It’s worse some days than others.
Dr. de Kuiper must have explained this to Akande six or seven times now, but Moira knows he doesn’t understand; she can’t expect him to, but still finds herself tender whenever he speaks about it.
“Takes one to know one,” is what Widowmaker says, in the meetings where Moira is expected to sit at the opposite head of the table and explain the progress she’s made with him under her care. She tries, hard as she might, to not take offense-- to remind herself that there’s no shame in her condition, if only to lead Siebren by example.
He had been kept in solitary confinement in the hospital: contained in one single ten-by-ten room, with white walls, one floor, one ceiling. She knows, because he had confided in her about it the third or fourth time she had been tasked with bringing him something to eat. Talon, allegedly not knowing any better, had attempted to do the same, and Moira had taken it upon herself to advocate for better living conditions.
For weeks, she had spent her free time compiling research. She spoke frankly and intimately with Dr. de Kuiper, found articles supporting her claims, and gathered up sources in a file that, when organized and printed, was thicker than her thumb. And at the meeting, she had presented it to Akande, alongside her request: “Once Dr. de Kuiper is stable, move him into more adequate housing. Something with windows, and a door he can unlock. Even if he remains locked on this level of the facility, even if the window does not open all the way, the benefits--”
Akande approved it without letting her finish. Akande approved it without opening, or even touching, the thick, heavy manila envelope which Moira had filled with hours of her time.
It was starting to become a recurring theme in her life.
While Moira rehabilitates Dr. de Kuiper in the basement-- while she spends her days not in her lab, but sitting with him in his room, playing doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, personal assistant, and nurse all at once-- Talon remodels a previously-unused wing of their facility into housing according to Moira’s specifications. Dr. de Kuiper gets windows made of shatterproof glass that don’t open-- but they’re still windows that look out onto the outside world. He gets his own kitchenette with a fridge, and food all for himself-- his oven is electric for safety reasons, but what isn't these days? He gets his own bed, a door that closes-- that locks!-- even though just about anyone else in the facility can get a key.
It’s painted to his specifications. Blue: he likes baby blue, and teal, and light colors; he says they’re the least crowded, and the most easy on the eyes. They feel the most comfortable throughout the day, and they’re non-obtrusive-- or at least, that’s what Moira suspects he means when he describes them as “more likely to leave him alone.”
Moira is not a medical doctor. And she doesn’t want to be. But inevitably, she’s placed in charge of subject Sigma: with no formal training, she works with practitioners Talon has captured and blackmailed and strong armed into helping her, balancing his medications, creating a food plan for him, buying him clothes. She oversees every aspect of his life that Talon controls, and has the final say in everything, so it seems.
“But if he is doing so much better,” Akande says slowly-- still not looking at the paperwork Moira has provided, “then why is he not fit to fight? What prevents him?”
Moira resists the urge to get passive-aggressive. Akande, however much she may feel disrespected by him, is still technically her boss.
“Recovery is not linear,” Moira says. She, more than anyone, should know. “He displays many symptoms. But some of them are not symptoms of an illness-- they are… symptoms of symptoms. Dr. de Kuiper was in a hospital for over a decade before Talon’s involvement, and yet they still hadn’t figured out--”
Akande raises a hand to silence her, and Moira bites her tongue. He rubs his temples, pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingertips.
“I have heard enough.” He sounds almost weary, now, like having to listen to Moira speak has exhausted him. “So he is not ready yet. It is your job, Dr. O’Deorain, to get him to the point that he becomes an asset to Talon, instead of a liability.”
Moira averts her gaze, tilting her chin toward the floor. Her lips are thin and turned down at the corners, a subtle display of her embarrassment and frustration.
“Doctor,” he says, and she looks up at him. “What will help him that I can get for you today?”
“A piano,” Moira says, without hesitation.
It’s nothing fancy, but in hindsight, she isn’t sure what she expected.
At her request, Talon has formatted Siebren’s new living space as if it were a small, two-bedroom apartment. Two bedrooms, she explains, because one is for his office; having a personal space for himself that isn’t his bedroom will make him feel established, and less likely to lash out. He gets to decorate the entire space to his specifications, and (much to Moira’s amusement) he opts for rigid, geometric designs-- the natural kind. Crystalline structures, perfectly orderly and found organically in nature.
