Eighteen - Ira

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"They're going to censor the heck out of this. You know that, right?" I twirled the pen around my fingers, enjoying the light being on in our cell for a while. Once again, Celestia was plucked from our group for more diving, which left Jaysen and me time to discuss the letter that Valentina had requested. "I'm surprised that Stuart didn't make up a letter himself."

Jaysen looked as if he was about to drift off to sleep. "What?"

"Do you want to write a proper letter or not?" I asked, louder. "I can just write 'Jaysen says hi, xoxo' and be done with it."

Jaysen smirked in my direction with his eyes still closed. "Not a writer?"

"I was almost illiterate," I said. I could have easily ended up uneducated, but knowledge was my escape when going through tough times.

"Where are you from?" he asked out of nowhere. When I didn't answer out of shock, he continued, "Sorry, I thought you had a little accent. I'm pretty sensitive to the way people speak. I moved around foster homes a lot and the only life hack I know is picking out tiny differences in speech. And lip-reading."

"Oh." I stopped spinning the pen, surprised that he had a talent in language out of all things. "Russia, a long time ago."

Jaysen put a hand over his mouth and yawned quietly. "You know, Ira, you're kind of hard to talk to."

"Then don't talk to me." I shrugged, but realised that he wouldn't see it. "Any thoughts on the letter?"

Before Jaysen had time to give me anything to go on, the door opened to a shocked Celestia. "Ira, you're..." she trailed off when I widened my eyes at her in shock. There were long black lines running diagonally across both sides of her neck, three lines on each symmetrical side. "What?"

"W-What did they do to you, Celestia?" I stammered hoarsely. Jaysen opened his pupil-less eyes, also trying to catch a glimpse.

"What do you mean?" Celestia looked herself over, not comprehending. A rivulet of water ran down her upper arm from her wavy hair. There was nothing wrong with her body except the lines on her dark skin.

I looked around, trying to find something reflective in the room so that she could take a look at her neck, but even the metal frames of our beds were too crude to do the job.

"What the heck are you guys talking about?" Of course, Jaysen had to ask. I ignored him.

"Celestia, where were you just now?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm. I could feel the anger simmering behind my ribs, waiting to launch at someone.

"The ocean." Celestia relaxed a bit at the thought. "That's what I was going to tell you; I lasted in the water for an hour with no problems! I swam to the surface and... Why are you looking at me like that?"

I grabbed Celestia's hand and forced it to the skin on her left collarbone and up to the base of her jaw. She first frowned at my action, then screamed when her fingers slid over the dark lines, making them burst open. I screeched and dropped her hand, backing into my chair and almost falling on top of Jaysen.

He shot up from his chair, shocked. He walked onto piece of paper and the pen that I was going to use, and steadied himself before he skidded. "What just happened?" Jaysen raised his voice, his mouth and eyes wide.

Celestia was still tracing the slits on her neck, her breaths shallow and laboured. She looked at me with fear in her eyes, still screaming. The slits in her neck were opening and closing with her every breath beyond her control, and Celestia's body shook violently. "Ira, w-what the h-hell are these..."

It was Jaysen who walked up to her, and leaned down to awkwardly wrap his arms around her. Celestia still trembled, but her breaths slowed, perhaps because of Jaysen, perhaps because she was losing consciousness from hyperventilation. Jaysen was whispering words in her ear and gently stroking up and down her arms. I still had my eyes locked with Celestia's, tears filling to the brim for both of us.

"Jaysen, y-you can't see them," Celestia whimpered. "I-I'm a m-monster."

"No, you're not," Jaysen replied out loud. "You're a human with gills, that's all. You're spe—"

"How did—" I began, but the door was thrown open, and two doctors entered, alarmed. One of them was Nita, her blonde hair in a braid. The other doctor separated Jaysen from Celestia, and spoke to him when Celestia started screaming again.

I picked up the pen from the floor, a yell full of profanities lining up at my throat. Clenching the pen tightly, my body instinctively prepared myself to strike. Nita's voice was soft to Celestia, and Celestia stood up, calmer. I loosened my grip on the pen. "Don't you dare do anything else to her."

They'd already left the room, but I was sure they heard me.

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Stuart had the decency to tell me the Celestia was doing mentally better, even though he was here to collect the letter. He scanned the piece of paper with his usual calm brown eyes. "That's short, Jaysen."

Jaysen shrugged, stretching out his arms on his bed.

"But it'll do," Stuart concluded. "Thanks, Jaysen. Thanks, Ira."

"Cheers, Stewie," Jaysen said. I gave Stuart a silent nod, and he folded the note to stuff it in his pocket, his gaze focused on me the whole time.

"Wait," I said as Stuart turned to go.

"I'm listening," he said, taking his hand off the doorknob.

"Look," I began, "I-I don't think I'm adjusting to the light well." My nerves hit me like a wave, even though I'd thought through my plan in silence many times before Stuart got here.

"What's wrong?" Stuart took a step towards me, and I reflexively backed away.

"They've been, um, straining." I mentally slapped myself for hesitating. I used to be better than this. "And I haven't been able to sleep with the light on. I was wondering if I could have darkness for a few hours every day so I can get used to it all better."

Stuart pursed his lips, looking at me, and then looking at Jaysen. For a few seconds, my heart sped up, thinking that he knew what I was suspecting, but then he nodded. "That makes sense. Sorry for not thinking of this in the first place."

"Thank you." I made sure not to grin too much as he walked out the door.

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When the lights went out, my vision adjusted almost immediately. I didn't even bother going to my bed in the corner. Celestia had not come back yet, and I didn't expect her to until the next day. Jaysen, however, had been fast asleep for a while now. I watched his blanketed form expand and contract with his breaths.

Quiet step after quiet step, I approached his bed, stopping to check that he was still asleep. The corners of my lips tugged up just from thinking about what I was going to do.

I raised my palm high, then swung it fast at Jaysen's cheek.

His arms immediately shot up to shield his face, his hand bumping my arm in mid-air.

"Dude!" I covered his mouth with my free hand after that, but could still make out the intonation of him yelling what the fuck.

"I thought so," I whispered, and I think he understood it too.

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