They had taken his clothing before they’d thrown him back into the cell, promising to return. Trkasu had kept his eyes closed the entire time, hands balled into fists and feet trembling beneath him. It might not have mattered to them that he was still standing. They just laughed and walked away, scuffing their boots on the bloodstains on the floor and slamming shut the door behind them. The lock clicked into place; Trkasu collapsed to the ground. His legs still shook, though he no longer stood on them. The ground had risen to meet him and he could not move away. His cheek lay just inches for a miniscule puddle of his own blood and when he opened his eyes he could see the tiny cracks in the stone floor.
But he pressed his eyes closed again quickly, struggling to sit up in the darkness. He’d spent years hiding his body behind pads and blankets and claims of starvation, even looks that sometimes silenced questions. Yet he lay there naked, no covered offered but the darkness of his unopened eyes. To look would have meant to see, to confront the spindly arms and visible ribs he’d never been able to cover with anything permanent. So he refused to look, forcing himself to explore the cell without his sight.
The cell was only a tiny bit longer than his arms, fingertips grazing the rough walls as he stretched out. Nothing but wall and floor met his hands as he crawled the tiny patch. Footsteps echoed from the hall, freezing Trkasu where he knelt. But the sound passed and faded, leaving him in silence again. Struggling to stand, he felt his leg shaking even harder, bad foot aching. A shot of pain sent him to the ground but no cry broke the silence. His fear kept him quiet, hands wrapping around his ankle and clinging, clinging. The bone was pressing against his hand, just out the place it should have been. Trkasu bit down on his lip, twisting the ankles and bones and pressing. A pop and snap and he felt the bone shift back into the malformed socket He shuddered but kept himself conscious, kept him self kneeling and clutching, leaving fingerprints and fingernail cuts on his pale skin.
A sigh escaped as the pain faded, though there was a faint throb still. He knew there was no chance of standing any longer, settling with his back to the wall. Silence had fallen over the cell. His breath echoed in tiny hitches as he calmed himself. Hands lay limply at his sides, eyes closed and head bent back. No muscle moved save the slow rise and fall of his ribs, tiny twitches of muscles in his bad ankle. Time didn’t seem to pass while he was sitting there. Nothing occurred, nothing changed. They threw a pile of food at him, laughing when he ignored the smell of rotting meat for days on end. The floor was never cleaned, liquid food and mold piling until his toes were buried in mush and every breath was difficult. The air smelled almost sweet with sulfur and the scent only a landfill could accomplish. Yet Trkasu did not move, did not speak, simply watched the inside of his eyes lids and thought on other matters.
Memories kept his body under control, kept him from struggling against the filth that filled the room. Behind his closed eyes he saw the scorpions curled on his toes, colorful blankets thrown across the room. He translated the scent into food for them the day old scraps he’d find in a canvas bag and carry down. That meant he was safe somewhere. And the basement wasn’t empty as often as he would have liked, so often joined by people who thought he wanted company or perhaps just wanted to give themselves company. Those were the memories that kept him so still on that floor, even as the stone stayed cold and he waited for them to come back for him. He saw Alidon with the paintbrushes, the truth orbs, talking to him and forgetting so often he didn’t actually understand. Roderick trying so hard and yet always, always failing as Trkasu knew he would. They had tried over and over again. And he’d even tried to see what they saw, tried to comprehend why they cared. But it didn’t matter in the end. He still lay there in that filth when the memories faded with the echo of a footstep, when the door clicked open and gloved hands left bruises on his arms.
The chair they strapped him into was covered in splinters, cloth rough against his dying skin. Voices sounded over him, human words that filtered slowly into his mind. They threatened him, snarled and hissed in tongues he couldn’t begin to understand. But their tone was clear, forcing his eyes open. The only thing he saw was a high arching ceiling, white paint disappearing into an arch he couldn’t follow. Dizziness passed as a wave over him as the voice formed into something beyond sound, his eyes sliding shut again.
“I don’t think he’s listening.” That was a lower voice, a dominant voice. He heard a lion in the snarls and growls of that voice, all roar and no purr. Trkasu could picture himself being questioned by the animals, warm paws on his arms and rough tongues on his skin. “I don’t even think he’s still alive.”
“Then how the hell in he breathing? Huh? Answer that!” That was an angry shout, a confused bird yelling at its mate. But Trkasu had never heard a truly angry bird before, not even when they fought. “We’re just going to have to make him listen, simple as that.” A crack of knuckles and a dry laugh. “Simple as that.”
“Simple?” That brought a dry snort, a sound Trkasu didn’t recognize. No animal would have made a sound like that, disparaging and cruel. “He ignored rotting meat until we dragged him out. What the fuck is going to be so simple compared to rotting meat three inches deep on the floor of cell? Answer me that!” Triumphant, he sounded triumphant. As though Trkasu’s ability to ignore his own pain were his pride, his joy, his solution to the world around him.
