Lien doesn't even want to escape, not really. He's just sitting, waiting to be caught.
| Lien is cold. His hands, especially, felt as if they were blocks of ice, clumsy and numb as he prods at the door nervously. The closet is small, barely big enough for Lien, and the walls press down from all sides, entrapping him in darkness.
Of course, he can't say he hates it.
He's being useful, after all, and he likes the feeling of being useful, and the steady throb of his cheek, paired with the slimy cold of blood trickling into his mouth is almost pleasant in all its brutal glory, the ache chaining him down into this darkness and keeping him from flying away, somewhere warmer, somewhere brighter. Somewhere different.
Besides, he knows he had brought it on himself by trying to break through the window. His ankle is still throbbing from the burns inflicted by his metal ankle cuff, and not for the first time, either. At this point, he considers himself immune to the pain, if only they didn't always know where he was all the time, he would have escaped already.
He reaches out to run his hands down the sides of the space, the metal smooth and cool under his fingertips. There is a clue, hidden somewhere, a latch, perhaps, and he knows exactly what is expected of him. He closes his eyes, it's not like he can see a thing anyways, and lets all the breath out of his lungs.
He can feel it. Pulsing gently near the bottom, just below his right knee, a different material. Wood, he thinks, it feels just like wood. He breathes in deeply, holding his breath as he focuses on keeping the wooden thing within his senses. He pushes, nudging it gently, and applies more and more pressure until he hears a soft, but unmistakable click. Freedom.
The top of the metal closet shifts, and he is hauled out by a pair of gloved hands.
"Thirty-nine seconds. That's two seconds less than your best, good job." Lien smiles and reaches up to wrap his arms around his caretaker's neck, sleepy and warm in the adult's embrace.
In his free time, Lien reads. He reads fairy tales, novels, documents, anything he can get his hands on. His reading ability is limited, but his caretaker assures him that it is far above most children his age, and that alone, the praise, makes him glow inside. He particularly likes the small books, the one with coloured pictures in them, but they are rarely brought to him, 'too juvenile, children your age have no need of these', his caretaker scoffs. Still, Lien likes to admire the bright colours, like to run his hands over the shiny pages, and so, bored of thick documents and confusing texts, Lien arms himself with coloured pencils and paper from the lesson room, and makes his own pictures.
They mimic the stories he likes so much, telling of fantastical worlds and talking creatures, animals, and beings that are neither human nor animal. Lien works hard at them in his spare time, he has never moved his hands in such away before, and his 'drawings' are awkward and stiff, but Lien can see the story unfolding like nothing else he has written, and he loves those crude scratchings with all of his heart.
Lien is proud of them, so proud, he shows everyone he can, and when that person comes, clad in white and black, he shows that person, his caretaker, with such a wide smile, such an eager expression.
That person smiles, ruffles his hair, praises him, and the next morning, when he wakes, his stories are gone. He asks about them, desperate, because they are so, so precious, something he created, something that belongs solely, entirely to him, and not to the lab, but his caretaker only smiles again, this time almost scary, and crouches down to look him in the eye, grabbing his thin wrists and speaking low, says to him to 'focus properly on your lessons and not some fantasy', and his stories and pictures are never mentioned again.
Lien doesn't mind though, he really doesn't. He knows that it is for his own good, after all, like everything else they do. He's never really serious about escaping, and even when he does break a window or two, it's not like he'd actually.... Leave. Even without the cuffs, Lien can see himself standing on the threshold, not moving, waiting to be caught and brought back. He's spoiled, taken care off, he really does know it, and he tells himself, days, weeks after, to be grateful, until he is.
Lien wakes up to darkness. It's not often he's awake in the middle of the night, like this. He has to take a pill that keeps him safe from wandering at night, after all, and with everyday being so filled with activities and tests, there's no way he would have enough energy to move around at night, anyways. He feels a thrill of excitement run through him, and he wonders, briefly, again, about leaving.
The idea is heady, shooting thin streams of adrenaline down his back, into his stomach, and he covers his mouth to stop a giggle as he sits up. At this point, it's more to rile up his caretaker and the nurses than an actual escape plan, but it's entertaining nonetheless. He can't remember the last time he had tried to break out at night, though he is sure it had happened at some point in time.
