Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shake It Out

Nineteen days is a long time to think. Well, I don't think I was thinking for all nineteen days.

I was unconscious at first and it took me a while to wake up. I was dreaming, and they were good dreams. Dreams about Gunnar and the time we'd just spent in Duat, and my sons, and the daughter we were going to have. But the dreams ended and I woke, eventually.
When I did wake up, everything felt fuzzy. It was hard to think straight and my limbs felt cold on the inside, which meant I was pretty doped up on some sort of anesthetic. I was wearing just a sheet, which clung wet and sticky to my back. It took me a day or two to think clearly enough to figure out what that was about. My back was wet where I'd bled from an impromptu deep tissue tattoo removal.
Of course I was pissed when I figured it out. Not so much about losing the tattoo - I've never really been a "body art" type of girl. Pissed that they cut my relic out of my skin.
I didn't even know they could do that.
But they could. And they did, and they chained me up in chains with links as thick as my wrists. Even if I'd been fully equipped, I don't think I could have broken them. Then I heard a voice, the new girl's voice, telling me that help was coming.

Everytime I thought of the ache in my arms from being suspended, or the pain across my back from being lightly flayed, I wanted to scream. If I started screaming, I wasn't sure I'd stop for a while.
So I didn't think of the pain, or the fatigue, or that rage boiling in my guts and through my veins and wanting to burn its way out of my eyes. Normal people would call it crying, but that wouldn't help me, so I didn't do it and it didn't matter what normal people would call it.
I was - I am - determined just to keep it together. While I was in there I kept thinking of the things that did matter. The things I missed. My family. The ones in the darkness - my mom and dad, grandfather, aunt and half-aunts and half-uncles. Gunnar and my sons. The daughter I pray I'll actually get to see. It makes my heart feel lighter just to imagine her face.
I kept wondering why Ixion didn't just kill me. Did he have some plan that required I be kept alive? Yeah, I think he did. I think if he'd just killed me, there wouldn't have been any reason for my friends to enter the Labyrinth. And then they wouldn't have brought... I'll get to that later.
But maybe, as usual, I was supposed to be the distraction. So Kane and Ixion stripped me of everything - my clothes, my relics, some of my skin and free will - and they held on to me.

What they did to me... it was bad. Bad enough that it made me want to scream and cry and slip my chains and beat at the walls until they broke or I did. Bad, but not really monstrous. It could have been worse, all things considered. I know that Kane and Ixion are the worst possible combination of cruelty and innovation, and I know that makes me lucky to only have gotten out with a mutilated back. That doesn't make me any less pissed about it, of course. Especially not when you consider their motives.
They didn't abuse me in any way, they didn't dismember me, they didn't hold me prisoner and lock me away to rot until everyone I loved was dead. That's not to say I think they had any intentions of freeing me.
I think the plan was to give me to Icarus and let him burn me the way the sun burned him. Apparently I look like a good target to anyone my dad's ever pissed off. If I ever see him again, maybe I should ask him for a list.
But it's not because Kane and Ixion are particularly beneficent or above any of that - they're not. It's because they were afraid of getting caught. They were concerned that someone was watching over me the way I was watching over Jaime, and they they'd come for me the way I had come for him.
They did come for me. It just took them longer. I think that's what Kane and Ixion were counting on.
So no, what they did wasn't monstrous.
It's fucking cowardly, is what it is. They had to wait until I'd been in the desert for forty days, until I was damn near exhausted. They had to wait until I was by myself, because I'm stronger (or dumber and more reckless) when I've got people to protect and who will protect me, and when I got out of those fucking chains in that fucking room - as they had to have known I would - there were twenty Ixions looking for me.
It's kind of a compliment, I guess. A small compliment. A bigger show of fear and weakness.