“Oh, it’s simple.” A hand on Trkasu leg and suddenly the young man was shaking. “See? It’s so simple.” And he knew that voice, that angry bird that snarled at him. “Always so simple.” That laughed, angry and cruel and so knowing he knew it was ignorant.
“Brother?” Trkasu’s voice was raw, almost silent. No strength was there, nothing but the very end of his sanity, the final strings of what he had once had. “Keltic?” That word shook and trembled, almost failing in the middle.
“They called me in. Because you just won’t confess. That lie’s got you pretty convinced, hasn’t it?” Yet the hand crept up his thigh, up to his hip and pressed against the bone. “But that won’t last too long. I know your secret, boy. I know everything you try to hide from. You killed her. And now you’ve raped another. You just can’t stop. Should’ve just killed you when I had the chance.”
“Y’know we can’t do too much to him.” The guard spoke up, nervous, glancing back to the door. “He was employed in Elected Dictator’s household. Even if he is put to death, torture would be frowned upon.” He quailed at the older man’s glare, stepping back against the wall.
“Oh, don’t worry.” A smile, teeth flashing and eyes narrowing to slits. “I won’t torture him. After all, since when is pleasure torture? I’m just going to give him a taste of his own medicine.” The hand on his hip crept inwards, brushing just above the dark hair that had grown there, curly and sparse. “Nothing too bad.”
The guard’s eyes were saucers, mouth opening and only silence emerging. A few stammered syllables escaped after a moment, finger jabbing as Trkasu’s body and other hand grabbing violently for the doorknob. “You’re a sick fuck man! He’s just a kid, ain’t he? Not even out of his damn teens and you’re his fucking brother! You’re supposed to protect him!” The door flew open, slammed into the wall. “Sick fuck! Ain’t gonna get me fired!”
“Then get out.” Keltic barely bothered motioning towards the door, waiting for the sound of the slam. After the noise ceased to echo and Trkasu’s body had again gone limp, he smiled. “You’re ready, aren’t you? You k now you deserve this.”
His hand slid along Trkasu’s body, pressed against his chest until the bones strained and the younger man’s body trembled as he tried to breathe. There were no words as the pressed fingertips into rib indentations and hitching breaths echoed through the room. Keltic smirked then, one lip curling up and his eyes traveling over Trkasu’s body.
“Always so damned skinny. Were you afraid to eat? Was it because of what we used to do, the little poisons laced on those stupid cookies Father gave you?” a snarl and a slap, Trkasu entire body jerking with the force of the blow. “You didn’t deserve those stupid treats. None of it. Now you’ll get what you deserve. Now I’m going to show you what Mother did for you. How she suffered only so you could live. You should have died with her.”
Trkasu stifled his voice in memories, sank into himself and away from the words. Roderick stood over him, apologizing for the misunderstanding. The purple shirt was wrapped around him, keeping him warm under the pile of blankets he’d used to build a nest. The hand on his shoulder didn’t cut his skin, that wasn’t blood dripping onto the wood behind him. It was a gentle hand, comforting, trying to calm him from a nightmare of a memory. His brother was land behind him, in that castle he’d survived through animals alone.
“You can feel it, can’t you?” Keltic turned the screws into the young man’s skin. Blood poured down, poured out, dripping to the ground as the color blanched from his brother. “That was labor pain. She hid when she knew you were coming. She knew you would be a monster.” The screws came out. He ripped at them, glaring at the impassive face below him. “You never cared, did you? You wanted her to die.”
“I am sorry.” Trkasu’s voice shook, eyes still closed. “I am sorry that mother died and that the girl was hurt. I am sorry you were called her, I am sorry I was jailed. I ask not forgiveness, for I know I am unforgivable.” The speech was one his brother’s had taught him as a toddler, held him under ice cold water until he could recite his apologies and his faults. “But all I ask is that my apologies fall upon deaf ears rather than upon no ears at all. I am sorry for all I did. It is my fault, even if I did not do it.” His hands were fists, shaking against the wooden chair. No memories could keep him safe from that, starker memories still over-riding his self-created peace.
“You’re always sorry. We taught you to be sorry. But that doesn’t matter here.” Keltic laughed, a cold sound that echoed and clung to Trkasu’s skin. A shiver brought him from the memories he’d sunk into, childhood days of fear. “Here you’re going to understand what people go through because of you.” The hand that had been on his leg, his hip, his shoulder, crept across his chest. Nails left welts on the fragile skin, ripping and tearing at the thinly haired layer. Rows of blood lead to his crotch, nestled in thin hair that fell out at light touches.
Trkasu bit back any sound, body held as still as death. Fear was all he felt then, scrambling for memories that could make it bearable, could keep him from shutting down. He was afraid of shutting down again, he realized. Afraid of forgetting what it mean to understand when someone tried to care. He pushed at the fear, struggled to find something to hold. And there was a tiny memory, the silent moment on the restaurant, sitting still and calm and isolated, Roderick there and watching, waiting. Someone who had cared about his supposed anger, their supposed ignorance. He clung to that moment, pulled in forward and ground his teeth until that was all he thought on.
