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Ashes in the Dark

Chapter Text

His ears rang like alarms in his head and Wilson could barely process his own thoughts, he was so cold. He could dimly hear the baying of the dogs behind him, howling mournfully, and hoped to science that the pig men had taken care of them. Black shadow hands plucked at his feet and he stumbled blindly towards where he was pretty sure the fire pit was, he knew he had left one around here somewhere-

“Oof, uh, shit,” Wilson stuttered as he abruptly tripped over said fire pit, his fall broken by charred wood that crumbled instantly under his weight. The ash was everywhere, instantly, in his nose and eyes and in his jacket and shirt collar. Wilson rolled out of instinct and flopped out onto frigid, wet mud. His eyes streamed tears and through watered vision he saw the last sliver of sun slip over the horizon. He groped in his backpack, wild with panic, lit his torch, and threw it into the pit just as the shadow fingers closed over him.

Sickly green flames roared up and, within an instant, the hands retreated. The cold permeating his limbs was already burning away with the fire and Wilson breathed out a wretched sigh. His eyes still scorched. There was a little creek just beyond the reach of the fire’s glow, too far from the safety of light. Wilson would have to settle for the water in his beefalo horn flask for cleaning up for the moment. Carefully, he unstoppered the horn and poured clear water over his eyes until he could see again. They still burned, still watered, but at least Wilson could sort-of see again.

He could see well enough to realize that the darkness surrounding his tiny fire was dotted with ghastly faces. They were watching him much too intently for comfort. His stomach growled and Wilson closed his eyes. He was way too far from his main camp, had been too focused on gathering flint and gold to notice the accumulating distance.

Wilson cursed his over-confidence, cursed the fact that he had only brought along a few pieces of jerky and some meatballs. There should have been plenty of seeds and berries this time of year, more than enough to keep him satiated as he searched the vast, yet empty, landscape. It also shouldn’t be nearly this cold, not yet, but Wilson really shouldn’t have been surprised.

This world was cruel and capricious, and the game was always changing. Every time he died, he was brought back to life. Every time, it was to a new and different place. Nothing stayed the same. Nothing except Maxwell and his sadistic punishments.
Wilson regretted saying yes. He regretted it every single day.

He remembered the one time that he had been brought back and no matter how far he searched, there was no gold to be found. Through uncountable marshes, dark forests, graveyards, and grasslands he had searched. Unable to build anything of real importance, the winter came all too soon and Wilson had died in the dark, screaming in agony and despair. He remembered that death in particular detail. The mere memory made his head hurt.

Now he was going to die, again, and have no choice but to start back at the bloody beginning. Again.

The fire was a lot smaller now, the shadows much closer. Wilson closed his eyes and wondered if he should just give up.

There was something tugging gently at his left foot and Wilson didn’t have the strength to look. It probably wasn’t real anyway, a figment of his terrified and traumatized imagination. He could hear a very slight roar off in the distance, and he was fairly certain that the ground beneath him was shaking

There was, suddenly, a very familiar smell.

"You don’t look so good, pal.” That voice echoed through his very bones and Wilson could only moan weakly. Smoke, not from his fire, curled around him in tendrils and Wilson coughed bitterly. He hated cigars, hated the stench, hated how it clung to his clothes for days after like a heavy depression.

Though his eyes were closed, he could hear the fire suddenly roar, feel the sudden warmth cascade over him. Wilson didn’t get up, only pulled tighter into his own self. "Do you want to start over again? Perhaps I should leave you to freeze. Come here, stupid boy." Compelled by magic, the human shuffled forward on his hands and knees. He came into the light, eyes cast downward, and stopped at Maxwell's feet.

"Oh, pet,” Maxwell ran a hand through the human's short hair and pulled, elicited a groan as he tilted Wilson’s head up and back to expose that pink throat.

"P-please, I, uh, don’t, don't," came the small voice. Wilson could practically hear Maxwell smile as the demon leaned in. Hot breath washed over his collarbone and all the human could do was shiver.

“Just be still for me,” lips skittered over his jawline and centered on the pulsing jugular. Wilson started to whine through his nose, unable to breathe from fear. “Just for a minute.”

Maxwell bit him, impossibly hard, and Wilson screamed loud enough to startle a few birds out of the grass nearby. Their dim shadows were just visible against the blanket of the night beyond and Wilson could only stare at them, his jaw slack. He could feel the demon’s mouth against his throat, literally pulling the blood from his body in fierce draws that left his toes and fingers cold.

“Muh, uhm, M-Maxwell,” he begged, soft and weak, “Please.” Maxwell had never straight up killed him before. Oh, he had tortured Wilson to within an inch of his sanity, drugged him with poison and alcohols, fucked him, destroyed his mind, left him broken and begging, but the demon had never directly contributed to his death. Wilson found his hands and settled them on Maxwell’s broad shoulders in some attempt to push the demon away.

That mouth left his skin and long fingers closed gently around his neck. Not pressing, not suffocating, and Wilson felt his skin itch as Maxwell healed him. Blood still coated his chest and collarbone, was soaked into his shirt and overcoat, tacky and drying fast.

“I can’t play with my toys if they’re broken, now can I?” the demon explained, as if Wilson cared either way. “Look at me, boy.”

Wilson refused.

“LOOK. AT. ME. BOY.” That voice boomed in his head, rang in his ears, bellowed into his soul and Wilson could only comply. Maxwell’s eyes raged like grey storms, his mouth and face smeared with blood and spit. “There you are. Lovely.” His words were all honey and condescension and the juxtaposition was enough to make Wilson feel sick again. The hand in his hair tightened and yanked him to his knees.

"Now, be a good boy and open up for your Master.”

Wilson closed his eyes and did as he was told. Maxwell watched intently, obsessed, stared at his own cock as it slid between full lips. Maxwell groaned, relished the sound of the human's quiet suckling. That shy mouth could only take in the first few inches, but his teeth were carefully pulled back and Maxwell appreciated the effort. Wilson had learned quickly, and each time it was even better.

He grabbed the human by the ears and guided his cock deeper. Wet flesh clenched around him as the young man gagged, and Maxwell eased back just a little. His victim gasped for air in that short reprieve, and then squeaked when the demon surged forward, forced himself down Wilson’s throat as deep as he could go. The body in the demon's hands contorted, coughed around his dick, the fluttering muscles more gratifying than anything Maxwell could remember. He thrust hard, careless as the human gagged and struggled. Wilson drooled copiously, his body desperately trying not to choke. Wilson's throat was so wet, so slick, and it was easy for Maxwell to build up to a punishing tempo.

"Good, good boy, such a skillful cock sucker, aren't you? I'm sure you're thirsty, you’ve been out all day haven’t you? I have something for you. Fuck yes, just like that my sweet slut. Don't worry, Master is going to fill you up nice and full, isn't he?" Maxwell forced himself as far in as the human's mouth allowed and came, pumped his burning come down the bruised throat. One hand twisted in the black hair, held the human completely still. "Swallow it all, pal." Slowly, unwilling, the scientist gulped it down and Maxwell let him go.

Immediately Wilson reared back, tried to vomit but could only bring up the taste of Maxwell's come. Bitter, sulphuric, disgusting. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he began to shuffle away.

"No, Master isn't done with you yet." The demon snapped his fingers and the forest changed. They were in a bedroom now, moderately sized with a high ceiling. The walls were painted a handsome grey and the furniture was modern, all dark wood with black and chrome accents.

Maxwell had never brought him here before and Wilson felt his heart plummet.

Chapter Text

            Wilson stared at the enormous four-poster bed in the center of the room. Intricately wrought iron curled up from the floor around the mattress, a black trellis with roses and ivy molded into the metal. Tiny diamond thorns glinted from among the vines. A rich purple chest, nearly large enough for Wilson himself to climb into, lay at the far end of the room, beneath a window. The thick black curtains were pulled, made it impossible to tell whether the sun was up or not.

            It was beautiful, and overwhelming, and this was clearly Maxwell’s bedroom.

            “You like?” Maxwell watched the human take in the sudden change of surroundings. He stroked the opulent wood of his armoire fondly. “I did the interior myself. My designer said something about it being too dark. What do you think?” His voice practically vibrated with glee at the human’s discomfort.

            “It’s… n-n-n-nnngh,” Too terrified to answer properly, Wilson pulled up into himself, arms across his chest, still at Maxwell’s feet but kept his head down. Maxwell put a solid hand on a trembling shoulder and stroked his pet. The scientist shook like a glass wind chime.

            “Hop up on the bed, pal. Hands and knees, facing away from me.” The human didn’t move and Maxwell tightened his grip, dug sharp nails in quick and deep. “That was not a request.”

            Wilson crawled up onto the bed and the first thing he noticed washow soft and warm the comforter was under his palms. The plush fabric was a deep crimson, indecent and inflammatory among all the grey and black. He glanced behind him, to look for the red rose that customarily adorned Maxwell’s suit, but the demon’s jacket was gone.  

            “There you are. What a nice little ass you have.” A sure hand cupped Wilson’s rear, squeezed and groped and Wilson snapped his head forward. His muscles too tight to move, he strained to breathe and –

            Smack!

            His left buttock stung and Wilson reeled as he realized that Maxwell had spanked him.       

            Smack!

            Before he could even inhale, the demon slapped him again, then again, four times, up to a full dozen. Wilson ground his teeth together, tried to focus on the shrieking pain in his jaw. Even then Maxwell didn't stop, kept spanking him, until Wilson had long lost count of the strikes. Each blow shocked him a little each time, and soon his ass sang with discomfort, his jaw sore and his mouth full of iron.

            Maxwell had been eerily silent the entire time, and finally paused to molest Wilson’s ass again. The scientist wheezed out a grunt as his balls were carelessly groped through his trousers.  

            There was a snap of Maxwell’s fingers and Wilson was naked. It was cool in the bedroom, but not nearly as cold as it had been outside. He couldn’t see Maxwell from this angle but he could feel the other man’s presence on his mind, a clouded mass of smoke that suffocated him from every angle.  He could feel the demon’s eyes raking over him as he was scrutinized and inspected.

            Maxwell hummed in appreciation as he stroked the human’s full cheeks, the skin pink and warm. He smacked again, harder this time, hard enough to elicit Wilson’s first bark of pain.

            “You like that, hm?” Maxwell finally spoke, as if he had been waiting for Wilson to end the silence. “Let’s do a set of twelve. Count them out for me.” He slapped Wilson’s ass, the strike relatively light in comparison, but the human said nothing. Maxwell waited a full ten seconds before doing it again, harder. “I advise you comply, or I will make it worse.” Another slap, then another, but still Wilson didn’t answer.

            He wanted to, God did he want to respond, to get it over with, to get Maxwell’s hands off of him, anything. His throat was locked tight with ice and distress and rage and all he could do was shake.

            He managed a muffled whine.

            “You scientists and your obstinacy,” Maxwell’s scowl was audible. The demon snapped his fingers again and Wilson couldn’t help but crane his neck to see. Maxwell now held a smooth black crop, the leather rich and inky under the dim light. He ran his fingers up and down the fiberglass shaft and then smiled directly at his pet. Wilson looked forward, unable to maintain the eye contact. His belly danced with a slippery nausea that made him want to vomit every time those eyes bored into his.

            “Well?”

            Wilson still couldn’t speak.

            Smack!

            Wilson’s head snapped forward and he squealed, his voice upsettingly shrill. That stung, a lot.

            Smack!

            “O-one,” his throat was so dry and tasted like ash. His ass stung like fire. His entire bottom felt flush and full, and Wilson couldn’t ignore the warmth spreading between his legs. That last strike had really hurt but he had to focus.

            “Good boy, decided to play along?” Maxwell rubbed him in praise, his palm cool and calming against Wilson’s heated gooseflesh.

            Smack.

            “T, t-two,” Wilson ground out, his voice was clearer this time, louder. Maxwell’s blows were focused on the exact same spot and the ache was becoming overbearing.  Smack. “Three!” Smack. “Fuh, f, fuck!”

            “Excuse me?” Maxwell’s voice was edged, “From the top, then.”

            “N-no!” Wilson couldn’t stop himself.

            “I’m not the one who miscounted, pal.”

            Smack!

            “One. Uh, two. Thr-three… f-f, uh, four! … five… please Mah-m-maxwell!”

            "Who knew my little scientist could only count to five? I should take you back to the store and exchange you for a newer model." Warm hands, too warm, glided up his back and then smacked his ass again and Wilson's stomach folded over itself. "Try again, little Wilson." Maxwell cupped a palmful of that sweet bottom and rubbed where little blue and purple bruises were already blossoming. "And - action!"

            "One! Two, t-two. Th, three. Uhm, four!" Wilson tried to pull away, it stung so fucking badly, but Maxwell's magic held him still. He sobbed with the fifth strike but managed to cough the number out with his tears. Maxwell's fingers stroked him again. The gentle touch against his sensitive skin was entirely too overwhelming and Wilson began to weep.

            Smack! "Fi, fi, five - Five," the human's voice was high and tight, almost imperceptible. Maxwell groped between Wilson's legs, fondled Wilson's genitals without shame. He wrapped a hand around the small, half hard cock just as he landed the next hit.

            "Six," Wilson gurgled.

            "Spread your legs.” The human didn't answer and didn't move. "Do it!" Maxwell was everywhere, reverberated in Wilson's chest and the human complied out of pure, absolute horror. Maxwell's hot fingers pulled away, then slapped Wilson right across his small testicles.

            Wilson squealed and screamed again. 

            "What number was that?" the demon demanded.

            His mind whirled, his vision dimmed by pain. "Uh, uhm, s-seven." His voice was only a whisper, but Maxwell apparently heard it and landed the next strike, back to abusing Wilson’s red ass.

            "E-Eight."

            Smack!

            "Nine!"

            Smack.

            Silence.

            "Well?"

            "T, ten, t-ten, ten!" this time accompanied with a rough sob. Wilson squeezed his eyes shut, determined to make it through the full dozen. If he fucked up now, Maxwell would make him start over and just the mere thought of another round of this made his heart clench.

            Eleven left him shaking, every muscle pulled too tight. Maxwell's hands ran down his back, falsely comforting.

            "One more, darling. You can take another one for Master, I know you can." This time, Wilson screeched and it burned. Whatever that was, it wasn't the crop, and his entire being was alive in agony. "What number was that, Wilson?"

            "Tw... twelve..." It took too many tries for Wilson to spit it out, but Maxwell seemed satisfied.

            "Good boy. I knew you could take it. Maybe you should be rewarded." Maxwell spread Wilson's bruised cheeks and leaned down and Wilson didn’t know what the demon was going to do until something hot and wet slithered up into his anus.

            “Th- that’s – stop, stop, stop it!” His voice was harsh, a pitched whisper, and Maxwell only chuckled as he pressed his tongue just a little deeper. The human was bitter with fear, sweet with desperation, and Maxwell clutched his prey tightly. Those pretty thighs quaked and he massaged them gently, as if to dispel Wilson’s obvious discomfort. Only his magic held Wilson still, and the human’s internal screaming was so loud that Maxwell could hear it. He licked slowly, pressed forward and delighted in Wilson's discomfort and humiliation. He eased off his power over the human, allowing Wilson to wriggle about a little bit.

            Wilson pulled away from the questing mouth, mortified at the thought of someone’s mouth there, and coughed out a groan when Maxwell yanked him back onto his tongue. Wilson wailed steadily, mortified as Maxwell forced his legs further apart and leaned lower for better access. The human made a wretched noise, an aborted sigh of pleasure, as Maxwell caught Wilson’s pucker between his lips and began to suck gently. Too gently, and Wilson pushed back just a slight bit with a hoarse wheeze.  

            "Good boy." Maxwell squeezed the beautifully bruised ass and reveled in the acrid sound that Wilson made in response. He brushed his tongue between Wilson's cheeks and inward, swirled over the opening. Beneath his hands Wilson could only cry and roll his hips against the demon’s mouth.

            The scientist begged silently for death.

            "You realize that the more afraid you are, the better you taste." He kissed Wilson's hole wetly, his sucking noisy and obscene and making Wilson's stomach flip with need and sickness.

            Maxwell couldn't remember the last time he was this happy. He loved to open his pet up with pleasure after the initial pain, when even the lightest touch felt like a heavy blow to abused skin. He loved to tease and tickle until Wilson begged him for relief, too shell-shocked with terror and lust to question what he was actually begging for.

            Little Wilson never let him down. He shuddered, panted, made all sorts of delicious noises that fueled Maxwell’s tongue until every inch of the human’s body glimmered with sweat. Wilson’s hips slowly shifted, back and forth, tiny tremors that only the demon noticed. With one last, hungry kiss, Maxwell pulled himself away and feasted on the sight of his wrecked toy.

            Wilson felt wet and overexposed. His toes were curled inward, tight and ashamed. He prickled with humiliation, tiny needles jabbing all over his body in hot waves. 

            “I think you’re ready for a little more, don’t you think?” Maxwell’s large hand still caressed his bottom, mostly tender with an occasional squeeze that hurt enough to make Wilson sniffle.

            Maxwell reached a hand out to the shadows and they leaped forward to greet their master, eagerly twined around his fingers and somehow melted into fluid. The demon guided two fingers, slicked with magic, inside the tensed body.

            “Just relax, pal.” His pet hissed slowly, a kettle full of steam, and Maxwell laughed and sank his fingers to the knuckle. Wilson whimpered, but quickly bit his tongue. It didn’t hurt, Maxwell’s fingers were quite slender, but it felt wrong and gross.

            “Poor boy, you just want your Master to fuck you, is that it? Has my little Wilson had enough foreplay already?” Those fingers withdrew half-way before pushing back in, slowly, so slowly. His hands were rhythmic, hypnotic, and soon Wilson reeled in the demon’s arms.

            “I love those little noises you make,” Maxwell punctuated this with a rapid thrust, enough to make his human cry out again. “Perfect, just like that. You open up so well. Look at you. Thrusting back on my fingers like the spoiled little slut you are. You’re going to feel so good around my cock, aren’t you? Ah, but not yet, not until you beg for it. There’s a pet.” While he spoke, he added a third finger, kept his toy distracted with his voice as he opened Wilson up more and more.

            Wilson’s fingers gripped and pulled at the comforter, the plush material clenched in his white fingers. His delicate insides burned now, it hurt, too much too fast and Wilson was sure he was going to explode. Maxwell kept moving faster, rougher, jerking the smaller man about as easily as a doll. The fourth finger pressed in, unforgiving, and Wilson began to shake again.

            “H-hurts,” Wilson insisted, “Maxwell!”

            “Beg me, you little worm.” The demon sounded angry, “You pitiable failure of a scientist.  Beg me to fuck your pretty little ass.” He hadn’t stopped, at all, still rammed his fingers deep with the same cruel rhythm.  

            Wilson’s heart pounded in his ears and he wasn’t sure if Maxwell was actually talking or reading his thoughts. The human buried his face in his forearms and – was that Maxwell’s thumb? His hole stabbed with agony, too much, too much, too much!

            “Say it before I lose my patience with you, boy.”  

            The words tumbled from Wilson's lips before he could even think, before he could even process, "P-puh, please, my-my-my-," his voice was full of gravel, “My a-ass!” And suddenly those fingers were gone, he was empty, and Wilson slumped in relief.

             Maxwell stopped, just for a second, just long enough to roll the condom on, almost composed except for his red cheeks and rushed breath. He took his place, pressed the thick head of his cock against the puckered hole, and waited.

            Wilson quaked against him, still on his knees but now with his face against the comforter. Maxwell bowed his head to drop a few uncharacteristically gentle kisses along the pale shoulders. A black mark was inked at the nape of Wilson’s neck, perfectly aligned with his spine, and Maxwell traced the outline with his tongue idly. It was obvious that Maxwell wanted him to beg again. Wilson swallowed.

            "M-maxw-well, p, please, please, please."

            "You don't get to call me that anymore. Tell your Master what you need, before I jam my whole fucking arm up there and yank it out of you that way."

            Wilson's tongue was too big in his mouth. "F-fuck my ass... Master." The words were heavy with hate and bloated with shame. "Please fuck me up the ass with your big fat dick, I need it, please Master!" he said it in one breath, so fast the words barely registered in his own brain, and whatever pride Wilson had left was gone.

            "Beautiful! Oh, was that so hard?" Maxwell cawed gleefully as he sank into his prize, "God Almighty, you feel so good. Isn’t that so much better? There we go, just relax." He moved, slow and steady, eyes closed as he savored each ripple of flesh around his cock. "So good for me, pet. I knew you were a good boy. Aren't you?"

            "Yes," Wilson breathed without thinking. He was rewarded with a gentle kiss to the back of his neck. A cool hand fondled his left ass cheek, carefully avoiding the glowing bruises and marks. Maxwell fucked him slowly, revoltingly tender, and it made Wilson's head whirl like a hurricane behind his eyes.  

            But at least it didn’t hurt as much.

            One hand slid under Wilson’s belly to cup between his legs, pulled a choked sob from the frozen human as Maxwell found his prize. Wilson’s dick was wet, soaked even, his body’s automatic reaction to such stimulation. He burned with humiliation and need as Maxwell’s fingers slowly, so slowly, circled the head. Mindlessly, he pushed back, away from that questing hand – and straight onto Maxwell’s cock. The demon snickered behind him and Wilson stiffened.

            “Fuck, yes. Good boy, good pet,” the demon praised, “This is what you wanted, isn't it? Master's cock up your ass?” He pressed forward again, thrilled with Wilson's tangible horror. It wove around him like a drug and lit up every vein of his vessel. His fingers stroked Wilson's hips, deceptively tender as he filled the human up much too full. His generosity only lasted for a few minutes, and it didn’t take long until Wilson’s body jerked violently underneath him with each thrust.

            Wilson's body howled, too much, too much. Not even Maxwell's extensive preparation had been enough for this grueling pace and he felt certain that he was going to break in half, trapped in the demon's steel grip.

            “Good boy, good boy,” that voice rasped in his ear, “Such a good toy. And you never give up! That’s… that’s what I like about you.” Maxwell’s breath was short and Wilson idly observed that he had never heard the demon so out of breath. The hand wrapped around his cock began to move, constant, relentless, and Wilson’s poor mind was just too overwhelmed to fight anymore.

            “Are you going to come for me, sweet boy?” Maxwell taunted and Wilson did, he gasped out one last shrill cry and came all over the red comforter. The demon wasn’t far behind him, held Wilson tight against his chest as the human sagged, useless.

            “Good boy,” the demon murmured, over and over again, his movements now erratic and – “Oh, fuck, yes.” Heat bloomed in Wilson’s abdomen like a flower and finally, finally, Maxwell stopped. There was a long moment of silence, where neither of them spoke, no sound except for Wilson’s last few tears and leveling breath.

            “Excellent, pet,” sharp teeth nipped at his right ear and Wilson didn’t even flinch. Maxwell pulled out of his body and he wilted on the bed, boneless and empty.

            His vision swam, everything bled to red, and he passed out.   

            “Good pet. Go back to sleep.”

~*~

            When Wilson finally awoke the next morning, his fire was raging happily in the glowing dawn and all the snow was melting. He could smell eggs and – was that bacon? - frying on a hot stone near the fire pit. Physically, he felt… fine, but his eyes were heavy with fatigue and his brain sagged in his skull like an empty balloon.

            Beside the fire was a backpack. Wilson grabbed it and peered inside, cautious, as if it might explode, to find – flint. And gold. Not a lot, but enough for the time being.

            Wilson turned his ear to the wind, thought he heard Maxwell laugh, cast the thought aside because it made his head hurt, and ate his eggs.

 

                           

                       

Chapter Text

            Being hungry is a funny thing, Wilson mused. Your stomach sticks tight, solid against your spine, all your organs smashed up into your chest and breathing is more like wheezing through a wet towel. Sometimes if you stand up too fast, the world swims into a maelstrom and you find yourself on the ground, shaking with something too raw to be fear. Day feels too bright, blinding and intrusive, but night feels too dark, drained. The back of your throat itches with thirst, tickles with nausea, and the urge to vomit is strong but each time Wilson retched, there was nothing.

            Useless.

            The golden sun, hellish in its glare, was almost directly overheard and flooded the snowy valley with light that reflected off the white snow in blinding waves. Thick green forests stretched out, their reaches disappearing into distant fog. The trees were quiet, every sound muted by ice.

            There was nothing.

            A muted cough bludgeoned through the quiet, buried in a five foot drift that had blown against a brace of five bushy evergreens. The snow coughed again, cursed softly and shifted. Wilson shivered a few inches beneath the surface, but he wasn't really thinking about the cold.

            He was on his knees, hunched over, the snow packed around him, a very rough approximation of an igloo, just enough room for him to lay on his side if he so chose. His thin hands, the nails broken and filthy, had dug the snow away from the ground to expose a patch of dark soil and a few clumps of withered, sickly green grass. Without hesitation, Wilson scraped deeper into the frozen soil. Frigid fingers closed around a sparse hunk of sod and he ripped it out, violent, with so much force that he knocked himself right in the face. Light burst behind his eyes, a firework of pain through the numbing frost, and then his face was covered in wet, sticky heat.

            Blood filled his mouth, quickly and alarming, and Wilson spit a mouthful of red that pooled darkly against the snow. He rummaged in his pocket for his dirty handkerchief and promptly stuffed it up his nostrils with a rote familiarity. This wasn't the first time he'd had a bloody nose and this certainly wasn't the first time he had punched himself in the face.

            He regarded his miserable fistful of grass. His knuckles hurt. He fingers were stiff with probable frostbite. His stomach wailed in his head, insistent, the ever-pressing need to survive, I can't give up, and the scientist closed his eyes and pressed a small tuft into his mouth. It was primarily dirt and ice and thready cellulose, but it would fill the hole for now.

            Wilson took his time, not exactly savoring each bite but drawing it out. The cold had come much too early, merely days after his "restart" instead of the usual full month. Food was practically nonexistent; he had no time to plant seeds, no time to smoke meat and stock up for the hellish winter. He hadn't even found gold yet. His "camp" consisted of this hollowed out snowbank, a pile of twigs and rabbit bones, some broken traps, and the patchwork of filthy pelts wrapped around his gaunt shoulders. The patchwork cloak and the hat he had knit out of beefalo yarn were both grimy and slimy somehow, but they did the job.

            Food had run out almost a week ago, if Wilson had to guess. He burned twigs as sparingly as he could, just enough to keep frostbite from settling in at night, just enough to keep the Darkness at bay. On a bright day, when the sun was strongest and the wind gentle, he stumbled and fought, step by step, to gather more twigs, more sodden shreds of bark, more anything he could get his hands on. Soiled and reeking, Wilson would crash back to "camp" and collapse in his snow nest for at least a few hours before sorting his haul. He was just so tired... Every bone ached constantly with exhaustion and lethargy.

            Most days, like today, came with a wind from the north that was so edged as to steal the breath out from your very lungs. Simply standing in the sunlight was a lot more like being shredded by a particularly sharp cheese grater. The only logical conclusion was to hunker down. A man of faith would pray. Wilson hid in the snow and sang "happy birthday" to himself, off key, until his voice gave out.

            Still, Wilson didn't give up. He wasn't allowed to die, not permanently. Torn apart by enraged pigs, drowned in a swamp by hungry tentacles, limbs ripped off courtesy of some of those freakishly tall birds, each time he died screaming and each time he was brought back, with Maxwell smirking and smiling at him, mocking him. It was enough to make any man go mad.

            What if that man were mad to begin with? Wilson heard an echo of his words, realized he was talking aloud. He'd been doing that a lot lately, his hollow voice swallowed by the snow to the point where he wasn't sure if he was actually speaking at all.      

            You were already mad, hissed the shadows. Trust us.

            Wilson closed his eyes and focused on eating, each bite gritty with tiny shards of gravel. He spit again, wiped his face, took another mouthful, the same sequence until there was no more grass, only bare earth.

            I'm so hungry.

            "What are you doing in the snow, silly little man?"

            The voice was sudden and loud, a bullet that shattered the crystal silence.

            "Maxw-well?" His voice was barely a rasp, but it was audible. Wilson didn't want to move, didn't want to leave the safety and relative warmth of his nest and especially didn't want to deal with Maxwell's smothering disdain and caustic abuse, "Go away! I don't, I don't have time for your - your stupid game, games." His lips moved sluggishly, dry and chapped, and for a moment there was such a deep silence that Wilson thought he was hallucinating. He counted to five, his heart pounding in his bloody nose, and finally crawled out of the tiny opening half buried in the ground, peeked out into the blinding light.

            The scientist was both disappointed and relieved to find Maxwell looming over him, a jagged mountain that reached towards the shockingly blue sky. The wind hadn't let up from earlier, and it billowed out Maxwell's coat like the wings of a crow. 

            "Stupid games, indeed. I'm not the one playing in the snow," the demon observed. The glowing ruby of his omnipresent cigar winked in his right hand, a promise or a threat depending on Maxwell's mood.

            "It's! Freezing! The snow is warm, warmer, than ambient air temp, tempera, you know w-what I mean!" Wilson stammered, his gaze trapped for a moment on that hot blip at the end of Maxwell's cigar. It would be so warm there, nestled among the tobacco and cloves and ash. Fire had to be better than this freezing, better than these needles jabbed relentlessly through every pore, better than his beard soaked stiff with snot and blood. Fire, merciful fire, would burn him away quickly rather than let him suffer for an eternity before his body would succumb to death.

            His pulse hammered, hard, hard enough that his head was starting to burn with misery and his eyes crowded, too big in their sockets. For a blessed moment, Wilson wasn't hungry, and he wasn't cold, and he certainly wasn't afraid. Wilson was angry.

            "You want to w-watch me eat grass?" He forced himself up, to lurch to his numb feet, and he overcompensated too hard, lurched to the left with a strangled grunt, but caught himself just before he could crash into his unwelcome guest. "Or freeze to death, again. Or cry in the snow, in the snow? I don't have anything, I don't know." Words spilled from him like tears, brimmed from his mouth as he wavered on unsteady, cramped legs and his toes were beginning to prickle with the returning circulation. His brain had curled up in his head, like a rabbit maybe, and Wilson couldn't stop his thoughts, "Maybe the shadows w-will get me first this, this time! You, you just think that you..." Wilson made a disgusted sound, immediately paid for it by coughing so hard his shoulders cracked. 

            "Careful there, pal." Maxwell flicked the ash from his cigar, a tiny half-smile playing about his face. "I was in the neighborhood, thought maybe I'd offer a hand. Maybe we could get you a little something to eat, get you in from the cold for a bit, hm? Wouldn't that be nice, Mr. Higgsbury?"

