The first thing she felt was pain.
Pain in her head from a throbbing migraine; the bright lights that assaulted her eyes when she opened them didn’t help.
Pain in her stomach; poking jabs that eventually collected into a large, uncomfortable patch of pressure.
But the pain didn’t concern her, didn’t faze her. Not anymore. She was used to it.
Her senses returned as she adjusted to being awake. She didn’t know how long she’d travelled within the blissful nothingness of unconsciousness, that thin line between life and death. But it had been enough to muddle her mind and make things so confusing.
Her limbs ached too much to move. She felt with her fingers, touching the fuzzy material of a blanket covering her. Next came her sight: the bright whiteness soon stopped hurting her eyes, allowing her to see where she was. To see that she was in a hospital, with all this equipment she was attached to, a heart monitor to her left rhythmically recording her vitals, a breathing tube attached to her nose.
But everything was outdone by one feeling in particular: confusion.
Where was she? How did she end up here? What has happened?
Thinking didn't help. There was nothing comforting in her mind. Her head throbbed with pain and any attempts to form thoughts dissolved into nothing. Her mind would not listen to her, would instead only show glimpses into scenarios she could not tell decipher between reality or imagination. But they all followed the same theme. There was pain, there was cold, and there was anger. The anger intrigued her the most - it had been directed at someone, something, anything; but her mind would not give in to her curiosity. Images flashed here and there, sometimes physical pain would follow with them, manifesting itself in spasms and winces. Her mind showed her torturous images, let them remain in her memory, and would not let her think of anything else - not her name, not her age, not words. Just images of suffering.
Sound tore her from her gruesome cinema. A door slid open - in a room, that's where she was, in a hospital? Maybe. It was hard to differentiate between the place where she had awoken and the place from her memories where so much violence had taken place. There was a woman at the door, dressed in blue scrubs, intending to make her way over. But when their eyes met, the woman stopped. And stared. And her mouth opened in shock.
Before she could even ask the woman to answer the questions her mind refused to, the woman had dashed away. Why did she run? Did she scare her? Was she responsible for the torture she had been reminded of? Answers would have to wait, because the woman returned with a coterie of others. A man was the first to brave the distance between the door and the bed. He immediately marched over, taking her chin in his hand and using his leverage to keep her still to scan her face. His presence brought a sickly, sterile smell to her nose, making her cringe, but soon the room came alive with action, people milling around and fussing about her. Checking medical equipment and vital signs, scribbling notes and flicking through charts, and watching her with eyes of hunting birds.
She didn't like the extra attention, nor did she feel comfortable holding their wordless gazes. It was a struggle to sit up, so a slump would have to make do. Her eyes, now adjusted completely to the light and not clouded by the visions of memories, wandered around this room. Prison? No, a hospital. Why was she here, though? Sure, she was in pain, but that was normal. Her body was used to that. Was there something wrong with her? Probably, given the horrific things her mind had manifested. But, as before, waiting and being patient brought answers, although she wished they hadn't.
Her eyes glanced to the bed. There was a blanket covering most of her, it was scratchy, but it was warm. But the material of blankets wasn't what concerned her. She stared and stared at the bottom half of the bed, looking for what was out of place. Something wasn't right, something was off, something was... missing.
They... weren't there.
But how is that possible? All humans have legs. Humans need legs to move - walking and jogging and running and fleeing. All these human actions required legs.
So why didn't she have legs?
She stared and stared and stared and stared. Maybe if she looked long enough, they would come back. Maybe her mind was playing tricks on her, another cruel game, she was used to that. She was used to pain, cruelty and-
"WHERE ARE MY LEGS?!" She screamed with a voice she didn't know she possessed. Beside her, the heart monitor blipped faster, monitoring her deteriorating condition.
Her legs were gone. They would not come back, no matter how hard she stared, how many times she asked the medical personnel working to calm her down. Had they taken them from her? Why weren't they there? Why had they done this?
“Tempeste,” the man said. Was that her name? Maybe. He seemed confident in calling her that. “It’s alright. There’s no need to panic. You are safe here.”
“Where am I?” She demanded. “Who are you?”
If her anger made any impression on him, he didn’t show it. “You are at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital. And I am Major Augustin, a trauma surgeon.”
"Where are my legs?"
Major Augustin took her hand. The contact made her breathing, which she hadn't realised had quickened, slow and begin to become steady. Their gazes met before he began to speak.
"You were involved in a traumatic incident, Tempeste," the doctor said slowly. Maybe he was trying to be reassuring. But she read the look in his eyes. He looked at her like she was a crazy "You suffered greatly and as a result had to undergo numerous surgeries. This included amputating your legs, as they had been damaged beyond repair. I'm sorry."
An apology meant nothing to her. He could so easily say these words because at the end of it, this did not affect him. Doctors. They care for the sick and the wounded, but most of them probably don't get attached. Because they don't have to be. It doesn't affect them, they don't have to live with no legs, or diabetes, or heart failure, or whatever ailment it is their speciality to heal.
She felt her face twitch. "So that's just it," she deadpanned. "I have no legs."
A sympathetic pat on the shoulder was the gift she was given. "Once you have properly recovered, options for physical therapy will be explained to you. Prosthetics are an option."
So that was that. Her new reality. A victim. Weak. Vulnerable. Helpless. That is how she felt as the weeks melted away. A military hospital indeed, with personnel in camouflaged uniforms going about their duty. People came to see her. Faces she did not recognise all bore similar forms of sympathy and pity, but beneath their caring masks she saw the truth - they stared at her as if she was a wild animal. She heard pieces of chatter between them, but since they would not speak to her of the event, she knew next to nothing about what had happened. They didn't have to tell her anything. She wasn't like them. Just a civilian caught in the crossfire of their endless fighting with terrorism. Another tally on the list. A tragedy, but nothing to really worry about.
