In a Darkened Room

by Hutch & Kielle

Boy, this one's angsty. Consider it my final after-spurt-math of Fallen. Kielle has blanket archive rights. All others ask. Feedback to hutch @ and kielle @, please. Subreality is Kielle's intellectual property. Tamsin, Sable, and Hutch are mine. The title is from a Skid Row song. Some mild swearing is involved.

I started writing this, and then I got stuck, so Kielle wrote the wonderful confrontation. Guess I was more angry than I thought, huh, K? =)

The turret room was dark.

Though by Subreality time, it was midday or so, the curtains had all been drawn against the light; the normally sunny, bright bedroom was shrouded in dusky gloom. On the bed sat a small, curled-up figure, leaned forward, curled around herself as if holding something close. Knees tucked up under her chin and arms wrapped around her legs, she rocked a little in time with some soundless tune.

Across the room, by one of the curtained windows, stood another figure. Tall, dressed today in a dark-hued suit, he stood in a casual pose with his long black hair hanging down about his face. The filtered light did not fail to caress his handsome face as a lover might; but he ignored it, his attention focused on the woman seated on the bed. Ignored, too, the small dragon stretched, sleepful, on the easy chair; that little one slept, blissfully oblivious to the tension in the room.

"I've never died before."

The Muse peered at the Writer, only slightly surprised at her apparent non sequiter. She'd been sitting in this approximate position since much earlier that morning, when he'd returned from his apartments at the Collegium to try and offer some help with the problems reputedly going on at the House of Strange Dimensions. By the time he'd arrived, everything seemed to have been solved, although the air of the House was slightly more somber than usual. He'd climbed the stairs to the turret room with no small amount of worry, only to discover his Writer here, in this same position, seeming almost catatonic except that she registered his arrival with a faint nod. Now, at last, she seemed to be feeling more aware of things around her.

"It... happens around here," he said cautiously.

Her hair swung around her face as she turned her head to look at him. "Why didn't you tell me I killed you?"

It took Tamsin -- for that was the Muse -- off guard. "You know about..?"

"About the Subreality War, yes," Hutch -- for that was the Writer, as if it weren't patently obvious by now -- replied. "I found out everything last night. This morning. Whatever. How it was retconned. Everything that happened. Why didn't you tell me?" she repeated.

Tamsin hesitated, wincing. This wouldn't be easy. He'd dreaded it, feared this moment as much as he knew it would eventually arrive. The first words of explanation were, as a result, somewhat rehearsed.

"We were charged to keep it a secret. Only the Muses remembered, and it was determined that if you -- all of you -- knew what had happened, things would somehow... perhaps be made more fragile..."

He trailed off. Hutch was chuckling softly, bitterly.

"Geez, and I thought 'he who cannot learn from history must be doomed to repeat it', or however the quote goes. You knew," she said, accusing now, "that I was having nightmares. And now I know why."

"You, and Rossi, and others," Tamsin shot back. "Not to mention that Rossi's were a far sight worse than yours--"

"That makes it right?!" As soon as the words snapped out of her mouth, she shut down again. Lips tight in a grimace of a fight against tears, she set her chin to her knees again.

Tamsin let out a sigh, hands gripping into fists and then relaxing. He stepped toward the bed, daring to sit when Hutch didn't make an immediate move away.

"I wanted to tell you," he said in a soft voice. "But how was I supposed to broach the subject, much less inform you in some way that I betrayed you and your fellow Writers, that you killed me?"

Hutch gave a tiny nod, sniffling a little.

"I knew that it would destroy the trust between us. Maybe it was selfish of me to keep it in, but then there was the direct order. Not only would it have played havoc with our professional relationship, but I probably would have come under recrimination from Calliope."

"Not like that really makes a difference to you," the Writer pointed out.

Tamsin shrugged slightly, a hint of a smile crooked in his lips. "True. Still -- but now you know. What do you think?"

