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As Flowers Bloom

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White, lavender, purple, black. Hyacinth, hawthorne, and peony. Isn't it strange how the world is redrawn after death? Crepe, velvet, silk, shuttered curtains, dark ribbons everywhere. Death comes with a stench, it does, and it's flowers just past their prime.

That old monster Léonie had said so. She'd been right in one way after all. And wasn't that something, that despite all her posturing, all her fretfulness and feeble puling, she'd predicted this, down to the end?

"Poor Vinteuil," she'd sighed, shaking her decrepit old head. "Poor old man. His daughter will be the death of him, that's for sure."

And she'd been right. How she would laugh if she could see it now- the old musician in his coffin at last, laid to rest after so many long, thankless years, and his daughter, the light of his life, the one star in his crown, drowning herself in absinthe and melancholy, too ashamed to live other than in a world of dreams.

Too ashamed- too guilty. She'd been the death of him, that was sure enough. He couldn't live with the pain anymore, it had poisoned his heart, sure as it had poisoned the minds of the people around them. At first, they'd denied it, but-

No. After even little Marcel had stopped visiting, they'd known. It was like that now.

And there was nothing she could do, no way to honor his memory, except by doing what she hated most. He had died so that she might live for her own pleasure, evil, wicked, selfish, everything she abhorred. To give it up now, to give in to the softness in her heart, that would be a disservice. He had told her to be happy. Very well, she would. But wasn't he the one who'd taught her that happiness was wrong? If she wanted to fulfill his last wish for her, she would have to offer herself to the darkness.

And she would. Her love and piety were stronger than her heart. But she would mourn herself, even as she mourned her father. Parent and child, they had both been buried together.

That was why she'd spit on the picture of her father, put her foot on it, left it lying face down on the floor while she gave herself to Violet, the one person left in Combray who still called her by her first name. It had hurt more than anything to do this, but she'd known it was right. If she couldn't sever this last tie, she would never become what she needed to be. She had to be evil. There was no other way to be happy. She had to be evil, and it had to be absolute. This was what she would do for her father, since she could do nothing else.

It hurt Violet almost as much. She, too, had loved old M. Vinteuil, loved him almost as a daughter would. So of course she knew that his last wish had to be carried out, but to see it fulfilled at the expense of his daughter, the woman she'd taken into her affections, that was almost too much to bear. She had said so, on several different occasions. And maybe she understood now, but it still hurt her every waking moment.

"Madeleine?"

Violet's voice. Was she back already? Time flowed so strangely these days, not hazy like heaven, but twisted, knotted, woven like the roughest of tapestries with patterns that never quite matched.

Madeleine looked up and forced a smile.

"Violet. Surely you can't be done with your walk already."

"But I am." Violet sat down beside her on the settee. "My dear, have you been sitting here this whole time? Look, it's already dusk, and the lamps aren't even lit."

"I didn't notice."

Violet picked up the half-empty bottle of absinthe on the table, and held it up.

"This must be why. I know that you're grieving, and I'm so sorry. But this is no way to deal with the pain."

"Then, what? Shall I dance on my father's grave? Run through the town decrying his name? Finally visit M. Swann, as he forbid me to do?" Madeleine's voice crescendoed to a sob, and she seized Violet by the wrist. "Tell me, Violet! How else can I destroy myself? How can I lay my father to rest?"

"Oh, Madeleine. My poor Madeleine."

Violet reached for her, soft and gentle as only few knew she could be. Madeleine went to her arms, but didn't yet allow herself to be kissed. This was more than she deserved.

"How?" she whispered. Her voice, the voice her father had been so proud of, was so hoarse these days, permanently broken from crying. Well, that was another way in which she was throwing herself away.

Violet was silent for a beat. Only her deep breathing and her soft hands, gently stroking up and down Madeleine's shoulders, stirred the heavy stillness of the room. So much stillness, so much quiet, now, for a room that had only recently been filled with music. Finally, Violet stirred.

"Madeleine, my heart. My sweet Madeleine. Must you kill yourself this way?"

There was too much to say. Madeleine could only nod. "There is no other choice."

"Nothing else will satisfy you?"

"Not even this will satisfy me. It will only bring me the faint pleasure of knowing that I did right."

"Then, I must promise you something." Violet let go of Madeleine and sat her up to hold her hands and look her deep in the eyes. "Madeleine, star of my life, I promise you that I will never let you go. As long as life endures in me- no. Even after that, because I will not let my soul be separated from yours. For all eternity, then, my Madeleine, let me stay by your side. I will keep you in my heart even after you have done away with yourself, and if the time comes to bring you back, I will be there to give it to you with a kiss."

