Shades of Self Chapter 15
Disclaimer: It is not mine! However, I'm back to writing, so at least I can pretend again.
Welcome back! We are getting tantalizingly close to seeing some of the scenes I have been dying to write from when I first began this story. My goal is to update something every week while I'm on summer break. Here is my first!
Just a warning, I have upped the rating on this story to M. There will be some things in later chapters that require this rating, and I think the story was already hovering a little on the edge because of the content. I hope people will keep reading. I will try not to make it get too dark.
"If you are thrown off a cliff, you will fall to your death, but when the slope becomes steeper gradually it is easier to find claw holds, and even when the cliff is vertical, you may be able to climb."
Proverbs of the Tenth Planet by Anang Ghet
Ben must have been dozing, because he started at the sudden opening of the door, sitting up hurriedly. It was only one of Vilgax's robots. It carried a covered tray with what was probably his supper, and a small, silver box. The robot set the tray and the box on a shelf by Ben's bed, and then exited silently. Ben glared at its back until the door closed, then he sighed and ran one hand through his hair. He stopped when his fingers found the smooth metal of his collar. He didn't snatch his hand away this time, but slowly worked his fingers around it, then pulled, gently at first, then with increasing force until he could feel it pressing hard against the vertebrae at the back of his neck.
That tight feeling was starting to build in his chest again, so he rose and approached the tray, more for something to do than because he was actually hungry. His ankle seemed to have swollen while he was resting, and he had to hobble rather than walk. When he reached the stone shelf he lent on it gratefully while he examined its contents. His eyes focused on the silver box, and he picked it up gingerly. The lid unclasped easily and he saw that it was almost full of some kind of white cream. It had a distinct antiseptic scent to it, a little like the med bay on Vilgax's ship.
Guess I wasn't as good at hiding my injuries as I thought.
Ben sighed. He had a choice to make now. Vilgax hadn't told him to use the cream, so he could just leave it in the box and pretend he hadn't realized what it was for. His other option was to use it, and hope that it brought some relief to his ankle, as well as the dozen other scrapes and bruises his aching body attested to. Gently he lowered himself until he was sitting and stretched his leg out in front of him.
Would Vilgax even care if he used it? More importantly, did he really want to be feeling like this when the alien returned? No. He pulled himself together. He needed to be strong. He needed to remember that he was trying to escape. He couldn't run with his ankle like this, and he needed to run if an opportunity arose. The thought that running was now impossible wriggled into his head and he pushed it away angrily. Maybe he could find a way to short-circuit the collar or something. He couldn't risk being injured if that happened.
He stuck a finger in the cream, which felt cold on his skin, and gingerly applied it to the tender areas of his ankle. It relieved the pain immediately, and the swelling seemed to subside. Encouraged, Ben repeated the application with the various bruises and scrapes that littered the rest of him. It helped to pass the time, and when Ben had finished and washed the excess cream off of his hands, he found that he was actually feeling a little hungry.
Supper was slight variations of what he had been eating since his capture, but he was able to get it down without too much difficulty. Then he found that his skin was feeling dry again, and his jaw was hurting, although he was sure it wasn't from the fight. He rubbed at the phantom aches idly as he sat on the bed. There was nothing to do now, and he found himself staring at the omnitrix as though he could activate it by sheer force of will. He needed to change. The few minutes where he had been Four-Arms earlier hadn't been nearly enough. He felt trapped in his own skin and he rose to pace, to try to relieve the feeling somewhat.
His ankle felt better, but he was tired, and he only succeeded in making himself dizzy. His room felt small and cramped. At last he collapsed back onto the bed. He didn't know what time it was, but it must be fairly late by now. He thought the supper delivery had been a few hours ago, although it was very hard to tell without a clock. Ben's head felt heavy and tired, but his body felt twitchy, and he couldn't get his eyes to close. His gaze kept wandering back to the omnitrix until he groaned and threw his arm over his face. He hoped sleep would find him. He wanted this day to be over.
