Chapter 26: Monster
There was nothing between the moment she lost consciousness and the moment she regained it. Nothing. No visions, no dreams, prophetic or not, neither flashbacks. The most absolute blackness.
And when she came back to herself, she still couldn’t see anything. Everything was dark. Her head hurt so much. Her throat burned, like full of liquid fire. She didn't know where she was. She didn't know what was wrong with her.
“H... help.” She groaned. Her voice was hoarse, broken, as if she’d been screaming for hours. “Help. H-h... help. Please. Please.”
A rough, warm hand caressed her. Anna began to sob. She thought having her eyes open, but she didn't see anything. She felt the tears fall, burning.
“Hush, Anna. Calm down. I'm here.”
“Mom.” She sobbed with relief, with joy. “Mom, you're here.”
“Yes, it's me. I'm here - and here means at the hospital.”
She gripped her hand tightly. Yes, it was her. Her hands, rough from climbing rocks, operating mechanisms and firing firearms. Dear hands.
“Mom, I... I can’t see anything. I see nothing. I'm blind!”
“No, honey, you're not. It’s a side effect of... something that happened to you. But it will go away. You’ll recover your sight.”
“What... what happened to me...?” And then she stirred. She remembered. Oh my God. No no no no.
“Calm down, Anna.” The hand gripped her harder, warm, comforting. She noticed her stroking her hair. “You need to relax.”
She trembled, remembering. “Is she...?
“She's alive, Anna. She didn’t die. Maggie Hartman is alive.”
She began to cry when hearing, of pure relief. She was alive. She hadn’t killed her. She hadn't killed her! “Mom.” Anna sobbed. “Mom, please, don't tell Dad what I've done... don't tell him...”
Her mother's hands caressed her, rough, comforting. “Sorry Anna. He had to know, he’s your father. Besides, I... I needed his experience... to know that you were going to get well... that you weren't blind forever.”
Humiliated, embarrassed, guilty, Anna went on crying with her weak forces. “I'm sorry... forgive me... I didn't want to... I... didn’t want to kill her...forgive me...tell her... tell her I didn't want to kill her...”
“Hush, that's enough. Rest, Anna. You must rest.”
What a shame, she thought. What will Dad say about this. And they... saw it all. What will Kat think of me now. Oh my God. Die. I want to die.
How she hated hospitals. Dear Lord, how she hated them.
Lara went out into the hall after Anna got another dose of sedatives. She leaned against the wall with both hands and took a deep breath. “Annus horribilis.” She muttered. “Give me strength to endure this.”
“Amen.” Said a warm, kind, affectionate voice. Beside her, patiently sitting on the sofa, Father Dunstan, a friendly shadow, a perpetual companion in difficulties, closed the Bible and smiled. “Who could expect, after so many years, you would invoke the Father again.”
“I don't know whom I was invoking.” Lara rubbed her eyes. “Life was easier before. Tombs and trips and artefacts, only. No daughters or husbands or families in danger.”
Dunstan laughed softly. “Having loved ones implies responsibility - and suffering for them, yes.” The priest rose slowly. “This is love, with all that enlightens us, it also drags us through the darkness. No untrue love carries that sweet burden.” He smiled. “So, how’s our little Anna?”
Lara shrugged slightly and rubbed her eyes again. “She can’t see. She’s blind.” She sighed, exhausted. “Kurtis said she’ll recover her sight...”
“Then, she will. He’s been through this before. We must have faith in his experience.” The priest's smile widened. What was he smiling at? “By the way, my dear, did I hear correctly?”
“You referred to him as a husband.”
“You said, no daughters or husbands or families in danger.”
“Did I say that?” Lara put her hand to her forehead, as if her head ached, but the corners of her lips trembled slightly. “I must be very tired. I don't know what I say anymore.” She looked up, and the slight smile flew from her face. “Oh, no.”
She looked down the hall. The priest turned around. A middle-aged woman, elegantly dressed, approached them stomping, chattering violently against the linoleum floor. Father Dunstan didn't need to be told who she was. The woman had a swollen face, and her makeup was running from crying.
“Lady Hartman.” Lara said, greeting her politely, with a faint voice.
The woman seemed willing to throw herself on Lara, but the priest stopped her, placing a hand on her shoulder. The aura of authority that the consecrated man carried with him for the mere fact of being a priest worked. The woman stopped, kept a distance. “You!” She muttered; her face distorted. “You and you...daughter...!”
“How’s Maggie?” Lara murmured, her face serious, suddenly expressionless.
The woman writhed as if she’d been pricked. Father Dunstan clenched her shoulder with more force. “Do not dare to utter her name!” She shouted. “You...you... abnormal! Monster! You’ve always been a monster- and so your daughter. You live like the animals you are. Beast! Your parents did well to cast you away from home... to disown you. It’s the least you deserved. Murderess! And your daughter’s another killer!”
