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It is small. Timid. The voice of a child in her ear that rouses her. A sing-song in another tongue. A game. She hears it again, but cannot piece the words together. Her hands reach out for purchase and find only darkness. There is a blindfold covering her eyes. The fear has travelled with her.
"Don't be afraid," she hears, then feels small hands on her shoulders, a warmth pressed up behind her back, knobbly knees flush against her shoulder blades, then grimy hands in her hair, gathering it up. It is longer than she remembers. Slowly, the hands begin to braid the thick strands from crown to neck, then they let it fall.
"Lovely," the voice says, and there is something there that unnerves her. Envy.
"Where is your ribbon?" the voice asks. She shakes her head, pulling against the tension at her nape, trying to wriggle free, deciding that she does not like this game. She cannot remember how she got here. Then the panic returns when she tries to speak. She has never learned how. The hands tug angrily at the gathered hair.
"Where is your ribbon?! Tell me where you've hidden it!" Another hard tug and then, a startling pain, a wild howl escaping her throat, as she is pushed forward. In the darkness, time is lost. The soles of her feet hurt, as though she has fallen from a great height. Her hand reaches up shakily, brushing over the back of her head. Her hand returns wet and warm, and she knows it is blood. They have taken her hair. Her long, beautiful hair.
Her eyes strain to see in the darkness. Her mouth moves to speak. But there is nothing there and all she does is gape. All she does is make garbled noises from somewhere deep in her throat. Her tongue is swollen and she does not understand why.
"You're a fish!" comes the voice again, taunting now, she hears it all around, but cannot find its source. The whirring in her head makes her dizzy. Makes her sick. She rises to her feet and when she takes a step, there is water all around her. Water around her ankles. Another step. Water around her knees.
A light appears above and almost blinds her.
"Try to speak, little fish!" the voice returns and cackles.
"Try to speak and I won't catch you in my net!" A high-pitched squeal of delight rattles her and she stumbles backward, colliding with an oily wall. She hears a rattling chain, and water rushes in with more laughter from above. The water is ice-cold and it burns against her bleeding scalp. She doesn't remember falling. But it dawns as she cranes her neck up toward the light, sees the figures passing overhead before the cover is replaced. Howling. Wailing. Crying as she claws her fingernails into the grooves between the dutch bricks and tries to hoist herself up. Out of the well. No mortal ears hear her cries for aid. Eventually, she tires.
When they come for her, she is huddled in a corner and shivering. They untie the blindfold, soothe her aching head and tug on the front of her torn dress, pulling her to her frozen feet.
"Come," says a little buzzing orb of light, at the corner of her eye, as more join in, surrounding her, lighting the way out.
"Come with us, Red Queen,"
At first it was just a mild inconvenience. 3 AM isn't an unknown hour, but she wakes with a start and everything feels wrong. The bed is her own, thank God. But it's a small victory. The covers are pushed off quickly as she fights for breath. It is too hot and her head is pounding. This one is stronger than the last time. She strips down and paces by the bed. She wants to scream out, but thinks better of it. She steels herself, and her feet remember the way to her dresser without the light. Her hand closes over the little, orange bottle and shakes out the usual dose of the muscle relaxer. The room spins before she reaches the glass of water by her nightstand. She falls and she keeps falling.
Fuck, it's routine now.
She needs help. She knows it. But there is no point in reaching out and no point in asking for aid. A waste of precious energy, it does nothing to disturb the status quo. They don't care. They never really did. It was always easier to palm her off. Her uncle would say the right things, she knows, his concern is genuine, but she hates being a burden. Kali can only be the liability and that is why they can never find out. Her sister is sworn to secrecy but they both know that it is Kali who exists somewhere separate; somewhere outside. She is Other now.
Adoration is a hefty drug. She doesn't pander. They always eat it up, fat little fingers bringing it up to greedy mouths. It's a biological imperative, so they say. Survival of the fittest. Give them an inch and they will hoard to satisfy themselves when there is plenty. They hide when the rest go without. Kali will never get what she needs from home. But it is a false need. A false display that she is drawn to. At its crux, no one can offer her what she truly wants, no matter how tightly she cleaves to hope that maybe. one day.
She is on her own.
He could not be blamed. It was hardwired, even as he promised that nothing and no one would come between them. How much could he have gained at her expense? There is no answer. He tried. Worse. He succeeded. She was the one who found the interloper, naked in the kitchen, caked in their shared sweat. A week. She'd asked for a week to get her head on straight and he couldn't even wait.
Somehow, the wound is deeper because it wasn't another woman. Kali can't even compare, can't even mourn in the way that she knows how. And yet, she gets caught up in all the reasons why. She goes around and around in her head for hours. Around and around in her head for days. Months. Two years. She does it because she's stubborn. Angry. Volatile. Because she is hurt and her cup has run dry. She exists now, sails along because there is nothing left to give.
Kali Rose. Kate Pryde. They are made for each other.