            The scientist shook his head, stared with wide eyes at the mention of his last name. He felt almost giddy, the same tightness in his veins like he had just smoked a cigarette too quickly. He had almost forgotten his last name. Higgsbury. And food? His stomach rumbled agreeably, urgent at the mere mention of food, the barest hint of warmth.

            "What, what do I have to, uh, do? I know there's a, a catch. There always is." Wilson pulled his hat down tighter over his forehead.

            "Now why would you ever think that?" Maxwell took a puff from his cigar, stepped forward, and knelt down to blow the smoke in Wilson's face. The human didn't even flinch, in fact leaned a little into the warmth of the demon's breath without thinking. "Maybe I just want to help out my best pal." The demon's eyes were blank but his grin now stretched a kilometer wide and it made the blaze in Wilson's heart reach higher.

            "Yeah," Wilson snarled, his face ugly, "Right. Pals."

            Maxwell maintained that horrible smile.

            "Yes or no? I don't have all day."

            "What, what do you w-want?!" Wilson's voice was too shrill, embarrassingly so, "I'm not, I'm not stupid, Maxw-well!"

            "Agreed," the demon encouraged, blew out another cloud of smoke into Wilson's face, "You are certainly not stupid. Here, look at me." Long fingers cupped Wilson's chin beneath his beard, tilted his head up to force eye contact. Wilson's rust colored eyes were surrounded by dark circles and, all things considered, the man looked ghastly. "Lovely,” Maxwell breathed in praise, a blink of lost composure, but gathered himself. "Here's the deal, kid. I’ll take you in for the night, get you some proper dinner. You may choose what to eat, but you don't get to use your hands and you have to eat all of it. Simple."

            "Not use my... hands? So I would, would eat, out of a bowl?" Wilson hesitated, blinked as if a light were being flashed in his face. Maxwell blew smoke in his face again and it tasted faintly like blood.   

            "Something like that. Look at me."

            "And I have to eat it all." He squinted at the demon, skeptical. 

            "Every single bite."

            Besides the humiliation of eating like a dog, it didn't really sound that bad. Maxwell had done worse. And hadn't he said something about going inside somewhere? Walls, and a roof? For the whole night? A floor to lie on instead of hard dirt? He just had to eat all of it, whatever it was. That he chose. He would get to choose! Wilson's belly clamored, yes! Yes! 

            "All that and more, pal. What do you say?" Maxwell's smirk was infuriating but Wilson's anger had already burned out, his energy sapped, and he was too hungry, too cold, too tired to care. He thought for a long time, the demon's grip still tight on his chin as he stared through the demon's black eyes. For a moment Wilson felt like a wind chime, swaying in the wind as his thoughts jumbled like glass shards.

            "Oh, okay," he finally whispered, "I get to choose?" Thoughts sprung from behind his stomach, blasted across the backs of his eyelids. Fried potatoes, cabbage with ham, biscuits and hot coffee, apple streusel, bread topped with cheese, oh... "Yes,” Wilson breathed, fairly certain that he was about to float out of Maxwell’s grip and into the cyan sky.  

            "Say you agree." Maxwell gave him a little shake, brought Wilson back from his wandering thoughts.

            "I... agree." The claws that framed his face withdrew and Wilson glanced up. Maxwell looked pleased with himself and Wilson was too buoyed by delicious hope to recognize any sign of danger. He opened his mouth to say something, interrupted when Maxwell leaned down and scooped him up in one arm with a flourish of that glorious coat, too fast for Wilson to do anything but freeze still.

            "Well, pet, let's get you cleaned up."          

            Shadow hands leapt from the ground, dark and semi-solid, twisted around them as they grew larger and swallowed the two men whole. Wilson screeched without thought as everything went black. Maxwell was holding him tight, so tight that Wilson worried for a moment that he might burst. Frigid air whipped past, sliced fine marks across Wilson’s fair cheeks. In fear, he turned his face, burrowed deeper into Maxwell's arms, and the thin chest beneath him rumbled with laughter.

            All at once the wind stopped, the world bellowed to a halt, and the sudden change in inertia made Wilson turn his head outward, his shoulders racking forward as he vomited weakly. His vision was still obscured, probably by magic or maybe shadows, but he plainly heard Maxwell's grimace of disgust and the arm around him tightened to the point of pain.

            "You are lucky you did not get that on my suit, indecent wretch." One clawed hand covered Wilson's bile-stained mouth to silence any potential response.

            "Now, sleep."  

            With those two words, the darkness swept him away and Wilson slept.

Chapter Text

            Wilson could smell fire, wood smoke, tobacco, fried potatoes. Was that...

            "Ham?" he whispered, unbelieving. It had been ages, absolutely ages, since the last time he had meat, let alone properly cured ham.

            The china dishes were white as a sun-bleached bone, with thin rings of gold along the edges. A large, thick ham with browned edges placed right in the middle, well smoked. It smelled like heaven. His father held the knife and cut the first slice -

            A breath of smoke in his face and Wilson jerked back to the present, opened his eyes and got a face full of black irises and hooked nose.

            “Ham?” he asked again, confused.

            "Yes pet, ham. I promised, didn't I?" Maxwell hovered and reeked of tobacco and his grin took up half of his face, but Wilson was much too entranced with the smell of food to notice or even care. His mouth was already watering and his stomach ached and for a moment his chest tightened enough to hurt.

            He sat up, too quickly, wrapped in scarlet sheets, noticed immediately that his many scratches and scrapes were properly bandaged, his nose wasn't bleeding, and his body was… clean. Clean! No dirt, no snot, no dried blood, no beefalo feces…

            He looked around, tried to get a glance of the surroundings, but the magician still obscured his view. Wilson stopped, took a second to look at his own arms, to touch his own face, test his wounds. It took more than a moment for him to realize that his face had been shaved, the skin baby smooth. He could vaguely smell aftershave, sharp and clear. His hands were wrapped up, almost completely, but nothing hurt. Blissfully, nothing hurt.

            "You really did a number on yourself, digging for that grass," the demon observed as Wilson stared at his bandaged hands.  

            "I'm..."

            "You'll be fully healed in a few hours," Maxwell took a small bow. "You're welcome. I had you bathed because, honestly Wilson, you smelled like a pig."

             The soft sheets caressed his back gently and Wilson panicked, realized he was naked under the bedding. Who, or what, had bathed him? Why am I naked??

            "You were not accosted, I assure you. You wouldn't have remembered it, why bother? Now shush, shush," Maxwell pressed a long finger to Wilson's lips as the scientist tried to sit up again, tried to speak. "I know you're hungry, but don't you want your clothes?"

            Wilson had to admit that, yes, yes he did want his clothing. The last time he had been naked with Maxwell…

            Wilson gave a short nod.

            "Say yes. Come now, you know the drill."

            "... Yes. Maxwell."

            Maxwell tskked, irritated.  His hand shot out and the scientist yelped as Maxwell yanked painfully on his ear. "Yes, what?"

            "Yes... uh, Master." Wilson leaned to the right a little, desperate to get loose, to get a glimpse past Maxwell, just see the food for a second -

            "Well, get dressed then pal." His ear was released and he was immediately grabbed by his bare shoulders. Maxwell physically turned Wilson to face a pile of folded clothing. No, not just clothing. His clothing, his white shirt, his trousers and red vest and black gloves, clean and whole! Not in filthy tatters, not spotted and stained with blood and vomit and only science knows what else.

            For a moment, the food was forgotten and Wilson stumbled out of the bed, tried not to care about his nudity as he pulled on a delightfully clean pair of underpants. The trousers followed, sneaked up his legs, and Wilson realized too late that, with his hands bandaged the way they were –

            “Need a little help?” The demon was directly beside him and his body heat teased the bare skin of Wilson’s back despite the warmth of the room. Wilson fumbled with the fly of his trousers, unable to fix the buttons with his wrapped hands.

            “You did this, this, you did this on purpose,” his words were diffused with betrayal, wilted with Of course he did.

            “How can you accuse me when I have provided you with such hospitality? I’m insulted.” Maxwell practically waggled his eyebrows and Wilson’s stomach heaved, possibly in disgust, possibly in hunger, maybe some hellish compound of both.

            So hungry.

            The balloon in his head drifted, rose higher, out of his body and Wilson leaned forward to rest an arm on the intricate iron bed post. His bones creaked, still exhausted, and he took a breath and counted to five.

            “Do you want to be dressed or not?” Maxwell had pulled back and straightened up, taller than ever as he flicked the cigar into the fireplace. “Here, I won’t even make you say please. Lift your arms.”

            Wilson raised his arms, glanced to the left as Maxwell’s thin fingers grabbed his fly, yanked his trousers up over his hips and fixed each button with careful, painfully slow precision. Every hair on Wilson’s body stood up and screamed, ready for the demon to inevitably grab at him, or for shadows to molest him, but nothing happened. Maxwell merely turned to retrieve Wilson’s shirt. His movements were surprisingly graceful, reminded Wilson of a tall willow on a windy day.

            He’s a monster.

            He deliberately stared at the plum-colored trunk instead. It was enormous, clearly old and simultaneously purple while being… not purple. If he shook his head, the trunk blinked back and forth from dark oak to that rich violet. Wilson blinked, wondered if the shimmering chest was a hallucination. A laundered shirt was pulled over his head, smelled of soap and cedar.  

            “Yes, cedar. Keeps the moths away,” Maxwell dismissed with a fluid wave of his hand, “They are attracted to magic just as much as light. Pesky things.” He buttoned up Wilson’s shirt with rigid formality, followed with the scarlet waistcoat, and finally Wilson was fully clothed. “You'll have your gloves when your hands are healed. Now, isn’t that better?”

            “Yes,” Wilson’s stomach answered. Maxwell’s trunk had already been disregarded, tossed into the “deal with this later” box. His skin tickled with the knowledge of Maxwell's gaze, but he was clean and not in pain and that food smelled heavenly! He glanced up and found those black eyes fixed on him. Maxwell was silent, clearly awaited his response.

            Get the food get the food, how do I get the food? Make him happy, how do I make him happy? Beg. Yes. He likes when I beg.

            Before Wilson could really comprehend the thought further, he sank to his knees, shameless, his palms turned up on his thighs in supplication. He didn't look up, but he knew Maxwell was grinning. His belly whined and Wilson whined in turn.

            Please.

            "Please what?" Maxwell carded bony fingers through black-as-night hair, deceptively tender. Wilson realized he had spoken aloud. Or could the demon read his thoughts? "Is my little pet hungry?" The leering face stepped to the side, at last! and finally revealed Wilson's prize.

            They were in that room again, presumably Maxwell's bedroom, the charcoal velvet curtains still pulled and the enormous purple-but-not-purple chest still imposing, but now a fancy little wooden cart stood in the middle of the room. It was positively laden with covered plates that gleamed dull silver in the light of the fireplace.  Steam rose in white tendrils from the dishes, breathed from the cart like a dragon.

            Wilson’s jaw slackened and he began to drool. Maxwell promptly leaned down and wiped his chin with a silky soft, violet kerchief.

            "Would you like to eat?" The demon asked, knowing full well the answer.

            Yes, please! Master!

            "Sit back on the bed, lie down." It was an odd request but Wilson fulfilled it eagerly, reclined back on the large fluffy black pillows, this was too good to be true... The cart rolled forward, untouched and Maxwell took a seat on the bed beside him. Wilson stared hungrily, intent, as the demon removed the lid off of the first tray to reveal a silver kettle wreathed by tiny glazed biscuits, a china mug, spoons, a small serving dish of brown sugar. The smell hit just as recognition kicked in -

            Coffee!

            Wilson’s eager eyes watched Maxwell pour some of the coffee, stir in a heaped spoonful of sugar, and everything clicked into place when Wilson felt heated fingers cup the back of his head as Maxwell brought the mug to his lips.

            "You -" the warmth was instantaneous and Wilson didn't even struggle, closed his eyes and gulped down the beverage greedily in defeat. It was the perfect temperature, hot and comforting but not to the point of scalding, pleasantly strong and a little sweet.

            "Yes, there we go," Maxwell praised him, stroked the back of his head as Wilson quickly drained the small mug. "Not too fast, you don't want to get sick." Wilson opened his eyes. One of those tiny golden biscuits perched on the tips of Maxwell's clawed fingers. "Open up."

            "You're, going to - mmph." The treat was pushed past his teeth and Wilson tried to reach up, to grasp at the demon's wrists, but shadows condensed and pinned him to the bed.

            "I’d rather not restrain you, you know. Chew."

            Wilson chewed and the shadows withdrew. The biscuit was crisp and practically melted on his tongue, instantaneous, lightly sweet, a wonderful contrast to the strong coffee.

            "Swallow."

            Wilson swallowed and counted his breaths as the next biscuit was held to his parted lips. His naked chin felt cold, it was strange not having a beard anymore, but the rest of his face was so hot. Everywhere Maxwell touched him, he burned. When the biscuit touched his teeth, he bit down.

            “Wait, no.” Maxwell rubbed the treat against his tongue, “Don’t bite until I say. Good.” Humiliation was starting to darken the scientist’s face, but he obeyed.

            “There you are. You may have it now.”

            The cookie crunched between his teeth, satisfying and not too rich, and Wilson was grateful for the next few sips of coffee that Maxwell allowed him. He must have been a sight, cradled in the demon’s arms like a babe, hand fed like some baby chick!

            It’s this or nothing.

            “Correct. It is this or nothing.” Maxwell’s voice echoed his thought back to him and Wilson pulled away from the next biscuit for a moment.

            “Can… can you read my thoughts?” Wilson swallowed, his tongue heavy and dry. Maxwell’s eyes narrowed, but not with anger, instead with some kind of pensiveness that Wilson wasn’t sure he had seen before. The enormous crag of a nose crinkled up, just a little, and then there was that smile again.

            He has fangs.

            Wilson immediately regretted every decision he had ever made.

            “The true question, pal, is do you ever stop talking?” Before Wilson could answer, Maxwell stuffed the cookie into his mouth. “Eat, and stop bothering me with silly questions before I lose patience.” Wilson tried to say something through the biscuit, only to have another shoved between his lips. “Shut. Up.”

            Wilson shut up.

            One by one, so slowly, each biscuit was fed to him and the kettle drained of its brew until nothing remained on the tray but crumbs. Wilson's stomach sang with joy, his veins thrummed with comfort, and he was pretty sure he must be dying somewhere particularly terrible to be imagining this kind of attention. When had Maxwell treated him with anything other than complete and utter contempt? The last time Maxwell had visited him, he had brought Wilson to this exact same room and… and…

            “I spanked you and then took you like the little bitch you are, if I remember correctly,” Maxwell provided helpfully. “And you begged for it every step of the way.” His right hand cupped Wilson's smooth face, stroked him like a favorite cat. The sharp points of his fingernails scratched lightly, a warning.

            You made me!

            “The past is in the past, my friend,” the demon entreated, his British accent a little less noticeable in his condescension, “Can’t we start again?” The nails on Wilson’s face dug harder for a split second, “I could always throw you back outside, you know.”

            Oh, yeah. That.

            “Mmm, that’s what I thought. Now, what’s next on the menu?” Maxwell turned away from the fuming man and uncovered the next dish. “Fried potatoes?" He scoffed. "How very pedestrian. Open up.”

            Wilson couldn’t tear his eyes away. The potatoes smelled strongly of bacon and pepper and that was more than enough to momentarily wipe his short term memory again. His stomach shuddered when Maxwell brought the first forkful to his mouth, and Wilson snatched it without thought, immediately flinched for the punishment that never came. Maxwell presented another bite of potatoes, then another, then another. The fried food was salty, with small chunks of meat, and it made Wilson’s mouth explode with flavor. So much for dried grass! 

             ”Good boy. So hungry, poor thing. I suppose I have neglected you, haven’t I?" The praise was empty but Wilson was lulled enough by food and warmth and sort of safe to enjoy the simple gift of contact with another human... ish... creature. Maxwell had been human at some point, right? 

            "We were all human... once. Are you thirsty?" The words drifted, viscous through the air, and Wilson nodded and croaked some sort of agreement. His tongue felt shriveled in his mouth, his cheeks tight with thirst. Wilson's head felt full of cobwebs and when had the room started to spin? Beer would be nice.

            "You truly are a pet of simple taste," Maxwell admonished, with perhaps a hint of amusement. The goblet he held to Wilson's lips within moments was filled with frothy, warm ale and it was arguably the best thing Wilson had tasted in a long time. Dry, with a mild edge of yeast and a flowery but pleasant bitterness that came last, that lingered like Maxwell’s smoke. Wilson swallowed, rejoiced with clear refreshment, and Maxwell let him drink the entire pint.

            The last flecks of foam speckled his lips, his chin, and Wilson nearly flinched when a hot tongue, Maxwell’s tongue, laved them away with unexpected delicacy. He swam in euphoria, every sense dulled with contentment.

            “How do you feel?” Maxwell leaned back, pulled his mouth free, and Wilson let out an uneven breath. Everything else, the crackle of the fire, the fizz of the beer, sounded muffled but the demon’s voice, the voice of Wilson’s nightmares, rang through loud and clear. Maybe Maxwell was telepathic after all?

            “I asked you a question, pet.” It was a clear warning and Maxwell sat back on the bed, produced a cigar and a bulky lighter. The click of the lighter sliced through the thick fog in Wilson’s head and he met Maxwell’s eyes as the demon took a long drag.

            “Better.” Wilson’s jaw hurt and he stopped grinding his teeth for a minute. 

            “Hmm. Here,” Maxwell, ever graceful, tipped the goblet to Wilson’s lips again, “Drink.”

            “I don’t want-“

            “Drink.” Wilson obeyed, almost choked when Maxwell wouldn’t pull away until the cup was empty. His limbs were dense, leaden with food and alcohol, and Wilson’s stomach gurgled.

            “Good pet. Full yet?” The goblet was set down and then that hand rubbed Wilson’s belly, the fingerpads skipping along the waistcoat and pressing slightly.

            Wilson groaned in agreement. The fluid in his belly sloshed and when Maxwell started to rub his slightly protruded stomach, Wilson’s eyes fluttered closed.

            “Max, Maxwell…”

            Another cloud of smoke drifted over Wilson’s face and then Maxwell kissed him on the mouth, a short, possessive press like a wax seal. His gut churned for one nauseous moment and then the hunger was back, just as overbearing as earlier, and Wilson whined.

            Maxwell’s breath prickled at his ear, “I like it when you’re hungry.” He turned to the cart and selected the next dish. If he had grimaced at the potatoes, he outright glared at the resulting cabbage and ham, salty and very… odorous, if Maxwell was being generous.

            “Were you raised by peasants, child?” Maxwell’s voice was high, indignant, and it would have been funny if Wilson wasn’t intoxicated – half with beer, half with terror. His mouth watered anyway and he looked at the plate expectantly. Tender memories of home and mother and safe were wrapped in that smell.

            “Ugh. If you must.” Maxwell rolled the cigar to the other side of his lips and held a forkful to Wilson’s mouth.  He still cupped Wilson’s head with the other hand, fingers threaded through his hair and tightened just enough to hold him still. 

            It was perfect, the ham smoky and well-cured, the cabbage firm but not undercooked. It took a concentrated effort for Wilson to restrain himself, to keep from snatching forward. Maxwell didn’t tease him this time, his movements direct, and Wilson devoured every last bite as fast as Maxwell fed it to him.

            “Sweet pet,” Maxwell was rubbing him again, pressing the goblet to his lips again. His cigar was oddly absent. “Drink, there you are, good. All of it.”

            Wilson’s skin was shrinking, or maybe his bones were growing, either way he was becoming full and there were now approximately one-and-a-half Maxwells touching him.

            “I’m, uh, Maxwell. Master,” he stumbled out, “I’m full.” The demon paused, tilted his head in a mock of innocence.

            “You agreed to eat it all… remember?” Wilson did remember, and he bit his tongue. His stomach growled, but for different reasons than earlier. This morning played in his mind like an old nightmare, an overexposed photograph. “That’s what I thought,” Maxwell clicked his tongue, his black eyes slitted.

            “Now, what is next on the menu?”

Chapter Text

            Wilson knew what would be on the plate before Maxwell removed the lid. He was not at all surprised to see large crusty slices of bread topped with rich cheese that still bubbled with heat. The edges perfectly browned, the crust thick, and even though he was already stuffed, his mouth itched with hunger anew.

            The first slice was touched to his lips and Wilson opened with a small whine of protest.

            “Not yet,” Maxwell instructed. He smeared the melted cheese against that pretty mouth, left behind a filmy residue of oil. He set the bread on Wilson’s tongue and waited. “Go ahead. You can be so good when you want to be, pet. There you are. My little scientist, so modest in his tastes. The humble gentleman.” His hand had come to pet Wilson’s shoulder and those black eyes watched Wilson eat each bite.

            “If only I could have truly educated you, cultured you, given you a proper environment…” his voice was distant, a few pitches higher, and his head turned towards the fireplace. Wilson had never heard this voice come out of the demon's mouth before. “Things could have been so much different. For all of us.”

            Wilson stared at the demon, unsure, uncertain, what is he trying to play at? Maxwell stared at the fire, no, more like through it, and Wilson’s skin shivered with fear. He swallowed, not without difficulty.

            “Uh… Maxwell?”

            Wilson knew in an instant: that was exactly the wrong thing to do.

            The dark eyes that turned towards him were hurricanes, and Wilson pulled back into the pillows. Without thought, his bandaged hands raised in a silent plea.

            “Do you ever shut up?” That was solid anger. Bread was crammed into his mouth, shadows pulled his wrists back down, and Wilson went still. The demon’s breath roared against his face, invisible flames as Wilson forced himself to eat. 

            His abdomen groaned, strained, and Wilson couldn’t look at that angular face any longer. He closed his eyes and prayed Maxwell wouldn’t make him look.

            “Pet…” That rich voice, a voice that reeked of tobacco, tickled at Wilson’s ear and he took the next bite. “You said you would eat it all, Mister Higgsbury. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you?”

            “N, no,” Wilson swallowed, breathed through his nose. His skin was too tight, clung to his bones like stretched silk. It hurt.

            “I didn’t think so.”

            Finally, Wilson finished the last bit of bread and cheese with a lick of his lips. He licked at Maxwell’s fingers as they settled against his mouth. Heat radiated from the demon’s skin and felt hot even against Wilson’s flushed face. Maxwell was so close, breath humid and over-bearing on the scientist’s cheeks, and Wilson waited for those fingers to push into his mouth.

            They didn’t, and instead there was more bread. Wilson’s brain deflated and he pushed back against the pillows.

            “Every bite, Wilson.” Maxwell’s words were short, clipped.

            “I’m full…”

            “You. Agreed.” Maxwell stuffed the bread into his mouth and growled, “I would rather not regret my charity.” His mouth overwhelmed, Wilson focused on chewing and kept eating. His stomach shifted and his bones scraped together and his forehead boiled with shame and over-stimulation and alcohol. 

            After that slice of bread came more beer, still delicious but Wilson’s body racked with hiccups with every other gulp. There was a pressure inside of him, beneath his stomach, and it pulsed with each sip.

            Wilson turned his face away, just enough to avoid the goblet. “I have to, Maxwell, I have to…” His words quivered in the air, reedy and thin.

            “What, pet?” Maxwell had settled quite comfortably against Wilson’s side by now and his presence made it that much more difficult to breathe. The cup was set down and then Maxwell was pressing on his abdomen, looking for something, looking for –

            “Uh, nnngh!” Maxwell found his bladder, pushed hard, and Wilson’s little hum of pain was meek, pathetic.

            “You don’t want your food to get cold, do you?” Maxwell rubbed the full belly, already swollen, fit his body in close to Wilson and pressed on the human’s bladder again.

            Wilson squealed, pulled his limbs in tighter, squealed again when cool shadows pulled his wrists and ankles back into place. Maxwell curled tight around him and the demon flashed his fangs again. Wilson stiffened, prepared himself for the bite, scrunched his eyes shut and waited.

            “Oh, um.”

            Maxwell fondled his stomach, gentle with occasional pressure, and Wilson groaned. His skin was too small, too tight, nerves and ligaments drawn taut. Maxwell’s heat moved away, the bed shifted, and Wilson did not relax an inch.

            “Last but not least, pet… oh, this actually looks good.”

            Wilson began to hum again. The smell of the streusel, his mother’s streusel, by science, he’d know that smell anywhere, cinnamon and fresh roasted apples – his stomach tossed with nausea and he gagged.

            “Maxwell,” he insisted, held his own stomach and groaned, “I can’t, I can’t.”

            “You can, pet, I know you can,” entreated the demon. A spoon pressed to Wilson’s lips and he opened his mouth, slow and reluctant. The crust was flaky and dense, the apples crunchy and just the right balance of tart and sweet, with enough cinnamon sprinkled on top to spike through every bite. He chewed, slow, deliberate, and fought the growing urge to retch.

            “You’re almost done. Just a little more,” Maxwell encouraged, his voice sweet and threaded with promises of agony, “Look at me, pet. Let me see those lovely brown eyes. Good, good.”

            His lips tingled from the cinnamon, the smooth metal of the spoon cool against his mouth. Maxwell’s eyes were half-sunken in his face, dark pits in the field of white, and his gaze pinned Wilson to the bed more effectively than any shadow ever would. The demon’s free hand carded through his hair, pacified his little whimpers with yet more food.

            Wilson was beautiful to behold, spread out and trapped. He trembled, a rabbit caught in Maxwell’s storm, and his belly bulged out like a burrow. Maxwell pushed another bite of streusel through the protesting lips, leaned forward to set a gentle kiss on the fluttering temple. Those gorgeous chocolate eyes, red-rimmed and bloodshot, followed Maxwell’s every movement and the demon smiled.

            “Last bite.” Wilson’s face glowed with discomfort, dripped with sweat, but he opened his mouth and took the last bite with a reserved grace that surprised even Maxwell. The human burped, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, burped again, and finally allowed himself to go limp.

            “Good pet,” Maxwell cooed, “You’re so strong. You’re the only one who finished all of it, did you know that? The others… Ugh. It was not pleasant.” Wilson’s ears felt stuffed full of cotton. Maxwell turned him and Wilson looked up, looked straight through those black eyes and nodded automatically.

              Maxwell turned his attention to the human’s abdomen, stroked the full belly. Wilson’s waistcoat was tight around his waist, the fabric snug and uncomfortable.

            “Maybe we should loosen this,” Maxwell leered. His fingers slipped out the buttons one by one, revealed the buttons of the white shirt beneath.

            “No, no,” Wilson barely protested, too bloated and stuffed to react with any amount of speed. Maxwell pulled the shirt open, freed the distended stomach and revealed the gaunt chest. Warm fingertips, why is Maxwell always so warm?, skipped over his ribs and settled over his distended stomach again. He pressed down hard and Wilson outright squealed. Maxwell didn’t relent this time, massaged the warm skin roughly until Wilson began to struggle underneath him.

            “What’s wrong?” the demon taunted, shifted his fingers down to caress right over Wilson’s bladder, prodded down harder still when Wilson shifted. The little organ was firm underneath soft flesh and Wilson flinched each time Maxwell applied pressure.

            “Please don’t, don’t do that.” Wilson’s voice rang about an octave higher than usual.

            “Begging already, Wilson? That was quick.” Maxwell jabbed his fingers in harder.

            “Damn, damn it! I have to – I have to piss!”

            “I hadn’t noticed.” 

“Maxwell… Master. Uh, hah. No! No, what are you - !!!“ His scrambled words broke into a shriek, shrill and abrasive, and Maxwell chuckled as he kept pushing. 

            Wilson sobbed, humiliated and full and drunk, and abruptly pissed himself in Maxwell’s bed. Heat spread between his thighs, hot and heavy, and there was no stopping the flood of tears that welled up.

            “Maxw, Maxwell!” his voice was hollow, hoarse.

            “What a mess.”

            “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m –“ Wilson hiccupped, his whole body recoiled, and he didn’t even fight when shadows yanked his pants and the stained briefs off. His bare limbs glowed a faint white in the dim light and panic flashed behind his eyelids.

            “I’m disappointed in you, pet.” Maxwell’s speech had dropped, deathly serious. The air shuddered with chill and Wilson managed to take a breath before the fire blew out in a gust of shadow. Darkness, pitch black, nothing, nothing except a quiet, drawn-out wail of sound.

            “Shush,” Maxwell’s voice vibrated around him in the black room, interrupting that shrill wail. “Shut up. Wilson! I said shut up!”

            That wail was his own voice, Wilson realized all at once. That was his own voice and it only stopped when a ball of cloth was roughly pressed between his lips that smelled –

            His arms thrashed against the hold of the shadows and Wilson tried to spit the fabric out but something – Maxwell’s hand, maybe? – kept it in his mouth. It smelled sharp, familiar, and Wilson’s stomach lurched with the scent of his own urine.

            “Now will you shut up? You never shut up Wilson, that’s your only problem.”

            Wilson didn’t know if his eyes were open or closed, the effect was the same as he kicked. The dark was total, engulfed him, and Maxwell’s voice boomed through every cell in his body. The room spun, pulled him deeper into the silence.

            “Stop struggling.” Thick, smooth tendrils twined around his wrists and ankles, held Wilson forcibly still as he thrashed in disgust. “I said stop it! Maybe I should mute you, like the other one. That would take away half the fun though, wouldn’t it?”

            Who was he talking about?

            Fingers, too solid to be mad of shadow, stroked down his bare bicep and Wilson groaned through the disgusting gag. He could feel Maxwell’s weight on the bed, feel the mattress sink slightly as Maxwell moved.

Wilson was flipped up to his knees. One hand twirled in his hair and thrust his face against the bed. His stomach ached with the quick movement, and Wilson was glad he couldn’t see anything. Maxwell settled behind him and Wilson’s heart plummeted through the bed as he realized what was next.

            “You knew it would come to this, pet,” Maxwell admonished him. Wilson mumbled wordless sounds, and finally went silent. His belly ached and the shadows spread him open. Cold, sharp air cut against his bare skin and Wilson squeaked.

            It was all at once. Slick heat filled Wilson, overflowed him, and the shadows held him tightly, obedient as their master took his prey. Maxwell was talking again, he was always talking, but it registered as a mere drone in the back of Wilson’s head.

            Too full, too full.

