“Just speak your mind please Derek,” says Gwen, putting down her fourth bottle of water and pinning me with her piercing stare.
I look at her for a little longer, trying to read her. She does want me to speak my mind, that much is clear, but it’s her reaction to whatever I ask or say that has me holding my tongue. She sighs heavily and stands, walking into the kitchen with an armful of empty water bottles destined for the recycling bin.
“If you’re going to keep things from me and you’re not going to be honest with me then I’d rather you left,” she says. “I don’t want to have to keep analysing the people I’m supposed to trust simply so I can determine whether or not I can continue trusting them.”
She sounds sad, which is precisely what makes up my mind.
“You were going to let me ask some questions about your time away before we entered your apartment. I was waiting for a time when I might be allowed to bring that up again.”
She nods, clearly already having figured that out, and walks over the small bridge and into the lounge room. Her back rests against the arm of the couch, her legs pulled up in front of her.
“If you’re going to ask questions then I’d rather be comfortable,” she says, motioning for me to sit on the other end of the couch.
I do as she asks; sitting opposite her on the couch, my back also against the arm and my legs bent and turned to the side. It’s relaxed and comfortable, just as she said.
“You look like you’re feeling a bit better.”
“You think?” she scoffs. “I’m nowhere near better, Derek, however food and water can make a hell of an improvement. Not to mention my first shower in three months. You have no idea how amazing that was,” she says with a small smile that lights up her eyes.
It hurts that my questions are most definitely going to take that smile away from her.
“Just ask,” she says, her smile falling well before I wanted it to.
“How often did they hurt you?”
She tenses immediately, but it doesn’t stop her from answering.
“They didn’t hurt me Derek, there’s no need to walk on egg shells around me. I was tortured. Get used to the word, because I’ll use it a lot when you ask me about it,” she pauses to take a breath. “They had a pattern. Every morning Garret would open the door to my cell, which was about the size of closet, and he’d sit down on a wooden chair. He’d sit down and he’d ask me how I was feeling. We’d have a minute or so to chat, where he’d start out pretending to be nice and then he’d turn agitated and angry. I’ll give you three guesses as to what flipped his mood,” she seems highly amused by something, but her face crumbles again as she continues. “When he was finished ‘engaging in the niceties’ as he called it he’d literally snap his fingers and two men would come forward to take me to my own personal hell. I tried to fight them off, managed to kill a few of the bastards once or twice, but Garret had put some kind of mind control into play.”
She stops and stares at me, clearly waiting for me to say something. When I don’t, she settles further into the chair and stretches her legs out until her feet are resting on my thigh. She pulls them back immediately.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” she looks embarrassed.
“It’s okay, get comfortable,” I say to her and it catapults my mind back to memories of couches, kitchen counters and beds. I almost remind her, try to make a joke about her putting her feet in my lap being absolutely nothing compared to intense and lengthy make out sessions in her old apartment, but I keep my mouth shut so that I don’t make her more uncomfortable. She stretches her legs back out, but keeps her knees bent a little so that she can avoid touching my thigh.
“He altered it. His mind control, that is. It prevented me from using my magic offensively or defensively and paralysed my body for hours afterward. That was the worst part, not being able to move afterwards, but it made it easier to keep myself from screaming. That’s what they wanted from me, for me to scream and beg,” her eyes glaze over and for a moment I think she’s going to have another panic attack, but her breathing stays even and she eventually starts talking again. “Being paralysed made it easier to focus on not screaming. I didn’t have to try not to struggle or try to hold my magic back. All I had to do was keep my mouth shut. Speaking of which, you don’t seem to be saying much.”
She looks at me again, this time with curiosity in her eyes.
“There’s not much for me to say. I’d try to be comforting, but I know you well enough to know that you’d only act like you felt better.”
I’m rewarded with a smile just large enough to show a little bit of her teeth.
“You’re finally being honest.”
“I’m always honest with you, but this is a pretty sensitive conversation to have. I don’t want to say the wrong thing by blurting out something stupid,” I almost stop there, but I risk just one more statement. “If it’s not too much to ask, I’d really like you to be honest with me too. I know that there are things you’re going to want to keep to yourself, but please try not to. I just want to help…we just want to help.”
Gwen just looks at me for a while, assessing me or just staring at me, I’m not sure. And then her gaze turns arctic.
“I can’t promise you that,” Gwen finally says. “I can tell you right now that I will be keeping most things to myself. Private things Derek, whether your honest and trustworthy or not is irrelevant. I’m allowed my privacy and you don’t have the right to do that. You don’t get to try and force a promise of honesty and secrets on me just because you’re curious.”
