September 10, 2015 by Lyn
He’d been hungry, frightened, hurt, and tired. He knew where he could hide, where there was food, and now he was rested and full, but he still hurt, hurt in a way he almost remembered: This is what happens when you’re bad.. He couldn’t remember being bad. He couldn’t remember much of anything. But he must have been, because now he hurt.
“Ambrus?” Was that his name? It didn’t sound right, but that was Her voice calling him. He couldn’t put a face or a name to the voice, but he knew it was the Mistress, the person who could call him.
If he’d been bad, she’d be the one who could hurt him. If he’d been bad, she would be angry with him. He cowered deeper into his hiding place, trying to be invisible.
“Ambrus?” Regine’s voice was terse and high-pitched; in another woman, Reid would have assumed worry. From her, he wasn’t quite so certain. “He came in here, I know it,” she murmured. “And I would have seen it on the cameras if he’d come out again.”
She was repeating herself. What’s more, he didn’t think she was thinking clearly. She really was concerned. Somewhere, the devil was making ice cream.
“Call for him,” he suggested. “Tell him to answer.”
“Ambrus?” she repeated. “Ambrus, respond!” Her voice was growing strident; the poor boy would be terrified.
“Arooooow?” The sound was barely human, and was certainly not language, but it probably counted as a response. The noise that Regine made in response was, in contrast, a far more human sound than Reid was used to hearing from her, a choked sob.
“Come here,” she called, turning towards the noise. “Ambrus, come here.” If he were hurt or injured, that wasn’t wise, but she wasn’t in a state to be contradicted.
The foliage in the densest part of the grotto rustled. Slowly, moving on his hands and knees, a very disheveled Ambrus emerged. He made a noise that was almost a word, and knelt, hands clasped behind his back, his head down.
“Oh,” she gasped, the way another person might have sworn, or prayed. “Good boy.”
His mouth worked, as if trying to spit something up; his voice sounded brittle and sore, but he coughed out something recognizable as “thank you.”
“Reid.” She was clearly trying for her normal crisp, professional tone, so he tried to ignore the fact that she sounded like she was pleading with him. “What’s wrong with him?”
He forbore to answer that question as fully as he could – he’s been a lapdog and a slave since he was a child, Regine. Did you really think he’d come out of that sane? “Hold still for me, son,” was all he said out loud.
Ambrus nodded, settling just a little bit into his stance, waiting, watching Reid with complete trust. Reid chanted the Working; he could do this the short way, but something was seriously wrong here.
The boy held motionless as Reid invaded his mind. He was trying to be good, trying to obey; that was the loudest thought there. No, it was the only thought there, and not so much a thought as an echo of learned response.
“What in hell…” he muttered.
“What?” Regine snapped.
“Someone’s taken a sledgehammer to this poor boy’s brain, Doctor. There’s nothing but mush where there should be surface thoughts.” In the mush, the boy winced, afraid. “I’d say instinct and trained response is left, but nothing that you could call human thought.”
She was quiet for so long that he wasn’t certain she, brilliant as she was, had understood him. “Will he be able to rebuild his mind?” she finally asked.
“If you didn’t have me here? Probably, with years of work. Like starting over again from infancy.”
“But I have you.” Hope. Hope sounded strange in her voice.
“You do.” He hoped he wasn’t going to disappoint that hope. “At the very least, I can fix some of the damage. Get him started on the road to recovery.”
“And at the best?” Mike had hinted, but until now, Reid had never been certain the Ice Queen actually had a heart.
“At the best, I can repair him to the way he was yesterday. There’s a caveat, though, Regine.”
“I understand. In a case like this, the chances of full recovery are slim.”
“There is that, yes.” He nodded cautiously. “But if I succeed at all – we’ve done a number to the boy’s memory over the years.”
“At the time, it seemed the prudent option.”
“I understand. But in repairing him, those blocks and changes and geasa – all of those will go away.”
She hesitated for a shorter time than he would have expected, weighing, he assumed, the risks to her plans. “Do it,” she decided.
He pretended not to hear the “please” she whispered afterward.