Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru


jasmine_icon.gif nico_icon.gif

Also featuring:

jose_icon.gif jun_icon.gif lynette_icon.gif mateo_icon.gif

Scene Title Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru1
Synopsis On request of her cousin, Benji investigates the dreams of a traumatized child staying at the Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center and uncovers a secret of impersonation and kidnapping.
Date May 3, 2019

In Dreams

For a little while, all Jasmine can determine of Nico is that they like cats.

This is no small thing. In the kaleidoscope of a child's dreams, finding consistent patterns can be a struggle. They see their case worker sitting behind a cake and eating it in messy handfuls. Of the Benchmark hallways becoming impossibly long with music playing out of sight. They see the surface of their bed rippling like jelly, and the windows fold off the walls and sail away like paper planes. They see a stray white cat with a big black spot across its back, one they've seen in the waking world at a distance, but in dreams they give chase, never catching it.

They're at an age in which dreams begin to gain a little coherence, a little storyline and consistency, but these feels more confused than normal. It takes Jasmine a little time, but it's time she takes silently, beyond the borders of Nico's perception, to smooth something of a path.

Tonight, she brings the cat back. It is heavy in Nico's arms, but also as soft and warm as they imagined.

Soft mewing.

Nico will see a little path of stone set into overgrown grass, leading to a cottage of grey brick and dark wood. It doesn't look like people live here, and while it is enveloped in an air of mystery, it doesn't seem too scary, either. Not quite fairytale — Jasmine has never been very good for pure invention — with weeds growing up through the patchy earth and lichen forming on the stone.

The cat leaps from Nico's warms, smooth as water, and goes marching off for the partially opened door, tail high, in the direction of those soft mews.

The cat is soft and fluffy, and in their dream, Nico loves it. It feels like most of their life has been taken up with war, and before that, their family had its share of troubles. There had never been time for a cat. Their friends had had some, though. Or at least, cats had come to reside in empty buildings to the left or to the right, as they had emptied. People fleeing. People dying. Cats that wore collars but often seemed unaccompanied by people.

(You should know that their name, 'Nico,' sounds a lot like ねこ. Neko. Cat.)

In their dream, Nico pets the fur that runs along the animal's spine and struggles to remember if it's safe to kiss a cat on the head, or if you're not supposed to. Before they can make the decision, the creature takes leave! It is Not what they want. But for once, just this time anyway, the dip of disappointment doesn't instantly catapult them into a deeper fear. Instead, they turn their head to follow the way to the door. They decide that the door looks familiar, with its egg-shaped window; something out of a book they read once, perhaps. A moment's hesitation, and they brush the grass off the knees of their pants, get up to follow.


They haven't heard their own voice in months now, but here, it's neither startling nor unfamiliar. They catch the door by the edge with their fingers instead of using the handle, unafraid of accidents that might end in bruised digits. "Hello?" is loud, for people. Then, quieter: "Cat. Do you live with somebody?"

The cat marches on ahead at a determined pace, crossing through the little living area — rug, plump couches, repurposed table, an old fashioned television with a bulging grey screen — and towards another archway. There, the cat pauses, and looks back at Nico with big blue eyes. Issues a trill, the kind of uptick in tone that sounds like a question, before darting around a corner.

This room is smaller. Thick curtains stifle out most of the sunlight. A low bed. The sound of kittenish mewing becomes more urgent, as it should, at the scent of their mother.

This place is brimming with nostalgia, that even Nico feels it as if it were their own.

In the far corner of the room, a basket packed with blankets, and movement. Very young, squirming kittens climb over each other. Their eyes are open, now, but they don't seem inclined to venture very far beyond the tall wicker lip of their home. Carefully, the cat peers over the edge, and climbs her way inside, big brush of a tail flicking back and forth, perpendicular to her spine.

"What. Oh my Gyyoooood," says Nico, without the slightest trace of irony. Their eyes have lit upon the litter of kittens. This is quite possibly the best dream they have had in ages. So vivid, too; when they had held the one cat, they could feel how soft the fur, the delicate weight of bones inside skin and muscle. It had been incredible. They would be impressed, if they knew they were dreaming. As it is —

this is the best day of Nico's life, as far as they are concerned. It's the funny thing about dreams. There's no before, no forecast into after. The minute you start to worry about what happens next, it begins to happen. And while that's happened a lot lately, this reality feels stable and fluffily convincing enough that they're in it wholeheartedly. The boy looks furtively once left and right, confirming to themself that whoever the cat lives with is not an angry, life-sized biped. And then, without further ado, they go scuttling toward the basket.