Ben snapped his eyes open. It was dark in his room, though it seemed to be gradually lightening. His breathing was fast and his heart was pounding in his chest, but he couldn't remember what he had been dreaming about. He sat up and pushed back the covers, then paused in a moment of déjà vu. Had he covered himself before going to sleep? He didn't remember doing so, but he didn't remember dropping off either. It had been a restless night, full of tossing and turning, and he supposed he might have pulled his covers up at some point in the night. His feet rubbed together, and he realized that he wasn't wearing his boots either. Ben swallowed thickly. He hadn't taken them off. He was sure he hadn't.
Ben glanced suspiciously at the door. It was closed tightly, but that meant nothing. He let his eyes track slowly around his room, squinting to try and see in the darkness. He couldn't see anyone, but the worry hadn't gone away. Had his captor sent one of the robots into his room to tuck him in, or had Vilgax himself been in here? Even knowing his position; even knowing that Vilgax could do anything he wanted to him, the thought that the alien might have been in here while he was sleeping was terrifying, and Ben found himself trying to rationalize it away. Maybe he was imagining things. After all, what possible reason could Vilgax have for sneaking into his room at night and covering him up while he slept? Still, that line of logic didn't really work when he couldn't find rational reasons for half of the things Viglax was doing to him.
Gingerly, as though they were burning hot, Ben pushed the blankets off of the edge of his bed, kicking one last time until they lay crumpled on the stone floor. Then, feeling only marginally better, he curled up again on the mattress. He didn't close his eyes, but kept them fixed on the innocently closed door. He lay for a while like that, half dozing, then snapping back to wakefulness. He wanted to be awake if anyone came in, but it was hard to focus. The room had gone dark again in now that he was lying still, and he could no longer pick out the features of the room. His jaw was hurting again, and the skin of his neck felt tender as though the collar might be rubbing it. It also seemed to be too warm in the room, the air too dry. He felt too restless to fall asleep again, even if he had wanted to, yet he was too tired to do anything but lie there and let the time pass, so that was what he did.
Ben's only awareness of morning was the gradual lightening of his room. He had dozed a few times during the remainder of the night, but it had not been nearly enough, and he felt drowsy, his eyes puffy and tired. At least no one had come into his room again. He yawned and sat up slowly, allowing his legs to swing over the side of his bed. The restless feeling had not gone away during the night. If anything it had intensified. He couldn't stay in bed any longer.
Ben stood gingerly, relaxing when the pain from his ankle did not return. It felt chilly in the room this morning, and Ben rubbed his arms absently. Maybe the stone walls weren't as well insulated as those on the ship. He supposed it made sense; the swampfire aliens didn't seem like they would have trouble staying warm, and he had seen a lot of fireplaces in his brief tour, although there wasn't one in this room, sadly.
He shot a glance at the foot of his bed, where the blankets were still innocently lying. His boots, he noticed, had been placed neatly off to the side, where he certainly wouldn't have thought to leave them, even if he had taken them off before lying down.
Doing his best to dismiss the implications from his mind, Ben cast around mentally for something to do. If it was as early in the morning as it felt, he likely had a little time to himself before Vilgax came for him. He glanced down at himself, and noticed that the black shirt and pants he was wearing were dusty and stained in several places. The early time reassured him, but he still kept an eye on the door while he changed. There were several spare sets of the dull, black clothes on a stone shelf in the bathroom, and Ben mused darkly that at least he wouldn't have to waste time selecting an outfit. He dumped the dirty clothes in a corner of the bathroom. There was no laundry basket that he could find.
Once he was dressed, he had a long drink from the faucet in the bathroom. His neck still felt tender at the sides, and he tried to have a look at it in the small mirror by pulling his collar down and as far away from his neck as it would go. The skin looked fine from what he could see. He wondered suddenly if the collar would leave a mark around his neck, the way a ring leaves a line around a finger when you wear it for too long. He shook his head. It didn't matter. He would get it off before that.
Ben walked back into the main part of his room listlessly. The restlessness was starting to build again and he found himself running his fingers over the omnitrix, imagining how it would be if he activated it. He remembered the thrill of the change, the feeling of being himself, and yet so much more. He could almost imagine his skin hardening into scales, his skull enlarging and his jaw swelling outward. He sighed and forced his hand back to his side, and his eyes to another part of the barren room.