The floor is cool and slick under his bare feet as he swings his legs down, and it takes everything he has not to let out a cry. It is only a bit cold, perhaps, to a normal human, but for Lien, with his superior senses, it feels....
Lien grits his teeth and takes it. It's always cold in the lab anyways, always cold within his white-washed room, his body, and sometimes, he wonders if heat even exists. It's nothing unusual, and the cold is good for him, he thinks, maybe. Maybe that is the reason he's never allowed contact with heat.
Lien tiptoes towards the window across from his bed. His room is small, purely white, decorated with only a shelve of books, a desk and a wardrobe of his clothing, but the window is the centerpiece, shedding a cool glow on all corners of the room.
The window is made of some sort of glass, Lien doesn't know exactly what kind. What Lien does know, though, is that if he breaks the glass, a) the alarm will sound and he will be caught and punished, and b) the cuff on his ankle will both prevent him from straying too far and also send burns through his body when he crosses the threshold. He rests his hands on the icy surface, and peers out, his eyes wide. The moon is yellowish, a small globe in the sky. He wants to see the moon close up, wants to see that scene so often portrayed in his storybooks, of a huge moon rising from the horizon, but the moon he sees is dim, small and not anywhere near blue or white. It faintly resembles what his dinner turns into if he stirs it too hard and gathers it into the center of his bowl. He is disappointed, as always, but he brushes it off. He knows what the moon is, he has seen it so many times through the window, before bed.
Lien looks downwards, towards the mass on the ground, the snow is so much more satisfying to see, and he smiles. It's such a crisp white, sparkling all shades he can name and some that he can't.
Lien knows that no one else can see what he sees, no one else can see the sheen of colour over the glimmering white, no one else can see the rays that pierce the surface of the ice and bounce off, exploding into such a colourful shower of sparks. It is almost saddening, almost makes him feel alone, but not quite. On the contrary, he is happy he has something to himself, solely his.
He remembers touching the snow, feeling it, colder than even the window pane, and dust-like between his fingers. He remembers seeing it melt on his caretakers skin, remembers pressing his hands against it, and waiting, fruitlessly, for it to disintegrate into water the way it did for his caretaker.
But the snow remained snow, and the memory fades away, never having existed in the first place.
Lien pushes lightly against the glass, but the memory and subsequent feeling of emptiness has drained all his energy and desire to escape, and after a few light hearted attempts to shatter the glass, he glances down at the still-healing burn on his ankle and trudges back to bed.
The spirits came a long time ago, before he could properly understand his home to be a lab. They are as blue and glowing now as they were back then, and as per usual, he is the only one who can see them. They like to tug at his clothes as he eats, at dinner time, the only meal his caretaker insists on eating together, calling him to play with them, but he ignores them until they are alone, and his caretaker's prying eyes can no longer follow him. He feels a pang of guilt, because he owes so, so much to his caretaker, and it feels so naughty, so ungrateful to be deceiving him, but...
Lien just can't bring himself to care. He lets his spirits pull him around the room, listens to them chatter. They flit around freely, not bound by the same laws as Lien is, and he leans against his bed and watches them as they loop around, trying to entertain him with pictures and symbols in the air, drawn in fading blue. They are bound to no one, to nothing, and watching them, even for a moment, Lien almost feels the same way, as if he, too, is free.
The spirits are restless, now more than ever. Lien notices it one day at dinner, as they flit around frantically. He doesn't say anything, his caretaker cannot see them anyways, and for the most part, their frenzy is ignored. Lien waits for them to calm down, watching them as he eats, when one of them stings his arm, so hard it hurts.
He cries out, and his caretaker rushes over to inspect the red purple welt, growing on his arm, scooping him up immediately and bringing him away, somewhere the spirits can't reach.
The sting has sent liquid coursing through his blood, or whatever flows through his veins. It's cold, this liquid, and as he fades away slowly while being rushed through the halls of the lab, he can feel it turning his organs into ice, rushing past his bones and turning skin into frost as it goes, aiming for his heart. He laughs, choking, because it's all so futile. His heart is already made of ice.
It grows hotter as it approaches, though, rushing fire melting his snowy skin, and to his surprise, completely misses his heart in its path back to his arm. There's a sharp pain, the feeling of something, perhaps metal or glass pricking the inside of his skin, and the last thing he sees is the white curtain of the infirmary before his vision is cut.
