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The display in his dash says it’s 2:11 PM.  Sebastian already has one foot on the pavement and is launching himself out of the car when his seatbelt yanks him back into it.

 

“God fucking damn it!” he snaps, prompting gasps from several of the parents around him who are shepherding small children to their cars.  Sebastian ignores them, because now his shoulder is throbbing and he has lost precious seconds. He fumbles for the buckle and unfastens it, then makes a second, more successful attempt to leap out of his car.

 

“Mr. Castellanos,” says Ms. Kinney, clutching her clipboard to her chest.  “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding. Maybe your wife forgot to tell you about Lily’s appointment?”  Her round, friendly face holds a hopeful look that matches the note in her voice, and for a split-second, Sebastian wishes he was the sort of person who could be soothed by that kind of talk.

 

Of course, he isn’t, and he brushes by her, heading for the front door of the school.  He is trying to keep his pace measured, trying not to raise the alarm yet, but something is wrong.  Today was his day to pick up Lily, and Lily doesn’t have a doctor’s appointment. He would have known if she did, and he is damn sure no one else was supposed to pick her up today.  So where the hell is she?

 

Three steps along the sidewalk he breaks into a run.

 

“Mr. Castellanos!”  Ms. Kinney’s voice rings out behind him.  “You can’t leave your car here!”

 

Sebastian glances over his shoulder to see that she looks utterly distraught, clipboard now tucked under one outstretched arm and wavy blonde hair fanned out all around her face.

 

“I’ll just be a minute!” He shouts, then turns back and dashes the rest of the way to the front door, dodging around a couple of parents and children to yank it open and make a beeline for the office.

 

The receptionist- Mrs. Wexler, Sebastian is almost sure- is already holding out the sign-out log to him, which makes sense because she must be the one who told Ms. Kinney that Lily had already been picked up.  Sebastian grabs it from her, resting his elbows on the reception desk as he scans it for Lily’s name.

 

He has to run his eyes down the list twice, and when he does spot Lily’s name, it’s in unfamiliar handwriting.  The log shows Lily being signed out at 12:32 PM for a doctor’s appointment by someone named Gabriela Flores.

 

“Who is this?” snaps Sebastian, pointing to the name.  “Who’s Gabriela Flores? Myra, Juanita, and I are the only ones who have authority to pick up Lily.”

 

“The woman who came to get her said she was Juanita Flores’ sister,” says Mrs. Wexler, her brow creasing in concern.

 

“And you just took her word for it?” Sebastian shoots back.  He can hear the frustration coming through in his voice, but he can’t do anything to stop it.

 

“No,” says Mrs. Wexler, shaking her head vigorously.  “We never take anyone’s word for it. She had a note from your wife.”

 

“What?” Sebastian says, his voice rising in incredulity at this development.  “Where’s the note?”

 

Mrs. Wexler takes the sign-out log binder out of Sebastian’s hands, though he is reluctant to let go of it, and flips to the back pocket.  She pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it to Sebastian.

 

Sebastian can only stare.  The note is unmistakably on Myra’s stationary and in Myra’s handwriting.   Please allow Gabriela Flores to pick Lily Castellanos up today at 12:30 for a doctor’s appointment , it reads.  Myra’s signature is at the bottom.

 

“What…?”  Sebastian chews the inside of his lip as he stares at the note.  How did he not know about this? He didn’t know that Lily’s nanny even had a sister, and he certainly didn’t know about Lily’s appointment.  Myra has been complaining lately that he’s not listening to her, and Sebastian is starting to wonder if she has a point.

 

Even though the note appears to be in order, something about this feels wrong, and that cold, sinking feeling in his gut- the one that started to set in the instant Ms. Kinney said Lily wasn’t here- isn’t going away.  He hands the note back to Mrs. Wexler. “Just give a minute,” he says, stepping away from the reception desk and pulling out his phone.

 

He dials Myra’s department cell phone first.  She’s on day shift this month and working now, so she won’t be thrilled to hear from him, and she’ll probably give him a hard time about being a bad listener, but he needs an answer on this right now.  The phone rings several times before her voicemail picks up.

 

“Myra, call me when you get this.  I’m at Lily’s school.” Sebastian hangs up, hoping that the message will convey the seriousness of the situation but also not cause Myra to panic in case it turns out that everything really is on the up-and-up here.

 

He dials Juanita’s number next.  “Hey,” he says the second she picks up.  “It’s Sebastian. Does your sister have Lily?”

 

There is a long pause on the other end of the line.  Then Juanita says, “I don’t have a sister, Sebastian.  I have three brothers.” She pauses again. “What happened to Lily?”

 

“Shit!” Sebastian blurts out, earning him a severe look from Mrs. Wexler.  “Shit,” he repeats, more quietly this time. “Juanita, do you know anyone named Gabriela Flores?”

 

“No,” Juanita replies.

 

“And you didn’t pick Lily up from school today?”

 

“No.”

 

“Shit.”

 

“Sebastian, what-?”

 

Sebastian hangs up the phone and turns back to Mrs. Wexler.  “I don’t know who picked Lily up today, but it definitely wasn’t Juanita’s sister.”

 

The color drains from Mrs. Wexler’s face right in front of his eyes.  “Should I call the police?” she asks.

 

Sebastian contemplates just flashing his badge at her, but if something really did happen to Lily, which is seeming more and more likely with every passing minute, he’s going to need backup.

 

“Yeah,” he says.  “Go ahead and call them.”

 

While Mrs. Wexler is busy on the phone, Sebastian looks at the sign-out log and note again, trying to handle them as little as possible.  There is a part of him that doesn’t want to think of them as evidence just yet, but that part is the same one that has him sweating, has his heart pounding.  That part of him is the panicked father, and now he needs to be the detective, both for Lily and for himself.

 

The note is perplexing, because it really does look like Myra’s handwriting, and for a moment, Sebastian even entertains the idea that Myra had someone else pick Lily up today and just forgot to tell him, except that he and Myra are both so vigilant when it comes to Lily’s safety that no one else besides Juanita, one of Lily’s grandparents, or maybe Sebastian’s partner, Joseph, would be allowed to pick Lily up.  And that also wouldn't explain why this woman lied about being related to Juanita.

 

Mrs. Wexler puts the phone down.  “They’re on their way,” she says.

 

Sebastian nods, then launches immediately into his next line of questioning.  “Were you the one who was on-duty when Lily was picked up?”

 

“Yes,” replies Mrs. Wexler.

 

“Can you describe the person who picked her up?”

 

Mrs. Wexler’s mouth twists in confusion.  “Shouldn’t we wait until the police get here?”

 

“I’m a detective,” Sebastian says, pulling his badge out of his pocket and holding it up for her to see.  “And I don’t want to waste any time.”

 

Mrs. Wexler seems stunned for a moment but then nods.  “She was maybe in her mid-thirties? She had long, dark hair.”  Mrs. Wexler touches a hand to her upper arm, a few inches below her shoulder, presumably to indicate the length of the woman’s hair.

 

“What about her skin tone?” Sebastian asks.

 

“Medium,” replies Mrs. Wexler.  “I assumed she was Hispanic because of her name and her accent.”

 

“How tall was she?” Sebastian prompts.

 

“A couple of inches taller than me,” Mrs. Wexler says, holding up her hand above her head.  That would make this woman about five foot six.

 

“What was she wearing?”

 

“A sundress and a big hat.  I remember thinking that she looked more like she was going to the beach than the doctor’s office.”

 

“Do you remember what she said to you?”

 

“Just that she was here to pick Lily up for her appointment,” Mrs. Wexler says with a shrug.

 

“And how did Lily react to her?” Sebastian asks, swallowing down the lump in his throat as he tries not to think about Lily being taken away by a stranger.

 

“Lily seemed happy to see her,” Mrs. Wexler says.  Then after a pause, she adds, “Though I’m not sure that means anything.  Lily is a very gregarious child.”

 

Sebastian assumes this is a teacherly way of saying that Lily would happily leave school with anyone, but he isn’t so sure himself.  Lily may only be five years old, but he likes to think that he and Myra have taught her enough that she would be wary of a stranger. It makes him wonder if Lily has seen this person before, if he or Myra might have seen this person before.

 

“Are there cameras in here?” he asks.

 

“Yes,” Mrs. Wexler says, a look of relief crossing her face.  “Yes, there are.”

 

“Can we pull up that recording?”

 

“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Wexler says with a nod.  She beckons Sebastian around behind the counter and starts running back through the surveillance footage from the front office.

 

Sebastian glances at his watch.  2:23 PM. Lily’s been missing for almost two hours, which means that whoever took her has a two hour head start on him, and he is still at square one.

 

Seventy percent of kidnapped children are dead within three hours of being abducted.  The statistic springs unbidden into his head. He remembers hearing it during his training at the Academy.  He has no doubt that it was used to drive home the need for fast response times in missing persons cases, but now it settles in his stomach like a lead weight.

 

He’s also sure that he’s remembering some part of that statistic incorrectly, because it makes no sense.  The majority of children reported ‘abducted’ have simply been taken by a family member, so maybe the seventy percent is for children who have been abducted by a stranger or children who have been abducted by a known murderous pedophile.  He shudders. This isn’t helping him figure out what to do next.

 

“Okay, here we go,” Mrs. Wexler says, jarring Sebstian back to reality, which isn’t much of an improvement over his darker thoughts.  Sebastian stares at the computer screen, which shows multiple views of the front office and the hallway outside it. The time stamp on the video says 12:30 PM.

 

“There she is,” Mrs. Wexler says as a figure walks into the frame on the sidewalk outside the school.  The video feed is in black-and-white, but just as Mrs. Wexler said, the woman is wearing a sundress and a large floppy-brimmed hat.  Sebastian can't see her face from this angle.

 

She strides up to the door, pulls it open, and heads directly for the front office.  The office camera is mounted lower and shows more of her face, but to Sebastian’s dismay, she is wearing a pair of sunglasses, and he can’t see anything past the dark lenses.  Even so, his heart sinks, because he’s never seen this woman before, and he’s willing to bet that Myra hasn’t either.

 

In the video, Mrs. Wexler speaks to her, and the woman hands her a piece of paper.

 

“Is that the note?” Sebastian asks.

 

“Yes,” Mrs. Wexler replies.

 

Sebastian nods even though Mrs. Wexler has her back to him.  The woman handled the note with her bare hand, which makes him wish he’d been more careful with it when he handled it a few minutes ago.  It’s not easy to lift a fingerprint or DNA from paper in the best of conditions, but especially not if he’s added his own contributions to the mix.

 

In the video, Mrs. Wexler steps away from the desk and picks up the phone.  “Now I’m calling down to Lily’s classroom to have her sent up to the office,” she explains.

 

Sebastian is half-listening and half-watching the woman on the video.  She isn’t looking at her phone or playing with her hair or fidgeting at all.  In fact, she has an air of confidence about her that is highly disturbing in light of what she is here to do.

 

Sebastian is chewing at his lip again as he thinks it over…the way she approached the school, the way she knew exactly where to go to get to the office.  “She’s been here before,” he says under his breath. He’s sure of it. Whether she has a child who goes to school here or whether she was casing the location before she came here to get Lily, she’s familiar with the layout and she knows what to expect, so there’s no reason for her to be nervous.

 

“And you’re sure you haven’t seen her around here before?” Sebastian asks, not taking his eyes off of the screen where the woman is now writing in the sign-out log.

 

“I haven’t,” Mrs. Wexler replies, “but I only just came back from medical leave.  I was out for two weeks.”

 

Sebastian sighs and raises a hand to rub at his temple.  “How far back in time do you guys save the videos?” he asks, still keeping his eyes on the woman, who is now leaning on the counter and gazing straight ahead.  She’s wearing something around her neck, but no other jewelry, no tattoos, nothing else that makes her distinctive.

 

“Thirty days,” Mrs. Wexler replies.  That’s not surprising to Sebastian, though he wishes they kept more of a backlog.  Most facilities with surveillance can only afford to maintain thirty days of footage before they start taping over the old ones- or reusing the hard drive space- with new material.

 

“What about the sign-out logs?”

 

“We never destroy those,” she says.  You could still find the ones from years ago.”

 

Sebastian opens his mouth to answer, but then all the breath is knocked out of him as Lily bounces into the office on the video, bright and excited and looking exactly like his little girl.  Sebastian has the craziest impulse to reach out to her, to warn her not to go with this woman, but the woman smiles and says something to Lily. Lily smiles back and the two of them walk out hand-in-hand.

 

Sebastian watches as they leave through the front doors and walk along the sidewalk.  With every step they take, his heart beats faster and his chest feels tighter, and by the time they exit the frame he is almost gasping for breath.

 

“Is there surveillance in the parking lot?” he chokes out.

 

“Not where she parked,” Mrs. Wexler says.  “I remember thinking it was strange that she parked at the far end of the lot, but the cameras don’t reach down there.”

 

“Shit,” breathes Sebastian, because this is seeming less and less like a weird coincidence or an impulsive act and more like something that involved extensive planning and knowledge of the school layout and camera system.  But who would want Lily so much and what would they be planning to do with her? There have to be a thousand other kids who would be easier targets to-

 

His thoughts are interrupted when the office door swings open and Brian Hodges from the Missing Persons Unit strides in.  He sizes up the situation in seconds and comes around to the other side of the reception desk to clap a hand on Sebastian’s shoulder.

 

“Sebastian,” he says firmly.  “Why don’t you come sit down and tell me what’s going on?”

 

There is one moment, one brief flare-up of anger in Sebastian, because Hodges knows him as a detective, and Hodges was his trainee not that many years ago, and Hodges has never called him by his first name.  Hodges isn’t talking to him as another cop now; he’s talking to him like he’s a victim, like he’s the terrified parent of a kidnapped child.

 

And suddenly that’s exactly what he is.  The confidence, the orderly thinking, the distraction that came from being able to play detective all goes out the window in an instant.  He really is here, and Lily really is gone, and his face feels hot. His vision is changing, going black and white like the surveillance video, and Hodges’ voice is distorted in his ear.

 

“Sit down,” Hodges commands, but it sounds like he’s shouting at Sebastian from underwater.  “Sit down, Sebastian.”

 

He can hear the wind rushing in his ears, the blood pounding in his veins, until Hodges plants one hand on each shoulder and gives him a push down.  His knees buckle, and he collapses into a rolling chair that is inexplicably behind him. He drops his head into his hands and waits.

 

He can hear voices around him, but they sound distorted and far away, and the surveillance tape is playing on loop in his brain.  They only have one hour...one hour to find Lily before she’s…

 

“Sebastian.”  Hodges’ hand is on his shoulder again, and Sebastian sits up, taking a few deep breaths as his vision starts to clear and his hearing returns to normal.  “You okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian answers, though his voice still doesn’t sound quite like it’s supposed to.

 

Hodges turns to Mrs. Wexler.  “Is there a conference room or something we could use?”

 

Mrs. Wexler directs them to the conference room down the hall.  Hodges gives Sebastian a deeply suspicious look, but lets him get up out of the chair on his own, and they leave the front office in the hands of Hodges’ partner Coleman and one of the evidence techs.

 

Sebastian drops heavily into one of the chairs around the conference table, and Hodges sits down next to him and gets out his notebook.  For just a moment, it feels like they’re doing a training exercise, but then Hodges speaks.

 

“We’re here to figure out what happened to Lily, Sebastian.  Can you tell me what you know?”

 

Sebastian tries to take a breath, tries to answer, because he does know things.  He knows that Lily left the school with a stranger, a woman who seems to have some knowledge of the security system.  He knows that this woman had a note that was either written by Myra or was a convincing forgery of Myra’s handwriting.  But more than anything else, he knows that Lily is missing and they have so little time to find her, and his heart is aching all over again.

 

He locks eyes with Hodges and summons all of his strength.  “She’s...she’s gone,” he forces out.






She is in her room, but it’s not her room at all.  Everything looks the same: the bed, the desk and chair, the toys and stuffed animals are all exactly as they should be.  Her drawings are hanging on the walls, and her clothes are in the dresser.

 

She sits on the bed, swinging her feet back and forth, because waiting is hard, and this is kind of boring, but Miss Flores’ sister, who is also called Miss Flores, said to be patient.  Lily knows that when an adult says to be patient, nothing is going to happen for a long time. Mom tells her to be patient when they go to the bank, and Dad tells her to be patient when he gets a phone call from work, and Miss Flores tells her to be patient when they are waiting for cookies to bake.

 

So she is being patient.  She can hear the Other Miss Flores above her, talking to a man.  She wishes Other Miss Flores would come back and take her to the car.  They would go out for ice cream, like they did last week or to see a movie, like they did before that.  Other Miss Flores is much more fun than Regular Miss Flores, who is always talking about homework and bedtime and eating vegetables.

 

But Other Miss Flores is weird sometimes, like right now.  Lily has never been to her house before. In fact, she’s never been to someone else’s house without one of her parents, but Other Miss Flores told her to be patient, and she can do that.   

 

She jumps when the door creaks open.

 

Other Miss Flores is standing there with a smile on her face, and relief surges through Lily as she leaps off the bed, ready to get out of here.

 

“Wait.”  Other Miss Flores holds up a hand, and Lily obediently freezes in place.  “I’m sorry Lily,” she says. “But you need to be patient a little while longer.”

 

Lily nods, because Other Miss Flores really does look sorry, maybe even sad.  “I can be patient,” she says. Then, because Other Miss Flores’ forehead is wrinkling the way Mom’s does when she’s worried, Lily adds, “It’ll be alright.”

 

Other Miss Flores raises a hand to her mouth and nods her head as she turns away and pulls the door shut behind her.  It isn’t until she hears the key turn in the lock that Lily thinks that maybe it isn’t going to be alright, that something is very wrong here.

 

But Other Miss Flores told her to be patient, and she can do that.  She hops back up onto the bed and sits down, legs dangling over the edge as she looks around the room again.

 

It’s her room, but it’s not her room.  Everything looks the same, except that the floor is hard, and there are bars on the window, and she is almost sure that someone is watching her from inside the walls.  Lily doesn’t know how much longer she can wait.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

His watch says it’s 7:56 AM.  Lily’s been missing for over twenty hours.  It feels like twenty years.

 

Sebastian wears a dress shirt and tie to work almost every day, but today it feels like it’s choking him.  He hates going to the Krimson City Police Department’s press conference room with every fiber of his being, because the media has absolutely no business getting involved in ongoing cases.  At best, reporters are an annoyance, and at worst, they end up publishing something that’ll compromise an investigation or get one of his key witnesses killed.

 

KCPD has been under even more scrutiny than usual lately.  Just last month, the paper ran a sensational story about corruption in the department, and even though Sebastian is proud of his role in identifying and dismissing a crooked cop, he wishes it hadn’t been front page news.  He would be perfectly happy to stay off the front page for the rest of his life, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

 

“Sebastian.”  Myra tugs on his arm, and Sebastian realizes that he has come to a stop at the threshold of the press room.  His feelings about the whole situation must be written all over his face, because Myra sighs and steps in close in front of him, leaning up to speak into his ear.  “Please...you... we need to do this for Lily.”

 

Sebastian swallows hard, because Myra’s right, and she’s making the only argument that would ever get him to set foot in this room voluntarily, aside from the threats the Chief makes to send him back to traffic duty if he doesn’t play nice with the media.  Myra steps back, her eyes locked on Sebastian’s face and her expression deadly serious. Sebastian gives her a nod, then turns to make sure that his partner, Joseph Oda, is still beside him.

 

Joseph gives him an encouraging smile, and this situation isn’t going to get any better if he just keeps standing here, so Sebastian takes a deep breath and steps over the threshold.

 

The press room is packed today, just as Sebastian knew it would be, and he stares straight ahead, fixing his eyes on Myra as he trails her through the crowd of TV cameras and reporters with notepads.  He can already see the headlines: Terror at KCPD: Detectives’ Daughter Vanishes without a Trace.   There’s a tiny, slightly hysterical part of him that wants to laugh, because he and Myra used to play a game like this, coming up with ridiculous headlines for their favorite cases, but the air in the room is thick with tension and the rumble of voices, and this isn’t a game.  This is Lily’s life on the line.

 

“You okay, Seb?”  It’s Joseph’s voice in his ear this time, and they’ve somehow traversed the whole crowd, because now the three of them are standing at the front of the room, next to Chief Reynolds, who is shuffling his papers on the podium.

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian answers reflexively.  He’s not okay, and Joseph knows that, but he is as ready as he’ll ever be to do this press event, and he has to be ready because the noise of the room is dying down, and Joseph is stepping away as every eye and every camera in the room focuses in on Sebastian, Myra, and the Chief.

 

“Thank you all for coming,” Chief Reynolds begins, peering out at the crowd from under his bushy black eyebrows.  The Chief has put on some weight since his promotion, but apparently he still fits into his dress uniform, and his broad shoulders and strong hands, which are gripping the sides of the podium, convey an air of power and authority.  Reynolds is good at public relations, but that’s little comfort today. Good PR doesn’t solve cases, and it’s sure as hell not going to bring Lily back home.