            He was going to burst, Maxwell was just too big. Every space inside of him was filled with the demon’s poison and Wilson choked. His tongue swelled with fear, took up too much room in his mouth. Those possessive claws wrapped around his throat and the last thread of Wilson’s sanity unraveled.

            The dark screamed around the two of them with each jerk of Maxwell’s hips. Wilson couldn’t see but swore he heard another sound, a different growl. Not just Maxwell or his puppets. An audible strain of rage, low and curled beneath the unstoppable river of Maxwell’s voice.

            Maxwell, there is something! In the dark!

            The demon didn’t stop. Waves surged in Wilson’s ears and he wiggled again, much more urgent this time. His lips formed words but only muffled sounds came through.

            Maxwell!

            “What is wrong with you?” Maxwell finally answered him, infuriated, finally paused his merciless thrusts, finally let Wilson spit out the wad of filthy cloth. Drool trailed from the side of Wilson’s mouth and he choked for a moment on his own tongue.

            A flash of silent lightning lit up the room, illuminated the huge violet chest and Maxwell’s silhouette, and behind the demon rose a shadow so very large –

            MAXWELL!     

Chapter Text

           The room was either very very large or very very small, he couldn’t decide which. Something to his left, maybe three meters away, glowed a faint emerald in the darkness and gave off enough light to dimly illuminate the immediate area. Wilson strained to see in the faint light, his eyes watering with effort. He was in a cage, bars of black and steel that curled up from the floor and into the ceiling. A very familiar body was crumpled on the ground about two meters in front of him.

            “M-Maxwell?” The words formed on his lips, the name bubbled from his mouth, but no sound came out. Wilson paused. “What’s going on?” Silence. “Maxwell, I don’t know what’s going on but you should probably get up.” His voice was undeniably muted and Wilson kicked one of the cage bars uselessly.

        Wilson touched one of the dark columns, slightly less thick than his own wrist. His fingers rubbed over a thick, tacky surface with a very solid base that refused to yield when he pushed harder. A dull pulse knocked against his fingertips and Wilson wasn’t sure if that was his own heartbeat or the cage itself. The rubbery bars were cool to the touch but heated quickly with Wilson’s body temperature.

            He was hot all over, he was still naked, still drenched in his own urine. Wilson breathed through his nose carefully, tried to shake off the lingering memories of Maxwell’s touch on his skin.

            The floor rumbled and a loud screech cut cleanly through the darkness, a shriek of glass against stone that overwhelmed Wilson for a full minute.

            look what We have caught.

            It took Wilson a full minute to comprehend the words, to understand that the roar of noise actually meant something. The figure on the floor groaned, and Maxwell rolled onto his side and cleared his throat. His back was to Wilson’s cage.

            you have been a very bad boy. We will always get to you, it doesn’t matter how you try to hide. should we remind you of your place?

            A hundred voices, no, a thousand voices in discordant harmony vibrated from the shadows and Wilson’s shoulders hunched forward, defensive.

            Maxwell stood, as elegant as ever, brought himself to his full towering height and glanced around the void.

            “I am quite cognizant of my place.”

            The voice that came from those pale lips was nothing, nothing like the narrator of Wilson’s torment. This voice was soft, pliant, the British accent as gentle as velvet, and Wilson rocked backward as if struck. The bottom of the cage caught him and he just sat there, numb.

            Does he know I’m here?

            The faint light grew brighter, apparently emitted from a large faceted gem placed upon an obsidian pedestal. Wisps of shadow came forth from the darkness like leaves to swirl around Maxwell’s feet. The man, no, monster, remained unaffected.

            are you? you have been hiding from Us again. very impressive, your little puppet show. but We found you – as We always will.

            “I was merely attempting to strengthen the bond between the –“

            SILENCE.

            Maxwell shut up.

            We will let you make it up to Us. it is time for the king to remember that he is still merely a game piece. and how fitting, to prescribe some of your own medicine, in front of your favorite pawn no less.

            Maxwell’s head jerked up and he turned around, looking, stopped at Wilson’s cage. Their eyes met and Wilson just shook his head, confused and unsure. Wilson saw those black irises widen, as if in fear.

            Maxwell was afraid?

            “Wilson?” Maxwell whispered before he could help himself, raised a delicate hand immediately to cover his mouth and Wilson wasn’t sure why until –

            WE SAID SILENCE, WILLIAM.

            The wave of sound came with a shockwave that knocked Maxwell to his knees. The impossibly tall man, he’s a monster Wilson, crashed forward and coughed so violently that it seemed certain he would vomit. Something grainy and dry blasted between his fingers, like sand, and Wilson watched the king choke. The gagging came to a gradual stop, THEY said nothing, and the chamber brimmed with silence. Wilson took a staggered breath. William?

            The scraps of black whirled again, condensed in front of the kneeling Maxwell, and Wilson’s mouth gaped open as the gem grew brighter still to illuminate the shadows as they took a human form –

            Wilson stared at an exact replica of himself. The skin shone white as the moon and the eyes were empty, the sclera two pools of black that glared out from the fake face. The faux Wilson was a mirror reflection, but the angles were too sharp, the chin too pointed, the cheeks too gaunt.

            THEY stepped forward, snatched a hand into Maxwell’s short hair to jerk his head up, to force eye-contact. It felt familiar and wrong and Wilson swallowed back bile. He could see Maxwell, the man’s brow still creased, arms firmly at his sides, his blue eyes – Blue eyes. Maxwell didn’t have blue eyes. Maxwell had black irises, no pupils, and Wilson should know, those eyes stared at him every time he tried to sleep.

            The clawed hand tangled in Maxwell’s hair released and THEY pushed him back, surprisingly forceful.

            get up, you pathetic miscreant.

            Maxwell – William? – got up and did not look away. A table assembled itself from the darkness at his side.

             strip.

            How many times had Wilson heard that exact command? His own breaths, short and rapid, echoed loud in his head, made the cage smaller.

            THEY smirked, pleased as Maxwell removed his clothing. First the suit jacket, which he set aside. Then the trimmed waistcoat, tailored to hug the his slender torso. His fingers, long, the nails neatly manicured, slipped each button free and the waistcoat joined the jacket. Next came the tie, and Wilson couldn’t look away from those nimble hands, couldn’t stop memories that sprang from the back of his mind. The scarlet knot unraveled easily, uncoiled into a long snake that curled up beside the waistcoat. The white shirt came off quickly, then the undershirt, and Maxwell stood bare chested.

            Wilson had never seen so much of Maxwell’s skin. His ribs were defined, clearly stood out in firm ridges that gave way to a smooth stomach and the first glimpse of conspicuous hipbones.

            The black leather belt came next, and Maxwell still stared directly down at THEM as he kicked off his fine shoes. Wilson held his breath when the pants and conservative under garments were placed on the table just as neatly as their brethren.

            Wilson looked away. It was too uncomfortable, too intimate to see his executioner in such a state, made his spine tingle with disgust.

            do not look away, wilson.

            He felt his eyes forced back and he stared, cheeks hot with shame. Maxwell was naked and unyielding to THEIR insistent gaze. He still looked down and maintained eye contact. THEY mimicked Wilson’s height in addition to his form and the difference between Wilson and Maxwell was almost comical.

            I didn’t realize I was that small…

            THEY reached one hand upwards to grab Maxwell’s prominent chin with a thin hand, the knuckles white as snow. Pointed nails dug into the smoothly shaven face, a threat to break skin, before the hand skimmed up to cup Maxwell’s cheek in a gesture that could, in another world, be conceived of as romantic.

            THEY pulled back and slapped Maxwell across the face, a loud WHAP that made Wilson squeak. A thick stitch of red beaded up on Maxwell’s lip, dripped to his chin and to the ground, where it was swallowed by shadow.

            Wilson stared, entranced. The blood on Maxwell’s chin was so red, so brilliantly colored, that his watery blue eyes were rendered almost purple. The green of the crystal threw a sickly cast over it all and Wilson was reminded of a series of broken kaleidoscopes he had once purchased in error.

            One clawed thumb played across Maxwell’s lip, smeared the blood over his chin as THEY took a step forward. Maxwell settled on the floor on his knees, folded up like a paper swan, and THEY unbuttoned the practical trousers.

            My trousers…  

            open your mouth.

            The exact replica of Wilson’s hand pulled out an exact replica of Wilson’s cock and Wilson was so lightheaded that for a minute consciousness slipped away and he realized with a sudden, cold shot to the gut that he was as hard as diamond.  

            We don’t have all day.

            Maxwell’s tongue poked out from between his lips, small and shy, but he leaned forward and something warm and wet trailed along the tip of Wilson’s cock still inside his pants. He shot backward again with a shout.

            having some trouble, wilson?

            A strangled groan answered THEIR question and Wilson whimpered like a pup. Maxwell hadn’t stopped, ever silent and obedient as he sucked the head into his mouth.

            Wilson screeched, twisted around. He could feel the heat of Maxwell’s tongue, the softness of his plump lips, it was maddening and Maxwell swallowed down another inch. Wilson wailed in anguish and pleasure. Besides the rumble of voices, THEY made no other physical sound, no wheeze of breath or groan of exertion.

            “This – this is sick!” Wilson’s words were as soundless as when he had tried to speak earlier.  

            isn’t it lovely?

Chapter Text

Wilson trembled on the cage floor. Stuttered moans dripped from his mouth like syrup and he stared blankly ahead at Maxwell. Maxwell, still folded on the floor like a sculpture, his nobility somehow untarnished despite the cock down his throat.

THEY laughed and the crackle of a thousand thunderstorms shook the cavernous dark. The sight of Maxwell, on his knees, serving an exact replica of himself, shot through the scientist’s very heart. He felt each swipe of the king’s tongue, could feel the tickle of hair against his palm when THEY grabbed Maxwell’s head and pushed deeper into the warm throat.  

“Stop, st-stop this!” he shrieked to the silence. It was disconcerting to feel his vocal cords work but hear no sound come forth.

in case you haven’t noticed, the little man can feel what you’re doing.

Maxwell stopped for a full second as the meaning sank in and Wilson audibly sighed. THEY did not pause, and took the opportunity to ram THEIR entire length down the man’s throat. Maxwell's face crinkled up with disgust, with horror, and the king's nobility evaporated into the shadows.

Wilson’s jaw hurt from grinding his teeth too hard. Maxwell’s mouth was hot, almost painfully so, and each time the man choked it sent Wilson into spasms.

enjoy it, boy. he took this same pleasure from you, didn’t he? there’s no need to feel guilt. he deserves it. don’t you, william? naughty naughty boy…

Hollow sobs echoed through the shadows and there were tears streaming down Maxwell’s cheeks, thin wet streaks that reflected the green light. Wilson stared, unable to look away, held still by THEIR power. Maxwell’s eyes were scrunched tightly shut and tendrils of shadow rose to wrap around his thin wrists. His arms were pulled behind him and down, and another flicker of dark slithered around Maxwell’s neck.

how many times did he tear out your throat? how many times did he break you open and leave you to die? did you forget the first time?

Time stopped and Wilson shook his head.

“No. Nnn, no. I don’t want –“ Each gasp of air bubbled through the filthy mud in his lungs and Wilson screamed, the sudden shock of sound enough to make Maxwell flinch and choke again. Wilson’s stomach twisted with sickness and he remembered.

“I-I don’t want, w-want this!”

Gritty shards of stone dug into his palms as Wilson forced his body off the ground and up. Dark blood beaded against the dust, left behind prints on the weathered stone as he climbed. Each movement dislodged a cascade of rocks and pebbles and Wilson scrambled to keep a foot-hold. He reached to the left, toed the cliff face with his boot until he found purchase and skittered up the wall like a terrified spider fleeing the sun.

Something in the dark roared behind him and the crag under his right hand crumbled to dust. He scrabbled, scraped across rough slate, and something grabbed his right ankle and pulled. The bone snapped easily, with a clear crack, and Wilson crashed to the ground like a ham wrapped in butcher paper.

The deerclops roared and its breath boiled with blood and rot. Wilson gagged, turned his head to the side and puked into a bush. The enormous claws around his ankle lifted him up, brought him face-to-face with a giant eye. The pupil was a mere pinpoint in a sea of black and Wilson held his breath, waited for the sweet, momentary release of death.

“Say pal, you don’t look so good…”   

The words were a slap in the face and Wilson screamed with rage.

“Why won’t you just let me die?!” The claws around his ankle released him and Wilson flipped himself in the air before he crashed, graceless, toward the ground. Shadows caught him just as he braced for the impact, twirled tightly around his limbs and held him tight.

that’s the beauty of it, kid. there is no death here.

It was Maxwell’s body that came forward, but THEIR voice bellowed from his mouth. Wilson deflated a little and shook his head hard enough that his brain pounded against his eyes.

only dying.

“You must have some weakness,” he spit, his voice frail but self-assured, “You’re not perfect, Maxwell!”

if only you knew.  

 Laughter, that obnoxious laughter, a hundred crows cawing on a moon-less night. Wilson’s neck crawled and the shadows threw him to the ground at Maxwell’s feet. He sprawled on his back, and Maxwell was on him in an instant. A black leather shoe stepped over his throat and Wilson wheezed as the magician leaned down. His hands, bloodied and studded with shards of stone, closed desperately around the thin ankle.

“You’re, you’re pathetic,” Wilson gasped, “You’re trapped here too, aren’t y-you? I hear the shadows at night, I know tthey – hnnngh!”

You know NOTHING! 

Maxwell’s eyes were full of fire and he pushed on Wilson’s throat harder. His speech was strained, pressured with anger.

Y ou have no idea how long I’ve been here, what I left behind! While you, even your own flesh and blood couldn’t tolerate you!

Pretty brown eyes bulged in their sockets, Wilson's face flushed purple and when Maxwell pulled back just a tiny bit, he mouthed at the air like a fish.

You are NOTHING! You always have been NOTHING! You will always be NOTHING!

The back of Wilson’s throat burned and bile leaked from the corners of his mouth as he suffocated. The grey sky behind Maxwell’s head was beginning to darken, as if the sun were setting, and Wilson moaned.

Maxwell straightened, glanced around as if he had been caught stealing a cookie. Wilson smiled weakly to himself at that particular image.

You find that humorous, do you? You know what I find humorous? That it only takes thirty-three pounds of pressure to crush the human esophagus.

T he demon’s rage had vanished and his sudden calm was more frightening than any form of anger. The heel of his dress shoe pressed down ever harder on his throat and Wilson thought he heard the bone and cartilage crack.

Wilson tried to speak, to beg, and then he could breathe again. Oxygen rushed into his lungs, filled him up and every cell shook with gratitude. Something loomed behind Maxwell and Wilson realized why the sky had dimmed. The deerclops that had been chasing him was still there, watching them, waiting silently for the call of its master. He squirmed, uncomfortable under the monster’s gaze.

Shy? Poor boy.

His breathing was cut off again and Maxwell’s heel fit snugly underneath Wilson’s jaw, centered right on the knot in his throat.

He likes you, don't stare. So rude.

“Wh-what do you, do you WANT?” The question was screeched, Wilson’s voice an octave too high and Maxwell choked him, relentless, silence him.

I want you to shut up for once. go play with your old friend, maybe that will tire you out.

A puff of heavy smoke erupted from Maxwell’s mouth and the demon was gone. Wilson risked a gasp of air, inhaled smoke and coughed on the ash. The deerclops howled behind him and something exceptionally hot poked through – through? – his back.

Wilson looked down, unable to process so much at one time. The bony protrusions sticking out from his ribcage were foreign and wrong but he couldn’t figure out why. He was lifted by those horrible claws, up and up and up… The ground was so far away, a wavering watercolor, and Wilson watched the blood flow from the three holes in his chest.

The beast threw him to the ground and every bone in Wilson’s body broke just as Maxwell snapped his fingers –

Wilson stood, remade and whole, dazed as he stared at his reflection reflected by the creature’s enormous obsidian hooves. Pain flickered at the back of his mind, a memory, a warning.

He ran. He made it three steps before the deerclops kicked him, knocked his legs out from underneath him. The cold mud against his face was nearly refreshing. His shins were in agony, probably fractured, and Wilson held his breath. The second kick was worse than the first and flung him bodily through the air, slammed him into the cliff wall.

As the deerclops went in for the killing blow, Maxwell snapped his fingers again. Wilson found himself yanked to his feet, face to face with that hateful creature, and this time the beast grabbed him by the hair.

It was somewhere around the eighth round that Wilson finally broke. Blood caked on his brow, his pretty face unrecognizable from the bruising, he cried out words alongside his screams.

“Maxwell! I’ll do – anything, p-please!” Wilson was shameless in his despair, “St-stop!”

The beast dropped him, the shadows caught him, and Wilson tried to ignore how his tears stung the cuts on his face. Maxwell loomed above, a rising shadow that cast doubt over any last remaining vestiges of Wilson’s hope.

anything?

“Yyes, yes!”

well, in that case…

His brain hurt, ached like fire inside his skull. He didn’t want to remember the rest of that night, the way Maxwell had put him to the ground and taken him like a beast while he wept. Wilson’s limbs tingled with phantom pain, memories of torture, but the gentle mouth that began to suck at his – no, at THEIR – cock quickly banished all of that.

Wilson whimpered and pushed his hips forward, unable to stop himself from seeking more of that delicious pleasure. Warm sparks fluttered through his gut and upward, chased away the nausea and fear and for a minute Wilson felt wonderfully decadent. Maxwell’s mouth was so wet and no one had ever touched Wilson like this before, man or woman.

The hair twisted in his fingers was surprisingly soft and Wilson drowned in golden light. Maxwell’s lips were wrapped tight around the base of his cock, and the motion of THEIR pelvis created a light suction that felt absolutely divine –

A tickle spread upward from behind his stomach, struck downward to the tip of his length and Wilson couldn’t stop the way his body shook. His bones jingled together , all that pleasure knotted itself up, and when he looked over again, when he saw Maxwell’s proud face twisted in pain and humiliation, Wilson came. His brain shorted out and nothing mattered, nothing mattered at all except for that false bliss.

Something poked at the back of his mind, another observation.

So, this is what Maxwell must have felt…

Chapter Text

             Wilson sprawled on the floor, slumped against the semi-solid bars behind him. A tacky wet spot stained the front of his trousers and his cheeks burned. His eyes gazed forward, unseeing, simply rolled in their sockets.

            When he came back to himself, it was because Maxwell was staring at him. The pale blue eyes and the blood smeared over his chin made the skin on the back of Wilson’s neck crawl. He set a hand over his groin, tried to flatten his shoulders back against the bars. Maxwell’s nose was creased around his eyes, his lips flat and thin. Wilson had to look away.

           We didn’t say you could stop, william.

          A phantom tongue tickled up his cock again. THEY forced it further, past the protesting lips, escalated the pace and fucked Maxwell’s face as violently as Maxwell had ever done to Wilson. Flashes of light, orange and green starbursts painted the backs of Wilson’s eyelids and his flaccid length began to ache, unable to process so much pleasure.  

            “Please stop,” the words were hardly a whisper, but when Wilson opened his eyes THEY had turned that horrible black gaze towards him. His gut coiled.

            this doesn’t please you?

            THEY seemed genuinely surprised, the eyebrows crooked up. It was too surreal to see such a perfect replication of his own face and Wilson turned away again. He counted his breaths, focused on the brilliance of the emerald gem that, now that he thought about it, seemed to pulse. It shone, impossibly lustrous and beautiful and - 

            Did that gem just get bigger?

            THEY tssked in irritation and Wilson made the mistake of looking.

            perhaps you simply need something sweeter.

            The replica of Wilson took a step backward, placed THEIR hands on Maxwell’s shoulders and shoved the gangly body away. The dark tendrils already twined around Maxwell’s wrists pulled him back and flipped the man over onto all fours. The shadows maneuvered Maxwell easily, placed him so that he was turned towards Wilson. One translucent hand spilled from the darkness to grab Maxwell’s chin and hold it, force him to look at Wilson’s face.

            Their eyes met, rust against water, and something slick and warm was rubbed over Wilson’s cock when THEY took position. It felt good, incredibly so, and a groan twisted out of his throat. Nausea made his belly rumble, and repulsion far outweighed every gram of pleasure that fingered through his veins.

            THEY were looking at him and the endless abyss in those eye sockets sucked Wilson in with little difficulty. THEIR hands were coated with a similar substance as the shadows, visibly a bit more transparent.

            He’s using nightmare fuel as lubricant.

            The realization didn’t even shock Wilson, perhaps a sign of exactly how far down the rabbit hole he had fallen.

            do you want to know what it feels like when he fucks you?

            Something soft nudged the glans of his dick again and Wilson bit back his moan. He was hard again, swollen and desperate against the fly of his trousers. The sudden pain of the restriction chased away the fog in his head and he unbuttoned his pants without a second thought. The cool air was a welcome relief but his fingers were sticky and cold. Wilson reached out, to grab something, steady himself, and noticed the tips of his fingers were touched with black.

            What?

            THEY trailed a hand over Maxwell’s thin ass, squeezed what little bit of meat there was to squeeze, and abruptly stabbed one wet finger into the man’s body. Maxwell had been admirably quiet up to this point, but the sudden pain tore the first ragged moan from his throat. His long face twisted up and Wilson almost felt sorry for him.

            Wilson’s ears tickled. His brain was slowly liquefying and dripping out of his ears, he was sure of it. His hands tingled with pins and needs and cold, his right index finger buried in rippling heat. THEY thrust, brutal, added the second digit within a minute. Maxwell’s breaths were short now, his shoulder blades drawn together tightly as he gasped for air. 

            Abandon ship.

            A third finger was pressed inside and now Maxwell groaned with every other movement. Wilson’s ears rang with the alien sound of that voice, the foreign softness that was so very subdued even in his pain.

            “Please…” came the whispered plea, so pitiable and lost that Wilson’s jaw dropped a half inch.

            Is that even Maxwell anymore?

            please, more? and here We thought you weren’t enjoying this…

            The monster was quick, aligned the two bodies together and Wilson pushed backward in abhorrence as that warm, slick spot was rubbed against his dick.

            “No, no, no, no,” the words were swift and huashed, whispered through Wilson’s teeth as that slick spot gave way to firm, wet pressure and THEY sank forward.

            Maxwell – William – shrieked loud enough that Wilson clapped his hands over his ears. The heat wrapped so snugly around his cock was good, so fucking good, but the aftertaste of bile at the back of his throat was rising. THEY laughed again and began to move. Wilson rolled to his side, hands clenched into fists, lost to the flood of sensation.

            THEY were rough, THEIR movements jerky and slightly wrong, too automated to be purely human, but it was more than enough to devastate both Wilson and Maxwell.

            this is exactly what he took from you. this is revenge! he tore you apart, wilson. destroyed you in every conceivable way. do not feel sorrow for him. he deserves this. and look, he obviously likes it.

            THEY reached one hand down, out of Wilson’s line of sight, and Maxwell whimpered. His fingers were wrapped around a thin and very recognizable, very hard cock and Wilson took a careful breath, fought back the urge to hyperventilate.   

            he’s just as hard as you are. oh, and doesn’t he feel wonderful… so tight, william. how fortunate that We were the first to have you. We have to admit, at first We didn’t understand this method of torture that you seem to favor so much. But now… how lovely you feel around Our cock. 

            He stared at the emerald, its light strong enough now that he had to squint a little. It was certainly bigger now, and it overwhelmed the small pedestal. Maxwell screeched again and the light flashed with a visible pulse. Wilson stared, empty, drowning in heat, and then it clicked.

            That light is fueled by fear, or maybe pain, or both. That’s why it keeps growing larger.

            That sweet pleasure plucked at him, tempted him to submit. He wasn’t so hot anymore, now he simply radiated with gentle warmth. Wilson’s sore bones protested in the back of his mind, begged him to give up and accept this rare gift.

            Maxwell groaned and the pleasure dissipated within an instant. Nausea twirled up his gut and the gem flashed brighter.

            … Maybe it can be overwhelmed. It keeps getting larger, surely it can’t sustain such a rate of growth.

            He forced himself to look. Maxwell’s face was different, somehow, softer, and when the watery blue eyes opened, Wilson saw an agony there that struck him speechless. This was not Maxwell’s face, this was some other poor bastard, his cheeks streaked with tears and his eyes begging for mercy. The nausea in Wilson’s stomach curdled to indignant disgust and, just out of his vision, the emerald light grew stronger.

            Wilson focused. Wet heat still sucked at his cock. The body, whether it was Maxwell or not, was pure velvet pressure and silky slickness and oh, it felt good.  THEY were relentless, brutal, and the indecent obscenity, the delicious revenge, was tempting.

            No, pain. Pain and fear. Focus, Wilson.

            His head pounded, split with every beat of his heart. He sucked in that fear, drowned in the pain written on that stranger’s face, forced himself to banish the thoughts of vengeance and reprisal.

            It’s disgusting, it’s vile and evil! I may be an atheist but I still have morals. This is sick, this is foul, this is wrong on every level, I am so frightened, please make it stop, please God don’t let me fall, please please pleasepleaseplease—

            BANG.

            The gem exploded and Wilson covered his face, every vein in his body ice-cold with shock. A tingle like breaking glass followed the blast and it was dark. Something, a lot of somethings, cold and tiny, showered down over Wilson’s chest and a wind picked up, whistled through the darkness.

            Wilson’s ears rang like bells and the bars against his back … vanished? The little shards on him glowed faintly in the dark, shards of the gem if he had to guess, and when he touched one it grew brighter. It cut into his hand as he squeezed it, and he scrambled to his feet. The cage was truly gone, and he couldn’t feel anything, couldn’t feel Maxwell anymore.

            That infernal roar came from the wind, tried to drag Wilson back to the floor, but rage swelled in his breast like a wildfire and Wilson bellowed back. The rumble that emanated from his chest shocked even him to some degree, but there was no time to ponder.

            Wilson clutched the crystal to his chest, turned away from where the cage had formerly existed, and bolted into the shadows.

            He ran. Nothing stopped him, nothing at all, and the emerald in his hands lit the endless void enough to see. The roar was behind him, a little farther away, and he ran. The fear, the terror, all of that had sublimated into pure get out get out get out.

            Blessedly, there was nothing else in his brain. His thoughts, the endless voices were silent.

            Abandon ship.

            Wilson ran.

Chapter Text

 

            It was so dark, the tiny green light in his palms the only indication that Wilson wasn't actually blind. How could this place exist? An empty expanse of hollow pitch and – nothing.

            Wilson ran. The little emerald shard cut into the flesh of his palm, trickled droplets of blood that tickled like a dream. It shone just enough to light the way, a gentle but constant brightness amongst the black.

            Wilson didn't stop.

            He lost count of his breaths that he wheezed into the darkness, lost count of each gasp for air that was swallowed up into the void. His ears felt plugged, like perhaps he was laying underwater - everything sounded like it was locked inside his own head.

            Wilson didn't stop, but it didn't take long until a stitch began to blaze in his side. His muscles burned like fire beneath his skin and he slowed down. He listened, his ears strained for any noise; but there was no point. His heartbeat was in his ears, in his brain, and the roar in his own head became so deafening that Wilson, at last, shuddered to a stop. He wiped one bloody hand on his shirt. He didn’t remember putting on his clothes, hadn’t he been naked before? His toes were cold… he was still barefoot.

            The void was silent behind him, no growl or demonic bellowing that shook the ground, no quiet British accent whispered into the darkness. Wilson pressed one hand to his side, over the stitch that dug sharp into his guts, and allowed himself to breathe.

            The gem shard was still in his hand, now tacky with drying blood, and Wilson brought it close to his face to get a better look. The light within the crystal pulsed weakly and as Wilson gazed into its depths, he saw a yellow flash and something tugged on his hand -

            The gem pulled out of his fingers and toward the ground. He stared, confused. Wilson hadn't let it go, it had felt like someone had plucked it from his hand like a premature fruit. He watched it fall, in slow motion, watched the shard splinter in half when it hit the black ground. He knelt, quickly, scooped up both pieces. The smaller one, he slipped into his pocket mindlessly.

            Exhaustion washed over his bones and he sat down to stare at the emerald in his hand. Its glow felt almost organic, and maybe Wilson was going insane but he swore he could feel something in it...

            Something rustled behind him, a sound like very thick cloth being torn, and Wilson bit off the cry behind his teeth. The sound rushed closer, and every joint stiffened, Wilson mentally readied himself to be grabbed, clutched at his emerald and prepared for the blow.

            We underestimated you, little boy.

            Wilson didn't even breathe, frozen in place as perfectly as if time itself had stopped. The gem in his hands brightened by a tint or two, and Wilson didn't even feel it slice deep into his palm when he gripped it tighter.

            that was a cute trick, but you won't take Us by surprise again.

            Blood trickled gently down his hand and Wilson focused on that, focused on keeping his panic at bay. The shadows continued to rustle together, a theater's curtain before the show, and for one heart-stopping second Wilson thought he felt fingers on the back of his neck, thought he heard ...

            We would be impressed if you weren't so pathetic.

            You're going to have to insult me harder than that, something whispered in the back of Wilson's head, the voice dull and bored. If anything, that's tame compared to Maxwell's... creativity.

            The dark trembled with the sound of a thousand voices laughing, a thousand short barks that quivered up Wilson's skin and into his spinal cord and into his brain.

            still a spark left in that brave little heart of yours. adorable. but you will fall like the rest.

            There was a shock of cold that shot over Wilson's face and down his body. His breath instantly condensed in the frigid air, clouds of steam that glowed green as they tumbled to the ground. Wilson huffed tiny breaths, tried to minimize the cold that stabbed needles through his lungs and throat.

            this will be your only warning. 

            Wilson couldn't answer, the words frozen at the back of his tongue. The gem in his hands blinked out, dissolved into black sand between his fingers and disintegrated. Wilson tried to cup the sand between his fingers, tried to take a step forward to catch -

            Something caught on his foot and Wilson floundered, lost his balance and collapsed. He cursed, loud enough to surprise himself in the process, and abruptly landed on soft grass.

            Grass?

            Wilson blinked, and there was light. Unbelievable light,  such that his vision whited out completely and his eyes teared up in pain. The horizon was on fire and the flames scorched into the backs of his retinas. Slowly, his eyes adjusted and color filtered in. He had never seen a sky so blue, so richly bright, like a sea of the finest lapis. Milky clouds as delicate as candy floss drifted overhead and Wilson stared and stared, and he stopped existing for a few blissful heartbeats.