“Enough.” The Irish priest’s voice turned severe. “Enough, Lady Hartman. With insults and offenses, you’re not helping Maggie.” The lady looked at him, confused through the veil of her tears. “How, I’m not allowed to utter her name either?”
Dunstan's hand was still on her shoulder. She didn’t remove it. She blinked and sobbed. “My girl... my Maggie... she’s in a coma.” She looked back at Lara. “She’s in a coma! Do you hear it, Lara Croft? For I’m not calling you lady. You’re not a lady. My dear daughter is in a coma! Full of tubes, vegetative! With the marks of your daughter's fingers on her neck. Murderous beast!”
“Lady Hartman.” Father Dunstan raised his voice. “If you don't control your anger and manners you’ll have to leave. Lady Croft’s hardly guilty of what happened between your daughters.”
She took a deep breath, snorted. “Of course she's guilty! That woman’s a murderer!” She pointed her finger at her. “She’s killed hundreds of people around the world! Everyone knows this! She even killed her own mentor! But she gets away with it thanks to her corrupt friends... and if God’s fair, one day she’ll be killed too!” Dunstan grabbed her firmly, but without hurting her, and began to push her back. “If God’s fair your daughter, rotten bastard of a rotten womb, will also be killed! We’ll see then what you do!”
“Anna’s sedated.” Lara said suddenly, and her voice was monochord, faint. “But she’s been conscious. She can’t see due to the attack she’s suffered, but she told me that she’s sorry for what happened, that she didn’t want to kill her. She asked me to tell you this. To forgive her.”
“Forgive her?” The furious lady howled, writhing in the priest's firm embrace. A lot of people came running down the hall. Doctors and nurses, even security personnel. “Forgive her? My daughter’s vegetative, because of her, and I must forgive? Screw her! Screw you too! And whatever man who fathered her! All of you can go to hell!”
She needed to be hold between four people to be dozed and taken away. Lara endured that rain of expletives with her expressionless face, unperturbed, unchanged.
“Well, that’s been certainly not righteous.” The priest sighed, when they finally took the woman and were left alone. “Don’t listen to her, dear. It is the voice of pain speaking through her. She will regret her words sooner or later.”
Lara had her eyes lost. She blinked slightly.
“Lara?” Again that warm, healing touch in her shoulder. “Darling, are you all right? C’mon, you need to rest. Will buy you a coffee.”
“He was right.”
“Huh, who?” He turned to her, confused.
Lara looked at him then, and in her gaze was an infinite sadness. “Kurtis. He was right. Regarding this...horror.” She ran her hand over her forehead. “I treated him so harshly. I had no patience with him. Now I see what he was afraid of.” She sighed again. “What was the last time you heard my confession? Years ago?”
He rested, this time, both hands on her shoulders. “You don't have to, my dear. Just come, and let's get something to drink. Then, you tell me everything.”
Lara never had a normal, natural father figure, for Lord Henshingly Croft hardly accomplished the functions a father should assume for his daughter. Because he expelled her from his side, Lara had found in other men what her father had never given her. In Winston, in some ways. In Werner, in some others, no matter how much she took to admit it. Finally, in Father Dunstan. Each of them fatherlier than a real father would ever have been for her.
So, for hours, she sat down with the Irish priest in a cafeteria and told him everything. From Sri Lanka, through their fight. From Istanbul and Bathsheba, through Egypt and Loanna, from the attack, and Selma, through Marie's death; everything he still didn't know. And he listened to her in silence, saying nothing, without interrupting, because there’s no good priest who ignores how to listen.
Finally, Lara put the mug down and sighed again, rubbing her eyes. Father Dunstan watched the street through the glass. It had started to rain. “Did you apologize?” He said suddenly. “To Kurtis, of course.”
She nodded slightly. “I did it, yes. It’s the least he was owed.”
“So? Did he forgive you?”
“I think so. He always forgives. Doesn’t matter what I do.”
“What about you? Did you forgive either?
Lara covered her face with her hands. “I might have forgiven him the moment I fell against that wall - or maybe when I saw his face’s expression. Or even at the way he looked at his hands, at what he’d just done.” She ran her hand over her forehead, removing a strand of hair. “It wasn’t much compared to the damage I caused. The way I talked to him. How I mocked his pain, his fear. I called him a coward. I laughed in his face. He was asking me to marry him and I laughed in his face.”
“He offered himself to you, in all his vulnerability, to prove everything he told you was for real.” Said the priest, still facing the street. He knew that one should never look directly into the eyes of those who confess their sins. “But he’s already forgiven you. Why do you still feel bad? You’re allowed to forgive yourself now.”
