Hiiiiii my lovelies! I’m so, so sorry for the delay. I hope none of you guys wandered off in the meantime. That said, the chapter is here. It’s not as long as I would have liked it to be, and perhaps it won’t be what most of you expected it would, but…oh, I’ll shut up now. Happy readings.
CHAPTER VI – FIRE AND ICE: PART II
In which…oh, you know. It’s that chapter.
Valerie woke up. One of the few upsides of having done that so often in the past days was that there was no lag in her mental processes or confusion about where she was. She immediately knew what was going on, resented it just as quickly, and went on with her reassessment of status and surroundings without missing a beat. Cold – biting, all-encompassing cold – was the first thing her senses registered. The second was that she wasn’t standing but lying down in a depression on the floor, which was a relief, but she quickly understood that giving her a minor reprieve wasn’t the reason why they had positioned her like that.
There had to have been more buckets while she was unconscious because she was lying in water. Not covered in it – it went past her ears and hugged her temples, but her nose and mouth were well above it, so she could still breathe. Seeing was a bit more taxing because of the freezing mist that wafted through the cell. It floated down on her, settling on her eyes and making them water. She quickly closed them, not wanting the cold to burn them out.
The water was also freezing. She could see the beginnings of what would undoubtedly be a layer of ice in an hour or so form around her paralyzed limbs. They had given her something, some poison that kept her from moving and prevented her from reusing her previous method of knocking herself unconscious. As much as it irked her, it seemed she would have to withstand it until she fell asleep naturally. She couldn’t imagine it would be too hard. In the past seventy years, her body had been submitted to more physical torment than anyone alive, and beaten up more often than half a thousand piñatas. It wasn’t even the first time she had to face temperatures below zero. There had been that thing in Norway, and that other when she had been locked in a freezer, and Siberia, and…
When she was little, Valerie had been prone to daydreaming. She was friendless, and life was dull, so she would sit in her father’s library and look upon the map of the many worlds that covered the western wall in its entirety. Then, she would focus on one part of it, one place and name of a place, and relocate herself. Her body would remain seated at the table, and she would blink and breathe and give monosyllabic answers if anybody happened to pass by, but in her mind, she would be far away, unshackled from flesh, running over purple and yellow plains and swimming in seas of foam.
She didn’t need to know much about the places she journeyed to, only their names and locations and what those suggested, but had strived to learn. The fact that she would be found hunched over a thick geography book just as often as she was staring into space had been the only reason why nobody had thought her simple in addition to crippled. Then, she had grown up a little, made a friend, and suddenly life outside the dream world had turned out to be just as fun as her travels, so she had stopped visiting it as often. However, the ability, the compulsion to detach herself from her form, had never gone away. It had remained at the back of her mind, ready to be summoned.
She was doing it now.
There were rules, of course. Even when she was away, her body still held some power, so there had to be parallels between reality and dream. She couldn’t imagine herself in a desert or on a tropical beach because her senses would betray her lie. So she thought about a place where it was freezing but that wasn’t her freezing cell, where she was just as uncomfortable but never helpless, where…
She was lying in water, and her body felt numb. Before, it had felt as if a million billion spears were piercing it, but no more. She had gone beyond the edge of coldness and into the limbo where it was freezing so badly that the water was like a warm blanket. A wave went over her head, and if her tongue were able to discern flavors in its frozen state, she would have tasted salt. Her fingers were so stiff she believed they’d break if she attempted to flex them. Her legs two useless weights.
She looked up and squinted at the bulwark of the ship she was clinging to by a rope. Something moved on the upper deck – she could see its shade in the water, dancing around the floating blocks of ice. Then, she heard it. A scream – loud, piercing, and frightened – the sound of heavy boots stamping on wood, sharp words exchanged in barashnik, a gunshot…and that was her cue to go up, so she did, trusting that the heat of the upcoming fight would banish the cold for good.
It was the fifth of September of ’73. She was on a slave ship headed for the gate of the Barents Sea, and that was a memory, not a construct of her feeble mind. She had won then. She had returned more than two hundred souls to shore and fed their jailers to the depths of the arctic after a short battle. This time around, she forced the fighting to go on. One of the sailors would be thrown overboard, and another would emerge to engage her, and she would battle that one too, never tiring, never giving up, feeling as alive and happy as she’d ever been.
Far below the clouds, in a cell as chilly as her dream, a tear remained captured in the corner of her eye and slowly began to freeze.
Nick had said he had business in town, so Jack had dropped him off at the end of the boulevard and watched him stagger towards the nearest club with no regrets at all. At least, that would get him out of his hair for the time being. Nick had emptied half of the bottle of wine they’d left in the car, allegedly because he needed to relax after all the ‘freakiness’ they had experienced, and had already been halfway to the point where his drunken antics stopped being even mildly amusing.
The business that required his attendance would be remarkably less pleasant but nonetheless unavoidable. He drove through the sprawling network of roads until he reached the main entrance of his aunt’s home – his now, he supposed. It blended in well with the French-colonial architecture that surrounded it although it had been built only a few decades ago. The security cameras poised on the walls and the fingerprint-sensitive lock were both very XXII century though. He spotted Axis leaning on the gate, parked the car, and approached him. He steeled himself for what he knew could only be bad news. The building stood where he’d left it, so it wouldn’t be too serious, but still.
“She wants to talk to you.” Was the first thing out of the man’s mouth, and the first thought to enter his mind was ‘It’s a scheme of some kind’ because that was all it could be. It had barely been half a day, which was nowhere near enough to convince someone like Valeriana to capitulate unless there happened to be a catch. “Says there are important matters you two need to discuss.”
“Of course there are. Have you checked her dampeners every hour?” Axis gave him a sharp nod. “And monitored her cell nonstop?” He started to nod again, but stopped midway and frowned.
“Cell? But she’s in a…ah, wait. I’m not talking about Redmont. I’m talking about your aunt.”
“Her? What does she want?” Aunt Briseis was about the last person on the planet he would expect to want to say anything to him. Despite being family, he could only recall meeting her in person once or twice in a non-combative context, which was no fertile breeding ground for closeness. On top of that, she had slaughtered a relative he did care about –
Still alive, dears, still alive…
- and been paramount in making Valeriana disregard years of shared memories in favor of a life of endless fighting for a species that did not deserve her efforts. One of those would suffice to ensure she had his dislike, but together they coalesced into something which hatred was too kind a word for. Wanting to beg for her life would also not be the reason why she had called for him, that would be a show of weakness. If both of his aunts shared a quirk of character, it would be that extracting blood from a stone would be easier than convincing them to cast aside their pride.
“She didn’t say.” Shaking his head, he went inside. Aunt Briseis was being kept in the basement. It being the basement of a place that had belonged to his other aunt, escaping from it wasn’t a task to take lightly. There were armed sentinels stationed around each corner, thick crisscrossing iron bars covering every window and wall, and almost as many security cameras.
Still, he was under the impression all that was a waste of resources when it came to containing the woman. So far, she hadn’t tried to escape once or exhibited resistance that didn’t reek of affectation. If anything, she seemed satisfied with her current predicament, something which he would have found more puzzling if he weren’t aware of her history and beliefs. If she was willing to be sentenced and lose her head because she wished to make a point, so be it. He doubted anyone besides her pet humans would miss her much.
