Chapter 1: Silver Eyes and Iron Bars
You had always loved stories. When you were a child, it was rare that you did not have a book in your hands, drinking up words like they were water and you had been wandering a scorching desert. Once you grew older and you learned to make the right symbols with a pen or pencil, you started making stories of your own.
This would make a good story, too you thought, as you peered through the bars of your newest cell. It was far from your first, those ranging from iron to glass that would never shatter. This one, however, was something out of one of your books.
The room outside your new bars might have been beautiful, once. You could see the intricacies of the paint on the walls that had been mostly chipped away, revealing rotting wood underneath. Dim lights lined the walls, lamps made of frosted glass with little vines carved into them. A few of them were broken. Amidst all this disintegrating beauty, the cage you were in seemed wildly out of place. Cold leached into your body from the floor you were lying on. The bars were aging, rust beginning to take form on some of them. Others, you realized once you got close enough, had flecks of blood clinging to them.
That wasn’t what made the room so interesting to you, though.
It was the air. Each breath you took in filled your lungs with ice, and the faint scent of chemicals filled your nose. Everything about the air was too clean; purified as much as possible to mask the smell of death lingering behind it.
A very good story.
“You didn’t tell me that you would be bringing another test subject.” You didn’t know the voice that came from further down the room, where the walls bent into a hallway. It struck you how much the voice sounded like it belonged in this pretty, decaying room.
The second voice, on the other hand, was one you knew very well. He was the reason you were here, locked in a cold cell. Marcelo Jimenez had been your doctor at your home away from home, Beacon Mental Hospital for over a year now. He’d taken over after his brother was forced to admit he did not know how to “repair your damaged mind”.
No one really did, it seemed.
“Initially, I did not plan to bring her here.” The voices seemed to grow closer, prompting you to shut your eyes, hoping that they would believe you were still asleep. “There have been many complications with her treatments since she arrived at the hospital. Most of the psychological exercises have had little to no effect, and any medication has only made things worse.” Over the years, you'd learned to fight the urge to laugh when your doctors couldn't grasp why they failed. So supposedly brilliant, and yet each and every one was too blind to see.
When there was no response from the other man, Jimenez continued. “As treatments are having no positive effect, I thought that you might make better use of her.”
Silence was added to the cold air for a moment before the other man spoke again. “It isn’t surprising,” you could hear the faint sound of pages being turned. It was almost comforting to you, though you very much doubted that this man was reading a book. “Did any of your colleagues manage to come to come to a consensus on what mental illness she actually has?”
You could have answered that simply, but being a man of science, Jimenez seemed to want to overcomplicate the issue. “Initially, test results pointed towards schizophrenia, so we treated her as such. Things seemed to be progressing well for several months-”
“And then what?” the man sounded impatient.
“Her doctor began saying that she had been misdiagnosed. It is not unheard of, so we entertained the idea and he rediagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.” That probably should have been what they said in the first place, you admitted. It would have made the most sense, given your own story. But then, you supposed everyone had a different interpretation of a mind that they couldn’t actually see into. “The nature of that disorder demanded a specialist, so she was given to a new doctor. And another after he rediagnosed her with borderline personality disorder. Next, it was bipolar. After that, she was given to me for care.”
You wanted to open your eyes to see the confusion you could only imagine was plastered over the face of Jimenez’s colleague. You wanted to see what fate you were being handed off to now, but you kept your eyes closed.
“I hadn't realized the incompetence of the staff at the hospital.” That almost made you smile. “Did you have another diagnosis to add to the list?”
“Truthfully, I thought that her first diagnosis was correct, so I started from the beginning. Every time I thought that her condition was improving, she would regress into her original state. Soon, medication only made it worse and any other attempts had no effect.” He didn’t sound upset or shameful at the failure. You wondered if he would have the same tone if he were telling a family that a patient had passed away.
Maybe it's how he would talk to your family, if you had any left to mourn for you.
“I cannot run tests on a patient that could have any number of conditions. You have brought me a distraction.” Whoever this man was, he was no friend of Marcelo, if his tone was any indication. Then again, you wouldn't count yourself among the doctor’s friends, either.
