The Love and Trances of Madison and Belladonna

Bell Talks To Herself (Part 3 of The Visit)

by Cammie Dawn

Tags: #consensual_kink #dom:female #f/f #romantic #sub:female #asexual_characters #multiple_partners #plurality #polyamory #realistic #transgender_characters
See spoiler tags : #sub:male

Madison and Bell have to take a road trip so Madison can attend a family event. Bell opens up about some insecurities and shows a new side to herself.

The black and green cat plushie was soft to the touch and wore a stitched smile. Bell sat in the passenger seat of Madison’s car and wiggled it in front of herself. She was going to walk out the hotel room without it and felt something that she could only describe as an eruption of the heart. It was the sensation she experienced when she snatched people’s wrists to prevent them from leaving.
It was a Bella shaped emotion.
Bella wanted the silly little toy that she had named ‘Elphie’ to accompany them on the trip. Bell hated the idea of being a grown woman in public with a stuffed toy.
This was hardly the first time she had acknowledged the disparate motivations and impulses within herself. It was normal for people to have these little bits of inner conflict. Yet looking at the gift from Madison she was aware of a strong affection that existed within her heart towards the object. It just wasn’t her emotion. She did not identify with it at all.
“Well you didn’t know. But as you start accepting that they may be ‘more than moods’ then the way you act will matter.”
Madison’s words from the previous day had sunk in deeply. Then there was the complete dysfunction she had experienced the previous night with her hypnotist persona pushing boundaries she knew darned well that she did not want pushed and Bell was forced to confront that she was not Bella or Donna and neither of them were her.
She did not want to think about that. But weeks of dissociation tests in therapy and the odd anxiety she had about the way Madison used her names at The House made it necessary.
“Coffee for you!”
Madison had opened the driver’s door while Bell was lost in thought and offered a cup of coffee. For herself she had a Mountain Dew. Setting down a bag of extra supplies in the backseat, she settled in the driver’s seat, ready to continue their long journey.
It was fairly early in the morning and the pair had stopped at a gas station to fuel up the car and themselves before making the journey down to the event. Madison was in town because The House was a closer starting point to the event and it would shave off a few hours of driving to start from there. Plus she just wanted to spend a weekend with her long distance love.
“Thank you.”
Bell placed Elphie on her lap and took the coffee in her palms, savoring the warmth it offered.
“I’m so glad you like the gift.” Madison smiled, “Elphie’s lucky to be so well loved so quickly.”
Bell looked over at Madison, earnest and fully accommodating to the silliness of the name and the personification of the stuffed toy. Bell was not accustomed to such patience for her eccentricities. It made her mind start peeling at the idea that she could be humoring the whole facet situation too.
[Stop that.]
She backed off from that impulse instantly. It was almost like she was shoved out of her own head and forced away from the topic. It brought her back to the moment. Madison was driving. There was coffee in her hands. The sun was still in the early stages of rising.
“I don’t often wake up this early.” Madison grumbled, “I don’t get morning people.”
“I used to be nocturnal myself.” Bell noted, “I don’t know if I have a preference, but the coffee addiction certainly helps with me being fresh as a daisy every morning at 7am.”
“There are very few things in the world that can get me to wake this early.” Madison complained, “So, even if this is normal for you, I’m still grateful for you joining me.”
“Every second we have together is worth the world to me.” was Bell’s simple and honest response.
The day had started with the little blurry around the edges sensation behind her eyes. She’d been emotionally pinballing through so many extreme expressions the past couple days between picking Madison up and The House visit that she was burning herself out. This was the kind of day that would cause a meltdown and she knew it.
The drive was peaceful. The sun was not in Madison’s eyes, the traffic was negligible and there was time to spare. Her sole regret was having to make a 2 hour drive in one of her nicer dresses. She reasoned she could tackle make-up and jewelry when she arrived, the foldable jewelry case was sitting on the back seat so she could make her selection at the venue, but a full change of outfit was less convenient for travel.
To contrast, Bell was wearing a benign jeans and sweater combo. Madison had yet to work out any rhyme or reason to Belladonna’s attire. There were outfits she considered to be representative of an individual facet but attire never seemed to indicate mood.
“Sorry for not driving.” Bell said, realizing an easy solution for the comfort problem, “I like to avoid it when I can. I’ve had a number of… unfortunate moments behind the wheel. I do okay on my own, but when there’s a passenger it feels like my tension level skyrockets.”
“No need to apologize. I’m fine driving. I learned how to drive in harsh winters and bad traffic, I’m fully confident in my abilities. Plus, I get to keep you safe, which is something I enjoy.”
“As long as you’re comfortable.” Bell sighed, “Y’know, it was a car crash that got me back into therapy.”
“Oh? I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah…” she looked at her reflection, “Starting it up again helped a little to get my transition started, I suppose". But when I was younger I had some bad experiences and swore off therapy entirely.”
“That’s relatable…” Madison grumbled, bitterly.
“Then I got into this big wreck. My ex-wife was in the passenger seat and we got sideswiped full on…”
Ben hated driving in snow.
