I'd slunk upstairs to my room after the call with the other pack had ended. The Alpha and his team had headed to his office to discuss what they'd learned, but I hadn't wanted to participate. Ryker had joined them though, and I knew if there was anything I needed to know he'd fill me in later.
I roll over on the massive bed and glance out the window. I can see tree branches a few feet back -further than they are from Ryker's room- and the sky behind them turning darker by the minute. I glance to my left to see my alarm clock. It reads 8:57 I frown and look back towards the window.
I can hear people shuffling around the house, and if I really listen I can pinpoint where they are and what they're doing. My wolf grumbles inside of me, begging me to go to Ryker and away from the inky blackness in my mind. I push her away.
Instead, I listen for my friends. I can hear Arrow and Rowan, bickering about something I don't care about, in the basement. It sounds like they are sitting close together, and that briefly makes me feel slightly warmer. Even if nothing else would be ok, they would - eventually. I shake my head and go back to listening, moving on from the weirdest couple I know. I can hear Mr Cardinal humming in the kitchen, hands working over something no doubt delicious. I can also hear the woman I'd met at breakfast talking to someone, but don't care to listen to their conversation. I am busy looking for someone else.
My heart stutters as he shuffles, much closer than I had imagined. Now that I am paying attention, I realize he is sitting outside of my bedroom door. I had imagined him hanging out with Arrow and Rowan, or off on a run in the woods. The fact that he is here, waiting for me...... My wolf starts howling in happiness. I shush her, but can't help but admit that the fact he is so close makes me feel safer, more secure.... that reassurance gives me an idea and although my wolf grumbles in disagreement, she doesn't stop me.
I roll over again so I am laying on my back, looking up at the ceiling. I close my eyes and pretend that the stars are over my head, like in my own room, instead of the basic white that actually hovers there.
Once I am comfortable, I push into Ryker's mind.
"I need you to stay where you are, no matter what... Don't come in, and please don't leave." I breathe.
Immediately, I can hear him shuffling on the other side of the door. His back hits the wood and I can practically feel the frown on his face- he wants to come in, to hold me and make me feel better, but he won't push this.
"I'll be here." He rumbles back to me. I smile and thank him, and then close off my emotions from him.
I hear him shuffle again, but only to run his fingers through his hair with a heavy sigh.
I turn back to my body and focus on releasing the tension I'd acquired through the day. I start at my toes, focusing on my left foot and relaxing each individual muscle. I move over my foot, imagining that I am pulling a stocking of relaxation over it. Once I've reached my knee, I switch to the other foot and imagine the same thing.
I continue on like this until my entire lower half is so relaxed I can't feel it, and then risk turning my attention to the rest of me. As I'd hoped, as I had relaxed, my tired body had fallen into rest. My mind is still as sharp as ever, exactly as I hoped. My wolf is silent inside of me, sleeping herself. I feel thankful for this; hopefully she will stay asleep for the entire duration of this exercise, and not try to take control of our shared body like she had done this afternoon.
This was something that had been suggested by a therapist while I was in the hospital after being rescued. Well, part of it was. The relaxation tactic to get me to go to sleep had come from the therapist.
The idea to confront some of my demons while my body rested was my own idiotic scheme.
I listen to see if Ryker is still outside my door, and smile to myself when I hear his even breathing. Focusing on the steady beat of his heart to ground me, I slowly lower myself into the deepest part of my mind; the place I fear almost as much as Seth, and the place I'd been spending more and more time lately. My breathing gets deeper as I slowly let the terror that had gripped me earlier today seep into my mind. I keep letting it flow over me, until I look up to find that I am locked up back in that cell, bleeding, sore and miserable.
I trace my eyes around the memory. I look at the dripping pipes over my head, and the decrepit mattress that is feet from me. I'd never laid on it, too scared that if I had he'd torture me in the one way he hadn't, taking my use of the mattress as a sign I wanted him like he begged me to. I trace over the steel door that has several dents and scratches from his tantrums. I flick my eyes over the three stone walls that hold me, and then I turn in the direction of where he'd kept Steven.
I hadn't been able to see him during our time in hell. The fourth wall, the one that separates me and Steven, is half stone and half pipes. It looks like someone had cut the top half of the wall out and used several metal pipes and tubes to replace it. The row is thick enough to only allow glimmers of half views; enough to convince me he is still there but not enough for me to comfort him. Not enough for me to see him. Not enough for me to save him.
"Meda...." Someone calls from behind the pipes. My heart stutters.
"Meda, What are you doing?" I gasp as he moves through the pipes, stopping as soon as his body is free of the metal. My mouth moves, but no sound comes out. Steven smiles above me; he looks like himself again. His hair is clean and shiny, cut short. His eyes sparkle the brilliant green I remember. His skin is back to being the lovely tan and he doesn't have a single blemish. I feel my breathing speed up as I trace my eyes over him again and again.
