"Mark my words, \\\\Clerk////, it will fade. There is no need to simply imagine it." He runs his hand along the cone of your Dewcatcher, the gentle touch of fingernails on metal producing a soothing scree not unlike the sustained chords of a harp.
You had come to the Marvel Ouse that day seeking blood, your various agonies subconsciously curling your trotters into fists. The promotions were unbearable. You'd found no solace swaddled in the cavernous folds of the Shushbaby, nor did the crashing waves of the sea silence the anger throbbing deep within you. Your mind raged against the Institute that had caused you such pain. As your skull threatened to split open and your teeth ground themselves into powder, you could think of nothing except retribution, of those among your people who demanded equal payment for wounds inflicted. And so you throttled the bells of your grave-skirt and shouted at the Bathetic to take you to Wayle, though you imagined the poor creature did not completely understand. He led you there, feathers quivering as you continued screaming behind him, the knives you spat matched in sharpness only by the blade of your trowel.
Yet as you approached the chaise lounge upon which his sickly form reclined, you felt a sharp pang in the pit of your stomach. Your heart began to flutter erratically and you found yourself too weak to even raise your weapon. Your shouts turned to sobs, spilling from the lip of the Dewcatcher and drowning the air with your pain. As you collapsed to your knees before him, you caught a glimpse of a smile playing across his face, an omen of satisfaction, as if he had always known you were too pathetic to end him. You imagined you deserved nothing less than a few strikes for your transgression, but as you sat there in a grey heap, choking on your own phlegm, the tears misting your visor, Wayle did something you weren't expecting. He reached down and drew you into his arms.
You think of how silly you must look, with half of your body hanging off the too-small chaise lounge, and the other half anchored down by arms as weightless as a fly's wings. How many times had you tried to kill this man? Why now do you feel so content to just lie here, your face pressed to his pock-marked chest, humming along quietly as his hands play you like an instrument?
"SHHHHSHHHHSHHH…it's alright, poppet." His coos cut through the stagnant air, spiraling down the funnel to reach you. One hand continues to caress your Dewcatcher; the other rests between your shoulder blades, gently kneading the rubber and flesh there. You sink deeper into him, your breathing growing calmer, more regular. The pain still remains, but has become more of an afterthought; you are too entranced by the lights that dance across your visor, the dazzling Molloscus that makes Wayle's pale skin seem a little more…
It had been so long since you'd seen another human. So long you could not tell if even you were human anymore. You imagine how nice it would be, to be rid of this suit, to feel the warmth of his flesh against your own, to share in the sweat and steam of the Marvel Ouse. You could have a deeper connection, if not for the rubber of the Dutch Frame acting as an emotional prophylactic. You try to relax as another wave of pain wells up inside. Your trotters clutch at the fabric of his towel, your throat echoing a pitiful cry.
Wayle's hold on you tightens. His muscles spasm with his own unique agonies, and for a moment you imagine you hear the deafening thud of his heartbeat knocking against your Dewcatcher. "Rememberrrr NNNNNNNNNN what I told you AAAAHHHNNNNNNNNN whennnnnn we first met?" The hand at your back twists itself into a claw, the nails digging into you like talons. Wayle hooks a leg around your waist and squeezes, fighting to regain dominion over his pain. "You will GGGGGgrow used to it. It is only ppppppart of the processssss…"
You feel somewhat ashamed of yourself, to be so selfish to believe you were the only one suffering. It is apparent how great his burden is: His breathing is shallow and ragged, and his Molloscus flickers like a candle in its dying hour. You are struck with the urge to comfort him in turn, a remnant of your culture's compassion engraved within you. Cautiously, you slink your aching arms behind his back, encircling him in a feeble hug.
It seems to work; he exhales a long sigh as the tension leaves his extremities. But the moment is fleeting. As you move your trotters to explore the mountains and valleys of lesions his promotion has afforded him, Wayle begins to buck beneath you, his agony escaping him in a guttural growl.