But my friends got me out, and I got Jaime and Gunnar asked if I was okay and I wanted to just scream at him Do I fucking look like I'm okay?
But he deserves better than that. I kept my mouth shut, shook my head and decided that I just didn't really want to talk about it. 
So now I'm having one of those moments when I just want to be by myself, when I'm glad that Gunnar's not in my head and I hope I can keep off of my face all the unhappy thoughts going through my brain.

It's a moment of truth, when knowing the truth and understanding the truth doesn't do you a single fucking bit of good, because the truth about the truth is that it's usually ugly.
The truth is that now, after all we did in the desert outside Wuhai, after all we did in Midgar to remove those devices that were causing earthquakes and burning souls, I owe a debt to Nikola Fucking Tesla.
He saved my husband - father of my children and all that sentimental bullshit - from what probably would have been an agonizing death in the Labyrinth, and he saved the only friends I've ever had. Tesla saved them when I couldn't, when he didn't have to.
I don't get why he was there, how he got to be in that position. How they allowed him to be in that position. I don't get how they - the Band, any of them - could compromise and think that a guy who was using the souls of mortals as fuel was alright just because I was in trouble. We're supposed to protect mortals. That's our job as Scions, and it's a job that doesn't end when the mortals die. Maybe it's easier for some of the Band to forget about that part of the job when they can't see the souls of the dead, but I'm not sure that's really a good enough excuse. So either they were never all that bothered by the destruction of millions of souls, they forgot, they're more forgiving than I am, or they're a bunch of hypocrites.
Well, maybe not all of them. I could see Kas forgetting. I could see Harlan rationalizing it as utilitarian and not his problem. I could see Brendan just not caring and wanting to go spend time with his fairy wife instead. But Nate and Gunnar, I don't think I ever expected either of them to be okay with working with Tesla. From the beginning Nate's talked about how shitty it is that our parents are consistently prioritizing the divine over the mortal, and in allying himself with Tesla for the purposes of getting me, Nate's proven that he's no better.
And being a god, I'm sure that Tesla could have just walked away and let them die in the Labyrinth and fallen back off the grid and fuck it all, he kinda saved me too. I guess. I mean, I might have been okay in there long enough to get out. Or I might have died under Icarus' tender ministrations. Or the minotaurs might have gotten ahold of me and loved me to death. Now I don't have to find out.
So I owe Tesla. It is not a debt I look forward to repaying.

Another ugly truth hit me while I had all that time to just hang out and think. I don't know if it's something I'm ever going to mention to Gunnar. I'll mean to tell him that it's not that he holds me back, it's that he holds me to a higher standard; the kind of standard which places actions like screwing a tribe of minotaurs to keep my friends from handing Kane the keys to the Nexus of Worlds beneath my consideration. But I suspect if I try I'll probably say it all wrong and end up with my foot so far in my mouth I can taste my kneecap.
Now I get why people sometimes call their spouses a "ball and chain," or refer to being married as "being tied down." Being married and pregnant severely limits my options for escape. Maybe I could have made it out if I'd just fucked the minotaurs.
Maybe I could have turned them into my personal army of half-man rape monsters. They might even have slowed down one or two of the twenty Ixions who came looking for me, maybe long enough that I could have run into the Labyrinth where he'd just decide that I wasn't worth the trouble anymore.
Or all the minotaurs would die, I'd get recaptured anyway because Ixion probably had some way of tracking me down in case I did manage to get away, and then all I'd get for my trouble is a stupid legend following me around about the time I fucked an entire tribe of minotaurs and more people asking me whether the kid I'm carrying is Gunnar's.
But it's all hypo-fucking-thetical, because I did marry Gunnar. And what I told him I worried about before we got married is exactly what has come to pass.

