Rating: PG-13 overall (but this first chapter is probably PG).
Word Count: 40,000 for the whole story, which I guess puts it into novella territory! This chapter's about 5,000 words.
Warnings: Not more than we saw in canon for this chapter...it gets grittier later on, I promise! :P
I wrote this first chapter in April 2007 (i.e. before Episode 144). At first it was going to be an empowering sort of story, with Ekou escaping her oppressive parents and finding some freedom with her submarine. Then I saw Episode 144, and I was like, "Oookaayyy, that's not going to work." So needless to say, this story doesn't exactly have a happy ending.
Also, in this first chapter especially I was trying for a really "flowery" writing style so it would look REALLY impressive. But I decided that this just wasn't me.
For the purposes of this fic, I decided that Amon and Ekou are from Israel. Of course, someone who actually was from Israel didn't think this made sense, and she's probably right, but by then it was too late for me to change it.
Yes, Mr. Garam is sexist in this story. And yes, Ekou is the biological daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Garam Deal. :P Maybe if I was writing this now, I'd handle that differently, but it is what it is.
Do you know me?
When I say "know me," I mean really know me. People might have seen my picture in the magazines, or caught a glimpse of me playing on the vast amount of land that's on my parents' property.
Those people think they know me. They think only what those glimpses tell them, and nothing more...that I was always a proper lady without a unique thought in my head.
If that's what you believe...then you don't know me as well as you thought. You may know my parents, you may know my brother, and maybe even Amon. Nevertheless, there is no way you could know me. Sorry and all that.
Come to think of it, I'm not sure that anyone knows me. Not even my parents. You see, they had my life all planned out for me. I was to be the perfect daughter, who dresses impeccably, smiles vacantly, and pours tea without ever spilling a single drop. Then, as soon as I was old enough, I would get married to whoever my parents chose, and I would never even dream of being unhappy with the choice. As soon as I was married, I'd get busy with my main purpose in life...having children. Ideally, I'd have about ten of them, and they would all be boys.
Yes, that was what my parents wanted to happen with my life. What actually happened was quite different.
I was the girl that no one wanted. Rich families never want daughters without producing an heir first-it makes them uneasy. They need boys who can inherit the family business and carry on the surname. Why do you think that King Henry VIII had six wives? He got sick of them all because none of them could give him a son!
Thankfully, my father never went so far as to behead my mother. Actually, they got along quite well, and continue to do so today.
Then again, my mother is a perfect example of a proper lady, so it's almost impossible to tell if she actually is happy. She does whatever my father says, never raises her voice, and always has this serene expression on her face.
Maybe there is more to Mother than what meets the eye, though. I remember when I was little, she used to sneak away from my father's constant array of dinner parties, and go upstairs to my nursery to play silly, pointless baby games with me. If Father ever found out, he would have been furious that his wife was shirking her hostess duties. Thankfully, I don't think he found out.
Father never played with me, as far as I know. When I was very young, and Father was still optimistic that Mother would produce an heir any day, he was nice enough to me. However, by the time I was old enough to start forming long-term memories, he showed a coldness towards me that wouldn't abate for years. Therefore, I really don't remember the days when he might have smiled at me, or watched me toddle around on the front lawn. Sometimes I wish I could remember it. It might have made things slightly easier in the long run.
Who knows...maybe he did love me in his own way, but was never comfortable at showing it. One can only speculate.
One thing's for sure though...my parents knew what they were thinking when they named me. Apparently, they were into giving all of their children sort of "new-age" names. Thus, I became Ekou.
No one ever explicitly said why my parents chose that name, but it wasn't all that difficult for me to figure out. You see, that was all I was-an echo. I was just a faint reflection of the son they wanted me to be. A lonely echo; one that would eventually just fade into the atmosphere of polite society.
By the time I was school-aged, the situation was getting desperate. My mother had yet to produce a male child. What was more, Mother was in her thirties, and not getting any younger. Time would soon run out.
Mother and Father were pulling out all the stops. They visited all the world's best doctors, and tried any new procedures might help. Hormone therapy, endless rounds of in vitro fertilization, you name it. If the technology existed, they gave it a try. It didn't matter (to Father, at least) how much it cost, or if it had been proven to work, or even what side effects it might have on Mother's own body.
Nevertheless, despite all their best efforts, and all the money and time spent, none of it seemed to work.