You could hear Jimenez take in a breath of air, as he often did to collect his thoughts. “I am confident that you will succeed where others failed. Beyond that, her particular condition might prove to be the key to advancing the project.”
Those words did little to assuage your worry. You’d heard tales of asylums from centuries ago that used the broken and damaged as lab rats. They’d always captured your interest, but the thought of living one out now made your heart pound.
“I will return soon, and with more patients. You have my word.” You wondered if this man knew as you did that the word of Dr. Marcelo Jimenez meant very little.
Still, there was no verbal response from him, though you imagined he nodded. You listened very carefully, hearing faint footsteps against the cold floor. They sounded like they were getting further and further away, so you assumed that it had to be Jimenez leaving.
About time, you thought.
You waited until the room was quiet again, save for the sound of pages being turned, before you cracked an eye open.
At first, all you could see was the blurry outline of a tall, thin man. He held something in his hands - a clipboard, you determined - and was still flipping through pages. Most likely, they were your patient records, and you might have cared more about that if you hadn’t noticed the bandages that covered the man’s hands.
They wrapped around his skin all the way up his hands and under his sleeves. Though a fine shirt hid his arms and torso from you, you imagined that they went all the way up to, based on the ones you could see covering his neck and head. You were glad to see that only part of his face was covered by a bandage that crossed from his forehead to his cheek, beneath his right eye. The rest was yours to visually explore. He was pale - paler than almost anyone you could remember seeing in your life - with sharp features and a mouth pressed into a line of concentration. He was like something out of a book. He looked down at your file thoughtfully, not seeming to notice you observing him.
You decided that you needed to change that.
“Enjoying the reading?” Silver met your gaze when he looked up, and you didn’t restrain the small smile that spread across your lips. Eyes had always been your favorite. They took in the world around them, just as they whispered little bits of what a person had seen before. It was very obvious to you the moment your eyes met his pale ones that this man had seen much in his life.
He did not, however, look all too surprised to see you awake. “You were listening,” he observed.
“Not that Marcelo would notice. He’s not as observant as he thinks he is.”
The bandaged man regarded you for a moment, those silvery eyes analyzing you. It was almost something you had seen before in the doctors at Beacon, were it not for the emptiness of it. To this man, you could tell, you were nothing but a means to an end; a microbe in a petri dish.
You would by lying if you said it didn't frighten you. “You should have hoped that he was more observant. Then you might be back at the hospital, being treated, and not here.”
“Even hell is better than purgatory.” His gaze narrowed, but he didn’t respond further. “So how do you plan to succeed where so many distinguished doctors failed?” you resisted the urge to further ask what would happen to you once he had solved that problem.
“Your doctors were limited,” he stepped closer to your cage, “by both their own short-sighted nature and by society.” You shoved another reply about Beacon down your throat. “I am not. We will begin testing once I am finished with my current subject.”
He turned, his back exposed to you as he walked away. But you weren't done with him yet. “I've heard stories about men like you.” You risked the comment, well aware of the cost it might have. Still, it did manage to stop him and that silver gaze slowly turned to meet yours. “Always willing to push the boundaries. So many unanswered questions, so many worthless lives to be expended.” You tapped the bars with one of your nails, playing the beat to a melody only you could hear. “They never realize that they're just as expendable. Not until the end.”
Those wonderful, expressive eyes flashed and you knew that your words had found their mark.
With a bit more anger in his step, the man continued out of the room, heading down the hallway and out of your sight. You sat back against the bars, letting out a sigh in the too-clean air and continuing your tapping. The tune you hummed was only interrupted when the screaming began.
Yes, you almost smiled, a very good story.
You had become accustomed to waking up to a dark room, so the dim lights from broken lamps were a bit of a strange sight when you opened your eyes. The aching emptiness in your belly was nothing new. The floor you slept on was only slightly more cold and uncomfortable than the bed you had been given at Beacon, so that was something you had adapted to easily.
