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Rise

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"Kyle? Kyle, come on, wake up. Please."

I'm cold, very cold. Almost numb. I shift and my body isn't really cooperating, but I try again, opening my eyes and blinking the sleep from them.

They're heavy. They feel like they've been glued shut but finally they're cleared, and I can see that I'm lying on the floor in front of the fireplace. It's dark and I'm on my stomach.

"Thank goodness," Bebe says, pushing the hair from my face. "I've been trying to wake you for a while. For a moment I thought..."

She trails off but I have a pretty good idea of what she thought, if the pain waking up in my skin is any indication.

"Here, let me help you," she adds, taking a hold of my arm and gently easing me from the floor. I can't help but moan softly in my throat from the pain.

It feels like it's everywhere, but it's most prominent when I put weight on my backside; deep, throbbing aches blooming all the way up my backbone. I feel like I've been torn apart.

"You're bleeding," she says quietly. "Let's get you taken care of, and then I'll bring you your breakfast. Here, take your time, go slow."

I rest against her when I'm finally on my feet, finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other; walking in a daze, a waking coma. I passed out last night while Damien was beating me, so my mind is blessedly devoid of the details for the most part...

I can remember the lash of his belt, though, he's made sure I won't be able to forget it.

In the bathroom, I lean against the wall as Bebe runs the water. I can tell she's trying not to look at me, and I suppose I can't blame her. I shiver, rub my arms; attempt to drift. Flashes come to me, unwanted, of being forced to kneel, Damien talking his unhinged nonsense, the blood drying into maroon streaks on his horrible, cruel hands....

"Mark," I say, looking up. "How is he?"

Grim-faced, she lets the water run into the deep, wide tub while she undresses me. My nightgown is ruined, torn partially up the back and saturated with blood. She peels it from me as gently as she can before quietly dumping it into the trash.

I'd sooner burn it.

My hands are shaking when I climb into the water, sinking in slowly because I'm afraid of the way it's going to hurt and, oh, it does...I hold my breath before hissing through my teeth when the warm water sloshes over my welts and bruises. They're like a ladder up my back and down the backs of my thighs.

Bebe pours cupful of water over the back of my neck and shoulders, running in rivulets down my skin. Soon the water has a faint rosy cast. I smell sick and afraid and tired.

"I didn't do anything to him this time," I murmur, staring blankly at the water. "I woke up and he was in my room, and he sounded like he wasn't even connected to reality. He was raving."

"It was a difficult night," she replies and leaves it at that. She washes my hair, emptying out the water eventually to let me soak for a little longer.

It would seem that most of my interactions with Damien lead to hot baths, anything to cleanse me of his influence.

Much like the aftermath of my heat, she dresses me warmly after applying medicine and bandages to the worst of my wounds. My appetite is scant when she serves me breakfast but takes care to watch me as I take my pills.

After that she attends to my room, making no comment as she cleans the blood from the carpet in front of the fire.

The house is so silent that the air feels like it's made of glass; clear and getting ready to shatter with the smallest provocation. I watch the fire grow and pop, listening for the ashes to drop, lost in my thoughts.

Eventually, I fall asleep with my head in my hand, propped up in my chair. Bebe helps me to bed but holds my hand for a few moments before leaving my side.

I fall into a dreamless sleep where the pain can't follow me.

When I wake I'm cloudy and afraid because I can't think straight. I try to focus on my thoughts but they slip away before I can hold onto them. My pains are deep, like they're in my bones; throbbing and pulsing, warm against my gown and sheets. I look toward the window and it's grey.

Bebe comes to me and rests a hand on my forehead. She looks concerned and this makes me more afraid.

"You have a fever," she says. "How do you feel?"

"My head aches, like it's stuffed with cotton. It's hard to think."

"Well, you're staying put for now. Let me get you some medicine."

"Please, I just want to sleep."

"Soon, but I want to nip this in the bud if I can."

I'm dosed with something vile, the substance like liquid licorice as it thickly courses down my throat. She pats my hand.

"It'll help. You might have caught something lying on the floor all night."

Rage comes to the surface quickly when I hear this. "It's not like it was by choice."

She turns away. "I'll bring you some water to have here at your bedside."

I try to growl but I lose my drive. I'm just too tired. I turn on my side and curl into my pillow, trying to fill my head with pleasant thoughts, but they're jumbled. The fever is playing tricks on me, splicing together memories, turning them into a kaleidoscopic mess.

I shut my eyes tightly and pray for sleep, for oblivion. Eventually my prayer is answered.