"Violet." Madeleine's voice felt heavy, with pain, yes, but also with love. "My love, I promise you the same."

"Then, let us seal our vow as they did in days of old."

Madeleine leaned forward to meet Violet's mouth with her own, signing their promise. Before it could become anything more, though, Violet pulled away.

"I have something else to ask you."

"Ask me."

"It's simple matter, but one that may need some thought. Madeleine, I love you. And I would do anything for you, you know I would. But it breaks my heart to see you go on this way. Is there not some way you could bring out the darkness that you seek without hurting anyone?"

Madeleine searched her lover's face. There seemed to be something there, something that went beyond simple questioning. Violet had an idea.

"Tell me," she said.

"It's me. You may use me."

Madeleine looked at her in confusion, not comprehending. Then,

"No! Violet, my darling, I refuse. I could never hurt you!"

"You would not hurt me." Violet smiled at her, sharp and daring, returning a shadow of the cocky minx she'd once been. "I value my own well-being as much as does anyone, and I would not suggest something that would be unpleasant for me. No, what I am suggesting is of a different nature."

"A different nature?"

"Oh, my innocent kitten. Yes, very different." Violet inclined her head to breathe against Madeleine's neck. Her breath was warm and sweet. "I want you to take me to bed and have your way with me. Possess me, use me. Show me just how wicked you can be."

Madeleine gulped. She had never thought about this. Before Violet had come into her life, she had never thought much about sex at all, counting it as one of those dark, forbidden things that left irreparable spots on the soul and made ladies turn away in the street. She hadn't spent much time imagining... anything, really, except for secret, shameful moments at night, or in the bath after a long day. But when Violet came along, she'd brought with her so many new ideas, and maybe it was wrong, but Madeleine would be lying if she said she didn't want it.

And now, this. She had never considered it before, since Violet had always been the more dominant one, both in and out of the bedroom, but she couldn't deny that the idea had a certain appeal. She had imagined some things, sometimes while Violet lay next to her in the dead of night, and she knew that given the chance, she would not be averse to exploring them. But could she?

"Violet," she said. "Do you know what you are suggesting?"

"I do. Do not forget, my sweet, that I am older than you, and more experienced in many ways. I have walked this path before, and believe me when I say this- there is much pleasure to be found there."

Madeleine blushed. Was this really all right? The idea was intriguing, and she couldn't deny the pull. But could she really dispense with her demons so easily? As if sensing her thoughts, Violet let go of her hand and reached up to caress her cheek.

"It's all right to love, you know."

But, that was the problem, wasn't it? It was her love that had killed her father and set public opinion so against them all, and caused so much harm. If that was so, it must be evil.

Evil, though, was what she must now be.

"If I do this," she said slowly, "you must know that I am merely causing harm so that I may love you."

"Then you will do it?"

Madeleine shuddered. It seemed wrong for her to even seek for absolution this way. It was too easy, too unfair, not enough. But Violet had asked. Maybe it would do more good than harm- or, since that was not the objective, more harm than good. What was good? It was all so confusing. This, though, this was simple enough. This, she could do.

"I'll do it," she said. "Whenever you wish."

Violet's smile lit the room. "Then, I am at your mercy. Lead on."

Madeleine took them to her bedroom. There was no need to stay in the parlor anymore, not when the bad purpose of that room had been used up. And besides, for this, the bedroom seemed more fitting.

Violet certainly seemed to think so. She followed behind Madeleine, more demure than she'd ever appeared. At first, Madeleine thought she was afraid, and had turned around in panic, but then she'd seen the excited glint in her eyes, and realized she was merely preparing for her role already.

By the time they had locked themselves in (not that there was any need to, but it felt safer, somehow, and also more illicit), Violet was fully into character. She stood in front of Madeleine with her hands clasped, as if waiting for instructions.

"Here we are," she murmured.

Madeleine was at a loss. Even with Violet easing her way like this, she wasn't sure what to do. Fortunately, nights between them often started in much the same way. This, she could do. And then, who knew. Maybe inspiration would strike. She tried to stand tall, make her gaze harsh.

"Undress for me," she said.

Violet nodded. She loosened the laces on her dress ever so slowly, and began to peel it off her shoulders. Madeleine had to swallow. She was putting on a show.

"Is this all right?"

"Yes." It was amazing how easily Madeleine could suppress the shivers in her voice if she really tried. "Go slowly. I want to watch you."