His bedroom is decorated sparsely, for he complained the shelves made him feel claustrophobic and crowded; he has a full bed, a side table, a lamp, and a few small shelves on the opposite end of the room with some geodes and scale models on display. He takes Moira’s advice for his office: she contains all of his work in there, to give him motivation to continue, with all of his scientific models and whiteboards and holovideos projected inside, instead of spread across the entire apartment. She does acquiesce to several galaxy prints in the living room, but only because they match the blue couch and white glass-top table, though she stresses the importance of keeping his personal life away from his work in his apartment, at least.
The pièce de résistance, however, is a white upright piano in the living room, pressed against the wall separating the kitchen. It was the most expensive purchase they made, eating up more than a third of the budget-- but Siebren’s face when he sees it makes it all worthwhile.
“Is this for me?” He asks, as if he does not believe it. He extends one hand to touch the fallboard, ghosting his fingertips along the painted wood.
“Of course it is for you,” Moira replies, with a smile on her face. “It’s your apartment.”
The smile on his face when he turns to look at her makes her heart melt. Siebren lifts the fallboard and experimentally plays a few keys, and then a scale; it’s been years since he played, at least ten, but Moira can sense his expertise. With enough practice, he’ll be able to play like before again. With people like them-- those who have been playing an instrument since the moment they were old enough to know how, with decades of practice afterward-- playing an instrument is like riding a bike.
“Do you play?” Siebren asks, politely, noticing the look on her face.
“I did,” Moira says, with a hint of sourness that she notices makes Siebren recoil slightly. “I do. I apologise, I… the damage to my arm and hand has…”
Siebren nods, almost apologetically. Had he known it was a sore subject, Moira is sure he wouldn’t have asked at all; part of her wants to comfort him about it, and assure him that she isn’t mad, and that they’re still friends-- but it’s drowned out wholly by the part of her that’s furious. With him or with herself, she can’t be sure.
“May I?” She asks. And he nods.
Moira uses her foot to reposition the stool, and then has a seat at the piano. Experimentally, she taps at the keys, with no rhythm or melody.
Despite the pain in her right hand, Moira finds it in herself to play scales. The movements of her right hand are infuriatingly imprecise, and her nails click against the keys in a way that makes her cringe-- but after a couple rounds, the muscle memory starts to kick in.
“Oh,” Siebren says, at the change. “How long have you been playing?”
“I have been playing since I was a child,” she says, distracted. As her scales gain in confidence, she moves to simple, short melodies-- things she remembers playing when she was learning, the things that gave her trouble when she started out. “Since I was ten or eleven. Many violin pieces have piano accompaniments; that was where I learned to love it.”
“Violin?” he prompts.
“My father… was an esteemed violinist,” Moira explains. Her hands come to rest delicately on top of the keys. “It was important to him that my sister and I learned violin as well. The family legacy… or some nonsense like that. Liam Crowley?”
Siebren pauses, and then his eyes open wide.
“He composed Retribution?” He asks.
“That’s the one,” Moira says, bitterly. She hits a sour note, and Siebren once again looks guilty. “My father loved violin. More than he ever loved either of his children. He wanted to give it to us-- not to share. And he hated the piano.”
“He said it was an instrument for fools,” she continues, tentatively playing the melody of a song with her right hand. “An instrument that anyone could learn to play. Of course, it took a real genius to play an instrument as beautiful as the violin-- not to mention a rich person to be able to afford one, when any moron could go and purchase a little keyboard and learn to play.”
“Ah,” Siebren says, sounding a little like his ego had been bruised.
“He was wrong,” Moira supplies quickly. “Of course playing any instrument is impressive and worthwhile. It was his attitude toward piano, anyway, that made me want to learn… much to his dismay.”
“One would think he would support you learning more instruments.”
“Oh, but he did,” Moira says. “I learnt to play cláirseach, the Irish harp. I can play the cello, as well as the violin. Guitar, and the drums, though he didn’t particularly approve of that, either…”
Her hands move as she talks, settling into a melody Siebren recognizes.
“Are you playing Prelude and Fugue in E minor very slowly?” He asks, slightly amused.
“We were talking. Do you want me to play it at a normal speed?”
“Yes!” Comes his reply, and he moves closer to her, closer to the piano.
The enthusiasm of his reply makes her smile, and she sits back and stretches, twisting her torso to one side and then the other before righting her posture at the piano and starting to play from the beginning. The song is slow, and it gives him Siebren to admire her, and the way she plays: the upper half of her body sways slightly with the music as if carried by it, her fingers moving freely and deliberately across the ivory keys. She hits each note deliberately, and with purpose, so that the sound of her nails clicking across the keys is minimized.