I slip through dreams and the waking world like a needle through linen; moving from one place to the other but never seeming to exist in either. Sometimes everything is filled with shadow and other times the light is so bright that I feel like I'm being burned; faces and voices drifting into my head, some familiar while others are like ghosts of people I've never met.

I often see the white house on the hill. I hear ike's laughter, I feel Mr Tucker's hands, but when all is said and done I find myself back on the floor with Damien mercilessly beating me until I manage to escape. I shout and run through corridors that won't end, trying to open doors and banging on the windows; screaming and screaming until my voice gives out.

When I finally wake up the lamp is lit, flushing the room with its golden light, and when I manage to come back to myself i see that every surface is covered with vases filled with roses. I rub my eyes, sure that I'm still dreaming; the fever up to more of its trickery.

But, no, they're still there, and while I routinely decorate with roses it's never to this extent. I use plain glasses to hold them in, whatever I think won't be missed, but these vases are stunning; comprised of cut glass, delicate porcelain, crystal -

They glimmer in the light, and the roses are in every shade from the garden: yellow, pink, scarlet, orange -

There are even orchids and lilies and tulips.

I slip from my bed, clutching my dressing gown closed as I look around in awe, smelling the flowers and taken by their beauty, the way they brighten the room, my spirit. It's like being back in my garden, out in the sun with the wind at my back.

But there's an undercurrent here that doesn't feel right, and a sinister voice in my head whispers to make me open my eyes and see -

That's when I notice the ornate little box on the table in front of the fire. I go to pick it up, my back aching and my head still so hazy, and I see that it's carved from golden-colored wood. Likenesses of animals peer out at me, carved seamlessly into the wood; curious and hidden among trees. I'm charmed, tilting to see every angle before opening it.

Soft music plays, tinkling like a lullaby, and I recognize it as the song i was rehearsing for my debut but never got to play. I cover my mouth, the sounds of the melody making me long for Tricia and Mr Tucker.

The thing that truly makes my breath catch in my throat is the article in the box, the diamond and sapphire necklace Damien had given me before presenting me to the crowd like an offering. I hold it up for a moment, considering it, before slowly putting it back and closing the lid.

I look toward the fire and think about throwing the box and the necklace to the flames, but I set it aside instead. I look around and the ugliness washes back in.

I'm surrounded by smoke and mirrors. I don't know if what I'm seeing is a bribe or a genuine apology. Yes, I can make a pretty educated guess as to which it probably is, but it is disarming that Damien managed to find things I'd enjoy and go to the trouble of lavishing me with them. I have to wonder if he's done that with anyone else, and if he has me under his thumb, why go to the effort at all?

Why does he have to be like this? It's as if the misery of others is his life's breath, the sustenance that keeps him going. He loves to have me always guessing and floundering while he oversees the chaos.

I lift a hand to knock the box off the table but I can't do it. If he were here I'd probably throw the damn thing in his face, though.

Depraved bastard.

Once Bebe sees that I'm up and around again, she brings me dinner but makes me eat in bed, propped against a mountain of pillows. The food is tasteless but I eat enough to satisfy her.

She touches my head and nods. "The Master will be happy that your fever's broken."

"Doesn't have the courage to face me himself, does he?" I ask, sipping more soup.

"His hands are full right now."

"Not too full to give me peace offerings, if that's how I'm supposed to interpret all of this," I reply, waving a hand at the roses.

"Kyle, listen to me. You don't want to antagonize him right now. It's the worst possible time." She begins clearing my tray away.

"He woke me up just to beat me. I don't even have to speak to make him angry, it seems. Besides, you could tell me what's going on... shouldn't I know so I can better protect myself?"

She sighs. "It's so complicated, and really, I'm not supposed to say anything."

I raise my eyes to see the worry in hers. "It's Mark, isn't it?"

She hesitates before she slowly nods. "He's sick."

My heart drops. My interactions with him were minimal at best, and he hadn't always been pleasant, but I certainly have nothing against him. "What about the baby?"

"I don't know," she says, turning away. "He's being kept away from everyone. Closer to Damien's room."

"Kyle," she adds, "I'm afraid for him. I don't -"

She stops speaking, glancing at me like I've already heard too much. I don't press but it's rare for me to see her this way - she's usually so composed.

"Never mind. I won't worry you over things you can't change, anyway. There's no point."

"I wish I could help."

"So do i," she says, stopping to smell a rose on the way out of my room.

