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Inheritance

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The house becomes silent. Reuental stands at the window and watches his father's car pull away, tail-lights swinging out of sight around the corner.

Here is his inheritance: a grand house with too few servants, too many secrets. A permanently drunk father who can only see him as the evidence of a crime. His mother's ghost.

He lets out a small sigh and releases the curtain, lets it fall heavily across the window, shuts out the night and the eyes of the distant street-lights.

 

They say he looks so much like his mother. Sometimes with a sad smile but usually with a sneer.

He knows it's true. He's the very picture of her. Except the eye, of course.

Two reasons for his father to hate him. Resemblance and difference.

 

Now that he's alone the room draws him, pulls his quiet steps towards it through the silence. There's only the faint tap of his feet against smooth wooden floors; the protest of a door that's hardly ever opened.

His father has hardly touched the house that his mother once decorated, but this is the place where it's most tangible. An abandoned bedroom, and in the dressing chamber beside it the closets full of clothes that haven't been worn in more than ten years.

It smells of mothballs and dust here. It's a dead part of the house, something left behind entirely.

Only Reuental comes back here – he hopes. And only ever in secret.

 

In his mother's mirrors his reflection is softened. The indistinctness makes the likeness even more striking: the strong wave of his hair across his forehead, the line of his jaw. He is fifteen, but he hasn't grown out of her yet. She's still there, written across his face. His shoulders are still slim.

He frowns, irritated. But it doesn't help.

However much he studies himself, he can't find a trace of his father there.

 

And then there's the dresses. Rows on rows of them. Fine evening gowns and light summer dresses, perfect for garden parties. Relaxed, simple dresses for days at home. Some sophisticated and sleek, some exaggeratedly feminine, ruffles on ruffles. Very proper. Modest.

Modest indeed. Oh, he hates her -- with an edge of unhealthy obsession, even he can admit, if distantly, with the kind of quiet rationality that doesn't make it far below the surface. He can't let go of her, and she won't let go of him, even though she's been dead for so long.

Which did she wear to meet her lovers? Did she try to be coy? How did she behave with them?

He runs his hands over the fabric, feels how it slides against his skin. A smooth black dress, entirely simple, finely made; a long fall of fabric, slit at the side to above the knee. Indecent, especially for a married woman.

Perhaps this is one of them.

He lifts it out, with hands that hardly shake. Holds it up in front of him, holds it up against himself.

Closes his eyes against the person in the mirror.

 

This is how it always goes. He's been here over and over again: pulled out dresses, examined them, thought about them. Felt the attraction of them.

Then he's put them back and left, pushed it from his mind with all the force he could gather.

But they always come back. He always comes back

He opens his eyes again. He makes a decison, but tries to sidestep the reasons.

 

His own clothes get folded in a neat pile on a stool. He takes them off fastidiously, takes his time, breaths very carefully.

 

He steps into the dress, lifts it, pulls it up over his waist, slides his arms into it. He holds his breath now: does he really dare? Will it really fit?

But he inches the zipper closed. Carefully, carefully. He might like to tear the dress apart, destroy it entirely, burn it -- but he would hate to break it by accident.

It isn't a perfect fit. A little tight at the waist; more or less fine across the chest, the draped fabric making allowances. The lines of his body are just a little straighter than hers, he supposes.

But it works. It holds him, wraps itself around him, unfamiliar textures and smells -- he's almost frightened. Almost excited. He isn't sure why.

He lets the skirt fall around his legs, draws a breath at the brush of it over his skin. Turns, at last, to the mirror and stops short at the person he meets there.

His reflection stares back at him with hard, concentrated eyes, examining, trying to look through. Deeper, deeper.

Who is he? Who was she?

He reaches out for his reflection, but comes up against the mirror's silver mist of age. It hangs like a gauze in front of him, between him and -- not just the answer, but also any proper formulation of the question. There's something else.

He sighs, presses his hand hard against the glass, as though he could push right through it, break down some barrier.

But there's only him and the mirror.

Maybe that in itself is the answer, and he is everything she was.

"Hah," he says to himself, a little burst of something like a laugh, humourless. Yes, that might be it.

The witch's son, all wrong, just as twisted as the witch herself.

But she made one mistake that he won't, he decides, eyes narrowing. She married.

 

His other decision is that this will be the end of it. He won't go back to the room, he won't go back to the dresses.

Of course, he's wrong. They're too fascinating to him, too tangled up in -- more things than he wants to think about.

They play on his mind. He lies in bed and remembers the feel of the dress he wore, the way it looked on him. It shapes a tense, tight ball of expectation in the pit of his stomach. The reminder that it's entirely unacceptable behaviour, if anything, only makes the feeling worse, more urgent.

It would make his father hate him even more if he knew. That's fine. That's good. Why shouldn't he?

It means, perhaps, that he's sick. He knew that already. Everyone has always told him. Why should he draw this line? No-one believes he's normal anyway.

He derives a curious twist of satisfaction from being just as much of a warped, defective bastard as his father has always told him he was. He refuses to feel sorry, and he refuses to cower.

He pushes himself out of bed in an angry rush and stalks to the door.

He'll do what he likes.

He goes back.