A/N: This is a one-shot I dreamed up a while ago but didn't write until now. It's set prior to 1x04 ("Claudia").
Bonus Internet cookies to anyone who can tell me who the Ballerina really is.
The new girl won't tell anyone her name. Or speak. But it doesn't matter, so much. She's like an afterthought anyway, even in the mental ward where the populace is basically the trash heap of society.
She's downright gorgeous, though, and Claudia notices her. Pale skin, dark eyes, dark hair – and the kind of grace that sets a person apart.
With no name to give her, Claudia simply calls her the Ballerina. In her head, because she gave up speaking last week. Last week, when Dr. Michener lied to her yet again.
We don't need to do any further ECT, he'd said. As long as you're compliant.
But he was a lying liar who lied, and just like the previous eight weeks, an orderly had come looking for Claudia early Monday morning.
Later, groggy and pliable, drunk on the sedatives they'd slipped her, Claudia sat alone by the window, staring out at a world she no longer recognized.
She wasn't expecting it, but when the Ballerina's hand slipped into hers, it felt right. They sat by the window, a part of the world but apart from it all, two selectively mute girls in a world filled with far too much noise.
When the radio stops working, they hear the Ballerina's voice for the first time.
At first it's a shriek, low but desperate. It rises like a terrified phoenix through the clamor of a mental hospital dinner, cutting through the awkward clack of plastic spoons against plastic plates. There might have been music a moment before, but who can tell? So many of the hospital's inmates have trouble breaking through the chatter in their own heads; the outside world is generally inaccessible.
But Claudia hears. After that first desperate shriek, the Ballerina devolves into frantic word salad – or so it would seem.
"They're taking everything – everything! But they can't stop the signal even if they try – not as smart as they think they are. But the music, the music, the music! Can't dance if there's no music! If the moon doesn't shine the corn won't grow!"
And with an angry jerk of her arm, the Ballerina sweeps the radio to the floor. It shatters into what seems like a hundred pieces, skittering and bouncing across the scummy tile. Silence falls almost immediately, and the Ballerina howls and claps her hands over her ears as she curls into herself.
They sedate her. They're quick hands with the sedatives, and Claudia knew it was coming. While the sedatives are flowing and the orderlies are calming everyone else, she slips the pieces of the broken radio into her sweatshirt pockets. It takes all of her self-control not to run away – only guilty people run in a mental hospital. Instead she sits back down at her table and again tries to cut her chicken patty with her plastic spoon. Eventually the Ballerina's screams die down, but Claudia can still hear them.
She cheeks her night meds and pretends to be sleeping when the orderlies come around for room check. Once they've passed she has forty-five minutes before they'll come around again. It should be enough time to fix the Ballerina's radio. She can do nothing about fixing the Ballerina.
During her stay in the hospital Claudia has had to make her own tools out of anything she can find. So far it's a lot of stolen silverware – from the glorious two weeks or so when the nutritional services accidentally kept sending "real" silverware instead of their usual plastic bluntness – and a handful of paper clips, blunt scissors, and other junk she lifted one night when the psych techs all went out for a smoke break at the same time. It's not as good as her usual tools, and when she thinks of all the work still left to do in Joshua's lab, she shudders.
I'm still coming, Josh. I'm still going to save you.
But first I have to save me.
In the half-light of the bathroom, Claudia sits on the floor and uses her un-tools to put the radio back together. Piece by piece, she rebuilds the Ballerina's heart in wires and fuses. Her mind is never far from the Ballerina's dark eyes, which seem to say more than the girl herself has ever expressed in words.
Claudia wonders how long it will be until the Ballerina's expressive eyes are dulled by sedatives. Until the Ballerina's perfectly smooth skin is marred by the little crusty burns delivered straight from the ECT equipment.
And then she wonders why she cares so damn much. The Ballerina is nobody to her. There's nobody she cares about anymore, except for Joshua. She'll stomp on anyone who gets in her way, who tries to stop her from saving Joshua. She doesn't care who she hurts; she doesn't care what she has to sacrifice – she is Joshua's only hope.
Is it because the Ballerina is so obviously alone? So obviously broken? Is it because the Ballerina reminds Claudia of herself, except for the strange otherworldliness that can't be explained? Claudia honestly doesn't know.
But she does know a few things, and radio repair is one of them.