Days pass before I see Damien again. He comes to my room late at night and almost catches me reading, but I'm quick to hide the book away; I'm almost finished with it, having had a very hard time concentrating.

He stands next to my bed just looking at me for a moment until he softly reaches to place a hand on my face. I flinch and his eyes flicker.

"I've been meaning to come to you sooner," he says, "to see how you are."

"What, after you left me on the floor?" I ask, reviled by his scent, the feel of him on me. "After beating me for no reason?"

He still looks at me with tenderness. "Let me see your back."

"Why, so you can gloat?"

"Kyle."

Sighing, I rise and remove my gown, exposing my healing wounds to him, some still covered with bandages. I've avoided looking at them but Bebe told me they're doing much better.

As always, Damien makes me wait before he touches me, so when his fingers glide across my skin the contact is magnified. I make a small sound in my throat but don't speak.

He traces his fingertips next to my bruises and marks, not touching them but getting close. He doesn't press, and his skin is cool. He's gentle when he speaks, "You're healing quickly."

I say nothing. What is there to say?

"Here," he says, pulling me down to cradle in his lap. He wraps an arm around my waist and lays his head against mine. "I'll have your room filled with flowers every day, all kinds."

"I can pick them myself," I reply. "If I'm ever allowed to go outside again."

His arms tense around me but his voice remains gentle. "The box was made just for you, from wood from the trees in the forest you grew up in."

"I don't want your gifts." Stifling a sob, I look away. "What about my father? How long have you known about his death?"

"For a while."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It would seem you already knew, didn't you?"

"I had it thrown in my face by that pig," I seeth. "You know which one I'm talking about."

"Ah, yes. He told me you two had a nice chat at one point."

Infuriated, I move away from him. "We didn't have a nice chat! He attacked me, and when I fought him off he told me my father's dead! I'd love nothing more than to rip him to pieces!"

"Bad things happen to creatures that wander away from home, my love," he replies, giving me an enigmatic look.

I stare at him, dumbfounded. "Are you saying I deserved to be attacked? Don't you care...I thought Alphas were supposed to care if someone touched their omega. You treat me like your property!"

He laughs. "You want it in every way possible, don't you? You don't want me but you want me to be concerned for your welfare. You want care but you also want me to leave you alone. My dear, don't you get tired of confusing yourself?"

The venom of my hate is almost too much to contain but somehow, somehow I keep it inside.

"Where's my father?! I want to bury him properly! So he can rest in peace!"

Standing, Damien goes to the window where the wind is howling and the snow is coming down; just speckles, though, not heavily like before.

"It'll be a long time before the ground is thawed enough to bury anything," he muses. "But if it would please you I'll look into it."

Cold creeps up my back at his tone. It's like his body is still in the room but the rest of him left. "It doesn't please me. Don't you understand that I'm devastated about this? Both of my parents are gone, I'll never see them again."

"Your capacity for forgiveness is staggering," he replies, still looking out the window. "He sold you and yet you mourn him. If my father had done that I would've torn off his head myself."

"I don't doubt that. But unlike you, I loved my family. They weren't perfect but I can overlook that... that's what you do when you care about someone."

He glances over his shoulder at me. "Is that so?"

Stomach clenching, I pick up my gown to shield myself. "But even i have my limits."

He laughs again and it's razors under my nails. "I will bring you your pound of flesh if it's within my power."

"What's your angle?" I ask. "I know you don't do anything without a reason." I begin to dress. "You know what? Never mind, don't bother. I don't want to make a deal with you, it can only hurt me."

"Are you sure," he turns, eyes flashing red and I hold my breath. I don't know if he'll keep his distance.

"I'll let him go," I lie. "The way you would. Perhaps I should take a page from your book. I mean, you seem pretty content most of the time."

He smiles, slow, and his teeth are sharp, brutal. He goes to the table and picks up the little box, opening the lid to listen to the song play; slow and winding down.

"It's been a while since you've had a lesson," he comments idly.

I watch him, going to pull on a robe, anything to add layers between us, to keep those eyes from cutting me any deeper. "You've kept me pretty busy, haven't you?"

"I'll arrange it," he says, snapping the box closed and setting it down. "I think it would make you happy, and if you don't want me to find your father -"

"I don't."

"Then I can encourage your talents. And you seem to be very taken with Ms. Tucker."

"She's kind," I say softly. "Truly kind. She wants to be my friend, I think."

"Friends are so important, aren't they?" He asks. "They pick you up when you fall, look out for you... they feed and enrich the soul."

"They help you when you need it," he adds, and the look on his face drives ice into my belly.

