ellydash: (oh emma)
[personal profile] ellydash
Title: bandage and the blade
Author: [livejournal.com profile] ellydash 
Characters: Emma Pillsbury, Rachel Berry, Carl Howell, Holly Holliday
Rating: PG
Word count: 4,035
Spoilers: Sexy (2x15)
Warnings: Potentially triggering discussion of obsessive-compulsive behavior; non-explicit references to sex-related trauma

Summary: It’s so much easier, in the end, for Emma to blame everything on Will.





Emma’s standing underwater, at the bottom of an unmapped ocean, breathing impossible air. She can see, even though she should be blind here. This far down there’s no light.


Chamber music rises out of the plants and rocks. The white sand on the seabed lifts, too, from the speed of busy things running by. She doesn’t know what they are, but she knows they’re preparing for something. The water pulsates with their excitement.


Don’t leave me out, she pleads. Anxiety clamps around her body like a vise. I want to help.


The vise tightens, and the sand rises, and the sounds of strings and busy things push at her throat. She’ll burst. She’ll burst.


She opens her eyes and gasps for the air no one’s denying her. The front of her nightgown is soaked heavy with perspiration. 
 

By the time Emma’s in the shower, unable to sleep again until she’s washed away the sweat and the terror, she’s forgotten the details of her dream. Little bits of it remain, though. Mostly in her dry mouth. A little in the way her hand shakes as she slides the washcloth against her shoulder.










She believes in the celibacy club, even if no one else does. Emma knows that she’s laughed at among the other faculty for her convictions, but it doesn't dissuade her from the absolute surety that what she’s doing is right. No one seems to understand that these children aren’t ready for sex yet, no matter what their bodies tell them (and she can’t believe, honestly, that all of them are as eager for each other as popular culture tells her they are). What these students need is a proper adult, a real role model to guide them into making what Emma’s positive are the best choices.


Emma’s beliefs aren’t light ones. They’ve been carefully chosen, after years of interactions and observations. Not like Holly’s. She’s still a little irritated with Holly; the woman's a silly, flighty – well, strumpet is the best word for what she is. It's old-fashioned, maybe, a word Emma’s grandmother would’ve used, but fitting.
 

Holly clearly treats her body like it’s a yearbook: something to be passed around for everyone to sign. The way she speaks so carelessly about personal intimacy makes Emma tremble with frustration. Doesn’t she understand how private it is? That it’s not something a grown woman should be openly discussing in detail with young, easily confused students who obviously aren’t ready to make these decisions? It’s no wonder so few of the kids have signed up for the club, what with Holly making sex sound like something natural and fun. 
 

At least Emma’s got one entrenched ally. Quinn Fabray believes in her mission. Their mission. Emma isn’t dumb; she knows Rachel Berry’s only in celibacy club to keep an eye on Quinn, but Quinn’s there for the same reasons Emma is. She agrees that there’s more important things in life than sex. And, after all, Quinn should know. She’s borne the consequences.


During their meetings, Emma often catches herself staring at Quinn, and has to force herself to look away before the girl notices. Pretty sweet Quinn, whose life was ruined by a choice she didn’t have to make. Quinn will be marked by that decision forever. It’s not visible to the naked eye, but Emma still imagines she can see the scald of weakness clinging to Quinn, like an unhealed burn. What, she wonders, would possess a girl like that to give in? A girl who clearly understands the importance of waiting until you’re older and more mature and you’re able to let your husband touch you without feeling a sharp wrench of panic in your chest. A girl like that should be strong enough to wait.


Emma would like to ask Quinn about having power, because Quinn was powerful, once. She wonders if having it feels like being in control. The question is ridiculous, though, and more than a little silly. Besides, it’s not a question for an adult to be asking a child.










She watches a helium balloon, overfilled, straining with pressure. Inside it, she can see a family sitting around a dinner table. The family looks so familiar to her. It’s a father, a mother, two daughters, and a son. Red-haired, fair-skinned, laughing. Emma opens her mouth to speak to them.


Her body vibrates with what she needs to say, but she can’t hear the words out loud, and what’s worse, she doesn’t know the message she’s supposed to deliver. 