Well, Valeriana would. She had become unreasonably attached to the old cow, but that too would change soon enough.
“Aunt Briseis.” The woman looked up, not the slightest bit startled by his sudden appearance, although he had taken care to not make his approach audible. She straightened herself and ambled towards the front of the cage. “I’m told you wished to speak to me?”
“I do.” How she managed to sound so high and mighty even with half of her face smashed was beyond him.
“And?” He waited while she paused as if to compose her thoughts. Another needless affectation, to be sure. She would have researched her speech at least a dozen times even before asking for him.
“It’s about Valerie.” That wasn’t entirely unexpected, since it usually was. It was the only subject they had in common, seeing as she wasn’t prone to wasting words on complaints about him looking pale and needing to eat better or other aunt-like things. “I’ve heard you managed to capture her.”
“I hope you know that I happen to love that girl as if she were my own, and I will be extremely disappointed in you if you treat her poorly.” Damn her if she didn’t sound like an aunt just now. One of those annoyingly overbearing aunts who made sure everybody’s business was their business and never refused a chance to stick their noses into it. He was half expecting her to start tsking him as if he were three years old or complain about her cat’s flatulence. “Don’t hurt her, Jack. I mean it.”
“I have no intention of hurting her unless she presses the issue.” Which she would. It never ceased to irritate him how unable she was of looking at two options and picking the reasonable, painless one. Still, in a way, he was grateful for aunt Briseis’ influence on her. He too had changed in the last century or so, and although he would always remember her fondly, he doubted that the person Valeriana had been would hold much interest for him now. The thing he had loved the most about her back then was her potential to do, to be so much more, and having seen that potential realized, there was no way of not looking at that girl in his past as an inferior, incomplete model. Of course, the current one had some kinks that needed to be ironed out, but he had every intention of keeping her as intact as possible. “So far, she has been nothing but spiteful and difficult.”
“She is entitled to be both. You haven’t exactly been a gentleman to her, my dear nephew.”
“Only because she seems to have forgotten how to be a lady.” And that had come naturally to her, while he had needed to teach himself to be less than correct.
It had started with their first fight, which he could recall with perfect clarity. Back then, he was still set on being reasonable – on talking and trying to subdue her with words instead of violence. She either hadn’t been able to or refused to understand and kept pushing back until he had snapped and hit her. He hadn’t made a conscious decision to do it. She had challenged him, and his hand had reacted before the rest of him did. But then something had seemed to flip in his brain, and suddenly they were fighting in earnest, all pretenses of civility put aside, every instinct that told him he needed to protect her restrained.
After that, it had become…easier. Easier to look at her and have the proper responses to facing an enemy superimpose what would have been his usual ones. Easier to punch her in the face or kick her off a building and resist the temptation of running towards her and comforting her as soon as he registered that she’d been hurt. Easier to not care if she cried or screamed and cursed him.
And then more time had passed, and it hadn’t become easier, but easy, period.
“You love her too, don’t you?” his aunt asked, interrupting his train of thought. He scowled, because that was a low shot, even if it had missed the target in that particular instance. True, he loved her, and he knew it was the real thing because, like Nick had been kind enough to remind him, there had been so many women after her but not a single one that came close to replacing her. He had also loved her for so long that the flames inside him now burned cold and blue, allowing him to be pragmatic about his feelings. Since they currently interfered with his goal – possessing the person to which they applied – bottling them up was the logical thing to do. He shook his head and told his aunt exactly that. “So you will destroy her so that you can have her. I can’t help but think that sounds counterproductive.”
“I wouldn’t destroy her. She’s stronger than that,” he replied, with absolute conviction. Even in her weakest moments, he had always thought her strong, but only after seeing what time and having a cause to fight for did with her had he realized just how much. That was one of the parts he intended to keep. The masochistic self-righteousness he could do without. “I don’t even intend to change her. Just the way she thinks about some things.” Things he had tried to explain to her in the past, only to have his words thrown back with venom. This time, he’d make her listen. Understand.
“Your thoughts are what you are, Jack. You can’t change one part without changing the whole.”
“Very philosophical. Is that everything you wished to say, or is there more?” She said nothing, only stared at him with disgusted reproach. It irked him because it was exactly the same look that Valeriana would direct at him in the first stages of their budding enmity. He supposed that answered the question of where she had learned it. “This is partially your fault too, you know? I wouldn’t have to be so rough with her if you hadn’t brainwashed her into thinking your way.”
“Oh,” she said quietly, “it is my fault, yes. More than you know. But I’ll never apologize for guiding her when she discovered the light – because yes, she managed that on her own, and guide was all I did. The fact that she’s hurting…that she’s been hurting for so long…the blame of that rests squarely on your shoulders. She truly loved you, you know? And you were such a disappointment.
Jack took another step towards the cage before he could stop himself, his eyes narrowed to slits. He could spot no insincerity, no wavering in her tone, but he knew she was lying with every tooth she had. Not about Valeriana being disappointed in him, for he also knew full well that not being able to give her what she had wanted was by far the worst thing he’d ever done to her. Undoubtedly she had been hurt by his refusal, just as he had bled internally the hundred thousand times he had asked her to stand by his side and she had called him insane and repeated no, no, no. But she had never loved him. Even when they were younger and at peace with each other, she had never given him a sign that she felt more for him than friendliness mixed with filial affection.
“Jack,” his aunt said, her voice suddenly growing soft. He sensed another deception coming. “After what happened in Riverside, she couldn’t keep her eyes dry for a month because she missed you. Because losing what you two had, what you can still have, crushed her, so be kind to that girl. It’s the best shot you will get at having her in any way that matters.
“Kindness never got me anywhere with her,” he spat, because it was true. He had been nice, and the gods knew how hard that was for him, but somehow she had made it seem like the simplest thing in the world. He had supported her the best he could and laughed at her jokes even though back then she had yet to master wit. He’d even tolerated her shrewish sisters and boor of a father. He had been her best friend, and the fact that he had been her only friend didn’t detract from that. In the end, she had still spurned him for the most inane reason of all. “And I will have her no matter what.”
“Then you will disappoint her again and hurt her more than you ever did before, and before you know it, every one of your hopes will turn into impossibility.” That was when Jack knew he had enough of the woman for the rest of his lifetime. “I’m begging you. Think this through before you…”
“Goodbye, Aunt Briseis. I’ll see you at the trial.”
“This, girl, is a Mauser. You hold it like this, and then you shoot it like this.” The loud bang came close to making Valeriana fall backwards in shock. Instead she let out a loud, startled ‘Eeep!” and jumped away from the woman. Not far enough for her to not be able to throw her the weapon, though, which she did with an idle gesture. “Try it yourself, now. Doesn’t matter where you point it, as long it’s not at you or me, I just want you to get used to the sound and feel of it. We can’t have you acting like a scalded cat every single time you hear a gunshot.”
“Al…alright.” She picked the thing up gingerly and examined it, being careful to keep her fingers away from the trigger. Firearms weren’t uncommon in her world, but most of them were designed to be used when you were in your true form, and as such, looked nothing like the one she held. She mentioned it to the woman while she turned it this way or another, gaining herself time to amass the courage she required to actually fire it. Jack’s aunt nodded in agreement.
