Daddy's Girl

Aeryn's eyes opened saucer-wide as a thin line of light reached down to caress her. She scurried violently away from the beam, whimpering. Fakir rubbed soothingly against her legs, and she clutched him to her fretfully, burying her nose in his fragrant fur.

"Daddy?" she called, voice cracking. "That you?"
A figure came to stand at the railing above her. Aeryn tentatively crawled closer, one dirty hand shielding her eyes from the light. Her own lamp had gone out long ago, and no longer could she stand the light.

"Burns" she muttered.

The door closed and the beam of light disappeared. Aeryn's hand came down, and she raised her head, shaking ropes of filthy black hair from her face. A basket was falling swiftly from the balcony. Aeryn threw herself forward, catching it before it hit the ground. A carrot fell to the floor; in her frenzy, she snatched it up and shoved it frantically into her mouth. A burst of sweet flooded her senses, and she moaned.

"Go slowly, my pet," said the Master softly. "Make it last."

Aeryn tore her hand away from her meager feast and crawled away from it, looking up sullenly at her Master. Her slowing mind remembered, very briefly and very vaguely, what the first few weeks here had been like. How fervently she had hated this man who bid her call him Master and this place he lovingly called the Starving Pit. Yet how frightened she had been as well, curling herself into a ball in the corner when he came to watch her and moving again only when he went away.

Slowly, Aeryn's need for food forced her hesitantly back to her dish. No longer did her hatred for her Master keep her cowering in the corner; not when there was food in her sight. She had not the energy to hate him; it had all fallen away even as her hair and teeth did the same. Now, the Master was simply there, the one who fed her, who kept her alive and cared for her.

Daddy.

She knew the Master saw her shiver as her shaking hands shoveled small amounts of food into her mouth. Later he would bring down several more blankets for her to use to keep the chill at bay. It would not work, though. She was always /i cold.

There was a scraping sound from above, and Aeryn had already thrown herself into the shadows before she realized it was only the Master, pulling a chair up to sit down. She slithered back to her meal.

Fakir was there, sniffing curiously at a sliver of bread.

"No, Fakir!" Aeryn cried, leaping at her pet. The animal hissed, puffed out his mottled tail, and crept, pouting, into the shadows.

Blank green eyes wide and shining with tears, Aeryn pushed her food aside and went to find her cat. She'd eaten too much anyway.

Fakir crouched in the corner, softly hissing. Broken-hearted, Aeryn reached forth a pale, skinny arm to stroke his dark fur.

"I'm sorry, puss," she whispered brokenly. "But I need all of that food, and you aren't like me. You haven't gotten as thin as I have." She pulled the cat to her chest, smiling her bloody smile through cracked lips and stinking gums.

The cat purred sweetly against Aeryn's body, and that was all it took. The floodgates opened and Aeryn sobbed heavily into Fakir's coat.

"Why hasn't anyone come for me?" she wailed desperately. "I want to go home. Hasn't anyone noticed that I'm gone? Doesn't anybody /i"

For a moment, pure rage won out over hunger and weakness, and Aeryn screamed aloud. Her lips split with the effort, and blood coursed down her chin like saliva and stained her clothes.

She heaved herself to her feet, swaying as she was forced to regain her balance. Then she shrieked again and lurched forward. She tool hold of her long-dead lamp and smashed it against the wall. The bulb burst in a violent spray of glass; Aeryn stomped upon the pieces. She dropped to her knees, snatched up a shard and dragged it across her forearms. She thought she could hear herself say over and over to the Master "I hate you, I hate you!" but she wasn't sure that wasn't in her head. She was pretty sure he could hear her either way.

She dropped the glass. Once again on her feet, this time leaving prints of blood behind her, she kicked her platter of food. Because it was paper, the plate did not break, so she ripped it to shreds; a few pieces stuck to her bloody arms and clung there, like snow that would not melt.

With her last bit of strength, Aeryn smeared what was left of her meager meal into the floor and walls.
Finally, energy spent, she dropped to her knees and cried all the tears she had left. Then she just sat where she'd fallen, staring listlessly at the mess she'd just made.

Fakir looked curiously into Aeryn's face, and then bumped his nose comfortingly against hers. He hopped off her lap and padded away, disappearing slowly, piece by piece like her own personal Cheshire cat. Once again Aeryn was harshly reminded that Fakir was merely a hallucination, a memory of a life and a place that no longer existed.

Wiping her eyes with one frail hand, Aeryn crawled over to the pile of blankets that served as her bed. She curled her slight form into a ball and closed her eyes.

The chair scraped against the floor as the Master got up. Once again the evil ray of light made a stripe across Aeryn's back, but she saw it not, huddled beneath her covers, shivering and shaking with cold and emotion. The door finally closed.

Sleep stole over her then, silent and welcome as death.