April 11, 2010

When the Autumn Leaves Blush - Part VII

As dictated by Faranza Syns

When The Autumn Leaves Blush
Faranza Syns

The one thing I learned from writing WALB: Roman numerical.

Chapter 6

Danielle massaged her lower arm - around the bandage of her wrist - as she stared at Sean leading the way in the small, narrow tunnel. Her back was starting to ache from bending over as they walked. She had to wonder how she had ever gotten in and out of this tunnel before.

Just hours ago, she had been prowling the area outside of the military camp, stalking in the relative darkness as she sensed the oncoming rain threaten to unfurl into a full-blown storm - or so she believed it to be in her head.

Suppressing a shiver at the remembrance, Danielle paused in her walking.

"You alright?" Sean asked.

Nodding, she pressed on, trying to push aside the lingering fear she felt at being so exposed to the elements. Her breathing became shallow as she felt the fever that she had pushed to the back of her mind start taking over again.

As if sensing Danielle's weakening state, Sean turned and grasped her uninjured hand. "Come on." And they pressed on in silence.

It was by pure, unexpected and shocking chance that she had found this one and the same tunnel a few hours before. The entrance had been hidden amongst bushes and covered by layers of dead leaves and roots. The entrance had also been so narrow, like it had been dug out by some small creature as a burrow. Frustrated and wound up, Danielle had stamped the dirt ground in fury. When the ground shifted, Danielle had paused and went back down on her knees. Working mostly on auto-drive by then, her fingers clawed deep into the earth, and she dug, tearing apart roots and shifting the soil. Little by little, the hole grew bigger and bigger.

When the hole had expended enough to allow her to slither in, she had stepped in gingerly, holding on to the sides of the hole as she tested the with her feet to see how deep the hole is, hoping beyond hope that it was big enough for her to huddle in as she waited for the rain to stop. When her feet had touched solid ground, she was dismayed as she had only gotten in as far as her waist. But holding on to a shred of hope, she had wiggled in some more, and found room for her legs to bend. As she slid into the hole, eyes closed, almost sitting on the dirt, she lost her balance, and rolled down an incline.

That was how she had rolled into the tunnel, bumping her head against the hardened wall. Not really thinking ahead, she had dusted off her jacket, stood up and began walking.

After that, it was all a blur of actions that had been carried out without taking into account possible consequences - hence the twisted wrist and the worsened fever.

And her landing a spot in a military school's hostel - with only boys.

The gravity of the situation struck her at that moment, with her hand in the grip of a boy. She would soon be surrounded by many, many males - and that was an abundance of testosterone.

She looked up ahead at Sean. It was funny, but after spending so much time alone with him, she finally registered in her head that he was a guy at that point. The ramifications of that realization came soon after as well. But as he looked back at her, his face contorted with focus and sheer determination, Danielle felt her fears sit back on its haunches, wary, but not yet ready to attack.

He seemed like a decent enough person - a person who respected a female and knew the limits. He had after all been the one who was so adamant against her staying in his room. She finally saw his logic now. There would be four very male, very virile boys sharing their room with her. It was bound to stir up many, many problems.

Oh boy.

She nearly jumped when Sean used his other hand to uncurl her fingers from around his. She swallowed as she realised just how hard she had gripped his hand but let out a sigh of relief when he did not comment on it. "Wait here. I'll open the trap door, check if everything is secure, then I'll boost you up. Got it?"

Danielle nodded and he did likewise, his firm, almost regal nod an antithesis of her weak, wimpy one.

He reached up above their heads and slid the metal door open to the left. He boosted himself up on a ledge, then peeked his head out. Almost as stealthily, he came back down. "It's safe, but you need to be really quiet."

"Okay," she whispered, but her throat was so dry, she was not sure whether he heard that pathetic sounding croak or not. He positioned himself on her right, his feet braced apart, his knees bent. "Here, step on this with your right foot, hold on to the top and boost yourself up. Use your elbows - and please God, don't grab the ledge with your twisted hand."

Danielle frowned, but did not complain. He was the pro here after all - he could bite her head off all he wanted, she would not say a word edgewise.

She did as he said and struggled to pull her weight up with her elbows. She could feel herself slipping - almost shrieked when it happened - but a push from below steadied her and she found that she was already up to her thighs. She manoeuvred herself up and out.

