Ella-Louise vouched for you? S asked rhetorically, more to express his interest to Adrien.
As if to grind on Adrien’s nerves, Ella-Louise herself coincidentally turned the corner directly ahead of Adrien, headed straight in his direction. She smiled as soon as she saw him, waving her hand eagerly.
And Adrien, of course, instantly dropped all his lingering sentiments and was utterly ecstatic as he greeted Ella-Louise. “Hey El!” He called out cheerfully using her nickname, a playful concatenation of her first-name’s initials.
She smiled warmly in Adrien’s direction. “Hoburg?” She asked, curious. She already had an idea about what had transpired. Adrien could tell. He could tell everything about her, and he gulped with the thought. He reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder, just wanting to feel her, to touch her warmth. His fingers almost clenched, almost tightened into her flesh, emphasizing to her how much she truly meant to him — but he stopped himself. His smile broke into an all-out grin instead. Some part of him clung to her, not wanting to let go, and in quiet reward for his self-restraint, the moments rolled by in pleasant slumber like years as he gazed into her eyes.
She didn’t do anything to remove his hand, she only smiled fondly at him. He felt her pulse slacken with his. Not infatuation, but contemplative attraction.
He stared into her eyes for a moment, and he knew that she knew — in that moment — everything he had to say. Because she knew him, better than Hoburg, better than Vernier even: she was and always would be…
“Congratulations,” she said quietly, reaching her arms around him and pulling him into an embrace. He exhaled and breathed deeply as she did this, almost resisting unintentionally but letting her draw him towards her at the last moment as he tried to maintain his composure while his heartbeat quickened.
He did not try and wrap his arms around her, instead he just stood in her embrace, letting her keep him there for as long as she wanted. She continued to hold him, and at last said:
“When I told Vernier I’d vouched for you, he was furious.”
Adrien was quiet. He knew this was what she’d really wanted to talk to him about.
“I told him why… I told him that I didn’t want him taking the risk of getting augmented and then becoming a different person; I told him I wanted him just the way he was.
“But he snapped back saying that I loved you more than he did, and that he honestly wondered if…”
Adrien could feel his throat tighten because he already knew what she was going to say.
“… if we should stay together,” she barely whispered.
Adrien hugged her tighter. They spent a minute like this, enveloped in a shell of silent contemplation.
Finally, Adrien spoke. “It’s okay,” Adrien said, gentle and optimistic. “Vernier’s going to be okay. I’ll talk to him.”
Of course, the reason she had vouched for Adrien over Vernier, was because she loved Vernier as her husband; because she wanted to keep Vernier safe. In contrast to Vernier, Adrien was expendable. Vernier, the father of her two children.
Adrien felt his heart throb and he drew her away so she wouldn’t feel his emotions in his pulse.
He smiled with sincere warmth towards her, and she in return. They withdrew from their embrace, each walking their separate paths without a backwards glance.
Adrien Cristof was Msec. That’s all he would ever be. Vernier Fallon had the privilege of being something more: of being human. And Adrien would make damn well sure Vernier realized it.
Adrien, your norepinephrine and dopamine levels are precursory to an episode, S communicated soothingly, his suggested course of action implicit.
Adrien didn’t want any chemical inhibitors. Not now. He wanted to feel what he was feeling — and he trusted S could ensure he wouldn’t have an actual episode. I’m fine, he responded silently, walking faster in reaction.
But Adrien could sense S’ disapproval.
“I’m fine,” he emphasized verbally, enjoying the sound of his own voice. Then, silently, he added: I trust you’ll make sure I don’t do anything I’ll regret, S.
Of course, replied S, comfortingly. Adrien could sense that this appeased S and felt a tinge of gratefulness that he had such an understanding partner as S.
S quietly slunk into the depths of Adrien’s subconscious, waiting patiently for the time when he would be needed.
