Chapter 4 : Antidote
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3 months earlier
Her hands skim tips of barley as she wanders through the field. She can happily lose herself between her tall friends as she pushes through, her shoulders barely above the tallest sheaf. One hand is encased in her pocket, the other clasped by her child. Her daughter’s excited chatter floats past her ears, carried away by the gentle breeze. She has always been an animated child, much like her mother, but the difference lies in the fact that Andromeda’s spirit has been sapped from her slowly over the years. At seven years old, little Dora has no fears to succumb to, no demons to hide from. Her smile is easy and free, her eyes alight with her excitable spirit. It is no longer infectious. If only she could be a child once again, before the truths of life tainted her. Dora knows nothing of the pain that life brings. The innocence of childhood captivates her as she watches her daughter.
Dora crushes barley in her hand and watches as it falls slowly to the ground, lost in the earth. One after one, she strips the sheaves as they tread lightly along the path. For some strange reason, this behaviour irks her and she has to bite back the admonishment. She has lost her head to irrationality, so far gone that she dare not speak for fear of revealing the insecurities. A shiver runs through her body; she is cold even though the late autumn sun meets her back, though the sky is cloudless. She doesn’t have time for observing the weather; the sky is empty and blank, the atmosphere dry.
She dreads leaving the house. Outside its walls, she is not in control anymore, her small world expanding and normality escaping. But her child holds an inexplicable charm over her, her sweet smile convincing. Perhaps this time it isn’t because of Dora that she leaves the house; desperation is slowly seeping into the bricks and mortar, she struggles to take her mind off the fear, the worry. Everything reminds her of who she is, of how twisted and dark she is, of how much better she can be. She sees him in the portraits, in the mirrors, in her mind, everywhere in the house that he has been. Gideon leaves behind him an imprint, a tarnished memory to ensure he never escapes her thoughts. A lot of the time, she doesn’t want him to. But the anxiety is slowly becoming overwhelming, until Ted orders that she leaves the house and she can be free again.
Her daughter looks up to find her mother watching her and flashes a smile before handing her the stray strands of barley. “A present for you,” the girl declares, before skipping further along the path.
“Thank you,” Andromeda mumbles, taken aback by the gesture. Her daughter only ever wanted to please her mother, to make her smile but she is usually so withdrawn that smiles are rare. She feels a terrible mother, for these moments are few and far between. It’s Ted who encourages her to spend time with Dora, who makes sure that she doesn’t forget that they exist altogether. He nudges and gently pushes and reminds her of her responsibilities when she gets lost in the darkness of her mind. He pulls her out every time she falls in, he saves her.
She cannot bring herself to look at him, to talk to him, to partake in their relationship. At opposite ends of the table, the silence stretches further than the distance. He watches her, his eyes gently undressing the curve of her jaw, the frown on her brown until she cannot bear his stares any longer and she looks up, matching his gaze briefly before he averts his eyes. He hasn’t said a word to her since she returned from the fields and his silence has begun to worry her.
“Are you alright?” she says, observing him as he starts to collect the dirty plates, bringing their meal to an end. “You seem quiet this evening.”
He pauses momentarily, thinking, before continuing. “Maybe I’m tired of always having to make the effort.” His voice is low and soft, sending a chill down her spine like the trickle of cool water.
“What are you talking about?”
“You never say anything to me anymore,” he mutters, placing the plates on the table again and facing her. “Your head is in another place most of the time.”
“I don’t have anything to say,” she mumbles, looking away.
Ted runs his hands through his dark hair exasperatedly. “Just try, for me.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t care,” he says forcefully. “Just say what’s on your mind if you have nothing else, even if it’s about Gideon.” She looks up at the mention of his name, then quickly focuses her attention on something else. “Don’t looks so surprised, I can tell that’s where your mind is most of the time. It’s written all over your face.”
The guilt draws itself into the lines on her face, the cracks in her lips and the frown on her face. Her every thought is etched there, she shouldn’t be so surprised that he can read her like an open book. “I’m sorry, Ted.” Her voice is small, her eyes mindful of his every mood. He has worked himself up, she can tell from how rigid his frame is. “I’m just worried.”
“Worried,” he repeats, processing the word before he relaxes. Pulling out the chairs, he motions for her to sit down and she complies, perching on the edge of her seat as he joins her. “What are you worried about?”
She runs her nail along the grain of the wooden table, her eyes following the movement. She doesn’t want to talk about this, she can’t find the words to say that will make it all acceptable.
“He’s… I haven’t heard from him for months,” she mumbles eventually, each word becoming stronger as she voices her fears. “What if he never comes back?”
It is a true mark of the strength of their friendship that he can look her in the eye. She will never understand how he can allow her to even mention Gideon when he knows of her feelings for him; it has always perplexed her. Once he told her that by talking about him with her it let him be closer to her. It shames her that Gideon is such a large part of her that Ted feels like he has to accept him to love her, she hates it.
Nothing is straightforward for her. But as she bites her lip in anxiety, she wonders how long it can last. She avoids talking about him as far as possible, the silence triggering short-lived peace.
She sees the look in his eyes and she knows he is torn, torn between the truth as he knows it and the truth as she wants it. Perhaps he sees the desperation in her eyes, or he just can’t bear to let her down, but he tells her what she wants to hear.
“He will come back,” he says heavily. “He’s a good wizard, he’ll be fine.”
