Living In The Dark
by Northlight

It wasn't like she had only ever been subjected to torturous experiments while at Manticore. That was the kind of thing she remembered--painful and more dramatic than what she had really spent most of her time doing. There had been lots of training: tiny soldiers with their fists up in front of their chests and hiYAH! and that had been boring a lot of the time.

Zack had broken her ribs, once, and she had snapped Max's arm but that had never been a really big deal. They were being kids and they were being soldiers, and Lydecker would always tell them that the only way to learn was by experience--and he tended to equate experience with suffering.

So, they had spent a lot of time beating each other up and punching at air. They had spent lots of time in the classroom, too. They had learned how to read and write, and they'd learned about math and science and geography. They had spent a month just practicing being debriefed--details! precision!--and Syl had stood ramrod straight and said things like: there were four hostiles fifteen degrees north from my position, and: we marched at this speed for this many miles and reached our position at this hour. Their handler--who Syl had always called ma'am! but thought of in terms of nasty names now that she had swear words to bestow upon the woman--must have been bored with the droning, detailed recitations but she had sat and looked and made tiny scrawls on her notepad when Syl was done.

The point, Syl thought, being that she should have been able to put her situation to words, to describe it and contain it. Her sudden lack of precision irritated her, and she rather irrationally thought that everything would straighten right up if only she could decide upon the proper terminology. Ben had always been good with words--too easy with them, too inventive, and she remembered how much trouble Ben had gotten himself into--but Syl wouldn't and couldn't ask him about this. And really, she was rather starting to resent Ben for making her try to think about things her brain simply didn't seem equipped to handle.

"You eating that?" Ben asked. He was looking at her steak, which Syl savagely stuck her fork into and said: "back off!" It was tough and Syl hated steak, but she gnawed on the meat with dogged determination. Ben was sitting by the window, and with the setting sun at his back he was really too pretty for words. The steak kept her from doing anything stupid--like maybe sticking her tongue down his throat.

Things had been so much simpler with Kenny. They had met at the hospital--Syl there with her roommate, and Kenny there with the flu. He had been sitting beside Syl, and had smelt like syrup-sweet medication and sickness. There had been deep circles under his eyes and his lids had looked delicate when they slid shut over blood-shot brown eyes. His head had drooped onto Syl's shoulder and she had noticed that he had nice smelling hair.

Syl had liked Kenny, even though he said stupid things like: I love you, Samantha, and: will you move in with me, Sammy? And maybe Kenny had tried to confuse things with talk about love and forever and a dog and babies, and hey, maybe they could move to the country? but Syl had known what she was doing with Kenny. He was someone to satisfy physical needs, someone to provide the companionship that even Syl couldn't pretend she never needed. She had felt a tender sort of distance towards him--the sort that she imagined girls must feel while cooing at other women's babies--and that had been nice. It had been enough.

She had known they weren't forever--they weren't even until the end of the year. She usually managed to disillusion men before she ran off without word. Kenny had given up after a while, but he hadn't called her a bitch when he left like Erik had, or a frigid--well, never mind that. Syl tried and usually managed to keep things casual. People liked her, mostly, as much as she'd allow them, and they all blurred together by conscious design in her memory. No use getting attached, Syl thought, not when she'd be leaving quickly, wordlessly. Simple, familiar patterns that Syl had repeated year after year, in city after city--but fuck, Ben was family and he meant something. There had to be something in her life that Syl cared about more than her own skin and the wet warmth between her thighs, and it wasn't as if she'd left herself much else to choose from.

"You turn me on," Syl said, sudden, abrupt, and she hadn't noticed that her steak was gone and her mouth was free. And damn it, she should have known better to let her mind wander with Ben right across from her because she didn't know where all of her hard-won soldierly control had slithered off to. It used to be, not so long ago, that she could think a dozen things at once with none of it spilling into her face or her words and suddenly she was blurting out secrets as if she didn't understand the concept. Well, yeah, that was certainly impressive, Syl thought and set her utensils down on her plate. She didn't squirm.

