Atlas didn’t know how long Amadhay had been sitting there with a dead body in her lap.
He didn’t know how much she had seen or heard. He couldn’t even figure out how she had found Indigo. What he did know was that as soon as he had left Stefan to do his job, he had been bombarded by Ribbon and Kimiko, who were simultaneously yelling at each other and feeling guilty for not having foreseen a chance meeting between Amadhay and Tairyn. He probably hadn’t been as gentle with them as he should have been, granted he hadn’t expected it either. He should have. They all should have.
They had all spent the majority of a zoot running around, trying to find the teenager. Just when they were about to think about the possibility that she might have left the base, Atlas had a sudden thought: Everything else seemed to have gone wrong, why not expect the absolute worst to have happened?
Even as he hoped against all hope, he knew that she was in there. When he opened the door, he could smell the magic before he saw it. It hung around her like a cloud, still glittering even as it smelled stale and broken. What hit him next was the smell of death. She was covered in it, sitting there on the floor with the body cradled in her arms. Not only was she covered in the stench, but the girl was covered in blood. He had a brief moment where he wondered where her raincoat was before he knelt in front of her.
Her eyes didn’t focus on him, even though he was right in front of her. Instead of looking at him, she continued to stare at nothing. “Amadhay,” he said softly, gently, staring her in the eyes. She shook her head, but her eyes still didn’t focus.
“Amadhay,” he tried again, reaching for her hand. While she didn’t flinch back from him, she did tighten her grip on the catboy. “You have to let him go,” he told her gently, placing his hand atop hers. “He’s gone.”
“I know,” she said softly, still staring at nothing. “Just let me hold him a little longer.”
“No,” Atlas said, using no more force to his tone than before, but still he saw her eyes begin to focus on him. “You can’t keep holding him. He’s gone.”
“I know,” she whispered, staring at something on his shirt. Atlas didn’t dare look down, worried that if he did she might go back to where she had been. “I just can’t let go.”
“You have to,” he told her, giving her hand a light squeeze. She still didn’t loosen her hold. “Holding his body won’t keep him here any longer.”
Her eyes slowly travelled from the low point, up to his face. “Why?” she asked.
He knew what she was asking, but didn’t answer her. “Let go, Amadhay.”
She shook her head slowly, looking away from him and down to the body in her lap. “My Indy,” she whispered. “He’s gone,” she looked back up to Atlas, sounding incredibly childish even though her eyes didn’t shift. “Isn’t he?”
Atlas nodded slowly. “He’s gone, so you have to let go,” he told her gently pulling her hands up. She let him, lifting her hands up so long as he held them. When he tried to let go so that he could move the body, her hands went right back, clutching tightly to whatever her hands fell upon, be it hair, arm, face, or torso.
“I’m just going to move him off of you,” Atlas promised, lifting her hands once more. “I won’t hurt him.”
She let out a shock of laughter, sounding decidedly hysterical as she kept her hands up in the air. “You can’t hurt him anymore. Don’t you know? He’s gone away from us.”
Atlas nodded. “That’s right. He’s gone on from this plane,” he agreed, taking care to be much gentler than he wanted in moving the body.
He wanted to toss it off of her and pick her up, but there was a glint in her eye, just enough of a glint to tell him that he had to do everything slow and gently or she would explode. So far, she was much calmer than he expected of her, allowing him not only to touch her but to touch and move the body. So long as he stayed within whatever guidelines she set, they were fine. The problem was, he didn’t know what the guidelines were, so he was playing another guessing game with her. He was always playing guessing games with her.
Once he set the body away from her, having been careful to lay it out of her easy reach, he turned his attention back to her. She hadn’t moved. Her hands were still up in the air and she still had a questionable smile on her lips. Only once he was in front of her did her eyes leave the body and fall on him.
“Why Indy?” she asked softly.
Again, he ignored her. “I’m going to help you up now. Can you stand?”
She shook her head slowly. Her hands were still in the air. She tilted her head back and stared up into the cloud of purple. “All the magic and it did nothing. I did nothing.”
He could see her composure starting to crack and he moved before he thought. He scooped her up into his arms and just stood up. He expected her to scream at him or try to claw away, but she didn’t. Instead, she immediately clung to him just as tightly as she had the body, so Atlas didn’t say anything, just carried her from the room, kicking the door closed behind him. He didn’t as much as glance at Ribbon, Stefan, Kimiko, or Tairyn as he passed them by, instead focusing on his goal. He had to get her clean.