Only after she was fully out and sitting on solid earth did it dawn on her where the push had been exerted.

Her ... behind. It was probably the wrong time to worry about it, but out of nowhere, her refined up-bringing reared its ugly head and began tinging her cheeks pink.

Sean emerged a few seamless seconds later, crouching beside her with nary a catch in his breath. "You okay? Damn, that fever's acting up again, isn't it?"

"I'll be fine."

"Good girl."

He then grabbed her hand and they were off.

"Where're we?"

"Behind the Chief Instructor's place."

"Is he important?"

It took a while for Sean to answer through gritted teeth. "Basically, if we screw up, he's the one who gets to cut off a chunk of our asses with a carving knife and feed it to the sharks."

No wonder his whole body was tense.

"Why are we going through here, anyways?"

"It's the only spot that's the least guarded around here. Come on," he urged as they stalked through the trees, trying to move as silently and as quickly as they could. Danielle's feet were almost flying off the ground as they crossed the back of the fenceless house, which made the crash even more powerful when Sean stopped abruptly.

Stumbling, Danielle held onto Sean tightly, trying to regain her balance and her wits. "What's going on?" she asked.

Sean was silent, staring with wide eyes and slackened jaw at the Chief Inspector's house.

"What's wr--" Danielle never got to finish her sentence as she saw what Sean was seeing.

It was a horrifying scene to stomach. A man, full-grown and muscled, stood over a woman who was on her back on the bed, her upper-body lifted up and supported by her elbows. From the fast and furious movement of her jaws, Danielle could only deduce that she was angry and was demanding for her own pint of blood. The man roared in response - it was freaky and weird to watch. There was no sound that accompanied the disturbingly turbulent feelings on display.

What happened next made Danielle's stomach churn further, made chills and shivers run a maddening stampede all over her body.

The man tore open the woman's clothes and lunged. Again, no sound. No rustling of the sheets, no snatches of quickened breath, no cries of desperation. But those were all sounds that began to echo in her head.

She saw the man lift a hand, and saw it strike. Saw the woman's head snap sideways. Saw him take off his clothes. Saw hands claw and grip viciously.

Saw more than enough.

Sean turned her around, then began pulling. When Danielle did not budge, but continued staring with wide eyes and choppy breaths, he turned her fully to face him. "Forget all you saw," he commanded with a harsh voice she had never heard him use before.

"How...how could--"

Was that her voice that shook and faltered?

"Listen, Dee Dee. We need to go--"

They both jumped when they heard a muffled thump of flesh against a window. On instincts that were unquestionable, they burst into a run, trying to save their lives, affording themselves a narrow escape.

An escape that Danielle knew would never extend to the catharsis her soul so desperately craved - a chance to maybe, just maybe, allow her to live her life without the haunting shadows stalking her dreams. Visions of what she saw kept coming back to her. With every step she took, her heart shook with a potent mix of fear and outrage.

But at least now her heart was brutally aware of the fact that she was not the only who has suffered through such show of bestiality.

Sean shoved Dee Dee's small body into the then empty room and tried to not slam the door closed.

Before he even had time to catch his breath, she was all over him, fury and fired-up indignation flaming in her eyes. "How could you! That woman was - was ... was being ra--"

He pulled her deeper into the room and dragged her into the bathroom, locking them in. He then turned to her again. "Listen, I need you to forget everything--"

His head snapped back at the vicious slap dealt by her small, seemingly harmless hand. As the sting faded and as his vision cleared, Sean stared down at her small frame, not really taking in the heavy breathing, the tears, the clash of emotions in her eyes. Instead, he saw the hand that shook from the force of the blow she had delivered and he felt anger burst like an inferno in his chest.

"What the hell!" he snapped.

"She was being raped."

"She wasn't," he gritted out, seeing the crushed expression on her face. Unable to accept the fact that someone else was emotionally affected as him - knowing that he could not handle both their emotions for them - he turned away from her, only to be pulled back by a surprisingly strong grip.

"How would you know?" she hissed, moving up and forward on tip toes. "You've never been raped, have you?" she jeered. When her eyes were close, he finally saw the confusion and anguish - the shattering pain and suffocating fury. For one moment, he was still - everything inside and around him seemed to cease moving for a breath, and understanding dawned in him. With that enlightenment, came the expected squeeze in the vicinity of his ribcage.

