Title: Mademoiselle E

Mademoiselle E

Chapter XIV

V hated insomnia, especially the sort that alternated brief periods of twitchy sleep with long sleepless hours. He just didn't know what to do with himself, trapped in his own bed by what seemed a dozen delicate limbs that restricted him with childlike fierceness. On his recent bachelor's past he would have turned the lights on to forget about trying to force sleep in favor of working to make something useful out of wasted time that would otherwise become a burden but now he hesitated, thinking that if he even tried to move he'd disturb the girl's sleep and he wasn't in the mood to deal with that female monster clinging to him, probably busy sucking the life out of him, like a Lovecraftean spawn.

He also hated not knowing exactly why he was so uncomfortable. For the tenth or eleventh time he retraced his steps trying to find evidence that would solve the mystery and still he hadn't managed to untangle a mess that apparently existed only in his head and gave him a stomachache. Everything had been on schedule, absolutely perfect. He was supposed to be content. He was supposed to be asleep!

He wasn't.

There was something bitter in his mouth he didn't want to pay too much attention to but it was familiar and tasted like anger, which was altogether inappropriate. He also hated it when his emotions weren't coherent with what had triggered them, and he cried when he was supposed to laugh or vice versa. It hadn't happened in a long time and it didn't feel quite the same but still… he wasn't in a good mood.

He sighed, not without frustrated caution, always mindful of the little thing clinging to his neck. It was completely useless to even consider asking for inner input given the drugged condition of practically everyone inside his mind articulate enough to weave two thoughts together and even if he managed slapping awake someone in there, he'd probably get an annoying "We warned you…" for an answer, instead of something useful he could work with.

No, under the current conditions he couldn't rely on anyone but his higher, rational self, in practical terms the sum of every fragment with a voice that lived inside him, what he liked to call the "Director's cut". Over the years he'd often meditated on the matter of his fragmentary minds, sometimes considering them just "his sort of thing" and sometimes finding them worthy of a psychiatric text book. At the end he decided every functional human individual should have some version of Them and while regular people experienced discreet inner dialogues, he had "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" playing inside him. He grinned briefly to himself, proud if his peculiarities even at that time of the night when the rest of his mood was so very rotten.

Perhaps he had forgotten something. The grin faded and once more his mind's eye dissected the last hours, adding even more details to fill out gaps here and there, trying to reconstruct a faithful version of reality as it happened outside and beyond his perception, even if nothing seemed to help him find order within chaos.

Nothing. Nothing logical, sensible, at least barely reasonable however strange to explain his turmoil, as if he had been just handed a brand new set of problems he'd never played with before…

Idiot, he concluded, he'd been trying to unravel an emotional mystery using the wrong tools. He could rewind the picture over and over and whatever understanding he missed wouldn't be there. His solution wasn't in the surface; therefore it had to be somewhere else. Well, at least that was something, he'd have to switch gears and use his emotional memory instead. If only he weren't so tired and his emotions weren't so… his.

The little female thing stirred in her sleep, startling him with unexpected force. He panicked, fearing the ungrateful little bitch would wake to pour him another shot of vile on the rocks. With a twist. His body remained very still, and concentrated on enforcing the very same deliberately soft breathing that helped to make him practically soundless in the world above. The girl resettled next to him and sighed content, as content as he couldn't be.

Unfair.

The mattress was stiff. His back was throbbing with merry little pains. The pillow under his head was full of imaginary lumps that offended his skull as much as… she had offended him. Oh well, it wasn't much but at least he'd made some progress, although he didn't know what she had possibly done to offend him so.

He felt like an idiot, like a complete imbecile. The child had been perfect, nothing but charming and more than appropriately pleased with his performance. She'd refrained from destroying his home while he was gone, she'd greeted him warmly, -the pouncing and cloaked scare he could easily forgive- she'd smiled and grinned and giggled as he hoped she would, she'd been surprised when she was supposed to, she'd said "thank you" the correct number of times and in the perfect tone of voice, she hadn't caught him changing masks, she'd graced him with a fashion show as enjoyable and brief as he'd asked for, she'd picked up after herself as instructed… to sum up her behavior during the entire evening had been nothing but flawless, absolutely delightful. Then why, why, why he was so disappointed… At least he'd managed to keep his mouth shut; the only thing he'd need at that point was to make a fool out of himself. And she wouldn't deserve it, the little bitch.

