Hmm... I don't know how I feel about this. Again, it didn't come out as expected. Why? I haven't the foggiest. But it's complete, so here you are.
Brought to you by Queen, to the tune of "I Want To Break Free."
P.S. This is a reposting of the same - now edited - story I deleted a while back. Because I changed my mind, and the world could use a few more queens.
"Don't you have anything that's not by Queen?" she'd asked him once, before he'd been switched on and everything had been driven to hell.
He had snatched his iPod from her fingers - she could've stopped him if she wanted to, but she always liked it when he got grabby - and given her an only half-irritated scowl. Thick eyebrows had hunkered down over his eyes, dark ginger squashing baby blue, and something rather deeper than her stomach had purred. Equal parts adorable and irresistibly sexy.
"Don't knock Queen," he'd said, and she'd rolled her eyes as he'd selected some angsty ditty about sexual frustration - how fitting for him - and landed the iPod back in its dock beside the bed. The soulful singing and thick beat rolled out of the speakers just as she rolled onto him; that purring in her abdomen wouldn't be drowned out by any queen but herself.
"How about we make our own music?" she'd mouthed against his ear, and grinned as his arms - thick, muscled archer's arms - had wrapped all the way around her, hands gliding up her thighs and spine to cup her shoulders. Those roughened archer's calluses shouldn't have been as exciting as they were.
"Only if I get to pick the song," he'd growled back, and she would've laughed at his cheesiness and control issues if he hadn't used his grip on her shoulders as leverage to push her off him and flip her onto her back in the same move. Instead, she just grinned in anticipation as he drew her arms over her head and bent his mouth to her navel and the pattern of scars there that he always seemed to be drawn to. His lips ghosted around the raised white blemishes, and the heat just below them was setting her whole body ablaze.
She'd let him pick the song because, secretly, it was her favorite.
I can't get over the way you love me like you do
Most girls dreamed of finding Prince Charming. Most girls dreamed of falling in love. Most girls dreamed of having kids and a house with a yard and a two-door garage. Most girls had dreams.
When Jade Nguyen was growing up, all she ever wanted was to break free from her father's stranglehold. For her, there would be no Prince Charming or love or house in the 'burbs. That's what she always promised herself, anyway.
No shackles, no ball and chain, no strings attached. Nothing would hold her down - she would be as free as the Cheshire Cat. Go where she pleased, disappear when she wanted.
And now look at her.
Six months. She'd lived in this newest of shitholes with him for six months. Chipped paint on the walls, mold on the ceiling of the bathroom, a kitchen sink that leaked, doorknobs that came off more often than they turned.
She thought it would get better. A new lead, a move, a shotgun wedding because he'd been in higher spirits than he'd been in for a year, and why the hell not. She'd ignored the flashing red light behind her eyes and listened to all his vibrant assertions that this would be the year. He'd been so animated, so lively and hopeful and attentive. She'd believed - just a little bit, but it was enough - that this time he would find the right thread, that everything would be fixed and he would come home at the end of the day and they would take a bottle of sake to bed and not leave until noon the next day. Like they used to.
I've got to break free from your lies
Empty promises - that's all they ever were. His good mood hadn't even lasted a week that time. Back to sleepless, unshaven, irritable Roy Harper who wouldn't tear his bloodshot eyes away from his screens long enough to notice that she hadn't cooked in a few days.
Fucking Roy Harper. As if it was her job to keep him fed. If he didn't care, why should she?
But then he would come out of the shower or remember to change his shirt, and she would see his ribs stabbing through the flesh of his once-impressive chest. She would sigh and go to the store for steaks. Not that he would taste any of the twenty dollar meat he shoveled mechanically down his throat as he clicked through emails and files and maps.
He didn't taste anything anymore.
It used to scare the shit out of her, how she'd just gotten sucked into this life. It was everything she knew she never wanted. She'd become shackled, chained, attached in every sense. Shockingly, horribly, impossibly attached.
Once, early on, before the days of shitty apartments, she'd gotten so anxious about it that she'd simply walked out and didn't come back. Convinced that she needed her freedom, she didn't return for over a month. Proud and sure, like the Cheshire Cat - she didn't look back.
But she'd never really had a chance. Every clear sky, every arrow on a traffic sign, every time Queen played on a commercial or a random person's ringtone or the speakers in a store, she remembered redheaded scowls and callused fingers and drunken giggles. It was laughable - she did try to laugh it off, multiple times - but she had it bad for Roy Harper.
I've fallen in love for the first time
And this time I know it's for real
When she'd returned, he'd been lying in bed. On her side. He'd started at the noise - she still used the bedroom window, front doors were for saps - and had an arrow nocked and pointed in the collapsible bow that he kept on the nightstand before he'd registered who it was.
She'd nodded at her pillow. The shape of his head was still indented on it. "Something wrong with yours?"
He'd scowled his usual don't-fuck-with-me scowl and dropped his weapon on the bed. "Shut up."
"Mm, I like it when you talk dirty to me, Red." It was true. She did. But he knew that.
"It was getting too crowded."
"It was just you and me."
She'd slunk closer, striding around the bed to where he stood, all bare shoulders and folded arms and worn sweatpants. "I see that it's just you and me now," she'd said, using her husky voice that she knew made him hot. It made her hot, too, but she didn't need any prompting - if she was being honest, she'd been waiting a month for this. Two fingers traced up his bicep and slipped behind his neck. She watched his face carefully, but like the good soldier he was at heart, he remained impassive. "Now, what was that you were saying about fucking?"
Before she'd had time for a smug smile, he'd lifted her off her feet and slammed her against the wall, shoving her lips apart so he could fit his tongue through. She stroked the sensitive spot where his neck met his shoulders, and managed to fit a smile in as he grunted in his furious arousal.
