He wouldn't have thought it, but Sellotape makes one hell of a restraint. The backs of his shins have dug into the chair legs for so long his feet are starting to prickle, numb from the lack of circulation. His arms, bent awkwardly behind him, feel like they might spasm soon. His body aches, everywhere, and he's not sure he can stand this much longer. But saying something about the pain will only give her satisfaction.
It's getting late. She’s finally given up on attracting attention at the window. Mickey went to the toilet half an hour ago so he’s either fallen asleep or fallen in. If starvation doesn’t kill Ross first, boredom will.
She's pretending to sleep, hunched over a table like a shit security guard. Ross knows better. It's all a power play. Anything to hear him say her name in desperation. She blinks her eyes open, sitting up with a dramatic stretch and a loud yawn.
“Sorry, Ross. Must’ve dropped off. It's just so comfortable, you know, not being tied up.”
“Right,” is all Ross says to that.
“Well, what d'ya want?”
“Something to eat,” he confesses, head hanging down until his chin touches his chest. “Please, Pauline. I'll beg if you want.” That’ll catch her attention.
“I can't leave you. I've told you. I have to make sure you don't do a runner. And you know I can't rely on Mickey, he's as much use as a chocolate dildo.”
“I know.” Ross plays along. Agreeing with her might make her feel more charitable. Well, he can hope. “But there’s biscuits in my office drawer.” He looks up at her, apologising with his eyes. “I mean, your office. Can you get them, please?”
Her expression freezes while she thinks. Ross knows he doesn't seem the type to keep food in his office; he's too much of a busybody for that and far too obsessive to tolerate the crumbs and greasy fingers biscuits cause. Pulling late-nighters is a common occurrence for him though, so he'd stashed them for times when he’s too hungry to concentrate and Burger Me is closed.
“I hope you're not expecting me to untie you so you can eat them. I'm not an idiot!”
Ross tries his hardest not to make a sarcastic comment and, after he’s stared at her like a scolded puppy for a while, she agrees to fetch them. It’s not like he could escape in the thirty seconds it’ll take her to walk down the corridor and back.
Standing, she saunters over to him and taps him on the nose, almost gently. “Don't you go anywhere.”
Following her with his eyes as she approaches the door, Ross waits until she's five steps down the corridor before trying to loosen his ties. The chair moves forwards from the effort, his legs twisting frantically under layers of tape. When it doesn’t get him anywhere, he attempts to free his arms. Struggling only pulls the tape tighter, turning the flat, almost harmless strips into cords that cut into his wrists like wire.
Suddenly, Mickey appears at the door like Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Ross immediately stops trying to free himself.
“Ooh,” Pauline says as she barges past him, waving the packet. “Rich tea fingers, very posh.”
Ross' stomach audibly grumbles at the sight of them.
“You are desperate aren't you, Ross?” she says with a smile, sitting again. “Though about this time of night I get desperate for a couple of fingers me-self!” She looks at Mickey expectantly, but the joke’s lost on him. Ross just stares at her, realising how hungry he is: too hungry to fake laughter.
Tearing the packet open, she shovels two into her mouth, her lipstick-caked lips pouting as she chews.
“Mickey, could I have a glass of water please?” Ross asks, eyes fixed on Pauline as she snaps another biscuit in half before gobbling both pieces down.
Mickey runs off, happy to be useful.
“Get me one n'all!” Pauline calls after him, mouth half-full.
Careful to plead in just the right way, Ross asks, “Can I have one now, please?”
“Oh, right!” She snorts a laugh. “I forgot.” She’s always been a terrible liar.
As she drags her chair it scrapes the tiles with an ugly sound that sets Ross’ teeth on edge. She plonks herself in front of him, their eyes level and knees touching.
“Now, don't go biting my fingers or anything like that. I'm not scared to tape your mouth shut you know.” He wouldn't bloody dream of it. He doesn’t know where they've been and doesn't want to.
Taking one of the biscuits from the stack, she holds it out in front of him, teasing her caged animal. He wants to complain, but he must try to stay on her good side, if she has one. He cranes his neck, bites into it, and realises that the common rich tea biscuit can taste incredibly good when you haven’t eaten in ten hours. He groans in relief, swallowing voraciously before requesting another. She brings the next one closer to his mouth, jolting a little when Ross’ lips catch her fingertip.
