Set Them Ablaze

Tues. 12/10/2250 – By Rebecca Green

The day wasn’t going well. Neither was the week, or the month. Everything was kind of just shitty and falling apart, and failing her fifth German test was not helping at all, especially when the professor decided it would be a good idea to try and bring up her Dad and everything that was going on. Why couldn’t anyone see she just wanted to be left alone? She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to answer questions, she wanted everyone to mind their own damn business and stay the hell out of hers.

Especially when she was actually bothering to show up to her classes. Gwen knew her sister had been skipping almost every class since the whole blizzard incident and it made her a bit smug. Aelita had always been their mother’s favorite and that she wasn’t keeping her shit together made Gwen just the tiniest bit pleased. A couple months prior she would have cared or been worried about her older sister, but since their father had died, she just felt numb.

Once her and Aelita had been close, but at least Aelita had the admiration of their mother. Gwen never had that. She always looked downon Gwen, thought she should do better in school, get better at the viola, or any musical instrument, or that her art should be more “masterful”, whatever that meant. Her dad, however, had praised her and commented on her art and promised her that she didn’t need to be musically inclined. He helped her try and work out study habits instead of just staring down his nose at her.

But that was all gone. She held her sketchbook, her largest one, tight in her hands as she walked to the big fireplace in the common room. It was quiet and only one little kid in the corner caught her eye. It was that kid she’d heard about, the one that heard voices and had turned into a three headed dog during the blizzard. He was a couple years below her, so she didn’t know his name and didn’t care to. She ignored him, especially when she could hear quiet mumbling coming from his direction.

She opened the book as she stood in front of the fireplace, anger filling her as she flipped through the book. She’d had that particular book for over two years. Her dad bought it for her on her eleventh birthday, right before she started at Strongwind. It was a beautiful, large, leather bound sketchbook. One of the big ones that filled her whole lap when it was open and could withstand watercolor paint and acrylics, as well as a lot of erasing when she wasn’t satisfied with what she drew. Every time she looked at a page, she could remember her father’s remarks on the drawings and emotion clawed at her chest. Reaching out, she ripped at a page, crumbling it tight in her fist before hurling it into the fire.

It felt good. As she watched it burn, she ripped another and repeated the process. It was Aelita’s fault. Her and her stupid hemophilia. And she hadn’t even cared when she told Gwen. And when she’d run off into the woods, she’d expected Aelita to come after her, to comfort her and cry with her, but she didn’t. She didn’t fucking care, about their father, or her. She could feel her eyes getting a little wet and instead returned to ripping out a few more of the drawings. They were her earlier ones and they looked so stupid now. How could her dad think they were good?

She turned when she felt eyes on here, but it was only the little first year, watching her carefully from his spot in an armchair. She glared openly, but the boy just tilted his head.

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to throw the book in?” The kid asked and Gwen sneered.

She ripped a couple more pieces out. “If you’re gonna burn pictures, then you need to do it properly, kid,” she just said, returning back to the task at hand. The boy seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts again, which was good. She didn’t have time for some little first year. Most of them annoyed her anyways. She paused when she caught sight of one of the pictures that was burning. It was one she’d done of her dad her first year, when she’d gone home for Christmas.

Blinking as she watched the fire rip away at it, she felt a twinge of regret. She sniffed, sucking the emotion back in. She needed to burn all of it, or else every time she looked at the stupid thing she’d miss him, she’d feel that anger. A bit more violently, she grabbed a few pages all at once and tore them from the binding of the book.

She could see the boy jump and took a bit of pleasure in startling him. “You don’t like fire, huh?” She asked, assuming his reaction was from the growing fire, the flames seeping out and upwards as it consumed her pictures. “You’d probably piss yourself if she ever saw a real fire, kid,” she challenged, ready for a fight.

The kid scowled and shook his head. “I’ve seen fire,” he mumbled and Gwen smirked. The kid continued on anyways, “Please stop calling me that.”

Gwen snorted and threw the giant ball of crumpled up pages into the pile. “Oh, have you?” She snickered. “Have you been playing with daddy’s matches in the bathroom? That doesn’t count, kid.”

The first year was glaring at her, his eyes narrowed. “I was born in fire,” he growled.

Gwen rolled her eyes, forgetting about the whole three headed dog thing. She’d taken Species Anatomy, so she knew that cerberuses were hell creatures, but she wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. “Aw, did I upset the little kid? Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” she said in a high, fake voice.

The growl deepened and it wasn’t until fire appeared in the boy’s hand, conjured magically, that Gwen realized she probably shouldn’t have been provoking the first year. “You wanna play with fire? Let’s play with fire,” he growled, his voice sounding deeper than it had before. He was smirking and stood, holding out his hand and blowing on the flame, sending it her way.

