“I don’t—know what I think.”
She chews down on her bottom lip, keeping her gaze on her lap. She does love Zero—he helps, he helps but she doesn’t feel like there’s any real belonging here. She can’t look at the animals without cringing back, she can’t do much of anything without trembling and shivering and squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to force away disgusting thoughts that filled her mind. She needs guidance, but there is nothing, now. Abra quickly wipes at her eyes the moment she feels them dewing over, hugging her blanket tightly to her and peering towards Zero.
“…You don’t—mean. That. Good parts—you don’t—like her.”
“No. I don’t like her. But there’s good parts to her, even I can see that.”
Very few good parts. But they’re there. She gave Abra stability, she kept Abra happy despite all the wrongness in their lives. Abra seemed to feel an intense love for the delusion, or an intense something—so there were good parts to her. She helped Abra remember a little, come to terms with things. Though, he supposes, that seems like a bad thing at the moment.
“My only concern is you. That’s all I care about.”
”It makes me—lost and. Lonely.”
And Abra rubs her bony shoulder, looking down at her lap with a tiny shrug. She doesn’t know what to do without that woman leading her—she flounders in this world. She doesn’t think she belongs. The anger that burned her raw is always subdued into grief—but it’s better than dreaming about That Place. It’s better than reliving the monsters plucking at her feathers or tearing into her chest. It’s better than remembering it all—she’ll tuck it all away, look towards Zero with a small whimper.
“But you don’t—like her. You or Grandfather. So good and—bad? Is that—right?”
“There’s no right answer. I was just asking how you felt about it. Good and bad works, though, if that’s what you think.”
Lost and lonely. He knows it isn’t fair, he knows it’s selfish, but he can’t help but feel a little hurt than she isn’t finding solace in him anymore. (Well, she is, but she still feels lost and lonely.) He knows she can’t help it. He knows. He knows he shouldn’t be so quick to feel pain when he’s trying very hard not to feel anything. Unless he has to. Or really wants to, like good feelings.
“We just worry about you, that’s all—it isn’t that we’re against… against the good parts of her. There’s good parts of her, too…”
“I haven’t—dreamt for. Some time. Did She—go to bed.”
Small, needy hands raise—William was finally able to get her to bathe, and now, she’s bundled up in a towel with a blanket over her bony shoulders. Clearly, she wants no one else but Zero at this moment.
He tries not to sound too relieved at the idea of Ophelia returning to the corner’s of Abra’s head, especially since her presence had been one of those mixed blessings disguised as a curse. Either way, she’s sure to come back—Abra’s sure to start dreaming again, crying and wrapping her arms around herself and pulling out her hair.
“You think that’s good or bad?”
Abra remembers that. She remembers the frantic sobs of her beau, the hot, salty tears that fell against her cold and almost dead face. The goddess had hissed for her to come closer, but the hiss was so silken and smooth that it sounded like an enchanting song—and Abra falters, feeling her stomach tighten as she drops her spoon to the surface of the table, a small whimper spilling past her lips.
It frightens her—because the woman won’t leave her be, because she’s always in Abra’s dreams and Abra doesn’t know how to turn away or send her off—and she doesn’t think she could, anyway. The woman seems so sad.
“…You can’t trust her, Abra. You might go back down there if you do—” Abra sounds a frantic little cry, quickly rubbing at her eyes. “Don’t cry, now. We love you. Zero loves you—adores you…he does. He fought all that way to bring you back—don’t…don’t do that. Come on. No crying—it’s going to be okay, darling. I promise.”
Zero is quiet once more, looking toward Liam for a moment as he kindly and tiredly does his best to soothe Abra. There’s guilt there, guilt for taking everything out on him when all he does is try to help. Another flash of anger from the part of him that’s trying to build himself back up to who he used to be sparks, though he doesn’t know why—sometimes any sort of emotion just sparks up his temper now.
“You’ll be safe. Don’t worry.”
His voice is quiet, but genuine—that anger stays inside for now.
“Please don’t cry. The whole world cries when you cry.” He slinks over toward Abra again, wrapping his arms around her, kissing the top of her head. “He’s right, it’s going to be okay. He promised. He wouldn’t lie to us. Come on—finish… finish up with the food, then we can rest.”
