(OOC: This probably isn't a very good place to start for people who don't know Adaman Knaughts very well. Buuut... it was in my head, so here it goes. Two confrontations kinda awkwardly placed into one event, but really revealing as far as character. There is some language in this one (sorry, the F-bomb is dropped!), and it's generally depressing, as are most things written about Adaman (I think he deserves a Series-of-Unfortunate-Events-esque disclaimer on his pieces). But um, if you love good straight up gritty character interaction, by all means read on. Can you tell I am not used to introducing these things?)
Adaman wasn’t entirely sure if the church was really so truly dreary, or if the mood had manifested itself in otherwise objective imagery. It was a large structure with walls of seemingly near endless height, built with smoky stone and dark but graying wood. Most of the windows were draped, the most obvious exception an enormous circular iron-framed piece of faded and dirtied stained glass. What light it let through was plagued by millions of particles of fine dust. It was hardly amazing, Adaman thought, that the thin bald man that was his third cousin twice removed was sneezing so regularly, they might have been hiccups of the nose.
The large space, no doubt picked by his grandmother in its better days, was moderately full, but plagued by echoes and open areas that whispered of emptiness and loneliness. This whispering was perhaps only a more obvious statement at a feeling that would have been lingering in the back of many subconscious anyway, built upon the distance between members of the invited. They were strangers to each other, only tied by memories and obligations to the stiff woman in the casket.
The greatest gap of all was between the guests and the Knaughts themselves. Adaman and Helen stood together and completely alone beside the casket, despite already spoken words (dry) and already offered hands (clammy). Their appearance was strange but somehow completely natural, as if their whole lives they should have been standing side by side in this sorry church, pale and black and obviously in mourning.
Adaman was in plain black robes, most of which he had to purchase for the event. It had sent him reeling to an unpleasant time when he realized the last time he had worn so dark an outfit had been at fifteen. Then it had been an angry black, worn so that he could look into the face of the one he lost and let them know exactly where they had put him. It was only now, where the death was more earthshaking but less life-disrupting, that he realized he had felt then just as he had now: completely lost.
Helen wore a more expensive black, with lace and designs and a translucent veil. She was a stone under that veil, a diamond- in more than one way. Her emotions were completely confined to the inside, while everything she said and did on the outside became a show. It was as she had been taught, to take command of the situation and veer the attention to herself. Her appearance clearly spoke, “I am the important one here.”
“You look sick,” she had told him about two hours before the wake began. And she was completely right. For anyone who had seen the man with regularity, it was an eerie sight; though his paled face looked initially as stoic and apathetic as ever, one could easily find with some time and effort piece after piece of evidence suggesting otherwise. His complexion was lighter, the bags of his eyes darker. His eyes themselves were slightly unfocused, lidded more heavily that usual. There was a line on the right end of his mouth that drew the whole feature southward in a nauseated sort of frown.
“I know,” he replied, completely familiar with the sharp, moving look of scrutiny his older sister bore down upon him. He had seen the exact same thing this morning in his own eyes this morning in the mirror.
“You have two hours to fix it,” she pointed out in a tone that made obvious the motivation of this suggestion was wholly selfish.
And to that, Adaman hadn’t replied at all, leaving his response open to the million things he wanted to share with her while sharing none of them at all. She had then turned his attention to the apparently awful state of the draping about the candles.
Two hours later, he had nearly fixed it, but as much as he strained some evidence remained. His face was soft, his movements slow, his voice hard pressed to remain calm and regular. Helen, by his side, was in every way composed. And this is how they were as the guests began to greet them.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” they said mostly, with minor variations in wording and length. He remembered their faces and then their names, first and foremost from albums upon albums studied like schoolbooks in his childhood years; secondly, in a terrible déjà vu manner as he realized this was a near identical turnout as their had been twelve years prior.
“Thank you,” Helen and Adaman would reply- Helen like it had been an expected of them, and Adaman like he was excusing himself politely for bumping into them.
