Sticky, stiff, headachy, angry — it never seemed to change.
Unless something very serious had happened just before he went to sleep the night before, Quatre typically awoke refreshed and with his mood a blank slate for the coming day. But he endeavored not to think about the contrast between ‘typically’ and ‘now.’ Here, in this terminally wet air, on this narrow cot, bloated with magical energy he couldn’t get rid of, waking from aggravating dreams, his state upon rising was every bit as unpleasant as it had been upon going to bed last night.
Last night? He wasn’t even sure what day it was. Thursday, he believed, which meant he’d been in this place for almost a week now, and to no goddamn purpose whatsoever. It was difficult to ignore the fact that his entire life had evidently become a complete waste of time.
He threw off the blanket and sat up, making an annoyed noise as his bare feet touched the bare floor. It couldn’t be called ‘clammy’ because it was already warm in here, but the effect was much the same: an uncomfortable moistness that made him feel dirty and his breaths thick and difficult to draw. Who the hell had decided this was a good place to settle down? Even when it wasn’t being torn apart by hurricanes and submerged in floods, it felt as if it was only one step away from those or some similarly wet fate.
As he tried to stretch out the stiffness induced by a bed on which it was nearly impossible to find any more comfortable position than board-flat on his back, he looked for the millionth time around the room as if something in it might have changed during the night. But there was no alteration whatsoever to the quality of the morning light from the little cloudy windows beside the ceiling, the desk from which he’d swept its few surface contents in irritation, the locked file cabinets whose handles he’d pulled off and thrown across the room in an attempt to open the drawers, or the three remaining sticky-tacked corners of the poster he’d ripped off the painted brick wall a few days in when its grinning, Mardi-Gras-masked face had more or less sent him into a frenzy.
When Nancy, a representative of La Confrérie de la Lune Révéré that seemed to believe she could use magic and enthusiasm to make up for a lack of intelligence, had approached Quatre last week with the promise that her organization could rid him of the enraging energy that was the root of all his current problems, she’s also promised they would provide him with everything he might need while he stayed with them. Thus far this had meant some incredibly cheap clothing — since he’d gone with her on the spot and therefore hadn’t packed anything — and fast food at two irregular intervals each day.
Despite his being thus furnished with pajamas, however, he’d slept naked since the third night. The way the thin cotton stuck to his skin in this atmosphere was unendurable, made him want to tear the polka-dotted shirt and pants into rags and then burn them, assuming he could get them to burn without the aid of gasoline. So now he seized the equally flimsy and unattractive robe they’d provided him as well and donned it before heading out toward the bathroom.
It had been an impetuous decision to go with Nancy, based on simultaneous desires to escape and to have his condition reversed, as well as on a subtle understanding that Nancy could probably abduct him by force if she wanted, and his irritation at his own thoughtlessness had been little tempered by the subsequent realization that, while he was here, he could endeavor to discover who had been behind the burning of Trowa’s house and attempt to exact some recompense from them. He was trying not to think about how little thought had gone into all of this, how little he liked to think about any of this… but had he known beforehand what the living conditions would be, he might have given the matter more consideration at the outset notwithstanding.
The bathroom could better have borne the British appellation ‘toilet,’ or even the more universal ‘shit-hole,’ since there was no bath and the existing appliances barely functioned. For his personal hygiene, therefore, Quatre was forced to resort to sponge baths with hard-won water from the sink, which device further disturbed him with its old-fashioned shape and appearance by reminding him a little — enough for discomfort, though he tried with desperate anger not to feel it — of the one in Trowa’s previous bathroom. La Confrérie had offered to clean him up by magic on a daily basis, but this Quatre had somewhat profanely refused. As if they weren’t trying enough magic on his person as it was.
Originally the terrible mirror had been merely ancient, not broken, but after the third or fourth application of Quatre’s fist it had developed a spider’s web of cracks that split his glaring reflection into a hundred angry fragments. He could still make out the bruise-like dark spots beneath his eyes, however, and the sunkenness of his cheeks — could he really have lost that much weight in only a week? Or had that process started back when he’d first become possessed? Either way, damn this place.
He sponged off, brushed his teeth, and used the toilet with a vigor that became no less irate for his having to flush three times just to get the thing to work properly. Then he threw his horrible bathrobe back on and returned to what, for lack of any better term, he must refer to as his bedroom.
Five different members of La Confrérie had introduced themselves to him during his stay here, one of them the Vallis Rheita — a title, not a name; legally, she was much more mundanely called Tammy Killinger — and none of them admitted to being the ones that had set fire to Trowa’s house. On this latter point, before he’d stopped himself out of a growing, self-preserving desire not to think about his boyfriend at all, Quatre had made such angry and persistent inquiries that he believed he’d rendered the entire group reluctant to talk to him except when necessary, for now they all tended to avoid him whenever it wasn’t actually ritual time.