They go down on their knees once they're in range. Making themself small so that the cat will not feel that her kittens are under any threat. "Hi," they say, their own hands hovering in and out of their own lap. "Can I touch your babies too?"

The cat is picking her careful way around her wriggling babies, soft paws sinking into soft blankets, pink nose questing and twitching. There are four — three of the same white-with-black-blotch configuration, and another with a pale sketch of ginger tabby stripes. They climb over each other rudely, crying for attention, and one sets their big eyes on the shape that Nico makes, kneeling at the edge of the world.

The mother cat doesn't answer, preoccupied with accounting for her children, so someone else does instead.

"I'm sure that would be alright."

The voice comes from behind, gentle and quiet. Standing in the door is a woman, dressed in homely layers, wool skirt and wool cardigan over blouse, sensible shoes and stockings. Long black hair is gathered into a casual but classic updo, pearl earrings on display, and a mild dusting of makeup are all of a lower key than Jasmine tends to appear as. Realistic, down to the fibres of her cardigan, the impress of soft powder on her face. She smiles.

In her hands is a fifth kitten. This one is all black, held supported almost entirely in one hand, with the other rounded around for balance. Little paws swim in the air. "She's just wondering where this one went," she says. "Can I come in?"

aaaaaa, Nico thinks, whipping their head around. aaaaa. Oh, a lady. aaaa, don't trust ladies. Don't trust anyone. Nico's eyes dart all over the place, ending up in the wrong ones first before they find a sensible pattern. The small cat in Jasmine's hands, which are otherwise empty. The doorway, which she is blocking. The absence of other exits except, perhaps, for that window there. Nico isn't sure that they can jump high enough, but that's not a thought that they finish before the mewing brings them back.

The cats are hers. Nico is the one who's intruding. They see that, suddenly.

"I think this is your place," they observe, slowly. The kitten wouldn't have gotten that far on its own, and she's dressed, somehow, like this place is dressed. Warm tones and pragmatic structures. They curl their fingers on their lap, sorely tempted still to pick up a kitten. For comfort. To demonstrate they aren't — the wrong kind of intruder. But still nervous about moving; about betraying their nerves, with the movement. "Isn't it? Aren't the cats yours?" It's a stupid question, but their mind fumbles over the particulars of why. Their eyes steal back and forth, between the nearest wobbling cat and the woman holding its sibling across the room.

Ownership of place established, Jasmine steps into the room — and aside, moving towards the low bed, on which she can sit at its edge with her knees daintily together. It feels, to her, a little less invasive than the assumption of settling right down next to Nico, but she is at least close enough that she can lean a little and offer out the little black kitten. Here, Nico can see it has a white spot on the centre of its head, between the upright little triangles of its ears. The tip of its short little tail looks like it was dipped in white paint.

"Here," she invites. "If you give this one back, she'll trust you with the next."

She has the intent of smoothing down the edges of her own interruption, so that Nico doesn't become unmoored with questions of why they are here and who she is. Dreams are harder to steer, when they aren't believed, although she isn't doing so much steering as she is steadying.

Despite the adult wisdom of Nico's fears, they are nonethless still a twelve-year-old kid who hasn't played with kittens in

ever. And are susceptible to new pleasures, as are most beings. After a moment of hesitation, they put out their small hands to accept the gift of kitton. They watch the soft paws pendulum on either side of their wrists, slack from any kind of grown-up kitty muscle-tone, and they carefully lower the small creature back down to its mother. It's so soft. The tummy especially, is bulbous, still layered over with enough baby fat that Nico can barely feel the rib bones wrapped up inside the velour. They're reluctant to let go, but they do, carefully pulling their hand out from under.

"Did you give them names?" they ask suddenly, switching their attention back. Vigilant, even in the dream-space, that they let down their guard too long; got too far into the happiness, in time for the shoe to drop right on their fluffy brunette head. She seems, somehow, like the kind of person who would not necessarily name her animals, despite her very fancy hair. (Nico's mother never used to wear her hair up.)