Their eyes lock as she continues feeding him, the packet diminishing slowly. They’re dry and bland, and Mickey is taking too long with that water. Her eyes wander his face while he eats. He’s her pet right now, a dog, eating from his owner’s hands. This is exactly how she wants him: submissive, weak, at her mercy. He’d spit them in her face if he wasn’t so hungry.
“How are they?” she asks, breaking the tension.
“Fine,” Ross says, swallowing his twelfth.
Finally, Mickey arrives with water.
Watching Pauline wash hers down hurts. Her loud, satisfied gulps and the sight of the precious, shimmering liquid passing her lips gives Ross a headache, reminding him how dehydrated he is and was, even before the biscuits. When she’s finished she shuffles to the edge of her seat and presses the full glass to his awaiting mouth, angling it carefully. He watches her over the rim while he drinks, swallowing hard, the corners of his mouth leaking water down his chin. It’s cold enough that he can feel it descend in his stomach, cooling his insides.
“Better now?” she asks, handing the empty glass to Mickey.
“Yes, thank you.”
It's dark outside and the job centre’s lighting leaves a lot to be desired. Clearly the government’s meagre funding doesn’t cover light bulbs with a wattage worth bothering with.
“Pauline,” Mickey says sheepishly from his spot, cross-legged on one of the tables, “can we go to sleep now?”
“You don't need to ask, Mickey. You're not a hostage. You can sleep whenever or wherever you’d like.”
Seemingly thrilled by her answer, Mickey throws himself onto the desk immediately, curling up on his side. God knows how he’s comfortable—it’s a darned sight better than Ross’ current position—but, somehow, he's asleep within seconds.
“As a hostage,” Ross begins quietly, “does that mean I need to ask to sleep?”
Pauline’s been doodling on the back of one of the work trials posters with a Biro for twenty minutes, possibly writing a ransom note. “Are you tired then, Ross?”
“I’m getting that way.”
She puts the Biro’s lid back on almost threateningly, looking up at him. “Can't you sleep there?”
Ross feels sick at the mere suggestion of it. “No. Please, Pauline, let me lie down for a bit.”
She looks unmoved by his plight but stands up, which is a start.
“I'm going to my office for a moment. I assume you bought new stationery when you moved in on my turf?”
He nods, not even attempting a denial. He disposed of all signs of Pauline Campbell-Jones’ existence the moment he put his name on the door.
“So, tell me, where do you keep your string?”
Ross laughs. “What would I need string for?”
“Ross, you have everything you could ever possibly need and more in your obsessive little world.” She almost spits. “If I’m going to move you, I’ll need string. Now, for the second time, where do you keep it?”
“Fine. Second drawer down in the filing cabinet.”
When she returns, she’s holding the large ball of white twine Ross originally purchased to wrap bundles of paperwork. When he bought it, he never thought he’d be tied up by it one day. At least it’s more threatening than Sellotape; it’ll look better on the police statement he’s already writing, punctuating and spell-checking in his head.
She makes quick work of securing his wrists. When she cuts the tape circling his chest and arms with a pair of scissors—Ross makes mental note to remember she has them on her person—he can finally move his back. He moans from the movement, leaning forwards in slow, painful increments.
Concentration etched into the many lines on her face, Pauline releases his shins one by one, tying his ankles together tightly the moment he’s able to kick her. He won’t. Then it’s the scissors again, at his thighs this time, until both his legs are freed.
“Can I stand up?” He's not sure if he can.
“Yeah, but be careful, don’t want you breaking something.” That would look even better on the report, but Ross doesn’t quite fancy a broken bone.
Lifting his arms over the back of the chair, he wobbles up onto his feet. He can only stand but that's enough; at least his legs are at a different angle to ninety now. Gritting his teeth, he stretches his back, feeling the muscles twitch. Pauline helps him down to his knees.
“This really isn't comfortable,” he says bitterly, face level with her crotch. The floor is hard and cold, and he can't imagine lying on his front with his arms tied behind his back will be pleasant.
“Do that thing,” Pauline says ineloquently. “Where you put your legs through your arms. You know…” She does an impression, like using her arms as a skipping rope, and Ross can't help but laugh at it.
“I'm not as flexible as I used to be.”
“You'll be fine. You're still relatively young. And supple…”
Ross manages the contortionist trick, rolling on his back clumsily, hooking his legs through his linked arms until his hands are in front of him. He drops back onto the floor instantly, out of breath from the effort and happy to be anywhere but that sodding chair.