"As you wish."

Violet continued to undress. She discarded her dress, her underthings, and finally her shoes and stockings, leaving only her jewelry and the ribbon around her neck. Madeleine had always loved that ribbon, but she had never thought of it as particularly sexual. Now, though, it was imbued with quite another light. Violet looked like a tempting present, ready to unwrap and take apart.

"Leave that on," she said. "I want you all pretty for me."

Violet stayed her hands immediately, bringing them down to her sides. Madeleine felt a rush of power (or was it desire?) shooting through her belly.

"On your knees," she said.

Violet gracefully let herself down to the floor. She folded her hands on her lap and looked up imploringly, as if begging Madeleine not to forget about her. As if there was any chance of that. Still, though, this gave Madeleine an idea for the next step in the game. She pointed at Violet, deliberately casual.

"Stay there. Wait for me and don't move."

A flash of dismay lit Violet's eyes, and Madeleine thought she'd done the right thing. Without another word, she turned and left the room, leaving the door open just a crack. She wanted to enhance this power dynamic as much as possible, make it clear from the start who was in charge, but she also wanted to prepare herself. It was difficult to think of what to do next with her Violet, and she needed time.

Before long, though, she was back, items in hand. Violet was still kneeling on the floor, though by now, she was looking a little impatient.

"You left me," she said.

"Only because I knew you would wait."

Madeleine turned around, ignoring Violet again, as she went to arrange her bed. Before too long, she heard a soft whine coming from behind her.

"Madeleine..."

Madeleine didn't turn around. "Don't be impatient, now. You know that all good things take time."

Violet didn't answer that. Madeleine supposed it was a little too early in the evening for her to start begging. Well, there was time for that later. She finished her preparations, then turned around and walked forward slowly, savoring the look on Violet's face.

"You want me?" she asked, without really asking. "You want me to look at you? Pay attention to you?"

Violet nodded, gazing at her with big, hopeful eyes. Madeleine stepped right against her and held her chin, tilting it up.

"Then, what do you say?"

"Please."

Violet's voice was so much breathier and softer than usual. She usually spoke confidently, brightly, as if she took it as a given that the world would fall at her feet. But now, she was all submissiveness. Madeleine was drunk on it.

"Please what?"

"Please, Madeleine, let me give myself to you. Please take me. I'm yours to use, so please..."

"All right." Madeleine looped her finger under the ribbon on Violet's neck and tugged. "Get up. On the bed with you."

Violet got up and climbed onto the bed. She was about to lie down, but Madeleine held up a hand to stop her.

"No, no. Don't move. I have something in mind for you."

Obediently, Violet stopped and sat in place, one hand resting against her inner thigh, as if she would be touching herself, had she been given permission. She was beautiful. Madeleine wanted to see more.

"Put your hands up against the headboard," she said. "I'm going to tie you down, and you're going to let me take you like that."

Violet bit her lip and groaned. Her eyes were wide and glassy, pupils blown with arousal. Quite obviously, Madeleine was doing something right.

This was just proof, Madeleine thought, that pleasure was linked to cruelty. How could either of them be enjoying this, if the two were not so intermingled? This was the only way.

She picked up the rope on her bedside table, thin enough to use, but not so thin that it would hurt. No matter how far this game was played, she thought, she could never bring herself to hurt her beloved Violet in any substantial manner. Still, smiling sharply, she advanced towards the bed, holding out the rope like a promise.

In her childhood, she had been quite the expert at tying knots. Her father, indulgent and kind as he was, had always let her do as she pleased, and she had learned many such skills from the older boys around Combray. Now, it seemed those skills would come in handy once again. She made quick work of the rope, tying Violet to the bed as securely as she could allow, and sat back to admire her handiwork.

"Is it all right?"

Violet nodded. "I can't move at all."

"Good."

She got off the bed, never breaking eye contact. Now, she was going to put on a little show of her own. Slowly, ever so slowly, she began to strip off her dress, paying minute attention to the laces and ties. Usually, she was fairly careless with her clothes, ripping them off to cast them away, or tossing them haphazardly on the floor. But now, she was fastidiousness itself. Violet stared at her as she worked, barely even blinking. Clearly, she was entranced.

Madeleine wasn't sure what she would do once she had finished undressing. Should she just climb onto the bed and proceed? That seemed a little rushed. Fortunately, the twitch of Violet's fingers as she strained against the ropes, longing to touch, gave her an idea.

