Stef sat up screaming, the feeling of her heart being torn out still far too real. She collapsed down, surprised to find herself on a soft surface, instead of the hard gym floor or the cold examination trolley. She blinked, and saw her bedroom come into view. Her old bedroom in her old apartment. An old place, a safe place.
‘There’s nothing you have to do for a few hours,’ she heard Ryan say as she felt his hand on her shoulder. ‘I thought you might be more comfortable here.’
She tried to get a good angle to look at him, then gave up and simply used his chest as a pillow. Again. Angels were good pillows. ‘Are you sure,’ she said, trying to push away images of the bodies, ‘that this won’t get me disqualified?’
‘I’m sure it won’t,’ he said.
‘Is it almost over?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know, but for the moment, you can forget about it for a while.’
There was something warm against her face, and she lifted her head to see blood on his shirt. ‘What the-?!’
Two strong hands pulled her into a sitting position, and he tilted her head to the side. A simple, white handkerchief wiped the blood from her face. ‘It’s just a bit of excess,’ he explained, ‘sometimes glitches can leave marks in the real world.’
‘Christ,’ she whispered, ‘anything else I need to know?’
‘There’s blood on your shirt,’ he said, ‘take it off.’
She made a face. ‘Just require me a new one.’
‘I need to see if you’re bleeding, or if it’s healed itself up, you’re a complete unknown, Stef, we have to take this slowly.’
‘Gee, great’ she muttered, removed her shirt, then crossed her arms over her chest.
He wiped away at the excess blood, then gently lifted one arm away from her chest, looking at the lines of scars.
‘They’re all old,’ she said, ‘nothing new, don’t worry.’
He ran a finger over one of her smaller scars, and hot prickles ran up her spine, but kept her cool, kept her hands still, didn’t slap him away. ‘I bet you’ve got scars as well,’ she said, her voice catching a little as he stared at the one she’d once named Fred. He ran his hand across another scar and her gut twisted.
She tried to calm herself down: it was just Ryan looking at her scars, there were a lot of them, anyone would stop and take notice, it didn’t mean anything. She struggled to take a breath to settle herself, reminding herself that people-who-were-people-but-weren’t-human had different boundaries, and wouldn’t necessarily understand that staring at someone naked, even half-naked, made them uncomfortable.
‘I’m kinda cold,’ she said as casually as she could, ‘could I have my shirt back?’
He withdrew a little, smiled and placed both of his hands on her bare shoulders. Again, it was uncomfortable, unfamiliar, unwanted, but he tried to reason with her erratic pulse that there was nothing wrong, that it was just Ryan, that it was just Ryan.
That it was just Ryan kissing her.
Her mind froze as warm, moist lips touched her own cold and dry ones, as his tongue flicked across her lips and into her open, surprised mouth. The hands on her shoulders gripped tighter, and pulled her closer so that he could deepen the kiss.
She raised the other hand she’d had across her chest and weakly pushed at him. He didn’t resist her attempts to push her away, and as soon as he let her shoulders go, she collapsed down onto her pillows, staring up at him uncomprehendingly, through a mist of fresh tears.
He stared down at her, confused. ‘Not exactly as I’d hoped,’ he said.
‘What?’ she managed, her voice shaking almost as much as she was.
Incredulity entered his expression. ‘What?’ he echoed. ‘I think that’s a rather unnecessary question.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I told you that I’d look after you.’
‘I know,’ she said, wrapping her arms back across her chest, wanting to disappear into herself. ‘I didn’t think-’
‘I like you,’ he said, ‘but it’s only fair I get something in return, don’t you think?’ He pulled away the sheet that covered her legs. ‘I don’t understand your reaction though, I thought you…I mean, I thought you liked me too.’
‘I do,’ she whispered, ‘I really do.’ She tried to stop herself from shaking. ‘But not like this. I thought- God. Just no. This isn’t happening.’
This seemed to confuse him. ‘You’ve gone through so much, it will be so much easier if you let me comfort you.’ His jacket disappeared, as did his vest and tie and he began to unbutton his shirt. ‘Stef, the world makes so much more sense if have someone to hold onto. I know you’re scared, but you don’t have to be.’
Thoughts were telling her to run, thoughts were telling her to scream, but she did neither, unable to move, or think, as he lowered himself to her level, lying on the bed beside her. She made a small noise of protest as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, skin touching skin, fabric against fabric.
She was still wearing pants, and she was thankful for this, they provided some small burst of sanity. Something to hang onto, something that said that-
He kissed her again, then his mouth slid from hers to plant a trail of hot, wet kisses down her neck while his hands explored her back. ‘I’ll be gentle,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘You have nothing to worry about.’
She was still crying, she was still shaking, but no words would come, no screams could escape, and she couldn’t raise her hands against him again, the fear, the shock, the disgust…all of it left her pliable. His catatonic little doll to play with. His hands slipped away from her back, one sliding across her chest, the others running through her hair.
He rolled her back onto her back, and climbed atop her, his weight crushing her, immobilising her further, making it even harder for her to breathe. He grabbed one of her hands and pressed it to his chest. ‘You can touch me too, you don’t have to be afraid.’
As soon as he let her hand go, she let it fall limply, and somewhere outside herself she felt the sensation of it falling to the soft bed. She wanted to curl it into a fist and hit him, she wanted to dig into her own chest and wish herself away from him, or to pinch herself in the hopes that she would wake up.
He laid one hand on her chest, over her still heart. ‘I’ll make it feel like this is beating again. I’ll make you feel alive again.’
He kissed her again, and she wanted to bite his tongue, to close her mouth, to do anything to stop him, but found herself still unable to move, still disbelieving that it was happening, still shaking too much.
He reached for her pants and began to loosen her belt.
‘No,’ she whispered, ‘I don’t want this.’
He slapped her hard across the face, and she tasted blood.
‘You have no idea,’ he said as he pulled her belt free, ‘what you want.’
She swallowed the blood, and watched him retreat just a little so that he could remove her pants. She felt them be pulled free, leaving her in nothing but her plain, sensible panties. She felt his pants disappear, so that there was even more skin touching. Gently, he pulled her legs apart and slid himself between them. Only one thin layer of cotton separated them. Only one thin layer of cotton held her sanity to her.
‘Please,’ she whispered again. ‘Don’t.’
‘Then stop me,’ he said as he nuzzled her neck.
Hot tears rolled down the side of her face. ‘I can’t.’
‘You don’t want to,’ he said, his words blowing warm air across her cold chest. ‘You want me.’
‘You can’t be a child anymore,’ she said as he slid his hands lower, hooking a finger on either side of her panties. ‘It’s time for you to grow up.’
He began to slid her panties down, and she closed her eyes, letting the blackness take her.