"'N' what's yours?" is something Nico attaches afterward, not an afterthought. Thoughtful.

"A few," Jasmine says, tilting a fond look down at the basket of kittens. The mother is leaning forward to aggressively lick the head of the baby that Nico set down amongst its siblings. Resounding purrs vibrate from the cluster of feline. "Do you see the stripey one? I named him Calvin. That was a friend of mine. Still is, but he went travelling. And that one, there, that you put down — Hannah. Because she was always quiet, too, never complained." She doesn't need to lay it on too thick, she thinks, about what became of Hannah.

Elbows on stockinged knees, arms crossed at the wrist, Jasmine looks to Nico. Smiles with her eyes, which are a duller blue than they are in real life. Some barely conscious softening of her manners. "I'm Jasmine," she says. "What's yours?"

Nico strategizes in silence for a few distracted seconds, and then makes their gambit. They Choose a Kitten. The one that had been tottering around on the brink, naturally. The kitten is quite perfect. Nico takes hold of it quite carefully, so as to upset neither its mother nor Jasmine. They make a cradle with their arms to fit the small creature's round body inside of them, only to find that its body is so small that their twelve-year-old arms can't quite fit closely enough. "Jasmine's a cool name," they say. "Like Aladdin, right?

"If I was gonna name some cats, it'd be after made-up things like. Rajah. You know?" They don't know what happened to Hannah, but it's a half-formed thought that leans into the unspoken shadows formed inside Jasmine's power. "Like what if it jinxes them. 'Cause you named them after someone real." They shift their arms carefully, sliding one far enough that they can corral the kitten's feeble wiggling with their hand instead. Small fingers venture to place scratches in the proper places. Between the ears? Beneath its itty bitty chin.

"How come you can have cats anyway?" Nico asks suddenly, discomfited by — something. They sneak a look at her. "Are you like, rich or something?" This is a rude question. Their family would not approve.

"Like the flower," is more like an offering than a correction, really. Nothing wrong with a good Disney princess. Jasmine does not entirely resemble one now, for all that she can, sometimes — her wardrobe is sensible, riding a find line between elegant and dowdy, with her affect and manners making up the differences, hands tangled primly at her knees.

And her smile tightens at the corners, as if to suppress a laugh. "No," Jasmine says. She balances her elbows on her knees, fingers lacing together to balance her chin upon. "But strays need homes too."

She tips a look down at the basket, where the mama cat has risen up a little to inspect Nico's handling of her kitten, and seems to allow it to happen as she finally settles to lie down, a tired matriarch. "When they're big enough, you could take one home with you. Would your family mind very much?"

Nico stoops their little head down, a bit clumsy, unaccustomed to this exercise but too beguiled not to try. They rub their cheek against the kitten's face, like they have seen cats do to their own young. It turns out to be very fun. This just in: Jasmine is good at weaving dreams. The fur is silkily soft and warm on their cheek. Cats are, they decide, best applied to the face. Especially when one is confronted with uncomfortable questions.

The dream trembles. It considers turn into a nightmare. But in its midst, Jasmine keeps its core stable, like she's protecting a flame in the cup of her hands.

"I don't think so," Nico says, eventually. "Maybe. I think maybe my dad's the only one left. So it depends on whether he's pissed at me for everybody else dying. You know?" They don't mean to sound disrespectful, nonchalant. It just feels strange and apart from them right now, difficult to focus on the grieving horror of it while the pink plushy buttons of the kitten's paw are pappapping them on the chin. "Maybe he blames me, so he wouldn't let me have a cat. He was pretty messed up the last time I saw him, and that's why he got help." Nico closes their eyes inside their dream, which would be a strange thing if they knew they were dreaming.

They breathe deep. The kitten smells of straw and its mother, and milk and something clean. "You know that word. When you try to do something for a reason, and then it does the total opposite. It's like. Butt… butt something." It is not: 'butt' anything, it's only a trick of dreaming. You forget what you know, and you know what you try to forget, even if the shape and color are ever so slightly different.


