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Rise

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Don't turn away (Don't give in to the pain)
Don't try to hide (Though they're screaming your name)
Don't close your eyes (God knows what lies behind them)
Don't turn out the light (Never sleep, never die)

I'm frightened by what I see

But somehow I know that there's much more to come

Immobilized by my fear
And soon to be blinded by tears
I can stop the pain if I will it all away
If I will it all away

Whisper,  Evanescence 


I stay up late that night because I can't sleep. I'm euphoric, I'm floating, I'm nervous...

I'm everything, simply everything; nothing but emotions that I can't process because they're so new. They overwhelm me. 

I see his face whenever I close my eyes, there in the darkness. I can hear his voice and I can recall his scent, just the memory of it calming me, and I can feel his touch; the light press of his lips to my fingertips. 

I keep thinking it may have been a dream borne from grief but it can't be. It had to be real, the ribbon, the kiss, what he said -

He thinks of me. He's thought of me since he first saw me. It's more than I could've hoped for, really. 

It's been ages since I've looked at my reflection, mainly from shame and fear, especially since Damien's taken me (and so often) but now I find myself approaching the mirror. Slowly, yes, and with hesitation, but I want to see myself...I want to see what Mr Tucker sees when he looks at me. 

I'm still thin but I'm not as gaunt. My face is a little fuller and rosier now that I've stopped starving myself. My hair is still obnoxiously bright, of course, but it's shiny and the curls are fat and long, trailing almost to my shoulders. 

My eyes are large, but they've always been large, catching the light of the fire and glimmering green and shadowed. They still look afraid and too wide, young, but they seem less naive than before... they seem to reflect some of the things that have happened to me, being forced into Heat, mounted, taken countless times. 

The hurt is in them now. New hurt and pain. They're less trusting and more suspicious. 

My lips are pink, bruised from being kissed too hard and bitten... and my cheeks are blue-violet with bruises from Damien's hands, drawing back and striking me whenever he feels the need. 

But Mr Tucker's touch had been so careful, so soft. He'd treated me like something breakable. 

I touch my face and wonder if he finds me pretty. Does he like what he sees?

My cheeks become warm when I look at the rest of myself, my eyes drifting downward to the body that's been exposed and touched without permission; moved and stroked and violated until I'm crying or sobbing with pleasure. It's a foreign place to me even if Damien's hands have been all over it, tracing its new curves; the slopes coming into being as I mature. 

I'm wearing a nightgown that's transparent in the firelight, so it's easy enough to push it from my shoulders, letting it fall in a creamy puddle around my feet. I'm breathing heavily as I look down, afraid, but slowly I look up and regard myself, and I'm astounded at the change that's taken place in the short time since my heat. 

I'm so thin, still so pale, but I'm becoming curved, my hips widening and preparing to support my future young. My thighs are fuller but they don't touch, speckled with light brown freckles. My privates are still small, as they're supposed to be, and when I turn i blush to see the round plumpness of my backside; the narrow length of my back. 

I touch my chest and it's flat, so I suppose I won't become round there, my clavicle sharp as are my shoulder blades. All of my weight is in my bottom half, and I can understand why Damien seems to focus on it so much when fucking me; gripping my hips and stroking my thighs. 

What if Mr Tucker saw me like this, though? Naked, draped only in firelight? Would he like it? Would he find me pleasing?

Turning back to my reflection, I tentatively lift my hands to touch myself as I never have before; imagining that my touch is Mr Tucker's touch, gentle and loving, and I can't wait to see him again, to hear his voice. To look in his eyes. Oh, he's my fondest dream, and I want to be beautiful for him...I want him to desire me the way I desire him. 

I turn to consider myself from the side, the thin slope of my belly, when I hear the hard knock at my door, and I'm desperate to cover myself, lifting my gown and pressing it to my front, but the door is opening before I'm truly successful. 

Damien's there, red-eyed and somber as he quietly shuts the door, watching me as he walks into the room; gaze drifting down my form, openly drinking in my nakedness. He growls lowly in his throat. 

"I suppose i caught you at a delicate time," he says, keeping his distance. 

I don't know what to say. How can I possibly explain myself? 
"I didn't think you'd be coming tonight. You were just here," I say, slowly beginning to dress. 

He watches, his eyes following as the frail fabric falls over me. He's impassive. 

