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Strange mister comes by their home once, twice, a third time; always greeted by Ana Kuya.

 

Once a fortnight, the children leave with him in the morning, and return giddy, bellies full, endlessly chattering. It’s only Alina that stays behind, widely unpopular with the other orphans, her sickly-looking face the reason everyone keeps away from her.

 

That’s what Malyen had told her, anyway.

 

She watches him through the sole attic window, broken glass letting the cold winter air seep into the room and chill her bones despite the layers she’s wrapped around herself. 

 

The stranger is pretty, beautiful , she thinks, and must be wealthy if the cleanliness of his clothing is anything to go by. Not once has he worn the same thing to the orphanage, and he’s visited so many times that she's lost count on her fingers. 

 

Cane in hand, clean wool, brand new leather; what an oddity to be seen in Shu Han. 

 

As the other children gather around him and trip over their own feet just to get close enough to grab onto his coat with their sticky little hands, Alina waits for them to head off.  She leaves alone on orders to buy vegetables from the small village nearby for dinner, a list shoved into her hands as she heads out back towards the wood’s edge.

 

The rain beats her home, torrential rainfall drenching her in a minute, sky cloudy and the air muggy. Drowned rat, she thinks when she's finally past the front doors, leaking onto the carpet with every inch of skin plastered with wet fabric. She ignores the giggles of the children hanging by the stairs as she passes them to head towards the dining hall, ready to rid herself of the sacks full of food she hauled for an hour.

 

“Mama,” she calls, hoping that one of the women in the kitchen will hear her call and help her with the things she's brought. But instead of hearing the scuffle of soft shoes on the floor and wet hands running through an apron, someone else responds.

 

“I’ve never seen you around.” 

 

The voice rings familiar in her mind. Dark hair and dark eyes are its owner. Her voice has been swallowed and her mind erased. She has no answer for him except the greedy stare of her eyes, passing over the man.

 

“You look cold,” he continues, pausing for a moment like he’s considering what exactly to do about it, and then taking off his own coat to drape across her shoulders. “There.”

 

She shakes her head a moment too late. “I’m wet. Please, take it back before it’s ruined.”

 

“Nonsense. I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold.”

 

She considers taking it off for a moment but silently nods to him in thanks instead and hurries with her things to the kitchen, tripping over the length of his coat the second she’s out of his view.

 

“Child!” Ana Kuya scolds, meeting her to grab what she’s brought in out of her hands. “Where have you been all this time?”

 

She has to bite her tongue from snapping at the older woman. “It’s raining,” she says simply, righting herself on her feet and fixing the coat over her shoulders so it stops dragging.

 

“Fine,” she scoffs. “Go and set the table, will you? And make sure Mr. Morozova gets the good silverware, he’ll be sitting at the head of the table.”

 

“He’ll be joining us?”

 

“I don’t want him walking back in the rain, he already does so much for this place.”

 

A basket full of dishes is shoved into her arms as she’s shooed back into the dinning area, door shut in her face. Morozova is still there, coatless and reading a book that's dwarfed by his hands.

 

“Hello again,” he says into the silence of the room after the first plate has hit the table.

 

She thinks of saying something of substance, a thanks to him for all he’s done for the orphanage, or express excitement for his appearance at dinner, but nothing comes to her.

 

“Hello,” she replies instead.

 

She hears him stand up and put the book down, steps slowly making his way towards her as she sets plates down one after the other. 

 

“You've missed out on a lot,” he tells her. 

 

She doesn’t remember there being any special activities during the day, and can’t imagine what she missed out on while she was gone. “Like what?”

 

“Don’t you know? I take the children out to my stables, let them play around with the animals.”

 

“Doesn’t sound like much fun,” she lies.

 

“Oh?” he pokes. “I think you're being modest.”

 

She is. Extremely so. If he could read her mind he’d know how badly she wished to go on those outings with everyone else. 

 

“I don’t think I would enjoy it.”

 

“And I think I’ll change your mind.”

 

“How can you if I never go to your… farm?”

 

“I’ll drag you there if I have to,” he whispers into her ear, breath cooling the damp skin it finds.

 

She blushes at his nearness. “I should go and get changed before dinner. Excuse me.”

