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Other Colors - Ch. 25

A D/s romance set in Montreal

Part 2 - Blue (continued)

Chapter 25

It was still dark out when he woke me. His hand swept softly along my cheek. I simpered and stretched. I batted him away. I’d been dreaming deeply, and like a diver some several atmospheres down, took my time ascending to the surface.

“Come,” he caught my wrist, laying a kiss on the spot where I'd nicked myself the night before, “ma rose sauvage. I’ve let you sleep long enough.”

Queen Anne of England pricked her finger. His lips broke the spell. I opened my eyes, gazing hypnopompically into the pillow, half-paralyzed until I could remind myself of where I was, and what precisely I was doing there. About the latter, sometimes I wonder still.

“Mais non. You’re early, Monsieur,” I mumbled, burrowing lower into the linens, “Come back in a hundred years.”

“To slash my way through the brambles, and thorns?” he squeezed my hand, “I will. Though your coffee will get cold while you’re waiting.”

That did it. I raised a keen brow, and he nodded to the bed stand, where he’d set a steaming ceramic mug, and a slice of brioche smeared with amber marmalade.

I smirked, “You spoil me.”

“Yet I seldom spare the rod,” he cocked his head, watching wolfishly as I tried to sit up, “You’re hurting.”

I shook my head, grasping the mug with both hands, “Just a little. I can't imagine why, Mr. Caine.”

I sipped. He watched me swallow. I drew my knees up under my chin to make room as he sank onto the edge of the bed.

“Foolish girl,” he gritted his teeth, letting his fingers slide lightly along my ankle, “It’s dangerous. You play the ingénue a little too well.”

“Would you prefer the shrew, sir?” I mirrored him, cocking my head, “Cordelia could play the fool.”

“And vice versa,” he smirked, tracing out the lyre of tendons across the top of my foot, “…You’ll make a monster of me, won’t you?”

His touch sent a resonant ripple up into my hips. I curled my toes, and closed my eyes, breathing in the sharp, dark steam of the coffee.

“Well,” I sighed, “if the slipper fits, Monsieur.”

Pantoufle de verre, pantoufle de vair. I slipped free, and ran my toes slowly along the smooth, blue denim of his inseam. I wanted to be sure he, too, felt a twinge. I wanted be sure he, too, was suffering. It didn’t take much. Serpent-like, I felt him stir, and uncoil as I crept higher. I smiled coyly, and opened my eyes. He was leering.

“Shall I get me to a nunnery, my lord?”

His eyes flashed, and he lunged, pinning me gently against the headboard. It wasn’t wise to provoke him, I know. I was playing with proverbial fire. And even through the bittersweet pyrazines of the coffee, I could still smell the brimstone on his breath. I kept quiet. I kept still. Like any good Catholic girl, I didn’t really want to burn before breakfast, and I think even a static shock from my flannels might have set the bed aflame beneath us. Deep inside though, in some unlit alcove of my body, there was a reckless, little arsonist huddled over, warming her hands over last night’s embers. She was cold. She was barefoot. She was smiling. And she would have loved nothing more than to strike a match on his stubble, and let him turn her whole world to ashes.

His gaze cut slowly across my throat, “No,” he growled, struggling to restrain himself, “I have other plans for you today, Miss Foster.”

He backed away, his blue eyes boring into me like an auger. I shivered, and sank lower, at once relieved, and a little let down.

“Eat. Get dressed. And get moving,” he stood up, “We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

We’re leaving when? My eyes widened, “Um, can I hop in the shower at least?”

He shook his head, “No need.”

No need? My brow tightened into a scowl. After last night?

“Seriously…” I sat up, indignant, “Isn’t there something next to godliness, sir?”

“If we run into God, you can ask him,” he shrugged, “God, or Reverend Wesley. Regardless, it’s nineteen below. I can’t drag you outside with wet hair.”

Aldersgate. All strangely warmed. Nudes to heaven, the naked to hell. I crossed my arms, “…Drag me where exactly, Dmitri?”

He smirked, and stole my mug, taking a long, lingering sip for himself, “It’ll be light soon, little girl. Get moving.”