Of course, I knew none of this at the time. When my father passed me in the hallways, or looked at me at the dinner table, there would always be a half-angry, half-bored look on his face. I was still a child, and did not understand what I could have done to make Father so angry. Now I know that I was angering him just by existing.
You might think that, lacking a son, my father might start grooming me to take over the Garam fortune someday. If that is the case, you have obviously not been paying attention to what I have been saying all this time.
As soon as my motor skills were sufficiently developed, I was made to start sewing lessons. I can't tell you how many hundreds of hours of my childhood were wasted on embroidery of throw pillows. I was also expected to become an accomplished piano player, artist, and socialite. My parents even appointed what could be called a governess to teach me all these things. I hadn't even thought that governesses existed outside of the Victorian-era romance novels of which I was so fond.
When I did have free time, I couldn't spend it on what I liked doing best. Most of the time, I was expected to quietly play with my dolls. What I really wanted to do was run around outside and play baseball, but my parents would have none of that.
Thankfully, I was allowed to go riding on my pony occasionally. Yes, I had a pony; the one thing that every little girl wants. But I would have traded my pony any day for the loving families that all those other girls had.
Still, when I rode my horse, it was the only time I truly felt free. When I rode my pony up and down the pathways that wound around the perfectly manicured lawns and hedges, it was the only time when I thought that, just MAYBE, I didn't have to live the life my parents wanted me to live.
I was nine the morning my parents went on their mysterious car trip.
They didn't see me as they were getting ready. I was sitting quietly in the sunroom, my face bent over the lace doily that was my sewing lesson for the next several days. I remember hoping desperately that I would be allowed to go outside before the summer heat got unbearable.
Suddenly, my father swung the door wide open. The noise startled me so much that I would have pricked my finger had I not been wearing a thimble. Father was too busy talking to his personal servant to register my small yelp of surprise.
"I don't care how long we have to drive; we have to find one!" he was shouting.
The servant protested that it was in the middle of a heat wave; the car might overheat and break down if it drove around in the desert too long. But Father would have none of that.
"Even if the car explodes into a million pieces, we are not, I repeat NOT, leaving until we find someone! You hear me?" he bellowed.
The servant evidently decided that it was no use arguing anymore, and walked outside to get the Mercedes ready.
Mother went outside shortly after Father did. She was wearing a large hat to keep the sun out of her eyes. Unlike Father, she gave me a brief glimpse. The expression on her face was unfathomable, in no small part due to that hat.
Then, she quickly walked outside to join Father in whatever journey they were taking.
The rest of my morning was spent toiling over that infernal doily. I was so bored, I was counting the minutes until lunch. It wouldn't be exactly the most exciting event ever, but at least it would be some sort of distraction.
Little did I know that I would end up getting more than enough excitement for the day. I was in the middle of eating my rather dull crustless sandwiches when one of my maids burst into the dining room.
"Hurry up and finish eating!" she said breathlessly, "Your parents want you outside and dressed in nice clothes in ten minutes!"
I said nothing in response. How could I?-my mouth was full. Just because my parents weren't here didn't mean I would get away with bad manners, after all.
So I finished eating as quickly as was politely possible, then I went up to my room to change my clothes. The outfit that the maid had picked out for me was made of dark wool, and it seemed like something one might wear to a stuffy British boarding school. It was not at all comfortable to wear in such nasty heat.
I stood outside waiting for several minutes, sweat forming on my forehead as I wondered just what all was going on today.
Finally, I saw the Mercedes pull up. Father got out, and he was talking to someone. I couldn't see just who it was. Unlike Mother, I did not have a hat, and the sun was getting directly into my eyes.
"So this is the main house right here. Do you find it to your liking, boy?" Father was asking this mystery person. He sounded for all the world like some sort of pompous tour guide.
I had assumed that Father was talking to the son of some business partner of his. Therefore, I was quite taken aback when I heard the person's reply.
"So this is my...?" the voice asked hesitantly.
If I had said something like that, I would have been snapped at for stammering. However, my father just gave an indulgent half-smile to this newcomer.
My curiosity overwhelmed me. I walked over and voiced my surprise that my parents had come back so soon.
At first, Father looked angry at the interruption. But after a few seconds of thinking, he had obviously come up with a way that he could use me to his advantage.
He made a vague gesture towards me, and said, "This girl here will help you get acquainted with your new surroundings. Her name is...Ekou." He evidently even had a hard time remembering my name!
Wait, what? Did my parents adopt this person? I tried not to show my true emotion, which was confusion. Mother and Father had never even mentioned to me that they might try adoption.
