for the last spoons of pudding, laugh at Chris' jokes and help cleaning the dishes despite their bickering and whining. They share a fulfilled life, dinners with much shouting and laughing, weekends on the beach, summer barbecues, school festivals and sleep-overs and TV nights on evenings when aunt and uncle decide to go out. Alex is happy here. And Sarah is always there, her elder sister who takes care of her. Even though her aunt is like a mother to her Sarah is more than that. Sarah is whom she comes to; Sarah is whom she confides in. Sarah is everything.
It's a balance act between insanity and reality and love is what keeps them right in the middle. Sarah is the older one and yet sometimes Alex feels like she is the one who has to take care of the other. Her sister has the habit of sleeping in, leaving behind a mess, and of being able to listen to everything Alex confronts her with. On the other hand, Alex is sulky and stubborn and quick-tempered. When they fight and she locks herself in her room Sarah brings her a piece of cake as an apology. When Alex is in a bad mood, her sister teases her until she can't help but smile.
True to the cliché it rains the day of Leena's funeral ceremony. There is nothing to bury, nothing even left to mourn. Weirn, like vampires, don't leave behind remains when they die. Alex clutches at Sarah's hand, trying to avoid the people's gazes, and stumbles after her sister without looking where they are going. She finds herself in front of Leena's mother and is shocked out of her stupor at the sight of the expression on her face. The homely, kind woman has turned into a walking corpse, her once-soft eyes cold and burning. I curse you, girl! The voice still echoes in her head. From now until forever, until your soul might return to the dark halls of wanderings. I curse you with the trice-fold woven ban of the Neren priestesses…
For the first moment, she wonders what has happened. Only when Sarah tears her away, terrified, her grip bruising her arm, and the crowd around them gasps in unison, she realizes it has to be something bad. Stunned, still, she looks at the woman, suddenly feeling tears leak from her eyes. She has cried so much and she still isn't empty. The Guard arrives, within seconds, called upon the scene by the use of a banned hex, and Alex is ushered away by a woman whose face she cannot remember. Two days and one eternity later her sister, only six years older than she, returns to the tiny room they have given them in the Council's headquarters and has aged by decades. The curse is set, the weaver stripped of all powers, and there is no way to lift it again. Weave once to linger, twice to keep, thrice to last for time to seek. The truth is revealed in the old children's verse. Forever she is cursed, for all her time she will walk the earth with a ban on her shoulders. Sarah explains while tears stream down her face but her voice remains calm. Alex strains to listen and doesn't understand: They will never return home. Every single person close to her is endangered – by her.
She doesn't even say goodbye to her half siblings.
Sarah finishes college and rushes to find a job while she buries herself in their new apartment, staring at walls and feeling nothing. Eventually, her sister gets her to do things again. Study. Learn. Together, they develop a routine, over two years of living by themselves. Alex speaks in negations. Sarah tries not to make her sister think about the past. Her effort is as enormous and valiant as it is useless. Fate stares at her when she looks into the mirror: her hair, once rich and auburn, is white as snow. But it works out, somehow. Again, the borderline between insanity and reality is only a hairline on which they balance. And, again and again, Sarah tries to make Alex attend school. Every time, Alex refuses. They fight. Alex screams ugly things at Sarah and Sarah tries not to shout back. The hurt in her sister's eyes, the defeat in her shoulders, is too much for her to take in. Why do you stay with me? She wants to scream. Why do you put up with me? I could kill you, any second, without even intending to do it. Why do you stay? She never says it loud but Sarah reads her silence more clearly than any psychiatrist ever could. Still, she never mentions it. If she did, Alex world would fall apart.
Or be healed.
If talk is silver, her silence is brazen. It shines like gold but lacks the qualities of the noble metal.
In a world that depends on people communicating, she is constantly left out. Sarah tries to help, remains by her side throughout everything, and yet there is more hurt than comfort in the knowledge, more disdain than thanks.