 

“This is a difficult day for all of us,” Reynolds continues.  “Never is a crime felt more in our department or our community then when that crime involves a child.”

 

All of the reporters perk up at that.  Doubtless, they’ve heard rumors about what’s going on, but this is the kind of thing they live for, the kind of thing that sells out newspapers and has people glued to their TVs for days...Jesus, he hopes this doesn’t go on for days.  Sebastian isn’t sure he can make it through even one more day like yesterday. But he also doesn’t want it to end, because he knows all too well how this could end, and while they’re still in limbo, he can at least hold on to the possibility that his little girl is out there somewhere, that his little girl is coming home.

 

“...five year old Lily Castellanos…” Chief Reynolds is saying with a nod in his and Myra’s direction, and Myra grabs for his hand and squeezes it, her fingers tangling with his.  He squeezes back, wishing he could do more. There have been times in his life when he has failed, when he has fucked things up beyond all recognition, but this is different. This time he never got a chance to fail.  He never got a chance to fuck things up. He is utterly powerless in this situation, and right now it feels like he is poised at the crest of the first hill on a roller coaster, just waiting for gravity to pull him over the edge.

 

Myra’s hand is cool in his, and Sebastian is momentarily angry at how calm she is, at how easily she handles everything.  Of course, that’s not how she was when Sebastian finally got through to her on the phone yesterday.

 

“What do you mean she’s missing?  She didn’t just disappear Sebastian!  Children don’t just disappear!”

 

He remembers the way her voice wavered, the way he could almost hear the moment when she realized that children do disappear sometimes, that Lily might be one of those children.  Myra’s years of work in the Missing Persons Unit mean that she has seen hundreds of missing child cases, seen the ones who came home and the ones who never will.

 

He and Myra rarely fight, but they did last night.  When they ran out of Lily’s favorite places to look and friends and relatives to call and theories about who would do something like this, they turned on each other.

 

Where the hell were you, Sebastian?  Where were you when they took her?

 

I was at work!  For fuck’s sake, how was I supposed to know what was happening?  Am I supposed to be fucking psychic now?

 

Myra’s words hit him hard.  He may not be psychic, but Lily is his little girl, and it’s his responsibility to protect her, and it is so god damn frustrating to have her snatched away from them like this, to not have even known that there was something to protect her from.

 

He casts a surreptitious glance at Myra, still standing so calmly beside him.  A part of him wonders if she knows more than she is saying, if she was aware of the danger beforehand, if she is withholding information even now.

 

Do you know something about this?  Do you, Myra? I can’t believe that you would, but god damn it I know your handwriting, and that was your handwriting on that note!

 

I know that!  I saw it too, and it was mine, but I didn’t write that note!  I don’t know how it happened- I don’t know how anyone could do that, and that’s why I’m so fucking scared!

 

He saw the tears shining in her eyes then, saw the cracks appearing in the brave facade she always wore, and it was too much.  Myra never cries, but she did last night, and Sebastian held her and cried with her and prayed to a god he doesn’t believe in to bring their little girl back home safely.

 

There is a change in the atmosphere of the room, and it pulls Sebastian’s attention back to the present moment.  Chief Reynolds is stepping back from the podium, and Myra is stepping toward it. Sebastian follows, mesmerized, mostly because he is still holding Myra’s hand and he doesn’t know what else to do.

 

His heart is pounding in his ears, because even though he’s been reluctantly involved in dozens of press conferences, this feels different.  This feels wrong, and he has no idea what to say. Luckily, Myra seems to have this under control.

 

“Good morning,” she says, extracting her hand from his so that she can clasp her hands together in front of her.  Her voice is brittle, like one wrong move will shatter her, but she is keeping it together, which is more than Sebastian can say for himself.  His hand finds the edge of the podium and grips it, because the room around him is starting to blur.

 

“Sebastian and I may be detectives,” Myra continues, “but we are also parents, and there are no words to express what we are feeling right now.”

 

Sebastian takes a deep breath and tries to focus on Myra’s voice.  Even now, it has a calming influence on him, and he draws on that as she speaks again.

 

“Hopefully all of you have seen the Amber Alert, but if not, Chief Reynolds is about to show you a picture of Lily and give you a description of a person of interest and a vehicle.  Please, if you know anything, if you saw anything that might help us find Lily, contact us now. I am asking you as a detective and as a mother.”

 

Then Myra is gently pushing him out of the way so that they can step aside and Chief Reynolds can get back to the podium.  She takes his hand again, and this time he can feel her shaking, and if Myra can’t keep it together then what the hell is he going to do?  What are they going to do?

 

Sebastian doesn’t hear Chief Reynolds give the description of ‘Gabriela Flores’, who they’ve since learned is not a real person.  He doesn’t hear Chief Reynolds describe the car she was driving, and he definitely doesn’t look at the picture of Lily that is displayed on the screen behind them.  He couldn’t look at her now, not when he failed her so utterly.

 

The Chief reads out the number for the missing persons hotline, and then as suddenly as it began, the press conference is over and some of Sebastian’s colleagues are herding the reporters out of the room.  Sebastian descends from the stage as though in a trance. He doesn’t feel Myra’s hand in his or Joseph’s hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t feel anything at all until they’ve made their way back to the Missing Persons Unit.

 

Myra opens the door into the bullpen, which holds six investigator desks and has doors that lead off into various interview rooms and conference rooms.  The place is abuzz with activity. Sebastian can tell that they’re overstaffed right now, because it’s a twelve-man unit and he can already see eight detectives, which means they’ve called in some of the people who would normally be off-shift.

 

This is the big push- their best chance to find Lily in the first 24 hours she’s been missing, and they’re almost out of time.  He’s seen this before, dozens of times, seen how many resources they’ll throw at a missing persons case in the first couple of days, seen how those resources will dwindle over time.  If they don’t find Lily today, there’s a good chance they’ll never find her at all.

 

The noise dies down as people start to notice Myra and Sebastian, and soon it’s replaced by an awkward silence.  Hodges steps forward, nodding to each of them in turn. “Sebastian. Myra. Let’s go into the conference room and I’ll fill you in on the investigation.”

 

Sebastian nods mutely and Joseph gives him a pat on the back before turning to leave.  Part of Sebastian wishes Joseph would stay. He’s Sebastian’s closest friend, and he has the same kind of strong, silent presence that Myra does.  But of course, this is about him and Myra, and he and Myra need to handle it on their own.

 

Or more accurately, he and Myra need to play the role of the frantic parents, because Hodges won’t fucking let them do anything else.  They’ve been excluded from the investigation since it started, because Hodges decided they’re ‘too close’ to this case, and Sergeant Adler, who is in charge of the Missing Persons Unit, agreed with him.

 

Of course they’re too close to this case.  This is their daughter, and they’re too close to not to be involved.  But Hodges keeps telling them to ‘go home’ and ‘try to get some sleep’ and ‘let these detectives do their jobs’.  If these detectives were doing their jobs, Lily would be back home by now, but instead she’s still gone and Sebastian and Myra are being escorted into a conference room in their own precinct like a couple of civilians.

 

“I understand this must be very frustrating for you,” Hodges says as he closes the door behind him, and it takes every bit of Sebastian’s restraint not to throw a chair at him.  Hodges looks too put together, his sandy blond hair neatly combed and his piercing blue eyes sharp and alert. He’s not feeling what Sebastian is feeling, and of course it’s frustrating.  Sebastian can already tell that Hodges doesn’t have anything new to tell them. If he did, he would have started with that.

 

Sebastian can’t think of anything constructive to say, so he sinks into a chair beside Myra, who is also silent, arms folded protectively across her chest.

 

“As you can see, we’ve got basically the entire unit working this case, but we don’t have a lot to go on,” Hodges continues.  “We’ve reviewed the surveillance tapes, and so far we have no leads on identifying the woman who left with Lily.”

 

“What about enhancing the video?” Myra cuts in.  “Facial recognition software? The FBI could-”

 

Hodges holds up his hand and Myra pauses.  Her hand is shaking where it rests on the table.

 

“There’s not enough of her face visible to do any of that,” Hodges explains.  “We consulted our FBI liaison, and between the hat and the sunglasses, the facial recognition software doesn’t have enough traits to make a comparison.  Even someone who knows her might have a hard time identifying her from that video.”

 

Sebastian feels a shooting pain in his jaw and realizes that his teeth are clenched tightly.  He makes a conscious effort to unclench them as Hodges continues to speak.

 

“We did find two other days where she appears on the surveillance tape,” he says.

 

Myra sits up straight.  “What?”

 

Hodges nods.  “Two days last week show her coming into the office to pick up Lily with similar notes, but both of those times she brings Lily back to school after an hour or two.”

 

Sebastian’s brain is struggling to comprehend what Hodges is saying.  The idea that this person has been in contact with Lily, has been taking her out of school even last week when everything seemed to be fine...and why hadn’t Lily said something about a stranger picking her up?

 

Myra is already shaking her head.  “No. No, there’s no way she would have left school with a stranger.”

 

Hodges doesn’t answer right away but stares back at Sebastian and Myra.  His point is obvious. Of course Lily would leave school with this woman.  Sebastian saw it himself on the surveillance tape, and apparently that wasn’t the first time.  Myra’s shoulders slump.

 

“She never mentioned any of this to us,” Sebastian adds.

 

“Does she normally talk to you about her day?” Hodges asks, leaning forward in his chair.

 

“I mean, the way any kid does,” Sebastian replies.  “But this would have been a big deal. She would have said something about it.”

 

Hodges heaves a sigh.  “Sometimes the things that seem important to children aren’t the same things that seem important to adults.”

 

“Don’t tell me about how to talk to children.”  Myra’s voice is icy. “Lily’s very intelligent, and she knew better than to...she…”  Myra’s voice trembles and breaks. Sebastian wants to put his hand on her shoulder, but she might as well be miles away for all Sebastian can do to reach her.  He fumbles for another topic, because they aren’t getting anywhere debating what Lily would or wouldn't have done.

 

“What about fingerprints?” he asks finally. “DNA?”  Even as he says it, he knows that it’s way too early to have DNA results back, but fingerprints are processed in-house.

 

“Latent Prints did lift one from the desk surface that wasn’t yours or the receptionist’s,” Hodges says, “but when they ran it through AFIS there was no match.  And of course, a lot of people probably touched that desk.”

 

Sebastian frowns, but Hodges is right.  The fingerprint might not belong to the woman who took Lily, and even if it does, they’re no closer to identifying her since they have no print to compare it to.

 

“DNA samples were dropped off at the lab when it opened this morning,” Hodges continues, “and we put a rush on it.  We might know something tomorrow, but it’s a long shot.” His expression softens, and he looks apologetic as he adds, “We’re working this every way we can, but we don’t have a lot to go on right now.”

 

The cold, sick feeling is back in Sebastian’s stomach, because everything in this case is a long shot.  If they’ve learned all they can from the surveillance video, and the fingerprints and DNA don’t point to a suspect, then all they have left is the missing persons hotline, and Sebastian isn’t expecting any tangible results from that.

 

Apparently Myra isn’t either, because she drops her head into her hands.

 

“I’m sorry,” Hodges says.  “That’s all I can tell you right now.  Why don’t you go and get something to eat and check back in with us this afternoon.”

 

Sebastian wants to tell Hodges that they aren’t leaving the building until someone finds Lily, but he’s been running on fumes and adrenaline for the past twenty hours, and in an instant all the fight has gone out of him.  He slowly rises to his feet, takes Myra by the arm, and leads her out of the room and out of the Missing Persons Unit.

 

Myra balks at actually leaving the building though, and Sebastian can’t blame her.  They’ve exhausted all of their ideas for finding Lily through non-law-enforcement channels, and Sebastian is sure they both know that if they go home, there won’t be anything left to do but worry and argue and wonder what's going on at the precinct.

 

Sebastian must be on auto-pilot, because he ends up at the Homicide Unit office.  Thankfully the detectives on shift are too busy to notice as Sebastian and Myra make their way through the bullpen.  The hum of noise and the steady movements of day-to-day work are almost comforting to Sebastian, but it makes Anderson’s empty desk stick out like a sore thumb… or maybe more like a patch of dry dirt in a space that is otherwise lush with activity.

 

He tears his eyes away from it as he and Myra reach his own office.  The lettering on the door, which normally makes his chest swell with pride, looks like a joke today.  If he can’t get Lily back, what good is it to be Detective Sergeant Castellanos? If he can’t get Lily back, what good is anything?

 

Myra drops onto the couch, resting her head in her hands again.  Apparently their entrance hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed, because a few seconds later, Joseph opens the door and leans into the room.

 

“Can I get you anything?”  The question is directed at Sebastian, but his gaze flicks back and forth between Sebastian and Myra.

 

“Coffee,” Sebastian answers reflexively.  “Please,” he adds, realizing that his tone is a little brusque, and Joseph is just trying to be helpful.  Joseph nods and slips out, closing the door behind him.

 

The next few hours drag by.  Joseph returns with coffee, and he and Sebastian talk a little about one of their current cases.  Juli Kidman, the junior detective Sebastian and Joseph are mentoring, shows up and asks Sebastian a few questions about Lily, but Joseph quickly sends her off on an errand for another case.  Sebastian nods at Joseph in silent thanks. He doesn’t have the energy to deal with a rookie right now, and even though he’s grown used to Kidman’s curious nature, it feels invasive when he’s the target of her attention.  Myra sits silently, clutching her department radio in both hands, but none of the traffic that comes across seems like anything that could be remotely related to Lily’s case.

 

At 12:01 PM, Myra stands up and announces that it’s time to check back in with Hodges in Missing Persons, and Sebastian would laugh at how literal her interpretation of ‘check back this afternoon’ is, except that he’s been fighting the urge to go back and check in since the moment they left the unit this morning.

 

Hodges’ news isn’t very encouraging.  They’ve been canvassing the neighborhood around the school and calling some of the other parents to see if anyone saw Lily or her kidnapper or anything suspicious, but so far they haven’t turned up any new leads.

 

“What about the hotline?” Myra asks.

 

Hodges sits back in his chair and looks like he is restraining himself from rolling his eyes.  “We’ve got the usual calls. The alien abduction theorists, the self-proclaimed psychics-”

 

Even as serious as this situation is, Sebastian is about to laugh when Myra blurts out, “What are they saying?”

 

“The psychics?”  Hodges raises his eyebrows.

 

“Yes,” Myra replies, voice daring either one of them to laugh.  “What are they saying?

 

“The same kinds of things they always say,” Hodges replies, his tone softening a little.  “That she’s near the intersection of two roads, that she can hear water...not, not things that can help us find her.”  He reaches out to place a hand on Myra’s upper arm, but she pulls away. “You’ve worked these cases for a long time. You know the kind of tips we get.”

 

“What else?” Myra’s voice is icy.

 

“The sheriff’s office volunteered one of their bloodhounds,” Hodges says with a shrug.  “It’s not something that usually gets results, but-”

 

“Yes,” Myra says, her tone leaving no room for argument.  “Tell them we want to run the dog.”

 

“Okay,” Hodges says with a nod.  “I’ll call them. If I remember how they operate, then they’re going to want to meet you at your house to collect a scent article of Lily’s.”

 

Myra is already on her feet, and Sebastian can imagine her relief at finally having something to do, though he’s skeptical of this approach.  A good bloodhound can do some pretty amazing trailing work, but things get complicated quickly in an urban environment, especially when the person being tracked was transported by vehicle, so he’s not sure the dog is going to take them any farther than the end of the parking lot.

 

Sebastian starts to get up as well, but Hodges speaks up.  “Sebastian, why don’t you stay here. I think Myra can handle this on her own, and that way we can update you on any new developments.”

 

It’s a strange thing for Hodges to say, especially when he seemed so eager for both of them to leave earlier, but Sebastian looks at Myra, who nods in agreement.

 

Sebastian holds Myra’s gaze for a moment.  “Call me if you need me.”

 

“Okay,” Myra says, and Sebastian has a feeling they both know that she’s not going to call.  She doesn’t need him, and he doesn't need her, because what they both need right now is Lily.

 

Hodges sees Myra out of the conference room and closes the door behind her, then turns his attention to Sebastian.  “We did get one other call on the hotline, but it was a really weird one.”

 

That gets Sebastian's attention, because if this call is ‘the really weird one’ in a field that also includes psychics and alien abduction theorists, then he definitely wants to know about it.  “Oh? What’s that?”

 

“Do you remember Stefano Valentini?”

 

The name drifts into Sebastian’s brain and settles there, because yes, he does remember Stefano Valentini.  He spent months tracking him while he committed murders all over Krimson City, and then even more months making sure that he was brought to justice, or at least as much justice as could be had.

 

According to the court, a mental institution, not a prison cell, was the right place for Valentini, which is why he’s been locked up in a high security psychiatric hospital for the last two years.  His relationship with Valentini was complicated though. The man seemed to take a particular interest in him during the case, and it didn’t end after the trial. Valentini used to write him a letter every week, though after a few months the mail tapered off.  Sebastian isn’t sure whether it’s because Valentini finally gave up or the hospital staff curbed his communication with the outside world, but Sebastian hasn’t heard from him in a while. And now this.

 

“Yeah, I’m afraid I do,” Sebastian replies.  “They let him have a phone in there?”

 

“Not exactly,” Hodges says.  “The call was from a hospital staff member.  Apparently Valentini saw the press conference this morning, and now he’s insisting that he knows who took Lily.”

 

“And the staff knows that he’s insane?” Sebastian prompts.  He can easily imagine Valentini saying something like that, but it’s harder to believe that the hospital staff took him seriously.

 

“Yes,” Hodges says, cracking a smile.  “I think they do, but they wanted to leave it up to us to determine the value of anything he might have to say.”

 

“And what is he saying?” Sebastian asks.

 

“That he’ll only talk to you.”

 

“Of course,” Sebastian says with a sigh, raking a hand through his hair.  It figures that Valentini would resurface on the worst day of his life and in a way that he can’t ignore.

 

He is ninety-nine percent sure that Valentini doesn’t know shit and just wants his attention, but they have no leads and they’re running out of time.  They’re down to the one percent of ideas about how to find Lily now, and this is one of them.

 

“Alright,” he says.  “I’ll do it.” His own voice echoes inside his head, the words sounding foreign to his ears.  “I’ll go talk to him.”





Stefano inspects his lunch tray carefully before turning away from it in favor of his gallery.  It isn’t very impressive, and even his expert brush and pencil strokes look flat and lifeless under the glaring white lights.  Painting and drawing aren’t his preferred media, but he discovered very quickly here that the staff won’t allow him access to the preferred tools of his trade- no cameras, certainly no knives, nothing to sculpt.  He has had to learn to capture images in his mind’s eye and recreate them on paper, a tedious process for someone who prefers for his art to rise directly out of his action, but it is all he has.

 

It's quite a dull existence, really.  He could, perhaps, end it all, and that thought gives him some comfort.  It is quite a challenge to gain the necessary materials and the right opportunity, but at least two other inmates have managed it since he has been here, so it is not impossible.  It does, however, seem that it would be a waste. His vision is unique, and even though it has been under-appreciated thus far, it would be a shame to deprive the world of the opportunity to know him.

 

He turns, his gaze falling on the lunch tray again as he sighs deeply.  He needs to make a concerted effort to eat some of it. The food is not up to his standards at  all, but he knows that he will not be offered anything else. He rejected meals for almost a week when he first came to this place, and today he certainly has no desire to experience any of the more drastic measures the orderlies will take to get food into him.

 

At least it is relatively quiet here except for the droning of the television outside the plexiglass wall at the front of the room.  One benefit of being considered ‘extremely dangerous’ is that he takes his meals alone in his room instead of in the cafeteria with the rest of the gibbering idiots that reside here.  Or at least, Stefano assumes that’s what they are. He’s been segregated from the general population for his entire stay and presumably will be for the rest of his life.

 

It didn’t seem like such a bad thing at first.  Stefano has never had the sort of warm, messy feelings for other people that seem to be part of the ‘normal’ human experience.  In fact, he would have said that he had no use for people, save as raw materials for his projects, but over the last few years, he has discovered that isn’t quite true.

 

He takes comfort in creation of course, but there is no true art without an audience, and the orderlies who bring his meals and medications seem to have no interest in being an audience.  Further, he is beginning to realize that not all of his inspiration comes from within him, as he once believed. Or perhaps it did, but that flow of ideas has run dry over time, stretched thin by long, empty days and white lights beating down on him and drugs that cloud his thinking.

 

He is not lonely, because he has no need for company.  He does, however, need inspiration, and his has left him, but his plan has been set into motion, and soon inspiration will come back to him in the form of Sebastian Castellanos.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The drive to Beacon Mental Hospital takes only twenty minutes, but that’s plenty of time for Sebastian to reconsider his decision.  There is no way that Valentini knows anything about Lily. He’s been locked up in a mental hospital for two years, and even if he thinks he recognizes the woman on the surveillance tape, Hodges has already made it clear how unlikely it is that anyone can correctly identify her.  No, this isn’t about Lily. This is about Valentini pandering for his attention and wasting his time.