The sound of approaching footsteps caught his attention. It sounded like metal feet clinking against the stone corridor, and was definitely too light to be Viglax. Ben was once again glad for the thinner walls. The door was pulled open to reveal another robot with his 'breakfast'. Ben glared at it until it left, leaving the metal casserole dish behind it and taking his supper dish back with it. Then his face fell, and he ran a hand through his hair. He supposed he should eat.
There was nothing else to do.
By the time Vilgax came for him Ben was figuratively climbing the walls. What he was actually doing was sitting in front of his door, listening for approaching footsteps. A few people had passed by without coming in, and Ben mused that he must be in a more populated area than his room on the ship. It felt like it had been hours since he had woken up, and he had had nothing to do but stare at the bland stone walls and fidget. When he finally heard the heavy, purposeful tromp of his captor, Ben felt an unpleasant combination of relief and dread. He stood quickly and backed up so that it hopefully didn't look as though he had been waiting. He didn't want Vilgax to know how desperate he was for absolutely anything to do. He also felt a slight trickle of anticipation. Vilgax had mentioned bringing him back to the training room today, which meant he would get to change. He clenched his hands and forced himself to glare at the door as it was slid open.
Vilgax seemed fairly relaxed this morning, tentacles languid and droopy, with only the tips twitching lightly. The red eyes scanned the room before focusing on Ben's face. He paused for a moment, and Ben wondered if the alien could see how tired he looked. While trying to see his neck in the mirror this morning, he'd noticed that he was developing some dark bags under his eyes. No surprise given last night.
"Come boy," Vilgax ordered. Ben's frown darkened but he walked to the door anyway. Going anywhere that wasn't this small, lonely, boring room sounded pretty good right now.
Ben halted when he was a couple of feet away, confused that Vilgax hadn't turned away and started walking. He saw the muscles tense in the alien's arm and had only an instant to realize what it meant. He tried to move, but knew he wasn't going to be fast enough. The clawed hand shot out and Ben yelped as it wrapped around his torso. Not again!
"No no no! Let me go!" Ben thrashed, kicking and scratching at his captor, painfully aware that it wasn't making a difference. As before he was lifted easily and held against the alien's massive chest. Ben's own chest was heaving with panicked breaths. His eyes stung with the beginnings of helpless tears, but he forced them back, twisting as well as he could in the alien's grip. He paused in his struggles gradually; knuckles white as his hands clutched Vilgax's clawed hand. He shivered as Vilgax's other hand came closer. Metal encased fingers touched his back between his shoulder blades and began to rub gently up and down. Ben tried to pull away, but was held so firmly that he could barely move.
"That's it," Vilgax growled softly, and Ben flinched. "Just relax, little one. I won't hurt you." Like hell! Ben started struggling again, squirming and pulling at the large fingers that were wrapped around him. Nothing. He might as well have been a mouse fighting a lion. Even as Diamondhead and Fourarms he hadn't been able to hurt the monster. What chance did he have now? He twitched again as the hand ran over his head and stroked down his back a final time. Then he was lowered to the floor and Vilgax released him.
Ben's knees gave and he found himself sitting on the floor. He wrapped his arms around himself and glared up at his captor with a mix of fury and fear. Vilgax's tentacles twitched and Ben scrambled backward, pulling himself to his feet. He wanted to be out of range in case the alien changed his mind and grabbed for him again. The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
"What do you want?" he found himself demanding, the panic in his voice making it almost a scream. "Why are you doing this to me? You can't just drag me around and play your sick games with me. I'm your enemy; I'm not your stupid toy!"
Vilgax's tentacles rippled again. He seemed almost amused. He took a step towards the boy, prompting Ben to take one back. Seeing his reaction, Vilgax knelt, almost as though he were trying not to frighten Ben away. His eyes were slits of fire, intensely focused on Ben's face, but his voice was very soft when he spoke.
"Do you remember what I told you in the storage room, boy?" Ben winced. Of course he remembered. "You are not my enemy, and I am not yours. You belong to me now and I will take care of you. I told you before; I'm not going to hurt you, and you cannot hurt me. You are so unhappy because you are still trying to fight me. You will find it much more pleasant when you obey."
