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Nocturne

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Chapter I: Psycho - Muse

‘Your mind is just a program
And I'm the virus
I'm changing the station
I'll improve your thresholds
I'll turn you into a super drone (super drone)
And you will kill on my command
And I won't be responsible

I'm gonna make you
I'm gonna break you
I'm gonna make you
A fucking psycho
A fucking psycho
A fucking psycho
Your ass belongs to me now’

She sits, hunched in the corner, hair darkened by grease as her Mistress sits on the cushioned seat at the table, legs crossed and reading the paper in between bites of toast. The smell wafts across the room and she wills her stomach not to growl as saliva pools in her mouth.

She knows the consequences of unauthorised noise.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she turns to look out of the window.

She remembers her Papa, sitting in just the same way when she was younger. Much, much younger and happier. She remembers his smile but everything else is a blur.

Sometimes, when Mistress leaves, she looks in the mirror, stretches her lips and tries to find his smile in the unnatural grin stretched across her face. The pinch of her cracked lips splitting, her skin pulled taught across her bones reminds her that she no longer looks like him.

No.

Monsters are less scary than a gaunt face like hers.

And her body.

Each scar is braille to be read by a room full of people who are out of touch.

Numb.

The creak of her chair and the click of heels makes her tense, the sound getting louder until she feels the heat of Mistress against her side, until she feels a soft touch against her cheek before it hardens and holds her jaw in a vice.

She bites back a whimper and looks down, the flash of a fist passing before her eyes as she remembers the one and only time she looked Mistress in the eye.

She can no longer look herself in the eye, the blue of her own merging with the blue or Mistress’ and she wonders if they are the same.

“Dear X, I’ve so many plans for you,” Mistress says, her hand running over collar bones, protruding ribs, tattered rags of clothing, mottled flesh.

X sits, frozen.

“Yes, so many plans for you. But first,” Mistress says, turning, voice light. “First, we need you to keep your strength up.”

A bowl filled with a thick, lumpy beige concoction is placed before X.

No spoon.

“Here, take it and eat. All of it.”

X does as requested, her stomach protesting the intrusion after going days without, her lips smacking together as the glue like substance coats her mouth.

It tastes of ash.

She puts down the bowl and sits back once it’s empty.

“I said all of it.”

X frowns before she licks her fingers clean, warm saliva coating them before a wet cloth is handed over.

“Clean your hands and face. I’ll be back, later.”

Mistress breezes out of the room, the click of her heels fading as X relaxes and turns to look back out of the window.

A myriad of greens and browns greet her, freshly turned grass and mud decorating the green expanse before of a wall of trees.

She closes her eyes and remembers her sister spinning around in circles in a field, sun beating down on her small body. Can almost hear the giggles.

It’s raining, now. The steady pitter patter making X smile as she breathes in the smell of it through the slightly opened, barred window.

She wishes she could be out in it, could feel the wet rain pour over her skin, taste the water on her lips.

Water gathers on the window sill, droplets running down the pain and pooling. X dips her fingers in and closes her eyes, imagining all that she just wished for and she smiles, bringing her fingers to her lips and soothing the stinging sensation with her wet fingers.

She wishes she could forget these wishes and frowns, tongue swiping away the metallic taste of blood.

*

“X, come here,” Mistress says. X jumps to attention, the door a grenade exploding in a room full of silence. “Good girl. Now, come. We need to clean you up,” she says, heels clacking towards the bathroom.

X sits in the bath, the lukewarm water coming up to her navel as Mistress runs the sponge over her skin, humming to the melody of water spilling over mottled flesh.

“I think we’ve finally cracked it, this time. All should go to plan but either way, no more procedures for you,” Mistress says, voice as soft as her gentle touch. “It has to work, though,” she says on a sigh and caresses X’s cheek. “I can’t lose you.”

X frowns at the unusual display of affection.

The hours, days, weeks, months, years are a blur of beatings and harsh words and pierced flesh.

She remembers her first day here.

“Where are we? Who are you? What do you want from us?” X asks, the boy, Michael standing beside her and squeezing her hand, the click of heels the only response in the whitewashed maze of corridors.

“Where are we?” she asks again, free hand playing with the hem of her shirt as the duo follow behind the formidable woman with pale skin.

“Be. Quiet,” the woman says.

X flinches at the cold tone of voice, the first words Mistress has spoken to her.

“I want to go home,” Michael utters.

The smell of piss and the hiss of liquid trickling to the ground breaking the silence and X gulps, squeezes the boys hand and wishes she could protect him.

Mistress spins around and walks over.

Both cower down, Michael leaning into X, his tiny form, his wet trousers pressing against her side. She doesn’t even grimace at the urine soaking into her trousers.

Mistress sneers, lip curled in disgust and she rolls her white shirt sleeves up in silence, her skin almost as white as her shirt.

The crack of her fist meeting Michael’s face makes X jump, hand still holding Michael’s as he drops to the floor. X looks down, sees a pool of read emanating from his face, eyes closed and not a noise escaping his lips.

She looks up, takes in the red splatters across Mistress’ shirt and catches her eyes, eyes that narrow as Mistress leans forward, the smell of lavender catching X’s attention as whispered tones meet her ear.

“You will not look me in the eye. You will learn discipline. Both of you.”

A slap across her face drives the message home. X snapping her head to face forward, head tilted down and nods her response.

“Pick him up and follow me.”

She does as she’s told, gritting her teeth as she staggers behind Mistress, holding Michael until they reach a door. Her arms burn, she’s panting, beads of sweat roll down her forehead.

“In.”

The door opens with a clunk and the darkness of it jars X as she stumbles insides, unceremoniously dropping Michael as soon as the door shuts.

Slivers of light filter in through the high, barred window but she can still barely see anything, her eyes still adjusting to the rapid switch from light to dark. The floor is hard, cold, much like the walls. She wipes her face with her shirt, frowning at the different coloured stains now soaked into it.

She touches her cheek still smarting from the slap she received and feels something sticky, something that reminds her of the strawberry jam her Mama used to make.

She wonders if they’re thinking of her, if they realise she’s gone yet.

The walk from school never took this long.

Papa used to always find her when she was lost as a little child and it’s with that thought that she burrows into the corner furthest from the door.

He’ll find her.

After a little or a long while, time already beginning to lose meaning, Michael begins groaning and X crawls over.

"Shh, it’s okay,” she says, stroking his bright red hair as he begins to cry. “Shh, you need to be quiet.”

He begins to sob harder.

“Come on, please. We’ll get in trouble. Just be quiet.”

She sits on her knees and faces him, holding his cheek as she inspects the damage in the limited light.

There’s a gash at the side of his head where impact was made, and she knows that he’ll have blackened eyes and a lot of bruising to follow.

“Look at me. Hey, look at me.”

He does, eyes taking a few moments to focus on her.

“Name?”

He groans and looks around the room for an answer.

“Matth-Michael?”

She nods, remembering hushed words en route to…here.

“Age?”

He shakes his head and groans at the movement.

“Don’t know.”

She pulls back a hand and worries her lip, For the first time ever, she regrets the basic medical knowledge her Mama imparted to her.

There’s nothing she can do.

He rolls over and heaves, the smell of vomit quickly filling the cell.

There’s a bang on the door.

“Be quiet in there,” a male voice shouts through and X looks away, willing the burn of bile to stay down as the smell gets stronger, permeating the air and burning her throat.

She slides over to the furthest side of the room as Michael lays down on his back, tears still pooling in his eyes.

“Turn on your side,” she whispers, arms wrapped around her legs, sitting sentry.

He does as she says, and she wishes she was strong enough to go and comfort him.

A while later, when the slithers of light have begun to fade, a tray of food is passed through the door.

“Where are we?” X asks again.

“Take me home,” Michael sobs out.

The man stands, his lip curled in disgust at the stench in the room from the pool of vomit still festering on the floor.

He walks into the room, dressed in all black.

“Who did this?” he asks, pointing to the pool of vomit and saliva. Both stay silent as X stares at Michael, willing him mute.

“I asked you a question. Who did this?”

“You told us to be quiet,” X says as Michael opens his mouth, her jaw clenched, body tense, waiting.

His boots clatter with each step as he moves over to her, sidestepping the mess on the floor. She presses herself back against the wall, feels the coldness begin to seep into her until the first blow hits, rains down, knocking the air from her lungs as she keels over, and everything begins to burn.

Another blow, to the face and she feels the skin peel open like the rind of an orange, the bitter taste of blood gathering on her lips, her tongue.

He stomps back out of the room, and she feels a small hand on her back.

“Are you okay?”

She nods her head, wiping her face and grimacing.

“I’m fine. Be quiet,” she whispers out as she hears steps approaching.

The man returns, bucket and mop in hand.

“Clean this up. Now.”

The door shuts with a loud clang and X rolls her eyes before getting up and following orders. As she reaches the bucket, Michael hugs her leg and she pats his shoulder.

“I’ll help.”

She shakes her head.

“No, it’s okay,” she says soaking the mop before setting to work and cleaning the floor for far longer than necessary, the smell of bleach making her dizzy but comforting all the same, allowing her to forget, to not focus on the her face, her shoulders that feel like shattered fragments piercing her skin with every movement.

Her Mama loved to clean.

Her Mama wouldn’t like this mess.

A small hand pressed against her back halts her movements and she flinches at the pain steadily building all over.

Michael gasps.

“Sorry.”

X closes her eyes before turning to face him.

“It’s okay,” she says, fake smile in place.

Her eyes soften at the sight before her. Michael sits on his knees, blood and bruises already decorating his face. He holds out a tray, a small chunk of bread and a bowl of something on display.

“Have you eaten?”

He nods.

“Any good?”

He wrinkles his nose and X almost smiles.

She picks up the bread and feels how hard it is as she breaks it into two.

“Here, have some more. You’re a growing boy.”

She winks at him and he smiles, a freshly made gap between his teeth.

X swallows and tries to swallow before enthusiastically taking a bite of the stale bread.

“We need to fatten you up a little,” Mistress says, X snaps to attention as Mistress runs her fingers over X’s ribs. “We need you strong if it’s to be a success.”

X swallows, looking down as always whilst Mistress finishes her ministrations, her mind still on Michael and not on what Mistress said.

What did he have to endure? Did he learn to be quiet or is he silent forever?

X knows that she’s given unusual treatment. On the rare occasions she’s been left with other captives (Mistress had always been furious, then). She’d learned that they were housed together, most knew each other, remembered their own names and not just the letters they were given.

She tries but she can never remember her own name.

She is just X.

Mary Cynthia had looked at her, softly, smiled and introduced herself as X sat in the corner, eyes flitting from one person to another as they awaited their impending fates.

Before she could form Michael’s name, Mistress strode in, everyone looking down to the floor in unison as she passed, X seeing her heels coming into view, a hand reaching for her bicep and dragging her out of the room.

She caught a glance of Mary Cynthia and her big, sad eyes before the door shut behind her.

“How dare you leave her in there with them,” Mistress had spat out to a man in a white coat with grey hair and glasses.

Not a word left his mouth as they both passed by, X stumbling to keep up with each step.

She’d seen Mary Cynthia once more, after that. Had quickly learned from overhearing conversations that only she lived here, so alone. Mistress always invading her space, taking X to steel, cold rooms or eating her breakfast and sleeping and living with X.

Everyone looked at her weird.

Everyone including the others in white coats.

Mistress sighs.

“There, all cleaned up. And I have a surprise for you.”

X frowns, sits in the bath and watches as Mistress walks out of the room, still looking at the doorway until Mistress returns, something white clutched in her hands.

“I’ve been meaning to get you some new clothes, but you know how it is, don’t you? All this work keeps me so busy,” she says, replacing what was in her hands with a towel. “Come on, out you get.”

X follows orders and stands, naked as the day she was born until Mistress wraps a towel around her, the softest towel to touch her skin in years and she smiles at the feeling of being clean, of the fabric gentling caressing her skin, of feeling the best she’s felt since she was taken.

Her skin almost itches at the feel of Mistress’ gaze.

“You’re so beautiful when you smile.”

She remembers those stolen moments of looking in the mirror and the smile falters before it shatters into a Cheshire grin, a caricature of sincerity.

Mistress sighs.

“Here, put this on.”

X does as requested, before Mistress steers her out of the room and stands her in front of a tall mirror.

“You look so beautiful.”

X tries not to grimace as she takes in her gaunt features, her protruding bones and scarred flesh next to the smooth, vibrant skin of Mistress, her curves and strong hands that have grabbed and hit and pinched.

*****

“We’ll be meeting here at 0500 hours. Teams one and two will be covering the front and back entrances whilst teams three and five sweep the building,” Mount says, pointing at different points of the map projected on the wall.

“Crane, your team will focus on the small outhouse adjacent to the main building.”

Delia worries her lip as she watched Mount pace up and down, taking in everyone in the room and landing on her.

She stands to attention and holds his gaze, forcing herself not to look away from the ice blue eyes locked on hers.

“Medic?”

She nods.

“Know how to use a gun?”

One again she nods, swallows and remembers all those times Captain Crane (Phyllis she’d come to learn, despite the no first name rule) would take her out for target practise, quoting Spanish poets and making her laugh as she’d trained to become a killer.

“Good.”

Phyllis nods.

“I trained her myself,” she says, smile in place as she stands, meeting Mount with all the confidence Delia couldn’t muster.

“Then, I have every faith she’ll be up to the task. Brief your team before departure. Now, all of you go, eat, sleep, practise, do whatever you need to do before tomorrow. This mission must be a success. Anything less, well,” he says, shaking his head. “Go.”

Everyone rushes out of the room, silently, the corridor bursting with noise as soon as the door closes.

Delia wanders to her room and awaits further orders.

*****

“Come,” Mistress says, waiting for X to stand, blindfold in hand.

X had sat and watched the sky darken, the changing colours of the sky melting into blackness whilst she wore her new dress as her Mistress breezed into the room.

She clenches her jaw and follows orders, blood sprinting through her veins.

She knows what the blindfold means.

She doesn’t like leaving here, doesn’t like it when they poke and prod and take and touch but she has no choice, knows it’ll end up being a lot more painful to refuse.

Mistress guides her, as she always does, to wherever X is forced to be, blindfold firmly in place, the noise of her Mistress’ heels and her bare feet padding along the floor the only noise until a door gets opened.

The heat of the room encases her. The smell of bleach burns her nostrils (no longer a pleasant smell) until she can almost taste it.

“There, there. Dear X, today is such an important day. You’re about to become the greatest creation alive,” Mistress says, caressing her cheek. “You’ll be everything I’ve ever wanted.”

A man watches, frowning, glaring at the hand touching X’s cheek. X looks down just before he can meet her gaze, heart beating fast.

“Whatever happens, there’ll be no more pain,” Mistress coos, fingers guiding her chin up. “Look at me.”

X frowns and shakes her head.

“I said, look at me.”

X flinches as the pressure on her chin increases and tears pool in her eyes as she debates her options, as she obliges when she realises there is no options.

“There’s a good girl. Just do as I say, and everything will be okay.”

Mistress holds her gaze, eyes unflinching and such a dark blue as X wells up, seeing her eyes reflected back.

“Don’t cry. Everything will be fine, I promise. Now, get on the bed.”

X nods and clambers on.

“Strap her down.”

X begins to shake as the restraints are secured into place, eyes once again welling up, tears spilling over as a blinding light shines down on her.

She looks around, eyes wide, shaking off her temporary blindness.

Once again, she feels like braille in a room full of people without touch.

*****

Phyllis stands at the front of the room, pacing up and down as an image is projected onto the screen.

“This is Patience Mount, photo taken at age fourteen, a few weeks prior to her disappearance. We suspect the target may be being housed in the outside beside the main complex. We are to secure said target and make sure no harm comes to her, if found. Dyer and Hereward, you will be team one and secure the entrance, Busby, Franklin, Turner and myself will follow.

We have no floor plans of the building so I’m afraid we’ll be going in blind. Franklin and Turner, you will be team two, Busby, you and I, team three.

Aside from the aforementioned target, you are encouraged to shoot to kill anyone that poses a threat. Understood?”

Delia nods along with the rest of her team.

“Good. Now go get yourselves ready and team,” Phyllis says, looking them all in the eye. “Do be careful. I want you all back here at 1200 hours for a debriefing.”

The team begins to filter out but Delia stands, unsure of herself, of her role in this mission.

Her first mission.

“Ready, Busby?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Delia says, giving the gun in her grasp a quick once over for the hundredth time.

“It won’t be pretty, Lass,” Crane says, eyes softening as she squeezes Delia’s hand. “What you’ll see-what they do is…better left unsaid and unseen. I do hope our mission is straightforward and easy, but it might not be. The shoot to kill order is there for good reason.”

Delia frowns and Phyllis sighs, deflates before steeling herself for the situation head.

“But, needs must. Now, get yourself ready, Busby, we leave in five. And remember, kid, remember what I taught you. And for god’s sake, get yourself back here in one piece,” she says, breezing out of the room.

Chapter Text

Chapter II: Strange -Runah 

 

‘What if I know what you thought?

And if my laugh isn't easy to catch

Well, I've been swallowing stones

 

Oh, and you ask me, you ask me to shrink

Oh, and my bones feel hollow, I think

What if I?

 

Strange colours in my mind, oh

I've been losing my head, now

Strange colours in my mind

I've been losing my head

Strange colours in my mind, oh

I've been losing my head round the corner

Strange colours in your mind’

 

X feels the sharp prick of a needle in the back of her hand and relaxes, a sense of familiarity, of routine reminding her there’s no use being scared. 

They will do with her what they will.

She closes her eyes and begins to drift off, looking forward to the nothingness to come. 

“Dr Wolf, are you sure about this? She’s weak.”

“We have no time,” Mistress barks out. “We have no cho-“ 

X succumbs to darkness, frown on her face at the disruption to the usually silent routine.

*****

Delia hears her heartbeat, sweat pooling on her forehead under the brim of her helmet despite the chill in the early Spring air as they run into position, the straps of her rucksack digging into her shoulders.

The smell of rain, of trees and morning frost lingers as she hunkers down, her breath forming mini clouds that dissolve into nothing.

The radio crackles to life, the last note of Mount’s order punctuated by full stop of a door being forced open. Delia catches Phyllis’ eyes and nods her head as they head towards the entrance, Franklin and Turner already bursting through as Dyer and Hereward stand sentinel on the porch, guns raised as they scan their surroundings.

Phyllis takes the lead into the dark corridor. She holds up her left hand. The team halts. Delia stares, intently at the myriad of hand signals Phyllis performs until the team splits in the empty hallway, Franklin and Turner taking the two doors on the right. 

Delia wraps her gloved hand around the handle, heartbeat still all she can hear as she grips the gun, tighter in her other hand, side pressed against the door as she watches Phyllis out of the corner of her eye for the signal.

When it’s given, she throws the door open, Phyllis coming from behind to cover her as they burst into the room. A quite sweep, guns held high shows nothing but a table, a barred window letting in minimal moonlight, a sofa. 

No body in sight.

She sighs.

They clear the room, catching sight of team two who shake their heads before moving on to the last door at the end of the corridor, switching positions but repeating their previous actions.

Delia follows behind Phyllis, halting at the raised hand signal as Phyllis drop her gun and rushes forward.

She leans over a body. A thin body swallowed by empty space in a bed. Delia swallows, gun still raised as she sweeps the room, opening the curtains and looking through the barred windows to the rising sun, tentatively beginning to bleed through the sky before she shuts them.

She turns, continues her sweep of the room, knowing she’ll find nothing else but needing to look anywhere but at the small body lying on the bed.

A gun fires. 

Delia snaps her head towards the door, ears narrowing to the sound as she heads towards the doorway until Phyllis’ voice stops her.

“Busby, I’ll go. You stay.”

Delia nods her head.

“Contact. Wait out,” Phyllis says through the radio as she rushes out of the room, gun in hand.

Delia takes off her rucksack and takes out the medical equipment she’d been entrusted with before forcing her eyes up to the body on the bed. She leans over, places her hand on a thin wrist, as frail as ash in her grasp, in search of a pulse. She sighs at the barely there flutter against her fingers and leans over the bodies face, a slight puff of air hitting her cheek.

She peels back the duvet and almost gasps at the emaciated being on display, dried blood on the back of her hand, veins bulging beneath paper thin skin as a flimsy, white dress covers her.

Delia shakes her head, sets to work cleaning the body? a girl? Woman? Taking vitals, brain working on overtime.

“Status update?”

“A female. Severely malnourished. Alive. Barely,” Delia barks out to Phyllis who’s standing sentinel in the door way.

“Is she the target?”

Delia swallows, remembers the dimpled smile, the bright blue eyes and blonde hair of a fourteen-year-old and tries to reconcile it with this…creature on display.

She closes her eyes before opening them.

“Potentially.”

Her voice breaks. She hears Phyllis shuffle over, her boots tapping out a steady rhythm until a warm hand grasps her shoulder.

“You’ve done well, kid. I’ll go radio it in.”

“Who-what-is everyone okay?” she says, turning to face Phyllis.

Phyllis hums.

“Yes, well, Franklin took a shot to the leg. Turner is with her now. Superficial wound, luckily. The rest of the house has been cleared. There is a hidden entrance Dyer is now manning. Now, Lass, I best give Mount an update and arrange some backup.”

Delia nods, looking once more at the body in front of her before rising, heading over to the window to let some light in to the darkened space.

She jumps back as soon as she does, two ice blue eyes staring at her before they flicker to the body on the bed. She closes the curtains, stumbles back and blindly reaches for her gun before running forward, throwing the curtains opened once more to empty space.

Phyllis wanders in.

“Busby?”

“I-I thought I saw. Maybe I’m going mad but I thought-I thought I saw a woman looking through the window.”

Phyllis walks over, closing the curtains once more and crossing her arms.

“A woman?”

“Yes.”

“What did she look like?”

“Blonde. Blue eyes. Pale skin.”

Phyllis nods and clenches her jaw. Delia worries her lip, fingers gripping her gun, tightly, the ridges of it pressing into her skin and the pain calms her.

“If it’s any consolation, kiddo, I don’t think you’re going mad.”

Delia frowns.

“Ready the patient for transport.”

*****

“Now, I want to know exactly what happened out there, Busby,” Mount says, hand slamming down on table in front of her. “The woman, what did she look like?”

“I-she-erm.”

“Spit it out.”

“I do believe your hostility isn’t helping the situation, Mr Mount. Come now, Busby, tell us what you saw. There’s a good Lass,” Phyllis says, standing against the wall, arms folded.

Delia throws a tentative smile her way. Phyllis nods her head in response and Delia begins to talk to her and her alone.

“A woman. There was a woman. Blonde hair, really blonde hair and pale skin. Like so pale, it was like snow. And her eyes, God her eyes were about as cold as snow until-Well, until they caught sight of the body.”

“Patience.”

“Yes, the patient.”

“No. My daughter’s name is Patience. Patsy.”

“Oh,” Delia says. “So-so the mission was a success?” Mount looks at her, jaw clenched, fingers curled around the edge of the table. Delia swallows and looks down. “I-I shut the curtains straight away, got my gun and when I opened them again, she was gone.”

“Why did you open the curtains?”

Delia shrugs.

“I-I just wanted some more light.”

“You are aware it’s a foolish and stupid thing to do in enemy territory, Busby? Not only could you have compromised your whole team but my daughter’s wellbeing, too.”

Delia bites her lip and looks down.

Mount nods.

“Wait here,” he barks out.

“Is she okay?” Delia asks, looking up to Phyllis with wide eyes, hands squeezed together. “I didn’t mean to put anyone in danger.”

Phyllis sighs.

“She hasn’t woken, yet. Her vitals are still the same. You’re the best medic on the team, Busby. You’ll be assigned to oversee her care. You’re a healer, not a fighter. Mount knows this.”

Delia frowns.

“What about Turner?”

Phyllis shakes her head.

“He’ll be overseeing the care of all the others.”

“Others?”

Phyllis sighs and drops her arms, walking over.

“I told you, Busby, what these people did is better left unsaid but I’m afraid you’ll have to familiarise yourself with it sooner or later, especially since Patience is to become your charge.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve spent many a year with Mr Mount, Lass. I know him better than most. He’s hard on you but it’s because he’ll be expecting the best and the most from you. This is what we’ve been training you for.”

The door swings open and Mount’s imposing figure comes into view, his broad shoulders and muscled arms flexing with the swing of his step before he drops a photograph down in front of Delia. She stops herself from clarifying, asking how they know that it actually is Patience since she looks so different, stops herself from asking why she was the one trained for this.

“Is this her?” he says, jabbing his finger towards the picture.