Because yeah, if I wasn't with him I would probably be more okay with using my body to get what I want. Maybe I could have seduced Iapyx, even with all the gunk in his ears. He didn't cover his eyes, and I was wearing a sheet. That could have worked.
And if I wasn't with Gunnar I wouldn't be pregnant, and I wouldn't have been worried in the slightest about the repercussions of slipping the chains and greeting Kane with a swift kick to the testicles. If I weren't pregnant and worried about the safety of my baby, I don't think it would have occurred to me that Kane might whip out Mikaboshi - which is the saddest, most serious case of over-compensation that I have ever seen - and tentacle rape my brain and then I'd be just as crazy as Nate was.
With three kids, a fourth on the way, and eighty bajillion other little ones for whom I have declared myself personally responsible, I do not have the option of losing my mind. It's why I'm determined to keep it together now, the same thing that happened in Wuhai. It's because there's a kid in Gunnar's apartment who was supposed to be dead and who needs me to do something much more productive than fall the fuck apart.
And it wouldn't have occurred to me to be worried that I might get given to that creepy kid - or worse, to Ixion, and that one or the other of them would hurt me so badly I'd lose my baby. It wouldn't have occurred to me that that's about the only thing Ixion can do to break me, and if he wanted to do it there would be nothing I could have done to stop him because I was too fucking tired.

Gunnar's told me that I'm the strongest person he knows, but I think he overestimates me. He said before we got married that he couldn't imagine me needing saving which tells me two things. He's not very imaginative and he doesn't always keep his word. Anyway, it apparently doesn't matter that I'm so strong, because I know I have a weakness, I know it beyond doubt now that I've spent time at Chez Daedalus.
It's Gunnar and my kids.
He told me that if it came down to saving the world or saving me, he'd pick the world. And then the choice came and he did the exact opposite of what he'd said he would do. And I have to wonder, what the fuck were Malsum and company up to while I and my divine friends were in that place? What was happening that we weren't there to stop? How could the Band possibly have thought it was okay to leave the reconnection of the overworlds in the hands of Alex Vance and Gunter Robertson? Yeah, they're strong kids. But they're just kids. With the overworlds cut off, our band is probably the biggest thing standing between Kane and the fall of Midgar.
And beyond that, because Gunnar didn't stick to what he'd said... I think we're all in pretty deep shit, now. We knew that Kane was trying to start Ragnarok. We had a clue how he was trying to do it. He'd stolen Tesla's device to that end, he'd stolen Pandora's Box for it. He wanted that thing in the Labyrinth to work, and it didn't - until my friends showed up to get me. Maybe Gunnar just didn't think it through, or maybe he just didn't care about what he'd said he would do. Maybe he realized what I realized while I was just hanging out in Ixion's chains - I panic at the thought of losing my family. I would probably do anything to protect them, to keep them safe. Yeah, I might even completely disregard my obligations to humanity and Midgar, ignoring the fact that someone much smarter than me could be drawing me into a trap.
I would walk into it willingly because I love my husband and children and I wholeheartedly acknowledge the fact that I would completely lose my shit if something were to happen to them. So yeah, I get why he apparently forgot what he'd said to me. It's because he loves me. I'm not sure why, and I don't know if it could ever be explained to me in a satisfactory manner.
My husband loves me, and I love my husband, and now the apocalypse might be coming because of it.

But I'm not going to be any good to anyone if I keep focusing on what was done to me by the enemy. It's just not helpful. Gunnar would probably tell me it's just not practical. So I'll do something that is practical. I'll focus on protecting the people I love. I'll focus on keeping my unborn daughter and my sons safe. I'll keep my sister and the other kids safe. I'll protect Gunnar, and I'll protect our friends... somehow. I'm not sure how, yet. Not with my relics gone and my body scarred, but fuck it. I'll figure it out, and I'll be okay and I won't let the fuckheads see me sweat it.
I'm not any good at this "heart on my sleeve" bullshit. It always comes out wrong, anyway. Plus it's awful hard to wear your heart on your sleeve when you don't have any sleeves. Which reminds me.
Note to self: self, you will need maternity clothes this time. Probably. Maybe. Some gods seem to know how to get around that whole "needing clothes" thing. Look into that, because you have no money and you have no closet because Ixion fucking burned it all.