 

She keeps her pace slow and steady as she walks away, hands fisted in her skirt to keep her calm until she reaches the stairs and can run up them two at a time, and rush to her room. She picks the prettiest dress she owns—not much of a decision between three things—and tries to curl her hair with her fingers as it dries in front of the hearth. Watches the thick strands drop all her work minutes later and wonders why she’s trying so hard for a man she hardly knows.

 

By the time she feels as though she’s cleaned up enough by Ana Kuya’s standards, she heads back down through the lower floors and enters the dining hall again, finding it full of people just starting to eat. The only empty seats are around the boys who taunt her, and she thinks she’s better off just eating in the kitchen as usual, but then Mr. Morozova calls her name and waves her over to where he’s sitting, so she goes to him instead.  

 

“I saved you a spot,” he smiles when she’s near, going as far as standing up and pulling the chair out for her. No one sits at the head of the table besides the head mistresses and guests, on occasion. She looks to her mother for permission and Ana Kuya simply nods in acceptance. 

 

She can feel the near-hundred pairs of eyes on her as she sits beside Mr. Morozova. Their whispers spread between them and fall on her ears. It's jealousy; a taste of their own medicine.

 

If Ana Kuya wasn’t watching her intently and making sure the lesson of likeness she’d beat into her were being used, she’d break out into laughter. The kind that makes it impossible to stand straight and wracks your bones, making a person look mad. 

 

So instead she beams with smugness, and almost tears her face when Aleksander asks her, “Wouldn’t you want to meet the mare that’s got hair as white as yours?”

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

He takes only her the next time he comes, leaving behind everyone else to watch her walk off with her arm locked in his until they are gone from view and make it to his home. 

 

It’s palatial, a thing of fairytales, gilded and golden with more rooms than she’s ever seen and glass in so many places she can’t imagine anyone living here comfortably. 

 

The tour he gives her is cut short by her restless feet, tapping on the floors incessantly as he rails off the countries he’s had furniture imported in from. He takes the hint and leads her out back to the stables, animals creating them from their pens as they make their way to his magical mare. 

 

“This,” he says, beaming at the beast in front of them, “is Kisa.”

 

A beautiful beast.

 

“I’ll help you mount her now, since you don’t know how to. But in time you’ll be able to do it on your own.”

 

She nods in understanding as his hands wrap around her waist and lift her like she’s nothing, helping her pull her dress out from under herself so that she can straddle Kisa’s back properly.

 

It’s a weird feeling, being spread so wide like she is, the notches of the horse’s spine causing her discomfort enough that she shifts her hips to try and get the bumps away from where she’s most sensitive.

 

Aleksander must notice her squirming, grips her hard to get her to stop moving. “You need to get used to it.”

 

“It just feels—odd.”

 

“I’ll have Kisa go at a walk, and when she starts moving I want you to move your hips with her.” He clicks his tongue and tightens his grip on the reins. “It’ll ease the feeling. Ready?”

 

“Ready,” she nods.

 

Only a second later is she wanting to quit though. It’s worse than before, the discomfort bordering on pain with every step. She knows he can hear her little huffs as they turn in the smallest circle. She tries to move her hips like he said, matches the pace mare sets, but instead of relief something else washes over her. Forces a gasp out of her.

 

She knows the feeling. A key to a door she has yet to find.

 

Her breaths become pants, as they round the path again, Aleksander no longer holding the reins but continuing with them, occasionally giving out commands to keep Kisa in line. Her legs start to shake and the haze in her mind familiar to the feeling between her legs begins to set in and she—

 

“Stop! I want to get off,” she cries. 

 

Like a moth to a flame his eyes flicker to the hand she has resting against her lower stomach, there to protect her from the wave she almost drowned in, to hide what causes her to flush from the world. 

 

“Is everything alright, Alina?” he asks her slowly, hands back on her and only making her feel worse than she already does. 

 

“Too much,” she pauses to think of a good excuse, “excitement, I think.”

 

He looks at her a bit skeptically, eyebrows raised in distrust, but helps her down anyway. 

 

“Why don’t we take a break in the library,” he offers. 

 

As long as it doesn’t make her burn. 

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

It’s hardly a bruise, the skin not yet discolored but painful all the same.

 

He asks when she raises her hand to push into it a third time.

 

“Are you ill?”

 

Always. Pale no matter the season, thin despite the filling meals, cold and shivering more often than not. Especially now that the weather’s turned awful for the season.

 

No more riding.

 

He’s nice enough to let her continue coming to his home without all the other children in tow.