With that as his only thought, Atlas moved quickly to his suite, heading immediately to his bathroom. Once there, he had a moment of uncertainty, but pushed it away as he knelt on the tile before his bathtub. Instead of making it easier on himself and putting her down, he allowed her to settle on his lap and reached over her to the faucet. She whimpered, holding tightly to him when the water started and he rocked her slightly.
“It’s alright, Amadhay,” he told her softly, murmuring into her hair. Even her hair reeked of death and magic. He couldn’t imagine that she had somehow found a way to get blood in it as well, but planned to wash it thoroughly all the same. Once the water was warm enough and he had tossed the plug into the tub to keep the water in, he stood up again, cradling Amadhay in his arms, pausing only to kick his shoes off.
After that, he just stepped into the tub. It was already starting to fill with water that was turning red just from his legs. He slowly knelt again, keeping Amadhay in his arms and trying to settle her onto his lap. Like Mayday when it was time for a bath, the girl moved further up his body, trying to avoid the water as much as she could. He wasn’t sure if Amadhay was doing it consciously, or if the cat of her aelfe took over in her traumatized state. Either way, he didn’t let her get out of the water. She fought him weakly for a moment, but after she got nowhere, she seemed to give in to the idea of getting wet, calmly moving down to his lap, which was now covered by water.
Atlas stretched out his legs but Amadhay didn’t move anywhere, continuing to sit still on his lap. He could tell that she had lost focus again, but didn’t push her this time, knowing she would come back on her own. Instead, he focused on the washcloth, wetting it before he washed over her face. It came away red and he dipped it into the water, wringing it out and then going back to her face until the washcloth came back clean. She still didn’t speak, didn’t do anything but sit there with her eyes closed and mouth partly open.
Her black dress was soaked and Atlas couldn’t tell if it was from the water or the blood, but he didn’t remove it either. He continued with the same movements, wetting the washcloth, pressing it against her skin where it was bloody, wiping until the cloth was red, rinsing it, and continuing in the pattern until all of her exposed skin was the correct sandy color and the water of the tub was a deep red.
She still hadn’t moved when he reached around her to the plug for the tub, letting the water out. Worried, he prompted her for a reaction. “Amadhay, your hair is still dirty,” he said. When after a few clicks, she didn’t respond, he continued, “I’m going to wash it. Is that alright with you?” He made no move for three clacks, hoping to let her know that he needed her response. At three clacks, almost exactly, she nodded. He slowly unbraided the pigtails, setting the ribbon keeping them tied on the edge of the tub.
“I don’t have any of your shampoo here,” he told her, trying to keep her engaged, “So I’m going to use my own. You’ll smell like me for a little,” he half-joked, also meaning it as a warning because he wasn’t sure what smells would do to her in this state. It was another three clacks before she nodded again and he lifted her from his lap, setting her down, and shifting so that he was sitting on the lip of the tub.
Atlas nodded to himself, hoping that he was doing the right thing for her. He knew that once she got over the trauma, that she would be angry with him for any number of things he’d done this night and the days before, but he just wanted her to get to that point. Once she was there, he would worry about what he’d done and how she felt about it. Right now, however, he was only worried about when she would be alright.
Just as with everything else he had done, he was gentle but thorough with her hair, possibly more so. He knew how much care she put into it, knew that she was incredibly vain about her full head of raven curls. She had every right to be. Every springy curl slipped through his fingers like silk.
Stepping up for a quick moment, he grabbed the showerhead from its position on the wall and turned it to the lowest setting for a gentle spray before sitting back down. He was careful to let the water fall on her head, waiting to see if she would jerk at the new sensation, but when she didn’t, he gave a soft exhalation. He glanced at his shampoo but then decided to first rinse out the dead magic. Once there was no more purple coming from her hair, he set the nozzle aside, turned off the water, and poured shampoo into his hand.
He washed her hair not once, twice, or thrice, but four times to be sure that it was clean, knowing that she needed it to be clean for her to be able to sleep, not that he really expected her to have much trouble sleeping. If nothing else, he was sure that she was going to pass out from the leftover shock coursing through her body. Even if nightmares did come, he was sure that she would sleep, given the exhausted state she had to be in, having used up all of her natural magic.