I nodded, reaching up silently as he handed me back my coffee. His face was still tender enough, but his tone told me clear as glass that our discussion had ended.

“Meet me downstairs when you’re ready,” he kissed the top of my head, and turned away toward the frost-stippled window, “Ten minutes.”

I nodded again, struggling to stand as he vanished through the doorway. I was lucky, frankly, that he hadn’t called my little bluff a moment earlier. Just sitting upright, it was alarmingly clear how little I’d recovered from the night before. The relics of his assault were still enshrined all over my body. My hips were stiff. My thighs were sore. My backside was emblazoned with violet welts. Inside, I was swollen. I ached like sin—like frost-nipped fingertips, thawing out beneath a stream of scalding water.

Still, I smiled. I tore off a bit of brioche, staring hazily into the fireplace as I munched at the edge of the bed. The arsonist was no metaphor. There in the hearth, buried beneath the stale cinders and the soot, the flames he’d lit in me were still smoldering.

But is he really going to drag me outside?

I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know, and I came down the stairs like a woman condemned. Like Catherine Howard from the Tower. ‘Take the key and lock her up, lock her up.’ He was waiting at the threshold, already outfitted like Edmund Hillary, and my chagrin only grew as he zipped, laced, and buttoned me into my own set of ski pants, snow boots, and a bright white parka. ‘Je n’ai pas peur, Maître. Je suis née pour ce faire.’ I closed my eyes, craning my throat for him as he wrapped the pashmina around my neck.

“Ready?”

I rolled my eyes, and shrugged, “As I’ll ever be.”

He chuckled and threw open the door, leading me out, still glowering, into the ghastly, frost-freckled air.

Rupestrian was already outside, guarding the garden like a church grim. He wagged his tail when he saw us, and trotted over to press his snow-dusted nose into my crotch. No need to shower, he says. I cursed, and blushed furiously, struggling to shove the dog’s huge, furry head aside. Dmitri scolded him, and sent him inside—though not before I’d already half-perished of embarrassment.

“Bete sauvage,” I sneered, brushing the snow from my lap.

“Now, now,” he returned to snatch my mittened hand, “Can you blame a beast for obeying his instincts?”

I glared, unamused, “I didn’t mean the dog, Monsieur.”

He chuckled, and pulled me closer, pointing out to a peeling, blue grange near the treeline.

“There,” he nodded, “The snow’s deep, so walk behind me, and stay in my tracks. Need be, I can carry you.”

“Sure,” I drew my mouth to one side. Already, my nose and cheeks were numb, and while a blind trek with him across the tundra was not necessarily the last thing on my wish list that morning, neither was it far off from the bottom, “Remind me. Why are we doing this again, sir?”

He grinned wryly, and squeezed my hand, “You’ll see.”

Maybe. If my eyes don’t freeze first, Monsieur. I glared as he turned and strode off through the snow, and once I was certain he wasn’t looking, stuck my tongue out at him, and followed. Or I tried to, rather. Even lunging along in his footsteps, I still sank clear up to my knees, and though the whole onerous ordeal lasted only a hundred yards or so, by the time we reached the pines, I felt like a subarctic Pheidippides—panting, perspiring, and half-drowning in the snowdrifts. I crossed my arms, still breathless as he unchained the latch. I wondered warily what awaited me on the other side, and my breath hitched as he slid open the heavy, wooden door.

He stepped in, nodding for me to follow. I hesitated at first, but after rallying my courage, I must say I was underwhelmed. It was only shed, and filled only the miscellany a shed ought to be filled with—shovels and axes, coils of wire, gasoline and soiled rags, skating blades, ski poles, half-rusted tins of machine oil. I coughed, and covered my nose. The air was musty, and I still hadn’t quite caught my breath.

“Stay put,” he squeezed my arm, “but don’t get comfortable. We’re not not staying.”

“No?” I sniffed, watching him vanish behind a row of bowed shelves, “But it’s so cozy here, sir.”

I batted at a few snowshoes dangling from the wall, clacking them together like a Newton’s cradle.

He chuckled, rooting noisily through the clutter, “Ne t’inquiète pas. It’s just a layover. Our destination’s another three versts north.”