Back to basics, he thought, remembering that he was used to chatting with his body to know with great accuracy if something ailed him. What the hell, he'd try anything. He breathed deeply to concentrate on the task he had performed hundreds, thousands of times in the past and focused on his toes, asking each one of them if they were hurt. Toes said no, they had been fine for a while, thanks for asking. V's attention moved up his body with painstakingly patience, asking the same question to each structure he could think of. The task helped him to calm down; -he was glad whenever something, anything, didn't hurt- finally giving him something sensible to work with. So far the latest edition of his list of injuries, acute or chronic, hadn't changed for worse and except for old aches here and there that would probably be with him forever, nothing seemed to be broken, not even torn. Only the stomach had something new to report; it was contracted, practically in a knot. Perhaps he had eaten something bad; maybe it was some mild poisoning he could easily correct with some basic antidote.

Images of a happy little face filled his mind, sneaking in while he was busy examining his guts and making his stomach drop yet again for no logical reason. It wasn't right that the girl's contentment made him so uneasy; it should have the opposite effect. Unfortunately it didn't and it made him wonder if he had finally managed to take one damned pill too many, just the one that would promote him from "flamboyantly unique" to "tediously insane". The thought made a cold shiver crawl up his spine. No, he was just confused, not broken beyond repair. At least not yet. It was just a matter of not having enough information to work with, nothing more.

The echo of a delighted squeal resounded in his mind, followed by two or three slurping little sounds produced by a small mouth attacking the sweet he'd taken from a glass jar next to the register at the shop, nothing but heartwarming, every-day sounds that in theory should soothe the soul with their quaint normalcy but in his confused state of mind had the devastating power of the trumpets of Jericho. V wondered again about all those pills…

No, no. It wasn't her doing anything to make him react in such an irrational way; he was surely misreading everything from top to bottom. It was difficult to breathe, he was literally drowning in unfamiliar emotions and no matter how hard he fought, it was getting worse and worse. He was so emotionally upset that everything triggered an exaggerated reaction and in such condition he'd only manage to stir his agitated emotions even further. He had already completed a full scan of his body and still nothing made sense, which only made him doubt his own judgment. A desperate thought crossed his mind; if fighting made him sink to the bottom, perhaps surrendering would help.

But… it was such an unnatural thing for him to do; he had never stopped fighting, he had seen over and over what happened when people surrendered and it terrified him far more than the certainty of impending death. All of a sudden the briefest mention of death chilled him to the bone, which was unsettling by itself. He'd never been afraid of death before, never. Now it didn't sound like a good idea at all.

Stop. Breathe.

He had to switch channels as soon as possible and dissect his feelings only once he'd calmed down. Having a plan helped to ease his worries and although he wasn't comfortable with just leaving things on the table without fixing the wiring, he settled for trying to get some sleep and analyze things again in the morning. Nighttime tended to make everything more dramatic, especially for him. Yes, in the morning he'd steal some time to vent and then think.

He also needed to… vent. He hadn't released any steam in weeks, being so busy looking after the girl. There was a chance that he was just feeling the effects of repressing himself for so long, after all in the past only bad timing and a temporary lack of resources had prevented him from crossing out names from his list, and his hard work now allowed him to actually schedule his visits instead of just waiting for the right time. He tried to think on such list for a moment, realizing he had actually missed two appointments already. Lazy, lazy, lazy. He should apply himself as soon as possible.

Only… he didn't want her to know about his life's work, at least not yet. He hadn't thought about that as carefully as he should, he'd dodged the issue on purpose every time something threatened to reveal that side of him. She was a peculiar and definitely tolerant child but she must have noticed one and a dozen and a hundred strange things already, things that in all honesty should be enough to make adults frown. Or cringe, better. He wondered what she'd say if she knew exactly what he was involved in. What if… no. What if she became afraid of him…?

The lithe body clinging to him stirred and another satisfied sigh escaped the sleeping caramel-colored lips, making him think that surely she hadn't even meant to make him feel miserable in the first place. Obviously she had no reason to do something like that. It was perfectly possible that she wasn't even aware, and that she'd fallen asleep in his arms thinking he was just as pleased. She murmured something against his chest, no doubt dreaming of things that made her giggle in her sleep. He could have sworn she was talking with someone, someone with the skill of telling her just what she wanted to hear. Someone with probably only a minute fraction of hell to spice up the stew, something he couldn't brag about. His senses started playing tricks on him, making him imagine the distinct smell of blood filling the room.