It was the longest speech Ben had heard from Vilgax in a long time, and it was the most frightening thing the alien had ever done to him. As he listened, it felt as though liquid nitrogen was being pumped through his bloodstream, chilling him from the inside out. His hands were clenched tightly around his forearms, the nails digging into his skin painfully. There was a block of ice in his throat, sealing off his voice. There was nothing he could say; no denials, no snide remarks, no furious retorts.
When Vilgax finished speaking there was silence in the room. The alien was still staring at him, studying the expression of helpless terror that was probably clearly etched on his face. Then he stood.
"You will get used to it," Vilgax told Ben gently. "Now come. It is time for your training." He walked back to the doorway and turned slightly, waiting.
Ben's heart was pounding in his ears. The ice in his veins seemed to be thawing, leaving nothing to mask the true terror he was feeling. He did not want to follow this monster, did not want to be anywhere near him right now. He wanted to go home. He wanted to wake up in his own bed, in his own messy room and have his parents come in to reassure him that this was all just a nightmare.
But that was never going to happen.
This wasn't a nightmare, it was reality, and as Ben's fearful gaze landed on Vilgax waiting in the doorway, he knew that if he was commanded to follow; if his control over his own body was ripped away again, he would break down and lose the faltering control he had over his own emotions. And Ben knew that even now, he couldn't let Vilgax see him like that.
Slowly, eyes on the alien, Ben took a few steps closer to the door. Once Vilgax saw that he was coming, the alien turned away from him and continued walking. Ben found it easier to keep going without Vilgax watching him, and he gingerly relaxed his hands, rubbing his arms where his fingernails had dug into the soft flesh. He kept his eyes on the floor as they walked, and focused on breathing evenly. Horror was still pooling in his gut, keeping his chest tight and making breathing almost painful. Vilgax's words were running through his mind no matter how he wished to forget them, even for a moment.
At least I know I was wrong with what I said before, Ben mused darkly. He wasn't Vilgax's toy; the alien was turning him into his pet.
They rounded a corner, and Ben found himself back at the training arena from yesterday. His steps became slightly less and his breathing steadied. Once again his desire to use the omnitrix pushed itself to the forefront of his mind, and it was easier to ignore the main source of his anguish. He followed Vilgax into the arena and waited as the alien slid the door closed. He expected an order to morph, but was disappointed.
"Hold out your hand," Vilgax ordered, confusing Ben for a moment before he remembered. After training yesterday, Vilgax had been annoyed that Ben didn't know how to deactivate the watch. He had talked about 'checking for limitations.' Ben hesitated. He really didn't want the alien near him after what just happened. Vilgax had already started walking towards him, rapidly closing the gap, and Ben found himself backing up in response.
"Stay," Vilgax ordered, clearly annoyed. Ben forced himself to halt his feet, clenching his fist as his recent realization gave the order an additional humiliating connotation. He tensed as the alien drew close. Vilgax knelt again and glanced meaningfully at Ben's left arm, still by his side. Hesitantly, Ben extended it. He couldn't stop a flinch as the clawed hand came towards him again, and only the thought of being able to use the omnitrix soon kept him still as Vilgax's left hand closed over his own. The alien turned Ben's wrist slightly so he had a better view of the watch's screen, then Vilgax's right hand reached out, one finger gently tapping the center of the glowing symbol.
"Now," Vilgax murmured, as though to himself, "we will see what settings I need to change." The omnitrix's screen flashed bright green for an instant, then shifted to show a screen filled with some kind of alien text next to what looked like several graphs showing who knew what. Ben cocked his head slightly so he could see better, but he kept on eye on Vilgax, who was much too close for comfort. No matter how interesting this was, he would be so glad when it was over. Until then, he would just have to wait.
Hope you enjoyed!
I have been moving to do more of the past sections from Ben's point of view, as I am finding that his matches the tone and feeling I am going for better. There are still some scenes I plan to do from Vilgax's point of view, just not as many as in the early chapters. Because this is a story that I planned out extensively in terms of plot, it is sometimes hard to get from one plot point to another in a believable way. I am sorry if I have too much description and introspection and not enough time jumps, but I don't know that I really want to speed up the story too much. It is really important to me that I show Ben's transition in a believable way, and I hope it is at least plausible.
One of the scenes in this chapter gave me a lot of trouble. Can you guess which one?
See you all next time! We are nearing a scene I've had planned for ages and next chapter's going to be a doozy!