Versts? I wrinkled my nose, “Which is to say..?”

One of the shoes fell, and I flinched as a stack of dried paint cans came clattering to the ground. He peered out from behind the shelf, stopping a rolling canister with his toe.

“Just shy of two American miles.”

My stomach sank, “Very funny.”

“It would be funnier if I were joking,” he grinned.

“No,” I shook my head in disbelief, “There’s a reason the Canterbury Tales start in April, sir. I’m not taking another step in that snow.”

“April is a foolish month, Alisoun,” he chuckled again, grinning darkly as he grasped my wrist, “We could walk, yes. But I think you’ll find this way less hateful.”

Queynte, yqueynt. These miserable puns. He drew me forward, and snatched up the corner of a canvas tarpaulin, revealing with magician’s finesse an old touring snowmobile beneath. My eyes widened as he tossed me a helmet.

He cocked his head, “Hop on.”

I swallowed, staring at him, then at the machine, and stepped closer, “Is it… is it safe?”

“Not especially,” he shrugged, strapping a canvas bag onto the back, “Don’t worry. I  won’t let anything happen to you.”

I blushed, still more than a little leery as he helped me straddle the seat. I shut my eyes, and locked my arms around his waist. He checked my grip, and choked the engine. I hid my face against his shoulders as the motor snarled to life, and the saddle began to vibrate violently beneath me.

“Hold on,” he shouted back, “The first leg’s a little rough.”

Without opening my eyes, my head bobbed heavily beneath the helmet. I clutched him tighter, stifling a shriek as we lurched forward. He wasn’t kidding. The ride was rough—almost painfully so—but somehow, that didn’t stop a wry smile from splitting across my lips as we sped off over the snow. It was equal parts thrilling and terrifying, weaving nimbly between the staggered evergreens. More than once, we hit a bump that I was certain would toss me clear off into the air, but each time we did he braced me, clasping hold of my wrists to keep me from flying away.

I shrieked again, this time with glee, as we tore down a slope out into a frozen meadow. The sun was coming up—a pale ribbon of indigo streaked like a brushstroke behind the trees. I clutched him tighter, holding on for dear life, and pressed my jostling, helmet-clad head against his back. I closed my eyes, listening to the wind whistle by us, feeling the rhythmic rumbling of the seat beneath me. I sighed.

My backside was still bruised, and brutally sore. But down between my thighs, the steady quaking of the engine was stirring up another deeper, altogether different ache than the one rippling through my rear. I bit my lip. I shut my eyes tighter. Algolagnia… Saint Teresa. Blessed Ludovica. Bonarelli was bleeding. Bernini was a bastard… I whimpered, and my breath grew shallow. My toes began to tingle. And just as I felt I couldn’t bear it a moment longer, we slowed, and slid to a stop.

“What is it?” I sat up, flushed and flustered, “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head, and raised his goggles, “We’re here.”

Where’s where? Tentatively, I plucked off my helmet, and glanced around. A jagged outcropping of rocks jutted out just ahead of us, with a steep, tree-daggered slope on either side. The sun shone brightly through the branches, spangling the snow with dancing, silver coins. The spot was scenic, certainly, but otherwise I didn’t see how it was different from any other we’d raced past en route.

“Alright,” I squinted, “So… what now?”

He smirked, brushing a flurry of snowflakes from his hair, “Can you trust me, Penny?”

I eyed him suspiciously, inching backward on my seat, “Um… If I must.”

“Then keep calm,” he stood up, stalking his way slowly behind me, “and do precisely as I say.”

My teeth chattered as he reached for the pashmina, and snatched it away from my neck. Do I really have a choice, Monsieur? He stooped to kiss me, rolling up the scarf into a blindfold, and I shuddered, half-seduced, half-scared witless, as he wrapped it snugly over my eyes. Huit d’épées. Lady Justice, Lady Jane.

He growled, “Now hold still.”

I was about to nod, and answer him, but a shrill shriek rattled through my throat instead as he scooped me up, and lifted me over his shoulder. I flailed at first, and he swatted my backside with the flat of his palm. I yelped once more, and fell still.

“Good girl,” he wrapped his hand around my hips, “Now just breathe.”

