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Rise

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And all of the steps that led me to you
And all of the hell I had to walk through
But I wouldn't trade a day for the chance to say, my love, I'm in love with you

The Words, Christina Perri


When I wake up I feel like I'm being held underwater again; my breath trapped in my chest and my hands reaching out before I realize I'm in bed. 

An unfamiliar bed. I've been tucked in, covered by a soft, fluffy comforter. The last thing I can recall before falling asleep was being under Damien. My arms were trapped, held tightly in his hands; he was pushing inside of me and I was holding my breath, eyes shut -

Turning my head, I see Damien beside me, his dark hair splashed against the white pillow. He's facing away from me, the blanket drawn down to reveal his long back. I watch his side rise and fall with his breaths, the nape of his neck exposed. 

The moon is casting its pearly light into the room, and the color of the sky tells me it's most likely hours until dawn. 

I ache everywhere. There are throbs in my hips, my backside, my arms, my face. I lift my hands to see the bruises around my wrists from Damien's strong fingers. I feel used and lethargic, but my mind won't let me go back to sleep - especially with Damien so close. 

It's like I'm suffocating in that bed, that room. I sit up slowly, keeping my eyes trained on Damien's back the whole time, listening to his breaths; trying to detect a change in them. Slipping from the bed, I almost stumble but catch myself on the nightstand, legs weak. 

I have to get out of here. I need to catch my breath. I need to think. 

I'm naked, my skin littered with goosebumps even though the air is warm. I sniff the air and I can smell my aroma - scared, sad - mingling with Damien's anger and arousal. It's disorienting, like perfume mixing with the metallic scent of blood. 

I scan the room for my suitcase, seeing it on the chest at the foot of the large bed. I creep to it on tiptoe, still hyper aware of Damien's presence, his soft breaths. Every sound is magnified as I pull the zipper around, opening the top and groping through the stacks of garments. 

Simple, something simple; that's all I need, but everything is so involved, so needlessly elaborate. I fish out panties and another pinafore dress, this one blue velvet, as well as a white blouse with puffy sleeves. 

I dress quickly, forgoing stockings and all the other unnecessary stuff I'm usually layered in, but I'm grateful that Bebe at least packed my slippers. 

Gotta get out of here, I need space. I'm sure I'll get in trouble but I don't care. I'm starting to realize that I could be perfect and I'd probably still be punished, so what does it matter?

That is if the door isn't locked and Damien has the only key - which would hardly surprise me. Thankfully, the knob twists easily, I'm slowly pushing the door open, and I'm finally away; released into the dim hall.

I move without caring where I'm going, so long as it takes me further from him. He'd been brutal this evening, even for him; using me and speaking vitriol, talking about love, as if he has any idea what that is. All he knows is how to inflict pain and instill fear. 

Yes, there's something in his nature that seems to torment him, but I can't worry about that. He makes his misery other people's misery - it's unforgivable. 

I wander, almost getting lost several times when I turn down strange corridors. I consider finding the kitchen to beg for a drink but I don't want to run the risk of coming across someone unfriendly. The halls are hushed and shadowed; tall windows showing the stars outside and on occasion the white moon. I can hear the wind blowing mournfully. 

Eventually, after looking in several doors, I find a large room with walls covered in books, stacked neatly on shelves. There's a large desk in the center of it all, and a ladder that leads to more books on a second landing. 

I'm in awe as I step inside, looking around. From what I understand, Damien has a library somewhere in the mansion but I've never seen it. I wonder if it's anything like this place; filled with a musty, papery smell. There are atlases framed in gold on the walls, a clock with a swaying pendulum ticking on the mantel of a wide fireplace. 

I begin to feel calm as I wander the room, running my fingers over the spines of the books; some big, some small. Some bound in leather and others of cloth; all of varying colors. Some have gilded pages, and the moonlight strikes them, dazzling my eyes. 

It's hard to believe that Cartman has such a wonderful room. He doesn't exactly seem like someone who reads for fun - or at all. It's probably for appearances, to make visitors think he cares about learning or bettering himself. I'm sure it's all a show, it has to be. 