Gwen flinched at the sight of flames approaching her. Well shit. She ducked, hoping to avoid the flame, which evaporated just past her, but she realized as she raised back up, that they hadn’t completely missed her. She could feel warmth in her hair and smell the smoke. She raised her hands instinctively to try and put out the flame, but yanked her hands back as the fire burned her.

“What the fuck!” She shrieked, looking around, ready to make a run to the bathroom and stick her head under a sink.

“Jesus Roosevelt Christ!” A voice snapped and Gwen felt something dumped on her head. It was a blanket and it quickly smothered the small flame.  She was still panicking slightly and she yanked at the material, trying to pull it off her head.

“Noklie, what the fuck-” The voice snapped and Gwen finally managed to escape from the confines of the material. It was the head of their house, Blackhell, no, that’s what her sister called him. His name was Blackhall.

“This freak set my hair on fire!” She shrieked, pulling the blanket off completely and throwing it at one of the couches. “Who the fuck does that?”

“Both of you be quiet!” Blackhall snapped, standing between the two, folding his arms as he looked back and forth at them.

“But this kid-”

“Stop calling me that!” Noklie shouted, ending with a growl as he tried to step forward. Gwen jumped, but Blackhall was still between them, keeping them apart.

“Someone tell me what is going on, and why, pray tell, there is a bunch of ripped up drawings in the fireplace.”

Both students stopped and Gwen looked to the fireplace for only a moment before throwing the rest of the book that was in her hands into the fireplace. Part of her regretted it, but the other was glad to be done and over with it all. “Because I wanted to burn my shit,” she snapped at the professor, “That’s not a crime!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” the demon said, kneeling and grabbing the book, which was already aflame, as well as some of the pictures that weren’t completely burnt, and hauling them out of the fireplace. He blew on the flames and smothered the rest with his hands, using magic to help snuff them out completely by cooling the paper. “Both of you, my room. Now.” He ordered, booking no room for argument.

Gwen glared at him and the boy, Noklie, was looking at him with a glazed look as he took deep breaths. She finally turned on her heel, heading for the door that led to the head’s room. Blackhall and the first year were right behind her and when she entered the private room she flopped onto the couch with a loud huff, crossing her arms.

While Blackhall set the sketchbook and burnt pieces of paper on the counter in his kitchen area, Noklie shuffled around, not looking at either of them. This is so unfair, Gwen thought. She hadn’t even done anything wrong. Hadn’t touched the kid, hadn’t even said anything that mean, and here she was, in trouble. This is bullshit.

“Gwen, what happened?” Blackhall asked, coming to the living area. He gestured for Noklie to take a seat on the couch opposite of Gwen, and he did, slowly lowering himself down.

She shifted her glare to the head of house. “I wanted to get rid of a few things,” she snapped, “So I decided to burn some pictures that I don’t want anymore.” It wasn’t even a lie, like she sometimes came up with when she was in trouble.

“They’re very good drawings,” Blackhall commented and Gwen stifled just a bit of pride she felt as he continued, “Why do you want to get rid of them?”

Not wanting to expand on the topic, she shrugged her shoulders and wrapped her arms around herself. “I just do.”

Blackhall sighed and looked to Noklie. “Why did you set Gwen’s hair on fire?”

There was a pause and then Noklie shrugged. “She- she called me a kid,” he confessed, knowing it sounded like a horrible reason, “It’s not- but I didn’t mean to,” he tried to add, looking at Blackhall desperately. “I…I just lost my temper…”

When Blackhall nodded his head with understanding, Gwen glared, filled with outrage. “So it’s just okay?” She demanded. “He is a kid!” She ignored the fact that she hated it when people called her a kid as well, because that was besides the point.

“I doubt that it was just because you called him a kid,” Blackhall reasoned, still standing between the two. “I call him a kid. I call almost everyone a kid,” he said. “It was likely the tone you used.”

“Just because I say something that he doesn’t like doesn’t mean he can go around setting people on fire,” Gwen snapped again. Her anger was growing. “Aren’t you going to give him a detention or something?” She demanded. They give me detentions all the time for stupid shit.

“Noklie, apologize to Gwen,” Blackhall instructed. Gwen glared at the kid, not wanting an apology, but he delivered one all the same.

“I’m sorry I set your hair on fire…” Noklie said, looking from his hands up to her.

“Okay good. Why don’t you go to your room and work on some homework or read. In an hour or so, head on back,” Blackhall instructed. “We’re going to figure out something to curb these fits.”

