The cool air smells like grass after rain. Talls birches swing in the wind. The sky is orange. Between clouds, a pteranodon is chasing a flock of tiny owls. Ford's mind is peaceful and free. It doesn’t immediately occur to him to ask: am I dreaming? The answer comes easier.
His mind can now see what here is from his Earth, which pieces are from other dimensions he went through. Lucid dreaming is not always a good idea; some bitter nostalgia mixes with his peaceful feeling, without destroying it though.
He advances deeper into the forest. The autumn light shines through the yellow birch leaves, alternating too bright spots with deep shadows, making him blink.
For just one moment, he thinks he catches another eye, blinking with his in complicity. But when he looks closer, it's just some mark looking like an eye, on the trunk of a birch. Or was it another eye? Just behind him?
Blue lightning appears in the clear orange sky. Thunder rolls. Two trees in front of Ford collapse opposite each other. They form a huge triangle, which opens an eye, turns bright yellow...
"Found you!" Bill says. He's floating towards Ford. He's free now, the trees have turned back into dead wood, a door that let him out but won't call him back. And a huge hand seizes Ford.
This seems to give Ford's body a physical reality that, until now, had stayed vague. Ford is now conscious that his clothes are too thin, only a shirt and pants. That his arms, his legs, are breakable. That his cheeks are unshaven, and even in sleep he has bags under his eyes.
That Bill's fingers, even when they keep him prisoner, are soft against his skin, and electrifying.
Oh, he missed this so much. Even here, terrified and furious, he feels his body react to the touch.
"What do you want, Bill?" he coldly asks.
"Is it too much to ask, to see my partner until the end of time every so often," Bill asks, before bursting out laughing.
"We saw each other," Ford answers. He wants to stay haughty and proud. He hates Bill; this feeling is sincere, so it should be possible to concentrate on how intense it is, to keep all the rest from him, his fear or his regrets.
"And do you like what you see?" Bill asks. His other hands reaches Ford's face, grabs his chin, forces him to look into his eye.
Ford doesn't answer. Bill laughs again. "I think so. I wondered how long you'd take to realize you were looking for me. Colors, shapes, everything bore my mark, and you kept moving in this direction."
It's true, Ford realizes. The situation should have alarmed him a dozen ways, and he walked into it.
Of course, once Bill found him, he didn't need to play this game. Choosing another direction wouldn't have helped Ford. It changes nothing, he repeats to himself. He's just playing with you.
"I'm pleased with you, Fordsy." Bill now strokes his cheeks. A huge finger plays on his lips. Ford remembers how he would have opened his mouth in delight, when... it's like it's yesterday, and it's ages ago.
"And now, Fordsy, be honest, and confess you still love me," Bill requests, intensely satisfied.
"No!" Ford assures.
"Oooh, is it so important to you that you go to the trouble to lie! In your own mind! The worst place for this. But your feelings didn't change. They just turned bitter, because you're so sad they were never really requited!"
Ford knew he was lying as he spoke. What else could he do? He can't say anything else. He can't say 'it depends' and talk about how he's not even sure what love is. Not in front of Bill, not in front of all the people who help him in his quest, not in front of his enemies. No one, even himself.
"Come on, be a good human. Tell me you still love me, and I'll pretend again, for you. Be honest, did you replace me with anyone?"
No, of course. Ford doesn't even answer this question. His heart's wounds are too fresh, gaping at the tears, and no one can touch it.
"And could anyone, one day?" Bill asks. He's so satisfied with himself. He knows what Ford isn't saying. He knows how deep in despair he is when he can't be bothered to lie.
"Anyone would be better than you," Ford replies, gritting his teeth.
"So ungrateful!" Bill comments, more mocking than sad. "I raised you above all humans from your dimension. I opened your mind on wonders you would have never reached otherwise. Aren't you the first human to visit other dimensions, thanks to me?"
It was always one of Bill's talents, deceiving without lying, Ford remembers now in a terrible hindsight. He can lie, it's just more fun to him this way.
"I was in your mind," Bill amusedly explains, "and I realized that I only had to be myself to seduce you. Who would have guessed? A knowledgeable triangle from another dimension was your ideal. I only had to pretend to like you."
"And pretend you didn't want to destroy my dimension," Ford bitterly adds.
"Did I say that? It seems you're the one who made hurried shortcuts, disregarding every rule of scientific thought!" Bill is resonating with pleasure as he taunts Ford, who'd like to be able to call him on lying.
"Also, if I'd asked nicely, you would have said yes," Bill nonchalantly adds. "It's not like you cared about other people. Actually, I don't think anyone would have traded his world for infinite others, except for you. And me, once."