After what I'd endured, the thought of curling up with a book and being transported to another world sounds like heaven. It'll help me feel closer to the things that bring me comfort; learning and the people who seem to care for me a little; Tricia and hopefully Mr. Tucker. 

I choose a book that looks a little simpler than the others, a small collection of poetry, and settle into a large armchair next to the window. I curl my feet beneath myself as I sigh and start to read, not knowing all of the words but enough to get an idea of the message, and soon I'm forgetting about the aches inside of me; the fear that always follows like a shadow. 

My eyes become heavy after a while and I fall asleep before I know what's happening. My dreams are sweet; filled with blue-white clouds and a long, long winding road, passing between trees and far into the distance is a little white house on a hill. It reminds me of the cottage i grew up in, modest and unassuming. There's someone standing in front of it and I can't make them out, but i hope that it's Mr. Tucker waiting for me. 

I'm nowhere near reaching it when I'm being violently awakened; shaken and dragged from the chair. I'm thrown to the floor before I'm even able to open my eyes. 

When I do, though, I'm horrified to see Cartman looming over me. Sucking in a breath, I scramble away, my hands and knees burning as they scrape against the carpet.

"What are you doing in here?" he barks. He's dressed in a robe; dark blue pajamas underneath. He's giving off the same horrible smell as before, but it's even more pungent now. "I didn't say you could come in here!"

"I-I couldn't sleep," I say, managing to pull myself up by using the desk. I'm already shaking so hard that my voice is vibrating. "I'm sorry, I'll put everything back the way I found it."

"That's not the point," he snaps, glancing at the book I'd left behind on the chair. My pulse quickens when he reaches for it. "What were you doing with this? It's not like you stupid omegas can read...I doubt you could even if we tried to teach you."

Fury flames in my belly but I keep an even tone. "There are some pretty sketches in there...I wanted to look at them."

He smirks. "Have your owner buy you some omega picture books, then. You don't just come into someone's home and snoop around. It's uncouth."

He would know, wouldn't he? I've never met someone I wanted to attack more. My hands clench. 

He throws the book down and approaches me. I back against the desk, reviled in every conceivable way. He's drinking me in again, and I cover myself with my arms. 

"Sneaking away from Thorne in the middle of the night, huh?" he asks. "Maybe you were hoping we'd run into each other."

"Never," I say, my rage finally slipping through. Trying to be civil with him is like swallowing tiny mouthfuls of poison; I can only take so much. "On the contrary, I ended up staying in here because I assumed you never used this place."

His expression is becoming dangerous. "Oh?"

"I'd be surprised if you've read even one of the books on these shelves," I snap. 

He laughs. "And you could?" Pausing, he looks at me more closely and a little light erupts in his piggy eyes. Turning away, he goes to snatch up the book and flips through it. "There aren't any pictures in here, you liar."

I keep my face and voice smooth even though the terror is growing exponentially inside of me. "I misspoke. I thought there might be pictures in it...omega foolishness, I guess."

He's still staring at me with that light in his eyes, though, and I'm beginning to think he might not be as stupid as he looks. What a horrible possibility. 

"Omegas don't typically gravitate to these sorts of places," he says. "It's not in their natures."

Gritting my teeth, I bite back my words. He's goading me, I know it. 

"I mean, after all, what are omegas really good for? Why do they exist? To serve. And who do they serve? Their betters." He snickers, walking toward me again, but slower now, like he's stalking me. "Your dynamic is mindless window dressing. Oh, you look good, most of you, but that's the extent of it, really. Aside from how you look and how you feel when lying on your back, what else is there? You don't have real thoughts or worries or wants. I imagine being you is similar to being a vase - only there to make the room look better and capable of being filled - if your owner decides to fill you."

During his whole speech my anger was becoming so large that it was starting to scare me; the intensity of it, the desire to give into violence; tear this repulsive slug apart, watch him suffer the way he's made me suffer. 

And countless others, I'm sure. 

"May I just say, that you're the worst human being I've ever met," I reply, my hands shaking. But not just from fear; no, that potent anger is burning through me and devastating my resolve to be silent and good. "And I use that term, loosely; human. I've seen roaches with more value than you."