I gritted my teeth. Easier said than done, Monsieur. It was hard enough to exhale with his shoulder jammed into my ribs, but between that and the swell of terror I felt as he began to lumber forth, I’m surprised I could still respire at all. My fists clenched. He trudged on through the snow, carrying me along like Lady Jane Greystroke. And as frightened as I felt, as much as I dreaded whatever awaited, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some little part of me that liked it.

I felt his gait shift as the ground leveled off beneath us. The air, I sensed, changed too. It smelled heavier somehow—subtly scented with alum, sulfur, and steam. He let me down softly, leaving his hands on my waist while I found my balance. I shuddered, remembering van Gogh’s Girl in the Woods, her face shaded over by a blonde bycocket—some lost twin, perhaps, to Red Riding Hood—alone in the woods, with a wolf.

“Now, Miss Foster,” his growl made my hair stand on end, “…undress.”

Come again? Whatever warm blood remained in my veins froze solid.

“Again. Not funny,” I held out my hand, searching for him in the darkness, “Not funny at all, Dmitri.”

He snarled softly, “Again. Not a joke, my sparrow.”

I shook my head, horrified, and reached to rip off my blindfold.

He caught me by the wrist, “What did I tell you?” he squeezed, “What did I ask?” Slowly, I felt him slide off my mitten, and lay a cruel, tender kiss on my hand, “I asked if you could trust me, Penny. Can you do it?”

His lips were sweet. His words were poison. My teeth chattered. My heart churned. My tears turned to beads of ice beneath the blindfold. Bastard... I stole my hand away from him. Iscariot. Samael. Lucifer. Caine. In my head, I cursed him with every ecclesiastic anathema I knew. But even as I did so, my body was already beginning to betray me. Slowly, tremulously, I felt my fingers rise to the collar of my parka, seeking out its zipper, and draw it downward, like the blade of a guillotine.

“Good girl,” again, he growled his demonic approval, lifting the mantle from my shoulders, “Go on.”

Cruel, sadistic, manipulative, bastard. What are you doing to me, Dmitri? Bitterly, I slipped loose the buttons of my blouse, and let it fall into the snow. The frigid air pierced me like a legionnaire’s spear. I could barely breathe. And still I couldn't stop. He wouldn’t let me—I knew he wouldn’t—not until he’d torn from me whatever twisted satisfaction he sought from this evil stunt. He wrapped his hands around my bare and bristling hips, edging me on. My brow creased and my skin flushed scarlet as I unfastened my ski pants and jeans, peeling each layer to my ankles. My knees buckled and knocked. To keep my teeth from chattering, I clenched my jaw so hard I thought it might crack.

“Bozhe moi,” he whispered hellishly behind me, sweeping his hands along my shivering shoulder blades to unclasp my brassiere, “what a deadly, little creature you are.”

I whimpered, mortified in more ways than one as he slowly exposed my chest.

“Enough to fell angels,” he breathed, “Enough to turn men to monsters.”

Nudes to heaven. He let his hands fall across my breasts. I cowered, hiding myself like the Venus de’ Medici. He kneaded softly, his lips bristling along my neck, and I nearly screamed as he dragged his fingertips across my stiff and frost-nipped nipples. They, like the rest of me, had skipped past going numb, and my nerves burned for him like a billion, braided blue fuses. I felt their sparks ascend a little higher each time he touched me, coming closer and closer to the two petards of my amygdalae, already silently detonating in the darker, deadlier edges of my brain.

“You were a monster,” I hissed, my voice quavering in the cold, “long before you met me, Mr. Caine.”

“And you were still an angel, Penny,” he stroked my chest once more, and I felt myself begin to split, “even after someone plucked away your wings…” His words fell over me like a layer of frost, “Are you ready?”

Ready? Ready to freeze? Ready to die? I bared my teeth. About ten minutes ago, Monsieur. So hurry up, and put me out of my misery. I was frenzied. Half-hysterical. I was ictal, delirious, apoplectic. It’s beyond, isn’t it? Beyond the pale. After all those rebukes about keeping me safe? I glared into the eigengrau dark of my blindfold. ‘Oh no, you shan’t shower today, m’lady. It’s entirely too cold to step out with wet hair.’ But this? This. This is permissible? You fucking sadist. Pervert. Pygmalion. I dug my nails into my arms. Undressing me a doll, like some life-size fucking Bild Lilli, in the godforsaken snow? I was seething hotter still as he took hold of the scarf. I was ready to scream—to turn and attack him with my teeth, and knees, and nails.