 

Twice, he almost turns the car around and drives right back to the precinct, because what he is doing is ridiculous, but both times, something stops him.  Maybe it’s the same impulse that has Myra out working with the bloodhound team, the nagging feeling that there has to be something they can do to find Lily.  Neither one of them is very patient, and right now it would be pure agony to be stuck at home or in the precinct watching the minutes tick by.

 

He glances at the dash display: 1:20 PM.  Their chances of finding Lily alive are plummeting, and even if this is a long shot, at least it’s a shot.  And it is a very long shot, as evidenced by the fact that Hodges and Coleman let him come out here by himself.  Hodges may have said that it’s because Valentini insisted on speaking only to him, but Sebastian knows that if they actually believed Valentini had anything useful to say, they would have sent a case detective.  They’ve made it clear that they don’t think Sebastian has any business working this case.

 

He has even more time to reconsider after he signs in at the reception desk and is instructed to wait for a doctor.  He paces the large waiting area, trying to develop a strategy for interviewing Valentini, but his mind is swirling wildly from one idea to the next, and when a door next to him creaks open, he jumps in surprise.

 

“Detective Castellanos,” says the doctor, extending a hand to Sebastian.  Sebastian thinks he might have met this doctor before, probably during Valentini’s case, but with his dark hair and beard, glasses, and white lab coat, he looks so much like a generic psychiatrist that Sebastian can’t be sure.

 

Sebastian shakes his hand as the doctor introduces himself.  “Dr. Marcelo Jimenez. I am Stefano’s case manager.” He releases Sebastian’s hand.  “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised you came.”

 

“So am I,” Sebastian replies.  Jimenez laughs, then seems to think better of it, bringing a hand to his mouth as his eyebrows knit in concern.  It’s only been twenty-four hours, but Sebastian is already sick of being the victim, sick of having people handle him like he is made of glass.

 

Luckily Jimenez recovers quickly.  “Right this way,” he says, turning to lead Sebastian through the door.

 

“Can you tell me what got him started on this?” Sebastian asks as they walk down a long, sterile-white hallway.  The information relayed to the hotline was sparse, and anything else he can get from Jimenez will help him keep Valentini on track.

 

“I think he saw your press conference this morning,” Jimenez says.  “When the staff came to collect his breakfast tray, they told me he was highly agitated and that he claimed to know where the missing child was.”  He shrugs. “By the time I got up to his room, he seemed calm enough, but he was very insistent about talking to you.”

 

“Is he still...?”

 

“The same as before?  More or less,” Jimenez replies as they turn down another long hallway.  “The routine here and the medications keep him calm and make him much less dangerous, but he still has a flair for the dramatic, and he still loves his art.”  He smiles almost fondly before he adds, “He’s also still very manipulative, so watch yourself. Don’t get close enough for him to touch you, and don’t pass anything to him through the door.  We’ve had a couple of close calls with his art supplies, which is why he now only gets to use them when he can be supervised.”

 

“So why let him do the art stuff in the first place?” Sebastian asks.

 

“This is not a prison, Detective,” Jimenez says.  They have arrived at an elevator with a antique-looking metal gate in front of the door.  Jimenez presses a button and the gate slides back so that they can step inside. “Art is therapeutic for him, and it makes him quite a bit easier to deal with.”

 

Jimenez holds up four fingers in the air, and Sebastian is about to ask him what the hell he’s doing when he remembers that the jail has a similar security measure.  The elevator there can’t be operated from the inside except by the fire department, so the deputies transport prisoners from one floor to another by signalling the staff in the security room.  

 

Sure enough, two seconds later the gate slides back into place, and the elevator begins to ascend.  They ride up to the fourth floor in silence, while Sebastian wonders what the point in doing anything ‘therapeutic’ for Valentini is if he’s going to be locked up for the rest of his natural life but then decides that it doesn’t matter because after today he’s never going to see him again.

 

The fourth floor is clearly the high security area, because as soon as they get off the elevator, they are greeted by a series of steel doors that only open one at a time, likely controlled by someone who is monitoring the cameras mounted in the corner of each small chamber.  When they pass through the last one, Jimenez heads straight for a desk where an orderly is seated.  

 

The kid can’t be more than twenty with pale skin and shockingly red hair.  When he spots Jimenez and Sebastian, he sits up straight, dropping his feet down to the floor from where they’ve been resting on the desk.

 

“Hi, Dr. Jimenez,” he says a little too quickly, but Jimenez smiles indulgently at him.

 

“Good afternoon, Brandon.  This is Detective Sebastian Castellanos.  He’s here to see Stefano.”

 

Brandon glances at a bank of monitors on one side of his desk.  “Sure thing,” he says with a nod in Jimenez’s direction.

 

“This would normally be time for his afternoon medications,” Jimenez says to Sebastian, “but they can be quite sedating.  Would you prefer that I wait until after you’ve talked to him?”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian says.  “Let me talk to him first.  I don’t think it’ll take long.”

 

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Jimenez says.  “If you need anything else from me, you can stop by my office on your way out.”

 

“Thanks,” Sebastian replies, but Jimenez is already walking away, so Sebastian turns back to Brandon.  He can see now that each of the monitors on the desk displays a room with an inmate inside. The idea of being constantly observed makes his skin crawl for a moment before he reminds himself that this is Valentini, and that if he wasn’t being constantly observed he’d be murdering someone.

 

“Dr. Jimenez probably already told you this, but stay away from the door and definitely don’t give him anything.”  He pauses. “You’ve dealt with him before?”

 

Sebastian nods.  “I’m the one who arrested him.”

 

“Okay,” Brandon says, his shoulders relaxing slightly.  “Then you know what he’s like. Just be careful. He’s a real smooth-talker.”

 

Brandon leads him to a door, which he unlocks with a key that he wears on a lanyard around his neck.  “I have to lock you in,” he says. “I’ll be watching on the cameras, so just signal if you need help, and come knock on this door when you’re finished.”

 

Sebastian passes through the heavy metal door, and it slams shut behind him, echoing down the corridor.  This hallway is shorter, and he’s only walked a few paces when the solid wall on his left gives way to plexiglass, and he is very suddenly faced with the man he came here to see.

 

“Ah, Sebastian,” Valentini says, extending a hand as though he would shake Sebastian’s if they weren’t several feet apart and separated by a plexiglass wall.  His voice seems to come from somewhere above Sebastian, likely due to some sort of intercom system that is allowing them to converse through the barrier.

 

Valentini looks thinner than the last time Sebastian saw him, the pale green jumpsuit hanging loosely from his frame.  His hair is a bit longer than Sebastian remembers and a bit more untidy, but he still wears it down over the right side of his face to hide the remains of his mangled eye.

 

Sebastian considers reminding Valentini that they aren’t on a first-name basis, but he suspects that won’t do any good.  “I’ve been expecting you,” Valentini continues.

 

“And I’ve been hoping to never see you again,” Sebastian shoots back.  It’s only been five seconds and Valentini’s already getting under his skin.  He’s here for a reason though. “What did you want to tell me about Lily?”

 

“Now, Sebastian,” Valentini says, his voice sickly sweet.  “That is no way to treat an old friend.”

 

“We aren’t friends,” growls Sebastian.  “We weren’t friends.”

 

“An old rival then?” Valentini offers, unperturbed.  “Surely we were something...”

 

Sebastian shakes his head.  He had forgotten how infuriating Valentini can be.  He fixes him with a hard stare. “Why did you call me out here?”

 

“To extend my sympathies to you and your family in this difficult time,” Valentini says with a sweeping gesture of his arms.  “And to offer my assistance, if such a thing is of interest to you.”

 

“I want to find my daughter,” Sebastian says.  He can hear the edge of frustration creeping into his own voice, but he can’t help it.  Valentini is a frustrating man. “What can you tell me about her?”

 

“It is not what I can tell you about her,” Valentini replies, taking a step in the direction of the glass.  Sebastian’s instincts tell him to step back, but he holds his ground. “It is what I can tell you about the person who took her.”

 

“Fine.”  Sebastian seizes on this, anything that will keep Valentini from starting to talk in circles again.  “Do you know the woman in the video?”

 

“Unfortunately not,” Valentini says with an odd half-smile.  “But I know other things, things you and your colleagues may have overlooked.”

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” groans Sebastian, because he realizes all at once what Valentini is proposing.  “Let me guess. You can think like a murderous psychopath because you are a murderous psychopath?”

 

Valentini’s visible eyebrow rises a bit, and he is silent for a moment.  “Perhaps I am...as you say,” he finally replies, “but for your sake, we must hope that the person who has Lily is not.”  He pauses again, as though gauging Sebastian’s response while Sebastian works very hard to make his face unreadable. “I can bring a different perspective to the case,” he adds.

 

Sebastian gives a derisive snort.  “That’s bullshit. Why would you even make this offer anyway?  Are you that bored or that lonely? Are you still obsessed with me?”

 

Valentini gazes steadily back at him.  “Obsessed is a strong work, Sebastian, but you are a very interesting man, and I suppose things around here are a bit dull.”  He gestures to the room around him, and Sebastian, who until this point has been entirely focused on Valentini himself, starts to take some of it in.

 

The room is about ten by fifteen feet.  The walls and floor are sterile white, and the floor slants down to a drain in the center that makes Sebastian think of the cage of a zoo animal.  In the front right corner is a bunk that juts out from the wall with a pillow and a neatly folded blanket on top of it. Behind that along the back wall of the room is a small table and chair, both of which appear to be permanently affixed to the floor.

 

There is a toilet and sink in the opposite corner, though the sink is noticeably bare of any personal hygiene items, and in the front left corner of the room is the door, heavy and metal like the others Sebastian has seen here, though this one has a couple of panels that can be moved so that food trays and other items can be passed through the door.

 

There are no windows, save for a skylight right in the center of the ceiling, but the walls are covered with pictures- drawings and paintings that could only have been done by Valentini himself.  Sebastian is no art critic, but he recognizes the style he came to know so well when he was working Valentini’s case.

 

Finally, his eyes come to rest on the last piece of furniture in the room, a second chair located directly behind Valentini himself.  This one is also affixed to the floor and has straps on the arms and legs, presumably for restraining a patient.

 

Despite his resolve to keep his thoughts to himself, Sebastian must be displaying something, because Valentini follows his eyes, then says.  “That is where I sit if someone is going to enter the room. The staff here seems to be rather afraid of me.” He cocks his head at Sebastian.  “But you aren’t afraid of me, are you?”

 

Sebastian doesn’t answer right away.  He’s not afraid of Valentini. Even when there wasn’t a barrier between them, he wasn’t afraid of Valentini.  The sleek, cultured man who sat across from Sebastian in the interview room for the better part of nine hours, never breaking a sweat, every hair on his head and every thread of his designer suit in perfect order, was more a source of interest than fear- an exotic animal he’d pursued for so long and finally managed to ensnare.  Valentini has teeth and claws, to be sure, but he does not attack indiscriminately.

 

He fixes Valentini with a hard stare.  “I didn’t come here to be your entertainment, and I don’t have time for this.  Where is Lily?”

 

Valentini stares back just as hard, his single eye narrowing as he replies, “I don’t know.”

 

Sebastian throws up his hands, though even he isn’t sure if it’s in despair or triumph.  “There!” He snaps. “Was that so fucking hard? That’s all I needed to know!” He turns on his heel.  “What a waste of time,” he mutters as he heads for the door.

 

Valentini calls out from behind him.  “Lily was targeted specifically.”

 

Sebastian stops in his tracks but doesn’t turn around.  “Of course she was!” He shouts back, because obviously Lily was targeted.  Whoever took her made a conscious decision to sign her out of school instead of any of the hundreds of other kids.

 

“Have you thought about what that means?” Valentini says.

 

Sebastian pauses, heart pounding in his ears, because he’s not sure what Valentini is talking about anymore.

 

“This wasn’t a crime of opportunity,” Valentini continues.  “It involved research and planning.”

 

Sebastian wants to ask Valentini how he knows that, because the note and the suspect’s prior visits to the school definitely weren’t mentioned in the press conference, but he also doesn’t want to dignify Valentini’s desperate rambling with a response.  He starts for the door again, adrenaline still running high, but Valentini calls after him.

 

“They know you, Sebastian, and they know your wife.  They know you’re both detectives, and they’re going to try to make contact.”

 

Sebastian reaches the door and knocks, wincing as his knuckles hit the metal surface harder than he intended.

 

“If you follow up on your leads, you’ll hear from them before the end of the day,” Valentini calls, just before the door swings open and Sebastian steps into the next room.

 

Brandon closes and locks the door behind him.  “About what you expected?” He asks.

 

Sebastian nods.  “He hasn’t changed much.”

 

“Dr. Jimenez says it’s rare for a true psychopath to change, even with all of the therapies we can do here,” Brandon says, speaking quickly as though he’s excited to share what he knows.  “And Stefano’s not stupid. All of the doctors say he’s very aware of other people’s emotions in a rational sense; he just doesn’t feel any of it himself. And when you pair that with sadistic tendencies and the glorification of art above all else, you get…”

 

Brandon’s voice trails off, but Sebastian knows what you get.  Just for a moment, he can see them again- the sweeping tableaus of flesh and blood, fabric and flowers.  They were kind of impressive in their own way, but also vulgar, a desecration of human remains beyond anything he’d ever seen before.  And Valentini talked about them like they belonged in the fucking Louvre, like if people could just get a chance to view them, they would see them the way he did.  Sebastian is sure he’ll never see the art in Valentini’s creations. Those crime scene photos still send chills up his spine.

 

“Anyway,” Brandon finally says, “Jimenez doesn’t ever expect him to be able to be released.  We’re mostly protecting society from him at this point. It’s kind of a shame. Some of his art is pretty interesting.”

 

Sebastian’s shock at hearing someone praise Valentini’s ‘art’ must show on his face, because Brandon laughs and quickly adds, “Not the gruesome stuff, I mean.  But he has an eye for composition and perspective that’s-“

 

Sebastian holds up a hand.  “Careful. You’re starting to sound like him.”

 

Brandon laughs again.  “My mom’s an art teacher...or maybe I’ve just spent too long on the monitors.”  He gestures to his desk. “Do you want to talk to Dr. Jimenez before you leave? I have to call him up here to give Stefano his afternoon meds anyway.”



“No,” Sebastian replies.  His heart is still racing, but his voice comes out flat.  “I’m done with this.” This whole idea was stupid. It was a waste of his time, it distracted him from finding Lily, and right now he wants nothing more than to be in his car heading away from here, away from Valentini and his weirdly charismatic way of speaking and his allusions to helping that are all smoke and mirrors and the tiny, tiny piece of his own mind that is sad to see his old rival in such a sorry state.

 

He thanks Brandon and assures him that he can find his own way out.  He makes it through the last security door and is stepping onto the elevator when his phone announces an incoming text message.  He fumbles in his pocket and pulls it out to see that it’s from Myra.

 

CALL ME

 

His stomach drops even though the elevator hasn’t moved.  He stares at the phone in silence for several seconds before he realizes that he isn’t going anywhere and holds up one finger for the camera.

 

He braces a hand on the wall as the elevator starts to descend.  Obviously Myra has some news and it’s something either too complicated or too emotionally loaded to communicate over text message.  Maybe the trailing dog came through. Maybe he led them all the way to Lily and...and what? Is she somehow alive and well? Did she manage to escape her captor?  Or is she…? Sebastian can’t even finish the thought.

 

The elevator stops on the first floor and the gate opens.  Sebastian steps out. His phone is still clutched in his hand as he picks up speed, retracing his steps on autopilot.  He is practically running when he reaches the lobby, and as soon as he bursts through the front doors and out into the sticky afternoon air he is hitting the button to call Myra.  He puts the phone to his ear as he walks to the car, digging for the keys in his pocket with his other hand.

 

Myra picks up after two rings, or at least, someone who sounds like Myra picks up.  She is speaking so fast and so erratically, gasping for breath every few seconds, that Sebastian can only catch a word here and there.

 

“Myra?” He says, raising his voice in hopes that she’ll be able to hear him over the sound of her own.  “Myra, slow down. What’s going on?”

 

There are a few more unintelligible exclamations from Myra before it sounds like she’s arguing with someone, and then Hodges’ voice comes through the phone.  “Sebastian?”

 

“Yes, it’s me,” he says.  “What’s going on?”

 

“You need to get down here,” Hodges says.  “Come and meet us at the precinct. We didn’t find Lily, but there’s some new information you need to know.”

 

“On my way,” Sebastian replies.  He gets into the car, starts the engine, and just drives.  He doesn’t know if the lights he’s going through are red or green, and he’s sure as hell not obeying the speed limit.  Myra and Hodges found something. They learned something about Lily, and he has to find out what.




A loud bark greets him when he steps into the conference room of the Missing Persons Unit.

 

“Daisy, sit!” commands a stout, red-faced guy in a sheriff’s office uniform who must be the dog handler.  As a rule, Sebastian hasn’t been too impressed with the sheriff’s deputies, but he’s willing to put his opinions on hold if they’ve managed to find some trace of Lily.

 

Apparently Daisy doesn’t think too much of her handler either, because she flat-out ignores him and rushes at Sebastian, plowing into him like an eighty-pound torpedo.  Sebastian grabs the edge of the table for support as Daisy gives his pants a vigorous sniffing.

 

Sebastian likes dogs, but Daisy, like most bloodhounds, is a little more slobbery and smelly and wrinkly than he prefers.  When Daisy finally pulls away and snuffles back over to her handler, Sebastian’s pants are smeared with drool, and one look at Myra’s clothes confirms that she is in a similar condition.  When his eyes move up to her worried face, he remembers why he was in such a hurry to get here.

 

“What happened?” He asks.  “What did you find?”

 

Myra looks lost for a moment, but Hodges leans across her and slides a map along the table to Sebastian.  “K9 Daisy tracked from the front office of the school all the way to the parking lot of Southside Mall.”

 

“Really?” Sebastian looks up in surprise, because that’s over two miles, though it does explain why this poor sheriff’s deputy is as red as a beet.

 

“Yes,” Hodges continues.  “She took us right up to a white sedan-“

 

“High concentration of residual scent,” chimes in the deputy before he starts gulping down water.

 

Hodges looks mildly annoyed at being interrupted.  “Yes, apparently there was a lot of Lily’s scent there, but Lily wasn’t in the car.  The dog actually kept tracking for a little while after that, but we called it off when she got to the interstate on-ramp.”

 

“Dog was overheated,” interjects the deputy, wiping sweat from his face.  Sebastian is pretty sure that Daisy wasn’t the reason they had to take a break, though scenting and safety concerns make it unlikely that they’d be able to run a bloodhound on the interstate anyway.

 

“What about the car?” Sebastian asks.  “Any clues? Prints? DNA? Anything?”

 

Hodges holds up a hand and Sebastian stops speaking.  “Forensics is processing the car for trace evidence,” Hodges says.  “But we found this in the trunk.” Hodges slides a piece of blank paper across the table and motions for Sebastian to turn it over.  Myra covers her eyes with her hand.

 

There is a sinking feeling in Sebastian’s stomach as he turns the paper over, because Myra is tough as nails, and if she doesn’t want to see this again, then maybe he has no business looking at it either.  But he has to know. He flips the paper over.

 

It’s a full page printout of a photograph, and it takes Sebastian a minute to get oriented.  It does indeed depict the trunk area of a white sedan with dark grey upholstery. The trunk appears to be empty except for some white lines which Sebastian realizes after staring for a moment are formed in masking tape.  He only has to stare for another second before he realizes what the lines form: the outline of a human body...a child’s body. A chill runs up his spine.

 

“What the fuck?” He says out loud, because now that he sees the outline, it’s impossible to see it as anything else, and all he can think about is the chalk outlines that are always around the bodies of murder victims in the movies.  It’s not even a technique he’s even seen used at a real crime scene, but it hits him hard, and the longer he looks at it, the more he starts to imagine Lily curled up on her side in the trunk inside those lines.

 

He flips the picture back over and looks up at Hodges.  “What the hell is this? Is this some kind of joke? Is someone fucking playing with us?”

 

“I wish I knew,” Hodges replies, and he looks genuinely baffled.  “And it got even weirder when we looked in the glovebox.”

 

Sebastian isn’t sure whether his heart can handle another shock like the last one, but he still takes the next piece of paper Hodges slides over.  This one is a picture of the open glovebox. Inside are a gun and folded piece of paper.

 

“We sent the gun for NIBINS already,” Hodges says, “so if there’s a match between the test fire cartridges and any of the cartridges on record for unsolved crimes, then that might get us another lead.”

 

“What about the paper?”

 

Myra, who still has her face buried in her hands, makes a noise that sounds like a stifled sob.  Hodges passes another sheet of paper, face-down, along the table to Sebastian.

 

Sebastian takes a deep breath and turns it over.  This one is a photograph of another piece of paper, one that has a message typed out on it.

