DISCLAIMER: Mine, such as it is, and therefore not in need of a disclaimer. A lesbian story, though, so if that bothers you, don't read it.
By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
My life started out in a rather telling way.
The woman who bore me was barely more than a girl herself, and I was the result of an abusive partner who had long since abandoned her, so needless to say I was not welcome into the world.
Actually I think my name says everything about her feelings for me, the hatred and loathing that would be my companion for what I assume was seven years. I was named Pain.
Pain. She didn't use the name often, as more often than not she chose to ignore me, unless she needed something to release her anger on, or she would just swear at me. Ironically I don't hate her for the abuse, nor for her indifference... I merely left her behind, and have never looked back.
For all I know she might still be alive somewhere, but I doubt it. If the drugs and diseases haven't killed her by now, the dregs that moved through her life surely have, and either way it is nothing to me.
Does that make me a bad person? Perhaps... but I have many sins on my conscience, so one more will make no difference.
I was born underground, in the hidden world of tunnels and caverns that has been my home for all my life. I was born on the first levels, near the surface, where the new, the homeless and the drug addicts go for temporary shelter, to return to the surface world in time. The second level is the more dangerous one, though there's danger everywhere here.
The second level, when you've passed the drunks and the huddling homeless, that's where the violent ones go. Abuse, murder, rape... it happens all the time there, and I who've grown up in these dark tunnels know to avoid it when I can. Even so, I have my own bad memories from that level.
I was about seven years old when I left the woman who birthed me into this dark world behind to try to find survival deeper in the dark. I should have died. I was lucky.
I got found by a man, a man that though he appeared weak and sickly, knew how to survive down below, and who had pity on a small, bleeding but still snarling whelp of a child. He took me in and taught me to survive.
He brought me beneath the surface levels, into the dark where only creatures like us go. There's danger there too, but the others respected him for his knowledge, because he was the one they could go to with injuries or diseases. In the world above he had been a doctor, before... what drove him down there I never asked, and he never told.
He didn't raise me, didn't teach me things the way one might think. But he brought me to his home, his corner of the world, and let me have a safe haven there. I used his things and I learned from watching him. In time I came to learn to read his books, and yet another world was opened to me.
Soon I was strong enough, fast enough, and knew enough, to make it on my own. I stayed with him though, sharing what we scavenged, sharing a companionship I still miss. He began to teach me in earnest, showing me what he did to heal, and on some occasions, what he did to hurt. He gave me my most treasured possession, a large construction hammer that hangs from my belt. It's my favourite tool but also my weapon that I can wield like no-one would believe, and it has saved me many times.
I grew older, and bolder. I explored all my world, and the people that moved on the levels below learned to recognise me. In time, to respect me. I'm not someone you cross without good reason, not because I am big or strong, for I truly am not, but because I know this world better than anyone else. Sooner or later, I am needed.
I remained with my friend for nearly eight years. By then I had learned to count the days and years, though their passing mean nothing to me, and if our assumptions were right, I was around fifteen then. In the way of the world to which I was born, I was a woman... and my friend asked for things I wouldn't give, not to him, not to any man.
Once again I left. Deeper into the earth, into caves and forgotten ruins, on paths that are scarcely travelled. I found my home there, far away from others, in parts that other fear to approach or know nothing about. I found safe passages beyond the yawning pits and bottomless abyss, around the cave-ins and flooded places, safe paths around spaces where any movement would rain rock and earth over you. I am small and fast, my steps light and quiet, and I move around safely where others can't.
My home is cosy, and luxurious compared to what I've known before, but I've worked hard to get it that way. My little cave is stabile and won't become my tomb, I've made sure of that, and it has only one entrance, hidden away if someone other than me would somehow come here. In here I have a mattress that it took me an entire day to carry in here, and blankets to keep me warm. I've covered the ground with old newspapers, and I have things propped up against the walls or put in crevices, like my beloved books. I have food in one corner and clothes in another. I have candles and lamps that light my home for me. And outside, a short distance away, I have a small underground river, a luxury beyond words.
But still, I am alone.
The things I own are taken, stolen, from the world above. I have taken things from garbage trucks and recycle bins that none but me would want, but I have also taken things when the owner looked away or when the store had not enough defences against one such as myself. I'm sure I should feel bad about that too, but it was survival.