“True. You won’t be using those a lot, I’m afraid. Switching to your true form when you are not fighting or behind closed doors may be frowned upon back in the homelands, but up here, it’s downright dangerous. I don’t know how familiar you are with the workings of the Great Divide, but nowadays it only prevents the discovery of artifacts or texts relating to our kind, and even so, only of those that existed in the time it was cast. The general mind wipe was done only once and never intended to be something maintained through the centuries. If you call attention to us, let a human see you in your true form…well, nobody else may take him seriously, but it still isn’t worth the risk. In other words, don’t do it unless you absolutely have no other choice.”
Valeriana gave her a faint, embarrassed smile. So she didn’t know. She shouldn’t be too surprised, of course. If the woman hadn’t been in contact with others from Barashi, if she had even showed confusion upon being told about her own nephew, then it was unlikely that she’d be aware of it.
“That…well, that won’t be a problem. See, I don’t have a true form.”
“What do you mean, you don’t? You are Tsikalayan.”
“Yes, I…I know. But I still don’t have one. Or just can’t switch to it. Same thing, really. ” The woman frowned at her, seemed to be about to say something, seemed to change her mind and seemed to change it back. After a play’s worth of emotions had traveled over her face, she asked at last:
“I don’t wish to pry or be offending, but this can be important. Are you full-blooded?”
“Full-blooded?” She frowned at the term, not quite comprehending it. “As opposed to what?”
“As opposed to mixed with something else. I know your last name is Lazur, so…is your mother Barashi-born, or anything of the like?”
“What? No! She is…was Tsikalayan. Just like I am.”
“Was she in the habit of taking lovers not of her own kind?” That one nearly made her sputter with indignation. What? Nobody with any sense of self-respect would do that, though that probably wasn’t a wise thing to say in her present company, and she knew from things Tessalia had told her that her mother had always been faithful and without fault. Suggesting otherwise was just preposterous, and ridiculous, considering she looked just like the twins and both of them were their father’s spitting image. But of course, the woman couldn’t know that either. “I take it the answer is no. And as I said, I am not deliberately trying to be insulting. It’s just that my Chloe lacked a true form too, and that could be a possible explanation for…” No. That train of thought had to be stopped.
“I can shift some things. My teeth. My nails. I can make them sharper if I want to. Could your daughter do that?” The woman slowly shook her head. “There is that, then.”
“It could also be some kind of shape-lock. Sometimes they aren’t strong enough to hold everything back. But since those are impossible to undo, I suppose it’s useless to wonder.” She gave her a stiff nod, still seething a little. “Valerie, I had to ask. You could be half Skara for all I know, and it pays off to be aware of these things in advance.” Valeriana sighed, defeated by logic but still angry. It was all very well and understandable, but nobody could expect to just accept having his or her parentage put in doubt. And then there was the name thing. It was the second time the woman called her that.
“Fine. And, uhm, my name is Valeriana. Not Valerie.”
“Yes, I do know that. It’s a shortening. What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing, I just…”
“Besides, Valeriana sounds like the name of a somber old matron who spends all her time drinking absinthe and pretending she is too above it all to care about other people’s lives. Or perhaps that was just that other Valeriana I knew. Though she could have been a Victoria, now that I think about it.”
“I thought it sounded like a poisonous herb,” she said, not caring if she sounded sulky.
“Oh yes, it sounds like that too. That’s just twice as much reason why you should change it to something that fits you better, now that you will have to drop your surname one way or another.” Valeriana blinked, wondering what the woman was talking about now. She took notice of her confusion and slapped her forehead. “Oh, of course you wouldn’t know, this being your first banishment and such. Still, I would have expected it to be common sense. Things may have changed since my time, but I don’t believe it has become possible to kill the mate your father chose for you and flee the bloody world without ending up disowned in the process. By law – if you care to obey it, that is – you have lost the right to use your family’s name.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice tiny and weak. Yes, that was indeed what her father would do, and having to hear it like that hurt more than expected. “I guess I’ll have to think about something, then.”
“Useful tip: if you pick something with a ‘ch’ sound in it, replace it with a k. If you chose something with an s, replace with x. It just sounds so much more intimidating that way. And you will want to seem intimidating when dealing with some of the people we will be dealing with.”
“You will also be wanting to drop the uhming. It makes you sound insecure.”
“But I, uhm…sorry…I am insecure. Well, often. Most of the time.” The woman heaved a sigh.
“That’s no reason to let other people see it. Now, are you going to shoot today or not?”
Valeriana nodded, and aimed clumsily at one of the metal canisters in front of her. She sneaked a look at the woman through the corner of her eye and saw her lips pursed in disapproval. Realizing what her mistake had been, she pointed the handgun at the pile of wood and debris instead. That way there was no chance of the bullet ricocheting, she reasoned. This time the woman seemed to approve of her choice of target. Taking a long, deep breath, she pressed the trigger.
“Eeeek!” she exclaimed, dropping the gun at once and covering her ears before the bullet was even out of the barrel. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, let me try again.”
“Take your time,” the woman said, quietly adding: “We have a long, long day ahead of us.”
The cell door opened with a creak. Even though he had checked the security cams before coming down, Jack took a step backwards because there was always the chance that Valeriana had managed to pull something with them. There were very few things he would put past her after everything that had happened in Westmont. Underestimating her and treating her as if she were anything less than armed to her teeth at all times was a mistake he would be loath to commit again.
He scanned the cell with his eyes before walking in, determining if she was still where he had left her the last time he had doused her with water. The air inside the cramped space looked as if it were covered with a white film, and the heat of his breath condensed when he exhaled, fogging his vision. Nevertheless, he was still able to make out the contours of her shape, lying in the shallow depression. She wasn’t moving, not that he had counted on her being capable of that after the first few hours.
He closed the door and kneeled next to her, grimacing. She didn’t seem to be conscious, but seeming guaranteed nothing. He used his fists to break the layer or ice that encased her, hitting the cold water underneath, and lifted her up to examine the damage that had been done so far. Her skin felt both unnaturally rigid and worryingly tender. He had counted on the first, but not the later. The purple and blue blotches that covered her face and arms were even more disturbing to him. They couldn’t have all formed in the past few seconds, and if they were any older, her healing factor should have taken care of them by now.
If her state and the low temperature were retarding the healing somehow – which he had never known to happen, but with her, anything was possible – then he ought to put a stop to the whole thing before he harmed her irreparably. He wouldn’t actually do it until he knew for sure that something was wrong, though. The chance of it being a trick was still too high to rule out. So he kept holding her, occasionally stopping to rub the side of her neck and searching her face for any sign of life. When he found nothing – not that that meant a thing, she was quite capable of putting on a façade of being asleep – he checked her pulse to see if its racing betrayed what her features refused to express, and stopped dead.
There was nothing. No blood beating under his thumb, no quickening of the flow when he pressed down. He stared at her again, refusing to acknowledge what reality was telling him. No. No, it couldn’t be. He hadn’t gone through so much trouble to finally get her, only to lose her like this. The only thing stopping him from switching to full-blown panic was the sense of familiarity the whole situation had. He still had the image of her sputtering blood and twitching on the floor of her home etched in his brain. This could be nothing but a more elaborate version of the same ploy.
There was only one way to know for sure.