 

Three rounds.  One for her. One for me.  One for you.





He watches and waits.  The girl has gone still and quiet again, sitting cross-legged on the bed, a small shape huddled near the center of the display on his video monitor.  He has been watching her for over twenty-four hours. He has seen her cry. He has seen her call out for help, for “Miss Flores.” He has seen her pace the room like a caged animal, her shoes scuffing on the cement floor.  He has seen her inspect the door, the window, every inch of every wall.

 

She takes after her parents in that way.  While she scours her prison, they are scouring the city, following up every lead, every tiny glimpse of hope.  The father interests him most. He is rash, impulsive… the sort of man who may not take the time to see where the gun is pointing before he pulls the trigger.

 

And Sebastian’s finger is getting closer to the trigger with every passing moment.  They have found the car by now; he is certain of that. They have found his clues, his messages.  The next move is theirs. They will control her fate...and his.

 

The girl wraps her arms around herself even though the temperature of the room is carefully monitored.  She looks like an ordinary child, but he knows she is so much more. When the time is right, she will serve her purpose, but for now, he watches and waits.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It’s 9:15 AM on Saturday, and Sebastian can’t believe he’s actually on his way back to Beacon Mental Hospital.  He’s been up all night, flashes of images and bits of conversation playing over and over again in his head- the masking tape outline of a child, the gun in the glovebox, Valentini’s ramblings, and Myra’s words from the press conference.  And now he can add Hodges’ empty promises at the briefing this morning.

 

Hodges opened by saying that they still hope to find Lily alive, but Sebastian was watching Myra the entire time, watching her shoulders slump because she’s probably heard those promises a hundred times, watching her breathing accelerate as Hodges reviews the evidence from yesterday, watching her carefully reconstruct her facade of strength when the briefing is over and she has to shake her colleagues’ hands and thank them for working so hard to find Lily.

 

The car the bloodhound led them to was scrupulously clean on the inside- no trash, no prints, no sign of recent use at all.  The plates traced back to a different vehicle that was stolen out of nearby Cumberland County, which led to some hopeful phone calls to Cumberland’s police force, but apparently they had no suspect and no leads in the theft of the vehicle.  DNA swabs from the car have been sent to the lab, but Sebastian isn’t holding his breath. The swabs from the school office didn’t have enough material in them to develop a subject profile, and he has a feeling the car isn’t going to yield much better results.

 

Firearms analysis has evaluated the gun from the car, but they haven’t been able to match the weapon to any other crimes.  Trace evidence took a look at the paper from the glovebox, but the paper stock and the typeface are so common that they don’t provide any additional information.  They’re still looking at the masking tape to see if there is anything unique or traceable about it, but the investigation has stalled again, and Sebastian feels restless, useless when he is sitting around the precinct waiting for other people to find Lily.  He may not be able to do much, but he can do this.

 

Besides, Valentini’s words are still haunting him.  They know you’re both detectives, and they’re going to try to make contact.

 

They did make contact, and their words are haunting him even more.  Three rounds.  One for her. One for me.  One for you.

 

Hodges confirmed that there were three unspent rounds in the gun from the glovebox, and Sebastian doesn’t want to examine the words any further than that right now.  His mind won’t let him examine them any further, because to do so would be to face up to the dark reality of their situation… as if it wasn’t dark enough already.

 

But he’s heading back to Beacon, because Valentini was right about one thing, and maybe it’s just a coincidence, and maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all, but once again, they are out of leads, and if Stefano’s insight has been right one time, maybe he can do it again.

 

Even when he rationalizes it like this, Sebastian knows it sounds crazy.  Myra told him as much when he brought it up back at the precinct, but then sighed and said he might as well go if he was going to keep pacing around like that.  Sebastian wishes he hadn’t snapped at her, but they’ve both been irritable since Lily was taken, and he still doesn’t see how Myra can just sit around at the office waiting for an update that might never come.

 

Valentini is definitely crazy, and maybe Sebastian is going crazy right along with him, because here he is at Beacon again.  Maybe he belongs here. The idea drifts into his head that what separates the people on the inside from the people on the outside is that the ones on the outside haven’t had that one life-altering experience that pushes them over the edge.  He is closer to that edge than he has ever been, but he is determined to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.

 

When Jimenez comes through the double doors into the waiting area, he looks mildly surprised.  “Back again, Detective?”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian replies, rubbing at the back of his neck because suddenly it does seem a little silly for him to be back here.  “We don’t have a lot of leads right now, and Valentini said something yesterday that sort of got my attention.”

 

“Stefano says many things,” Jimenez says with a shake of his head.  “But if you’re here then I trust you have a good reason. I’ll let the front desk staff know that you might be back in case I’m not here to escort you.”

 

“Thank you,” Sebastian says.  He follows Jimenez down the hallway to the second hallway and into the elevator, then up to the fourth floor and through the series of doors even though he already knows the way.

 

“Vincent,” Jimenez says by way of greeting to the orderly sitting at the station today.  “This is Detective Castellanos. He may be coming to see Stefano from time to time.”

 

Vincent is a heavy-set, dark-skinned man with a receding hairline and a no-nonsense look in his eyes.  He actually looks a little familiar, and Sebastian’s suspicion is confirmed when he smiles broadly and reaches out to shake Sebastian’s hand.  “Hey, Sebastian. It’s been a while.”

 

Sebastian shakes his hand.  “You used to work for the Sheriff’s Office, right?”  It’s an educated guess, but he’s pretty sure that he doesn’t know Vincent from KCPD, and Vincent has the demeanor of someone who has worked a security-oriented job for most of his life.

 

“That’s right,” Vincent replies.  “Until about three years ago. Can’t say that I miss the jail though.”

 

“I don’t think anyone misses the jail,” Sebastian says.  Krimson City Jail is an old building with outdated technology and a malfunctioning HVAC system that means it’s always about eighty-five degrees inside.  It’s hard on the inmates and the staff alike.

 

Vincent laughs.  “No indeed.” He turns to take a look at the monitors before he heads for the door that leads to Valentini’s cell.  “You can go right in. I’ll keep an eye on you.”

 

“Thanks,” Sebastian says, giving Jimenez a nod before he turns toward the door.  Vincent unlocks it and holds it open for him. Sebastian is almost over the threshold when Vincent speaks again.

 

“Sebastian.”

 

Sebastian turns to look at him.

 

“I’m sorry about your little girl.”  Vincent has the same tense, awkward look that Sebastian sees on the faces of everyone who has tried to talk to him in the past two days.  “I saw it on the news.”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian says.  He fumbles for something coherent to say.  “We’re still looking for her.”

 

“Good,” Vincent replies.  “Never stop looking. I hope she comes home soon.”

 

Sebastian nods, turns, and starts down the hallway toward Valentini’s cell as the door closes behind him with a resounding thud.  Valentini is standing with his back to Sebastian, apparently considering the artwork hanging on the wall in front of him. When Sebastian draws level with him, he speaks.

 

“Sebastian,” he says without turning around.  “You have returned.”

 

“And you’re being awfully theatrical today,” Sebastian observes, “though I’m guessing you’re still as crazy as usual.”

 

Valentini turns to face him and flashes an indulgent smile.  “Perhaps, but I have no choice in the matter. I am captive with my own thoughts every moment of every day.”  He takes a few steps toward Sebastian. “You have come here of your own free will.”

 

Valentini’s cool detachment clashes with the urgency Sebastian feels about getting information from him, and it’s already starting to get under Sebastian’s skin, but he takes a deep breath and makes his voice as even as possible.  “You said the person who took Lily knows that I’m a detective and would try to contact me.” He fixes Valentini with a hard stare. “How did you know that?”

 

“It was quite obvious to me,” Valentini says.  “You must remember that the processes of the typical law enforcement mind, the rational thinking and planning mind, likely do not apply here at all.  You and your colleagues are fundamentally unable to put together this puzzle because you are using the wrong pieces entirely.”

 

Sebastian didn’t come here to listen to Valentini ramble about how his mind works.  “Then tell me what pieces we should be using,” he says, voice low and dangerous.

 

Valentini takes another step forward, meeting Sebastian’s gaze with an unflinching determination.  “I could,” he says, “but my help comes at a price.”

 

“Why the hell would you want money?” Sebastian scoffs.  “You’re going to be locked up in here for the rest of your life.”

 

“I have no use for money,” Valentini replies, “but there is something you can do for me.”

 

Sebastian’s mind immediately jumps to the conclusion that Valentini is propositioning him, as absurd as that would be.  He does recall a few times during Valentini’s arrest interview that his eye roamed over his body a bit more than one would expect during a normal conversation, a few carefully chosen words that led him to believe that Valentini had a more...personal interest in him.

 

It’s still a very unexpected turn at this moment, and his alarm must show on his face, because Valentini’s serene facade breaks and he actually laughs.

 

“Oh, Sebastian,” he says, raising an eyebrow.  “While that might prove quite enjoyable, I have something else in mind.”

 

“What do you want?” Sebastian asks, because even though he has resolved to try to get along with Valentini at least long enough to get some more information about Lily’s kidnapper, his face and neck are starting to flush hot and his patience is wearing thin.

 

“Your memories,” Valentini says, stepping forward again so that he is within two feet of the barrier.  His gaze is locked on Sebastian. “Your hopes and fears, your joys and sorrows. Share these with me, and I will help you find your daughter.”

 

It sounds like something out of a fairy tale...or a horror story, the kind of nebulous bargain that the hero might make with the devil.  It makes Sebastian’s heart beat a little faster, makes him uncomfortable in a way he doesn’t fully understand. He loosens his tie, but the feeling remains.

 

“That’s fucking weird,” he says after several seconds of silence.  “What are you going to do with my memories?”

 

“That is for me to know and you to find out,” Valentini says with a smile.  “Do you accept these terms?”

 

For the second time that day, Sebastian feels like he is poised at the very brink of a steep dropoff, and that if he moves even an inch he is going to tumble over the edge.  But realistically speaking, Valentini can’t hurt him- or anyone else for that matter- as long as he stays inside his cell, and if playing some weird mind game with him will lead to information that might help them find Lily, Sebastian is willing to give it a try- desperate times, after all.

 

“Yes,” he replies.  The word seems to hang in the air between them.

 

“Then sit down,” Valentini says with a sweeping gesture of his hand, “and we will begin.”

 

Sebastian turns to see that there are a couple of metal chairs against the wall behind him, and he takes one and places it a few feet from the barrier, sinking down into it with the exhaustion that comes from sleepless nights and days of constant worry.  He leans forward resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands.

 

Valentini strolls over to the restraint chair in the center of the room and seats himself on it.  The sight of the chair still gives Sebastian the creeps, but Valentini's posture and air of authority make it look more as though he is sitting on a throne.  “Very well,” he says, “ask me what you will, and I will do my best to answer.”

 

Sebastian chooses to ignore Stefano’s eccentric behavior in favor of getting some answers.  “How did you know that the kidnapper would try to contact us?”

 

“It was quite obvious once I deciphered their motive,” Valentini replies.  Sebastian waits for him to elaborate, but he says nothing else.

 

“Valentini,” he cautions, “if this is going to work, you’re going to have to be a lot more specific than that.  Now what do you mean about the motive?”

 

“First of all, if we are going to be working together, I would thank you to call me Stefano,” Valentini replies.  “I am not overly fond of my family name.”

 

Sebastian frowns, because he has no intention of being on a first-name basis with this murderer and, if Jimenez is to be believed, psychopath.

 

Valentini continues, “And I deduced the motive by process of elimination.” He sits back in the chair and crosses one leg over the other, as though he is perfectly at ease here.  “Some of the motives for kidnapping- murder, torture, rape, etcetera- could be ruled out immediately, because someone who has those intentions is looking for an easy target.”

 

Sebastian is about to interrupt to say something about how victim selection is often important to criminals, but Valentini holds up his hand, and Sebastian waits.

 

“To be sure,” Valentini continues, “they may be looking for a specific type of victim, but within that category of people, they will select someone who is relatively unguarded, who has no one to protect them, someone who-”

 

Sebastian feels a flush of heat in his face as he surges to his feet.  “Lily had people to protect her!” he snaps. “She had…” His voice trails off as he realizes that Lily didn’t have anyone to protect her when it mattered.  When she needed him, he wasn’t there.

 

“That is not what I am saying.”  Valentini breaks the silence with a pacifying wave of his hand.  “Lily did have people to protect her. That is what makes it so unlikely that she was taken by someone who simply has nefarious plans for children.  This was not a crime of opportunity, and Lily was not an easy target. Whoever took her wanted her specifically, which means that we are looking at an entirely different set of motives.”

 

“Such as...?” Sebastian prompts, taking his seat again.

 

“Well, at first I thought of money-”

 

Sebastian can’t suppress a little snort of disbelief, because anyone who is trying to extort money from two people on government salaries is barking up the wrong tree.

 

“-but there has been no demand for ransom,” Valentini continues.  “Has there?” He raises his visible eyebrow at Sebastian.

 

“No,” Sebastian confirms.  The idea of a ransom demand has crossed his mind, but they’ve had nothing of the sort so far, and most modern day criminals know that any form of communication they might use to make such a demand would be traceable by law enforcement.  Truth be told, kidnapping for ransom isn’t something that KCPD sees very often these days.

 

“So this is personal,” Valentini says.  That takes Sebastian a little by surprise, because it’s not a suggestion that has come up at any of the briefings, at least not the ones he’s been allowed to attend.  When he doesn’t respond right away, Valentini adds, “It must be. And as I cannot imagine anyone having such a grudge against Lily herself, you or your wife must be the target.”

 

Sebastian turns the idea over in his mind, but it’s sound.  Somehow all of this must relate to him or Myra.

 

“Do you have any enemies?” Valentini asks.  “Anyone who would go to such great lengths to hurt you?  Perhaps someone who has taken a particular interest in you or your wife?”

 

Sebastian can’t help but think that one such person is sitting across from him right now.  “I do deal with some dangerous people,” he begins, casting about in his mind for anyone who stands out, “but most of the time when I’m done with them they end up in jail, so they shouldn’t be able to kidnap anyone.”

 

“Surely there is someone who got away,” Valentini presses.  “Or someone who had an accomplice on the outside or an old case where someone has made parole?”

 

Sebastian thinks hard, because Valentini’s ideas are surprisingly plausible, but nothing comes to mind.  He shrugs. “Maybe, but I can’t think of anyone right now.”

 

“That is your homework then,” Valentini says, and Sebastian scowls, not at all enjoying the fact that Valentini is treating him like a schoolboy.  “Think on those questions and pose them to your wife. Your suspect should be on that list.”

 

“Fine,” Sebastian says, standing up abruptly, so that his chair screeches across the floor behind him.  He has more questions. He knows there are other facts that he should share with Valentini to see if he has any insight, but he’s also had about as much of Valentini as he can handle right now.

 

“Ah, ah, ah,” admonishes Valentini with a wave of his finger.  “I hope you’re not thinking of backing out on your end of the bargain already.”

 

Sebastian heaves a sigh.  His gut instinct is to tell Valentini to fuck off.  He already has all the information he is going to get at the moment, and walking away from Valentini, who can’t follow him, is an appealing prospect.  However, Valentini’s insight so far has been surprisingly helpful- much more so than the briefings Hodges has given-, and Sebastian is faced with the very real possibility that he will need to ask Valentini for help again.  If that’s the case, he’ll have to establish some kind of rapport with Valentini, some kind of trust. He swallows hard, swallows down his frustration and his anger and the vague feeling that he is making a terrible mistake, and takes his seat again.

 

“What do you want me to do?”  His voice echoes inside his own head.

 

Valentini gives a triumphant smirk, but then his expression softens just a tiny bit.  “Tell me about the day Lily was born.”

 

“What?” Sebastian blurts reflexively.  “Why…?”

 

Valetini doesn’t answer, and Sebastian chews on the inside of his lip for a moment before he speaks again.  Even though this is a good memory, it’s a very private one, and it feels wrong to share it with anyone, especially someone like Valentini, but he’s already in over his head.  Surely a few more steps won’t hurt.

 

“It was…”  He considers his answer, tries to find a way to dilute it, to make it bearable to think about this again, but he can already feel his throat constricting at the thought that he might never have anything more than his memories of Lily.  “...it was the best day of my life, better than the day I solved my first case, better than the day I made Detective, even better than the day I married Myra. The first time I held her…” He has to pause to swallow down the lump in his throat.

 

“It was incredible.  There’s nothing else like that in the world, knowing that she was mine, that I made her, that it was my job to protect her…”  His voice trails off. He doesn’t want to finish that thought, but Valentini does it for him.

 

“But you didn’t protect her, did you?” he prompts.  Sebastian’s eyes are unfocused and glazed with tears, but he can hear the hard edge in Valentini’s voice   “Not this time. How did it feel when you realized she was gone?”

 

As if in answer to Valentini’s question, the feeling surges up inside him with an intensity he hasn’t felt since that afternoon at Lily’s school- fear, panic, adrenaline pounding in his veins.  Then comes rage- at the person who took Lily, at himself for not being there when she needed him, at Valentini for forcing him to relive this. He is on his feet again before he realizes it.

 

“Fuck you!” he snarls as his fist slams into the plexiglass barrier.  “You can sit there and say that because you’ve never given a shit about anyone besides yourself in your entire goddamn life!”  His other fist follows, and he strikes the barrier again and again. Valentini keeps his seat, smirking again, as though Sebastian is putting on a private show for him.

 

“God fucking damn it!” Sebastian shouts, pulling back to punch the barrier again when the door at the end of the hallway flies open and Vincent is barreling toward him.  It snaps him out of his fury, and he pauses, fists still cocked.

 

“What the hell, Sebastian?” Vincent says.  He stops a few feet from Sebastian, eyes wide with shock, but doesn’t move to touch him.

 

“Sorry,” Sebastian growls.  “Fuck, I’m sorry. I…” He shoots a glance at Valentini, who raises an eyebrow at him.  “I just lost my temper for a second. I’m really sorry.”

 

His shoulders slump as all of the adrenaline drains out of him, and suddenly his knuckles really fucking hurt.  He looks at them, surprised to find that they are bruised and bleeding, because he definitely didn’t feel anything when he was hitting the barrier.

 

“Alright, Sebastian,” Vincent says, beckoning him forward.  “Let’s go get you cleaned up.” Sebastian shoots one more glance at Valentini, who gives him a smile and little wave, and reluctantly follows Vincent.





Other Miss Flores isn’t coming back.  Lily is sure of that now. She tried calling her name before, but no one answered.  She has tried calling for her parents, calling for help, but the silence is draped around the room like a thick blanket.

 

At least there is light coming through the window, even if the window is much too high up for her to reach it.  It was light when she came here, then dark, then light again, then dark again, and now light once more, but she doesn’t know if she’s been here for days or weeks.  It feels like forever.

 

This isn’t her room.  She knows that now, because the door doesn’t open, no matter how much she pushes or pulls on it, and there is no other way out.  She hasn’t seen or talked to anyone since Other Miss Flores left, but she knows she’s not alone here. Sometimes she hears a footstep or a cough, and at first they seemed like friendly sounds, but now she isn’t so sure.

 

The little door in the wall opened up the second time it was light, and there are sandwiches and juice in there, but she doesn’t know where they came from, and Mom and Dad told her not to take food from strangers.  She is hungry, hungrier than she has ever been in her life, but she is trying so hard to follow the rules.

 

Mom and Dad also told her not to go anywhere with strangers, and Lily is starting to worry that she may have broken that rule.  Other Miss Flores didn’t seem like a stranger when she came to pick her up at school. She was so nice and so pretty, and she told Lily that she was regular Miss Flores’ sister, so she wasn’t really a stranger, was she?

 

This isn’t her room.  She isn’t supposed to be here, and Mom and Dad are going to come and get her soon…unless she broke a rule when she came here with Miss Flores.  If she broke a rule, maybe Mom and Dad are mad at her. Maybe they aren’t going to come and get her at all. She eyes the sandwiches again. Her stomach is growling, but if she wants to get out of here, she can’t break any more rules.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sebastian strides down the hallway with confidence and slaps his hand flat onto the plexiglass wall with a resounding smack.  He feels a little thrill of satisfaction as Valentini jumps back, a rare look of surprise on his face. He recovers immediately, the corner of his mouth turning up in a smile as he steps in close to the barrier again, his eye trained on the piece of paper pinned between Sebastian’s hand and the glass.  His expression sours almost immediately.

 

“Really, Sebastian?” he says, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

 

Sebastian shrugs.  “You said to make a list of people who had a particular interest in me or my wife.”

 

“And I am at the top of that list?”  Valentini’s tone makes it clear that it’s a rhetorical question.  “Make no mistake, I am quite flattered, but how exactly do you propose that I gained access to your daughter from in here?”  He spreads his arms to indicate the confines of his cell.