A thousand questions raced in his mind. How? Why? How could someone like her have gone through something as vile as...

Sean stopped himself from contemplating. All he knew now was that he had to be gentle - as gentle as he could allow himself to be.

"Dee Dee..." he began, trying to reach out for her arms. But as he saw her stiffen and shift backwards, he dropped his hands, trying to not let the frustration gnaw at his composure. "Calm down," he told her.

"You're telling me to calm down when--" she heaved in breath after breath, looking both sick and sickened. Pushing aside the fact that Dee Dee most probably did not want a male touching her, he dropped the cover of the toilet seat and forced her to sit down. He sat on his haunches and stared up at her. "Deep breaths," he whispered, trying to convey as much calmness as he could, hoping she would accept what little strength and equanimity he could offer. "Come on, you can do this," he urged gently.

She began with ragged breaths that soon slowed to deep, forced inhalations. She reached out, and Sean was quick to extend his own hand in offering. She grasped the tips of his fingers with an iron-strong grip, her nails digging into his flesh, but he held steady, looking up into a face of such open naivete, he could not help but grip her own hand tighter.

"Are you okay?" he asked. Her nod was slow in coming, Sean almost expected her to not respond at all. But respond she did, and her tiny, defeated nod sufficed for Sean.

He held onto her hand with a firmer grip as he tried to gather his wits. They should not have seen what they did. It was something that bordered on catastrophic to have accidentally stumbled over that scene. The fact that it seemed like forced intercourse was one thing, but the fact that the woman was not the Chief Instructor's wife was another.

But his hands were tied - Sean cannot say anything. If he did, one thing was that he would be questioned as to how he knew. Second, the Chief Instructor would make his life a living hell. He was going to graduate in two months. Two months was a long time, and it was a long enough to time for the Chief Instructor to bring him down to a level lower than dirt. He was an SUO. The shame would be monumental - he'd never be able to hold his head up anywhere if he had been demoted out of the blue.

Sean rubbed his temple with his free hand in exhaustion. It had been one thing on top of another since three o'clock in the morning. He really did not know what had made life deal him this deck of cards, but it sure sucked to high heaven.

But he had to handle this, before it got worse, or out of hand.

He looked back up at Dee Dee who sat stiff on the toilet seat, her face impassive, but her hand shaking in his grip. She was another problem. Sick as a dog, and in no condition to be wandering around on her own outside of camp - what with the rough weather that's bound to come around. It was mid-August after all. Soon, it would be autumn, and rain would be the least of her concerns.

But she saw something that even Sean wanted to erase from his mind. The gut-churning scene replayed in his head, and he shuddered.

"You have to tell someone."

Sean stared into eyes that were green and clear. "We can't. That was... the Chief Instructor."

The calm, nearly lucid face then contorted again with anger. "Even if he were the bloody Prince of Russia, he should be hanged!"

"You don't get it!" he cut her off. "If he finds out I know, I'm as good as dead."

"He can't kill you--"

"Yes," Sean forced through gritted teeth. "He can."

That seemed to take the winds out of Dee Dee's sails, but she was quick to regain it. "Rape is serious, Sean. How can you just ..." she waved her hand around in a sign of helplessness. "You can't just let it go like that." There was a loud plea in her voice, but Sean closed his heart off from her voice.

"Yes, I can," he said, his voice laced with cold steel. "And so can you." He yanked his hand away, and stalked towards the sink, leaving behind a disillusioned girl in his wake.

Danielle could not stop the shaking of her body as she stared at Sean's broad back. She could just let it go? Danielle did not know what to feel at that point - anger at the boy who had so callously regarded a helpless woman's dire situation as something that could so easily be pushed aside? Sheer disappointment because she had expected something short of a miracle?

Before she could separate and examine the feelings, Sean turned and looked at her. "You know, I'm starting to think it might not be such a hot idea to have you around here."

She inhaled sharply, unexpected pain in the region of her heart making her breath stuck in her chest. "What?"

"Two months is a long time - who knows what could happen within that period of time."