You hastily pull away, ignoring the strain the sudden movement puts on your tortured limbs, your neck nearly snapping under the weight of the Dewcatcher. You can't bear to think of the pain your stupid curiosity may have caused him, when you had only wanted to help. Your first instinct is to run and find some crevice, hole, or dark corner where you can hide in shame, like you remember doing after being scolded as a child. As your eyes scan the shadows in the distance, you feel a sharp tug on your suit, preventing your flight. You look down to see Wayle grasping the rubber at your hips. He achingly pulls himself into a sitting position, using the bulk of your weight as leverage. His face is flushed, though you are not sure if it is from the Molloscus or something different. He flashes you the kindest smile he can manage, teeth stained brown as the trim on his chaise lounge.
"Don't turn away, poppet, my precious boygirl! I told you it is alright—look! I am quite used to it, as you will be!" He licks his cracked lips, his fingers moving to trace the edge of the mold at your chest. You cannot suppress the howl that rises from your throat; your body shudders at the new pains dredged up by even the most delicate of touches. Wayle sees your reaction, but does not stop.
"You will come to appreciate the promotions you have been given, the pain you must endure. You may even…" He inhales sharply. "…enjoy it." The light pooling in the pits of his scabs seems to turn a deeper shade of yellow; his eyes widen in excitement or pain or perhaps a combination of both. "Do you think that is something you could imagine, poppet?"
You do not know how to answer, or if he is even expecting an answer. Wayle's gaze bores through the glass of your visor; you are so mesmerized by its weight, you barely notice that his thumb has found its way inside your mold and has begun pressing into your canvas. "Here, let me show you." He drags the nail across your skin, scraping the surface slowly, deliberately drawing out your suffering. Your tongue gets in the way of clenched teeth, and you imagine losing a part of it as the scalding taste of copper fills your mouth. Your eyes close, trotters balling into fists, not a single inch of you spared the excruciating pain.
And then, you feel it. At first it is as miniscule as the point of a pen, but spreads quickly, a new sensation fighting for recognition. You raise your shaking arms to steady your Dewcatcher as you bow your head in search of its source.
It is Wayle. His face is pressed against your mold, the broad part of his tongue sweeping across the torn and tender flesh. He draws back slightly, grazing you with just the tip, before thrusting forward, and you welcome the moist pressure, the human contact you had not known you so greatly missed. Every exhale and movement, every lick and suckle stings you to the core, but it is a delicious kind of pain, the kind that makes your skin prickle in anticipation of more, more, more. Your trotters grasp at the back of his head, seeking purchase amongst the sparse tufts of hair and weathered scalp. You imagine all the embarrassing words that would escape you, if not for the breaths tangling in your throat. It is hard not to suffocate, you realize, when you'd been told so often to keep your distance. Yet here is Wayle, far closer than three feet, lapping at you like a dog starved for water. The light from your chest illuminates his hollow cheeks—blue, green, blue—pulsating with your most primitive desires.
He begins to shift beneath you, his lips pulling away though you tug on his neck, desperate to keep him close. Your arms feel as if they will splinter from the effort, though, and you think it best to cease your struggle and allow him to ease you onto your back.
The weight bearing on your shoulders gets the best of you; you sink down faster than you can manage, the Dewcatcher propelling your ungraceful arc. It crashes into the ground, and your ears burn with the bellow of a thousand ships seeking entrance to the same tiny port. You are bent at angles you did not think possible. Every sinew in your neck pulsates with pains so unbearable, you half hope your head would just detach itself already; it is so close to freedom, hanging there over the edge of the chaise lounge.
Once the explosions in your brain calm, your Dewcatcher no longer vibrating like a tuning fork, you are able to make out another odd sound, like the scraping of a blade against bone. You have little time to ruminate, however, as new pin-pricks of pain clamber up your frame, beginning deep down in the balls of your feet. Wayle is worming his way across you, bare skin to rubber; you do not realize his intentions until his face comes into your visor's line of sight. He grins and raises the trowel you had dropped earlier.
