5 January, 2020
Amity dives deep into her trauma, Briar is there to make sure she comes back to the surface.
The Old Manse, FB08
When Amity invites Briar over, she goes into mom mode. Which means cleaning. The kitchen and living room are reorganized top to bottom, vacuumed, dusted and made presentable as possible for company. Especially company like Briar. She sets out coffee and tea both on the kitchen table, along with a small plate of her baked goods for good measure. It's just polite, right? When at last he arrives, she answers the door dressed casually for a day at home--big, comfy sweatshirt and leggings, though there's a touch of strain around her eyes that suggests she's not terribly relaxed. All the same, she smiles as she ushers him into the kitchen.
"Welcome, please, sit. Coffee? Tea? Water? Anything I can get you before we get started?" She asks, hovering at his side once the chair has been pulled out. He /might/ recognize that some of this is due to her kith--a Chatelaine never quite gets over being a servant and everyone deals with that in different ways. This is Amty's--being the perfect hostress.
So, when the door opens and Amity ushers him in, there's more than a little contrast between the two of them. She's the perfect hostess, and he's a slightly scruffy but extremely genial wanderer in off the street. He's wearing his usual baggy, weatherbeaten clothing, with a canvas satchel at his side, and has his hands in his pockets as he lopes in after her. When she pulls out the chair for him, he eyes it for a moment, then laughs and grins cheerfully at her.
"I actually prefer to, uh, stand, thanks," he says. "Or sit on the floor, if there's a place to do it. I tend to sprawl a bit when I'm just sittin' normally." He doesn't sound at all put out or critical. If anything, he seems to find his own preferences somewhat laughable. He does give a warm smile, though, and a nod towards the baked goods on the table. "I do appreciate all of this, though," he adds. "You do good work. But, uh, for now, I'll just take some tea, I think."
He gives her another massively dorkish grin, then steps around to retrieve one of the cups she's left out. "I know it's kind of normal for you," he adds, "and I'm not criticizing at all. If being all, uh, formal about stuff makes you more comfortable, then go ahead and do it. I'm not bothered. But, just so you know, you don't /have/ to be, around me. You can act however you like, and I ain't gonna think less of you for it."
"Oh!" Amity looks surprised for a moment, then does her best to smile graciously. A bit unusual, she thinks, but that's kind of how it goes with Lost, isn't it? She gestures at the kitchen floor. "Please, sit there if you're more comfortable, I won't stand on ceremony." There's a nervous laugh and she reaches out to retrieve the still-steaming tea pot so that she can pour out a cup for the Blackbird.
"...I don't think I know any other way to act," she admits with a rueful little smile. "It's just instinct for me at this point, you know? There's not really a /choice/. Whatever that means..." She sighs a little. Shakes her head. "Anyway. Not the point, I guess? It's nice to see you again."
He watches her face quietly while she pours, his one eye observing every movement of her facial features, and then grins again once it's done. "It's good to see you, too," he says - and then, as she offered, he drops to the floor. It's a sudden, abrupt motion, so fast that Amity might almost assume that he's fallen, but when it ends, he's sitting peacefully on the hardwood floor with his legs folded underneath him and the teacup held sedately in his hands. Not so much as a drop has been spilled, and he himself looks perfectly sedate.
Strange, that. Such a ridiculous face, but sitting like that, with the tea in his hands and his body so elegantly still, he almost looks like a monk.
"I totally get the whole instinct thing," he continues, grinning up at her. "Like I said, I've been there. It's a whole rough song and dance. But that's movin' a little quick, considering I just walked in." He lifts the teacup, takes a quiet sip, then says, "So what's on your mind? I'm happy to just come and visit socially, but I'm guessin' you had something you wanted to actually talk about."
Amity manages to look... mostly not nervous. At least to someone who isn't as good at reading people as Briar is. She pours out a cup of tea for herself with neat precision, just the same as for Briar--but there's an unhidable yelp of shock as the other drops down onto the floor in such a swift motion. She jerks a little, fortunately not spilling any of the tea but--well, she's not used to that. She coughs, tries to hide the shock and then smiles her impenetrable smiles.
"Well. You're right, it's not a social call," she says after a moment. "...I don't sleep well, which... well, it is what it is, I suppose. I think it has to do with Arcadia, but I rarely remember what I dream about. It's usually just flashes and glimpses." She sits down at the kitchen table, hands wrapping around tea cup as if for comfort and takes a long sip, her expression bordering on dour. "...And I feel guilt. A lot of guilt."
It's a strange sort of feeling, sitting there with him. It's not /threatening/, but there aren't many people who can so clearly devote all of their patience and care to simply listening and watching. He's aware of what's going on around him - the fact that one of his ears swivels to follow any small noises that might occur in the manse makes that clear - but Amity is, for the moment, completely and utterly the center of his awareness. He demands nothing - he's still every bit as silently supportive as he was at the vardo - but the sensation of /importance/ is still very much present.