"Why did you do it?" he'd growled when he broke for air.
"Needed to be free for a while," she'd gasped, disarmed by the deep blue of his unwavering gaze. The tightening of the forget-me-not irises was fascinating.
"Idiot. You were always free."
There was no more talking that night.
She could never tell when the fog was going to lift and he would come back. Each day was a game of roulette, and she had terrible luck.
"When was the last time you ate?" she asked while his back was turned. It was turned away most days. She had to ask it three times, he was so lost in himself.
"What about showering?"
He only shook his ginger head for that one.
Fucking Roy Harper. If this was what the fake was like, then she didn't want to know the real one.
But I have to be sure
She was never one to feel lonely, even on the most extended and solitary missions she'd been sent on, but living with this shadow of him was lonely. Most days he didn't even acknowledge her existence. Even her son of a bitch father had done better than that all those years ago - at least she'd been a step above a piece of furniture to him.
Sometimes she wouldn't be able to handle not being looked at or touched for so long, but dressing up and going out to pick up other guys just wasn't as satisfying the few times she did it. She got a sinking feeling in her gut instead of the much longed-for blaze.
Eventually, she discovered that if it wasn't a "fake Roy doesn't deserve to feel nice things" day - even on his bad days, it was about a fifty-fifty chance - she could pull him away from his damn work. It didn't take much - a kiss, a touch - for him to turn from his screens, but it was always with a gruff rage or a cold desperation that he turned to her. She still got tossed around a lot like she wanted, but she had to watch the deadened look on his face as he sank deeper into his self-loathing.
When I walk out that door
She thought about leaving on a regular basis. They were running out of money, and Zombie Red was going to rot in his stagnation. She didn't know what would happen the next time he hit the manic stage of his cycle - or if he would. There was no possibility on the horizon.
She could always go back to work. As far as she could tell, the world was only sinking deeper into the Light's clutches - there had to be plenty of jobs to take for someone of her caliber and skill set. But for some reason, every time she thought about taking another life - her usual gig - bile rose up in her throat and she felt the thick fist of an unfamiliar panic squeeze her chest. It was ridiculous, really, but she always felt like she was going to vomit if she thought about it too much.
No. It was fine. There were other jobs: burglary, grand theft auto, recon. Assassination wasn't the only thing she was skilled at. The money wouldn't be as good taking the softer jobs, but there would be enough to get her out of the crap apartment she was wallowing in now.
As for him - well. He was an adult. He could do what he wanted, and they - she - would deal with it. End of story.
One week, while he was out on another goose chase mission through Siberia or something, she was stretched out on the couch. Queen was playing over the speakers - it really was the only album on that lame-ass iPod of his.
Oh, how I want to be free
There probably wasn't any food in the fridge. She might have to go to the store later.
Oh, how I want to be free
She was low on shampoo, too. Soap, toilet paper, lotion, tampons.
Tampons. She might not be out of those.
When was the last time she had her period, anyway?
Oh, how I want to be free
But life still goes on
She'd never dreaded the color pink more in her life.
Eight little cardboard boxes and three hours in the bathroom later, it was undeniable.
This was what she got for wanting things. A joke of a marriage to an obsessive ex-cape who routinely forgot her existence, a mildewy apartment, an empty bank account, and now this. She was about as chained down as she could get.
It was time.
There was no plan. She just gathered up some clothes and left. She didn't even know if she would be needing any of it after a while. There was no plan, for anything.
She didn't even know where she ended up. It wasn't important. Soon she was being picked up by familiar faces, flown to fuck knows where and told to aim her steel stars at anything that moved. Thankfully, nothing did, and sometime around dawn the irrational panic released her. She made some money off of it - enough for her to hole up in a motel with cable and warm showers for a few months.
So baby can't you see
I've got to break free
The next job paid much better. Good enough for her to go see a real doctor for the first time in her life.
Nothing ever scared her, but this was terrifying. The whole place was filled with the whiney cries of wriggling babies and the smell of disappointment. She left before the nurse even called her name.
The same thing happened at the abortion clinic. Shame and nervousness and fear - everything reeked of it. It took every ounce of composure and discipline she had not to vomit all over the dog-eared magazines, and even the effort tickled her stomach with a cautionary embarrassment.
She was better than this, damn it.
It was best that she worked as often as she could while she still could. She didn't know anything about pregnancy besides that it was disgusting, but she'd known about the thing for two months already. As far as she was concerned, the creature could start rounding her belly at any time.
She thought about him every once in a while. Wondered if he was eating - unlikely. Or sleeping - even less likely. It didn't take many hours of musing to decide that it was better that he didn't know. About her. Then she thought about the thing inside her - half Roy, half her.
It would probably be a monster.
"I'm sorry," she told it one day, curled up in the rented bed, covered with sheets that were just scratchy enough to eliminate all hope of being comfortable. She couldn't see it in the mirror, but if she poked it with her finger, she could feel her stomach beginning to harden below her rib cage. From the copious amounts of chicken nuggets and pie she'd consumed that day, it wasn't feasible to tell herself that that was muscle anymore.
"I'm sorry your dad's a mess and your mom's a criminal." She only choked a little bit on the word mom. "It's not your fault." She massaged the top of the hardness, just beneath her diaphragm, and a small pressure she hadn't known was there lifted from the base of her spine. "I'm sorry. But I had to do it, so we can be free."
She probably just imaged it - wasn't the thing just a little seahorse the size of her fingernail or something? - but she thought she felt a tiny flutter somewhere down there.
Good? Bad? Stupid? Not stupid? Really Cheshire? Not really Cheshire?