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Iliana

 

My room is made to be a comforting place. It is always neat and orderly, something that sooths ruffled minds. My furniture is carefully arranged, so that I can offer comfort while preserving my privacy. My chairs, set around a rug with a small table on it, draw the visitor so that it does not even occur to them to look beyond. There, in that protected corner, that is my space. My place of memories. I keep them in a padded black case, set discreetly against the wall. So many people have seen that music stand in the corner, without really noticing it or knowing what it meant.

It is not that no one knows I play, of course. Every once in a while my violin becomes a fiddle, dancing for the crowd, and sometimes it goes to parties as itself, singing the warbling, lonely hymns our odd little history has produced. I wonder sometimes that so many of great talent have become outlaws, but I suppose it is a testment to the achievements an unrestrained mind can aspire to. We are a pool of nonconformists and free-thinkers, after all.

I am not a free thinker. I fled from captivity into a new cage of my own making. I set rules for myself and called it self-discipline; I limited my behavior and called it setting an example. I changed my identity and called it protection, not understanding that loyalty was not a word thrown lightly. Those were days when betrayal meant death, and no profit was so certain that the penalty would be worth risking.

Things are not so, now. With our contacts scattered, our resources gone, death is by no means the certain outcome of desertion, or even betrayal. Falcone still walks, though he deserves the death I deal a thousand times over. There is a list in the archives of those not brought to justice, and every one of them shames me. And yet, I have done all I can. So I tell myself, but I know that I have no real desire to see any but the worst offenders forced to return. The war has taxed all of our psyches, I think, and many of us are sick of crime and death. There have been many opportunities to start a new life in the aftermath. Identity theft became so easy that those who questioned their chosen path had no trouble finding another, and walking it in someone else's name.

To admit this is to question my own life, and sometimes I fear I am more ashamed of doing so than I am of admitting my inability to carry out my duties. I am slowly losing bars from my cage, and with each of them goes a piece of my identity. I have defined myself in narrow limits, and as I find that I can, after all, live without these limits, I find again my fear of letting go. And if truly, I can let go... I have missed so much. Lost so much time to my pride and fear. How much of it was necessary? It frightens me to wonder.

But to cling to those strictures, to truly belive in them, is to pass them on to my apprentice, and I haven't the heart to do that. She is young, she deserves to live her life as fully as she can given the choices she has made. She doesn't face the same challenges I did, it is true, but she faces enough. Yet I haven't the heart to tell her not to love. I could never lock her into my cage.

Times are changing, after all. We must respect the past without being bound by it, and I will let her choose her own path. It is, perhaps, time for me to make a change in mine.

I can't remember a time when I felt truly free.

Yes, I can. A moment, once. It frightened me so greatly I never let it happen again. I ended it, telling myself that my Uncle's death was an omen, that I could no longer afford such freedom.

After all the death I have seen, the lost opportunities, I am not sure I could make the same decision again. Perhaps I am finally ready for a taste of freedom.

Even so, I don't know how to make that step.

Every time I take up the polished wood of my memories and draw the bow across the strings, I am reminded of a wasted life, of dreams that ended prematurely in a bottle of spilled pills on a bathroom floor, and the escape it won me. I wonder sometimes how it would have been different if I had lost my courage first. In the end I always come to the same conclusion. This is not Elena's place. She would not have survived here, alone. But I do not think she would have turned away from love, and that might have saved her. She would not have turned it away.

I put these dreams away; dreams were always her realm, anyway. Practicality, discipline, survival. These are the things I have chosen for myself. I never knew there could be a time when these would not be enough.

 

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