And so she stays.
He wakes, rises, goes through the motions of his morning ablutions and is halfway to the dressing area before he remembers - she is free. He doesn't have to do this anymore.
His hand flies to the wall to steady himself and he nearly weeps for joy.
She barely ever sees him. The Gallery is silent except for her footsteps as she wanders, gradually regaining the endurance to be on her feet longer than a few minutes at a time. Circuit after circuit is made through the stone hallways, each one a bit longer than the last. The Shadow Gallery seems huge and yet smaller to her now in the wake of her transformation. She passes doors, occasionally opening them to see what lies beyond. None are locked.
None of them are ever locked.
It occurs to him that there is no fresh food in the kitchen. There wasnt a need for it - for either of them - in the prison. Neither of them seems to miss it now.
That thought is suddenly inordinately disturbing.
She has healed now to the point at which hunger is a separate sensation once again rather than a constant undertone. She is returning to solid food and can now muster the energy to prepare simple meals for herself. Nearly every time she goes to the kitchen, something new awaits her. Fresh bread. An herbal tea.
Once she even finds strawberries.
"Good Morning," he manages to say to her. And "Good Evening." "Pardon me," if they pass in a hallway. Even a "Bless you" once for a sneeze.
Small, safe sounds. Empty and horrible.
The language of the everyday has become foreign and wrong-sounding to her. "The pantry is out of sugar," she says, and the syllables crash together in awkward dissonance. There seems to be no language for the words that truly need saying.
At least not one she can master.
He won't say it. To say "I'm sorry" would be expressing regret for his actions, and he has none. Looking on her now, he is captivated by her strength. It was always there, hiding under layers of fear and neglect, crying out to be released. He could sense it, every day since that first night when the Fingermen cornered her. That tiny spark in her eyes was there even then, pulling him to her. He showed her how to see that spark in herself, just as he himself had been shown. Now it burns, not in fleeting starts, but steady and strong.
But he still knows what he did to her was wrong.
She thinks she hears him as she passes his room. A single gasping breath, tinged with the faintest trace of his voice, cut short. Pain, stifled. She could go in this door, like the others, is unlocked. She could confront him.
He stands before the jukebox, fingers hovering over the keys. He wants something to fill the silence. Something to reflect some fragment of what he's feeling. Something besides the voices in his head.
Twelve mute minutes pass. He walks away, defeated.
She notices books in new places. Poetry, essays, novels Rich, beautiful tapestries of words chronicling lives, dreams, tragedies, triumphs. Observations, laments, anecdotes all speak to her in their whispering voices.
In his voice, for she recognizes his attempt at contact.
He blinks, and the Blake painting is suddenly before him. He is standing, fully dressed, with no memory of how he came to be there and no awareness of how much time has passed. He looks about him; mercifully, he is alone. Keeping alert for any sign of Evey he sets off for his room and reaches it without further incident.
Its begun. He has less time than he thought.
~ Finis ~