He has been lying on the floor in his childhood bedroom for almost four hours, trying and failing to not look at the wedding band lying beside him. He doesn’t want to think about what his parents would say if they could see him now. For all he knows, perhaps they watched everything from wherever it is they each ended up, watched their son fail and act weak. They must be ashamed of him, for what he did, for what he allowed to happen. He should have let that dagger pierce his stomach.
It is only once the light begins to filter in through the broken window that he decides to get up. The light reveals what the darkness hid, and each second he spends looking at his skin is a second that he wishes to rip it off. He wraps the sheet around his shoulders and head, cocooning himself from the world as he heads to one of the bathrooms. He picks one of the smaller ones located in the interior of the castle, away from the cruel light of day. The tap is promptly turned on to the hottest setting as he dumps much too much soap into the bath. Unscrewing the cap of a bottle of cleaning solution, he pours some into his mouth, relishing in the burn and bitterness before spitting into the sink. He repeats the process until he throws up from the taste. By this time, the bath is full, the water cloudy from both heat and the high concentration of soap. The stinging sensation of the water burning his skin is a welcome distraction from the actual process of cleaning himself. He grabs a cloth and scrubs his skin until it starts to bleed from abrasions and cleans his burns until it seems like his only removing more skin. The water is bright red when he is finished, as is his skin, and for a moment he almost feels at peace.
He buries the bodies after having them up for one day. He thought it was a good idea, a reminder to others and to himself to keep distance. It worked for Father after all, and he managed to exist in solitude for centuries, didn’t he? He failed to realize that the smell of decay would carry into the castle, which already smelled of death, and even an immortal dhampir could only live with the smell of rot for so long. He thinks that the castle always smelled of bread, smoke, and metal when he was young, but his memories tend to get muddled nowadays.
The bodies—he refuses to give them names, they are merely bodies, which are merely machines to hurt and kill, nothing more (hadn’t he said that before?)—are buried deep in the forest surrounding the castle, amidst the roots of large trees deep underground, so deep that even as a wolf he cannot smell them. He leaves no marker or symbol of remembrance for them. Why should he when he carries it himself? He supposes that he should do something for them, pray perhaps, but no one prayed for Mother or Father. Now he and the world are even.
After spending the day and better part of the night tying up loose ends, he bathes. Ever since that night, he takes at least three baths a day. He thinks that if he washes frequently and hard enough then maybe he can erase the feeling of their hands on him, but so far it hasn’t been enough. It doesn’t stop his nightmares, where he wakes up screaming himself hoarse and gouging deep claw marks into his arms. He sobs loudly and deeply afterward, not even able to hold onto himself because it just reminds him of what it feels like to have someone else's hands on him, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because no one else is here. He is free to scream and cry and rub his skin raw because it will never be clean enough—he will never be clean enough—because he is alone.
He isn’t prepared when they come back. He wasn’t really expecting them to. But then she runs up to him and wraps him in a hug, and he has to fight to keep from throwing up. And he claps him on the back, and he has to fight to keep from screaming at the sting on his raw skin. They ask him how he’s doing and he lies, of course he does. They can’t know about what happened. Oh God, what would they think if they found out? They would never look at them the same way. They wouldn’t want to stay here or see him again. They wouldn’t want to be associated with someone so disgusting. No, they did not need the truth. So he tells them that he has been fine and makes them launch into a discussion about their own adventures. During the first couple of days of their stay, everything is fine. He takes them down to the hold and gives them free rein of the castle and surrounding woods. He pretends to be the person that they left (was he even a person anymore?), and it works—until it doesn’t.
One night after dinner, they find him on his way to take his fifth bath of the day (three was not nearly enough anymore) and tell him that they want to talk. His muscles tense, and his heart rate spikes, and for a couple of moments he considers fleeing, but he sees the way that they’re looking at him so he agrees. They sit with him and tell him that they know that something happened, that they went into The Room and found the blood and the soiled sheets.
He tries to deny it at first, but they tell him that he doesn’t have to be ashamed, that everything is okay, that they want to help him. He doesn’t understand, he tells them. Aren’t they disgusted? They say they aren’t, that they care for him. And then she is touching his knee, and he is rubbing his arm, and it all makes sense. They try to hug him, to trap him just like they did last time, but he’s smarter now. He runs out of their grasp and stands on the other side of the room, sobbing and gasping for breath.
He doesn’t recognize his voice when he speaks; it’s too rough, too broken, too weak, not at all like the speaking voice Father trained him to use. He tells them to leave him alone, to save him the agony of their betrayal, but they shake their heads and reach for him again before stopping themselves. We love you, they say, but he knows that it’s only lies. He knows that they don’t mean it, not really. They don’t love all of him, not truly.
They love him like that vampiric lord loved him when he demanded that they be seated next to each other at dinner and proceeded to spend the entire meal with a hand on his thigh. They love him like the woman that helped him escape from that lord and took him to a secluded balcony saying that the fresh air would do him good, but who then cornered him against the railing and left him with bruises on his back from being pressed so hard against the railing and around his wrists from her grasp and down his neck from her lying mouth. They love him like the friend he had at one of the universities he visited, whom he would spend hours upon hours reading, debating, and studying with, who introduced him to a new group of other young men that became his first real friends, but who eventually attempted to bed him and tried to beat him up when he refused. They love him like everyone else outside of his family has loved him—as just a tantalizing object to use for their own pleasure and benefit.
He’s screaming at them now, and she has tears in her eyes and he is holding her back from reaching him across the room. He tells them again to leave, begging them to with heaving sobs that wrack his entire body, but they don’t. They say that what he said about them isn’t true and that they do truly love him. They say he deserves to be cared for, that they only want to help him and be there for him. They say he has suffered so much and he doesn’t have to anymore, that it's ok for him to get better and he doesn’t need to punish himself for anything that happened. He almost starts to believe them. Because it sounds so nice to be able to break and have someone else pick up the pieces for him. Because he is so unbearably tired of doing it himself. He meets their gaze and takes a hesitant step forward. One step. And another. And she opens her arms, leaving it up to him to come to her. But then she says that he deserves to give himself a reward. A reward. The illusion shatters, and all at once, he is taken back to that night. That feeling of being cared for and safe that too was shattered in an instant. He runs out of the room, ignoring the screams of his name (but it’s not his name, not really. It’s the one his mother always hated, what would she think if she knew that that was the only name people used for him now?). He runs around the hallways, taking whatever twists and turns his legs guide him to until the world around him starts to blacken around the edges. He stops, no longing having enough air in his lungs for sobs, and falls to the ground, curling into himself and thinking that maybe if he can make himself small enough he can disappear into nothingness.
He can still feel the phantom hands on his face, tangling in his hair, caressing his legs, and he wants to throw up again or wash again because he will never feel free of it. He will never escape. He thinks again that he should have let their dagger pierce his stomach.