Midwestern drivers were used to it and kept at 70MPH even when it was not wise for them to remain so. His hands wrung around the steering wheel. He couldn’t see the lane divides. Every pothole was shaking the car when he was trying to key in to the grip the tires had on the road.
The music in the car wasn’t loud, but it was present. He needed it to anchor himself. Marcie was animated in the passenger seat, discussing all the potential plots for the next tabletop campaign. Her words were not being processed. The music was barely there either. He was trying to have spatial awareness to keep track of every car on the road, trying to feel his hands on the wheel, the grip of the wheels on the road, the speed of the car in conjunction with the speed of the surrounding vehicles.
It reminded him of his hypnosis studies. Seven plus or minus two. George Miller’s theory that the human mind could process a maximum of nine things at once.
Marcie’s conversation. The music. The speed of the car. The idea of where the lane lines were under the brush of snow. The position of the other cars. The grip of the wheels on the road. The sensation of hands on the wheel and feet on the gas.
That made seven.
It said nothing for the cotton feeling he felt in his head. The softness that grew between his eyes. It said nothing for the impulses that advised he turn off the radio. The ambient hunger and desire to stop for food. The calculation of the remaining distance. Time of arrival. When they would need to stop for gas. Then there was the part of him that was trying to process Marcie’s conversation and think of answers to her questions and new scenarios to present. He probably needed to take ibuprofen for his growing headache.
Food could be solved.
Sometimes you get lucky and there’s a gas station right off the next exit. Sometimes you get unlucky and have to take a country road a couple miles to get into town and find the next fast food place.
The thing about coming off the highway and riding down an empty country road, though, is that not everyone remembers to go back to street driving. Sometimes there are stop signs that may not be as red and obvious when it’s been snowing.
Sometimes you can’t even remember what the hell went wrong.
“I used to have panic attacks while driving. Sad thing is, it was all a blur. I couldn’t even tell you if it was my fault or not. Don’t even remember how we got home. It all happened a state away from where we were living at the time. I just made it happen, I guess? Call insurance, get the car towed, get the rental, and handle buying the new car. All little dominos that got knocked down one at a time and then a few weeks later you look back and it’s like ‘how the hell did I do any of that?’”
“Oh, love…” Madison sighed, “I’m glad it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but still. Sympathy. That sounds like it was a tough time for you.”
“Sorry, love. Didn’t mean to bring the heavy shit up. ‘Specially not when you’re driving.” Bell said, looking down at Elphie in his– her lap. She closed her eyes and pulled in a deep breath, focusing on her body and centering herself. Just like the worksheets Dr. VanderCook had given her.
7 years and the mere memory was still enough to activate her nervous system.
Softer topics were broached and some context as to what Madison would be doing at the event was offered. Madison gave her advice on what Bell could do with her free time. Bell came up with some activities they could enjoy before the trip was over.
“How can you not remember it?! It was public as heck!” Bell shot out, as the topic turned to some of the big moments of their shared community. Presently Bell was discussing a content creator having a transphobic meltdown.
“It’s a big community!” Madison protested, “I just didn’t run in those circles. Don’t forget, I’m not on BirdApp.”
Bell laughed bitterly, shaking her head, “Well it was a complete mess, let me tell you. It was one of the moments I really started to feel like the community at large was shifting in the right direction. She was so sure that people would be on her side. It was a situation where the shithead only felt that they could say what they said because they were sure they’d not face ramifications.”
“I wish we’d gotten to that point sooner.” Madison bemoaned, “Some people were just complete fools about the topic. Stuck to their old ways and not willing to budge. Saph and I were really outspoken about the issue.” a certain bitterness entered her tone as she thought back to those days, “Some of the community leaders were getting defensive about the matter and aiming it at the people most harmed. It felt like they were silencing minority voices… and that was wrong.”
Bell huffed out of her nose. She adored when Madison got passionate like this, but hated that the passion was born from hard fought battles that never should have been fought to begin with.
“Sometimes it felt like they were more interested in proving that they themselves weren’t transphobic than tackling the systemic transphobia in the community that they refused to see or acknowledge.” Madison continued.
“I remember the old arguments.” Bell grumbled, the conversation striking a nerve, “‘People will fake being a femsub to get a fix’ and the like. I still see a name or two throw that one out on Twitter.”
“More reason I’m not on the BirdApp.” Madison said, before returning to her heated tone, “And it’s just a bad argument, full stop. Even if it was true, which it isn’t, why aren’t we listening to the people who are hurt by it right here and now and are saying as much and asking to be heard?” She paused and took stock, “Clearly I’m still upset about this, even all these years later.”
Bell nodded along, “But you did use that upset to work to turn the tide.”
“I wasn’t the one they should have been listening to though. I was the last person they should have listened to when others were screaming to be heard.”
“Agreed. But I’m glad you used your platform to stick up for what’s right. Not everyone can boast the same. Hell, I couldn’t.”
“But how involved were you at the time?” Madison asked.