 

“Who says you had to do it yourself?” Sebastian points out.  “Maybe you have an accomplice.” Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, his tone is casual.  He doesn’t think it’s very likely that Valentini is involved, but he certainly can’t rule out that possibility.  Lily’s disappearance has provided him with a suspiciously convenient opportunity to re-insert himself into Sebastian’s life.  It seems like a coincidence, but he can’t be sure.

 

“An accomplice?  Now that is preposterous,” Valentini says with a derisive snort, and Sebastian has to agree on that point.  He doesn’t need to be a psychologist to recognize that teaming up isn’t in Valentini’s nature. His ego and his perfectionist streak wouldn’t allow it, and Sebastian can’t imagine anyone who would willingly spend more than an hour or two with him in the first place.

 

“Okay, so you’re not the prime suspect,” Sebastian concedes.  “I’m still not taking you off the list.”

 

“Suit yourself,” Valentini replies, “but don’t be surprised when I win you over in the end.”

 

Sebastian heaves a sigh, because he’s only been here for thirty seconds and Valentini is already starting in on his last nerve.  “Whatever,” he grumbles. “Just look at the list.”

 

In truth, the reason he put Valentini at the top of his list was to gauge his response, to see if he might tip his hand or display any kind of emotion at all, but Valentini seems more amused than anything else.  Sebastian also wouldn’t have minded getting a bit of a rise out of him after what happened yesterday. He’s a little embarrassed by his own outburst, by how easily Valentini was able to work him up into a rage, because of course that’s exactly what Valentini intended.

 

He should have expected it though.  Mind games come with the territory when dealing with someone like Valentini, but he still doesn’t like the idea of someone poking around inside his brain.  His memories, especially the ones of Lily, are private, and the fact that it’s Valentini who is forcing him to confront them is just adding insult to injury.  At least he seems to be considering the list again.

 

“I remember Albert and David Whitlow,” Valentini muses, taking a step back from the glass.

 

“What?”  Sebastian’s brow furrows in confusion.  “How…?”

 

“I may not be quite as obsessed as you make me out to be,” Valentini replies, “but I have been following your career.  They are in prison for life, no?”

 

“Yeah, they are,” Sebastian says.  The Whitlow brothers are serving life sentences for murdering their parents, but if their jail calls are any indication, they and some of their family members are still furious with KCPD and Sebastian in particular.  “But they have made some specific threats against me. What I don’t know is whether they have anyone on the outside who’s willing to carry them out.”

 

“Hmmm,” Valentini narrows his eye.  “How much planning was involved in their crime?”

 

Sebastian almost laughs at that.  “Very little,” he replies. “The only reason it was first degree was that they waited for their parents to go to bed, but their weapons were kitchen knives and it was obvious they hadn’t thought past the actual murder in terms of planning.”

 

“Correct me if I am wrong,” Valentini says, inclining his head toward Sebastian, “but I believe Lily’s kidnapping reflects a bit more organization.”

 

“Definitely,” Sebastian agrees.

 

“Tell me,” Valentini presses.  “I need more details if I am going to help you.”

 

Sebastian sighs, lowering his hand, which is still holding the list and turning to find a chair.  He pulls one up closer to the barrier and takes a seat. “The person who took Lily- the woman on the surveillance video- came to pick her up twice before this last time, but both of those times she brought her back to school before dismissal.”

 

“And how did she convince them to let Lily go with her?”  Valentini sits as well, crossing one leg over the other and leaning back in his chair.

 

“She had a note from Myra, in Myra’s handwriting,” Sebastian says, resting his elbow on his knee.

 

Valentini frowns.  “That is troubling.  Have you considered that your wife might be-”

 

“Involved?” Sebastian interrupts with a harsh laugh.  “No, of course she isn’t. She-” He pauses right in the middle of his thought, because he has realized quite suddenly who he’s talking to.  This isn’t Hodges or Joseph or the Chief. This isn’t someone with a normal sense of decorum. If Valentini is going to judge him, it’s going to be by some weird psycho standard of behavior, not by what is socially acceptable.

 

Valentini is staring evenly back at him when he lets his breath out in a rush and says.  “I don’t know. I just...I don’t know. Isn’t that fucking crazy? I should be able to say, one hundred percent, that she’s not involved, but I just can’t.  Now what the hell does that say about me?”

 

Valentini smiles darkly.  “That your eyes are open, which will serve you well if you are going to find your daughter.”

 

“You don’t think that’s crazy?” Sebastian asks, wondering even as he says it why he is seeking validation from someone who is certifiably insane.

 

“No,” Valentini replies.  “I see two possibile scenarios: either your wife is involved somehow or we are dealing with someone who is a skilled forger and had access to a sample of your wife’s handwriting.”

 

Sebastian nods.  There is a strange sense of relief that someone- anyone- is willing to help him explore this facet of the situation.  Hodges and his team have been tight-lipped about anything relating to the note in Myra’s handwriting, and obviously he can’t talk about it with Myra after how she reacted that first night.

 

“How is your marriage?” Valentini asks, almost as though he can read Sebastian’s thoughts.

 

“Watch it,” Sebastian’s voice is low, guarded.  This is mind game territory again, and he is all too aware of what Valentini can do if he’s given anything to work with.

 

“I mean to say, is there any reason your wife would want to separate you and Lily?” Valentini continues, unfazed.  “Is she contemplating divorce? Is there a potential custody issue?”

 

“No,” Sebastian replies, raking a hand through his hair.  It’s sort of surprising to hear such a mundane suggestion from Valentini.  After all, this is the sort of thing he was trying to use to comfort himself back at Lily’s school.  Most ‘kidnappings’ of children do involve family members trying to keep the child away from each other.  Sebastian has even heard of them going to some lengths to make it look like the kidnapping was done by a stranger, and he’s damn sure Myra has seen that scenario as well.  Wait, is Myra contemplating divorce?

 

“I don’t think so,” he adds after a long pause.  “She’s been...distant lately, but we both work a lot, so that’s not unusual.”  The words sound hollow, like he’s trying to convince himself as much as Valentini, but it stands to reason that he and Myra might fall a little out of sync sometimes.  They both have demanding jobs, so of course they’re busy a lot of the time, but they’ve talked more in the last two days than in the two weeks before that. Is that normal?  Has something been wrong this whole time and he hasn’t seen it until now?

 

His eyes are trained on the floor, but Valentini’s voice drifts into his ear.

 

“How often did the three of you do things as a family?” he prompts.

 

“Rarely,” Sebastian answers without thinking, because it’s not a question that requires much thought.  “We each set aside time for Lily, but we work opposite shifts, so we’re not all together very much.” It’s true, but it doesn’t bother him as much as it should.  His time with Lily has been so precious that he never stopped to think about whether Myra should be there as well, and besides, there’s only so much he can change his work schedule.

 

“Do you and your wife argue?”

 

“No,” he answers quickly.  “At least, not until Lily went missing.  Before that I can’t remember the last time we argued.”  He can’t remember the last time they exchanged more than a few words in passing.  That cold, heavy feeling is settling into his stomach again, but this time it’s not even about Lily.  It’s about him and Myra. How long have they been like this? And when was he going to notice that it was happening?

 

“And the last time you were intimate was…?”

 

“None of your business,” Sebastian finishes, jerking his head up to look at Valentini.  He is trying for an indignant tone, but even to himself, he just sounds tired. He can’t remember the last time they were intimate anyway.  Hell, aside from the other day when she was leading him through the press conference, he can’t remember the last time Myra touched him.

 

“That long?” Valentini asks, his features rearranging themselves from curiosity to surprise to some semblance of sympathy.  “No wonder you are so frustrated.”

 

“I’m frustrated because you’re supposed to be helping me find my daughter and instead you’re quizzing me about my marriage,” Sebastian points out.  This time, he manages to at least sound annoyed.

 

“Very well,” Valentini replies, smoothly switching gears.  “Let us assume for a moment that your wife was not involved.  Does anyone on your list count forgery among their skills?”

 

He nods at Sebastian’s right hand, and Sebastian glances down, surprised to see that he is still holding a piece of paper.  He turns it over and reads down the list. Stefano Valentini...Albert and David Whitlow...Javier Calixto...Ryan Sullivan.

 

“Definitely not the Whitlow brothers,” Sebastian says, “though I don’t know about any family members.  Javier Calixto, on the other hand…” He’s not really sure what to say about Calixto, as it was Myra’s idea to include him on the list.

 

“Who is he?” Valentini asks.

 

“Some guy who developed a weird attachment to Myra.  He used to work for the local newspaper, and he started covering an abduction case she was working a couple of years ago.  I remember he got her cell phone number somehow, and when she wouldn’t return his calls he showed up at our house.”

 

“I suppose you took care of that in short order,” Valentini says, leaning forward slightly in his chair.

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian can’t suppress a faint smile at the memory of chasing Calixto off their porch with his service weapon.

 

“You are protective of her as well.”

 

“That’s a stupid question,” Sebastian snorts.

 

“It was not a question,” Valentini says.  “If he was so interested in your wife, is it possible that he obtained a sample of her handwriting.”

 

“That’s...very unlikely,” Sebastian replies.  “I know she gave him an interview at one point in the case, but I’m sure she would never have put anything in writing.  We’re trained not to do that with the media.”

 

“Who else?” Valentini asks.

 

“Ryan Sullivan,” Sebastian offers.  Before Valentini can ask he adds, “Myra’s ex from before we were married.  We haven’t heard from him in years though, and Myra said she didn’t think he’d ever hurt a child.”

 

“Hmmm,” Valentini muses.  “He would certainly have had the opportunity to learn her handwriting.  Can you think of anyone else who would have?”

 

Sebastian shrugs.  “Anyone at work, I guess.  We take a lot of handwritten notes.”

 

“So we have effectively narrowed down the list to Sullivan and the entire Krimson City Police Department,” Valentini observes.

 

“Why would anyone at KCPD kidnap my daughter?” Sebastian asks.  The fatigue has gripped him, and he can’t even manage an indignant tone at this point.  He is simply following Valentini’s line of questioning wherever it may lead.

 

“You do not strike me as the type to idealize your job, Sebastian.  Surely you have seen corruption even among your own peers.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t answer, but of course he has.

 

“What about away from the office?” Valentini presses.  “Is there anyone else who would have had the chance to observe your wife’s writing?”

 

“Lily’s nanny,” Sebastian replies, “but the detectives working the case already talked to her, and I spoke to her as well on the first day.  She seemed genuinely surprised, so I don’t think she was involved.”

 

“If you say so,” Valentini says.  “Part of your job is, after all, to be able to tell when someone is lying to you.”  He pauses. “The forgery is still an interesting angle though. It would be worth taking a look at some recent cases to determine who might have that particular skill.”

 

“Sure,” Sebastian says absently.  He can hear Valentini’s words, but his mind is still turning over questions and possibilities about Myra, about himself.  Is he really so out of touch with his own marriage? With his own family?

 

“Sebastian.”  Valentini’s voice is firm and punctuated by a snap of his fingers.

 

“What?” growls Sebastian, a little irritated at being treated like a dog.

 

“We are not going to get anywhere if you shut down like that.”

 

“We’re not getting anywhere now,” Sebastian points out.

 

“On the contrary, if we assume that your wife is not involved, then we know three things about the perpetrator: they have an interest in you or your wife, they had access to a sample of her handwriting, and they have some talent for reproducing that handwriting.”

 

Sebastian shrugs.  Valentini is right, but somehow Sebastian doesn’t feel much closer to finding Lily’s kidnapper.  He doesn’t feel much of anything at all.

 

“You said they made contact with you two days ago,” Valentini continues.  “Tell me what happened.”

 

That gets Sebastian’s heart beating a little faster, because the images from the search of the car are burned into his brain.  “We used a trailing dog, and they searched the vehicle the dog hit on. It was parked at a shopping center a couple of miles from Lily’s school.  They found this in the trunk.”

 

He unlocks his phone and brings up the photo of the masking tape outline that he surreptitiously snapped during Hodges’ latest briefing.  He turns it to face Valentini and holds it against the glass. Valentini stands up and moves in closer, peering at it in confusion before he lets out a long exhale.

 

“That is a bit...disturbing,” he says.

 

Sebastian nods, trying not to think about what it means that this image is ‘disturbing’ to someone who once used corpses in his art projects.  He turns the phone back toward himself, swiping to the next picture of the gun and the paper in the glovebox. He displays it to Valentini again.  “And this was in the glovebox.”

 

Valentini eyes it suspiciously.  “What is that paper?”

 

Sebastian swipes to the next photo- the one of the note- and shows the phone to Valentini again.  Valentini stares at it for a moment, then takes a step back and makes a slow lap of the room with his arms crossed over his chest.  Sebastian can practically hear his mind working.

 

Valentini finishes his circle and stops in front of the glass again.  One hand comes up to rub at his mouth, and his eye is cast down to the floor.  “This is not what I expected,” he says. “This...this is a different sort of man.”

 

“Meaning what?” Sebastian asks.

 

“Meaning that he doesn’t intend to survive this,” Valentini replies, still not looking at Sebastian.  “He will self-destruct, and he will take you with him. Lily is only collateral damage- a tool he is using to get to you.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” Sebastian asks, because it doesn’t sound very different from what Valentini was saying before, but his whole demeanor has changed in a way that makes Sebastian feel like the floor has dropped out from under him.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice questions why he’s attaching so much weight to Valentini’s opinion, but it is silenced almost immediately when Valentini opens his mouth to speak again.

 

He raises his eye to meet Sebastian’s.  “By your very involvement in this investigation, you endanger Lily.”

 

“She’s already in danger!” snaps Sebastian.  “Don’t give me this bullshit. Finding her is the only way we’re going to get her out of danger.”

 

Valentini’s voice is maddeningly calm.  “I realize this is not something that you want to hear, and I do not expect that you will heed my advice on this point,” he says, “but if you insist on participating in this investigation yourself, you are raising the stakes, for you and for Lily and for the person who took her.”

 

“I’m not going to sit around waiting for the department to find her,” Sebastian answers without hesitation.  They’re not going to find her. They’re going to stay within the lines: question the obvious suspects, follow up on the physical evidence, appeal to the community for tips, and they’re going to rinse and repeat until they run out of time and Lily is dead.

 

“Of course not,” Valentini says.  “And I cannot say that I disagree with you, but it does call for a change in our approach.  Most importantly, I fear we are running out of time.”

 

“What are we supposed to do?”  Sebastian is more thinking out loud than truly asking Valentini.  The weight of his own words threatens to crush him. He’s already wasted so much time.  He glances at his watch- 10:40 AM. Lily’s been missing for almost 72 hours, and they are no closer to finding her than they were the first day.

 

Valentini opens his mouth, then closes it again, brow furrowing in thought before he speaks.  “I take it you have run the plates on the vehicle, yes?”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian replies without thinking.  “Stolen out of Cumberland.”

 

“And there would be no trace evidence of course,” Valentini continues.  “They’re too careful for that.” He begins to pace. His stride is smooth and even, and Sebastian is again reminded of a wild animal.  “They have been so very careful...nothing left to chance…” He stops suddenly and turns to face Sebastian.

 

“They knew that car would appear on the surveillance tape and that you would later find it.  They used that car in a very controlled manner.”

 

“Which means…?” Sebastian prompts, because what Valentini is saying makes sense, but he doesn’t see where this is going yet.

 

“That they were not driving with the stolen plates on it for any longer than necessary.  And I doubt they took the risk of driving it with tags that would have traced to another vehicle either.  Not when Krimson has so many license plate scanners.”

 

Valentini is looking past Sebastian, almost talking to himself now, and Sebastian can only stare, mouth slightly open.  It’s a line of thought that would only make sense to an experienced detective or a particularly resourceful criminal, and Sebastian is forcibly reminded of who he’s dealing with.  Valentini’s gaze snaps back into focus on him.

 

“Oh, don’t look so surprised,” Valentini says with a wave of his hand.  “You forget that I have had to obtain a number of vehicles for, shall we say less-than-honorable purposes.  What do you know about the origin of the vehicle itself?”

 

“The identification number was filed off,” Sebastian says, remembering the scowl on Hodges’ face when he revealed this detail at his last briefing, “so not much.”

 

“It was purchased near the site where it was first used...near Lily’s school,” Valentini says.  “It must have been, and that means that someone has a record of selling it.”

 

Sebastian can already see a flaw in this approach.  “If they planned this out so carefully,” he begins, “what makes you think they used any of their real contact information in the paperwork?”

 

Valentini shakes his head.  “I cannot be sure about that, but if you can find who sold a car matching that description in the last three or four weeks, it will certainly give us more information.”

 

“Got it,” Sebastian says.  It feels strange to be taking direction from Valentini, but it feels good to have a purpose again, to be able to take some kind of action.  He could hand this tip off to Hodges and his team of course, but they haven’t been too receptive to any of Sebastian’s attempts to aid the investigation so far, and he has no reason to think this will be any different.  No, he’ll follow up this lead on his own and tell Hodges later if he finds out anything relevant to the case.

 

He turns to leave, but something stops him, and he turns slowly back to face Valentini.  “Don’t you...don’t you need to ask me some weird psycho-babble questions or something? Don’t I have to do my part?”

 

Valentini smiles, and this one is disturbingly genuine.  “You already did,” he says. “Did you think I was asking all of those questions about your marriage for my health?  Unless you are considering answering my last question, you are free to go.”

 

It takes Sebastian a moment to remember what Valentini’s last question was, and he certainly has no intention of telling Valentini about his sex life, especially if it’s going to cut into time he could be using to find Lily.  “Pass,” he says, turning on his heel to head for the door. Valentini only laughs.





Stefano draws his brush across the paper, flinching at the way the bristles rasp on the hard surface.  He has asked for canvas before, but apparently that is too expensive for the state to provide. Still, his hand is steady, and his lines are smooth, and now, thanks to Sebastian, something is unfurling inside him.

 

It starts as a tingle in his chest.  He can’t put a name to the feeling, but it’s something, and his heart beats a little faster as he dips into his paints again.  He remembers the conversation with Sebastian, the way he went so still and vacant when he was talking about his wife, the way his shoulders slumped and his eyes were fixed on the floor.  Sebastian’s despair may not be as exciting as Sebastian’s rage, but it is still exquisite in its own way.

 

And he is sure it was despair.  Sebastian may not have conveyed it in so many words, but Stefano knows him well enough, has observed him closely enough, to be able to read him like a book.  The very fact that Sebastian was willing to seriously consider the possibility that his wife could be involved in Lily’s disappearance speaks volumes about the state of their relationship.  Couples fight from time to time, or so he is told- he has little experience in romantic relationships and absolutely no use for them-, but the kind of doubts Sebastian is having are far more significant.

 

Or at least, they will be soon, Stefano thinks with a smile.  Sebastian has planted the seed himself, probably through years of fixation on his work instead of his marriage, and Stefano will nurture it, water it, and let it blossom into the kind of deep-seated mistrust that will separate him irrevocably from Myra.  He frowns- even saying her name inside his head is distasteful-, and he hopes that soon he won’t even have to think about her anymore.

 

Vincent shifts in his seat on the other side of the barrier, and Stefano frowns.  He would, of course, prefer to create his art unobserved and unencumbered by prying eyes, but he has learned that he will not be granted such leeway.  A few...indiscretions earlier in his incarceration have made sure of that, and while he did tremendously enjoy the looks on the orderlies’ faces when he was brandishing a makeshift weapon at them, perhaps it was not worth the restrictions on his liberty that were subsequently imposed.

 

He also prefers when Brandon is here to supervise his creative sessions.  The boy may not be particularly bright or well-educated, but he has a certain insight, an eye for color and composition, that Stefano appreciates, and he is willing to engage in conversation about the merits of various pieces and techniques.  Vincent, on the other hand, is all business.

 

Stefano sighs deeply and turns his attention back to his work.  If everything goes according to plan, he will have Sebastian all to himself in no time.  He simply needs to...develop a few details of the plan a bit further. What he is contemplating is risky for both of them, as well as for Lily, and it is not to be taken lightly, but he can see no other way to accomplish his goal.

 

His hand has been moving on its own in time with the workings of his mind, and now he pauses to look upon what he has created.  The image before him is cold and bleak and heavy, as though if he looks at it for too long it might force all the air out of his lungs and suffocate him.  He wonders what it is like to live so closely with someone but at the same time, to be so alone, then realizes he doesn’t have to wonder. He is alone even when he is surrounded by people, and that thought, that realization works its way slowly through his body like a physical sensation.  He shivers. The emptiness is palpable in a way that nothing has been for him in a very long time.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Brandon jumps to his feet as Sebastian bursts through the door and strides up to his desk.

 

“Oh, Sebastian,” he says, shoulders slumping in relief.  “You scared the shit out of me. It gets kind of creepy in here at night.”  He glances at the monitor. “Isn’t it kind of late for a visit?”

 

“I...I don’t know,” Sebastian says, desperately trying to organize the thoughts that are crashing around inside his head.  Is there some etiquette to visiting people in mental hospitals? Are there visiting hours? He can’t make sense of it right now, but he’s pretty sure he remembers Jimenez telling him to come back anytime.  “Is it?”