Then he tore loose the blindfold, and every ounce of fury inside me was suddenly supplanted by stupor. …Gehenna? My eyes were still adjusting, and as the scene gradually fell into focus, I had to wonder whether he’d carried me off to entirely new planet, because what I saw seemed not of this world.

It was a steaming, circular spring—hauntingly clear, with shaded stone rings of indigo, amber, and blue. I shook my head, stunned, and spun to face him.

“What,” I stammered, “what is this place, sir?”

“Your surprise,” he answered coolly.

For half a moment, I was so entranced that I almost forgot I was naked. But his gaze was shameless—the way David must’ve leered at Bathsheba, bathing—and I felt my skin flush as he, too, began to undress, laying our clothes on a split log bench nearby. I bit my lip, and burned brighter still as he turned back. Even in the withering cold, the flagstaff of his Oriflamme was still raised to full mast. I swallowed, trying not to stare as he stepped closer. I was nervous. I was exhilarated. And I was bitterly, bitterly cold.

“Come,” he nodded, “Before you freeze, Miss Foster.”

I shut my eyes, shuddering as he knelt to free me from my boots, and held my breath as he slowly slid away my panties, tossing the last vestige of my modesty onto the little pyre behind him. He smirked and pressed his lips against my thigh. I giggled, and cringed, tortured by the prick of his whiskers.

“That laugh,” he stood, “Like a bell… Like Undine’s lay.”

Like Undine’s curse. But who’s luring who, Monsieur? I shivered as he led me to the water’s edge. Eve’s apple. Cleopatra’s asp. We have it backwards, don’t we? We always do. Like Lot’s daughters. Like every alleged temptress over time—abused, embattled, misconstrued. I gazed into the glassy water. I let the steam fill my chest, invading me like Correggio’s Io. He pressed me closer, and I dipped my toe into the surface, watching the ripples recede to the far rim of the pool. Concentric circles. City of Dis. No turning back now, Miss Foster.

He drew me in, deeper and deeper, until I was wading up to my waist in hot water. He did it quickly—like an amputation, or setting a bone—and like either one, the feeling at first was lancinating, and for a moment I thought for certain I’d be boiled alive. But the agony, like the frost in my hair, slowly sublimated, and soon enough I surrendered, sinking down to my shoulders, and laid my head back against his chest. He tightened his grip, lacing his arms around my ribs as he pulled me out further into the pool.

We were silent for some time—lulled, I suppose, by the alien silence of the spring. I gazed up into the swirling mire of steam; into the dancing specks of sunlight, sliced and re-sliced by the snow-laden branches above. I felt his skin slick against mine. I felt myself melting, turning to vapor in his arms.

“That,” I breathed at last, “was maybe the cruelest thing you’ve done to me, Dmitri.”

“Do you think so?” his whiskers bristled against my ear, “I don’t,” his voice darkened, “…I think it was putting between me and Peter.”

Do you call that cruel? My eyes narrowed. Or was it just stupid?

“I regret it. I want you to know,” he slipped his hands lower, down to the dimples just above my buttocks, and I fought away an unwelcome flutter of arousal as he squeezed, “In a perfect world, Penny,” he growled, “I’d be cruel only to kind.”

‘To punish me with this, and this with me…’ ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.’

I wrinkled my nose, “You’d be cruel in a perfect world, sir?”

“Would it upset you if I said ‘yes’?” he cocked his head.

I thought for a moment, and answered him honestly, “No. I suppose you’re at your warmest when you’re cold.”

“So to speak,” he snarled softly, “And you’re well within your rights to castrate me if I ever entirely make my peace with that. But,” he passed his palms lower, gliding down along my inner thighs, “I still think the inverse is something uglier.”