            He was back on the island. His head ached and his eyes throbbed, the light too much after such solid darkness, but he was here and... mostly in one piece. Wilson rubbed his temple, closed his eyes for a moment, then looked down at his hands. His palms was bloody, the mess streaked up his arms, but that curious black sand was nowhere to be seen. He had his mostly clean clothes, still no shoes, but that was it. The tips of his fingers were particularly filthy, crusted with blood and some kind of black dirt.

            Restart. I guess?

            He found a cluster of trees and collapsed, thankful for the shade, the welcomed relief, and closed his eyes again. The air was pleasantly warm, a little humid, and Wilson's nose tickled with allergies. Spring, then. Wilson counted his breaths and waited a long time. He counted to five hundred.

            "This is a trick, right?" he asked the air, waiting for Maxwell's inevitable response, the unavoidable wisp of bitter smoke. It was possible that all of this had been an elaborate stage, just to antagonize and terrorize him. "Maxwell..." Wilson didn't know what he expected. "Maxwell, come on!"

            The trees only whispered to him, echoed his words back in soft sighs. Wilson looked up through branches sprouting with fresh leaves. It was about ten in the morning. If he listened carefully he could hear water, just under the chuckles of the wind. He followed the soft tumble of sound to a sizeable stream, and he knelt beside it and thrust his hands into the clear water.

            The water was so cold that whatever fog had been left in Wilson's brain dissipated instantly. Ice shocked up his fingers and arms, into Wilson’s nerves and up his brain stem, and he relished in how real it felt. There were no intangible shadows here, no phantom touches that left him in a dim haze. He rubbed his hands together to work the filth off his skin, but the stuff on the tips of his fingers wouldn't go away...

            Wilson raised one hand to his face, peered at it. It was his hand, normal in every way, except the very tips of his fingers were now as black as any shadow. With the first threads of panic in his head, he looked at his other hand, almost smacked himself in the face, and confirmed that both hands shared the same affliction. Those threads of panic wove into yarn and Wilson forced himself to breathe.

            His hands didn't feel any different, and nothing hurt. Wilson couldn't take his eyes off his hands, rubbed his arm very carefully with his fingertips, expecting… something. A flash of cold, a sudden pain, anything.

            Nothing happened and Wilson slowly, consciously pushed his fear aside. 

            This is fascinating and also terrifying, but I should really get ready for nightfall.

            Wilson sighed and got to his feet. He could sort through all of this ridiculous baggage later, huddled in front of his pitiful fire all night long, because he already knew he wasn't going to sleep anytime soon.

            He sighed, resigned, and set off to gather resources.

            If a memory drifted in his head, whispered in his ears, perhaps the sound of that soft British accent weeping, Wilson didn’t show it.


            A week passed. A month. Wilson had expected harsh, relentless conditions, a punishment for his misbehavior, but everything had been ... almost easy. He established a humble homestead: a collection of apiaries, a modest field of berry bushes, a stone-walled compound. One might even describe it as comfortable.

            Maxwell was nowhere to be found, didn't show up at all as one month turned to three, then to six. The tree that Wilson used as a calendar grew more and more scratches, and it seemed that the sun rose higher every day. A growing sense of unease had grown over the island like invisible vines: every tree and animal seemed to hold its breath. Wilson scribbled nonsense onto dirty scraps of paper and covered the inside of his tent with diagrams and angles of the sun.

            Wilson did what he did best; he survived. But a seed had been planted, and an idea began to itch at the base of his skull. Those crystals… he had seen them before, had a basic idea of how they worked, red was hot and blue was cold, but now…

            Fog rolled around his ankles while he gathered grass on one cold evening. He could manipulate the gems with emotions and feeling... what else could he do with them? Would it help him pass through Maxwell's gates? Did the gates even still exist? Did Maxwell still exist?

            Well, I know the easiest way to get the gems. The… the graves.

            Wilson had seen the pigs do it, a few times, had seen them unearth random debris and the occasional flash of gold or gem. He had never been able to do it himself, to dig up another man’s grave…

            I’m an atheist, but not a blasphemer.  

            The other option - sometimes he would find a gem in the hounds, when he was gutting them for meat. Food was food. Every so often, deep in the liver, there would be a crystal the size of a small potato that warmed or cooled upon touch. But the dogs only came so often, and it was rare that he'd find a crystal in one of them; he could count the instances on one hand (four).

            The graveyard is the only viable option. Damn it.

            He found a graveyard a few days later and haunted it for a week, sat in front of his fire at night and watched the shadows cast by the tombstones. No ghosts arose but Wilson could hear their echoes deep beneath the dirt in the absolute dead of night, when absolutely everything was still and even the monsters stopped breathing.

            It was his ninth day beside the graves. Wilson chewed a dry strip of rabbit jerky and stared at the stones, then at a shovel propped against a tree. He looked between them, finished his jerky, and wiped his face on one dirty sleeve. His left foot tapped against the ground, erratic and arrhythmic. Were THEY watching him? Would THEY appear? Maybe ... not that he was hoping for it ... but maybe Maxwell would show up?

            There was only one way to know, and it wasn't camping next to the graveyard, drowning in his own indecision. Wilson surged to his feet, warm with a faint sense of purpose. He chose the smallest tombstone, as if that would minimize his sin, and dug into the soil. The layer of sod was thick and difficult to break up – Wilson had to plant the blade down and then throw all his weight on the shovel just to cut through. Sweat poured down the side of his face, his face pinched in concentration as he broke up the top layer. The soil beneath was, thankfully, much softer. This time the shovel went in easy and Wilson kept digging until –

            The blade of the shovel struck against something and rang out, so loud that Wilson flinched backward. He tried to catch himself, over-corrected to the left, and promptly collapsed. Perhaps he had been pushing himself a bit far…

            He sifted his hands through the dirt, hoping, but his fingers closed around cold metal and he pulled - a broken toy robot out of the soil. Wilson frowned. It didn’t matter. He slipped it into a pocket on his crudely woven backpack and climbed up out of the grave. Dry dirt crumbled against his hands and feet as he struggled, but Wilson made it out.

            On his feet, the world swam in circles and Wilson wobbled, carefully sat down before he fell again. The sun was still in the sky, as bright as gold, was it always that bright? His vision felt warped, a contrast thrust over everything like a screen.

            I’ve never dug up a grave myself before.

            Wilson sat on the edge of the grave and stared down into it for a long while. The question in his head was clear, but the conflict was not. I didn’t find a crystal. Should I dig up another one?

 

Chapter Text

                Wilson sat beside the grave, lost in thought for several minutes. The sun hung in the sky. Time ticked on, and the wind murmured through the trees and grass. The world was heedless of the conflict that broiled in Wilson's heart. His black fingertips scratched at the inside of his left arm, left faint little welts that raised across his skin like flowers. 

                I've waited so long. I can't learn about these crystals if I don't have one to study. That is the simple truth. I was able to throw Them off with it, for a little bit, but better than nothing. That is also a truth. Maxwell - William? - no, Maxwell wasn't able to do anything against Them, but I could! This is the only weapon that I currently know about... I must do this, not only for the sake of science, but for our - MY - very survival. Our?

                He shook his head to clear the ghosts from his mind. He certainly did not hear the muted whisper of a quiet British voice curl around his left ear before it slithered away.

                Stop, focus Wilson. The crystal. Facts. Yes, with the evidence currently present, the only logical procession is... that I must do this. I've waited long enough. 

                The thought of digging up another grave sent tingles of uncertainty through his nerves. Wilson pressed one hand to the base of his throat, suppressed the urge to dry-heave. 

                I wish I didn't have to do this.  Wishes would do nothing. Wilson hefted his shovel and pushed himself to his feet.

                The next tombstone was larger, the letters in the grey stone washed away and indecipherable. Wilson wiped one hand against his sweaty face, smudged mud all over his forehead in the process. The shovel's blade kissed the top soil and Wilson jumped on the shovel, threw his weight onto it. It took one mighty heave and then another before the sod parted, reluctant, and the blade popped through. Wilson abruptly lost his balance, crashed on his ass, but got back up. The shovel was still planted in the sod and it stood strong in the sun, perhaps a testament to his persistence?

                Wilson you are losing your mind. You need to focus.

                His prize wasn't buried as deep this time, and Wilson almost tossed it out in a clump of dirt, if it hadn't glinted in the hellishly bright sunlight. A flash of diamond, bright and promising, sparkled among the earth and Wilson's heart leapt into his throat, he stopped breathing, that was certainly the glimmer of a gem, no, make that gems, plural and he dug through the soil to find -

                Marbles! Blasted marbles. Damn it! Why would someone bury these?? That can't be all, can it? There must be more!

                Wilson knelt on all fours, scribbled through the dirt, his jaw clenched in his urgency as he sifted through handful after handful of earth. His fingernails - more clawlike than ever - scratched deep wounds into the soil and Wilson didn't hear himself snarl like a beast.

                There was so much unease twisted up in his muscles; it clamored at the back of Wilson's throat, threatened to burst out of his skin. The string of his patience was so, so tight - the frustration boiled up through his esophagus and out of his mouth in a short, primal scream.

                The sound shocked him out of his fit and Wilson finally stopped. His shoulders slumped forward and he let his forehead sink into the - delightfully soft, actually - dirt.

                Nothing! All of this conflict, all of this upset, over broken toys! This must be Maxwell's trick. Where in the hell did these toys even come from?

                Wilson spit into the earth and twinges of anger surged out of his heart in tiny threads, lit up along his skin through grimy layers of sweat. His clothes were soaked with it, it poured down the center of his chest and coursed down his back. It made Wilson shiver, suddenly cold despite the stifling heat, and the sweat extinguished his anger as quickly as it had come.

                He spit again, or tried to - his mouth was too dry to muster enough saliva. Wilson sucked at his teeth and got up, planted the shovel beneath him and used it to boost himself out of the hole - his hands clutched at roots and he tried to pull himself up. He flailed, almost fell, and swallowed down a rush of nausea. With a screech of effort, Wilson finally hauled himself up and out of the grave. He flopped onto wonderfully warm grass, on his knees as he caught his breath. He reached back down into the hole, as far as he dared without losing his balance, and pulled out the shovel.

                Wilson flopped onto his back, almost boneless, his shovel tossed to the side. His lungs wouldn't hold air and he choked in slow breaths, tried not to gag on the reek of mud and his own sin.

                It's just so bright... Ugh... Something is wrong. But I have to keep going. I must keep going!

                The edges of his vision were dark, like storm clouds, and Wilson stared at the next grave. Marbles and a broken toy... but no crystals.

                I can dig one more. Just one more, right? I'm already guilty... Wilson chewed on his lip and scratched the inside of his left arm. He tried to tear his gaze away from the next stone, but looking at it made time slow down and Wilson felt so very tired...

                No. I'm not done. Just one more.

                Each step to the next grave took longer than it should have. The air was much too heavy, pressed on Wilson's skin, suffocated him, but he crossed the divide, still idly scratching at his arm. Wilson planted his shovel down and dug. The blade cut through the sod much easier than expected, and a wave of icy discomfort foamed in his stomach.

                I can't stop now.

                This time felt more simple, his muscles had an idea of what to do, and the fact that he was learning how to effectively dig up a grave laid on his brain like a wet woolen blanket. Wilson swallowed his fear and thrust his shovel into the dirt with more force than really necessary.

                Dirt piled up around him, crumbled back into his hole every so often, showered onto his shoulders like weighted rain and Wilson was beginning to suspect that the grave was empty.

                Wait - there!

                He saw it, a sizeable clump among the dirt, and fell to his knees in his eagerness to grab it. His shaking fingers wrapped around the clod and - it disintegrated in his hand like a secret, simply a lump of clay studded with stones. A frown spread over Wilson's face, creased his nose, and he picked up his shovel.

                Could this grave be empty?

                He scratched at his arm, his dull nails raking over dry skin, lost in thought.

                I'm kind of surprised that They haven't shown up... I would assume They are watching all the time, right? Or attempting to watch. Maxwell ... hid, somehow. That's why They were upset. That's why They punished him. So, logically, they would punish me too, because I am disobeying. Maybe it was just one of Maxwell's tricks? Maybe 'They' don't even exist.

                Wilson's shovel struck something very hard, sent a shockwave through his very bones that knocked the thoughts from his brain. He wavered but didn't lose his balance, still focused, and Wilson leaned down, reached into the dirt, hoping, hoping, hoping...

                Yes!

                Yes – there it was, a brilliant red gem, about half the size of his fist, shining as rich as blood in the soil. Just as his black fingertips touched it, the crystal warmed, barely perceptible, and it glowed very faintly – or perhaps not at all, maybe Wilson was imagining that. How had he never noticed this before? He clutched his treasure to his chest, looked hard into the reflective depths, thought he saw a tiny hand reach out towards him -

                The ground abruptly began to shake under his feet, all around him, the grave itself shook, and Wilson's head shot up. Small stones and clumps of dirt shook loose from the sides of the grave and something roared in the not-very-distant-distance.

                Shit. Shit! Shit shit. It's Them, They're coming for me! I knew this was going to happen. I'm going to die and I'm going to deserve it.

                Adrenaline fired through every nerve and Wilson skittered up out of the grave in record time. The shovel dropped, forgotten, not important in the immediate need to get the hell out of here. He shoved the red crystal - ruby? - into his pocket and waited for one heart-stopping moment, frozen like a rabbit, waited until that horrid sound shook the ground again so that he could determine yes, it's coming from the east, and Wilson bolted.

                Oh God, oh God, They're coming for me, They heard me say They weren't real, oh shit oh shit oh shit!

                His backpack thumped against his spine with every other stride and his mouth tasted like iron - Wilson realized he had bitten his tongue, but it didn't matter, not right now, nothing mattered right now. Another deep cry tore the air in half and Wilson recognized that sound but...

                It doesn't sound like Them... that actually sounds...

                Wilson was small, but fast, and stopped to listen again. That wasn't the odd rustling that They made, like wet leaves scraping along cobblestone. This was more bestial, more organic, and -

                A column of fire bellowed into the sky and Wilson swallowed.

                Dragonfly, great, excellent, I love burning to death, that's my favorite.

                His movements were oddly automatic. Wilson took off his backpack, pulled out handfuls of grass from within and grabbed a flint and steel from his pocket. He shouldered the backpack on, knelt and struck the flint a few times. It sparked, caught the dry tinder like a lover and flamed up within seconds, blossomed up from the ground like a flower.

                If it comes this direction, hopefully this will make enough ash to stop it for at least a minute or two.

                The roaring of the Dragonfly was coming ever closer but that little fire was so bright! For one weightless moment, Wilson watched the little tendrils of flame dance, strangely fascinated. That light was so vivid, even in the glare of the sun.

                The next bellow made those graceful flames shake and Wilson jerked out of his wonder. A thick black plume of smoke curled into the sky from beyond the trees and Wilson was back in his own body. He wiped his filthy forehead with one filthier hand and sighed, suddenly tired beyond belief. The ground shook again.

                Wilson swallowed his exhaustion and did the only thing he could do; he ran.

                The rumble of the dragonfly fell away, slowly but steady. Wilson stopped every so often, to catch his breath and listen, to kneel and put his ear to the earth. He changed direction frequently, seemingly at random. Once he could no longer hear the beast, no matter how much he strained, he headed south - back to base camp. The grass under his feet was vibrantly green and shivered with life and the shadows beneath the trees seemed just a bit darker if he looked at them for too long.

                I can't believe I... dug up graves. On my own. Doesn't that kind of automatically warrant hell? No. That's ridiculous. Even if it did warrant hell, aren't I already here? Could hell be worse than this? What if it is -

                He shooed his paranoia into a dusty corner in his mind and Wilson pushed on.


 

                Wilson sat in front of his crackling fire, cross legged, the potato-sized ruby in his palms. The intense orange of the fire ignited the gem in a way Wilson had never noticed before - those perfectly smooth facets were rich with color and if he looked into the depths of the crystal, he could see -

                Tendrils of shadow rippled at the edge of Wilson's vision and he whipped around to face the darkness to find nothing there, only the grass and the trees beyond, soaked in night. A memory lingered at the edge of conscious thought, the way his stomach had gone cold when the shovel finally parted the sod -

                Focus. How can you focus when you dug up graves?

                Wilson scoffed.

                There weren't bodies in them. Technically, they weren't really graves.

                That was a thread of comfort, however small.

                Doesn't explain the headstones. Why would you make headstones for toys and treasures?

                The night rustled behind him and Wilson slipped the crystal into the pocket of his trousers. Something jabbed him, sharp on the meat of his palm, and Wilson yanked his hand back out with a little sound of pain. There was a smear of blood on his hand, over what a fortune-teller had once called his lifeline, and Wilson carefully poked his fingers into his pocket, pulled out -

                No way... The other ... The other half of the green crystal, that shattered when I dropped it. And I put the smaller piece in my pocket. It's still here. They didn't take it.

                Wilson stared at the modest shard in his hands, the green amplified against his inky black fingertips. There was no apparent reaction to his touch, but as he handled it, it never warmed up with his body heat. It remained cool, even in his humid palms. A thousand trains of thought screamed through Wilson's tired brain, each one more paranoid than the last.

                Do They know I have this? Does Maxwell know? Why haven't They come for me? Are They watching now? How would I know?

                His questions curled into the air and dragged him along and a tell-tale you're going to pass out if you don't get ahold of yourself, Wilson shiver skittered up his spine. Wilson pressed on his temples with one hand, maybe to rub away his worry. For one second he tipped on the edge of an invisible precipice, the razor thin brink of his sanity, and Wilson dug his knuckles into his temples so hard - the shock of pain brought him back down and the pounding between his ears was a few decibels quieter.

                I need to sleep. I can't do anything like this. Damn it.

                A scowl curled over his face and Wilson set a few more logs into the fire pit. With a stick, he prodded the scarlet embers, coaxed them to catch on the fresh wood. He ignored the four sets of eyes from the darkness that trailed his every movement, pointedly looked right past them as he climbed into the tent. Each movement was oddly deliberate, planned, but once he was in the tent, Wilson's mind shut down. A sigh tore itself from his lungs and Wilson collapsed on his bed roll without a second thought.

                The human slipped into the blissful arms of unconsciousness and, outside of his tent, the shadows rustled like whispers in the wind.

                What an idiot...

Chapter Text

                The next morning brought fire on the horizon - literally. Wilson wandered an endless glass desert in his dreams, followed a flash of green light that kept shimmering in and out of existence. It was so goddamn hot and sweat crawled down his skin like snakes. He was cooking alive, he was sure of it, he could smell his own meat roasting on his bones. Then he opened his eyes to see - no, there was no desert, he was in his tent, and said tent was bathed in flames.

            The ground beneath his feet shook and there was a mighty bellow -  

            The Dragonfly had found his camp.

            So much for almost easy.

            He cursed, snagged his backpack from where it had been snug under his head as his pillow. It was mostly unscathed, thankfully, but one strap was singed. Wilson brushed off a few glowing embers and clutched it tightly to his chest.  He ducked out under the flaming tent fabric, emerged from the inferno like a phoenix. Another column of fire belched into the sky, behind him. Wilson prayed it wouldn't spot him and sprinted to the east.

            And oh, did he run. The sounds didn’t follow him – the dragonfly seemed to be preoccupied with wrecking his camp, and Wilson stole a look backward just in time to see his precious trio of apiaries erupt in flame. The monster roared out a chuckle, stomped on the bees that shot out of the hives with a sound that was almost joyous. It screeched, a sound way too similar to human speech, and -

            it's smiling, it's grinning, it likes this.

            The beast delighted in its destruction, stomped everything in its path to ashes, reviled in the ruin with a specific type of pride that no animal should exhibit. It made Wilson's head hurt.

            He put his head down against the sun and ran. His feet pumped against the grass in a distinct rhythm and his mind eased into the routine of flight. For a second Wilson knew a pseudo-peace.

            He could do this. He was used to this. He was good at this.

            One two three four, one two three four, one two three four.

            If the dragonfly kept following him, he had to make a choice. He could attempt to zigzag and spend all day trying to lose the creature. That could work…

            It already followed me once. It seems more intelligent than… than it should be. I'll lead it into the swamp. Can’t chase me if it’s dead.  

            He puffed up a sharp incline and ducked through an outcrop of strangely sharp rocks. Yeah, take the blasted thing to that one stretch of marsh, where the ground tentacles were most common, with thick knots of them whipping amongst each other. Those razors could shred a pig man in five minutes, and a Wilson in half that. The tentacles were definitely powerful enough to do the job, but on top of that…

            Months of work up in smoke within less than a half hour, with nothing to show for it except whatever happened to be in his backpack. And it had looked so proud to be destroying his camp! No hesitation in its movements; it wanted to see him die. A coil of anger swelled in his chest.

            Wilson would watch the wretched thing suffer.

            He dodged a low hanging tree branch, slid down a hill, thinking too much the entire way and an image was projected onto the back of his eyelids - a nickelodeon of sorts: how the dragonfly would celebrate after it killed him, how it would burn him to a crisp and then devour the ashes like a creature plucked from the very bowels of hell.

            (He just so happened to know exactly how that felt, too, how it felt to burn alive, could remember how his skin bubbled and the fire wrapped around him like vines -)

            Wilson’s blood boiled in his forehead and he gave a little whine. The headache behind his eyes began to itch, his anger manifested perhaps, a nagging tickle right behind his sinus cavity, and Wilson rubbed the bridge of his nose. The distinct sound of fire blasted behind him, and the splintering crunch of falling trees echoed beneath it.

            It was still following him. This particular beast would not be shaken. It had to die. This is what he had to do. His skin shivered, but now he had a plan, something tangible to keep him grounded. The sense of purpose was almost intoxicating…

            Wilson sped up.

            His pulse pounded in his temples but he grasped that thread of pure drive and rode it all the way to the swamp. The marshes smelled awful but it barely snuffed out the residual aftertaste in Wilson's mouth of smoke and a camp burned to the dirt. He swallowed and barreled through a copse of poplar trees.

            Something in his side twisted up, a flash of discomfort; a threatening stitch in his side. Wilson swapped his stride, forced himself to exhale when his left foot hit the ground as opposed to his right foot. It would be best to stave off that hurt for as long as possible.

            Wilson ran.

            The ground became progressively soggy under his feet, choked with slime and pocked with tiny holes like a sponge. The trees were less common, dotted seemingly at random, completely nude of leaves, and more ... spiky. The air hung in the air here, heavy with humidity and filth. The smell was incredible but there was no time to appreciate it.

            The first knot of tentacles laid ahead, the holes in the ground larger and more tightly packed together. The Dragonfly roared, a strained sort of frustrated sound, but it confirmed that it was still behind him, and this was going to hurt but it was the best choice -

            Wilson sucked his bottom lip and bolted straight into the nest. He avoided the holes, rather gracefully at first, spun out of the way even as the nasty things whipped out to punish whoever had disturbed them. Their cutting spines, or teeth, or whatever you wanted to call them, were fast and they managed to catch him despite his best efforts - one caught him on the leg and it started a domino chain of fuck-ups - he caught more on his shoulders even as he hunched over. He could already feel the blood seeping out, trickling down his bare arms as he sprinted. Shit.

            There was a weird chorus of slaps behind him when the Dragonfly stumbled into the tentacles. The creature screeched in pain and Wilson just barely noticed the earth shaking. He was halfway through the nest when the dragonfly screamed so fucking loud that Wilson's brain broke just a little and he screamed back, unable to hold in his terror.

            The pain in Wilson's head began to pulse again and now it was definitely in time with his heartbeat.

            A tentacle snagged his ankle, threw him forward and Wilson went down hard right beside one of those jagged trees. A strident agony spiked through his right side, that damned stitch, and Wilson took a lungful of air as he pushed himself up. His leg was stuck, his ankle wrapped in the slimy grip of a tentacle that was slowly pulling him toward its hole. Wilson scrambled and twisted like a wild thing, reached out to grab for something, anything. His fingers brushed a thick root - the tree! His hand gripped it tight, knuckles white with effort, and he pulled and something in his ankle snapped, but Wilson wrenched his leg free of the tentacle’s grip. Without thinking, he put his weight on the wrong foot, tripped over the very same root that had just saved his life, but had enough of his mind about him to use the momentum to pop up onto his feet and bolt.

            Wilson shrieked the rest of the way, cleared the field with a sob of relief, with his backpack still held tight in his bloody arms.

            The ground gave a mighty tremble and Wilson paused to look up, and he looked behind - the Dragonfly was being beaten down viciously by a dozen tentacles at once. Several of the tentacles were on fire but they continued to thrash and whip around as if they felt no pain. Some were burned to a crisp and lay, still smoking, on the boggy ground.

            Both of the Dragonfly's prismatic wings were badly damaged, bent, with a deep gouge down the center of the left wing. The brute was howling, or something like it, an impossibly high timbre like glass about to shatter. It tried to blast fire again, but the nest of flailing tentacles was just too much. The spines were digging into its body, pulling the beast to the ground, and Wilson felt himself straighten up. It was bleeding, some kind of green fluid, and his chest swelled with –

            Wilson didn’t hear himself snarling, didn’t see the twisted grimace on his face as he began to shake his fists in the air, like he wanted to square up and box with the beast. The pain behind his eyes became full blown agony and his throat twisted, he couldn’t breathe, he suffocated on his own rage.

            DIE! SUFFER! BLEED!   

            The dragonfly collapsed and Wilson almost did, too. All that anger, all that rage, blasted from his feet upwards through his skull, and then burned out in an instant.

            Wilson could breathe, finally, and he felt empty and his throat whistled when he inhaled. Little shocks twitched in his arms and legs, tiny blips of static in the back of his head. He desperately wanted to lie down. God, he wanted to lie down.

            The dragonfly was dead. The tentacles had slithered back into their holes, leaving only their fallen brethren, burnt to glowing embers. In the middle of it all, like a centerpiece, sprawled the enormous corpse. Thick green blood had already begun to congeal on the wings and in puddles on the ground.

            Disgusting. That's enough of that.

            Wilson looked at the body for only a moment. His stomach flipped a little and he shook his head, tried to clear the image but still shivered with repulsion.

            He turned away and put the entire horrid spectacle behind him. Now what? He should go south, out of the swamp and towards the stream so he could wash out those wounds that, now that he was thinking about it, were bleeding quite freely, if he thought about it they were bleeding quit feely -

            The trees spun in a blurred vortex around him and Wilson started walking. Except he didn't, he put weight on his right foot, the foot that had been ensnared earlier, and it crumpled beneath him. A wave of pain radiated outward and up and Wilson's eyes were ready to burst in their sockets.

            Oh, God, it's broken.

            Time slowed down. The sky wavered. His sense of balance was off, the ground was reaching up to greet him, and the backpack slipped from his hands. He managed to stumble forward a few more steps before he sank to his knees, folded like a sad house of cards. His ankle pulsed with pain and Wilson looked down, stared at his bloodied shirtfront -

            Oh, shit.

            The stitch in his side hadn't exactly been a stitch. One of the tentacles had gotten him at some point, pierced deep into his guts, but he hadn't noticed because of the adrenaline, just like he hadn't noticed his ankle at first, and he was clearly suffering obvious signs of blood loss already -

            Bandages. In the backpack. I know... I know I put some in this last night.

            Wilson pulled his handkerchief, actually rather clean, out of his back pocket and balled it up, held it tight against the wound with one hand. With the other arm he stretched out behind him, towards his pack. His shaking hand grasped nothing - it was too far. Wilson groaned. He turned himself around, managed to shuffle close enough to grab the backpack by the un-burned strap. The thing was impossibly heavy, like a fucking anchor, what did he even have in there? But Wilson dragged himself to it, opened the flap, dug inside -

            "Well, aren't you in quite the pickle."

            Any blood left in Wilson's body froze at that voice, a voice he hadn't heard for so long that at first he thought he had imagined it, except he turned his head and Wilson was staring at black shoes and painfully familiar pinstripe pants -

            "Maxwell."

            The ice in Wilson's blood melted. There were too many emotions in his head, too many thoughts that all ran together and Wilson's heart sparked like flint on metal. How long had it been? Almost seven months?

            "Hello, Wilson."

            Each syllable was a snake that coiled around Wilson's neck and slithered into his ear, into his brain. His face flushed. For a moment, a memory played in the back of his head. Maxwell, or William rather, on his knees, soul shattered like a chandelier on the floor. Those pale eyes wet with tears as he stared up at Wilson, well not exactly Wilson, but –

            Focus, focus, focus.

            Wilson looked up at his executioner.

            As tall as ever, the man rose up like a black spire that twisted towards the sky. The demon bent over him, just slightly, as real and terrifying as Wilson remembered. There were a few bandages in one of those clawed hands and a hook of frustration tugged at the back of Wilson’s head. Wilson scrambled to gather his thoughts. Again, he saw those blue eyes in the back of his head, for just a split second.

            This was not William.

            “You were looking for these, kid?”

            It took a few moments for those sounds to translate in Wilson’s head. He felt too empty, no anger, no fear, just endless exhaustion.

            The bastard stole my own goddamn bandages and now he wants to make a deal? This is how he shows up, after all this time?

             "I'd..." Wilson wheezed, stopped. He had to take a breath. He was out of options, out of ideas, out of energy, and soon to be out of blood. The handkerchief was soaked through, becoming tacky and hot under his palm. It leaked out of too many places, his side and his arms and legs, puddled around his knees. Not for the first time, Wilson marveled at the capacity of the human body.

            There was nothing left to take.

            "I'd," he was literally panting, and his lungs were beginning to rattle, "I'd... rather... die."

            Maxwell smiled with a flash of teeth much too sharp to be human and chuckled.

            “Well, if you insist…” Maxwell didn’t hesitate, reacted as if he knew what Wilson's answer would be, kicked Wilson in the chest, hard, knocked him onto his back and had his foot across his throat before Wilson could even think. Maxwell stamped down, one mighty crush, and Wilson’s throat crumpled under his shoe.

            Wilson couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and everything hurt, every part of his body was on fire, was… was … w… a… 

            Maxwell laughed when he felt the body finally stop struggling, ground his foot into the cartilage until the skin began to tear apart. He pulled back, wiped his bloodied shoe on the grass, and snapped his fingers.

            A plume of smoke bloomed before him, thicker than tobacco smoke, and it billowed up and out like a black flower as it consumed Maxwell's pawn. It formed a massive blossom and then abruptly bloomed, the petals gasping out into tiny wisps of smoke. In the center was Wilson, still in a sizeable pool of his own blood but remade and whole and opening his eyes.

            “Nice one,” he spit at Maxwell as he sat up on his elbows, “Real original.”

