(this is your PAIN)

When I regain consciousness, I don’t know how much time has passed. All I know is that I am lying in a pool of dried blood and the air still hurts. I crawl to a nearby chair and pull myself up - and the cuts on my back break open again. I ignore it because I am really starting to get used to the pain and I am zen. Zen.

I manage to stand this time, even though there is a lot of trembling and swaying involved, and I notice for the first time the dark brown that is streaking my inner thighs. I stare at it, puzzled, and touch it tentatively with my fingers. The brown flakes off, and -

Oh. That's why it hurts down there.

I very decisively do not think about it. I search for my clothes and find them in tatters, but the blanket, crumpled in a heap on the floor, is mostly alright so I wrap it over my shoulders, wincing as the coarse fabric brushes against my abused back. I take a moment to lean against the wall (that is stained with a small amount of my blood) and catch my breath before I leave the room for my own.

What I catch is a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I don’t even recognize myself at first. I am in the midst of thinking up an explanation for the blood and torn pieces of clothing still littering the floor when I recognize my own hair.

Oh. I stare at the reflection’s pale, bruised face and wonders for the first time what he is doing to me. I wonder what the hell got into Him last night, because it had never been like that before, and I can't remember much but what I do remember does not include the usual redeeming, mind-numbing pleasure. Part of the story is missing, and why...?

I suddenly get the urge to break the mirror.

Instead, I quietly push off the wall and limp to the door. It shuts behind me with a subtle thump.

. ... .

It is a generally a two minute walk through the hall to my room. In my daze, I don’t know my way around, though - that is why He always brings me out - and I have been wandering for forty-three minutes when I run into the last person in the world I want to see at the moment. I am already in pain, and why do I deserve more? Fuck you too, God is what I think when I see him. (It's not like I haven't been losing faith since age eight, though, when the fighting started, so the thought is not biting and acidic like it should be - like I want it to be. It is tired and habitual and a little bitter.) The boy who was as close to me as can be without the same blood, who I could talk to about absolutely anything (but probably not this).


I am dizzy and wishing for Tylenol and limping heavily. The constant movement keeps breaking the cuts on my back open, and the blood loss is being really inconvenient. Why did my not-father leave me there alone? (Why did he go so far? Doubts are creeping through my mind, but I am in too much pain to really care at the moment. I push them away. Later. I'll think about it later, I tell herself.)

So, yes. Alex is the last person in the entire universe I want to see. He is clever and observant and too brilliant for me to lie to, and I love him even though he is seldom around anymore. He was my best friend, after all, and - fuck, it hurts to look at him.

I am glad the hall is so badly lit. He can't see what I saw in the mirror.

But the lighting isn't so bad that he doesn’t recognize me. "Anna -” He starts and then he looks worried for an instant; he must be worried if his composure is breaking; those little pauses are a bad sign, "what are you doing down here?" He seems to recover himself. There is a sigh in his voice, but I know him too well.

It hurts my heart to look at him, so I focus on the pretty starbursts in the air between them. "Alex," she greets, and her voice is faint but not obviously so. "How have you been?"

He stares at her. "This is not," he says, his tone faintly incredulous, "the time for that." He smiles a little shakily. “You sound tired.”

I laugh, the sound jarring in the silence. I don’t say anything about it, though, and maybe the not-father is having more of an influence on me than I thought? No, I tell myself. No. He doesn’t really feel that way. He just got overenthusiastic about the game.

Alex flinches in the wake of the silence.

"Oh, Alex." And I laugh again, that same broken sound - it isn't the laugh that he knows. He does not recognize this laugh. He looks closer and I can see he does not recognize the girl he sees. His face says: ...Is that a bruise? His scrutiny is interrupted when she finally stops that awful sound and says, "I was up late playing a game, lovely."

His eyes narrow and I know that I have just screwed myself to the wall because those are His words and he may know that. I interrupt his thoughts quickly with: "When did you get in?"

He looks at her again, dark, bottomless (fathomless) eyes unreadable (and I used to fall into those eyes and bask in the warmth, and I trusted him but I trust all the wrong people - all the weak people, the selfish people who don't give enough of a fuck, or so I thought), before nodding sharply. "Just now.”

I almost get away with it. But then - then he grabs my shoulder (because he can't stop himself from touching me one more time) and I stiffen. There is a sound that is almost a whimper but not quite, and he pulls his hand away, horrified and confused.

"I -”

I glare at him, suddenly furious. "Don't," I hiss. What goes unsaid is: You almost cut your ties - and you chose, and what you chose was not me.

He stares for a split-second and finds that he cannot meet my eyes anymore. He turns around curtly and says in a cold voice, "I’m sorry." It’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard in a long time; but still, I leave Alex without a word and heads to the bathroom.

He stands in the half-light of the open passageway and looks at the dried blood staining his hand. My blood.

(It's all a game, lovely.)

The End

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