Her gaze flickers at that name—Ophelia, who wouldn’t dare pluck the flowers from the ground much as her lover had plucked her, only to leave her at the roadside to wither and decay. Abra trembles slightly, pulling in a quick little breath and pressing her forehead into her hands. Does she say anything to Abra? Abra bites down at her bottom lip, and William looks towards Zero with a hard frown. He feels the childe’s anger rising, and he watches the boy warningly—he can be angry all he likes. But he better not lose his temper in front of Abra.
“—…N…No I—don’t…think that’s..it.” She manages to whisper, and William exhales softly, looking down towards Abra and lightly pushing her hair back. He catches her chin in his touch, raising her eyes to meet his own. His gaze burns intense, he refuses to release her. “If she tries to speak to you—tries to tell you to come to her, don’t listen to her. You may go when Zero takes you—alright? If you go alone—you might go back Down There. You know where. Don’t you?” And there’s fear in Abra’s eyes—and she understands, bowing her head, pulling in a sharp breath and squeezing her eyes shut.
“…How would t—hat…happen she’s—not…horrible…”
“She tried to take you away from me before.”
He does his best to keep the disdain and bitterness out of his voice at the memory. Even with his foggy head these days, he can still clearly recall the feeling of his clothing sticking to his skin as he dove in the water and pulled Abra out, crying over her and imploring her to wake up. He remembers how empty she looked, how unhappy, much like now—and he’d felt so betrayed, betrayed and sad and angry knowing she had chosen the woman in the water who wasn’t even real over him.
Zero doesn’t know how to explain it to Abra. He doesn’t know how to tell her about her vengeful goddess without his bias seeping through, so that’s all he says, pouring another glass of milk and downing it quickly before closing the fridge.
And Abra swallows dryly, feeling her own heart swell within her chest as her gaze meets her Grandfather’s. The river. No one asked her about the river or the forest—she doesn’t think they want to know, because everytime Abra brings it up she feels the discomfort settle over the pair and she knows that’s no good, either. It’s better to keep it limited to her dreams—Zero said he’d take her there one day. One day, maybe she’ll have more answers.
”…Just dreams—” She manages to whisper out softly, pressing back into her chair, wanting to make herself smaller. William exhales a small sigh, tenderly holding her hand between his two larger ones, a kiss being pressed to her tiny knuckles. “What about?” Abra feels her heart throb, a frown tugging at her plump lips as she glances uneasily from Zero to William, pulling in a slow breath and quickly looking down at her lap. “
…I don’t—know she’s…all in white and…she holds me d—own…she’s there—in the—…forest.”
The name is mumbled, a cross between a prayer and a curse, a taboo word. He’d thought perhaps her return into Abra’s head would prove to make things better, but so far all he sees is her dissolving into pain and emptiness—tomorrow, he’ll be more optimistic; he always wakes up and reminds himself how to look at things, but for now he’s falling back into that old slight contempt—perhaps extreme contempt—that he harbors for that delusion.
He never would have thought a delusion would end up being so real, in its own way.
Eyes flicker toward Liam, angry—directing his anger at the wrong person yet again—before looking once more at Abra. His gaze is much softer, his voice is much gentler. “Does she say anything to you?”
She doesn’t think six bites is enough to please either of them—she doesn’t know why she’s like this, why she’s always thinking about the river or why she gets so angry sometimes, angry enough to burst and scream and tear through walls. But she’s here, now, she’s trembling and peering towards the boy as she swallows down her yogurt with a small whimper.
He’ll go down to the basement when she falls asleep, Abra knows—he’ll leave her to be with himself, to throw his terrifying fits and Abra will curl up in her bed and heave out tiny little sobs until he returns and pulls her into his arms again. She takes another bite of the yogurt, wiping her eyes again, hating the way her stomach curdles and coils and the way her throat tightens so uncomfortably. She swallows anyway. William breathes a small sigh, stepping towards the pair and seating himself beside Abra, watching her carefully before reaching out to lightly take her hand in his own.
”…Abra—have you heard anything from the forest, recently?”
Zero doesn’t say anything, choosing to stare down at his hands until he hears Liam speak up again. Eyes raise them, cautiously peering towards Abra—he hasn’t been keeping up, really. He never asks her about anything, not knowing what would cause upset and not knowing what wouldn’t.
He tries not to look too curious or concerned, but ultimately fails—leaving him to look back toward the counter again, and then towards the ceiling. He turns and peers into the fridge, knowing he’s already been fed but needing something to distract himself. He ends up pouring himself a glass of milk, and then looking into the fridge once more for nothing in particular, listening.