He had brought the askara dagger he had taken from her with him, because he had counted on waking her and using it as a means to intimidate her. Now he was using it to slice his palm from side to side because Valeriana believed herself to be much more creative and far better at keeping secrets than she was, and because he’d be damned if he allowed her to trick him into removing the dampeners again. He cut her too, although a little more artfully – askara was one of the very few things capable of leaving a mark that could only be healed by time, and he had no wish of ruining her skin with sloppy slashes – and pressed his hand down on her shoulder.
She jolted forward at the contact and Jack grinned, convinced that he’d exposed her attempt for what it was, but there was no sign of life in her eyes. They weren’t even staring ahead, just open and looking at nothing. He brought his hand down again, and again she jerked at the contact. This time it was obvious that wherever her mind had wandered too, the body he held wasn’t currently hosting it. It simply responded to the change in pressure, though that made him wonder why the dagger hadn’t brought forth a similar reaction, until it hit him. It wasn’t the pain he had to be causing her – she would be so used to that that any impulse to react to it would be either burned out or too subdued to come forward – but the temperature. She was cold, freezing, so the warmth of his hand would feel like a scorching iron in contrast.
Still, hurting her was a necessary evil that he was more than prepared to commit. He pressed harder. There was a trick to it, he knew. It wasn’t simply a matter of willing her body to heal, otherwise the technique would have been discovered a whole lot sooner. It was about inclusion, everyone being equal and part of a whole, and other soppy new age nonsense that no other Tsikalayan in his right mind would have thought about. Still, once something became known as possible, it became just as easy to imitate if you put your own personal spin on it.
You are mine, he told her in thoughts, wondering if she would be able to understand him now that they were connected. You are mine, and I will never allow you to die. Never.
When he started feeling her pulse again, it didn’t came as a surprise, but he was relieved all the same.
Valerie woke up, and it was like resurrecting because for a while that stretched into forever, she felt as if she were dead. Even the pain that came with consciousness was blissful because it was real and tangible and proved that she was still connected to her body, although that connection seemed to be made out of strings as thin as cobwebs. It was also all that it could do at the moment, feel. Her remaining four senses were giving her no input whatsoever, and movement was impossible, lest she have that peaceful bliss turn into complete agony. Her eyelids felt too heavy to lift, her eyes too fixed to move around. There was no sound, though someone was tapping her arm as if to catch her attention, and presumably saying things to which she was supposed to listen. Her nose was obstructed and felt as if it had been broken twenty times over, and she couldn’t find her tongue or the will and words to speak.
The soft tapping became insufferable after a while – her body seemed bigger, bloated and swollen like a sponge, which in turn magnified sensation until every little tap felt like a forceful blow. Then it stopped. She exhaled, but carefully, having no wish to turn the newfound relief into more pain. Something popped in her ears, causing her to wince, and after a while, she felt water splashing inside them. Someone lifted her head and turned it to the side, slowly, giving her more than enough time to adjust to the new position. Liquid trickled out of her ear and onto the side of her neck. She could hear, now, though there wasn’t much said. Only cooing, shushing noises, possibly in answer to a whimpering that she found was coming out of her own lips. She was turned to the other side, and the process repeated before she was allowed to lay back and rest.
“Can you hear me? Valerie?” Well of course it would be him, she thought, but there was no anger rising in her chest, no defiance in the realization. That would just be a waste of energy, and she needed every smidgen of that to stay awake. “Don’t talk. Just nod if you do.” That would also be a waste of energy. Besides, she wasn’t sure she could obey even if she so desired since her head was as heavy as her eyelids, and moving it only a little made her feel nauseous enough to nearly pass out again. Instead she retched, and choked on what came up – water, only more water, and that too was to be expected, considering she couldn’t remember her last meal anymore.
Coughing, she expelled what was left of it and curled over her empty stomach in a futile attempt to make the pain stop and conserve warmth, completely forgetting that she wasn’t alone. She wanted to sleep. Sleep was good. Perhaps she would have a dream in which she wasn’t freezing. Hands were ghosting all over her body – Was she wearing anything? Did she care? – occasionally stopping and massaging when they found her too stiff. She made a sound like a small wounded animal and tried to scoot to the other side of the bed.
Bed, she was in a bed, and then not, because she had miscalculated where it ended and tumbled onto the floor in a tangle of blankets that were too thin to help with the coldness. Despite her body screaming at her not to, she wrenched her eyes open and waited for the room to stop spinning. She was seeing red, which was strange, since that only happened literally when she was deep into berserk mode, and then there was never any pain, because adrenaline and rage washed it all away.
“Come here.” Her head darted towards the sound of his voice and was shaken even more rapidly, although that hurt so much she wanted to cry. Jack stood up and walked around the bed, slowly, giving her ample opportunity to retreat. Which she did, but then she hit the wall and there was no more space to go to. He crouched down. His face looked askew among all the red, as if she were watching him through a wall of running blood and a dozen distorted lenses.
Blood. She blinked twice and lifted a shaking hand to her eyelids. They came away wet and crimson.
“My eyes. What’s wrong with my eyes?” It came out as a terrified, distorted ‘Mwuhuhu?’, but he seemed to get her meaning. She was too freaked out to not try to fight when he touched her again, so he had to use both his hands to restrain her while he shifted to his true form.
Two tentacles ripped through the back of his shirt and wrapped around her shoulders, not tightly, just enough to restrain her while he used his now unoccupied hands to reach for one of the vials aligned on the nightstand. Feeling she had nothing to lose and her agony was about to become meaningless, Valerie fought like a cat, clawing him and trying to do to his face what he had done to hers. At last he managed to immobilize her head long enough to drip a few drops of clear liquid in the corners of her eyes. It burned. Not enough to make her miss the cold, which didn’t seem to go away no matter what, but so much that it tore a scream from her.
“Calm down. It’s medicine.” He was lying. Had to be. Nothing meant to heal could hurt so much.
“What…” She meant to say more, but nothing intelligible came out beyond: “Can’t…I…think…”
“I had to drug you after all, so yes, you are bound to not be able to think clearly for a while. Now lay still.” Something broke through her hazy, panicked thoughts. Drugs and nakedness and being asked to lay still. She didn’t need much in the way of lucidity to draw conclusions about what that meant.
Half-mad with desperation, she bit him and tried to get away once more. Instead of backing off, he lifted her effortlessly and positioned her on the bed. She clung to the blankets and wrapped herself in them the best she could. Jack made no move to stop her. His eyes – perhaps he hadn’t been lying about the drops after all because hers were starting to see clearly – twinkled with amusement. He sat down next to her, and she tried to kick him away. Drugs or no drugs, she would defend herself to her last breath rather than submit to him. She would fight because otherwise she was nothing.
“Do you know what’s the fastest way of ensuring someone’s continued obedience and loyalty, Valerie?” he asked, after a solid minute of unbroken eye contact and quietness.
“Yes,” she murmured, but either she had been too inarticulate this time, or he was choosing to ignore her – the later, no doubt – because he went on as if he hadn’t heard.
“Satisfying all of that person’s needs. And if you happen to come across someone who needs for nothing…well, you can always create some. It’s the easiest thing in the world if you have the means.” They were heading there, the mostly sane voice in the back of her thoughts said. She could still hear it, but faintly, as if it were being filtered through a layer of thick honey. It went hand in hand with the deprivation/creating dependence thing she had called him out on what seemed to be eons ago. “And you need a lot of things right now, don’t you?”