“No, no, don't be quite so eager.” Pauline stands over him, brandishing the twine again. “Over to the radiator.”
Peering down at himself, then back up at Pauline, Ross gives her look that asks how she imagines him capable of doing that. She has no qualms about manhandling him and drags him across the tiles by his arm, the knees of his trousers scraping up dust on the way. Once he’s slumped by the radiator, Pauline pulls his bound hands above his head. Tongue sticking out in concentration, she ties him to the pipe, allowing enough string for him to move a little. The plumbing in this place hasn't worked for years, though burns would’ve looked good in the report.
“I'll be back,” she says, a crap Terminator, dropping the ball of string and dribbling it through the doorway with her heel.
Ross waits for her return, close to missing her presence when there’s naff all to do. There's just Mickey's soft snoring and the sound of crickets outside the open window above to keep him company. It’s quite chilly here too, come to think of it.
When Pauline returns, she's carrying a duvet, an actual duvet. He doesn't ask where she got it but assumes it's been left by one of the scout leaders who host meetings in the room adjacent to his new office. They have sleep-overs sometimes, so he’s heard, and this is probably for emergencies.
“Hope you know I'm too good to you,” she says, airing the fluffy white square beside him.
“Sure, you've been so hospitable so far.” He makes a show of tugging his restraints.
“Come off it, Ross, at least I've not pretended to be dole scum just to try and get someone fired.”
“Try?” he says, lowering his voice when Mickey stirs. “I did get you fired, Pauline, you're just not pissing off!”
Pauline kicks him in the ribs, the bitch. It fucking hurts. He cowers in case she feels like doing it again, still sore from her last beating. She softens the blow by lowering the duvet over him, and it's nice, it's really nice, this tiny slice of comfort after a day of aching legs and arguing. Despite doing nothing but sit in a chair, he's exhausted.
Once he finally relaxes, Pauline switches off the light and he's instantly nervous again. He's not scared of the dark but being tied to a radiator with two mildly unhinged captors in your midst doesn’t exactly make you fond of it. His eyes are still adjusting to the light when there’s a tug on the duvet and Pauline climbs in next to him. He wants to protest but it’ll only satisfy her.
“Goodnight, Ross,” she says, pulling the duvet up to her chin and turning away. He hopes to God she's dressed. She didn't have much time to undress in the time it took her to turn the light off and shuffle beside him, so there’s some hope.
She’s too close, her body heat seeping across the space between them beneath the duvet. After countless hours of being tied up against his will, he’s only just now feeling claustrophobic. From here he can smell her, he can actually smell her. Despite her claims of washing her hair in nothing but Fairy Liquid since her sacking, it smells pleasant. He mentally scolds himself for even thinking about her self-inflicted plight, her lonely days at home in front of the television, waiting for the phone to ring.
Suddenly, with a bolt of sheer bloody brilliance, Ross realises there’s a way out of this. And it's flawless. How had he not thought of it before?
Shuffling closer, he whispers, “Aren't you going to kiss me goodnight, Pauline?”
Her back stiffens briefly, then she laughs it off. “Don't be silly, Ross. I'm not falling for that one.”
“I'm not stupid.” Rolling onto her back, she looks at him in the darkness. “You're trying to trick me into untying you.”
She's right, she's not stupid. Looking back at her, he realises this is the first time he’s seen her without those hideous, thick-rimmed glasses. Without them, there’s a vulnerability about her.
“What if I'm not, though?”
Her lips tremble, eyes wide. She looks naïve, like a teenager being persuaded to try a cigarette for the first time, knowing she should resist but finding it hard to. She could play into his hands so easily.
“Why are you doing this?” Her voice is weak, honest.
Ross grits his teeth. He didn't think it would be this easy to gain control. The ego-boost is a warm weight in his stomach. Even when he's tied to a radiator, ankles and wrists bound, he's still better than her. He'll always be better than her.
“Let's face it, Pauline,” he says, voice as dark as the room, “you delight in this hostility. You love it. Because it's all a cover-up.”
Her eyes widen even further. “A- a cover-up for what?”
“For your loneliness, your complete and utter isolation from the rest of the world. You'll do anything for company. If that means abusing innocent people, ordering Mickey to do your bidding, or holding me hostage in this pathetic excuse for a kidnapping, you're fine with that. You’ll do whatever you have to for human contact because, and I think you know this, no one can put up with you for more than five minutes at a time.”
