The voices were silent when I read. It was now impossible for me to pretend they didn’t exist, even if I only realized their presence when they were gone.
I felt at a bit of a loss without them, somehow. It was always disconcerting, and I felt as though I had lost a sixth sense. Perhaps it was because without them, I found it harder to imagine the Assassin’s manner and expressions.
But from what I could tell, the Assassin seemed more at peace. His motions were less intense, more loose and unguarded. It was as though some burden slipped of his back while I read.
For sometime, I was content to think that it was the wonders of reading that set the Assassin at peace. But I realized things were not so simple as that. It wasn’t the words themselves; it was the silence.
The theory came to me one night in the midst of a rather dull essay by the scholar Gardosky. I had, of course, spent my question of the day. So I had to test my theory.
“But if a man were the sort to have an extroverted sensory function, he must then rely on the information gathered not in the present, but in the past. Thus, these men generally rely on past experiences to pave their future choices, resulting in a very routine and even predictable lifestyle,” I read.
I lifted my eyes from the passage to watch the Assassin. “One such man might be my beast, who prefers daily routine to new experiences, perhaps because depriving that monster inside of current sensory information allows you to better keep him at bay. You have not reacted to my suddenly speaking directly of you, which implies that either you prefer to string me along, or you are more interested in the lack of voices than what my own is conveying.”
There was no reaction from my beast.
I continued reading Gardosky’s theory of thought processes in the human mind. The Assassin mentioned nothing over the course of the next few days, though I did it several more times.
At lunch one day, I finally dared to pose the question.
“Why do the voices fall silent whenever I read to you? They even go a bit quiet when I talk, although I could swear they get louder after I’ve asked a que-”
“You hear them,” the Assassin interrupted.
“They go silent because I hear them?” I asked, mistaking his statement for an answer to my own question.
“You can hear the voices.” It was almost in shock, but with a raw edge to it. Desperation? Fear? Tentative hope?
“Sort of,” I said. “I can’t make out much of what they say, but they’re always there, simmering in the air. I think... I think they help me see better. I can make out your mood, or even where you are in the castle. I feel a little disoriented when they go silent. But I thought that perhaps they’re louder to you, and that’s why you like me to read, but you never really listen. I suppose they could get a bit maddening after a while.”
“A bit maddening,” he repeated, voice nothing but raw now. “A bit maddening? Would you call me a bit mad?”
“Well...” I said, eyes watching his clenched jawline carefully. “Just a bit.”
“I’m not a bit mad,” he said. Then I saw something impossible. A tear streaking down his cheek, tracing his jaw, hanging from his chin. “I, dear Beauty, am completely, utterly, stark raving insane. I have a hundred, a thousand voices telling me every movement in this castle. The weather, the colors, the shadows, the lights, the actions, the expressions, the movements, the time, everything. But the loudest scream of all, Beauty? The one that is impossible to ignore, the one that has my mind in a death grip is the very beast that changed me into the monster that you see before you.”
I stared at him, my mouth slack and stomach wrenching in pity. My chest was constricted. Tears spilled out of my eyes, splashing onto the table beneath me.
“Oh...” slipped from my lips. “Oh, my poor, poor beast.”
“What?” whispered his voice. That voice with so many emotions, the one expression he had left, the one way he saw the world and the one way it saw him.
“I- I’m sorry,” I said, voice thick with tears. “I just... I’m sorry. I knew your life was difficult. You’ve lost a family, a part of your humanity. But to have all those voices, to be so afraid of what’s in you that you can’t even let it see the world... oh, no wonder you were so starved for a companion!”
“Are you... are you crying?” asked the Assassin, disbelief apparent.
“She cares,” came a nearly scolding voice from the chipped cup.
“Oh, shut up you,” I scolded back. “Hasn’t he got enough without you butting in needlessly? Of course I care!” And I did. How could one not? The pitiful beast sat before me, shrouded in hoods and rumors and mysteries. But he had been laid bare before me, and the unguarded truth was nothing short of tragic.
As though it had a life of it’s own, my hand laid itself on top of his ever-gloved claws. He was perfectly still.
“He’s afraid he might break it he needs you care for him you care she cares free us kill her she cares he needs you don’t move.”
The voices were so loud. I could make out their words now, but it was like someone dumping a library in my head all at once. Nearly any information concerning my surroundings was available to me, but I couldn’t pick through the sheer wave of voices to find what I wanted. And that one raging, bloody voice was so loud. So so loud.
The Assassin gently removed his hand from under mine.
“You do not need to hear that,” he told me.
“Oh, my poor, poor beast,” I murmured.
We moved on much as though nothing had happened. I cleaned, he cooked, we woke and we slept. And yet my entire world had changed. I had found my beast’s humanity, but I could not save it. I saw his pain, his struggle every day, but I could do so little to ease it.
I spoke and read often. I asked no questions. But I think he understood my intent nevertheless.
“You care,” he said one day, as I was washing a window.
“I care for you daily,” I quipped, gesturing to my window-washing. “But yes, I do. How could one not?” I winced as the voices suddenly grew louder at the question. I couldn’t make out the words without touching the Assassin, but I was more in tune with their presence.
“How?” he asked. “How could anyone care for a beast?”
“Because you’re my beast,” I said, substituting a proper answer with a sentimental statement.
“I ruined your lives. So many lives. So many deaths.”
“The monster inside you made you do those things,” I responded.
“He helped,” said the Assassin. “My choice. A little blood to keep the frenzy at bay, a little violence to sate his hunger, a little murder to keep his thirst quenched.”
“You say those things like I don’t know,” I said. “But your very name is Assassin, and I came with yous o that you would kill for my family’s sake. That death makes up your past is far from unknown to me.”
“Children,” he mumbled. “I never let him take children.” He disappeared through the door, face ashen.
The Assassin’s emotions were not always unguarded, however, even now. He still preferred hiding, perhaps out of habit. I was not so determined to force him out now. I didn’t need him to play by my rules or to fit my standards, to meet a certain expectation of humanity. The only thing I needed from my beast was for him to accept my offering of caring.
Perhaps, even, of love.
It seemed impossible when I had first arrived. I despised the Assassin, and thus anything to do with him. But perhaps, the idea was not so far-fetched. Human being are created to love, and to be loved. And if he was the only human available to me, should I not love him?
But I think he was afraid of it. He had been unloved for so long. Whether it was the beast repelling the idea or the Assassin afraid of accepting it, I wasn’t certain.
Or perhaps, I thought. He doesn’t want my love, pure and simple. I am his serving girl. His brainless, penniless, spineless serving girl. His mockery concerning my lack of proper wits or attractiveness were clues enough towards his opinion of me.
And so, in short, I didn’t really know what to make of the situation. Nothing had changed, and yet my entire world had shifted in the same moment.