She was silent for a few moments, pondering his question. Then, carefully, she began to put forth her reply. "I... I don't know. It's like a lot of things make sense, all of a sudden -- but they're things that I wish I didn't know, too. Even after having been through last night..." and she gave an involuntary shudder "...I still wish I didn't have to remember being what I was. Cold-blooded, a stone-hearted warrior... I killed. For my own survival, for the survival of others. I'm not exactly a pacifist, Tamsin, but to know in my mind that I've succumbed to that bloodlust..."

"But you weren't a berserker, you didn't live for the fight," Tamsin said, turning towards Hutch and reaching for her hands. "You defended yourself and your friends to insure their survival. There's a difference."

Hutch nodded faintly, but the despairing look didn't quite leave her eyes.

"And then... to find this out last night, while I'm running around with a lightsaber and what might as well be Jedi robes -- well, now I know how I got the damn 'saber, anyway," she added sardonically. "While Ana's ghost is possessing me, and with all the other horrible things that happened..."

She gave another bodily shudder. "I still can't quite get over the memory of the Dragon ripping me in half. It's all a lot to absorb. I don't even know, right now, if I *can* absorb it."

"The Dragon..." Tamsin started. As if on cue, a knock sounded on the door to the main room below. Both of them glanced downwards automatically. "Do you want me to go see who that is?" the Muse asked.

"Would you?" Hutch asked. Nodding, Tamsin got up, releasing her hands, and headed down the spiral stairs. Hutch took advantage of the time he was gone to scrub at her tear-stained face with her hands and to comb her hair with her fingers. She could do nothing about the rest of her appearance -- baggy, oversized shirt and plaid flannel shorts -- but she wasn't much concerned with personal dignity at the moment.

She could hear the familiar tones of Tamsin's voice reverberating in the stairwell, but he was talking pains to speak softly to their visitor and thus his words were lost to her. Part of her wondered what she was missing, who'd come calling. Part of her simply didn't care. Whoever it was could just go away, thank you very--


One last push with nerveless hands finally convinced her lank hair to stay behind her ears; she looked up at the sound of her name. In retrospect, she really wasn't surprised to find who her visitor was.

"I'm sorry, K, but this really isn't a good time for company," she explained wearily. "Can you just put my breakfast away? I'll get it later."

To her chagrin, Kielle didn't seem to get the subtle hint to leave. The Scribe looked more together than she usually did in the morning: dressed, brushed, polished, and with the irritating air of someone who's determined to Get Something Done no matter what. I am SO not in the mood for another happy chirpy House party, she canNOT make me join up! Hutch thought through gritted mental teeth. She opened her mouth to say as much, but Kielle spoke first.

"I'm sorry," she said quickly, as if afraid of losing her momentum. "I know that doesn't help much, but I'm sorry."

Alarmed, Hutch wracked her newly acquired memories of the War and of the dream the night before and could find no reason for this apology. "For...?" she asked warily.

"For...I don't know, really, but I didn't feel right unless I came up here and said so. I mean, I invited you this place, made a big deal about giving you a room, and then *this* happens. I swear it's never happened before. Believe me, I would have warned you." Kielle gave her a pleading look. On second reflection, Hutch noticed that her eyes were tired -- too tired to be explained away by the mere fact that the notoriously morning-hating woman was up before the decent hour of noon. " remember last night, right?"

Hutch shrugged, suppressing a bolt of queasiness that shot through her stomach at the thought. "Yes. As a really bad nightmare, but I'm guessing it was more than a nightmare. Right?"

"Right. Did Tamsin tell you that everyone in the House had the same dream? More or less?"

"I guessed."

"Ah." A brief awkward silence fell, and fell, and fell some more. Finally Kielle couldn't stand the suspense and added, "You remember what happened, uh, before, too?"

Hutch merely nodded, her lips pressed into a thin tight line.

"Ah," Kielle said again, fidgeting, staring at her toes. "We're going to be discussing that downstairs in a few minutes if you want to come down, but I'd understand if you don't, after...I...look, this is awkward...about last you remember, uh..."

"Dying?" Hutch supplied flatly. "Because if you were going to say anything else, I'd have to say that it really isn't important right now."

