“We can stay here a little bit longer if you like,” says Derek, bringing me out of my stupor. Oh, right, new apartment.
“No, sorry, let’s go,” I respond, a lot more confidence in my voice than I’m feeling. I don’t want to walk through this place and have people staring at me, but it’s kind of a necessity. He moves over to the door and opens it, letting me decide whether I want to leave. It’s both sweet and annoying and to my immense frustration, I find myself hesitating near the threshold. I can feel how many people are out there, I can’t seem to turn off that part of me that constantly receives vibrations from everywhere. I haven’t wanted to turn it off before now; it was too dangerous not to know whether someone was coming toward my cell. It’s different now though, isn’t it? I feel a hand lightly grip my elbow and I jump. I’m so jumpy. I hate it.
“It’s okay Gwen, whenever you’re ready,” I hear Derek talk to me, but I’m not entirely focussed. I take a deep breath and try to slow my heart which I’m afraid might just burst from my chest and bounce down the hallway.
“I’m just not used to this,” I say, my voice quiet enough that I have to question whether I’m talking to Derek or trying to convince myself to leave this room.
“Not used to what?”
I pause. I don’t want him to think I’m just going to keep freaking out and acting weird and having panic attacks. Or am I being too hard on myself? I only got away yesterday. People don’t just come back to normal that quickly, do they?
“Hey,” I hear the humour in his voice. “You’re not allowed to freeze up on me, remember?”
His words tug at a distant memory and it takes me a moment to find it.
It was one of my first nights at the canyon refuge and Derek and I were in my apartment. We were kissing on my couch and I was shy about telling him why I was nervous to admit my attraction to him. He lifted me to the counter top and moved until he had me pinned there.
“No freezing up on me now. After the last half hour you’re not allowed to freeze up on me ever again.”
I feel the corners of my mouth lift, my first genuine smile since that night, and it feels…different. I decide in that moment that I’ll answer his questions.
“I’m not used to being able to walk through a door,” he looks at me, completely bewildered, and I realise that what I said made absolutely no sense. “The doors were always locked and even then I knew that the only thing that waited for me on the other side was pain. There were never people in the hallways…not unless they were coming to take me from my cell.”
I turn to him and can almost see the cogs spinning in his mind. I don’t know what he’s seeing or what he’s trying to figure out, but I don’t like it. He seems to let it drop though, and walks ahead of me, out into the hallway where he turns to me and says;
“There’s no one in the hallway but me, and I promise there is nothing and no one out here that will hurt you.”
And he holds his hand out to me, just like he did earlier this morning, as an invitation to come out of the day room. I barely hesitate this time as I take his hand and let him walk me down the hallway. In a matter of moments we are turning down a tiny hallway with just four doors and a small meadow at the end. He walks me to the door closest to the meadow and stops.
“This is your apartment and you don’t need to worry about your neighbours. I’m right next door and the rooms on the other side of the hallway belong to Anya and Oliver.”
Oh, I suppose they’ll want to keep an eye on me. I go to place my palm against the door and pull my hand back again. Even if the key was still in my palm, it wouldn’t work for this door.
“It’s not a problem, the key in your palm will recognise your new place and adapt,” says Derek, and I have to check to see if he somehow managed to get into my mind.
“I don’t have it.”
Once again, he just stares at me.
“You don’t have you’re key? Of course you do it’s in your palm, remember?”
He turns my left hand palm up, revealing the thick and jagged scar where one of Garett’s henchmen spent nearly four hours trying to dig it out.
I close my palm and drop my hand. I suppose I should get use to ‘What happened?’ and ‘How?’ being asked when people see my scars.
“Apparently it was a reminder of the other refuge and would be something I’d be able to hold onto for strength and power or some crap. They dug it out.”
He’s silent for a moment before simply saying;
“I’m so sorry.”
I’m not sure why he’s apologising, he’s not the one who tore my hand open.
“Funny thing happens when someone tries to tear a key from your palm. It just sinks deeper and deeper and moves away from whatever is trying to grab it…” I’m not really sure what prompted me to say that, or what’s prompting me to continue. “It took them nearly four hours.”
He’s silent again, I can see him thinking hard about how to respond.
“Did that happen often?”
“Of course not, I only had the one key,” I respond…and then realise how stupid I am. He knows I only had one key, he’s asking how often I was tortured.
“I meant…” he trails off, looking like he’d do anything not to be asking that question. I take pity on him, though I feel awkward about telling him. He clearly feels uncomfortable knowing about it.
“You meant to ask how often I was tortured, didn’t you?”
His expression is apologetic when he looks at me and simply nods with a small smile of encouragement on his lips.
“Yeah, I’m sorry; I know you probably don’t want to talk about it.”
I don’t want to talk about it at all. Why on earth would they want all that pain in their heads? It’s bad enough that it’s in mine. But if he really wants to know…
“You’re right; I don’t want to talk about it. But if you’d really like to know then I will tell you,” I say and he looks completely surprised. He opens the door and I walk in ahead of him. I stop immediately. As expected, the room is beautiful. There is a cobblestone bridge arching across a gorgeous river that leads into a bedroom, I think. If I remember correctly, then it’s most likely a bedroom with a big bathroom off to the side. I walk ahead, crossing the small bridge and walking into the room. I was right about the layout, but it’s even more beautiful in here. The bed is a thick sheet of interwoven flowers that have sprouted from the floor. There is a blanket made of flowers laid out across the end of the bed that triggers my memory…is it the one from the other apartment? I walk into the bathroom, across another adorable bridge, and see that the shower is a waterfall that fuels the river and the bath is a small pool off to the side that water continually flows in and out of courtesy of small, shallow rivulets that shoot off from the softly flowing river. It’s utterly tranquil…and completely alien. I haven’t seen anything bigger than a small cup of water in months, I’d forgotten what bathrooms even looked like and now I’m back in one. It’s a weird sensation.