Pauline looks like she’s been smashed to pieces; it’s always been useless going after her with sticks and stones. Words always win. Now, to fabrication, to put her back together.
“I know this because I'm the same as you, Pauline. I've got nobody and nothing besides my work. But our little war, and… you…” His gaze drags across her face, down to her lips and back to meet her shimmering eyes. “You’re the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.” She's shaking now, breaths shallow. “So fucking kiss me, because I need it as much as you do.”
Her mouth is on his so fast he scarcely has time to close his eyes. It won’t be long until she unties him, once he has her convinced he wants her and not to escape. Then, he'll run. He'll run so fast she'll barely have time to pull her knickers up before he's at the police station. Her lips part, distracting him from his imagined victory, and his tongue slides into her mouth. Gasping from the shock of his own instinctive actions, he lets her claw at him, pull him closer.
Kissing her is not as horrific as he anticipated. Perhaps it’s the lipstick, and wearing it for so many years, but her lips are incredibly soft. How might they feel around his cock? Wonderful. It would look wonderful too, his cock defiling her face, forcing her to swallow. He shudders as she sucks his tongue, sensation surging straight to his groin.
Her hand slides into his hair, fingertips scraping his scalp, and for one solitary moment Ross realises he might actually be enjoying this. It's been so long since he kissed anyone. He can’t even remember when his last kiss was. ’96? ’95? Biting her lip, hard, he relishes in her pained hiss. What he said to her about her loneliness, her sadism and hostility, is not that far removed from his own existence. He might hate a job he previously enjoyed because of her but he wasn’t lying: it's hating her that makes him come to work every day.
“Ross…” She tries to whisper, but her voice travels. Mickey doesn't stir, but he easily could if she gets any louder. “Can I?”
Her hand moves down his front until her fingers brush his crotch. He's devastated to realise he's already half-hard, and it's got nothing to do with imagining someone else.
“Yes, yes,” he whines, answering her question.
Panting, he arches into her touch, begging with his body. She smooths her palm over his erection, breasts pushing into his chest as he pulls his restraints to get closer. When he gasps into her neck, needy and desperate, she unzips his fly and snakes a hand through the opening to take hold of him. It’s not enough, her hand, her mouth; he wants all of her.
“Untie me,” he begs, heart pounding. When her hand pauses, hr whimpers.
She shakes her head, sadness in her eyes. “Don't ask me to do that.”
He gives up, pushing his hips into her hand, seeking more sensation. “Don't stop then.” This is better than nothing.
Their lips meet again in a frenzied rush, ungraceful and wet, and Ross wonders if, in this moment, she feels anything for him besides hatred. She touches him tenderly, her free hand clinging to his shirt like she doesn’t want to let him go. If he could touch her, would he? Is this fleeting feeling of not-hatred mutual?
Nosing along her temple, he whispers into her ear. “Let me fuck you. Please, Pauline. Please.” He’s finally begging her, finally happy to give her the satisfaction of asking for something, for wanting more than his lot.
“I won't untie you,” she says, like a final test. Her breath warms his neck as she pants, fingers still wrapped around him.
“Then you'll have to imagine it.”
Their eyes are on each other again. “My hand, sliding up your thigh.” Pauline whimpers and Ross' cock twitches in her hand. “My fingers pushing into you, as deep as I can get them.” He lowers his voice, shameless. “Take my boxers down.”
She moves quickly, unfastening his belt and tugging his trousers and boxers down his legs together, exposing him ungracefully. Then she pauses, staring at his cock with a nervous, unstable energy. Her mouth is open, gaze lost somewhere inside her head. Ross worries she might stop, leave him like this: exposed and desperate.
Coming to some kind of mental decision, Pauline finally straddles him, her bulk pushing his thighs to the floor. He licks his lips, shutting his eyes while she gets on with it. As she settles herself, he arches up eagerly, pulling the strings taught around his wrists and the radiator pipe. Her thighs are warm against his bare hips, the anticipation of a different warmth making him ache. Then he feels it, that hot, wet stretch as she lowers onto him slowly, carefully, silent with concentration. Once she’s taken all of him, he loses it.