He has a right to know anything concerning Abra, of course, but his nerves contradict him, make him behave strangely.
Abra trembles—she feels herself begin to shake, gasping out softly as she watches the boy withdraw into himself. She’s afraid for him—for everything—she doesn’t want what little balance she’s felt within Zero to be disrupted, but she knows it might be, she knows that it’d be her fault and her hands are fluttering at her neck and she’s parting her lips to call out his name, but William silences her before she can say a single thing.
She’s whimpering softly, lowering her dewy lashes at that apology as William gives a slight nod, looking elsewhere, rubbing a hand over his forehead. It’s not Grandfather’s fault—Abra knows it. It’s her fault. Her stomach’s fault for twisting and her fault for crying, and she’s rubbing at her eyes and biting back a small sob, looking towards Zero desperately.
”B—Beau—” She manages to choke out his name, snatching her spoon and immediately digging it into the carton of yogurt, carving out a small spoonful and shoving it into her mouth. Her stomach curdles. She wants to scream, but she sucks the yogurt off of the spoon and forces it down her throat with a stifled cry. “I—I’ll e—eat i—if t—-hat’s good—I can. I can.” A frantic whisper—she’s pulling in a ragged breath, feeling her eyes swell up with tears once more. She’ll eat—she’ll eat as much as he wants if it means he’ll be okay.
Zero looks toward her as she forces the food into her mouth and feels tears well up in his eyes. He immediately wipes them away, avoiding eye contact with Liam and even with her, though he does move around to the other side of the counter so that he can kiss the top of her head and stroke her hair gently.
That’s enough of that.
“Shh. Not too much. Just—just the six bites, and then we’ll get you to bed.”
And he’ll be with her until she falls asleep, and then he’ll go down into the basement. He’ll barricade himself inside and cry and moan and shout, biting into himself and throwing himself against the walls. When he’s done acting like a wild animal, he’ll rest back at Abra’s side again and hold her until he falls asleep.
One thing at a time. One thing at a time, and then everything will be better before he knows it. One thing at a time.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, baby girl.”
And in moments, Abra is wiping away her tears—ashamed, trembling, feeling the calm before the storm come to an abrupt halt as Zero confronts Grandfather and Abra recoils into her seat as far as she’ll go. What is he talking about? Abra doesn’t know—he’s speaking so quickly and she didn’t mean to spark something in him, she only didn’t want to eat because the food felt so horrible in her stomach now, and she doesn’t feel good enough to eat like she did yesterday (when she had many cheese and crackers and ate all of her vitamins).
William breathes a sigh, though there’s pain etched clear in his weary, shadowed gaze. He turns, looking towards Zero with a tight-lipped frown, rubbing a hand through his matted hair. He looks to Abra, then to Zero, keeping his own composure despite the surge of anxiety that is quick to filter through his veins.
“—I know what she’ll try to do if you don’t tell her what you know she’ll try to do, Zero.” He states calmly, resting the tablet before Abra, watching her shove it in her mouth frantically, attempting to avoid anymore conflict. “If you don’t talk to her about that river—she’s going to go, and yes. We will lose her. And it will be my fault for trying to make her eat so she can live—but it’ll be your fault, as well—because you didn’t tell her. Now calm down. You know who I am. Take a deep breath—go down to the basement, if it helps. But don’t you dare lose your temper.”
Don’t you dare lose your temper.
The words cause the classic angry, contradictory nature of Zero’s to come back up. Eyes look as though they’re about ready to flood with black, but they don’t; he controls himself, he looks toward the crying little angel and feels his chest seize up.
She doesn’t deserve to see this. He doesn’t want her to see him like this, he never wants her to see him like this. He swallows it down, lets his eyes fall shut, lets his shoulders sag. It appears the crisis has been averted, though it’ll be sure to creep up on him later, and all that’s left is exhaustion as he hangs his head, hands covering his face for a few moments as he evens out his breathing.
Not in front of Abra. He can’t do this in front of Abra.
You’re pathetic, Zero tells this weak impostor in his place, this shell he’s trapped inside, buried beneath the PTSD and bitterness. I can’t believe you have the audacity to be me, to have my name, to walk around like some little fucking bitch. And by the way, his name is fucking Liam. Do you remember that, asshole? Weak, so fucking weak.
And then there’s a terrible urge to punch a wall, but he doesn’t. He raises his head from his hands and swallows hard, shaking his head.
“Sorry,” he breathes, to both Abra and Liam.