"Yeah, I know how that is," he says, when she confesses to bad dreams. "I still have issues with that, every once in a while. Nattie helped me with 'em, and they've been getting better since, but they never really go away." He takes another sip of his tea, then cocks his head to one side. "Guilt?"
Amity leans back a little in her chair, not sure how to explain the feeling. Maybe because she still didn't get it herself. She took a breath, the faint changes in her facial muscles giving away the conflicted feelings beneath the surface. She takes a long sip of tea, trying to fill in the awkward silence that has settled over them. At the least it feels awkward to her.
"...It's hard to explain," she says. "...I keep. Seeing flashes and they're really confusing. Sometimes I'm the one being punished." She hesitates, then her voice drops into a murmur. "...And sometimes I'm. Punishing someone else for something. Caning them. Starving them. Taunting them. I don't know, it comes and goes and I can't be sure but I think---" She trails off, not wanting to put the words that are in her head out into the world. And yet...
"I think I helped Her."
When she finally finishes, he gives a crooked little smile. It's not exactly sad, but it is slightly wry, and one of his ears twitches once or twice as he looks up at her. "I wouldn't be surprised," he says gently. "Not because I thought you were the kind of person who would do that, but because... well. A lot of us have to do things like that to survive. Which doesn't make it any less serious, obviously, and doesn't make your feelings about it any less important. But just know that you aren't the first. And you're not alone."
He takes another soft sip from his tea, then adds, "And you feel guilty. That's a good thing, as much as it hurts. It means you regret it. Whatever you felt about doing it back then, you regret it now. And that means - 'cause I /know/ you're thinkin' this - that you're not like Her."
He returns the cup to its previous position, still watching Amity quietly. "They can make us do things we aren't proud of," he says. "They can bring us into dark places that we'd rather not go. But They can't ever regret the things They do. They can't understand that it's wrong. But you can. And you do. And that's... a painful thing. But a good one."
"It means I'm complicit. How do I... How do I tell someone like Mavis that the Thing that took me and twisted me and..." She hesitates. "...and broke me also got me to help Them? To hurt other people?" She takes a sip of tea in an attempt to hold herself together. It works, mostly. "How do you manage something like that?"
When he does speak, it's soft and gentle. "Hey," he says quietly. A little smile accompanies it. "One step at a time here. It's good that you're thinking about all this stuff, but there are two different things to consider here, and getting them tangled up in one another isn't going to do anybody any favors. So let's take a minute and breathe."
He lifts his teacup again, drains the last of it, then stands. It's just as rapid as his initial seating, a quick, fluid motion that would be shocking and abrupt if it weren't so perfectly fluid. He takes a few steps over towards the table, pours himself another cup, and continues, "How to tell Mavis, and what she might think, is important to you, and that's totally understandable. You love her and you want her to understand and accept you for who you are. But you aren't actually asking how to tell /her/ this. Not really."
This time, he doesn't sit. He just leans one hip against the table, watching Amity as she curls into herself. "How to tell Mavis is actually pretty easy," he says. "Once you have the answer to the /other/ question. That's the important one. And that's how /you/ feel about this. About yourself. Mavis' opinion is important to you. It's good to have other people whose love and affection you value. But first and foremost, Amity, you gotta figure out how /Amity/ is gonna live with you."
He folds his arms over his chest. It's not a stern gesture. It just keeps his overlong arms from dangling awkwardly as he speaks. "And that's ultimately a question only you can answer," he says. "I can give advice and support. It's what I'm here for, and I've got plenty of it to give here. But first I want you to understand that the most important thing happening right now isn't figuring out how to keep Mavis from freaking. It's figuring out how to help /you/ and /your/ emotions. 'Cause you have value outside of just your relationship with her. Okay?"
Amity frowns. Just a little. Wasn't that the question they were talking about? She sips at her tea again, grateful that Briar gives her space and time to breathe. To figure out what she's even doing. She takes a small breath again, tries to focus on herself. Breath in. Breath out. They can't get her here. She's safe. She's safe and surrounded by supportive people who want to help. She keeps staring into her teacup, not sure where else she can look. It feels like too much, for a moment, but she pushes those thoughts back. Away.
"I don't know how I'm going to do that," she admits quietly. "I haven't figured it out since I've been back and it's been years now. A few, anyway." ANd yet she still feels as fragile as she did the day she came stumbling out of the hedge, bleeding and crying and wandering the streets of Hartford.
"That's the thing," she says after a moment of consideration, her shoulders drawing inwards. "I don't know how much value I really have if I'm not helping others."