He grins. "There's that snap, that bite. Just like I told Thorne, you have fire in your belly. It hasn't been stomped out yet."

"It never will be, and not by you," I reply. "I refuse to be beaten down by someone I could never possibly respect - you have nothing to offer anyone. You're garbage. In any other society you'd be living in a gutter."

"Oh, I have nothing to offer? Are you sure?" He asks, putting his hands behind his back. He's very close now, and his stench - that stink of want and hunger - is crawling into my senses. I try not to breathe through my nose. 

"Absolutely," I say. "There's nothing i could possibly want from you."

"Even information about your family?" his lips peel back from his teeth and they look terribly sharp. 

I'm so blindsided by this question that I don't have the wherewithal to remain aloof, and it must be obvious from my expression that he's found the chink in my armor. He laughs, high-pitched and grating.

"That's what I figured. Everyone has a weakness."

"You're lying. You don't know anything about my family," I say, but I can't be sure. Cartman has money and is surprisingly cunning, not to mention how ruthless he is...

"Oh, I know plenty," he says, his tone hardening. "After you crossed me at the party I did some research about the omega with the smart mouth. Kyle Broflovski. Purchased by one Damen Thorne for a ridiculous sum. Son of Alpha Gerald broflovski, a failed and disgraced lawyer - at least he was."

"Was?" I ask, clasping my hands in front of my chest. 

"Your mother's dead, taken by the sickness, and your brother, the beta, little Ike broflovski. Well, he's still around, isn't he?"

Now my heart is a buzz, my blood rushing fast in my ears. "Please, just -"

"A bunch of Jews living your pathetic lives in your sad, little cottage, until your father made a bet he couldn't pay back, several actually, and to some very unforgiving people. So, what does he do? Trades the only real collateral he has, his smart-mouthed, virgin omega. Oh, he knew from the beginning he'd get a good price for you - mainly because you'd never been fucked and because you're so pretty."

"I hate admitting it, but you are, but you've got that tongue, and you refuse to control it." He comes to me then, pushing me up against the desk. "How'd it feel, huh? Being sold off by your own father? He knew who he was giving you to... everyone knows the type of Alphas that enjoy the Auctions."

Biting my lip, the tears that have been gathering in my eyes slowly begin to fall. "Just tell me what you know. Are they okay? Please, I haven't heard anything about them since I left, and it's been so long -"

"Apologize first, and maybe I'll tell you," he says. 

I stare up at him, the desk digging into the backs of my thighs. "B-but I already did."

"You apologized for being rude at the party, now you need to apologize to me for tonight; sneaking into my library and mouthing off."

I feel like I'm eating my own heart when I crumble and softly say, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Placing a bloated hand on my shoulder, he pushes me down. "On your knees. Do it properly."

I whine but I don't fight. If this was happening under any other circumstances, I'd lunge at him without a second thought, but if he knows something about my family -

I can give in for them. I can turn off my mind and become someone else as I sink to my knees. I can turn myself into a stranger while I pull my hair away from my neck, letting Cartman stare at my exposed nape; my eyes on the carpet, not really seeing what's in front of me. 

I'm not Kyle while I do this. I'm someone I can toss away when all is said and done. I don't know them and they don't know me. 

"So smooth," he says under his breath, placing his hand on my neck and stroking it. I cringe away, and my bladder feels uncomfortably full again. I just pray I don't have an accident but he's so repugnant. He's so completely awful. 

"I can see why he hasn't Bonded with you yet. It all changes after that." Slipping his fingers around my neck, he presses. I whine louder. "Shhh," he murmurs. 

"Is that why Scott is like that?" I ask haltingly. "Because you two Bonded? Is it always like that?"

"More often than not," he says, yanking me close so I stumble onto my hands. "It's a tradeoff... no resistance, but that spark dies. It's the only thing that makes any of this interesting."

Trembling, I don't want to hear anymore. "Please, my family."

"Not yet. I have to try you first. It's not like Thorne will care, I'm sure. He knows he has to keep me happy and he's already had you."

I'm on my feet in a second, moving around the desk. I stare at him and I'm sure I'm in the presence of a monster that's emerged from Hell.

