NOTE: This is an outtake from Seth's time away from Nate. It contains some sexual references and takes place in a dungeon. If this is not your sort of thing, look away.
Bruised knees on cold stone, sheen of sweat – no blood, not yet –the cloying scent of ylang ylang, and taste of bitter cherry had memories combining with current sensation until I could not recall having been anywhere else but here. Here, where the sound was muted by thick walls and old spells. Here, where I would be shackled whether my wrists were free or not.
They were most certainly not. You can say many things about Sybil and the place she runs, but she is not careless. My palms were wrapped to keep me from slicing them open with my nails. The strip of silk around and over my mouth would only tighten if I tried to work my tongue free. And the alchemy required to create my bindings was both delicate and effective.
She’d left me alone after the last session. I didn’t know how long it had been, nor when she would return. It was when, not if. She could no more resist me than I could resist coming back to this place. I like to pretend I can escape, be truly free, but it’s nigh impossible for me to find this sort of release anywhere else. For all our differences over the years, Sybil knows me – where to push, how deep to go before pulling back, when it’s safer to retreat no matter how restrained I am. The things I’ve done without control or comprehension are better left untold.
I was contemplating breaking the chains – or trying to – when the barest hint of footsteps reached me. Not Sybil, then. She always came with a hesitant determination. This was a lazy step, confident, almost bored. I felt like I should know it, should recognize the energy that heralded the arrival of my…visitor? companion? I wouldn’t know until told. It was part of the bargain, the price for solace and information. I kept my gaze on the floor.
“Did it never occur to you to get therapy?”
I closed my eyes. Why her, damn it?
“Not just you, of course. Your brother, too. Maybe couple’s therapy, so you can work out why you have this continuous cycle of mutually inflicted damage.”
I ground my teeth against a reply. As bait went, my relationship with Nate was too easy.
“Do you want me to hurt you?”
Please. I shook my head. She should have to work for it, just as I would.
“Such a poor liar. Except when your life depends on it, of course. This? Just a little light torture to soothe your injured spirit. Not nearly powerful enough to make you give up your truth.”
She was right, of course. But she already knew everything about me – or everything she would need to judge me. Another woman in my life who was a guaranteed ‘when, not if’, only this one would kill me eventually.
Sybil had threatened to tell me how I die. I had declined.
Kaia had simply told me she would be the one to rend my soul - such as it is – from my body the second I step over some line only she can see. That I will do it has never been in question.
“I know you want me to pick up that whip. Nothing so light as a crop for you. No, you require real pain to open you up. This place holds so many ways to cause you reparable harm. Naturally, you gravitate to it.”
I swallowed hard. She tilted my head up and licked the desperation from the corner of my mouth.
“Ask me to hurt you,” she whispered.
The gag kept me from requesting my doom. She removed it.
Before I could utter a spell, her mouth was on mine. There was nothing sexual about it. She simply wanted to give me time to think. I knew who she would rather be tasting, and the thought kept me from pleading for her to let loose on me. The moment I realized that, I went still and she pulled back.
“So, you have both sense and a moral code, however mutable and fluid. You may live a while yet.”
“Depends on which prophesy you believe.” My jaw ached.
“Try to use your new-found knowledge to bespell me, and all those prophecies will turn to ash.”
I had no doubt that I would follow suit. We’d burned more than one place down together. “Why are you here?”
“Curiosity, mostly.” She circled me, trailed her fingers across my shoulders, breathed in my scent.
I fought to remain still, remembering the last time she had laid hands on me. Second to last, actually, but saving my life wasn’t nearly as exciting for her as torturing me had been.
As if she could read my mind, her nails turned to talons, lightly scoring my flesh, enough for welts, not cuts. “Your fear and desire are so sweet. You could become an addiction.”
“You’re too careful for that.” And I’m not the one you want.
She laughed. “True.”
I felt sick, thinking I’d said the second part aloud.
“You risk much, returning here when this refuge is known to so many of your enemies.”
“None more dangerous than those here who care for me.”
“Also true. Mostly.”
“Why are you here?” I asked again.
She sighed. “To free you. Exorcise your inner demons, or whatever has you trapped in your own head, and then get back out there. You don’t have much time left.”