“More than you’d think. I used to hang out on a trans-hypnoserver in the IRC days. Always as a ‘token cis-guy’ you understand.”
“You’d never mentioned. Though it doesn’t surprise me. You introduced yourself to me as genderfluid when we first met.”
“I did?” Bell said, stunned, “That doesn’t sound right…”
Madison shrugged airily, “I would need to see the chatlog. But it’s how I remember it. You didn’t hide that you were presenting male at the time, but you clearly said it wasn’t something you identified with.”
Bell looked at Elphie again. ‘Was that Donna, even back then?’ she thought to herself, but did not say out loud.
“You know…” Bell said, slowly, thinking how she wanted to handle this, “If we’re leaning more into the whole more than moods’ thing?” she dug her fingers into the fabric of the stuffed cat, staring at its stitched eyes, “I’m not Ben.”
Madison kept her eyes on the road but reached a hand out to collect Bell’s and squeeze it, "I'd hug you right now if I wasn't driving.” she asserted before proceeding, “Do you mean in the way you aren't Donna or Bella?"
“I mean like Donna and Bella. Mostly. I think.” Bell started, struggling with her words, “It’s hard to remember exactly how it all felt when we were coming out. Socially transitioning and then eventually starting HRT. Somewhere along the line I started viewing Ben as this bundle of traits that wasn’t me. I thought they’d just vanish as I went along with the process.”
She fiddled with the toy cat’s ears and considered her words carefully, “I’ve always viewed my hyperactive and seductive moods to be different. Like bouts of mania or how I act when I let my guard down. I can’t count the number of times I ended an event where I was acting like one of them and then was flooded with shame the moment I left the event, berating myself for acting so unlike myself. Like who I consider myself to be… but I never saw lines like that between me and Ben until he started becoming the reminder that I wasn’t feminine enough.” she could tell that was the wrong thing to say, Madison had trained her to catch those little mean thoughts and remember there are people that she cares about attached to the other end of them, “I think he wanted to be me too… Belladonna was a character he always wanted to become. The idea of the woman he could be if he didn’t need to keep up the act. Of being a good son, of being a good husband, of providing, of being a man. Before all this, he wanted to be me.”
She let that sentiment hang in the air for a moment. Eyes locked on Elphie she silently reached into her heart and tried to find that context packet from the boy she had repressed long ago. She didn’t receive any response.
“I hate the idea that if this is ‘more than moods’, he’s someone I hurt so badly… and I don’t know how to undo it. He was supposed to be me, love. I didn’t know. And with every happy experience I see you having with Bella and Donna, all I can think about is every time I hated on myself for my accent slipping or the way I was so angry when I saw his reflection in the mirror…”
She hugged Elphie close to her chest, “I just want to tell him I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him or push him away. After everyone else rejected him… I just. I can’t… I can’t be another person who tried to send him away. I can’t.”
“I’ll again remind you weren’t aware of what you were doing or what it meant.” Madison responded, “But if you really are going to think about them as more than moods then you don’t have to keep pushing him away. I love all of the sides of you that you’ve shown me so far and I would very much enjoy speaking with him, if I get the chance.”
“I hope you get to.” Bell sighed, “It would mean a lot.”
“And the same is true if we find there are other facets who have not shown yet. I’m not certain how all of this works for y’all, but I want to be open and not have any expectations.”
Bell pursed her lips. She was barely able to handle the parts of herself that she had identified, acknowledged and named, the idea of there being more was intimidating.
“I can’t say for sure if it’s actually another facet.” Bell began, rocking Elphie back and forth, “But I should probably mention my ‘Crisis Mode’. As I said, it may not actually be anything, but there are times when stress piles on too heavily and I just sort of go into a trance and take care of things.”
Madison continued driving, “I can’t say anything until I see it. But it’s not necessarily one thing or the other.”
“I remember one time when I was young a friend and I were traveling Stateside and we missed our flight because of some communication failures. I legitimately don’t remember how we ended up fixing it all but I know that at a certain point I just stone walled her, she was panicking and I just took charge, made it happen and didn’t offer her an ounce of comfort or compassion. Left a pretty sizable hole in our friendship. I may have got the task handled and all but she needed someone to tell her it wasn’t her fault or to help her handle the shame and I just went full pragmatist.” She shook her head, “That’s what Crisis Mode is like. I lose all my consideration for the emotional implications of my actions or my empathetic skills and just get things done. Tunnel vision on whatever is causing me stress at the time it happens. People who see it in me aren’t really fond of it.”
“It’s a big difference from how you normally present.” Madison offered, diplomatically, “I can see why it would be startling to anyone who was used to your regular behavior, “Though I’d offer her the same hospitality if I got to meet her.” She paused and then added, “Or him, or them even. I don’t want to assume.”
“I couldn’t say, to be honest. I don’t really picture it as anything but me in a bad mood.” Bell shrugged, “Though it bears the warning because if Bella is the one who gets the cute nicknames, Crisis Mode is the one that gets those shitty ‘you weren’t acting like yourself’ comments.”