When the music picks up, he gets to see her demeanor change: Moira hunches forward over the piano slightly, her long, spidery fingers dancing across the keys as she keeps up with the change in tempo. The way she rocks with the music changes, until she is nodding to herself to keep up, curled over the piano like she’s cradling something precious. Her keystrokes are immaculate, perfect; despite her supposed issue with her right hand, Moira doesn’t make a single mistake in the melody, even given the fast pace of the song.
It reminds him of his mother, and how she used to play; a silly thought, perhaps, but it does. He remembers sitting in the living room and listening in reverent silence, sometimes for an hour at a time, and her learning new songs just for him, whatever he brought to her. She used to smile the same way, with the same lines at the corners of her eyes, the corners of her lips turned up just slightly in a smile.
“Do you know Erik Satie?” He asks.
“Do I know Erik Satie,” Moira repeats in a funny voice. She removes her hands from the keys and sets them in her lap, turning to look up at Siebren from her seat on the piano bench. “Yes, I know Erik Satie.”
“Do you know Gnossienne No. 1?”
“I used to,” she admits. “Perhaps not as well anymore. But it’s only, what, three major parts?”
Moira taps out the melody in the wrong key, and then tries again in the correct one.
“Can you play it for me?”
He seems different now, almost embarrassed, which Moira takes notice of; he looks at her almost pathetically, eyes wide and his bottom lip jutting out just slightly. She watches him for a moment, and then sighs and rolls her eyes, and smiles, turning back to the piano.
His mother used to do the same thing.
Her posture is different. Gnossienne No. 1 is a different kind of song, slower, somber; his mother had always called him a weird kid for his obsession with it. But he likes to see her, and the rigid way she taps the keys, her back straight and her playing severe as she experimentally tries two different octaves before settling on the correct ones for the song. Her fingering is tight and clean, and despite her apparent lack of practice, she plays competently.
Siebren finds himself enraptured in her playing, watching her with wide eyes. It almost stings him to his core when Moira hits her first unintentional sour note, and seems to take her by surprise, as well-- she almost jumps in her seat, and turns to look at him, as if… Guilty?
No, he realizes. Scared.
In her head, Moira is terrified, and waiting for a strike that will never come. She is ten years old, in her parents’ condo, playing violin with her back straight and her chin down, and her father is circling her holding a riding crop that he snaps against her calves when her feet are too close or too far apart, or against her lower back if she bends or slouches. Her eyes squeeze shut for only a moment, and then she opens them back up and focuses on the keys in an attempt to ground herself: even a moment of unwanted emotion was punishable. And now, she’s gone and disappointed Siebren, of all people--
“It’s okay,” he says.
Moira stops playing, her hands still on the keys.
“You were doing good,” he tells her. “I liked it. Just like my mother used to play.”
“Erik Satie wrote Gnossienne No. 1 in free time. There’s no guarantee that any two people will play it quite the same way.”
“And yet here we are.” Siebren sounds pleased at her knowledge, not angry.
She turns to look at him over her shoulder, and Siebren sees a portrait of a very sad, scared, vulnerable woman. The guilt has returned to her eyes, but it’s not fear of him, he realizes.
“You should finish,” he tells her.
It takes a moment, but Moira turns back to the piano and nods, though it’s unclear whether she’s answering Siebren or simply comforting herself. And she begins again, her posture as rigid as before. Her hands move gracefully across the piano once again, and she lifts them off of the keys with a gentleness Siebren watches with the intent to emulate in his own movements. But each keystroke is planned, telegraphed; it’s like a dance when she does it, mesmerizing all on its own.
He’s always appreciated Satie’s simplicity. While others might think of the music as repetitive, he found the consistency with slight variations comforting; it was a combination of the new with the familiar, which, to him, made it inviting, and easy to process. The implication that the music was somehow simple was frustrating to him-- was that not the beauty of it?
Moira makes it through the song without error, the last note still ringing as she removes her hands from the piano and sets them in her lap.
“It was wonderful,” he tells her. “You are a very talented pianist.”
She turns to look at him again, though this time her body language is much less ashamed: she turns her entire torso to face him, her left hand cupping the right, rubbing at her palm as if to soothe an ache there. The tips of her fingers are more discolored than usual, he notices, and he wonders if playing the piano for him was the source of it.
“I wouldn’t say that,” she says. “I made a mistake.”
“And?” His voice is steady as he steps closer. “You did it again, and it was transcendent. Why are you so determined to be hard on yourself?”
Moira averts her gaze in silence, rubbing her right shoulder and shifting her arm as if it is stiff.
“I loved it,” he tells her. “Isn’t that enough?”
She doesn’t say anything.