When she wakes, her face is wet, and her eyes sting with frustration and fear.










Carl comes back, a few evenings after he’s left for the Radisson, to grab some extra changes of clothing. She’s home when he comes through the front door, because Emma’s always home, unless she’s at work or running a necessary errand. It’s better to stay at home.
 

“Hello,” she says, sitting straight in her chair. They’re civilized adults who should be able to have a conversation. “How are you, Carl?”


He squeezes his keys in his fist, shutting the door behind him. “Pretty miserable, actually. I can’t remember the last time I felt this horrible. Thanks for asking.”


It’s a sincere thanks. Carl’s never been a very sarcastic person, even in times of real emotional distress. “You should take some sheets with you,” she tells him, folding her hands together on her lap. “The sheets at hotels are very dirty. That’s not just my – my disorder talking, either. 20/20 did a special expose several years ago and found all sorts of stains and bacteria invisible to the human eye.”


Carl doesn’t respond to this, and she realizes, too late, that it was the wrong thing to mention. 


“I thought we were getting better, Emma,” he says. “I thought you were, and when you were better, we were too. You weren’t wearing your gloves as much. You stopped asking restaurant hostesses permission to see the kitchen before deciding if we'd eat there. We’d kiss. Remember, kissing? How good that felt? What happened? What made you get worse?” He doesn’t say relapse, she notices, even though that’s the word both of them are thinking. “Is it really all Schuester? Is that it, what Holly said?”


“You,” she says, and takes a breath. She shouldn’t let him find fault with Will for this. It’s wrong. It’s not fair to blame Will for the death of her marriage, either, not when he’s really the least of what’s plucking at her. The lie is so much easier, though. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your responsibility to fix me.”


This, at least, is true, if distressing. She wishes it were his responsibility, that she could outsource the job of getting better to someone else. When they’d first started dating, she’d thought of Carl as her guide towards normalcy. She’d take his hand and focus on the warmth of it, not its danger.
 

“I didn’t say I thought I did anything wrong. I didn’t ask for – for your approval, or your blessing, or whatever you want to call it. This isn’t confession, Emma. You’re not my priest.”


There’s such an easy leap to a chastity insult from that word, priest, and Emma waits for it. He wants to hurt her, she can tell. If he does, she’ll accept the punishment. It’s what she’s earned.


But Carl is a decent man, far more decent than she deserves, and he doesn’t grab at the bait he’s laid out for himself. Instead, he slumps a little, still standing at the door with his keys in hand, and looks terribly, terribly sad. She’s sure his face mirrors her own.


“I tried,” he says. “I honestly tried my best. I just don’t understand why it wasn’t good enough. I don’t get why you’re choosing your illness when all it’s doing is hurting you.”


She’s suddenly, intensely angry. The strength of it makes her eyes swim with gray spots. “Well, Carl, I was just standing around one afternoon when I realized that I was having way too much fun living a somewhat normal life for the first time in years, so I bought a new box of gloves and decided to get sick again. Is that what you want to hear?”


He shakes his head. Just like that, Emma’s anger slips into guilt, and she raises an unsteady hand towards her mouth before she remembers that she hasn’t washed it in at least thirty minutes.


“I’m not wearing the gloves all the time,” she says, trying to stay calm. “Not like I used to. Just a little more, here and there, just for now. It helps me. Why is that so bad, if they make me feel better?”


“You know why. You know exactly why. Because it’s not just for now, or just a little bit. It’s more and more often. Next thing, you’ll be up at two in the morning reorganizing the guest bedroom, or you’ll start coming home again on your lunch break to take showers, or you’ll refuse to eat food that hasn’t been pre-sorted in the fridge by fiber content.”


“I won’t,” she tells him. She means it, she really does. “I won’t let myself get that bad again.”


But Carl shakes his head again. He doesn’t believe her. 


“I won’t,” she repeats, suddenly desperate.
 

He turns away from her, then, and walks down the hallway, heading for the bedroom she’s already begun to think of as hers alone. 