But the fingers on his body tried to pull into the moment, thin nails cutting the tender flesh. Keltic was laughing, whispering on and on about the punishment needed to fit the crime. His smile was saccharine sweet and bitter, fingers squeezing the last breath out of Trkasu, wringing a tiny sound that was pained. Words flowed over him, through him, never formed into anything but the sounds the other made.
“This is for her, Trkasu. For mother, for that girl, for me, for father, for Urun, for all of us that you’ve hurt so. Why did you live? So many times we sent you to die, sent you into the forest with those creatures. Yet you came back. Over and over again, you came back. Always quieter, always sadder, always more withdrawn, but you came back. Even now you come back.” Each word was a squeeze, a glint growing in Keltic’s eyes. “You couldn’t just stay away.”
Trkasu was shaking violently, every limb jerking. Pain warred with his calm, brought noises to his lips and rolled his eyes back into his head. A tenuous string held him to consciousness, the memories he tried to push forward. But there was nothing to relate, nothing that had happened he could replace. But there were thoughts as he strained, a choked sob escaping as he found a tiny string to hang onto. There was a memory of a memory of a dream, waiting far in his subconscious. There were no words in that dream and barely faces, barely names. He saw them, both of them, together with him, in the dungeon, Felt their hands, their caring and saw it as what he had never know, had only once read. That was this, that was why he lay whimpering. But the pain didn’t agree, didn’t give him peace. Another sob, trembling and louder, reminded him it could not have been them. They would not have hurt him.
“You know she probably hated this as much as you do. IS that why you did it? So someone else could hate life as much as you do? Why didn’t you just let yourself die. We kicked you out with nothing and yet you succeeded!” That was the anger Trkasu found fascinating and frightening, the anger at what he had done that they had not. The snarls that they’d always directed at him while he read the books, spoke quietly with the sparrows. It was hatred that he was different from them. And it scared him then, scared him more than the pain. “You got a job, a home. But no friends. You could never have friends. You can’t even have a family.”
Trkasu’s body went stiff as a touch to his chest, surprisingly gentle fingers ghosting over his skin. Before he could relax, react, a scream was torn from his throat by a sudden burning. His eyes flew open, saw tiny speckles of alt covering his chest. Every cut was crusted white and pale pink, blood slowly oozing through the layer of white crystals. He was panting for breath, hissing and spasming. Instinct drove him to struggle even as he retreated inside his own mind. His body stilled as he accepted a return of training, his father’s voice echoing and his brother’s taunting meaningless in the face of impassivity.
“Hiding again? That’s all you ever do.” Keltic’s voice was a hiss and snarl, nail drawing blood. “You’re so good at hiding I’m surprised you don’t just disappear.” A sneer as he wiped the blood off on the salt-covered chest. Trkasu’s body jerked as the crystals ground themselves just beneath his skin, scraping sensitive skin and nerves directly. “I don’t have much longer here. So tell me what you did. Give them the reason they need to kill you. Let them take you out of here forever, so you’ll never come back.”
“I am sorry for what I did, though I do not remember. If I was at fault I am sorry. If I was not I accept the blame.” No emotion behind the voice, nothing but shields and darkness. Memories had not protected him from even earlier ones, from hands on his skin or nails in his flesh. “I an unforgivable, I am nothing. Yet I apologize for all crimes committed.”
Keltic just laughed, lifting his blood covered hand from Trkasu’s body. There was silence in the room, broken by a ragged breath form the younger brother’s pain-wracked body. Another laugh and Keltic turned away, rolled his eyes and pushed the door open. “You’re going to die now, you know. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, how well you obey Daddy’s orders. They’re going to kill you for what you’ve done.” He sneered, stepped into the hallway and stalked off. The footsteps echoed through the room and hall, followed by a door’s slam and a moment’s silence.
Trkasu didn’t dare to move, barely even dared to breathe. The silence seemed a lie, nothing more than a construct of a starvation weakened mind and desperate body. But no new hands came down on his skin, no new cuts opening and nothing but the straps pressing him back onto the chair. A sigh of relief shook him, a tiny sob breaking through the silence. None of it would last long, not even if he had been left alone. But the shields had to be broken, had to be pressed down and repressed again. Memories held him, whispered to him the words they’d all spoken to kindly to him. And even as the blood dripped over his skin, soaked into the wood, he ignored the momentary warmth for the sake of memories.
As the guards unstrapped him he felt their hands one him as gentle touches. It was a hand on his shoulder, a grip on his arm. Meant to steady him, not to hurt and to hold him up even when he didn’t want the support. There were no real memories he found, to his own disappointment. No one had ever been allowed to hold him up. Every supporting arm had been shaken off and pushed away, even if meant he had to crawl. But the guards brought old dreams up with nonexistent memories. They lifted and carried him, set back on the floor on his room and threw his clothing on top of him. The door slammed shut, shaking him and almost landing him laying on the ground, The weakness was overbearing, pounding in his every limb and forcing him to curl around himself on the ground. Laying there he let himself sleep, closed his eyes and mind from everything but the dreams.