Curiosity rides on the back of my fear. "Do you have any friends?"

"I have those that are beneficial to me when I need them."

"That doesn't really sound like friendship to me," I reply.

His eyes drift over me. "Are you offering to be my companion, then?"

I raise an eyebrow. "That's a leap in logic, even for you."

He smiles so widely he looks like a different person for a moment, and his scent changes; twists and almost becomes bearable, but it's still much too strong.

"Which are your favorite?" he asks.

"Sir?"

"The flowers, which do you like the best?"

I think a moment, and I'm taken back to Mr Tucker, the scarlet roses I've given him. I gesture to a vase full of them. "These, I suppose. They're romantic."

He touches one, breaking it off to hold in his hand. "They are, aren't they?" Giving me a fond look, his smile hangs on and my stomach clenches tighter.

The next morning I wake up to a room filled with vases of nothing but scarlet roses. There's a new trinket laying atop the little box; a silver chain with a charm shaped like a piano. It's studded with diamonds.

"Oh, how lovely," Bebe sighs, holding it up to the light. She has smudges of sleep shadow beneath her eyes. "You can wear it to your lesson today. I'm sure your teacher will find it fetching."

"I'll never wear a gift from him unless I'm forced," I say, looking round at all the roses. "Why is he even doing all of this? There's no reason, and it certainly won't make me care for him or forgive him. He has to know that."

"Hope springs eternal," she says, laying the necklace aside. She presses a hand to her head for a moment.

"Why don't you sit down?" I ask, noticing her pallor as well. "You seem so tired."

She shakes her head. "I haven't time, but thank you. I need to get on with things."

I'm quiet a moment, watching her. "I'd be wasting my time if I asked you about Mark, wouldn't I?"

"It isn't my business to give," she says, looking down at her hands before slowly clenching them shut. "So, please don't ask."

I'm not allowed to go outside before my lesson because I'm not deemed "well enough" according to Damien, but I watch from the window to see Mr Tucker go by, a small figure in the distance. My heart aches at the sight like it's an open wound.

My spirit lifts considerably when I see Tricia,  though, and we embrace like old friends. She holds me carefully, like I might break.

"I've worried for you since your debut," she says, drawing back and studying my face. "I can't tell you how relieved I was when Craig told me he'd seen you, that you'd spoken."

We sit before the fire, my hand in hers. "He found me in an embarrassing state, I'm afraid." I try to laugh it off, but the sound is brittle. "Crying like a child in the garden... what he must think of me."

She's quiet a moment, the firelight caught in her sea glass eyes, and I'm suddenly taken with such affection for her. I'm just so glad to be in her company again.

"He thinks very well of you, Kyle," she says softly. "My brother is a man of few words, but the ones he's spared for you have been very fond."

The burdens on my heart seem to lessen when I hear this. If anything, I'm filled with an almost delirious felicity to know that he speaks of me at all, but to know that his words are kind....

"I think well of him, too," i say, dropping my focus to the lovely floral pattern on her dress. "More than anyone I've ever known. I feel calm with him, his scent alone...."

I think of it, and it's as if I'm being embraced from afar; Mr Tucker's scent, his warm presence. I could become lost in these memories for they're some of the happiest I possess. It's sad, I know, because they're brief and there aren't many of them, but I can't help but return to them when the world is cold.

"He told me he's going to help find your brother," she says. "And your father. Oh, Kyle, I'm so sorry to hear about what happened. If there's anything I can do to comfort you please let me know."

"Just being able to see you is enough," I say. "More than enough, actually."

"I've brought you something." Reaching into her basket, she draws out a few books, pretty colored slips of paper, and a little golden pen with pearl accents. "Actually, the pen is from my brother."

I take it, cherishing it already. It fits nicely into my palm, and I can already anticipate writing little notes with it, even if my penmanship still needs a lot of work. Still, I take a slip of paper and write "thank you" as neatly as I can. I hold it out to her.

"Will you give him this? I want him to know how grateful I am, for everything."

She takes it but she seems very reserved, looking up to study Damien's portrait. "We've already taken things so far, i suppose it makes no sense to try and go back now." She glances at me and her expression is very grave. "Kyle, are you in love with my brother?"

The suddenness of this question makes my heart lurch, and my face is flaming; hands worrying together. My first impulse is to lie but I don't want to have deception between Tricia and i; I have too much affection for her to resort to that.

I nod slowly, biting my lip hard. I can't speak because there's too much to say. It was hard enough revealing something that's tucked so deeply inside my heart.