"uh," Ben said. "um. Okay."

It wasn't as if Syl figured that Ben would mind, because she'd seen him looking and he'd seen her looking right back. Men looked at Syl a lot, and she'd never really tried to discourage it. Men were stupid with want, easier to handle until they realized that Syl wasn't quite what she advertised--all surface warmth and easy curves and killing strength--and Syl liked having something to use if and when she needed to. And for all that she knew how to leave men hard and shaking, Syl figured that she was hopeless--sex and affection had never really clicked and she cared for Ben as much as she knew how and anything more couldn't be anything but less than what they had. And--

Syl's mouth curved around silence, surprised, and "you're embarrassed," she said--and hey, she could work with that, sure she could. Didn't she always tell herself that there was nothing in her life that she really regretted--there wasn't, there wasn't--and Ben meant something, but he was still here and he wasn't about to run, and it was out in the open now. Hardly anything left to loose. Really. And she couldn't think of what to say, because she'd thought of touching Ben--all hands and mouth and bare flesh--but she hadn't planned on this, not really, and maybe she could understand why Zack was always so uptight after all.

"No," Ben denied. "I'm not embarrassed. I'm just. Just surprised." He worried at a chip in the edge of his plate with his thumbnail, looking at Syl from beneath lowered lashes. The pose fit easily without quite looking right.

Syl looked at the straight line of Ben's mouth, the smooth planes of his face--so serious, so solemn--and the tension in her shoulders eased and she huffed, exaggerated, blonde bangs rising with her breath. "Oh, come on. Don't tell me that you don't get hit on all the time." She couldn't believe that because she'd been getting hit on since she was thirteen and she'd decided that Manticore had figured out how to weave sex straight through their DNA. But Syl hardly teased and never laughed and Ben was treating this like a game, was acting as if this right here and right now was as fun as anything else he could possibly imagine. Ben's mouth cracked and stretched, teeth very white between sauce-red lips. "Actually, I was totally hopeless," Ben said. "I was eighteen, and Zack was 'oh, for fuck's sake, Ben--you need to get laid.' He introduced me to this girl and told me that she was mine for the night."

Syl's lips followed Ben's and she'd never fucked family before, not even Krit, not even when she couldn't look at him without wondering what it might be like to nibble at his lower lip. Ben understood, and he knew her, and her mind wasn't running through super-speeded loops any longer and she widened her eyes and said: "No, Zack never pimped for me."

"Well," Ben said, "I don't know that you'd like his taste in women."

Syl's snicker caught in her throat as Ben rose and reached across the table. Syl rose to meet him and wound her fingers in the hair at the base of Ben's skull and held on, nearly tight enough to hurt. He tasted like steak and barbeque sauce and beer and for all of her imagining, she hadn't thought.

There was hardly anything an X5 couldn't do when they put their mind to it. Syl nearly climbed across the table, sent a glass crashing to the floor and didn't care, hardly noticed the wetness at her knee. They collided and stumbled and wove through the kitchen and living-room and towards Syl's bedroom and managed not to trip over anything--and that was putting their training to good use right there, and she told the dour-faced handler in her head to shut the fuck up and put away the notepad.

"You want this," Syl said as the back of her knees bumped against the edge of her mattress--finally! finally!--and Ben's teeth were a dangerous possibility against the curve of her neck. She liked his teeth and his mouth and could remember his face, small and pale and smeared with blood--the memory made her gasp and she didn't care that it shouldn't and that it wouldn't if she weren't what she was. "Tell me what you want. Tell me what you're thinking of." Her voice was low and breathy--she'd practiced that, practiced with dozens of men who'd never made her heart race and her pulse pound--and she shuddered and hooked her leg over Ben's hip when he bent his head and breathed into her ear.

"I want this. I want you. I want to feel your skin against mine." His hands moved under the hem of her shirt, skated across Syl's ribs and old wounds, over the lace cups of her bra. He thrust his hips against Syl and said, "I want you hot and wet and I'd really like to fuck you."

