Al’ice woke first, beside Al’bert, and felt strangely free for a moment. It was delightful, and she breathed, relishing the feel of air coming in and out of her lungs of her own volition. It had worn off of her, after a time, and she’d begun to build up a sort of resistance to it, although she’d never tell him that.
Looking over at the object of her recent vague captivity, she wondered why she didn’t dislike him, or even dispose of him, since there had been many times when she could have. There was something occurring within him she couldn’t define; an inner conflict that was like a war. He was waging it within himself and she really had no idea what part of him was losing, as she hadn’t been as fully in command of her own faculties as she would have liked. Perhaps now she could convince him to let her be only herself, without his intervention.
Perhaps… but there were a few things that barred his way. First and foremost, Al’bert clearly didn’t like not possessing the upper hand in this or, she suspected, any relationship. It seemed to make him uncomfortable; a discomfort that she had enjoyed thoroughly, until he’d had enough. There was a mental mark she kept: if she wished to avoid being ruled by him, she would have to avoid making his ego suffer.
That was a pity, she supposed. He really was too beautiful to have such a striking weakness. She saw that he was under stress even while he slept, as if he never truly relaxed, even in the darkest unconsciousness.
She suspected he liked her especially; although he kept company with an inordinate number of women over the time she’d known him, he generally attempted to keep it from her, as if he thought it would devastate her to know he wasn’t true to her alone. She smiled wryly to think of it, because she’d always known what he was like, and hadn’t expected anything different. He, on the other hand, knew hardly a thing about her.
And he probably didn’t even think to wonder.
He was lying on his side and dreaming, it seemed, and she turned to him and considered. She could probably get up, right now, and leave. She could leave forever, and never see him again. But, and there were always too many “but”s when she considered this, she would never reach the bottom of this well, and she succumbed again to the way of woman, which can’t help but wish to discover the secrets of man.
So instead of leaving Al’bert, she brushed his face with her fingertips until he woke.
There was a short time between sleeping and waking that faded in and out like the curtains that stirred at the window, and when his eyes found hers, they were entirely outside of his influence.
“Al’ice,” he said.
He sighed and closed his eyes, then turned onto his back to regard the rafters.
“I know what you’ve done to me,” she told him. “I am quite aware of it.”
“I am still here, however, despite what wisdom would be in the contrary.”
Al’bert began, suddenly and without warning, to wax very deep and introspective, and as if in an earthquake,
“I have long suspected my father used it on my mother,” he said to the ceiling, in the manner of a confession. “I don’t know when he might have started, perhaps from the beginning, and perhaps she never really loved him at all, but she always seemed so intensely compelled about her business, and never naturally fell into motherhood towards Camille and I.”
He seemed to relax and fall further backwards into the bed, as if resignation and futility weighted him down and he continued with a hesitant voice. “I don’t even think I know who she is, my mother, and if he’s done this to her for all of these years, how could she have borne it? How could he not grow tired of it?” His eyes closed. “I can’t imagine the loneliness.”
“Perhaps he loves her,” offered
“What would it matter? Surely she would loathe him, for such captivity,” he said, and he turned his eyes to
“Do you know how many times I could have killed you in the past year?” she asked him.
He focused on her, and his eyes shifted from violet to blue and back as they always did in this sort of early morning light. They tread on the thin, scarce line between the two colors, and sometimes they fell to one side, and sometimes to the other. His moods might do it, or the shirt he wore, but today she caught his face with her hand and willed them to be still.
“Trust me, Al’bert,” she whispered to him, and in the way she had, she looked down upon him and said, “I’m not going to hurt you… much.”
It drew a chuckle from him, despite his impending angst, but it was brief and followed by restlessness. He took her hands from his face. He took her arms and he held her as if to drive the intensity of his conflicts through his hands into her skin.
His voice was passionate and conflicted as he confessed: “Fang has taken my sister for a hostage until I kill Sangwine.”
She knew immediately as he said this that he both deeply loved his sister, and that he did not want to kill Sangwine. She had long suspected that Al’bert, despite all posturing to the contrary, was not a violent man, and was in fact averse to it. In one swift moment she understood where the furrows in his brow came from and sympathy rode through her, as well as knowing that Al’bert wasn’t going to complete the mission, otherwise he would become another man who was entirely different from the one he was now.
“Do you want me to kill him for you?” she asked blatantly.
Al’bert seemed alarmed over the idea.
“You don’t want him to die at all, Al’bert?”
“I don’t think I do,” he said helplessly.
“You’re in quite a conundrum.”
Following this statement, Al’bert looked so pitifully miserable that
“I don’t want to become my father.”
“Surely your father isn’t that bad.”
“What I mean is… I don’t want to do what my father did to my mother.”
“Isn’t that what you’ve always done?”
But he seemed unsure of himself.
“Do you find you must always win?” she asked.
There was a long pause until Al’bert drew a breath to speak.
“When we met you unnerved me. You were human and I swiftly grew wildly attracted to you. Human! I’d never thought of such a thing before, and it never occurred to me that I might like it as much as I do. You made me think I might not find my way out again, should I let you rule me, and I will be honest… the prospect of being in a position where I don’t have the advantage terrifies me.”
“You’ve never suffered heartbreak of any kind, have you?” she asked him, suddenly feeling a sort of darkly comedic fascination over Al’bert’s peculiarity. “You’ve always run the show, and if it felt like something might be slipping, you fixed it straight away with that compulsion of yours.”
She leaned closer. “It comes from your eyes, doesn’t it? Eye contact.” His eyes widened a little in response and she knew she’d hit the nail on the head. It made her smile and she let her voice fall soft. “Are you afraid of me enough yet to use it? Do I frighten you, Al’bert?”
Something moved within his aspect. That particular something indicated that he knew she had trapped him. He couldn’t use his glamour on her, now, for it would be admitting his fear. The truth, and she was sure of it, was that he was terrified of her and what she might do to his emotions and pride.
She decided she would relent a little, because poor Al’bert could only be pushed so far, and so she rose onto the palms of her hands and rested there, only slightly asymmetrically, and changed her aspect to one of frank regard.
“Al’bert,” she began thoughtfully.
“What is it?”
“I don’t mean to trap you like I do… it’s just so easy I can’t seem to help myself,” she said with a tinge of the apologetic. Then she went on before he could reply. “But I want to ask you not to use your magic on me anymore.”
She went on to give him a look so sincere he appeared not to know what to say for a time, so she talked again.
“You will become your father if you never allow yourself to be vulnerable,” she said. “And you might as well be vulnerable for me, as anyone. Who else’s hands would you trust your heart in?”
“My sister,” he said immediately.
He turned on his side, bent his elbow, and rested his head in one hand as he watched her sulk, and sulk she did, deciding that if he was going to watch her she might as well give an entertaining performance.
“She’s the only person I’ve ever loved in my life,” he told her. “I’ve never been attached to anyone else.”
“Not even your parents?”
“Not at all.”
“Not even any one of your … what do you call them?”
“Not really, no. It simplifies things that way.”
“It does,” she agreed.
There was some time of quiet.
“I won’t use it on you if you promise me…”
He faltered, as if lacking proper words to say.
“Just don’t humiliate me too badly,” he finally replied, giving up.