Kindness to be cruel? My head began spinning as he sank his teeth into the taught, trigonal edges of my neck. Circle. Secant. City of Dis. I sighed, sinking lower, and struggled to keep my mind clear. The negative first power. You’re off on a tangent, Penny.

“Maybe,” I stammered, barely still breathing as he tenderly vampirized my throat, “But at leaset it’s more familiar,” my brow furrowed. “I um, I never had to wonder what a man really wanted with me. Not until you, Dmitri.”

He said nothing, but drew back as his lips grazed my shoulder, and paddled us out into deeper water.

“Your bruises,” he nodded, “Do they bother you?”

Changing the subject again, sir?

“The ride was rough,” I shrugged, “I think the water’s helping.”

“I’d hoped it might,” his voice sobered, “Heat, magnesium, silica, bromide,” he splashed, “I don’t know. I think it’s a nostrum. But some will swear by the stuff for bumps and bruises.”

Aches and pains. Toil and trouble. Some sweet, oblivious antidote.

“Bromide,” I narrowed my eyes, “Didn’t British soldiers used to put that in their tea to, um..?”

“To take the edge off?” he chuckled, and squeezed my hips, “Probably apocryphal. But even if they did,” he drew me closer, “I’m afraid it doesn’t seem to be working.”

I flushed crimson as he took hold of my wrists, wrapping my palms around the root of him. He was marble-hard beneath me. I felt out his familiar contours, his circumference. I ran my fingers through the wiry tuft of fur at his base. He sighed darkly, swelling still larger, as I timorously moved my hands along the length of him.

“Patience, Penny,” again, he grasped my wrists, “I’d rather you mend for a moment, first.”

I wetted my lips, “…I thought you said it was a nostrum, sir.”

“Maybe. But Antony gave Cleopatra the Dead Sea for another night in her bed,” his jaw clenched, and his grip upon me grew tighter, “They say the salts were her secret. She bathed in them every morning.”

Lot’s daughters. Lot’s wife. A high point. A low point. I trembled as he traced the tender, inner edges of my thighs, all the way up to their aching symphysis. Pillar of salt. Pillar of fire. Never look back, Penny Foster.

“I wonder,” I breathed, letting his lips again graze the edge of my neck, and reluctantly, released him, “Can you drown in the Dead Sea, sir? Or would you just float to the surface?”

He shrugged, and moved lower, “You’d have to ask Archimedes, I suppose.”

“Was he the one who ran naked through the streets of Syracuse, looking for an honest man?” I pursed my lips, playing dumb.

“Diogenes. Athens. And I’m guessing he was dressed,” he chuckled, and raised his head, “But who knows where he hung his lantern.”

I wrinkled my nose, “So what was Archimedes looking for?”

“A dishonest man, maybe,” his hands moved inward, “someone who broke the law of buoyancy.”

Indicium aquae,” I craned my neck, a crease cutting softly across my brow, “the science of sinking?”

He grinned wryly, “Do you think you’d pass the test, Penny?”

I smirked, though my words were quavering, “Mais oui. I’m innocent, Monsieur. I’d sink like a stone if you let me go.”

“Is that so?”

He snarled, dragging his fingertips, cruelly, from the crus of my clitoris to its tingling tip. I moaned against sealed lips as a pale, blue fire moved through me. I could feel him still; feel his heat, his hardness, his hunger. I felt him move closer as his hands slid beneath me, and my incisors nearly split my lip as he spread, gently, the tight, white cleft of my ass. Concentric circles. Jeune vierge à la fenêtre. Queen Anne’s lacemaker pricked her finger, pricked her finger, pricked or fingered… Why did Lot’s wife look back?

The very thought made me quiver, and flush. I breathed in, I breathed out. I tried to relax; to ready myself. But the desecration didn’t come. Instead, he simply lifted, and set me adrift. I floated there, cruciform before him. The cold air seared against my chest, my cheeks, my knees. I felt my hair fan out like a Byzantine halo, the angelic steam escaping from my skin. Ophelia. Lizzie Siddal. To freeze, or to drown. Which is worse? Silently, I gazed up into the glowering, marble-gray the sky overhead. ‘I was thinking of Auden.’ La Jeune Martyre. La Jeune Vierge. The Swimming of Mary. Phantasy for Elvira. Did Icarus die when he hit the water? Does it matter? Which is worse?