Lara shrugged. She stared at the lipstick mark on the edge of the mug. “I don't think I can. I feel filthy. He hasn't even tried to prove me wrong. Everything happened without him even trying.” She bent slightly on the table. “A former enemy came back to us, attacked us. He almost killed Selma, and all of us with her. Marie’s gone now, although it was because of her illness. Then another enemy of the past, worse, more terrible, came back and almost killed Kurtis, who was defending both my daughter and my mother. Now, this.” She covered her face with her hands again. “I don't know how to fight something I can’t see. I just want it to end. I can’t stand it anymore.”
She felt the priest's hands clutching hers. Squeezing them. Hard. Silent.
“If this was needed for me to open my eyes, it’s enough. Let it stop. I’m aware now.” Lara continued. “Kurtis was right all along. Now I understand his anxiety, his fear. Now I understand why he moved away from me, so many years ago. Now I understand his silence, his doubt. I've learned the lesson. If something or someone’s punishing us, it’s enough. Let it stop.”
Let it stop, she thought, and let me fight with weapons I know. Deliver me from this impotence, from this uselessness. A sob escaped her, of rage, of frustration.
“It's not a punishment, Lara.” The priest's fingers caressed her hands. “God doesn't act like that. We make mistakes, but such a lesson would be too hard and cruel. I don’t accept it. Instead, let’s focus on what you’ve learned. Think about how blessed you are. You can believe what you want, but I keep seeing God's hand protecting you in all this. Kurtis is alive. Anna is alive. They have suffered, but they will recover. Even that poor girl is still alive. I will pray for her - to wake up, to come back. But you, my dear girl, forgive yourself, and stop doubting. They will need you, for you’ve always been the strongest of the three - and you always will.”
Lara sat up, took her face out of her hands. “There’s something I must do, first of all.”
“What’s it, my dear?”
“I have to talk to Catherine Kipling.”
The second time she woke up, she began to distinguish something. Shades. Shapeless figures, barely moving in the dark. It wasn’t much, but it was more than the previous solid blackness. She stirred, could get up, frowned, trying to focus something.
There was someone by her side. “Mom?”
“It's me, kiddo.”
When she heard her father's voice, she flushed to her ears - of shame and humiliation. Then she had the most childish reaction: she grabbed the edge of the sheet and covered herself with it. “Go away. Go away please. I don’t want you to see me.”
“But I do, kiddo.” His big, warm hand stroked her hair. Anna stood still for a few moments. Then Kurtis heard her muttering: “How did you get here? Your... your legs...”
He sighed. “Only one way to get here.”
Anna turned around, reached out, groped. He took her hand and carried it to a cold metal edge, next to the leg of his pants. “Dad, you’re... in a wheelchair... you hate it...”
“It was necessary. I wanted to see you.”
The beautiful blue eyes, still blind, filled with tears. “You shouldn't have come. I am ashamed. I've done something awful, Dad...”
“Maggie Hartman is in a coma. And Clarice Rochford... is in shock. She can’t speak. And it's been me... Dad, I've done that to them.”
“Why did you do that, Anna?”
She was silent for a few moments. Then she sobbed: “For Kat.”
“That ... Maggie. She hurt her. She wanted to take her notebook and twisted her arm. I saw her skin by accident... it was horrible, purple, marked. I was furious...”
“And you took revenge.”
“She didn't want to tell me! She didn't tell me who’d been. She said she was scared, that I frightened her.” She kept sobbing. “She told me that... that I was changed, that I scared her! She no longer trusted me. It broke my heart.”
Kurtis remained silent for a moment. She heard him take a deep breath. “You found out who’d been, on your own.”
“How?” Her father's voice was calm. He didn’t sound enraged. He wasn’t angry with her.”
“I don't know, Dad. N-no... I don't know.”
“There’s always a starting point, Anna. Please. Try to remember.”
She lowered her head. “I think... it was ... the bruise. I don’t know. When I touched her. I felt her pain. I-I noticed. How she’d suffered. How it still hurt. I-I was so furious ... Then... I kept thinking about it and... then...”
“You saw it.”
“She pushed her against the wall, twisted her arm! All for a stupid notebook. It’s sadistic. She’d enjoyed hurting her... J-just because Kat gets good grades... simply because she doesn't defend herself! They have always messed with her. But this time... this time, they went too far!”
“So, you beat her up.”
The silence weighed between them for a moment. Anna's lips were trembling. Kurtis took her hand gently. “I just wanted... just wanted to teach her a lesson. I swear, Dad. By the Light. I didn't want to go that far... Dad, please... you have to believe me...”
“She hurt her a lot. She had no right to hurt her!”
“Of course not.”
“I wanted to teach her a lesson as... as I did with Clarice Rochford. She was also messing with her. So, I took some scissors and told her that if she approached Kat again, I’d cut her hair and scar her face for life. Dad... Dad, I just... those were just words... I wasn't going to do it... well, the hair thing maybe, it grows again... but not cutting her...
“I know, Anna.”
“Please, don't tell Mom.”
“I won’t. Please go on. I have to know everything.”
