Adela leaves, and Mihai remains slumbering. After a full week of no sleep he's too exhausted to fight it. It isn't so fulfilling on its own, plagued as it is with quiet memories he'd forgotten. Now unlocked by revelations of the old woman these memories come quickly to the forefront of his mind to vie for relevance. There is so much locked away inside of him, whether by chance or by purpose, that he battles to keep hidden. This isn't so much to protect himself from prying eyes of those who get too curious as it is to relieve himself of the burdens of history.
He's lived enough tragedy to fill the lives of three men. Sometimes he wonders how he's made it so far at all. The old woman was right, and he knows it. He is a miserable human being.
The next morning he rises in a fog. Despite a full night's sleep he feels not at all rested. He moves into the kitchenette to flip on the Keurig. In the same routine as always, while the water in the single-serve machine heats up, he fetches his mug, a spoon, the cream, and the sugar. They are laid in a neat little row. The machine beeps to signify that it is ready to make his coffee. The little pod goes in. The mug goes on the tray. His finger presses the button to begin the brew.
He looks sad. Is he sad?
While the water gurgles and runs, two pieces of bread get put into the toaster. He fetches two single serve Yes. They hurt his feelings. portions of butter he kept from a room service breakfast some days earlier. They coffee beeps again to alert its task is finished. Minutes later, he's sat on the chilly balcony of his rented room overlooking the New York City skyline. Buildings jut up in great collections like mountains. People and cars scramble about below. He feels so alone down there among them all. He feels alone up there in his tower, too, but somehow less so.
Though he sips the coffee and takes a bite of his toast, there is no appetite in him to eat. He does so simply because he must if he wants to live, though sometimes he isn't sure he even wants to do that. Why does he do that? For Natasha. For Markel? To spite everyone who wants to watch him fall? He rises from the balcony table to retreat back inside with his unfinished breakfast.
They hurt his feelings.
He scrapes the toast into the trash can. He pours the coffee into the sink. Both dishes he leaves on the counter for the maid to take care of when she comes to turn down his suite later. He looks sad. As he looks up, he catches his faded reflection in the glass of the hanging microwave door. Is he sad? With a frown, he turns away to stalk down the hall.
Within minutes he's climbing into a cool shower to try and shake the ghosts of his own life off. Who hurt his feelings? It's with the cool jets of water splattering against his face that he feels the heat of tears. Her little voice echoes in his mind.
The people who were supposed to love him.
Both of Mihai's hands press to the tiled wall as he lets out a ragged sound. His head dips low into the water. It beats the back of his neck as he tries to catch his breath. Instead the thoughts that plagued him all night come rolling up again. The voices he's combated the most where not those of the dead, but those of the living.
The people who were supposed to love him.
Here he is, nearly fifty years old and still carrying the burdens of a lonely, terrified child. A child who only ever wanted someone to accept him as he was, to love him. A child who was desperate for his father to save him from the horrors that came at night instead of locking him in his room. A child desperate for his mother to rock him to sleep, to sing the barrage of voices away, on the nights he sobbed alone in the corner of his bedroom. A child desperate for just one friend.
But maybe there had been a friend, whose voice had been so small, that he'd only heard it on the quietest of nights. And maybe he remembers her breaking through sometimes when the voices were loud and angry, maybe he remembers her invisible hand squeezing his and how it felt so warm and comforting in comparison to the other hands that poke and prodded and pulled at him.
He doesn't remember how long she was there, only that things changed eventually, and he stopped wishing for someone to be kind to him. He stopped hoping that things would get better, because he knew they wouldn't and that he was only hurting himself more by having any faith in people. He stopped looking for friends in people altogether, and started learning how to be in control.
A new phrase was given to him by an old man who taught him to be everything he became: "The monsters can't hurt you if you are what terrifies them."
He walks to Agartha in the same fog he woke in, uncleaned by the shower or the coffee or the crisp autumn air. Because of the time zones, by the time he's reached the Ealdwic office, the afternoon is late. He isn't surprised to find Maya absent from her office, and though he'd been preparing all the way there on just exactly what he should say to her, perhaps it is easier this way.
He pauses even now, unsure if he really wants to get involved in this.
But it's too late. The small humanity within him won't stop screaming that he needs to keep trying.
He lays a thin manila envelope on top of her desk, and retreats.
Within that envelope is a single photograph looking to be from the late 1970's or the early 1980's. It is a photograph of a school class, likely junior high, each student positioned together in a group. They each wear matching uniforms. All of the children are smiling, save one, whose expression is one of force. He looks out of place and uncomfortable. His gaze is not on the camera, but locked somewhere slightly off to the side. He's been circled in red marker. It is, of course, Mihai, better known by little Maya as 'M'ijo'. A little post it note is stuck near the bottom of the photograph that reads simply, and unsigned:
He heard you.