The surface world fascinates me. I've watched the ebb and flow of humanity there, how they move like one does on the upper levels, avoiding contact, not wanting to be seen, moving fast to get away to wherever they are going. They never see me, and never try to interfere with me when I move about on the edges of their world.
I've walked tunnels far and wide, just to find out where they lead, or where they end. I've explored paths just to know that I've walked them once, and that has lead me to discoveries I otherwise would not have made. It is what I do with my time, to fill the emptiness.
This habit of mine lead me to my favourite place, a lonely cliff overlooking the ocean, with a building that looks to my eyes like a shining castle on high, and rich, lush forests around. I love those woods, and though I know humanity is not that far away, I run around in the grass or in the trees as if I was the only creature in the world. It is a fairytale in itself, and I dream away in the sheltering arms of the forest, longing for something I don't know.
I've spent many hours watching the water as well. The beach is small and rocky and the waters always cold and churning, no visitors come here to frolic at the water's edge, and I cherish that.
But my castle, my palace on high, has an owner. I have seen her.
She is the lone, frail princess in my enchanted castle, waiting for the prince to come to rescue her from whatever darkness might touch her life. She often stands by the edge of the cliff, watching the water while I watch her. I always watch her.
She is tall, her bearing straight and to my thought, noble, her long shiny hair flowing in the winds that rule these cliffs. The impression of frailty comes from the pale hue of her skin, and the slender cane I see her lean on occasionally, and I know that if I could come close enough to see her eyes when she watches the ocean, I would find them haunted.
I wonder what colour they would be.
Sometimes I am sure she senses my eyes on her, because she turns from the churning water to look around, her eyes tracking to the place where I am hiding, but I know she cannot see me. The wind tosses her hair into her face, and with a graceful motion she moves it back from her face, leaving my heart pounding in my chest at the sight. She is truly a princess, fairest of them all, and I am nothing but the dirty and unworthy worm in my clean but ragged clothing, that stay in silent, unknown vigil until a prince comes to take her away.
I'm afraid he'll come, and I will be alone with my pain. I'm afraid he won't, and she will remain alone with what haunts her, forever. I know though that in the end, what I want and what I fear is inconsequential. It always has been.
By accident I discovered a path that leads right into her home. It is a tricky path, but open and vulnerable, and I fear for her. I can enter her home easily, and I have a few times without her knowing, walked a few steps inside the sanctity of the castle and seen her touch there.
She likes flowers, and her kitchen is large. She has many books, and I wish I could stay there just to look at a few of them, but I have never dared to pull out even one from the shelves. I also know that she paints, I have seen the room where she keeps her tools and I have been touched by the beauty she portrays in her paintings. All this without seeing her eyes.
I fear for her. It is so easy to come inside her home, what if someone came there to hurt her? I don't know why, but the thought unnerves me so much that I almost cannot leave this place, and come back as soon as I can to stand guard. An unlikely and unwanted guard against an imaginary threat, no doubt, but still. I cannot stop myself.
As I was keeping silent guard, I saw for the first time the prince arrive.
He drove up to her castle in his black and shiny car that looked very much like him, large, dark, groomed and polished until he shone. She came out to meet him, wearing a dove-blue dress that took my breath away and left me empty and aching when she entered his car and left. It was just the first time.
I saw him several times after that, once more to take her away, dressed up to cut a bleeding path into my heart, the others to go inside to visit her. Her body language seemed surprised to me, the first time he arrived on her doorstep for a visit, but she let him inside. A few hours later she politely followed him to the door.
The third time it happened, he didn't just hold her hand briefly and smile at her before leaving, but leaned in to kiss her. I nearly swallowed my tongue as I watched, but she leaned back on her cane awkwardly, turning her head aside, leaving him to kiss her cheek instead. He wasn't pleased, I could tell, but still he left.
After his car disappeared around the bend, I saw her lean back against the door and wipe at her cheek slightly while looking around. Who was she looking for? Me? After a moment she seemed to sigh and turned back inside.
I sat with my guts churning in that tree all night, keeping watch, or at least telling me that was what I was doing. I saw the silhouette of her against the blinds as she went to bed, and for the first time in my miserable life I wished for something, wished really hard and with all that I had for something.