She breathed several times, swallowed. “Clarice learned the lesson. She didn't get closer to Kat again. What’s more, when she saw me coming, she pissed herself. She’d always made fun of all of us, mistreated us all... and now she pissed herself just at seeing me. She looked at me as if... as if I was a monster, Dad. As if I was the devil himself. Like... that incubus.”
Kurtis didn't answer, but he squeezed her little hand tightly, so small in comparison.
“I just wanted to teach her a lesson.” She repeated. “Maggie. A pair of punches. A few kicks. I don't know, now that I think about it, it was stupid. I was going to end up in the headmistress’ office... I was there before, y’know, Dad? Grandma Angeline didn't say anything because she didn't want to complicate things. And the result is that she... she...” She sniffed loudly. Kurtis still didn't say a word. “... she told me horrible things. I had heard them before - but I can't stand them, Dad. When they tell me, I get furious. I can’t control myself.”
“That Mom’s a tomboy and a slut. That she’s slept with hundreds of men. That I don't have a father and she can’t tell whom I come from. That her parents did well to cast her out, because she’s a murderer and a wanderer. And that I am a bastard. A useless bastard, good for nothing.” She sobbed again, enraged.
“Those are nothing but lies, Anna, and you know it. Why do you let it bother you?”
“Because I don't want them to say it! They are lies! They insult Mom, you and me. Why do they insult us? Why can't they leave us alone?”
“Envy. Bitterness. Inferiority complex. We won’t waste time looking for reasons, let them look for them.”
“Well, I also threatened Clarice for that - and it worked for me. She stopped messing with us.”
“If we were to threaten and hurt everyone who mocks...” Kurtis sighed. “You must learn to save your strength for those who can really harm us. Words are gone with the wind.”
Anna had turned pale, but suddenly, the blush stained her cheeks again. “But it hurt me. It hurt Kat. And after insulting Mom, she mocked her... and said she liked it, hurting her. That she had enjoyed it. I couldn't stand it, Dad. I love Kat. Very much. You can't imagine how much. When they hurt her, I simply...” Then she clenched her fists, in a visible, specific gesture.
“You lost control, kiddo.”
“Yes. I did. I couldn’t contain myself. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted to make her suffer. Like she made Kat suffer.”
“You did more than that, Anna.”
The young girl opened her hands, lowered her eyes as if looking at them, although she didn't really see. “First, I started hitting her... with all my strength. I hurt her a lot. She’s really strong... but I beat her. Then... I don't know what happened to me... I was... I was furious...”
“I wanted to make her suffer. She was bleeding. Then she began to scream, and then to cry. I should’ve... I should’ve stopped.”
“You should have, yes.”
“But I couldn't, Dad. Simply…. I don't know... no... I couldn't stop. No...” She let out a loud sob. “Dad, it's awful, but I... I... grabbed her by the neck. And then I knew that... I could kill her. If I wanted - and I wanted, Dad. I wanted to kill her! And I told her! I told her I was going to kill her!” She bent in two and retched, but she’d nothing to vomit, her stomach was empty.
“Hush.” His voice caressed her, serene, unshaken. Her father's arms held her, again healthy, again strong. “Calm down, Anna.”
“I didn't... didn't want to! I mean, I... I don't know, I don't know how to explain it. It wasn’t me. Dad, you have to believe me, it wasn't me.”
“I do. I've always believed you, Anna.”
“And then, I don't know... I don't know what happened... I ...my head was going to explode ... it was hot ... I couldn’t see, it was... all blurry ... it was very hot ... and she was choking ... I wanted to stop, but I couldn't ... I ... I was enjoying what I was doing. I couldn’t stop. I knew I could kill her. And... and I wanted. To kill her - and Clarice, although she’d done nothing this time. I wanted... to raze the yard, destroy everything... sink the entire college... and I knew I could do it.”
“Yes, Anna. You could.”
“And I was enjoying it!” Anna burst into tears. “I was liking it! I had never felt so good!”
“And at that moment I felt it. It left me. Inside.” She put her hands to her chest, touched her ribs.” It left me, fired from my insides. A force... something I had never felt. It went out and scorched everything. I couldn't control it, Dad. I'm sorry. I could not control that thing.”
“And it started to hurt, to hurt a lot. The head... the body... everything hurt. I could not breathe. I was suffocating... I felt like I was dying. And at the same time, I liked it, it was...huh...”
“I liked it, Dad.” She blushed even more. “It made me feel whole, full. I felt like... like the most powerful being in the universe.”
And you are, my daughter. You are.
She dropped her arms, turned to him.
“You're not mad at me.” It was a statement, not a question.
She heard Kurtis sigh. She stretched her hands towards him. She tried to touch her face. He was within reach. She stroked his cheeks, hirsute by the three-day beard.
“What are you doing, Anna?”
“Check if you are sad. I don’t want you to be sad. Please forgive me.”
“Anna, it would make no sense to get mad at you or having to forgive you anything. You had no control over what just happened.”
