The Ghost of Insecurities
Fandom: Black Jewels Trilogy
Warnings: extreme emotions
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: Written for the comment_fic prompt "Daemon/Surreal, the second Mrs. DeWinter." This takes place a few years after the conclusion of the book Twilight's Dawn. I hope this is what you had in mind, tigriswolf.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
It didn't hit her at first. She was mourning their passing—Jaenelle and Saetan—and frantically trying to get her sea legs in an impromptu marriage, learning how to be a mother. Surreal had a lot on her mind in those early days especially when Jaenelle Saetien was being fussy and wouldn't sleep or eat right, just cried and cried. She rode the edge of sanity for days sometimes. Thank the Darkness for Daemon because the baby always behaved for him.
She did not notice that sometimes people paused when she and Daemon walked into a room, glancing back and forth between them as though the words 'Where's Jaenelle?' were on the tip of their tongues. Everyone, of course, knew she was dead, but it was still strange for them to acknowledge that Daemon was with her now. Their relationship had never been anything but platonic, exempting a strange night in Surreal's youth where she stupidly asked Daemon to show her Hayll's Whore.
Then Jaenelle Saetien had her Birthright Ceremony and Witch showed up to endow her with Twilight's Dawn—Jaenelle Angelline's Jewel. It was after that Surreal began to see the looks, the little awkward pauses. She started feeling that people—that their family—was asking themselves why it was her and not Jaenelle.
Surreal couldn't look at her daughter without thinking of Jaenelle, of Witch, and over time those doubts began to poison her. She withdrew without meaning to, without a conscious decision to do so. The pressure was forcing her to her knees. When Daemon came to bed exhausted, Surreal often waited until he was deeply asleep—she knew when it happened because he had this breathy sort-of-snore that happened only then—and then she slipped out of bed. There were three robes hanging on the bathroom door—one was Daemon's, two were hers: a black one and a red embroidered one that was a little worn. She always wore the red one. The other had been a gift from Daemon, and she couldn't wear it without thinking of how it was something Jaenelle would have worn, something that Daemon would have bought for her.
Clad in almost nothing, Surreal left the room and walked down to the garden where she'd pace for hours until the uneasiness in her settled to a point where she could finally sleep.
It was worse on the nights when Daemon wasn't quite that tired, because then she simply laid awake staring at the ceiling, her mind whirling with the kind of thoughts that sometimes made her lock herself in the bathroom in the middle of the day and cry.
Her daughter was not her own.
Her husband would never truly be hers.
That wasn't her family. It was Jaenelle's. She was the ghost between them in bed, the ever-present phantasm guiding their lives. Daemon loved Jaenelle Saetien because she was Jaenelle Angelline, but not. She was the daughter of his soul…not Surreal's.
Surreal was alone, a stranger in her own life. She observed impassively, went through the motions, and no one was the wiser. Not a soul had any clue just how miserable she was, except maybe for the specter of Witch that she now knew would always hold sway over their lives.
She wasn't Jaenelle that much was painfully obvious. Surreal flashed warm and hotter still, her temper quick to rise and slow to die out; Jaenelle had almost always been cool and collected, even as a child. Her rage as an adult had been ice cold, much like the father of her soul, Saetan SaDiablo. She'd been a prodigy—more than a prodigy! She had worn the Black as a Birthright Jewel, been a Queen, a Healer, a Black Widow…she'd been the only Blood to ever wear Ebony Jewels, the Queen of the Realm, Kaeleer's Heart…the perfect Queen, the perfect friend, the perfect wife, lover, daughter, sister…Witch.
Compared to all that, Surreal fell drastically short of the legacy that Daemon's wife had left. She was just a Gray-Jeweled witch. She'd been a whore and a killer for hire throughout much of her life. That was nothing when she stood in the shadow of the dead Jaenelle Angelline. It was withering her.
The day she couldn't take it any more was ironically the day that Jaenelle Saetien made her a present. It wasn't anything too extravagant; a flower that she'd preserved using Craft and set in a crystal vase-just a trinket-but Surreal took one look at it, and felt everything, every doubt and fear, her secret sadness, was validated. That wasn't her gift. At seven years old, Surreal had struggled to learn basic Craft much less do something like that. Little Jaenelle (it was important that she make the distinction in her head) had her delicately pointed ears, but that was it. Her heritage had been used to create Little Jaenelle and her body was the vessel, but Surreal had merely been used as a surrogate so that Witch could give Daemon the child that Jaenelle Angelline's mortal body couldn't carry. She truly believed that, and it burned in her gut like rotgut whiskey, making her queasy.
