"Hey, you alright in there?"
The Ryes' home was the first building they'd stepped into in months. It was warm and inviting, flickering with the soft light of a low fire in the living room. There were cushioned couches and loveseats and brightly colored blankets strewn about. The ceilings were vaulted, which helped with the claustrophobia.
Dep's lungs still felt too small.
They'd been having a hard time not hyperventilating ever since they passed through the fence, and their vision was swimming at this point. But Carmina's fingers were gentle and warm and kind against the rough, cracked leather of their glove. The daisy bounced a calming rhythm against their ear. They couldn't bear to let go. (It was the first time someone other than the Father had touched them in- they didn't want to think about that.)
Carmina had obviously sent word ahead to her parents, maybe radioed in when Dep was having their break down, because there was no one around. Perhaps they thought it would be too overwhelming to have too many familiar faces around for the first night. Seeing as Dep couldn't breath just because they were inside a house, they couldn't really blame the Ryes for thinking that.
"Hey, look at me, Dep, okay? Just look right at me."
They did. The air that the cracks in their mask let through was unsettling against skin that hadn't seen the light of day in- they didn't want to think about that either.
Carmina's face was round and freckled and kind. They'd wanted to see her grow up.
"One step at a time, okay?" Carmina reassured, setting a hand against their mask, uncaring of the grime the Dep knew was caked there. "Nothing too much and nothing you can't handle. We've got all the time in the world now, Dep. So let's just take it one step at a time."
Dep swallowed (their throat felt like sandpaper) and nodded without really agreeing. Carmina led them to a small, sparse room filled with only a utilitarian bed and a desk under the tiny window. Did they like it?
Yes. No. How did you know if you liked things, again?
They waited until Carmina let go of their hand and closed the door with a quiet click. There were no footsteps out in the hall. She was listening- making sure they didn't bolt. Smart kid.
They didn't take off the mask or the jacket or the boots. They didn't turn down the bed or open the window. It wasn't their bed, not their window, not their home to be comfortable in.
They curled up as tight as they could get on top of the cool, rough quilt on the mattress and felt their skin crawling; it was as if their very bones were screaming at them to get up, get out, this isn't yours, you'll just find a way to ruin it, make a mess, not good enough, traitor, murderer, YOU'RE A MONSTER-
They didn't sleep much that night.
There was a hand over their mouth when they opened their eyes in the dark.
(Blessed are the wicked, my child, we're family, my child, you're mine own, my child-)
The fingers were too wide, they were cutting off airflow to both Dep's mouth and nostrils; their lungs burned like a wildfire and Dep couldn't move. Their limbs were lead, sinking right through the mattress and into the floor. The blankets were quicksand, bent on swallowing Dep whole.
(Blessed are the wicked who are healed by mine hand, my child, say it, say-)
Oh God, oh God, they couldn't breathe, they couldn't please don't make them-
(say it, SAY IT, SAY IT, YOU ARE THE WICKED, SAY IT AND BE HEALED)
The body pressing down on their chest from above was heavy as stone. He reeked of old blood- their old blood. They tasted it on the fist shoving into their mouth, the knuckles against their tongue. Another palm wrapped around their throat. Dep tried to kick out but the blood flow to their legs had long since been cut off by His dreadful weight.
Dep was going to die down here in the dark.
(BE BLESSED MY CHILD)
"Dep, you gotta wake-"
(DON'T FIGHT ME, MY CHILD, I WILL SAVE YOU)
The new voice was but a gnat buzzing in the background compared to the megaphone in their ears. Not for the first time, Dep wished they could scream.
"Dep, wake up, for God's sake, wake up-"
(SAY YOU ARE THE WICKED AND BE SAVED)
They woke for real this time, jolting with unpleasant quickness into consciousness. Their mask was suffocating, the strap at the base of their skull too tight and cutting into flesh. They felt the layer of sweat that had covered their body in the night, damp and too cold in the Montana air.
They were slumped over on the floor by the foot of the bed- they must have rolled off in the night. Half sitting up, legs twisted in the quilt that had come with in the fall, they were supporting themself on one elbow and using the other hand to hold a knife to Nick Rye's vulnerable throat.
(You must be ready to cleanse the land of infidels and sinners, my child.)
They flinched away, landing flat on their back; the knife clattered to the floor beside their head. They'd almost forgotten they'd had it up their sleeve. The collar of their jacket, which was not a hand but the real source of the restriction of oxygen to their lungs, let up a little. They gasped, wheezed, and then they looked up.
Nick hadn't backed away an inch. He hovered uncertainly where he was leaning over them, one hand extended, lips parted. He spoke in a hoarse whisper. "Dep, it's okay. It was just a nightmare. You- do you know where you are?"
