For the_vulture‘s commissioned prompt.
In the same world as:
Through the Cracks (LJ)
“China is Here” (LJ)
The Dark of the City (Lj)
Content warning: there’s some atypical thinking and suggestions of prior abuse going on.
I woke like a dream from the dark, slipping out of the cracks in the sidewalk, slipping out of the holes in the world. I stepped out into the daylight world when she failed to pay attention, she who had been so dismissive of myths and dreams.
(Of course I know – well, think – assume, at least – where she went. That doesn’t mean I have to tell you, now does it? The wonderful thing about what I am. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to!
(Err, except the geasa, but don’t pay any mind to that. You don’t need to know about those!)
THE POINT BEING, I stepped out, and she vanished. *Poof* And, because this is what being a Changeling is, being a crack-dweller, a troll (so maligned!) a Fair Folk (Much better)… I took over where she’d left off. Because that is what you do, when you are the things that live between the cracks in the world.
Cue ominous music.
No, really, I’m a sweetie. I’m not going to eat your face or anything. I just wanted to be out in the world, not cramped in a nether dimension. I just wanted my own chance to shine.
(If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Goat-free. Shit, was that out loud).
You keep side-tracking me. Keep that up and I’m going to eat your face, and then what will you listen with, mister?
Sweet and innocent. Sweet as sugar and pure as the driven snow, that’s me. Or, at least, that was Her.
They teach you, when you’re waiting for an Other to step through a crack, what you’re supposed to do and not do. What you’re supposed to say and not say. The lines to walk.
They teach you how to be a good little Changeling, because their goal is to get as many out as possible. If you make a fuss, you might bring the attention down of Those Who Watch, and then bam, they come patching the cracks and it’s forever before we can get anyone else out again. And we don’t want that, do we, miss wants-to-play? No we don’t, Papa. We’re not our mother. We’ll be good.
You get really good at saying the right lines, down there.
And, well, I wanted to stay out, and I knew what Those Who Watch do when they catch a changeling before they’re all the way anchored in, so I listened to what I was taught. I didn’t just slip into her skin, I became her. Every twitch, every glitch, every issue, every freaking volume (and she had a few, let me tell you).
And then, slowly, I… improved her. I smoothed out a rough edge here. I sanded down a splotchy spot there. Her complexion got better, she stopped twitching randomly. She began to speak in sentences of more than three words. She got a raise.
Her life had been constrained by rules she didn’t even understand, but what am I but the breaker of rules? Slowly, I touched up the edges of her life, fixed her hair, introduced us to a nice guy. Slowly, I sanded off the bits that made her uniquely Susan, and made her, instead, uniquely me.
And everything was going beautifully! The way we do things now isn’t the way they used to do it, shoving yourself into the body and psyche of a human, sharing living space, as it was. That has all sorts of negative side effects, the worst of which the riders going crazy, getting kicked out, or both at once. A rider without a body ends up shoving themselves into the nearest possible vessel – you end up with a lot of “charmed” items that way that were actually accidentally possessed, the poor spirit stuck until that item (stone statues are the worst) “died;” disintegrating completely.
And a rider who’s crazy brings Those Who Watch down on all of us, and, perhaps harsher, makes the world look. And there are things we don’t want the world looking at, any more than Those Who Watch do.
And there you got me sidetracked again. Stop that!
The way we do things now, that’s what I was talking about. As opposed to the old way, that nobody liked, including the hosts.
Now, I’m not really sure the hosts like it – they don’t act too nice when they’re pulled Under, but the cracks can warp you a bit – but it works a lot better for the riders. For me, in specific. The host, all of her, goes Under, and the Changeling, with a copy of her body and her memories, pops out Over.
This is important! This is important in my case, because, while I started out with a copy of Susan’s memory and body, as far as I knew, I didn’t start out with any actual Susan. Nada. Nyett. She was Below, doing whatever the stolen ones do. Crying, probably, and rocking back and forth. She seemed really good at crying and rocking back and forth.
The real problem was, I was getting good at it too. Not on purpose! I was doing my damndest to step out of those obnoxious patterns, trying to make my dull, dull host into someone entertaining to be. And I’d been working all those rough edges off.
But they kept coming back! I’d spend weeks slowly getting her – me – to used longer sentences, and then one of those borrowed memories would pop up, and there I was hiding in the closet, terrified the boojum was going to get me.
Something had to be done. And quick, because I couldn’t afford to go crazy. If I went crazy, well, we covered that. Those Who Watch, yadda, yadda, and then the people back Below would rip me to shreds, and I would never get out again.
Ever heard of a Changeling in therapy? The thought was laughable. “So, doc, I have these memories, but they’re not really mine, even though I’m living the life of the person whose memories they are.” I’d get “help,” all right, but not for the problem I actually had.
So I tried to muscle on through. It was just some memories, right? Just some memories, and some twitches, and a few superstitions that seemed to make everything worse if I ignored them. It was just some memories, a couple twitches, some superstitions, and a growing fear of going outside after dark.
Just the memories, the twitches, the superstitions, the fear of the dark, and the urge to run away from any man with a handlebar mustache.
Just memories, twitches, superstitions, fears, urges to run, and a habit of counting everything I ate.
Just memories, twitches, superstitions, fears, urges, habits, and a rising desire to set places on fire that I could barely recognize, places that spurred a fragment of a memory that, it seemed, Susan had repressed very deeply, places that made my skin crawl.
When I came to myself standing in front of a bar muttering the words to a fire spell, I decided that muscling through wasn’t going to work anymore. This body was clearly defective. I had to go back through the cracks. I had to make Susan take her body back.
Getting through the crack in that direction isn’t hard. It’s not even a challenge if you came from there, which I did, barely, remember I had.
Finding my other self was a bit trickier, but magic works so much more nicely down there. I had to hurry, was the problem. Those Who Watch notice holes in the world, like there being no Susan at all out there. We didn’t want them, clearly, to notice that.
And when I found her – cleaned up, pretty, in a field with unicorns, dangling her feet in the brook – do you know what she said? Of course you do, don’t you? She said no.
“Take it back,” I told her. “Go back to your life, I don’t want it anymore.”
“No.” She smiled like it was the nicest thing in the world she’d just said, instead of the end of mine. “No, I don’t want to.”
“You have to. You have to go back, please.” I shook her a little, I think. Neither of us liked the contact, so I stopped. “The voices, the nightmares… how did you manage not to burn the city down? You have to take it all back!”
“No,” she said again, and, still smiling, “you’d better leave. But when you go back – don’t worry so much.” She patted my shoulder. “You just have to remember to follow the rules, and everything comes out better.”
So I went back, back to her life, and the memories, and the twitches, and the interminable rules. And I found you, because I hear you’re good at this sort of thing.
I need to burn down a few buildings. And I need it untraceable.
Maybe then, the memories will let me live.
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