Delia looks down, sees the cut of a sharp jaw-line, blonde hair pulled back, unblemished skin with her head angled slightly away and nods.

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes.”

Mount growls.

“Emelen Wolf.”

Phyllis nods before speaking.

“Also the woman who shot Franklin.”

“Crane, debrief your team. And then,” he sighs. “Then brief Busby on the case. She’ll be in charge of my daughters medical care,” he says, sweeping through the door, boots pounding against the floor with each step as he leaves. “Let’s hope she’s better at that then being out in the field.”

The door closes.

Delia turns to Phyllis who shrugs, and then shakes her head.

“Come on, kid. Let’s meet with the others and then you come to me after lunch. I’ll fill you in as much as I can.”

*****

The following morning, Delia stands in a room with a few pictures of the Mount family staring back at her, Patience unconscious on the bed, beeping machines jarring with the homely feel of the room. The results of the latest blood tests yet to be opened and clutched in her grasp.

She bites her lip as she taken in the smiling faces, Mount looking years younger, Patience looking vibrant and alive and just like a mini-Mount, a woman and a young girl, mother and sister, she’s presuming, grinning and looking so alike.

She looks around, jumps when she spots Mount looking at her intently, arms crossed as he leans against the door frame.

“Eight years.”

Delia frowns.

“She’s been gone for eight years. This,” he says, arm sweeping around the room. “This is her room.”

He looks towards the bed and Delia worries her lip.

“How do you know?”

He frowns.

“How do you know that this is her? She looks so…different.”

“I know my daughter.” He sighs. “But the results of a paternity test are in there,” he says, indicating with a flick of his head to the file in Delia’s hand. “Crane suggested it. Look, just look after my girl, Busby. Get her well, again.” 

Delia swallows as he leaves as quietly as he arrived, softly shutting the door behind him. Delia shakes her head and opens the file. He’s right. This is Patience Elizabeth Mount. Unsurprisingly, she is severely malnourished, iron levels low, other results reading off the charts in so many ways. 

Delia frowns.

So much work to do on this particular patient. She misses the before. She misses ice creams in the sun with Dai, his small body running up and down the beach, her Tad swinging her around as she giggled with joy.

She sighs before walking over, looking at the pale face, the blonde hair a few shades lighter after somebody washed it. She briefly wonders how someone would go about washing an unconscious patient’s hair before shrugging the thought off. 

There’s a knock at the door as she perches on a chair next to Patience, eyes roaming the room for answers.

“Hey, there, kiddo. How’s our patient?”

“No change, I’m afraid. Gilbert checked in on her throughout the night and there was no sign of her waking up,” she says, Phyllis rounding the room to stand beside her. “What I don’t understand is how she’s survived? Look at her, Phyl and look,” she says, offering up the file. “Look at the discrepancies in her blood work.”

Phyllis squeezes her shoulder.

“In my experience, Lass, the human spirit can endure much more than we think possible.”

“I know but-but she should be dead.”

Phyllis takes the folder, reads through it for a few moments before she sighs.

“I see what you mean but she isn’t dead. And those…I hesitate to call them people and animals are far too human, those monsters have done who knows what to her.”

“I know. I just-how?”

“I don’t know, Busby but we’ll figure it out. With you leading the team, she’ll get there. What’s the plan?”

“Keep the IV going, the MRI showed no signs of brain damage but,” she says with a sigh. “But who knows what’s going on. Her breathing is becoming stronger. So is her heartrate but there’s no explanation as to why. And her bloods-”

There’s another knock at the door.

“For Pete’s sake, this is for all intents and purposes a hospital room, not a hotel,” Delia bites out, eyes closed as she pinches the bridge of her nose. “What?”

A woman, frail and wrinkled shuffles into the room, a tray in hand.

“Excuse me?” Delia asks and Phyllis squeezes her shoulder.

“I see you and such precious cargo have been sequestered to this room. I thought I’d bring adequate mid-morning sustenance for when Miss Mount wakes, and for you to perform at optimal levels.”

Delia frowns and slowly nods her head.

“Right.”

The woman shuffles forwards, hands a now standing Delia the tray and sits on the edge the bed, stroking blonde hair.

“I held her when she was but a babe. Tended her wounds, nursed her when she was sick and bigger than she is now, bathed her. Oh, she always was a stickler for being clean,” she says, sighing. “The Hands of the Almighty are so often to be found at the ends of our own arms and I’m afraid you’ve got your work cut out for you, young one but I have faith in you.”

Delia sighs, placing the tray off to the side and catching Phyllis’ eyes. Phyllis pats her hand and rises.

“Well, I best be off. This place won’t run itself. I’ll check in with you this afternoon, Lass and I shall see you later,” she says, pointedly looking at the eldest woman in the room who’s eyes never leave the unconscious patient.

“‘Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet’ and so I will await the opening of her eyes without complaint if you do not protest?” she says, squeezing a limp, pale hand, voice softening as she turns to face Delia.

Delia frowns, stays silent for a few moments.

“I’m afraid you can’t stay in here, Miss…”

“Monica Joan.”

“Monica Joan. I will make sure you’re informed when she wakes up, but you really can’t stay in here. We’ve a job to do.”

She sighs, weary frame sagging.

“I know, child.”

“I-Well, how about we set up visiting hours, or something?”

Monica Joan’s face brightens, frown lines melting into a smile.

“That would be a most appropriate and appreciated compromise.”

Delia smiles, dimples appearing at the sincerity of her smile.

“You were but a child when you arrived, where you not?”

Delia frowns and wonders how she knows before shrugging.

“Not exactly a child.”

“You were quite young enough. I saw you being escorted by Miss Crane into the main building.”

“Really?”

“Yes. How old were you?”

“Fourteen.”

“Ah. The same age as mon petit chou when she was taken.”

Delia swallows.

“I suppose so.”

“Well, it would seem I’m rather a hindrance than a help to you at this present moment. I shall bring you adequate sustenance later if I do not see you at lunch or dinner, if you would acquiesce to such a request?” she says, standing.

Delia nods.

“I see no harm in that. Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome, child. Perhaps upon my return I can prevail upon you for a name with which to call you by?” 

“Busby.”

Monica Joan pats Delia’s shoulder.

“Child, there is not need to be so formal with me. I am but an old maid.”

“Delia.”

“Well, Delia, prynhawn da.”

Delia gasps.

“You speak Welsh?”

“I speak many things if you have the knowledge to understand me. But yes, don’t you?”

“Not for years, now.”

Monica Joan frowns.

“Why ever not? You’re Welsh, aren’t you?”

Delia shrugs.

“Who would speak it back to me?”

Monica Joan reaches out, tilts Delia’s face to until they’re looking, eye to eye.

“Delia, will you be eating the pastry I procured for you?”

Delia frowns and shakes her head.

“May I abscond with it?”

“Sure,” she says, frown in place as Monica Joan shuffles back out of the room.

Delia shakes her head and looks down at the sleeping form, glances at the monitors still beeping away before picking up the file and sitting down to study the results, once again, trying to fathom how her dangerously high white blood cell count can drop so suddenly, how she can be improving so quickly when there’s so much wrong with her.

*****

Delia sighs.

“If anything changes, I want to be notified immediately,” Delia says to the mousy brunette looking nervously back at her as she stands in the doorway. “Actually, maybe it’d be best to have my meals brought here.”

“I-I know you’re stressed, worried about doing your job but I can do mine for a little while. I may not inspire confidence but I-but I am capable and after assisting Turner with the others-”

“You’ve seen them?” Delia says, stepping closer. 

Gilbert nods.

“What-Does Turner have any idea what’s been done to them? Specifics?”

Gilbert shakes her head.

“I’m afraid there is none but I’ll let you know if he does find anything out,” she says, tentative smile in place before it flips upside down and she stares at her feet. “They-it’s monstrous what they’ve had to endure. Look at her, look at them.” She sags. “Look, Busby, you should go eat, you’ve been in here all day. I promise to let you know if anything changes.”

Delia nods, stepping forward and squeezing her bicep.

“I-I’ve no doubt you’re quite capable, Gilbert,” she says, leaving the room and hoping to see Turner in the cafeteria, hoping he’ll allow her to view the others.

She’s been in the room all day and yet it feels as though she’s done nothing, though her mind has been on overtime. It still is as she wanders the corridors that jar with the room she’s just left, all hard floors and plain walls.

Without much thought of navigation, she steps into the cafeteria, the murmur of background noise barely registering.  

“Busby.”

“Turner,” she says, nodding her head and acquiescing to his waved invitation to sit with him.

“You’re attending Miss Mount, are you not?” he says as she slides into a seat, straight to the point as always.

“Yes.”

“Anything…unusual with her case?”

Delia frowns and sighs.

“You could say that.”

“I thought as much.”

“Just-Well, yesterday, her immune system response indicated a massive infection or allergy or…something but after further testing, there was no signs of anything actually being wrong. I thought it might be because of the severe physical and mental stress she’s been under but today, today it’s as though nothing has happened. It’s righted itself too quickly.”

Turner slowly nods his head.

“Then what’s happening with some of my patients isn’t a fluke, but I can’t explain it, either. It’s as though the body is internally healing itself against some unknown cause almost instantaneously, comparative to the usual time frame these things should take.”

Delia tilts her head.

“You said ‘some’ of your patients?

“Yes, others were conscious when we found them, locked in a room. They weren’t…experimented upon prior to our arrival. What’s interesting is that this anomaly isn’t presenting itself in those that were conscious.”

Delia frowns.

“Interesting isn’t the word I’d use.”

“You’re quite right. Perhaps we could discuss this further but for now, Busby, I think it’s best we eat. We, neither of us can do our jobs without the fuel to do so.”

Delia nods her head, the feeling of emptiness and sickness emanating from her stomach agreeing with his assessment.

They both return to their table, trays piled high with mashed potato, some type of stew and bread, the smell reminding Delia how long it’s been since she last ate. Her mouth salivates as she begins shovelling down her meal.

“How many are there under your care?” she asks after swallowing a particularly hearty mouthful, the taste barely registering.

“Eleven. Seven females, four males. Of the eleven, only three were unconscious and are currently exhibiting the same results as your patient.”

Delia nods, tearing apart a piece of bread.

“Mount wants to interview the other eight but,” he says, sighing. “But I don’t think it’s in theirs or his best interests to do so, quite yet. It’s been less than twenty-four hours since we liberated them and who knows whether any symptoms will come to present themselves in the near future? I think it’s for the best to keep them under observation and allow them time to adjust.”

“Do you think he will listen to you?”

“Probably not. He’s-He’s very focused on his objective.”

Delia sighs.

“Maybe it’ll be best to take statements while their memories are so fresh, though?”

Turner tilts his head and looks off to the side for a few moments before his eyes meet Delia’s.

“Maybe you’re right, Busby. But as a man, as a doctor, I’d prefer to do right by my patients and their health in all ways. Not just physically. And I highly doubt they’ll be forgetting, anytime soon.”

“I didn’t-I mean-I just. You were a doctor before this?” she asks, for the first time learning something concrete about him outside of his work. “I thought you might have been but,” she says with a shrug. “I couldn’t be sure.”

“Yes. It feels almost like a different life, back then.” 

They both sigh.

“I know the feeling.” They both go silent. “I didn’t-I do-I want what’s best for them, too, Turner but we need answers. There’s so much that we don’t know.”

Delia pushes the tray away, a hissing sound accompanying the movement. Patrick leans back, his tray now empty and looks up to her.

“I know what you mean. What are we to do?”

Delia shrugs.

“Our jobs. Run tests, observe, assist, try and figure out what one earth is going on. I mean, that’s a lot easier for me, I guess.”

“I wouldn’t say so, Busby. I think I’d rather eleven patients than Mount’s daughter.”

Delia sighs and slumps in the plastic chair pressing firmly against her back.

*****

It’s somewhere between the sun setting and the sun rising, Delia slumped in a chair next to Patience when a twitch of fingers catches her eye. 

She stands.

“Hello, there,” she coos, leaning over the still unconscious form. “Can you open your eyes for me?”

Nothing.

She tries again to the same result: Patience still unconscious.

Delia sits, picks up the results of all the blood work and goes back to trying to fathom what any of it means. 

She knows. She knows that these captives were experimented on, tortured for the sake of science but her mind cannot comprehend just what’s in front of her.

She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose, eyes closing as she wills the pounding in her skull to ease.

‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ But how can it be when the improbable is equally as impossible, she wonders with a groan.

Chapter Text

Chapter III: Bartholomew – The Silent Comedy

 

‘I rambled with the worst of them 
Fell in love with a harlequin
Saw the darkest hearts of men
And I saw myself starin' back again
And I saw myself starin' back again

Oh my god, please help me, neck deep in the river screamin' for relief
He says, it's mine to give, but it's yours to choose
You're gonna sink or swim, you're gonna learn the truth
No matter what you do you're gonna learn the truth, saying’

 

Her fingers twitch, head shaking from side to side, mouth as dry as ash as she smacks her lips together.

“Hello,” an unfamiliar voice says, words rounded by a Welsh? Scottish? accent and X freezes.

With a deep breath, she forces her eyes open and sees a face - blue eyes, slightly tanned skin and brunette hair floating above her.

She flinches and shuffles away, the stranger leaning back.

“Would you like some water?”

X looks at her, sees the light shine on the stranger, feels the soft blanket against her skin, looks down at it and frowns at the geometric patterns that feel so familiar for an unknown reason.

“Water?”

She snaps her head up to stare at the stranger’s face, cocooning herself in the blanket as a glass is filled and handed to her.

“This will make you feel better.”

She reaches out, tentatively brings the glass to her lips, the cool liquid soothing her throat as she begins to guzzle it down and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

“More?”

X nods.

“Sip is slowly,” the stranger says and X forces herself to comply, her body enlivened by such cold, fresh water.

She ignores the watchful gaze in favour of staring at the glass. The sensation of being watched, familiar.

“How are you feeling?”

X looks up, tilts her head.

Nobody has asked her that, before.

She shrugs.

“Any pain?” the woman asks, frowning and X looks back, wide eyed.

She tentatively shrugs again and tries to shrink herself, burrow herself further into the blanket.

The woman stands up and sighs.

“I just-I know you probably don’t want to be touched right now but I just want to test a few things, is that okay?”

X blinks back a response.

“Okay,” the woman says, dragging the word out. “Okay. I’m just going to need you to come closer, or I can come over to you?”

X sits and watches, unmoving aside from her turning head, body still tightly nestled within the blanket. The woman moves around the bed, feet quietly shuffling to the side X has moved over to, and she perches at the edge of it.

“I’m Busby but a few people call me Delia, you’re welcome to, if you’d like? I’m just going to check you over, see if there’s anything I need to help you with, okay? So, what we’ll do to start is look at your ears, eyes and throat. You let me know if you want me to stop and I will, alright? And then we’ll weigh you and measure your height.”

X continues to stare back, mind whirring at this unusual awakening. Usually, they’re prodding and poking her, silently, never asking her permission, never offering her the choice of stopping.

She almost frowns, thinking this is a trick before remembering herself and smoothing out any signs of a reaction until she fails.

The woman, Busby-Delia holds her face and turns X to face her. X flinches, the warmth of another’s skin feeling strange after so many years of cold touches and pokes and prods.

“Is this okay?”

X looks up at the question, stares into light blue eyes and tilts her head to the side before nodding, just once.

“Right, just open up and say ‘ah’ for me, okay?”

X does as requested, her voice sounding like dust and gravel.

Busby-Delia continues her ministrations, asking her to look here, look there, turn her head this way and that, shining a blinding light before the woman rises off the bed, tucks her hands into her trouser pockets.

“Now, just your height and weight to go, for now. Are you okay to stand?” Busby-Delia asks, crease in her brow. “I’ll help, if you need me to. Just lean on me,” she says, offering up an arm.

X frowns, swallows and reluctantly gives up her hold on the blanket as it slips off her shoulders.

She stands, an arm grabbing her to steady her before it’s swiftly retracted.

“I’m sorry, you just looked a bit wobbly on your feet. I’ll be right here, though. Just reach out if you need me.”

Together, they shuffle a few paces across the room, X adjusting to being vertical after who knows how long and Busby-Delia staying close by.

“Right. Stand against here,” she says before taking a measurement. “Hmm, I think I was destined to be short. You’re malnourished and still far taller than me. A solid 5ft 9 inches,” she says, shaking her head. “Oh, I am sorry. That was insensitive of me.”

X shrugs.

Busby-Delia looks at her and X fights off the urge to squirm.

“You don’t like to talk much, do you?”

X says nothing.

“Well, up you get, scales are here.”

X does as ordered, slowly hoisting herself up a few inches onto the scales, her body feeling like an anchor.

The woman gasps as she takes in the results. Voice thin and shaky.

“Well, safe to say, we need to work on that quite a bit.”

X looks down at the woman, sees a ripple of worry brewing in the blue of her eyes and frowns.

“Come on you, shall we pop you back into bed? Are you hungry?”

At these questions, X pauses, stares intently at the woman, watches as the shorter of the two looks around the room, begins fidgeting.

X nods her head.

“Yes, to bed? Yes, to hungry? Or yes, to both?” Busby-Delia says, flitting about the small room as much as she can, fluffling pillows, turning down the blanket, moving her file to the other side of the room.

“Both.”

The woman’s head snaps around to the husky sound of X’s voice.

“Well, come on then, let’s get you into bed and then I’ll go see what I can rustle up for you. Anything in particular?”

X shakes her head and begins shuffling her way back to the bed, the carpet making swooshing sound and X revels in the softness against her bare feet as she does so.

She looks up and catches her reflection in a mirror off to the side, flinching and turning away as she unexpectedly catches sight of her slim form, the pyjamas drowning her small frame and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“No mirrors?”

X shakes her head.

“I’ll have it removed, Miss Mount,” the woman says, shaking her head as if to clear it of something. “I mean Patience. Or may I call you Patsy?”

She frowns, freezes. The clip of consonants and curve of vowels sounding so familiar and so different.

She looks at Busby-Delia, points at herself.

“X?”

A shake of her head greets her.

“No,” Busby-Delia says, softly. “Not unless you choose to be. You were born Patience Elizabeth Mount and I, I was born Delia Busby. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Delia Busby says, sticking a hand out for X, no, Patience Elizabeth Mount or was it, was it Patsy? Sticking a hand out for Patsy to shake.

Slowly, Patsy extends her hand, feels a strong, firm but gentle one grip back.

“Now, let’s get you settled and I’ll go get you something to eat. I’m a little peckish, myself. It’s been a long night.”

Patsy shrugs, clambers into bed and watches as Delia Busby head towards the door before she stops and turns back around, hands fidgeting with each other.

“Would you-would you like me to inform your father that you’re awake now or later?”

Patsy frowns, looks down before shrugging.

“Maybe later, then. Let’s get you fed and do a few more checks first.”

She leaves and Patsy looks around the room for the first time. Notes alternating cream and light blue walls, sees pictures decorating their expanses and squints her eyes to see closer before laying back, tired from the overwhelming change to routine.

This place feels so familiar and so different.

She can picture it, see it without the machines, the hardbacked chairs, manila folders left on the table pressed against the wall to the left her bed. She knows that in the drawer beside her bed, she could find a photo album, her father always so fond of capturing moments together.

She takes a deep breath and knows that it smells different, smells too clean and her skin begins to itch and her mind short circuits, temporarily deletes the past few moments and takes her back. She sees white rooms, steel tables, people above her with scalpels and masks and such blinding white light.

She hears a click and wonders where it came from as she sees Mistress above her, her steel voice cooing placations.

“That’s it, dear X, just stay still.”

She flinches as someone’s hand grabs her wrists, straps them down. Mistress’ cold hand runs up a shaking calf, coming to stop half way on her thigh.

“That’s it. Good girl.”

A needle comes in view.

“There’ll be a little scratch.”

There is, X oblivious to it as she catches sight of the biggest needle she’s ever seen resting on a steel table, vials and scalpels alongside it.

She shakes, body curling into itself.

“Strap her down,” Mistress says.

“Hey, hey, hey. What’s wrong?” a voice with a Welsh lilt says, X-no Patsy, Patsy frowns.

“Delia. Busby?” she says, still seeing her Mistress until she doesn’t.

Delia smiles, dimples on display, light blue eyes wide and…not cold as she stands close, hand on Patsy’s blanket covered bicep, moving up and down, gently.

“Yes, yes that’s right. But I told you, Miss Mount, none of that Busby business. You call me Delia. Here,” she says, turning and grabbing a bowl. “I know it’s not the most exciting thing to eat it but who knows when you last ate? We need to ease your body back into it. There’s a banana here for later, if you can manage it. Best to eat slowly, too. Now, do you want to tell me what was wrong?”

Patsy shakes her head and tentatively spoons the soup into her mouth, forcing herself to keep her pace slow and steady.

Delia sighs.

“Did something in this room unsettle you?”

Patsy nods.

“Can you tell me what it is so I can remove it for you?”

Patsy looks at her, still so confused by this whole situation. Why is this woman being so nice to her? Where is she? Mistress said that there’d be no more pain, but she never imagined this.

“Mistress?”

Delia frowns.

“Where’s,” she says, clearing her throat. “Where’s Mistress?”

Delia’s jaw clenches, Patsy curls in on herself and look down, knowing she’s said something wrong, fingers clutching the half-eaten bowl of soup.

“She’s-she’s not here and she’s never going to be. You’re safe here, Miss Mount.”

She flinches at the touch to her arm before she calms herself at the steady, repetitive movement. Until the panic comes again. Where is Mistress? Why-why is this woman being so gentle with her? The others are never like this.

“Hey, hey, hey. Calm down. It’s okay. You’re safe, they won’t hurt you anymore.”

X, no, Patsy looks around the room, again, breathing still erratic, chest heaving up and down as something is taken from her hands.

“Miss Mount, Patsy, hey, breathe with me. In. Out. In. Out. Come on, that’s it. Just in and out.”

Patsy begins to calm, feeling more tired than before at Delia’s voice.

“Can you eat anymore?”

She shakes her head, her stomach feeling so full, her muscles utterly exhausted at existing in such a safe space, in being fed and…helped.

“Tired?”

Patsy nods her head and lays down.

“Me too. Perhaps we can both get a little sleep. I’ll ask Gilbert to keep watch, okay?”

Patsy sits up, eyes wide, heartbeat fast as she shakes her head.

“Of course. Of course. Delia Busby, you utter fool. Hey, it’s okay, Miss Mount, I’ll-I’ll stay in here. Just me. Let me-let me go get a blanket and a pillow, okay? Then I’ll come back, you’ll tell me what unsettled you earlier and we’ll get some rest. Does that sound okay?”

Patsy just looks at her.

“Smell.”

“Pardon me?”

“Smells too…clean?”

“Oh. Oh, right. Well, luckily for you, that’s an easy fix. I’m not fond of the smell of disinfectant and bleach, either,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “Let me go get what I need, and I’ll bring something to clear the smell in here, okay?” she says, eyebrows raised as she looks to Patsy.

Patsy nods.

“Back in a flash.”

*****

It’s a few hours later, Delia awakes to a pounding on the door she’d locked upon her arrival back into the room, cautious of someone coming in and overwhelming Miss Mount.

“Who is it?” she shouts as she turns to face a now wide-awake Patsy, burrowed once again under the blanket and curled in on herself. “Are you okay, Miss Mount?”

Two wide eyes stare back at her. She sighs.

“Let me in right this instant,” Mount says, and Delia almost groans aloud.

“It’s your father. Can I let him in?”

Patsy makes no response aside from looking plainly back at Delia.

“Right, well, I guess I’ll be letting him in, then.”

He bursts into the room at the turn of the lock, door swinging open and Delia feels the split of the air as she narrowly avoids a collision with it.

“What do you think you’re doing locking that door, Busby?” He roars and Delia looks down at her fidgeting hands, his heavy footsteps bringing him into the room.

“Well-I-I mean.”

“Spit it out.”

Before Delia can utter another word, there’s a whimper. Both of them turn to see Miss Mount shaking, eyes brimming with tears as she looks at her father. He steps closer, his daughter moving further back with each step.

Delia catches Patsy’s eyes for a second and closes hers for a moment, steeling herself for what’s she’s about to do.

“Mr Mount,” she says, grabbing his arm. “I think it’s for the best that you leave this room.”

He whirls around, eyes narrowed as they bore into Delia’s skull.

She lets go of his arm.

“Look at her, Mr Mount. You’re scaring her.”

“She’s my daughter,” he says, voice so calm and cold, Delia shivers.

“Yes, she is and right now, you’re not helping her. I think it’s best you leave. I’m here to help her, Mr Mount, even if it means keeping her from you for the moment. Do you understand?”