The tears began to dry on her cheeks. “It happened to you too, right?”
“Of course.” He said. “It's the Gift.” And he didn't tell her that it was the Gift in its purest state, so powerful, so rare... only once had he been able to summon it this way. A long time ago - before Lara. In New York. When he defeated Lucifer. When he grew wings, ascended to the sky and descended again, more human, mortal again. But still unique. Still from the seed of the angels. Such a power was only seen once in a generation - and he had been the one. “Lux Veritatis mecum.” He said it without thinking, almost wistfully, although he didn't miss that horror – except the positive side. Using it to do good.
“I'm scared, Dad.”
He opened his arms. She noticed and took refuge in them. “Don't.” He hugged her tightly. His daughter was warm, living. Full of Light. “I'm here. I’m not leaving you.”
She spent half an hour waiting in the cafe, watching people go by in the pouring rain. When she finally started thinking about leaving, she saw her arrive. She pushed the door with both arms, entered, removed the wet hood. When she saw her, sitting, waiting for her, staring at her, she hesitated a moment. Lara waited patiently. Finally, she approached.
Catherine Kipling was pretty and delicate - a real lady. But there was something about her that forced Lara not to quickly dismiss her as someone boring, bland, unworthy of consideration. She understood why opposites such as her and Anna were attracted. That spark of intelligence in her eyes. The air of maturity.
No, there was anything stupid in that girl.
“Lady Croft.” She greeted politely and sat in front of her.
“Thanks for coming, Kat. Want to order something?”
“Oh no.” She shook her curls. “I don't want to, thanks. I'm not hungry.” She frowned slightly. “In fact, I don't eat too much lately.” Then she stared at her. “My mother didn't want me to come. I’m here without her permission.”
Lara sighed. “I'm sorry. Your mother and I’ve always got along... pretty well. Something unusual in our class.”
“She’s frightened, scared.”
“What about you, Catherine? Are you scared?” She stared at her green eyes. Such beautiful eyes - but more than that, the cleverness, the serenity they distilled. They were studying her. Very attentively. "We've been familiar all these years, Kat." Lara added affectionately. "You've been friends with Anna since you were both young. I’d would hate to know this has been lost.”
The young girl looked out the window for a few moments. Then she turned back to her. “No, Lady Croft. Nothing has been lost. I assure you.”
“Call me Lara, please, from now on.”
She nodded. Then she muttered, with a faint voice: “How... how’s Anna?!
Lara leaned back on the padded seat. “Yesterday we took her home. She’s resting most of the day, but she’ll recover.”
“Is she still blind?”
“Little by little she manages to recognize shapes, regaining her sight.”
After a few seconds of silence, Kat spoke again. “What happened to Anna, lady... I mean, Lara?” She ran her tongue over her lips.
“I was hoping you could clarify some points for me.”
The green eyes widened. “Me? I don’t know what…”
“Officially, Anna had an epileptic seizure. Temporarily blind, recovering progressively. A crisis of epilepsy triggered by a brutal fight with a classmate.” Kat paled, but said nothing. Lara leaned toward her. “Do you agree?”
“Of course not.”
“Ah.” Lara leaned back again. “I knew you wouldn’t. So why don't you? Speak frankly, don't be afraid.”
Kat looked down and noticed the crumbs that covered the table. “Epilepsy…” She said, finally, “...does not explain the yard’s grass, charred as if scorched with a flamethrower. Nor does it explain the entire cloister cracked and left in ruins, so that now there’s no other choice but to bring it down. Much less all the windowpanes exploding...” She raised her beautiful eyelids again, looked at Lara. “Even less that Clarice’s mute from pure terror and Maggie’s in a coma, with Anna’s fingerprints on her throat.”
The British explorer nodded calmly. “You're not naive, Catherine Kipling.” She leaned back toward her. “So, tell me, please, why did my daughter do such thing?” The teenager's lips began to tremble. She looked around. Lara put her hand on her arm, affable. “Please don't panic. I’m not threatening or intimidating you. She doesn't talk to me...” She shook her head. “She told her father, only. But now I want to know from you. Please.” Kat sighed and finally lifted her sleeve, discovering her forearm. "Oh." Lara murmured, looking at the bruise already beginning to faint. The yellow was fading, the red had turned to yellow, and the blue was red now. “Maggie Hartman did this to you.” She stated more than asked. Kat nodded and quickly covered her arm again. “And my daughter saw it.” Lara finished.
“I didn't want her to see it, lady... Lara. I had no intention of allowing it. It was an accident she came to notice.”
“How long had that girl been hurting you?”
“Just this time.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Kat blushed. “Well... it happened with other... girls. Although they don't usually get that far. But Maggie... she’s a bit gross. She enjoys inflicting pain.”
“How many times have they hurt you, Kat?”
She lowered her head. “What does that matter now?”