Noklie nodded his head slowly, pushing himself up from the couch and hurrying out of the room. Gwen watched him go and then shifted her glare back to the demon. He had that look in his eye. The same one more of her professors had given her when they had seen her the week after her dad died. That look that said she was pathetic and needed to be coddled. She hated that look.

“Can I go now?” She asked.

“No.” The demon turned and walked back into the kitchen, moving a tea kettle onto the stove and pulling some mugs out. When the mugs sat with tea bags in them, he stood by the counter, looking at the burnt pictures. She froze as he reached out and grabbed a page of the sketchbook, turning it over and slowly flipping through it. She didn’t let just anyone look at her pictures. The last time someone had looked at her book, it had been her dad. She dug her nails into her arm, leaving angry little red marks as his gaze flickered over each page. He had the same look that her dad had, unlike her mother and grandmother, who would look and nod, but not be impressed or smile, and then ask her if she had brought her grades up.

“I just want to throw them away,” she repeated, waiting for some sort of criticism on the pictures, “they’re not good and I don’t need them.” It was a lie, of course, but what else would she say? They make me think of Daddy.

Her head of house looked up from the pictures and turned, watching her. It made her uncomfortable and she shifted in her seat. “Sounds to me like you were burning it so you wouldn’t have to think about whatever is upsetting you.”

This was so much worse than any kind of criticism he could have given and it felt like a slap to her face. He turned as the kettle began to shriek and poured the hot water into the mugs. “It’s hard, losing a parent.” He was stirring in sugar and grabbed the cups, bringing them back into the living area. He handed her one and and took Noklie’s seat on the other couch. “That kind of thing, it leaves a wound, you know.”

Gwen glared at the mug and wondered if she should drink it or set it on the coffee table and ignore it. Was drinking it giving in? “I’m fine.”

“I doubt that.”

“I said I’m fine!” She snapped, looking at the demon. “I just want people to leave me the fuck alone!” She held his gaze, expecting him to grimace at the curse. Professors usually disliked when she cursed and exclaimed about it, telling her not to talk that way. Only he didn’t, and he kept watching her, blinking once. “I don’t need your pity.” She added, bitterly.

“I’m not pitying you,” Blackhall said, but Gwen didn’t believe him. That’s what they all did. Poor little girl, no dad and a shitty mom who only cared about Big Sis and grades and how Gwen would never be as good as Aelita. “You know, holding all that stuff in, it eats you from the inside out and makes you weak.” He paused, looking her up and down. “Gwen Rede, you don’t look weak to me.”

Gwen stared at the man, confused as to how to respond. “I… I hate her,” she finally snapped. She paused, aware that that wasn’t what she had planned on saying, but the words tumbled out. “Aelita’s the strong one, Mom’s the strong one, but I’m so stupid and weak, I can’t play the viola right, I can’t get good grades, I won’t be a prefect, I’m not perfect and I’m just-” She broke off, shutting her mouth. “Aelita is so great and she can be perfect and get good grades and play violin and dance at the same time, and all I can do is draw silly pictures and fail classes, and the only person who cared about me is dead now because of her and her stupid fucking disease.”

She broke off when she realized there were tears on her cheeks and she hastily wiped them away. “It’s not fucking fair.” She’d never fit into her family. She wasn’t a swan, the first non-swan in generations, a human like her dad. Her mother and grandmother loved Aelita, not her, and the only person who had was dead and gone.

“You’re not Aelita, Gwen.” Blackhall said and Gwen shook her head as he went on. “Aelita can’t draw like you. You’re your own person,” he said, sounding sure of himself, but in a gentle way that she wasn’t used to, “When you act like this, throwing all your pieces of you into the fire, you’re trying to tell everyone and yourself that you don’t care, but you do care.” He paused, taking a sip of the tea and Gwen shuffled uncomfortably. “You care that your family doesn’t like your art and that they want you to be a little replica of your sister, but you can’t fit into that mold. Them wanting you to fit into something that you aren’t isn’t your problem, it’s theirs.”

Gwen stared at him. Besides her father, she’d never been told she could be good at something different, something that her older sister wasn’t good at, and dads were suppose to say those kinds of things. Anything he said was overridden by her mother’s harsh words and her grandmother’s guilt-laden guilt-laden ones. She knew that they loved her, but they never showed it except in very rare moments. Like when she had asked to learn to play the viola, but when her ability was not as sharp and quick as her sister’s, the approval slowed to a halt. And she knew he wasn’t lying when he said that Aelita couldn’t draw, she was lucky to make a proper stick person. Art had been the bridge to connect her to her father, as music had connected Aelita to their mother.