 

“No,” she tells him. “Just sore.”

 

“Show me.”

 

“It’s here,” she touches again, right above her breast, fingers dancing around the embroidery there. “The boys can be rough sometimes.”

 

“Someone did this to you. Who?”

 

“It doesn't matter now, it’s already been done.”

 

“At least let me see it then.”

 

“It’s alright, really.”

 

Aleksander ignores her rejection and pulls her from her spot beside him into his lap, forcing her to turn towards him so he can prod at the spot himself. 

 

“Here?” he asks, hand hovering over the spot. 

 

She nods at his barely-there touch, unsuspecting of what he does next; pushes down on her with what feels like all his might. 

 

“You're hurting me,” she cries, grabbing onto his wrist and trying to wrench him off. He stops when she starts to dig her nails into his skin. 

 

“But I thought you said you were alright, Alina.”

 

“I didn’t say that it wasn’t painful.”

 

“Let me see?” he asks, and she has half a mind to say no and slip off of his lap, but Ana Kuya gave her a lecture about her behavior last week and she’d hate to receive another one. 

 

Do as he says , she has told her, I won’t have him thinking I’ve raised brats. 

 

“Okay,” she says quietly, the space between them rapidly closing as he pulls at the ties on her top just enough for the neckline to expose the skin abo ur her breast. 

 

He thumbs over the slightly-pinkened skin a few times like he’s waiting for a darker color to expose itself. 

 

“I think you’ll live,” he finally says. 

 

She breathes an exaggerated sigh. “Thank you, Doctor,” she tells him, trying to slide out of his lap. 

 

“I’m not quite done yet.”

 

“Oh, sorry.”

 

“I need to give you some medicine,” his hands come around her, “so that you’ll be sure to heal.”

 

“Of course.”

 

He leans down to kiss the bare skin for half a second, taking longer to re-tie the closure than he spent breathing on her chest. 

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Thank you…” he says expectantly. 

 

“Thank you, Sir.”

 

“You’re welcome to stay, Alina,” he tells her with a glint in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you like that? Don’t you want a night away from that cold, dreadful place?

 

She would, even if Ana Kuya’s wrath scares her sometimes. She’d like to wake up in a warm place. Free of torture.

 

And how could she say no when she finds that an entire room has been set just for her, blankets stuffed with feathers and encased in silk, the plushest bed she's ever felt, all done up in gold.

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

“There must be something I can do around here.”

 

“Really, Alina,” he sighs, “there’s no need to repay me.”

 

But it’s too much for her to take. He’s fed her, given her attention she hasn’t gotten since she was a baby, bought her a new coat too, she has to give something back. 

 

“Just one thing,” she offers. 

 

Aleksander runs his hand down the length of his face, pulls at the fine lines she can tell are starting to grow, and searches the room for something, anything, to give the pleading girl to do. 

 

“The floors,” it’s vague, she doesn’t know which one or all of them, but she nods and heads to the kitchen where she knows there will be rags and brings them back with her. 

 

“Just here,” he tells her, “just this room.”

 

She won’t insist on doing more for him, already dreading the soreness she’ll feel in her wrists and knees by the time she’s done with the massive sitting room. 

 

He takes a seat with a book in hand as she sets her bucket on the far end of the room, intending to first get anything that isn’t encumbered by rug. 

 

The fire’s heat is too much for her clothing-burdened body, sweat starting to dampen the fine hairs that surround her face as she makes her way closer and closer to the mantle. 

 

She doesn’t remember hearing him get up, or the sound of his footsteps when he suddenly arrives behind her as she’s scrubbing the dirt out of tile crevices. 

 

“Alina, you're sweating,” he says as if she doesn’t know it herself, can’t feel it trickling down her spine. 

 

Still, she lies. To please him and to stop bothering him with concern for her. “It's fine,” she tells him, wiping the sweat from her forehead in one quick swipe. 

 

He doesn’t budge from his place. 

 

“It's just us—take off your dress.”

 

Her breath catches at his words.  

 

“You do have a shift underneath?” he asks. 

 

She does, yes, but it’s a flimsy piece of fabric from years ago that’s been washed and rung so many times that it’s nothing more than tissue. 

 

“Here,” he kneels down before her and reaches for her waist, undoing the row of buttons that so securely hold her overdress in place. “I don’t want you ruining this with your soapy hands.”