“Sympathy. I find that a little curiosity could go a long way in situations like that.” Madison ruefully noted, “Or maybe giving that part of you a cute nickname could have made all the difference too.”
“Somehow I don’t think my tunnel vision pragmatist side would be swayed by sentiment.” Bell shot back, “Though I again note, this may just be like a trauma response. Let’s not make assumptions.”
“I don’t know…” Madison hummed, “If you’re ‘not acting like yourself’ in the eyes of those who know you, then I’d start asking questions. Better that than demonizing a person you care for, right?”
“You’re too good to me, you know that, love? You care so deeply and you let me spew out all these heavy and self-indulgent thoughts when we have so precious little time together in person.”
“It’s your love language, isn’t it?” Madison responded plainly, “You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t communicate like that. I treasure it. You’ve always been open to hearing me when I talk about my life, besides, I want to get to know what makes you you - is that really so self indulgent?"
“I care a lot about discussions like this. I don’t think it’s fair to bottle it all up and let it erupt in unclear ways at a later date.” Bell spoke without a trace of irony or self-awareness, “Anyway, here’s me just dumping all this on you while we drive out to one of your family events. How are you doing?”
“I’m just fine!” Madison quickly insisted, “I really love family gatherings. Some of my extended family are my favorite people to be with. I am worried it will be a little noisy and chaotic there but it’s only for an afternoon. I can put up with it. Besides, they know I'm spending time with friends this weekend, and that you'll be waiting on me towards the end of the evening, so I have an excuse to duck out when I hit my limit.”
“I worry, though. I’ve seen you a little bit stressed out at times when you’ve needed to visit your family of origin, I thought it was worth a little concern.” Bell had calmed significantly and was lightly stimming with Elphie between her hands.
“They can be a lot when it’s a private visit.” Madison admitted, “But this is a bigger thing and mom won’t be needing to be in charge of everything. It’ll be fine. I may need to just decompress afterwards but I’m lucky to get to go back to a hotel room with a certain redhead.”
Bell laughed happily, needing the little break in tension more than she realized, “Whichever mood I’m in tonight, I promise you’ll be the sole focus of attention.”
“I know.” Madison chirped, “I’m lucky like that.”
The drive remained smooth and topics shifted comfortably from work, family, online shenanigans and favored old sci-fi shows. Bell remained with Madison the entire ride and before too long she was pulling into a dirt parking lot.
Madison spent a few moments selecting jewelry and applying make-up via the rearview mirror and gave Bell a quick kiss that left the faintest of marks. “I’ll text you when it’s time to pick me up but I expect it’ll be somewhere between 6 and 8. I love you so much. Try to have fun today and I’ll see you soon.”
Bell sat back and watched as Madison vanished into the venue. She then methodically exited the car, walked around and got to the driver’s seat. Adjusted the mirror, set her seatbelt on and adjusted Elphie so she looked like she was sitting comfortably in the passenger’s seat. Somehow that little ritual gave her comfort.
She then synced up her music and drove off.
The venue was a few miles off of a small town and was considered rural. She’d planned to drive a few miles and get into town and figure the rest out from there.
Her first step was to top off the gas tank and get lunch. Madison would be eating at the venue so she needed to watch her portions so she could have an evening meal before reuniting. They could always stop on the return journey but she never felt right eating a meal with another person present and not eating for themselves. 
Her destination was the library in the small town. A public space where she could exist, access the internet and not need to spend money. A reasonable plan, all in all, spare for one small detail.
She’d not counted on small town libraries not having weekend hours of operation.
Returning to the car she sat down and looked to the stuffed cat, “I guess we’re just going to hang out, then.”
It was then that the weight of the earlier conversations finally started to set in. Originally she had wanted to reach for her phone and safely disconnect herself from the world until it was time to pick up Madison.
But the stuffed toy was sitting there. Evidence of the silly little girl in her heart who demanded it be taken for the journey.
Bell slowly picked it up and placed it on the dash, stitched eyes pointing back at her.
“I don’t know how to do this…” she finally sighed, “I’ve spent so much of the past year trying to pretend nothing was wrong. That I could just ignore all the evidence.”
It felt stupid. But interacting with this silly toy was a portal to those Bella shaped emotions that she felt rattling about in her heart, as surely as the red bead in her purse was a portal to her own intensely committed ones.
“So… for what it’s worth. I’m sorry?” there was no emotional reaction to her words. She didn’t know what to expect, but she was talking to an inanimate object and expecting some form of reaction, it made her feel foolish, “Between the name thing and not trusting Madison’s promise, I keep thinking I’m going to fuck all this up… or worse, I’m going to end up being pushed to the side. I don’t do all the hypnosis shenanigans, I’m not soft and tender or hot and seductive. I’m just… me.”
Still nothing but her own breathing and the stitched smile of the plush toy accompanied her words.
“But I worked hard to get here, y’know? It wasn’t easy. Walking away from everything. Going through with the transition… I just…” she sighed, “Is this how Ben felt when I started repressing his expression?” she looked pleadingly at the cat, “Is it how you felt? Are you still there?”