“I don’t care what other people think,” she lamely tried to argue, then corrected herself. “Just what my parents think. Dad was the one who cared about me, Mom just cares about Aelita.” Her chest tightened as she remembered the moment Aelita had told her, a few Fridays previous. “And Aelita doesn’t even care about Dad!” She snapped. “It’s her fault that he died in the first place!”

“That’s absurd,” Blackhall said, rolling his eyes. “Did you sister push him to the ground? Did she give him hemophilia?” He demanded, and slowly Gwen shook her head, not wanting to hear any of it. She just wanted to hang onto something that wasn’t sadness and emptiness. Anger sufficed. “So how is this her fault?”

“She didn’t even care when she told me!” Gwen said, almost choking on her words. ‘Hey Gwen, Dad’s dead, though I ought to let you know,’” she mimicked with a high voice as she tried to keep from crying.

He sighed, setting his cup of tea on the table in between them. “You both want to be strong so badly. Aelita wants to be strong for you, and you’re sitting here trying to be stronger than her, as if it prove something. You both lost your bullshit pride fight.” His words had grown hard and Gwen felt like she got punched in the gut.

“No!” She snapped, “She isn’t doing this for me, she just doesn’t care,” she insisted, trying to hold onto the notion, more ready to hate her sister than miss her father. “She didn’t cry, she wasn’t upset, her face didn’t change at all!”

“So you think she didn’t cry? Get upset at all?” The demon asked. Gwen jerked her head in a nod, not trusting herself to speak. She didn’t want to cry, she hated crying.

“She did, Gwen. The night your father died, you mother texted her. Not called, texted. And she cried. She skipped classes and got into a fight and nearly had her nose broken because that’s how she grieves.” He explained. Gwen shook her head again, resisting the urge to raise her hands and scream and drown out his words. “You don’t want to hear it, but you and your sister are a lot more alike than you realize. You both think that showing your emotions are weak, but it’s not. If you hold your emotions in it breaks you, and that makes you weak.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” she said, still wiping any wetness from her cheeks when she felt it.

“That’s too fucking bad, because we’re talking about it right now,” Blackhall said decisively. “Sadness and grief make you human and keeping it locked up makes you weak for not wanting to deal with something that makes you hurt. It’s childish. Aelita didn’t want you to have to worry about her and how she might feel, it’s an older sister thing, not a fight for who’s the best. She’s just as shitty at expressing her emotions, but Gwen, she had her break down, and now it’s time for yours.” He slipped from his spot opposite of her and came and sat beside her. “Stop hating her, because she doesn’t hate you and she hasn’t done anything to warrant it.”

She wanted to argue, to tell him Aelita had never been a good big sister, but it was a horrible lie. She’d always been there. She never got jealous of Gwen and their father’s relationship, never got mad that Gwen could do better in art than her. She’d tried to teach Gwen to dance and helped during the few months of piano lessons she’d been forced to attend. She’d learned a bit of the viola to try and help her and even when Aelita had been at Strongwind and Gwen was being privately tutored, Aelita had always come home if her art was put on display, always there with Dad at any event. Playing in the snow and carrying her on her shoulders, even when Gwen was getting too big to be carried. The first time she’d seen their dad in the hospital, Aelita had explained what was going on, not their mother, showed her by cutting the tip of her finger and Gwen had cried when her big sister wouldn’t stop bleeding. Aelita had forced her to learn how to inject the factor just in case she ever needed to.

Aelita had been a better mom to Gwen than her own mother. Gwen wiped her face again, gaining her composure. “Did she really cry?” She asked.

Blackhall nodded his head and Gwen nodded her head in return. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Gwen refusing to look at the older man, instead staring at her mug. She looked up only when she saw movement in the corner of her eyes, watching as Blackhall grabbed the sketchbook off the counter and brought it back towards her.

“No more bottling up emotions, and no more burning your art,” He said, holding out the pile to her. She hesitated before reaching out and grabbing them, pulling them close and holding them to her chest protectively. “Next time just come scream or lob shit at me,” he continued, sitting back down beside her on the couch.

Gwen shifted uncomfortably. She usually only ranted to Aelita or her father, and she didn’t feel comfortable ranting to Aelita, and talking to Blackhall felt almost like she was replacing her Dad. Was that what she was doing? Maybe, she wasn’t certain, and she had done enough thinking for the day. She could feel the exhaustion in her bones and she wanted to head back to her room and pass out on her bed.

“Can… I go now?” She asked hesitantly. Blackhall gave a now and Gwen bolted for the door.

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