"I will come to you whenever I want, and you will be ready to receive me at all times," he replies. "Is that clear?"

I think of Mr. Tucker's kindness, his touch; it's burned into me so I can carry it always. It makes it harder to accept Damien's presence now. I say nothing. 

"You will speak when I address you!" he yells and I flinch. 

"Why me?" I murmur. "Pip wants you so badly, and Butters only wants to please you. Why would you seek out the omega who wants you the least?"

A tremor passes his face but it's gone as soon as it comes. "Maybe that's why."

He walks around me then, deliberately seeming to keep a wide berth, and I watch, afraid but not as fearful as he'd like me to be, I think. It's not like I don't know what he's capable of, and I have the promise of Mr. Tucker to keep me afloat. Regardless of whether he realizes it, he doesn't have the same hold over me as before. 

"The others are amusing when I need them to be, but they're hungry to please. It's all they desire," he says. "But you, you don't care about that as much, do you?"

I stare at him, muscles taut and ready. I keep the emotion from my face. "Do you want the truth or the answer that will please you, master?"

He laughs, the firelight drenching his eyes and they're red like blood. He's slim and refined like an arrow, and he has to know that he's as appealing as a bright, poisonous flower. 

"That's why I'm here," he says, licking his lips. "That's why you've crept into my thoughts and won't leave. Everyone has always worked to please me before you. Don't you fear me?"

I nod slowly. "Yes."

He considers this. "Just not enough."

"How much is enough?" I ask. 

"I guess we'll know when we get there," he replies, slowly walking toward me. He glances between me and the full length mirror. "You were looking at yourself."

I blush, and it spreads down my throat, pink and warm. 

"Why?" he asks, right beside me now. "Isn't it enough that it pleases me to look at you?"

"Or," he adds, "did you want to see yourself the way another might see you?"

I fidget, unable to keep still. It's as if he's reading my thoughts, and I don't want him in my head. 

"Perhaps," he murmurs, reaching to turn me gently toward the mirror, "you were admiring yourself, hmm? Do you think you're pretty?"

I look away, growing warmer. "No, not at all."

He clucks his tongue. "Oh, what a shame, to have such beauty and not see it." Stepping behind me, he traces his hands up my sides, his elegant fingers outlining my burgeoning curves. 

"I've seen all of this, more than anyone else," he says next to my ear. "At least when you're at your most vulnerable. I've touched you more than anyone. Haven't i?"

My eyes are still averted, but that doesn't stop him from placing his hands on my chest, dipping below my nightgown's neckline, and then he's tearing the garment apart; slowly, taking his time. 

I shut my eyes now. "Master, please." I'd only wanted to look at myself out of innocent curiosity, to better understand who I'm becoming, to see myself through the eyes of someone who might wish to love me -

Damien's trying to shame me, turn my body into an instrument for his desire, and it's working; I'm beginning to shake, my courage failing as he strips me. 

"Open your eyes, my love," he whispers. "I want you to watch while I do this."

I shake my head but he sets his teeth to my nape, threatening, and I slowly look, raising my eyes to meet his in the mirror. 

He's smiling; in his glory. 

He tears my gown like it's tissue paper, achingly slow, the firelight passing over my flesh as it's revealed, and soon I'm naked before him, and it's so much worse because I'm being forced to see what he sees; the desire in his eyes and the fear in my own as he watches me; hands spanning my waist. He pulls me back against him, and I can feel his arousal against my bottom. 

"But will I take you tonight? Oh, of course I will, but so quickly? You've been so disobedient... you remind me of a wayward child." Cupping my privates, he kisses my neck while pinching one of my nipples sharply. 

I swallow my cries but I'm beginning to shake. Usually he's swift in taking me, preparing and slipping inside me before I know what's happening, but tonight it seems like he wants to toy with me...

Another of his games. 

"Fetch your hairbrush, please. Bring it to me."

I look at him, my forehead furrowed. "I don't -"

"Now," he says mildly, going to sit on the chair before my vanity. 

Oh, I hate the way he won't tell me his plans, but I obey, slinking to the vanity and lifting my large silver brush. I balance its weight in my hand before he's calling to me, his hand out. 

I place the article in his palm and wait, watching as he considers it, tapping it against his opposite palm before it clicks.