She held her breath and tried as hard as she could to listen to her heart, to feel anything. To hear anything. To know she wasn’t alone.
“If you’re still in there. I want you to know I don’t care. About passing. About our accent. About the complicated emotions I have with my childhood… I miss who I used to be. Before everything got so damned stressful. Before I uprooted everything. If there’s even a trace of you in the memory of the man I was, I’d welcome you home with open arms.”
Elphie did not reply. She sat motionless on the dash. Unblinking. Always smiling.
“Look… whatever this ends up being. I don’t want to act like I’m not responsible for the way I act. I never want to just abdicate that. It’s important to me that when stuff happens in my life it’s because of my choices and… I don’t like letting go of that. ‘Bella’ did this, ‘Donna’ did that?” she huffed out in aggravation, “But it’s not even that I don’t want to do the shit you do, Donna. It’s that I can’t. I never could. Performing the way you do? Having the confidence and guts to just trust that it’s okay to be selfish and take like that without breaking something in the process? You scare me. But it’s because I’m terrified that I’m not you, can’t be you and… you’re better than me.”
No protest. Normally there was a sharp emotion stabbing back at her when she said things like that. Especially to Donna. Was it because there was no audience to perform for?
Then again, she reasoned, this wasn’t the first time she’d tried communing with her emotions. Those little pangs and stabs did hit when she was typing in her journal.
Here there was nothing. Just the quiet of a bitter autumn afternoon in the middle of nowhere and an inanimate object on the dashboard.
She hung her head, “I’m talking to myself, aren’t I…? God damn it. Maybe I am crazy.”
She grabbed Elphie by the ear and placed her lovingly in the passenger seat.
“Whatever. It’s not like anyone heard me or anything.”
She pulled out her phone and connected to the library Wi-Fi, mercifully still connected and wasted away the remaining time. It went faster than she would have expected. Before too long it was close enough to 6pm that she could drive back.
She parked about where she had when she dropped Madison off, let the car idle and continued to listen to her music.
Waiting in the parking lot, no rush, just want you to have an exit when you need one.’
She hit send on the text message…
But the message was not delivered. The venue was far enough out from the town that there was no signal.
“Well that complicates matters, doesn’t it, Elphie?”
At first the waiting wasn’t too terrible. She listened to a few songs. Watched the sun fade from the sky and see 6pm turn to 7pm. It was the second hour that the anxiety started piling in. The idea of a guest approaching the idling car and asking what Bell was doing there lead to her running the scenario through her mind again and again. She did not want to risk outing Madison as polyamorous and she did not know Madison’s family tree well enough to pretend anything more than being a friend picking her up.
“There’s nothing weird about that, right? Just a friend, picking her up in her own car? Traveling with her for some reason but not interacting with the event?”
Elphie didn’t speak and her emotions did not echo any bright ideas.
The fear of discovery was likely unfounded and overblown and yet it persisted. Itching at the back of her mind with every passing second. She reasoned that Madison would likely search the car park when she discovered her own phone had no signal, but she couldn’t guarantee another network wouldn’t have coverage here.
Every new potential crisis merely upped her worries. Made that pulsing feeling in her forehead all the more present. She’d get a headache if she kept stressing herself out like this.
Madison did mention that signal would be spotty and they had one another’s numbers, so there was always the possibility that a text could sneak through or Madison would anticipate the need. But as much as the positive outcomes were optimistic theories, the negative ones were merely pessimistic ones.
It was 7:40pm when Madison finally appeared. Bell quickly swapped sides of the car, allowing Madison the driver’s seat. She sank into it and just exhaled a deep sigh.
“Didn’t go well, I take it?” Bell asked, cautiously?
“Hmm? No. No. It went well. It’s just loud in there and there was a lot going on. I just need a minute.”
Bell instinctively turned the music off and let the quiet ambience of the cool evening fill the car. They would have time to talk on the way back. She offered Elphie over, “Need something to squeeze?” she offered.
Madison laughed at the unexpected but kind offer and held a hand up, “I’m alright. I just need a second. Were you alright out here? I knew signal was going to be a bit messy so I was going to try calling when I noticed there was a car with lights on.”
Bell shrugged, “I was worried, but it sounds like it was over nothing.”
Bell took the opportunity to let her worries melt away. The pair of them needed a little time to center before facing the return journey. Bell supposed it would be helpful in avoiding an oncoming headache.
Her eyes shot open as she heard a tapping on the window.
An older man who bore some striking similarities to Madison was standing there, Madison rolled down the window to regard him.
“You were just going to sneak out without a goodbye hug?” he asked.
Madison’s demeanor shifted dramatically, that wide smile she always wore replaced the exhausted fatigue that she’d been wearing moments before, her voice pitched up a little and she seemed taller in stature, “I’m sorry, papa, I couldn't find you, and Bell and I do need to get back, it's a long drive.” she pulled out of the car and embraced the man that Bell now recognized as her father.