I shut my eyes again, letting the tired idée fixe echo shrilly once or twice more in my head. It couldn’t be helped. It was part of me—as natural as blinking, or breathing. But by and by, the manic pace of both my breath and my mind began to taper. I closed my eyes again, lulled by the warm, hypnotic water. Anadyomene. ‘Those are the pearls.’ The water whispered. The air taunted, and teased. I gave in, more quiet, more calm as he swept his hand along my cheek, combing away a wet tress of hair.

“Guilty,” he ruled, laying a light kiss on my temple.

I smiled, but kept my eyes shut.

“So it seems. I’m at your mercy, then, sir.”

“…So it seems.”

He breathed fire, raising his palm to drizzle a few drops of scalding hot water over my breasts. My breath hitched, and my nipples stiffened. It stung terribly, but I didn’t stop him. I didn’t even cry out—and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to. But what he wanted with me—what he really wanted—whether I knew it then or not, had been his entirely for some time now. It was really the only reason I was there with him; the reason I had bruises on my body, and bite-marks on my lip; the reason he could force me to strip naked for him one moment, blindfolded and shivering in the snow, and still leave me aching shamelessly for him in the next. My mind, my body—whether I’d given them away willingly, or he’d stolen them away while I dreamt—in a real, and more than a little unsettling sense, they both belonged to him.

“I swear,” slowly, I opened my eyes, watching my words disappear into the aether, “I can’t even imagine it, sir.”

“Imagine what?” his words were cool as the clouds above us.

“What it must feel like,” my toes curled, “the hold you have over me,” I breathed out slowly, sinking deeper, “To know you could make someone do anything. That you could do anything to them,” I blinked, “I could barely tell myself what to do—even before I knew you. It was always Marie, or it was Peter. My brothers. My Father. Michael…” I shook my head. “I’ve never felt the way you must feel right now. Not nearly.”

“I’ve told you before,” he sighed, and slid his arms beneath me, “you’re the one with the real power here, Penny. Remember. You can stop this any time you like.”

“No,” I glanced up, watching the water bead over his whiskers and brow, “I can't. I know I’m not supposed to say so, sir,” I swallowed, “but I really don’t think I can tell you ‘no’.”

His eyes flashed, “You don’t mean that.”

Do I not? I nodded solemnly.

“I’m yours. More than you realize,” I lowered my gaze, “and if you told me to wander into the woods right now--to wait out in the snow and let myself freeze--there’s this miserable little part of me that’s scared I might actually do it.”

“You're not a toy to me, Penny,” He gritted his teeth, “you know as well as I do--I have a way of devouring things of beauty," his grip tightened, "but I'd gouge out my eyes before I let myself harm you. You must know that."

Must I? I crossed my arms, guarding myself, and slithered out of his embrace.

“Did you know, sir," I murmured, "I almost drowned when I was nine?”

He shook his head gravely.

“Riptide,” I turned away, “back in Nags Head. I was swimming near the pier. It came out of nowhere, and just... carried me away,” I furrowed my brow, remembering, and drew a slow, blue eddy in the water. “I couldn’t stop it. No matter how much I wanted to. And I remember, I was terrified, right up until the moment I realized I was going to die.”

The wind whistled in the branches above.

“Giving up. Giving in,” I breathed, “that’s what made it bearable.”

"Yet, here you are," His voice was jagged, and cool, "Someone rescued you. Who was it?"

I shrugged, “A stranger. Fishing on the pier. He dove in, and dragged me out... Never even told me his name.”

Did Icarus die? His face was ashen. I wondered. I wondered whether he knew I was lying.

“There’s a lot I’ve never told you, sir.”

He nodded, cocking his head to one side, and moved closer. I didn’t retreat. I didn't glance up. I felt him put his palm against mine, interlacing our hands underwater.

“I’m listening,” he squeezed.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a strategy. I didn't have a goal. I only knew I was suffocating under the weight of what I’d kept from him. And I knew it felt nice, for once, just holding his hand.