In the morning the frog was still a frog, the princess still locked away in her ivory tower, and my legs had gone numb from not moving.
Ridiculously hurt by the realities of life, I returned to my own corner of the world. I ate, bathed, and dressed in a set of dry clothes. I even slept, though sporadically and always with her image on the back of my eyelids.
Two days was all I could bear to be away. And I was almost too late.
When I arrived, he was leaning over her, presumably to convince her to let him stay the night. She looked distressed and moved away as he tried to fondle her, which enraged him. Suddenly he struck the cane away from her hand, slammed her into the door and kissed her.
I was already moving when she slapped him, hard, and moved away. His arm shot out and pulled at her, causing her to fall down, the weaker leg not stable enough to hold her at that angle. He sneered and reached for her.
Perhaps he wouldn't have hurt her. Perhaps he was going to help her up and apologise, despite the look on his face. Perhaps.
And perhaps I would one day find a genie inside a discarded bottle of Coke, too.
He was busy reaching for her when I reached him, so he didn't see me. She did, though, because I heard her gasp. Then I heard him yell in pain.
I'm small and I'm light, but I'm a lot stronger than I look, with the life I've lead having made me dangerous to fight with, and I was furious. Prince not-so-Charming didn't stand a chance.
I wanted to kill him, really I did. Instead I went easy on him, and let him get up and haul his worthless ass to the car and his escape from my wrath. He yelled from his supposed safety, slurs and insults that seemed pathetic to me who hear far worse in my everyday life, in a voice that threatened to stay high-pitched for some time. Then his car was hurling gravel out of place as he tore out of there as fast as he could.
I was still shaking with anger as I watched him go, but snapped out of it when I heard her move behind me. Suddenly I didn't know where to look or what to do, but my nervously darting eyes fell on her cane. Steeling myself for what I was sure would come, I turned to her and carefully leaned down slowly to offer her help to stand up.
Her hand slipped into mine like a caress, and the electricity of that simple touch made me gasp and look at her.
Her eyes are a pale blue. Oh wow, they are so blue!
Whatever I had expected her expression to be, it wasn't this. Her eyes were wide and slightly teary, her expression astonished and maybe... just a little... longing? She trembled as she reached for my face with her other hand.
The warmth of that hand gently touching, then cupping my face, made me close my eyes for a second.
"It is you." She breathed, her voice melodious and slightly deep-pitched. "It _is_ you."
Instead of helping her up, my legs abandoned me and I sat down in front of her, powerless to do anything else. I watched as a single tear spilled over and tracked down her alabaster cheek. The she smiled, and I would have died for her if she had asked me to.
"I have waited so long... but it _is_ you... you are here..." She sobbed slightly. "I have felt you nearby but I could never see you... and now you are here..."
If she expected me to answer anything, I don't know. Because with another tiny sob she pulled me close, so close, hugging me until all there was in the world was her, her warmth, her scent, enveloping me.
We stayed like that for a long time, her too caught up in crying to try to stand, and me too afraid to move and break the spell that was bringing her warmth into my cold and lonely existence. But eventually I had to get her up from that cold ground, afraid that she might get ill if we stayed like that much longer.
She closed the door behind us with a smile, then led me by the hand down the hallway I had walked before. She led me into the room where her paintings stood, awaiting her brush, and I wondered briefly why I had been brought there. Then she brought me to a table in the corner, where something had been covered with a thick cloth, and with a trembling hand drew it aside.
It was rough, unfinished, still mottled by whatever tools she used, but... it was me. My face.
She moved to stand so close behind me that her heat scorched through me.
"I knew when you had been in here, before." She murmured into my ear. "I was beginning to fear that you were a ghost... or my imagination." Her hand let go of the cane and slid up my arm. "Always sensing you near, never seeing more than the barest glimpse..."
Did I turn or did she turn me? I don't know. I just know that suddenly we were kissing, my hands slipping through her hair and hers holding me close, and it was sweeter than any dream I could have had.
There would be time for words later, for more formal introductions and explanations, for telling one another about our lives, but for right now... the pauper found herself unexpectedly made prince, and given all the world inside the arms of the princess fair.
And maybe, if she helps me, I'll even dare to believe in happily forever after.
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