At times like this, he stops being the husband and reverts back to his old role of best friend. He comforts her, he soothes her as if Gideon’s fate is irrelevant as long as she is happy. His own feelings never factor into his consolations. They are hidden behind concern and care and the love that he has for her.
Then he does it; he finally breaks, filling the silence that she has left behind. “And even if… even if the worst happens, I’ll be here. You’ll always have me.”
It’s a simple sentence, a simple concept and to anyone else these words would be innocent. But here, now, the sound filling her ears is corrupted and evil, the notion so malicious that she cannot believe he has said it. She knows he’ll always be there for her, and he knows that she knows, but she wishes he had never inferred it; so does he. They both try and distract themselves from the ugly truth, he clearing the table and she polishing the glasses, but the statement is in the open, it cannot be retrieved. And with the drop of glass, she finally breaks the silence.
“You’ll never be him,” she hisses, her voice low and angry. “Don’t you dare try to replace him.”
Ted turns and watches her, his expression unreadable. He doesn’t move, yet, as she starts to shake and shiver. In her head, the smashing glass echoes until she brings her hands to her ears to block out the sound. Then he moves, gently approaching her and removing her hands and holding her close, but her mind is much further away. He cannot reach out to her, she has already left.
“I’m not,” he whispers, his voice seeming to fail him. He clears his throat and she opens her eyes, catching the resigned look on his face. He knows he has overstepped the mark. “But you have to understand that this has never been easy for me.”
“I know,” she mumbles. “I’m sorry.”
He gives her that look, the one that sees through the anxiety and to the core of her heart and she falters. Sorry has never been enough and it isn’t enough now. But when she sees those dark eyes, those deep eyes, she wishes she didn’t have to be sorry. He doesn’t want her to apologise either, but what he silently asks her she cannot do.
“I can’t stop loving him.” She looks away, tears in her eyes. She hates her weakness, the holes in their relationship that it causes. “I’ve tried, you know I have. He’s just… I just can’t.”
Ted understands, of course he does. But his acceptance and understanding makes her hate herself more. It’s selfish, it’s cruel, but she cannot give up on Gideon. Not loving him would mean forgetting him, forgetting what they’ve been through together. Like rain and clouds, one cannot survive without the other. Imagining life without him consumes her every thought and poisons her mind, until she can no longer function without knowing that there is hope. He brings the colour back into her life, bringing a brief smile to her face before leaving once again, plunging her into darkness. She lives for those moments, the ones where the hope burns as strong as her love for him. She doesn’t know how to extinguish that love. Ted has never asked her to, not vocally; but occasionally she catches the longing in his eyes, the unspoken wish. Saying it aloud will destroy it altogether.
Ted sighs. “I know. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
There it is again, the guilt. She blinks hard, trying to dismiss the tears, knowing she cannot cry in front of him. It’s her fault that they both live in this stalemate because neither of them can convince her to give in, no matter how much they want it. Her head belongs with Ted but her heart is hopelessly lost to the wanderer. She hates his apologies because he is sincere and she wishes it doesn’t have to be this way. As he places the tea towel on the table and leaves the room, she wants to beat her hands against his chest and kiss him at the same time. She can’t bear his apologies, his misplaced guilt and she just wants him to know how sorry she is, how lost she would be without him. He wouldn’t believe her, he has heard it before. But she’ll never promise the one thing he wants and so for that her betrayal still exists. They’re both used to it now.
She shifts under the quilt, her back to his, as her lip trembles. She feels cold, her whole body shivering. By the rhythm of his breathing, she can tell that Ted is still awake beside her, separated by silence. It is so cold that she shivers more. At least half an hour has passed since they said their goodnights, the only words spoken since their earlier argument. She hates that she is the one tearing their marriage apart, that she is so weak that she cannot be faithful to her husband. She loathes his acceptance, believing that perhaps the guilt would ease if he couldn’t bear the sight of her. His unconditional love just taunts her further, highlighting the weakness that has nestled inside her soul. The worst thing is, she buried it there.
Ted stirs, shifting himself so that he has turned to face her. “Andy, this is stupid. I hate fighting with you. Can’t we talk about this?” Oh, how his compassion kills her. She married him for it, she loves him for it, but it is all too quick to turn against her.
When she can’t find the words to respond, he rests his hand upon her shoulder, warm against her cold shell. “Please talk to me, this silence is unbearable.”
She remains where she is, clearing her throat. “I hate it.”
She sighs, her heart heavy as she speaks the truth. She has never been one for lying. “The fact that you’re so bloody nice to me.”
He laughs, pulling her over and kissing her forehead. “Sorry.”
She manages a small smile. “And how you’re always apologising.”
“Sorry,” he says, predictably, kissing her on the lips and pinning her under him.
She looks up into his eyes, wondering how she can be so twisted. She doesn’t deserve this kind man, this loving man who went out of his way to keep the peace. The guilt increases even more because she knows that no matter how much she pines for Gideon, she cannot live without her husband. The pressures advance from two sides and she cannot fend them off on her own. Life without her lover is bleak and she needs his visits to keep her spirit alive, but every time he leaves he creates an even bigger chasm in her heart, one only he can fill. The worries increase, the guilt doubles and in those dark times it’s Ted that she needs. He is her antidote.
A/N: once again, thank you so much to Rachel for all her help and advice
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