"But that's only a part of it," he continues. "Wanting to help other people is good. But you don't have to actually be doing it all the time in order to still be valuable. Nattie wouldn't stop being valuable if she moved somewhere that there was nobody who needed doll hugs. The fact that you care about doing it, and intend to do it when you can, is enough. And you can take time for yourself without feeling guilty. No one can be perfectly giving all the time forever. Trying to be will just wear you out."
Another sip of tea. "I'm not really saying this 'cause I think you haven't thought about it," he adds. "I'm pretty sure you have. But the point is that you are allowed to live for yourself, at least a little, without feeling guilty. You deserve some happiness for yourself. But that's not really the point right now, so."
This time, when he sits, he lowers himself into an actual chair. The one next to Amity, rather than across from her. He wasn't kidding when he talked about being more comfortable on the floor; the chair simply isn't big enough for him, and he has to sprawl, ungainly, with one arm looped over its back and his legs sticking way out across the floor. He doesn't seem to mind too much, though. His attention is still on Amity.
"So let me ask you a question," he says. "If a normal human was kidnapped by someone who was torturing them for a long time, and then that person said that the torture would stop for a little while if the victim just joined them in hurting somebody else... would you say that they were an evil person if they said yes?"
"How can I be allowed to live for myself?" The words tumble out of Amity faster than she means them to. If she meant them to at all. "There are others who are still trapped there. Who may have died there. Because of me." Because she was too scared, she assumes, to say 'no.' Too horrified to risk herself and protect someone else. And yet she is supposed to be allowed to go on like normal? To smile and go on like nothing bothers her? She swallows. Amity is not drinking the tea any longer. Instead she holds it, using it as a sort of lifeline to keep herself in place.
"...No, of course not," she says after a moment in response to Briar's question. "But it's not the same."
"Punishment isn't justice, Amity," he says quietly. "It's just revenge. Torturing yourself does less than nothing to fix things. All it does is make another person miserable. The way to make amends isn't to sit here and whip yourself until you bleed. It's to remember what happened and use it as a reason to move forward. To be better. And you /are/ being better. Every single day."
The hand stays there, a silent offering of contact, should it be wanted, but he makes no move to actually initiate touch, or to make her let go of her teacup lifeline. "And it is," he add quietly. "It's very much the same. Amity, people aren't perfect. Nobody would blame anyone for buckling under the kind of pressure even a /human/ could put on you, if they really wanted to. And They aren't human. They can be so much worse it's ridiculous. You aren't made of magic unbreakable stuff that makes you capable of resisting pain forever, and anyone who expects you to be - /including you/ - is putting waaay too much pressure on you. You hit your limit, and that made you do some bad things. And they /were/ bad things. But the kind of bad stuff you get forced into doing under the worst circumstances imaginable... that doesn't define you as a person."
"If I don't, who will?" She says. "I don't even know what it is I did. Or how I did it. Or why. I can't just. Let myself forget it. Or act like it's alright, can I? Because that's what saying it's... it's not my fault is. It's giving myself a pass that I don't think I really deserve. I'm not..." She trails off, shakes her head. "I can't just. Forgive myself when I've done something like that. Whatever it was I did. I participated in hurting other people just like me. It's not fair for me to say that I get a pass, is it?"
He gives her fingers a very slight squeeze. There's obvious power in his hands - quite a lot of it - but it's sheltering rather than intimidating. "You shouldn't forget what happened," he murmurs. "It's important, and you should remember it. But making it into something to torture yourself with doesn't help anybody. It doesn't make things better. It doesn't make anything right. That's not how this works. You did it, and you can't take it back, /and that's okay/."
He lowers his head slightly, peering into both of her eyes with his one. "People say you are who you are on your worst day," he says gently. "And they're right. You are that person. But the trick is, you're not /just/ that person. You're also who you are on every other day. And on every other day, you can be better."
"How can you say it's okay? It's not going to be okay, I'm never going to be okay again. She--" She swallows and coughs, her throat thick from the emotion. "I'm so broken. I can't sleep, I'm always looking over my shoulder. I fell in love and then dragged the person I loved into this fucked up world and she's in even bigger danger now. Because of me. I'm terrified of my own shadow. I can't--I can't /relate/ to people anymore." It spills out, a flood of self-hate and despair and grieving for the girl who vanished from a Boston street in 1984. The first time she's let out of any of it, really, to anyone. She shudders and tries to draw in on herself again. It hurts. Everything hurts. She shouldn't be here. Why was she the one to escape? It wasn't fair. She should have stayed and let herself suffer. Given someone else the chance.
"I always have these masks up because if I don't I panic. I get scared they're going to hurt me and I don't know why, I can't even remember most of it, Briar..." Her tea cup was set down at some point and her free hand grips into her hair, tugging at it as she buries her face against her knees and sobs. To live as one of the Lost is to live with unbelievable pain. Amity is living proof.