III. Note Book
It is not as if she is completely unable to demand answers. Actually, demanding never is a problem. Who are you? What are you doing here? What happened to my sister? She is pretty good at that kind of stuff. The short phrases rip from her lips, sharp and cutting, like shards of glass, and sometimes she even flinches herself at the insolence that springs from her. When dealing with Sarah, she finds, it is easier to state questions as sentences in order to disguise them. You haven't given me my homework yet. I am looking for this book. Sarah understands – or perhaps she doesn't and she simply thinks this is the way of her little sister asking things of her. Maybe she even thinks Alex is too shy to ask anything. Typically Sarah, believing the best in a person even when facing him weaving a curse on her.
Their new apartment is comfy and small and visitors would have wondered about the bike in the living room. Except they have no visitors and they don't mind it standing there. The few pictures on the cupboards and on the drawers are pictures that only show the two of them. Fairly new ones of two girls in front of a house, in the park, in town. Sarah has made sure to create a past they both can live with, a life in which they aren't crippled by the constant reminder of how they once were part of one of those institutions called family. A life in which Sarah works here and there and mostly loses her job after just-so-much time because she is clumsy and too distracted to concentrate. Too distracted by thinking of her, of her little sister Alex who sits at home with nothing for company but books and a black-and-white shadow. She's jittery and forgetful until she returns home and sees Alex sitting at the set table safely, waiting for her. Alex appreciates the effort Sarah makes and despairs over it at the same time. At the same time she wants to keep her at home, wants to spend her time with her the entire day. Wants to curl up against her sister's form on the sofa, with nothing but their astrals for company, and fall asleep safely. But she could never ask her for the one thing that would solve all their problems: Why don't you just leave?
When Sarah disappears she does so silently, inconspicuously, and so thoroughly nobody even remembers her any more.
For the first time in almost three years, Alex sets a foot into a school again. She has to find her, needs to because she is no good without her sister. Something deep inside her screams and whimpers in fear and she pulls herself together with every ounce of strength she has trained herself to over the last years. She meets Ronee, the student body president, and her two bodyguards, Nicholas, the haughty vampire, and Rochelle, her guide to the school grounds. Her talk with Ronee in the student body rooms leaves her even more confused. And then Rochelle pops in.
"Hey, Alex, you want to join us?" Rochelle calls out behind her as she and her friends are heading towards the indoor lake at whose shores they want to have a picnic. Alex stands in the hall, lost in the middle of a crowd, and lets go of the hope that Ronee would contact her once more today. She turns to look at the petite weirn with her visible astral, her curly black hair bound into two pony-tails, her face honest and open and inviting. Is Ronee your sister? She wants to ask. Why did she ignore you like that? Why are you being nice?
Of all her questions she only asks one, when Rochelle presents her with the little note book which can be used to contact her. And she doesn't even ask it. She states it, just as she is used to do with Sarah. But Rochelle understands.
Listen, I don't want to be your friend or anything.
Rochelle's smile never wavers and her answer throws Alex off track so badly she runs the whole way back home.
It's the same, some hours later, when she is sitting on the stool in a homely, polished kitchen, watching Rochelle prepare dinner. The weirn girl chats loosely, telling stories, joking, complaining over homework and Mrs. Murray, and Alex simply sits and watches. Why? Why? Why? The questions hammer away in her head. Why are you being nice? Why did you invite me here? Why did I come in the first place? Those aren't questions she is supposed to ask openly, though. There hasn't been a lack in her education concerning interpersonal relationships in her first years of life. She knows she should supply her part of the conversation – the politeness of Do you prepare dinner often? And Do your parents work late often? And To what kind of music you listen normally when cooking? But she cannot say anything. She is frozen, both her body and her mind. All she can do is watch and listen to Rochelle's soft stream of words and curse herself for her inability every time the girl falls silent and the silence in the kitchen is only interrupted by Rochelle jumping up to stir her pasta sauce or check on her pasta. The silence lasts so long Rochelle starts talking again, a continuous stream of syllables and sentences. Then, they fall quiet again, and Alex knows Rochelle is waiting for her to say something but she cannot. She would have to tell something from her life – which she doesn't want to – or she would have to display interest in Rochelle's life by asking – which she can't. Time ticks away threateningly while they wait for something, anything, to happen, for one of them to break the nervous silence that wraps around them like Mrs. Murray's shadow bindings.