Father put a hand on the shoulder of this mystery person and propelled him forward, so that I could finally get a better view of him.
Just as I had suspected, this boy was about my age. He was also almost exactly my height, and had red hair and glasses. But honestly, I wouldn't have cared had he possessed scaly green skin and a tail. Here was someone who I might be able to identify with; who might even understand me for who I was! I was still slightly disoriented at this turn of events, but I decided that this might not be so bad after all.
I took his hand, and tried my best to be as welcoming and kind as I possibly could.
Before we left, the boy turned back to my parents and politely thanked them for all they had given him. Even then, his manners were impeccable.
The boy's old identity was of no importance to Father. He was told to forget anything from his old life. From now on, he was going to be a Garam. However, it wasn't like he had had much of a life in the first place. My father had been so desperate for a male heir that he had literally plucked a homeless boy right off the streets.
Father also continued his affinity for unorthodox names when he renamed this boy. I'm quite sure that there are not many people running around that are named "Amon", after all.
My father also made it so Amon and I were never out of each other's company. We took our meals together, shared a tutor, and spent our free time doing the same activities. Or rather, Amon participated in the activities while I watched from the sidelines. Of course, I was not allowed to do boy stuff. However, I enjoyed simply watching well enough. I got such a thrill from the ease with which Amon defeated all of his older opponents in the boxing ring. I was too young back then to get weak in the knees just from seeing his muscles, though. That would come later...but I will get to that part in its own time.
It was difficult having this new person in my life at first. Amon has never been a particularly talkative person, and he was even less so when we didn't know each other well. It was initially tough for me to even get him to reply to my small talk. But I kept trying. I was always so sweet and polite to him; always properly submissive and gentle. Later, I would find out that the servants used to whisper about how it almost seemed as if Ekou had a crush on her new adopted brother.
Had Father not chosen me to be responsible for Amon's mental well-being, would things have been different? Should I have stood up for myself instead of meekly accepting my new role as a quasi-servant? Of course, back then I would have never even dreamed of defying an order from my father. Nevertheless, one must wonder if all the mistakes I made later could have been prevented by simply questioning what Father expected of me.
Not that I regret how close Amon and I were. It would practically be treason for me to think otherwise! One day soon, Amon will rule the whole world, and I will help him do so. Our planet is so full of corrupt leaders that it makes me sick. Even my own father is no different from all the rest. But Amon is not like that! He will be the best king in all of history! It's my sworn duty to make sure no one stands in the way of this goal.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Amon's arrival didn't have much of a change on how my parents acted toward me. If anything, they ignored me even MORE. It didn't matter that they had known me for nine years longer than they had known Amon, or that I was their only biological child. I was the wrong gender, so now that they had an heir, there was no reason to pay attention to me.
Remember how I said that I was always with Amon when he was practicing boxing and baseball and other such things? Well, more often than not, Mother and Father were watching him too. Amon would constantly be looking at them to see if they approved. If they didn't, he was very disappointed. But mostly, they did approve. I always approved and cheered him on, no matter how poorly he happened to do. But Amon just seemed to take my presence for granted.
I never thought about this much, though. I was just happy that I had such a talented brother; someone I could look up to. And it wasn't like he ignored me all the time like my parents did. When it was just the two of us alone, Amon let his guard down somewhat. He may have lived for pleasing Mother and Father, but I was the one he trusted.
Amon usually carried himself about with such icy decorum, but I knew he occasionally had a lighter side to him. For example, he was always perfectly polite to all of Father's business associates when my parents were around. Once he was alone with me, though, he would treat me to the most hilarious imitations of those boring, stuffy men.
Thus, for the next year or so, I was satisfied enough with how life was going. But, as is usual in situations like this, something just had to happen to upset the balance.
On a day that was just as hot and oppressive as the day Amon joined the family, Amon and I were in the air-conditioned sanctuary of his room, playing a card game.
It was a strategy game called "Duel Monsters". The game had apparently been around for several years, but we had never really gotten interested in it until now. Amon was always better at the game than I was, so he won most of the games. That was probably be a good thing, since Father would not be happy if he discovered that Amon was getting beaten at anything by anyone, especially if it was a girl.
In fact, Amon was currently on the verge of defeating me for the fifth time in a row when one of the housemaids burst into the room. She had been in too much of a hurry to even knock first.
The maid paused to catch her breath, then apologized for disturbing us.