"No," I whisper. "Not that. I won't."

"Then I can't tell you about your family," he says flippantly. 

"Please, there must be something else," I plead. 

He moves with surprising swiftness for someone so large, but he's on me before I can respond, and I'm being pushed onto the desk; my arm twisted behind my back. 

"I've told you before, you don't get to choose how you obey. You just do it," he sneers, sliding a hand down my side, over my hip; soon it's under my skirt, crawling up my thigh. I feel a finger slip under the material of my panties and I cry out.

"No! Stop!"

He twists my arm more viciously and I sob, my panties being dragged over my hips, and I'm bare in front of him; his awful fingers spreading me. Fear prompts me to become reckless and I grope across the desk, my hand sliding over something cold and hard. 

Eyes shut, I twist as hard as I can, feeling something twinge in my arm before I'm bringing the object up, swinging it hard as I can and I hear something crack. Cartman curses before he starts screaming, and I think I'm going to start vomiting right there. 

"You bitch, you dirty fucking little WHORE!" he yells. 

I open my eyes to see the blood streaming from his temple, thick and red; the scent in the room has changed and now it's choked with agony and desperate fear; fury. 

I yank my panties up and stumble away, my arm throbbing; the tears in my eyes like a veil pulled across my vision. I'm panting and whining; the noises wet in my ears. 

"I'll kill you, I'll fucking kill you! You'll die the same way your father did!" Cartman screams, immobilizing me just as I'm about to run from the room. I stop, staring at nothing, my hand on the doorknob. 

It's as if I can feel a part of my soul dying, like it's been lit up and falling into ash. It's the same way I felt when my mother passed; numb but so raw. I'm being pulled apart. 

I turn, and Cartman is still scraping the flowing blood from his face, but he's grinning like a jackal because he knows he's hit his mark. 

"That's right, he's dead, had his throat torn out by Alphas he tried to screw over. Guess his luck finally ran out," he says, sounding almost hysterically gleeful. "Not that he had much to start with, right? There's nothing more pathetic than a gambler who doesn't know when to stop."

The pain is akin to being stabbed, there in my heart; it feels fractured, torn in two. My skin is hot, buzzing. I almost lose my footing but I reach out to take a hold of a shelf. 

"What about my brother? Where's Ike?"

"In the wind, as far as I know," he says, sounding less interested now. "Without someone to look after him he won't last long... if he's still alive, that is."

Backing up, I hit the wall and slide down. My insides are dissolving. 

"Come over here and let me fuck you, take your medicine, and maybe I'll find your brother. Maybe I'll even take him in, hire him on as help," Cartman says, driving the knife deeper into my side; twisting it. 

But I just haven't fallen that far yet, even with everything that's happened. "No," I whisper. "Never."

"Have it your way. I'll just tell Thorne about your behavior tonight and then we'll see where the chips fall, won't we?"

A soft knock comes at the door then and I'm just sure it must be Damien coming to collect me, to terrorize me for sneaking out, but instead a woman pokes her head in. She's pretty with a gentle expression and her brown hair gathered into a large bun at her nape. 

"Eric, honey, you're making a lot of noise. Can't you sleep?"

Turning, she catches sight of me, crying but blank faced on the floor. She immediately comes over and gathers me into her arms, pressed softly against her perfumed, full bosom. 

"You poor child, what's wrong?"

I'm at a loss for words for a moment. It's almost like I'm being held against my mother's warm front, but I try to stay connected to the here and now. Reaching, I take a hold of her robe and bury my face in her chest. 

"My father's gone, and the master of this house tried to hurt me," I murmur. 

"Hurt you? Whatever do you mean?" her voice is soft, like a lullaby. 

"He wanted to... be with me but I said no because I'm devoted to my alpha, and I know he's Bonded with someone. It didn't seem right, so he tried to force himself on me."

Okay, so I twisted the narrative a little but it was mostly the truth. 

"Is that so?" She asks, a steely edge showing up in her words. "Eric, is what I'm hearing accurate?"

"Mom, this doesn't concern you, just -"

"Answer me, Eric. Now."