"No," I murmur. "You couldn't possibly -"

"Across my lap, Kyle," he murmurs. "Now. If you don't comply I'll tie you to the bed. Which will it be?"

"But, why, how -"

Spreading his thighs, he waits, giving me a look that brooks no argument. I swallow and look at the brush flashing in his hand, and it seems so much heavier now that i know what he's planning to use it for. 

I whine and this makes him smile. "Many Alphas discipline their omegas this way, Kyle. In fact, I've heard that most omegas come to crave it."

I frown, making it obvious what my thoughts are:

You aren't my alpha and I'm certainly not your omega. 

I still concede, though, because this is preferable to being strapped down, and as soon as I'm laid across his lap, he strokes the curve of my bottom; running the flat of his hand down over the back of my thigh. 

I squirm, pushing my toes against the carpet. 

"Be still," he says softly, touching my cheek, my curls. "I'll be easy with you tonight, until you learn."

A whine builds in my throat, and I can feel him becoming harder beneath me as he continues to rub, teasing over my entrance before moving away. 

Then he's still, not touching me at all, and the tension grows in me until I can barely keep still, and that's when he brings the flat of the brush down hard on my skin, making me cry out in pain and surprise. 

I'm wide eyed and staring at the wall, tears building in my eyes when I feel him rubbing a soft palm over the place he'd struck. He's murmuring encouragement to me but I can barely hold onto it, and then he's striking me again. This time I'm wordless as I strain to get away, but he holds me fast. 

"Good boy. Easy," he says, rubbing in soft circles before he's striking me again, and now I'm beginning to tremble, rising up on my toes, shifting so my backside is higher in the air; my instincts waking up and telling me to give in and behave. 

"Yes, like that." He sounds so pleased, and then he's spanking me with an even, solid rhythm, never so hard that I'm screaming, but with enough force to remind me that I'm being punished. 

Little gasps escape my throat, and soon i realize I'm dropping into a state of relaxation i hadn't anticipated, the heat in my skin making me feel boneless and pliable, and there's drool drifting over my lips. Time passes without me really being aware of it, and when he finally stops i come to, blinking and disoriented. 

He sets the brush aside to pet my hair and scratch behind my ear, running his palm over the warmth blooming in my bottom, shushing me when I whine again, because I feel so sleepy and removed. I'm panting softly but it's like I'm waking from a cat nap. 

"Still, be still," he says, reaching to take something from my vanity and before I can say a word he's applying something cool and soothing to my skin, rubbing in circles; down over the slope of my buttocks and to my thighs, where I'd been struck as well. 

Before he's done I'm already starting to cry, because I'm so confused by this combination of softness and force, and as ever Damien has left me feeling so lost; taken out of myself and groping for understanding. 

Through my haze of tears, he turns me onto my back and lifts me easily, carrying me to the bed and laying me down. I'm still crying softly but I can see him undressing through the wet veil obscuring my vision. 

He climbs on top of me and smooths the hair from my face, kissing me on the mouth like I'm an apple he's tasting, and I'm still so tired that it's all I can do to remain coherent. 

"Tell me how good it felt," he whispers, kissing me deeper. 

I shake my head, and he laughs softly. "You were purring, Kyle, whether you realize it or not." Kissing down along my throat, he easily parts my thighs. "And you're wet with slick."

I moan, covering my face because I can feel it now, the wetness between my legs, and I hate him all the more for making my body react however he wants. He doesn't care if he's being invited; he takes without asking, like my very blood belongs to him. 

"I'll be soft since you've already been punished," he says, turning me over and holding my arms against the small of my back. He lifts my hips and spreads me, sliding in easily because of my arousal. He sighs and he's still for a moment, adjusting to my tightness, moving until his hips are flush against me. 

"No one feels like this," he says like he's lost in thought. "Everyone else would've cried the whole time I beat them, but you moved with me... you adapted to give me what I needed."

"I did nothing," I reply, hiding my face in the pillow. I feel so terribly ashamed. 

"Oh, but you did," he whispers, pulling out to thrust into me again; slowly, drawing it out so he can prolong the affair. "You did."

-----
The aftermath of my punishment is obvious as soon as I sit down to eat breakfast the next morning; my backside aching even more against the hardness of my chair. I wince, shifting to find a more comfortable position but that proves impossible. 