“It matters a lot. Do your parents know you’re being abused at school?”
She heard her take a deep breath, shook the curls. “No. And please, don't say anything... lady... Lara.”
“I'm sorry, Kat, but your demand’s unacceptable. If your classmates are bullying you, you should’ve said it. Who’s defending you? My daughter, right?” The young teen lowered her head, blond curls covered her face. “What's between my daughter and you, Kat?”
Catherine Kipling raised her head, looked dumbfounded. Then she blushed again, intensely. “No, we... we don't... Lady Croft... Lara... we’re friends. Friends. I don't know what you mean... or what you think...”
“What I think doesn't matter, Kat.” Lara kept talking calmly. “I want to know if Anna was aware of what was happening to you and if she helped you.”
“When did all this start, Kat? I need to know it.”
The girl sighed, not without some relief. The blush began to lower. “Quite a while ago. People... always mess with me. I-I don't know for sure why...”
“You don't need false modesty with me, Kat. You’re smart, beautiful, and good at everything you do. Enough to be hated. What else? When did Anna start to get involved in this?”
She’d already blushed again. She’s shy, Lara thought. Maybe I'm pressuring her too much. “Anna also got involved, lady... Lara. So, we were also together in this. She… well, uh… she defended us both.” Lara was smiling. Kat blushed even more. “Please, don't scold her... she just wanted to help...”
“Scold her? I am fiercely proud of her. You were alone and helpless, and she was there for you. Tell me, what did she do? Don’t skip anything.”
Kat became serious. “I don't want to cause more trouble, lady... Lara.”
“You won’t. You can't complicate matters further, Kat.” When seeing her in doubt, Lara sighed and added. “Anna’s been expelled from school. She won’t return.”
“Oh, no...” Kat put her hands to her mouth.
“Don’t worry. Even if not being like that, I’d have taken her out of that place. She was suffering there... and didn’t tell me about it. I took so long to realize. And I want to thank you, Kat. For being there for her. For being with her. She wasn’t alone... thanks to you.”
Again, blush rose to her ears. But there was an unhappy expression on her face. I’m left behind, she thought, frightened. And Anna. I won’t see Anna again. The pain of that thought was harder than any physical one.
Seeing her expression, Lara reached out, put her hand on her arm, squeezed her affectionately. “Don’t worry. You will keep seeing her. I wouldn't even think of separating you.”
She breathed relief. Then she brushed her hair from her face. “What else do you want to know... Lara?”
“Everything you didn't say, Kat, and that you think, for Anna's sake, I should know.” The British explorer smiled again. “Or simply, anything you want to tell me and you'll never tell your mother.”
Kat shook her head. “Before, I need to know what... what that was. That thing. What... happened to Anna.”
“I can't tell you, Kat, I'm sorry. That... what you mean, is hers to share or not. It's something personal. Only she can tell you, if she decides so. I have no right to do so.”
“Didn't tell you? Give her time, Kat. For her it’s something new, and difficult.”
“Her best friend? Of course. That’s why I think she’ll tell you, as soon as she feels ready to do so. If she decides so.”
“What if she doesn't tell me?”
“If she doesn’t, it's for a good reason. And that reason will be you, and nothing more than that.”
“Lady... Lara, please...”
“No.” Lara categorically denied. “I'm sorry. Forgive me, Kat. You've already seen what happened to Clarice and Maggie. If she decides she wants to protect you, keep you at bay from that... then I'm not who to ruin her plans.”
Kat rested her arms on the table and bent over them. She saw her twist her mouth in a restrained sob. Again, she squeezed her arm affectionately, taking care to do it with the one not bruised. She was touched by the love that girl had for her daughter. She didn't expect friendship to be so sincere, so deep, so pure.
“I was remembering,” the schoolgirl confessed, suddenly, “that I made her cry. When I told her that I was scared, she burst into tears. I'm afraid I've hurt her. She thinks I see her like... like...”
“Like a monster.” Lara finished for her.
“I didn't see what she did to Clarice and Maggie. But I saw how the cloister was after... I managed to sneak in there. She did something terrible... it's true. And it frightens me, it's true. I wanted to prevent her from doing some atrocity, but... I didn't imagine...”
“It's not your fault, Kat. What Anna’s now is beyond your understanding. Beyond your control or influence.”
“Please, don't tell her she frightens me... it hurt her a lot... I shouldn't have told her...”
“I won’t - but you shouldn't be afraid of her. She’ll never hurt you. Never.” And if she’s more alike her father, she thought silently, she might die for you, if need. But never hurt you. Not on purpose.
“Somehow, I saw her coming.” The girl sighed and opened her hands. “Months ago, Anna had a strong fight with Clarice, because... well, uh...”
“She insulted me. I know, Kat. I’m aware of the words people addresses to me, Anna or her father. It’s nothing new. They mean nothing to both of us, although they work on Anna.”