Surreal quietly excused herself from the table, needing to leave—leave now—family dinner be damned. Marian's eyes followed her around the room until Surreal slipped through the doorway. Lucivar and Daemon were listening with rapt attention to a story Little Jaenelle was telling; Titian was flicking peas at Daemonar when she thought no one was looking. For his part, Daemonar attempted to remain dignified and participate in the adults' conversation. However, as she left he asked, "Aunt Surreal, where are you going?"
Surreal turned with a slight smile and a quirked eyebrow. "Just putting my gift somewhere safe. That okay, Junior?" He shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "Just wondering if I could walk with you somewhere. I get restless," Daemonar almost blushed. Laughing as kindly, as normally as she could, Surreal said, "Sugar, I'll be back in a minute, but if you need to stretch your legs don't hesitate. You know we don't stand on ceremony here." With that, Surreal resumed her original course. She kept her spine straight and her gait calm as she walked to her room, revealing none of the anxiety boiling over in her.
In her room, she set the flower on her dressing table, touched its perfect petals and felt sadness. Leaning with her palms on the table top, head hanging low, Surreal allowed herself the luxury of a few tears and deep heaving breaths. She had mastered the art of stealth crying by then. It was nearly soundless and only took a minute before she swallowed the storm back down within. A moment later her dress was flung onto the bed, hairpins dropped on the dressing table as Surreal moved in a whirlwind of motion, pulling on pants and a shirt that she hadn't worn in three years. It was one of her favorites, skintight, long-sleeved, and corset-laced up the front. It dipped low over her décolletage and the deep emerald color brought out the green in her eyes.
Strangely, it only took her ten minutes to pack a meager bag and slip out of the house through the grounds. She knew exactly what to take and where it was located as though she'd thought about it time and again. Maybe she had, at least subconsciously. At the very back edge of the property, moving at a hard run, Surreal reached out and flung herself at the Gray wind. One moment she was there, the next she was amorphous, ephemeral, like the memory of Jaenelle Angelline.
A little over a week later found Surreal skulking around Little Terreille. It was still the territory in Kaeleer that most of Jaenelle's former court avoided, and therefore that made it the safest place to be. It was eerily familiar, the wandering in alleys, looking over her shoulder constantly. She often wore a sight shield as she roamed, preferring to have the anonymity.
She moved like a ghost. The ghost of Surreal SaDiablo. It was her—her body, her clothes—but lacking. Hollowed out from heavy sadness, at a loss of what to do. She wanted to go home, but felt like she did not have one. Her wedding ring was a constant reminder that she'd made a promise and she had broken it. Her not-daughter was probably wondering where she was, and hell's fire, Surreal thought for the first time about what Daemon would think, how he would react. What would he tell Little Jaenelle? She slipped up the back staircase into the tiny room she'd rented at a non-descript inn, and felt herself falter as she closed the door and saw the figure sitting in her threadbare chair.
She didn't say a word, but she moved carefully, keeping her back to the wall and her eyes on the man. Best to be cautious when one didn't know who they were talking to yet. It could be Daemon, her husband, or the Sadist; the High Lord or the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan. He wore a lot of hats, each one slightly different, but every one of them was capable of the glacial look of amusement in his eyes right then. Her arm lowered automatically, itching to call in her stiletto. Of course if she had to do that, she was as good as dead. Daemon out-ranked her in every capacity. The fight would be far from fair.
"Surreal," Daemon began, his voice a low croon, "My wife. How good to see you."
"Daemon," she responded, her tone neutral, cautious. Her free hand touched the wood of the scarred dresser, and she slithered around it, feeling the wood press into her back. Fear skittered up and down her spine like spider's legs when his expression didn't shift. He had his fingers steepled in front of him, elbows on the arm rests, and the echo of his father's presence washed through Surreal. God, she missed Saetan. She missed the time before any of this had ever begun, when Jaenelle was alive and 'Papa Saetan's resounded in the Hall. Things were simple then. Easy. When it seemed that Daemon wasn't inclined to say more, Surreal spoke. "How did you find me?"
"I know you better than you think I do, wife." The corners of Daemon's mouth pulled up in the pale imitation of a smile. "You're familiar with the streets, comfortable. Terreille was a time and a place where you understood every rule and played the game the best. I knew you'd seek out some place that had a similar feeling to it. You're running, Surreal. I know that much. What I don't know is why."
Surreal rubbed her middle finger and thumb together, wishing for the comforting presence of metal between them. She didn't say anything. She didn't know what to say.