One of the other kittens is getting curious. Naturally, it's the stripey one. Jasmine bends at the waist enough to take him into her hands — more slender and delicate than the ones she has in real life, her nails perfect little shells of painted burgundy instead of signs of biting — and balances the little cat on her knees. Jasmine pets him in long, meditative strokes, feeling her psychic way around the borders of Nico's mind. It's a balancing act, dreams. She's drawn Nico into her world in the hopes of stabilisation.

It's their world that she needs access to, and she can only do that — without violent disruption — in this gentle, subtle way.

But don't worry. She's an expert.

As Nico's world is defined by soft paws and the cosy interior of an old cottage, memory brews beneath the surface and, unknown to them, is absorbed through the fibres of the dream — just slowly, just gently, so that those memories don't warp their surroundings. Grief is present. The strange, shadowy sense of sadness wrapped in and around that anchoring point of a parent. A death. It hews closely to personal experience enough that Jasmine pulls away from it, but not so soon that she doesn't get sense of someone else.

"What happened to the rest of them?" she inquires. The kitten in Nico's hands begins to purr. So happy, so safe. "What happened to your uncle?"

Nico doesn't answer for awhile. They look at the kitten, the small part of the kitten that they can see this close. The proximity makes it so that they Nico can only see a fuzzy butt! One leg. One eye. Soft damp pink nose kisses in a blur beside their nose. It is badly incongruent, how perfect this moment is and how terrible the memories burning and splitting their way up into Nico's thoughts now. They breathe unsteadily into soft, milk-warm fur.

"They took him. I can't tell anyone, or they'll take dad too."

Despite their best efforts, Nico's next breath sounds wet and disgusting, clotted with something that isn't clean straw-sweet air. They pick up their head, unwilling to look at the woman nearby, even though she seems nice, and not real enough to feel threatening, in the context of the dilemma they just described. (The strangest people can join you, when you are trapped between a rock and a hard place. People who can fit between the molecules of your thoughts, their fingers slenderer than the circular circumference of your veins, their manner fine enough to pass through the solid walls of your frantic heart.) "It was like that movie. The old one, S.W.A.T. With Colin Farrell.

"Except it was all backwards." Their voice is tight. They pet the kitten's head, a touch listlessly now, but the dream holds around them. "Did you ever see that one? There's a bunch of old VHSes floating around." The film industry of the United States of America has collapsed, for a minute.

Jasmine says something. Nico thinks it is denial about having seen S.W.A.T., with Colin Farrell, but they don't really remember. The swimmy transition from lucidity is a question of remembering something and not remembering the rest. The rest of the sleeping evening spins out into the same strange water-colour vagueness to which they were accustomed, and they wake muddled. A dream about kittens, or maybe they were one, tangled up in a basket.

And a lady, who they spoke to. But they don't remember what was said, just that she seemed nice enough.

It's the next evening that they dream again.

The kaleidoscope twists. Focuses. A shadow, that resolves into a man. Helmet, rifle. Vivid memory plunges through Nico's sleeping mind like a scalpel.

Nico remembers.

They had been with their uncle in the afternoon, giving their father a break from… well, 'a break' was how Uncle Jun had put it, without further specifiers, explaining that your mind, your heart, is like any other muscle, and when it's been hurt, sometimes you need time to rest, and even time to exercise it before it's well again. It had been sunny, quiet in Jamaica Plain; Uncle Jun had hoped that his brother would run errands while they were out. Nico had slapped the grocery list up on the refrigerator with a Chococat magnet.

Jun had sometimes talked to Nico like they were a child much younger. It was because he hadn't really been around kids much, before the war. Even his psychology training had been with adults, and only out of the strictest necessity, the devastation wrought across the country by the Second Civil War, his brother's personal loss and plea for help, the needs of so many, that he had been forced to set aside his rigid preferences, question his aversion to people too young to be reasoned with. And in the beginning, he had swung hilariously far the other way, approaching the behaviors of his brother's child like a scientist.

He had a bad habit of citing child development textbooks at Nico.

And he did it once, that Monday. Observing Nico, who kept running out of time on his handheld video game console as they repeated the same level, over and over, trying to maximize their score before having to run their avatar to safety. "Concrete operations," Uncle Jun had said, reaching over to wedge a french fry into their mouth. "Class and sub-class discrepancy. Fascinating. Do you have any idea why the 'you died' music has to be so much louder than literally the rest of the whole game?"