He looks to Delia and she takes in the stubble on his jaw, the paleness of his skin, the bags under his eyes.

He sighs.

“Keep me informed, Busby.”

“Of course, Mr Mount.”

After he leaves, Delia wanders to the bed, notes the still shivering form of her patient and sits near to her, allowing distance as she tries to ease Miss Mount back into some form of familiarity, of comfort.

“Here,” she says, offering the banana from the midnight food run. “Let’s see how you fare with this, shall we, Miss Mount?”

She notes the frown blooming across a tear stained face.

“You don’t want it?” she asks, still holding out the pre-offered banana.

Miss Mount shakes her head.

“No.”

“Oh, well, I can get you something else?”

“No,” Miss Mount says, taking the banana. “No. No, ‘Miss Mount’. Patsy. Me. Patsy.”

“Oh, okay, Patsy. You want to get to work on that banana before we do some more tests?”

Patsy frowns and shakes her head.

“No?”

“No more tests,” she says, tentatively peeling and taking a bite of the banana, chewing it slowly as she cautiously looks at Delia.

Delia collapses onto the chair that she’s spent more time sitting on in the past twenty-four hours than she’d like, sighing as she rubs her face.

“Okay. Okay, no more tests, for now.”

Patsy frowns and Delia stands, hands on her hips.

“What would you like to do, instead?”

Patsy stares, and Delia watches, tilting her head and observing every twitch, every movement as Patsy fidgets until she settles on a shrug and looks down at her feet.

Delia nods to herself before pacing back and forth.

“How about we…go for a walk?”

Patsy jumps up, shakes her head, eyes widening, heartbeat pounding, breath becoming shallow.

“Hey, hey, hey.  It’s okay. We don’t need to go outside, I promise but it might do you good to get out at some point,” Delia says, standing close but not touching an unsteady Patsy. “Remember, breathe in and out, that’s it. Let’s get you comfortable, yeah? Just-Just sit yourself back down.”

Patsy does as requested, cradling her knees once she’s back on the bed and Delia just looks at her, notes once again how small she seems, in every way.

“When I was younger, me, my Tad, sorry, Dad and little brother used to play cards, do you want to do that? Or we can-we can draw. I used to love drawing. Or we could watch a movie,” Delia says, shaking her head and sitting beside Patsy, enough distance not to be touching. “No, I don’t think a movie would be a good idea. So, what do you say, Patsy? Shall we get you washed, changed, and give you a little more to eat and then we can draw, or play cards, or do anything else you want for a bit? I’m afraid we’ll have to do a few more pesky tests later, but I’ll try to make them as quick as possible and then we can do whatever you like.”

Delia feels the slight movement of Patsy shrugging and sighs.

“Okay. Let’s-let’s just start with getting you ready for the morning, shall we?”

Delia stands sentinel outside the unlocked door as Patsy rushes through the necessary ablutions, the feel of nakedness making her feel like her skin has flipped inside out as hot, very hot water and warm air hit her body. She scrubs fast and hard, skin beginning to redden, the smell of body wash temporarily staining itself into her skin, chest feeling a size too small for her lungs.

Stepping out of the shower, goose bumps appear at the change in temperature. The towel feels like sandpaper as she scrapes it over her skin. As she puts on the oversized jeans, t-shirt and jumper, she briefly wonders what Delia would look like in similar attire before shrugging the thought off. It’s not for her to wonder these things, and she knows Delia would look much better.

Patsy closes her eyes for a few moments as she turns to face the door, avoiding catching her reflection in the mirror. She silently pads out of the room, touching Delia’s shoulder for less than a second to make her aware of Patsy’s presence. The shorter woman jumps, the touch of a warm hand unexpected as she’d been staring off into empty space, mind whirring the whole time she was alone.

She shakes off the questions, the doubts and turns to face Patsy who’s arms are wrapped around herself.

“That was quick,” Delia says. “Cafeteria or room?”

“Room.”

Delia nods.

“Toast or cereal?”

“Toast.”

“Oh, or porridge?”

Patsy swallows and looks down.

“Toast.”

“Butter, jam or peanut butter?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Well, maybe jam would be the best option. Now, very important question coming up, Patsy, strawberry or raspberry jam?”

Patsy looks up, shoulders raised until Delia winks, her blue eyes still so light and different to her own and Mistress’.

“Strawberry.”

“Good choice. Tea, juice or water?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Well, maybe all three. You can drink the tea, water is a must and the juice will be good for you. Right, now we’ve got that figured out, let’s get you into your room and I’ll go fetch us something to eat, yeah?”

Patsy begins shuffling off, both of their footsteps quiet as they head back to the room before Delia temporarily disappears and for the first time, Patsy notices the pictures decorating the walls, sees a younger, healthier version of herself.

She stares at them, trying to equate the dark hair, the smiling face, the smooth skin of the man staring back at her through time with the one who was in this room. The one who’s voice was a gunshot in empty space, skin haggard, body both big and domineering but much smaller and frailer than she remembers.

She sees the faces of Mama and Prudence, so alike one another and so different from her and Papa. Can almost feel the wisps of Pru’s blonde hair against her skin, almost smell her Mama’s scent of citrus-earthiness undercut by the smell of cleanliness.

She wonders if they’d recognise her, if she really still exists with her patchwork skin, painted with the marks of Mistress’ desires, her bones that protrude, her voice that is now rock when it was once lava.

Patsy jumps at the knock of the door before it swings open and she freezes at the sight.

Chapter Text

Chapter IV: Hozier – No Plan

 

‘Let it hurl, let the awful song be heard
Blue bird, I know your beat, baby
But your secret is safe with me
'Cause if secrets were like seeds
Keep my body from the fire
Hire a gardener for my grave
Your secret is safe with me
And if secrets were like seeds
When I'm lying under marble
Marvel at flowers you'll have made

My heart is thrilled by the still of your hand
That's how I know now that you understand

There's no plan
There's no race to be run
The harder the pain, honey, the sweeter the song
There's no plan’

 

Delia wanders back to the room. In her hands, a tray is laden with food for both Patsy and herself, her stomach beginning to grumble at the smell of toast and preserves, a carton of orange juice tucked under one armpit. Not her favourite breakfast, by far but she will suffer alongside her patient (though she will eat more).

She’d hoped she’d catch sight of Turner but to no avail.

As Delia nears the door, there’s a sound and she frowns, almost dropping the tray. Using her elbow to move the handle, she enters the room to a cowering Patsy, curled up on the bed.

“Oh, dear,” Monica Joan says, head bouncing between Delia and Patsy, face contorted in distress as she pleads her excuses. “Patience, I fear you are but a hypothermic vessel that I am attempting to warm too quickly. Instead I am scalding you. Forgive me, child. I will desist from attending you but may I give you something?” she says, placing something on the bottom of the bed. “You used to write, and draw in here, often. Perhaps it can aide you on your road to recovery where I cannot.”

Delia looks between them both before stepping into the room and laying the tray next to the journal.

“Maddau i mi, Delia. I only came to help not hinder.”

Delia sighs and Patsy frowns at the unfamiliar language.

“I know, Monica Joan, I know but for now, I think it’s best we allow Patsy to decide who she sees and when, hmm? I’ll let you know when she’s ready, okay?”

The elder lady nods her head, once, head down as she ambles out of the room, stopping at the door to look back.

“‘The caged bird sings with a fearful trill, of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill, for the caged bird sings of freedom.’ I hear you, mon petit chou, and one day, you will be free of this cage and we will glory in freedom, together.”

Delia sighs in harmony with the click of the door closing.

“Sorry, Patsy. I should have locked the door, at least. Here,” she says, sliding the tray closer as Patsy begins to unfold herself on the bed. “I brought us breakfast. Dig in but be careful and eat slow, and here, I brought some peppermint tea for you. My Mam used to say it was good for digestion and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try.”

Patsy stares at the journal, eyes boring into it.

Delia reaches for it.

“Is it okay if I move this? Do you want it by your bed so you can read it later?”

Patsy shakes her head, chest beginning to heave.

“You don’t want me to touch it?”

She continues shaking her head, breath becoming wheezy.

“Hey, calm down, Patsy. It’s okay, calm down. Remember, just remember in and out,” Delia says, eyes wide, heart racing. “Patsy, please. Just breathe.”

Patsy stares at the journal, mute to Delia’s pleas.

She feels the phantom grip of a hand on her arm, the cold of a van floor as she’s thrown inside, head colliding with Michael’s foot. Sees her rucksack by the bushes, safe where she’d left it before attracting attention, remembers the thump of the doors closing, blocking out the sun.

“No. No, no, no, no, no.”

“Patsy,” Delia says, grabbing an arm and Patsy jumps at the contact. “Breathe. Breathe, sweetheart, just breathe,” Delia coos, hoping that the unusual use of an endearment will be enough to break through as she rubs her back. “Come on, that’s it, Patsy, breathe.”

“Delia. Delia Busby?”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out, Patience Elizabeth Mount,” Delia says, sighing in relief and leaning back to smile at Patsy who’s now staring at her. “Sorry about invading your space.”

Patsy just breathes and Delia sighs.

“Patsy, from now on, if you don’t want people to touch you, you say so, okay?”

Patsy shrugs.

“I mean it.”

Patsy looks back at the journal, feels her breathing becoming shallow once more.

“You take.”

A crease forms in Delia’s brow until she follows Patsy’s gaze.

“You want me to take this away?”

Patsy nods.

“Oh, okay. Are you sure?”

Patsy decidedly nods her head.

“Please?”

“Of course, of course. I’ll, erm, I’ll go….put it in my room and get changed and then we’ll get started on breakfast, okay? Will you be alright on your own for a few minutes?”

Patsy shrugs, eyes still in the journal now clutched in Delia’s grasp.

“Right, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Delia hurries to her utilitarian room. A bed, a set of drawers, a bookshelf and a mirror the only things in there upon first glance. Underneath her bed lies a shoebox, one she rarely opens. As soon as she walks in, she drops to her knees and opens it, depositing the journal into it. She runs her hand over the cover, forcing herself to close the lid on the box and forget about it.

It’s as she hurries out of the room, freshly changed in a clean set of combat trousers and tank top, forgoing the white coat, that she sees Turner, face drawn and pale, bags under his eyes as he clutches a bundle of folders.

“Busby,” he says, sighing. “I’m glad to bump into you. Mount has requested our presence as soon as possible in his office but I haven’t had a chance to come find you. How does an hour sound? We can catch up on our patients along the way.”

Delia sighs, shrugs her shoulders.

“Do we have a choice?”

Turner presses his lips into a firm line.

“I’d assume not. I don’t think Mount would request us without due reason, especially since you are attending his daughter.”

Delia sighs.

“Yes, I thought as much. But that’s the issue. Is it right to leave my patient at this point in time?”

Turner sighs.

“Probably not but I’ll send either Gilbert or Franklin over to sit with her, if you like. Is she awake?”

Delia nods.

“It’d probably be easier if she wasn’t awake but yes, she is and I don’t know how she’ll fair with another stranger in the room but you’re right, she might need someone. Send Gilbert a little while before I need to leave. I’ll talk to Miss Mount.”

“Right. I best be off, too. I’ll meet you outside my rooms in an hour if that’s okay with you?”

“See you then, Turner,” she says, hurrying off to prepare Patsy, once again.

She wants to scream, wants to hit a wall under her fists bleed, wants to pull her hair or do anything to relieve the tension coursing through her. How can she do her job, do right by her patient when so many people are interfering?

She sighs and heads towards the building housing Patsy.

“I do believe it’s breakfast time,” Delia says, waltzing into the room. “I’m afraid the toast might be a little cold, but I brought fruit salad and some yoghurt, earlier, if you’d rather?”

Patsy looks up, arms wrapped around her legs, everything in the room exactly the same as when Delia left it.

*****

It’s quiet as Delia is chows down on another round of toast, Patsy picking her way through some of the fruit after eating one round of jammed toast.

“So, I know it’s the worst timing ever, but I have a meeting to go to, shortly and I don’t want to leave you on your own.”

Patsy freezes, the sweetness of fruit turning bitter at the news. She pushes away the bowl and curls up on her side facing away from Delia.

“If I could get out of it, I would. Please, Patsy, I promise I wouldn’t go if I had a choice. And Gilbert, she’s-she’s a good nurse, a kind nurse. Quite honestly, she’s the only other person aside from me and Phyllis-Oh, I mean Crane, that I’d trust you with. Oh, and I thought, since Monica Joan said you used to like drawing, I thought we could do that together, later. Or not. Whatever you’d prefer is fine with me. Alright, Patsy?”

Patsy shrugs still curled in a ball.

“I really am sorry.”

There’s a knock at the door.

Delia sighs.

“I just can’t catch a break, can I? Who is it?”

“Gilbert,” a quiet voice responds.

“Right, of course. Come in.”

The door swings open and Gilbert closes it as quietly as possible, standing with her hands behind her back.

“Hi, Busby.”

Delia catches sight of Patsy curling in on herself even more and ignores Gilbert’s.

“Hey, Patsy, do you want Gilbert to call you Patsy, too? Or Miss Mount?”

A shrug is her only response and Delia deflates.

“Hi. I’m Gilbert. Wait, you already know that. Sorry. I can be a bit of an idiot, sometimes.”

Patsy unfurls herself as the softly spoken woman stammers on and looks at her, frown in place.

“Patsy,” she says, Delia sighing and Gilbert grinning.

“Right, Patsy. Since I get to call you that, you can call be Barbara or Babs, if you like. My family calls me that, so,” Gilbert says, shrugging and Delia eyes the two of them up, glad that she can at least leave knowing that Patsy hasn’t gone into a panic attack, yet. “Oh, Busby, I’ve probably said too much, haven’t I? We’re not supposed to share.”

“Not to worry, Gilbert. Just look after my patient and call if you need anything, okay? Right, Patsy, I’ll be back as soon as I can. You just-you just rest and try to have a good time with Gilbert,” Delia says, readying herself to leave.

“We’ll be fine, won’t we Patsy? I brought us some games to play,” Gilbert says, inclining her head towards the bag Delia failed to notice her walk in with. “I’ll warn you, though. I can be competitive, as some of the others know.”

Patsy and Delia frown, both wondering who these ‘others’ are.

“Right. Well, see you both, soon. Make sure she drinks enough.”

“I will. See you soon, Busby.”

Patsy frowns as Delia leaves the room with a slow step and slouched shoulders.

“Let me clear this stuff out of your way and then why don’t we play-why don’t we play connect four?”

Patsy shrugs.

*****

“Busby.”

“Turner. Any ideas what this is about?” Delia asks as they both beginning walking down the cold corridors to Mounts office on the other side of the complex.

“Well, quite honestly, I’m unsure. Crane has mentioned, has hinted at somethings during our brief conversations but I really have no idea why we would be needed.”

“What did she say?”

Turner sighs.

“It’s probably nothing. We’ll see what all this is about when we see Mount, I’m sure. He doesn’t strike me as the type to beat about the bush. How’s your patient?”

“Aside from severely malnourished and dehydrated,” Delia says with a shrug. “No signs of infection or disease or anything to warrant the readings we first took from her. I’ve some more tests to run this afternoon, some more bloods to take but she seems healthy as can be, at the moment. Well, at least physically aside from the starvation and scars. And your patients?”

“Pretty much the same. It’s an anomaly that I fear it may be beyond my capabilities and knowledge to fathom. How are we supposed to decode this puzzle with no idea what has been done to them? And will the other half present the same symptoms if we put their bodies through a similar set of stressors?”

Delia looks ahead, headache building from the utter lack of knowledge.

“Who knows? But it’s something I’d rather not find the answer too.”

“I quite agree, Busby. It’d be nothing short of evil to subject these people to more stress for the sake of an experiment. Still, at least we’ve retrieved twelve people, and they’re all still alive.”

Delia sighs.

“How long for? We have no idea what’s been done to them. What these extreme changes within their bodies is doing to them. And Mount, instead of letting us do our jobs is taking us away from our patients.

“I’m sure he has his reasons.”

“Right,” Delia says, sighing as they reach the door to Mount’s office.

Turner knocks.

“Come in.”

They do as ordered and Mount sits in his chair, watching them, elbows on the arm rests, fingers pressed against each other in some approximation of a pyramid.

They stand, side by side, Delia willing herself to look up and not at her feet.

“Turner, Busby. As you can imagine, there’s a lot we don’t know about these…experiments that were done on these...patients. However, fortunately for us, we’ve acquired a rather important acquisition that will potentially allow us to decode at least part of this puzzle. I wish for you to see this, but I must warn you, it will not a pretty sight and you must not interfere.”

Delia frowns, heartbeat pounding in her ears as she tries to decode Mounts words.

“What exactly do you mean, Mr Mount?”

“I mean, Busby, that you will find out should you agree to see said acquisition and not interfere with the process of getting it to work. Same goes for you, Turner.”

Turner looks a shade paler than when he walked into the room, Delia’s gaze flitting between both men in the room, Mount looking bored.

“So, what is it to be?”

“Do we really have a choice?” Turner asks.

Mount sighs and places his hands on the table.

“I assure you, if there was another less expedient way to gain the information we need, I would be pursuing that. Alas, we’ve tried more…amenable routes to no avail.”

Turner nods his head and sighs.

“Then I suppose we have no choice. Yes, I agree.”

“And you, Busby? If you’re not willing to abide by my rules, I will discharge you from my services and you’ll be free to go. Patience will adjust.”

Delia swallows, knows now that she really has no choice. Patsy needs her, at least for now and outside of this place, she has nothing. Only here does she have Phyllis. And nobody has ever left this place.

“Right, well, best we get on with it then, Mr Mount. No time to waste. We’ve patients to get back to.”

Mount nods his head.

“I knew you’d both see sense. Follow me.”

They silently march behind Mount, heading through corridors neither have ever walked, everything seemingly darker the further they go, their footsteps echoing off cold walls.

They walk past one door until they reach another one a few steps down.  Delia’s brow furrows as she hopes her predications aren’t correct, this second door being more akin to a prison door than anything else.

“You will observe from that room there,” Mount says, pointing to the first door. “Smith will be standing guard. You are not to try to interfere, but you are to listen. This information could very well help you with your patients so focus. Right, Busby?”

Delia tenses and looks up, nodding her head once.

“What are you to do?”

“Observe.”

“Correct and what are you not to do?”

“Interfere.”

“Precisely. Same to you, Turner. Now, go.”

They do as requested, silently, Delia’s nails digging into her palms, heartbeat racing, sweet cloying to her skin.

The room is bare save for two hard plastic chairs, a desk, a guard dressed in all black, gun in hand and a one-way mirror.

“Sit. There’s a notepad and pencil for you each to write notes,” the guard says and Delia nods, follows behind Turner as they each take a seat.

In the other room, a man sits, stubble coating his jaw, short grey hair and pale, pale skin with his wrists handcuffed to the desk in front of him, a calm expression on his face. Mount paces back and forth, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, everything silent save his footsteps. Another guard is standing by the door, his jacket thrown over a chair that nobody is sitting in, gun nowhere in sight.

Mount sighs.

“Have you seen sense, yet? I assure you it’s in your best interests to tell us all you know,” he says, hands now in his pockets.

The man laughs.

“I’ll take that as a no, then. White.”

The second guard walks towards the man, slowly, his face neutral as he winds his fist back and punches the man in the face, blood running down and begins to stain his shirt as the crunch of a broken nose echoes in the silence.

Delia jumps at the sound and the guard in their room, Smith steps forwards. She sinks into her seat, eyes catching the sight of Turner, jaw clenched, fist tightly holding the pencil in his hand.

“Anything to say, now?” Mount says, and Delia turns to look back through the mirror, unable to stop herself though she knows it’ll only be getting worse unless the man speaks.

He doesn’t. He spits and saliva and blood land near Mount’s feet.

He laughs, head thrown back, sound echoing inside Delia’s skull as she closes her eyes for a second, steeling herself before opening them again.

“Doctors-surgeons need a steady hand to perform their work, do they not Dr Isley?”

The man shrugs before answering.

“Yes, I suppose they do,” he says, voice sharp and pointed as he glares at Mount.

“Well, if, say, you lost a finger or two, it’d make your work infinitely harder, would it not?”

The man swallows and clenches his jaw, handcuffs rattling as he adjusts himself.

“Harder but not impossible.”

“Still, I’d imagine you’d rather do you work with all your digits intact. Start talking and we won’t have to see how much harder your work will become.”

Delia swallows and wills the man to talk, the pinch of her nails digging into her palm as she forces herself to sit ramrod straight, to not make a move though every cell in her body is buzzing, vibrating.

“Like I said, I’ve nothing to say to you people.”

“White, why don’t you help me rectify this problem of silence?” Mount says, walking over to the doctor and pinning his wrists down.

Dr Isley moves, chair scraping along the floor as he tries to free his hands.

Delia sits at the edge of her seat, frowning as White walks over, a pair of pliers being pulled from his back pocket.

She closes her eyes, squeezing them tight at Turners whispered order, wishes she could hum to herself or make any other noise to drown out the grunts and groans she can hear, the wisp of a noise of something being dropped onto the table.

A firm hands grips her arm and she snaps her eyes open to see Turner touching her, mouth pressed in a firm line.

“You look at me or keep your eyes closed, Busby,” he whispers before Delia’s skin crawls at the presence behind her. She looks up to see Smith standing behind them, brow furrowed, and she turns back to face the front, Turner’s hand slipping from her shoulder.

She sees a grimacing face covered in dried blood, fingers oozing blood where fingernails used to reside, now piled up in a small heap. Mount still holds Dr Isley’s wrists down.

The doctor begins to chuckle, head thrown back.

“Speak,” Mount orders, continued laughter his only response. “Speak, damn you.”

“I’ve nothing to say.”

Mount sighs.

“Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance to prevent this. White, you know what to do.”

The silent third man in the room places the slightly bloody pliers down, walks over to the coat draped over the redundant chair and pulls out a knife before walking back over.

“Busby. Eyes closed. Now,” Turner orders and Delia complies.

Her stomach rolls. Her fists are clenched so tight, her nails are drawing blood and all she can hear is screaming from Dr Isley and grunts from Mount.

Until it goes quiet, the doctor breathing heavy in time with Delia’s heartbeat.

“Ready to talk now, Doctor?”

“Ye-yes.”

“I knew you’d come around,” Mount says, and Delia fights the urge to open her eyes, knowing it won’t be pretty but her curiosity still battling against her better judgement. “What have you done to these people?”

“I-I. Dr Wolf,” he says, and Delia hears him take a breath before she opens her eyes, sees blood seeping out from where the top of his index and middle finger on his left hand should be, his leg bouncing up and down and his face even more pale. “We-they are immune to all known diseases, viruses and infections.”

Delia frowns, her stomach in knots at the sight before her and the words he just said. She scoots forward a little on the seat, sees Turner look at her from the corner of her eye.

“How?” Mount says, voice calm, cool, his shoulders rigid as he stands back from the Doctor, drops of blood on his wrists.

“We-er-we created a serum that alters their immune systems. Their antibodies and phagocytes now work together to recognise and destroy the foreign cells, viruses, bacteria.”

“How do you know this?”

“We injected them. All of the survivors have successfully,” he pauses, closes his eyes and takes a breath, the stumps of his fingers still oozing blood. “They’re immune to tuberculosis, HIV-whatever we could get our hands on to inject them with, they survived.”

“How?”

“We-we don’t know,” he says, still panting. “The others-they died either from the serum or whatever we injected them with first. We were supposed to begin testing their blood but Wolf, she insisted on phase two. I told her-I told her that we needed time, they weren’t strong enough, but she insisted.”

“What was phase two?” Mount asks, hand clenched like a vice around the doctor’s shoulder.

Delia looks down at the paper on the desk and begins to concentrate, furiously writing down what has already been said and willing her mind to focus on doing that rather than what was being done to Dr Isley.

“Phase two was self-healing and self-regeneration.”

Mount scoffs and Delia frowns at the paper on the desk, almost scoffing along with Mount at the outrageousness of it all.

“Self-healing? This isn’t some-some fantasy story. These are real people.”

Isley groans and takes a deep breath.

“I assure you,” he says, breaking deep once more. “I assure you that we were close, perhaps even successful.”

“Right, so you think I have a group of people in here, healing themselves?”

Delia looks up, sees the shrug of Isley’s shoulders and frowns.

“I don’t know. I can’t assess the patients so, you tell me.”

“How? What did you do?”

“Hopefully,” he says, grimacing before groaning. “We upped their macrophage cells to at least aide them significantly in recovery.”

Delia hears Mount pace the room, back and forth, back and forth.