No, he couldn't let her see him like that, covered with someone else's blood and, grinning behind the porcelain grin, laughing out loud into dying ears. He was sure she'd manage to see him just the way he was and he felt the impulse to jump off the bed and run before she did. Yes, he had to send her away. School would be a good way to do it, some boarding school where she'd get to live a normal life, safe from his madness… His stomach felt like a twisting rope inside him, and he tasted a few drops of acid flowing up his throat. No. The thought of sending her away was immediately censored and discarded. It was plain stupid, so stupid. The little bitch was lethal and he had no heart to do anything about it.

He should get up and do something useful, anything. Pacing would do it. Pacing and throwing up but his body wouldn't obey. Why it refused to move…

Why, why, why… she turned in his arms, pulling his arm around her neck, tilting her head to listen to whoever visited her dreams, that someone who might have asked her a couple questions which she answered with a drowsy "you" a sleepy "yes" and a dreamy "mine". The words made no sense but they touched things inside, playing odd chords that produced unfamiliar, hypnotic music. He specifically recalled not hearing from her those three words, pronounced with such easy conviction and he hated lacking that memory, and then he blushed because he didn't know why.

For one brief second he regretted bringing her underground. He could have extracted her from the pile of rubbish and then taken her to the nearest hospital where someone would have taken care of her. Oh, but then he would have missed one and a thousand little things he'd only envied from afar with carefully repressed jealousy, and then he would have missed the generous armload of things he'd never imagined even existed but now occupied their own places within his scale of numerous obsessions.

Images of a little thing wrapped in his red kimono and playing in front of the mirror filled his mind and the thought of their inevitable fall into oblivion after she left, and later after he died, filled him with anguish. No, he'd have to find a way to save even his memories. The world should not forget beauty, especially –this- world, especially –this- beauty.

He was exhausted, simply drained. He was ready to surrender to sleep; he had already decided that despite the alarms going off, his physical body seemed to be perfectly capable of restoring its operational levels if he just stopped fussing. He'd examine his feelings in the morning, preferably after drinking a gallon of strong tea to clear his thoughts. He focused on pleasant things instead, like the freshly laundered sheets in his bed, the comforting smells of his bedroom, the stubbornly quiet aura of his home at that time of the night, even on the sleeping demon in his arms, dressed in his old shirt and his soft boxers, with her back pressed to his chest and snoring like a baby. He was tired; his muscles long empty of adrenaline and energy were starting to protest again, demanding to rest. Oh, he'd be sore in the morning. To sleep, perchance to dream…

A soft voice called from the dark where he was comfortable at last. It was warm and it was safe and although it was wrong to talk to strangers, he wanted to answer all the questions it might ask and share with it all the secrets that he knew.

If only he weren't so tired… it would be rude not to cooperate, as he had been taught, once upon a time at Larkhill, and worse, he risked not being asked ever again. The soft voice in the dark called out again, more persistent than before but just as sweet and tempting. "Come…" chanted the siren, demanding a reply.

Then he was afraid, and more than just a bit embarrassed. Perhaps he hadn't been addressed at all in the first place and he'd simply happened to intrude into someone else's conversation. He didn't want to be rude, that's the last thing he'd want. He should leave quietly, yes. Nobody would see him. Nobody ever did. Oh, but he loved chatting, he hated being left out. It would be nice to have a conversation; he should try harder to reply just in case.

"Just ask," He pleaded in his dream "and I'll say it…"

"Not yet" Whispered the sweet voice, neither refusing him nor accepting him. He was devastated, torn in half. "Sleep," said the sweet voice with the questions, enveloping him in a warm embrace, caressing his brow with gentle, soothing fingers, reassuring him and promising to chat with him as soon as he was rested.

It was a curious feeling; to be wanted but not just then. Maybe he just wasn't up to the challenge and that was the only reason for postponing his chat. Then he became aware of other voices, distant, almost hidden in the background but very much alive and alert. Someone else was there with him in the dark, someone familiar and faithful, keeping him company without even having to ask. One, two, three, and he forgot what number followed three but he didn't care, he was tired and he was certain they would answer on his behalf, as truthfully as he would and it did not matter if they talked, as long as they told the truth. It was so strange; the world of dreams. Things happened so differently there.