 

He goes as far to help her out of it, guiding her arms out through the cloth and slipping it away from her body, standing back up to drape it over the chair he takes a seat in once more. 

 

“You can continue,” he tells her, eyes peeking over the edge of his book. 

 

She gets back on her hands and knees and starts scrubbing, praying that the loose fabric doesn’t hang from her body enough for him to see anything, or that her breasts don’t swing when she puts in effort to getting dirts out of the grout, but she's directly in front of the fire now, him opposite to her, and she realizes there’s no point in trying to hide. Even she can see the way the flames make the paper-thin linen glow and cast a shadow on her frame, can see every curve of her body being shown, and Aleksander—Aleksander watches

 

The book has been forgotten in his lap, his reading glasses pushed back atop his head, and he bends over with his elbows on his knees, looking at her unabashedly. 

 

“You missed a spot.” He’s pointing somewhere close to her, but he’s too far away for her to see exactly where it is. 

 

So she points to where she thinks it might be. “Here?”

 

He shakes his head no, “Closer.”

 

She crawls up a little, closer to him, to a section she hasn’t started yet, and he nods, signaling that yes, right there, that’s where I want you. 

 

“Don't stop scrubbing until I tell you to,” he says. 

 

And who is she to not do what the kind man says. 

 

It’s one, invisible spot that she focuses on for so long that she feels like she’s about to wear the tile through, but she doesn't dare stop. 

 

Not even when he gets off his chair to crouch down at her level, out of arm's reach. 

 

“Alina, look at me,” he commands, voice soft but stern. 

 

She does, expecting their eyes to meet, but his are so clearly cast downward when she looks up. She knows what he’s staring at, can feel the air on her chest, the neckline of her shift drooping so low he’s sure to have a clear view. But he told her that she couldn’t stop scrubbing until he said so, and with one hand doing the work and the other supporting her body, she has nothing to shield her breasts from his view. Can only scrub slowly so that they don’t move. 

 

“Yes, Sir?”

 

He moves closer to her, one-half step and then another, and reaches out to brush his knuckles against her bare shoulder, the broken lace that hems the shift, tries the fabric between his fingers. 

 

“Take this off,” he tells her simply. 

 

It’s enough to stop her scrubbing. 

 

“Sir, I—” she

 

“I’ll buy you a new one.”

 

“But,” 

 

He doesn’t waste time in getting the thing off of her, prying it from where it sits folded between her legs and bum, forcing her to raise up as he pulls it over her head. 

 

The warmth of the room isn’t enough to stop her nipple from hardening and the goosebumps that raise on her back. 

 

She’s stuck in place, stunned, shivering in her bloomers. 

 

“Mr. Morozova,” she whispers, voice cracking, hands reaching out to grab for her clothes. He doesn’t let her take it from him, instead stands and balls the fabric into his fist so that it’s out of her reach. 

 

“I never said to stop.”

 

The forgotten rag on the floor is picked back up hesitantly by her. It

 

“You’re very—” Footsteps from down the hall interrupt him, both of their heads whipping the direction they’re coming from. 

 

It’s Ivan that’s heard a second before he’s seen, his booming voice booming off high ceilings. 

 

“Sir, it seems as though Nikolai—,” there’s a clear pause in his voice when he notices Alina by Aleksander’s feet, half naked and on display. She tries not to look at the other man as she swallows a shriek. He clears his throat excessively, so obviously shocked at what he’s walked into and she can feel heat lick up her face. 

 

Aleksander, seemingly unfazed, asks for the other man to continue. 

 

“—Nikolai has arrived earlier than expected. I have him waiting for you.”

 

“I’ll be there,” he tells Ivan, dissing him from the room. And to Alina, “Go home after you’re done, I’ll come for you again when I’m ready.”

 

The water from the bucket runs clear when she dumps it. 

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

She thinks he’s dead, when she comes upon his body. Sprawled out on the carpeted floor like a child tired after a tantrum, he doesn't acknowledge her until she's standing at his side.

 

“I can come back another time, Sir.”

 

“No,” he tells her, blindly reaching out for the hem of her skirt until he meets it. “Come lay down with me, I want to show you something.”

 

She follows the weight that forces her down and settles beside him, careful to leave enough space between them, Ana Kuya’s lessons on how to be a proper lady still haunting her every interaction with Aleksander. Obedient, yet modest.