"And again you're rewriting history to prove you're right," Ford answers with a bitter sneer. He never wanted this.
"Do I need to show I'm right when I know everything?" Bill asks, mocking but weirdly warm. "But I could, oh yes I could! Ford, you do know how inconsistent memory is in dreams. What if I brought you back to the past, when we worked together? Let's try!"
Ford cringes. It won't help him.
"Bill, don't do this!" He doesn't want to be back to this time. He doesn't want to blindly curl up in Bill's arms, honor him with his whole being. He knows too well it's a real possibility. It won't bring anything to Bill, except a laugh at his humiliation! Though he almost feels like his mind is already softening, his body is relaxing, and Bill's hands seems less a prison to him than a comfortable cocoon, preparing his change...
He didn't realize until then how he appreciated his own terror and anger towards Bill. He was almost grateful that the demon appeared at a monster, didn't feign friendship.
"Please, Bill..." he murmurs, "don't do this."
"You begged! I love it when you beg," Bill says happily. "On the other hand, I love more to hear you confess that you still love me, so... if you admitted it now, I could change my mind."
The two ways out Bill offers him - if he really has a choice - are terrifying to him. But Ford prefers to be a lucid witness of what he will endure. He prefers for his feelings to remain his, even if they’re only horror and aversion. He'll always choose to know.
Also, he'd rather never be happy again.
Especially like this.
"I still love you," he says in a broken voice. Bill bursts out laughing. His fingers become longer, wrap tighter against Ford, keeping his arms squeezed against his body, but his legs apart.
"Good, good, but a bit short. Can you sound more passionate about it? And can you prove it?"
A wave of humiliation runs through Ford. But is this worth it? Is he sure Bill won't erase his memories anyway? Is it worth fighting? Or giving up? Which choice amounts to giving up here? Probably both. Bill knows how to put him in such situations.
Ford tests how much he can still move. His hands push into Bill's finger against his hip, firm but supple. He tries it grab it, but it just slides against his fingers, making him shiver.
"A good start, Fordsy," Bill praises. Ford gets pale with anger. "Now, tell with your words." He strokes his lips with a laughable softness. "It's something I love in you. All the words you gave me. Like these ones, until the end of time, and they are mine now. Remind me of the old ones, give me new ones. Or if you can no longer do it, you know how I'll pull them from your mouth."
Ford shivers in horror. It's a dream, he tells himself, so would it be wrong to forget, to stop hurting, since he's yielding to Bill both ways?
No, no, there's nothing worse than not being himself, reverting to the young man he was when Bill's gaze was his sun. For more than one reason. He should enjoy lying to him. He should enjoy giving him a taste of his own medicine, even a little.
He tries, but no words come to his mind, no romantic cliché like in the books he used to scorn but sometimes secretly read.
He knows where the words are: in his memories, in the brightness of whet he still felt for Bill only a year ago. What he said, and what he never dared to say. What he still feels.
They're there, where he doesn't want to go.
"I shouldn't have to tell you that you broke my heart," he says, blushing in shame. "You know that. You danced over it, you played with the shards. I was happy, Bill, and it's not a word I use lightly. I don't know if I'll use it ever again. Did you hate it? Or did you not care at all?"
He remembers he wanted to lie. He was never good at this, except by omission.
"There was a time," he says, "when I thought that with you I did not even fear death. That you'd find a way to keep a part of me, that I would have least have a lasting glory, that I'd love you until the stars would turn to dust. Now I want to kill you, and I don't care if I die after, and it's not so different."
Words come to him far too easily; he disgusts himself. It's a poison, he says firmly to himself, and if he wants it out of his system, it has to go through his mouth.
"Yes! Exactly what I wanted!" Bill replies, his yellow color vibrating with excitation. "You seemed timid at the beginning, but you're as good at saying what you feel as I am at saying what I don't feel. We're a good team, aren't we.
Ford is almost grateful for the interruption. He hopes his trial is ending now, he hopes...
"Keep going!" Bill says. "Say that you want me!"
Ford would clench his fists, except one of Bill's fingers is still intertwined with his, and he has to open his hands again, to not think about what they were holding.
"I want you," he says, through his teeth.
"I'm disappointed. That's not very convincing. It looks like I'll have to take care of you first."
The hand that stroked Ford's neck tears off all his clothes with a stiff gesture. It's a dream, but a realistic one, and Ford still feels the friction just before the tear, leaving his skin red and heated.