As they stared at each other from across the room, Surreal could feel Daemon growing impatient with her. Still, she could not respond. She was as paralyzed here and now as she'd been for the past few years, swamped with guilt and doubt. Did Daemon even love her at all or was she his wife only for propriety's sake? If all he wanted was the child, Surreal would have given it to him without all those other trappings. It was an accident, that's all. One night of company and mutual affection shouldn't obligate two people to each other, should it? All he'd had to do was ask. Really, there was no need for this elaborate facsimile of a family.
Finally, it seemed that Daemon had enough of her silence, her unwillingness to speak, and stood up, gliding a few paces across the floor. He stopped when Surreal shrank back, the edge of the dresser digging a bruise into her back. Snarling, he said, "I'm not going to hurt you. In all our years together as friends, as husband and wife, have I ever laid a hand on you in anger? No, and I won't. I just want to understand, Surreal. You walked out in the middle of dinner, abandoned your child, your husband, your entire family without a word. Not even the courtesy of a note. Jaenelle cried for hours. She thinks it's her fault. So what's going on, Surreal? What the hell happened?" His hands shot out in a gesture of frustration that still, even then, seemed graceful, and then dropped back to his sides.
All she could do was shrug.
"That's not an answer!" Daemon shouted, "I deserve an answer! Your daughter deserves an answer!" He took another step forward, and it was too close. Surreal reacted like she would have to any threat then; she got her back up, responding with equal ferocity. Shoving away from the dresser, Surreal yelled, "I hate my life! I don't recognize myself in the mirror anymore! This isn't my life! It's a borrowed life, and everyone seems to know it but you!" She was up in his face now, invading his space; arms loose, prepared for battle if need be.
Much to her surprise, instead of meeting anger with anger as she'd expected Daemon looked shocked. He took a step back as he tried to gather his thoughts, to process the information that Surreal had spat at him. "What do you mean it's borrowed?" he finally asked. His voice was calm again, quieter. Without thought, Surreal echoed his tone, "You don't even see it. Mother Night, you're so…so…such a man. You don't get it at all. This isn't my life. You're not really my husband, she's not really my daughter, this is not my family. Witch gave you Jaenelle Saetien. She gave you the daughter you should have had with Jaenelle."
Surreal dropped her eyes to the floor as, much to her own personal horror, tears began to fill them up again. When did she turn into such a watering pot? Her throat was thick when she spoke again. "I don't belong here, and on some level everyone knows it. Did you know that Marian freezes up whenever we walk into a room together, that her eyes dance back and forth between us as though she's not quite sure that she approves of what she's seeing? Things like that happen all the time, Daemon, and you just don't notice. That Little Jaenelle's your daughter no one doubts. That I'm your wife? That they question, and I question it too."
"I love you," Daemon stated quickly.
"Do you?" Surreal replied, "Or do you love me because you think you should love me, because I bore you a child and that's the socially acceptable thing to do when someone pops out a kid for you?"
He shook his head and said to her, "Surreal, Jaenelle's been gone for a long time now. I'm with you one hundred percent, all the time. Will a part of me always love Jaenelle? Yes. She was my first everything. But that doesn't mean I love you any less."
Surreal blinked and felt the tears begin to fall. Ashamed, she covered her face with her hands.
"Do you love me?" Daemon asked, "I always just assumed we felt the same about each other. I'm sorry that I didn't ask. I didn't know you felt this way."
She shrugged her shoulders and mumbled wetly, "Doesn't matter. It doesn't negate any other feelings."
Gently, cautiously, his palms cupped her elbows and slid up her arms. "It does matter," Daemon argued in a whisper as he drew Surreal into a loose embrace. "It matters a lot, because if you don't love me then there's no point in trying to fix this. We can file paperwork and that will be the end of it. If you do love me though, there's hope. Surreal, I don't want to lose you. You're my best friend, my partner, my lover. Everything that happens to me, I tell you first. You're the first person I want to speak to when I have a dilemma, or when something funny happens, or when I just want some company. I can't imagine where I would be without you. I probably would have died in Terreille if it wasn't for you. Multiple times! You've got my back when I need it, and you argue with me when I'm being bull-headed, and you never let me get away with the stuff other people do. I have to admit that I'm a little stunned right now because to me this is all coming out of nowhere."
During his speech, Surreal had started crying harder. Her shoulders were shaking underneath his warm grasp, and she was trying not to make a sound except for those deep, tremulous breaths she took to stave off the sobs. Daemon rested his chin on the top of her head and slowly rubbed his hands over her back in wide circles. "Surreal?" he whispered, "Please say something."