Steven sighs and takes a step closer to me, but pauses. He frowns down at me and I follow his gaze to see what he is.
I am chained up. My hands are outstretched above my head, locked in the handcuffs. They are laced around a pipe above me. I remember Seth's explanation.
"If you can't lay down, you can't sleep. If you can't sleep, all you can do is think about me..... and then we'll see how long this playing hard to get lasts." He'd pressed a kiss to my head as he locked me into place, and I shivered in disgust.
I focus back on the picture before me. I am seated with my upper half pin straight, and my legs outstretched in front of me. I am wearing my underwear, my bra and nothing else. My skin is dirty and pale, the only colour coming from the cuts and bruises that litter me. Blood coats me, all the marks I've become so familiar with painted as weeping wounds instead of angry pink scars.
Blue and black handprints from where he's held me too tight, to stop me from ripping myself away from him decorate my hips and chest. I can feel pain in my jaw and remember the heat of his fist colliding with it when I had told him I'd never belong to him, that I would never love him.
"Meda..." Steven calls me. I flick my eyes back to his and feel tears stream down my face. He changed while I'd perused my broken body, and now his appearance matches the man in the photos of the case file. The smiling man i'd spent most of my life with is gone, and in his place is a gaunt, lifeless shell staring at me with fear in his unseeing eyes.
I reach forward to press my hands to the wound at his neck that is leaking streaks of red down his chest, but the chains around my wrists stop me, so much like the real moment. I pause and just stare at Steven, and then start shrieking. Pain, fear and misery steal me away.
I scream and throw my body around. I feel the anger and the sadness and the terror from Steven's last moment break me down. I feel all of the anger and the hatred and the fear grip me tightly and lead me away from the tiny room and into a pit of darkness that has gathered beneath me. And I let it. I let myself sink further into the bleak, dark hole until all I can feel is scared. Until all I can see is nothingness. Until all I can hear is the echoing screams I know are my own. And I just sit there and I feel it- all of it- for a never ending eternity.
And then I take a deep breath. And I listen past the screaming. And past the pain. And past the feeling that I am never going to escape from here.
Until I can make out the beating of his heart.
I focus on the steady thrum of Ryker's heart until I can hear my own erratic heart beat. Once mine is echoing beside his, I listen until my heart beat slows to match his. I focus on the sounds; two hearts beating as one. Once I feel steady, I turn back to the darkness.
It is a terrifying thing, looking into an endless sea of black and feeling only emptiness and pain coming off of it. But I continue to look, with only the sound of Ryker's heart to remind me that there is something outside of this iendless night.
The terror still grips me. I still can't see. I still can't feel anything other than crushing agony and hopeless misery. But I can find my way.
I sink deeper- the need to explore this part of me, to understand it urging me on. I feel alone here. And scared- beyond terrified. But I keep going, keeping the steady thump thump of Ryker's heart tethered to mine, to lead me back out of this after I'm done.
I don't know how much time passes before the terror starts to give way to unbearable pain. But eventually, fear isn't the biggest thing I am feeling anymore. Instead every inch of me hurts, like I had been coated in gasoline and lit aflame. I scream again and have to fight harder to remember that I can escape from this burning hell.
This too, eventually passes, but it takes longer than the fear. By the time it starts easing off I feel like all that is left of me is a pile of charred bones.
After the pain comes numbness, and I sink gratefully into it. It feels like sinking into cool water, floating inside of nothing. This feels comfortable. This feels right. Feeling nothing, having nothing, being nothing is familiar.
I sit in the darkness, feeling numb for an endless stretch of time. I forget about Steven, about Seth, about Ryker and my family. I forget about everything and just feel... Comfortably Numb.
"You can't stay here forever." A woman's voice startles me, echoing from the darkness. I whip my head around to find her, but nothing but blackness reaches me.
"Who are you?" I call. My voice sounds weird... echoey and higher than normal. The woman chuckles and warmth radiates from just out of view.
I blink and turn to look in that direction, still blind, but confident that that is where she is.
"Does it matter?" She questions. I feel the slightest touch of cool on my skin; like the moonlight that dances through the trees or an evening breeze. It is so comforting I want to press into her and never let go. "My identity doesn't make my statement any less true." I frown.
"Why can't I stay here?" I feel the brush of cool on my face again, and realize whoever this is must be touching my face.
"Because," she's moved closer, "you'd miss out on so much."
"What do you mean?" I whisper. I feel like she smiles down at me as I do.
"Child.... the world is so much bigger than this," it feels like she gestures around us, pointing out the darkness and the numbness I'd settled into.