Oh, how quickly this oversized man child is reduced to an actual child, and he's sputtering and trying to make excuses. I'd laugh under different circumstances. 

"Okay, we had a disagreement, but he hit me with a paperweight! See?!" he points to the blood still cascading down his face. 

His mother waves this away, though, holding me even tighter. "How many times have I told you you can't treat your guests this way, Eric? I've had it up to here with you and not listening to me!"

"Mom, are you even hearing me right now?! He probably gave me a concussion for fuck's sake!"

"Language!"

I take this opportunity to speak softly to her, "he said he's going to tell my Alpha that I was disobeying too, when all I wanted to do was relax in this pretty room for a while."

Her arms tense around me as she helps me to my feet, smoothing my clothes and hair; kissing my forehead. 

"Don't worry about any of that. He won't say a word, I promise."

"Mom! You can't just make a decision like that on your own!" Striding over, Cartman is so incensed that he looks like he's about to have a coronary. His mother doesn't back down, though; if anything she seems to take on more strength. 

"You shame yourself and this household, young man, now apologize this instant!"

"But, mom -"

"Now, Eric!"

Giving me a look loaded with venom, his eyes are lethal when he regards me now, but, miraculously, he folds. "I'm sorry."

I nod, more out of gratitude to his mother than anything else, and then I'm gently being ushered from the room. Cartman's mom pats my cheek and gives me a fond look. "Heavens, where are my manners? I'm Leanne. If you ever need anything or my son upsets you, please let me know."

"I'm Kyle," I reply. "And thank you."

Turning down the hall, I'm barely more than ten steps away before I hear Leanne shouting at her son, and if I wasn't so completely hollowed out with grief I'd probably pass out from laughter. 

-----

I don't feel especially connected to reality by the time I return to the room, but I'm immensely grateful to see that Damien is still fast asleep; twisted up in the blankets and lying on his stomach. The sky is lightening now, pink on the horizon. 

I take a scalding hot shower and scrub myself raw, trying not to think but I can't help it. A million memories float through my mind like embers, turning into butterflies that scatter and fly away. 

I can remember my father as a younger man, back before the drink had really taken him; helping me tend to the garden, or teaching me to fish. He'd take me out in our creaky little rowboat and drip water on me from the oars, laughing when I squealed. 

I recall how he tended to my mother when she began succumbing to the sickness, sitting by her bed and not talking, just holding her hand and helping her to eat and drink when she could muster the strength. I can see his blank, lost expression when she died; watching as the pine box that held her body was wheeled to the cemetery. He'd laid tiny primroses on her grave. 

We lost him to his urges after that, his need to bet even if he lost more often than not; smelling of beer when he'd finally stumble home from the bar. There was something dark inside of him that grew after my mother died, and everything that was good went to the grave with her. 

I still loved him, though, as best I could. He wasn't a bad man, just a foolish, selfish one. He hurt in a way he couldn't explain, so he gave into his compulsions. 

I still loved him even when they came to take me away to the Facility, when I found out I'd been  sacrificed to pay his debts. He hadn't been able to look at me as I gathered my things, but he'd cried when I hugged him before leaving. 

I'm wilted and sore by the time I'm done bathing, and I dress in a frail nightgown before climbing in beside Damien. He stirs and reaches for me, pulling me close, but he's gentle. He looks at me with sleepy eyes. 

"You bathed again?"

"I don't feel well," I say, and because I'm so sad and lost i reach for him too, and I bury my face in his chest and begin to sob. 

"Oh, my darling, my darling," he sighs, wrapping his arms around me. He kisses my hair but he's asleep in the next breath. 

When I finish crying I lie in his arms and watch the sun rise; filling the winter sky with its orange and yellow brilliance. 

----

The ride home feels much longer than the initial trip, and I spend most of the time staring out the window. Forests and houses pass, that same blue river from before, but none of it seems to matter. It just becomes a blur that lulls me until I sleep. 

We stop for lunch again and Damien orders for me, frowning when I barely touch my food. 

"Is there something on your mind?" he asks, setting down his coffee cup. "You barely ate any breakfast, too. This is unacceptable."

