User Tools

Site Tools


Fragile Kind of Freedom

This is the first beginning.

The air is dry and thin. Her hair is in her eyes. There is blood on her tongue. Daylight washes over her – like blinding, like bleach.

Her mind is a long, flat ringing. It hurts, and yet – she keeps walking long enough to get to the only place she knows how to reach. It all gives way the instant she gets through the door. Her cheek hits the floor, her vision goes dark and blurred. Blood is rapidly pooling beneath her left wrist.

She doesn’t wake up in an isolation cell. She goes to the window - the sun is crawling up into the sky, and the light is shining on her face. This is the first time she has seen the sun act like this, and she does not know what to do with it. She returns to the bed. She waits for instructions that never come. When she has waited long enough, she leaves.

The innkeep makes noises at her as she goes. Her feet halt. She turns, she stares. Eyes blank and vacant.

She leaves, and they do not stop her.

The streets teem. She cannot remember ever seeing so many people at once.

Days pass in identical clusters. She retreats underground – the light is too much. She spends hours lying motionless, eyes gazing up at the rough-hewn ceiling. She waits for it to end. Her body grows sluggish. The wound aches, and stings, and fades.

When she tires of this or, in her more hopeless moments, decides to make it easier for him, she ventures to the streets. People talk to her, sometimes. She cannot make her tongue move without effort. These are the better days. Movement makes her blood quicken, brings some life back into her.

She walks the city obsessively, feverishly. The only place she avoids is the only place she wants to go. Two-Finger’s is no longer safe. She misses it bitterly.

Sometimes, people give her trouble. Her body remembers what to do. Every fibre of her sings with swing, impact, recoil. In these moments, everything else blisters away until it’s just her, bloodied and burnt in the sunlight.

After a few of these days, she starts to have favourites. The spot where town becomes fields. The buildings inhabited only by gangsters and feral youth. The building engraved with people fighting, wall to wall to wall to wall.

The sun is low in the sky. She is staying later than she usually would – pushing her boundaries, for the second time that day. The first, she entered the building carved with fighting. Only two steps, enough to see. Then, out.

The other woman is taller than her. Tanned, muscular. She walks with an ease that seems impossible. When she leans in, her breath smells of mint leaves.

The proposition isn’t entirely unexpected. The response is an impulse, and it knocks the air clean out of her lungs.

Hours pass. She stands barefoot in a strange house, clothed only by the spare sheet she took from the bed. She tugs it round her shoulders. The other woman is asleep.

The silence is overwhelming. Her breath feels like an avalanche. She’s shuddering.

Nothing is keeping her from her lover’s bed except sudden, unstoppable fear. This is the worst of her transgressions. This is not what her body was made for. He will surely find her out. He finds everything out, in the end.

Blood is trickling from her nose. She fell in her panic to get up. The other woman didn’t wake.

She thought she’d learned to shed all this, but here she is: naked, bloodied, deathly scared. Her fingers feel numb. None of this feels real.

When the sun rises again, she is sitting on the ground in front of the door. The door is blocked by a dresser. There’s a kitchen knife gripped in her hand – so hard her knuckles are white. She has not slept.

The other woman finds her and starts shouting. She leaves, and they do not stop her.

Anger finds her hungry, and later than she expected.

This is the first time she has ventured out in several weeks. The streets are busier than usual. There are people setting out tables. They keep mentioning something called a parade. It makes little difference to her, although she regards their bustling with curiosity.

She has swiped a piece of bread from somebody’s pocket, wrapped in linen. After gaining some distance, she has stopped to eat it, leaning against a brick wall. Her eyes drift through the scene before her.

A man piles his companion’s arms high with boxes. A pair of boys hang streamers from a window. A girl – younger than her – breaks a plate. Her mother tuts. Her father laughs, and hands her a broom. He ruffles her hair, easily. Affectionately.

Her, though – metres away, uninvolved, alone – she’d flinched. She’d held her breath for the blow. It’s only hours later, having made her way home with a sudden sense of numbness, that this occurs to her. When it does, a wall breaks. She crushes her mouth against her hands. She discovers how difficult it is to sob without making a sound.

The next time she visits the building carved with fighting, she takes four steps inside. After that, seven. After that, more than she can count.

People talk to her there, but not often. They learn she often won’t respond. She prefers to talk in other ways – in bruises, in bite-marks. In grazed knuckles. In a knife held close and low. In bared teeth. They meet her at each one. They respond in kind. These beautiful people speak the language she learned in Two Finger’s pit, the one she was always forbidden to speak. Though she has never been here before, it feels like no less of a homecoming.

They make the word ‘vow’ at her a lot. She is still thinking about it. Not sure if she is ready – or fit – to be beholden to anything.

Still, she thinks sometimes, if anything, this.

One day, when it is raining so thick and heavy the sewers have flooded, she stays the night there. Knife still gripped in hand. Body still tense. She sleeps very little – but she sleeps.

Another day, some of them seem oddly excited to see her. She lays her hand on the knife as soon as possible, keeps her eyes and ears open. It takes willpower not to sprint away, or attack on the spot, or just scream and keep screaming until the world goes dark.

She keeps her nerves and heartbeat steady. Silently congratulates herself on that. They usher her to a corner. She thinks how to cut each of them down and make it out alive.

They present her with a knife set into a short, strapped leather sleeve.

It takes several bouts to adjust. By the end of the day, she does not feel entirely steady with it – the gravity all wrong, resting at the wrong point. She can’t yet adjust to the lack of movement in the wrist. By the end of the day, she is little better with it than when she began.

She leaves – without taking it off – and they do not stop her. In the street, people give her strange looks. She greets them with a half-wild grin.

This is the second beginning.

His blood soaks her arms, her chest, her face. Still warm. She feels it like burning, like oil.

In the end, it was unremarkable. The gurgling, the eyes going blank. Little to distinguish it from her other kills. Yet there’s electricity in her blood.

Her allies are chattering, but she barely hears it. She takes a step forward, then another. She leaves.

There is nobody left in the world who can stop her.

resources/fic/fragile_kind_of_freedom.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/17 22:03 by florencew