Their vision blurred. Dep wasn't sure who was making that awful keening noise, but it grated at their ears and they'd like whoever it was to stop. Nick looked horrified; that was probably a good reaction to Dep, if they were being honest.
They scrambled away from him, flailing to get free of the blankets constricting their legs. Scooting back on their tailbone, Dep didn't stop until they were huddled against the far wall, right under the window. The wood was rough and splintered under their hands.
(Sinners must not be tolerated, and you must JUDGE them harshly.)
Nick tried to take a step forward, and their chest heaved with a sob. Dep couldn't catch their breath; tears flooded, and their face was too hot. Desperately, they clutched their head in their hands, rapped their knuckles hard against their scalp. They were here, not in the bunker. They were with the Ryes- one of whom they'd just almost killed.
They couldn't do this. They couldn't. Not if it meant waking up to find they'd stabbed- that they'd ever hurt- They'd made a mistake coming back. Maybe it would have been better for everyone in Hope County if they'd burned alongside Him.
Dep had squeezed their eyes shut at some point, so they felt more than heard him cross the room and crouch down next to them. Dep shied away, unwilling to taint Nick with their unclean presence.
(Not good enough for them, should never have come, you're broken, did you really think you could stay?)
"Hey," Nick's voice was soft. He didn't try to touch them. "Hey, just look at me for a minute, yeah? I promise, I'm not gonna hurt you."
There was a red line darkening on his throat, right over his jugular. They watched, mesmerized and sick from it, as a single drop of crimson leaked out and disappeared under the collar of his worn sweatshirt. They turned their head hurriedly and suppressed the urge to gag.
(you did that you did that youdidyoudidyoudid)
"You're safe now," Nick told them. He leaned back against the wall, near enough to be seen but not felt. "Nobody's gonna hurt you anymore."
The keening noise was back. They thumped a hand against their chest, cursing their muteness, and thrust a finger at the knife. They pounded their fist against their clavicle again for emphasis.
Nick's face was greyer and more haggard than they'd ever seen it. He still looked strangely young without his cap on, but his lips thinned and he shook his head. His voice was heavy with authority and something in it soothed their jangling nerves. "You're not gonna hurt anyone, Dep. I know you're not. You know how I know it?"
They shook their head. He sighed, scrubbed a hand over his eyes, and leaned his head back against the windowsill. "Because you're good, Dep. You just can't remember that right now."
Kim found them there in the morning, although Dep was pretty sure she'd been outside their room for longer. Maybe for the entire thing; they hadn't gone back to sleep but she was quiet. Nick sounded like he'd dozed, and when Kim opened the door he jumped and hit the back of his head against the windowsill. Kim snorted.
"Oh yeah, laugh it up," he muttered, prodding at the bruise, "not like I'm your only husband or anything."
"Oh, poor baby," Kim sauntered in like nothing was wrong. Like the bed wasn't a mess, like her husband sitting on the floor in the middle of the night with an insane ex-cop was normal. Like there wasn't a knife stained with his blood lying there, just out of reach. "You want me to kiss it better?"
Nick perked up at that. "Would you?"
"Knowing what I do about your showering habits? Not a chance. Get downstairs before Carmina eats all the eggs."
Nick hesitated for a moment, pointedly not looking at Dep. Kim held his eyes steadily and nodded at the door. Her foot nudged the blade and their stomach roiled like curdled milk.
"Go on," Kim murmured, and Nick went, joints cracking as he stood and left. They could hear him give a low groan as he descended the stairs. They were left alone with Kim.
(You should go, get out, look what you've already done, are you going to put the mother of your godchild in danger now too?)
"I'd say I know that look on your face, but well," Kim gestured to their mask. Their heart was beating too hard in their chest, and their ears were roaring. She took a step forward but stopped when they flung out a warning hand. Kim sighed and crouched down on her heels to get on their level.
How far from the window to the ground? Not that far, probably.
"But I do know you, Dep." Kim told them with enough kindness in her voice that they retched quietly. "And I know you're not going to give up this easily, are you?"
Yes. No. They wanted to, desperately.
(Take heart, my child. You are doing God's work.)
Why couldn't it all just stop?
They shrank away, tried to mold themself into the wood panels of the room when Kim stretched out welcoming fingers to them. Kim didn't seem disturbed, and didn't drop her offered hand. (How can she not be repulsed? You're a traitor, monster, should have died with Him-)
"If you can't see why you should do this for yourself, if you can't find a reason why you want to stay alive," Kim spoke softly, almost hypnotic in the early morning stillness, "then do it for us. We're counting on you, Dep."
Well. That was that then.