Yes. Reason. Having her head stop feeling as if it were filled with fuzz and dust bunnies and needles. Clothes. Him away from her. Warmth – no, not that, she needed that but couldn’t need that because it was exactly what he wanted her to need. Strength, yes, that was…
“Feeling a bit nippy, aren’t you?” She scowled and hoped that was a rhetorical question, though her barely suppressed shivers were probably answer enough. “Maybe you should let me take care of that. After all, I did promise I’d make you melt, and you certainly seem to want to.” Another one she wouldn’t dignify with a reply. Strangely, her head felt more disarrayed now that she had stopped moving than when she’d been fighting him. She took that as a sign to keep it up. “Valerie. Stop that, or we are going to have problems.” He would. Her being in trouble quotient was already so high that adding anything else to it was likely to overload it.
Suddenly, Valerie was lifted up again. Usually she would have attempt to kick him for even daring to make physical contact, but he was taking her off and away from the bed, and she wasn’t so out of it that she couldn’t recognize that as good, desirable. Beds were bad when she was in his vicinity. The change of position allowed her a better view of where she was being kept. Not a cell – no, wait, that was wrong, she was in it when she didn’t want to be and had no way of getting out, so it was a cell even if it was more reminiscent of a hastily assembled hospital room. There were two doors. Jack was carrying her towards the one on the left, and somehow, she didn’t think that one would be the exit. Her suspicions were confirmed when he opened it, revealing a small bathroom. He deposited her on the rug in front of the shower and walked towards the counter under the sink, turning his back to her. Seeing her chance, Valerie bolted towards the door.
“No,” he said, shooting a tentacle in front of her and causing her to trip. “I don’t think you will be going anywhere soon. Here, take this.” She barely heard him because she was too busy with keeping her head from spinning, but did react when he pulled her up by her hair and tipped her head back. She tried to knee him, but he caught her leg before it connected with his groin. “Quit being stubborn. It’s just more medicine.”
She eyed the green and blue pill warily. Even if she half believed him to be telling the truth, she’d be damned if she let him put something in her mouth without concrete evidence of what it was. She gritted her teeth and pressed her lips together, so tightly that it took them only a few seconds to start feeling unresponsive and numb but had to part them almost immediately when he slapped her cheek.
The blow was strong enough to knock her head back and nearly make her pass out again. Jack used the opening to slip his thumb and index finger between her lips and pry her mouth open. She tried to bite, but the improvised plier was far stronger than her jaw. He pushed the pill in, all the way to the back of her throat, and poured water in her mouth while keeping her head still. Caught between swallowing and choking, she chose to choke, but the contractions sent the pill down all the same. He released her head, and nodded in satisfaction when she made no further movements.
“Much better. Now come here. You are shaking like a leaf, and a bit of warm water will do you good.” She flinched at the word water but perked up at the mention of warmth. Perhaps thinking she hadn’t heard him, he gestured towards the tub. Still, she made no move to get into it. With a resigned, grumbling noise, he picked her up and pulled the curtain aside. She was laid down on the bottom and fought to not flinch again when the hard, cold surface touched her back. Jack pulled the curtain back so that he was out of her sight, but the shadow he projected on it allowed her to remain aware of his whereabouts, and the sounds she heard – a zipper being pulled down, clothes hitting the floor – were far too enlightening about what he was up to. Since he wasn’t looking at her, she didn’t bother to suppress a shudder.
The only silver lining she could see in the whole situation was that the drugs he had given her seemed to be on its way out of her system, either naturally or because whatever he had forced down her throat was expelling them. The mess in her mind was slowly tidying itself up, allowing her some much needed space to think.
Pain, cold and the prospect of what was coming; those were the things keeping her trapped in a loop of scatterbrained hysteria. Now that she felt sane and grounded once more, she could ignore the first ones and focus on avoiding the later. Her circumstances remained what they had been back in the cell, sans chains and plus an emergency ward worth of bruises. The fact that she knew she didn’t stand a chance of winning wouldn’t keep her from fighting him, of course, but it wouldn’t help any.
That he was going back on his declaration of not wanting to do anything sexual to her for now also didn’t come as a surprise to her. If she had a penny for every ‘I lied!’ she had ever heard from him, she would have a dollar and a quarter. She knew exactly how much because she had been counting.
Valerie eyed the edge of the tub. No bottles of shampoo, no shaving knives or anything she could spray in his eyes to gain herself some time. Maybe if she shoved the bar of soap down his throat?
“Once again, no.” Jack stepped in the tub and wrenched the shower head she had just grabbed out of her hands before she could attempt to strangle him with it. Without missing a beat, she switched back to her initial plan and went for the soap. He caught her from behind, trapping her arms tightly against her sides, and she stiffened. Not because he had been brutal in doing so – that was a given – but because she was suddenly acutely aware of his cock, pressed threateningly against her bare bottom. He leaned in, his breath hot against her ear. “One more move, one more, and I swear I’ll shove it up your ass just the way you are now. Is that what you want?”
“Yes,” was her dry reply, because she knew a bluff when she heard one. Luckily, he did too because he chuckled and turned her around instead of taking her at her word. “Come on, say it. You know you want to.”
“Say what?” Valerie shrugged, and immediately recoiled when she realized that the gesture had made her breasts bounce, calling his attention to them. She looked away quickly, not wanting to face his appraising eyes, and felt almost grateful when he laid a hand on the small of her back and pressed her against him, obscuring his view from her front. This time he nibbled at the shell of her ear instead of whispering into it. “Ah yes, that. If you insist…I have you now, my pretty.”
“Not that, the other…”Oh gods, who cared. She closed her eyes and tried to think, which was now even harder than when she had been drugged out of her mind, in part because she couldn’t focus on anything but his closeness and lack of clothing, in part because she was starting to see that there could truly be no way out.
For all that it was said to be one of the major moments of any girl’s life, she had never given much thought to how she would lose her virginity. When she’d been younger she had just assumed that it would happen during her mating ceremony, as it was supposed to, and she had never thought too much about that because she saw no use in fretting about something that might never happen. Then, she had left Barashi and discovered that though humans were certainly worthy of consideration and rights equal to her own, they didn’t attract her in the slightest. Then again, she couldn’t recall ever feeling attracted to one of her own kind, so it could be that the problem was with her and not them.
Sex in general held no appeal to her, one way or another. She had witnessed it being used as a weapon to break and dominate too often to want to try it out. Even knowing her experience was biased and that there was pleasure to be had in it, she didn’t think it could hope to compare to the things that were actually important. To the feeling of returning somebody home, of having done her job and having done it well. If she were willing to be even more ferociously honest with herself, she would also add that an orgasm probably had nothing on closing in for a kill, on that moment right before eyes were closed forever, on the rush that came with the knowledge that that life that had been someone else’s was now hers to take.
One thing was certain: in no way, no world, no circumstances whatsoever, had she ever considered nor wanted Jack to be her first. Her choice on the matter could be about to be taken out of her hands, but that still didn’t mean that she would surrender easily. She refused to give him the satisfaction.
Slowly, deliberately, she looked down. Up until then she had been avoiding it, both because averting her eyes from his would be showing weakness, and because she knew what she would see and had no wish to lay her sights upon it. But now she needed to know what she would be dealing with.