Nico had of course, proceeded to die five times in sequence. Uncle Jun had then lurched out of his seat, rewarding his nibling with a thrilling chase around the office. But Nico's operations were not that 'concrete,' as they pointed out to Jun, while being hung upside-down in his arms. They were very good about not smashing into the confidential files there, and they never ran near Jun's computer.

The dream bifurcates, and Nico puts on a helmet. They're smaller, suddenly, younger than before. Playing soldier in a time before it became 'too soon.' They have a pillowfort. Their mother laughs with them and then apologizes because she has to stop and go see the doctor.

NYC Safe Zone, Red Hook: Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

Nico's eyes are blank; Nico's eyes are closed; Nico's real body is elsewhere, deaf, a night of sleep that is less fitful than most. There is a plush cat toy, worn by the love of whoever handed it down to them, wedged under one slender arm.

They asked for it a few days ago, not with words, but by drawing a picture and pointing to the toys reserved at the Benchmark Recovery Center for children much younger. They had been tempted, almost, to write: Please. Then, Thank you. But they didn't want Miss Lynette to think that their words are coming back. They can't have that.

In Dreams

"That's not what 'concrete operations' means," Uncle Jun had said, his face creased with amusement. Then he paused, stiffening, lifting his head.

"I think it means 'dumb,'" Nico had pointed out, still swinging head-down. "You say it like it's 'dumb operations,' and I'm. Not. Dumb."

And Nico remained very confident that they had been right about 'concrete operations,' even if their understanding was confused, unread, addled with loose associations and mental imagery about surgery and sidewalks, and 'Dr. Jean Piaget' was such a fancy doctor name along with the 'formal operations' that their uncle was always talking about, that their dream mind invents a professor in a penguin suit to exact distance on what happens next:

The office door smashing in. Seafoam green canisters rolling across the floor, red stripes through the middle. The ensuite nurse, who rented the other room, screaming as they wrung her to the floor. Nico had pitched their controller at a man's helmet, but it didn't help. All three of them were out the door in a moment, half-carried, half-dragged, their shoes scraping broken glass before the cold floor of a van clocked the air out of them. Nico had tried very hard not to cry or to ask for their mother, who was gone anyway.

NYC Safe Zone, Red Hook: Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

When they are awake, Nico remembers talking to their mom about soldiers and things like that. She used to admit she was a little glad that they weren't a boy, even though she would support them if that's what they realized later. She said that, The USA is a great country, but sometimes we do awful things here; we tell little boys not to hit each other, but then we teach them how to kill people.

In art therapy, a lot of the kids draw people with helmets and guns. Miss Lynette is careful not to let kids see each others' drawings, but sometimes Nico catches glimpses. Sometimes they don't have to see. They know. You can tell by the colors that the kids are using. Black, grey, red. Black, grey, red.

Those three markers and pencils are the colors that always wear out first.

In Dreams

Nico's recall is scattershot. Had there been four of them? Six?

Their black vests had read: MILITARY POLICE. When the nurse screamed at them, argued that negation gas had been outlawed in 2017, they had hit her in the face with the end of the rifle. So hard that most of her teeth weren't there when her face rolled back into view. Her shiny, denuded gums had reminded Nico perversely of their mother's baldness, with the chemo.

The Military Police had had practice, using the test kits inside of a moving vehicle. The equipment sported the Pharmatech label. Nico couldn't tell what the results were, but they had known what their Uncle was since before the war. Jun had been Registered.

(Jasmine is not a therapist, or any real kind of expert in psychology, despite all the time she has spent in the brains of others — sleeping brains only, at that. She doesn't know if bringing these memories up into vivid relief will do damage to Nico's recovery, or will perhaps progress it. She knows, anyway, that people's lives are in danger.

And she spent so much of her time, these past years, robbing people of memories, implanting destruction, and leaving behind a disorienting mess, impossible to remember.

She is taking care. She is invisible, holding the edges of these rememberings, attempting not to feel them too deeply even as she must remember the roughness of gloved hands around her skinny arms, a shoe slipping free of dragging foot, the nauseating sway of the truck. She remembers Uncle Jun's face, even as the nurse's face has become a Halloween mask, all red on the bottom half, all deathly-white on the top, expression stuck in a grimace of pain. She waits to see what happens next.