            “And yet, it never gets old.” The demon took a puff of his cigar. Wilson glared up at the bloody bastard, he had energy again, nothing hurt and the anger was back. He sat up, ignored the pins and needles in his numb feet.

            “Actually Maxwell, the only thing that seems to get old here is you.”

            Maxwell’s face faulted. For just a second, the trademark grin blinked out. Wilson heard himself actually laugh, a shriek like a startled heron, and those black eyes were boring into his -

            “Well, haven’t we gotten brave.” His voice was dangerous but, God, Wilson just did not fucking care. “You forget your lessons quickly.”

            Lessons. Hah! He's really - really going to try - to pretend -

            This was ridiculous.

            “This is ridiculous,” Wilson said. “You can’t – you can’t act like – like nothing happened. I know… I know it wasn’t a dream.”

            “Yeah, pal?” Maxwell’s voice was incredibly even considering the way his face curled.

            “You’re a – you’re just a game piece, too. Do your - do your worst, Maxwell. There’s nothing left, nothing left for you to take.” 

            "Nothing left, hm? Well..." Maxwell maintained eye contact as he kneeled down to where Wilson sprawled. He chuckled and Wilson would be lying if he said it didn't send bolts of terror down his guts.              

            "I'll be the judge of that."

Chapter Text

            Maxwell had a way of looking into Wilson's eyes that made every cell in his body turn to glass, and Wilson withered under the weight of that gaze.

            He looked away first. He always did. He couldn't help it, couldn't help the way that direct eye contact made his heart shake in his chest. He would have fresh nightmares for weeks after this. If there was an "after this". Maybe the demon would finally grant him death.

            Wishful thinking.   

            He stared at the ground, the grass brown and dry from the hot summer. He waited for Maxwell to continue. Out of his range of sight, he heard the click of that stupid lighter. A quick, quiet strike, as unforgettable as Maxwell himself. Ugh, that smell - his nose wrinkled. It was pungent, more terrible and cloying than he remembered, so strong that he could taste it.

            He waited for Maxwell to continue.

            Wilson rubbed the back of his neck, felt sweat gather under his collar, knew without looking that the demon was still staring. He had more than enough experience to know when he was being watched.

            He waited for Maxwell to continue.

            Finally, Wilson looked up again. Maxwell was perched on one of those shadow chairs that he loved to conjure, with one knee delicately crossed over the other. His face was... Wilson had expected condescension, maybe hatred, maybe even disgust, but he did not expect the way Maxwell's face was slightly relaxed, studying Wilson like he was some complicated contraption or a new beast, smoking as casually as if he were in a goddamn cigar lounge.

            This. This was odd.

            He waited for Maxwell to continue.

            Wilson's face flushed and he looked away again, unsure of what to do, humiliated but not sure why he felt humiliated, felt like the butt of an unspoken joke. His hands trembled against his thighs. What is Maxwell playing at? What am I supposed to do next?

            This was downright unprecedented.

            Wilson tried to speak. It took him a few attempts; his throat was too dry, his lips too numb, "What do you, do you want?" He took a shaky breath, and his voice came out stronger, "You w-were gone for months, for months. You killed me already. Now - now  what?" His fingers tapped his legs without a trace of rhythm, irritation coiling in his chest.

            Maxwell blew a trio of smoke rings at him, each one neatly inside the other. Every action was infuriatingly calm, refined like he didn't still have blood on his shoe from crushing Wilson's throat only minutes earlier.

            Wilson stared at that blood, riveted by the spatter against fine-grained leather, his blood, and his bones shook under his skin. Anger. Lightning danced behind Wilson's eyes, soundless but agonizing all the same.

            I'm just so tired of this relentless game.

            His patience wavered like a mirage in the desert and Wilson knew he was going to say something stupid - 

            "So... is your - your plan to bore me to - to death?" The words tasted like poison as they left his lips and Wilson knew each syllable was another nail in his own coffin. Maxwell uncrossed his legs and gestured to the floor in front of him with one hand.

            "Kneel." The single order hit like a bullet. Silent, Wilson crawled forward, stared at the ground as he took his place at Maxwell's feet like a dog. He coughed on his resentment. His mouth tasted bitter, scorched almonds and old blood. The sun was too bright and it made the shadows too dark, too deep to be real.  

            Smooth fingers slid under Wilson's jaw and tilted his head up.

            "You know, you were right, pal." Maxwell looked at him, looked into him, and Wilson may as well have been naked. The demon cleared his throat. "I am a game piece, the same as you." He pushed one thumb into Wilson's mouth and it tasted like nicotine and ash and regret. Wilson didn't fight - but he didn't suck on it either.

            "I am a game piece," Maxwell repeated, half wistful, and then something flashed in his eyes, "But you are still my pawn. You belong to me. You are still mine to play with, and mine to destroy." With every word, Maxwell's face twisted further, uglier.

            Wilson swallowed around the thumb unconsciously, you know he's right, the existence of a higher power doesn't... doesn't really mean anything, does it? Not here. 

            "You think that little sideshow THEY pulled off puts you above me, pal?" The words were so sharp they hurt. "You think that alters the power balance in this equation?"

            Wilson shook his head slowly, feeling very, very stupid.

             "You said there is nothing left for me to take from you." Maxwell laughed, cracked out a cackle like a thunder strike. "Nothing left to take... how rich." He shook his head, stroked his thumb against Wilson's tongue. "Pal... The truth is that we have barely begun."

            Maxwell flicked his cigar into the shadows and snapped his fingers. It all went dark, flashed bright for a second - This goddamn room again. With the giant bed and its iron trellis, the massive fireplace, the purple chest that wasn't purple when you stared at it directly. Wilson clenched his jaw and didn't want to think about the inevitable outcome of being in this room, didn't want to think about how there was no ceiling above them, only an endless yawn of darkness. The walls were absolutely suffocating, he was cornered by the demon above him  - 

            The thumb was pulled from his mouth. "Stand up."

            Wilson obeyed, frustrated but smart enough to be afraid, smart enough to go along. He rose to his feet with all the strength that he could gather. Second thoughts chased each other in his brain, oh God, all of that ridiculous stuff I said - this is going to hurt - why did you think you could act like that and that you could get away with it, that he wouldn't hurt you -

            Shadows (Wilson guessed) pushed him from behind and forced him onto Maxwell's lap; the demon parted his legs to allow Wilson to straddle over his left thigh. Wilson's hands were grasped at the wrists by something cool, damp, definitely shadows, something that slowly pulled his arms behind his back. His restraints didn't pull any further, didn't yank him around or attempt to wrench his shoulders out of their sockets.

            The hand on his face returned, two fingers pressed into his mouth this time and they were bare, gloveless - the novelty made Wilson pause, for just a moment. Skin on skin, intimate, Wilson could feel the patterns of the man's fingerprints on his lips -

            "You know what to do."

            Maxwell's skin was blushingly warm, soft in the way that polished marble was soft, and the taste of nicotine was thankfully absent without the gloves. Maxwell tasted like leather now, leather and sweat and some bastardization of mint, and it was infinitely preferable to the deathly taste of cigar.

            "I've missed that mouth," Maxwell confessed, the last word breathless. He watched Wilson suck at his fingers in a vague trance, and his free hand came to rest on Wilson's thin shoulder. Wilson could accept this, this was close enough to baseline, this was close to "normal" for Maxwell, but then the hand on his shoulder began to rub, gently, with such tenderness that it made Wilson's throat knot up.

            It had been so long since anything had actually touched him, seven months in fact, unless his counting was wrong. Not a single touch - not counting being attacked. This was different, and Maxwell wasn't grabbing at him, this was feather-soft, this made every hair on his body stand up and scream. He sucked at the fingers in his mouth, a fervent attempt at distraction, tried to focus by tracing the prints in the demon's skin with his tongue.   

             "And it seems you missed me too, eh pal?" A precise blend of disdain and amusement, and Wilson knew exactly what Maxwell was implying, he knew what that voice meant without even having to look down.

            He was getting hard. Maxwell had trained him, like a circus animal or a goddamn dog, trained him to accept these touches and this - this obscenity - to feel pleasure from it -

            "Look at those pretty cheeks light up. How red can you get, Higgsbury?"

            His last name was a slap to the face and Wilson tried to jerk back. The shadows didn't allow it, neither did the hand on his shoulder, both refused to give when he struggled.

            "Settle. Would you rather I give you something else to suck on?"

            Wilson closed his eyes and licked at the fingers that began to push deeper, past his tongue but not quite to the point where he would gag. The hand on his shoulder crept down his chest, made Wilson choke on a whimper when Maxwell palmed over his dick and pressed down -

            "Peculiar little man," Maxwell clicked his tongue, "Tenacious. Your body reaches its pathetic limitations, but you never give in, Higgsbury." If Wilson didn't have a hand on his cock and fingers down his throat, he might have taken it as a compliment. "At first, it was a cute novelty..." That hand was hypnotic, slow but wonderfully firm, and Wilson's mouth faltered for a moment.

            "The others always give in. They give in to the pain, or their fear, or the shadows. They give in. They break." Wilson was pushed further forward on the demon's lap; Maxwell bent his head down to whisper in his ear.  

            "You don't give in, Wilson." 

            Oh, God, the way Maxwell's lips moved against his skin - a jolt of pure warmth shot down Wilson's spine and straight into his dick and he tried to ignore how he whimpered around the fingers in his mouth. Maxwell seemed pleased, Wilson felt the demon smile against the side of his face. The hand between his legs squeezed, but not too hard, the perfect amount of pressure, perfect -

            "I'm going to make you enjoy this, pal," the demon hissed. The fingers were pulled from his mouth and skipped down to his jaw to tilt Wilson's head up again. Wilson caught one glance of those black eyes, squirmed to turn his head away -

            Maxwell kissed him and the world shuddered to a halt with a scream that only Wilson heard.

            Stop.

            Maxwell had kissed him before, six times exactly, but each kiss had been quick, professional. A possessive seal, a wax stamp of ownership, most often utilized to seal one of Maxwell's sadistic little "deals". It was never gentle, not the way Maxwell slid their mouths together so tender, Not like this, not like a lover, why is this so wrong, is he fucking with me on purpose? I mean, of course he's fucking with me but why is he doing this??

            The shock was too much. Wilson simply let the demon kiss him. Maxwell's other hand still rubbed him through his pants, deliberate, in time with how that wicked mouth sucked and licked at his lips.

            Wilson's muscles twitched under his skin and it took everything in him to pull his head back together. The shadows that held him didn't give but he could tip his head back and he was free of Maxwell's mouth, he could breathe -

            "Now, don't be shy," Maxwell warned and Wilson braced for the inevitable choke, for shadows to grip his throat, or for the hand on his cock to squeeze. Nothing happened. "I'm hurt, pal. It's almost like you didn't miss me." Fingers traced down Wilson's dick through his trousers, maddeningly light.

            His head was tipped forward and Maxwell kissed him again and Wilson couldn't do a goddamn thing about it. Maxwell's lips were too warm, like concentrated sunlight through a lens, and it burned. Wilson didn't want to reciprocate, didn't want to encourage more attention, but Maxwell forced him, compelled their mouths to move together, and maybe there was a point where Wilson wasn't being forced anymore -

            It was a good misdirection, distracted Wilson up to the exact point when deft fingers tugged at the buttons of his trousers and he gasped like he hadn't known this was coming.t Maxwell pulled away, allowed him to take a few gasps for air.

            "Heh... Pathetic."

            Long fingers pushed his trousers down to his thighs, then expertly curled around his cock and Wilson closed his eyes. The demon's hand, without the gloves, was as hot as the rest of him, and his fingers were wet with Wilson's spit.

            Maxwell gave him a few firm strokes, and then abruptly let him go.

            "Let's get a little more comfortable, hm? On your feet."

            The shadows that were wrapped around his wrists dissipated and Wilson was free to move. He opened his eyes, blinked, but he didn't need to be told to get off Maxwell's lap twice. His pants sagged on his thin hips and Wilson held his trousers in place, stood there, pinned to the floor.

            "You can remove those."

            Wilson froze. It had been so long since - No no no no...

            Maxwell stood just as Wilson gulped and quickly stepped out of his trousers and underpants before he could be punished. The demon rose up like a mountain, an impasse, and those clawed hands pushed him to sit on the bed. Wilson tried to cover his flagging erection with one hand, tried not to stare at Maxwell's crotch in front of him, I know what happens next.

            He reeled, not surprised but still shocked, and he was too lost in panic to resist the shadows that pulled his arms behind his back again. Maxwell's hands on his shoulders stroked down, grazed over his chest.

            "Ready?"

            A rhetorical question, and Wilson couldn't muster the words to answer anyway. Maxwell didn't seem to care, and he came ever closer, his crotch much too close to Wilson's face, and -

            As graceful as a ghost, Maxwell sank to his knees. Those hands coaxed Wilson's legs apart and hot breath blew against his inner thighs, made his cock instantly swell again. The demon chuckled, and it wasn't entirely condescending.

            "I'm going to eat you up, sweetheart."

            Wilson's heart knocked against the inside of his chest. No, he's not - he can't -

            And Maxwell swallowed him down.

            Wilson choked. It didn't feel like before, with THEM. That had been pleasurable, unparalleled to any experience Before, but not like this. The proxy experience with THEM had felt muted, fuzzy, but this, this was the real thing. It was the voice on the radio compared to the voice in person, and it rocked Wilson to the core. Heat exploded in his abdomen, slick and hot and so good. Tears spilled down his cheeks, already overwhelmed, Maxwell sucking his cock - the idea was unfathomable, impossible. Images replayed in his head, Maxwell bending him over, or forcing him to his knees, fucking Wilson's throat until Wilson puked into the bushes -

            Wilson couldn't look away from the obscenity of those lips around his cock, and he wept like a child.           

            Maxwell moved on him, constant, slow, steady. The sound of Wilson's anguish was gratifying, incredibly so, inspired Maxwell to pull back and suck on the head to earn more tears. Wilson huffed in small gasps of air between his sobs, as quiet as he could manage, he hated when Maxwell saw him cry -

            The demon wound Wilson up like a toy and Wilson couldn't stop staring. Every muscle in his poor, tired body drew tight, until he was sitting straight up with his legs spread wide. His whole body trembled with effort and his limbs shook like branches in the wind. Maxwell pulled back to lick at the head and Wilson couldn't watch this anymore, couldn't watch Maxwell destroying him. He tore his gaze away and upward, stared up at the endless ceiling like he was looking for a star.

            Maxwell held Wilson's thighs open, kept him spread even though Wilson desperately tried to clamp his legs back together every so often. Every movement was deliberate, each lick and kiss intentional, and Wilson made the sweetest noises each time Maxwell swallowed him down. Wilson was fully sobbing now, punctuated by restrained gasps.

            It was too much for the little man.

            "M- Maxwell," His voice sounded as weak as he felt, but he managed, "Maxwell," Wilson couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't decide if he wanted Maxwell to stop or go faster, please -

            He wasn't granted a response. A bubble of poison in his stomach was growing, and growing, and Maxwell wasn't stopping. Maxwell's wet mouth sucked at him, insistent - Wilson's skin was on fire, finish it, finish it –

            Maxwell pulled off of him, completely, mouth and lips and tongue abruptly gone. Wilson stopped breathing. The saliva on his cock was cool in the open air and he actually pushed his hips forward in desperation for one heart-wrenching second.

            “Beg for it. Beg for it, and I'll let you come.” The sheer power in Maxwell’s voice struck through his heart, stopped him dead and Wilson sniffled, drew in a breath. He coughed and whispered;

            “N-no.”

            His cock was screaming but he wouldn’t – he wouldn’t beg. Not for this. Not like this. Not after - everything. The silence pulsed against his ear drums and Wilson waited, waited for Maxwell to say something. He had already softened, between his legs. He was too afraid to look down. 

          The silence beat against his ears, a span of nothing, and then Maxwell took him in again. Wilson huffed through his nose, barely kept himself from rocking into the wet heat of the demon's mouth. He was hard again, so quickly that his head spun, and fresh tears coursed down his face. Maxwell worked him up again, maddeningly slow, until Wilson's whole body shook and he tipped so close to his edge -

          "Oh, G-God - "

          The mouth wrapped around him was gone and Wilson whined outloud this time, a tiny sound that prompted a dark laugh from the demon between his legs.

          "Go on..." Maxwell taunted.

          Wilson shook his head, panting, pushing against the shadows that held his arms behind his back, but said nothing. Maxwell laughed and Wilson gagged on a whimper.

          Maxwell worked him up to the brink and abandoned him, just like that, two more agonizing times. Wilson's sobs grew louder with each round, until the poor thing was wriggling constantly, weeping with overstimulation and please just let it be over -

           The fifth time, Wilson was at the point of screeching, his body dripping with sweat as the demon moved on his lap. He didn't notice the shadows condensing directly behind him. There was little cohesive thought in Wilson's feverish brain, it was really a miracle he had made it this far. A miracle...

          Maxwell brought him to the edge of orgasm and pulled back, wiped the spit off of his face with a violent kerchief. Wilson looked down, finally, just in time to see the demon's gloating face as he dabbed at his lips - 

          "Beg, my precious pawn." He grinned like a starved beast, eyes alight with madness. Maxwell's black eyes burned like the fire in his lighter, and when Wilson looked into that fire, it sparked across the void and lit a fuse in Wilson's brain

          and it was pleasure, it was wrath, it was everything that ignited all at once

          and

          Wilson

          snapped.

Chapter Text

                Wilson desperately wanted - what did he want -

                Force him to take it, make him choke on my cock, fuck his face like he's done to me, until he weeps, until he begs for mercy that will never come! 

                Wilson's hands were free, somehow, the restraints around his wrists were suddenly, unexplainably gone. He reached forward automatically and dug his fingertips into Maxwell's shoulder -

                Kill him, destroy him, suffocate him, rip him apart, break him like he broke me!

                Hatred and pathetic need consumed his heart, swallowed him up like Maxwell himself had. Wilson tangled one hand in Maxwell's hair and pulled the demon back to his cock. For one horrible second, Maxwell's facade slipped - for one moment, he looked afraid -

                - but it clicked right back into place. Wilson held him, unforgiving, those lips only inches from kissing the head. Maxwell stared up at him with black eyes, teeth bared in the manner of a wild  beast, daring him.

                "Well?" the demon demanded.

                Wilson faltered on the edge of indecision. A phonograph played on the edges of his consciousness, a voice that snapped full of static;

                The others always give in. They give in to the pain, or their fear, or the shadows. They give in. They break. The others always give in. They give in to the pain, or their fear, or the shadows. They give in. They break. The others always give in. They give in to the pain, or their fear, or the shadows. They give in. They break.

                THEY BREAK.

                This is what he wants. I'm playing right into his hands. I... I...  

                Wilson's hand untangled from Maxwell's hair and he pulled back, finally looked over the demon, why wasn't Maxwell fighting?

                 Thick bands of shadows were wrapped Maxwell's arms, held them up behind his back. These shadows looked different than the others, with thin threads of red pulsing within them, but they  restrained Maxwell in a painfully familiar manner.

                Wilson thought maybe they should be tighter and suddenly they were, Maxwell's arms were wrenched back further and the demon's breath hitched -

                It took Wilson a moment to realize that those shadows - were his.

                "You, out of all of them! You are truly full of surprises," Maxwell had swallowed his pain and was smiling again, was still fucking smiling, "Now what are you going to do, little man?" Grinning like a fool, even now! On his knees and bound, at Wilson's mercy! Still laughing, still mocking.

                Rip his arms out of their sockets.

                Wilson's anger flooded back and the threads of red in the shadows lit up, swelled like veins. The bands around Maxwell's arms tightened, pulled his arms up further, until the demon made a small, involuntary groan of pain.  

                That sound was enough to shock Wilson still again, and he looked down as Maxwell looked up. Their eyes locked, and Maxwell sighed much more dramatically than necessary.

                "Eh - ugh," He groaned again, "It's not often you disappoint me, Wilson. I am at your mercy - take your revenge."

                Wilson had to close his eyes. His very bones trembled with rage, with the need to destroy, shut Maxwell up, shut him up forever!

                No, but he wants me to snap - I can't - I can't -

                Run.

                Wilson pushed Maxwell away and got to his feet, pulled his pants and trousers up over his hips as fast as possible and turned his back on the foul demon, tried to think of

                camp, go back to my camp, the other secondary camp, the Surface, the swamp even, anywhere, I don't care, just get me out of this room, get me away from this monster!

                Wilson focused and he Wanted and the room began to spin, slowly at first and then faster. Then he was being lifted with great force, launched like out of a trebuchet. Wilson rocketed upwards and then abruptly stopped short and

                - tumbled gracelessly onto crispy grass.

                Grass.

                Not the wooden floor of Maxwell's torture chamber. Wilson opened his eyes.

                His backpack was nearby, the swamp behind him. The little pool of blood from where Maxwell had crushed his throat earlier, what felt like a century ago, was dry now. The sky hung above, overcast and grey but real nonetheless.

                He had gotten back to the Surface, on his own. The implications were staggering and Wilson sat on his ass for a long few minutes.

                Force of will. The shadows are formed by force of will - and want. Desire? Frustration? Passion. But I bound him! I bound him. And I got out of that room. With force of will!

                "You're just full of surprises, aren't you? I would be angry but honestly Wilson, I'm impressed."

                Wilson put his head in one hand and rubbed his temples but said nothing. Smoke curled around him like fingers, for a moment it felt like something brushed against his shoulders -

                "Of - of course, y- you j-"

                "In the same day," Maxwell interrupted, "In the same day, in the same hour even, you figure out how to Manifest and then how to Move... you know, part of me always knew that you would figure it out." Wilson chanced a look up, caught Maxwell looking down at him and looking incredibly pleased.

                "Uh - what?"  Wilson's stomach turned.

                Maxwell was looking at him again, somewhere between appraisal and hunger.

                "Don't play stupid with me, Wilson. It's incredibly unbecoming of you."

                "Manifest? Move?" Wilson stood up, shuffled to his feet. He crossed his arms over his chest automatically.

                "Those shadows were yours." The demon hovered close to him but they didn't touch.

                "Mine." Wilson didn't back down but his shoulders shook when he spoke.

                 "You Manifested those shadows. You saw them." Maxwell gestured with one hand, summoned a shadow that melted out of the air. It formed into a moth and fluttered over his palm. Wilson stared, entranced, as Maxwell reached up and caught the moth in his fist. He smiled at Wilson, then snapped his fingers.

                "And then you Moved."

                Maxwell opened his hand and the moth was gone and just as Wilson opened his mouth to reply, something tickled the back of his throat. Abruptly, there was something in Wilson's mouth, something moving, something alive, and he coughed, choked out a tiny fluttering black moth that flew up to the sky -

                Wilson rubbed his throat and couldn't stop himself from coughing. The insides of his throat and mouth tingled, felt oddly cool and he had to swallow a few times while Maxwell just ... watched him. He tried to speak a few times, managed to sputter a handful of syllables, but his lips just were not cooperating.

                "I don't think you understand exactly how curious this is..."

                Wilson found his voice, "So - get to the p-point, what - who c-cares - what do you want?" He knew exactly why this was important but he refused to make this easy.

                The demon shook his head, and he was smiling again, but it wasn't unkind.

                "Actually Wilson, the question is what do you want?" Wilson only glared at him, a silent prompt for Maxwell to explain. "I have a challenge for you."

                This was new. Wilson thought for a long minute. The desire to tell Maxwell to fuck off was strong, but his curiosity was stronger... 

                 "... What sort of challenge?"

Chapter Text

                 "... What sort of challenge?" Wilson recognized the grin that bloomed over Maxwell's face like a withering flower, recognized it - even if you win this match, no matter how clever you are, you will ultimately lose this game. Manifest... Move. Shadows that I created. I made them, myself. The very idea made his brain itch, right behind his eyes. The shadows are... emotions, manifested into physical form? But how? He pressed the heel of one hand to his forehead like it might help. If I can make my own shadows - if I can bind him - this changes everything -

                "Do it again," Maxwell interrupted his thoughts, words clipped and slightly curt. Wilson stared at his own feet, unable to process. Do it again.  The three words knocked around in his head and it took him a few beats before he really understood what Maxwell had said. The world wavered on its axis and time slowed down - he could feel each second pass over his skin like a breath of wind. Wilson swallowed.

                Maxwell, oddly patient, watched and stood silent. He glanced at his bare wrist, as if checking the time, and Wilson was too busy thinking to notice that Maxwell didn't have a watch.

                "D-do it again. You want me to - to do it again," Wilson finally repeated. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Maxwell came closer and Wilson forced his rubbery legs to take a step back. Everything started to wobble again and Wilson reached out to steady himself, almost reached out to the wretched demon for stability, but snatched his hand back at the last second. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, and the world slowly came back up to speed.

                "Do it, do it again. Summon the - the shadows. And what if I - what if I w-win your challenge?"

                "What if you do?" Maxwell echoed back, not simply mocking but asking him, and Wilson remembered with a sharp shift in his gut that he was still angry. His nails dug, quick and hard, into the palm of his hand, I will do it again, I'll do it again and I'll tear you to pieces this time!

                "What if you do?" Maxwell repeated, now to his left; the monster had circled behind him. Wilson's rage cracked just enough and he turned to follow, unwilling to let the demon out of his sight. Maxwell leaned forward, expectant, and Wilson took another step back. He stared at the lions mouth, pushed one hand through his own hair. He rattled out one shuddering breath after another, each one coming faster. "What do you want, Wilson?"

                I want to destroy you, rip you in half, fuck you like a toy, drain every drop of wicked blood from your filthy body, flay you alive and roast  your flesh -

                "What do I w-want?" His fists were rising from his waist, the anger in his chest swelling further with each beat of his weary heart. "I want you to leave me alone! I want to finally f-fucking die! I want to go home!" Wilson struck one fist out and up, thought for a moment that he was going to actually hit Maxwell, "I want to forget, to forget everything involving YOU!" and he jabbed the demon in the chest with one clawed finger.

                A finger tipped with black...

                Maxwell laughed and plucked Wilson's hand away from his chest with apparent distaste, dropped it like a soiled napkin.

                "Now, Wilson, it has to be something I can actually grant." Maxwell brushed invisible dust from where Wilson had touched him, and he's smiling again, always smiling!   

                Wilson stuffed one fist in his mouth, bit down on a knuckle to give himself a point of focus. Tension swelled in his ribcage like a rising tide, unavoidable, I'll do it again, I'll smash that grin right off your ugly face, I'll rip your arms off and throttle you with your own hands! So damnably smug, like you're somehow better than I am, as if setting me up to fail over and over again makes you stronger! 

                They stood in silence. Maxwell slid his hands into his pockets, watched his pet boil with that nauseating, perpetual grin on his ugly face, and waited. Wilson chewed on his fist and nursed his rage.

                He's not smarter than I am, he just knows more than I do, and then he lies about it. Misdirection, tricks, the last bit of information always tucked in his sleeve. Missing pieces. You can't play a game with missing pieces. He is not as great as he pretends... He just... knows more. He knows more than I do about this place - but he didn't create it. Right? He is trapped here, too. 

                "Come now... there must be something, hm? Something you want?" Maxwell had come up beside him. This voice was soft and nearly sincere, this was familiar - this was the sweet, honeyed voice that encouraged you to take the bait, the embrace before the blade in your back.

                But there was something that Wilson wanted, the same thing that he had pursued all his life, the same thing that had driven his family away, the same thing that had driven his wife away, the same thing that made him promise his soul to a handsome voice on the radio in exchange for -

                "Uh - I - I want to k-know," He took a breath for the first time in an eternity,  Y-you have to, to answer some q-questions... And you have to be, to be honest."

                "One question." Maxwell's reply was immediate and Wilson thought he could see the words curl out of that wicked mouth.

                "F-five, five questions," Wilson countered, overshot the request on purpose and refused to wonder if the demon could read his mind because really, his sanity was wrecked enough.

                "One question." As before, there was no hesitation.

                "Three questions?" Wilson tried one last time. Maxwell narrowed his eyes, in annoyance? and Wilson rushed to add, "One of them, uh, being yes-or-no?" and he prepared for the worst, for a blow -

                "Hmm. Three questions, one with a binary response." Maxwell, deathly serious, gave a small nod and never looked away from Wilson's face.

                "Th-three questions," Wilson repeated, in moderate disbelief that his executioner had agreed so easily. Maxwell was too close again and Wilson froze on the spot when a firm, confident hand grasped his shoulder.  

                "Is that your final choice?" Black eyes looked through him, practically peeled the skin off his forehead and pried into his brain.

                Wilson's head whirled and a tiny voice echoed from the back of his mind. It wasn't his final choice, not exactly, there's one thing - if - if - he tries to... to do that again, bring me to the edge and - let me suffer - I can't take that again... and he had to spit the rest out before he lost his nerve -

                "And -" His throat knotted up and he swallowed, forced out the words before Maxwell could respond or interrupt him yet again, "And... uh, and n-next time that you f-fuck me, you have to let me, let me finish." Wilson kept his eyes down, couldn't bear to look up and face the wretched demon.

                "I do apologize, I couldn't hear you. Could you say that a little louder?" The glee dripped off Maxwell's words like wet paint and an arm wrapped around Wilson's shoulder to pull him close. Wilson took a deep breath, tried not to squirm away.

                "The n-next time that you fuck me, you have to let me, let me c-come." Wilson spoke louder, shook like a leaf in the wind and he stared at the ground, his last stand of defiance. He desperately wanted to defend his request - this isn't because I enjoy it, you horrid beast - but managed to hold silent.

                Maxwell snorted, "Well, well, well... I believe that can be arranged." A low chuckle rumbled from his chest. "Little slut."

                How is it possible to hear him smirk?

                "And if I, if I can't d-do it?" Wilson's voice was small with shame  The hand draped across his shoulder squeezed before patting him on the cheek. "W-what do you, do you want?"

                "What willful naivety," Maxwell nearly purred, "I think we both know exactly what I want from you, doll." He thumbed Wilson's chin up, forced eye contact and Wilson visibly wilted in his grasp. Those black irises were so inhuman, so off and wrong, but he couldn't look away.

                "Uh, you - you have to be more s-specific. Define - define your terms," Wilson breathed, and hated it. The fact that he even had to ask made his stomach drop to his toes, but he knew what happened when Maxwell wasn't forced to clarify.

                He wasn't going to make that mistake ever again.