 

She’s balanced the line well enough, she thinks. 

 

She doesn’t look away from him even once, watches his face as she fixes her skirts under herself and smoothes out her hair, taking the moment to rove over his features while he looks elsewhere.

 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” 

 

She nods. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

 

“It was done by a man named David Kostyk, he came from half-way across the known world to paint this for me.” His hand meets her between them, and immediately she moves to slip out of his grasp, the cold of his fingers a shock. He’s stronger than her though, and affixes her hand in his to point wherever he guides it. “It’s our solar system. The Sun is on that side,” they point to the far left of the room, “and then it’s Mercury, Venus, Mars, and then us: Earth.”

 

Pointed fingers continue down the line as he names the rest off, Alina less interested in his showing off of the mural and more interested in why he didn't greet her at the orphanage as usual.

 

“Will we ride today?” she interrupts.

 

“No.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It’s still too cold out for you.”

 

“I saw some flowers blooming outside.”

 

“No, Alina.”

 

Her disappointment isn’t vocalized. “Then what else should we do?” 

 

He turns to finally look at her properly, hair falling in front of his eyes. “We can get more practice in for you, since you’re adamant about riding.”

 

She doesn't see what could possibly mimic riding in the house, but nods anyway, glad to be free of counting the stars.

 

“Up then,” he tells her, tapping on her thigh, “on your knees.”

 

She obeys, turning over to push off her hands and rise on her knees, stopping along the way to correct her skirt around her. His hands don’t leave her once she’s upright though, they find the ends of her dress and work their way through the fabric, reaching under it and running over the skin they find.

 

“Is this part of the lesson?” she gasps as she feels him graze too close to her cunt.

 

“Did you forget to wear something today?”

 

Not on purpose. It's started to get warm out again, and less clothing to clean leaves her time for everything else. 

 

She starts to tell him no, shake her head above him too, but he doesn't see her doing it. He’s slipped himself under her dress, mouthing at her skin. 

 

“Bring this knee here now,” he’s pulling her until she touches his side, thighs spread uncomfortably far in his presence. “Put it on this side of me.”

 

Her things start to burn as they're fixed over his chest. She forces her hands to clutch at herself, afraid she’ll go for his hair, his shoulders. 

 

“Not quite there yet, milaya, a bit higher.”

 

His voice is comically muffled as her orders her around, his hands up on her ass now, slowly pushing her forward, towards his—

 

“Sir!” she half-shrieks, embarrassed by the insinuation that she should hover directly over his face, or even worse—rest on it.

 

He pulls himself out from under the stuffy fabric. “You said you wanted to practice, hmm?’

 

“Yes, but—”

 

“You know that I hate it when you whine about riding Kisa without a saddle.”

 

She understands when he says that. That she’s to treat him like he were… and she was… 

 

There are no doors in the room to mask her squeal once he manages to get her to sit, the little nub she knows brings please resting on his nose, the unused hole over his mouth.

 

It’s obvious that he truly wants her to ride, his hands coming around her hips to mimic the same rocking motion he taught her the first time he ever got her onto a horse. 

 

She must admit it feels good; much better than riding Kisa, much better than anything she's known. She lets her spine arch towards the sky, much more than he’s taught her too, and uses the floor to brace herself against, fingers curling against the marble when his nose hits her in just the right way. 

 

It’s easy, natural even, when she takes over and he no longer needs to grip at her waist like he’s tethering her down. His free hands wander the path up and down her legs in time to her rocking, and the usual hum of energy that she feels whenever she’s around him rises in her again. She cries out from the build of it, feeling herself flush with heat and shame, chasing the feeling without regard to the man beneath her.

 

She can’t figure out why her body feels so light all of a sudden, like she's floating around in a void. Her ears go quiet and she can no longer focus on herself, her movements. It's just her and the air and the hum beneath her. Aleksander, she realizes. It’s him that’s singing to her.

 

His hair serves as the imaginary reins when the bubble is burst and she comes. No longer able to hold herself up and reduced to a shuddering, shaking thing. Aleksander comes out from under her to hold her against him as she comes down, as she catches her breath and wipes the sweat-stuck fly-aways from her face.

 

“If you can show me the bloomed flowers,” he whispers after she's whole again, “I’ll let you ride a real horse.”

 

The rain washes them away before she can.