"Watch, now," she said. "If I'm going to devote this evening to you, paying attention to you as you asked, surely it is only right that I please myself first. So watch, because after this, the only one being touched will be you."

Violet looked at her, slack-jawed. Evidently, she hadn't been expecting this. Well, good. It was Madeleine's aim to throw her off. Carelessly, she let her hand trail down between her legs, beginning to touch as she spoke.

"I love seeing you like this, you know. Watching me. Do you like watching? Am I putting on a pretty show for you?"

Violet seemed torn between nodding and shaking her head. Her fingers curled almost reflexively, as if she wanted to break away from the ropes that held her.

"Madeleine, I want-"

"Hush. Be a good girl and watch me quietly."

Violet whimpered again, but she obeyed. It wasn't much longer, anyway, because just the sight of her, combined with the headiness of the moment, was enough to send Madeleine over the edge. She took a second to shake the lights out of her vision, but soon, she was moving over to the bed in a smooth, predatory glide.

"Are you ready?" she purred. Violet could only stare at her wide-eyed, and nod. "Good."

She climbed onto the bed and stretched herself over Violet, looming over her and looking down. Violet's mouth dropped open, as if in awe. This was as good an invitation as any, so Madeleine lifted a lazy finger and drew it against those sweet pink lips.

"Do you want to taste me?"

She didn't give Violet a chance to reply. Instead, she pressed her finger inside Violet's willing mouth, in and down, until the girl took her cue and began to suck.

It shouldn't have felt like anything, but right now, it was as if all of Madeleine's nerve endings were on fire. She couldn't hold back a moan as she added in another finger.

"That's right," she said. "Get me all nice and wet, sweetheart. And then I'll fuck you. Would you like that?"

"Mm." Violet arched up against her, as if searching for friction. Her body was taut and tense, strung tight as the strings of Madeleine's guitar, and just as ready to be played. "Please," she mumbled.

Madeleine smirked at her. "So greedy. You want more, is that it?"

She didn't leave a chance to reply. She knew what the answer would be, anyway. Sweetly, almost teasingly, she dragged her fingers out of Violet's mouth, past her lips, and down her throat, noting the way she stirred and shuddered at the slight pressure there.

"You like that?" Violet nodded, a short, jerky movement. "Good."

Slowly, carefully (because game or not, this was the world's most precious life in her hands), Madeleine closed her fingers around the pale column of Violet's throat, only tightening her hold when Violet lifted her head to press into it. Her eyes were wide, and shot through almost to the rim with black.

"Please," she rasped.

Madeleine wouldn't admit it, at least not right now, but this was enough to set her afire. She would do anything for Violet, she thought, anything at all. If she asked, Madeleine would set the world aside simply for her sake. She leaned in to catch the other girl's mouth with her own; the first kiss they'd shared all evening.

Although, maybe /shared/ was a bit too generous a term. Madeleine was clearly the one driving the kiss, taking everything, everything that Violet had to give. She swallowed Violet's muted sighs, tasted her own name as it spilled from between their lips.

"Oh, Violet," she sighed, pulling away for an instant to run her free hand across the girl's face, "Violet, if you could only see yourself as I see you now. Time itself would stop for you."

Violet's face showed exactly what she thought of this. She didn't want time to stop, no- she wanted it to keep flowing, and in a very particular direction, too.

"Madeleine," she whispered.

Madeleine took her hand away from her throat. "What is it, darling? Ask me."

"Madeleine, Madeleine, please I need..."

"What do you need?"

Madeleine never would have predicted this within herself, but there was nothing like this power, nothing like seeing her beautiful, forceful Violet reduced to this whimpering mess beneath her. It was toxic. It was intoxicating. She needed more.

"Beg me," she said. "Tell me what you want me to do to you, you pretty little thing. Come on."

"Please, Madeleine. Oh..." Violet wiggled in place, seemingly desperate for any touch that Madeleine might give her. "Please, take me. Show me that I'm yours. Take me, use me, do whatever you'd like with me, and I'll love it, I'll... Madeleine, please-"

"All right, all right." Madeleine stroked a knuckle down Violet's face, casually possessive. "How could I deny you when you're being so good for me? I'll give you what you want, love."

She reached around to the bedside table, groping for the hairbrush she kept there. It had never occurred to her to use it like this before, but right now, in the heat of the moment, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Violet seemed confused for a second, until Madeleine brandished it meaningfully, and then her mouth dropped open, as if by itself.