"It hurts...." I breathe back, talking about the darkness. I feel her shuffle, and then cool fingers dance along my body and stop at my hands.
"I know," she sniffs, sadness dropping her tone to match mine, "for you more than most. But there is still so much good in the world, you just need to hold on to see it." She squeezes my hands and I feel tears slide down my face.
"I'm so scared," I cry, "and I feel like all I've got left is death and destruction." The woman presses against my cheek again, wiping my tears.
"You are more than that, my child. You are strong. Stronger than the man that hurt you, and much stronger than you know. You have taken damage, and the pain seems too great. But you faced it." I feel her grip my hands again, tugging me closer towards her.
"You faced hell and walked into it. You faced fear and rose above it. You faced pain and grew out of it. You can face this too."
"How do you know?" I beg. I feel her smile down at me again.
"I know all of my creations. And despite everything you have been through... You were made to weather the storm. You were born of fire and lightning, from the moment you met this world you tamed it to bend to your will. You will rise above these moments of quiet desperation, of lost loves and painful scars. You will rise above it all and leave this world better for it. You just need to believe in yourself, and have a little faith. You will always come out the other side." She drops my hands, and I feel like she is backing away.
"Wait!" I call, desperate for more answers. "Don't go!"
"I must, child. I've interfered as much as I am allowed."
"But you haven't done anything!" I call. She chuckles, surprising me with how close she has come so suddenly.
"Be brave, Andromeda. I will see you again, hopefully after a long and happy life." I feel a band of cool arms around me and try to reach out to return the phantom hug.
"I believe in you." She sighs into my ear.
With that, she is gone and I am alone again. The numbness slowly creeps it's way back in, but I hold it back with the memory of her kindness wrapped around me.
I turn her words over in my head again and again. Something about her makes me trust her, and I find myself really taking her words in, really listening to what she means. I feel a tear dance down my cheek, and I reach up to brush it away. I realize then that I am smiling, and let my eyes drift shut.
"Thank you." I breathe.
I know now that she is right, that despite everything I have had to face in my young life, and everything I still have yet to face, I will be able to rise above it someday. It will be hard, and painful, but someday.. .someday I would be more than the broken body I still feel so much like.
I breathe in a few more deep breaths, enjoying the numbness I had strived for all of my life. I know it's likely that I won't ever feel it again. I wrap my hands around my body and say a quick prayer for the strength to face my future, as well as my past.
And then I turn and follow the faint thump thump of Ryker's heart back towards my body, towards my family, and towards my life.
I have to walk back through the numbness, and then through the burning pain, and then through the blinding terror. But I face them, and as I go I make peace. I acknowledge the pieces of me that seem broken beyond repair- thank them for their service and move past the pain they cause me. With each step, the burn and sting of pain lifts, until I reach the fear. Again, I continue walking and acknowledge all of the fears as I pass. Each step makes me feel lighter, my terror still there but fading as I go. It will never be fully gone, not as long as Seth lives, but I feel that I can deal with it better.
I pause on the brink between the inky black depths and the stone walls of my prison.
"Thank you." I whisper. The woman had helped me to find my strength, and I am thankful for her interference. Even if it hadn't seemed like she'd done much, she'd guided me back to a strength I'd forgotten. Without her I would have stayed locked in the depths of Numbness forever.
I turn away and glance around my prison. Steven is gone, and so is the puddle of despair I'd collapsed into. I step carefully around the room in my memory, and press my hands to each wall. The stone crunches under my palms and I cry at the memory of the first time I'd ever done that.
When I'd awoken in the cell, I was dressed in nothing but flimsy panties and a matching bra. I'd tried to wrench open the steel door, but it had been locked from the outside. I'd tried to press on the walls, to escape through a weak point if I'd found one. But I hadn't. And I'd stayed there for hours, calling for someone to come and save me and begging Steven to show up.
I step away from the walls, and turn towards the steel door. There is no handle, as I remember. It locks from the outside and opens away from me. There are several dents and scratches, from Seth's tantrums whenever I would reject him. I trace over every mark and think about the last time I'd been locked in this room.
I'd been tethered to the pipe in the ceiling, arms completely numb from being held in that position for too many days. I'd thought he'd been punishing me further, leaving me to die with my guts spilling out of me and my arms stretched over my head. Instead, so many days had passed that the bleeding had stopped and I was starting to lose my mind to dehydration. I'd thought that the police officer that had pulled the steel door out of the way and was screaming into his Walkie-Talkie on his shoulder was a hallucination. Until he'd stepped forward and pressed his hands against my stomach. I'd screamed then, and several people came running.