"But..." An alien yet strong feeling of needing to convince someone overtook Danielle, making the words tumble out of her mouth, unchecked and unfettered. "You just need to keep me here for a few days - it won't even be that long!" Danielle leaned back on the toilet seat when she realised how frenzied she sounded - like a desperate woman clinging onto the arm of a lover who was leaving without a backward glance. With a sinking feeling, it came to Danielle that this feeling was something familiar. She had done this once before, and failed.

She had thought the pain of the past had been dulled by time. Alas, time merely made the pain slice like a finely sharpened blade - the sting was unbearable, and it lingered.

Sean hesitated. Feeling the familiar taste of bitterness rise up like bile within her, Danielle looked away. She should not have expected anything. Nothing at all. It was a lesson she should have learned years ago with what used to be her family.

It was apparent Sean did not trust her to be around here and keep a low profile. He probably thought she would somehow slip up, and proceed to make everything blow up in his face. His SUO position was such an important thing for him, and she was just a stranger. What right did she have to demand his trust?

But it still made her feel betrayed.

Pissed off, Danielle forced herself back up onto her feet. "I'll leave tomorrow morning. I'm sorry for being an inconvenience, but I need to stay here until tomorrow morning. After that I'll leave - and your life will be saved." Sean frowned at the jeering note in her voice, but Danielle could not give a damn. "I'm sorry about the money you guys had to fork out for the throat swab - I'll repay you somehow. You probably don't trust me when I say that, either," she laughed at herself.

Sean pushed his hair back frustratedly, feeling his resolve slip and flounder. This SUO spot and graduating with it would be the final frontier for his catharsis. If he graduated with this rank - one of the highest ranks to be held by a hero in the military school - it would prove his mettle to himself, thus banishing the feeling of agitation that seemed to grow more and more restless by day.

He wanted to face his ghosts and come out the victor - the only way was to graduate with a high rank, to leave this place being one of the people whom many looked up to. And Dee Dee was going to ruin. She was bound to blow her cover. No matter how careful they were, someone would eventually find the hidden fuse - and that's when everything would fall apart.

This was too important to him - it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to exorcise his demons.

But listening to Dee Dee's jaded laughter, Sean felt his heart contract painfully. Something inside him did not want to disappoint her - at the price of his own downfall. Oddly, he found a part of him willing that to happen, having no qualms against it at all.

"Dee Dee," he began, his tone grave and low. "This is difficult for me. And this is a military school!' he said, trying to reason with her. "You'll be surrounded by guys - it'll be horrible for someone like you."

"Someone like me?"

Sean held himself back. He didn't entirely know for sure that Dee Dee had gone through what he thought she had, so it was probably best to hold keep that scrap of suspicion to himself for the moment. "You look... refined." With that said, he finally realised that she did look refined. Like someone from a family with old money. Someone who would probably never end up on the streets even if an earthquake shook her home into shambles - there would be plenty who would give up their beds for people like her.

But what bothered him most was how familiar she looked. Those eyes - whose did they look like?

As it came to him that he was deviating from the matter at hand, Sean shook his head and recollected his last words. "You won't feel so good around so many--"

"I've been on the streets for over a year. I'll survive." Again, that jeering tone. Somehow, it didn't suit her.

"No, you don't get it --"

"Are you trying to convince me, or you? Because I said I'm leaving tomorrow morning. If it makes you feel so scared that I'll ruin things for you, just put me under a bed and I swear I'll keep quiet till tomorrow morning."

It was probably best to leave it at that.

But he did not want it to end that way. Despite it all, despite the surety of this turning out to be a disaster, he knew he could not kick her out. He just could not.

Angry at himself for being so weak, he grabbed her arms. "Fine. But I need you to keep this in your head - you must keep quiet. It'll be hell for you here. You won't be able to walk around outside. If you get cabin fever, I'm sorry, I can't do anything for you."

"I won't get cabin fever."

"Not if you're staying in here for 2 months."

It took her a few minutes to get what he was implying. "You want me to stay here for two months?"

He really thought the question was stupid, so he deemed it not worthy of an answer. Besides, answering it would most probably make one of his veins pop, so he shut up.

Doubt clouded Dee Dee's eyes, and despite her less defensive pose, he knew she was still wary. He had after all changed his mind half-way through, just because she saw a crime in progress, and he had told her to keep it quiet when she wanted him to do the right thing.

It was something he could never do. It would jeopardize too much of what he had worked so hard to achieve. It was too important to him - he could not do it.