Even if you had the strength to resist, you are not sure you would want to. You imagine you feared death before coming here, but the Institute has instilled in you a new appreciation for it. You feel you could thank him, almost, for this ultimate act of comfort. There are no words to be formed, yet you hope to convey as much in the dull reflection of your gaze, waiting tensely as the point pierces the material at your throat.
It does not go as deep as you expected. There is a tug, and the soft sound of splitting rubber, but no spray of blood nor bubbling of breath comes to greet you. The sultry air of the Marvel Ouse seeps in through the rent in your suit, mingling with your accumulated gases, a light kiss of warmth against your body. Then, Wayle is upon you, and you truly feel the heat, the steam of his breath as he forces himself through the narrow opening. He is hungry to repeat the same process here, as he had done with your mold. His tongue slips into the slimy creases of your neck, and the burning begins to spread, until you fear your insides will be boiled into a stew.
You should feel repulsed by all this, this rancid husk of a man sucking at your flesh, marking you with lips and teeth. You think of how filthy the two of you are, wallowing in your various forms of muck. Wayle must surely share in your disgust, skin crawling at the contact, yet unable to stop, because subconsciously this is something you both need. Imagining this is enough to diminish your shame. You feel a throbbing pressure at your groin, but are unsure to which of you it belongs.
He takes a bare scraping of epidermis with him as he pulls back, the subsequent glow from the wound bursting forth to illuminate both the inner and outer panes of your visor. Your breath steadies with each pulse of light; you force your tired eyes to cut through the blinding colors and focus on the darkness far above. You feel clouded with overstimulation, as if you are all at once inside and apart from yourself. The scene plays out like a vague memory or distant observation: There is the sound of Wayle spitting out the piece of flesh, peppered with his own arid coughs, the light touch of the trowel as it traces a path to where your genitals would be, if they have not already liquefied into sludge like much of your organs. He mutters, "It is not such a waste of rubber," before bearing down and cleaving the suit nearly front to back.
A rush of air sweeps over your exposed parts, and you find the strength to crane your petrified neck, your curiosity piqued. You watch as he unwraps his towel, your eyes drawn to the glimmering gold studding the tip of his sex, and...You quickly lower your head and try not to picture the rot you imagined seeing there. Instead, you focus on the ache in your throat, and the persistent question of how something so swollen is going to fit inside you. It is all you can do to keep the vomit at bay.
Hardly a moment passes before Wayle's hands are clawing at the grey covering your hips, and then he is grunting and trembling with the effort to properly position your dead weight. You clench your eyes and wait for the pain to come, as he wriggles closer and closer, seeking a tunnel into which he can burrow. And when he finds it, you cannot hide the scream that escapes you. Your insides are stretched beyond capacity, straining and cracking to contain the pressure. You do not believe it is the worst you have felt, though, in your time here at the Institute. In fact, you are quite certain it would be excruciating, if not for the persistent film, the stream of sweat and sputum that sputters and circulates around you like your own personal spring, acting as a greasy lubricant. All of your orifices are weeping at once, and the pain quickly subsides to an almost tolerable level. That dull warmth returns, and you think you could even begin to enjoy this.
It is worse for Wayle. He lurches forward, and you brace yourself as the pale star of his head plummets toward your visor. You are always amazed at how quickly he manages to move, burdened with the weight of such illnesses; his hands catch your shoulders, and he is able to lever himself up, arms working in defiance of the pain held within. He grits his teeth, snarling, eyes rolled back into their sockets, his body ready to turn inside out from the agony. You think of all the scars you can see, and imagine the ones hidden, how much deeper they must go. You can't decide whether to label him a hero or a fool for his perseverance.