“That night,” I dropped my eyes lower, “driving back from Peter’s party. I sort of jumped you. Remember?”

His eyes flashed, “How could I forget?”

“We weren't careful. You were concerned,” I trailed off, “I um, I wanted to tell you then...”

“Tell me what, Penny?” his words were heavy as lead.

“I can’t,” I swallowed dryly, and scowled, “…I can’t get pregnant, Dmitri. So. I guess from now on, you don’t have to worry.”

For a moment, he seemed to turn to stone.

“…Can’t?” his voice was razor thin.

“I don’t like talking about it,” I shut my eyes, smothering the dew brimming up at their edges, “I hate talking about it. But the accident—back when I broke my arm,” my heart crept slowly into my throat, “there was… a lot of trauma. And you deserve to know, I guess,” I raised my chin, and sniffed, still stubbornly suppressing the tears, “I’m broken.”

He fixed his gaze, studying me with his ice-blue eyes. The steam rose up between us as he pulled me in close against him.

"Penny," he bent his head, laying a firm, paternal kiss on my brow, "I couldn't have you any other way."

I shuddered, unsure of what he meant.

“You have your jagged edges. I have mine. It’s staggering, the ways that they tesselate,” he lifted my chin, “I could never have come so close to you, Penny—not if we weren’t both missing pieces. Not if you didn’t have your holes for me to fill."

Escher's angles. Angels and devils. Concentric circles. City of Dis. I sighed tensely, resting my cheek against his chest. A bitter tear escaped my eyelid, darting its way down my cheek.

“You’re... not angry with me, are you?" I breathed, "I know I ought to have told you sooner.”

“You told me. That’s enough,” he stroked my sopping hair, tracing it down over the rolling ridges of my back, “And someday when you’re ready,” he pressed, “you’re going to tell me the rest.”

I flushed, and felt my heart fibrillate. He knows. How does he always know? I shook my head. I’m not really sure how long he held me. I'm not even sure if I cried. There was a kind of crystalline stillness in the air—a metaphase between matter, and time—and for a while, even the steam seemed to stand still. When I came to, though, my head was still pressed to his chest. The earth was still spinning. I listened to him breathing. I listened to the beat of his heart.

‘You have a murmur,’ I remembered the invasive auscultation, ‘Did you know you have an innocent heart, Miss Foster?’ I flushed darker. Indicium aquae. Amor caescus est. Iustitia, barefoot, blindfolded. The two of swords. J’accuse.

“This color, sir…” I murmured, rolling my hand across the water, “What makes it so blue?”

“The same as veins, I suppose,” he cocked his head, “Refraction of fluids. A trick of the eye.”

I frowned, “I thought it was something to do with breathing,” I turned my wrist, “isn’t the blood in veins blue?”

“Well. I think you know as well as anyone,” gently, he traced the scar on my arm to my elbow, “it doesn’t much matter how you cut yourself. You still bleed shades of red.”

I bit my lip, and buried my head against him, “Yes. I suppose that’s true.”

He slid his hand lower, grasping my palm, and raised it up slowly out of the water.

“You’re wrinkling,” he smirked.

“You’re one to talk,” I simpered, and sniffed, “mon vieux vicelard.”

He chuckled, and fell back with me under the blue shade of the rock face. I narrowed my eyes. Near its edge, a set of stone steps had been cut away, rising up precipitously to the overhang.

“Where does that lead?” I croaked, my voice still throaty, and thin, “What’s up there?”

His eyes flashed darkly as we neared the pool’s rim, “Would you like to find out, Miss Foster?”

My dear, my dear. Shall I be late? I shuddered in his arms, idly shocked by how far down the hole I’d already fallen. I wondered, if I fell a verst further, whether I’d ever find my way out again. I wondered, if I did, whether I would even want to. I could tell you—but it’s no use. Beginning this morning. No use going back to yesterday.

“Come,” he nodded, kissing once more the place where I’d pricked my finger, “Before you wither away, Cléopâtre.”

Avev un grain de sel. What was her secret? I breathed in deeply. I sank myself deeper. ‘Where most she satisfies. For vilest things.’

 

 

 

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Copyright © © M. Thomas Ashe, 2018. All rights reserved.

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