“That day,” Kat went on, “or maybe later, several classmates grabbed and hit her. She ended up in the headmistress’ office...”
“I know. My mother told me. Pretty late, I must say - but I can't blame her. I've had... my own problems.” Although I shouldn't have put those ahead of my daughter, she recriminated silently.
“Then, Anna grabbed some scissors and threatened Clarice.”
Lara blinked. “What?”
“She told her that if she touched me again, or insulted you, she’d cut her hair and scratch her face. Please, please, don't be mad at her. Anna just wanted to warn her.”
“I’m not mad, I've already told you. I’m proud of her.” She looked at the window. “Now I understand everything. Clarice got the message, but Maggie attacked you and she found out. There it all began.”
Kat didn’t answer. There wasn’t any more to say. For a moment, silence weighed between them. Finally, the blonde girl added: “I know you won't accept it, but still, I want you to know... that I’m sorry I’m the source of all this trouble.”
“You’re not the source of anything. Anna’s passionate, fierce, and loyal. She loves you madly, now I see that.” Kat blushed again. How many times by then already? “And the fact this had such a fatal outcome has nothing to do with you at all. She’s simply different, and her fury can cause more harm than others’.” She looked at her again. “Thank you, Catherine Kipling, for coming. Whatever happens, you’ll always be welcome at home. Croft Manor’s gates will always be open for you.” Lara never said this lightly. Mumbling a little thanks, Kat began to get up, but then Anna's mother held her again by the hand. “One more thing,” she added, “and this is important. You must talk to your mother. Tell her what's wrong with you. What happened to you. Everything.”
“I dare not, Lara.”
“You have to do it. You must protect yourself. You can't tolerate being abused, Kat. You should not become a victim. My daughter may not always be defending you, nor do you want that.”
“Of course not.”
“Then talk to your mother. Tell her the truth. Then go to the police and tell them the rest.”
“The rest?” Kat flushed, but this time of rage, of humiliation.
“Anna told me. What happens in your home. You can't tolerate it for another second.” The girl got up and picked up her coat. “Catherine Kipling.” Lara raised her voice, sternly. “I'm not kidding. Either you tell your mother that your classmates abuse you and then tell the police your father is beating your mother, or I will. I give you a week, and it's too much. I won’t wait any longer.”
The girl adjusted her coat, put on her hood. Then she stared at her. With those clever eyes. “You won't have to, Lara. Goodbye - and thank you.”
When she returned home it was late, already dark night. Ethan had left, leaving Kurtis comfortably bedridden. He seemed to sleep, as Anna also slept, quiet, without dreams, in her room.
Lara took a shower, dried her hair and returned to the bed wrapped in her night gown. As she leaned over Kurtis to see how he was, he opened his eyes. “You’re not sleeping.” She said.
“No, not really.” He admitted. “You already know me.”
“You okay? Are you in pain? The legs…”
“I'm fine. As much as I can be. As soon as these legs gimme a break, I’ll put them to work again.” He stroked Lara's face. “Where have you been?”
Lara sat next to him, told him the meeting with Kat, without omitting anything. Then he was silent for a moment. “Poor girl.”
“She’s gonna suffer. Whether Anna toss her in this... this chaos... or if she finally doesn't.”
“Don't be so negative. Anna can't always be alone.” She leaned toward him. The partially wet hair stroked his arm. “No Lux Veritatis can always be alone.”
“I guess you're right.” He brushed her hair gently.
Lara then looked at a prepared syringe on the bedside table. “What’s that?” She examined it. “It's your night dose of sedatives. That's why you're awake. Why hasn't Ethan put it on you?”
“I wanted to wait for you awake.”
“Liar. You are watching after Anna.”
“Taking care of her, Lara. Taking care of her.”
“Little can you do from this bed, with your legs broken.”
“I'll do more than if I'm dozed.”
Lara sighed, looked down, proved him right. And then, suddenly, unable to contain herself, she added: “All this... all this that happened...”
“Lara. We'll talk about Anna tomorrow. Not now.”
“You were right all along. Kurtis…”
“Enough, Lara. You already apologized. Once is enough.” His hands went up and down, stroking her, running through her arms. Then he took a lock of her chestnut hair, rolled it up on a finger and kissed it absently, as he used to do. “I've learned something too.” He confessed at last. “For you were right too, Lara. You were right all along. Paralyzed with fear, terrified about what could happen to Anna, I’m not helping her. It will be, eventually, the same as letting her die. Anna’s powerful, very powerful. She just proved it. More than I ever was. I’ll teach her to handle that power. With luck and with our help, and that of that girl, her friend, I hope she’s happier than I ever was... specially before you. And that's it. I have nothing else to say. For now.”
“Thank you, Kurtis. Thank you.” She muttered the words almost inaudibly. And then she took his hands and kissed them. “But I’ve something left to say. Just one more thing.”
“The answer is yes.”