"You don't have to keep me here for two months," Dee Dee spoke after a while, her voice small and faltering. "I just need a bit of time to get my feet back under me."

Unbeknownst to him as to the reason, Sean felt a deep, ingrained sense of responsibility for her. It was as if now that she was in his care, she was his responsibility until he left school. He felt a need to set her up somewhere and make sure she was fine.

It was definitely a need he was not going to voice. It was weird enough that he was giving in to the softer side of him - but to eagerly take up the responsibility of looking out after a runaway girl?

No, thank you. He would do some intense psychoanalysis on himself some other time.

But in spite of that, he still could not deny the fact that he felt as if something deep within him had made a promise to her, and breaking that promise would be going against the grain of his whole being.

And so, he let her think that she was leaving soon. He'll think of some other way to make sure she stayed safe, although he had no idea why it meant so much to him.

"But you need to tell someone about what ... happened."

He let go of her arms and stepped back. "I can't. I'm sorry. There are times you just have to keep quiet about these things."

He saw the disappointment on her face, but he steeled himself against it.

"I need you to keep quiet about it, too. No telling the other guys. If word gets out about it, it's bound to circle back to us, and there'll be hell to pay."

"But a woman was... raped."

"And we can't do anything about it. I'm sorry. I hate doing this, but we really can't."

Danielle watched as Sean moved to the door leading back to the dorm room. She stared at her hands - one bandaged and the other roughened by a year of scrounging the streets.

It was not a matter of could not but a matter of would not. And it was because her family would not do anything that she had ended up like this.

It was painful to know that it was now her turn to close one eye - and let someone else suffer the same fate she had had to endure, to swallow the same bitter pill that did nothing but destroy whatever faith she had in life.

Vicious cycles were always a bitch.

"So?" Drake snapped as he saw the door crack open.

Sean jumped backwards in surprise, bumping against Dee Dee who followed close behind. He frowned at Drake when that movement caused Dee Dee's head to smack against the doorjamb, hissing painfully at the contact. "You don't have to kill anyone to get information from us, Drake." He grabbed Dee Dee's head and pressed around for the sore spot. "Where? Here?" Dee Dee nodded as he found it, and she grimaced as he proceeded to rub.

"So? Was it strep?"

"Not sure." Sean moved her hair around to look at the scalp, looking for bruises and cuts.

"Not sure?"

"Yeah," Dee Dee said, biting her lip. "I'm fine," she said, grabbing Sean's hand to remove it.

"What do you mean 'not sure'?" Drake's voice rose in displeasure at being ignored.

Annoyed, Sean threw him a sharp look. "The doctor says the results will only be out tomorrow."


"So you're staying here?" Robin asked from his study desk, turning in his chair to fully absorb what was going on. Dee Dee looked up at Sean in question, but Sean was already staring ahead at a point on the wall as if bracing himself for a blow.

"Yes," he answered, the one word sounding like a death-sentence on his lips.

"But... doesn't she have strep?" Clark asked.

Dee Dee shook her head slowly. "Doctor says it's most probably tonsillitis. Besides, I don't feel so bad anymore."

At that, Clark got off his bed in an energetic leap and moved to Dee Dee's side. He put his arm over her shoulder. "You should lie down," he led Dee Dee to his bed. Sean frowned at Clark's over-familiarity, noting Dee Dee's wide eyes of surprise.

"Yeah," Sean put in. "Lie down on my bed." He threw a look of silent challenge at Clark as his fellow SUO turned to look at him. The boy of very little words stood still for a few seconds. Then, he said the words that won him the argument -- point-blank.

"I washed your sheets."

Sean's eyes widened at that, and he gaped at his bare bed. That was right - he told them to wash his sheet for him. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Clark throw him an 'oh well, too bad' look.

That boy better watch out. Sean stared as Clark guided Dee Dee to the bed at the farthest corner of the room. His glare was intensely fixed on Clark, reading every move like a leopard calculating the moves of its prey.

He only relaxed when Dee Dee shook her head, telling Clark she was fine, and she got into the bed - dragging the sheet over her body, and turning away from Clark. A silly sense of cockiness enfolded Sean at that. It almost felt like Dee Dee had chosen him over Clark. At that line of thought, Sean's eyes widened and he mentally slapped his head. This was stupid. He turned away and cleared his throat, moving towards his desk in an act to put it to rights.