So, for almost thirty seconds after Amity finally starts to properly sob, after she hides her face again, he just lets her cry. He holds her free hand with that same gentle surety, but he doesn't move closer for some time. When he finally does, it's slow and gentle, his other hand slipping over to hers, squeezing it as she tugs at her hair. He doesn't make her look up or tell her to stop crying. It's just another point of contact, of comfort.
"When I got out of the Hedge," he says quietly, "I thought I was ruined forever, too. Because they took part of me away and put a dumb animal in its place. I can still feel it in my head, y'know. The places where I used to be smart. Where I used to be better. And I was convinced I'd never be a person again, that nobody would ever see me as anything more than a meal on legs, 'cause that's what /I/ thought I was. Not a person. How could I act like a person, when I was a stupid dumb animal? Everybody around me was in danger, 'cause I was too dumb to know how to stay safe, and they all had to work to take care of me and I didn't /deserve/ it."
His thumb brushes slowly, soothingly, over the back of her hand. "I was broken," he murmurs. "I couldn't sleep. I was always lookin' over my shoulder. And Nana was good to me, so much better than I deserved, and I couldn't ever pay her back for it 'cause I wasn't smart enough or strong enough or good enough. I was afraid of /everything/. I thought Nana was gonna eat me, 'cause she was a fox, and I couldn't get close to anyone, 'cause I just thought I was some kind of pet at best."
A small pause, and then, very quietly: "It hurts. And I know it hurts. But believe me, Amity. I promise. It will get better. /You/ will get better. And you don't have to do it alone."
"Wh-what if I don't deserve to get better?" She stammers, her face red and puffy and blotched from her weeping which still hasn't stopped. She's tired. Exhausted. And still the pain is drawn out of her. She can't seem to really stop. "I feel like--like a shadow. I'm just supposed to be quiet and stand still and do what people need and I can't. Stop. It's the only time I feel useful, when I'm doing things for others. I have to keep moving and keep busy or I just--It hurts too much to stop--" She tries to explain. Their experiences are so different and yet... so similar. They both this pain, this agony of trauma and loss. "I don't know what to do anymore."
You don't have to submit to this, it says. You don't have to stay down forever. You have strength enough to stand. And when you do, I'll walk beside you.
"I know," he says, when she explains more. About her feelings of hopelessness, of having to fulfill her function, of having to be what They made her into. "And it won't go away all at once. You've been hurt, and it'll take time to heal. But you /can/ heal. And you will." He gives her fingers another steady, reassuring squeeze. "I'm here for you, and I'm gonna help you. You haven't got to do this alone. You've got me, and Nat, and Mavis, and everybody else. But there is something only you can do, and it's not gonna be easy."
He pauses for a moment, letting her take another few seconds to sob. Then, with gentle pressure, he encourages her to lift her head from her knees and look up, towards his face. His expression is infinitely gentle, his one eye watching her gaze. "There's a book I read, once," he says. "And it said something I think is pretty important for you to hear." A little smile. "Forgiveness is not earned. It is given. Give it to yourself."
It is hard for Amity to believe those things in this moment. That she will not feel like this forever (she has felt like this ever since she arrived back home). That she has the strenght to stand, even with others' help. It hurts to try and it hurts worse when there are those around her who look and feel and speak the way those that took her did. Or at least, they are so close that it makes her think there is no difference. It is hard to believe that it will ever get better. But Briar helps her believe it. Or at least... helps her believe that maybe she will actually believe it in the future. Slowly, her sobbing fades until she's just resting her head on her knees. When she finally looks up at him, her eyes are bloodshot, her nose runny. She's a mess. So different from the poised hostess who had let him inside.
"I don't know if I can give it right now, Briar," she says in a quiet voice. She feels helpless. It doesn't seem like something that's realistic for her in the moment. Not when it all hurts so much, when it is all so fresh in her mind. And her voice? It is exhausted and drained, scratchy and hoarse from her crying. "It's too much."
He flashes her another of his broad, ridiculous grins, and then shifts. He takes his hands away from hers. Not abruptly - he gives her time to recognize it and prepare for the lack of contact - but he does. And then he stands, and reaches for her teacup, and moves to pour her out a fresh one from the pot.
"Here," he says, pressing it into her hands. And then he bounces off, retrieving a handful of tissues - or at least napkins or paper towels - from the counter, which he carries back towards her with his grin still firmly in place. "Even talking about this stuff is already pretty darn impressive," he adds cheerfully, as he sets them down on the tabletop. "I mean, it wasn't fun to say in the moment, but it pretty obviously needed to come out. And that's step one. Gettin' it out. Facin' it. You're already movin'."
He folds his arms over his chest again. The lazy grin is more than just cheerfulness. It's a silent signal that the moment to grasp for strength, for words that she can barely force herself to speak, is over. That she can rest and recover. And, as he beams down at her, he manages to do, with his one eye, what is very obviously an exaggerated wink. "You're gonna be juuust fine."