"I knew it," she murmurs. "Every time he's mentioned you light up, and the way you responded to him at your debut... well, at least my suspicions have been confirmed."

"I can't help it," I say, but then I think better of it. "Well, I'm sure I can, but I really don't want to. I enjoy loving him...I want to love him. If I had any control over my life I'd want to be with him and care for him in any way I could."

She takes my hand and presses it to her bosom. "I'm not asking you to defend yourself, Kyle. Love is probably the most important force on earth, but I just don't want you to get hurt, that's all."

Tears build in my eyes, my throat tightening as I look at Damien's portrait now; handsome, yes, beautiful, but his type of affection is violence smoothed over with rooms of red roses. I find myself leaning against Tricia and crying until I feel sick.

"I know I'm just perpetuating my own misery, wanting something I can't have," I say. "But thinking of him keeps me going when I don't think I can. You, too. I love you both, and I'd give anything to be with you, and my brother..."

I sit back, rubbing at my face. "Do you think he'll be able to find him? Damien already knew about my father's death, he seems to know everything all the time. I don't want him to find my brother so he can use him to hurt me."

"Craig is already working on it," she says gently. "And knowing him, he'll move heaven and earth to help you... that's just his way when he cares for someone."

After this meeting, I'm somewhat lighter but my melancholy always nips at my heels, a little snapping animal that follows me everywhere I go. I try to distract myself with reading my new books and listening to music, and now I have the pleasure of practicing my writing with the pen Mr Tucker so graciously gave me.

I write little notes to him, secret musings of the heart that I can't say out loud, but getting them out helps with my sorrow and seems to bring him closer to me. I pour out my fears and desires, the mean little thoughts I sometimes have, but mostly I write of my loneliness; things I've lost and yearn for, the things I want so badly but can't have.

Ashamed, I feed all of these admissions to the fire, watching the sheets of paper curl and burn away in the flames. I feel like I'm burning along with them.

Damien still fills my room with roses and gives me more trinkets, but I refuse to wear them; happy that he's been so preoccupied with his own matters that I've scarcely seen him, and he hasn't come to my room late at night to force himself on me.

When I'm finally allowed to visit the garden again, it's on a grey day that feels lost in time; errant clouds wafting across the sky to cover the weak, cold sun. The world feels so static and i along with it, constantly wondering when the tides will turn and something will happen, either good or bad.

The cold is biting as I look after the roses, but even their beauty can't deliver me from my thoughts today.

I'm restless. I want to run to the gate and climb over it; run without regards for where I'm going. I just want to escape and become untouchable, a bird in the sky or a snowflake carried along on the wind until it comes to rest far, far away in a silent forest.

I look toward the street and it's empty, but before I can truly dwell a flash of movement catches my eye; a blood red cardinal soaring overhead, carried aloft by drafts, wings spread wide. It flits over the grounds until it disappears behind the mansion, and the words that strange Alpha had spoken to me at my debut suddenly return:

"If you want to know more, just check out the forest behind his mansion."

They'd come to me on occasion since I'd heard them, but they had frightened me just like everything else about this place. Besides, I'd learned that wandering to places not meant for me could have terrible consequences, but I had to wonder....

My shoes are passing through the snow before I can stop myself, bringing me closer and closer to the mansion. I walk by familiar trees and bushes, fountains and shrubbery, until I'm rounding the corner of the building, and the path before me is less sunlit. It's colder back here, and I hold my cloak tightly as I slow my pace.

The forest beyond looks fragile, with the skeletal clutches of trees and the bright white of the sky peering between the naked branches. The cardinal from before is a bright lick of flame, sitting on a branch and preening. The wind moves through, miserable and clattering tree branches, making me shudder.

Soon I'm at the edge of it all, and I can't help but feel that this forest is nothing like the one I'd known growing up. This one feels dead, uninviting; like I'm being watched as I consider it. I shiver, both from the wind and this horrible, pervasive feeling of dread spreading over me, like it's covering me; mouth, nose, until I can barely breathe.

I look over my shoulder now and again as I walk along the path, less densely packed with snow because some of the trees still have their needles, shielding the confines of the area. The air is chilled and smells of pine, spicy, and the snow with its clean purity. I trudge along, my cloak dragging behind me, until I notice a break in the trees before me, almost like a doorway, and I approach more cautiously.