And here, Alex feels it.
This is it: the curse of her existence. She has been cursed with an Elden Hate Curse so powerful even the Council couldn't undo. She has lost her parents, her substitute family and her sister. She has killed her best friend and lost her home. There is no place she can go to, no person she can turn to – and yet she is most terrified, for an instant, for a tiny, passing second, of the fact that she won't ever be able to take what this girl is offering her. The knowledge grinds itself into skin, right into her heart. And it hurts. Contrarily to her parents and Leena, Rochelle is still alive. Other than with her aunt, her uncle and Sarah, Rochelle can listen to her right now, Rochelle could answer her every-day questions, could calm her fears. Alex just has to ask. And she doesn't even have to tell her about her fears, about what has happened. She just has to show that she cares, that she doesn't think Rochelle is annoying and overly friendly. She just has to ask one tiny thing to get the flow of her chatter to start again, something Rochelle will happily oblige with if this only would mean that they can go on, if it would mean Alex does care for her. But caring for someone is something she cannot allow herself to do. So, there, on the stool in the kitchen she never should have entered in the first place, she mourns all she has become. If she could allow herself to care, if she just could talk to Rochelle, ask normal questions, talk about normal things or perhaps even her past, she would be able to belong. And God, how much she suddenly wants to behave! She wants to be a part of Rochelle's clique, wants to talk to people her age, wants to laugh and chat and question. She wants to be normal, nothing else, and more than anything she wants to be Rochelle's friend. But there is something she has to do, someone she has to search for and some people she has to protect. She adds Rochelle to the list and wonders if she will ever be perfectly normal, a perfectly normal teenager with perfectly normal friends.
Her silence is a protective shell, much as the alloy itself. It covers her from head to toe and leaves no chink in her armor. Don't talk to me, thank you. She alters it with passing time, uses different proportions of material to adjust it to her life and her situation. The more people around the table the safer she is, disappearing in a crowd of listeners, mistaken for one of them and yet no part of the group.
IV. Invisible Ink
She chooses a college from her own volition. Sarah almost fell off her chair when Alex told her she would attend a public college the next semester. She, who has fought even the smallest idea of attending a public school, is now heading there voluntarily.
After the Sorehm's first try to destroy their world and after Sarah came back, she has dropped out of Benjamin Theron High School again, not bothering to explain herself, not keeping in touch with anyone. With whom should she have? Ronee? Rochelle? No. There had been no reason, none at all. Alex goes back to her home schooling, content and more than a little relieved. She hadn't been ready. Sarah remains Night Keeper and Alex trains herself at home. Nightmares and bad omens lead her back to the realms she thought she had left behind one year later. The Nereshai fight the Sohrem, like they have done twice already, and the Chosen fight their own fight this time. And suddenly, she is free – not free of her curse but free of her past. She's free to do anything she wants except for loving someone too little to not be able to lie to him. She applies for the nearest college because she can't stand being far from Sarah. But she goes there.
She almost panics on her first day.
The halls are packed, crowded by students of all ages, colors, voices and origins. The noise is more than she is used to from the quiet solitude of their shared apartment. You've done this before, she reminds herself and briskly walks forward, her hand clamped around the straps of her bag. A male student, roughly her age and with blond hair, crosses her path in a half-run and almost knocks her over.
"God, I'm so sorry – are you okay?"