They stayed, however reluctantly; it was partly due to the fact that every single one of the Ryes had an amazing talent for puppy dog eyes. They could hear familiar voices on the radio in the kitchen, sometimes, but they never answered Kim when she asked if they wanted to talk to anybody.
(You don't deserve it. Why are you still here?)
But the Ryes had nice flowers out back of their house, and Carmina had tentatively suggested that a plot of land be set aside for a garden. Nick was quick to jump on that one; he'd hauled hoes and rakes and shovels from the outdoor shed before Kim had pointed out that they'd need to find seeds and plan it out before getting to work.
Dep had silently turned around and gone back inside. They were getting used to the same four walls of their room; it would almost be comforting if not for the fact that once the natural light from the window was gone the gloom made the wallpaper the exact same shade as the bunker and they would start remembering-
The didn't want to think about that anymore. They couldn't think of anything else.
It seemed like every day Dep tried to leave. They were getting farther and father every time; yesterday Dep had gotten to the woodline behind the fence before a heavy hand landed on their shoulder and they'd had to face Nick's disappointed (worried, scared, he should be scared of a TRAITOR-) eyes.
They were sneaking out for another attempt (sixteenth time's the charm, why can't you just let go of them, they'd be better off) when they heard it.
"You've got to look at this practically sweetheart," Kim admonished gently. "This isn't like when you brought home a bird with a broken wing as a kid. This is a living, breathing, thinking person, one whom I was very close to, and I can tell you that it's gonna be a whole new ballgame helping them heal from this. If we're in this for the long run we have to face the facts as they are instead of turning a blind eye to them."
"Do you know what Dep does at night?"
They thought they'd been so quiet- they didn't exactly wake up screaming most nights. Although Dep had to admit that sometimes, when the nightmares got real bad (blessed are the wicked, we're a family, a family, SAY IT OR BE DAMNED) they woke making this weird gurgling noise. And the dreams themselves hadn't miraculously disappeared just because they had a warm bed to sleep in. Plus the sleep paralysis was worse because they'd end up rolling onto their back in the night.
"No," Carmina was admitting over the rush in Dep's ears. They couldn't do this, they couldn't hear Kim (Kim, Kim, Kim, so good, so kind, too good for them) condemn them to their nightly torment alone, couldn't hear Kim tell her daughter they were dangerous (they were), that they shouldn't have ever come back (they shouldn't have) that they were going to hurt the family in one way or another, whether they liked it or not (they weren't, oh God please don't let them hurt the Ryes), that they had to go (they had to go). "They're closer to your room than mine."
Kim drew in an audible breath and Dep was going to throw up. It'd get all over their mask. It'd be so gross.
"They don't sleep more than an hour or two; I don't think they know that I can hear them leaving their room, but I'm jumpy in the night. They leave the house, and Carmina, they're gone for hours."
Carmina's voice was small. "Where do they go?"
"I watched them once- they walk the perimeter of the property, as far as I can tell. They go around and around in circles for the entire night with that bow of theirs on their back."
"They're protecting us."
"They're panicking and terrified," Kim cut in sharply. "They never sleep, they're hyper-vigilant and they're probably having flashbacks and panic attacks, but we can't do anything about that because they never speak to us. Hell, they won't even be in the same room as Nick, and they never look me in the damn eye."
"Well, what do you want to do? Tell them they're broken and kick them out? They were tortured! For years, Mom."
"You think I don't know that? That I don't think about it every goddamn time I see that mask?" Kim spat out. There was a moment of quiet. Dep realized their breath was wheezing softly, that their lungs weren't expanding enough. Their head swam. "Like hell am I gonna leave them out in the cold. I'm just saying that we need to- do more than we are. They're not going to get any better if we don't try to understand them, if we don't push them a little. I want them to feel safe just like you, but it's been a month, Carmina. We gotta learn how to communicate with Dep if we're gonna help them."
"So…" Dep could almost see the girl pushing her fingers through her hair (so like her father) and worrying her lip, looking for an answer to a problem that never should have been hers to deal with. Their gut twisted into knots. "So, they're not talking, right? We gotta communicate to get them the help they need."
Kim sounded relieved. "Yes. Question is, how? They never were very talkative."
Dep suddenly felt lightheaded and dizzy; this happened every time someone talked about their past with them. It always seemed like a fog surrounded their memories; as if someone had hidden it from them. Trying to remember only granted them a pounding headache and sleepless nights. (It was Him, He did it, but how, what did He do, why can't you remember, for God's sake can't you do anything right, something so simple as remembering?)
"Maybe," Carmina said slowly. Dep backed away, hands clutched to their head, down the hall to that tiny safe haven (your cell). "Maybe we've just been speaking the wrong language."