“If you’d like to shower or change or anything…I’ll wait in the kitchen. Anya went out and bought new clothes for you, your old clothes would be far too big after, well, everything. They’re all on the shelves in the closet.”
I hear Derek’s footsteps and the scrape of a chair as he goes back out into the kitchen. I take off Derek’s jacket, unfortunately that’s necessary for bathing, and strip off the disgusting bra and shorts that I’ve been wearing all these months. I burn them immediately, not even bothering to try and clean them. They are well beyond saving. I’m standing, completely naked, in the bathroom, catching my reflection in a large mirror on the wall above a smaller waterfall that I suppose is there in place of a sink. I don’t look nearly as bad as I thought I would. Yes, my whole body, with the exception of my face and forearms, is covered in scars, but I looked so much worse before. At least now my bones are still inside my body, I’m no longer continuously dripping blood onto the floor from dozens of deep and jagged gashes and gouges, and my body is no longer just a big dark purple lump. There are certainly still plenty of gashes to heal, my most serious injuries were all magically inflicted, but this body is absolutely gorgeous compared to the last one and I’m grateful that I’m not disfigured in any serious way. This I can live with. This will be just fine. I walk over to the shower and almost squeal with glee at the sight of my favourite soaps and shampoos. Until this very moment I’d forgotten that I’d even had favourites at all. The various fruits and flowers that make up my bath products hit my senses and it’s heavenly. I step underneath the waterfall and my knees go weak as the warm water washes over me. It’s a good thing that the river is shallow in the bathroom and I’m able to sit down beneath the flow of water and finally just let the tears fall. Big, heavy sobs wrack my body and I let them, my chest heaving as I try to stay quiet enough to keep Derek from coming to investigate. At this point I’m probably better of getting up and moving to the bath, but it’s just too good sitting here and I couldn’t be bothered getting up again. My tear ducts finally run dry after god knows how long and I manage to stand myself up. My hair is soaking, which feels amazing, and I reach for my shampoo. I wash my hair 6 times before I’m satisfied that the months of blood, sweat and dirt have been completely, and rather violently, scrubbed from my scalp. I take hold of the soap, it smells like jasmine and gardenia and joy, and soap myself up to the point that I could be mistaken for a cloud. I scrub my body so many times that I’m not sure how I manage to avoid making myself bleed again. Even more joyously than that, there is a razor! It takes me forever, but I finally manage to get rid of all the unwanted hair and I feel like a completely different person. I feel clean and new and fresh…I feel good. Just for fun, I step out from under the shower and take a dip in the massive bath. There is a bench running around the entire circumference of the circular pool and it sinks lower into the bath when I sit on it, adjusting so that just my head is above the water. It’s amazingly warm. There is a soft knock on the door and I hear Derek’s voice.
“Gwen, is everything alright?”
Shit, how long have I been in here? He probably thinks I’ve collapsed or something.
“Yes!” I call back. “I’m fine, I’ll be out soon.”
I scramble out of the bath and grab one of the obscenely large and fluffy towels from a stack next to the bath. I wrap a smaller one around my head and dry myself. I use a quick gust of wind magic to completely dry my hair, which is very long at the moment, and quickly put it up into a loose bun. My hair is a lot more orange than I remember it, a bit more Disney’s Brave than Little Mermaid Red, and I find that I actually love it. When I’m fully dried I walk out into the bedroom, the humungous towel wrapped loosely around me just in case Derek is still in there. The room is empty and the door is closed so I drop the towel and walk over to the closet. I don’t really care what clothes I put on so I take out a pair of underwear and a comfortable looking sports bra. No underwire and a zip on the front, perfect. Next come some comfortable looking black fabric shorts and a dark green tank top. I don’t remember ever being this comfortable. I find a pair of socks and, after putting them on, walk back out into the kitchen. True to his word, Derek is sitting at the kitchen table. He looks a little worried, but his expression changes to one of relief when I walk out. I guess he was thinking the worst; I must have been in there for ages.
“Hey,” he says as I walk into the kitchen.
“Uh, hey,” I reply, not too sure about the direction the rest of this conversation is going to take. I remember mentioning how often I was tortured before we came into the apartment but…holy shit a fridge. Is it stocked? What’s even in there? I open the door, a little miffed by my reaction to seeing one, and my stomach growls more than a pissed off Lion when I see the fruit and juice and bottles of water lining the shelves. I take a bottle of water and a bowl of fruit salad off the shelf and go to sit at the table. I want to eat everything in the fridge, but I should really be pacing myself. The last thing I need is to make myself sick and vomit all of this amazing food across the table. I take a sip of water, a little suspicious at first, but the moment the water touches my lips I start to chug. I drain the bottle completely and find myself getting up for another. I grab two more out of the fridge and put them on the table as I take a piece of pineapple from the bowl and pop it into my mouth. It’s amazing. I forgot what pineapple tasted like, it’s sweet and juicy and wonderful. Derek sits in silence while I eat, just waiting for me to finish I think, and I continue to eat. It takes me a little longer than I thought it would to finish my food, I had to fight the nausea that I knew would settle once I had food in my stomach. As I do, I realise that the bottles of water are both empty. Derek cracks a smile and gets up from the table. I watch as he walks into the kitchen, opens the fridge and takes out two more ice cold bottles of water. He hands me one and holds up the other;
“Do you mind?” he asks. He’s asking if he can have a bottle of water. Of course he can, the idiot, why the hell would I say no?
“Of course,” I say to him, smiling because it’s ridiculous that he thought he had to ask.