 

“I guess not.”  Brandon doesn’t seem to know whether this is normal either.  “I mean, I haven’t given him his nighttime meds yet, and he’s awake, so I don’t see why it would be a problem.  Just try not to get him too agitated. Sometimes he has trouble settling down at night.”

 

“Sure, that’s fine,” Sebastian answers reflexively, even though he’s so agitated himself that there’s no way he can take any responsibility for Valentini’s state of mind.  He has to talk to someone, even if it’s Valentini. Hodges isn’t listening to him, and Myra blew him off when he tried to pitch this idea to her. He’s running out of sympathetic ears, and Lily is running out of time.

 

“Okay then,” Brandon turns and unlocks the door, holding it open for Sebastian.  “Same as before. Just knock when you’re ready to leave.”

 

Sebastian nods absently before he hurries through the door and down the hall.  Apparently Valentini wasn’t expecting him either, because he is sitting on his bunk with his back against the plexiglass wall and his knees pulled in to his chest.

 

“It’s not time for lights out yet, Brandon,” Valentini says without turning around.  His voice is missing its trademark theatricality, and there is a strained quality to it that Sebastian hasn’t heard before.

 

Despite his own roiling thoughts and the pressing need to do something with the new information he has obtained, Sebastian feels like he is intruding on a private moment…if it’s even possible for someone who lives in a glass box to have any privacy.

 

“It’s Sebastian,” he says, still a little out of breath from rushing through the halls to get up here.

 

Valentini turns so quickly that he almost falls off his bunk, and if Sebastian wasn’t so charged up with the need to talk to him, to do something, then he might have laughed.

 

Valentini composes himself in short order and rises to his feet.  “I see,” he says. “I did not expect you back so soon. What is it that is so urgent it could not wait until morning?”

 

“Hey,” Sebastian snaps, “you’re the one who said we were running out of time.  What did you expect me to do?”

 

Valentini sighs.  “I believe I also said that Lily is in considerably less danger if you stay far away from this case.  Are you prepared to disregard that?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian answers.  Hodges and his team aren’t going to find Lily; Sebastian is sure of that now, and after the discussion with Valentini earlier today, all signs point to either Myra or someone inside the department being involved in Lily’s disappearance.  For all he knows maybe Hodges and his team aren’t even trying to find her. Maybe no one is. Maybe they’re just waiting for him to give up...or lose his mind.

 

Valentini is giving him an appraising look.  “You really are, aren’t you?” he murmurs, sounding like he is thinking out loud more than talking to Sebastian.  Then he adds, “And you think you can solve this by yourself?”

 

“I thought you were supposed to be helping me,” Sebastian points out.  Even as he says it, he realizes how strange it sounds that Valentini of all people has suddenly become an integral part of his search for his daughter.  “Unless you’re going back on your word,” he adds, a note of challenge in his voice.

 

“I am, if nothing else, a man of my word,” Valentini replies, head held high, “though if you are proposing that I take on an expanded role in this matter, we may need to negotiate some other terms.”

 

“You can’t just go changing the terms now,” Sebastian says, feeling a surge of frustration, heat rushing all over his skin.  Of course Valentini wants to change the terms now. Valentini can do whatever he wants. Valentini is batshit fucking crazy.

 

“Nevermind that for the moment,” Valentini replies soothingly.  “Tell me what you have learned.”

 

“Right,” Sebastian says, immediately refocused on the task at hand, though he is a little reluctant to deliver this first piece of news.  Valentini’s ego doesn’t need to be any bigger. “Well, you were on point about the car. There’s a used car dealer down the road from Lily’s school that sold a vehicle of the right make, model, and color about three weeks ago.”

 

Valentini is looking obnoxiously smug as Sebastian continues, “It’s kind of a sleazy operation, so they didn’t have a lot of the things that would have actually helped, like surveillance video or a copy of the driver’s license, but they did have an address.”  He pauses, remembering what Hodges said when he explained all of this to him.  

 

Suspicious, but not enough to go on.  How do we know this is the same car? What if they gave a false address?  I understand how difficult this must be for you, but you’re really grasping at straws here, Sebastian.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest, and we’ll see you at the briefing tomorrow.

 

He half-expects Valentini to brush him off too, because this is only one small, possible connection to the person who took Lily, but the corner of Valentini’s mouth is turning up in a smile.

 

“Well done,” he says, in a tone that suggests he might be patting Sebastian on the head if he could reach him.  It’s condescending as hell, but at least it’s not the rejection he got from Hodges and Myra. Then, as if he can read Sebastian’s mind, he adds, “And yes, it is possible that it’s a false address, but I doubt very much that it is random.  This person has left just enough of a trail for you to follow, and I expect that if you seek out that location, you will at the very least learn something.”

 

Sebastian nods.  “That’s what I thought.  And I have to go soon.”

 

“Indeed,” Valentini replies.  “They have been able to lay this trail because they are so far ahead of you.  If you are to have any hope of success, you will need to catch up.”

 

“Right,” Sebastian agrees.  “And, as you so helpfully pointed out, I’m on my own now, which is why I need to know everything you’ve been holding back, any insights you have about this person.  What am I about to walk into?”

 

“I take it the department has not been receptive to this information?”

 

“No,” Sebastian says, the frustration starting to rise up in him again, because they are wasting precious time.  “If they were, I wouldn’t be here.”

 

“And your wife?”

 

He stares at Valentini for a few seconds, trying to decide how to describe Myra’s reaction to his proposal- the cold, clinical tone of her voice, the way she looked down at the coffee table or out the window, never at him.

 

I know how much you want to find her, Sebastian.  I want to find her too, but at some point we have to face reality.  We have to look at the probable outcome, and the probable outcome after this much time is...Sebastian, I’ve seen this happen before.  I’ve seen people run themselves into the ground chasing shadows and flickers of hope, and it won’t bring her home. It won’t make any difference at all.  You’ll just be left with even less of yourself in the end.

 

Those words cut deep, made him wonder what it’s really been like for Myra working missing persons cases all these years, whether he should have been paying more attention to her mental state.  But can she really be so burned out from the job that she can’t rally to look for their own child? Or is there something she’s not telling him. He can’t be sure anymore, but one thing is clear: he really is on his own.

 

He is just opening his mouth to speak when Valentini holds up a hand.  “I see,” he says simply. “And there is no one else who you can call upon for help?”

 

Sebastian first thinks of Joseph.  He actually thought of Joseph as soon as he realized that Hodges and Myra weren’t going to be any help, but Joseph has been covering for him on Homicide for the last three days, and the few times they’ve passed each other in the hall, Joseph has looked like he has more than enough on his plate already.

 

Besides, there is a small part of Sebastian that knows that his plan is a little unorthodox, that it’s maybe even a little crazy.  Myra and Hodges already think that he’s losing his mind. He’s seen the look in their eyes when he talks to them about Lily’s case, the blend of pity, sorrow, and professional distance that clearly convey what a shame it is that he’s been reduced to this.  He can’t bear to see that look on Joseph’s face too.

 

“No,” he says.  “There’s no one else.”

 

“And yet you are here talking to me,” Valentini observes.

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian shrugs.  “Figures the one person who believes me and is actually willing to help is the one who can’t leave this room.”  And the one who’s completely insane, he adds as an afterthought.

 

“What makes you so sure I cannot leave this room?” Valentini asks.  Then before Sebastian can answer, he adds, “I am very resourceful, I’ll have you know.”

 

“I’m sure you are,” Sebastian concedes, “but I think this is a little beyond your abilities.”  He thinks of the locked door between them, the locked door between him and Brandon, and the three remotely operated doors on this floor.  Even if they could somehow get through those, they’d still need someone to work the elevator for them. He shakes his head, surprised with himself for even entertaining this brief flash of some weird fantasy where he is helping Valentini escape.

 

“That sounds like a challenge.”  Valentini has a gleam in his eye that is all too familiar to Sebastian.  “More importantly, it sounds as though if I did find myself...less encumbered, you would accept my offer of assistance.”

 

“I don’t see you getting any less ‘encumbered’ anytime soon,” Sebastian growls.  “So tell me what you know so I can go check out this address before it’s too late.”  He’s been too late at every stage of this investigation so far. He can’t be too late again.

 

“That is awfully rude, don’t you think?” Valentini says.  “We are in the middle of a conversation.”

 

“For fuck’s sake,” snaps Sebastian, “you’re not doing me any good if you’re just talking in hypotheticals!”

 

“And I suppose this is all about you?”  Valentini’s voice is cold.

 

“It’s not about me!”  Sebastian’s voice rises almost to a shout.  “It’s about Lily!”

 

“Indeed,” Valentini says, voice transitioning in an instant to soft, almost hypnotic.  “And if you want to find Lily, you are going to need my help.”

 

Sebastian takes a deep breath to reply, but Valentini cuts him off.  “And you are going to need to lower your voice.” His eye flicks up toward the ceiling, and Sebastian remembers Brandon’s desk with the monitors.  It takes a tremendous effort, but he swallows the rage that is bubbling up inside him.

 

“Okay,” he says in a hushed voice.  He raises an eyebrow at Valentini, because he’s not sure how they’re supposed to talk about anything privately if they’re constantly being monitored.

 

Valentini darts his eye toward the door of his cell, and Sebastian takes a few cautious steps in that direction.  He’s pretty sure he remembers being told specifically to stay away from the door, but it’s solid metal and securely locked, so there can’t really be any harm in standing near it.  He rests his palm on the wall beside the door, unsure of how to look natural in this situation.

 

Valentini waits a few beats before he strolls nonchalantly over to the door as well.  “Top panel,” he says quietly.

 

Sebastian leans over so that he can see Valentini through the glass and gives him an incredulous look.  Valentini sighs. “Do you want to talk about this or not?” His tone is light, conversational even, but his expression holds a warning.

 

Sebastian doesn’t like the turn this is taking, but he does need information from Valentini, particularly to make sure that he’s not walking into some kind of ambush.  He turns his attention to the top panel of the door. It’s only about six inches by six inches. Valentini definitely can’t escape through it, though he could put his hand through, which makes Sebastian a little wary.

 

He looks around the door at Valentini and mutters, “You’d better not use this as an opportunity to strangle me.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Valentini replies with a suspiciously cheerful smile.

 

Sebastian believes him, though mostly because strangulation isn’t his preferred method of killing.  He shakes his head in disbelief, more at himself than anything else, and slides the top panel of the door open.  Valentini steps up close to it, speaking barely above a whisper so that Sebastian has to lean in to hear him.

 

“I can leave this place if I want to, Sebastian.  I can go with you to find Lily.”

 

Sebastian draws in his breath sharply, not at Valentini’s words, but at his voice.  He hadn’t realized how different it was to hear him through the glass and over the intercom, but now that the rich, accented tones are teasing his ear again, he remembers his first interview with Valentini, how taken in he was by his way of speaking.  He can’t dwell on that though, because Valentini is still talking.

 

“And you do need me, Sebastian.  You cannot go alone. They are counting on you going alone.  They have set all of this in motion, alienated you from your co-workers, your friends, and your wife.  They expect you to have no one. They want you to have no one. But you have me.”

 

It figures that the only person Sebastian has on his side in this situation is the absolute last person he’d want to rely on, but he is out of options and he is out of time, and he needs Valentini to keep talking.

 

“Alright,” Sebastian says with a sigh, his face still close to the opening in the door.  “Let’s just assume for a moment that I’ve been convinced to go along with this...incredibly, unbelievably bad idea.  Then what? We’re on camera right now, and even if you somehow ended up on this side of the door, we’d have to get someone to open about five more doors for us and operate the elevator.”

 

“Leave that to me,” Valentini replies with a mysterious smile.  It looks even weirder because Valentini’s mouth is the only part of him Sebastian can see through the opening from this angle.

 

“Now this I have to see,” Sebastian says.  He can’t imagine how Valentini is actually going to make this work.  He had assumed that he would play a pivotal role in any plan to get Valentini out of here, because of course the staff knows Valentini and knows better than to go along with one of his schemes.

 

“I will require one thing of you,” Valentini says.

 

“That sounds more like what I was expecting, but you’d have to be crazy- crazier than you are I mean- to think I’d actually help you escape.”

 

“I am not asking for your help exactly,” Valentini replies.  “I am simply asking for a moment of carelessness, a mistake anyone could make.  Surely you have made mistakes in your life, Sebastian.” Valentini pauses, and of course Sebastian has made mistakes in his life.  He can think of a few of the big ones right now. “Why not make one that will help you, that will give you a chance to save Lily.”

 

Sebastian pulls back a little from the opening in the door and peers through, trying to get a read on Valentini.  “What kind of mistake?”

 

“A very small one.”  Valentini’s voice is soothing, laps at his ears like water against the shore.  “All I need you to do is to open the lower panel in the door.”

 

Alarm bells are going off inside Sebastian’s head, because Valentini has all but told him that doing this will facilitate his escape plan.  He is torn, torn between the knowledge that he absolutely cannot trust Valentini, that he cannot stand by and allow Valentini to pose a threat to the citizens of Krimson again, and the growing sense of dread that something is happening to Lily and absolutely no one else will believe him.  No one else will help him, and if he doesn’t at least keep Valentini talking, he is going to lose her forever.

 

Besides, opening the panel is one small step in a larger plan.  Valentini can’t escape through it, and Sebastian sure as hell isn’t going to position himself in such a way that Valentini can grab his firearm, so what harm can it really do?  He’s just playing Valentini’s game a little longer to try to get a little more information.

 

He does have a more practical concern though.  “Aren’t they going to notice?” He glances up at the ceiling then back at Valentini.  He’s surprised the staff haven’t already noticed that he’s standing by the door with the top panel open.

 

“Perhaps,” Valentini says, “but it is unlikely.  Brandon is working tonight, and he can easily become absorbed in other things.  I sometimes think this place could burn down around him before he would notice anything was amiss.”

 

“And if they do notice?” Sebastian prompts.  “Why exactly am I opening this?” He gestures to the door panel.

 

Valentini gives a graceful shrug.  “Because you were taken in by the sound of my voice.”  He smiles as though he is sharing a private joke. “People say the strangest things, but apparently some of them find it quite compelling.”

 

Sebastian reaches for the panel but hesitates.  It’s such a simple action, and he can’t see how it is going to allow Valentini to escape, but the idea has his heart pounding all the same.  Surely it’s one step in a larger plan. Once he does it, there will be another request, and he’ll say no to that one, and that will be the end of it.

 

“It’s your choice,” Valentini says.  His voice softens as he adds, “But I know you want to see her again.”

 

Sebastian nods, more to himself than to Valentini, because he does want to see her again.  He wants it more than anything. He watches as his hand moves toward the panel and slides it open.  He stays frozen for a moment, waiting for all hell to break loose. It doesn’t.

 

He counts to five, and still nothing has happened, and the wave of relief hits him as he stands upright again and makes eye contact with Valentini through the open upper panel.  

 

Valentini looks mildly amused.  “What exactly did you think was going to happen?”

 

“I don’t know,” Sebastian admits.  “I never know with you.”

 

“Oh Sebastian,” Valentini chuckles before his voice drops to barely above a whisper.  “My abilities may have been somewhat exaggerated.”

 

Sebastian has to step in close to the door to hear him, but he does it consciously, blading his body so that his right side, where he wears his weapon, is well out of Valentini’s reach, but his ear is close to the door.  “I am only a man after all,” Valentini murmurs, “though perhaps a bit more resourceful than most.”

 

There is a small tug at his left front pocket, and Sebastian jumps away, putting several feet between himself and the door.  His hands go first to his gun, which is still in its holster, and then to his pockets as he scrambles to figure out what the hell Valentini just did.

 

That question is answered when Valentini strolls out from behind the door and back in front of the glass.  Sebastian’s pocket knife is in one of his hands. With the other he brings a finger to his lips. “Don’t call for help,” he instructs.  “After all, it was dreadfully irresponsible of you to let me get my hands on this in the first place. And we wouldn’t want anyone to find out.  Would we?”

 

Sebastian’s adrenaline surges at the sight of Valentini with a knife in his hand, but he harnesses it and raises his own hands, palms facing Valentini, in a pacifying gesture.  “Look, Valen- Stefano,” he corrects himself when he sees a disapproving look cross Valentini’s face, “When they find you with that- and they will- it’s going to be much worse for you than for me.  So why don’t you give it back and we’ll pretend this never happened.”

 

Truth be told, he would much rather no one ever found out about this, because it makes him look pretty incompetent, but if he has to take that hit to get the knife away from Valentini, he’s going to do it.

 

“I don’t think I will,” Valentini says, opening the knife and eyeing it lovingly.  “You cannot imagine how it feels to hold a knife again.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t want to imagine how it feels for someone like Valentini to hold a knife.  “What are you even going to do with it? It’s a pocket knife,” he points out. “It’s basically useless for combat.”  It’s true. The knife is mostly good for opening boxes and other household chores, but it still makes his stomach turn over to see Valentini holding it.

 

“Oh, I am not planning to use it for combat,” Valentini says absently, still seemingly entranced with the knife.  He runs one finger lightly along the blade as Sebastian watches.

 

Valentini’s fixation with the knife is starting to make Sebastian feel sick to his stomach, and he has just resolved to call for Brandon, consequences be damned, when there is a noticeable shift in Valentini’s face.  His pupil dilates and his lips part slightly before he grasps the knife firmly by the handle, plunges the blade into his own thigh, and jerks it sharply downward.

 

“Jesus Christ!” Sebastian shouts.  He and Stefano lock eyes for a moment before Stefano pulls out the blade and folds it carefully back into the handle.

 

“No!” Sebastian yells, because in the next second dark blood is soaking the leg of Stefano’s pants.  “No! Stefano- what the hell?”

 

He grabs the handle of the door to Stefano’s cell, rattling it in its frame, but of course it doesn’t open, and Sebastian turns away from it, waving his arms wildly in the air as he runs to the door at the end of the hall.  It flies open just as he gets there, and Brandon is standing in the doorway with a look of shock on his face.

 

“Get a doctor!” Sebastian shouts.

 

Brandon has a deer-in-headlights look about him.  “It’s-, it’s after hours,” he stammers as Sebastian pushes past him into the control room.  “No one’s here right now.”

 

“Shit!” Sebastian mutters as his eyes dart frantically around the room.  Yes- there’s a first aid kit on the wall. He dashes over and grabs it, turning on his heel to head back down the hallway to Stefano’s cell.

 

“Come on,” he snaps at Brandon, who is still standing in the doorway with his eyes glued to the monitors.  “I need you to open the door.” That seems to snap Brandon out of his trance, and he nods once and falls in behind Sebastian.

 

Sebastian’s heart is pounding as he runs back down the hall, because this is all going horribly wrong.  He came here for information, not to help Stefano escape and certainly not to watch him die.

 

He skids to a stop next to the door, and as Brandon fumbles with his keys in the lock Sebastian looks through the glass to see that Stefano is now lying crumpled on the floor, blood soaking the leg of his pants and starting to pool under him.  “Stefano!” He bangs his fist on the glass. “Hold on, Stefano, we’re coming in!”

 

Brandon finally manages to turn the key in the lock and shove the door open.  Sebastian is through it and kneeling down next to Stefano in an instant. “Stefano!” He calls again.  Stefano is unresponsive, though whether it’s due to blood-loss-induced unconsciousness or a fainting spell is anyone’s guess.  Sebastian assumes the worst.

 

He unzips the first aid bag, relieved to see that it looks well-stocked and relatively new.  He grabs a pair of bandage scissors and sets to work cutting off the leg of Stefano’s pants above the wound so that he can at least see what he is dealing with.  Unfortunately what he is dealing with is a bloody mess, and the flow shows no sign of stopping.

 

The sight of the wound, or at least what he can see of it through all the blood, pushes him right back into his active threat training, and he knows he needs to act fast or Stefano could bleed out within minutes.  He fumbles inside the kit for a moment before he pulls out a combat tourniquet. He’s only had to use it once outside of training, but everything comes back so quickly that he has it positioned around Stefano’s leg with the band tightened down before he even has time to process what he’s doing.

 

He seizes the windlass, twisting it sharply as Stefano’s body jerks under him.  It’s actually merciful that Stefano is still unconscious, because Sebastian is sure this would hurt like hell if he wasn’t.  A few more twists and the flow of blood is slowing and then stopping entirely, and Sebastian locks the windlass into place. He sits back on his heels.

 

“Should I call the on-call doctor?” Brandon asks.  It makes Sebastian jump, because he had totally forgotten that Brandon was in the room with him.

 

“No,” Sebastian replies.  He doesn’t know how long it will take an on-call doctor to get here, or what kind of training that doctor would have.  “This is an emergency. Call 911.”

 

“Okay.”  Brandon takes off down the hall, and as his footsteps die away, Sebastian can only hear Stefano’s harsh breathing and his own.  The thought flickers across his mind that he doesn’t have time for this, that he needs to get to that address and find Lily, but he dismisses it almost instantly.  This is his fault. This was his stupid mistake, and now he needs to see it through and make sure no one gets hurt as a result of his carelessness.