                "I want you to ride me and act like you enjoy it. I want willful participation, Wilson. Give me a show." The demon's words practically vibrated with joy, and Wilson's heart seized up like a clenched fist. "I'm feeling particularly generous; I'll even make it easy for you... if you work for it, put in your fair share, I'll make it good. If you're particularly well behaved, I may even let you finish."

                Wilson realized with a sick certainty that he was going to lose this bet, and that Maxwell knew that.

                "What do you say, pal? Hmm?"

                Maxwell didn't just know that - he was counting on it. 

                "Of... of course," Wilson gasped out. Maxwell laughed and Wilson chewed on his lip until he tasted blood.

                "Oh... and I get to ask a question of my own." Maxwell ran one gloved thumb along the line of Wilson's jaw. This made Wilson stop for a moment - why would Maxwell need to ask me anything? This must be another plot or trap. What could I know - that he - that he doesn't?

                "And w-what if I don't, if I don't want to?" he asked, his voice shaking only a bit, "What if I don't want to do your, your challenge?" Maxwell's claws dug into his chin and the demon was so unbearably close, Maxwell was going to kiss him -

                "Would you like to find out?" That voice had turned dangerous, sharp with promises of agony. The hand on his chin dropped, wrapped around his throat within seconds. "I could start by fucking you dry - "

                "N-no! Please!" Wilson grasped at the thin wrist, but not hard, don't do anything to encourage him to choke, please don't choke me -

                "That's what I thought," Maxwell stroked the hollow of Wilson's throat with one thumb, and tightened his grip. Wilson's brain swelled inside his head and it sort of felt like he was floating about half a meter off the ground?

                "Do we have a deal, Higgsbury?"

                "Th-this isn't a real, a real choice," Wilson whispered, didn't realize he was actually speaking at first.

                "Isn't it?" Maxwell, completely deadpan, looked through him like he was made of glass and choked him until Wilson's face began to color.

                One. Two. Three. I can't - breathe - I can't breathe -

                 "Now, stop wasting my fucking time and answer my question; do we have a deal?"

                Wilson felt his legs dangling and realized with a dull shock that he wasn't floating at all; at some point, Maxwell had physically lifted him up, and now his toes swung just off of the ground.

                There was nowhere left to go. He closed his eyes, because he didn't want to see that ugly face when he choked out -

                "Yes." His voice was as small as he felt.

                "Excellent," Maxwell's hand relaxed, and the demon leaned in and kissed him. It was short and ended within seconds but the contact stole every last molecule of precious oxygen that still remained in Wilson's lungs and it hurt. "Now, do it again." Maxwell let him go, let him drop back to his feet, and Wilson nearly collapsed.

                "The - the shadows?" He gasped, managed to gather his footing, "Make m-my own shadows?"

                "Correct." Maxwell looked over him evenly, the definition of grace and composure, but the way the demon's eyes lingered on his body made Wilson's spine prickle. One elegant hand gestured out, to the right, and darkness surged from the ground to morph into that goddamn chair.

                "I, uh - okay," Wilson tried not to stare, tried not to let himself be distracted by the formation of Maxwell's shadows, the way they bled from thin air itself and collected like raindrops. He tried to remember what he was supposed to be doing.

                "Do you remember how?" The demon took his perch and clasped his hands together in his lap.

                "Yes," Wilson had looked away again, off to the side, and his blood began to warm with purpose. Yes, I remember, when I created my own, what did he call it? My own Manifest, through force of will, because I was angry - I still am - you wretched bastard. You wouldn't let me - let me - let me orgasm -

                An image played behind his eyelids, Maxwell sucking his cock, moving on his lap while Wilson sobbed,  Maxwell pulling away at the last second, just as Wilson began to tip over the edge. That hideous laugh, the mocking voice, "beg, my precious pawn," over and over again.

                Maxwell's mouth had been firm and commanding, even with the demon on his knees, not so much giving pleasure as taking it. Wet, sucking heat that made Wilson's insides curl up in the most delicious way, until it was abruptly gone -

                Wilson didn't see the shadows that condensed behind him, tiny droplets that beaded up like oil and dripped down his back. He seized his anger as it burst forth out of him like a disease, held it in the grasp of his mind and concentrated - concentrated -

                Focus, show him, make him pay for this, for all of this! Drown him, over and over, drown him in fire and gas, tear his limbs off one by one!

                A warm lump bobbed in his throat and he swallowed, felt it drop into his chest like an anchor. It grew hot, red hot like the fire that had destroyed his goddamn camp, the fire that started this current, horrible debacle, fire that promised only temporary (but beautiful) reprieve from this suffering. The intense heat was beginning to burn through his ribs like a collapsing star and Wilson cupped his hands to his chest, suddenly out of breath. A sharp pressure grew through his sternum and spread out, but it felt oddly good, strangely satisfying - 

                I will kill him, I will break him, I will rip out those prying eyes and make him eat them! Slit his stomach and hang him with his own intestines!

                Something dropped out of his chest and into his cupped hands, like a weight, but hot - Wilson glanced down, saw tiny black wisps billow out from between his clenched fingers. He stared, entranced, and opened his hands slowly. In his palms flickered a small fire made of endless darkness, with flecks and trickles of red that glowed like coals amongst the black. It was a tiny thing, a little rose cradled in his hands, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

                Wilson marveled at his own creation. I made this! Pride swelled in his head, ballooned in his chest, and the fire visibly shrank - no, it's dying, focus, focus, the anger, the way Maxwell touches me, his hands pulling my hair, that anger - not letting me - not letting me come - his hand around my throat - and the flames sprung back up, larger this time, flickering faster.

                "Well, I'll be damned." Maxwell shook his head, but there was no condescension to his words, no immediate threat. Wilson looked up, caught the shine of genuine interest in the demon's eyes.

                Maxwell was impressed. An urge grew in Wilson's gut to gloat, to turn some of that caustic, cocksure attitude back at the foul man, but there was too much uncertainty underneath it. This behavior from Maxwell was incredibly unorthodox. This type of attention from his executioner felt absolutely... wrong. This was going to get so much worse.

                Wilson's musings got the best of him, his focus lapsed, and his little fire shuddered out with one last whisper. A few stray crumbles, similar in composition to ash, remained behind and Wilson wiped it on his pants. 

                "... Th-there," he spit out, refused to acknowledge the way those black eyes looked at him with unmistakable want, tried to act like he had let the fire go out on purpose.

                "Well done, Wilson. Now, move." Maxwell crossed his legs at the knee and conjured one of his blasted cigars. He sounded entirely too pleased.

                "To w-where?" Wilson didn't want to ask but it seemed pertinent. The demon looked over, gestured to Wilson's pack about fifteen meters to the left and produced a lighter from nothing. 

                "There. You managed to jump the Board, I'm sure you can manage that, right kid?" Click.  

                Wilson wiped at his forehead, noticed for the first time that he was dripping with sweat. He caught a glance of his own hands and stopped. The black on the tips of his fingers had advanced further at some point. The discoloration now reached to the second knuckle of each finger, and the sharp points of his nails seemed so natural that Wilson wasn't sure if they had actually changed or not. He started to ask, a blurt of sound - 

                "Shush. You haven't earned the right to ask questions yet," Maxwell cut him off and Wilson didn't hide the way he rolled his eyes. "Go on. Move to your pack." The demon uncrossed his legs and rose up.

                Wilson's soul shuddered and he bit his tongue before he could say something stupid. He wanted to take a step back, away from Maxwell, but resisted the urge and steeled his nerves even as the demon drifted close like smoke. His veins pulsed with disgust and Wilson scrunched his eyes shut. He could feel Maxwell's body heat, where they almost touched, and it was burning his sanity away layer by layer.

                Move, get away from him, I want to get away from him. Get to my backpack, and I can take it and get out of here, grab my pack and go, get away from him, before he touches me again, please don't let him touch me - if I can't do this, he will touch me - he'll fuck me - I'll have to - oh, God - please don't hurt me again - I just want to go home, please let me go home - I miss my, my family - I miss my house - pleasejustletmego -

                "Wilson. Focus." The words were so soft and out of place in the hideous landscape that it snapped Wilson back to the present and he realized that tears streamed down his face like tiny rivers.

                Did... Did Maxwell say that? No. He would never - I must have imagined it. Or he's just fucking with me - He looked up at Maxwell like he was ready to bolt, searched the demon's gaze for a few painful seconds, but Maxwell's face betrayed nothing.

                It didn't really matter. There was a task at hand. Focus. Move, go to my pack, I need to get to my pack, please, goddamnit! I need to do this, move! Must go, must move.

                The world began to spin in a now-familiar way, very slowly. A rush of giddy nausea tickled the back of Wilson's throat and he swallowed. Come on, focus, go to the pack, move, go, move, move!

                Never before had Wilson been reassured by the urge to vomit, but that rush meant it was working, he was doing it - focus, go, I need to go, I need to move, move, Goddamnit! - but the wave of nausea was rising too fast and the world wasn't really spinning but wobbling, back and forth - oh, please - 

                Wilson stumbled to his knees and fell to all fours. Every muscle shook, uncontrollable, and it was a struggle to stay up. The taste of acid flooded his mouth and he coughed for an eternity, until he choked and finally vomited bile into the dry grass. He could see Maxwell's black shoes out of his peripheral vision, the blood stain from a lifetime ago still present, and he collapsed with a weak moan.

                "Hmph. Close pal, but no cigar." The tone of disappointment struck Wilson through the chest and he felt oddly ashamed, an unexpected response on his part. He spit a thick clot of sick into the grass beside him but otherwise lay motionless, the vertigo and energy expenditure simply too much, and reeled with realization.

                He had disappointed Maxwell.

                Why do I care if - if I disappoint him? A second thought chased that one, quick like a lightning strike, He really thought I could do it. I could, I could try again. The proposition of trying again -

                "Maybe next time, kid." Maxwell watched Wilson vomit again. "Disgusting. I suppose I'll get going - "

                "No!" Wilson pushed himself up and rested on his knees, desperate to keep Maxwell there - he had been alone for so long, "Y-you can't," he stopped, rethought his words before he could be punished for his demand, "I mean - please, don't leave! I did - I created a Manifest, d-doesn't that count, count for an-anything??"

                The demon's face creased in consideration. Wilson pulled his kerchief from his pocket and wiped his face and tried not to scream. 

                "You met half of the conditions," Maxwell said, the words carefully measured but otherwise in agreement. Wilson's mind raced and he put one hand to his forehead to try and steady himself.

                "J-just one question?" He ventured, wary, swallowed down his pride and terror to choke out, "Please, Master?" I need to know if all of this is even worth the attempt...

                Maxwell held his cigar in his left hand and for once the demon's face wasn't split in half with a shit-eating grin. His eyes looked over Wilson with that odd sense of curiosity, a particular sort of scrutiny that made Wilson feel so very small, made him think of the way he looked at the rats he used in his experiments...

                "One question. Binary response." Maxwell brushed his free hand against his chest, as if to remove invisible debris. "And..." He was beginning to smirk again, "Logic follows that if you receive half, I also receive half..." Maxwell loomed over Wilson now, and the demon blew a pair of smoke rings in his face. Wilson held back his cough this time, refused to give the monster that additional satisfaction. 

                Of course, he will find any loophole or way to - to - oh God, he's going to fuck me - it's been so long - 

                "Which will it be, pet?" Maxwell actually knelt a bit, still above Wilson but now close enough that the demon's breath ruffled his hair, "I will even allow you the freedom of choice; will you ride me or would you prefer to be willing for your Master?"

                "Uh, uh... I-I-" Wilson's head was hurting again and pounded with each stutter, "I-I-I-" He lost the word and it tripped over his lips, over and over and over until Maxwell slapped him, one solid backhand that rocked the world around him and Wilson stopped. He honestly couldn't imagine - being willing -

                "Well?"

                "I'll r-ride you!" His face burned, hot like his anger. Maxwell leaned in to press their mouths together briefly and the demon's skin was hotter still. Wilson jerked away and didn't feel the first set of tears fall down his pretty cheeks, but he did feel when one gloved finger traced over his face to collect them. Maxwell brought the finger to his mouth and - my God, he's tasting my tears, the absolute monster. Revulsion settled deep in Wilson's bones and he wiped his face dry on his sleeve before the wretched creature could do it again.

                "Good," Maxwell looked pleased, too pleased, and Wilson knew that he had lost this game. "You know, you did well, pet." One arm snaked around Wilson's thin shoulders, pulled him close so that Maxwell could mouth at his ear. The praise lit unwilling sparks in his brain stem and the gentle touches made his skin burn. Wilson flushed but remained silent. "My talented boy..." Claws pulled at his collar to expose his neck and Maxwell leaned down, kissed up the column of his throat. Wilson froze, waited for the inevitable bite, but it didn't come. The brush of that mouth against his neck shot little pulses straight to Wilson's dick and he heard himself moan and hated it.

                Maxwell pulled away, abrupt, and he went to sit on his beloved chair. Wilson followed with his eyes, and the demon waved with one hand at his lap.

                "Come here." 

Chapter Text

                Wilson shivered and stared at Maxwell. The divide between them stretched out, an endless span of dead grass and fading hope. Wilson faltered, didn't know if he could force himself to do this. Come here. His face broiled in the sun and his hands were definitely shaking when he took the first hesitant steps, crossed over the expanse towards his master.

                The demon patted one thigh, smiled like a jackass, and the back of Wilson's throat twisted. He climbed up onto Maxwell's lap with no small amount of humiliation, stared at the plush black velvet rather than the beast himself. Wilson wasn't sure what to do with his hands, decided to cross them tightly over his chest rather than touch Maxwell willingly.

                Maxwell looked over him, maddeningly informal, silently gloating. He got what he wanted in the end, anyway, Wilson grit his teeth together and huffed.

                Maxwell breathed out a cloud of smoke and flicked his cigar to the right. When it hit the ground, there was a small pop and a puff of sparks - Wilson looked over at the noise to see that flames now rumbled where the cigar had landed. It crackled rather merrily, the fire incredibly bright, brighter than it should be, really, and Wilson glanced up. The sun was inching toward the horizon, bleeding streaks of indigo and scarlet across the sky. 

                Oh, no. When - when had the sun began to set? Did he -

                "Put your hands on my shoulders." Wilson frowned but grasped those broad shoulders anyway, tried to ignore how Maxwell's mouth turned up at the corners when he obeyed.

                Hands skimmed up his sides, stroked with purpose and a definite sense of ownership. For a moment Wilson was reminded of dogs at show, placed onto a pedestal so that skilled hands could judge the animal's musculature and bone structure. The mental image - and aggressive contact - made Wilson shudder and tense up, nerves drawing up tighter with each touch.

                I am no dog! Even despite all this, I am still a man! I am a scientist!

                Wilson glanced up, indignation thawing out his fear, and Maxwell smiled at him when their eyes met. Warmth rolled off of Maxwell in waves, but Wilson was cold - so fucking cold - and he shivered. Something plucked at Wilson's waistcoat ; he looked to see several shadow tendrils skipping along the fabric, slipping the buttons of his vest one by one, and bit off his protest before he could be punished for speaking out of turn.

                Maxwell's hands slid under the material, rubbed him intimately, then tucked underneath his shirt, against his bare skin. The demon's gloved hands were hot as hellfire, the touch made him gasp, and the juxtaposition between his clammy flesh and the too-warm leather made Wilson's head spin. He bowed his head without thinking about it, let his forehead rest against Maxwell's chest in an attempt to stabilize his vertigo.

                Hot fingers played over his ribs and stomach, appraising, and Wilson's chest swelled with - oh, that - tickles? - but before he could process the sensation further, Maxwell abruptly pinched his nipples - hard. Wilson squealed, was immediately released and the fingers instead rubbed almost sweetly, almost apologetic. The gentle contact startled Wilson more than the pain had, and his body jerked backwards. He lost his balance and wobbled - and abruptly tumbled off the chair.

                There was one beautiful, weightless moment as Wilson fell before something - undoubtedly Maxwell's magic - caught him and hauled him back up, gave him no time to process as he was shoved back into place. Tendrils, cool and damp, snuck into his shirt and vest, removed both without fanfare. The shadows twined around his wrists and pulled his arms up behind his back to keep him still, to hold him in place, bound and naked from the waist up.

                He was entirely at the mercy of this devil, and the knowledge made his skin crawl, made him tug at the shadows holding him back. The realization of what was about to happen was beginning to set in, and Wilson could feel the first threads of panic sprout from his thoughts.  

                "Now now, you were being so good for me." Maxwell chided. Wilson pulled at the restraints uselessly. The demon's arms caged him in, those hands cupped around Wilson's bottom and then squeezed, groped him. He pressed closer to Maxwell's chest in an attempt to flee those prying fingers. Maxwell nosed into the junction between his neck and shoulder, kissed at his neck and Wilson heard his own pathetic moan. He flushed with shame. The touch of skin-to-skin made his panic crank higher and then Maxwell nipped at his neck, once, twice, and Wilson tensed up, ready, he's going to bite, no, no, he's going to - he started to kick -

                Maxwell bit down.

                Colors bled into sharp contrast and Wilson seized up, closed his eyes, pulled desperately against the tendrils around his arms and then froze. It hurt, twin razorblades buried in his throat, like Maxwell was going to rip out his jugular, but it was misdirection, classic Maxwell, and Wilson was paying attention this time. The buttons of his fly were being pulled open, already, and his trousers were abruptly pushed to mid-thigh.

                Maxwell wasn't playing around.

                Wilson couldn't speak, mute with agony, and he rocked forward into the bite, half hoped that the monster might end it all and tear his throat out right here. A wicked hand slipped beneath his underpants and pushed those down too. Maxwell took a moment to rub over the curve of his ass and then further, so that those searching fingers could find his most sensitive place. Fingers traced and stroked over his anus, threatened to press in, but didn't, returned to kneading and squeezing the soft flesh of his ass instead.

                Wilson squealed and squirmed uselessly, unable to keep himself still but the shadows held him firm and Maxwell's arms were wrapped around him like a straitjacket. Those fangs carved ever deeper into the muscle of his neck and just as Wilson thought he was about to die, Maxwell relinquished his bite. Wilson could feel the blood on his skin, could feel it trickle down his collarbone, he could smell it, and vaguely processed that the demon was licking it off of him.

                Like an animal. Wilson choked on a scream as vomit burned at the back of his throat.

                The fingers against his entrance disappeared, and then returned - this time wet.

                No, no no no nononono - don't - please don't -

                Wilson yanked against the shadows holding his arms back, anything to get away, to keep Maxwell from -  his thoughts were cut off as the first finger wormed into him and Maxwell laughed at the gasp that was forced out of Wilson's lungs. There was lubricant, but it wasn't enough, Maxwell jammed in too quickly, to the knuckle immediately even as Wilson seized and screamed -

                It's been too long. It's too - God - too fast - it hurts! Maxwell worked in and out of his body brutally, and the pain was fantastic. A second finger joined the first and the spike of agony made Wilson freeze in his restraints, sure that he was about to be ripped apart from the inside out. The demon would feast on his entrails and he would die watching it, a pair of eyes hanging in the air like fireflies, pathetic, I can't take this...

                "Maxwell," his voice was much more hoarse than he expected, his pain audible, "Maxw-well, please, I can't, it's been too, too long -"

                "It has been too long," the demon agreed, nearly singing in his ear, and Wilson grunted with frustration.

                "Th-that's not what I, what I meant!" The last word came out as a shriek, "It h-hurts!"

                "You want me to be gentle?" Maxwell stopped, fingers buried in Wilson's body, "You want me to go easy on you? I didn't sign up for that, pal. Let's be real - you're goddamn lucky that I'm preparing you at all. You want to whine that it's been too long? I don't have to use slick either, if you'd prefer that instead." There was an odd shift, and the fingers were ripped out of him.

                Wilson looked up, fell into the endless black hole of the demon's gaze, froze as Maxwell paused. The beast raised one hand, the hand that had been tormenting him, and pulled his glove off. Wilson made a wordless sound, a question, but it was answered immediately; Maxwell's naked hand returned to his bottom, smacked his ass sharply and then those dry fingers stroked over his hole and Wilson flinched because he knew what Maxwell was going to -

                The beast forced his dry fingers into Wilson's body, careless of the friction, thrust through the resistant muscle and deeper. Wilson screamed as Maxwell ripped him open, sobbed with each movement but couldn't get his mouth to form words, couldn't force out an answer or reply as Maxwell tore into him.

                It hurt, a thunderstorm of agony from inside, white flashes of caustic misery. Two fingers became three within mere moments and whatever Maxwell had used for lube at first had completely dissipated. The demon's skin was surprisingly smooth, but it was still dragging hard, splitting his body apart relentlessly.

                God, please, make it stop!

                Wilson's vision went white; all he could hear was Maxwell's voice and he knew he was bleeding now, could feel it slicking Maxwell's fingers, gritty and just wet enough that he was almost thankful for it. Maxwell was going to rip him open like rice paper at the market, and Wilson had a flash mental image of Maxwell tearing him apart like a birthday gift, devouring his flesh in great strips, it would be so easy -  so easy - easy -

                You want me to go easy on you? Easy on you? The echo bounded in his head and it made Wilson remember, remember something, even as he could smell his own blood, even as the agony swallowed him up.

                I'll even make it easy for you.

                He tried to focus, kept getting distracted from the shattering pain that shook every nerve in his body. His shoulders were going numb, pinched from the awful leverage of his arms held up behind him. The shadows hadn't relented, still held him in the exact same position, kept him trapped. Maxwell's earlier words came to him through the fog, brushed into his consciousness...

                Easy on you... I'll even make it easy for you... if you work for it, put in your fair share, I'll make it good. Work for it. Willful participation. 

                Wilson swallowed, fought against all instinct, gathered up his will to survive and need to make it stop and pushed his hips back to meet that cruel hand. Maxwell paused, a fraction of a second, but the next thrust was noticeably slower. Wilson spit out a tiny moan, soft and breathy, tried to sound as willing as possible, and Maxwell slowed further. The demon withdrew and this time Wilson's cry of relief was real. He was thankfully empty, but only for a moment - the fingers returned, now incredibly slippery, and - cold - ?!

                He buried his face in a jacket that smelled of smoke as two fingers slipped back into his body. They were coated in something like thick ointment, and the soothing chill immediately chased away the burn of pain. Maxwell was still too fast, too rough, but this was something he could handle. This was something he could take. Wilson didn't hold back his little cries and tried to play it up. The ointment gradually lost its cooling sensation and started to warm, but not unpleasantly - Wilson didn't open his eyes as Maxwell paused - the fingers pulled out of him and quickly returned, with more of that comforting lotion -

                The pain faded like a bad nightmare, left behind a mere discomfort that, by comparison, was blissful. Wilson pressed his entire body against his executioner's bony chest in a feign of desire, even desperately nuzzled his face against Maxwell's collarbone. And by God, the demon responded, moved slower, curled his fingers and reached deeper into Wilson's body to rub over that sweet spot that made Wilson's blood absolutely explode. The substance was growing warmer, accompanied by a feeling of pressure in his abdomen - what was that stuff -

                He had no idea what Maxwell had used to anoint his fingers this time. Maxwell's hand slowed, stopped, and Wilson huffed through his nose. The texture of the fluid he had used earlier had been wet but not particularly slippery - maybe it had been saliva? But this - this was slick, and cooling - it doesn't hurt so bad - almost doesn't hurt -

                "A type of salve. My own concoction," Maxwell answered the question that Wilson knew he hadn't asked. The demon's voice rang out flat, kind of strained. "You really never stop, do you? That brilliant mind of yours, constantly, incessantly churning. It's not even your fault - you can't help it."

                Wilson reeled, closed his eyes and relaxed against Maxwell's clever fingers as they started moving again. Maxwell's thrusts were much slower, stroked into him with a tenderness that Wilson would much rather not think about, ever. He let himself rest against the demon's chest, practically hanging from the shadows still wrapped around his arms, and focused on the blood that roared in his ears. Tried to focus on anything but how his stomach was twisting itself into knots. 

                "Look at you, darling," Maxwell whispered, not hiding his delight, "You can be so good when you want to be. You should see yourself - beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous." The praise broke Wilson's reverie, made him blush. The pleasure made his head swell, made him rock against the demon's hand, made him forget his shame for a few wonderful, floating moments. "My precious boy. Show me you want it."

                Wilson's cheeks burned with humiliation but he obliged, pushed back onto Maxwell's fingers as instructed. It felt good when Maxwell moved with him, and he didn't have to force out those sounds anymore, they came forth of their own accord -

                Just - don't think about him - focus on how it feels good - oh, please - 

                Maxwell chuckled and his chest rumbled with the sound. One hand pawed down Wilson's bare chest, tickled his belly with sharp claws, explored lower, then stopped. The demon gave a little snort and it shocked Wilson out of his haze, cracked his trance like boiling water on ice. Wilson knew exactly what that laugh meant without even having to look or think about it -

                "You really missed me, pal, hmm?"

                Wilson was hard and his body's betrayal hurt almost more than Maxwell's rough treatment. He was pathetically, uselessly hard, his little cock straining against his stomach. Shame rushed back like the tide, quickly followed by a frothy cap of anger. Wilson didn't want to respond, didn't want to entice Maxwell's wrath, but the words bubbled up and out of his chest anyway. 

                "No, I didn't miss you!" he spit out each syllable deliberately, even as Maxwell's fingers still continued to curl up into him, "I didn't, didn't miss you. I would never - never m, miss you." He didn't dare look up, or down, not even when his underpants were fully tugged to his knees, leaving his ass and genitals entirely bare.

                "A passionate argument, but your body is screaming otherwise. Hmmm..." Maxwell's free hand rubbed down Wilson's chest and grasped his erection, stroked him without hesitation, "Here. This says something completely different, Higgsbury. The pawn missed his master - how sweet."

                Most of the world disappeared instantly with both of Maxwell's hands on him, in him, taking infinite precedence. Wilson trembled, caught between the two sensations, and gave a little whine when the fingers seated so deep inside him fully withdrew. He was lifted up, just enough for his shoes to be yanked off, followed by his trousers and underpants. Maxwell released him entirely, did not have a single finger or shadow on him and the lack of stimulation - the fact that he was completely naked and vulnerable in Maxwell's lap - made Wilson's flesh prickle.

                "Turn around, pet," Maxwell's voice was thick and Wilson knew exactly what the beast wanted him to do. He paused for one beat and obeyed, carefully rearranged himself, put one fist in his mouth to stifle any sound as he settled. Clawed fingers trailed along his arms, guided him to lower down until he felt the demon's cock between his spread thighs, drag up against his ass, press against him -

                "Good. Relax... Sit down on it." Maxwell's breath was hot against the back of Wilson's neck, the command sharp enough to make him flinch. He stopped, swallowed against the sandpaper in his throat and reached his other arm back to steady himself against Maxwell's torso. He pushed against the silky wet pressure, slowly, screamed into his fist, and took the demon inside him.

                "That's it... good boy."

                Maxwell had slicked himself up at some point, thank God, and it didn't hurt, not exactly - Wilson hadn't seen what Maxwell was using for lubrication, destroyed the thought as soon as it entered his mind.

                Maxwell's presence in him was pervasive, all-encompassing, and it took him a century to take the entire length. The sensation of fullness - impossible, Wilson was simply too small - but his body parted regardless. Wilson bottomed out onto the monster's lap with a stifled little moan and he refused to acknowledge how easily his body had accepted the wretched demon's cock. He rose up, unconsciously, sank down again and the drag of Maxwell's thickness inside of him made his entire body shake - but not with pain.

                He wriggled, involuntary, so much sensation all at once - but it didn't hurt. Gods above, it didn't hurt.

                "M... Maxwell," he heard his own voice, but he hadn't spoken. Or had he? A hand stroked across his chest, pulled him back, and it was Maxwell's actual arm rather than a shadow, that regal gloved hand holding him tight against the demon's chest. With no other choice, Wilson clung to him in return. He could feel the demon's heart knocking on his back and inside, somehow.

                "You're so beautiful when you behave," Maxwell praised, and there was prideful heat spreading over Wilson's face, shameful and needy and he couldn't deny how the words made warmth thread out through his veins. He shifted, his thighs complaining already from the strain of movement, but he didn't stop, he couldn't stop, not really, it - it - doesn't hurt -

                "That's it, such a good boy," the demon whispered, entranced with the human wrapped so tightly around him. Maxwell leaned his face down, just a little, enough to smell Wilson's black hair – wood smoke, and wet grass, and fresh blood - and the sensation made him clutch his pet tighter. He didn't move, kept still as Wilson rode him steadily, still quiet and oddly composed. "Say your Master's name."

                "Maxwell," Wilson gasped, his obedience immediate. He worked over the demon's lap, fucked himself on Maxwell's cock, chased the words of praise bestowed upon him.  "P-please, Maxwell. My - my Master." He was shivering, truly shivering as if frozen in a blizzard, and Maxwell was the only source of heat in the entire dimension. There was no pain, he was glowing from the inside out, warming up with what could only be described as actual pleasure.

                Please.

                "Mmmm... don’t you look sweet? You don't have to pretend anymore - I know you're enjoying this. I told you I would make it good if you played along, didn't I?"

                Wilson kept his eyes squeezed shut and maintained his uneven rhythm, tried to ignore Maxwell's words and the way they made his stomach flip. Something cool and moist - shadows - touched along his arms, and long tendrils wrapped around his wrists. He paused, as if to struggle against his bonds, but Maxwell interrupted -

                “Turn around, I want to see your face.” Wilson stopped and shadows lifted him up, he was suddenly empty, and he scrambled to obey. He pressed his head to Maxwell’s chest in a sign of submission, whined with need and hoped that it would be enough to appease the beast.

                As before, Maxwell assisted, held his own cock in place so that Wilson could lower down on it, and both men groaned when their bodies slotted together.

                Wilson's arms were brought up, across and over his chest like a straitjacket, and now Maxwell was actively touching him, with both hands. The arm that had been around his chest closed over his throat with a silent threat and Wilson didn't fight, tried to re-establish his rhythm even as Maxwell's grip on his hip and neck tightened. He rocked on Maxwell's lap for uncountable minutes, an eternity.

                "M-Master - please - " The demon was moving now, too, pumping up into him, meeting Wilson as he pushed down. Then Maxwell leaned forward and braced his weight against the chair. The change in angle made Maxwell's cock drag against something inside Wilson, and it made his breath catch in his lungs for an instant -

                "Does that feel good? Answer me. Be honest."