S was aroused by the sensation of rivers of hot liquid, blood-like in viscosity and color, raging about him in roaring currents. The skies here were dark and cloudless; the world itself was nothing more than an infinite expanse of blood whirlpools and waters.
Here, S had a physical form, a human body. It was Adrien’s subconscious manifestation of S into a physical form. He was waist-deep in the warm crimson waters, garbed in raiments of darkest ebon; his flowing, silken dark-brown hair dripping with the foul liquid he was immersed in.
From nowhere in particular came the sudden agonizing howl of tempestuous winds; and the surface of the vast oceans of blood frothed and sprayed. Though the skies were black and devoid of light, an eerie twilight permeated the atmosphere, seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere. The twilight was accentuated beautifully by brilliant flashes of lightning that arced overhead, illustrating the infinitely hopeless expanse of unbroken dark. This was the current manifestation of Adrien’s subconscious onto a plane of conscious abstraction.
And suddenly, the gushing blood stopped; the howling winds halted; the brilliant sparks of lightning ceased. It was dark, then, but quiet. But there was a rumbling, a vibration that came from all around, a deep disconcerting trembling that rocked every molecule of this universe and grew until it had turned into a damning voice reeking of violently pure cognizance:
SubL: No. Why?
SubOM: (chanting) Noooo-oooooo. Nooooo-oooooo.
The chanting echoed and resonated everywhere, the din growing and diminishing in a cascading cacophony of rhythmic cadences, turning the world into an ocean of sound that sung out defiantly against S, battering against him with relentless, fervent opposition.
Now S’ voice boomed out over it all, and the blood around him boiled suddenly and was pushed back with meteoric force, causing tsunamis that seemed they could engulf even the tallest of skyscrapers. The blood waters imploded back upon S after, submerging him completely in blood. He stood there, quiet, awaiting Adrien’s subconscious response.
SubOM: (chanting) Noooo-oooooo. Nooooo-oooooo.
S was alone in a vast subconscious that was swarming around him, brimming with unbridled energy. He was tackling the core of Adrien’s being, the dark subliminal anger that was the centerpiece of Adrien’s focus and drive. Suddenly the blood that S was submerged beneath became nauseating and intolerable: it began to suffocate S ruthlessly, trying to extinguish his existence within this sacred but ominous realm.
But it could not. Again and again, S beat back the blood, the emotion, relentlessly and with matched vehemence and ferocity. And at last, the tsunamis began to die unrealistically into gentle rolling waves; the skies grew in light, the twilight replaced with a pre-dawn aura; clouds settled in where there was once infinite emptiness. A gentle, warm drizzle began, and the last change: the blood turned to water of crystal-clarity.
As peace of a sort returned, S stood — or perhaps he floated — waist-deep in the water. There was no ground, no sand. But he stood there.
Though S himself had no notion of a physical body, Adrien did, and therefore Adrien’s projection of his subconscious onto a higher mental abstraction often resulted in analogies that only made sense to a physical body. The sense of choking, of trying to breathe and failing. The oceans of blood, the dark skies, the lightning, the howling wind.
The sense of being pulled away by the currents of emotion.
S felt his chest. Adrien’s subconscious provided him this body, this encapsulation of S’ higher mental processes — and part of that included a heart. Some part of S was enthralled as he felt his own physical heart beat with life. These were his heartbeats.
S was enraptured. To have a physical body was a beautiful thing, and though he was free from wants, S couldn’t help but feel, if there was one thing he wanted, it was to have a human body, to be able to touch and hold Adrien as only another human could. He loved Adrien… he’d watched Adrien grow from an infant into the man he was today.
A gentle warmth radiated out from S’ body.
The darkness suddenly calmed, then was savagely sucked away in all directions with a frightening howl. S stood alone. A scene began to paint itself out, drawing upon Adrien’s memories and directed by the love radiating from S. A beautiful scene: clear blue skies, a valley surrounded on all sides by crisp snow-capped peaks. In the valley, a single hill, and upon that hill, a singular tree. A gentle breeze stirred and tousled the hair of a young Adrien who lay beneath the shade of the tree, his eyes closed.