Bastard. He knew what he was doing. He wanted me to have the bruises as a reminder of him; forcing me to think of him in one way or another. 

"Are you alright? You've a strange look on your face," Bebe says, giving me a look. She pushes my cup of pills towards me and it's all I can do not to flip it over. 

"Can I have a lock put on my door?" I ask, lifting my orange juice. I look at the pills with disgust. 

"A lock? Whatever for?"

I glance at her, my lips tight, and something seems to come together in her head. She nods before going to prepare my clothes for the day. 

"There's no lock in the world that would keep him out," she says idly. "If he wants to enter, he will."

"He should go to Pip's room, then," I mutter. "At least he wants him."

"It's unusual that he's coming to you in the first place. After all, he's typically not the sort of Alpha that seeks relations outside of an omega's heat. At least that's been the trend I've noticed."

"I guess I'm just lucky that he seems to enjoy tormenting me," I snap, rising with a twinge of pain. I move gingerly to lean against the bed. 

She holds up a dress, a fluffy, cute one. I hate it. Why does Damien dress me like a child most of the time?

"Not that one," I say, slowly coming over. I rifle through the garments, wanting to find something that will bring me confidence when I meet with Mr Tucker. My heart flutters.

"Since when do you care enough to pick out your own clothing?" She asks, giving me another of her pointed looks. 

"I want to have some say over my existence," I reply, drawing out a rose-colored frock of soft silk; the collar and cuffs made of delicate tulle. "I'm told where to go, what to eat...I don't even get to decide when someone's allowed to enter my room -"

(Not to mention i have absolutely no choice over who gets to fuck me.)

"I should be able to choose what I'm going to wear, even if it's from a selection made by someone else." I study the gown, liking that the rose is draped with a transparent overlay that will float when I walk. Giddiness rises in my breast, thinking of meeting Mr Tucker while wearing it. "This one."

She sighs but helps me dress. "This is probably part of the reason he's preoccupied with you," she says. "Every omega I've attended to in this place either comes to us already eager to please or they very quickly adapt to what's expected of their dynamic. It's as if there's something wrong in your wiring."

"No," I say, looking at my reflection; the soft rose fabric hugging my body under the sheer material. I flush, remembering Damien watching me in the mirror the night before; perverting what was supposed to be a moment of intimacy i wanted only with myself. "There's nothing wrong with me... everyone else has fallen asleep and accepted the way of things. I refuse to do that, regardless of the way I was born. I will choose who I become."

I spend the morning and early afternoon in euphoric anticipation, the pain from my bruises paling in comparison to what I'm looking forward to. Thoughts of my father and brother darken the edges of things, but I try to stay positive. 

I outline what I'll say in my head but it all sounds so wrong, so foolish. I can't simply gush and fawn all over him, can I? That would just irritate someone so serious and stoic. Nervously, I listen for any noise at the door while I look through the book Tricia had given me; piano music playing, an eery nocturne, turned down low so I can act quickly if Damien decides to surprise me again.

Finally, after a late lunch that I barely touch, I ask Bebe if I can go outside for a while. She nods, watching with narrowed eyes as I hum, fixing my hair in the glass before putting on my cloak. I keep it open and don't pull up my hood, wanting Mr Tucker to see my gown and the matching ribbon in my curls. 

I'm a little fool, but I'm almost delirious with excitement as I rush outside, feeling lighter than I have in ages. 

Thoughts of Damien fade as I step into the sunlight; all the pain and fear and sadness left behind me as I go to the garden to gather roses - scarlet ones - and I wait. I just pray that Pip doesn't come out to join me. I don't think he'd say anything but I don't want to hear his scolding, and it hurts me to know that he's been wounded by a deceptive alpha in the past. 

They can't be all bad, I pray. I know that I'd assumed before that they were, but they can't all be like that, just like not all omegas are the same. 

We can choose who we are. We are more than our dynamics. We have to be. 

I can detect his aroma on the cold air before I see him, and then he's there, striding behind the gate; shadow stretching long across the pavement. I sigh, holding the roses in both hands as I approach. I breathe deeply and I feel myself relaxing; the aches in my skin even seeming to die down. 

He smells like my long ago garden, my home; greenery and the fruits of the earth; the wind whispering in the pines at night. 