Bell’s heart was racing again at the idea of having put Madison in the position of justifying the other person in the car.
If she wanted to, she could have heard their brief conversation. Holiday plans were certainly listed among the scraps of topic that Bell could intuit, but her mind was caving inwards as if she could will herself to be invisible just by not thinking, breathing or expressing anything.
It reminded her of growing up with her own father.
“Hi!” Madison’s father called through the open window, “I hope you and Miss Gwen are having a fun weekend. She mentioned she’d be staying out to visit with some friends. Thank you for accompanying her.”
Bell was getting that pressure behind her eyelids feeling again. She’d not practiced a script for this. Clearly Madison had communicated with her parents about her activities this weekend. Then there was the name. It was crazy thinking that Madison had been using a fake name this whole time, but Saph used Madison as well, everyone did. There was a rational explanation. She just wasn’t being rational at that moment.
It was now reminding her of her marriage.
“Papa, please. Don’t overwhelm my friend. Bell, this is my papa. Papa, this is Bell. She gets a little shy but she’s quite lovely, I promise. She and her lot are Chosen Family.”
Bell continued to gape in shock, but had enough presence of mind to wave and shoot a greeting of some form. This was likely the most awkward interaction she had in some time. She was still trying to conquer the mental hill that was accepting that people discussed her when she wasn’t around or relevant for discussion. Moreover, she’s able to communicate the concept of Chosen Family to blood family without pushback. Her father would have shouted her down for trying to claim anyone not of blood could be considered Family. One of the many reasons Bell did not consider him to be Family.
“Drive safe, you two. Trade off if you need to. I’ll see you in a few weeks, sweetie!” Papa Smith rang out, as pleasant and bright as Madison on any given day. 
Returning to the car, Madison rolled up the window and let out another exhausted huff. “I think we’d best hit the road before Midwestern Goodbyes follow us to the road.”
The car pulled out and before too long they were riding down roads flanked by rows of wood. There were no street lights. Only Madison’s trusty wagon provided the only light that could be seen.
“Sorry about that. Papa is lovely but can be a bit much sometimes.” Madison sighed, wiping her face, “We should take a stop when we hit the town. Everything’ll be closed, but I need some time to destress. I’m overstimmed.”
“Honestly I probably need the break too.”
As they turned a corner the reflection of light on a deer’s eye caught Bell off-guard. Madison slowed the car without incident and the creature bounded back into the woods. Madison’s hand shot out and grabbed Bell’s, squeezing tightly.
“I’ve got you.” she assured, clearly sensing the surge of Bell’s panic, “We’re safe. Nothing’s going to happen. I’ve been driving roads like this since I was a teenager. I know what to expect.”
Bell nodded. That headache was pulsing now. She’d need to take a painkiller when they stopped.
The town was indeed closed for business when they arrived. Madison pulled into a 2 pump gas station blanketed in darkness, letting the engine idle. Bell pulled her purse out and got both her pain killers and her estrogen containers. She looked to the store, but there were no signs of life.
“I bought some bottles earlier.” Madison assured her, collecting a plastic bag from the back of the car and passing Bell a bottle of water. She took it with thanks and took her pills.
Madison took a swig from her own bottle and savored the quiet of the small town landscape. Music was put on lightly to fill the silence and the pair just took a moment to center themselves.
But some nights just like to test a person.
Lights were the first sign that someone else had joined them in their spot and a tapping on the window confirmed that they had gained someone’s attention. A police car had parked next to them and the officer was hailing for Madison’s attention.
“I’ll take care of this.” Madison said.
Bell started hyperventilating. Her eyes locked on the orange prescription bottle that sat on her lap along with her purse and Elphie. The static in her head grew more all encompassing.
“Good evening, Miss. Do you two need any help?” the officer asked. He sounded nice enough but this was a small town in a red state. Bell was petrified.
Madison stepped out of the vehicle and discussed the matter quickly. They were just stopped to catch a breather. They weren’t experiencing car trouble or were low on gas and too far from the next active pump. They didn’t need assistance. They’d clear out after they finished their drinks. No they were fine for restrooms too, thank you very much.
The officer returned to his vehicle but poignantly did not drive away. Madison returned to the driver’s seat.
“He’s just doing a wellness check.” Madison said. She could intuit why this was a stressful moment for Bell and did not want to amplify her concern by any degree, “I’ll take another sip and we’ll head out.”
Belladonna was staring ahead rigidly. Elphie and her purse had been slung into the backseat. Her posture was rigid. Her only reply was to breathe out slowly and deliberately.
This wasn’t the first time Marcie had seen her husband in Crisis Mode.
Ben had told her all about his history. The things he had to do to survive when he was kicked out by his father. The eternal fear of poverty reclaiming him. The inability to excuse any spending. The sheer trauma driven need to be in control during intense situations.
Her husband vanished when he sank into Crisis Mode.
The rental car was a hybrid. Far quieter than their usual ride and there was no music. It’d been enough hours since the collision that traffic had lightened. The sun had gone down. Ben was silent. Focused on the road.