He watched her silently, confused. He looked at her for a few moments, waiting for her to say something else. But she didn’t. “I don’t get it.”
“The answer is yes, Kurtis - to the question you asked.”
“You told me if, in case you asked me, I would marry you. Well, the answer is yes.”
Kurtis was speechless, looking at her in silence, still holding her hands. His face had acquired that expression. It was so him. That blank face, which contained a sea of emotions behind it. A dike failing to break. How she adored that expression.
“Who am I supposed to marry, if not you, remarkable man. I used to think nobody deserved such an honor... or rather, that the honor itself meant nothing. But you have broken all my schemes. You’re unique, one of a kind. If someone deserves this honor, it's you, remarkable man.”
“Lara...” He sputtered at last “...I...”
“Don’t say anything.” She put two fingers on her lips. “That day, I crossed all the lines. I was cruel and mean. You revealed something secret to me, something you longed for silently, and I laughed in your face.”
“Silence. Don’t interrupt me, please. I want you to know that... I didn't laugh at you. I didn't laugh because your question was stupid. It only caught me by surprise. I didn’t see it coming. I was confused. It was a bad time.”
“I know, Lara.” He held her by the arms, in that particular way, as if she was made of glass. “I know. Forget it, it doesn't matter anymore.”
“Yes, it does. It matters to me.” She lowered her head, affected. The strands of copper hair partially covered her. “I want you to know - that the answer is yes. If…” She ran out of voice. She felt Kurtis' fingers part her hair, stroke her face. Her skin was burning.
“In case I want to ask again?”
“You don't have to do it if you don't want to.”
“I already know that. I didn't saw it coming either.” He confessed. “I didn't plan it. It came out of me abruptly. Like other things I had buried. For example, I’d have liked Anna not being alone. Having... siblings. Several of them.”
Lara covered her face with her hand. She laughed, tired. “You never told me.”
“Because I knew you didn't want to. What’s the point in asking something you didn’t want?”
She’d blushed. “I'd hate to know that made you miserable.”
“It's not been that hard. You and Anna are enough to fill my life - of joys and griefs.” He stroked her again. “You're burning. Are you blushing?”
“Of course not.” She muttered. “You know I never blush.” Her face burned. What a weird thing. Must be the age. I’m getting old. “It’s too late for one of your hidden desires.” She added, not without a slight sadness. “But the other’s still possible - if you still want it.”
“Damnit, I’m not able to kneel right now.”
She laughed and hugged him tightly. She could do it now without causing him pain. “Just tell me why. I'm curious. We’ve been fine all these years - or so I believed. I didn’t know…”
“I can’t tell it either. I think I'm getting old. I'm tired of being invisible, of being at bay...”
“... you are not at bay, Kurtis. You’ve never been invisible.”
“Your daughter is constantly told she has no father. Concerning you... well, you know.”
“Since when do we care about the opinions of others?”
“That makes her suffer. So, make me real... official. It would be for her... and for me. Others can go to hell, you know that.”
“It's not fair. You’ve always been real...” She held his face and kissed him on the mouth. Sweetly. Gently. “But it's fine. I agree.”
“Don’t I need to ask you? Try to kneel, at least? Damnit, I don't even have a ring...”
“Nothing at all. I already told you that the answer is yes.” She kissed him again. And again. And longer. Sweeter. Her heart started beating faster. His hands slid under her night gown. They caressed her. Lara gasped. “Did I ask if you were in pain?”
“You think you could…?”
“Yes.” His hands opened her robe. She wore nothing underneath.
After that Lara felt his lips on her breastbone, then on her collarbone. She threw back her head, sighed. Kurtis’ hand rose up through her thigh’s inner side, caressed her when it reached its destination. His lips closed over her nipple. Oh my God. She groaned deeply.
“Yes?” She panted.
“You have to be the one...”
“True.” She stripped off the gown, threw it on the floor. Then she pulled aside the sheet covering Kurtis and hovered over him. “I don't want to hurt you, though.”
“You're not gonna... ouch.” Lara had reached towards the syringe and gently stuck it in his arm. He felt the cold liquid entering his bloodstream. It was anything but arousing. “If this dozes me off too soon, I'm gonna get pissed.”
Lara dropped the syringe back on the table, threw her hair back, hovered on him again. So beautiful, so radiant. God, how he loved her.
“Then there’s no time to lose.” She whispered as she descended on him.
Chapter 25: Rage
In The Legacy - excuse the clumsy title - I intend to explore human and family relationships concerning the TR universe characters who survived to my previous brutality. There will also be some action, although scarce: you know I love dialogues, feelings and the human psyche in all its beauty and complexity.
I hope this story lives up to your expectations and doesn't bore you too much. Excuse, also, if there are imperfections in the English translation, for I'm not an English native speaker. Thanks for bringing me back to the fanfic world
Previous chapter: www.deviantart.com/meldelen/ar…