"Your presence is required in the main sitting room. Both of you," she said, still slightly breathless from her run across the mansion.
Amon and I looked at each other. When we were both summoned to the family room, it was usually because a family meeting had been called. We knew from experience that family meetings were usually not a good sign. The last time we had one was six months ago, and that was to tell us that our (or rather, my) great-grandfather had passed away.
So naturally, we ventured down to the sitting room rather slowly and cautiously.
When we finally got there, we were in for a surprise. The room did not have a somber air to it at all. I'm not sure just how we could tell this-the room still looked the same, right down to the ugly purple velvet drapes. It was some intangible quality that was different; something we couldn't quite put our finger on.
Mother got up from her perch on the silk sofa to greet us. She hugged first me, then Amon. That was another odd thing. Our family was not known for being overly demonstrative, so usually our parents would just stay in their seats for the duration of the meeting. What was more, I hadn't been hugged by Mother at all since I was approximately three years old.
Father cleared his throat impatiently. No matter what the circumstances, he had always been one for getting business over with as soon as possible. Mother obediently hurried back to her seat. I was slightly disappointed, but Amon didn't seem to care one way or the other. Father then motioned at Amon and I to sit down.
Surprisingly, Mother was the first one to talk.
"We have something very important to tell you," she began.
And now Mother was smiling! I almost had a heart attack when I noticed that Father was smiling too. I think that may have been the first time I had seen him do that and actually mean it.
Then, Mother decided it was finally time to break the news.
"You two are going to have a new brother or sister in a few months! Isn't that wonderful?" she gushed.
I certainly thought it was wonderful. If it was a girl, then I could do all the girl stuff with it that Amon never did! And if it was a boy, Amon would have someone he could teach all his sports to.
However, I may have misjudged how Amon would react to this. As I was showering Mother with excited questions, I snuck a glimpse at Amon from the corner of my eye.
He had not moved from his seat. Quite frankly, he looked like someone had punched him in the gut. I had never seen him have such a horrified look on his face before.
"Come on, Amon!" I exclaimed in an attempt to cheer him up, "Isn't this exciting? Aren't you happy?"
Amon didn't reply. I shrugged it off and went back to talking with Mother. Perhaps Amon had just been taken by surprise a bit. I was sure he would get used to the idea sooner or later.
Later, when I knew about how these things worked, I would find out that this had all happened by accident. After all those millions of dollars spent on medical procedures, my parents had given up on having another biological child after adopting Amon. And then they had suddenly gotten pregnant the natural way, without even any special planning!
Life can be ironic like that sometimes.
However, I would not find out about that until years later. Then, I was an ignorant ten-year-old who still thought that babies came out of the mother's belly button. So I just took the whole process for granted, and didn't think much about it.
Sometimes, I thought I couldn't wait until the baby finally was born. It was almost as suspenseful as waiting for Christmas. Maybe even worse than that, because everyone talked about it constantly, and not just in December.
However, not all people were as excited as I was. I had thought Amon would get used to the news, but he was as surly as ever months later. Whenever I tried to get him as excited as the rest of the household was, he would abruptly change the subject.
After a while, Mother and Father stopped watching Amon practicing those sports. Mother's ankles were swollen, so she couldn't stand at the side of the ring for hours at a time. However, Amon would not take that as an excuse. He must have thought that they were doing this just to spite him. Every so often, he would glare at the space where Mother and Father used to be. As usual, he never seemed to notice that I was in my usual spot, being as supportive as ever. Perhaps I wasn't cheering loudly enough for him to notice me.
As the baby's due date got closer and closer, Amon grew even more surly. He developed a slight eye-twitch whenever he saw yet another piece of ornate furniture being hauled up to the baby's room. I wasn't sure just what Amon's problem was, but I decided that I would have to watch him, so he wouldn't do anything rash. I didn't want him to lose my parents' favor, after all.
Sid was born on a dreary day early in March. It had been drizzling intermittently outside for more than twenty-four hours, and everything seemed gray and depressing. It was difficult for anyone to believe that it would be springtime in a matter of weeks. Forget March coming in like a lion-this one was more like a thick wool blanket that was smothering the life out of everything. Kind of an ironic simile to use, considering what would happen in a few weeks, but oh well.
Mother and Father were already at the hospital when Amon and I woke up. As soon as Amon realized this, he stomped back up to his room and slammed the door. He wouldn't even eat breakfast.