Screaming wasn't much of a stretch either. It was common enough to hear patients screaming, whether at their doctors or in fear or at nothing at all. Granted, it was a different kind of screaming than the one you had recently been listening to.
Agony was a word that came to mind. You had only heard that particular version of screaming a few times.
The sound was enough to make you freeze, long buried images pushing against your conscious thoughts. It lingered at the edges of your thoughts, like a shadow. You could remember dark and crashing noises and screaming and-
Lock it away. Where no one can find it.
You distanced yourself from those thoughts, taking in a few long, deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth , just as you had so many times before. Dwelling on it would only kill you. Think of something else. Anything else . What was happening to this other patient ?
With nothing else to do, your mind was free to peruse the possibilities.
Your first thought was of some terrible, medieval torture. It fit the screaming well enough, the pain you could hear on the man’s voice. The man who would be conducting said torture that didn’t fit. He was a researcher, not a sadist. At least, you didn’t think that he wasn’t a sadist for the sake of being a sadist.
No, this was an experiment. He had more or less told you as much when you first awoke, your mind just attached the torture to the sounds of pain you were hearing.
The next question was what kind of experiment?
In another life, you might have conducted experiments yourself. Nowhere near as gruesome as what you imagined was happening to this man, but you had spent enough time imagining that life to have a few experiments in mind. This man was a scientist who needed living humans for lab rats.
Something with the body, then.
The fact that he was taking patients from a mental hospital told you more. This man was working on more than just the body, but the mind.
Was he lobotomizing people? Surely not, he seemed to think that Beacon’s methods were idiotic and even they hadn’t been driving steel rods into anyone’s brains. No, you suspected he was doing something different. Something more advanced and painful. Something . . .
The screaming had stopped.
You sat up, hugging your legs to your chest, registering the loss of the sound and the familiar silence that followed. Was the man dead? Or was this simply a reprieve?
Quieting your breath as much as you could, you listened for any sign of what had happened; the steady droning of a heart monitor perhaps, or the patient’s voice.
You did catch something, though it was barely a whisper and too far away for you to understand. Scrunching up your brows, you tried to discern the words, only stopping when you heard footsteps coming up the hallway your captor had disappeared down. You didn’t bother trying to shrink back into the shadows, staying where you were as you watched the pale, bandaged man step into the room.
There was a quiet fury to his walk, what little you could see of his expression set in a hard stare. You almost expected him to look at you, to throw some glare your way. You recieved nothing. He simply walked past you without so much as a glance.
Holding your tongue, you watched him go, your chin resting on the dirty skin of your arms. A few moments of silence passed, just enough to make you think that you were going to be left with nothing but your thoughts.
Then, drifting down the hallway the bandaged man had just left through, came a sound you had long since forgotten. The sorrowful notes of the piano were like the screams in that they brought with them memories of a different time. You thought of a warm living room with light streaming in through the window, of the upright piano that sat against the wall.
You had lost count of the days, of the years, it had been since you’d heard music. That , more than the screaming or the cell you rested in, made you freeze.
It was a slow, melancholy song, one you recognized. Moonlight Sonata. You knew that the bandaged man had to be the one playing. It sounded too present to be a recording, too alive. Another strange contradiction for this place. Hearing the beauty of the song he played just moments from listening to the screams he drew from his patient was a jarring, stark contrast. Beauty and decay , you reminded yourself. The man was consistent, it seemed.
You closed your eyes, losing yourself for a moment in the calm of the song. You allowed yourself this small moment of peace. You were sitting in the eye of a hurricane.
Perhaps it was the fact that you had not heard music in so long, or that the piece itself was not a lengthy one. Either way, the music ended too soon and only moments later the man came walking back out into the room, his hands held behind his back.
This time, though, he stopped and glanced your way. There was something written in his eyes, calculating and efficient. You watched him out of the corner of your eye, not meeting his gaze this time. Partly because you were deep in thought, partly because you were biding your time. You were waiting for him to say something, a test to see if he would initiate conversation with you. A test to see what he thought of his patients as.