He tips his hat before looking at me in a more reserved way than before, but still, his scent tells me so much -

He's happy to see me, pleased at the sight of me, and I'm nourished simply by the sight and presence of him. 

"Good afternoon," he says. "I hope it wasn't very hard to meet with me like this. The last thing I want to do is cause trouble for you."

"Oh, no, not at all," I reply, approaching, drawing as close as I had the day before. I don't want any distance between us, and hadn't he said that he wanted me near? I look down at the roses in my hands. "I've thought of nothing else since yesterday."

"Aren't you cold?" he asks, flicking his eyes to my open cloak; my uncovered head. 

I blush, not wanting him to know that I was putting on a show for him. "Not very."

"You're lovely," he murmurs, surprising me to reach through the bars, lifting my hood and drawing it over my hair; holding me close after, looking at me with the sun at his back, shadowing his face. "You're always lovely, but I don't want you to take ill."

I tilt my face, overcome by this closeness; lips parted slightly. Mouth dry, I hold up the roses. "Will you take them?"

He smiles, taking them into his hands, and he's cradling them like they're made of glass. "The others you gave me are fading... now I'll be able to replace them."

"Where do you have them?" I ask, hungry to envision his home, where he takes his rest. I want to see his life in my mind even if I can't share it with him. 

"On my kitchen table," he says. "In a plain little vase, where I can see them when I eat my meals. They brighten up the room."

"I have roses all over my room, all colors," I reply, leaning against the gate. "They're the only thing I'm allowed to decorate with so I cut as many as I can."

He nods, becoming grave. He glances toward the mansion looming like a spectre behind us. "Are you comfortable, at least? Warm and given enough to eat? You were beautiful at your debut but you looked so frail...I worried. I worry still."

"Comfortable," I repeat faintly. "Well, that's a relative term, isn't it? I have food and pretty things, but no, I can't say I'm comfortable, sir."

He lapses into silence, looking at the roses and turning them. "Everyone who does business with your master knows that he's cruel. It's common knowledge."

"He isn't my master," I reply quickly. I tilt my chin defiantly. "He bought me but he doesn't truly own me. I belong to myself."

His expression is unspeakably sad now. "I had heard you were sacrificed to the Auctions. I hadn't wanted to believe it, knowing what I do about them."

I'm curious now, even more so than before. "What do you know of them?"

"Too much. Far too much." He shakes his head. "I lost someone dear to the Auctions."

I cover my mouth, hurting for him, for this person I don't know. His usual seriousness is being taken over by obvious grief, and I reach to touch his face, wanting to comfort him. 

"I'm sorry, sir. Please, tell me about them if it would help."

He leans into my touch. "I'm more concerned for you. I can see the bruises on your face, I smelled your fear when he took you from the debut...I want to help you but our whole world is governed by these disgusting laws. An Alpha can be imprisoned for trying to help an omega without going through certain channels."

Seeing an opportunity, I throw caution to the wind and make a desperate plea. "I'll try to look after myself, but please, if you could aid me in something else."

"Anything," he replies, putting his hand over my own. "You only have to ask."

Biting back a sob, my words are thick when I speak. "I've recently learned that my father may have been killed after mixing with the wrong people. I don't know if it's true but it makes sense, my father always took chances... bit off more than he could chew, and I could see that ultimately leading to a bad end."

Squeezing my hand, he looks at me with a mixture of sorrow and worry. "How did you come to find this out?"

"That horrible man, Mr. Cartman -"

He growls, eyes flashing. "Scum. There's few I loath more than that filth, the way he treated you at the party..." he bears his teeth before sighing. "I'm sure he delighted in telling you."

"That's putting it mildly, but there's more," I say, grateful that Mr Tucker hates that foul beast as much as I do. "It's my brother, sir. He's young, very young, and a Beta. He can't take care of himself all alone and we don't have relatives that could take him in." Crying freely now, I cling to his shirt, the simple cloth rough against my fingers. 

"I'm scared for him... I'm afraid someone will hurt him, that he's lost somewhere. I don't know if they took our home because of my father's debts...I don't know if there's any money left from when I was sold. He's all I have left in this world, and I promised my mother I'd take care of him before she passed."