Her smile was brilliant and disturbing. “You know better than to ask. You won’t even bargain with your soothsayer for that much. And yet you feel the pull.” She tugged on my chains – to check that they held, not loosen them. “I will help you forget and remember.”
She opened and closed compartments that should have been hidden from all eyes but Sybil’s – and mine. I had not always been the one kneeling. I knew the rattle of items in a particular box, the quality of near-silence when one of the finer cases was opened. Some things are delicate, made for only the most exquisite pain. My heart pounded, cock stiffening in anticipation. I never thought I wanted what would come out of that box, and I never did until it was in use; my body remembered and betrayed me every time.
She closed it with a click, leaving me to wonder if she’d taken out the object or put it away. I desperately wanted a drink – whiskey if possible, but water would do.
“Breathe, Seth.” Kaia stood behind me, not too close. “And again. You need to find your center.”
“In a goddamned labyrinth,” I muttered.
The first blow struck. I breathed through it.
“A flogger? Really?” I taunted.
The second blow made me gasp.
“I told you to mind your breathing.”
The third blow almost knocked me to the ground. I balled my fists and sank back on my haunches. I could practically hear her smile at the challenge.
The steady thunk of heavy tails, the familiar heat of the sting, the subtle scent of well-loved leather – I focused on these as she found a rhythm. As soon as I became accustomed, she changed it. I doubt I could have swung with that power for long. But then, she’s so much more than I am.
I had forgotten my place in the world of monsters. She reminded me.
I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to fall. The cold slate floor was blessing, if not relief. She changed position but not tempo, the tresses striking true again and again until there was nothing but the rise and fall of the flogger, the rise and fall of my chest, the sound of strikes against tenderized flesh.
Eventually, I cracked, as she knew I would. She didn’t stop then, as I knew she would not.
Time lost meaning. Thoughts fled. Numb to the pain of the body, I was free to release the agony I’d held inside for so long. Sobbing, I raised my fist.
She pulled the last blow, so only a feather light touch grazed my skin.
Then my short and slender tormentor unlocked my wrists, picked me up as if I weighed no more than a child, and carried me to my own bedroom. There were more shadows than dim light, a grace note on top of the comfort of fresh linens. Kaia set me down, then crawled onto the bed to cradle my head in her lap.
My tears fell on her thigh. “I couldn’t save her. ”
She stroked my hair. “I know.”
“I couldn’t save Nate, either.”
“That’s not your job. Not for either of them.”
“But I should have…should have been able.”
She kissed my forehead, my cheek. “No, darling. You couldn’t. Not the first time, nor the second. Even you have limits.”
She slid to the side, let me lie face down and soak the blanket with regrets. It didn’t matter that she was right and I knew it. I still felt I had failed those I loved.
Cool hands gently applied a salve, the scent as much a balm as the herbs and minor magic worked into the ointment. She offered me comfort and truth, both more difficult to take than the skilled lashing I’d endured. I shuddered as the full weight of her words and deed became clear.
She had known where to find me and what I needed to be able to hear her. If she were anyone else, I might have fallen in love on the spot. I wisely kept that thought to myself. It’s not a good idea to become enamored of a Fury. They know too much without asking.
In other words, Nate was royally screwed. I kept that to myself, too.
“Why not the whip?” I finally asked, rolling to my side.
She lowered her head and gave me a kiss that almost convinced me to throw aside fraternal consideration and common sense. Almost.
“The first time we met, I took your scars away and gave you a souvenir. I won’t willingly shed your blood again.”
“Unless you have to,” I corrected.
Her eyes flashed indigo-black. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it.
“Don’t make me have to, Seth. Think very, very carefully about the paths you might take.” She smiled at me, appearing as close to human as she can. “Preferably before you head down them.”
“I’ll do my best.”
She kissed me, platonic this time, and nodded. “Your very best is required.”
She stood. “Are you settled? Do you need anything?”
So many things, but none I’d ask of her.
She shook her head, as if I’d listed them. “Shall I send you a midnight snack?”
We both knew she wasn’t offering food. “Only if it’s serving itself and not Sybil. No coercion, no cost attached.”
“I’d be surprised if you were awake by the time a volunteer could be found.”
I sat up gingerly. “I’m full of surprises.”
Her laugh echoed through the stone room as she closed the door to my sanctuary.
I found a cloth to wipe my salt-stained cheeks. Despite what she thought, I would not be waiting long at all.