She didn’t fear Ben. She could never fear Ben.
But the intensity in his silence, the tightness of his grip on the wheel. The glare in his eyes. They all emanated a tension that made the car feel like a hostile location. 
It’ll be alright…” Marcie tried, scrambling for the words to bring her love back, “Insurance is up-to-date, we have the rental. I’ve called my parents. We’ll use the vacation days and get down to a dealership. We can handle this.”
“I know.” her husband responded, “I’m not bothered. Shit happens. Don’t dwell.” his voice was edged, silently telling her not to press any further.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, you know…” she tried. Every failed attempt at reaching him just increasing her discomfort and need to fix the situation.
“It is what it is.” he responded bluntly. “What happened has happened.”
“We have enough in savings. Even if there’s a downpay-”
“That’s why we have savings.” he cut her off, rudely, “There’s always a car crash or a vet emergency or an air conditioner failure. Stop worrying. I’ve got this.”
Marcie hated it when her husband went away. She didn’t like the person who replaced him.
The first thirty minutes of the drive home were silent. Not even music permeated the atmosphere as both women came down from their nights.
Madison was the one to break the silence.
“I understand why that could have been scary… But for what it’s worth, I’d have done everything I could to keep you safe, including keep his attention away from you and the car.”
“I know.” Belladonna responded, firmly, her voice lacking the lightness that she normally applied to feminize her tone, “Nothing happened. It’s not worth dwelling on.”
“Just like the deer on the road. I try to be careful when people I care about are trusting me.”
“You’re the one who had the stressful night.” Belladonna volleyed back, sharper than she may have intended.
“I was with my family. I told you. It was a nice event. I was just overstimmed a little. We stopped and I’m fine.” Madison looked over. Belladonna’s posture was still rigid. Bell often gazed at her own reflection to the side when she was brooding, neither Bella nor Donna would ever have been this still and rigid, they were both fluid and animated creatures. She had a fairly good guess as to what was happening right now, “What would help in this moment? We can stop again if we need, we can get you some food if you need.”
Belladonna exhaled, “Just get us back to the hotel.” she said, “Everything’s fine.”
“We’re about an hour and a half out. Would you like music, sitting in silence? I don’t mind accommodating you, love. You seem really keyed up. I could use the Notice Me trigger and let you zone out a little if that’s what you need.”
She wasn’t trying to manage Belladonna’s mood and since discussing the topic of her facets switching had clearly been a source of stress earlier in the day, she wasn’t going to broach the topic unless it was brought to her, but what her partner was feeling was what she was feeling. Pushing that away or repressing it was not a solution. Bell had made that clear from when she spoke about Ben. Even if it were, it was not in Madison’s nature to reject any part of Belladonna that she was permitted to see.
Belladonna pulled out her phone, clicked a few times and put an album on the radio. She said nothing. Just let the tension swallow conversation and block further attempts at it with songs. 
That killed a further hour. Madison endured the quiet, drawn at times to try and make a physical connection, offer a hand to hold or a gently touch against her bicep. Anything which could silently communicate that she was there and that she cared, but she could not tell if this would make it better or worse. Selecting caution, she focused on driving and on the music.
“Did that help?” she asked, honestly and compassionately as her the final song ended and enough silence had passed to prove there would be no further songs.
“It did.” was the response, “Thank you for letting me listen.” silence filled the car a moment, “Other people’s emotions just overwhelm me when I’m like this. Marcie used to panic when she sensed I was stressed out and it just stressed me out even more. That helped. It’s appreciated.“
“Bell told me earlier about ‘Crisis Mode’, is that where you are right now?” Madison chanced carefully, “As always, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ is a valid response.”
The exhale this time was that of an audible smirk, “Nothing from today was a crisis. There’ve just been a ton of moving parts this weekend. Call it my overstim.”
“Sympathy. Maybe when you get in you can take a bath? I heard that helps when you’ve had a meltdown?”
“Maybe. I’m just not used to moods fluctuating this much. I’ll be fine once we get back.”
“I trust you.” Madison responded, “I just don’t want to make you feel like you need to be a certain way around me, okay? I never want you to ever feel like you need to change the way you are for me.”
“That means a lot. I believe you when you say it.”
“I know. When you say ‘I believe you’, I know that means you trust me. Know that trust is returned in kind.”
“Good. Then tell me about your day.”
Madison obliged. The remainder of the drive she shared stories of her extended family, the conversations that were had, the loud and obnoxious music selection, the type of food that was served, the way that her feet ached from the shoes she had been wearing. Part of the trust was that the moment her partner wanted there to be silence again, it would be requested, until then she felt safe and encouraged to pepper the remaining drive time with anecdote after anecdote and though the replies were short and direct, they were engaged. 
There was even an exhale of relief when Madison mentioned, with fond exasperation, that her papa continued to refer to her exclusively by the nickname Miss Gwen, which came from her middle name. 
Belladonna had not known Madison’s middle name before that night.
Just as Madison had not known this new side to Belladonna Cooper before the drive.