“White,” he says. “White, blindfold Isley and get a nurse to bandage his wounds. We’ve more information to extract from this asset but for now, this will do. We need to find out exactly what’s happened to her-them.”

Delia frowns, tries not to think about the other methods of extracting information Mount has in store, tries not to think of the potential side effects to these experiments.

The door bounces off the wall as Mount bounds into the room.

“Did you get all that Turner? Busby?”

Delia nods.

“Yes. It’s rather-Well, if what he is saying is true, it’s a phenomenal breakthrough in science. Despite the atrocities done, this knowledge could save so many people’s lives.”

Mount grunts.

“Turner, this stays between just us. You and I both know that if this gets out, then they-my daughter will be taken away for testing.”

Delia swallows.

“I quite agree, Mr Mount. But for now, it’s best we get back to our patients and see how much of what Isley said is true, and I promised Miss Mount I wouldn’t be long. We also need to test for side effects, as you said.”

“Yes, you’re both quite right,” Turner says, sighing. “We most definitely need to go back and see how much of what has been said is true. See if their blood gives us any idea just how they’ve managed to do it and whether there will be any repercussions to the genetic enhancements.”

“Then go. I expect to hear an update from the both of you by the morning. You know where to find me.”

With that, they all exit the room, Delia taking one last look at the maimed doctor, feeling repulsed at what has been done to him and what he’s done to others. She shudders, skin crawling as she wonders how many people have died, what she’s found herself in the middle of, whether they succeeded.

She shudders again, trying to decide whether she’s more scared of them having succeeded or not.

Chapter Text

Chapter V: Eels – Fresh Blood

 

‘The moon shines in the autumn sky
Growin' cold, the leaves all die
I'm more alone than I've ever been
Help me out of the shape I'm in

After the fires, before the flood
My sweet baby, I need fresh blood

Whoo!
Howl

Whatever trepidation you may feel
In your heart, you know it's not real
In a moment of clarity
Summon an act of charity

You gotta pull me out of this mud
Sweet baby, I need fresh blood’

 

“Busby, Lass, are you okay?” Phyllis says, her quick stride catching her up to a distracted Delia who’s walking to Patsy’s room on autopilot.

Delia startles and stops for a second.

“I’m, er, I’m fine. You?”

Phyllis stops in front of Delia and looks at her, mouth in a firm line with her hands gripping Delia’s biceps.

“Now, there’s no need to lie to me, kiddo.”

Delia sighs, shoulders sagging, hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose, eyes closing.

“I-did-do you know?”

Phyllis frowns.

“Do I know what?”

“Do you know that we-that Mount tortures people for information?” Delia says, face dropping as Phyllis sighs and looks down.

“Come on, we shouldn’t be talking about this here. How about I make you a cup of tea in my office?”

“Tea? I don’t have time for tea, Crane. I’ve got a bloody patient who’s severely traumatised and had who knows what done to her, Mount wanting update and tests to run, all the while trying not to think of the things I’ve just knowingly allowed to happen.”

“Lass, calm down.”

“Calm down? How can I be calm? How can I be okay with-with this stuff happening? I thought we were supposed to be doing good, helping people but look at us. We’re no better than anyone else.”

“We,” Phyllis says, sighing. “You are better. And you know things aren’t as black and white as that. Sadly, things must be done that go against our beliefs to achieve the right results. And Busby, you know what that doctor – and I use the term loosely – helped to do to people. Like you said yourself, who knows what’s been done to your patient at the hands of this man.”

Delia sighs.

“I know but that doesn’t make what’s being done to him okay.”

“Maybe not but it’s a necessary evil, if you ask me. But I shall go have a word with Mount, personally. He never should have involved you in any of that.”

Delia shrugs.

“Too late, now.”

“That it may be, but I shall still let him know my opinions on the matter. But first, are you okay?”

“I will be.”

“Right you are, then. I don’t mean to come off as insensitive, but was the…interview a success?”

“Depends what you mean by a success,” Delia says, once again shrugging. “He told us what they intended to do, what he thinks they were successful in doing but who knows whether what he’s saying is true. And if it is, Crane,” she says, sighing before bringing her voice down to a whisper. “Phyllis, if what he says is true, who knows what the impact on these people will be, long term. Who knows if we’ll be able to help them at all?”

“Indeed, but if anyone can, you and Turner will find away. Now, you get yourself back to your patient, Busby, and do try not to think of things you’ve seen that can’t be changed.”

Delia sighs, squaring her shoulders.

“Right you are,” Delia says, continuing on towards Patsy’s room.

*****

Dear X, I hope you’re well.

I miss you.

I miss waking up with you next to me, seeing you looking out of the window as I work, feeling your skin and touching perfection.

I made you perfect, didn’t I?

But they took you away from me.

That woman was in our room, touching you, muddying you but I will get you back. I promise you that. No one understands you like me, do they? I’ll clean you up and get rid of her, get rid of them all.

Oh, dear X, what I wouldn’t give to have you here with me. For the first time ever, I think I know what it means to be lonely.

How did you get inside me like this?

You were the first, you know? None of the experiments worked before you. You weren’t even supposed to be there, but those two fools took you when they shouldn’t have, and I’ve never been more grateful for their shoddy work in my life.

You made my life, my work easier, better, perfect.

So, I’ll wait.

I’ll be patient until I find you and bring you home.

You’d like it here, I think.

Just me and you.

Everything is so open. I could watch you from almost every room and you could look back and know I’m there with you, looking after you.

Oh, how I miss you.

Don’t panic. Don’t worry.

You’ll be back with me, soon.

Everything will be okay.

*****

Barbara groans.

“Again? How do you keep doing that?” she says.

Patsy frowns, leans back, shrugs, wearily eyeing Barbara.

Barbara looks up, looking sheepish.

“Sorry, I think you’re just a natural at this and my competitive spirit is coming out a little too much. But come on, I teach you Rummy today and for five games in a row, you beat me. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Patsy shrugs, not knowing how she’s winning so easily, either. She wonders if Delia would beat her, would challenge her and not for the first time, Patsy wonders where she is.

“Yeah, you’re right: life isn’t fair. Now, how about some cake? Me and Monica Joan thought it do you some good,” Barbara says, going back to the bag that seems so full of everything and taking out a tupperware container. “Now, Monica Joan said Victoria sponge used to be your favourite and luckily for us, Mrs Buckle had some left over. Do you remember Mrs Buckle?” Barbara says, walking back, cake in hand. “Well, I don’t suppose everyone who’s currently here used to be so maybe you don’t know her.”

Patsy looks at her, head tilted to the side as she tries to fathom out this strange woman, so different from…everyone.

She talks much more than Mistress, the guards, the doctors.

And she apologises a lot more, too.

What do these people want from Patsy? Where’s Delia? Has she left her, too?

“Here,” Barbara says, handing Patsy a slither of cake. “I’m afraid I can’t really give you more since your body is probably still getting used to eating so regularly but I promise the rest won’t go to waste,” she continues, face splitting into a wide grin.

Patsy pinches a piece of the cake off, bringing it to her lips before sweetness explodes on her tongue.

She gasps as she remembers a kind faced woman, blue eyes, light red hair.

“Mon petit chou, I bring you sweet sustenance in lieu of that foul dinner your father insisted on thrusting upon you. Liver is an acquired taste and one I, like you, have yet acquire. Sit down; eat. Sweet child, you will never go to bed hungry under my roof,” the woman-Monica Joan? says.

“Patsy, are you okay?”

Patsy shakes her head and takes another mouthful, closing her eyes and savouring the taste.

“It’s delicious, isn’t it?” Barbara says around a mouthful of food, Patsy tilting her head and taking in the puffed cheeks of a stuffed mouth. “Oh, forgive me,” she says after swallowing. “Would you like some more?”

Patsy shakes her head, the sweetness already becoming overwhelming, sickly, as she holds out the rest of her slither and inclines her head towards it, her stomach feeling like a ballooning lead weight squeezing up through her throat.”

“Oh, you want me to finish it for you?” Barbara says, frowning. Patsy nods. “Don’t you like it?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Full.”

“Oh, okay. Well, yes, I’d imagine it is very rich and filling. How very silly of me. I’m sorry, Patsy. I just wanted you to have a little treat.”

Patsy shrugs.

“Did you enjoy the little you had?”

Patsy nods, one side of her mouth lifting slightly into an almost smile before she drops it as soon as she realises what she’s doing.

“Good, I’m glad. Now, how about another game? I’ve got win this next one, right?”

Patsy nods.

The door swings open and Patsy jumps back, warm back pressed against the cold headboard.

“Oh, sorry Patsy. Didn’t mean to startle you,” Delia says, frown softening as she looks towards her patient. “You’ve been having a good time, I see,” she says, eyeing the guilty look on Barbara’s face and the crumbs left in the empty Tupperware container.

“Hi, Busby.”

“Gilbert. Do you think whatever cake you’ve given her was a good idea right now?”

Patsy frowns at the clench of Delia’s jaw, the sharp clip to her words that makes them more familiar.

“Oh, I didn’t-I mean, Monica Joan said this used to be her favourite. I thought. Well, I thought it would just a nice treat,” Barbara says, looking down at the bed cover, voice quivering.

Delia sighs, relaxing her stance and shaking her head.

Patsy watches on, confused.

“Sorry, Gilbert. It’s not been the best day so far.”

Barbara nods, head still looking down.

“It is a nice treat, I’m sure Patsy enjoyed it. I just worry that it’s too soon.”

“I know. I’m-I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to cause any harm.”

“I know you didn’t,” Delia sighs again. “What’s done is done. Hey, Patsy, have you enjoyed playing games with Barbara?”

Patsy tilts her head, takes in the light blue eyes, the slightly tanned skin, the opened stance and nods.

“She’s quite the card player, Busby. Beat me five times in a row, not to mention the other games she challenged me at.”

Delia grins.

“I’d hate to play poker against you, Patsy.”

Barbara giggles and nods her head, vigorously.

“Yes, I don’t play. I always lose at poker.”

“That’s because you’re as honest as the day is long.”

“Ha. So are you, Busby,” Barbara says, as Patsy’s head flicks between the two, observing the grins their both sporting and wondering where the perpetual frowns, the clipped words have disappeared to. “’Right, I should be heading off, now. No doubt Turner will have a few errands for me to run.”

“Oh, yes, I’m afraid we have kept you longer than planned. Thanks for keeping an eye on Patience over here,” Delia says, tilting her head.

Patsy continues to watch them both, face neutral, moving down the bed and placing her feet on the floor over the side of it.

“Hopefully, I’ll see you soon Busby. You too, Patsy.”

Patsy nods her head.

“Yeah?” Barbara asks, eyes wide, smile wide. “You wouldn’t mind me coming to visit?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Great. See you soon, Patsy,” she finishes with a wave and Patsy lifts one hand in response, Delia smiling at Patsy.

“So, you like Gilbert?”

Patsy nods, looks at Delia for a moment.

“Barbara.”

“Yes, quite right but it wouldn’t do well for others to hear me call her that.”

Patsy frowns.

“It’s the rules. I think they want it to be as impersonal as possible and yet they expect us to work together as a perfect team,” Delia says, pottering around the room before sighing. “It’s-It’s ridiculous but,” she says, shrugging. “Those are the rules.”

“Gilbert.”

“No, those are the rules for us. I’m sure it’ll be fine if you call her Barbara and me Delia whilst we’re in here. You’re not a prisoner, you’re not an employee. But I do think it best you call us Busby and Gilbert outside of here. I’m sorry about that but us-alone, we’re Delia and Patsy, yeah?”

Patsy nods, begins fiddling with the blanket atop her bed, feeling its softness against her skin as she runs her hand along it.

“So,” Delia begins with a sigh. “So, I’m sorry to have to do this but-but there’s just a few more tests that I need to run, okay?”

Patsy swallows, looking down at her hand, wondering why she’s being asked. They’ll do what they want with her, anyway.

They always do.

“Right, so I’m just going to go into this drawer and get what we need and set it up on this table. First, we’ll be getting a pulse oximeter. Do you know what that is?”

Patsy shakes her head.

“It’s a little clip that I’ll pop on your finger that uses infrared light to measure how much oxygen is in your blood instead of a blood test. It’s pretty amazing, don’t you think? This little device can tell us something so important. Right, you ready, Patsy?”

Patsy says nothing, still watching her hand running along the blanket.

“Right, well, I’m just going to grab your hand, okay? And then we’ll pop this on and be done in a sec.”

Patsy jolts at the warm touch, so different from what she’s used to. There’s no pulling, no prodding just a guiding touch and she frowns at the unfamiliarity of it all, the explanations she’s been given, the…gentleness.

She surreptitiously pinches her own leg and relaxes.

“There, all done.”

Patsy nods.

“Right,” Delia says, sighing. “Now, now I just need to take a little blood from you, if we can and then it’ll be over. Alright?”

Patsy shrugs as Delia begins readying the equipment, sticking gloves on.

“Now, just hold a finger out; I just want to test your sugar levels. We’ll have to do a proper blood test in a few days but not quite yet. Yes, that’s in. Two secs and it’ll be over.”

Patsy jumps at the clicking sound. The nip of a needle grounds her, calms her as Delia squeezes out a few drops of her blood.

A beep sounds.

“3.8. Well, that’s much better than it was and I’ve no doubt whatever Gilbert just gave you will help get that a bit higher.”

Patsy stares blankly at Delia. No one has ever told her the results of any test and she has no idea what Delia is even talking about.

Patsy watches the smaller woman roam around the room, putting things back, dropping the needle in the yellow box before she turns to face Patsy.

“So, I was thinking, I know you don’t want to,” she says, worrying her lip as Patsy frowns. “I know you don’t want to go outside but I thought the fresh air might do you good. So, hows about we go for a walk later? Tonight-tonight when it’s dark, we can just go round the garden, maybe sit on my favourite bench. I go there when I need time to think and I think you’ll like it. And no one else will be out, then. Well, they’re not usually. But we don’t have to, though I really think it’ll do you good. So. Yes. What do you say?” she says, hands clenched together in front of her.

Patsy thinks, remembers the clenched jaw and sharp words Delia greeted Barbara with. Frowns as she wonders if she really has a choice, cautiously shrugs as she looks down.

“I mean, you don’t have to. I promise if you really don’t want to, you don’t have too but I think it’ll be good for you.”

Patsy shrugs still as confused as she wonders what she wants. Her mind unsure of an answer. She shrugs again and nods, accepting Delia’s decision on her own behalf.

“Right. Okay then,” Delia says, letting out a breath. “Why don’t we do some drawing or reading or something for now, then, hmm? I’ll just pop and get the supplies from my room. Dai-Dai used to love drawing with me. I hope you do, too,” Delia says, jumping out and leaving the room as Patsy frowns in confusion.

*****

The door closes and Delia sighs, gulps in a breath with her eyes closed as she tries to block out the memories. Tries to forget his small body clutched in her arms, the claw marks of a scream scratching against her throat and breaking through her lips.

“Dai, come on. Just-just breathe.”

The green of the grass looks brighter against the paleness of his flesh. The sun scorches Delia’s back as she presses down on his cold body, the crack of his ribs ricocheting off the trees as Delia feels the break splitting her in two.

“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Come on, Dai. Breathe.”

Delia pushes herself forwards and heads towards her room, once again trying to avoid thinking of Patsy’s journal and what’s inside it. Instead, she thinks of the empty notepads tucked in her bottom drawer, ones she’d intended to fill and never had the courage too (Dai’s paper white face always flashing back at her from the blank page).

She heads back to Patsy clutching two of them and bag full of pencils, pens, colours, anything they could need, all the while hoping she can get them both through this.

“Right, so, I have a blue and a green pad. Which would you like?”

Patsy eyes them both up, eyes jumping between forest green and azure blue before settling and pointing.

“Good choice. I’d have gone for that one.”

Patsy’s eyes widen and she shakes her head as Delia offers it out.

Delia frowns.

“What? You don’t want it.”

Patsy shrugs.

“Here, take it,” Delia says, offering out the blue notepad and Patsy shakes her head.

“You. Want.”

“No, you picked it, you take it. I like the green one, too. It’s very…naturey.”

Patsy takes the pre-offered pad and gingerly slides off the bed onto the floor, Delia coming to sit cross legged in front of her before tipping a bag upside down, packs of colouring pens and pencils, erasers, sharpeners tumbling to the floor.

“Help yourself. You-you draw or write or do what you want. You don’t have to share, either. We can-well, it can be your secret place if you like. I don’t mind if you see mine, though,” Delia says, diving in and beginning to draw, Patsy looking at her for a few moments before reaching for a pencil.

It’s a little while later that Delia looks to an absorbed Patsy, smiling at the sight and the sound of Patsy’s husky voice quietly humming.

The smile slips as Patsy looks up, eyes widening as she clenches her mouth shut, squeezing onto the pencil.

“You have a nice voice. You should use it more. I mean, if you want to, of course.”

Patsy shrugs, looking down at the paper.

Delia sighs.

“Want to see what I drew?”

Patsy looks up, wearily eyeing Delia.

“You can, if you want to.”

Patsy slowly nods her head. Delia holds up her drawing, clearly of Patsy sleeping, her body covered by a blanket, her eyes closed and she looks…peaceful.

Patsy reaches out, fingers gently running over the page, frown appearing as she takes in the lines, the shades, the likeness.

It looks like her, but it doesn’t.

She looks peaceful, innocent, clean, despite the ruggedness of the sketch.

Patsy looks down, hand dropping.

“Do you-do you like it?”

Patsy shrugs and Delia sighs, worrying her lip.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t-I shouldn’t have drawn you without your permission. It was…wrong of me. Especially since I’m still a bit rusty. Forgive me?”

Patsy looks up, catches and holds Delia’s eyes, mind confused.

“I,” Patsy says, clearing her throat. “I like it.”

Delia beams back and Patsy’s lip twitches in response before she mutes herself, makes herself shrink back into her neutral default.

“Great. Well, do you want to share?”

Patsy shakes her head, heartbeat racing, eyes widening.

“Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay, Patsy. I told you, you don’t have to share if you don’t want to. How about we put these away for now and I go get us something to eat, yeah?”

Patsy nods and watches as Delia takes the notebooks, clears up the pens and stashes everything in the bottom drawer beside the bed.

“Any preferences for dinner?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Anything you wouldn’t like?”

Patsy’s mind flashes back to bowls of sticky, thick substances and she shrugs, all the while wishing for anything but that.

“Well, I happen to have it on good authority that tonight is Mrs B’s famous pie night. How does that sound?”

Patsy looks at Delia and Delia grins.

“Right. I think you’ll love it. I know I do. I’ll see if I can get you some with more of the filling and less of the crust, though. That might be a bit too heavy for you. But I don’t mind eating your share of the pastry,” Delia says with a wink, her tongue poking out, slightly. “It’s the best bit.”

*****

“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to our walk, if you’re still up for it? I need to work off this food baby.”

Delia pats her belly and Patsy tilts her head; one corner of her lip raised as the shorter woman of the two groans once again.

“I’m so full. Did you enjoy it, though? It’s the best, isn’t it?”

Patsy nods her head, wishing she could have eaten more without feeling so full. She can’t remember the last time she tasted so much, tasted something aside from ash pasting her mouth together; the thick substance clogging like glue in her throat unlike her dinner.

She shakes her head and wills the thoughts away, forcing the nausea down as they await nightfall.

It comes sooner than Patsy is ready for as Patsy lays on the bed, staring at the ceiling, Delia reading files on a chair by the window.

Delia sighs.

“Right, how about that walk now?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Come on, Patsy. You can do better than that. Jump up, I’ll find you a jumper,” Delia says, walking over to a chest of drawers and opening it. “There’s got to be something in here for you. Oh, yes. This looks promising,” she continues, pulling out a thick red cardigan. “Well, there’s this or I can find you a coat. Perhaps a coat will be best. Or both. I don’t want you to catch a…cold,” Delia says, trailing off. “It wouldn’t do for you to get an illness right now, would it? A…virus or infection. Well, it wouldn’t do for you to become ill right now.”

Patsy frowns as the falter in Delia’s voice, the false cheer.

“Come on, you. You need some fresh air and I need the exercise.”

Patsy shrugs, burrowing herself into the cardigan as she watches Delia grab two coats – one a thick dark green and the other a thin black.

“Here, I do believe this will keep you warm if there’s a nip in the air,” Delia says, holding out the green coat, helping Patsy to get into it.

Patsy sighs as the heavy fabric wraps around her, makes her feel heavy but like there is a shield between herself and the world.

Delia grabs her arm.

“Now, you tell me if it gets too much and we’ll come back inside but I think you’ll enjoy a bit of fresh air. My Ma-my Mam always said a bit of fresh air will do everyone good and I’m inclined to agree.”

Patsy frowns, tries to remember if her mother ever said the same thing before shaking the thought off.

Delia pulls the door open and Patsy freezes for a moment, wills her limbs to move but she feels so heavy and tired and she wants to burrow under the blankets.

“Come on, Patsy, just a few minutes for now and we’ll be back, and we can draw some more or you can sleep or whatever you like.”

Patsy takes a deep breath, forcing one foot in front of the other as she heads out of the room and into the unknown, her breathing erratic as she focuses on Delia, body shaking.

Chapter Text

Chapter VI: Hooverphonics – Mad About You

 

‘Feel the vibe, feel the terror, feel the pain
It's driving me insane
I can't fake for God's sake, why am I
Driving in the wrong lane

Trouble is my middle name
But in the end I'm not too bad
Can someone tell me if it's wrong to be
So mad about you, mad about you, mad’

 

Patsy takes a deep breath, one foot tentatively stepping through the open door way, closer to Delia. Delia who’s standing, backlit by moonlight, hands at her sides, a breeze blowing ruffling a few loose strands of her hair.

Patsy holds her breath, feels the nip in the air and tries to burrow deeper inside her coat.

“That’s it, Patsy. There’s no one here but us,” Patsy hears Delia say over the beating of her heart.

She looks around, head constantly taking in her surroundings. It’s so…open and she feels her finger tips pushing against the palm of her hand as she clenches them in a fist.

“Come on. Just a few minutes and we’ll be at my favourite spot. I think you’ll like it.”

Patsy shuffles beside Delia, both quietly taking in their surroundings, Patsy exhaling some tension at being the one closer to the wall, sandwiched between a building and Delia on either side. Goosebumps rise on her neck as she tries to resist the urge to look behind her, ears on high alert for any sound, heartbeat fluttering in her chest like a trapped blackbird with a broken wing.

It’s dark but she hears leaves rustling, sees the shadow of trees, hears water running and imagines a water fountain, wishes she could run under it and feel the water running over her.

“And here we are,” Delia says, and Patsy snaps her head to face Delia. “Take a seat.”

She does and she relaxes as Delia settles in beside her, the warmth from another body helping to warm Patsy.

The bench is tucked within a crevice of bushes, a wall behind them and Patsy sighs, cocooned. She takes a deep breath and feels the fresh air fill her lungs, wake her up as though the air she’s been breathing has been slightly tainted all this time.

“Do you like it?” Delia asks, body angled towards Patsy, observing her as Delia squeezes her hands together in her lap.

Patsy nods and Delia smiles, dimples appearing full and deep. Patsy tries to resist the rise of her lips, the curve that wants to settle there, instead one side raising before it drops, just like Patsy’s gaze, her head which settling on looking at the parallel path in front of them.

Delia’s smile deepens for a moment before she nods and faces forward.

Patsy looks up, takes in the open grass, the fountain just to her left, the trees bunched in the middle, the wall enclosing the space, everything lit by moonlight, not a person in sight.

“We should get you back in, soon. I know it wasn’t long and we didn’t exactly go for a walk, but I think we need to get you used to being out a bit more; we need to get you a little stronger. What do you think, Pats?”

“Not yet.”

Delia turns to face Patsy, frowning.

“Not yet? I thought you liked it out here.”

“Not,” Patsy says, clearing her throat. “Not indoors, yet.”

Patsy’s heartbeat begins to pick up again, fingers clenched as she waits.

Pain shoots across her face, up her side as she lands on the floor from the blow, skin torn open in various places as the stone claws her against her flesh.

Delia sighs.

“It is a lovely night and you are wrapped up. Just a little longer but then I’m afraid we must go inside. I don’t want you to catch a…chill.”

Patsy nods.

They sit in silent, Patsy taking deep breaths and feeling the oxygen fill her lungs, longing to sit out here all-night, breathing. Longing to go inside and hide from people, to be invisible, to see Michael, Mary Cynthia, anyone familiar, to only ever see Delia and Barbara from this day forward.

Patsy shakes her head and sighs along with Delia.