Evidence of this was the breakfast and newspaper that had been left for him while he’d been busy in the bathroom, with no sign of who had brought it. The sight of the paper — the cheapest best option they could come up with for his entertainment during the day — incensed him; what the hell did he care about New Orleans news? What he wanted was his goddamn phone! Even some random book would be better than this.
But it wasn’t as annoying as the greasy McDonald’s bag and Styrofoam cup standing on the desk next to the fan, which had been replaced from where Quatre had knocked it to the floor last night. Quatre loathed McDonald’s breakfast, especially the coffee whose scent now filled the room. Well, at least it all still appeared to be hot — he tended to wake each morning pretty systematically at the same time, even under such circumstances, so they knew when to send somebody to buy him breakfast — and at least they’d scraped together a few grains of sense and supplied him with a new bottle of Tylenol to replace the one he’d used up.
Though he really saw no point to it, he turned his attention to getting dressed before he made an attempt at mixing enough cream and sugar — assuming they’d had the brains to bring him any — into his coffee to make it drinkable, or to brave the horrors of the paper bag and find out whether whatever the hell was in there might be edible.
He donned the thrift store camouflage shorts, the t-shirt advertising something from last year called ‘A Night in Versailles’ into whose details he didn’t care to inquire, a pair of socks that would form a minimal barrier between his feet and the slimy floor, and no shoes. Of these last La Confrérie had provided him none — perhaps the local Goodwill hadn’t had his size in stock — and the Allen Edmonds Oxfords he’d been wearing when he’d come here would probably melt their own seams and fall apart just to get off his feet if he forced them to be a part of the dreadful outfit.
By the time he’d finished this process and the subsequent doctoring of his coffee, the latter was cool enough to drink, and along with his first gulp he swallowed three Tylenol. Something stronger would serve his needs better, since this headache certainly had the tenacity to merit a prescription, but if he were to make such a request of his ‘hosts’ and have it denied, it would force him to face squarely just how powerless he was in his present situation, and this he was attempting to avoid thinking about at all costs.
The cheap smell of the hash browns and sausage biscuit that comprised his unsatisfying breakfast took him abruptly back to a lunch he’d once had with Trowa during the days when their acquaintance had been characterized by an interest and engagement almost entirely against Trowa’s will — a reminder of former, better times with someone he loved and missed combined with the idea of a situation entered upon almost entirely against its participant’s will. Perfect.
Quatre slammed his fist down onto the McDonald’s bag, crumpling it to the surface of the desk and feeling the food inside smash, warm and moist, beneath his hand. Then with a growling noise in his throat he shoved the nearby fan for a second time so it clattered once again to the floor where he could not see it. His scowling eyes alighting next on the bottle of Tylenol he’d just made use of, he picked it up and hurled it against the wall with such ferocity that it popped open in an explosion of pills.
It had come to this — his not merely not bothering to restrain displays of anger, but actually embracing that emotion and letting it suffuse him like the humid air of this abominable place since it was preferable to anything else he might be feeling, to sitting calmly and facing the complete lack of control, the fear, the misery — but how long he could possibly go on this way he did not know. Tears already blurred his vision, and his breaths were more like sobs for almost a minute after his outburst as he forced himself to sit down on the cot and try at the same time to get a grip and continue not to think about what he didn’t want to think about — which was practically everything that mattered to him.
When he was able, he would eat what he could of the mutilated breakfast, and undoubtedly get angry at how bad and unhealthy it tasted. Then he would attempt to read the entire newspaper, getting angry about every story and struggling not to be reminded of anything, as slowly as possible so as to drag the activity out for the maximum amount of time. How he would spend the remainder of the day after that he did not know; how he had spent the remainder of each previous day he tried not to think.
Eventually someone would come and take him back to that room down the hall. He had access to it himself, and didn’t need to be led — it was two unlocked doors away — but there was nothing in there besides scuffed chalk-marks and an old, plain wooden chair, and therefore no reason to visit the place without reason.
This evening, per routine, he would assume that uncomfortable seat while whichever Confrérie members happened to be present this time bickered about the nuances of the latest variation of their ritual until his fingers twitched to wring all their necks. Then they would settle down and attempt the spell, more or less painfully to Quatre and generally futilely. After this, they would argue further about what alterations to make next, and try a second and even a third time depending on the lateness of hour when each debate was finished.
And Quatre would take advantage of having people he didn’t care about around on whom he could vent his endless anger. He hated himself for this, and some of the tears that had soaked his pillow over the last several nights had certainly been in response to a recognition he could not entirely evade of his own monstrosity. Yet there was a definite if miniscule relief to hurling verbal abuse at the Confrérie magicians — a relief augmented by the awareness that he was not hurling verbal abuse at his friends. At least he had the awareness to cling to, along with his distracting rage, that he was not actively hurting those he loved. If he could keep hold of that, and simultaneously, paradoxically keep from thinking too much about them and how wretched he was without them, he could survive another day of this.