Why is my heart pounding like this? It's so fast, and I feel dizzy, the slow-moving fear like acid in me. My eyes are so fixed on what's beyond me that I take no care to notice what's in front of me, and suddenly I'm tripping and falling over icy stones, and I'm falling headlong down a sloped path, rolling over and over until i finally stop, and I'm breathing heavily, eyes open to the wide sky above; the edges jagged from the trees circling.

When I'm able to collect myself, I sit up and shake my head, finally looking around and when I do i can't understand for several moments the horror I've fallen into.

Mounds of dirt laying side by side in even rows, each of them marked with silvery headstones, each bearing a name. I stare, terrified to see the omega mark, exactly like the clover on my leg, gracing the top of each one. Shakily, I stand, not even bothering to dust myself off, the mud and snow clinging to my cloak.

I'm without words, because what can I truly say about what I'm seeing? I'm standing in the presence of the dead, all of my kind, and I know, on some level, I know, that I'm looking at what could become my future.

The terror is reaching a fever pitch even before I notice the freshly turned earth of what appears to be a new grave, and my blood is ice in my veins. My mouth is dry, and I realize I'm crying, the tears frigid on my face.

"You shouldn't be here," a voice speaks from behind me, and I scream, unable to keep the sound inside; it's too large, too overpowering, the fear that created it. I whirl to see Damien there, and he's watching me with a grim, detached expression.

"You should be tending to your roses," he says, slowly starting toward me. "That's where you belong, not here."

I'm revolted even more by his presence now, standing in this place with him, the whispers of the dead all around us. "Are all of these," I begin, my voice so soft it nearly becomes lost. "Are these the omegas who...I mean..."

"They fell out of my favor," Damien says quietly. "I won't keep anything near me that doesn't in some way make me happy. They were all disappointments, poor things. They tried, though, and I suppose I can remember them fondly for that."

"Is it because they didn't give you children?" I ask, looking again toward the grave that's just been started.

"Partially."

I clap a hand to my mouth to stifle a sob, retreating from Damien and going to the mound of newly turned earth. I stand next to it before kneeling, feeling weak.

"Mark," I murmur, my voice thick. I pick up soil to let it slip between my fingers. "Please, please tell me -"

"He wasn't careful enough. I'm sure that's what happened," Damien says, and his voice is bitter now; angry. "He took chances, didn't rest as much as he should... he didn't obey, Kyle. He took something from me, something so important... how can I forgive that?"

My mind goes back to that awful night when Damien had beaten me so brutally. "The blood on your hands..."

"An eye for an eye," he says softly, "and really i didn't truly mean to do it. It wasn't my intention, but fate had other plans."

"It wasn't fate, it was you!" I yell, rising and wanting to go to him and beat him, make him feel firsthand the pain he causes in others. "You only care about yourself and what you want! None of us are even people in your eyes. We're just objects you can pick up and use when you want, and when our novelty wears off or we don't satisfy you you throw us away like garbage! But we aren't garbage!"

"Have you ever stopped to consider that the problem isn't us, it's you?" I spit out, enjoying the taste of my vitriol on my lips; it's almost cleansing. "Maybe the universe doesn't want to see more of your kind and it's stepping in to stop you. The deficiency isn't with the omegas you choose, it's with you!"

Moving quicker than I've ever seen him, he's across the clearing in an instant and slapping me hard across the face; so hard that i fall, and I find myself in Mark's future grave. I shriek, so wild with terror that I sound like an animal, and I'm sobbing until I gag.

"Oh, my sweet darling," Damien sighs, reaching to take me into his arms while I'm disarmed; gathering me close and kissing my curls to sooth me. "You don't need to be afraid. I'm starting to think that even if you don't give me children I'd like to keep you... look at you. Come to love you."

"You can't love anyone," I murmur, pushing against him. I sag, spent and exhausted. This is too much, all of this is just too much for one person to bear.

"I can love you in my own way," he says, lifting my face to kiss my mouth, and in my frantic terror i bite at him, catching his lip and making him bleed.

He grunts softly, the only indication that he felt any pain at all, but then he's smiling and dabbing at the blood with his fingers, watching it drip over his pale skin. He looks at me again and his eyes flash red, filling with desire.

"I never know what you'll do, I can't predict you," he says. "It makes me want to watch you just to see what you'll do."

Drawing back, I cringe away from him, crazed with the blood on his face. In my head I'm screaming for Mr Tucker, Tricia; my heart is weeping for Mark, and I know now that regardless of anything, I need to get out of here, away from this mansion filled with nightmares.

I need to run before I become just another grave, tucked away in the forest, forgotten by the world; almost like I'd never existed in the first place.