His nails gouge the rubber at your shoulders, pinning you down as he drives faster, his Molloscus pulsing brighter with each slap of flesh. It is then, with his face looming over yours, and his breath blooming flowers against the glass of your visor, you notice the change. His mouth contorts into a tortured grin, eyes widening as something akin to laughter rises to meet the choking coughs.
Wayle's ring catches on something deep inside you and tugs, and then, ohh, you no longer have to imagine what he is feeling. That deliciously sharp stab, that lovely ache that begins at your core and spreads to the stumps of your feet hits you with all the force of a raging storm. You pant and squeal like a pig in heat, your echoes ringing throughout the cavern, smothering the creaks of the lounge beneath. Two more thrusts, and something within you ruptures, seeping from every pore and crusted duct. A rattle builds up from the bottom of your Dewcatcher, your breath stumbling through the mucus coating your throat. You swallow hard, eyes glazed with the afterthoughts of the most wondrous of pains, sensations you could have never hoped to imagine, before now.
Every inch of you feels too-tender, rubbed raw from the contact, but Wayle continues pushing, the smile splitting the corners of his mouth telling you your feelings are of no concern to him. He is seeking his own apex, ravaging whatever is left of you in the process, until his muscles clench and his head turns skyward, veins bulging beneath nearly translucent skin. He purses his lips and forces a thin stream of air through, a long whoooooooooo that seems to fade in time with his glow. His hands relax, releasing the rubber bunched in his grasp.
You do not think he looks as exhausted as he should be, after such a strenuous undertaking. There is almost something graceful in the way he tears out of you, though the pain triggered by the chunk of flesh he takes with him sends you scrambling backwards, energized by a newfound strength. You launch yourself over the edge, your body clattering to the ground like strewn cutlery. You do not know how long it takes for you to stand, with stinging limbs and hips seemingly frozen to your chest, but when you finally rise and turn to face him, he is resting comfortably on his chaise lounge, the towel back in its proper place. "Are you feeling better now, poppet?"
You are baffled by his poise. Was he not in such pain only a few moments ago? Your own agony has dulled to a manageable throb, but it has not abandoned you. You can still feel the aching tautness as you bring your trotters to your throat to assess the damage.
The tear is gone. You paw and tug at the rubber, but it does not relent; any opening it bore has sewn itself of its own accord. You fumble for the larger slit below your waist, but find more of the same. Confused, your eyes flit down the front of your suit, then back up at Wayle, seeking answers. He only offers you a dismissive wave. "Back to your desk now, \\\\Clerk////, there is Work to be done."
You glance down once more, unable to suspend your disbelief. Had you imagined the whole thing? You notice a faint moisture in your booties, but are unsure if it had been there from the start.
"Do you realize, poppet," he raises his voice, drawing your attention back, "that everything I do—everything we at the Institute do—is all for you?" Wayle reaches beneath a furred pillow and produces your trowel, turning it over to inspect the creeping blossoms of rust. "The promotions and pains, the increasingly difficult assignments—it is all done with your best interest in mind! We truly are looking out for you; you are an essential part of our Work." He extends the gift to you, his lashless eyes fluttering back tears. "Please try to remember that next time you feel you can't go on." His hands tremble like a sheaf of papers in the wind. You retrieve your trowel as gently as possible before abruptly taking your leave. The weight of his sorrow is too much for you to bear.
FOR MY DARLING. Your Molloscus streaks across the blade's inscription as you trudge through the darkness, heading for the open air and the hillside and the Work that awaits you. Your stomach seems to drag behind you, though you do not care if it is mere queasiness or some new disease you may have contracted. You do not think it would matter anyway.
As your thighs squeak their retreat, and the words and memories tumble over and over in your head, you wonder how you—how Wayle, how anyone—could feel so complacent in a place such as this. The thought seems foreign, impossible even, but you will yourself to trust what you have felt here, what you have seen in his face, his actions. Surely, you imagine, this must be someone's paradise.