"You aren't hopeless," Syl said--good! wonderful! because she didn't want to be careful, couldn't be careful.

Ben grinned, all teeth and bright eyes. "No, but it makes a good story."

"You'll have to tell me the whole thing one of these days," Syl said and dragged her regulation-short nails across Ben's back, making him twitch against her and bring his mouth back to hers. "You could have said something."

"Nah. You're cute when you're indecisive," Ben said, tugging at Syl's t-shirt.

"I'm not indecisive," Syl said.

"I like watching you squirm."

"Yeah, okay, but. I'd really like you to fuck me now."

"Great minds," Ben said.

"Uh huh," Syl said and then her fingers were at the buttons to Ben's jeans. She had learned long ago how to make Ben wince and shudder with hurt, but this was good, better, and she left long red trails down his back and sucked dried blood from beneath her fingernails later, with Ben warm and tired at her side.

Later yet, Syl opened her eyes to a deeper darkness. She had hung flannel sheets over her bedroom window, uncomfortable with the sickly light that spilled into her room otherwise. Syl could still see Ben in the dark--the pale stretch of Ben's back and the slope of his shoulders. If she wanted, she could have focused her eyes so sharply that she could have seen the furrows she had left in Ben's back knit back together. Syl left her vision hazy around the edges and drew her legs up over the rumpled sheets until they curled before her.

She bit at her lip--could still taste Ben and her body ached, she liked Ben and he'd seen her with her skin peeling from her body once--and hell, there weren't many people who had seen her at her worst, fewer yet who could handle it. Ben understood things that even Krit wouldn't let himself know, and please, oh please, she didn't want to have fucked up everything--

"You're worrying," Ben said, let his back loosen until he was laying with his head brushing against the curve of Syl's knees. "Does sex always make you so moody?" his voice was light, the question wasn't.

"Only the good kind," Syl said and didn't tell him that she'd thrown up after the first time she'd had sex with Kenny, because sometimes she forgot that there was nothing she regretted and he'd loved her so much and she had concentrated more on not breaking his bones than on the words he'd whispered against her mouth. "You ever been in love?" Syl asked instead--some of the others had been, she knew, and that was amazing because by the time they'd escaped, her emotions had been so blunted that she'd hardly cared that she had left unit members dead in the snow behind her.

"Once," Ben said, soft and distant, "a long time ago."

"Oh, Ben," Syl said, "Ben," because she knew that voice--he'd made her believe with it, had broken her heart with it and Syl hadn't believed in a long time. She brushed her hand across his hair, forehead, lips. Maybe he'd loved a fantasy, a unit-wide delusion, but. "I like you, Ben."

"I know," Ben said.

Syl rolled her eyes and tapped him lightly on the cheek. "Fuck off, Han Solo," she said. "I'm serious. I like you. Tell me we didn't ruin everything." There was something like desperation in her voice, and she could see Colonel Lydecker's thin lips and eyes without trying, without wanting to. She never used to beg or whine or cry, not ever, and suddenly she was fraying at the edges and she shouldn't have said anything to Ben.

"We didn't ruin anything," Ben said. "We are what we are, and this is us."

"You make me think of things that I shouldn't," Syl said and there were things that Syl had never told anyone. Not Zack--no more at ease in the world than was she, but so much more determined to pretend that he knew how to cope. Not Krit--she loved him, she did, but he had adjusted to the world quicker and easier than Syl had and there were things that he pretended not to remember, even when Syl needed him to. Ben was warm and solid and smelt like home and all of this had started years ago, falling asleep with Ben's heart steady beneath her ear.


She'd done worse things than love a fantasy, than dream in blue. "'S okay," Syl said.

"Go back to sleep," Ben said.

"You leaving?" Syl asked because she had more times than she cared to count.

"Nah. Not for a while yet."

"Okay. Okay. Tomorrow, then."


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style