There was something interesting about the scene: as S looked around, the edges of his vision, left-right-up-down, everything was elongated and stretched out, as if he was perpetually viewing the world through a wide-angle lens.
Suddenly, the effect multiplied and the entire world seemed to become stretched out. Then the world began to stretch and compress, to grow and shrink to a natural, organic rhythm. Colors began to bleed out of boundaries and into other objects; the sun’s orange bled into the sky’s blue and created patches of green; the tree’s leaves began to melt into Adrien’s still, peaceful body.
On a beach, his feet digging into the sand, S watched as the tide ebbed and flowed, pulling closer each time. At last it got to his bare feet, submerging his toes in seawater.
Some distance away, there was a cliff that erupted defiantly from the sea, some hundred feet into the air. The relentless tide crashed noisily upon the base of the cliff, millennia of scarring evident upon its hard, darkened body.
S watched Adrien, who was walking arm-in-arm with a woman whose face was hidden beneath a wide-brimmed straw hat she wore for shade. Dark blonde curls of her silken hair bounced as she walked with Adrien, and S heard the slight tinkle of her charming laughter over the din of the sea.
Then, suddenly, that’s all S could hear. Just her voice, her breathing, her heart. S could smell her, could feel her body-heat, could recollect all the countless moments he’d spent with this woman…
No, all the moments that Adrien had spent with this woman. S became alarmed — it was becoming tough to distinguish who was S and who was Adrien in this subconscious projection.
Quietly, S let go of the world and it all vanished into motes of colored pixels that floated upon an infinite sea of blackness. But her scent remained, and S felt his heart throb one final time as his body disintegrated and he retreated from Adrien’s subconscious.
There was no more violence.
Adrien was furious as he slammed open Vernier Fallon’s office and stormed inside. He issued an unspoken command to S, requesting S to enact subconscious emotional restraints. It was not something Adrien did typically, but this was not a typical situation.
Vernier himself sat at a console with his back turned to Adrien, and was utterly unphased by the commotion.
Adrien stood behind Vernier, a stern expression on his face.
“You brought up divorce?”
Vernier turned his head, just enough that he could glance at Adrien from the corner of his eye. Then he turned back to his console, response-less. A moment of silence passed, during which the most dominant sound was Adrien’s infuriated breathing.
“She vouched for you instead of me,” Vernier said quietly.
“So she could protect you.”
“BULLSHIT,” Vernier raged, standing up violently and knocking his chair back. Then, suddenly quiet again, he added: “she loves you as much as she loves me.”
Adrien could say nothing. He could only see Ella-Louise’s face when Vernier said that; could only remember how deeply affectionate she was towards him. Adrien could only feel shame thinking how much Ella-Louise meant to him; sweet Ella-Louise whom he wanted so much to touch and hold and smell, but could not. His darling Ella-Louise who had left him for Vernier without any clear reasoning; his wonderful Ella-Louise who had twisted and contorted his heart in ways he could never have imagined.
“I can’t live with you, Adrien. But I will always love you,” she’d slid her fingers across his scratchy chin, turning his head and then kissing him gently goodbye.
Adrien shook his head, now calm and mostly pervaded by a sense of quiet understanding. “That’s not true, and you know it,” he said softly but dangerously.
“Yeah,” Vernier sighed. He took a deep breath, then sighed again, harder. “I…” Vernier winced as he tried to bring himself to say it.
“Can’t help it,” Adrien snapped. Then soothingly: “I know.”
Vernier got up with Adrien watching carefully. He stood a moment, his eyes turned guiltily towards the floor. “I’ll go fix this,” he said finally, his voice hardened with certainty.
“You pull something like this again, and we’ll exchange more than mere words,” Adrien said as he felt S retreating from his subconscious, his violent impulses allayed.
Vernier chuckled. “Just try me.”
Adrien couldn’t help but chuckle with him.