Pulling his knees up against her back he moans, biting the duvet because of Mickey – can’t forget Mickey. She feels amazing, enveloping him completely, so perfectly tight he can’t help but buck up to feel more of it. Her gasp makes him wish he had more energy too, because he wants to make her lose every shred of self-control.
She rocks herself on him, leaning forwards to rest her hands on the floor. Her wetness is a compliment; he would thrust into it, wordlessly, breathlessly, endlessly, if only he had his hands, his strength, or could plant his feet on the floor and give her all he’s got. He’ll accept simply moving with her, wondering what they must look like, as depraved and disgusting as they are.
“Ross,” she whispers, arms trembling either side of him. She looks like she might burst into tears any second. “I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. I'm sorry, I—”
“It doesn't matter.” It doesn’t. Nothing matters but the pulsing heat between her legs, this shared and secret moment of weakness, how close he is.
Moving down onto her elbows, arms bracketing Ross’ head, she kisses him so gently it’s almost another apology. Her orgasm sends a shiver through the entirety of her, her face slinking into the crook of his neck to stifle the sound. Ross feels every shudder, every tight, soaking spasm. It pushes him over the edge, until he’s choking back a sob, coming inside her.
But then it's over.
When Pauline climbs off his lap, Ross realises with a sharp stab in his gut that he's just had sex with a woman he detests. And not only that – he'd planned to only attempt it, in a ploy to get her to untie him.
How could he allow this woman, if you could deign to call her that, to deceive him? It was his job to see through bullshit and, instead, he’s walked into a giant pat of it.
But he’s so tired. The anger can wait. Pauline dresses him, fastening his belt while he feels like he might drop off. She says nothing and neither will he.
At some point during the night he’s woken by movement. Pauline drags him. He doesn’t fight it. She manoeuvres him gently, until he’s back in the chair. It might be a dream, a nightmare. He doesn’t fight it.
“You're awake!” Mickey is as wide-eyed and bushy tailed as usual, happy to have conscious company.
“Where's Pauline?” Ross rasps, mouth as dry as Pauline’s sense of humour.
He’s in the chair, white string replaced with fresh Sellotape. Perhaps he dreamt last night. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.
“Gone to get sandwiches. I'm having tuna. She said you’re getting ham.”
Rolling his head to the side, Ross sighs. “I'm a vegetarian.”
“They might put vegetables in too.”
Ross doesn’t have the energy for this. Peering up at the clock, he wonders how many hours it’s been now.
A noise outside catches his attention: people shouting. In the distance, a police siren wails. Perhaps Pauline handed herself in. Perhaps people are coming to rescue him. He doubts it.
“How long has she been gone?”
“’Bout half an hour.”
Searching the floor, Ross spots the scissors on the floor by the radiator.
“Mickey, if you cut me loose, I'll get you a fire engine.” It’s worth a try.
“Pauline said not to.” Mickey pouts, pulling his knees up to his chest.
“Can you hear that?” Ross leans forwards as if he’s trying hard to hear something. The sirens continue to blaze somewhere distantly. “I think that’s the fire engine I ordered for you! If you don't let me go, I won't be able to sign for it and they’ll send it back.”
Gasping, Micky jumps down from the table, smiling like the lunatic he is.
“You'll need the scissors. Over there, by the radiator.”
Running over to collect them, Mickey sprints back to Ross.
“Carefully though,” Ross warns, worried he might lose a finger or a hand, but Mickey doesn’t even catch his jacket, even in his excitable state.
Once outside the job centre, the shock of being free hits Ross like a fist. Standing makes him lightheaded. He’s starving. He hurts everywhere. He’s exhausted. The sheer relief of fresh air makes his knees buckle and he collapses right there on the pavement like a drunk after a lock-in. A wave of nausea overcomes him, and he can’t stop himself retching. Luckily, he hasn’t eaten enough in the last twenty-four hours to bring anything up.
“You all right mate?”
Ross looks up, wincing in the daylight to find a policeman standing over him.
“Haven't got a case of the nosebleeds, have you?”
Shaking his head, Ross bursts into tears. It’s embarrassing, but he doesn’t have the energy to care. He feels like death warmed up, disgusted in himself, in how he’s been treated, in Pauline, and how she’d managed to creep under his skin. He despises her.
“Hey, hey, what's wrong?” The policeman leans down, offering his arm to help Ross up.
Ross will tell him everything. Pauline will rot in jail for what she’s done.