Both women were grateful for the little touch of discovery that played into a slightly stressful day.
Before too long they were parked outside the hotel, “I need to get out of this dress.” Madison bemoaned, Belladonna got out of the car and strode towards the elevator. Madison was adept at catching the body language differences between the facets of her girlfriend. Crisis Mode, for lack of a better name, was obvious enough that she did not even need to pay attention. It was likely why even those who were ignorant to Bella and Donna seemed to recognize that there was a shift when she was in that state.
Bella walked with a bounce in her step, Donna stalked, Bell’s steps were always cautious and soft footed like she didn’t want to let people hear her approaching. This was a bound. She covered ground with intent.
Once they were in the room, Madison went to switch into night clothes, overjoyed to be free from the restriction of her formal wear. 14 hours is far too long to be in a dress.
Belladonna went straight to the bathroom and began running the suggested bath.
“Hey, love?” Madison called, “Are you doing that bath, then?”
“Yeah.” was the plain reply.
She’d have preferred a chance to get into the restroom after a 2 hour drive, but she didn’t see a point raising any protest. “I’ll be here when you’re done then.” she called back. She took the room key and went down to the public restroom in the lobby, then went to grab the bag of snacks from the car.
There she saw a familiar shape in the back seat.
The bath ended up taking 20 minutes. When Belladonna came out, her hair wrapped upwards in a towel, she seemed far less rigid and tense than before. Madison couldn’t get a firm read on who it was, but the bath had clearly burned away the ‘Crisis Mode’.
“Look who was waiting in the back seat of the car!” Madison called, holding up Elphie, “She missed you.”
There was no doubt as to who it was that bounced across the room and collected the cat from Madison’s hands. Bella cried out “Elphie!” in exuberant tones before wrapping her arms around Madison, “Thank you for rescuing her!”
“My pleasure, sweetling.” Madison warmly responded, settling her down on the edge of the bed and petting her cheek, “How are you doing? It sounds like it’s been an intense week for y’all.”
Bella smiled and shook her head thoroughly. Typically this motion would be accompanied by a curtain of hair bouncing from side to side but it was all contained within the towel, “I’m with you. I’m happy as can be!”
“Oh sweetling…” Madison could only sigh before pulling in and kissing her gently, “I adore you, you know that?”
“Mhmm!” Bella proudly chirped, “and I’m fine. Promise. Big Sis is just a little clueless when it comes to handling people.”
Madison’s reaction echoed Bell’s reaction to hearing the name Gwen earlier, “Big Sis? I don’t think I’ve heard you use that one before.” she said slowly, not trying to put too much weight upon her surprise.
“Mhmm! Because ‘Crisis Mode’, it’s a long name and it’s not really a name so I call her Sis. Short for Crisis. And if she’s gonna be a Sis then she’s gonna be a Big Sis. Because she tries to keep us safe.” Bella spoke so plainly and openly when Bell and Sis herself had been so guarded. Bella often overshared like this. Madison wondered if that was always a healthy thing.
“I like it. Hopefully I handled that okay?”
Bella pursed her lips and tilted her head to the side, not unlike she did when Bell or Donna were trying to get her attention, “I think you did just fine. I’m sorry we got all broody. Especially when you’re the one who had the long day. Sis just… forgets to think about how other people feel?” she paused and shook her head in her familiar way, “More like she’s so focused on dealing with whatever she needs to deal with that she doesn’t think about it… and like… she shuts off her empathy to keep us safe? It can be useful, but it’s not very nice.”
“You have always done what you needed to survive, sweetling. I can’t say it’s always going to be nice, but I trust you when you say you love me and don’t want to hurt me. If anything happens, we’ll discuss it. As long as we communicate, everything will be okay.”
“Promise, Miss?” Bella responded with hopeful eyes.
“I’ll do my very best to make it so, sweetling.” Madison said, selecting her words carefully, “As I know you’ll do your very best as well.”
“I will, Miss! Always!” she snuggled Elphie close to her chest to punctuate her point.
“Good girl.” Madison chimed, pleased, “So— we have an evening and nothing but time until I have to drive home tomorrow evening. What would you like to do?”
Bella swayed innocently on the spot, “Hmmmmmm………” she elongated the humming with a touch of mischief, “Wellll…. You could always hypnotize me a lil’...!”
Madison broke into laughter, not sure what else she was expecting, “As you wish, sweetling.” she reached up and pressed a hand to the back of Elphie, “Notice Me cast that sleep spell on you again, sweetling.”
Eyes rolling back and swooning into a sigh, Bella collapsed into her Miss’ arms.
“Good girl…” Madison sighed, happily, petting the back of Bella’s neck, “Oh what am I going to do with you…”
Love me…” Bella softly slurred in a light trance.
“I can’t imagine myself doing anything but, sweetling.” Madison responded, fondly.

Thank you for reading! As always comments and feedback appreciated. Follow me on Twitter @Camden_Dawn or Tumblr at MissCammieDawn for future updates and info.

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