By Random Battlecry
Belle has hallucinations. Not all of them are unpleasant.
There's the obligatory psychological torture, of course. That comes in the form of the red-eyed demon, who comes in the form of the dark-haired woman who smiles with all her teeth, as well as those of several other people. She lifts up the grate that covers the window, and licks at the glass. Well, she doesn't really lick it. But it seems like she does.
Sometimes she talks to Belle, or perhaps she's just talking to herself.
"Do you like being in here?" she'll say. "Do you admire the stonework?"
Belle would like to tell the woman that she is clearly barking mad, but there seems to be a taboo on such rudeness and she can't quite form the words. Is it the drugs? Maybe it's the drugs. She thinks it might be the drugs. She's not sure.
Are there drugs? There are almost certainly drugs. There are pills, certainly, though something in her wants to call them vitamins. Some instinct. She swallows them down and stares at the empty paper cup in her hand.
"Hello," she says to it, experimentally.
"I'm right here," says the dark-haired woman, waving a hand. Belle wasn't speaking to her, though, and only shoots her a brief glance from beneath her heavy hair. "Tell me about yourself."
Belle thinks she could get out of here, maybe, if she had a spoon.
"Who are you?" says the woman. Or maybe it's, "Where are you?" Both of these questions are clearly unanswerable. If the answers were known, the woman would know them herself. Right? That has to be right.
She's standing on a ladder, wrenching with both hands at the weighty cloth of someone else's drapes. There's sunlight behind them, and it's beating warmly on the windows to get in. She wants to see it gleam in someone else's eyes.
"You're between, aren't you?" says the smiling dark-haired woman. "You know who you are, but you can't remember who you were, or what you're supposed to become."
Belle licks her lips, to wet them. "Was I asleep?"
"Of a sort, I suppose." The smile remains fixed. The woman has a warm, engaging voice. She knows another with a curiously enticing voice, another who speaks with her and is sharp, then teasing. He's standing between them clear as day, his hands in front of him, one laid neatly over the other and both of them grasping the rounded head of a walking stick. His eyes are turned downwards.
"Who is Mr. Gold?" says Belle, and the woman's fixed smile blanches, just a little. She blinks her large dark eyes.
"I never said anything about Mr. Gold."
"He followed you in here. He's standing right there."
The torturer's eyes dart, nervously, to where no one could possibly be. Clearly, she sees no one there; perhaps because there's no one to be seen. She frowns a bit.
"I'll bring you another dose," she says. "See if that clears things up."
Belle takes no notice when she leaves. She's yanking on the curtain, putting her whole weight into it, and stands in the room, on the ladder, on the stones, in the dungeon, in her quarters, in her head. She pulls and pulls, and the heavy cloth gives way, and she falls. The falling is less important than the landing; the landing happens almost immediately. The walking stick clatters— no, it's soundless, isn't it?— to the ground beside her and this invisible stranger, this Mr. Gold, has ahold of her in the now, in her head, in her memory.
"I'm between," Belle whispers to him.
"In limbo," he whispers back.
"Are you who I think you are?"
"That depends entirely on who you think I am." He tilts his head in a gesture so familiar that her eyes tear up, and she blinks rapidly.
"No— surely it also depends on who you really are. Doesn't it?"
Doesn't it? She's not sure.
"This may be the vitamins talking," she says, "but I think I hear your heart."
He glances down at himself. He wears a neat black suit, impeccably tailored, and a vivid red tie that makes her want to go walking in the woods on a snowy afternoon, surrounded by black tree skeletons rattling bones in the wind.
"Beating?" he says, suggests, implies, one eyebrow mounting upwards, just a tad.
"Singing," says Belle, and he holds her closer. "I'm between, you know," she tells him again, so he won't forget, or so she won't forget, or so neither of them will ever, ever, forget, and they can remind each other at odd moments and over the steaming tea kettle. "I don't suppose you're between, too."
"Who, me?" He shakes his head. His hair is long, longer than she thought at first, and the face it frames is gentle until he opens his mouth. Streaked with grey, that hair, but clean. "I'm neither. Or both."
"That sounds like much more fun than being between. I wish I could learn it." She pushes gently on his chest till he sets her upright again, on her own two feet. She stands close to him, still, though, frowning at him. "I'm trying to remember."
He lifts a hand and strokes under her chin. "Don't try too hard," he says, quietly— bitterly, almost, as though he fears remembering will bring on something awful. Something terrible to perch between them, like a vulture, like a great black bird.
"Oh, I promise," she says, earnestly.
"You promise what?"
"Oh," she says again, frowning with the effort of recall, "I just promise in general, I guess. Am I hallucinating you? I was warned there would be hallucinations on this new vitamin regimen they've got me on. On the other hand, my iron is off the charts. I don't know who told me that. Should my iron be off the charts?"
He runs a hand through her tangled hair, gently, and tilts his head to watch the strands twine through his fingers. "I can stay as long as you want, you know," he says. "It's not as though I've got anything better to do."
"It's not as though you're really here at all," she reminds him. "You do exist, though, don't you?"
He doesn't answer; does he not want to answer, or does he not know the answer? She can't quite figure it out. There's a tiny quirk to the corner of his mouth, though, and she likes it. She bites her lower lip and looks up at him, and his back straightens. He stands to his full height.
"Vitamins?" he says. "You look well on it."
"Oh, thank you," Belle is in the midst of saying, when he bends to kiss her. She loses the words, and wonders if she'll ever get them back again. And how can he be real? And how can he not be real? And why is nothing changing, it
seems as though something should be changing—
"You're out there, aren't you?" she says, and glances towards the door. The door, the implacable door, behind which the two of them are between. "You're out there, somewhere, the real you. Whoever you are."
"Waiting," he promises her, and in the meantime, her fingers twine in his. In the meantime, they make a warm place beneath the earth, and lie in it.