I'd been cut down from my prison, and hauled out on a stretcher. I'd had wires attached to my skin, and a line put into my vein and all I could hear was how remarkable and unbelievable it was that I was alive after such an injury. I'd passed out before we'd left the building, trusting that this was the end.
I focus back on the door and think about pulling it open. I hesitate, unable to lift my arms.
"Open it." Steven's voice calls over my shoulder. I jump and spin to face him.
He looks the same as the first moment I'd spotted him. His wounds are gone, and he is smiling brightly at me. I return his smile the best I can and take a step towards him.
"I'm so sorry...." I breathe. He frowns and takes a step back.
"It's not your fault, Meda. You didn't ask for this to happen." I shake my head and sniff.
"No. But I had my part in it." He shakes his head. "I did," I interrupt. "Because he wanted me, and I didn't tell anybody about his other attempts at capturing me. I didn't warn you that he was hunting me, and I didn't ask for help until it was too late."
Steven takes a step towards me, and grabs my hand.
I squeeze, and pull him closer. He wraps his arms around me and I do the same to him. I haul in a deep breath and the scent of him has my heart aching.
"You died because I was too proud to ask for help. Because I was too scared to admit that it was happening."
"I died," he tugs my face up, "because he was an obsessed fool that couldn't see reason. I died because I refused to let him have you. I died," he pauses and brushes my hair back, "because Seth wanted me to. You had nothing to do with that."
I sob and press my face into the crook of his neck. He hugs me tighter and shushes me as I cry, murmuring over and over again that it wasn't my fault.
Once I have a hand on myself, I step back so I can look at him.
"You look good," I smile up at him as best as I can.
"Are you happy?" He smiles down at me.
"As happy as I can be without my partner in crime."
I bite my lip. "You deserve a good life, Meda. Don't let him take that from you too, ok?"
"Why does it sound like you're saying goodbye?" I whimper. He sighs and tugs me closer.
"Because I didn't get to say it last time." I bite my lip to stifle the sob that tries to break through and press myself closer to him.
"You h-have to go?" I cry.
"Yeah...." he breathes. "I do. But I just wanted to make sure that you know I love you." I nod and press a kiss to his neck. He squeezes me tighter for a second before losing his grip.
"I love you too," I whisper. "I'm sorry we didn't get to say goodbye, and for everything else." He presses a kiss to the top of my head and squeezes me tighter again for a second.
"I'm sorry that I'm going to miss your life." He whispers back. I sob again and just let him hold me. "It's going to be such a good one..." He breathes. I pull back enough to speak. "It would be better if you were here." He laughs. "I don't think your mate would agree..." I sniffle and he presses a kiss to my head again.
"I've gotta go now, Meda. I wasn't supposed to stay this long..." he trails off. I grip him tighter for a second before reluctantly letting him go.
"I'm going to miss you." I cry. He smiles at me, tears shining in his eyes.
"I'm going to miss you too. But don't come rushing to this side of things any time soon, ok? There's too many people out there that care about you." I nod, thinking of Arrow, Rowan and Ryker.
"I love you, Andromeda. Be good."
"I love you too, Stevie. I'll see you." He smiles and turns, walking back towards the pipes he had come from.
"Wait!" I call, suddenly thinking of one last question. He turns, eyebrow cocked.
"Why did you give up shifting? Was it for me?" His eyes widen but he quickly pushes away his surprise and shakes his head. "Dammit Blake...." He sighs. "I refused to shift because you couldn't. I didn't want to be a part of a world that you were going to be barred from." He smiles, "Just like you chose to stay in Toronto instead of going to Julliard." I bite my lip and lower my gaze.
"So you gave up a core part of yourself for me? And it got you killed..." I breathe. He frowns and grabs my hand again.
"I gave it up for us. So we could continue to be us. I don't regret it. And I don't want you to, either. Being by your side wasn't a choice I could have made."
"Leaving you was never an option for me, either." I breathe. He smiles and squeezes my hand. The pressure of it is lighter than before, and when I glance down his form starts disappearing.
He looks down at his shimmering form and then glances back up at me with a sad smile.
"Time to go, unfortunately." I nod and press a kiss to my hand before stretching it out towards him. He smiles and drops my hand before turning back towards the pipes. He lifts his hand and presses it against the biggest pipe, pausing once he makes contact.
"I love you, Meda. Be good." He repeats, glancing over his shoulder at me. I smile and wave until he completely disappears, and then reach up to wipe the tears from my face. I sigh and turn back towards the steel door.
I take a deep breath and then slide my hand along the door. I catch the bolt of the lock and tug. One more twist and the door scoots back towards me with a screech. I finish pulling it open as it creaks.
I step over the threshold and open my eyes to the white ceiling of the Cardinal family guest room.