While Carl’s rummaging in the closet for his clothes, she goes into the bathroom and turns on the tap. Emma washes her hands carefully, scrubbing with a small cloth between her fingers. The skin’s starting to crack in places, which means it’s getting cleaner.










She’s hanging up flyers on students’ lockers in the McKinley hallways, the stack in her hands not reducing despite her frantic movement. There’s no one around. The hallway stretches like a farce down into the low horizon. Someone’s replaced the lockers with cabinets.


When Emma tries to read a flyer to figure out what’s so urgent, the words tangle together in loose knots on the page, rudely refusing her attempt.


Is there a missing person? she asks the flyer, hoping it’ll answer her. She’s so worried someone’s disappeared.










In her office the next day, Rachel informs Emma that she no longer wants to be part of the celibacy club. 


“Did you –?” Emma has trouble forming the words. “Do something? With Finn Hudson, or maybe with another boy? Because if you did, Rachel, it doesn’t mean you have to leave. We’re all about re-buckling those chastity belts in celibacy club. Look at Quinn.”


“I appreciate your guidance, Ms. Pillsbury,” Rachel tells her, “but after careful reflection, I’ve come to realize that keeping an eye on Quinn isn’t enough reason to stay in celibacy club. If I’m being honest, the time I’m spending attending meetings is keeping me from focusing on myself. I’m in a place right now where I need to be deeply introspective and have access to a mirror at all times.”


In Emma’s professional opinion, this seems slightly unbalanced, but she nods, anyway. “I can understand that,” she lies. “I just hope that leaving the club doesn’t mean you’re leaving behind its values.”


Rachel looks thoughtful at that. “Well,” she says, “in the spirit of continued honesty, I don’t know that I agree with everything you and Quinn believe. The thing is –“ She’s blushing, a little. “My body is ready. It’s been ready for a while. But I don’t think my emotions are. I’m a very emotional person, Ms. Pillsbury. And from what I understand about sex, it makes you feel things even more strongly than you already do. I don’t know if I could take that. I might actually explode.”


“Yes!” Emma exclaims. “Exactly. Which is why it’s so important to choose abstinence. It’s the best way to keep those emotions from escaping, Rachel. Keep them bottled up tightly inside, so they can’t get out.”


Even as she’s saying this, it sounds odd to her ears, not exactly like something a counselor should be telling one of her students. Shouldn’t she be advising them to be honest and open with their feelings? Well, yes. But these aren’t just any old emotions. They’re ones her students aren’t yet equipped to deal with. 


“I heard about you and Dr. Howell,” Rachel interjects, suddenly. “I’m so sorry for your loss. If you need some music to console yourself to, I’d be happy to lend you some of my CD collection. It’s organized according to life moments. I don’t have a section for divorce, but I do have one for heartrending tragedy, and from what I can tell there’s a lot of overlaps between the two categories.”


Her sentiment is obviously sincere, and Emma’s moved by it. “Thank you, Rachel,” she says. “I really appreciate your offer. But I think I’m set with, um, consoling music.”


“Oh.” Rachel looks a little disappointed.
 

Emma spreads her hands over her desk, skimming lightly over the top, and her fingers feel defenseless without a plastic guard. “Thank you,” she says again. “And – since you’re leaving the club, and I probably won’t be seeing you on a regular basis, I – just, Rachel, I want to remind you to value yourself, okay? Respect and love your body. If you do that, others will respect and love it too. Even if they might not show that they feel that way, they will.”


Rachel smiles at her and nods, a quick, assenting dip of her head. It’s a sweet smile. Emma tries not to envy Rachel and her self-assurance, but it’s so difficult, when she can see that Rachel’s striding forward through her life with her head up high while Emma’s busy making sure to stay still. She thinks that she’d like it, very much, if she could figure out how to start moving again.


She wears her gloves for ten minutes after Rachel leaves. No one tells her to take them off.








 

Emma did you remember to write a song for the glee club, Will’s saying, and Emma’s stunned. She tells him, no, you never asked me to do that. 


He looks so disillusioned. She’s let him down, without meaning to, and it feels just terrible.


Now we won’t win Nationals. It’s your fault.


She apologizes, and he touches her arm. When she looks down it’s Sue’s hand clutched over the sweater and bone. 