It was about an hour or so in that Adaman came across someone whose empathy he actually valued, someone to whom he gave the most sincere “Thank you” he would give all day: Genevieve- or more informally, “Eve” Darcy. She had dropped in a few days prior when his grandmother was certainly intended for the next world, giving condolences then that made these seem slightly superfluous. But that didn’t stop Adaman from nearly melting with gladness when he saw her golden locks bouncing defiantly against black funeral attire.
She was as ravishingly beautiful as she had been last time he had seen her, but her appearance was one time less startling to him. In her younger years she had been a button nose string bean sort of girl who could have passed for a particularly feminine young boy. Perhaps puberty had been late for her; all Adaman knew is that when he had last seen her at the age of eighteen, there had been nothing particularly to look at; when he found her again at the age of twenty-five, there was enough slenderness and grace with a hint of curves and mischief to feast any man’s eyes.
It seemed an eternity of undesired confrontations between when he met her eyes across the great length of the church and when she actually reached him, bearing a small smile completely inappropriate for the drab setting.
“Addy, I’m so sorry,” she expressed genuinely, taking his automatically offered hand and embracing it with both of hers. There was a friendly kiss planted breifly on his cheek, and then she continued. “Are you holding up alright?”
Just seeing a familiar, friendly face had done wonders for him. He felt like he had just begun breathing again for the first time since he arrived this morning. Something like a smile came across his lips. “I’m holding up, thank you.”
“But not alright,” she laughed, releasing his hands and stepping to the side. “You look perfectly fine. I’ve never seen someone look so perfectly fine at a funeral.”
“ Thank you,” he said again, internally grimacing at the blatant untruth.
“She was a um, amazing woman, your grandmother. Just unbelievable,” Eve said, changing the topic to move around the flat nature of his tone.
“She… wasn’t human,” Adaman replied, quick to continue as to not have this statement misconstrued. “She was more than mortal, larger than life, I think.”
“Oh yes, definitely.”
‘She shouldn’t have been able to die,’ Adaman wanted to continue, but this thought he would keep to himself.
After a moment of silence, Eve took a sudden step to the side letting out a soft “Oh!” And then “Excuse me, sir. Addy, look, um, I was thinking that…”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” came a voice from Adaman’s other side, faintly through Eve’s words.
“… this is a pretty hard time, and after you get through this whole mess…”
While still looking at Eve, Adaman found his hand in the handshake that had become automatic over the last hour or so. His mouth formed the words “Thank you” before he even thought about it.
“… I thought maybe you and I should spend some time together. Reminisce, or something?”
And that was where Adaman stopped hearing her. As the hand in his pulled away, he felt his fingers brush something familiar in the palm: a sleek, raised line of recovered skin similar to that in his own right hand. Then, as soon as it had come it passed, and Adaman’s fingertips were stunned and alone in a sea of air.
He turned quickly, his eyes almost wide, almost hopeful. No. They were met with the same dreary scene, the same large, empty church spotted with the meaningless bodies anxious to leave. His dark eyes swept back to Eve.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, his left hand involuntarily going to rub the palm of his right. “Did you see who just, um, who just now shook my hand?”
“No,” she answered, her face completely straight and perfectly poised for curiosity. “I wasn’t paying attention, who?”
Adaman frowned subtly. After all, they were cousins- surely they didn’t think Adaman was that stupid. In fact, Eve and he had just been talking about- yes, he had been briefly mentioned in their last meeting. By Eve, of course; Adaman had made clear the subject was to be dropped and never again picked up. “Come on, Eve, you can’t pull pranks on me, not here.”
Eve’s now solemn blue eyes washed over Adaman’s face for a moment before she spoke. “I came here, Adaman Knaughts, because I care about you. And I wanted you to know that my family and I offer our greatest condolences for your loss, and wish you the best in coping.”
Adaman cast one last glance back toward the rest of the church, wheels spinning beneath his dark reddish haired crown. What he was looking at was a door, a pathway, and the choice was his. His right hand trembled in his left, making a shaky attempt to release itself, but after a moment thought better of it and stayed still.
Eve smiled sadly as he looked back to her. “I should probably go and be the proper pureblood woman I am, give my condolences to your sister. But if you want, my offer still stands. I’ll let you know when I’m leaving, and you can tell me then, alright?”