Gwen stands, her movements looking a bit painful, and moves over to the door.
“I’ll see you later Derek.”
Her eyes are hard and I want to punch myself in the face. She hasn’t even been back for a day, how could I be so stupid?! She wasn’t ready to have this conversation. For god sake, she’s spent the day having panic attacks!
“Save it Derek, I get that you all want to know every detail and that you want to dissect every aspect of the last three months for me but I have spent the last three months being literally dissected and I don’t have any desire for you to start analysing the left overs. So I’d like you to leave and I’d like it if you didn’t knock on my door at any point tomorrow. In fact, I’ll come to you when I feel like it.”
The only thing that registered from that tirade was the sentence ‘I have spent the last three months being literally dissected’. It’s bouncing around my skull and I find myself getting up and robotically walking out her door.
“Yeah?” I say automatically, hope heavily colouring my voice.
“Next time you try to make me trust you, start by keeping yourself from broadcasting our conversation to Hank, Anya, Oliver and…” her brows crease for a moment as she concentrates. “Mags and Jasper as well.”
Her door slams in my face and I imagine I look like an absolute idiot standing in the hallway.
How did she know? Also, Mags and Jasper? I only connected my mind to Hank, Oliver and Anya. I’m not sure how long I stand and stare at her door before someone taps on my shoulder. I turn to see that Hank, Oliver and Anya are standing in the doorway of my apartment.
“You connected your mind to Mags and Jasper, didn’t you?”
My tone is more vicious than I intended but he deserves it.
“Yes, I felt they needed to know and I didn’t think that Gwen would find out that we were listening in,” he sounds guilty, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t think that what he did was wrong. Why does he feel guilty then?
“How stupid could you be?!” I yell and shove past the others to enter my apartment. I’m beginning to think that her anger wasn’t directed at my questions, but at what I’m now seeing to be a betrayal of her trust.
“Derek, I didn’t mean t-”
“Didn’t mean to what Hank? Didn’t mean to be so stupid? Didn’t mean to take that one small piece of trust and comfort she finally managed to scrape together and destroy it? Am I getting close to the mark yet?!” My anger grew and grew as I was speaking and now I find myself yelling. “Do you have any idea what the hell you’ve just done?!”
Hank looks confused and it just pisses me off more. Anya looks upset and Oliver has a look on his face that tells me that he’s already caught up to where I am.
“She tried to trust us and we betrayed her,” says Oliver.
“You think?!” I shout, sarcasm somehow managing to drip through my anger. “Did you hear the last thing she said in there? That she has spent the last three months being LITERALLY DISSECTED! Do you get it yet?! She’s been living with nothing but pain for months and the second she gets home you go ahead and betray her! You don’t think she was betrayed enough by Garret?!”
Hank sinks down onto a chair, finally seeing his mistake, and looks shattered.
“I honestly didn’t think she’d mind. It was just Mags and Jasper…”
“Yeah and she didn’t trust Jasper in the first place and she’s been weary of Mags since her episode back at the canyon. There are exactly four people that she trusted before she left and after everything she went through, after Andrew and then everything she’s been through with Garret…just how much trust do you think she has left to give?” I say, my anger dissipating slightly now that Hank has realised his own failure.
“We have to earn her trust again and we tripped over the first hurdle. Oh, we really are horrible people,” whispers Anya, sitting down on the floor and curling her knees up to her chest. “What do we do now?”
“We have to wait for her now. She told me not to speak to her,” my voice breaks a little as I speak but thankfully the others ignore it. “She said she’ll come to us when she feels like it.”
“But how long will that take?” Anya asks, her voice a devastated whisper. “I don’t want her to leave us again. She just got home.”
Oliver sits on the ground beside Anya and puts his arm around her shoulders as she leans her head into his chest.
“She won’t disappear An, she just needs time. We can’t even begin to imagine what she’s been through and she has to readjust. She hasn’t even been back twenty-four hours and she’s only been conscious for a total of about four of those hours. We need to give her time,” says Oliver, but even he isn’t completely convinced by his own words. He just wanted to reassure Anya.
“Gwen probably has a plan and, if not, she’ll come up with one soon enough,” I try to convince everyone that Gwen isn’t a complete basket case. I know she isn’t, but I can tell that the others think she’s completely destroyed. Gwen’s stronger and a lot more stubborn than that.