The man said nothing. He simply watched you for a time before he began to turn away.
“Moonlight Sonata,” you murmured. It was quiet, your voice hoarse from disuse, but it was enough to recapture his focus.
His silver eyes narrowed. “You know the piece,” his words were more of an observation than anything. Still, he seemed a bit surprised. Then again, you supposed that not many of the people this man met from Beacon were coherent enough to recognize pieces of music.
“I do,” you answered simply, only continuing when you realised that he was about to turn away again. “I hadn’t pegged you as a musician.”
His eyes narrowed further, seeming to not enjoy the fact that you were observing him just as he observed you.
“It’s a good thing,” you sang, “music is more valuable than gold.” The man was hard to read now, the eyes that had been so expressive a day ago were now set in a hard stare. He didn’t seem to be interested in what you had to say at all. Still, the tale you intended to tell took shape in your mind, a story you could scarcely remember hearing. The lonely man who played music . “There was a man who played music for the King of the Sea, once, and was repaid in golden scales.”
You almost laughed as the man rolled his eyes. “So Jimenez sends me not just a distraction, but an annoyance?”
That did make you laugh - a long, hysterical laugh. “Everyone needs a distraction, every now and then. Stories are some of the best kinds of distractions.”
He ignored the comment, his eyes moving to the other end of the room, where it branched off into something else. Into the room where the screams had been coming from. “Is he dead?” you found yourself asking, though you felt like you already knew the answer.
The man watched you with a chilled interest. “No. Not yet.” He said it like a promise, like he knew that the man would die soon. Like he wanted him to, almost.
You nodded, knowing what that meant for you. He would begin running his tests on you, and once he discovered your condition he would do to you whatever he had done to the half-dead man in the other room. “ Not yet, ” you tested the words on your tongue, then laughed. “So how long do I have?”
“Not as long as you’d hoped, I think.” The man answered simply, a smirk gracing his lips.
You kept your face neutral, digging your nails into your skin. “That’s not an answer.”
Taking steady, stalking steps, the man made his way towards you. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a silver key that he held in front of the bars. “Today, then.” You found yourself gaping a bit as he twisted the key into the lock between the bars, and the door swung open.
You were frozen for a moment, possible actions rushing through your mind as you gazed through the new opening in your cell. This was a test, you realised. It had to be. How many others had he opened the cage for? Had they run? Had they submitted to whatever torture he was about to put them through?
What would you do?
Your bones groaned as you pushed yourself off the ground, having gone so long without moving taking its toll. What would you do? As you stood, you felt blood rush to your head. When was the last time you’d had water? It didn’t matter, not as much as the look in the bandaged man’s eyes. He looked like he was inviting you to do something. Try it, he seemed to say with that wonderful silver gaze of his.
What would you do?
Letting your eyes slip to the hallway where the piano music had come from, and you knew your choice.
You knew that you wouldn’t make it. You knew that you were too weak from your time at Beacon, from not eating and whatever drug Jimenez had used on you to put you to sleep before you got here to get away. Either way, it didn’t stop you from pushing past the iron bars and running.
Or trying to run, at least.
The man was faster than you, moving the arm that was still behind his back too fast for you to register it. He took your wrist in one hand and brought something to meet it in his other. You felt the familiar bite of a needle, and then a warmth spreading through you that turned to lead in your veins.
Your head continued to spin as you fell, and you smiled up at the bandaged man looming over you.
I'm still alive! Sorry for the long wait on this one!
Chapter 3: A Story
You felt heavy when you finally opened your eyes, like weights had been put in your arms and legs and eyelids. Your head swam and you felt like you had just woken from a nightmare you couldn’t remember. Opening your eyes was difficult, and lifting your head was even more so.
Movement was the first thing to draw your attention, the fuzzy image of the bandaged man coming into focus. He stood across the room, near a table with a dozen instruments and glass containers strewn across it. On the wall behind him were diagrams and sketches of the brain, beautiful despite the chaotic lines that made them up.
Research on the mind, you confirmed.