I had always been slightly too inquisitive for my own good, and I decided after a few hours that I needed to know just what was bothering Amon. I waltzed right into his room without being invited, and I tried to have my normal cheerful demeanor. That was easier said than done when Amon's back was turned to me, but I tried my best.
"Don't you want breakfast?" I inquired perhaps a bit too loudly. "The cook made doughnuts-don't you want them before they get cold?"
Amon remained silent for several minutes. I waited patiently for him to answer.
Finally, he sighed and said in an exasperated tone, "Ekou, it's one in the afternoon."
I was not deterred just yet.
"Why don't you have the doughnuts with lunch, then? Aren't you hungry for lunch?"
"But you'll starve if you don't eat!"
"For just one day? I don't think so, Ekou."
This wasn't going anywhere. It was time for me to be serious. I ordered Amon to look at me. He did so, most likely out of surprise. I had never given him a direct command like that before.
I walked over to Amon's perch on his bed and gently laid a hand on his arm. He flinched slightly, but did not pull away.
With newfound bravery, I looked right into Amon's eyes and asked him, "What's been with you all these months? You haven't been yourself."
After another period of silence, Amon said, "I just don't WANT another sibling, okay? They'll just pay attention to it, and not me like they should. I've done all those things to make them happy, and now they're repaying me by ignoring me!"
I bit back my irritation. So he thought he was being ignored? For a fleeting instant, I thought that Amon was maybe being a teeny bit too selfish. I suppressed this thought as soon as I was aware of it, though.
In a calm and composed voice, I said, "But Amon, it's not going to be a baby forever. Soon it'll be a little kid who will look up to us. Don't you want to feel important like that?"
There was yet more quiet after that. I waited for Amon to answer, but he never did. I decided that I should probably leave him alone now, and left the room.
As you may have guessed when I mentioned the name "Sid" earlier, the baby was a boy. That made Amon even more upset. If it had been a girl, people would have payed lots of attention to her at first, but then would have ignored her just like they did me. However, a boy meant a rival for Amon. This was a biological son, so Amon was now no longer the first Garam heir in the metaphorical line.
Sid's health problems only made things more complicated. He had been born with weak lungs, so he was barely a month old the first time he was rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties. He also developed colic, and his constant crying only served to exacerbate the other conditions. And when Sid really got into it, he could cry loudly enough to disturb all areas of the mansion.
"Can someone shut that thing UP?" yelled Amon one night as we were doing homework together. He threw his pencil on the floor in sheer frustration.
"You could always wear earplugs," I volunteered.
"That's not the point, Ekou," Amon ground out through his teeth.
I grew quiet again, since I apparently could not see what the "point" was.
Eventually, Sid wore himself out with his own crying, and evidently fell asleep. This was usually how his crying fits turned out. I expected for Amon to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to conjugating Latin verbs, just like he had done all the other nights. Instead, he put down his pencil again and walked out of the room.
I followed him. This was a habit more than anything else. Amon knew his own way around the house now, but I usually went where he went anyway. This time, I was quite surprised when he went to Sid's room.
He stood over Sid's crib for a while, just glaring down at him. Sid was quite unaware of Amon's presence, and continued to sleep peacefully.
I stifled a gasp of surprise when Amon moved his hand over Sid's tiny face. He wasn't thinking of...no, he wouldn't ever do that, no matter how much Sid annoyed him. Would he?
He wouldn't. After a few seconds of hesitation, Amon withdrew his hand. Then he saw me.
"You could have stopped me. Why didn't you stop me?" he asked flatly.
All I could say in reply was that I understood how upset he was, but I knew he was too good of a person to do something like that. What else was there to say in a situation like this?
Right on cue, as if he had sensed that something important was happening, Sid woke up. He gazed at Amon. Then his face broke into a smile; probably the first time he had smiled at anyone voluntarily.
Amon's cold, angry expression seemed to melt away right before my eyes. He leaned over Sid's bed (which was maybe too large and extravagant for a newborn baby), but not in a threatening way this time.
For a few seconds, they just stayed that way-Amon looking down curiously; Sid grabbing onto Amon's finger and smiling. Then, Amon abruptly turned and left the room as if nothing had happened.
I left as well, and I was considerably shaken. I had just seen a side of Amon that I wasn't sure I liked. I loved Amon so much; I didn't want him to be bad! My words had been optimistic, but was that how I really felt?
I would have to think about that later, though. Right now, I would have to get back to my room before one of the servants caught me wandering around past my bedtime.