The only thing she could think to say was the last thing she wanted to admit to, but before she could stop herself it came tripping out in her soggy I've-been-crying voice. "I—I'm so sad all the time. Daemon, I'm so sad. I didn't know it was possible to be sad for this long." Like the admission had released a cork in a champagne bottle, Surreal was suddenly sobbing. Great, messy tears, gasping breaths…the whole embarrassing package. She still had her face buried in her hands, but she was pressed up against Daemon now, feeling the luxurious silk of his white shirt on the back of her palms. He was holding her tightly now, holding her together with the strength in his arms and pure force of will.
"…I didn't know. I'm so sorry, I didn't know. I'm sorry. I didn't know, Surreal."
That was what she heard when the flood had left her. Daemon's choked apology repeated over and over. It occurred to her then that he had been apologizing for some time now, pressing tiny kisses into her silky, black hair. "I'm sorry," he said again.
"Stop apologizing," Surreal told him, her voice wavering, fragile. "It's not your fault. I didn't want you to know. I didn't want anybody to know. I thought it would go away if I waited long enough, but it just kept getting worse and worse until it was this all-consuming force, this monster nibbling away at me. Daemon, I can't do this anymore. I'm not Jaenelle, but I feel like that's what everybody wants, like she's haunting me even though I know she's gone. Do you know what I think? I think that I may have birthed Little Jaenelle, but that's Jaenelle's child. I feel that I am extraneous in this family. It's not your fault that I feel this way. It just…is. Jaenelle took over my life back in Terrielle, and I've just never gotten it back."
She felt Daemon's chest rise as he took a breath to speak, and shushed him urgently. Wiggling slightly, she put enough space between them so that she could lower her hands. "Sugar, don't. If you think about it, you'll realize I'm right. You never would have spoken to me again if it weren't for Jaenelle. I never would have sought you out. I was too embarrassed, and more than a little afraid of you." She still did not meet his eyes, focusing on one of the little buttons on his pristine, white shirt. "Do you see what's happened to me? Now I look at everything with suspicion and doubt. I'm seeing conspiracies in things that…things that she couldn't have possibly had a hand in at that age. I don't know how to fix this, Daemon. I'm scared." Surreal's voice cracked with emotion, and she cleared her throat with a look of irritation on her face.
Two of his fingers slipped underneath her chin and tipped her face up. His free hand carefully wiped away the tear tracks on her golden skin. His golden eyes were warm and liquid with sorrow. "I don't know how either," he finally admitted, "I didn't know that you felt this way until now. Marian…Marian tried to tell me something was wrong with you, and I discarded the idea because…well, I thought you would have told me if something was wrong. Now I see the error in that line of thinking. You're you, and you don't ask for help unless you're backed into a corner. It's one of those things that I love and dislike about you all at the same time." That brought a wan smile out of Surreal and Daemon responded with a wry grin. "This is big, Surreal," Daemon abruptly stated, growing serious once more, "It's a huge problem but I think if we work together we can solve it. Just tell me what you want to do. Do you want to try, or are you done? Because the last thing I want is your unhappiness, Surreal."
In an affectionate gesture, her husband tucked her hair behind one ear, absently stroking the curve of the pointed cartilage. He wore a look of obvious concern, and looking at him like that, Surreal just couldn't bring herself to walk away without a fight. Despite her inner turmoil, Daemon was still the rock she clung to. He was true north, home, and the star to guide the way there. She still loved him with everything she had to give. That, she realized, was worth fighting for. Maybe she'd win, maybe she'd lose, but she had to at least try to take back her life. For his sake, for her's, for their daughter who was growing up without a mother needlessly.
She had to try. It just wasn't in her nature to give up that easily, and maybe now, maybe with Daemon there, she'd be stronger. Slowly, Surreal nodded. "Yes," she cleared her throat again, "I want to try. I don't…I don't want to lose you either." Her eyes started watering again and she made a sound of anger. "Hell's fire, why can't I stop crying?" She swiped at the renegade teardrops impatiently, and Daemon snorted, kissing her cheeks, tasting the salty essence on her skin.
"It's alright," he soothed her, "I don't mind if you cry. I would rather know what you're feeling. I don't like it when you shut me out." Daemon kissed her then, a simple press of lips on lips. His eyes were closed and he seemed almost to be saying a prayer to himself or making a promise. Surreal didn't know which was the case.
It wouldn't be easy. They had a long road before them, but at least now they were walking it together.