Just after two in the morning she creeps down the hall to the Ballerina's room. The door is open but the lights are off; the orderlies monitoring the Ballerina are still in her orbit, but they've passed the need to check on her every twenty minutes.
Claudia tries to whisper hello but the word gets stuck in her throat. Before she can try again, the door flies open and the Ballerina is standing there. She reaches out and puts her finger against Claudia's lips, as though Claudia had yelled, as though Claudia was going to give away their position.
With her other hand the Ballerina grabs Claudia's wrist and yanks her into the cool shadows of the room.
Stunned, Claudia can only hold out the radio.
The Ballerina studies it. She seems unsure of its purpose, of its origins, of why Claudia would be bringing her a cracked transistor radio in the middle of the night.
"I fixed it," Claudia whispers.
The Ballerina sits down on her bed and holds the radio up to her ear, as though it was a shell promising the existence of the ocean. Instead pure white noise filters out into the room. A calming shh-wush that has the tenor of a heartbeat.
She reaches up and twirls the dial, and the white noise spreads itself across the spectrum, a resounding pulse that for some reason reminds Claudia of moonlight. Back and forth. Back and forth. Up the waves and down, as though the Ballerina sought something buried deep within.
And then – music.
A slow smile crosses the Ballerina's face and she leaps up from her bed, somehow more graceful than Claudia's ever seen her.
And then the Ballerina speaks. "Rhapsody," she whispers.
It's the first word Claudia's heard her say, and her voice grates a little in her throat, as though she's been silent a long, long while.
"Rhapsody?" Claudia repeats, and her own voice gets stuck on the way out. She's forgotten how good the right words can sound, if spoken at the right time, in the right order.
"In blue," the Ballerina whispers.
She sets the radio on the bed and twirls. In her too-small pajamas, the pants riding up over her bony ankles and her shirt sleeves tugging at her pale elbows, she hardly looks the part of a prima ballerina. She looks even more like a crazed mental ward patient, messy hair flowing out behind her like seaweed streaming behind a mermaid.
But the look on her face is pure ecstasy, pure bliss. For the first time since her arrival, the Ballerina looks calm. The Ballerina looks… happy.
Claudia recognizes the music as the Ballerina goes into an intricate series of movements, bending and swaying and bobbing like a weeping willow in a storm. It's just as the Ballerina said – "Rhapsody in Blue." It's a famous piece of music, but Claudia has only heard snippets of it. The tinny transistor can't be the best way to listen to music, but to Claudia's ears it sounds like a chorus of angels.
For a long constellation of moments Claudia stands in the doorway, watching the Ballerina rise and fall with the music. The music and the pale girl before her seem to fuse, until she can no longer tell where the girl's slim fingertips begin and where the singing piano ends. It is incomparable beauty, and tears fill Claudia's eyes. In the mental hospital, there is a dire lack of beauty.
When the music ends the room spins a little, and Claudia sticks her hands out to steady her, like an inept sailor attempting to locate his sea legs.
The radio blares into soft white static and the Ballerina stumbles.
Claudia can feel the heaviness in her chest that signals a visit from Joshua, and she starts choking, gasping. It isn't that she can't breathe – it's that she's terrified. Sparks begin to coalesce, swirling and reforming, blinking in and out, scattering and refracting themselves into Joshua's shape.
Instinctively Claudia gets to the floor, pressing her back against the wall, bracing herself. Her breath is coming in shorter and shorter gasps, and she can see tiny spots of darkness encroaching on her vision.
The Ballerina kneels in front of her, panicked, and Claudia stares up into her dark eyes. Over the Ballerina's shoulder she can see Joshua's form, reaching out towards her, yelling with his hideous gap of a mouth, screaming for her to help him.
"Joshua," she whispers painfully.
The Ballerina's eyes go wide and she turns. For the first time Claudia knows that someone else can see Joshua, that someone else can hear his screams.
She doesn't know why the Ballerina can see him. Doesn't know why the Ballerina can hear him.
But as the rhapsody in blue dances around her cortex, as she stares upward at the ephemeral apparition that is, most definitely, her brother –
… something that was broken in her heals.
And like the click of a key turning in a sweet, familiar lock, she faintly hears something broken in the Ballerina heal.
And when the static goes silent and Joshua disappears, Claudia hears sweet, soft music.
She looks up, and it takes everything she has not to scream.
The Ballerina is gone, and the room is empty.
"Rhapsody in Blue" plays over again, an answer to a question she could not bring herself to ask.