Hippolyte Ibbotson wakes up at sharply seven, attempts to dress himself, and straightens his tie in the bathroom mirror. He tries to tame his hair, brushes it back and watches it spring forward again. Maybe, he thinks, his new roommate will be - kind. Kindness is scarce in the hallway fire-depths of Brendan, and every time that there is a new addition he allows himself to hope, momentarily, that things can be redeemed. After: he straightens his tie again, and mutilates his every hope.
Ibbotson puts on his glasses. In the mirror he sees himself for what he truly is: pathetic, lost, fallen, (he thinks about redemption—) and he puts a hesitant hand on the doorknob, twists it, and heads out, away from safety, into the Headmaster’s office.
They assign him a guide, for his first full day at Brendan. He lowers his mind, builds a soft cocoon around his entire self; Turlough has carved into his knowledge that he will despise this man, even before they meet.
Turlough curls into himself. He sinks into the chair surrounding him - much too large for anyone to fit in comfortably - and bites nervously on his fingernails. He is a caged animal, a chained wild thing. Somehow he will get home. He can feel it, freedom as a cold skin-bite. He can feel it.
The boy who enters breaks Turlough’s expectations entirely - he is too soft, a little bit too round. He looks vulnerable to the core.
Not a threat. He can work with this.
Ibbotson knows instantly that he will not survive.
The man in front of him - Turlough - has wide, twitching eyes and pale, trembling hands. Ibbotson wants to pity him. Ibbotson wants to be him; naive to the elements of this school, this - eternity of ache. Ibbotson wants to - wants - peace, a kindness to radiate. Maybe he can hope. Maybe loss can be repaired.
“Say hello now, Ibbotson,” says the Headmaster, resting a hand on Ibbotson’s shoulder. Ibbotson flinches, stares at the tight grip, feels the coolness of skin even through his suit jacket - and he feels a sickness clawing at him, slowly devouring him, devouring him.
He can see a transient look of recognition in Turlough’s eyes. He understands. Ibbotson knows that he understands, has felt it; perhaps Turlough will survive, if he is hardened.
“Yes, hello,” Turlough responds, bored. “Can we go now? I’m getting very hungry.”
“You may leave,” the Headmaster responds, giving Ibbotson a slight shove, “but stick together. Ibbotson is a fine young man. He will get you accustomed to this school very quickly.”
“Great,” says Turlough, thick in sarcasm. He stands up, brushes against Ibbotson, and leaves without another word.
They make a winding trip to the dining hall, during which Ibbotson gives his best effort at conversation. Turlough doesn’t seem interested. He doesn’t seem interested in anything, but Ibbotson can see through the hidden, the veil draped around him - he is wounded. Ibbotson knows wounded, feels wounds littered over his body. Oh: kindness is just a fantasy dipped in the gold of reality; it was never quite tangible.
Turlough slams his tray down on the table. He picks up his carton of juice, brings it to his lips, and promptly spits it back out. “What is this?”
“It’s… orange juice. Have you never had orange juice before, Turlough?”
He can see gears clicking behind Turlough’s eyes; he’s remembering something. “No,” Turlough finally decides, “I don’t think so. Is this all they have to drink here?”
“Well, they have water, of course,” Ibbotson tells him. “Um, and coffee, sometimes, but not often.”
Turlough looks confused. “Okay, that’s… good.”
“Where are you from, exactly?” Ibbotson asks; it spills right out, he can only slightly comprehend his own words. Is this what he has become? Is he nebulous now?
Turlough looks frightened, twitches, until he shakes his head and goes back to a normal impression, an intriguing veneer. Ibbotson is not - smart, in his own eyes, cannot tell when he is being manipulated. Is he being manipulated? It feels as if Turlough has been at Brendan for years.
“I’m from around here,” Turlough says quietly, and takes a particularly large bite of his pancake. It must be acceptable, because Turlough allows his eyes to shut, allows himself to sigh.
Ibbotson understands that he should not push further. “Well... do you like it here so far?”
“It’s absolutely awful,” Turlough replies flatly. “I’d honestly rather die than spend another day here.”
“But… you’ve only been here for a day.”
“So?” Turlough says.
Ibbotson looks down at his own tray. He’s not hungry anymore.
He watches Turlough in history class and he watches Turlough at lunch and he watches Turlough lie awake in the bed next to his, toss and turn. Then he looks down at his own hands and feels the roughness of them; kindness is not affordable here. No one can afford to be kind. Yet kindness is shaped like weakness is shaped like Ibbotson; cloud-like, floating. He ascends. He is ascending.
Ibbotson considers making a statement, hidden drenched in darkness. Something like: they will eat you here, and you are different; I can save you. Do not let yourself be bitten. I can save you. He doesn’t know how but he can save Turlough - he can warn Turlough, he can hold things down soft. If he concentrates intensely, he can rip himself right out of Brendan, and more; he can stuff kindness into the chests of these boys, can sew them right back up. Purity is the monster of his creation, in this dream, and Turlough’s breaths are heavy. Turlough’s breaths are heavy.
Ibbotson remembers it: the beginning of the cycle, his first day at Brendan. This was before formality - he had to fare on his own, cower underneath the world. Now he is extracting himself; he can be something, he can do good. He can save Turlough. He can find redemption.