“Alright, Pats. Time to go in.”

Patsy frowns and having to leave, at the shortening of her name, at having to give up this fresh air, at the sheepish, concerned look Delia is giving her before she nods and stands.

“Right, come on, then. Let’s get you ready for bed and maybe, maybe tomorrow we could do this again, yeah?”

Patsy shrugs and begins heading back.

“Patsy, are you mad at me?”

Patsy stops for a minute, thinks, shakes her head and shrugs, never really knowing anything for certain.

“Okay,” Delia says, catching up. “Well, do you want to come here, again?”

Patsy nods.

“Yes.”

“Good. Then that’s what we’ll do. Maybe in a few days, or whenever you’re more comfortable, as long as the weather holds, we can have dinner out here? Or maybe breakfast? Whatever you prefer. Or not. We can-we can just sit like we did today or go for a walk if you fancy it?”

Patsy nods along with her suggestions, somewhat leading the way back to the door that’ll take her back into the building, towards her room and into her hiding place.

She feels unsettled, like two people who want opposing things, that can’t find a compromise, yet.

She freezes at the door into the building.

“Come on, Patsy,” Delia says, hand rubbing her back through the coat for a few seconds. “Let’s get you in the warm and sleeping. Tomorrow we can come back.”

Patsy does as she’s told, feels the confusion ease at Delia’s orders.

Later that night, Delia lies awake, Patsy’s breathing a soothing lullaby as she begins to drift off, wondering if it’s a good idea to reunite Patsy with the others or not, whether she can help Patsy enough or not, whether Patsy even wants her help or not.

*****

We hope you can understand what it’s like working for her.

Some of the things we had to do we didn’t want to do.

She made us.

It was either you or our children. Our families. Us.

Yes. Before some of you, some of us were used.

 

We got used to it.

After the first few experiments, deaths, murders, you do get used to it. Kind of like you all god used to living there, too. (We do wish they would have fed you more, though. It would have made our jobs easier.)

When the experiments go wrong, it’s sometimes kinder to kill them.

But when the experiments go right? There’s a rush like no other.

You feel like Gods.

We are Gods, in some ways.

 

We made you.

We. Made. You.

 

And look at you all. If only you knew how amazing you are.

 

All of you.

 

*****

Delia awakes to whimpers and jumps up.

Patsy writhes on the bed, head shaking side to side, blanket a mess, jaw clenched like her fists.

“Hey, hey. Patsy, wake up, it’s just a dream,” Delia coos, perched on the edge of the bed, resisting her instinct to reach out and touch and soothe a sleeping Patsy. “Patsy, come on, sweetheart. You need to wake up.”

She doesn’t and Delia sighs at a loss for what to do.

So she sings like her Mam used to do for her.

“Paid ag ofni, dim ond deilen. Gura, gura ar y ddôr; Paid ag ofni, ton fach unig…”

Patsy begins to relax, and Delia lies next to her, distance between them as Delia sings herself to sleep, sings Patsy into a more restful sleep.

*****

“Turner, I’m glad I bumped into you. Have you had a chance to run anymore tests, yet?” Delia asks having left Patsy with Gilbert for a short while, the two planning on getting Patsy washed, dressed and fed.

“I-Not really. I think we need to work on getting them to a healthier body weight, perhaps gain a little of their trust before we subject them to more invasive tests. I’m planning on taking some blood samples in the next few days. There’s one rather meek but formidable patient with whom I’ve been talking to and I’ve been explaining the situation as best I can. I think she may allow us to take some blood samples but who knows what has been done to each of the patients. I think we need to test them all to see if there are any variances, if they’re all the same. Whether these incredible claims hold any weight. What about you?” he says, holding the door open for Delia as they walk into the cafeteria. “How is Miss Mount? Has she…presented any symptoms? Any anomalies?”

Delia shakes her head.

“No. All seems to be as expected and I’ve yet to take anymore blood from her, aside from checking her sugar levels. I think you’re right, they do need to build up their strength, gain some weight before we do more tests. And-and, well, the mental trauma as well as the physical needs to be taken into account, doesn’t it? I just-I don’t want them thinking we’re no better than those-those people who’ve been doing this to them.”

“Yes,” Turner says, sighing. “You’re quite right there, Busby. Those poor people. What are we to do? How can we make them see that not everyone is out to hurt them? How can we teach them to trust us when other people like us have done so much damage?”

Delia shrugs, stomach feeling like a clenched fist.

“And what is Mount going to do with Miss Mount? Yet again she’s receiving special treatment and being isolated from people—”

“Speaking of that, I wanted to talk to you about uniting Pat-Miss Mount with the others. Perhaps it might help?”

Turner sighs.

“I just-I really don’t know what to do for the best this time, Busby. Perhaps it’s best we wait a little longer and then you can put forth the idea. See how Miss Mount reacts and what she wants to do.”

“Yes, maybe you’re right. I wouldn’t force her to do anything against her wishes unless it was absolutely necessary,” Delia says, sighing. “But maybe, even then, I’m just as bad as those other…doctors.”

Turner shakes his head, hand coming to rest on top of Delia’s.

“I don’t think you ever need to worry about that, Busby. And I think that if Miss Mount doesn’t know that, now, she’ll come to learn it.”

Delia nods and almost jumps as someone slides into the chair beside her.

“Hello Busby, Turner,” Phyllis says, nodding her head at them both. “Why don’t you go get yourselves something for breakfast and then bring me up to date with the welfare of our patients?”

They both comply, sliding back into their seats a few minutes later, Phyllis sitting ramrod straight, good untouched.

Phyllis squeezes Delia’s hand before picking up her toast and taking a hearty bite, Delia echoing her movements.

“So, Dr Turner, how are they doing? Are there any adjustments needed to made for their wellbeing? Lass, how’s Miss Mount?”

“Well, understandably they’re rather…perplexed by the sudden change in environment and personnel. They’re rather distrustful and that’s something we must try to overcome before we subject them to more vigorous and invasive testing. For their overall wellbeing, I think we must take into account their mental health, regardless of what Mount may or may not request.”

Delia looks down at the toast, her throat full, clogged with words, and thoughts and feelings.

“Yes,” Phyllis says, sighing. “I think you’re quite right. As much as we’d like to know exactly what’s going on, the patients must come first. I’ll talk to him and make him aware of the situation. I shan’t have him rushing the process. It’d do more harm than good, and it may well skew the results, if so.”

Delia nods, almost smiles at the formidable woman’s strength.

“And you, Lass. How’s Miss Mount?”

“She’s-she’s, understandably going through a lot but I think she’s doing well. We-we went for a late-night walk in the garden, last night. I thought the fresh air might do her some good.”

“Yes, I think you’re quite right, Busby. Fresh air would do our patients good and I think the fact that she went means she somewhat trusts you, already. Perhaps I ought to try something similar with my patients but there’s so many of them and I’m loathe to separate them for too long in fear that it may do more damage than good.”

Delia nods her head once and Phyllis looks between the two in silence.

“Well, maybe-maybe you could split them into smaller groups so that they don’t feel alone and take them out for a few minutes at a time? Just until they get used to it. Will-are they allowed to leave? to do what they want?”

Turner sighs and Phyllis looks down, shaking her head.

“I’m afraid not. Until we can determine what’s going on with them physically, their mental health, I’m afraid they can’t. Especially since there are so many of them. I know they’re weak, malnourished, exhausted mentally and physically, but those are Mount’s orders.”

“Yes, indeed. Those are Mount’s orders,

 but I shall be having a word with him, soon. We can allow them some freedom.”

“I think that’s a good idea. I didn’t know so maybe I should stop the late-night walks but-but how can we expect these people to trust us, to work with us if they feel like they’ve traded one prison for another?”

The three sit in silence for a few moments.

“Right you are, kiddo but for now, both of you, eat up. You’ll be helping no one if you’re just as weak. I’ll check in with you both, later,” Phyllis says, standing with her tray. “And perhaps it’d be rather premature to stop the walks if Miss Mount enjoys them. Same for you, Turner, as long as it’s in small groups. You leave Mount to me,” she finishes, disappearing as suddenly as she appeared.

Delia reluctantly complies with her orders as Turner tucks into his mountain of a breakfast.

“I know it’s hard, Busby, but it will get easier and, in my experience, it helps when you begin to see the improvements. When you begin to see the good you can do.”

Delia nods, chewing on the cold toast she’s forcing down.

“Why don’t you come with me and see some of my patients before you go back to Miss Mount? It might do you good to talk to some of them. Then you can assess whether it’d be a good idea to bring Miss Mount to meet with them.”

Delia looks up, watches Turner for a few moments, holding his eye.

“Yes, I think you’re right. That would be a good idea.”

“Great. Eat up. We’ve got patients to see and I’ve been interested in hearing your ideas for treatments,” Turner says, smiling and Delia returns it with as much sincerity as she can muster.

“You’re the real doctor here, not me.”

Turner smiles.

“Maybe in title but in practise, this is what you’ve been trained for. In reality, you’re probably as qualified as I am, and two brains are better than one. Especially in this situation.”

Delia nods her head and tucks into a bowl of fruit and yoghurt, forcing herself to finish it, forcing herself to stop worrying about Patsy, Mount’s actions, the madness she’s found herself involved in.

*****

“Ready?” Turner asks and Delia nods her head once, not thinking, not doing anything but ploughing ahead.

He opens the door and they walk into a room reminiscent of a hospital ward, beds against the walls on either side of the room, a walkway down the middle.

Gaunt faces, more like ghosts than people, stare at them both. It’s silent save for Delia’s and Turner’s footsteps as he leads Delia to the end of the room, to a bed on the right where a small girl? Woman? Sits, big eyes peering out at them both.

Delia clenches her jaw, her fists at how the girl makes herself somehow even smaller in their presence.

“Mary Cynthia, I’d like for you to meet a good friend and colleague of mine, Busby. Busby, this is Mary Cynthia.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Delia says, putting her hand out but retracting it immediately at Mary Cynthia’s flinch.

Delia clears her throat, looks around at the other faces, wishes she could close her eyes, forget, turn back into a seven-year-old in her father’s arms as she cries from scraped knees.

But she can’t and that’s that.

She takes a breath, wills her voice not to quiver, wills her voice to be soften, be less pointed as she supresses the urge to quiz this mousey creature in front of her.

“Hello, how are you today?” Delia asks, almost flinching at the stupidity of the question.

Mary Cynthia shrugs and Delia immediately thinks of Patsy’s fondness for the same gesture, wonders how she’s doing with Gilbert, if she needs Delia. Delia shakes away the thoughts, clears her head of everything but this moment.

“Well, how about you and me go for a little walk?”

Mary Cynthia’s eyes snap up, her small frame shaking but despite this, she nods her head in agreement.

Delia frowns.

“You don’t want to, do you?”

“It’s okay, you can trust Busby as much as you can trust me. I know that may be hard for you to believe but you’ll come to learn. She’s the doctor looking after Patsy.”

Mary Cynthia frowns.

“Blonde hair, big blue eyes, very tall and so…slim.”

A deepening frown is all Delia is gifted with along with a Turner’s furrowed brow. Delia looks down at her hands before continuing.

“Well, not to worry. I’m just-I’m trying to help her-to help you all in any way I can. I know it can’t be nice being cooped up in here all the time and I thought you might like to stretch your legs,” Delia says, shrugging. “But it’s entirely up to you.”

Mary Cynthia furrows her brow at looks at her fiddling hands.

“I-,” Mary Cynthia says before clearing her throat, Delia leaning forward to catch any note that leaves her lips. “A walk might be nice. It’s been…,” she says, shrugging to finish.

The door swings open and Mary Cynthia flinches at the noise as Franklin bounds into the room.

“It’s a divine day, Cynthia. You simply must get out and enjoy it,” Franklin says as though she was privy to the conversation not a minute earlier.

Delia nods her head.

“Quite right. It is a beautiful day, Spring is coming.”

“Oh,” Trixie says, eyes wide as she takes in the scene. “Busby, what are you doing here? I thought you were occupied with another patient?”

Delia nods her head, slowly for a few times before she looks to Franklin, head slightly tilted.

“Indeed, I was but I thought it best to see how the others are doing,” Delia says, perching on the end of the bed and smiling at Mary Cynthia. “I’m glad to see you well.”

Mary Cynthia smiles.

“Well, how about Busby and Franklin go with you for a walk whilst I do my rounds? We’ll, talk afterwards,” Turner says, pointedly looking to Delia who nods her head.

“Whatever you’d prefer to do, Mary Cynthia, is fine with me. I was out for a late night walk last night which was nice and now the suns here for a little while, I think it’d be even more lovely. I really do think the fresh air would do you good, too.”

“Yes, quite. And we can work on getting a little colour into that ghostly white skin of yours, can’t we?”

“I-I suppose so.”

“Be that as it may, what would you like to do?”

Mary Cynthia looks between the two women as they stare intently at her, shrugging her shoulders. Delia softens her look and sighs.

“Well, let’s stretch those legs of yours and whenever you’re ready to come in, you just say, okay?”

“Yes, as Busby said, whenever you’re ready, we’ll come in but for now, let’s go out.”

Franklin jumps up and Delia looks nervously to Turner who stares back before she waits for Mary Cynthia to rise.

“Lean on me if you need to.”

Mary Cynthia smiles, her face looking more gaunt as her skin stretches over muscle and bone and Patsy’s equally gaunt face flashes to mind.

Is she okay? Gilbert would come and get her if she was needed, right? And they’re only going out into the inner garden.

Mary Cynthia trips and Delia lunges forward, gripping her arm and feeling the muscles in her grasp tense.

“Are you okay?” Delia asks, helping Mary Cynthia orient herself before hurriedly letting go of the small creature. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-I mean, I just wanted to help.”

“And help you did now, chop, chop, ladies. It’s the first sunny day of the year, let’s get out and enjoy it.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

Delia rolls her eyes and Mary Cynthia grins back as they meander on.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” Crane says as the trio round the final corner, the door to the garden directly in front of them.

Trixie groans and turns around. Delia frowns and looks at an equally as puzzled Mary Cynthia.

“I do believe you have a scheduled training session to attend too, Franklin. Follow me.”

Delia feels the tension she didn’t know she was holding ease as they both disappear.

She sighs.

“Well, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. It’s just through here.”

Mary Cynthia shuffles behind. Delia holds open the door for her and watches a small face light up, eyes looking up to the sky as Mary Cynthia takes a deep breath.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

They begin a loop of the garden, Delia watching Mary Cynthia as she takes in the trees, the grass, the flowers.

“My Mam always said fresh air does you good and the older I get, the more I believe it,” Delia says, eyes roaming the walled garden before alighting on the bench her and Patsy sat on the night before. “Do you like it out here?”

Mary Cynthia nods her head, smiling softly.

“It-It reminds me. Before. Before I was…taken, my little brother liked trees. We’d-I’d go out with him and we’d sit underneath one. He was smaller than me.”

It’s silent for a few moments, Delia remembering Dai, wondering what he’d be like now. What he’d think, say, do.

“H-How is she?”

Delia frowns worried her distracted attention meant she’d missed something.

“Patsy? That’s what she’s called, isn’t it? She-She never really spoke,” Mary Cynthia says, her steps slowing down as she looks down at her hands.

“Yeah, that’s her name. You know her?”

Mary Cynthia shrugs.

“I-I think I do. She was-she was mostly kept separate from us.”

“Then I’d imagine that was our Patsy. She’s, well, she’s as well as can be expected. And you? How are you?”

Mary Cynthia shrugs, follows Delia’s lead as she guides them both to a bench, one further down from the one Delia and Patsy shared before.

“It’s a lot to take in.”

“Yes,” Mary Cynthia says, eyes closed as she tilts her head up towards the sunlight. “It’s…weird. Like a dream,” she says, turning to face Delia. “It’s…too nice to be real, isn’t it?”

Delia shakes her head.

“No. It’s the absolute minimum of what you deserve.”

Mary Cynthia faces forwards and Delia watches her.

“Maybe. Do you think they’ll let us go back?”

Delia frowns.

“Back?”

“Home.”

Delia feels her breakfast churning in her stomach.

“Where is home?”

“I-I don’t know.”

“I don’t know much but I do know that one day you’ll leave this place, and it won’t be back with those-those monsters that hurt you.”

“Good. That’s, that’s good.”

They both sit in silence, Delia’s hands shaking, thoughts bouncing between operations and Patsy and home.

“Michael used to talk about her.”

Delia frowns, once again.

“Michael?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“I think they were taken together.”

“Really?”

“I don’t-I don’t know for sure, but I think so.”

“Where is he?”

“Back there.”

“Back where?”

“In the field.”

Delia closes her eyes, the churning in her stomach becoming more vigorous.

“Which field?”

“The one behind where they kept us.”

Chapter Text

Chapter VII: Joy Williams – Canary

 

‘There’s a shadow hanging heavy.

There’s a cold chill in my bones.

It’s a steep road, high and weary.

It’s a long, long way from home.

 

But I will not shut my eyes.

No, I will not fall silent.

Canary in the mine.

Oh, I will, honey I will,

I will sing.

I will sing.’

 

Delia worries her lip for a few seconds before biting it, a sharp sting and the tang of blood barely registering as she wills herself not to make a sound.

The urge to check in with Patsy is nearly overwhelming but Delia forces herself to sit still, to sit with Mary Cynthia until she decides they should leave.

“Do you,” Delia says, clearing her throat. “Do you have any idea what they…did to you?”

Mary Cynthia shakes her head.

“Do you?”

“Me and Turner have a few…possibilities but I’m afraid more tests are needed.”

“Oh.”

“Only the necessary ones. Believe me, we’ll only do what’s necessary.”

Mary Cynthia shrugs.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Delia frowns and looks pointedly at her.

“We’re used to it.”

Delia sighs.

“I wish you weren’t.”

Mary Cynthia looks down at her fidgeting hands.

“Shall we get you back? The others are probably wondering where you are.”

Mary Cynthia shrugs and Delia sighs, once again.

“Thank you. Thank you for trusting me and talking to me.”

Mary Cynthia stays silent as they begin their walk back.

“Can I see her?”

“See who?”

“Patsy.”

“Oh, I-I think I’ll need to talk to her and see what she says,” Delia finishes as they walk the cold corridors. “But if she wants too, I don’t see why not.”

It’s silent once again, Delia’s mind thinking of her patient, anxious to see how she is, whether she’d want to see Mary Cynthia, if them meeting one another is a good idea.

Soon enough, Delia’s steady gait and Mary Cynthia’s shuffling feet bring them both back to the door leading into Mary Cynthia’s current home? Prison? Sanctuary? Turner rushes towards her upon their return.

“Busby, I’d like a word in private if you wouldn’t mind?”

Delia shrugs and turns to Mary Cynthia.

“It was lovely meeting you and going for a walk with you. If you like, we could do it again?”

Mary Cynthia looks at Delia, shy smile blooming before she wanders over to a slight, pale blonde a few beds down.

“I think-I think what Doctor Isley said was right. Well, at least the first experiment,” Turner whispers out as they rush towards his office.

As the door shuts, Delia whirls around to face him.

“What exactly do you mean? How do you know?”

“Well, as you know, I have eleven patients in my care which allows us more chances to take blood samples and run tests. I-Mary Cynthia, she gave us some blood samples and convinced one of the others too. As soon as I got back from our…meeting yesterday.”

Delia scoffs and rolls her eyes.

“Meeting isn’t exactly what I’d call it.”

“Quite. But enough about that. Whilst you were out, the results came back and well, it is looking like they’re remarkably resistant to all the infections we had enough blood to test for.”

“How much blood did you take from these…volunteers?”

Turner sighs.

“I was afraid too much but both patients seem to be doing well and we’re closely monitoring them.”

“By letting me take one of them for a jaunt around the inner gardens?”

Turner freezes, collapses into his chair, hands on the arm rests as he looks despondently in front of him, Delia standing and looking down at him, cautiously.

“I don’t know what to do, Busby. I want-we need answers to help these people. That’s what I’m trying to do but how do I do that for the best?”

Delia sighs and closes her eyes for a moment.

“I don’t know. Did you find anything else?”

Turner shakes his head.

“No. Well,” he says with a scoff. “We didn’t exactly have an abundance of samples to test. We’ll simply have to wait until their physically ready for more tests to gather the answers. If we can gather the answers.”

“Yes, I quite agree. So, it seems likely that what he said is true, that these people are immune to,” Delia says, shaking her head. “What I’m most concerned about it any side effects. Will this affect them going forward?”

Turner shrugs.

“I don’t know the answer to that. I imagine there must be something. You can’t mess with such a complex and intricate system without repercussions. But we believed you couldn’t do what, most likely has been done so I don’t know, Busby. We need to find out. We need to help these people.”

Delia nods her head.

“Well, I best get back to my patient.”

“Yes. Keep me informed of any developments and I’ll do the same.”

“Right you are.”

Delia heads with a singular focus back to her patient, feeling like each of the past two days have becomes decades weighing her down.

*****

“Busby,” Barbara says, and Patsy snaps her head around, searching for the familiar face as she sits, long legs over the edge of the bed.

“Hello, Gilbert. Hello, Patsy,” Delia says, walking into the room and meeting Patsy’s eyes.

Patsy relaxes, lips almost rising. She came back. She didn’t disappear like Michael, like Mistress, like all the others.

“How are you?”

Patsy shrugs a response.

“We’ve just been playing a few more games, haven’t we, Patsy?”

Patsy nods her head, looking down at the bright yellow discs in her hand before placing one in. Gilbert groans and Delia chuckles, the sound ricocheting through Patsy and making the corner of her lips quirk a little higher for a second.

“How? How do I always manage to lose?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Practice makes perfect, Gilbert. You’ll win, one day,” Delia says, patting Barbara on the shoulder. “Maybe not against Patsy, but one day.”

“This isn’t fair. Even the others beat me.”

Patsy frowns, once again wondering about who the others are and Delia catches sight of the expression, lips pursing together.

“Yes, well, how about you go take your break, Gilbert?”

“Oh, okay. I’ll just…I’ll go. Thanks for the games, Patsy. I’ll see you soon, hopefully.”

Patsy nods as Barbara packs up her things and leaves.

Delia perches on the arm of a chair, looking down at her fidgeting hands.

“So,” she begins, looking out of the window and swallowing as Patsy watches in silence. “So, I met someone today. Someone that-that knows you.”

Patsy frowns, jaw clenched as her mind kicks into overdrive. Who is it? Has Mistress returned to take her back? Or one of the other doctors?

She wills herself to sit completely still, wills the balloon in her lungs to deflate so she can breathe, wills the scream to stay lodged in her throat.

She knew this couldn’t last.

“Hey, it’s-it’s no one bad. At least, I don’t think. She won’t-she won’t hurt you. I mean, Mary Cynthia really is too timid to hurt anyone, isn’t she? I mean, you do know her, right? Or she knows you, I think.”

After the utterance of a name, Patsy’s eyes snapped up, locking on Delia’s face, drinking in every word.

The others?

Mary Cynthia?

They’re here?

Delia rambles on for a few moments more, Patsy’s mind lost to thoughts of the others.

Of Michael.

Delia trails off, noticing Patsy’s inattentiveness. She rises from her perch and cautiously walks over, kneeling down on one knee to try and catch Patsy’s eyes as she forces herself to refrain from touching Patsy, from making a physical connection like her father used to do whenever Delia needed comforting.

“Hey, Patsy, look at me.”

Patsy does as requested, stormy blue meeting sky blue.

“Just breathe with me. Remember, in and out like always,” Delia says, hands tingling, itching to make contact, to comfort.

Patsy copies, watches the rise and fall of Delia’s chest and tries to imitate each movement, internally berates herself for being anything other than stoic like she used to be, knowing that when she gets sent back, they won’t be happy with her.

“Would you-would you like to meet with her? To talk to her?”

Patsy looks at Delia, frown in place.

They would never allow her to see Mary Cynthia, to mix with the others so why is Delia asking? Why is she offering this opportunity, unless it was a trick?

Maybe all of this is a test that she is failing, that they’ll punish her for later.

Patsy shrugs, scared to accept the offer but unable to say no to it.

“Well, we’ll see how things go, then, shall we? I also think it’s best I tell you something before-if you do end up meeting with her. I just-I don’t want to upset you, but you-you deserve the truth.”

Patsy wipes her face of any emotion, waiting in silence for Delia to continue as she looks away.

“I. Well, Mary Cynthia said you and Michael were…close.”

Patsy’s eyes focus on Delia, jaw clenched like her fists, the digits of each hand pressing firmly into her palms.

“I’m sorry, Patsy but he didn’t-he didn’t make it here.”