“Alright,” Adaman murmured, his head still spinning. Eve grasped his hand once more and replaced her kiss with another.
“Hang in there, Addy. If you think about it right, there’s nothing to be like this about. It’s all over.” Still smiling at him, Eve released his hand and made her way gracefully to Helen.
It had gone something like this:
“So, can I ask you something?” Eve had casually inquired of him in their last meeting as their soft laughter faded. Adaman had been high strung, his nerves aching for any sort of relief. Eve’s appearance had done just that, distracting him and draining him with her charm and humor.
“Yes, of course,” Adaman had willingly allowed, turning his head to face her. It struck him that he was at such a close proximity, sitting by her side on a short stone wall in a neighboring village. Surely he had been this close before- surely- but now Eve glowed, she empowered. She required space outside her frame to land her true impression, and Adaman felt he had made a complete intrusion. He stiffened and leaned back slightly.
“It’s been some time now, you know, and while I’m not sure how you feel about it, I thought I’d offer.” Her blue eyes were cast to the side, lingering with guilt on her knee. When they came up to meet his, they flashed with the spark of gathered courage.
That look sent Adaman’s heart down into his stomach to join the organ for a nice nervy flop. He never knew quite how he knew, but he did. The scar on his right hand tingled, and he sent the fingers of his left immediately to quell the sensation.
“Do you want to know-“
“No,” Adaman cut her off quickly.
The spark left her eyes, and in its wake they became fragile and confused- childish. “Addy, are you sure…?”
“Eve, I lost a very, very dear friend some years back,” Adaman explained, his dark eyes downcast. He stood up, becoming twice her height. “And I don’t fancy the thought of going through it all again, one way or another. Please, let’s let the dead rest in peace.”
The young woman before him tucked a magnificent golden curl behind her ear, her eyes now moving over the simple scenery around them: the brick street, a barren bush, a cold colored house, an overcast sky.
“Why don’t we get something to drink,” Adaman offered, eager to end the silence. “I thought I spotted a shop two streets over. I’d love some coffee, and I’ll even buy you some of your bloody tea.”
Eve smiled up at him, blinking away tears. “Alright.” She nodded and stood, repeating the word in a tone that linked it to both the small speeches given by her friend. Her mouth curved into a smile, and wrinkles formed as she squinted her eyes. “Alright.”
If anything good came of what had passed, it was that Adaman’s mind became distracted from its morose state; but that was very little help at all, considering he had simply been thrown into a different state of turmoil. His “thank you”s became increasingly less mournful and more distracted. In fact, it was a wonder that his racing mind slowed enough to catch the appearance another surprising visitor, not a half an hour later. This one was related.
Despite the fact that Ariel was the youngest of the three Knaughts children, her attendance was entirely unexpected by either of her older siblings. She, as far as anyone was concerned, belonged to their father’s side of the family; she hadn’t seen her maternal grandmother since she was eight.
Now she was twenty and showed no evidence of being raised by anyone except for the muggle aunt and uncle who took her under their roof happily twelve years prior. Aside from physical traits, she usually bore almost no resemblance to either Adaman or Helen; her face was honest and open, her gestures grand and her smile wide. There was no pain in her face, no chips on her shoulder- at least on normal occasions.
However, in the grand church she looked completely transformed. There was a determined bitterness that drew both eyebrows down into a cross sort of frown; her green eyes where sharp and dark. The length of her back was as straight as a board while her shoulders where proudly cast backward. It made Adaman uneasy when he realized just how much she looked like a shorter, darker, plainer Helen- just how much his saved sister, Ariel Kelly, looked like a Knaughts.
Her resolute steps took her not toward Adaman and not toward Helen, but instead straight ahead, marked for the casket. Adaman, alerted by this strange behavior, gave one more absent-minded thank you and made quick strides to intercept her about halfway up the isle.
“Ariel,” he breathed, stepping quickly to close up the last lurching gap between them.
“Hello, brother,” she replied, her normally kind voice oddly strained.