"You guys spent quite some time in the bathroom," Robin commented.

"Just laying down some ground rules about her staying here." Sean kept a bland face when Robin looked like he did not buy that explanation.

"In the bathroom?" Drake asked, his arms folded in front of his chest.

Sean looked over his shoulder and raised a challenging eyebrow at them, his face cool and calm. "Do I look like I care what you think?"

Drake looked over at Robin. "I hate it when he does that 'I'm above you, so move over, you plebe' thing."

Robin shrugged and turned back to his work. "He never does it to me. Probably respects me more than he does you."


"By the way, Sean," Robin called out without looking up from his work. "Maiza from Echo was looking for you again at lunch."

"What did he want?"

"Another fight, most probably," Drake surmised. "He hates your guts."

"I don't see why."

"We don't, either," Drake shrugged.

"That aside," Robin began, finally looking up from whatever he was doing. "Is your mom coming tomorrow? I need some detergent."

Sean paused. That was right. Tomorrow was Visitation day. The thought of his mother coming to see him always put him a little bit on edge. But he was not sure if his mother really was coming tomorrow, or if she would come the next week, so he tried ease the knots in his stomach, telling himself that maybe she won't come this week.

"Oh, and is Sophia coming tomorrow, too?" Drake asked eagerly.

At the mention of that name, Sean smiled. Really, that girl would not let him forget her. She came almost weekly these days (the joys of coming from a rich, and influential family), and when she came, she almost always rendered the guys speechless. She was a whirlwind of energy, and it seemed like Drake really fancied her.

Sean shook his head at that, chuckling to himself. Sophia thought of Drake as an annoying little puppy - she was not sure what to make of him. Hell, Sean was looking forward to watching another episode of 'Sophia Murders Drake Without Really Knowing'.

It could not be, could it?

After all, what were the chances that the person who would be visiting Sean was the one person Danielle missed so dearly after months of separation?

Nearly down to nil, that was how high the chances were.

Danielle closed her eyes again, and told herself it was alright. Sophia Dorwood was not about to see her in this sad state anytime soon.

...Or ever.

That thought brought tears of sadness and regret to her tightly shut eyes, but Danielle dealt with them the same way she dealt with her pain.

She ignored it.


End of Chapter 6

Author's note: I had to slap myself a few times to get the real feel of a slap. Am I taking this a bit too far? Hell no. It's good experience. =)

The part where Sean was having his inner battle on whether to let Danielle stay was a bit of a funny part for me. I kept on thinking "sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah juga." I've been on a mental block for a long time, so idioms don't come to me as quick as they used to. So I sorta winged it, and tried to type non-stop to see what idiom would come to mind off the bat. I wrote down a part of a song instead -

"someone would eventually find the burst pipe, and as fast as they bow down they'll leave you behind." It's from Baby, Be Brave by the The Corrs. Haha. What the hell.

By the way, I wrote this after going through a rough week, so I would really appreciate comments on how bad I've written this chapter - it'll teach me to not be so down on the dumps too long.

Apologies for typos or grammar mistakes. I am only human (and a lazy one at that. I need a BETA reader, la).


Puss In Boots said...

Wonderful...Vicious cycles were always a bitch. I love this, ladeyh. And the way you described Seans feelings and emotions when he was deciding whether to let Danny stay is amazing. Can't wait for the next Chap.

Puss In Boots.

Alia said...

see, told u ive got a good feeling im going to like this one. its great but i feel like i'm missing something though .. the chemistry between sean and danny perhaps?? ;)

Faranza Syns said...

@Puss: Thanks. =) But I know it's a bit slow and not so good this chapter. Hopefully the next one will be better.

@Alia: I'm surprised you actually like it. Haha. I personally hate this chapter - I was detached throughout writing it. It sucked for me.

I pray that this'll turn around soon or WALB's never gonna go to print ;(

Youko . said...

Arghh!! seee ,, this is the reason why i tak baca WALB selama ni .. i wanted to wait till you finish writting the whole,, story , because i tak suka tunggu lama2 for new chapters :p and all the suspense is killing mehhh D: but, its too tempting , i ended up reading it jugak . hanaa , this is awesome ! ♥