Breakfast had been eaten in the company of Cartman and Scott, a lavish spread that was rendered inedible as soon as I saw Cartman's mean, ugly eyes. He watched me the whole time but he kept his mouth shut.

"I don't feel well," I say, which is how I've been responding to all of his inquiries. 

"I understand that, but you can't starve yourself," he replies. 

I want to tell him to shut up and mind his own business. I want to admit that my father's dead (unless Cartman's lying, which wouldn't be too outside the realm of possibility) and I'm terrified for my brother, out in the world alone with no one to care for him. We don't have any relatives that can take him in, and I have no idea where he could be. 

Instead, I choke down some soup to keep the peace. I don't want to talk to Damien about any of this. I'm sure he'll just find a way to use it as leverage against me and I just don't have the strength to fight him right now. 

This seems to appease him though he watches me more closely after that, pulling me close in the car and placing a hand possessively on my thigh. 

"Your apology had everything to do with business," he says at one point when we're very close to home. "Cartman's the scum of the earth but if I don't have him in my corner things can become very difficult."

I get the feeling his father, this fabled entity that i keep hearing about, squeezed Damien until he folded; probably told him to get his temperamental omega in line and get him to play nice. I smirk. If I had a different relationship with Damien I'd tell him the easiest way to control Cartman is through his mother. 

I stay silent, though. 

I want to ask him why he took me when I wasn't in heat. I want him to explain his breakdown, but I have enough on my mind without having to consider that. Clearly, we both have things in our heads that consume our thoughts and loom over our backs. 

Maybe we're more alike than I thought, which genuinely nauseates me. 

When we finally return, Damien helps me from the car, his hand tight on mine before we part in the foyer. He leans to whisper in my ear:

"I may come to your room tonight."

My heart is cold but I nod, watching as he walks away; tall and assured again in his black clothing; head held high like he's never had a weak moment in his privileged life. 

He doesn't come to my room that night or the next, but on the third night he knocks after midnight. I'm lying on my bed trying to read and when I hear it I'm frantic to stuff my book under the mattress. 

He's aggressive as soon as I open the door, pushing me back into the room and growling low in his throat while pulling at my nightgown. Soon it's off and he's backing me toward the bed, kissing me slow and deep, his tongue inside my mouth. 

I sigh softly, tired and scared, but still too sad to fight back. I don't have any energy. 

"I couldn't sleep, I kept thinking about you," he says against my ear, pushing me down. He climbs on me and pushes his knee between my thighs. I look away toward the fire and try to drift. 

"Why can't I stop thinking about you?" he asks. He's licking along my throat now, needy little nips being placed on my skin. 

In my daze of grief, I find myself speaking honestly. "Maybe because you know it's very easy for me not to think about you."

There's a quick intake of breath before he raises his hand as if to slap me, but he stops at the last moment, looking at me with blazing eyes before turning me over so I'm facing away from him. 

He takes me hard that night, very hard; brutal, but he manages to find that sweet place inside of me and exploits it, making me gasp softly with every thrust and movement. 

He consumes me for hours. 

By the end I feel boneless, and he kisses my nape gently before departing. 

"I could bite you right now, you know," he says idly. "Then you'll think of me all the time."

"I don't think forcing me to think of you would satisfy you," I reply, still watching the flames jump in the fireplace. "I think you'd consider that cheating. Cheap. Where's the victory in it."

"Clever, difficult boy," he replies, setting his teeth on my skin but not biting down.

The next day I'm exhausted and listless, standing at the window and watching the snow sifting down like sugar. I'm thinking of Ike, I'm wondering where he is, wanting to reach across the miles to find him. 

I'm thinking of my father's body... did they bury it? How will I find it so I can pay my respects?

"You've been moping around ever since you got back," Bebe says, pulling my attention away from my thoughts. I blink, trying to clear the white sunlight from my vision. 

She's giving me a hard look, her hands on her hips. Going to the closet, she grabs out a cloak and throws it at me. 

"You need some fresh air. Go outside and look after the roses. You've been neglecting them."