The weeks of therapy passed by. She remained silent throughout it all unless she really needed to speak, and even then, her answers were as short as she could make them. She was doing enough for the doctors and other medical staff to chatter encouragingly and discuss a future transfer to a civilian hospital.
But then the GIGN paid a visit.
Not to receive treatment, not to check up on any recovering colleagues, no; to see her.
She was picking her way through her meagre breakfast when a nurse ushered three uniformed GIGN operators into the bay. They approached calmly, trying not to spook her, even though she was staring at them, still and silent, watching their movements.
They had commended her recovery, they had called her brave, they had made small talk before reaching the reason for their presence.
The GIGN interrogated her. That's what it felt like. Bombarding her with questions about the trauma that had caused her pitiful state of having prosthetics to hobble on.
“I don’t remember anything,” she answered every question the same way, with a lie.
They all seemed disappointed with her answers, but gave no indication that they did not believe her, so after some empty promises that she would be safe once she was recovered and that they were doing all they could to bring the perpetrators of her suffering to justice, they left.
But she was beginning to remember.
And the memories that began to surface… she wished she could forget them.
Because memories brought pain - not physical like the tender soreness from her healing wounds, but the scars on her mind began to show their origins.
And a dulcet, whispering voice told her all she needed to know.
It had taken her two months, two weeks and six days to fully recover.
She was able to walk using her prostheses without assistance, something the medical staff were delighted at.
And so they announced that they would be contacting her guardian to take care of her.
Guardian? It hadn't occurred to her that out there in the world, someone might know who she was. Might care about her. That would make sense she supposed, as everyone has parents. But then again, she used to think that everyone had legs, and, well...
A woman came into the room. She was dressed in a uniform - not military, definitely civilian, but she could not place its meaning. When the woman saw her, she sneered.
"Come on then, it's time to go," the woman said, curling her finger and beckoning her like she was a disobedient child.
“I-I don’t know who you are,” she admitted.
The woman flared up in red embarrassment. “Don’t you go pulling that nonsense! First you run away from home and land yourself in trouble, as always!” Her shouting made medical staff turn their heads toward her. “And now I have to clean your mess up and bring home a crippled daughter!”
She wanted to say something, anything in response, but words would not come. Memories of her suffering had returned, but she had no recollection of who this woman was, this woman claiming to be her mother.
“Is everything alright?” A kind voice laced with concern called, Major Augustin shouldering his way past the bay curtain.
“Yes, yes of course!” The woman beamed a fake smile. “Just typical teenage angst. We’ll be on our way. Come,” she beckoned towards her.
She turned to the doctor with pleading eyes. “I don’t know who she is.”
“Stop with the lies and come with me, Tempeste!” The woman shrieked.
Major Augustin cleared his throat. “Madame, may I see some identification, please?”
“This is absurd! I’ve already been asked five times for my ID since I’ve been here.”
“It is standard procedure, Madame.”
With a dramatic sigh, the woman rummaged in her handbag, obtaining her ID and slapping it into the Major’s outstretched hand. The doctor scrutinised it before seemingly comparing it with her charts.
“According to your information, Tempeste, Ms. Bisset here is your mother.”
“Yes, exactly, now enough with the dramatics!” Her apparent mother said, snatching her ID card back. “Come with me. We’re going home.”
She folded her arms. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t know you.”
“Stop lying!” Ms. Bisset cried. “You may hate me, but I am your legal guardian and I am-”
“Madame, if you will allow my input,” Major Augustin interrupted. “Tempeste has suffered through significant trauma and as a result has considerable memory loss. You must be patient with her. Furthermore, she is legally an adult. At age nineteen, she is free to make her own decisions. If she does not wish to leave with you, then it is her prerogative.”
Ms Bisset’s face scrunched into disgust. “Fine,” she squawked, jabbing a finger towards her. “If you wish to spend your days on the street like the dirty beggar you are, so be it! Don’t come crawling to me for help when you’re starving and penniless.” She turned on her heel and stomped out, not before throwing another insult behind her. “Go begging to your selfless, wealthy father instead.”
Major Augustin watched her leave before turning back to her, sympathy in his kind smile as he made his way over. He began to speak, but she did not hear his words.
Because all of that was in the past.
“Oy! Planet Earth to Tempeste!”
She scowled at the grinning, green-haired Englishman who had pulled her from her thoughts. A hand waving in front of her face roused her back to the present, to her apartment. She found herself rolling her eyes at his next comment. “I thought you were staring at my arse, Revs. But nah, you were in your dream world again!”
“Eat shit, Ethan.”
Cyclops grinned smugly at her once more, slinging an arm around her. “Alright, spill it. What were ya thinkin’ about?”
She hummed thoughtfully. “Nothing, nothing.”
“Yeah, of course, because everybody just stares into space for five minutes and thinks about nothing,” Cyclops mused, handing her a ticket. She glanced down to read Paris Gare du Nord - London St Pancras Int’l stamped in bold, but looked up when Cyclops started talking again. “His imperial majesty wants us headin’ off to old Angleterre sooner rather than later, you remember? So let’s go, already, before I develop arthritis.”
She caught the leather jacket he threw at her, moving to pull it on, but chose to first stare down reflectfully at the patch of a shrieking spectre on the back, the feminine face twisted in horror, at the letter patches above it, naming the owner of the jacket.