There was nothing there. His caretaker sits beside him, head in his hands. Lien watches sleepily from the bed, the pills they had apparently had him drink still making the room spin.
The doctors say there is nothing abnormal about his body or brain, they say nothing is wrong.
Whatever happened, happened in Lien's own mind.
But the bruise from the bite is still there, stinging and purple, and from the way his caretaker ghosts his hand over the bruise, cries silently, dry and tearless, Lien knows he's not imagining it.
His caretaker takes his hands away from his face when he notices Lien's gaze, and his expression grows once again impassive. He speaks to Lien, something Lien doesn't quite catch. Perhaps because of the pills, his caretaker's speech is garbled and confused, and with a strange look, Lien's caretaker is gone, out the door, and Lien is alone in the room. He notices, then, that there are no cuffs binding his wrists and ankles, save for the metal one on his ankle, and he stands, leaning heavily against the bedpost. There are spirits surrounding him, suddenly, and he doesn't pull away as they guide him away from the door, towards the window. His vision is hazy, and all it takes is one last push before he passes out again.
When Lien wakes up again, he wakes up to wetness. There's something cold soaking through his white shorts, the cotton heavy and damp as he stands. The air mists around him as he waves his hands. He looks around himself, and for a moment, he is still, his eyes wide, breath catching in his throat.
He can see... a city. He's in a field, covered in white powder, with black things in the distance, trees, he thinks. There is a skyline, a little ways away, down the hill he is currently standing on. His spirits are all around him, buzzing lightly, and they swoop wildly in the air. Perhaps they are excited, he shakes his head, they are excited, and he runs with them, down the hill, laughing giddily. This is a dream, he thinks, and in this dream, he is free. The spectrum covering the white snow break apart into a kaleidoscope of colours as he crashes into them, the shards falling as if they were painted panes of glass.
Despite the vivid colours, it feels like a dream, somehow, even with everything so real and solid in front of him, it feels so woollen, as if he can't quite focus on anything. Despite that, his giddy excitement is no less intense.
He's yelling into the distance, when his ankle stings, makes him trip and tumble into the snow, down and down and down with his spirits flitting close by, concerned. He sits up, wincing, and inspects the burn spread around his metal cuff. It's from the electricity, he can see, and it's all too familiar. The scar caused by so many burns in the past is reopened and weeping openly, and he reaches out with a trembling hand to touch the clear, silver-tinted liquid. It's cold to touch, and he yanks his hand back. Not human, he thinks.
He had read that no one can feel pain in dreams, so, he thinks, maybe he's not dreaming? Lien doesn't quite want to believe it, reality seems so hazy, and he doesn't know how he could have ended up outside, without anyone to catch him, but the steady throb of the welt on his arm makes him think of his spirits, makes him think back to when they were pushing and pulling him towards the window of the infirmary, unusually strong and solid-feeling in his half-asleep daze.
The small device attached to the top of the cuff is flashing red, beeping softly, so softly he had not heard it before, and he closes his hand around the light, foolishly afraid of being seen. He can hear voices in the distance, calling out his name, and he looks down to the weeping wound on his ankle.
Lien sits back into the snow, waiting. It's as if the pain had pulled him back into reality, his own reality, where there is no chance of his escape, and his only true choice is to wait to be caught. His spirits frantically pull at his clothing, wanting him to get up, to run, to escape, and he can see them flash blue every time they touch him, leaving purple marks on his skin. He ignores their desperation, reaches out to touch one, and as he holds the heat in his hands, the pain from the welts seem to disappear. He can't see the skin of his hands turn violet, and even if he could, he wouldn't have cared. That's how they find him, an unknown light thrashing, clutched tightly in his hands, and the only thing he can feel as he is brought back, is the warmth of his caretaker's skin against his own cold body, so much so that it turns white and violet to red everywhere it touches. His hands are mysteriously free, he remembers through a mist, just seconds ago, having some of the researchers on the search team pry his hands open whilst holding a clear jar, but he pays no mind to the past as he reaches up limply to touch his caretaker's face, giggling deliriously. He looks up as he touches, but his vision is strange, there's something in his eye, and he sighs as he leans into the painful heat.