I look down at the garment, still feeling detached but I obey, slipping it on and slowly leaving the room. I walk like I'm submerged in water, my body aching from Damien's influence, covered in bruises and bites. 

When I step outside I shade my eyes, the world feeling too big, too bright. I'm afraid of it. It stole my parents from me; my brother wandering alone in it. Trying to find his way. 

Even the roses don't lift my spirits, but I tend to them, pruning, weeding; drifting my fingers over the soft petals. I don't gather any, and when I'm done I wander away to look up at the sky, filled with swirling snow and clouds. It's uninviting and I feel like I'm becoming lost, leaving the earth as I gaze upward. 

What if Ike is lost in the snow right now? What if he's trying to find me? How can I save him when I'm trapped here?

All at once, my chest feels like it's filling up with water and the pressure becomes too great, all the tears and sadness I've been holding inside coming together at once to make me crumple. Kneeling, I cover my face with my hands and sob because I can feel my heart breaking. 

It hurts so much, this feeling, of wandering alone... of being surrounded by people who only want to use me instead of wanting to love me. They're only thinking about what I can do for them instead of remembering that I'm a person; vulnerable, soft, I need someone to care for me simply because they want to. I need someone to love me because they truly see me as I am, and they accept everything I have to give. 

My eyes are aching by the time my tears finally start to slow, but I don't want to look up, I want to hide behind my hands, in the darkness. 

"Please, are you alright? Kyle?"

A warm, deep voice comes to me through the wind and snow, and the way it says my name is so beautiful that I'm breathless for a moment. I slowly look up, squinting through the torrent to see a face that almost makes my heart stop. 

Mr. Tucker, he's there, right beyond the gate and he's watching me with those clear, wonderful eyes. 

Before I can stop myself, I'm on my feet and I'm going to him, holding up my skirts and cloak, not seeing anything but him. His aroma comes to me on the wind and it's gorgeous, lifting some of the sadness from my shoulders almost without effort. 

I stop, though, when I'm close, and the wind passes through, ruffling my hair. I see him lift his face to scent the air and he sighs, looking at me again with those eyes; those kind eyes that I've seen so many times in my dreams. 

"I've come by every day since your debut," he says quietly. "I know it was foolish but I was compelled."

Feeling hazy, I take a step towards him. Every day? Then does that mean he found the roses? Please say he did, please say he kept them, that he knows why I left them. 

"I wasn't here. Damien took me away for a while," I reply. "And I've been keeping to myself recently."

He nods, his face, so handsome and not nearly as closed off as usual, is somber. "May I ask why you were crying?"

The dam breaks and the tears fall, but I feel safe crying in front of him. "I'm so sad, I don't know what to do."

"Please come closer, you feel so far away," he says. "You always feel so far away. Ever since I first saw you I've wanted you near."

I go to him then, taking a hold of the bars of the gate and leaning my head against the cold metal. Something is waking up inside of me, a light, and it's helping to ease some of my pain. 

"I hate to see you so sad," he murmurs. "If I can help please let me."

"Did you find the roses i left?" I whisper. "Please say you did."

Wordlessly, he reaches into his pocket and draws out the ribbon I'd used to tie the bouquet together. He lays it across his palm like it's something precious and I begin to cry again, but my heart is aching for a different reason now.

"Oh," I say because I can't find words for the emotion I'm feeling. 

"I see you in my dreams every night," he says quietly, closing his hand around the ribbon. 

With a boldness i didn't know i possessed, I reach to touch his face, the smooth slope of his cheek, and he seems to shudder at the contact. He turns his face to lightly kiss my fingertips. 

That's when I hear a voice and footsteps through the haze, forcing me to wake up. 

"You should go," he says, already backing away. "I don't want you to get in trouble."

"No," I say, still reaching for him. "I don't want to let you go."

"Come tomorrow around this time, and I'll meet you. I promise." Smiling a real, true smile, he tips his hat; retreating. "You'll be in my thoughts."

"You're always in mine," I whisper, stepping back. I watch him go before Pip finds me, scolding, but I don't hear him. All I can hear in my head is Mr. Tucker's voice, creating light where none had been before. 

Tomorrow, I think, that light growing brighter in my heart, filling me up.