Swallowing, Adaman searched for further words, finally lamely stating, “You’re here- you-“
“Yes, I saw the notice in the paper.” Adaman took his eyes off her momentarily to find Helen. Was she looking? Did she know? Did anyone else know? The little sister had rarely been mentioned to other families; Ariel’s pureblood ties were not something their grandmother had wanted to soil her family’s reputation over.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to come,” Adaman retorted, though he was sure that his words were falling on deaf ears. They reached the open casket and Ariel stopped abruptly, her mouth in a small, thin line as she looked over the corpse.
Adaman avoided it, forcing his eyes to his sister instead. He had seen the corpse before, and he had no intention of witnessing once again the horror of one with such a large presence in life looking so small and helpless in death; all the power and importance had gone out of this thin, shriveled woman. Ariel murmured something.
“What was that?” Adaman asked warily.
“I said, ‘I hope hell suits her,’” Ariel repeated boldly. But the statement itself didn’t disturb Adaman as much as the throaty sound that followed it. He quickly moved himself between his sister and his grandmother, scooping the former up into his arms in an awkward hug that to any outsider might have seemed as if Ariel had collapsed into him. He flinched as he felt the short pressure of spit on the right side of his chest.
“Come with me,” he ordered quietly, spinning her around sternly and guiding her back down the isle of the church and out the grand wooden doors. Once outside the main area of the church he turned her swiftly to the right and into a smaller room, probably for the use of confessions. Ariel stumbled forward with a little help from her brother’s hand. The door was quickly shut behind them, no doubt echoing down the stone corridor behind it- but in this room the sound was almost instantly muffled, leaving a sick, dead silence to fill the air.
Adaman leaned against the door for a few moments, closing his eyes and clearing his thoughts. It wasn’t exactly an intimidating image, but he would make up for that in time. Ariel stood mutely a few feet away, fingers reaching nervously for the arm of a chair as she tried to see what was in her brother’s head.
“Adaman-“ she began in a much more tender tone.
“Shut up, Ariel,” Adaman commanded, a surprisingly biting voice coming from a fatigued face. He kept his eyes closed and brought his right hand up to rub his temple. “Shut up. What the hell were you doing?!”
Seemingly forgetting her sudden sensitivity, Ariel’s features darkened and she retorted with a new intensity. “Just what it lo-“
“Didn’t your muggles teach you any respect for the dead?!” Her brother’s volume neared the range of shouting. His eyes opened in a powerful flash of anger as he moved from the door. “I always thought it was one of those concepts that crossed over from wizard to muggle culture-- What kind of barbaric heathenism did they pass on that makes you think it’s alright to deface the dead?!”
“My muggles?” Ariel cried back.
“Look, Ariel, I know you didn’t know her or like her very much, but she was a person who meant things to other people-“
“She meant things to me! She-“
“- And I know of at least two of us here who she meant everything to, no matter what kind of person she was.” His pause dared her to even think of speaking. She braced herself against the chair silently. “Do you know who they are?”
There was a beat of silence. “Adaman-“
“That’s right: Adaman. Adaman and Helen, whom -I don’t think it would be taking too much of a shot in the dark to say- you care about more than anyone else in there combined! You spit on that corpse, that’s like shitting on the two of us and all we’ve ever been for you!”
“But she’s been shitting on us our whole lives! Especially you and Helen! Look what she’s done to you two!” Ariel’s voice wavered. She closed her eyes against oncoming tears. “Don’t tell me she doesn’t deserve a little disrespect after what she’s done!
Something like a sob broke through, but Ariel went on. “She killed my mother, she denied me my own brother and sister! She tore apart our whole bloody family! Don’t you think karma would allow one bloody glob of spit on her ugly old face?!”
A strange, bitter bark of a laugh erupted from Adaman. “You can’t blame her for all that. You’re making her a scapegoat. There are far too many parties involved to stick the blame to one person, Ariel.
“I say, if you want to blame anyone incapable of defending themselves, blame our father for walking down the street at the wrong time of day. After all, it was his choice to head out when he did, wasn’t it?