 

He looks down at Stefano, whose facial muscles are taut and whose breath is coming in harsh pants.  His hair has fallen away from his face, and Sebastian can see the network of twisted scars that span his right cheek and forehead, obscuring his eye and extending back into his hairline.  He has a vague memory of Stefano explaining those scars to him- something about a war- but this is the first time he’s had a really good look at them. Of course, no matter how warped Stefano’s face may be, it’s nothing compared to his conscience.

 

Sebastian sighs, gets to his feet, and crosses to Stefano’s bunk to pick up the pillow and blanket.  He may not be on friendly terms with Stefano- and in fact right now he is pretty fucking irritated with him- but he’s not going to let him go into shock while they wait for the EMTs, who will take at least eight minutes to arrive at Beacon and another two to get up here. He carefully lifts Stefano’s head and places the pillow under it, then takes one more look at the wound to make sure it really has stopped bleeding before he throws the blanket over Stefano.

 

The next ten minutes are quiet, contemplative, listening to Stefano’s breathing and making sure that his condition doesn’t deteriorate, and the ten minutes after that are a blur of noise and confusion, questions from the EMTs and directions being given.  They do seem satisfied that Stefano’s bleeding is controlled enough to transport him, because they leave the tourniquet in place, load him onto a gurney, and make the long trip back to the front of the building with Sebastian and Brandon trailing behind them.

 

Sebastian steps in to take one more look at Stefano while the EMTs are readying the back of the ambulance.  His skin is pale and his breathing is harsh, but otherwise he doesn’t look too bad all things considered.

 

“Are you going to ride with us, Detective?” one of the EMTs asks.  “We can’t transport him without a police escort.”

 

“Oh…” Sebastian says, his mind reeling as he looks up at the EMTs, because he hadn’t thought about this, and he definitely wasn’t planning on wasting his whole night with Stefano, but of course they can’t take a high security prisoner out of a state facility without some kind of supervision.  “I guess I’ll-”

 

He never finishes his sentence because his gun is suddenly jerked from its holster and the barrel pressed against the back of his head.  Brandon and the EMTs are staring at him open-mouthed as Sebastian struggles to figure out what the hell just happened, because five seconds ago Stefano was unconscious and seat-belted onto the gurney.

 

Stefano’s arm is wrapped around his neck and Stefano’s voice is in his ear.  He sounds calmer than he has any right to be under the circumstances. “It’s now or never, Sebastian.  If you want to see her again, say nothing, and we’ll go and get her. If you don’t, just say the word, and I’ll let you go.”

 

Stefano makes it sound as though he has some choice in the matter, but what other choice is there?  Of course he wants to see Lily again, but this is insane. This is ridiculous, and it’s going to endanger a lot of people, and it’s probably not even going to help him find Lily at all.  He opens his mouth, takes a deep breath, and closes it again.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Stefano purrs in his ear.  Then he pushes the gun hard against Sebastian’s head and adds in a louder voice, “Now get to the car.  You’re coming with me.”

 

 

 

 

The girl is asleep again.  She sleeps in short bursts, no more than a few hours at a time so far, although she must be getting weaker.  She hasn’t had more than a few sips of juice since she’s been here, which is a terrible waste since he went to so much trouble to make those sandwiches for her.

 

When she sleeps, he can afford to be a little less vigilant.  He can turn away from the monitors to make sure everything is packed and ready.  He picks up his phone, selects the last number in his call history, and puts it to his ear.

 

“Hello?”  The voice of the woman on the other end of the line is calm, collected.

 

“I need you here,” he says simply.  He disconnects the call. There is nothing left to do.  When Sebastian comes, they will be ready.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Stefano leans heavily on Sebastian as they make their way to his car, and the steps he takes with his left leg are clumsy.  Of course, with the tourniquet in place he should have basically no circulation in that leg, so all things considered he’s actually doing pretty well.

 

The gun stays pressed to the back of Sebastian’s head, and Sebastian can only hope that Stefano has some sort of trigger discipline, because with the way he is lurching across the parking lot, an accidental trigger pull seems like a real possibility.  Brandon and the EMTs are frozen in place, apparently afraid that anything they do might end in disaster.

 

Sebastian is furious at Stefano for deceiving him, for playing on his role as a law enforcement officer and his duty to protect others.  That self-inflicted stab wound wasn’t the erratic behavior of a madman but a move calculated to bypass all of the security at Beacon, to put Stefano in a position where he was as good as free.

 

He curses himself inwardly for letting his guard down, because he knows better, he knew better even then, but his training and his nature dictated his course of action.  There’s no way he could have let Stefano bleed out there on the floor, and Stefano knew it, and Stefano took advantage of that. He realizes he’s made the switch from ‘Valentini’ to ‘Stefano’ in his head, but he can’t be bothered to examine why.  He is being kidnapped after all.

 

At least, that’s how he hopes it looks to Brandon and the EMTs.  He supposes it’s marginally better if he looks incompetent than if he looks like he is in league with Stefano.  Or maybe he really is being kidnapped. Maybe Stefano’s words mean nothing, and as soon as they’re alone Stefano will try to use him for his next ‘art project’.  Sebastian isn’t going down without a fight, but he’d feel a hell of a lot better if he had his gun back.

 

They’re at his car now, and the ambulance blocks the view so that no one can see as he leaves Stefano at the passenger door and circles around to the driver’s side to get into the car voluntarily.  No sooner is he seated behind the wheel then Stefano is extending his gun to him, handle first.

 

“Thank you for that,” Stefano says through gritted teeth.  “And I apologize for surprising you, but as you can see it was integral to the plan.”

 

“To your plan,” Sebastian snaps, replacing the gun in his holster, because Stefano is making it sound like this ‘plan’ is a collaborative effort instead of his own twisted creation.  “What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

“You have read my file,” Stefano replies with no inflection at all.  “You should know. And if you do not begin driving soon, they are going to pursue us.”

 

Sebastian throws the car into gear and backs out of the parking space.  “To where?” he asks as he shifts into drive and they head for the exit. He hasn’t made up his mind to take Stefano’s advice, but he does at least want to see what his next move is.

 

“First we will need to change vehicles,” Stefano replies.  “Then we will go to the address from the car dealership.”

 

Stefano has a point about the vehicle.  Of course, the EMTs are going to call this in immediately and every police officer in Krimson will be looking for this vehicle.  Not only that, but the license plate cameras will be documenting their every move. Sebastian does have a key for a spare unmarked car that’s parked in the police department’s satellite lot, so he starts to head in that direction, but there is something else on his mind. 

 

“You do realize that at some point we’ll have to make a stop at the emergency room, right?” Sebastian cuts in, the sarcasm audible in his voice.  “That artery you severed is going to require surgical care- and soon.”

 

Stefano snorts.  “Do you really believe I would do something so idiotic, Sebastian?  Who severs their own artery?”

 

“What-?  How do you-?”  Sebastian stumbles over his words before Stefano cuts him off.

 

“I cut a few veins, Sebastian.  Large ones, but we can control them with a decent first aid kit.”

 

Sebastian is about to argue with him, but thinks carefully back to what he saw at Beacon.  The blood from Stefano’s wound was dark red, not crimson, and it flowed instead of spurting like arterial spray.  Hearing Stefano’s explanation actually makes a lot more sense than his initial assumption, and he probably would have figured it out sooner if he hadn’t been so alarmed by the amount of blood Stefano was losing.

 

“I do think the tourniquet may have been a bit of an overreaction,” Stefano adds with a grimace.

 

“So you were just playing dead when I put that on?” Sebastian asks.  If so, he’s rather impressed with Stefano’s commitment to his ruse, because he would have expected some kind of reaction from a conscious patient.

 

“I was playing ‘unconscious from blood loss,’” Stefano says dryly.

 

“And what the hell were you playing at when you stabbed yourself?” Sebastian shoots back.  “What if I had just left you to your own devices like I fucking should have? What was you plan for that?”

 

“I knew you would intervene,” Stefano says.  “Your sense of duty overrides anything that may be happening in your personal life.  You would never refuse aid to someone who was injured.”

 

Sebastian glowers at the road.  He hates to think that Stefano knows him that well, but the events of the last hour suggest that Stefano can predict some of his behavior and use that to his own advantage.  Sebastian vows that he won’t make it so easy for him next time, but now his focus has to be on Lily. He turns into the satellite lot and starts trying to locate his auxiliary vehicle.

 

“Perhaps you should rethink your priorities in terms of work and family life,” Stefano muses.  “That might explain some of the-”

 

“Shut up.”  Sebastian hits the brakes hard, and Stefano jerks forward in the seat, grimacing in pain.  He shifts farther back into his seat gingerly, trying to move his injured leg as little as possible.

 

Sebastian continues down the row until he sees the car he’s looking for and pulls into the space beside it.  It’s probably not a great idea to leave this vehicle here, but their options are limited since Stefano doesn’t look like he can walk very far at the moment.  Of course, that might be a good thing, since Sebastian still isn’t entirely convinced that Stefano intends to help him, rather than just make his own escape.

 

Sebastian shuts off the ignition, gets out of the car, and circles around to the passenger door where Stefano is awkwardly trying to get out of the vehicle.  His leg is an impediment, but Sebastian still doesn’t trust him. He reaches for Stefano’s arm with one hand and for the handcuffs on his belt with the other.

 

Stefano is silent as Sebastian hauls him to his feet, but his expression is strained, and he doesn’t react when Sebastian snaps the first cuff onto his wrist.  Sebastian hesitates, and Stefano offers his other wrist with a sigh. “I am disappointed, Sebastian,” he says. “I thought we were past this, but I cannot fight you at the moment.”

 

Sebastian applies the second cuff to his other wrist, so that his hands are cuffed in front of him.  He grabs Stefano’s elbow, supporting some of his weight as they stumble over to the other car. “I’ve already made one mistake tonight,” he says.  “I can’t make any more.”

 

He unlocks and opens the passenger door of the car.  He’s tempted to let Stefano figure out how to get in by himself, but his hands are cuffed now, so Sebastian helps him sit down and then picks up his legs to swing them into the footwell, prompting a grunt of pain from Stefano.  He can’t bring himself to feel too bad. This is all Stefano’s fault after all. He closes the door for Stefano and gets into the driver’s side.

 

“Does this car have a first aid kit?” Stefano asks.

 

“Yeah,” he answers.  “All of the patrol cars have them, but I’m not letting you get your hands on any more sharp objects.”

 

“I only ask because this tourniquet will need to come off in an hour or so,” Stefano says.  “I am not losing my leg over this.”

 

Sebastian starts the car and heads for the exit of the parking lot.  He wants to ignore Stefano, but his curiosity gets the better of him.  “So you know something about trauma first aid?”

 

“I was a war photographer,” Stefano says matter-of-factly.  “Don’t you remember? We talked about this...about how I lost my eye.”

 

“Right,” Sebastian replies.  “I had forgotten about that.”  He plugs their new destination into the car’s GPS.  “And you’ll have to forgive me if I’m more concerned about my daughter than your leg right now.  We’re going to find her first. Then we can see about getting you some medical attention.”

 

“I do not need medical attention,” Stefano says.  “As long as we have the necessary supplies, I can handle this.  I have patched up far worse with far less.”

 

Sebastian is curious once again but also fairly certain that he doesn’t want to hear the rest of this particular story, so they make the rest of the drive in silence.





The address is well away from downton Krimson City, past the industrial parks, and even the suburbs, and by the time they turn onto the street itself, they are in a rural area, and it’s making Sebastian uneasy.

 

For one thing, there are no streetlights.  The stars provide some illumination, but not enough for Sebastian’s comfort.  In the glare of the headlights, he can see that many of the houses along the street are ill-kept, roofs and porches sagging dangerously and surrounded by heavy vegetation.  Some of the vehicles in the driveways are so old or damaged that he doubts many of them run. The air coming in through the car vents is thick and stagnant, and something about the whole situation feels surreal.

 

Stefano’s voice reaches him through the haze.  “Well, this is ominous.”

 

Sebastian nods absently, because it is ominous, but he’s having to squint to read the numbers on the mailboxes.  It looks like they have a ways to go before they reach the house number they’re looking for.

 

“Have you thought about how you want to approach this?” Stefano asks.

 

Sebastian hasn’t thought much about that, though in their current situation there isn’t much to think about.  “Considering what you just did to yourself, we don’t have a lot of options,” he points out. “I’ll go in, and if I’m not back in five minutes, or if you hear any kind of struggle, call my partner, Joseph Oda.  His number is in my contacts.” He places his department cell phone on the console between them as he speaks. His personal cell is still in his pocket.

 

“Surely I can do more than that,” Stefano protests.  “Let me out of these cuffs, and I can go with you. You are going to need back-up.”

 

“It would be different if you could walk,” Sebastian says, “or if I believed for one second that you were actually going to help me and not bolt at the first opportunity.”

 

Stefano sighs audibly.  “I think I have more than proved my commitment to helping you and Lily.”  He gestures at his injured leg with his bound hands.

 

“No,” Sebastian replies, “you proved that you’re fucking crazy and you wanted out of Beacon.”

 

“It is true that our goals were aligned in that moment,” Stefano concedes, “but you are going to have to extend me some sort of trust if we are going to be working together.”

 

“We’re not working together,” Sebastian says, because the more he hears from Stefano the less confidence he has in his own judgment, in his own actions over the last few hours.  “We’re going to this house to see if Lily’s there, and then I’m taking you right back to Beacon.”

 

“Suit yourself,” Stefano answers with a shrug.  “Then you can learn how maddening it is when you are alone with your thoughts, with your plans, when no one believes you and no one will listen to you, when-”

 

“Shhhh,” Sebastian hisses, because they have come up on the house now and he needs to be sharp, needs to concentrate.  The road they’ve been using dead ends here- no, that’s not quite right; it turns into a dirt and gravel road that extends out of sight with heavy underbrush on either side.

 

The house that matches the address is the very last one, and it is in no better shape than the others on this lonely road.  Some of the windows are boarded up, and all of the lights are off. There is no vehicle in the driveway, but of course that doesn’t mean no one is home.  Sebastian parks on the street a little before the house. Unfortunately they can only be so stealthy on such a poorly-travelled and dimly-lit road. Whoever is in the house has undoubtedly seen them coming from several hundred yards away

 

“Sebastian!” Stefano says, and the urgency in his voice makes Sebastian’s head snap around to look at him.  His arms are extended, and he is pointing through the windshield at the dirt road.

 

Sebastian’s eyes follow where is pointing.  At first, he doesn’t recognize anything out of the ordinary, but then he sees it.  Dust particles are drifting in the air, illuminated by the headlights. Someone just went down that road, and they were almost certainly leaving this house.

 

Sebastian’s heart is pounding in his chest, because he doesn’t know what to do.  If he sticks with the original plan and goes into the house, he’ll most likely end up one step behind again, but if he heads down the dirt road, he’ll be giving up the one tangible lead they have right now, which is this address.

 

“Give me the keys,” Stefano says.

 

“What?”  The words sound garbled and nonsensical to Sebastian’s ears.

 

“Give me the keys,” Stefano repeats.  “I can drive perfectly well. I’ll try to catch up and at least get a license plate, while you investigate the house.”

 

“No fucking way,” Sebastian replies without hesitation.  “I may have done some stupid things tonight, but there’s no chance I’m leaving you alone with the car keys.”

 

He only hesitates another second before his mind is made up, and he cuts off the engine, yanks the keys out of the ignition, and shoves them into his pocket.  Then he’s out the door and dashing across the overgrown lawn to the porch. He’ll do a quick sweep of the house, just to confirm that Lily isn’t in there, and then they can see where the dirt road leads.

 

The porch steps groan under his weight, but he presses on, climbing them and pulling open the screen door before grasping the knob of the front door itself.  Police procedure in this situation would be to knock and announce himself, but he’s not here on behalf of the department.

 

He throws the door open, then immediately realizes he is totally unprepared for what might be on the other side.  He draws his gun with one hand and his flashlight with the other, extending both in front of him into the foyer. The house is eerily still, and he can hear his own heartbeat, his own breathing over everything else.  The emptiness is almost tangible, but he has to confirm it.

 

He scans the room in front of him and is about to step into the house when his eye is drawn downward.  There is a thick layer of dust on the floor, and in that dust, he can see footprints. There are at least two sets that belong to adults, but his heart nearly stops when he sees the smaller footprints alongside them, the ones that could only belong to a child.

 

He is all too aware that he’s about to contaminate a potential crime scene, but there’s no time.  He takes a big step into the hallway, clearing the footprints in hopes that he can preserve them for further investigation.  He scans again, gun and flashlight sweeping a wide arc across the newly visible areas on either side of him, but there is still no movement.

 

He follows the footprints, trying to retrace the steps, but the adult footprints keep blending together, obscuring each other, as though one or more of these people passed back and forth through this area several times.  The child’s footprints are more distinct, easier to follow, and they lead up to a door under the stairs that could only be access to the basement.

 

Sebastian doesn’t hesitate.  There is a part of his mind that insistently reminds him that going into the basement of a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere at night is a bad idea, but Lily was here at some point, and that’s enough for him.  Even though he is getting the sinking feeling that she’s not in the house any longer, he has to check it out.

 

He opens the door and flicks the light switch at the top of the stairs.  Nothing happens, so Sebastian uses the flashlight to guide his steps down the creaking wooden stairs and onto the cement floor of the basement.  It’s dank and musty, and the floor is textured enough that he’s lost sight of the footprints. He pans his flashlight around the room and catches sight of the fuse box.

 

He knows the power is probably disconnected, but he crosses the room, opens the box, and throws the master switch anyway.  To his surprise, several naked lightbulbs along the ceiling flare to life, causing him to blink in the sudden, harsh glare.  He can see immediately that this room is empty, but there is another door set back under the basement stairs.

 

He crosses the floor and seizes the handle.  The door is heavy and metal, and Sebastian wonders for a moment if he’s about to walk into someone’s bomb shelter, but when he pulls it open what he sees is much more shocking.

 

It’s Lily’s room.  There’s no other way to describe it.  The furniture, the books, the toys, even the drawings on the walls are a perfect replica.  He scans the room for Lily, checks the closet and under the bed, but of course, she’s not here.  He is starting to notice some of the differences now- the high, barred window, the dumbwaiter set into the wall, the surveillance cameras mounted in the corners near the ceiling.

 

The lettering on the magnetic alphabet board catches his eye.  TOO LATE

 

In an instant, the rage and panic flares up inside him, because Lily isn’t here, maybe Lily was never here in the first place, and someone is fucking playing with him, and he doesn’t have time for this.  He is too late, because if Lily was here, she left in the car that was just ahead of them, the one he decided not to follow.

 

He turns and bolts for the stairs, boots pounding against the wood.  He bursts out of the basement door to find that apparently every light in the house is now on.  He doesn’t pay any attention to the footprints this time as he sprints out of the house and back to the car.  Stefano is still seated in the passenger’s seat, looking only mildly interested in his frantic approach.

 

He jumps into the driver’s seat, shoves the keys into the ignition, and starts the car.  The tires screech on the paved road as he accelerates, then throw up gravel in all directions as they transition onto the back road.

 

“I see we’ve moved on to Plan B,” Stefano observes.

 

“Shut up,” growls Sebastian.  There is a kind of hope growing inside him, a dangerous, wild hope that maybe this tiny road just leads back to someone’s farm or hunting cabin or to nowhere, that maybe whoever came down this way is still here.

 

The car drops hard into a rut in the road, and Stefano grunts sharply.  Sebastian knows he’s driving way too fast for the condition of the road and the condition of their car, but right now he is so filled with adrenaline that he has no other choice.

 

“Did anyone pass you while I was in the house?” Sebastian demands.  “Did anyone come down this road?”

 

“No,” Stefano replies through gritted teeth. “I have seen no one.”  To his credit, he doesn’t ask Sebastian to slow down.

 

The road is getting rougher, and the underbrush on both sides is starting to encroach on the car, but Sebastian keeps accelerating.  Whoever was here before them came through this too, and unless there is some kind of outlet, they’re still back here somewhere.

 

They’re bounding over bumps and ruts in the road now, and branches are smacking against the windows, and Sebastian had the briefest flash of wondering how he’s going to explain the condition of this car to the department when they come out into a clearing.  Sebastian hits the brakes, and the car comes to an abrupt stop.

 

“Shit,” he says out loud, because they are sitting at an intersection with another paved road.  “Shit,” he says again, getting out of the car and slamming the door.

 

He looks up and down the paved road, but it stretches off into the distance, and whoever came this way before them is long gone, and there’s no way of knowing which way they went, or if they had Lily with them, or where they are going now.

 

“God damn it!” he yells into the night.  It doesn’t make him feel any better.

 

Behind him, he hears the other car door open, and he half-heartedly wonders if it would make him feel any better to punch Stefano in the face.  Somehow he doubts it.

 

“Need I point out that if you had given me the keys, we might be in a very different situation now.”