Sobbing, I lean forward and rest my face against the cold bars, spent and so tired from being afraid for so long. This is the first time I've allowed myself to share my grief with another, not wanting to hide; wanting to lean on someone and beg for comfort. Mr Tucker's presence is just so warm, and his aroma, his touch, is like finally finding the winding path back home. 

"Shhh," he says softly, touching my cheek and resting his face against my hooded curls. "It'll be alright, I won't let you face all of this alone. I'll help, I promise."

He is soft and quiet as I cry myself into silence, shaking and warm-cheeked; shivering when the winds pass through. I'm raw and exhausted, the bruises on my skin beginning to wake up and plague me. I want to beg him to take me far, far away... we'll look for Ike together and then -

Then? Oh, I could barely dream of such a possibility, us together and happy. But Damien owns me, at least for now, and I don't need him on my heels while I try to find Ike. 

"Where's your home? Where did you come from?" he asks quietly. "I'll start there."

"The Western Forest, close to the Elkhorn Slough. We had a white cottage on the edge of the woods. We had roses." I brush some tears from my cheeks. "It was small but I loved it, I still do. My mother," I add, choking down another sob, "is buried in the meadow close by... there's a little silver marker on her grave. I want to find my father's body so I can bring him home...he belongs next to her."

"I understand," he murmurs. "And your brother, what's his name? What does he look like?"

I'm wounded when I realize this is the first time anyone's asked for his name; so long in this place and this is the only time anyone's taken a true interest. "Ike. He's almost 13, small for his age with dark eyes and hair... he has a scar on the back of his head from when he was younger. He hit his head on a rock while we were wading in the creek." Looking down, i fall into memories and they're the color of rich sunlight. "He's smart and he knows it, but he's so little. I wish i could leave and find him, but -"

"Be calm," he murmurs, but he doesn't force me into docility the way Damien would, choosing instead to caress my cheek until I'm nuzzling him, not caring about appearing wanton. I begin to drop into a safe place inside my head, relaxed and unafraid. When I return to myself I'm purring, loudly and unrestrained. 

"You aren't alone anymore," he says softly, his words almost carried away on the wind. "Let me help...I want to. If it would make you happy, that's all I care about. That's all I need."

-------

It's as if I'm walking through a dream for the rest of the golden afternoon, even after Mr Tucker and I parted. He didn't kiss me but I think he wanted to, choosing instead to rest his cheek against my head, breathing deeply of me; hand reaching to touch my neck, passing over my throat glands and making me shiver. 

"I'll do what I can," he'd murmured. "Just take care of yourself... it was already asking too much to have you meet me. Don't do anything to anger Damien. His history is a dark one."

"He likes hurting us," I had told him, holding on for as long as I could. "It makes him feel strong, i think, knowing that he holds our lives in his hands."

I'd changed into another, simpler gown once I was back in my room, stuffing the other dress far back in my closet. Mr Tucker's scent clings to it, and I want to preserve it, like rose petals flattened between the pages of an old book. 

I'd spent the rest of the day practicing my piano, my head filled with sweet memories, some of my fears abating because of Mr Tucker's promise. I believe him even if I barely know him...I have to believe in something or I'll go mad. I close my eyes while I play, wanting to ignore Damien's portrait over the fire. 

When evening falls, I'm ushered to dinner with the others, Damien in attendance at the head of the table. When I enter the room his eyes flash red but I don't show my fear, the small light from Mr Tucker's kindness glowing inside me. 

Even if he doesn't know it, I'm fortifying myself against him. If I reach beyond Damien and search for my own salvation there's only so much he can do to hurt me. He can touch and try to break my body, my flesh, but my spirit is beyond him; growing wings and readying to take flight. 

I'm subdued during the meal, only partially listening to the others chatter while mechanically eating my food. I'm seated next to Damien and his presence is even more repugnant now that I've basked in the kinder, richer light of an Alpha that doesn't thrive on fear. 

A real Alpha, one that's actually capable of loving their omega; wanting to find and cherish their value. Help it grow. 

"Oh, Mark, you're already so round," Butters chirps, looking at Mark's ripening belly with unconcealed admiration. "Can I touch it, just for a second?"

Head held high, Mark is the very picture of pride; his bearing making it evident that he's relishing in the envy being lavished on him. He gives Butters a look that's both put-upon exasperation and obvious satisfaction in having his full focus; his awe. 