The Scribe closed her eyes briefly as if in pain. "Yes. That was what I was going to say. I came up here to apologize for that too, though I'm not entirely certain if that's something one *can* apologize for."

In her defense, Hutch had spent all night locked in a horrible nightmare and woken up to the looming prospect of having to talk to one of her best friends about the fact that she'd apparently murdered him -- and forgotten about it -- and been lied to about it by the very person whose blood was on her hands, as far as she was concerned. She was not in the best of moods, and thus can be forgiven for losing her temper at this point.

"God DAMN it, Kielle!" she snarled. "I'm not sure what kind of martyr complex you're developing there, but just because you created the goddamn House -- a fact which you can stop rubbing in our *faces* now, thank you very much -- doesn't mean that you have to get *personally* angst-ridden about every goddamn thing that goes wrong in it! And if you're so *determined* to be *sorry* for it, why didn't you build it right in the first place?!"

Kielle jerked back a step, her jaw hanging ajar in shock, but Hutch plunged onward without pausing for air -- her voice was steadily rising into a zone somewhere between strident and hysterical. "I'm only going to say this once, so get this straight: I don't *want* your apologies! I want to be left *alone*, I need time to *think*, I have to talk to Tamsin *in private,* I want...I want...I don't know what I want, but this isn't it, so I suggest that you GO *AWAY* before...before I REALLY get nasty!"

Pale, Kielle took another step back and almost slipped onto the first tier of the spiral stair leading down. Hutch braced herself for a return volley, but it wasn't forthcoming -- rather, Kielle looked as if she'd been punched in the stomach.

"I...I'll be in the kitchen if you change your mind," she said quietly, and then she was gone down the stairs. Hutch heard her speaking to Tamsin again, but she curled up into a miserable ball and resolutely tuned out the conversation until she sensed her muse standing behind her -- as usual his feet had been cat-silent on the way back up the spiralling steps.

"What," she said without uncoiling.

"That was a little uncalled for, don't you think?"

"Maybe... *sigh* Yes. She'll live," Hutch replied with a tinge of guilt. "She does need to stop acting like she has to take reponsibility for everything that happens around here before she gives herself an ulcer. I don't blame her for last night."

Faced with only his Writer's flannel-wrapped back for conversation, Tamsin rubbed his neck uncomfortably. "Um. Actually...the Dragon?"

The Writer shuddered. "What about it?" she mumbled indistinctly.

"Kielle just told me to tell you: *she* was the Dragon. *She* was the one who...who ripped you in half last night."

Hutch went rigid, frozen, but didn't say anything. Feeling helplessly awkward, Tamsin added, "She wanted me to let you know that she wasn't in her right mind at the time -- it was the House. And that you don't have to accept her apology if you don't want to."

"Oh, hell..." he heard her say softly. "Someday I'll learn to think before I open my mouth."

Tamsin waited for a few moments to see if she was about to do something stupid, like bolt; but when Hutch's shoulders began to shake, he stepped up behind her, resting a comforting hand on one shoulder. For now, it was merely important to let her know that he was there.

* * *

And so it came to pass that a short time later, amidst the bustle of the kitchen's breakfast preparations, Hutch found herself stammering out an apology of her own to Kielle.

To her surprise, Kielle cut her off before she could get halfway through it. "You were right," she said simply, turning back to a grill covered in pancake batter.

Hutch stood by the counter, dumfounded into silence. After a moment, tentatively, she asked, "I was?"

Kielle nodded, lip stern as she watched the batter sizzle on the grill. "You made a good point. I let myself start feeling guilty about this, and I'm just going to get worked up again. It's not my fault it happened -- it's not really anyone's fault."

"Give me the spatula," Hutch said by way of reply. This earned her a quizzical look from the Scribe, and Hutch smiled. "You're going to burn those. Let me do them."

Equanimity is often restored in such small gestures. Breakfast in the House that morning may have been a tense affair, but at least peace was starting to settle again.


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this page last updated on 18 january 2003