Patsy freezes, feels more like ice than she ever has before until the flames, the fire, the burning starts, and her body goes into shock, breathing short, rapid, body numb and unresponsive to her wishes.

“Patsy. Patsy, calm down,” Delia begs, hands taking hold of Patsy’s, loosening the clenched fists as best she can as Patsy grips onto Delia’s hands.

Delia grimaces as the vice-like grip but says nothing as she coaches Patsy through calming down.

“I know-I know it’s awful,” Delia says, voice weighed down with unshed tears. “I know it hurts, believe me, I do but-but we’ll get you through this. All of us. Just breathe. Just breathe for him.”

Patsy listens, hears the words with a delay in comprehending as her body quivers like a freshly fired arrow.

“I-I,” Patsy says, gasping for breath as Delia begins to rub her back and coo at Patsy to breathe. “I promised.”

Delia sits in silence, continuing the physical comfort.

“I promised. I promised he’d go home, one day.”

And she had. Not long before they were separated for good, she’d sat with him on her lap, promised he’d go home back to his Mama and Papa and she’d failed him, had been so caught up in being trapped and alone with Mistress, she’d gone silent and failed him.

“Don’t do that. Do not do that, Patience. There’s not a single thing you could have done to save him. Look at you. You’re so undernourished and they-they did unspeakable things to all of you. What could you have done? Hmm? Just-just being his friend, being there for him is more than I imagine I could have done.”

“But.”

“Mary Cynthia said he talked about you.”

Patsy whimpers, face contorted into a mask of heartbreak, imagining his animated face as he’d ramble on.

Delia wraps her arms around Patsy.

“He clearly thought a lot of you and that-that’s more than enough in a place like that.”

Patsy tastes salt on her lips as she clutches on to Delia, tears and phlegm creating an amalgamation of pain on the canvas of Delia’s shirt as she burrows into the crevice between neck and shoulder.

“You did everything you could. Now you have to live your life, you need to breathe for him, right, Pats?”

Patsy nods, her blonde hair tickling Delia’s chin as she begins to calm down and Delia wonders what to do.

Should she encourage, allow Patsy to see Mary Cynthia? Would it help either of them to be able to confide in each other, for Patsy to get some answers? Closure?

Delia almost sighs, at a loss for what to do as an outsider.

Patsy’s whimpers die down, her breathing becoming regular and even as Delia continues to hold her and think.

How can she possibly know what to do for the best when she has no idea what’s really happened? Mary Cynthia, the others are of far more assistance to Delia’s patient than she is in so many ways.

If anyone’s failed, it’s Delia.

Patsy calms down but her body is still tense, not noticing the tension in Delia as she tries to fathom out what to do, how to feel, how to be.

Part of her knew he was gone.

On the rare occasions she was left alone with the others, she could never see him and she knew, she knew he’d pay for her betrayal.

“Michael. Michael,” she shouts, hearing his whimpers but unable to see anything but black. “Michael, where are you? Just-just tell me where you are.”

She frowns as her body begins violently shaking.

“Just-just stay where you are, Michael. I’ll find you.”

His whimpers get louder before they go silent.

She feels a searing pain across her cheek, eyes snapping open to see Mistress looming over her, the room darkened by night as cold blue eyes reflecting moonlight glare at Patsy.

“Who’s Michael?”

Patsy stays silent, biting her lip and willing the tears not to fall.

“I said, who is Michael?”

Patsy shrugs before nearly being thrown off the bed at the force of the blow delivered to her cheek. Her head spins her but she still stays mute to Mistress’ request.

She’d known then that if Mistress found him, he’d be punished, and he was.

Patsy pulls away from Delia, wiping her eyes and looking straight ahead, jaw clenched.

Delia frowns, wishes she could burrow inside and explore each thought running through the Patsy’s head.

“You alright, Pats?”

X nods, the stoicism she lacked earlier finally being found as the familiar feeling of pain grounds her, allows her to fall back into herself, to who they made her become and she almost sighs in relief at knowing her role to play.

“Shall we-shall we go for a walk in a bit?”

X shrugs.

What does it matter who sees her? What anyone thinks? She’s been paraded around looking, feeling, being much worse.

Weaker.

“Patsy?”

X turns her head to look at Delia, notes the shimmer in sky blue eyes, feels something inside of her quiver at the care in those eyes before she clenches her fists and lifts her chin a fraction higher.

“Are you-of course you're not. I mean,” Delia says with a shrug. “What can I do?”

X shrugs and Delia sighs.

“Okay. Just, okay,” Delia says, looking around the room as she rises and then turns to face Patsy. “I just-whatever you need, I’m here. You don’t-you don’t need to shut me-everyone out.”

X looks at her, face void of anything as she blinks and watches the frown in Delia’s face deepen.

“Please don’t do this. Don’t-don’t be like that.”

X shrugs and Delia closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Fine. Just…fine. Wait here. I’ll be back, soon,” Delia says, leaving the room.

X sits on the bed, staring at the wall in front of her, consciously thinking of nothing but emptiness as she barely moves, only breathes and blinks. Breathes and blinks. Breathes and blinks.

Delia comes back, door swinging wide open and X doesn’t move.

Delia comes back, and steps to the side.

Delia comes back with Mary Cynthia in tow and Patsy freezes, her lungs becoming fists.

“I-I’m sorry, Patsy. You-I thought that this might help. You won’t-I can’t help you but maybe Mary Cynthia can by giving you answers.”

Mary Cynthia shuffles forward, the bed barely dipping as the mousy brunette sits next to Patsy, facing the wall as Patsy looks at her.

“Hi, Patsy. Do you-do you remember me?”

Patsy nods her head.

“I remember you,” Mary Cynthia says, a small smile in place before she looks down and her hands. “I-isn’t. Doesn’t this all seem like a dream,” she continues, looking at Patsy. “I keep expecting to wake up. Or for them…for us to be taken back.”

“That’s never happening,” Delia says, frown in place as both former captives turn to face her before she looks down. “Sori. I mean, sorry for interrupting. Would you-maybe it’s best,” she says, sighing. “Would you like to be left alone?”

Both shrug and Delia sighs.

“I think-I think I’ll go. I’ll-I’ll just be…outside in case you need me, okay?”

Two sets of eyes blink at Delia.

“Right. Just-call if you need me, okay?” Delia says, leaving the room and Patsy sighs, curls in on herself just a little at being left alone with Mary Cynthia.

They sit in silence for a while and Patsy wills her mind to stay empty, to stay light.

“I-the garden. The garden is so beautiful, isn’t it?”

Patsy shrugs, only remembering fresh air and darkness from her late-night excursion with Delia.

“Haven’t you been out there?”

Patsy nods.

“Once. At night.”

“Oh, well you should go in the day. It’s-it’s so nice to be out, to feel the sun.”

Patsy feels the ghost, the echo of a smile threatening to appear as she imagines the sun on her skin, fresh air in her lungs before she shrugs, wipes her face of anything as she goes back to staring at the wall.

Michael won’t ever get the chance to feel that.

Because of her.

Stupid, selfish X.

If only she could have kept quiet.

Mary Cynthia watches her as she stares ahead.

“You-you were the last thing he talked about.”

Patsy swallows, feels her fingers dig into her palms, eyes burning.

“He was ill.”

Patsy turns to look at the brunette.

“He-his body wasn’t strong enough to fight it. I was with him when it…happened,” Mary Cynthia continues, looking down at her hands as Patsy focuses on every detail of Mary Cynthia. “He told me about your plans, how you’d both go home, and you’d play toy soldiers with him and teach him things. Like you were his big sister. He-he died with a smile on his face. Because of you.”

Patsy swallows, takes a deep breath and focuses on forcing down the scream dying to escape from her throat. Her throat that itches, swells with silence.

*****

“Busby,” Franklin says as she walks down the corridor, coming to a stop in front of Delia who’s standing guard.

“Franklin. How’s the leg?”

“Nothing but a superficial wound, thankfully but you should see the beastly scarring on my thigh. I’m afraid it’s quite unthinkable to wear shorts or dresses for the foreseeable future.”

Delia rolls her eyes and Franklin narrows hers.

“Ones appearance can count for a lot. Especially when one is an insignificant cog in a rather big machine.”

“Insignificant?”

“Oh, don’t be so dense, Busby. We both know that I’m disposable to Mount, unlike you.”

“Everyone is disposable to Mount, Franklin. And for what it’s worth, I think you have significance. You’re good at what you do.”

Franklin looks at Delia.

“Be that as it may, not everyone would agree. Now, how’s the patient?”

“She’s-she’s doing as well as can be expected, I guess.”

“That’s good. Any update on what was…done to them?”

Delia’s head snaps up, she narrows her eyes at Franklin.

“No. Do you know anything?”

Franklin shrugs.

“Mary Cynthia may have mentioned one or two things and I’ve two and two together. Quite honestly, I know nothing, but I do know that I’d like these people to recover. Mary Cynthia is simply a delight and so easy to talk too. It’d be criminal for them to continue to suffer. I’m not blind, Busby, I’ve seen them, seen the marks on their skin. I know my resulting scar is nothing, compared but nonetheless, it matters to me.”

Delia looks down, frowning as Franklin continues.

“I’m not as selfish and superficial as you may believe. It’s simply the only way I know how to be. Especially in a place such as this.”

Delia looks up, frown melting away as she takes in the petite blonde in front of her, the one she hasn’t really given a chance, gotten to know.

“I-I know that, now.”

Franklin nods her head once.

“Right, now I must be off before Crane sends out the cavalry. Compulsory training session, yet again, I’m afraid. Still, it could be worse, Browne could be leading the team, then we really would be in trouble,” Franklin says with a wink and Delia smiles.

“Stop it. She’s lovely.”

“Be that as it may, I have never come across somebody who’s such a magnet for trouble of varying kinds. How could we forget the bathroom incident?”

Delia chuckles as Franklin departs before remembering why she’s standing outside of the room she’s spent so much time inside of.

For all of her training, for all the years of study, of the knowledge crammed inside her cranium, there’s still so much she can’t do, that she’s lacking.

And there’s more she needs to do; there’s more tests, more invasive procedures that mean some level of touching is necessary, despite what Patsy may want, more questions that will need to be asked and Patsy-the others will need to answer.

Delia stands, eyes closed, back to the door as she takes deep breaths.

Whatever she does, it won’t be enough.

*****

“And then there’s Ann. She’s nice. Quiet and blonde like you.”

Patsy narrows her eyes as she remembers. Remembers that she looks like Mistress with cold blue eyes and such light blonde hair.

Mary Cynthia frowns as Patsy periodically clenches and unclenches her jaw.

“Patsy?”

Patsy looks to Mary Cynthia and tries to soften her sharp gaze as she notes the mousey brunette wilting under her stare.

“Have I-have I upset you?”

Patsy shakes her head.

“Then-then-why. Why do you look so angry?”

Patsy swallows, looks down at her hands.

“I look like her.”

“Ann? She-she has blonde hair and blue eyes, but her hair is much darker. You really look nothing alike.”

Patsy shakes her head.

“Mistress.”

A frail, tentative hand comes to rest over one of Patsy’s and she swallows, closes her eyes, imagines the broken wing of a bird is now covering a-her claw as she forces herself not to lash out at the unexpected touch.

“Was Mistress the one who came to take you away?”

Patsy nods and she breathes as steadily as she can manage.

“You-you look, you are nothing like her.”

Patsy clenches her jaw and looks down.

“But I do-I-I am.”

“I don’t think so. And even if you did look like her, it’s-it’s easily fixed if you want it to be.”

She frowns and looks at Mary Cynthia.

“You can-you can change your hair colour. If you want to, of course.”

She almost smiles with the realisation. She could. She could look in the mirror and be reminded of someone else, of someone better. Better than Mistress, than her, than her father.

“The others?”

“Oh, yes. Maybe-maybe you could come visit? Turner, he’s a nice man, I think. A good-a good doctor.”

Patsy looks up, narrows her eyes once again at that word.

“I know. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Mary Cynthia says, removing her hand and looking down. “All of this is hard to believe, really. But he tries to help. Like Delia.”

Patsy frowns, can’t imagine anyone else like Delia existing.

“No.”

“No?”

“Not like Delia.”

Mary Cynthia shrugs.

“Maybe but they’re-they’re kinder to us than the other…doctors. Aren’t they?”

She shrugs, thinks of Delia and Barbara before nodding her head. 

Chapter Text

Chapter VIII: The White Stripes – In the Cold, Cold Night

 

‘And I know that you feel it too
When my skin turns into glue
You will know that it's warm inside
And you'll come run to me, in the cold, cold night
In the cold, cold night
In the cold, cold night
In the cold, cold night’

 

I ache for you so completely, dear X.

I love you, don’t you know that?

I know you must be scared, you must miss me and want to be home, by my side and you will be, soon. Money pays well and we’re almost ready to collect you both and make everyone pay. That vile woman who was in our room touching you, sullying you will pay most handsomely for her crimes, of that I can assure you.

I miss touching your soft skin, stroking your beautiful hair, seeing those big blue eyes gaze upon me and me alone.

What are they doing to you? Who’s looking at you? Touching you? Feeling you?

You’re mine.

We’re almost ready, dear X. The plan is almost complete.

I’m coming.

*****

“Patsy, I’m coming in, okay?” Delia says after knocking on the door, hoping that they’re both prepared for her entry back into the room.

Slowly pushing the door open, she steps through and notes the two sitting silently next to each other, watching her.

She sighs.

“Sorry to interrupt.”

They blink back, not moving or saying or doing and Delia wants to shake them, wants them to be more than mere automatons awaiting instruction.

They have a choice. They deserve a choice.

“I was thinking we should get you back, soon. Maybe you could come visit Patsy tomorrow? Or maybe she could come visit you? Or-or we could all go for a walk. Whatever-whatever you’d both like to do.”

“Yes, that’d be lovely,” Mary Cynthia says, rising for her perched position next to Patsy and Delia eyes her stoic patient, her mind fervently hoping her decision to unite the two was the right one as she notes their blank expressions.

“Right. Well, back in a mo. You’ll be alright, won’t you?”

Patsy shrugs and Delia wants to slump in the chair, wants to close her eyes and sleep and put this all down to being a dream. She wants to wake to a happy Patsy, a healthy Patsy that’s still quiet and reserved but not so scared; wants Mary Cynthia to be less resigned to trauma and pain and heartbreak.

She wants so many things but instead, she escorts Mary Cynthia back. Instead she robotically meanders her way back to her patient before stopping at the door to Patsy’s room, her hand and forehead resting against it as she takes a few deep breaths.

“You can do this, Busby. Mam and Tad raised you better than this.”

She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders before opening the door and stepping into the room.

Patsy is still in the same position, everything silent, the hairs on Delia’s arms raising as she steps closer to her patient.

Patsy’s eyes flick to her.

“Are you okay?” Delia asks, shaking her head. “I mean, how are you?”

Patsy shrugs, looks forward once more before responding.

“I want,” she says, clearing her throat and Delia leans closer, body alert to anything Patsy does. “My hair.”

Delia frowns.

“I want to change-to dye my hair. If that-is that…okay?” she finishes looking down at her hands.

Delia nods, fervently.

“Yes, whatever you want. We can-well, maybe not me but yes, you can change your hair colour. What colour?”

“Red.”

Delia almost bites her tongue to stop herself asking why. Why that colour? Why now?

“Okay. That’s fine. I may need to ask someone else to come and help me with that, is that okay? I just-I don’t want to mess it up and believe me, this is something that I would mess up.”

Patsy shrugs and nods her head.

Delia almost grimaces at the image of Franklin meeting Patsy before she scolds herself. Franklin not more than half an hour ago proved she wasn’t all that she seemed, and she’ll definitely be able to help out more than Delia with this.

“Well, how about for now, we-we journal? Or walk? I think the exercise and fresh air might help but I know, I know you don’t want to go out during the day so perhaps we’ll do that later,” Delia says, wandering around the room, moving things, adjusting the bed covers. “Or would you rather I enquire about the hair change, now?”

Patsy shrugs.

Delia frowns, lips pursed together and hands on her hips.

“Can I? You don’t have to answer but can I ask why you want to do it?”

Patsy squeezes her hands together, skin turning even whiter, feels the pain of digits digging into skin, the pinch of teeth on her lips, the tang of blood on her tongue.

“Michael.”

“Oh. Oh. Well, in that case, let me just go see if I can find Franklin and have a word. Would you like to join me? I mean, you don’t have to but, Pats. I mean, Patsy, you’re not a prisoner.”

Patsy shrugs, her mind a rolodex of thoughts that are moving too fast for her to decipher.

Michael.

She sees him, weak, small, still smiling, red hair a beacon and she takes a deep breath, shoulders rising a little bit higher, posture a little big straighter, limbs a little less like jelly.

“Yes.”

“Yes? You’d like to join me?”

Patsy nods and Delia beams.

“Right. Right, well, off we go, then.”

Delia holds the door open and Patsy freezes, feels her chest constrict like her fists as the open-door looms in front of her.

Delia quirks an eyebrow, takes in the pale, shaking form of her patient before she closes the door with a bang that makes them both wince and rushes over to Patsy. She guides Patsy back to sitting on the bed before she kneels in front of her, looking up.

“Hey, hey, hey. Remember what to do.”

“Breathe.”

“Yes, that’s it, sweetheart. Breathe.”

Patsy begins to calm, Delia’s thumb stroking Patsy’s wrist as their breathing syncs up, evens out.

“Maybe we should do this another time and stay in here for now.”

Patsy shakes her head.

“No.”

“You don’t want to stay in here?”

Patsy shakes her head.

“No. You go.”

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea to leave you alone, right now.”

Patsy shrugs.

“Find…Frank?”

“Franklin?”

Patsy nods.

“Find Franklin.”

Delia sighs.

“Will you be okay?”

Patsy shrugs, then nods.

“Are you sure? There’s really no rush.”

Patsy frowns.

There is. She wants to be able to look in the mirror, wants to have this reminder of Michael, wants to feel more human.

“Go. Please?”

Delia pinches the bridge of her nose, eyes closed.

“Fine. I’ll-I’ll go find her and see what we can do. But we might not be able to do it today. I don’t think there’s a bottle of red hair dye just laying around for us to use. But we’ll figure it out, alright?”

Patsy nods her head, the edge of her lips daring to rise a little bit higher and Delia rolls her eyes, hands on her hips.

“What am I going to do with you?” she mutters, before leaving the room and Patsy sighs, wonders the same thing.

What will Delia do with her? What is she good for? She can’t even bring herself to leave the room during the day.

She curls up on her side and stares ahead, seeing nothing as her eyes burn, tear up until she blinks and the world snaps back into focus.

She feels the wind from the open window brush against her skin and shivers, hears footsteps coming and going and she goes back to staring ahead.

Will Mistress come for her?

Does she want Mistress to come for her?

What is her purpose without Mistress?

She shivers again and folds her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.

*****

“Franklin,” Delia says, rushing over to the blonde as she finally finds her walking along the corridor after checking Franklin’s room, the room reminiscent of a ward, the cafeteria.

“Busby.”

“I’ve been looking for you. I, er, I need your help.”

“Mine?”

“Yes. Well, you see, Patsy. I mean, Miss Mount wants to dye her hair and I’m rather inept at such things, but I know, I know if anyone would know what to do, it’d be you.”

Franklin purses her lips and narrows her eyes.

“Really?”

“Yes. And whilst normally I wouldn’t prioritise these sorts of…requests, I think it’s rather important for her…emotional recovery.”

Franklin sighs, relaxes, throws a smile Delia’s way.

“Of course, I’ll help, Busby. Now, what colour?”

“Red.”

“Oh, goodness. I wasn’t expecting such a bold choice.”

Delia rolls her eyes.

“I know. She has her reasons.”

“I’ve no doubt she does. Leave it with me. By tomorrow morning, I shall have acquired a bottle of the finest red I can find,” Franklin says with a wink and Delia chuckles.

“Thanks, Franklin.”

“Not a problem, Busby. Now, are you going to be the one applying it?”

Delia’s eyes widen and she shakes her head.

“I’d really rather not. I think-well, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“The question isn’t whether I’d mind, but rather whether your patient will.”

Delia shrugs.

“I think I made it quite clear I wouldn’t be able to help her with this,” Delia says, biting her lip as she thinks about all the other things she cannot help Patsy with. “I’ll be there. I’m-Well, she copes with Gilbert alright. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Franklin sighs.

“I’m sure it will, Sweetie. She’s got you looking after her, after all,” she says, rubbing Delia’s arm and Delia almost leans into the touch, almost confesses…everything.

Delia shrugs, looking down at the floor.

“Yeah, something like that.”

Franklin purses her lips, narrows her eyes and pointedly looks at the brunette.

“Well, tomorrow morning, I shall knock, promptly at 0600 hours, on the door and we’ll both get this makeover started. And Busby,” she says, voice softening. “Do call me Trixie, won’t you? This last name nonsense is all rather brutish.”

Delia’s head snaps up as she eyes the blonde, nodding her head slowly, a few times.

“Delia. That’s-that’s my name.”

Trixie smiles.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Delia now, off with you. You’ve a patient to attend to and I have a check-up thanks to this hideous hole in my thigh.”

Delia chuckles.

“Thanks, Trixie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you bright and early.”

*****

The moonlight dances off Patsy’s pale skin as they find themselves at the same bench as the night before. Delia watches, notes the shadows and light playing on Patsy’s flesh, narrows her eyes as if she had x-ray vision and could see inside of her patient’s skull. To see if what Dr Isley said was true, see what’s going thought Patsy’s mind, see a way to fix all of this insanity.

Because that’s what it is.

They tortured, maimed, killed people.

And now, now Delia and Turner have a twelve people to bring back from purgatory with no map, no clues in sight.

Delia sighs and looks forward, Patsy relaxing as Delia’s weighted stare is directed somewhere else.

Patsy wonders what Delia sees when she looks at her. If she sees Mistress’ face, her mark plastered all over Patsy? Does she see the hideous creature writhing inside of her? the one that wants to walk into blackness? the one that wants to walk back into the blizzard of familiarity where she doesn’t talk, doesn’t do, doesn’t be? The one that wants to scream, and fight and bleed?

Patsy clenches her fists, closes her eyes and sees Michael’s face.

“Just breathe for him.”

She takes a deep breath and looks up to the moon, the stars. Feels the echo of a memory she’d long forgotten peep out from the shadows and relaxes into it. She’s been here before, before all the pain, hurt, death, she knows this but can’t quite pin the memory down.

Delia worries her lip as she stares into the night, mind as dark and vast and filled with unseen…things…monsters…nightmares.

She turns, sees Patsy, lip quirked in an almost smile, imitating it for a second before looking up, too.

“Dai used to love camping and looking up at the stars. Mam hated it, always complained about the mess but Tad never listened. Sometimes, in summer, we’d put up a tent at the end of the garden and pretend we were on some adventure and Tad would teach us all about the stars and Mam would moan about getting dirty but join us for a little while.”

“Tad?”

“Oh, that’s Welsh for Dad. Sori. I just-he’s my Tad,” Delia finishes with a shrug.

“Who’s Dai?”

Delia sucks in a breath, looks down for a second before looking back up.

“Dai was-is my little brother.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

Delia closes her eyes, reminds herself to breathe, breathe, breathe before standing.

“I think it’s time we started heading back, don’t you? Trix-I mean Franklin will be arriving early to do your hair.”

Patsy frowns, lips pursed as she eyes the brunette before looking back up and frowning.

“No.”

“No?”

“You go. I’ll stay.”

“But Patsy.”

Patsy shrugs, ignores the burn at the corner of her eyes, the tension in her skull, the hurt clawing at the throat.

Delia sighs and collapses back onto the bench.

“Can we-I just. I don’t want to…trigger any bad memories for you. Especially when I won’t-I won’t be able to offer much comfort to you if I did.”

Patsy nods her head, still looking up and trying to remember her memory from before, trying to recreate Delia’s memory…trying to see anything but the view from the barred windows of her and Mistress’ rooms as she’d looked at the same sky.

“I promise.”

Patsy frowns at the sound of Delia’s voice.

“I promise that one day, I’ll tell you what happened but please, for now, can we get you in the warm and into bed? You really do have a busy day and I’m afraid I’ll need to run some more tests and get some blood samples from you. Perhaps after that, we can bring Mary Cynthia over?”

Patsy frowns, an idea steadily forming since her conversation with Mary Cynthia earlier.

“No.”

“No? I thought you’d like to talk-to see her.”

“No. We’ll go to her?”

“What?”

“We’ll visit her and the…others?”

“Are you-are you sure?”

Patsy nods her head.