"Madeleine- Madeleine-"

"Hmm?" Madeleine leaned over her again, trailing one hand lazily up her thigh. "It's not that I don't love hearing my name from your pretty mouth, my love, but you need to use your words. What do you want?"

Violet seemed to be struggling with herself. Her mouth opened and closed several times, and clearly she was trying to speak, but nothing came out. Madeleine pressed a little closer.

"You need to tell me. I wouldn't want to do something you wouldn't like, after all. Tell me what you want, and I'll give it to you, but otherwise..."

"Oh..." Violet shifted against the ropes and moaned aloud, and if Madeleine had been a weaker woman, she would have dropped the act immediately. But she wasn't, and she knew she had to take this to its finish, so she reached out to lift Violet's chin inspecting her with faux concern.

"Is something wrong?"

"No- no." Violet tipped her head to the side, enough leverage to press a kiss to Madeleine's palm. Madeleine felt her heart lurch. How was it possible to love someone this much?

"You sweet little thing," she murmured, and kissed her softly on the forehead. "Don't worry, then, angel. I'll take care of you."

Violet's eyes fluttered shut, either too calmed or too aroused to maintain her gaze.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Madeleine couldn't have held back after that even if she'd wanted to. She slicked the handle of the brush, just to be sure of making things good for Violet, and carefully, teasingly slowly, pressed it inside. Violet's hips twitched, as if involuntarily begging for more, but there wasn't much she could do, restrained as she was. So Madeleine made sure to give all she could, using every tool in her arsenal to bring her to the brink.

It didn't take long. Violet was close already, just from what Madeleine had been doing, and she was so deep in her role that when Madeleine told her to come, she did, almost immediately. It was impressive, really. Madeleine had never thought she'd have so much power over another person- or that she'd enjoy it so much.

She didn't take it much further, though, having seen the play through to the end. So carefully, she untied Violet from the bed, and lifted her up to lie in her arms.

"Sweet, precious girl," she half-whispered, half-sang. "You were so good, so perfect. I'm so proud of you, darling."

"Really?" Violet shifted against her, letting her head loll back against her shoulder. "Madeleine, was I good? Was I good for you?"

"Yes, you were, sweetling. You were so good." Madeleine began to comb through her hair, easing the worst of the tangles. She was careful not to tug too hard, though, seeing how soft and fragile Violet was now. "Sweetheart," she said. "I love you so much. I would do anything for you, anything. I promise, no matter what, I want to be with you, and do anything I can to make you happy. Because if you're by my side, happiness doesn't seem so insurmountable."

"We'll be happy?"

"Yes. You and me, together. We'll be happy."

Violet hummed and stretched luxuriously, then let herself down to lie against Madeleine's side. She nuzzled soft kisses against her thigh, eyes shut in lazy contentment.

"I'm happy already," she said.

"Are you?" Madeleine scratched lightly at Violet's hair, letting the silk-straight locks play through her fingers once again.

"Mm. I promise."

"Then how could I be anything but happy as well?"

Violet reached up to grip at her hand. "Come down here," she said. "Lie down with me."

Madeleine couldn't refuse Violet anything, much less such a dear request, so she lay down and fit their bodies together like punctuation marks. Violet's breath was warm on her skin, and her hair was soft, and her arms felt like castle walls. She was everything.

"You're happy?" Madeleine asked her, once they'd settled in, and allowed the intimacy to wash over them, just a little.

Violet smiled against her skin. "Madeleine," she said. "People call me a hedonist and a pleasure seeker, and maybe they are right, I am. But know that never in my life have I felt such joy and contentment as I have with you. I'm happy, my love. I can promise you that with certainty."

Madeleine returned the smile, and gave with it a kiss, soft as spring rain. "Then, I need nothing else. For you, I would let go of my sadness. For you, dear Violet, I would love."

"Then let us love."

Madeleine felt her heart swell as it had long, long ago. Her eyes welled up, unbidden, but she made no move to cover them. She was too much on the edge of emotion, balanced on the finest of points between security, and bright, frightening, joy. True, what was ahead of her was unknown, and maybe it was wrong, but it was where Violet was, and with her, nothing could be truly wrong.

Madeleine closed her eyes, ready as an acrobat to leap across a precipice. Her heart was fluttering, and her breath was coming fast, but finally, finally, she knew where she was.

"Violet," she said. Violet looked at her, wide eyes and curved lip and beauty and love and everything good that Madeleine thought she would never know.

"Yes, my darling."

Madeleine kissed her softly, a promise and a vow. "Let us be happy," she said. "Let us love."