“And what of our mother? She was the one that decided to crawl back home; she was the one who decided she couldn’t do much more than the bare minimum without our father for support. Grandmother didn’t do it; our mother made a choice when she decided not to keep it together, when she decided that going eight more years was enough, when she decided that the three of us weren’t good enough to stick around for! She didn’t have to let what Grandmother said bother her! We make a choice about how much we let our pain affect us, Ariel. She was the one that chose to let it do her in.”
“That’s not how it was,” Ariel protested weakly.
“That’s exactly how it was. You were eight years old! You don’t remember!” The anger that Adaman had not felt in years was beginning to awaken, rolling him smoothly into his next point. “And if you want to blame anyone for our distance, you’re looking right at him. Helen and I decided to leave you with the muggles. Without our mother, there was really no one around to raise you.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Ariel protested stubbornly. “She brainwashed you two! I can barely talk to either of you! You hold everything on the inside! You’re not people! You don’t have feelings, or empathy or anything! I want a sister I can confide in, a sister with a shoulder to cry on! I want a brother that teases me and pisses me off, but will beat up all my bullies. I want siblings that are capable of love! She made you shells; she took over your minds and took away your hearts!”
It was an emotional stab to the chest, and Adaman felt a shockwave of resulting pain move quickly outward from it. Still, as he had been taught- as he had been trained, he persisted on without apparent outwardly acknowledgement. “Bullshit! Cut me and I bleed, Ariel! Helen and I made choices, alright? We grew up. When our father died we grew up. We had to! No one was there for us! We had to survive, and we adapted accordingly! We chose to conform to Grandmother’s teaching!”
“You can’t have both, Adaman!” Ariel shouted back. “You can’t say you- you can’t say the two of you took me away for my sake and then say that you two were perfectly fine! I’m not dumb! It can’t make sense that way! Either she sent me away and split us up, or you did because you know what she did to you! Which one is it?!”
Adaman didn’t have an answer. His mind raced frantically around, zoning in on the knots in his stomach. He parted his lips to reply, but was saved from the open-mouthed silence by the blow of the wooden door opened upon his back. It took him a step to steady himself and look back.
Helen stood in the doorway with no sign of having heard any of the heated conversation from the other side. She looked stern but curious, with a sneer of disapproval that didn’t know exactly where to be aimed. “What’s going on in here?” Her voice was sharp, commanding.
Ariel glanced at her brother, now fully self-conscious of her pink, tear-streaked face. To get into this sort of argument with Adaman was one thing. With Helen it was a completely different situation. It almost made her knees tremble.
“Ariel got upset, so I took her aside to spare us the embarrassment,” Adaman replied calmly, regaining his composure. He glanced back at his younger sister. “She was just having a hard time; it’s her first funeral since our mother’s, so she got caught off-guard by the memory.”
Helen looked from Adaman to Ariel, her face frighteningly unrevealing of any response. After a moment of silence, her words broke into the air, making Ariel flinch and Adaman do nearly the same. Her tone was cold and unfeeling. “She was only eight.”
“Fuck off!” Ariel quickly retorted, relief cracking her voice in a way that made it convincingly grieving. As her voice stopped, she was surprised to realize her older brother’s had echoed the exact same phrase, mere milliseconds off of hers.
With a giggle giddy from tension and nerves, Ariel let out a choked sob of relief and began to wipe her eyes. “I’ve got to be going, sorry if I caused a scene.” She walked over to Adaman unsteadily, her legs gone to jelly some time between her first cruel words and her last. A quivering grin held on her lips, below two smiling but crying eyes. Ariel wrapped her arms around her brother.
“Thank you, Adaman,” she giggled into his chest, feeling an awkward return of embrace in reply. In sympathy, she let it be cut short so she could take one of Helen’s hands into hers. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get to speak with you much at all. You’ll have to write me, or I’ll write you.
“I love you,” were her sincere last words to both of them, and then she departed.
Adaman sighed, longing to dwell in the strange state of resolution for a while longer. He glanced over at Helen, who turned her face away from the doorway to look back over him.
“You have a glob of spit on your robes,” she pointed out curtly after her inspection was through.
“I know,” Adaman replied with virtually no tone at all.
“You have two minutes to clean it up,” she instructed, then left the room herself, trailing the fading sound of her steps upon the corridor’s stone behind her.