“Like what you see?” he asked, seeming genuinely interested. She kept a perfect poker face on for a few seconds before looking up again and rolling her eyes at him. “Or does it…how was it again? Not fit the bill?”She fought with her throat and won, managing not to gulp. Her intention had been to follow up with a demeaning comment about his size, because it was the obvious comment to make if your intent was to emasculate someone, but after taking a peek, she found out that was off the table. He would call her out on it immediately, for one. It hadn’t…it hadn’t seemed that large when she’d felt it against her ass.
It didn’t matter that much, she told herself. She had nothing to fear but a little pain and humiliation, and she wasn’t worried about pain. Pain was unpleasant but familiar, known. Even if he tried to fit that inside her, even if he ripped her, whatever she felt would still be a far cry from the things that had already been done to her, that she had done to herself in other circumstances. As for the humiliation, that would fade once she got the drop on him. Tides changed and so did winds and people’s positions in life, and tearing someone’s eyes out and filling his entrails with living beetles had a way of erasing all torment and trauma that managed to nestle in one’s mind.
And yet, even after having carefully broken apart everything that could be rationalized about her predicament, she was still shaking and praying that he would just assume it was because of the cold.
“And suddenly she has gone mute.” Jack remarked, compelling her to glare at him. “What’s troubling you, Val? Are you scared that it won’t fit?”
“Why Jack, I am. Would you appease my maidenly fears and cut half of it off? I won’t be afraid then.”
“And suddenly I am missing the muteness.” He heaved an exaggerated, theatrical sigh and reached for the shelf above her head with one of his tentacles. Valerie cursed herself for not having spotted it before, and cursed twice more when she saw what he was picking up. “I think it’s time to take a page out of aunt Marabeth’s handbook. Are you familiar with rule number one?”
“Gagging me won’t help. I can be acerbic with my nostrils if I try hard enough.”
“We will see about that.” At least it wasn’t a ball gag, she thought. Just a roll of thick grey duct tape. The downside was that he wouldn’t have to force her to open her mouth to silence her with it. She tried to retreat, but his hand pressed her back against him, informing her that she wasn’t going anywhere. He plastered the tape over her mouth and wrapped it around her head a couple of times more, so that she wouldn’t be able to get rid of it with ease. True to her word, she rolled her eyes and glared at him the whole time. When he was done, he brought her face closer and stroked it for what felt like the millionth time. “It’s not that I don’t want to listen to you, but I know better than anyone that talking can be the best defense you can have in any given situation, and I need you helpless.
That much she had gathered already. What was left was the question of what he was going to do now. Would he take her right there? He could have done it on the bed, but she had barfed sour water all over it, so perhaps not.
She had her answer pretty much immediately. Without a word, he pulled her down so that they were both lying in the tub, he underneath her and she trapped on top of him, her head against his chest, her legs entangled with his. Getting up was impossible – as soon as he had her where he wanted her, he locked his arms around her back and bound her legs to his with the two tentacles he still had out. It wasn’t the most ideal of positions to be in, but she extracted some comfort from the fact that his cock was brushing against her belly instead of her mound, and that there was no way he could possibly penetrate her from that angle. Instead, he seemed content in draping her over himself and stroking her shoulders soothingly.
His hand traveled to the nape of her neck and settled there, over the dampener. He flicked it thrice, his brow wrinkled in concentration, and she felt something – a humming that started in her spine and slowly made its way up until it filled her head. It stopped then. She tried to breathe out in relief, but the duct tape trapped the air inside her mouth, increasing her dizziness. She felt something else, too, her healing factor, restarting itself, assessing damage and starting to work on fixing it. At the same time, Jack opened the tap. More water – warm, this time, so she couldn’t complain – fell on his shoulder and ran towards her face. She resisted the temptation to soak it in, understanding at once what he was aiming for. He was allowing her to drive the pain and cold away now that they were lying pressed together, with the intended result of having her start associating his physical closeness to relief and not being cold, and other positive emotions.
She sought to make eye contact. Jack could rob her of her voice all he wanted, but she still intended to let him know he would get nowhere with that. She remembered all too well how feeling safe with him, trusting him to please her and protect her, had felt. She had battled those cloying emotions once already, and won. This time around, she wouldn’t even allow them to stick in the first place.
Jack grabbed a sponge and squeezed a glob of liquid soap on it. He held her gaze while he pushed it against her back, rubbing soapy circles on her wet skin. A million billion ‘I know you know I know’s passed between them, looping around into infinity. Satisfied with that small acknowledgement of her not-being-about-to-surrender-ness, she allowed the warmth to seep into her body. She felt tired, brittle, as if she had been broken down and glued together a hundred times over. Now that the pain and cold were subsiding, those other feelings were pushing themselves forward, begging for attention. She was now at loss about what he intended to achieve. Her first thought had been rape not only because he had implied it, but because she believed that assuming the worst was an excellent way of never having to deal with unpleasant surprises. All evils were expected, and therefore, easier to deal with and prepare for.
What he was doing now went against that hypothesis. He couldn’t very well expect her body to come to associate him to positive things if he was planning to ram his cock into her after he was done washing her back. Unless he thought that she’d like that, and personally, she wanted to believe that his connection to reality wasn’t so shaky. She’d feel a lot more embarrassed about him capturing her if it turned out he was actually that crazy. Of course, her not knowing how she had been captured in the first place probably helped.
She held on to that thought. It was something to mull over that would help her ignore what was being done to her. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to start on it.
“Back is done. Turn over.” Was he…honestly talking to her as if he fully expected her to obey?
Apparently not, since he didn’t wait long before grabbing her shoulders and flipping her over. Her first instinct was to twist to cover herself as well as her bound arms allowed, but she reasoned that it was too late to care about modesty at that point. Instead, she used the fact that the top of her head was now level with his chin to do what she did best. To her disappointment, it didn’t even draw a groan from him, only an annoyed snort.
“Don’t fight it. Just allow yourself to calm down.”
She shook her head vehemently. If looks could kill, hers would be facing multiple charges of manslaughter. Stop fighting? He could just as well have asked her to stop breathing.
“Do you have any guesses as to what I’m doing?” She rolled her eyes in answer. He had abandoned the sponge for the time being and was busying himself with spraying her thighs and belly with water. She would be lying if she said that getting those parts unfrozen wasn’t a relief, but she refused to mistake the seemingly caring gesture for anything other than blatant manipulation. “No, you don’t. Because right now…you are only thinking what I want you to think.” Before she had time to puzzle out his meaning, his free hand dove between her thighs and squeezed the fleshy insides.
The duct tape muffled her yelp, but she was sure he had heard it all the same.
“Your problem, Valerie, is that you overthink things too often. Any other girl in your situation would have gone for the obvious. Male, female, no clothes…the math is really not that hard to do. You had to add other variables because you are so used to them being there, but sometimes…” She wouldn’t flinch. She wouldn’t flinch. And then his hand travelled up, settling between her legs and parting her folds, and she was true to her word, but inside her head, she was screaming. “Sometimes there are no layers, and the most obvious answer is the right one. I am not trying to play mind games with you this time. I just want you clean and relaxed so that I can fuck you. Is that clear?”
Crystal. She had known that, hadn’t she? Assumed it would happen sooner or later? It wasn’t surprising. It wouldn’t be impossible to deal with. She would endure it bravely and live on to conquer her freedom and have her revenge, which would involve many disgusting, agonizing and physically unlikely things, and she would set him on fire and laugh at his screams. That was the image she had to hold in her head, not the one she now presented to him: that of a helpless, frightened girl, bared to his roving eyes and futilely fighting a battle she knew she had lost already.