Anyway, back to Gunnar's question in the Labyrinth. No. I'm not okay.
I have just lost the very last of my possessions. The last things which were mine, mundane or divine. I mean, my relics were the last things I had from either of my parents. I had sold my mom's house, Ixion burned my dad's house, and totaled my dad's car, and all the rest of my mom's stuff went up in flames. And the one birthright I do have left, I can't even see anymore because Kane and Ixion took my axe. I guess there's a poetic sort of justice there, that they're the ones who took Mercy from me. So now they won't get any.

And the mundane stuff, the rings Gunnar had given me... They were the only normal things I had anymore. The only things that were just about us, and not necessarily about godhood or the divine war. There was nothing magical or crazy about them. I can't even say that about our kids, knowing that they're going to show up in the future and save our asses. Maybe it sounds stupid or pseudo-poetic, but those rings, to me, were as much a reminder of him as they were a reminder that completely ordinary things are and should be as precious to the divine as any relic. A reminder of what the Band seems to have forgotten: Completely mortal things should have a place in the hearts of the gods, as well. Otherwise there's no point to this war we've been fighting.
Plus, you just don't fuck with a woman's wedding jewelry, especially if she can't even remember the wedding anymore.

So I'm pissed. I got fucked over, and I'm not okay. I will be, though. Eventually. Probably. Fuck, okay, maybe. But I can't stop doing my job just because I had a bad day.
A bad nineteen days.

I can't keep hanging on to all the shit that's gone wrong - and some of it has. A lot of it has. Fuck. Most of it has. It will be a lot more helpful for me to focus on everything that's gone right.
Yes, one of the dragon princes is working with Mikaboshi. But the others aren't. As far as we know.

Yes, one of the Fates is now gone. And that means that Gunnar is probably going to be taking a lot of heat for that. But I think that happened the way it was supposed to. We kept asking why the Fates would give Tesla the spindle, and I think it was so Gunnar could take it from him. Um... I don't think everyone else will see it that way, though. I think he's still got a reputation as a hot-head, and none of us are gods yet so it's not like any of the overworlds are taking us seriously.
Well, they aren't taking us at all. Everything is going silent, and the gods aren't watching anymore. So, yes, Midgar is getting cut off from everything. But we're here, so it's not completely defenseless - as long as we stay here and don't go wandering off into some maze.
We're here. There are times when I think that maybe we might be enough. For now, anyway. Times when I think that maybe this way our parents can keep fighting against the titans while we hold the line here on Midgar.

Yeah, I no longer have a godsdamned thing that is mine. Even the stupid go-phone that Harlan got me is gone. I guess this is the part where I start quoting Tyler Durden: "It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."
You know what? Fuck Tyler Durden. I haven't lost everything. I think I've just managed to get rid of some of the noise.

And yeah, there are times and places where I fucked up. I could have done more, or what I did do I could have done better. But I'm not capable of changing what's already come to pass.

And I'm not any good to my friends and family if I'm busy living in the past, and I'm even less good to them if I'm just living inside all the stupid drama in my head. They don't need that noise, and I need it even less, so fuck it. I never wanted to pull any of them into my personal bullshit and inner demons or however else a moderately tortured artist wants to call it, anyway. That's why I gave Gunnar so many chances to run.
I know I'm a little bit messed up, and now I know that I always will be.
But I had a good eleven days in Duat where there was nothing on my mind besides the beautiful possibilities of the future, so I'll do my best to keep holding on to that. To keep functioning. This time I don't have a decade to spend just completely losing my shit and putting myself back together.
So I guess maybe I am okay, because the alternative fucking sucks.

"Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn

And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around

All of these questions, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it's always darkest before the dawn

I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart
'Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn...

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back?
It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn...

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I'm gonna let it happen to me..."
Florence & the Machine, Shake It Out

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