With his back turned to you, focusing on something in front of him, you took the time to look elsewhere in the room. Several things caught your attention, the door on the wall opposite you, the cold metal of the chair you sat in . . . the binding pressure of the restraints that kept you in place.
You grimaced, tugging at the straps to test their strength. They barely budged, naturally. No sense in letting a patient actually get away. Just let them think that they can. Put the door right in front of them, make escape a possibility in their minds. Let them hope and then-
“Subject 37, (Y/N) (L/N),” your eyes snapped back to the bandaged man, realising that he was speaking into a recording device. You had forgotten that he would have read your name on your case file. It was strange to hear him say it, more strange than it was to be referred to by a number. You listened intently as he rattled on, summarizing your treatment history - no doubt as a reference for later. By the time he finally turned to you, he had summed up everything you had gone through at Beacon in just a few sentences.
There was no challenge left in your eyes when he met your gaze this time, only curiosity. It would do no good to anger him now, he obviously had no qualms about killing others.
Besides, he likely had just as many questions about you as you had about him.
“I thought you might be smart enough not to run,” he mused as he stalked closer to you. He was wearing the same shirt he had been when he knocked you out. Less than a day, then, you realised. You had been out for less than a day, though it felt like an eternity.
You didn’t respond to his query, the question brushed off of you, your focus on the diagrams that decorated the wall.
“Nothing to say today?”
You let the silence sit for a moment, finally turning back to him just in time to see anger flash across his eyes. “It’s not fair, you know. That you know my name but I don’t know yours.”
“You don’t need to know my name.” He said, with an apathy that you almost appreciated.
“Maybe not,” you admitted, drumming your fingers against the metal of the chair’s armrests. “But if I’m going to die, I think that I’d like to know the name of the man who kills me.”
The notion made him laugh. At least, as close to a laugh as he could manage. “What difference does it make?”
“It’s a courtesy.” Your words were grave, a choice few memories threatening to surface as you spoke.
The bandaged man tilted his head, ever studying. “Is it, now?” he seemed amused, something that was almost a smile pulling at the gauze on his face.
You nodded. “So? What's your name?”
For a moment, you thought that he might tell you. The way his expression seemed to barely soften was enough to make you straighten in interest, waiting to finally put a name to a face. Instead, he moved to a table that sat just beside you and reached for a set of wires that rested atop it.
You had seen similar such wires before, most recently at Beacon. Electrodes, you recognized them. A means of measuring brain activity.
It took a deceptively short amount of time to hook you up to the machine, locking you into a familiar sensation of being a lab rat. By the look of your nameless captor, he enjoyed having this level of power over people. You were just a means to an end to him.
What end, you wondered?
The electrical hum of a machine being turned on made your mind turn to ice, focusing as the man circled around to the other side of you. You began to mumble, your eyes going out of focus as you spoke. He didn't seem to care much.
“Now,” he said, like this was the beginning of some grand show, “let's begin.”
The first day had gone by slowly. In those hours, the girl had admitted to being named (Y/N) (L/N), that she was twenty years old, that she was admitted to Beacon by her family and that she didn't want to go back. All the while she had been mumbling between words; gone was the intelligence she'd had when she initially woke up in her cell.
Her results were just as inconsistent as Jimenez had suggested they would be. Ruben had conducted many failed experiments in his life, he was no stranger to being proven wrong . . . but he was in no mood to be proven wrong by Jimenez of all people. He would discover what illness lingered in the girl's mind and then his testing would resume, regardless of what the good doctor had planned.
The final notes of Clair de Lune hung in the air as he finished playing the piece, having taken the opportunity to clear his mind. The piano had always helped him focus, brought him back to a starting ground.
He stood from the bench, checking some of the bandages that covered his hands before heading back to the room where his newest subject was kept. He had left her strapped to the chair, and had given her a small dose of a sedative to ensure that she wouldn't try to escape. It had likely worn off by now.
His suspicion was confirmed when he returned and heard light, almost strained humming coming from the girl. It took him no time to recognize the tune. Not when he had just finished playing it.