"Only if the master says you may," he replies haughtily before turning to Damien. "Sir?"

Damien blinks as if he's been asleep with his eyes open, lifting his wine to drink it languidly. "If it would please you, darling."

Butters coos when he caresses the slope of Mark's belly, seemingly not noticing the way Pip is staring them both down, his fork held so tightly in his hand that his knuckles are white. We catch eyes for a moment and he snarls but I stay silent, going back to my food. 

I wish to be anywhere but here, the atmosphere stifling, and Damien is rubbing my thigh on occasion, making me flush. 

I try to think of nothing but Mr Tucker, the food becoming difficult to swallow until Mark is asking to be excused. 

"I need to use the bathroom," he murmurs to Damien who waves him away, more focused on his bloody meat. 

Mark rises, his silvery gown catching the candlelight as he gracefully moves away, but then he's crying out and clutching at the lower part of his belly, and the sounds he's making are frightened and primal. 

"Master, it hurts," he whimpers, going to him but falling to his knees. He reaches for him. "Help me, please."

Rebecca rushes forward from her place in the shadows, kneeling beside her brother and taking him into her arms. "I've got you," she says, looking to Damien as well. "He hasn't been feeling well the past few days, sir, but I thought it was just something he ate."

Growling, Damien slams his hand on the table before standing, his eyes blazing. He looks at us in turn and bears his teeth. "Out, all of you. Go to your rooms and stay there for the rest of the night."

We make the mistake of not moving quickly enough and he growls again. "Now!" He shouts. "I won't say it again!"

We scatter like fearful birds, the sounds of Mark's moans heavy in our ears, though before I depart i see Pip looking back with a gleam in his eye; a small smile flitting over his mouth; quicksilver fast and then it's gone. It makes the hair rise on the back of my neck. 

-----

The evening feels so much darker and longer that night, the lonely hours stretching themselves out until it feels like they're going to break. I'm taken back to the past to hear Mark's sobs and screams from down the hall, and while I wish to comfort him we've been confined to our rooms. 

I wouldn't know what to do, anyway. I have no experience with pregnancy and bearing children. I can only pray that Rebecca is right and that it was something he ate, something that will pass and he'll be alright. I'm sure they called the doctor, kindly Dr. McCormick, he'll know what to do. 

On edge, I can't settle, so I pace and fret and wring my hands. I try to read but I can't concentrate, the words blending together. I attempt to write, but my hand is shaking too hard. Finally, I turn on my music and try to forget myself, going to the closet to pull the rose gown from the back, pressing it to my face and thinking of Mr Tucker, allowing his scent to calm my fears. 

The fire is dying down by the time I fall asleep, fitful and filled with terrible dreams, all while the music continues to play. I wake up frequently to silence, restarting the player, not even getting under the covers, choosing instead to lie across my bed; shivering in an airy gown. I curl up, thinking of Ike, Mr Tucker -

The screams from the hall have finally stopped, but the sudden silence is terrible. I turn up the music and shut my eyes, drawing my knees to my chest and i drift. 

The music is still playing when I feel the atmosphere in my room shift, and I'm opening my eyes to a fire that's almost gone; the shadows growing like vines up the walls; eating up all the light in their path. 

I sit up, disoriented and chilled, just wanting to crawl under the blanket, but I feel a heaviness on my skin. My heart begins to thud, and I look up, coming face to face with Damien, his eyes scarlet in the gathering darkness. They shimmer like wine, like blood, and I'm met with such a deep, visceral fear that I become cold; nerves tight. 

He's sitting in the chair at my bedside and this brings back vivid recollections of another time, being held down; his fingers crushing my own. He had soaked up my fear like it sustained him. 

"You were talking in your sleep," he says, his voice faraway, like it's being spoken across a void. "You sounded afraid. Were you having a nightmare?"

Backing away, I stand, but I have to hold onto the bed or I'm afraid I'll crumple. I've never heard him like this, so detached. Removed. I'm too afraid to answer. 

He isn't looking directly at me, eyes trained on the dying fire. "I asked you a question," he says quietly. Slowly, he shifts to look at me, pinning me down with his gaze alone. "You will answer me."

I mouth but I can't find the words. I don't know what to say that won't feed his obvious low-simmering discontent. He shifts again, as if to rise, and I say the first thing on my tongue. "I didn't dream!"