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

“You look as wild as Kisa,” he booms, scaring her away from the library walls.

 

He approaches her with a stagger in his step she’s never seen before, tips her head back when he’s reached her. 

 

“Found my books, have you?”

 

“Sorry, Sir. You have quite the collection.”

 

“Do I?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Well,” he says, curling a loose strand of hair around his finger, “feel free to take whatever you like.”

 

“You wouldn’t mind if I took some?”

 

“Not at all. I think it would be beneficial.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“But come now so I can braid your hair.”

 

She sets the books on a nearby table and follows his lead to his great armchair, confused as to where she’ll sit when he takes up the whole seat, legs spread to both edges. 

 

“Sit down,” he says, nodding to the floor. 

 

She raises a brow at his behavior, out of place just enough for her to question it, but takes a seat between his legs nonetheless. His fingers pull at hair that she can admit is a little messy, but not enough to garner the sharp tugs at her scalp.

 

She holds in yelps, not wanting to offend him.

 

“I miss Kisa,” she says suddenly, and then immediately regrets it. She knows why she can’t see her old friend, he’s made it clear already. 

 

But he doesn’t chastise her, to her surprise. “I’m sure Kisa misses you too.”

 

She can see the beast in her mind, the stark white fur with the pretty golden saddle that was made for them both. She thinks she’s probably sniffing around her things wondering where she’s gone, talking to all the other animal’s about it too. 

 

“How are the lambs?”

 

“No longer lambs, I’m afraid.”

 

“And the puppies?” She turns to him with wide eyes. “Surely we can bring them in. They're so small.”

 

“The puppies are all grown too, Alina. You’re the only small thing left and I intend to keep you inside.” 

 

She huffs at the loss of her only friends.

 

“All done,” he finally says, helping her turn to him with hands on her shoulders and tucking away the last few strands around her face that managed to slip away from him. 

 

“Perhaps I'll bring you a kitten.”

 

Her eyes light up and he chuckles. 

 

“Only if you’re good though.”

 

“I’ll be good,” she promises. 

 

His thumb runs over her bottom lip, heavy enough to pull it open, to find its way onto the hollow of her tongue. She’s done this before, knows what he’s waiting for.

 

Sucks before he can ask her to, keeps her teeth from biting on him.

 

“The kittens will be good practice for you,” he murmurs. “Teach you how to take care of delicate, whiny things.”

 

His free hand undoes the buttons of his trousers, slipping them free and spreading the fabric as wide as it’ll go, pulling it down just enough for him to pull his cock out. 

 

Almost all of his skin has always been hidden from her, she realizes. Never a single thing out of place on him and now—

 

“Kiss me,” he commands, so she rises on her knees to answer, tries to anyway, before he’s guiding her back down to where she was. “Not there, Alinochka.”

 

The thing he’s running his hand over then, something she knows has a place inside her but looks too big, too much. Surely she isn’t that empty inside. 

 

“Just the tip of it.”

 

She waits for him to slip his tongue out from her mouth, follows the trail of spit between them with her eyes. 

 

He’s not cold there like he is everywhere else. It’s almost too hot, slick with more than just her wet lips, and for a moment she thinks she can feel his heartbeat from this one small spot where they're connected. 

 

“Good girl,” he pets. “Kiss me again.”

 

Without thinking, she steadies herself with hands on his thighs and kisses him again, darting out her tongue just moment before she pulls back, curious of what’s there that isn't hers.

 

Their eyes meet as she processes the salty, acerbic taste of him. 

 

“Open your mouth for me.”

 

She lets her jaw fall open and holds back the ‘ahh’ that tries to fall out as she does. She expects him to do something, to force his fingers back in, to lean down and kiss her on the lips. She wishes more than anything that he would just bend down and kiss her. 

 

But he just watches her from above with his dark, secretive eyes, and strokes himself in front of her as she watches.

 

“What else,” she asks quietly, afraid she’s broken some unspoken rule. “Sir?”

 

“Come forward,” he tells her, but doesn't give her the opportunity to do so on her own. Pulling her forward by her chin until she's so close to him that even the turn of her cheek isn't enough to keep them from touching.

 

“Should I get you a white one?” he asks her.

 

“A white what?”

 

“Kitten, silly girl. To match Kisa.”

 

“Yes. Yes, please.” She can see the tiny thing trotting around her feet now, maybe she would be able to find a gold ribbon to tie around its neck so it could really match Kisa.