                "Yes," Wilson felt tears leak down his cheeks and Maxwell did it again and every single one of Wilson's little cries were completely genuine. Every time Maxwell withdrew, it sparked a flash of light in his guts, a blip of pleasure that - for one crucial second - blocked out absolutely everything, the humiliation, the shame, his hatred -

                "Oh - oh, God - "

                "Mmmm, don't give me that much credit, kid," Maxwell laughed in his ear, actually breathless, his voice for one brief moment actually human. Wilson felt a brief stroke of pride - he had done this, it was his body that could crack the facade like this - if only for a moment. He pushed to meet the demon's next thrust, bounced on Maxwell’s lap and Maxwell actually purred.

                "Oh, you sweet, sinful little thing - " The words hung heavy with lust, "You're being so good..."

                Heat spread over Wilson's face and down his chest as the praise stirred up his pathetic need. He hadn't realized how much he missed the touch of another person - or maybe it was true - maybe he had missed Maxwell -

                A firm hand wrapped around Wilson's cock, pressed between the two of them. Maxwell didn't tease, instead stroked him firmly and in time with their movements. The fire was spreading down his chest, all over his body, he was going to burn alive, trapped and engulfed completely by Maxwell and this evil pleasure -  

                "You've earned it, pet," Maxwell panted, "Go on..."

                Wilson whined, a wordless question, suddenly terrified. He tilted on the edge, ready for Maxwell to yank him back at any moment even though he was only a millimeter from oblivion, so close, so close - please - please - please let me, just let me come, Maxwell, please, please - He looked up, their eyes met, brown into black, and he opened his mouth to beg, changed his mind at the last moment and Wilson kissed his Master desperately.

                Their kiss lasted a second, it lasted an eternity, then it was over and Maxwell whispered -

                "Come for me, Wilson.”

                Wilson flung himself into the abyss. 

Chapter Text

          Wilson was flying. Weightless and soaring in a cold sky bluer than any blue that ever blued, as bright as a robin's egg, blue and frosty like ice gems - and he was rising, going up and up and up, the white floss of candy clouds rushing past him, and there was a great golden light, just beyond the stratosphere, like the sun but larger and impossibly beautiful - Wilson could touch it if he reached out, and he did and his fingers just brushed the tip of hot light, the edge of nothing, when - a mass of color,

                lines, a world of lines, endless lines made of fire, laid out perpendicular, like a map? a blueprint? on endless planes, the x-axis stretched to infinity in the flash of alpha and omega. In one moment, Wilson simultaneously knew everything and knew absolutely nothing and his hand sank into the fire and

                - the egg cracked, just like that, a ragged gash down the middle, and

 

 

 

                Wilson was falling.

                The blue veil whipped around him, violent as he tore down through it, clumsy and rough like a pirate's cutlass through sailcloth,

                endless, endless, endless -

                He plummeted toward the ground, heard someone gasping for air, but it wasn't his own gasping - it sounded like - Maxwell panting in his ear, even though he was falling, falling forever, and Maxwell was nowhere to be seen.

                The sky bled out its color as he fell, from rich cobalt to half-hearted cyan, from pale cornflower blue to almost pure white when Wilson was -

                - still on Maxwell's lap, the demon's arms wrapped around him to hold him close, still fucking up into him even as Wilson sagged, boneless and sticky with his own release. Maxwell muttered in between his desperate pants, clearly words, but it wasn't English - maybe Latin?

                Wilson tried to focus even as Maxwell squeezed his hips to the point of pain, whispered what Wilson could only imagine to be filth in his ear, driving into him with ever increasing force to the point where Wilson began to fight it. Everywhere Maxwell touched him burned, he was on fire, he was going to burn alive trapped in this evil inferno! He struggled, pulled at the shadows wrapped around him like a straitjacket, squirmed and protested to absolutely no avail. It was too much, too hard, it hurt, it hurt, it HURT, he was going to break, and finally, finally, finally!

                Razor claws dug into the meat of Wilson's back and Maxwell stopped, groaned like thunder in his ear and filled him up.

                Everything stopped and Wilson let himself go limp against the body underneath him, every muscle shaking with overexertion. The world hung on an invisible edge and the shadows held their breath, a silent eternity as the fight drained entirely out of him. His dick hurt in a way that he couldn't even begin to describe, but the actual feeling was far away and hazy. Fingers threaded through his hair and he didn't feel it, hardly noticed the gentle petting as he came slowly back to solid ground.

                 One arm was still draped across his shoulders, holding him close, and for a moment Wilson forget who he was; the slate was wiped clean, he forgot where he was, forgot who he was with, forgot everything except for the warm pressure of another living, breathing body against his own.

                Breathing - Maxwell took a great breath, the body beneath Wilson swelled as the demon inhaled all the air in the space around them, and Wilson was back in the present. He hadn't realized that the demon was still buried inside him, not until Maxwell shifted and pulled out. There was a sickly, obscene rush of come down the backs of his thighs and the sensation snapped through the fog in Wilson's brain like a crack of lightning. He stiffened in disgust but didn't move, and the wave of nausea was reminiscent of Moving - and Wilson was abruptly reminded him of why Maxwell had fucked him in the first place.

                He straightened up but didn't dare get off of the demon's lap unbidden, was about to ask permission, but Maxwell cut him off -

                "You were out for few minutes there, pal." That silky voice rang with something like concern and it threw Wilson off. "See anything interesting?" It came out offhand, casual, and Wilson looked up, caught eye contact - Wilson stared, earth against obsidian, and for a moment thought he saw a flash of blue sky.

                He shook his head at last, afraid to speak of the golden light that he had seen and give himself away.

                Give away ... what?

                He couldn't explain why, but Wilson had the feeling that he had seen something that he was not supposed to see. That in that moment at the peak of his ascent, he had caught a glimpse of something beyond - the idea itched behind his eyes and he tried to keep his face straight. The lines - those lines - it was like seeing a language that you didn't understand - or the map of a foreign planet -

                "No," he whispered, and hoped it sounded convincing.

                Maxwell nodded, like that meant something, and gestured for Wilson to get up off of his lap. As soon as his bare feet touched the ground, Wilson turned to look for his clothing, found it neatly folded in a pile beside the chair. One of Maxwell's violet kerchiefs topped the pile, and Wilson touched it, held it, confused for a moment -

                "Clean yourself up. You may be my pet, but you're not an animal." Maxwell chided.

                I'm not an animal. 

                Having been given permission, Wilson didn't hesitate and wiped the mess from between his legs as quickly as possible. He grabbed for his clothes, immediately pulled his underpants on, and his trousers, completely engrossed in not being naked in front of Maxwell any longer than absolutely necessary.

                When he turned around fully dressed, Maxwell was still seated in his chair, now presentable in appearance; his clothes buttoned and smoothed out, his face contemplative and solemn. His hair was slightly, only slightly, mussed, and a lingering blush bloomed on the apples of his cheeks, but he otherwise did not at all look like he had fucked Wilson's brains out only minutes prior.

                "As we agreed, you are allowed one binary question." Maxwell crossed his legs, conjured one of those blasted cigars. Wilson felt a sudden craving for the nicotine, a craving he hadn't felt in years. He waved it off and instead stared, entranced as Maxwell snapped his fingers at the end of the cigar and it lit. The tip flashed scarlet like a rose in those elegant hands and Wilson remembered .

                Stop.  

                He was half glad that the demon had initiated the second part of the deal, and half lost, involuntarily drowning with afterglow. His head was clear but his body hadn't yet caught up, muscles lax and sore, bruises on his shoulders and hips, the memory of the demon's hands on him.

                "However..." Maxwell smiled, a flash of ivory fangs. Wilson's stomach dropped and his face lit with fire-quick anger - he absolutely is NOT going to try to renegotiate NOW, I will actually kill him with my own goddamn bare hands, regardless of the consequences, he can't do this! His eyes darted to the sides, looking for a weapon -

                "You did well, Wilson," Maxwell blew one smoke ring into the air and both men watched it rise and then disintegrate, "You surpassed even my wildest expectations." The praise lit Wilson's brain up in bright blips and he felt his cheeks burn. "In light of your outstanding performance, I will graciously allow you one question... open ended."

                Wilson's eyes narrowed, suspicious, and he crossed his arms over his chest. He didn't look down, didn't notice how the blackness on the tips of his fingers had advanced over the knuckles of his fist now and began to creep up his palms.

                "An open ended q-question? I can ask whatever I'd - whatever I'd like?" Wilson hurried to add before Maxwell could possibly interrupt, "And neither of those are my question, we are s-still, uh, negotiating."

                "Correct."

                Wilson just stared at him, not willing to believe that Maxwell's generosity came without a single catch.

                Maxwell rolled his eyes. "I don't have all night, Wilson..."

                It was night now, actually. The sun had slipped beneath the horizon and the fire that Maxwell had conjured earlier was the only thing that chased away the encroaching dark. Wilson's consciousness had been too small to notice, wrapped up in sensation and horrible need. There was no moon in the sky this evening, and no stars as usual, just an endless yawn of darkness, kind of like Maxwell's room - Wilson cut that thought off before it could go further. 

                Maxwell waited for him to continue.

                "Uhh...." Wilson said intelligently. The demon sighed with feigned impatience and puffed on his cigar. Wilson's mind churned. What to ask? How did Maxwell get here? What is the Board? Why did he choose me? How does he reach the - the real world? He spoke to me, through the radio... how does he do that? Who created this place? Where did he learn all of this? What does he know about THEM?

                Who ... was William?

                It went without saying that any mention of "William" was completely out of the question. Maxwell would murder him, probably. Maybe even multiple times. Maybe even...

                No. Don't think about it. And I'm... not sure I want to know, anyway.

                Maxwell cleared his throat, his impatience no longer fake, and the fire to the side grew brighter, tended by unseen forces. Wilson stared into the flames and his brain burned like hell behind his eyes.

                One question. One! Only one. What would give me the most useful information? How to get out. That's all that matters. Not how he got here. Not why he chose me. Not who created this place. Don't get caught up in the details. Not now. I need to know how to get out. Is there a way out? He couldn't ask a binary question and waste his chance... How to get out. How.

                "Uh," Wilson brushed one hand through his hair and swallowed the lump in his throat, "How... how can one... get out of this place, and back to the real world?"

                The demon nodded slowly, and said nothing. The silence stretched between them, the invisible divide. Wilson's skin began to itch, and he thought maybe Maxwell wasn't going to answer, or maybe the world had stopped, he couldn't know for sure, when finally the beast spoke: 

                "The same way that he came in."

                Wilson blinked and bit back his sarcasm. Maxwell was being alarmingly patient with him, and if he was careful, he could use that to his advantage...

                "How did you get here, Wilson?"

                That was an unexpected question and the flashback hit him like cold water. The reeking smell of heavy oil and copper wire, wood and metal, the smooth steel under his palm, the dusty air of his beloved attic-converted-laboratory. Panic without a source crackled down his spine, the uncertainty rocked his bones - calm down, you idiot -

                Wilson took a breath to steady himself.

                "The - the door." The door that he spilled his own blood to build, slit his palm with a silver blade sharpened beneath a full moon as Maxwell had bidden. That insidious voice had nestled into his brain like a beautiful parasite, You must do this Wilson, you must feed life between dimensions in order to cross the divide. Those words were deceptively soft, not a command, but not to be ignored, either. Free me from this prison and I will show you wonders... This portal is only the beginning, Wilson!

                "Yes. You came in through the door; you go out through the door. Well..." Maxwell thought about it, Wilson saw a million thoughts fall into place over the man's face before he continued, "Doors. There are five of them."

                "I - I built - I only built one, how are th-there, how are there five of them?!"

                "There are five layers of the Board, and so there are five doors."

                Wilson was silent, thinking. The fucking Board again. He said... that I jumped it. You managed to jump the Board.

                "The Board?"

                "You're out of questions, pal. If you want to be technical about it, I allowed you an incredibly generous two questions." Maxwell grinned even as the human glowered at him. Wilson huffed and turned away, unwilling to face that gloating smile. He realized that he was shaking. 

                "Th-that didn't tell me - anything," Wilson protested, quietly, trying to keep his mouth shut but goddamnit, it wasn't fair! Maxwell had violated him in a dozen ways and this was all he'd earned for it?? "I've, I've died a thousand t-times -"

                "Four hundred and ninety-seven," Maxwell corrected, and Wilson rolled his eyes.

                "Fine! The point, the point is that I've traveled all over these islands, ev-every possible reiteration, over and over, and I h-have never seen any, seen any doors."

                "Well, of course not," the demon scoffed, "You never looked for them."

                "... That's preposterous." Wilson's stutter was overwhelmed by his skepticism and he felt a brief swell of pride. Maxwell chuckled and popped that feeling right quick - ugh - Maxwell was mocking him at this point. 

                "Does a thing exist if it is unknown?" Maxwell asked, his voice more serious than his laugh had indicated; if Wilson judged correctly, this game was far from over. "If I lock you away forever, to never again see the light of day, would you still be real?" His tone had dropped, deathly solemn, and Wilson's heart shuddered to a stop and he had to close his eyes.

                "Haven't you already?" Wilson demanded in turn, his brain screaming in his head to shut the fuck up!  

                He had to sit down.

                Wilson put one hand to his forehead and walked to the fire to sit beside it. He found a long stick and poked at the flames, completely automatic. It was a stupid question and a ridiculous premise and this was beginning to feel like more trouble than it was worth. Maxwell was clearly antagonizing him and his entire body hurt, his ass hurt, his thighs were still disgustingly wet, and all he really wanted was to wash up and lay down. Find his secondary base and sleep and maybe in the morning he could go and scavenge the camp that the Dragonfly had burned...

                But his mind couldn't stop; Maxwell had presented the question, and the gears in his head were already turning.

                Of course things existed even if there was no one to see them. The earth has existed longer than consciousness. Even if no one is here to see - to see me. I still exist. Time couldn't stop, time didn't stop without outside observation. A small part of him, but not small enough, whispered, Except...

                "Did you exist, out there alone in the woods, rejected and forgotten, the lonely faggot, until I found you?" The demon had left his chair, Maxwell was behind him now. Those words were soft against the shell of his ear but that voice dropped like a stone into the clockwork of Wilson's brain, lodged into the gears with a screeching halt that shook Wilson down to the bones and four hundred deaths ago -

                - he remembered.

                Alone. Months and months and months, collected into years, all by himself in his cottage. Other than the occasional (dreaded) foray into town for supplies, Wilson was alone. Solitary, able to breathe freely, able to scream his frustration and rage at the heavens, able to talk to himself and mumble and cry and no one gave him dirty looks for it. No one yelled at him. Willing, beautiful solitude.

                Even the most splendid beauty had its shadow. Wilson knew that now. On the opposite side of his sweet freedom: endless, crushing loneliness. The knowledge that his solitude was not by choice. Not entirely.

                People detested him, family or not; he talked too much, he stuttered, he couldn't slept at night, he was always dismantling clocks and obsessed with steam engines and the concept of time, he had no interest in women or raising a family... but especially not women...

                "How long did it take her to leave you?" Maxwell's words were deliberate - but not mocking - and Wilson's mind stopped as abruptly as if Maxwell had backhanded him.

                "That's h-hardly any of your business," Wilson stared, lips pressed in a firm line over his face. Maxwell had never asked, had never pried, had only made little snide comments and Wilson wasn't exactly sure how Maxwell knew - how much he knew - how much could he know?

                "Less than a year, then." The demon sounded so goddamn sure of himself and Wilson's cheeks flushed and he wanted to scream, but he said nothing - because the bastard creature was right. She had tolerated him for exactly seven months and eight days. The fire spread over up over Wilson's chin, down his chest, and the self-loathing burned his esophagus from the inside out.

                "She was beautiful, wasn't she? I'm sure you tried to find her attractive. Oh, Wilson. Even when you know you will lose, you try so hard. It's endearing."

                Wilson's hands clenched into fists, his teeth grit down, his heart swelled in his ribcage. Everything hurt and there was no more fuel for the fire that still tried to spark in his guts at Maxwell's words. He wanted to fight - he wanted to scream at the demon, bellow out his rage, claw the man's eyes out, but to what end?

                To what end?

                He was so tired.

                "Maxwell," he forced his voice to stay even, realized his face was wet with tears, but he wasn't even ashamed. He simply didn't have the energy, "I don't know - what - what pleasure you gain from this, you - you got what you w-wanted." He stopped, rubbed his temples with one hand, couldn't decide if he wanted to beg for this. Maxwell still hovered behind him and Wilson couldn't see the man's face and it was nerve wracking, "I have done all - all the t-things that you, all the things you have asked of me. Have I - have I not earned a respite?" He couldn't help it, Wilson craned his neck to look at Maxwell, turned himself fully to face the demon hanging in the dark beyond the fire. Wilson made brief eye contact with the beast, dropped his gaze to the ground, smothered his disgust and begged,

                "Master... my... my Master... P-please, s-sir?" His voice was so weak, so damn pathetic. Surely Maxwell would laugh at him, or make some scathing remark, but silence was his only answer and Wilson waited, unsure, uncertain. He counted to ten, then twenty, then fifty. The fire crackled quietly and the wind whistled in the distance, but the demon said nothing and Wilson was too afraid to look.

                He counted. The longer the silence stretched on, the faster his heart raced. Wilson took a breath. What is he doing?

                He looked up. Maxwell was gone.

                His head whipped around to look behind him, to look around, certainly Maxwell was hiding in the dark and would jump out at some point and scare the hell out of him, or mock him further, ridicule him... Maxwell was nowhere to be found.

                Wilson turned to the fire pit before his brain could run away with panic, unconsciously wrapped his arms around himself. The flames were dangerously low, cast long shadows that were, somehow, darker than the night itself. He was shaking like a sapling in a storm.

                The fire is too low. It's too dark. He reached into his backpack for some charcoal. Even as his whole body quivered, he stacked it in the middle of the flames with trembling care. The stick from earlier came into play once again, and he dug out a small ring around the fire, filled the space with rocks that had also been in his pack. Wilson arranged the fire to his preference, until it was stable and shielded enough that it would burn until sun rise with little additional effort. 

                Maxwell never appeared, but Wilson's nerves refused to settle. His entire body shook, tiny quakes that made him twitch all over as he laid down against his pack. He forced his breathing to even out and began to count.

                His exhausted body gave out before he reached twenty.

                Wilson curled around his backpack, limp as a dead thing, and the demon didn't come back.

                -~-

                The morning was pleasant enough when Wilson regained consciousness. Pink and orange rays of light shot through the darkness, the sky turned red as blood as the sun came up, and it was that light that woke him. He lay there against his pack, too exhausted to move despite the rest, and he simply stared up at the void that slowly grew brighter with every passing moment.

                His mind was empty. There was simply too much to consider, too much had happened, and he wasn't even sure where to begin. The things that Maxwell had said - the shadows that Wilson had conjured - what Maxwell had made him do - where did he start?

                Chronologically, I suppose.

                His stomach gurgled and Wilson put one hand - his left -  over it, like he could shush the organ. The morning's light brushed over his arm and Wilson looked down and stopped.

                Uh. His hand was now completely stained, as if with India ink. His fingers and palm were black as shadow, little whorls of darkness creeping up his wrist like exotic jewelry. He held his own arm up to his face to inspect further, not exactly surprised at the progress but puzzled.

                Wilson didn't want to look at his other hand, but he did, and it was the same. Above his wrists his skin remained pale and unmarked, but his right hand was marked the same as its brother.

                His hands didn't feel different. He touched his own face, combed through his beard and hair, touched both hands together, but nothing was different and Wilson was not disappointed by that. Not at all.

                ... Damn it.

                He turned to look at the fire in its wreath of stone, the embers glowing as bright as the sun that began to peek over the trees. Wilson took the poking stick, kindled new flames from the ashes with the last of the charcoal.

                His stomach protested again, louder this time, and Wilson sighed, pawed deeper into the backpack to produce some sun-dried carrots. He hadn't exactly been prepared to completely evacuate his main camp... but it didn't matter. His secondary camp was to the north, and his tertiary (a  thousand deaths here had taught Wilson: one could never be too careful) camp to the south-east, both stocked with supplies for a few days. He could consider the implications of ... everything ... later.

                Right now, as always, he needed to stay alive.

                The carrots were gone entirely too quickly and Wilson's stomach was not satisfied, but it would have to be enough for now. Wilson got to his feet and shouldered his backpack, tried not to wince at the pain in his bottom, the strained muscles of his thighs, the tender bruising along his sides, and headed north.

Chapter Text

                It had started to rain when Wilson arrived at the scorched remains of his primary base. He had a hat he had woven of straw, but that was his only protection.

                Piles of wet charcoal mourned under the droning downpour. These watchful graves represented his tent, ruined cook pot, his icebox, the apiaries. Mindless destruction at the hands of a wretched beast consumed by the need to smash and shatter.

                Ha. A chip off the old block, as it were, thought Wilson with no humor.

                The heaps of wreckage were enough to make Wilson sink into his own head for a long moment, and he stood in the rain with unseeing eyes. No specific memories came, only a grey fugue that clouded over his vision and left him silent for uncountable minutes. His hat began to sag under the weight of the rain.

                He had lost over and over again, over four-hundred times according to him apparently, and it still struck him to the heart every time. Months, certainly years in total, but I can't think about that right now, work and sweat and blood, so much god-damn blood, the back-breaking labor, all of it! Destroyed in minutes, moments, seconds.

                 An allegory if there ever was one. There was the temptation to sulk - to let himself wallow and waste, and it was a sultry temptation indeed.  It would be so easy, if I gave up, right? Unproductivity meant death, and Wilson refused to die; that's what Maxwell wanted, that bastard! He wants me to break and I will never fucking break, Maxwell, not now, not ever, you blasted son of a bi -

                Wilson tipped on the precipice of his rage but caught himself before he gave in to the fire-hot anger.

                Harness that fire. Redirect. Survive.  

                Conviction thrummed beneath his skin and triumphed through his anger. There was only one thing that he could do now: break the ruins down, salvage what he could, and start again.

                Wilson squeezed the handle of his hammer. The weight felt good in his hands, the wood smooth and comforting against his palms, and he got to work.

                It felt good.

                The tension in his shoulders as he hefted the hammer. The shudder of energy transfer between hammer and object. The direct control was intoxicating and it made the hairs stand on the back of Wilson's neck, but not because of fear. No counting or overanalyzing. It wasn't hard to lose himself in the act of labor, the leverage when he hauled the hammer back and then forward. He rejoiced in the force exerted from his body, something tangible, something explainable.

                There were no shadows or whispering nightmares here, and for once, Wilson's chattering mind was still.

                His hard work was rewarded with chunks of charcoal, lumps of melted gold and scorched black rocks, burned logs and singed twigs, piles of ashes, and Wilson took it all. Everything was useful, take every single thing you could carry, everything was -

                Wilson heard something beyond the pattering of the rain and stopped dead, body frozen mid-stroke like in a nickelodeon from back - no, no. He heard a voice, rustling in the distance, and he strained to listen - but he knew that sound: his own voice, muttering to himself. Talking to himself.

                Really have to stop doing that. Wilson pressed one hand over his mouth and silenced his traitorous lips. Now stay quiet! That must be how Maxwell knows so much. Just shut up! How could he know - how could he know

                He had been trying to not think about their last "encounter", had buried it in the ever-expanding graveyard of his mind, refused to acknowledge the things Maxwell had said, what Maxwell had done to him, what Maxwell had made him do. It was too much, a jumble of memories like shards of broken glass that he was too afraid to touch.

                He knelt beside a pile that had once been a chest and sifted through the ashes for anything that remained. His black hands disappeared into the mound of cinders. Wilson instead considered the swirls and tendrils of shadow that crept up his wrists.

                Still not a single idea as to... all of that. Maxwell didn't say anything about it.

                Wilson's brain halted and everything ground to a standstill: Maxwell hadn't commented on it. Maxwell had never commented on it. Maxwell commented on everything, found any and every excuse to mock Wilson, no matter how illogical and cruel. Why would he not point it out?

                He doesn't want to draw attention to it? Does he think I won't notice? Does he not see it? Oh, God... am I hallucinating it? Now, there's a concept. He shook his head physically, like that would clear away his panic, and was shocked to find that it... kind of did.

                Keep working. I must keep working. Focus! Focus and survive!

                 His mind churned like the sea but he resumed digging. He unearthed gears and some more rocks. His fingers touched something smooth, and hot, so hot that his arm jerked back. Immediately, almost without thought, he grabbed for it again, closed his hand around the object and brought it from the ashes -

                One of the red gems. It flash-burned in his palm but as Wilson held and examined it, it seemed to cool down. The facets were oddly perfect and appeared to be professionally cut and smoothed despite this wild place, and when he looked into those rich ruby depths...

                Wilson's heart thumped into his throat and he saw Maxwell in the damned crystal. His entire body shivered at the sight of the monster, terror shot through his guts, and of course the wretched demon was laughing, his great maw hanging open like that of his beasts, fangs glinting in the red depths. Maxwell was laughing at him, and anger curdled thick and hot in his chest -

                The crystal heated up again, quickly, scalding against his skin and getting hotter by the second, and Wilson dropped it at his feet. The thing glowed bright with its own heat and the wet grass beneath it began to scorch and blacken even in the pouring rain. Wilson kicked it away, afraid of a second inferno, and the crystal abruptly cooled down. Smoke and steam curled into the air as Wilson approached, his movements jerky and instinctual as his body reacted faster than he could think.

                In the time required for Wilson to take only a few steps, the crystal - ruby? garnet? perhaps even a particularly iron-rich calcite? an idle part of his mind suggested - had cooled considerably, enough that he could reach down and pick it up again. It was warm, but barely, like an afterthought.

                Wilson was afraid to look into the thing again. ... Can Maxwell see me through these? He turned around before he could think about it, looking, looking for the beast, but there was nothing but the clouds and the rain and the wind whispering through the ashes. His skin prickled under the (soaked) collar of his shirt and Wilson pulled at the fabric. He couldn't stop glancing around - calm down, you damn idiot - and clutched the ruby - it could be a brilliant carnelian - to his chest defensively.

                His heart thumped against his own hands, louder than any natural sound, louder than the roar of monsters. Blood pounded in his ears and in his temples, shook him in agonized terror with each pulse. Wait, if I can - focus. Focus! Wilson sat down on wet, wet grass in a desperate bid for stability, tried to grab his panic by its metaphorical throat.

                Stop - stop - he's not here, he's not here. It's okay. Wilson closed his eyes. The crystal was still in his hands, its weight reassuring, and Wilson set his focus on that. He skimmed his fingers over it and took steady breaths. It was so smooth, so smooth that it felt soft to the touch. Like Maxwell's hands -

                STOP.

                The crystal. How brittle was it? What was its hardness? What was it actually? ... was it even a crystal at all? That spontaneous heating and cooling... Could he weaponize it?

                It was an appealing idea to follow that thought, too appealing, but there was work to be done, things of higher priority. He sighed. So much work before he would have time to think this through. The crystal and its secrets would have to wait; he rose to his feet, rather steadily he thought, and pocketed it.

                He broke the rest of the camp down in a daze, his mind in a thousand different places at once, and he didn't speak a single word for the next three days.

                ~*~

                His new camp had built up quickly, fueled by Wilson's desperate need to think about anything that wasn't Maxwell. He remained stubborn, even as a steady fog settled in his brain and behind his eyes. He kept finding himself staring off into nothing for long periods of time, his brain simultaneously full to bursting and as hollow as the caverns beneath his feet. He was always so tired. Yet it didn't matter. It never mattered. He had to survive.

                I can't give in, I won't give in, not ever! That's what he wants and I will never give Maxwell anything!

                It had been a long and exhausting afternoon in the dirt. Preparing the soil to farm, breaking up the sod, digging and planting. Every muscle was sore with exertion and Wilson lay boneless in his tent, panting in the heat. He lay on his side with a rather comfortable thatched pad of straw underneath him. The light of the endothermic fire filtered in through the canvas, a solid reassurance of welcome safety. The fire was there. The fire meant life. If the fire was burning, he would be okay. He would survive.

                I will ALWAYS survive.

                Wilson didn't sleep; that was as rare as ever, but he was able to rest. This was legitimately pleasant - he was cooled off, rather well fed, and dry. About a week had passed since he broke down the burned camp and he was getting more done every day. He had an entire field of berry bushes already. Nothing insane had happened yet.

                Yet. Matter of time. How long has it been since the dogs? I can't become complacent. It isn't late enough for the Dragonfly yet. Usually. He closed his eyes and counted his breathing, silent and careful. There was no need to get himself worked up this late at night.

                The processes in his brain gradually slowed. No muted words from the shadows, or touching fingers in the dark, only Wilson, always only Wilson. Wilson and his aching bones, his screaming muscles. He hadn't actually slept in... five days? It was impossible to know; Wilson still kept tally marks, but they changed sometimes on their own and it didn't really mean anything.

                I don't even know how long the days are here. They are so volatile and so are the seasons... Yet the sun is so consistent. It doesn't even change path in the sky. The angles never alter, not from season to season, not ever. Is this place centric to its solar system? Does its sun revolve around it?This can't be a real place - or... not... hm. 

                Wilson sighed through his nose and peeked through the tent flap to check the fire. He had four solid logs braced against each other with the bright-bottle-blue fire that boiled beneath. Four logs. Four...

                Four hundred and ninety-seven times I have died at the hands of that foul demon. He keeps count. I wonder if he has counted how many times that he has fu-

                STOP!

                He shouldn't think about it. This would be the time to cut that thought, prevent it from sprouting further, but the memory of Maxwell's words and touches slithered through his brain like snakes anyway.

                How did he... know about... her.

                Panic melted into regret and Wilson's heart echoed hollow in his chest.

                No. I can't - I can't bear to think - He put one hand over his heart like it would help, didn't feel the tears leaking down his face until one dribbled sideways and into his ear.

                I tried! I tried... I wanted to make everyone happy, I did, more than anything I wanted everyone to be happy! I wanted a normal life, I tried, goddamnit, Maxwell doesn't know a single fucking thing, how does he know??? How does he -

                His arms were suddenly hot, hot to the point of pain and Wilson shot up, stretched them out in front of him to look, was only a little shocked to find tiny black flames licking and nipping at his skin. They died with his intrigue, as his anger faded, no little fire come back! Maxwell's filthy voice, his hands on me, the way he laughs when he watches me die!

                The little petals of fire sprung back up, shyly, and Wilson glanced around the tent.

                Can they catch other items aflame? Do they interact with physical objects? But wait, Wilson, keep that anger, corral it, contain it, hold it, Maxwell's breath on the back of my neck, that fucking animal! He has no idea what I went through, that pompous, narcissistic, God-complex, cragged nosed asshole...