And she is waiting to catch Nico before they fall awake.)

NYC Safe Zone, Red Hook: Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

In art therapy, well before bedtime and dream-time, Nico generally avoids falling into the obvious traps. It helps that they're older than some of the other kids who come in here.

Lately, they have been drawing a lot of cats. Sometimes Chococat. They remember Shimanekko from their mom's story about the honeymoon to Japan, the yellow cat with a house built on its head. Hello Kitty is creepy, but Charmmy Kitty is all right, and of course there's Oliver from Oliver and Company (on DVD!), the Aristocrats (VHS), Blaze the Cat from Sonic (streaming isn't dead). Miss Lynette collects up Nico's drawings and ask them permission to put them up, and they nod. She asks them why they've been drawing so many cats, perhaps trying to trick them into talking — but that's a mean thought. They hug her and go to play music.

In Dreams

Nico remembers their uncle had said: "Please let them go, you can do anything you want to me." They remember marveling that this had been what came to Jun's mind, even though he undoubtedly wanted nothing done to him. They remember wondering if by 'them,' his uncle had meant just Nico, or he was trying to save the nurse, too.

"It's your lucky day," one of the men says. "You're the only one we need to keep."

Jun gets to look relieved for all of an instant, before a naked pistol kisses the nurse's temple. Nico closes their eyes on reflex, which is cowardly, but they know the sound even though it's different up close and inside a van. When they reopen them, there are trees blurring by outside the window in the back. No buildings. Some blood, scattered up the inside. They feel very bad for the nurse, who had had poor bedside manner according to outgoing patients, but saw nearly everyone pro-bono. She'd been so tough. She'd yelled at the Military Police. They don't look at her body.

"Let him go," Jun said. "He's just a kid." Nico doesn't correct him, obviously.


One of the men drags Nico over and asks him questions, except that the man is more likely a woman. Nico can only see the middle part of her face, her brown eyes, the prominent bridge of her nose. Nico can't remember if the other MP they've seen wore ski masks. She asks them what their mom's name is and their dad's name, and their friends at tutoring. She asks them if they know what happens to people like 'him' and the nurse, after they die, and Nico says No. They don't know.

She promises that it's different from what happens to 'mutants' after they die. She warns them not to tell anyone. And then she throws them out of the back of the van.

The vehicle might have slowed, but not by much — anyway, she's so strong that Nico goes flying, hits their head, a white ache goes flashing as the tumble shoulder over shoulder on the asphalt, blood springing a leak from their forehead. They see the back of the van swinging shut, their Uncle's face. Jun usually looks like he should be playing a king in a movie, one of those 'young dad' types, but the last time Nico sees him, he looks hideous. Half his face swollen, contorted by snot and sobs. Then two van doors bounce shut.

And Nico's fading impression is of a Delaware plate, lighthouse silhouetted against a blue sky. 8XZ-something, a 2 in it, maybe, an indistinct blur of no significance or conscious comprehension in their mind.

NYC Safe Zone, Red Hook: Benchmark Recovery and Counseling Center

Abraxas visits them every third Tuesday, always when Mateo is incidentally out, but it's been months and Nico can tell that he's beginning to give up. He's the part of the dream that they remember when they wake up, usually. When they dream, usually they cut to see him, a brown man who sat by their stretcher and coaxed the four letters of their first name out of them while they were still too confused and concussed to know better. These days, as Spring turns over, he tries to teach them American Sign Language. He can tell they don't want to sign, not that they can't; he doesn't get angry.

Other times, they play the charango together, just for a few minutes at a time because Abraxas doesn't have a lot of time. (Mateo doesn't seem to miss it when Nico puts the instrument back when they find it.) Abraxas drinks a lot of tea, in thermoses, but he's surprised to learn that jasmine is a flower. He looks at the drawing that Nico makes (another one, never with grey or black or red), and if he's more discouraged, he's too generous not to let it on. It does not occur to Abraxas to ask about Nico's dreams, ever; that is not his domain.

In Dreams

"Nico, I know you lost someone," Abraxas said. (Except his real name is Jose, and he's not a social worker, and his suits were nicer when he sat between Nico and the heart monitor. But he always had kind eyes, for a man who lied so much.) "You can trust me. I'm with Interpol. I want to help you."