"Sleep," repeated the voice with the questions, and he obeyed, content like a well-behaved child who's just been promised a new toy if he remains quiet so the grownups can talk, thankful for being excused and promised a future conversation, not in the least ignored as he had feared. In his dream he rolled on his side and covered his head with a warm blanket to hide under another layer from everything around him, to let go to the lullaby of that sweet voice turning away from him to engage the other voices, saying "come…" , and "mine…" and then "yes…"

He heard the distinctive sound of weeping in a quiet corner of his mind, three or four helpless sobs exploding one after another in impossibly close succession, revealing they belonged to more than one sufferer. He decided after some thought that the group seemed very close, with each lending support to the others, sharing whatever misery ailed them. "No" they said, and then "never" and "leave."

Someone would leave… he didn't want anyone to leave. Nobody would leave, he had to stop them.

A discreet rustling of fabric sneaked from the waking world into his troubled sleeping mind, tugging gently to awaken him. His lungs expanded with the clear intent of giving him enough oxygen to make the transition and then he was back in his darkened room, confused and with his heart pounding in his chest. It took him several seconds to realize his head rested on his favorite pillow and his arms squeezed a bundle of sheets and blankets. He released the soft fabrics at once, puzzled by the wrongness of their presence. The girl was gone and somehow he'd ended up hugging a bunch of stupid lifeless bedclothes that in all honesty, made a very poor replacement. For one second he panicked, almost certain of having imagined he'd once shared his home with another living human being but his senses caught up with him in time to confirm that her fresh smell was everywhere around him, proving beyond any doubt that she was real. She had always been real; no drug he knew could fake it.

V sighed relieved, sinking deeper into the warm mattress, his dream already forgotten. But wait, his mind reminded him, the girl was still missing, gone from where she was supposed to be and that wasn't acceptable. Another suspicious sound resounded like thunder inside his quiet room, alerting unnatural senses that in the last weeks had lacked entertainment and now wanted to take every single possible chance to go out hunting. Anything would do, really, even a tiny mouse. His ears became the main source of information in the darkened room and his whole being became something that existed only to hear. Another rustling of fabric… poorly concealed breathing… the steady beating of a vigorous heart. Something warm was under the bed and it was very much alive. His nose twitched, recognizing the familiar smell and he remained perfectly still, trying to fool the intruder that seemed quite busy with the canvas bad he had pushed under the bed. He smiled broadly, too focused on the amusing events to remember why his sleep hadn't been a peaceful one.

The caterpillar had slipped out of bed while he slept and she was busy under mattress and bed frame with her hands inside the bag, obviously trying to guess what secret treasures were still inside it without waking him or turning the lights on. Poor thing, he thought, she wasn't very good at stealth. He'd have to teach her a few tricks; she'd be almost good enough to fool him. But just almost good enough, he wanted to stay one step ahead. The raiding of his canvas bag stopped abruptly and although he had remained still, breathing slow and soundly to fake being still asleep, he feared she had caught him pretending. The small body under the bed shook spasmodically two or three times and at the end the poor girl couldn't help sneezing. For once he congratulated himself for procrastinating in dusting properly under the bed and a muffled curse produced by a little mouth that should know nothing of such words made him forget about stealth and burst out in laughter.

"V!" Shrieked the small thief, banging her head on the bottom of the bed, caught in fault with her hands on things that although were technically hers, she hadn't been given officially and therefore didn't quite belong. She crawled from under the bed, mewling dramatically to get V's attention and make good use of her little accident to distract him from her curiosity-induced mischief as she climbed back on the mattress, looking for comfort like a toddler who's just discovered furniture was harder than it looked.

"Ouch! Ouch!"

"Poor darling! Come here, my little rat. It seems you've had a little accident."

The rascal didn't miss one second and dived into his arms to be comforted even when it had been her own curiosity that had caused the minimal pain she was now profiting from with operatic splendor. Of course he didn't mind following the script, his lost guest had been happily found and all was well with the world. Something itched in the back of his mind but something –had- to be boiling there always so he chose to ignore it. He could already tell they would have a lovely day ahead, counting he managed to recover his vigor. He was in far worse physical shape than he'd thought, after just one night out he was exhausted.