"Tha's gotta be a record, righ'?"
He's slurring his words, the pain from the heat numbing his mind, and his caretaker is silent, but Lien can feel his hold tighten just slightly.
Lien's spirits are gone. He is confused, and though he can't remember much about his escape, he vaguely recalls grabbing one of his spirits and holding onto them tightly. He is not so much scared than confused about the disappearance, and when weeks pass and they still don't show up, he begins to doubt his own memory. After all, no one says a thing, and his caretaker acts as if everything is normal, and though at first, Lien had kept silent knowing that no one else can see his spirits, now....
Perhaps, it's all in his own mind. Perhaps nothing has changed.
It doesn't take long for that belief to settle in, that nothing had changed. His memory from before his escape is hazy, and he can't quite grasp every piece properly, and when his caretaker kisses his forehead and coos out a 'good night', he can feel his doubts falling away.
His caretaker is his world, so it makes no sense that there is anything Lien wouldn't share with him. Besides, isn't Lien grateful to have such a good caretaker? He would never hide something from his caretaker, right? Lien thinks of his caretaker's kindness, his busy caretaker always making time to eat dinner with him, giving him all sorts of books to read and medicine to help him sleep soundly and not wander at night.
He asks one day, quietly, even though he's now unsure of what he's asking.
What were they called, phantoms, firelights, spirits... was it spirits?
His caretaker smiles and pets his hair, gentle, 'have you been reading one of your fantasy books again?', and Lien doesn't ask, or think of it, again.
Lien's room seems darker than before. He can't quite figure out why, and as he sits on his bed, reading, he looks up and imagines there is a hole on the opposite wall, a window. It's a ridiculous idea, and he almost laughs at it, when he's hit by such a vivid memory of cold against his nose as he presses his face against glass in order to better see... Better see what? Lien winces, his head throbbing suddenly, and he drops the train of thought. Just before he goes to dinner though, on a whim, he inspects the wall for any differences, perhaps in colour or volume or fine detail to signal some sort of change, but the wall is, as usual, a creamy, unbroken expanse, and Lien leaves the room while vaguely ashamed of his ridiculous thoughts.
Lien reads one of his favorite novels while waiting for his caretaker to call him for his daily physical examination, and for a second, he is confused by the thin paper beneath his fingers, expecting something thicker, something shinier. He flips through the rest of the book, searching for colour, but is met by only black text. He stops halfway through the last chapter, scolding himself.
All books are like this. What sort of strange text had shiny pages and brightly coloured pictures? It makes no sense. Lien certainly doesn't have any sort of book like that, and he dismisses the thought, going back to reading.
Still, later, he tries to make a picture with a green pen lying on his desk. The strokes are awkward, clumsy, and he sets the pen down, a little disappointed. When his caretaker asks him about the paper he simply shrugs.
"You can throw it away."
For some reason, his caretaker seems more attentive than ever. When he's not working, he's hovering over Lien, reading to him or talking to him or just holding Lien on his lap, helping Lien with his exercise books. When Lien mentions this to him, he simply fixes Lien with a quizzical look, and Lien suddenly feels so embarrassed. His caretaker is so kind to him, after all, that he has no right to ever doubt or question him. He smiles and shakes his head, 'it's nothing', and returns to his book.
His mental examinations are both his favorite and most dreaded. They test his ability and worth, and though success is met with praise and reward, failure is met with...
Lien snaps back to focusing on his current task. He reaches out to run his hands down the sides of the space, the metal smooth and cool under his fingertips. There is a clue, hidden somewhere, a latch, perhaps, and he knows exactly what is expected of him. He closes his eyes, it's not like he can see a thing anyways, and lets all the breath out of his lungs.
He can feel it. Pulsing gently near the bottom, just below his right knee, a different material. Wood, he thinks, it feels just like wood. He breathes in deeply, holding his breath as he focuses on keeping the wooden thing within his senses. He pushes, nudging it gently, and applies more and more pressure until he hears a soft, but unmistakable click.
The top of the metal closet shifts, and he is hauled out by a pair of gloved hands.
"Thirty-two seconds. That's seven seconds less than your best, good job." Lien smiles and reaches up to wrap his arms around the researcher's neck, sleepy and warm in the adult's embrace.
"Thank you. I love you."