Sue calls her the worst nickname, the one that she’s always known was coming, and it makes Emma bend into herself from the shame, becoming paper. She folds, again and again.







 
 

She’s desperate with the need for someone to understand. It’s been pulling at Emma like clothespins.


Somehow, she finds herself outside Holly’s apartment, nearly a week after the woman’s ended her second stint at McKinley, carefully pulling a glove out of her purse so she can press the doorbell. She doesn’t like Holly. The woman always seems to be smirking at her, lips tight with a knowledge Emma doesn’t have. But Holly knows. Or, at least, Holly knows some of it. And the only other choice she can think of is Will. Clearly, that’s not a option.


The surprised, almost sour face Holly pulls when she sees Emma makes Emma want to run away, but she’s driven all the way here, even left school early to do it. She stands firm, trying to quiet the sudden well of nerves.


“Hey,” Holly tells her, and it sounds kind, not at all matching her expression. “Everything okay? You, um, look kind of weird. Weirder. Than usual.”


“Can I please come in?” Emma asks, the words pouring out in a rush. “Please. I’m sorry to bother you. I just, I just need someone to talk to –“
 

“And I’m your first choice?” Holly interrupts. “Oh, man, you must be hard up if you’re coming to me for more advice. Seriously, don’t you remember what happened when I tried to talk to you and that hunky hubby of yours? I totally botched it. I insulted you. Actually, I insulted you just now. God, I’m the worst.”
 

Emma can’t really disagree with Holly’s self-assessment. Now’s not the time, though, to pursue the point. “Please,” she says. “Let me in, Holly.”
 

“Kind of a masochist, huh?” Holly comments, but she opens the door wide, stepping back to let Emma in. 


Her place is strangely bare. There’s a toaster on the kitchen counter and a stack of paper plates. Emma follows Holly through the small space into the living room, trying not to stare at the small faded couch, the TV at a crooked angle against the wall. She’s disturbed by the overwhelming absence of anything else whatsoever: books, decorations, lamps, tables.


“I’m into keeping a light footprint,” Holly says, cheerfully, noticing Emma’s face. “Sometimes I tell people it’s because I’m environmentally conscious, because then they like me more, but really, it’s so I don’t get tied down. I mean, who wants all that stuff anyway, right? It’s dead weight. Have a seat, Emma. Can I get you something? Wine, beer, schnapps?”
 

“Dead weight,” Emma agrees, because she doesn’t know how else to respond, and crosses over to the couch, sitting tentatively. She’s not going to think about how filthy the fabric looks. She’s not. “No, I’m all right. Nothing to drink for me.”


Holly shrugs. “So, what’s up?” she asks, taking a seat next to Emma on the couch. “You look terrible.”


Emma’s a little startled by this assessment. She’d thought she’d been pulling herself together just fine. “Really?”


“Big circles under your eyes,” Holly notes, drawing a crescent in the air with her finger. “And your eyes are really large anyway, so it’s more obvious. Not getting much sleep lately, huh?”


“No,” Emma says, shortly. Now’s the part where she should tell Holly what’s been bothering her, but for some reason, the words are sticking to the roof of her mouth. She's reminded, suddenly, of the stubbornness of communion wafers; her mother admonishing her. Emma, don’t put your fingers in there. Offer your discomfort up to God. It’s the body of Christ, little girl, not a piece of gum. “It’s – been hard for me, lately. With Carl leaving.”
 

“Yeah, I bet. Hey, the one glove thing? Kinda weird.” Holly points at Emma’s lap, where her wrapped hand rests, folding over the exposed one. “Hate to break it to you, Emma, but I don’t think you can pull off the Michael Jackson look without a little bit more sex appeal.”


Emma peels off the glove and squeezes it in her hand. It never fails to make her feel exposed when people mention her gloves. She feels the same way when they speak about underwear, or desire. They should be unmentionable, all of those things. “Do you remember, Holly, when you asked me about Will? When Carl and I met with you? You asked me if I still had feelings for him.”


“Yup. It’s not exactly surprising. The man’s kind of a major catch. Although I can’t figure out why you’d want to leave your husband for him, ‘cause, girl, between you and me? I’d drop Will in a second to get some of Carl’s fillings. Yum.”