Fortunately he's not hard. The effects of Bill's touch have mostly faded away, buried in his shame and frustration. He still hates being that exposed. On his skin, there are still triangular tattoos and scars he got to please Bill; they'll never go away.
"Such a liar!" Bill muses, seeing his lack of arousal. He laughs but it sounds false, Ford can't say whether he wanted this, or whether he's bitter. "But I'm so very nice, and I will help you telling the truth."
The fingers carrying Ford slither again his waist, his neck. One hand from the other finger keeps Ford's thighs apart, strokes the inside. Bill's skin is so soft, even when vibrating against his. Ford has to concentrate to not let pleasure get under his skin. He thinks about nights of insomnia, when he was shaking so much that his last cup of coffee fell and shattered. He tries to think about... he can't. Everything reminds him of the intensity of what he had with Bill, even when the demon hurt him and drew his blood. Even when he fought for his life in the Portal. Everything was horrible and thrilling, exactly like...
Already Bill's laughing, seeing Ford's cock becoming erect again.
"So you do want me? Don't force yourself, I know you'll say it again in the end."
Bill hums a little song as his fingers stretch out, curl against Ford's body, stroke his skin in the most sensitive places, the ones he discovered in his mind once. Ford would fight, but Bill's elastic fingers maintain him in place without hurting him. He wishes it would hurt. He wishes for bruises on his skin, for cramps in his thighs, but only pleasure comes to him, in a wave all the more violent for Ford having tried to hold it back.
One of Bill's fingers, slick with fluid, enters and- Even this can't be painful, even when he wants it, even when his body tries to fight it.
"Look at me, Fordsy," Bill orders. Ford wants to squeeze his eyelids closed just to be contrary, but curiosity is stronger, and he looks.
Bill's eye becomes a mouth, and from this mouth emerges a huge, black tongue, slender and split in the end, like a snake's. The two tips fondle the head of his cock, lightly, one after the other, as a long lubricated finger keeps stroking his prostate... He closes his eyes again, but he knows it's Bill's whole tongue coiling around his cock, squeezing and caressing, sucking Ford's will out if him...
He's so close to orgasm that it becomes painful. He can no longer stop it, and he wants it to end, so he stops holding back...
And right then Bill stops moving. Ford moans out of frustration. His traitorous body still tries to finish, to thrust, but Bill's inert tongue follows his moves and won't provide any stimulation.
"Say it again," Bill demands.
Ford clenches his teeth. He already said it, he already yielded, so why is it so important to him to show he can resist? He knows he can, though. Already, his arousal becomes again a deep frustration, a familiar feeling that he knows, that sometimes makes him touch himself at night, too harsh and too fast. He can deal with this.
But as he's persuading himself, Bill's tongue is playing with his cock again, his fingers moving inside him, and he's shaking with pleasure and lust.
"Say it," Bill insists.
Ford won't even give him an answer.
He doesn't know how long it takes. Every minute already seems an eternity, and they follow each other like beads on a necklace. Bill plays Ford's excitation and frustration on his burning skin, not annoyed by his denial this time; more amused, really. He doesn't even try and threaten him.
Ford no longer counts how many times he was so close to giving up and begging. There's a voice in his head murmuring, you don't want to confess that you want him, and it only makes you want him more.
He has already lost count when Bill's body becomes more blurred, his touch more vague, until they disappear totally.
Ford wakes up startled, his erection rubbing against too rough bedsheets. Desire, for a time, keeps him from thinking in order, but fortunately, fear gets even stronger soon.
Bill was in his mind. Bill knows where he is. Ford must leave this dimension as soon as he can. He doesn't say where he goes to the family who provided him housing. But he still recommends escape to them, as if they knew. They nod gravely. They knew the risks, they just hated Bill enough and believed in Ford.
Rather than just being in his mind, Ford thinks, Bill could have possessed his body. He could have harmed him so much that any escape would have been hazardous at best. He could have killed all his hosts. But he likes playing with Ford too much and, despite the shame, Ford should be grateful for this.
He hopes Bill will never discover that he cares about whether these people live or die. The ones who help him, the rebels against their triangular masters, who are maybe not humans but are still people.
If Bill knew, things would surely get more difficult for him.
Bill can see clearly that Ford is afraid of his own feelings. But, maybe because he always thinks everything is about him, maybe because he turns Ford's mind into some indescribable chaos, he didn't get this part.
Ford should be glad that the confusion of his feelings makes his mind so hard to read. No peace, a hate that won't even be pure, and regrets at hundreds of places, reflecting each other in a labyrinth of optical illusions.
Look, he tells himself, look how even self-hatred can pass as something else here.