Nico didn't answer.

(It takes restraint, to maintain the dream. Not that Jasmine desires to shake Nico loose of it, not that it is too painful for her to bear — just that she does not trust her own anger not to poison it, to crack and splinter through its walls, to infect Nico's heart and turn abject fear into rage that doesn't belong to them. She manages to resist.

What can she promise this child? That she can arrange for the people who took their uncle to hang by the necks? That she can tear open their minds while they sleep, like the seeds off a dandelion between her fingers? These aren't the comforts you give to someone like Nico.

Just herself.)

A butterfly has alighted on the railing of the gurney in which they lie prone. It is brilliant blue, and wears its wings like a sail as it creeps along the curved metal. It is the brightest, most colourful thing in the room. Despite this, Abraxas does not appear to see it.

In the dream, Jose says all the wrong things because they must be said, the kind of mistakes you learn from — the first step to Benchmark.

Jose, or 'Abraxas,' not a social worker, pulls out his badge to show the child. He explains that ICPO-INTERPOL stands for International Criminal Police Organization, Nico huddles in their blanket, regretting already that they betrayed their name. Police! More police. They wait to be shoved out of bed, beaten, interrogated, doused in poison gasses, but it doesn't happen; Jose warns them gently that their concussion means they need to rest their eyes, try not to think, try not to worry.

Even in the dark, Nico can see the butterfly. It's very strange. They look at it and imagine they can make out its big eyes and feathery hands. Time stretches oddly. In reality, they were here for days, and spent the first night sleeping fitfully and vomiting, confined to bed. But the tiny creature on the rail, the clarity with which they can see it, erodes their sense of when. They pull themselves out of bed, bare feet sticking to clean linoleum, unsteady, but game. They find the phone on the wall, turn, wait for the butterfly to come see.

They dial. Twice. Two different numbers. 617 area code, for Boston.

But the line defaults to an in-house lock and Nico is not familiar with prefixes. 'Abraxas' will never think to check for misdials from the room; no one would. And Nico doesn't try again, certainly not with the slick new touchscreen phone that the man gives him, the day he drives them to the Benchmark Recovery Center and introduces them to Miss Lynette. Who is distinctly: not INTERPOL. Who clearly doesn't know that 'Abraxas' is lying.

Tomorrow, they'll draw butterflies, probably. In the garden, the colorful insects are out a lot these days, now that the weather's warm enough. It's an easy association. No one thinks to check on that, either. They'll give 'Abraxas' one to keep, and don't mind Manuel Ruiz clotting another one with clumsy toddler scratches. They certainly don't mind Evie's finer, distinctly precocious improvements to the Monarch, either.

(Tomorrow, Benji will recall and record her findings, pen on paper. The names of people and places. Clinic in Jamaica Plain. Uncle Jun, underline underline. A psychologist, question mark question mark. Men and women in MP uniform. 'Mutants'. A Delaware license plate, 8XZ-something, maybe a 2. Abraxas = INTERPOL. Two different numbers, with the area code for Boston.

She does this in morning light, sweat pricking up from her skin and staining down the back of her T-shirt. Dehydration cracks her lips, and there is the dull thud of an impending headache behind her left eyeball, hiding there like a coward.

She goes back to bed in a stupor, shivering and warm.)

But for now, as Nico is introduced to their room at Benchmark in the soft light of recollection, she sees that same butterfly crawling along the glass of their window. From the outside. So blue, that even direct sunlight doesn't take away from its brilliance. By the time they get nearer to take a closer look, it flutters off, as frenetic and random as a leaf fallen from a branch in a gust.

But it has a path. It wanders across the green outside, a brighter beacon than more homely cousins in orange that dance in and around the bushes and open flowers. It heads towards where a figure sits, prim on the park bench. Jasmine, Nico will recall her name is, still in her sensible heels, her up-do, her cardigan, and her slender hands with painted nails that reach out in front of her. She cups her palms, and the butterfly obediently disappears into her grasp.

She closes her hands, one over the other, but Nico does not have a sense that the insect within is crushed. Just returned, somehow. She looks up to meet their gaze, expression inscrutable, even when it smiles. Can you smile, sadly? This lady seems to be doing it.

Colours swim. Soon, Nico's dreams will be their own.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License