His eyes are incredibly blue. She notices when she looks up and finds him hovering over her. Righting herself, Alex nods. A smile breaks out on his face.
"Good. I'm sorry. I'm in a hurry, so see you!"
She continues her way, now more watchful of her environment. Classes will start in ten minutes and she intends to be early for her first lecture. She wants a good seat. But none of her guardedness prepares her for another girl striding towards her in something almost like a dead run, running into her smack-blind.
They both stumble. Alex grabs the nearest row of lockers for support, her other hand reaching out to steady the girl who is muttering a steady string of words under her breath.
"I'm late, God, I don't even know where I'm heading and now…"
She looks up, large brown eyes in a chocolate-colored face, and both she and Alex are silenced brutally. They stare at each other for a few seconds. Then, Rochelle gasps.
Alex lets go of her arm as if she has burned herself. Rather than that, she fears she has burned the girl. Rochelle seems the same she was two years ago, not as tall as her sister and yet sweet and mature. Her eyes widen in surprise and she opens and closes her mouth, searching for words and not finding any. Alex, too, would like to say something, anything, to relieve the tension building up between them. Rochelle beats her to it. Her eyes narrow down to slits.
"What did you think you were doing, disappearing like that?" She demands.
Alex stares at her, surprised by the vehemence in the girls' words.
"I gave Miss T all those letters! I asked Ronee, even begged Remy to give me your address – but no one would tell me where you were!"
Right. The letters. Alex still has them, neatly stacked in her desk, with an answer to each of them. She never managed to actually send them off.
Their little reunion goes unnoticed by the large crowd of students either struggling to find their way through the unfamiliar halls or enthusiastically exchanging greetings upon their first meeting after the holidays. Alex opens her mouth to say something and still, nothing leaves it. Rochelle stares at her hard.
"I wanted to be your friend," she finally said, her voice barely a whisper. "I wanted to so badly. I wanted to have friends like Ronee had Sion and Remy, not only some companions to spend my lunch breaks with."
Hey, no pressure there.
Alex musters all her courage. She can, and she will.
"Would you like to have lunch with me later?"
They need time. Mending needs time, especially, isn't something that happens over night. They grow closer gradually, carefully, take slow steps from their first lunch together in the cafeteria until the point when they meet on weekends to go shopping or out for coffee. It helps that Rochelle already knows about the Neren Hex. She never pressures Alex to tell her something, always waits patiently until her friend has found the right words. It is easier to talk in her company, much easier than she thought it would be. Rochelle is the first person aside from Sarah whom Alex tells what has happened, what shadows of her past still linger. Alex never had friends before but, she figures, it must feel like this. The instant smile that breaks out on her face when she sees Rochelle. The easiness with which words come, with which she talks about her weekends, about what she has done and about how silly Sarah has behaved. Rochelle gives back everything she receives and the shared things brighten their days, forge a bond almost as deep as the one between two sisters. And, half a year later, they expand their circle.
Timothy is the first to join in, the tall, blond boy Alex met the first day, werewolf by blood. And Maria, a shy demon, who is bullied by most of the other students until they include her into their circle. Those are the ones most close to them, for there are many more. Rochelle is at fault – Rochelle, whose light is so bright other people can't help but smile and feel drawn towards. She is full of energy, always willing to help, always kind and never sparing her praise. It's Rochelle who teaches Alex how to change. And, together with Sarah, Timothy and Maria, she teaches Alex how to ask. They show her she is allowed to have friends, that Leena would surely be happy if she continued living. Like a faded book she is being re-written, the ink being invisible and yet clear to anyone who knows how to read it.
When the holidays of their first year ends and the second year starts Alex greets her friends with a smile.
"How were your holidays?"
She's not yet perfect. But she's good enough. And she has time to continue learning.
She should have known.
Brass, after all, is malleable.
A/N: I refuse to believe a twelve-year old (or so) would commit suicide. I hope my story is somewhat realistic.