She’s startled, as she always is, by the ease with which Holly approaches sex. Bringing it up with other people like that’s the appropriate thing to do, braiding it into the language of her life along with actual necessities like food and shelter. “Please don’t talk like that about my husband,” she says, sharply. “It’s just – it’s not Will. That’s not why. He’s not the reason for all of this.”
 

Holly touches Emma’s shoulder. It’s meant to be a kind gesture, Emma knows, but it makes her body stiffen. “I told you before, Emma, I’m not a doctor. I don’t think I can help you. I mean, I could get high with you and we could snarf down a whole bag of sour-cream-and-onion chips, and I’d tell you how awesome your hair is and maybe try to make out with you if you’d let me, but I’ve got a feeling that’s not what you need right now.”
 

“I don’t want a doctor,” Emma bursts out. (She hasn’t been to see her therapist in a month. She calls and cancels their standing appointment each week, waiting until late at night to dial the number, so she’ll only have to talk to the voicemail.) “I just – I want. I don’t know what I want.” Help, maybe. Or to be left alone. Emma can’t decide which. It changes, from hour to hour.


“You should know something,” Holly says, suddenly. “I’m sort of seeing Will now. We’re an item.”


Her confession is the last thing Emma’s expecting to hear. She raises her head, her stomach a jumbled mess of new anxiety and confusion. “You’re what?”


“Look, I’m as surprised as you are, honestly. Normally, I’m in and out of relationships faster than Nicki Minaj spits a rhyme, but this one feels like something kinda worth sticking around for. I feel majorly awkward telling you this, because, wow, your life really sucks right now, but as long as you’re here, I figure you should know. Will sure isn’t gonna tell it to you anytime soon. Between you and me, I think he’s still got a thing for you.” She smiles at Emma, and it makes her think of Rachel’s smile: sweet, a little sad. “I don’t mind, though. We’ve all got our baggage.” 


This was a mistake. Coming here was a terrible, terrible mistake. Emma pinches her mouth shut, trying to process this new information about Will and Holly. She doesn’t feel the intense wave of jealousy she supposes she should feel. It’s muted, whatever the feeling is, like there’s a glove in between it and her, protecting her from the worst of it.
 

She nods. Holly looks relieved. “I’m glad you’re okay with it,” she continues. “Hey, Emma, it’s going to be all right, you know? You’ll get through this. You’ve just got to learn to relax a little, okay?”
 

Emma stands up abruptly, her body snapping straight with the force of her sudden reaction, and Holly’s face flattens in surprise.
 

“Don’t tell me to relax. Don’t you dare. You have no right, Holly. Absolutely –" Oh, God, she’s going to cry. She can feel the pressure of it in her nose and throat. “Don’t say that to me.”
 

“Emma,” Holly says, sounding alarmed, but Emma can’t stand to be in the room with her for another second. She grabs blindly for her purse and dashes out of the living room, running for the front door. It was a mistake, she thinks, ignoring Holly’s footsteps behind her. I can’t. No.







 
 

She’s underwater again, only this time there’s no chamber music, and it’s dark. Her eyes struggle to see whatever she can.
 

Something brushes past her. Emma steps back, trying not to scream. 


There’s the undeniable push of a firm hand between her shoulder blades, and a hated voice says in her ear, just relax. Just relax. You’ll be fine.
 

No, don’t, I don’t want it, she says, shrilly, but she knows it’s not enough, and she panics, arms slicing through the water with her effort to get away. She can’t lift herself out. It’s the old, bad ghost. It’s the rotting smell of aftershave.


Say no again, another voice tells Emma. It sounds like it’s coming from inside her body, leaking under her skin like ink. Say it louder. Say it as often as you can.










Emma tries to read a book, but she’s too distracted by the sight of her gloved thumb breaching the margin of the page.


“The end of the chapter,” she tells herself, speaking out loud in the empty living room. “You can wash at the end of the chapter.”


She makes it another paragraph before she sets the book down, walking towards the bathroom. Her hands itch with need.

 
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