“Okay. Okay. Well, if that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Patsy shyly smiles as she looks down and Delia grins at the sight.

“Yes, we’ll go visit them and you can show off your new hair colour. I’m afraid I’ll look rather severe and plain in comparison.”

Patsy frowns, rises from the bench and begins heading back to her room, Delia catching up and walking beside her in silence as Patsy wonders what Delia means.

*****

“Patsy,” Delia say, rushing over as the blonde writhes on the bed, hair matted, skin slick with sweat as she shakes her head.

“No. Please, no. Not him.”

“Patsy.”

“Michael. No.”

“Patsy,” Delia shouts and the blonde startles awake, tears in her eyes. “Shh, it was just a dream,” Delia says, tucking Patsy’s head under her chin and wrapping her arms around her.

“Just a dream?”

“Yeah. Just a dream. You’re okay.”

It’s quiet for a few moments, the sound of heavy breathing filling the air as Patsy’s sweat soaked body begins to warm Delia through.

“Michael?” Patsy says, voice breaking, and Delia closes her eyes, wishes she could burrow inside of her.

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Come on, let’s get you changed and back to sleep.”

Patsy nods and follows Delia’s orders as Delia sits facing the wall, mind whirring as she waits for Patsy to get changed.

“Nos Da,” Delia says as she stands and tucks Patsy into bed.

Patsy frowns.

“It means good night in Welsh.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Sweet dreams, Patsy.”

“Nos Da.”

Delia almost smiles, exhaustion weighing her smile down to nothing. Delia goes to rise of the bed before a hand grips her forearm and she frowns.

“What’s wrong?”

“Stay?”

“Patsy.”

“Please?”

“Are you-are you sure?”

She sees Michael’s face, warped into some grotesque form of a smile as Mistress stands beside him, hands wrapped around his neck.

His smile broadens at the same speed as Mistress’ as she squeezes tighter.

“Patsy,” Delia’s says, her voice cutting through Patsy’s waking nightmare. “Are you okay? Do you-do you want to talk about it?”

Patsy shakes her head and curls up on her side, facing Delia who’s laying on her back, one arm behind her head.

“Did you enjoy our walk?”

Patsy nods, the moonlight lighting the room enough to see.

“Me too. Nothing like a bit of fresh air, is there?”

It’s silent for a few moments until Delia looks at the ceiling and begins to sing, Patsy closing her eyes and focusing on the Welsh lilt and that alone. She ignores the memories, the fears…everything and focuses on that voice, eventually drifting off to sleep for the rest of the early hours.

Delia sighs once she notices her patient’s breath even out. Her heart sore from singing Dai’s favourite songs, and the lullabies her Mam and Tad used to sing to her, to them.

“What happened?”

What happened: she was reckless, careless, allowed Dai too much freedom to roam and play and be until he got caught in the crossfire.

She won’t let it happen again. Won’t let her stupidity hurt Patsy.

She lies awake, repeatedly checking on her sleeping patient throughout the night. Notices the slight tinge of colour coming into Patsy’s pale skin, the still deep bags until her eyes, the slight tension in her body, even in sleep.

What can she do?

*****

“Knock, Knock,” Trixie says, and Delia rolls her eyes as she swallows down the last sip of tea and eyes Patsy.

“You sure this is okay?”

Patsy nods, feels…something spark in her blood at the thought of the coming change to her appearance.

Before she knows it, a whirlwind enters the room and she freezes.

“Hello, Miss Mount,” a petite blonde woman says and Patsy frowns

“Patsy.”

“Patsy,” the Franklin repeats with a nod of her head. “Well, in that case, Sweetie, you can call me Trixie,” she finishes, depositing a bag on the floor, the jostling sounds interrupting the silence as Delia continues to stand by the door, hands clasped in front of her. “Now, I do believe we have a makeover to perform. I managed to procure a bottle of the finest red in the vicinity. Chop, chop, Delia. Here, take this. Me and Patsy will lead the way. Come on. No time to waste.”

Delia rolls her eyes and takes the bag being held in her direction.

Patsy stands, eyes wide as she looks to Delia. Delia shrugs, smiles and nods her head. Trixie grabs onto one of Patsy’s arms and uses it to encourage Patsy to follow, swinging the door open and gently pulling Patsy through it before any thought of panic can take root and fester.

“You’ll look absolutely stunning with red hair. And my, what a jaw line you have.”

The jostling of a bag, the steady footfall of Delia’s gait centres Patsy, gives her something to focus on as Trixie continues talking.

*****

Delia sits on a chair outside of the bathroom, having been banished and relegated to guarding the door.

There’s a twinge building up at the front of her head, her eyes itch and feel swollen and for the first time in her life, she wishes for a cup of coffee. The walls bounce the florescent light back into Delia’s eyes and she closes them, wills the nail steadily being knocked into her skull to recede. She pinches the bridge of her nose and wonders how Patsy and Trixie are doing, how much longer she has to wait, what will Patsy look like…will Patsy like the change?

And Mr Mount. What will he say to all this?

She groans at the thought of seeing him again, updating him with…nothing. Her stomach rolls, turns inside out and her mouth feels coated in chalk as she swallows.

Why her? Why is she the one entrusted with such an important task?

She isn’t good enough. Hasn’t been good enough since Dai.

She couldn’t save him.

“Dee, come play,” Dai says, and Delia feels the grin stretch across her face, feels the heat of the sun on her back as she chases Dai between the trees surrounding their childhood home. “Come catch me.”

“I will, just you wait,” she says as he giggles and runs ahead. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

There’s a bang and Delia jumps.

The door swings open.

“Ta-da. What do you think?” Trixie says, stepping aside to reveal a now ginger Patsy.

Delia sits, mouth slightly open as her mind, her throat tries to catch up, to find words.

“Simply gorgeous, isn’t she? Not many people can pull off this look at all, let alone so well, Sweetie,” Trixie says, squeezing Patsy’s arm.

Delia nods her head, takes in the newly crowned red head and smiles.

“It looks great.”

Patsy crosses her arms and looks down, the corners of her lips quirked upwards and Delia wishes she would look at it, that she could see Patsy’s smile.

“Do you like it?” Delia asks.

Patsy nods.

“Of course, she does. She looks wonderful.”

Delia rolls her eyes and Patsy softly chuckles to herself, still looking down. Delia smiles at the sound.

Trixie looks between the two, beaming.

“Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m absolutely famished. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

“What about the…”

“If we’re lucky, there might still be a breakfast muffin or two for the taking,” Trixie says, linking her arm with Patsy’s.

“Mess?” Delia says, sighing before heading towards the bathroom as the pair wander down the hall.

“Whatever do you think you’re doing, Delia?” Trixie says, hand on a hip, a startled Patsy standing next to her as they face Delia.

“But-”

“But nothing. It’ll still be there when we return. Come on.”

The blonde narrows her eyes at Delia and Delia sighs, throwing her arms up before following along.

“Fine.”

“Good, now come on. We all know how quick the food goes when Mrs B’s in charge of the kitchen and the boys and Monica Joan are around.”

*****

My own little Annie, I cannot wait for us to be reacquainted with one another after such a period of enforced separation. You must be terribly worried about me, as I am of you but there’s really no need.

I’m coming for you when circumstances permit.

Dr Wolf, perhaps you don’t know of her, but she is-was the one in charge, managed to evade capture along with me and a small group of others. Well, my little Annie, both of us have a plan to get you back. Indeed, she is worried about her little plaything, which is all very well, and we will get her back, too, but most importantly, we, you and I shall be united in every way, soon.

I’ve missed seeing you, feeling you, being with you. Have you missed me, too? I imagine you have. We’ve had some good times together, haven’t we? 

I often look at that photo I asked you to pose for. It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. I daresay you are more beautiful than the previous Mrs Ainsworth ever was.

She wasn’t like you.

Yes, when I get you back, we will live together as man and wife should.

I promised you would be free and free you shall be alongside me.

There’s not much left for us to do.

*****

“You alright there, Patsy?” Delia asks as Patsy freezes.

The noises of so many people through the open doorway, the sight of so many people, the energy of such a room rendering Patsy a mute statue.

Trixie squeezes Patsy’s arm.

“Maybe I have jumped the gun a little but you look simply stunning. Red really does suit you, sweetie and we need to get you out and around people at some point.”

“Trixie.”

“Yes, do let me finish Delia. I was going to say but perhaps that shouldn’t be today.”

“Yes, I don’t think it should be today. We’ve a busy time of it as it is and…well, Patsy hasn’t said she’s ready too, yet so perhaps we shouldn’t.”

“I completely understand. If you like, you can escort this gorgeous woman back to her room and I’ll bring breakfast?”

“That sounds a good idea.”

Patsy shakes her head as the two finish their conversation about her.

She can do this. For Michael, she can do this.

“Will,” she says, clearing her throat. “Mary Cynthia?” she asks with a tilt of her head towards the open door.

Delia frowns and shakes her head.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“But what a perfect idea, Sweetie,” Trixie says, clapping her hands together, once. “Why don’t you and Delia go ahead. I’ll go get our little friend.”

Patsy shakes her head.

“We wait here?”

Delia nods her head.

“Right you are. We’ll wait here for you, both.”

“Right. I’ll be back as soon as I can before my stomach eats itself.”

Delia rolls her eyes and Patsy frowns.

“No.”

“No? you don’t want me to go fetch Mary Cynthia?”

“You’re hungry.”

“Yes, but a few minutes more won’t hurt.”

“No. No, eat.”

“But-”

“I’m not hungry, quite yet. Why don’t you and Patsy go ahead, and I’ll go fetch her?”

Patsy’s head snaps in Delia’s direction. Delia squeezes her arm and smiles.

“It’ll be fine. You’ll be fine, Pats. You’ve got Michael with you,” she says, fingers reaching up to almost touch red hair. “Now go on, I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Trixie hooks her arm with Patsy’s once more.

“Off we go, then,” she says, and Patsy follows Trixie’s lead, only once turning back to see Delia still watching them, smiling at Patsy before she turns and heads off to find Mary Cynthia.

Chapter Text

Chapter IX: Delta Rae – Bottom of the River

 

‘The wolves will chase you by the pale moonlight,

drunk and driven by the Devil’s hunger.

Drive your son like a railroad spike

Into the water, let it pull him under.

Don’t you lift him. Let him drown alive.

The good Lord speaks like a rolling thunder.

Let that fever make the water rise

And let the river run dry.’

 

Patsy’s sits, the plastic chair unforgiving under her weight as she watches the room, watches people wandering past, eyes flicking to her brief moment before they swiftly look away.

It’s stifling.

The noise of people moving and talking and eating, the smell of sweat and perfume and various foods, seeing so much movement and colour and light, it all presses down on Patsy and she wants to scream. She wants to close her eyes, cover her ears and hide.

“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m positively ravenous.”

Patsy’s eyes flick to Trixie and take in the blonde’s pursed lips, pinched expression as she continues on.

“I do hope Delia hurries. Perhaps we should have stuck to the original plan and waited in the hall for them.”

Patsy doesn’t move, doesn’t acknowledge anything as she mentally agrees with Trixie. They should have waited.

Where’s Delia?

Patsy’s breathing speeds up and she closes her eyes, mentally trying to recall the sound of Delia’s voice telling her to breathe, breathe, breathe.

She flinches as someone touches her arm, eyes opening in an instant as she looks down and sees Trixie’s hand resting on her forearm.

“It’s too much, isn’t it? Do forgive me. I’m afraid I can be rather…bullish on occasion but I implore you to believe that I only meant to do the best thing for you.”

Patsy swallows and nods her head, once, focusing on Trixie and drowning out the rest of the room.

“Shall we go back into the corridor and wait for the others there?”

Patsy shakes her head.

She can do this. For Michael, for Mary Cynthia, for…Delia, she can do this.

“Are you sure?” the blonde asks, unusually tentative.

“Yes.”

“Right. Well, let’s not hang about, shall we go get some breakfast then? Or shall we wait? Or shall I go get it for us?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Right. We’ll wait then, provided they aren’t too long, of course.”

*****

“Good morning, Mary Cynthia,” Delia says, spotting the brunette almost instantly and walking over. “Oh, hello. I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Delia,” she says, hand outstretched towards the stranger sitting next to Mary Cynthia.

“Hi, Delia. This, this is my friend Ann. Ann, this is Delia. She’s taking good care of Patsy.”

The blonde nods and Delia takes her in, notes her paper like skin, the way she looks down before placing her hand in Delia’s, skin barely touching Delia’s before she moves away.

Delia frowns, realises how unusual Mary Cynthia’s strength…confidence is amongst this group of people.

She glances about the room, sees people looking everywhere but at the trio, sees Turner flash her a smile before he walks over to one of the men in the room, hears Tuner’s footsteps and not much else.

So much silence amongst so many people unnerves her, makes her swallow and place a half-hearted smile on her face before she focuses on what she came here for.

“Well, I just came to see if you’d like to join us for breakfast? We now have a newly crowned redhead amongst us.”

Mary Cynthia smiles, her grin seeming larger than her small form.

“Really? She did it, then?”

“Yes, and it suits her perfectly.”

The sight of the redhead flashes before Delia’s eyes and she grins. So much has changed in such a short period of time. It’s been a few days and already her patient is looking more…human.

“Could Ann join us?”

“Oh, of course. If you’d like too, that is?”

The blonde looks at Delia and nods her head.

“If you wouldn’t mind. I think-I think it might be nice to get out for a little bit but not too long. If that’s okay?”

“Of course, it is. Now, shall we head off? I have it on good authority that Trixie is rather hungry, and I’d hate to leave Patsy alone with the beast for too long,” Delia says with a wink.

Mary Cynthia giggles and Ann gives a small smile before they get ready to head off.

Delia let’s out a breath, tension easing as she heads back to her patient, the worries stacked up on the journey here being dismantled with each step back.

*****

Patsy eyes the door once more as her fingers tap against the table and Trixie continues talking.

“May I ask why you went for red?”

Patsy looks at the blonde, shrugs and takes a deep breath before she looks to the door, smile in place at the sight of Delia, followed by Mary Cynthia. She frowns as she spots the familiar stranger joining them. The one who was always as silent as Patsy.

“Busby,” Trixie says, nodding her head. “Mary Cynthia. Ann, I didn’t know you’d be joining us.”

Patsy looks at Delia, frown melting away at the grin thrown her way, the familiar face that’s been her constant since she stepped into this new world, this new way of being.

“Yes, I didn’t know she’d be joining us but the more the merrier, right?”

Mary Cynthia nods her head and smiles.

“Right, now how about me and Trixie go get the food and you guys hold the fort for us? Is that okay?”

Mary Cynthia nods.

“Come on Ann, let’s go sit near Patsy.”

The three sit in silence, Mary Cynthia in the middle as they await Delia’s and Trixie’s return. Patsy looks down at the flutter of a touch, gentle as a butterfly wing against her forearm as Mary Cynthia rubs her arm and notes the echoing movement on Ann’s arm.

“Red really suits you and I’m glad you have something of Michael with you.”

“Oh. You knew Michael?” a soft voice says. “Right, of course you did. I-he-I’m Ann.”

Patsy looks at the blonde, gaze softening as she nods her head.

“I’m Patsy.”

“I know. It’s-It’s good to see you. Here. Looking so well, I mean.”

“Yes, it’s good to see you both. I’m. Well, I’m glad that you made it both out of there. Here, I mean. I’m glad you’re here,” Patsy says, looking down, fingers playing with the edge of the table as she feels Mary Cynthia squeeze her arm.

“We know what you mean.”

It goes silent for a few moments.

She almost jumps at the voice that breaks the blanket of quiet at the table.

“So, we have croissants, pain au chocolat, toast, cereal, fruit, yoghurt, bacon, eggs-”

“What Franklin means is that we have everything and anything we could grab and whatever we don’t eat, she’ll be sure to finish,” Delia says, somehow managing to balance and place two trays piled with food onto the table. “Teenage boys eat less than you do.”

“I have a rigorous training regime that I simply must be adequately fuelled for. Some of us err on the side of brawn rather than brains Dr Busby.”

Delia scoffs.

“I’m not a doctor.”

“Maybe not in title but you are in every way that matters, wouldn’t you ladies agree?”

Patsy smiles and nod her head, catching Mary Cynthia doing the same at the edge of her vision.

Delia rolls her eyes.

“Come on, you lot. Eat up. We’ve a busy day ahead, do we not?”

“Ladies,” an unfamiliar voice says.

Patsy straightens up, turns towards the source as a formidable woman comes bounding over to the table, tray in hand.

“Anne,” a whisper of a voice says.

“Oh. Hello, Ann. Mary Cynthia. Mind if I pull up a pew and join you for a spot of breakfast?”

Delia and Trixie shuffle along, allowing Lister to sit opposite Ann.

Patsy watches the newest member of the group, frowning slightly as the woman unashamedly digs into her food and begins talking to group, making them laugh, Delia rolling her eyes and elbowing Lister at one point, Trixie standing up and stealing a round of toast from Lister’s plate at another.

Turning to her left, she sees Ann echoing her expression towards the trio in front of them until, yet again there’s a flutter against her skin and she redirects her gaze, sees Mary Cynthia softly smiling and inclining her head towards the food in front of them.

She reaches for a croissant, deftly avoiding a small bowl of porridge. Taking a bite, the rich, buttery taste melting on her tongue, she almost closes her eyes as she sees Sunday mornings and sunshine from days gone by, pass before her eyes.

Looking up, she spots Delia watching her.

“You know what makes them taste even better?” Delia asks.

Patsy shakes her head.

“A rather thick layer of jam. Strawberry of course,” Delia adds with a wink, handing over a jar of aforementioned jam and a knife.

Patsy smiles and does as instructed, all the while wondering where the jar even came from as she put the knife down and goes to take a bite.

“No. You need more jam, Pats.”

Patsy narrows her eyes but follows Delia’s request, sky blue eyes wide and bright as they watch her every move.

She takes a bite and crinkles her nose.

Delia frowns.

“You don’t like it?”

“Too much jam.”

Delia scoffs.

“Sweetie, as I’m sure Delia would agree, there is no such thing as too much jam.”

“I’m inclined to disagree with the both of you and side with Miss Mount on this matter. There’s something to be said for restraint, it can often add an air of…elegance, refinement to one’s tastes.”

Delia rolls her eyes.

“Okay, your highness. You keep enjoying your…refined tastes. Me and Tri-Franklin will continue enjoying our food the proper way, right?”

“Here, here, Busby.”

Patsy hands Delia the rest of her croissant and watches as the Welsh woman devours it before Delia picks up another croissant and hands it over.

“You enjoy your less than perfect breakfast,” she says with a wink and Patsy smiles before averting her gaze and tucking in as the group continues laughing and joking and eating and being.

Patsy watches, lips almost curving into a smile at times, other times, she grips the edge of her chair in silence.

Eventually the group splits, Lister escorting Ann and Mary Cynthia, Trixie disappearing.

“Right, let’s get back, shall we? I popped a small mirror in the room for you for later, alright?”

Patsy nods.

*****

“Right. So, I’m afraid we have more tests to run. I-If I could put them off, I would but,” Delia says, finishing the sentence with a shrug as Patsy sits at the end of her bed.

She means it. Knows with every fibre of her being that Patsy doesn’t need this now, but they do.

“Their antibodies and phagocytes now work together to recognise and destroy the foreign cells, viruses, bacteria.”

What did they do? How did they do it?

What’s the side effects?

Delia swallows the lump in her throat at this last question.

What consequences will these people have to endure?

“Right,” she says, taking a deep breath. “Right, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Patsy shrugs and looks away, focusing on the blanket and running her hand over it. She continues doing this, ears twitching as Delia moves about the room and something is wrapped around her arm.

“Okay, can you make a fist with your left hand and rest your elbow on my lap for me, please?” Delia asks, sitting beside Patsy and placing a pillow on her thighs.

Patsy obliges, hears Delia put on some gloves and then something wet is wiped over her skin.

“I’m just cleaning the site. We don’t want you getting any infections, do we?” Delia says, almost wincing after what Dr Isley had to say.

Patsy shrugs.

“It’ll just be a pinch, keep still.”

She sits rigid, unmoving, barely breathing at the directive as she pinches the side of her thigh, focusing on that instead of Mistress’ face, Mistress’ touch.

“Good girl,” Mistress says, pulling the needle out. “Hold.”

Patsy frowns.

“I said, hold,” she says, grabbing Patsy’s other wrist and forcing her to comply.

“There, all done. Can you hold this here for me, please?”

Patsy frowns but does as requested, releases the grip on her thigh, notes the quiver, the whispering of Delia’s voice as she gets up and begins tidying up after herself, things jostling and tinkering as she puts them away.

“I won’t be a mo, I’m just going to hand these over for testing, okay?”

Patsy stares at her back as she leaves the room, the door closing a full stop to the silence. She takes a deep breath, stands, walks over to the window for the first time and looks down, a patchwork of green and gravel before her. There’s a break in the clouds and sun streams through, its warmth hitting Patsy in the face. She closes her eyes. After a few minutes, she opens them, unlatches the window and sticks her hand out, goose bumps raising on her skin.

She breathes in, simultaneously relishing the solitary moment and wishing Delia…Barbara, someone, anyone was here.

There’s no bars. No Mistress. No pain.

She pitches her arm and then sighs as the prick of pain ebbs away into nothingness and the sun continues touching her skin.

“’A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness,” Patsy hears, and she freezes at the noise. “Mon petit chou, oh how good it Is to glimpse upon your beauty once more.”

*****

Delia walks slowly, vials in her grasp.

Is she okay? Does each test do more harm than good?

But they need to be done. Delia and Turner need as much information as they can get to help, to aide, to assist in the group’s recovery to a normal life.

Delia scoffs as she continues to head towards the underground labs, samples in hand.

They’ll never have a normal life.

Neither will Delia, or Turner, or Trixie or Barbara, or anyone in this place but at least they got to choose, didn’t they?

“Dai, where’s Dai?” she says, eyes roving the room as if he’d magically appeared.

“Lass,” the woman says with a sigh. “Kiddo, you know he’s not here.”

“Where is he?”

“I’ll take you to him in a moment. For now, we just want to know what you saw? What you were doing out there?”

“I-we. We were trying to. He wanted to play, just for a bit and I thought-I thought it was safe. Stupid. I’m so…stupid. Of course, it wasn’t. No where here is, anymore, is it?”

“Lass.”

“This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have-”

“Lass.”

“If I’d have-”

Two hands grab her, and she looks up.

“I’ll have you know, kiddo, this isn’t your fault. We, all of us, live in a dangerous world. Anything can happen.”

“But-”

Delia sighs and picks up her pace.

*****

“Ma chérie,” the woman says, stepping through the door and touching Patsy’s face.

Patsy stares at the woman, traces the tracks of time etches into folds of her skin with her eyes and frowns. Notes the white tinge to this woman’s hair and tries to reconcile it with the red she remembers.

She doesn’t flinch at the touch. Doesn’t do anything but think and think and think.

“Mamie?” she says, voice shaking as her head tilts to one side. The woman smiles.

“Yes. Yes, it’s Mamie.”

Patsy sighs in relief.

She almost grins as flashes of forgotten memories stack up into a voice, a touch, a feeling but nothing cohesive.

She knows this woman. Knows in her blood that she’s the one safe place here.

“I sequestered a rather large slice of lemon drizzle. Would you care to assist me in absorbing adequate sustenance?”

Patsy smiles, nods as Mamie shuffles towards the door.

“I’ll be but a moment, mon petit chou.”

Patsy nods once again and waits, once again going to the window as she thinks, tries to pin down memories but there’s too many, they flash by too fast to really see.

The door opens and Patsy spins around, heart racing until she spots Mamie shuffle back into the room, tray in hand.

“I took the opportunity to brew us some tea. Shall we call it an ode to old times,” she says, twinkle in her eye as she smiles. “Patsy,” she says, sighing and shaking her head. “Well, let us not waste time and let this sweet delight go to waste. Come, let’s sit and enjoy. Please, bring us some pillows,” Mamie finishes, crouching down to the floor.

Patsy frowns.

“Shouldn’t we,” she says, clearing her throat. “Shouldn’t we sit on the bed?”

“Why on earth would we do that?”

“Well, because…wouldn’t it be more comfortable?”

“I do believe I look frailer than I am but whatever you wish, dear girl.”

“No-No. Can we-can we sit. There. Can we sit on the floor?”

“Of course. Now, come. There’s nothing worse than dried cake and cold tea.”

Patsy grins, bounds over, pillows in hand and settles down opposite Mamie.

She takes a bite, the sweet sourness on her tongue rivalled by the sweetness of the moment as they sit and eat and drink and exist together.