                Wilson nursed his anger and watched the flames react accordingly, watched as they danced and grew with his passion. He lowered his hand to gingerly touch the flames to his straw mat, wholly expecting it to catch. He jumped back when the tiny fire did indeed spread - wow, I should have maybe thought that through??? but the mat did not burn. Wilson's flames lay atop the straw like alcohol poured on the surface. Now separated wholly from Wilson, the fire on the mat flickered for a moment, then died.

                 Disappointing, but the flames -  the way he calls me boy, the way he looks into my eyes - on Wilson's arms remained. He examined his bare forearms carefully, making a note that the flames expanded past the dark skin of his fingers and wrists at this point, and his fingers...

                Have my nails always been so long?

                The thought snagged him, silk on a splinter, and Wilson had to think about it as he looked at his hands more closely. I chewed my nails, back home. Before. But I... I haven't here. His dirty nails were of a more normal length, not bitten down to the quick or bloody, and they seemed to have thickened slightly as well. More like claws than nails.

                Wilson realized with a flush of disappointment that, in his scatterbrained musing, the fire on his skin had disappeared completely.

                ... Well, fuck. Anger... the smell of that god damned cigar -

                Wrath flared in his heart for a moment but there was a persistent nagging at the back of his mind, why are my nails different, why are my arms different, what is happening to me?? And no matter how hard Wilson focused, his little fires did not return.

                He huffed through his nose and lay back down, turned on his side, simultaneously angry with himself and also confused and maybe worried. His thoughts scattered to the winds and a new train of thought touched his consciousness.

                Well... at least the bastard kept his word this time. He let me... let me...

                It was embarrassing, mortifying to think about now in the present. He had prostrated himself, whored himself to the actual god-damned devil, for what? A fleeting moment of bliss, a scant instant of time that knew no suffering, only for reality and guilt to crash in and wreck everything and how could I just... give myself to him!  

                Wilson wanted to scream but didn't. There was no need to draw attention from any nearby monsters, or even maybe, no, nope, don't even think about it.

                Don't think about that.

                The fire crackled outside, soft and gentle, reassuring. An anchor to reality as Wilson's thoughts dispersed yet again.

                But I saw something. What was that? The ... map.

                Wilson's brain reeled with a little bit of shock. Somehow, in the rush and work of building his new camp, he had forgotten about that moment, the peak of his ascent. The golden lines that stretched out along the horizon and out, out, out to eternity.

                He pictured it in his head, raised one hand in the air and traced patterns with his finger along with his memory. Marked divisions blazed against his eyelids and he felt that burn again, the burn of some inherent recognition, like a song he used to know. Wilson settled his concentration on what he could remember.

                Lines in groups of prime numbers. Always prime numbers. Five sections. Five circles.

                Wait. Five.

                "Five doors," the memory of Maxwell's voice rang in Wilson's ears.

                Five layers to the Board.

                Is this truly a map? To the end? He needed to write this down and Wilson turned onto his stomach, pulled out his makeshift paper and a small, whittled stick of charcoal. He pulled the tent flap back to allow more light and put the paper on the ground, sat up to sketch out what he could remember.

                A central group consisting of five main concentric circles. Seven darts in each circle. No, no. That's not right. I don't know how I know, but I know. They aren't exactly concentric, but just overlapping. Or... fuck!

                The more Wilson tried to focus on the image, the more fleeting it became. It felt as if he were staring through water, his vision blurry, and it rendered the design impossible to make out. His pretty face burned with frustration and he could feel the individual nerves in his hands as he tried to sketch that goddamn image!

                But it wasn't right, and Wilson finally crumpled the scribbled paper in his shaking fists and flung it into the fire. It caught immediately and burned to ashes and Wilson had to physically bite his tongue to refrain from making any sound.

                He wanted to scream but settled for silent tears and biting his knuckles as he stared at the vivid azure fire through the tent flap. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair, Maxwell would always have the odds stacked against him, he would always fall for Maxwell's tricks, and there wasn't a single fucking thing he could do about it.

                Well. There was one thing.

                I can survive. I can keep going. That flicker of determination, even now, even with his resentment and self-loathing, still blazed in his chest. I will beat you at your own game, Maxwell. I don't know how, yet. But I will.  

                The confidence felt good, heated Wilson's blood with purpose and conviction and soothed away his earlier frustration.

                I will rest, and I will get up tomorrow, and the day after that, and I will never stop. Never! Maxwell can take everything else, but he can't take my humanity, he can't take my pride. He can take my life, and my body, and food from my mouth, and blood from my veins, but he can't take this!

                These thoughts carried Wilson into unconsciousness and bless him, Wilson slept at last. The fire crackled as it burned and Wilson didn't hear a single thing. He didn't hear the wind pick up, he didn't hear how the trees began to rustle and the shadows began to whisper amongst themselves.

                Drops of darkness melted out of the air before that bright blue fire and condensed into a figure that remained motionless even as it watched the human asleep in the tent. It moved only to light a cigar and raise it to its lips.

                Maxwell smoked in the silence of the whistling trees. He took his time, the king confident and relaxed in his domain. He said nothing, touched nothing, and when he finished the cigar, he flicked it into the fire, turned on his heel, and disappeared into the black.

                The wind calmed, the shadows kept to themselves, and the fire burned.

                ~*~

                Wilson was flying. Weightless and soaring in a cold sky bluer than any blue that ever blued, as bright as a robin's egg, blue and frosty like ice gems - and he was rising, going up and up and up, the white floss of candy clouds rushing past him, and there was a great golden light, just beyond the stratosphere, like the sun but larger and impossibly beautiful -

                Consciousness hit him like a fist to the jaw and Wilson woke up halfway out of the tent, gasping for air and scrabbling for - nothing.

                He pulled himself to his knees and sat back on his straw pad. That blue sky, blue like lapis lazuli in an Egyptian mural, blue like water, watery eyes soft with tears and pain -

                Nope. Wilson stuffed those thoughts under metaphorical floorboards and forced himself to his feet and out of the tent. Keep going. Don't think. Keep going. The firepit still smoldered, a testament to Wilson's survival skills, and he looked up at the sky. It was already humid and uncomfortable; it would be best to stock up on water now before the sun was too strong.

                He nodded to himself, dug through a chest for some jerky for breakfast. Wilson scarfed the food down, no time to waste, and he glanced down at the fire and saw the butt of a cigar.

                The butt of a cigar.

                Wilson spit the jerky out in shock. He immediately bent down, picked the food back up and stuffed it in his mouth, but his eyes never left the little bit of paper among the grey ashes.

                Maxwell was here. Is here? He looked around, saw and heard only the wilderness. Before he could stop himself, he was kneeling, reaching for the roach and plucking it out of the cinders. It was cold. Was. He was here. Why...?

                Maxwell wouldn't have left this behind if he didn't want Wilson to find it. Right? It was impossible to know. Wilson closed his hand around the cigar butt and reached for his backpack, still in the tent. He tucked the roach into a pocket on the front and shouldered the pack.

                I don't have time to think about this now. If he is watching me, then so be it, when isn't he watching me? I'm so tired!

                "Have fun being a weird creep," Wilson accused the shadows, his voice angrier than he had intended, "Unlike some of us, I have work to do."   

 

Chapter Text

            The sun slipped beneath the horizon. The moon rose into its place. There was no need for Wilson to measure anything anymore: the angles were the same as they had been a thousand times before, the trajectory of the celestial bodies the same as it had been a thousand times before. There were no stars to guide by: only the china white moon, as lonesome as Wilson.

            The fire was a steady brilliance in the dark, and Wilson huddled close as the black night swallowed up everything that had the audacity to exist in its path. His circle of light stood against the void, his only defense from the shadows that flickered and danced barely outside the reach of the fire.

            Said shadows were getting uncomfortably close; Wilson added a few sizeable logs to the firepit and tended the flames. 

            The chores for the day were, finally, done and Wilson let his attention wander. He zoned out: stared at his tent without really seeing it. A cloud closed over his mind and he didn't think of anything. He crossed one leg over the other and settled back down, glanced at his tent. His signature tallies lined the inside canvas, drawn with charcoal to mark each sunrise. It had been six days since he had found the cigar butt, and he had seen neither hide nor hair of the demon since. So how long has it been since the last time he appeared... since The Challenge? Two weeks? Three?

            He stared at the tallies, but he hadn't marked when that had happened, had buried it in the back of his mind as soon as possible. He wasn't sure how long it had been, it can't have been more than three weeks, right? I guess?  

            Hmph, not like I give a care. I hope I never see him again, good riddance. Wilson certainly didn't feel a tug of loneliness deep inside of him, somewhere between his heart and his esophagus, the cold closure of understanding just how alone he truly was, how alone he always would be. No, stop, stop. Focus on something else. I need to concentrate. Breathe.

            Wilson closed his eyes.

            He took a breath, brought air in, in, in and let it fill his lungs, fill his entire being and blood and bones. Hold... and... out. Wilson took another breath, in, in, in... hold... and out. One, two, three, four, five, breathe in, one, two, three, four, five, out...

            A few more repetitions, and his mind had (relatively) cleared, the cobwebs brushed away and the dust bunnies shooed into the farthest corners.

            Wilson was ready. He consciously relaxed his shoulders, released the tension from his joints and concentrated on remembering, on feeling.

           The Dragonfly destroying my camp. Threads of anger lit up in Wilson's brain and he reached out to them, acknowledged the heat and burn of his own wrath and plucked it forth like overripe fruit.

           The fabric of his suit against my bare skin. He collected those threads, wove them in his mind together, one into many, each thread building on its brother before it.

           His whispers in the dark. More threads came forth and Wilson breathed and counted and wove the tiny filaments until a full dozen shimmered before him. His eyes were still closed; Wilson didn't understand the specifics, but he could see the capillaries of his wrath against the blackboard of his thoughts. With his eyes closed, he could see nothing, he could only feel, and it's really something that I can perceive this at all, such a metaphysical phenomenon, oh wait the threads are dying!

            His digression had weakened his precious Manifests!

           Uh - the warm leather of his gloves against my neck. Panic was starting to prickle along Wilson's spine rather than anger and he blew out through his nose over a count of five. Not fear, not fear, anger. He was breathing too fast and his hard-earned threads were beginning to dissipate back into the shadows.

           When he talks about - things he shouldn't know. The threads glowed bright, brighter than Wilson's fire and he tamped down the thrill of success, He thinks he knows everything, that smug bastard! How does he know! How did he know… about… Grace? The strands multiplied again, wove together and Wilson watched, entirely fascinated, too distracted by the shadows before him to fall into that hole at this moment. Anger, focus on anger!

           His hands around my throat, his nails scratching my skin. His strings twined together and formed a proper rope that crackled with heat and scarlet sparks. Now, come to me... The rope settled over his outstretched fingers and abruptly ignited, Manifested on his hands into tiny fires that danced up his arms, fires that Wilson could actually see with his own eyes.

            When he shoves his fingers in my mouth. When he makes me call him Master. Hold this rage, Wilson, hold it!

            The Manifests crept up to his elbows, rolled and caroused on his skin like schoolchildren, you know they almost seem sentient, they seem happy, as if grateful to be alive, God I wonder what that must be like, to be grateful to be alive, ha, but even that small tangent had stolen Wilson's concentration and the flames began to die. Just like me, all the time - no, no, no!  

            The way he laughs when my body - responds to physical stimulus! His greedy hands grabbing and groping, pinching and clawing! There, his Manifests grew again, larger even, and Wilson was careful to hold them close this time. When he makes me beg for it, as if I wanted his advances! As if I wanted his - his sin! He wanted the flames to congregate on his palms, and they did, dawdled to his waiting hands in clumsy obedience. Tiny threads of ruby thrummed through the flames, contrasted against the black and seemed to pound in time with Wilson's own heartbeat.

            Excitement thrummed through Wilson like a plucked guitar string - oh I did it, I did it! They are listening to me! But don't lose them! The way he strokes my hair... He collected the shadows into two haphazard orbs, one on each palm.

           The way he whispers my name. Wilson brought the two separate flames together; nothing happened. They remained separate, individual, and did not merge as he had expected, bounced off of each other like water against wax.

            Hmm. He allowed one of the fires to dissipate and fixated instead on the other in his left hand; a flower, I want it to be a flower. The smoke bloomed out into rough, but recognizable, petals: the streaks of red looked like veins on the delicate black smoke.

            Hold the anger. Nurse the rage. The pressure of his weight against my back, pushing me into the ground. The petals came together, with greater detail now, oh, it's an azalea! and Wilson let the little blossom grow larger.

            When his shadows spread me open. Now the Manifest began to truly glow, a rich scarlet, dim but visible in the surrounding darkness. Wilson forced himself to breathe, to remain breathing, and kept a tight hold on his elation. When he tells me that I like it, when he makes me say that I like it, that I want it, that I want him.

            The blossom grew larger, even began to sprout tiny leaves, but Wilson wanted it to be a fire again, and it was; the petals melted into flames.

            When he makes me beg him to come - Bile bit at the back of his throat and his fire was quite large now, roiled on his palms, almost too large to fit. 

            !!!

            The flower vanished so quickly that Wilson reeled for a solid fifteen seconds. Why did it disappear? What did I do wrong?? Until he finally heard beyond the rustle of his own thoughts. A faint snarling echoed, far away but simultaneously close, and -

           Hounds.

            Torches. Drop anything unnecessary. TORCHES. Wilson jumped into action as if he were an automaton: throwing extra logs on the fire, grabbing every torch within reach and cramming them in his pack, putting his helmet on, and then he lit one torch against his fire and took off into the darkness.

            Wilson breathed, and Wilson ran. The roar of the dogs had grown louder, even more so without the droning crackle of his fire. Breathe. You can do this. The torch made a softer sound, quiet but still reassuring and it was a welcome anchor against the endless black around him, a cavern of jet and obsidian.

            He needed to make a decision.

            Where to take them? I can't fight them all off on my own, not in the dark, and I can’t outrun them for long, I must - Oh. The beefalo. They are in heat, it will be easy to rile them, but I must make sure that I don’t get caught in the crossfire! I would much rather survive this, let alone die trampled into literal feces (again).

            That was an awful way to go.

            Wilson timed his breathing with his stride and clutched the torch close to his body to keep it from blowing out as he ran. The trees shook with the sounds of the dogs, their snarling and panting reverberated against the leaves and they were getting closer with every second. Wilson wasn't sure if he imagined the hot puffs of breath against his neck or not, but there were fewer and fewer trees with every step that he took, the soft dead leaves and detritus of the forest underfoot was giving way to tough grass - I'm close!

            One of the dogs got his ankle, caught him with teeth like steel blades and Wilson shook the creature off as if possessed, shrieking and screaming the entire way. Somehow he managed to keep himself upright and going forward, forward, forward! Keep going!

             He smelled the beefalo before he saw them in the meager light of his torch and his mind suggested maybe you should dodge but Wilson's adrenaline and panic had blinded him; he couldn't stop running with a pack of hounds at his back, and he really should have given this more thought!

            Another dog got his left thigh at the exact same time that Wilson crashed into an absolute mountain of hair and stink. Teeth pierced into his back and his upper right arm and Wilson knew he had fucked this up and maybe he cursed, but it was lost in the cacophony of roars and snarls.

            The beefalo that he had crashed into was still for half a breath and then it rose through the darkness, bellowing and huffing. Something knocked Wilson's torch out of his hand. His precious light hit the ground and went out almost instantly, snuffed out by beefalo or dogs, Wilson didn't know. There was pain, a lot of it, but it came from so many different places that Wilson couldn't focus on any singular blow.

            No, no, I can't die, not now! I need to figure out Maxwell's game, find those damn Doors (what a ridiculous premise, does Maxwell think I'm an idiot?) and I can't do that if I have to start over! Everything is set up so well, I don't want to do this again, I am so TIRED!

            The beefalo huffed and puffed all around him in the pitch black - there were many of them now, many more beyond the one that Wilson had awoken. They stamped the ground and brayed and it rattled Wilson's very bones and he wished he could see something.

            The dogs roared in response, their attention diverted from Wilson, and the beasts turned to focus on each other. Wilson tripped through the fight and took a few more hits along the way, stay up, stay up, and bless God, he found his feet. He took a breath to steady himself, turned bodily away from the sounds of the commotion, and bolted.

            The roars of the beefalo swallowed up the barking of the hounds, but it didn't matter because it was behind him and Wilson shot through the dark.

            Fueled by pure adrenaline, Wilson ran from one danger into the next.

            The dark swirled around him with each step. Ever closer, ever tighter, whispering threats -Wilson, Wilson, come to me - in his ear, that soft and sweet and deceptive voice, and he knew the monster that lived in the dark was about to strike. He made it four more steps and it did, the whispers turned to screams - WILSON! - and fire-pain shot through him as thousands of tiny teeth tore through his skin.

            Wilson heard wailing around him, loud and omnipresent, and he looked up (maybe? it could be down, I'm not sure what is up) as he realized that sound was coming out of his own mouth. Idiot! Light a torch before it kills you! He ripped his pack off his back and plunged one hand into it. Something sliced his palm: a flint-and-steel that he snatched up even as the darkness bit him again.

             He processed that he was limping now, his right leg wasn't working so well anymore: it refused to act like a leg at all and dragged against the ground hard. Pain lit through him with every step but still, Wilson stumbled on. The monster of the night roared as it came for him again. He tried to spark his torch but his hands shook, the earth itself shook in the clamor.

            I'm not going to survive another hit!

            Those fangs nearly ghosted against his skin for a third time but Wilson's torch caught the sparks, at last! and flared alight. The brilliance drove away the teeth and the whispers and the slithering touches of the shadows and that burst of gold and orange - it was the most beautiful thing Wilson had ever seen.

            Wilson collapsed to his knees in a heap of tears and blood; he gasped for air with one hand clutched over his chest, over his thundering heart, and cried.

            The crinkle-pops of the torch still clenched in other his fist calmed Wilson down enough for him to look over his body. Dark patches bloomed all over him, blood, and I'm not sure if it's mine or not but I'm pretty sure most of it is mine, and as Wilson looked up at the sky he noticed it had changed from solid black to a rich cobalt -

            The dawn was coming. The moon had begun to slip down, down under the horizon, and Wilson might be able to make it out of this alive if he didn't fuck around. His head swam with blood loss and his limbs were much too light - he only had a few minutes before he would lose consciousness.

            I have salve. Maybe bandages? But definitely salve. In my bag. The bottom. Always the bottom, damn me!

            He was somehow beside his bag, grabbing his bag, reaching into it, and wasn't paying attention at all when one last hound surged from the darkness behind him.

            Wilson's shaking fingers closed around the jar of salve at the exact same moment that fangs carved through his flesh and into bone, cut into his very soul and Wilson's raw throat drew his attention to the fact that he hadn't yet stopped screaming.

            It heard me screaming -

            He was being lifted by the left shoulder and shaken, back and forth and back and forth. Teeth tore through the meat of his arm like razors and ripped the socket of his shoulder out of place. Wilson focused on the shocking agony and his own rage, the pain at the back of his throat from his own screams. The night reeked with the smell of his own blood and the stink of dogs and beasts and Wilson drowned in his own bitter wrath - I have too much to do, I can't die now, not like this -

            NOT! LIKE! THIS!

            It was the hound's turn to scream, and it did, loud enough that the sheer force flattened Wilson right on his ass. The dog shimmered beneath a thick coat of black flame, burning and screeching as it threw itself on the ground in an attempt to extinguish the blaze, rolled itself furiously in the dirt as it screamed like the very hounds of hell and Wilson was entranced. 

            Something moved at the edge of his vision and Wilson glanced down at himself. Blood was everywhere, the same color as the dawning horizon, all over him and the ground, it darkened his clothes and stuck in his hair and stained his skin, but that wasn't what drew his attention.

            His arms danced with the same black flames that devoured the hound and they were his! They were his fires, his little Manifests, with their tiny threads of ruby shining bright, and they stretched from his fingers and out, out and around the monster, churning rough and wild as the sea and Wilson felt

            pride, wrath, yes, kill it, feel the pain you caused me you forsaken beast! Wretched, God forsaken animal! Suffer and die! Do you see this, Maxwell? You are next, you fucking narcissistic, proud, pretentious, pompous horse’s ass!

            Fire poured forth from Wilson's hands. The inferno raged ever larger and hotter; thick smoke from burning flesh and fur towered into the sky like a chimney extending from hell and enveloped Wilson in its smoke.

            Even as it suffocated him, Wilson reveled in the knowledge that he had caused this particular fire. For once the hot ash in his mouth, the acrid miasma of burning blood was his doing and not Maxwell's, not another beast, he had the power now! The thrill pulsed through Wilson and he knew he was laughing like a maniac but he didn't particularly care, in fact he didn't give a single shit.  

            The hound died with one last piercing shriek while Wilson celebrated in his destruction.

            You bastards try to destroy everything! Come at me in the middle of the night! Maxwell is probably right here somewhere, invisible and laughing his big ugly stupid ass off. But I did it! I'm still here! Burn, burn, burn!

            Wilson hooted and hollered and let his shadows burn until there was nothing of the dog left but ash and bone. The sky was pink now, shot through with streaks of mandarin orange and white like bones tucked into the blood of the heavens. Wilson tried to stay in his own head but he was enthralled with the way the sun spilled over the darkness like a watercolor, dazzling and more vibrant than anything he could ever hope to conjure.

            His little fires, untended as he goggled at the sky, vanished back into his skin like water sucked into dry thirsty dirt, and Wilson had to sit down, so he did, dazed out a little bit as he stared at the sky.

            Oh, I'm still bleeding, aren't I ...?

            Wilson crawled to his pack a few meters away - it had fallen at some point during his celebration - and Wilson looked again for his salve. He managed to come up with the precious jar after too many minutes, and smeared blood on everything in the process, but he had the jar and that was all that mattered. His right glove came off, the fabric tacky with blood and clinging to his skin, but when Wilson pulled his arm free...

            There were no wounds on his arms. There was blood, lots of it, it practically dripped down his elbow and over his knuckles, but there wasn't a single wound on the black skin. When he stroked his other hand over the skin, there was no pain, no sensitivity, no cuts or bites.

            Odd.

            Wilson checked his other arm and found it was the same, bloody but unmarked, not even a scratch. His shoulder wasn't out of socket either, and there wasn't a single tooth mark above his collarbone. He could definitely remember his arm being torn off...

            Very odd. How?

            He removed his vest next, pulled his shirt up to expose his stomach to see if it was also unscathed, but no dice - his chest was crisscrossed with gashes and cuts and a deep puncture wound above his left hip, so deep that Wilson could see the beginnings of his own meat. Likely from a beefalo horn. Every wound began to bleed quite freely without the pressure of clothing to hold it back: the rich red was a hyper contrast against Wilson's deathly pallor and the juxtaposition was enough to snap him back into the present.

            Conjecture vanished into the wind; time was vital and Wilson set his focus on survive. He pulled his filthy shirt over his head; the fabric whispered as Wilson ripped off a few wide strips. His fingers shook as he removed his vest, folded it into a convenient little pad and pressed it over that puncture wound. A strip of shirt-cloth, knotted tight about his waist, would serve to keep it in place. He knotted it tight with trembling hands, tighter, oh fuck that hurts but the bleeding has slowed a lot, I probably won't die from that right now, do I have any other really bad wounds?

            The cuts on his torso, while large and hideous, weren't life-threatening at this moment. Wilson only wiped away the dirt and blood as best as he could, his mind in several different places at once, and applied pressure to allow each wound to clot up.

            The adrenaline was wearing off and pain was beginning to radiate from all over his body, but his right ankle shot through the fugue, stuck out like a thorn. He had to see the damage, but the back of his neck tickled like he was being watched.

            Wilson looked up, took a moment to glance around. Dry grass and rocks stretched out in all directions and his forest peeked through the fog in the distance. There was the sun and the wind and the grass and the bones and ashes of the dead dog (steadily blowing away in said wind) and that was it. And me. Just me. Always just me.

            He was alone. That didn't stop the discomfort that crawled up his back as he pulled his trousers down, loathe to expose himself even alone, half-afraid that Maxwell would melt out of thin air and fuck him right here, it really wouldn't be that far-fetched at this point, would it?

            A thought snagged his consciousness like a hook caught on a log. Maxwell hadn't always been this cruel. In fact, he didn't fuck me until... Time was hard to gauge here and he had no concrete reference point despite his tallies, but Wilson knew that Maxwell's penchant for rape was a more recent development.

            He knew - because he could remember.

            “Maxwell! I’ll do – anything, p-please!” Wilson was shameless in his despair, “St-stop!” This was so unorthodox, so odd - never before had the demon simply outright tortured him unprovoked, without a deal or some other ridiculous -

            The deerclops dropped him, the shadows caught him, and Wilson tried to ignore how his tears stung the cuts on his face. Maxwell loomed above, a rising shadow that cast doubt over any last remaining vestiges of Wilson’s hope. Behind him rose the more insurmountable form of the deerclops, ready to tear Wilson apart at its master's command.

            "Anything?" Maxwell asked.

            “Yyes, yes!”

            No, no, no - Wilson scrambled in his own mind, breathe you dumb asshole, get ahold of yourself, don't let yourself - breathe in, and in, and out, one, two, three...

            Breath by breath, he seized hold of himself, focus on the pain and use it to ground yourself to the present, we know how to do this.

            Focus on the pain. Ah yes, the warm agony that drifted through his consciousness like a swarm of starlings, the gashes on his stomach like hot lines of hellfire... The puncture wound throbbed in time with his heart, pulsed and pounded, his right thigh burned and he couldn't feel anything at all beneath that knee. 

            I need to check my wounds.

            He touched his hands over his thighs and knees to assess the damage. His pants held tight to his skin, heavy with blood, blood that could only be Wilson's. His fingers touched his fly and he paused again, checked around to confirm that he was truly alone.

           With shaking fingers, he slipped the buttons of his fly, peeled his trousers down -

            Oh.

            The sight of the damage broke whatever mental dam was withholding the pain from Wilson's consciousness and he spit out a breath between his teeth. His right leg was mangled from mid-calf down, his shoe still on (and riddled with bite marks) but the flesh above the leather shredded into meat, it looks like ground beef. There was more blood than could possibly be reasonable but Wilson didn't think about it -

            Survive. Clean the dirt away. Put salve on it. Wrap it up tight but not too tight. The dry grass was delightfully real in his hand and Wilson used handfuls of clean grass and more shirt strips to wipe away the blood the best he could before applying the precious ointment. The chill of the salve chased away the sharpest pains and the resulting, pulsing ache was something he could handle right now.

            Wilson ripped another length of cloth from his shirt, then another, and wrapped his right leg until he was satisfied. It would serve for now.

            His left leg hadn’t suffered quite as badly, but deep bites on his thigh and knee still required attention, required energy to clean and wipe and bandage and I’m just so, so tired…

            Wilson put himself back together as much as he could and carefully rose to his feet, recognized instantly that at least several phalanges were broken, from the hooves of the beefalo, no doubt. Standing made lightning bolts of discomfort shoot up his toes and into his spine, made the hole above his hip throb, but he was upright and moving. I will need support, but I can do this.

            His attention wandered, and his sight came to rest on the remains of the hound. Instinct had him creeping forward, heedless of the tiny shocks of pain with each step, and Wilson knelt before he recognized that he was doing so, knelt even though his legs screamed at him for it. His unscathed hands sifted through the cinders, cinders that felt like something and nothing against Wilson's skin, like whispers in the dark. Smooth bone touched against his hands among the feathered grit of carbon, but otherwise nothing, then yes!

            Wilson plucked a red crystal from within the ashes and ignored the jabs of pain as he struggled to stand back up. The gem was warm and comforting in his hand, its color vibrant and bold against the contrast of the dark skin of his hands and arms. It was beautiful, so beautiful that looking at it actually hurt his eyes.

            There will be, hopefully, another gem or two from the other dogs. Wilson tucked the crystal into his pocket and it nestled against his thigh, warm like a secret. He wanted to go and find if there were more of those rubies among the remains of the hounds, but there were more important priorities: He had to get back to camp and get cleaned up proper before infection set in.

            Infection. The mere thought made Wilson's skin shiver - that was one of the worst ways to die, feverish and delirious, shaking with cold and burning with heat, sweating and vomiting and stop thinking about it.

            Survive. I will find the other gems later. They won't go anywhere. He double checked his pockets to ensure that he wasn't missing anything and hobbled a few steps, but the resulting burn in his legs and pain from his broken toes made him stop. I need a support, I can't... I can't walk like this...    

            He looked for a stick or tree but - he was still on the plains, in the dry grass, with nary a tree or sapling in sight. His forest was visible in the distance, and the unfathomable span made Wilson's whole body pulse with hurt.

            I ran really, really far. I can make it back, one step at a time, I can do it. I have poultices and remedies at camp - I can fix this.

            Five steps had him wincing, fifteen steps had him whimpering, and twenty-five steps had him hobbled over, cheeks wet and cold with tears even in the blazing sun and Wilson had to sit down. I'm a tad more busted up than I thought...

            If I don't get back to camp, I will die here. The realization should have scared him, maybe, or at least given him cause for concern but all Wilson could think about was well, it's either do or die. There was no prickle of indecision or anxiety, hanging in the balance, trapped in my own head because I can't just fucking - no, no, calm down. Priority one: get back to camp. I can take breaks if I must, but I cannot stay here. 

            Wilson carefully rose to his feet - his legs protested, screamed and shrieked through his nervous system, but he made another ten steps before he needed to rest. Ten steps closer. Don't be discouraged. 

            It was slow going; each step was harder than the last, a perpetual logarithmic scale of misery. Each breath was more labored, each movement caused more pain. The red of blood was seeping through his carefully wrapped bandages, blooming like roses up and down his torso and legs.

            There was the temptation to look back, to see how far he had come, but no, don't, don't, no need to further upset myself...

            Another twenty steps found Wilson taking short, shivering steps, trying to persuade his heavy legs and useless body to move, move, come on!! The endless grassland spun around him and the goddamn forest loomed in the fog, half a mile away, a million miles away, does it matter?

            It wasn't meant to be - his legs gave out, and Wilson folded to the ground like a house of cards. He couldn't stop the shriek that erupted from his possibly punctured lungs, he didn't really want to stop -

            The blood loss is too much. My motor functions are shutting down. I can... barely...

            Wilson was dying.

            Fuck! If I... if I don't...