However, it was difficult. Difficult to focus when she was being touched so intimately, when his thumb was exerting pressure on her sensitive nub and starting to move, intent on drawing a reaction, and his cock rock-hard against her ass. And then it occurred to her that if he wanted to do what he said, it would have been much easier in the position she had previously been in. Which meant that…
Oh gods. No.
“Now, I know you are smart, Valerie,” he went on. His thumb was starting to work in circles, sometimes stopping so that he could add another finger and tweak her clit lightly. His scent – her own scent, because her body was starting to respond to his slow teasing, and she wasn’t bothering with trying to stop it from acting up because outwardly signs of arousal were meaningless, and perhaps it would hurt less if she were wet for him, except that it wouldn’t, he wasn’t planning to take her there – filled her nostrils, making her heady. She refused to escape to some distant part of her dream world, though. That would be a display of weakness, of inability to deal, that she’d hate herself for until the end of her days. “So you know that this time, there is nowhere to run. This will happen. You will still fight it because you are stubborn as anything, and it would hurt your self-respect if you gave in without a peep.”
Yes. She didn’t nod, but her answer was clear in her eyes. He smiled and ran his open palm over her stomach, sending goosebumps trailing all the way down. Shame and mortification were gnawing at her, and she had to force them to stop with some hasty, half-baked rationalizations. It wasn’t her fault. He was forcing himself on her. She shouldn’t feel ashamed. If spending a human lifetime freeing slaves had taught her anything, it was how dangerous shame could be. Some of the women she had encountered had never truly become free again, although she had broken their chains and returned them to what was left of their lives. Shame – because sometimes their masters had managed to extract moans and passionate responses from them, which surely meant they liked it, that they were destined to submit and serve – had kept them shackled.
She had given each one of them an earful of her personal mantra and sent them on their way, unable to do much else. She had told them that pleasure was a fleeting, hollow thing, that meant nothing and revealed nothing about the soul whose body experienced it. Pleasure was pain’s sickeningly sweet twin, and resisting the right stimuli for it was as feasible as not pulling your hand away when touching a hot stove. She didn’t think any of them had bought it, even if they had tried to mimic smiles and thanked her for her words. Right now, she was having trouble buying it herself.
“You know what else would hurt you, Miss Redmont?” If it weren’t for that last mocking addition and for the fact that he had brought his mouth so close to her ear, she wouldn’t have known he was still talking to her. Her attention was focused solely on what he was doing with his hands and on keeping a treacherous redness out of her cheeks. “Being taken dry – trust me, the water won’t help you any – and being left to bleed out for as long as I want you to, before I heal you and start over. That’s what will happen if you refuse to cooperate. Would you like it, I wonder?”
If his intention was to distract her from his ministrations and have her double over with mad, half-hysterical laughter – which she doubted it was, but still – it worked perfectly. He had been doing so well, she thought, what with succeeding in extracting a few reluctant responses from her body and making her doubt her capacity to endure what was to come. Then he had to ruin everything by being thoughtless enough to threaten her with pain. It wasn’t as if she had flat out told him she’d rather be tortured than forced to enjoy his attentions, or anything. She was having trouble in dealing with something that felt good in a physical sense because she was so unused to it, but agony was an aggravating neighbor she saw every day and had learned to tolerate.
He had just lost any hope of gaining a hold on her and didn’t even know it. At least she thought so, until she heard him chuckle.
“On second thought, you probably would. I guess I’ll just have to prevent you from fighting at all.” Valerie twisted her face into a mighty scowl, though it went unseen and unappreciated on account of being covered by the tape. All shreds of frenzied mirth gone, she fought to prevent him from preventing her from fighting and lost miserably when he summoned three other tentacles. He encased her upper body within them and twisted her so that she was seated on his lap instead of lying on him.
Suddenly, the tub seemed even smaller and more cramped than it had before. She had never been claustrophobic in her life, and yet, her breathing was growing so shallow that for a second she feared she’d suffocate, though perhaps that was due to him holding her so tightly and not because she was confined in an enclosed space. She barely felt his kisses, but her heartbeat rate shot up like that of a startled mouse when he bit into the side of her neck, not hard enough to draw blood, but more than enough to ground her into the reality of the moment. She wasn’t facing him anymore, and the sight of his hands on her thighs, between her thighs, was starting to make her feel queasy, so she closed her eyes and focused on breathing through her nose.
It would be over – no, it wouldn’t be over soon, of course not, thinking that would be setting herself up for a disappointment. He would prolong it for as long as he was able. Expecting anything else would be foolish.
“Are you familiar with the Caladrani guidelines for how to train a new slave-girl?” She didn’t nod or shake her head, though she was. It wasn’t as if confirming it wouldn’t spare her his explanation. “According to their people, the first thing that ought to be done is taking her in every hole she has because they reason that either it will break her spirit, or she’ll be less likely to make a fuss after she’s given up everything once already. I can’t help but ask myself if that last part applies to you.”
This time she shook her head as hard as she was able. He smiled and kissed the spot he had just bitten before reaching for another bottle. Valerie caught a glimpse of the label and flinched. She wasn’t sure if she should feel terrified of the fact that he intended to give her some measure of preparation or terrified because it could be an attempt to misdirect her.
“Breathe,” he whispered. His left arm went under her legs, lifting her a few inches, while the other one bended her slightly forward. She felt a rough, cylindrical thing – not an arm – press against her back to keep her in place. “Just breathe, Valerie. It will be over before you know it.”
Liar. Lies. He hadn’t even attempted to sound convincing.
She opened her eyes again and glued them on the pattern formed by the mosaics that covered the wall in front of her, in a desperate attempt to close herself off from what was happening. Tiny shell. Big shell. Fish. Starfish. Both his hands squeezing her buttocks, massaging the still tender skin. Tiny fish. Big fish eating starfish. His mouth on her neck, sucking and licking. Big fish, big fish, shell. Fingers pushing her cheeks aside, deftly but inexorably. Tiny shell, giant starfish. Whispered words in her ear, and she wouldn’t hear them, wouldn’t try to understand them. They belonged in a reality from which she needed to dissociate herself at all costs. More fingers – warm, wet, slick ones this time – wandering over her belly and occasionally stopping to stroke for a while before they continued their journey down. Shell, starfish, starfish, shell. There was a sea on the wall, and she felt as if she were drowning in it.
The worst was how non-violent he was making his defilement of her. Although her mind was still sharp and sane enough to realize that replacing blows and punches with caresses and sensuous strokes did not kindness make, her body was struggling to remember it. One of his hands was now working her clit, while the other traced the line between her cheeks, stopping only when he reached the opening at the end. She tensed when she felt his finger press against the tight orifice, seeking entry. Jack whispered something else in her ear. She made herself not hear the words but the tone was threatening enough to speak for itself.
In regular conditions, that wouldn’t have caused her to bat an eyelash. But there was nothing that was regular or normal or not wrong with what was happening, and she was scared enough to refuse to acknowledge that she was scared. Whatever he had put on his finger caused it to slide in with relative ease. He took it out – she felt rather than heard the abnormally loud sound of more lube being squeezed out of the bottle – and slid it in again, repeating the gesture a few times before another finger joined the first. The first one hadn’t hurt a thing, except perhaps her pride, which was howling in agony.