 

“Then be a good girl for me.”

 

She nods fervently, ready to do whatever he asks of her. 

 

Even if it's accepting the heat of him past her lips and tongue, too far, farther than his fingers have gone, far enough to make her choke a little.

 

His fist wraps around her freshly made hair, tight up to the roots, so that when he moves, she moves. “Relax,” he tells her. “It’ll feel better if you do.”

 

But she can’t find the rhythm of her breaths, thrown off by the pattern of which he has her head moving up and down the length of him, closes her eyes instead and holds her breath like she does at the lake until her lungs burn and she has to take in air again, only to choke on what she doesn't have.

 

More of that almost-tasteless nothing hits her tongue, squeezes into whatever space she’s got left in her mouth and when it runs out, spills past her lips. Even when he’s pulled out and catches what remains around her mouth, she swallows on instinct.

 

“Fuck,” he lets out, and she can’t help but gasp at the vulgarity. She’s heard him yell, seen him knock things over in anger, but he's never done it knowing that she was there to witness it.

 

“Was I good?” she asks once he’s caught his breath and can lift his head off the back of his chair.

 

“The very best.”

 

𓇬𓇬𓇬

 

She couldn’t say why he had asked her to bring the equipment that he had asked her to clean to his room, but the promise of getting to ride again for the first time since the cold season has her willing to do anything he asks.

 

Even if it's strange that he undresses her. Has her lay back on his bed. Puts the cleaned bit in her mouth to gag her.

 

He’s flicked her hands out of the way enough times for her to understand she needs to keep them away, but the shock of the riding crop against her cunt comes as a surprise every time. There is no pattern to it, no reason, the strikes come soft and come hard and leave her writhing on the bed. 

 

She tries to think of anything other than what’s happening right now, the sound of Kisa’s hooves beating on the ground, the heavy rain’s pitter-patter against the window panes, the new horse he said he’d get for her if she was good for him. A pony , he had said. 

 

She really wants a pony. 

 

The next strike is the worst one yet, catching her clit and making her cry out, her hands flying for the end of the crop to stop him from the next hit. 

 

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’m done,” he tells her, and pulls her thighs wide, enough for him to settle in between. She thinks she’s free, now at the good part, the part that feels better than riding Kisa without a saddle through the woods, until Aleksander continues. “With that end, anyway.”

 

The crop is turned in his hand and the handle dips into his mouth, the shape of it pushing against his cheeks. He takes his time with it so that when it’s pulled out it glistens in the light. 

 

“You can come if you want to,” he says, running the handle up her slit a few times before pushing it in, waiting for her gasp to turn into a whimper to stop. He watches her from above, the chandelier framing his head like a crown, the person she calls god when he’s fucking the crop into her faster than he’s ever done with his own fingers. 

 

“Do you want to come?” he asks her, voice pitched, feigning sweetness. She nods erratically, feeling her peak rush towards her. 

 

“Your words, Alina.”

 

She chokes a little around the bit, spit dripping down her chin and onto her chest as she struggles to form the word yes. It comes out clear enough despite her impediment, to her own ears, at least. 

 

“I’m sorry?” he asks, pretending he can’t understand her. She groans and knocks her head into him, a small retaliation, and pulls the riding crop out of her because of it. Uses the whip’s end so it gets her wherever she has flesh—her breasts, the sides of her thighs, the soles of her feet—it's enough to ruin the rhythm she had going, her impending orgasm starting to recede.

 

When the tears start to come he let's up on her, retreats to just petting her softly as she tries to come. “Lemme come,” she starts to beg, doesn’t care about the mess she can feel herself making, the unintelligible words, “lemme come, lemme come.”

 

He looks expressionless as he watches her, the two of them staring at one another as she moves towards him, shifting herself until his thigh is between her legs and her clit rubs against the wool of his pants. It isn’t until she gets the idea to reach up towards his bare neck, to wrap her fingers around it, that his eyes flutter shut for a moment she thinks she can get off like this.

 

She’s so close when he pulls away from her completely, face pulled into a smile that shows his teeth. He throws the crop in along with the other things and pulls the bit from her mouth.

 

“We’ll ride to the orphanage today,” he tells her as he helps her back into her dress, “I need to speak with Ana Kuya. I’m sure she’d be happy to have one less mouth to feed.”