“Clair de Lune this time?” She spoke before Ruben had the chance to. She sounded surprisingly coherent, given what he had witnessed only a few hours ago.
He nodded, hiding his frustration. Was this girl toying with him?
“Why do you play music?”
The question wasn't one he had expected to hear, nor was it one that he planned to answer. It brought back memories, memories of his father forcing him to learn then of Laura teaching him to love it. He didn't let his thoughts linger on those memories, choosing instead to move to his work table.
His lack of response must have prompted the girl to speak. “The man who played for the King of the Sea played because he was lonely.”
Ruben let out a tense sigh when he heard the girl's words. “Do you only know one story?” He took a beaker that rested on his work table, measuring out a dosage of the chemical within.
“Of course not. I know plenty of stories. That one is just a favorite.” He paid the girl little mind as he worked, deciding on what method to approach the problem before him with. He wasn't interested in any stories but that of the girl herself. With the right chemicals, Ruben theorized, he could discern the truth behind Jimenez's latest offering. A benzodiazepine would do.
All the while Ruben worked, the girl continued to speak. “It starts in Novgorod, the great city near the river Volkhov. The musician lived in the city, playing for whoever he could. He was poor and destitute, but he didn't care because he had music, and he had his city. The only thing that he didn't have was someone to hold, someone to love as much as he loved music. He would often sit by the beautiful river Volkhov, wishing for a woman to stay by his side until the end of his days.”
Ruben had seldom heard his other subjects use such language. Jimenez usually sent him those who were “beyond help”. Her vocabulary was too advanced, when she had been almost incoherent before.
Something about this girl was not right.
“Perhaps he should have gone to speak to people, instead of sitting alone by the river.” Ruben deadpanned, half paying attention.
The girl chuckled. “Perhaps. But it's a good thing that he didn't, for one day, someone did hear him. He was playing music on the banks of the river when, in a great wave, a crowned figure appeared from the rushing water. It was the King of the Sea.” Ruben listened to the story as he worked, measuring the last of the chemicals. “He explained that he had been visiting one of his daughters, the Princess Volkhova, and had heard the musician playing. The King asked that the man come with him to his palace beneath the sea someday, so that he could play for his royal court. In the meantime, he paid the man with the scales of a golden fish.”
Ruben finally turned to see the girl, smirking as he met her gaze. She wasted no time in scanning him, noticing the syringe he held if her eyeline was indicative of anything. “What's that?” She asked, and for a moment Ruben saw fear flash across her eyes.
“You were hardly this talkative earlier. I decided that you needed some incentive.” Ruben didn't hide the fact that he was in control, looking down his nose at the girl. She, meanwhile, was trying very hard to hide her worry.
What secrets would she share, he wondered?
The needle slid under the skin of the girl's arm with ease. Even without time for the drug to take its effect, there was a visceral reaction in the girl. Her muscles tensed and her breath hitched. It was a typical reaction, but one that Ruben always watched for.
The girl closed her eyes, like she was preparing herself. When she opened her eyes again, she met Ruben's gaze dead on, almost challenging him. He analyzed her, the defiance in her expression, the color of her eyes, the tightness in her jaw . . .
When the tension in her muscles eased and her eyelids grew heavy, Ruben smiled. He returned to his workspace, checking the tape recorder one last time and grabbing a clipboard. He seated himself on the cold metal chair across from the girl, watching the evidence of the chemicals working.
“A drug really isn't fair,” her speech was tired, wistful, even.
“Few things are.”
The girl laughed, albeit softly. “Dramatic.” Her eyes unfocused for a moment. “Why are you doing this?”
“To understand.” Ruben's riposte was quick and honest, if vague.
Again, the girl grinned. She was trying to keep up the fight, though she was fading fast. She seemed to know it too, her lips parting to speak before closing them again. Her head tilted forward a bit as fatigue overtook her, only returning her gaze to him when Ruben spoke. “You wanted so badly to tell me a story,” her once-light eyes had dimmed, “so, (Y/N), tell me a story.”