The second stretched her beyond she was used to, but was still bearable in a purely physical sense. The third addition stopped short from tearing her only because no part of her was that frail. He started moving them, first in and out, and then, once her body grew used to the feeling, in slow scissoring motions, forcing her sphincter to open even further. She struggled as much as she could, which given that she couldn’t move an inch, amounted to nothing but a few feeble jerks. When he was finally satisfied with how much he had stretched her, he withdrew and patted the soft curve where her ass met her back, leaving an oily handprint behind.
“Here we go,” he whispered, sounding more breathless than she felt. “Do say something if it fails to live up to your expectations.”
I’ll kill you, she thought, dazed with terror and rage, picturing every word like a bullet aimed at his brain. Once you have it tied down and drugged up, there are as many ways to kill one of us as there are to kill a human, and the ways to kill a human are endless. Even if it takes me a thousand years, I will have you at my mercy. I will rip out your memory of this moment and make you cry tears of blood when you look at the hole where it used to be. I. Will. Win.
But not today, another voice in her head said, sobbing. I don’t want this, I don’t want this, I don’t…
It was as if she was being pierced with a blunt sword. The tip was eased in without much resistance, but the preparation he had given her didn’t help when it came to the rest. Valerie balled her hands into fists and refused to cry, even when he put an arm around her waist and pushed her down, forcing his shaft further and further inside of her. She had never known that a pain so mild could feel that bad. To add insult to injury, he had switched his heinous bastard persona for soft, lulling – deceptive, misleading, lies, lies, lies – whispers.
She didn’t want to hear how much of a good girl she was being, how good she felt, how happy he was that she wasn’t being difficult anymore. She didn’t want to feel his hands in her hair, patting it down, running along the sides of her neck before descending and tracing her curves, settling on her breasts and drawing wet lines over her pale flesh. She didn’t want to be so restrained that breathing was hard and moving impossible. She wanted to run away, not caring if it was cowardice, not caring if he would see it and mock her for it.
She closed her eyes and kept them closed. She wasn’t there. He wasn’t inside her, invading her. Nothing existed below her neck, and then nothing above. She was spirit. A collection of thoughts with no body, floating in the air, untouched and unharmed, and most of those thoughts were hate.
“I don’t think so.” Jack growled in her ear, only she didn’t hear him, because she had no ears. “I know what you are trying to do, Valerie, but you won’t escape me like this.”
Suddenly he was moving faster inside of her – only he wasn’t inside, because – no! – fucking her relentlessly while the rest of his limbs pushed her backwards and forwards, moving her like a marionette so that her ass would be rocking against his groin. The unexpected – no, not unexpected, entirely expected, who did she think she was dealing with? – violence of his thrusts dragged her back to the present, which nearly made her scream in frustration but also ended up being a blessing in disguise. This time, there was nothing about it that could cause her body to grow confused, least of all awkwardly aroused. It was just an unusually unpolished repetition of the same old song. Punch, shove and kick until it bleeds, and it made no difference that he was doing it to her bowels instead of her face. It was straightforward. Understandable. Devoid of pretenses and the trappings of faked passion, and in the end, that was why she would always favor pain over its cheerier brother.
It was never anything but honest.
“Are you…liking this?” Never. He was making it sufferable when he thought he was breaking her apart, and the irony of it wasn’t lost on her. His reaction caught her unaware, though. Instead of laughing or calling her one of the dozen names she felt increasingly compelled to call herself, he pulled her back against him and put his arms around her shoulders. Applying the term ‘chaste’ to anything he did when he was balls deep inside of her would seem like an oxymoron, but nevertheless, the kiss he deposited on the top of her head felt like it deserved the word. “It’s alright, just relax. It gets better. I promise it gets better.”
Lies, more lies. The word kept buzzing around her head like flies. It would be useless to try to swat them away at this point. He was playing with her hair now, curling it around his finger while his other hand resumed his previous ministrations. A simmering feeling rose in her belly, slowly but steadily. She fought it with all her might because it was just another lie, a lie of the flesh that she couldn’t afford to listen to. So she didn’t. She made herself deaf and catapulted herself to events that had enough parallels with her current situation to make her believe she was there. These events though, were clean cut and safe to remember.
Of course it’s right, my girl. I never buy a toy without trying it out first. Now spread your legs and let me take a look at that pretty young pussy of yours.
Grass under her back, staining her red dress. A body covering hers in the dead of the night. The sweet scent of wine and fruits and wine made out of fruits.
Such a sweet little whore you are…that’s right, spread them more for me…spread them for your lord and master…
An interrupted scream turning into a gargle midway. The coppery tang of blood on her lips, tongue, teeth. The sudden, instinctive knowledge that she shouldn’t stop until she reached bone and crushed it to savor the marrow. Life drained away, her dainty hands gripping her attacker’s head and twisting it off like a child who had never learned to play nice with her dolls. Fear and triumph, cascading through her mind and colliding in a downwards spiral of raw emotion.
She had won, then, and back then she had been a weakling, a person unfinished, a nothing.
What did that make her now?
Valerie felt a wall of hard, chiseled muscles against her back, felt them burn against her naked skin. She smelled her scents mixed with his and the overlying perfume of lavender and soap. She tasted the glue of the tape on the tip of her tongue when she tried and failed to push it away. Through it all, she remained awfully aware of what his cock was doing to her. It pistoled in and out of her, hammering her so hard that her entrails felt liquid, unreal. Somewhere along the way, she became aware that she was crying but didn’t know when she had started.
It had been the wrong move to remember. It ensured that her body would refuse any satisfaction it offered it, yes but also increased her degradation tenfold.
He never told her when it was over, but she knew. He stilled inside of her and stopped stroking her for an instant, pausing to catch his breath. Eventually, his now soft cock slipped out of her, but he didn’t let go of her hair and arms. The water was turned on again, the soapy sponge picked up. He cleaned her, carefully. This time she didn’t put up a fight, only cringed when she felt his cum start trickling out, and then he cleaned that up too. When he determined that she was clean enough, Jack lifted her up and wrapped her into a towel, leaving her on the floor to dry herself while he did the same. She didn’t move. He finished drying and dressing, looked back at her and walked over to do it himself. Only then did he remove the tape. She remained unflinching and unblinking, although some of her hair was pulled off with it and her skin felt bloodless and raw for seconds before it started to heal. Her eyes only moved at all when he brought a familiar-looking syringe into view.
“So? How do you evaluate my performance?” She blinked twice.
“I didn’t like it.” He nodded. She couldn’t read in his face whether he was unsurprised, disappointed, or unsurprised yet disappointed. The plunger was about to be pressed down, so it didn’t really matter. She wouldn’t be seeing him for a while.
“Not yet,” he agreed. He kissed her full on the lips, unaffected by her lack of response but didn’t prolong the ordeal. It was clear he believed her to be too broken to warrant further abuse, at least for the time being. She hadn’t fallen too far back in the darkness to not feel grateful for that, though she was still subjected to hearing him mutter: “But everything changes.”
As always, a big fat thank you to Ellienora35 and…that other one, for their invaluable help in making this thing readable. Also…have a little something to pass the time until the next chapter is ready! (Though I will, of course, be posting a teaser in a week or so.)