Mamie watches, smiling every time Patsy catches her gaze.

Patsy watches, feels the familiarity of the moment as if she experienced it a million times before, though she has no recollection of a specific moment.

“How is Miss Delia treating you?”

Patsy gives a small smile, thinks of the gentle teasing at breakfast, the gentle probing a little while ago.

“Good.”

Mamie smiles.

“Yes, I can quite believe it. I’ve been watching her since she arrived many a year ago, now.”

Patsy looks at Mamie and waits, wanting to know more about her doctor, counsellor, confidante.

“She has a gentleness about her, does she not? And yet she is strong, much stronger than she realises. She was so small, so sad when I first saw her,” she says, having a sip of her tea. “I sometimes see that girl within her still.”

“You watched her?”

“Mon petit chou, words may have floated to my ears once upon a time, inferring that she was to be your…healthcare advisor upon your return. I simply had to ensure she was worthy of such an honour.”

Patsy grins.

“Words floated to your ears?”

“Indeed, and who am I to deny the Lord guiding voices to my unassuming ears?”

Patsy chuckles to herself and takes another bite of the cake in front of her.

“Yes, she has a big heart, indeed. The tragedies she’s suffered have never taken that blessing from her, although I’m sure it may seem like a curse at times.”

Patsy frowns at Mamie and swallows down the questions clogging her throat.

Mamie opens her mouth but a door swinging open stops any words from leaving her mouth. Mount walks into the room, stubbled face hard and strong and sharp as he takes in the room. His eyes land on Patsy and he sighs.

“Monica Joan,” he says, tipping his head. “How are you, Patience?”

Patsy shrugs, looking down and placing her plate of cake onto the floor.

He sighs once again.

“You are to join me dinner this evening.”

“Forgive me for interrupting but should we not ask rather than order people who are not under our employ to do things?”

“I want to have dinner with my daughter. My daughter who everyone seems so insistent upon keeping me away from,” he says.

Patsy flinches at the tone, the boom of his voice and moves closer to Mamie, hands shaking.

“Andrew Patrick Mount,” Mamie says, wrapping an arm around Patsy’s shoulder. “Perhaps the reason so many are trying to keep her from you is because you are scaring her.”

Patsy looks up and sees him run his hand over his face.

“Forgive me, Patience. Patsy. I-are you well?” he says, sitting down on the floor opposite the two. “I-I,” he says, clearing his throat before smiling. “I often used to walk in on you two eating cake and drinking tea on the floor, before dinner, might I add. Your mother used to hate it.”

Patsy watches him, clinging onto Mamie who rubs Patsy’s back.

“I could never deny mon petit chou.”

“No, you never could.”

“And I still can’t, Andrew. Patsy, do you want to have dinner with your Papa?”

Patsy looks between the two, voice screaming in her head though no words come out as he watches her, blue eyes boring down and making goose bumps rise on her skin. Mamie places a finger under Patsy’s chin and brings them eye to eye.

“Do you want to have dinner with your Papa?”

Patsy shakes her head and Andrew-Mount-Papa sighs.

“Perhaps another day? Maybe Delia and I could join the two of you. Would you prefer that?”

Patsy nods and means it with her whole being.

She remembers Papa.

Strong, formidable, boisterous as he’d bound into each room, commanding the space, the people, always eliciting fear and awe in equal measures from his eldest daughter.

He was supposed to save her.

“Patience. Pateince, where are you?” she hears Papa shout.

Her fingers dig into the branch, lips quivering as she whimpers with her eyes closed.

“Patience,” she hears him shout, voice closer and she takes a deep breath.

“Papa. Papa, I’m here.”

“Keep talking, Patience. I’ll find you,” he says, and he did.

She remembers burying her head into his neck, smelling the musky scent of her protector.

“I’ve got you. That’s it. Let go of the branch, Patsy. You won’t fall.”

“Right. Yes, of course. Whatever you’d prefer. I-er-Is Busby taking good care of you?”

Patsy looks Papa in the eye for a few moments before nodding her head.

“Yes.”

“Good. Good. I mean, it looks like she is. It’s been a few days but you’re looking…better.”

Patsy swallows and looks down.

“Why don’t you go get some rest, Andrew? You’ve toiled long and hard.”

He sighs.

“Right. Yes, well, there’s still so much to do. People to be…dealt with.”

“Could they not wait a few hours?”

“Sorry I took so long,” Delia says, entering the room and Patsy’s eyes immediately go to her, noting the frown on her face as she takes in the sight. “Oh, I didn’t know you’d all be here.”

“It’s good to see you again, child.”

“Same to you. You okay, Pats?” Delia asks, sky blue eyes meeting Patsy’s.

Patsy nods.

Papa clears his throat.

“Right. Well, I must be off,” he says, jumping up before looking at Patsy. “May I-May I come and see you again, soon? Perhaps tomorrow I could join you at breakfast? With the rest of your party of course.”

Patsy looks to Delia.

“Whatever you’d prefer, Pats.”

Patsy nods her head and Delia smiles.

“Well, it seems you’ll be joining us for breakfast, Mr Mount. We tend to eat around 7 or 8am. Is that agreeable?”

“Yes. Yes. Whatever is best for you all,” he says, smiling down at Patsy. “Thank you, Patsy. I look forward to seeing you in the morning and-and red hair really suits you.”

She smiles as she looks down.

“Right. Well, I’ll see you later, Monica Joan. Good to see you, Busby. An update from you and Turner this evening or tomorrow would be good. I have some…information to share with you.”

Delia frowns and tenses under his gaze, willing her mind to forget his methods of extracting information as she nods her head once, stare sharpening as she meets his gaze.

His shoulders sag as he nods his head a few times and looks around the room, eyes not landing, not seeing anything and Delia wavers in her stoicism.

“See you soon, Mr Mount,” she says, dismissing him and he turns, glancing back at the trio once more before he exits the room.

“So, I see there was some cake before dinner, hmm?” Delia says, hands on her hips as she looks at the two.

Patsy looks up, eyes wide and open and Monica Joan emulates the expression.

“We simply prevented such sustenance from going stale, did we not, ma chérie?”

Patsy nods as Delia purses her lips.

“Mhmm, I’m sure that is the reason why you simple had to eat it.”

Chapter Text

Chapter I: Howlin’ For You – The Black Keys

‘Mockingbird
Can't you see
Little girl's
Got a hold on me
Like glue
Baby I'm howlin' for you

Throw the ball
To the stick
Swing and miss and a
Catcher's mitt
Strike two
Baby I'm howlin' for you’

Patience.

Everyone told me to be patient, that you were missing, and you would be home soon, but I knew.

I knew.

You would never miss out on our coffee date. It was the highlight of your week as much as mine. An hour alone with my not so little girl at her favourite café in the midst of a busy week. You were so intelligent, filling me in on your favourite classes, your hopes, dreams, all those things we both knew you were going to achieve.

And then they took you. I tried to find you the moment I knew you were missing but no one would help. I told your mother, the police, everyone but they made me wait. They made me wait and I was not strong enough to fight them, but I am now.

They all gave up on you, but I never could. I knew you were still out there. My little girl is a fighter. You have been since the day you were born, writhing and screaming your arrival into the world. I would know, I would feel the moment you were no longer alive.

It was close, wasn’t? I could feel you beginning to slip away from me after all this time, but I found you.

We found you.

They took others, killed others that go too close to their compounds, but we took them back, freed other captives.

Busby was luckier than her brother.

Your mother doesn’t know you are here. Neither does your sister.

She gave up.

Left me, left us for a new life. How could she?

And now I have no one, not even you. Everyone is keeping me away from you. I scare you, don’t I? It’s okay, I scare myself, too. I’m not good enough for you, I failed you by taking so long, for being so weak before but I won’t be anymore. I’ll be strong and fight and keep away if that’s what you need.

I just want to see you alive and happy and healthy.

Busby helps with that, doesn’t she? I’ve seen you together. You used to give me that little smile when you were happy and shy and small.

And Monica Joan. You were always close. Your mother was always a little jealous. She could never connect with you like she could Prudence. I could never connect with Prudence like I could you, and once you were taken, I couldn’t bear to look at either of them.

Those that took you, I’ll make them pay.

All of them.

I still have work to do, people to find. Busby doesn’t approve of my methods, of me but it’s okay. As long as she helps you, I don’t care.

She need not witness anymore than she has as long as she does her job.

*

“Busby. Turner,” he says with a nod of his head after each of their names before turning away.

Delia and Turner stand side by side, Mount standing at the window, looking out at the darkening sky. Delia resists the urge to worry her lip, shuffle her feet as he falls silent, back to them both.

“We’re still running tests, but it appears that what the doctor confessed is true. They somehow succeeded in immunising them against everything we’ve tested so far. It’s truly a remarkable feat.”

Delia scoffs and Mount sighs, the release of tension shown in the sag of his shoulders as he turns around to face them.

“Is this true?” he says, eying Delia and she nods.

“I’m afraid so,” she says, clearing her throat and squaring her shoulders as she looks Mount in the eye. “It appears that Pats-Miss Mount’s blood is also resisting every infection and disease we’ve tried to infect it with, so far.”

“Any issues arising from this?”

Delia shrugs as Turner continues.

“Not that we’re aware of. At least, it’s not life threatening if there are any, but we need more time. The others we’ve looked after, previously, have shown no signs, no symptoms of any kind but they also had no abnormalities. They are as normal as you or I.”

“Others?” she says, eyes darting between Turner and Moun before settling on Turner, mind going haywire at this revelation.

Turner catches her eyes, once, before looking away.

Mount sighs, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Isley has kindly informed me that they had been running tests for side effects. It seems that they are all infertile. Emelen Wolf was furious, of course. She couldn’t breed any of her experiments.”

Delia winces at his crude phrasing before she looks down, disappointed at the relief she feels as well as the sadness consuming her being.

Patsy could never have children.

Neither could Cynthia or Ann or any of them.

This abnormality couldn’t be passed on.

“Keep me updated,” he finishes, and Turner turns to leave, Delia stalling as she eyes Mount wearily sinking down into the seat behind his desk.

“Busby?” he says, watching her for a few moments as she stands frozen. “Turner, you are dismissed. It seems me and Busby have more matters to discuss,” he says, frowning as Delia wills her heartbeat to slow down.

The door clicks shut, and the sound reverberates in her bones as she clenches her fists.

“Yes, Busby?”

“What did Turner mean?”

“Hmm?”

“Others?”

“Oh, yes. Please, sit down.”

Delia does as ordered, gaze never straying from his face as she takes in his features. His skin so pale, eyes so blue like Patsy’s but colder, though equally as tired, the tension trapped in his jaw clenches and unclenches his teeth.

“Busby,” he begins. “Delia.”

Delia starts at the sound of her name falling from his lips.

“Dai,” he says, and she swallows, willing the tears brewing to fall away into nothingness, mind both empty and full. “He was close-you were close to one of these compounds. That’s why my teams were there and that’s why he was killed.”

Delia clenches her jaw shut, ears ringing as she squeezes her hands together, nails digging into flesh like she’d so often witness Patsy do, the pinch of pain keeping her grounded in the present instead of lingering in the past.

“We-I should have told you, sooner.”

Delia frowns, eyes wide and questioning as she watches him in silence.

“Now, I do believe my daughter is awaiting your presence, is she not? I’ll expect another report by the end of the week and if there’s any more information gathered by my…associates, I’ll have it passed on,” he says, shoulders square as he eyes Delia expectantly.

She stumbles, gracelessly out of the room without saying a word.

*

“Patsy, there’s no need to look so glum. I know it’s a different chef on today, but it can’t be all that bad,” Trixie days and Patsy startles, her gaze shifting from a sullen looking Delia to Trixie.

She takes a bite of food, unregistering the taste as she once again watches the brunette who’s shifting food around her plate, frown in place and skin looking pale.

Is she sick? Hurt?

“Yes,” Trixie says with a sigh. “Busby is looking rather tired. It seems a break would do her good but,” she says with a shrug. “We’ve a job to do and all that. Now, come on, eat up.”

Patsy frowns and mindlessly does as Trixie requested, intermittently swallowing down a mouthful of food.

Delia needs a break. Delia needs a break from her. Patsy’s heartbeat quickens as she regulates her breathing as best she can, everyone at the table oblivious.

She can do this.

She can do this, that’s what she tells herself as the group disperses, Delia trying her best to muster her usual effervescent energy and failing, her voice weighed down by…something: tiredness, annoyance, exhaustion from giving so much to Patsy.

She can do this.

“I-I think,” Patsy begins, clearing her throat and steeling herself as she crosses her arms and looks out of the window in her room. “I think you should sleep in your room tonight.”

“Oh,” Delia says, tone weary as she comes to stand next to Patsy. “Are you-are you sure?”

Patsy nods her head in affirmation.

“Is there a reason? I mean, have I upset you, Pats-Patsy? Are you sure you’re ready to be alone?”

Patsy turns to face Delia and notes the crease in her brow, the purse of her lips, the hunch of her shoulders.

Patsy nods once again and Delia eyes her before sighing, body sagging.

“Okay, if you’re sure.”

*

She’s not sure.

The door clicks shut and she’s alone as Delia’s footsteps fade into silence.

She looks up, the darkness like ink blots morphing into faces, memories, dreams, nightmares as the seconds tick away and she stares at the ceiling, remembering the feel of Mistress by her side as she did the same.

Delia.

She wants Delia to touch away the feeling, to ground her, but she has to stop being so selfish.

*

Delia shakes her head, sweat pooling on her brow. 

"No, no. Patsy. Pats," she says, watching the slight figure of her charge being dragged away. 

A blonde head turns, piercing eyes cutting through Delia’s vocal chords as she sobs and the woman grins at the pathetic sight, hand holding onto Patsy even tighter. 

She reaches out, hands clenching air as Patsy throws a look Delia’s way. Patsy's jaw clenches, face stoic, arm in the grip of that…monster. 

Delia drops to her knees. She's failed, once again. Only Dai had a better fate than this. She balls her fists, hunches over before rocking herself back and forth. 

"Pats," she whimpers, looking up as the red head disappears from view.

Patsy turns, eyes boring into Delia’s, and etching braille into Delia’s mind. 

Failure. Pathetic. Weak. Useless. 

Delia gasps, the blanket, the walls, the air a cocoon smothering her as she rushes to the window, throwing it open as dawn begins to breathe. Goosebumps rise where frigid air meets molten flesh. 

"You're okay. She's okay," she whispers, eyes roving her surroundings. "She's safe. She's okay."

But what if she isn't, she thinks, hands shaking at the possibility. What if she’s needs you are you’re not there?

Before she knows it, there's mismatched socks and mismatches trainers on her feet, a yellow hoodie covering her t shirt. Before she knows it, she's unlocking Patsy's door as quietly as possible and peering into the room. 

Patsy is on her side, facing the door, eyes closed, chest steadily rising and falling.

She's safe. She’s alive. She's here. You're here. 

Delia watches, early morning light beginning to filter through the curtains and light Patsy's face. She smiles. 

She's safe. 

Delia breathes in the sight for a few moments longer before shaking her head. She closes the door, locks it, frown in place, loathing herself for the act, for treating Patsy like a prisoner, despite knowing the redhead feels safer this way, feels safer knowing no one can barge into the room. 

"Morning, kiddo. What's got you up so early?" 

Delia jumps, heart racing as though the whispered voice was screaming. 

"Just-just checking everything's okay." 

Phyllis eyes Delia, and Delia looks away, feeling raw, exposed. 

Phyllis purses her lips before speaking again. 

"First night on her own, isn't it?" 

Delia frowns. 

"How do you know?" 

"I overheard you saying goodnight on the way to my room. How are you holding up, Lass?" 

Delia shrugs. 

"Miss Mount okay?" Phyllis asks. 

Delia nods, tentatively smiling as she recalls the sight of Patsy sleeping. 

Phyllis watches her, furrowing her brow.

Delia looks down. 

Phyllis sighs. 

"She'll be okay. Look after yourself and get some rest, Delia," she says. Delia’s head snaps up at the use of her first name. "Don't burn yourself out, kiddo. It's not just Patsy that needs you," she finishes with a smile and a squeeze of Delia’s arm. 

Delia sighs. 

Who needs her? Plenty of others can fill her role. 

“Phyl-Crane.”

Phyllis pauses.

“Did you know about my brother?”

“What about him?”

“That we were near another compound? That that’s why he was killed?”

“Delia.”

“No. Did you know?”

“Yes,” Phyllis says with a sigh. “Yes, but Mount ordered us not to tell you.”

“Why?”

“For the same reason I was ordered not to tell you all you now know until recently, I expect.”

“But why?”

“Who knows, Kiddo. But I am sorry for keeping it from you.”

“It seems everyone likes to keep things from me,” Delia says, walking away from Phyllis and out into the garden, sitting on the bench she’d come to share with Patsy as of late and willing her mind to empty, to focus on breathing and breathing alone.

“Busby,” Barbara says a while later, startling Delia into the present as she stumbles over, giving Delia the once over. “You okay?”

Delia nods and pastes on a smile.

“Of course, I am. Breakfast time already is it?”

Barbara nods, frowning slightly and Delia stands.

“Well, I best go get Patsy. See you soon.”

“See you soon, Busby,” Barbara says, nodding slowly as Delia trudges away.

*

Blue eyes greet her as Delia looks up upon entering Patsy’s room. She breathes in the sight and smiles until she notes the red heads expression.

“What’s wrong?”

“You’re still tired.”

Delia rolls her eyes, wanders over and squeezes Patsy shoulder.

“I’m always tired.”

“Not like yesterday.”

Delia sighs, closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose.

Of course, Patsy would notice.

“That-that was,” she says, shaking her head and sighing once again. “I just-I just got some bad news yesterday, that’s all.”

Patsy narrows her eyes and studies the brunette.

“Bad news?”

“Yes, nothing for you to worry about.”

Patsy freezes, once more and moves away from Delia, going to her wardrobe and mindlessly hunting through her clothes as she focuses on her breathing.

Of course, Delia wouldn’t tell, wouldn’t trust her. Look at her, a cowering, whimpering, pitiful creature.

“Pats,” Delia says, voice going unheard. “Pats, stop,” she tries again, once again falling on deaf ears as Patsy continues searching through her draws, making a mess and moving things back and forth. “Patsy,” she shouts, hand gripping the red heads shoulder and making her freeze. “I-I shouldn’t. I can’t.”

Patsy clenches her jaw and nods once, refusing to meet Delia’s gaze.

“I want to.”

Patsy startles and looks at Delia, takes in her earnest expression, the shimmer in her eyes, the waver in her voice.

“But I can’t. You understand, don’t you?”

Patsy frowns, shrugs and looks to the ground. Delia sighs and steps closer.

“Can I hug you?”

Patsy shrugs.

“That’s not a yes or no.”

Patsy shrugs once more and opens her arms for Delia to step into.

“This isn’t how this works,” Delia speaks into her shoulder. “I’m supposed to help you.”

Patsy sighs into the hug until Delia steps back.

“So, how did you find your first night alone?”

Patsy perches herself at the end of the bed and runs her hand over the duvet as she searches for the right thing to say. Delia narrows her eyes.

“Patience Elizabeth Mount,” she says and Patsy freezes. “Don’t tell me this what was this was all about?”

Patsy looks up, eyes wide as Delia notes the bags under Patsy’s eyes, an echo of the ones under her own.

“I’m never too tired to be with you if you need me.”

Patsy looks away before nodding her head.

“Hey, look at me.”

Patsy ignores her request. Out of the corner of her eyes she sees Delia move closer, reach for her chin and tilt her head to face her.

“We’re really bad at communicating, aren’t we? How about this? How about you tell me if you need me and what you need and I’ll tell you when I’m feeling a bit down, deal?”

Patsy frowns and shakes her head.

“No? Why?”

“Not fair.”

“Hmm?”

“Why-why do I need to tell you more than you tell me?”

“Patsy.”

“I know. You can’t. What if I can’t?”

“Then try.”

“You won’t.”

“That’s not the same and you know it.”

Patsy shrugs. Delia sighs.

“Come on, it’s time for breakfast with your father.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Not hungry.”

“Patsy.”

“What I need is sleep.”

“What you need is food, too.”

“Later.”

“Patience.”

“No. I told you what I need now listen.”

“Fine. I’ll go let everyone know and get you something for later, alright?”

Patsy shrugs.

“Alright?”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

*

“We won’t be joining you for breakfast,” Delia says to the table, Mount looking thunderous at her revelation. “Patsy didn’t have a good night and needs more sleep.”

Mount visibly softens, the others mutter their well wishes as Delia stomps off, jaw clenched, every cell of her body feeling heavy as she loads up a tray of food for them both later.

She re-enters the room, Patsy’s back greeting her as she places the tray on the side and sighs.

“Pats, you asleep?” she whispers.

After a few moments of silence, of no movement, she sees the shrug of a shoulder and walks around to the other side of the bed, crouching down.

“Mind if I join you? I could do with a bit of shut eye, myself.”

Patsy nods and Delia shuffles over to the chair in the corner, slumping down as blue eyes track her movements.

“Delia.”

“Hmm?”

“You can,” Patsy says, clearing her throat. “You can sleep there,” she says, indicating the empty space beside her and Delia frowns.

“I-I don’t know. It’s-what if someone-I mean.”

“Please.”

Delia sighs and eyes the empty space, her tense body willing her to give in and lie down on the mattress.

“Okay, just for a short while and then we’ll eat and get you out in the fresh air, right?”

Patsy nods.

*

Delia is still sleeping, and Patsy watches her, watches the steady rise and fall of her chest, the flutter of her closed eyelids and her mind feels simultaneously full and empty.

She wishes Delia would confide in her, too but she knows why she can’t. Patsy’s damaged goods. Her minds broken and Delia is paid to help her and that’s that.

They’re not friends, are they? No matter how much Patsy wants them to be. She could see how exhausted Delia was, knew how uncomfortable sleeping in that chair must be. And just because she isn’t Delia’s friend, that doesn’t mean Delia isn’t hers.

And Delia being close by makes her feel better so maybe she’s just selfish.

Well, of course she is. Everything is always about her and now she’s making Delia’s job harder.

She needs to stop.

She made everything easy for Mistress because she had to, she can do the same for Delia because she wants to.

Patsy climbs out of bed as quietly and carefully as she can, before taking her clothes and heading to the shower.

She can do this.

*

Delia wakes to an empty room.

“Patsy,” she calls out, her voice shattering the silence and emphasising how alone she is.

She stands up, heart racing as she tries to figure out where Patsy is. She exits the room and stands in the corridor at a loss for which way to go, her breathing going shallow.

How could she lose her patient? How could she be so careless? So lazy?

She heads in a random direction, checking every room as she goes.

*

“Patsy,” she hears Delia shout, voice tense and high and breathless.

Patsy frowns and exits the bathroom, almost colliding with Delia.

“Patsy?”

“Delia.”

“Where-where were you?”

“Showering,” Patsy says, pointing to the bathroom door and Delia shakes her head.

“Oh, of course. I mean. Yeah. Okay. Hungry?”

Patsy nods, taking in Delia’s dishevelled appearance, the mismatched shoes and socks, the rapid rise and fall of her chest.

“Do you-do you want to shower, first?”

Delia grins, her sly gaze falling on Patsy.

“Is that your polite way of saying I smell?”

Patsy startles and shakes her head.

Delia laughs and Patsy narrows her gaze.

“Yes, a shower will do me good. Then, how about I rustle us up a picnic and we eat in the garden? It’s cold but there is some sun.”

Patsy shrugs her agreement.

She loves being outside, loves the fresh air unfurling in her lungs and cleansing her from the inside out.

Mistress never let her outside.

Mistress.

Where is she? Did they catch her? Kill her? Is she waiting for Patsy? Patsy wanders all this as she trudges back to her room, almost feeling Mistress walk beside her, goose bumps rising on her skin.

She shakes her head.

No. No.

Mistress isn’t here. Delia is. And Barbara, and Trixie and Mamie.

“She’s not here. She isn’t. She isn’t. She isn’t,” Patsy reiterates, pacing the room, hands squeezing together as she forces her eyes to stay open, to stay in the room as her nails dig into flesh, the pinch of pain keeping her in the present.

She sits down on the chair Delia was in earlier, hands still clenched. She closes her eyes and sees them all at breakfast, laughing and joking. Delia and Trixie teasing one another, Mary Cynthia smiling at her, Barbara being her clumsy self.

Mistress isn’t here, she thinks once more, her grip loosening and she sits in the quiet room and awaits Delia’s arrival, staring at the wall ahead, thoughts and words fleeing from her body and leaving her as blank as the space she’s gazing at.