“Why Indy?” she asked for the third time since he had started taking care of her.
He was going to ignore her again, choosing instead to towel dry her hair, but she turned her head to him, staring at him with a certain focus. “Why my Indy? All the golem makers in the world and you chose my Indy. Why?”
She wasn’t angry yet, in fact, rather than angry, she simply sounded resigned, as if she should have expected what happened. Atlas wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not, but he decided to answer her either way. “He was the easiest to get to, easiest to manipulate, and by far the most powerful,” he said.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. How? How was he the easiest? You couldn’t have found him without finding his brother and Sebastian would never have let you just take him.”
Atlas gave her a probing look. “Do you honestly think a single dragon would stop me from getting what I want?” he asked.
Amadhay shook her head in horror. “No. Not Sebastian too. Don’t tell me you killed them both,” she started to sound hysterical, getting louder with every word, but when Atlas started braiding her hair into one, thick, plait she calmed as if it were an off switch for her.
“No. We had no need to kill the elder DuPreve. We only needed to mention your name and the golem-maker came of his own free will.”
“He had a name,” she said softly. “You killed him. You at least owe it to him to remember his name.”
Atlas nodded even though she couldn’t see him because he was behind her, taking his time with her hair. “We were able to convince Indigo that you wanted him to build a golem army for us,” he explained to her.
She nodded softly. “Until he realized that I had no part of it. And so you killed him.”
“There is a bit more to it, but yes, that is the crux of the situation. We could not control him, so we had to get rid of him.”
“And you didn’t ask me because you want me innocent,” she whispered accusingly, but with no real fire to her words.
Atlas neither nodded nor shook his head, choosing not to respond to her statement. “He was a threat to all of us,” he told her instead.
“Indigo was never a threat to anyone but himself,” she retorted in a soft tone, a tone too soft to be an argument.
Atlas again chose not to respond to her statement, finishing with her hair. Picking up one of the ribbons he had taken from her hair earlier, he tied it tightly to keep the braid together.
“Why do you do it, Atlas?” she asked softly.
Atlas wasn’t sure what she meant, so he stayed silent, pressing the towel to her hair to soak some of the water from her braid without ruining his work.
“No, how do you do it?” she asked instead.
He still didn’t know what she meant and once again decided not to answer, so he instead stepped away from the tub, pulling a large towel from the pile by the sink. She stood up on her own but allowed him to lift her dress over her head and then bundle her up in the towel over her underwear.
Once she was wrapped in the towel, however, she met his eyes. “How do you hurt people who don’t deserve it?” she asked.
He gave her a small, sad smile. “I think you can answer that question as easily as I can.”
She nodded and he turned away, taking off his shirt, though he left his pants on after a moment of hesitation. Picking up a towel for himself, he looked to her in the mirror as he began to dry his arms, watching as she seemed to mull words over.
“No, what I meant is how do you stop caring that you’re hurting people who don’t deserve it?”
He paused in his motions of attempting to dry himself and turned back to her, “You don’t,” he said, holding her gaze. “You just find more reasons why they deserve it.”
She blinked twice before she nodded at him. “And how did Indy deserve it?” she asked.
For some reason, he knew that she meant it as her final question of the night. He wasn’t sure why, given that she asked it with no more finality than her previous questions. She didn’t do anything other than keep eye contact, which she had tried to do for the past few clacks of questions.
But whatever the reason, he knew that everything depended on his answer to that question. He kept her eye contact as he answered completely honestly. “He would have hurt anyone in his way. I didn’t see his life as more valuable than Stefan’s or Ribbon’s or Kimiko’s or even Tairyn’s.”
She winced at Tairyn’s name.
He watched as she dropped the towel that he had wrapped her in, even though he could tell she was cold by her shivers. He didn’t move as she moved to him, needing her to bridge the gap between them. He watched as she looked into his eyes as if looking for a truth they both knew she wouldn’t find there. He hated that he was the reason she finally realized that. He smiled at her when she gave him a weak smile, trying to lend her some of his strength. He kissed her back when she kissed him, feeling victory on his skin.
“Make it all go away,” she pleaded and he did as she wished.
He always did.