The music is frenzied now, discordant, and usually it fills me with an almost painful whimsy, but right now it makes me feel like I'm losing my mind. This sensation only intensifies when Damien begins to laugh, low in his throat, and then it's quickly unraveling; the sounds of a madmen amusing himself in a padded room. 

Trembling, my legs feel heavy, and I fall when I try to back away, landing on my hip, my hands propping me up. Damien watches, his laughter dying down but the music plays on and on...

He stands and it's slow, deliberate. He's always so graceful, like vapor flowing, but now it's like a dream, like he's walking backwards but the world is rewinding and he's moving forward; closer. He comes to me and he's a shadow in the deepest parts of my mind; the parts that hold my horrors. 

"You would even lie about that, your dreams," he says lowly. "I heard them in your voice. I could almost feel them. And you would still tell me an untruth. Why?"

"Master, please," I whimper. "I don't know what you want right now."

"Foolish whore," he replies, almost regretful now it would seem. "You can't hide from me. You think you can, and I suppose that's your right, even if you're wrong." Lifting his face, he scents the air. "Something's off here. Your scent is different, my Kyle. It's changed."

Kneeling down, he takes a hold of my chin and I'm breathless with terror to see the blood on his hand; drying and deep red. I can smell it, metallic and thick. 

"So aloof, you hold yourself so still but I see you," he says. "I see you, and the parts that you're hiding will be found."

I can only whimper. He squeezes my face and I try to go back to that afternoon; the sunshine, that soft touch...

I'm not alone. I'm not alone. You can't hurt me the way you want if I'm not alone. I'm untouchable. I'm beyond you. 

"I've never met someone so unreachable," he muses, like he's reading my thoughts. I gasp. "But I'll bring you down to earth where you belong. However long it takes, you'll think of me, you'll see me."

"You can't have everything you want," I mutter. Jerking away, I want to spit in his face, and that's when I see that his other hand is covered in blood too. I choke back a scream, watching as he stands, his hands going to his belt; gore-covered.

He takes it off easily, the leather hissing when it's pulled from his slacks. 

"Present," he says quietly, twisting it so it becomes a loop. 

You can hurt me but you'll never have me, Damien. 

"No," I whisper. 

Coming forward, he takes my hair and yanks me onto my knees, ripping my gown up. He holds me down, still calm when he speaks. 

"Present or you'll never know where your father's body is," he says easily. "I'll let it rot like the garbage it is and you'll never lay him to rest."

His words are daggers, striking to kill, and I'm so numb that it's easy to drag me into position. I should've figured he'd know about my father, but does he know about ike?

Please, I whisper to the universe. Please, don't let him find Ike, not before I can. 

"Present," he repeats, and like a doll, I obey. I raise myself into the air, bared and docile; made pliable through his unending, ceaseless cruelty. 

He rubs the welts and bruises he left before, latching onto my soft whimpers and imploring me to relax. 

"Why are you doing this?" I ask, coiled because I know he's drawing out the expectation of the pain that's coming. He knows the anticipation is often worse than the punishment itself. 

"We're walking a line together," he says, spreading my thighs just so. "Can't you feel it? That small place between love and hate. I've never felt anything like this before. I want to see you in every state of mind... fearful, begging me to fuck you harder, crying, happy...I want it all. You can give me back all the things I've lost; we can find our way home together."

That's when the belt moves like black liquid through the air, connecting with my skin and making me jolt forward. I almost fold but manage to stay upright, my hands scraping at the carpet. The pain is so great that I can't even cry. 

"You may cry," he says, touching my back for just a moment before he's striking me again, harder. "In fact, I encourage it."

But I refuse to, if it'll bring him pleasure i won't give in. Instead, I retreat into my head until I nearly disappear, each strike of the belt like fire. I'm screaming on the inside but I won't give him the satisfaction of hearing it -

No, I'll turn further away from him, the darkness filling my room. I'll look toward the light and I'll search for the white house on the hill, down the path with trees on either side....

I'll keep searching until I find it, shining in the sun; the roses out back. That fabled garden. I'll come home someday, and I'm sure Ike will be waiting for me when I do, opening his arms, and maybe Mr Tucker will be there, too. And Tricia. We'll be together and safe and happy. 

Someday.