 

Rage flares up inside Sebastian and he whirls around to see Stefano leaning heavily on the open passenger door, hands still cuffed in front of him.  “Don’t try to put this on me!” he snaps. “This is your fault! I should never have come to see you tonight! I should never have come to see you in the first place!”

 

“Now Sebastian,” Stefano says, his voice soft and placating, “I think we both know that if you had not done that, you would not have come this close to finding Lily.”

 

“I also wouldn’t have had to put up with all of your psycho bullshit!” Sebastian shoots back, taking a couple of steps toward the car door.  Stefano draws back, bracing himself for impact, and Sebastian stops. As quickly as it came, the adrenaline has dissipated, and now he feels weak, deflated.

 

Stefano does, at least on the surface, appear to be trying to help him, and Stefano has provided information so far that has turned out to be useful, and Stefano is injured, even if it happened in the course of his own stupid plan.  Maybe- just this once- he deserves the benefit of the doubt, or maybe he deserves nothing and Sebastian is going soft, but either way, he’s not going to hit a man who’s unable to defend himself.

 

Sebastian raises a hand, palm facing Stefano.  “It’s okay… I’m not…” He’s not sure exactly what he’s trying to say for a moment, but settles on, “How’s your leg?”

 

Stefano shifts over and sinks back down into the passenger’s seat, sitting sideways with his legs out the door.  “Not doing too well, I’m afraid.”

 

“We need to get you to a hospital,” Sebastian says.

 

“Out of the question,” Stefano replies.  “Fetch the first aid kit. I can handle this, though I may need some assistance.”

 

“You need professional help,” Sebastian says, and for once he doesn’t just mean in the psychological sense.  Still, he circles around the car, opens the trunk, and retrieves the first aid kit. “If you end up bleeding out, I’m just going to dump your body in the woods over there and deny any knowledge of what happened to you,” he warns.

 

“I would expect nothing less,” Stefano says almost fondly.  “Now if you would kindly uncuff me…”

 

“Not a chance.”  Sebastian crouches down next to Stefano’s injured leg and opens the first aid kit.  “I’ve seen what happens when you have the use of your hands. I’ll do it.”

 

Stefano heaves an overly dramatic sigh, and Sebastian turns his attention to his leg.  There is a coating of dried blood all around the wound, so he can’t get a good look at Stefano’s skin, but they need to get the tourniquet off now or risk permanent damage.  If Stefano is right about having only cut some veins, they may be able to make due with a pressure bandage, but infection is another matter.

 

“I’m going to flush this with betadine before I do anything else.”

 

“Fine,” Stefano says, bracing his arms against the doorframe and resting his head on them.

 

Sebastian takes out the betadine, pops the top off, and squeezes, directing the spray into Stefano’s wound.  Stefano tenses up and hisses in discomfort, but all things considered it’s a pretty mild reaction, which makes Sebastian wonder how much feeling Stefano has in his leg at all right now.  At least the flushing hasn’t caused it to start bleeding again.

 

He finds a pressure bandage and sets about applying it to Stefano’s leg.  If he hadn’t been in such a panic back at Beacon, he might have tried this first, but in that moment he’d been so sure that Stefano had only minutes to live.  He shakes his head, remembering that this is all Stefano’s own doing. He can’t spend too much time analyzing his own reactions. Stefano has probably already done that for him.

 

“Ready?” he asks once the pressure bandage is securely in place.

 

Stefano’s face is partially obscured by his arms, but he nods.  Sebastian releases the windlass on the tourniquet and lets it unwind, and they wait.

 

Sebastian checks his watch as one, then two minutes go by.  Stefano is breathing hard, but there is no blood soaking through the bandage or seeping out from under it.  He removes the tourniquet entirely, then packs up the first aid kit and puts it back in the trunk, giving Stefano a few minutes to recover.

 

When he returns to the passenger side of the car, Stefano is sitting up.  His face is very pale, but he looks otherwise okay, and the bandage is still intact.

 

“Come on,” Sebastian says, helping him maneuver his legs into the footwell.  “We’ve got to go.”

 

He closes the passenger door before he circles the car and climbs into the driver’s seat.

 

“To where?” Stefano asks.

 

“I’ve got no fucking idea,” Sebastian mutters.





The road is smooth now, and streetlights are flashing by.  She was trying to count them, but after one hundred, she got bored.  Other Miss Flores is staring straight ahead at the road. She’s barely said a word since they got into the car, and neither has Lily.

 

She knows something is wrong now, very wrong.  She should have been home hours ago, maybe days ago.  She wants to ask Other Miss Flores to take her home. She wants to ask Other Miss Flores where they are going and why they are out so late, but something stops her.  Other Miss Flores is...different- more like a stranger than before, and she’s not supposed to talk to strangers or go anywhere with them in their car.

 

She needs to get out.  She needs to get back to her parents or to a police officer or to someone with a phone, and Other Miss Flores isn’t going to help her do that.

 

The car slows down and then stops, and Lily looks between the front seats and through the windshield to see a red traffic light.  It gives her an idea, and she moves her hand to the buckle of her seatbelt. The car starts moving again, but there are other lights up ahead, and if they stop again, maybe she can get out of the car, maybe she can find someone to help her.

 

She clicks the buckle, and lets the seatbelt slide off of her shoulder.  She watches through the windshield, eyes fixed on the lights. When one of them turns red, she puts her hand on the door handle.  The car stops, and she pulls the handle and opens the door. As soon as her feet touch the ground, she takes off running and doesn’t look back.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sebastian throws open the door of the shitty motel, flicks on the light, and glances around the room.  It contains the usual table and two chairs, two double beds, a TV, and a door that presumably leads to the bathroom.  He is pleasantly surprised to see that there are no obvious stains on the bedspreads or carpet and no odor that he can detect.  Of course, he’s not going to scrutinize the room too closely, because this is the kind of motel where no one has bothered to notice that his traveling companion is a blood-soaked, handcuffed man who only has one leg of his pants intact.

 

Stefano limps into the room behind him, and Sebastian closes and locks the door.  He isn’t sure why he came here, and he isn’t sure what he’s doing next, but he needs some time to think, and he sure as hell can’t go home or back to the department.  To do either would deprive him of his only potential ally in this whole situation and would raise a bunch of new questions about what the hell happened back at Beacon, and none of that will help them find Lily.

 

He sinks into one of the chairs with a sigh.  He was close to Lily tonight. He’s sure of it, but she slipped through his fingers.  He hates to admit it, even to himself, but maybe he should have let Stefano go after that car.  It seems like whoever set this whole thing up knew that he would choose to go into the house, or maybe they were prepared for whatever course of action he chose and would have been one step ahead regardless.  His head is spinning, and he leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees as he rests his head in his hands.

 

If Lily was at that house and if she left the house earlier tonight before they got there, then she’s already outlived most kidnapped children.  Sebastian knows this should make him feel better- feel hopeful that Lily is beating the odds and will continue to do so- but it is strangely unsettling.  They’re dealing with a fringe case here, someone whose behavior is difficult, if not impossible, to predict because there just aren’t enough people like them for law enforcement to have a profile.  And what the hell does that kind of person want with Lily?

 

Stefano clears his throat loudly and Sebastian’s head jerks up.  “What?” He snaps, because he barely has the patience for regular Stefano, much less rude, attention-seeking Stefano.

 

“I would like to use the lavatory and clean up a little,” Stefano says.  His voice is a bit strained, but some of his trademark smugness is creeping back into it.

 

“Fine,” Sebastian replies with a dismissive wave of his hand, because surely Stefano can go to the bathroom- or the ‘lavatory’ if he insists on calling it that- without interrupting him.

 

Stefano glances pointedly down at his bound hands then back up at Sebastian.  “Unless you are planning on helping me…?” This time his tone is entirely too smug with a flirtatious undertone that Sebastian refuses to even consider.

 

“Alright, get over here,” he says, digging in his pocket for his keys and selecting the handcuff key from the ring.  He unlocks the cuffs and sets them on the table.

 

“No funny business,” he adds halfheartedly as Stefano shuffles away toward the bathroom.  He doesn’t even know what Stefano could possibly get up to in there. He can tell by the layout of the building that the bathroom doesn’t have windows, and Stefano doesn’t look like he’s in any shape to be climbing out of one anyway.  Stefano’s condition does bring up a more serious concern though. “And don’t get that bandage wet,” he calls after him.

 

Stefano turns around and give him a strange sort of smile.  “I appreciate your concern, but I can handle this,” he says, stepping into the bathroom and closing the door behind him.

 

Sebastian drops his head into his hands again.  The last twelve hours feel like a bad dream. Hell, the last few days feel like a bad dream, and part of him expects to wake up in his bed filled with relief that none of this is real and that he doesn’t actually have to deal with this situation.

 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, which means that he actually did play a part in liberating one of Krimson’s most dangerous inmates.  On top of everything going on with Lily and Myra and the department, he’s now responsible for Stefano. He’s not sure yet exactly what that is going to entail, but he’s willing to bet that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he pulls it out to see that there is an incoming call from Myra.  Undoubtedly once they conducted their initial investigation into his ‘kidnapping’ they would have informed her.  He’s sure his department phone, which he left in the car, is blowing up with calls as well.

 

He briefly considers answering, just to do Myra the kindness of telling her that he’s still alive, but realizes that if he does that then the phone is going to connect to a nearby tower, which would make their location traceable using his phone records.  Then he realizes the phone may be connecting to the tower even now and that maybe he should have paid more attention in that mandatory cell phone forensics training last year.

 

He turns the phone off.  It’s possible that the damage has already been done, but he doesn’t want to make it any easier for them to locate him.  That’s why they’re staying in this shady motel in the next town over from Krimson. That’s why he disabled the GPS tracking unit in his department car, and why he hasn’t reported back to Myra or Hodges about what he found at the house.

 

More and more signs are pointing to someone who knows their family very well being involved in the kidnapping.  The replica of Lily’s room that he saw was terrifying, not just because of the shock value but because of the implications- the fact that whoever did this, whoever has Lily, knew enough about their home to create that room and went to the trouble to do it.  Now more than ever, Sebastian doesn’t know who he can trust.

 

He shoots a quick glance at the bathroom door, then rises and goes outside to the car to shut off his department cell phone.  If he was being really careful, they should probably move locations again now that the phones are off, but there is an exhaustion coming over him, a bone-deep weariness that feels like he’s been fighting it off since that first afternoon at Lily’s school when everything changed.

 

He goes back into the hotel room and locks the door again, just as Stefano emerges from the bathroom with a thin towel wrapped around his waist.

 

“Would it kill you to put your clothes back on?” he asks.

 

“Considering how thoroughly you destroyed my trousers, I can’t see what good it would do,” Stefano replies with a faint smile.  “Though I am flattered you were in such a hurry to get me out of them.”

 

Sebastian rolls his eyes.  “I’m in a hurry to get access to anyone if they’re bleeding to death.”  He pauses. There is a biting remark on his tongue, but he holds it back. Stefano looks tired, he is definitely tired himself, and they have more pressing problems to deal with than Stefano’s suggestive comments.

 

Stefano speaks again.  “It is not like you to be so quiet, Sebastian.  What did you see in that house?” He takes a seat on the bed across from Sebastian as he waits for his reply.

 

Sebastian sighs and sits back in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him.  He’s not even sure how to begin to describe it, but if he’s going to be looking to Stefano for advice, he needs to keep him up to date.  “When I first got in there, it looked abandoned,” he begins, “no power and dust everywhere. I mean, you saw how it looked from the outside.”

 

Stefano nods.

 

“Then I saw the footprints in the dust,” Sebastian continues.  “Some of them were definitely the right size to have been…”. He can’t even say her name.  His throat has closed up, and his heart is beating faster at just the memory of the child-size footprints.

 

Fortunately Stefano nods, and he skips ahead.  “I went down into the basement, following those footprints, and that’s where I got the power back on.”

 

“That was...odd,” Stefano interjects.  “All the lights in the house came on at once.  I suppose it was intentional.”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian says, “but I didn’t realize that until I’d left the basement, until after I’d seen her room.”

 

“What?” Stefano draws back, eye narrowed as though he is genuinely surprised.  “Lily’s room? In the basement of that house?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian insists.  “I know it sounds crazy.” Stefano raises an eyebrow, and Sebastian remembers who he’s talking to.  “Well, maybe not to you, but it was pretty crazy to see it there. It was almost a perfect replica down to the books and toys.”

 

“How many people are there who would know Lily’s room that well?” Stefano asks.  “Who would be able to create that?”

 

Sebastian slowly shakes his head.  “Just Myra and Juanita and me,” he says.  “I keep going through people in my head, but no one else has been in the house for more than a few hours at a time.  I mean, I guess if someone took really detailed pictures of her room, they could have done this, but I still can’t figure out who that could be except…”

 

His voice trails off, because to continue to speak is going to require him to accuse his wife or their nanny of being complicit in Lily’s disappearance.  Even if it seems like there is no other explanation, he still hesitates to say it out loud.

 

“This does fit the profile,” Stefano muses.  “Much like the last time, they set this up for you to find it, and their displays seem to be getting more elaborate.  Someone wants your attention.”

 

“They have it,” Sebastian says.  He only wishes he knew what to do to make all of this stop.  He’s about to ask how Stefano is so sure that they wanted him to find the house, since they had to go to some effort to get the address, when he remembers the message board.  TOO LATE.  They knew he would come.

 

“What else did you see in the house?” Stefano prompts.

 

“Nothing,” Sebastian says.  “When I left the basement I came straight back to the car.”  He pauses. “Do you think it’s worth going back there in daylight?  I didn’t really go into any of the other rooms.”

 

“Perhaps,” Stefano replies.  “It is certainly something to consider, though we must keep in mind that what we find there will most likely be the next bread crumb they have left for us.  These people don’t mistakes Sebastian. Everything they do is deliberate. We will find only what they want us to find.”

 

Sebastian nods, because everything that has happened so far supports what Stefano is saying.  Whoever has Lily is always one step ahead and always in control. “Alright then,” he says. “Let’s get some sleep.  I’ll decide our next move in the morning.”

 

Stefano doesn’t move.  “I rarely sleep unless I am being forced to do so,” he says, and Sebastian remembers Brandon talking about how Stefano doesn’t sleep without his meds.  It makes him wonder what else is going to change about Stefano now that he’s not being properly medicated.

 

“Besides,” Stefano continues, “it is your turn.”

 

“My turn?”

 

“Yes, or have you already forgotten how this works?”

 

It comes back to Sebastian in a rush that Stefano is talking about the agreement they made back at Beacon when he began consulting Stefano.  It seems like a lifetime ago. “We’re not doing that anymore,” he says. “What you’re getting from me right now is that I’m not driving you straight back to the hospital.”

 

“No,” Stefano says simply.  “That is unacceptable. Staying away from Beacon protects both of us.  If you intend to keep asking me for help, you need to do your part.”

 

Sebastian sighs heavily.  Stefano is correct that turning him in would cast suspicion on them both, and as much as he hates to admit it, he is coming to rely on Stefano.  “Fine,” he growls. “What is it going to be this time?”

 

Stefano sits back, crossing one leg over the other and looking much more pleased with himself than he has any right to under the circumstances.  “What were you thinking earlier this evening? When I cut myself?”

 

Sebastian has to reflect on that for a moment.  The images are burned into his brain: Stefano with the knife in his hand, the sharp, jerky movement of his arm, the blood spreading across his pants.  As vivid as they are, he can’t remember what he was thinking. He can’t remember thinking anything.

 

“I wasn’t thinking,” he replies.  “I just acted.”

 

“You were not thinking at all?” Stefano presses.

 

“No.”

 

“You did not stop to consider your actions?”  Stefano tries again, looking distinctly suspicious.

 

“There was no other course of action,” Sebastian says, raking one hand through his hair.  “You were going to bleed out… or at least, I assumed you were going to bleed out.” He inclines his head at Stefano with a meaningful look, because he is only recently coming to appreciate how much control Stefano actually had over the whole situation at Beacon.

 

“And you did not consider that it might be for the best?”

 

“What?” Sebastian asks, alarmed.

 

Stefano’s expression is completely unreadable.

 

“No, I didn’t,” Sebastian says when he’s had a moment to collect himself, then adds, “and it’s my job to protect people- not to decide whose life is worth saving.”  He’s not sure if Stefano is having some kind of existential crisis or trying to get him to admit something or if this is just how he acts when he is off his meds, but Sebastian doesn’t like it at all.

 

“Did you do it for Lily?” Stefano asks after a long pause.

 

Sebastian is about to reply that of course he did it for Lily, that everything he does is for Lily, but he hesitates.  Those few minutes when he was trying to save Stefano’s life, when he was in an absolute panic, are the only time in recent memory that he wasn’t thinking of Lily.

 

“No,” he answers honestly.  “I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

 

Stefano smiles broadly now.  “You have a code that you live by, don’t you Sebastian?”

 

“Of course I do,” Sebastian replies.  He feels like they’re lost in a sea of abstract concepts and they’re getting nowhere, but if Stefano is content with the conversation then maybe that’s all that matters.

 

“And you follow that code?”

 

Sebastian nods.

 

“Even when it requires you to do something...distasteful?”

 

Sebastian hesitates but nods again.  “What are you getting at?” he asks, because this is getting a little weird, and Stefano needs to wrap it up so they can get some sleep.

 

“What would it take for you to break that code?”

 

Sebastian thinks- or at least, he tries to think.  The adrenaline from earlier in the night is wearing off, and his mind feels fuzzy, his thoughts blurred at the edges.  He is still struggling with the question when Stefano speaks again.

 

“It’s alright,” he says, voice smooth as silk.  “You do not need to answer now, but think about it.”

 

Sebastian can only nod again.  He’s not sure he has the mental capacity to think about anything right now, but maybe it will make more sense in the morning.  His gaze falls on the handcuffs on the table, and he looks from them to Stefano.

 

“Are you planning to spend the night in that towel?  Because if not, you’d better get dressed before I cuff you again.”

 

“Is that really necessary?” Stefano says with a dramatic sigh.

 

“Absolutely,” Sebastian answers without hesitation.  Stefano is dangerously unpredictable on a good day, and now that he’s off his medication and out of his element, Sebastian has no idea what to expect.

 

Stefano mutters something under his breath, but returns to the bathroom and emerges wearing the remainder of his clothes.  They are going to need to get him some new ones if they’re going anywhere in public, because if the institutional garb doesn’t catch someone’s eye, the blood and the missing pants leg definitely will.

 

Stefano approaches Sebastian with his hands held out in front of him, and while Sebastian is enjoying the more cooperative side of Stefano, he’s going to need a little more assurance that Stefano isn’t going to take off at the first opportunity.  He cuffs one wrist, then stands up, taking Stefano by the arm and leading him to the headboard of one of the beds.

 

“What are you doing?” Stefano asks, sounding more tired than angry.

 

“Making sure you don’t disappear on me,” Sebastian replies as he passes the cuff through the slats of the headboard and fixes it around Stefano’s other wrist.  Stefano doesn’t resist physically, though there is a scowl on his face.

 

“I hardly think this is warranted,” Stefano says.  “If I wanted to leave, I would have done it when you abandoned me in the car.”

 

Maybe Stefano has a point, but he was also hampered by his injury at the time, and Sebastian isn’t willing to extend him that level of trust just yet.  “Look,” he says, drawing back to look Stefano in the face. “Contrary to what you might think after what happened earlier tonight, I’m not stupid, and I’m not going to make it that easy for you.”  His voice takes on a hard edge as he continues, “Now I need some sleep, and I need to know that you’re right here while I’m doing that, so get comfortable.”

 

Stefano tugs at the cuffs so that the chain rubs against the headboard.  “That is easier said than done,” he observes. “Even if I wanted to sleep, how would I be able to do that in this position?”

 

“You’ll find a way,” Sebastian replies before he strides away.

 

He goes to the bathroom to wash his face and hands, though he finds he can’t do much more than that without worrying about what Stefano is up to, so he returns to the bedroom.  Stefano is seated on the bed with his back to Sebastian and his shoulders hunched. Sebastian considers telling him that pouting isn’t going to help the situation, but he’s too tired to start an argument, so he strips down to his undershirt and boxers, shuts off the light, and climbs into the other bed.  He’s asleep the instant his head hits the pillow.  



When Sebastian wakes up a few hours later, it is from a dream he doesn’t quite remember, but one that leaves him with a vague sense of unease.  As he tries to turn over, he realizes that there may be some legitimate basis for that feeling, because he is, in fact, handcuffed to the headboard of the bed.  He is instantly wide awake, tugging on the cuffs, twisting his body, because he needs to stand up, needs to check on his weapon and Stefano and-

 

“Easy,” Stefano says.  The mattress dips as Stefano sits down beside him, placing a hand on his chest.  That at least that answers one of his questions, and then a couple more puzzle pieces fall into place in his mind.

 

“What the fuck is this?” he snarls, jerking his head at the handcuffs.  “How did you-?” He doesn’t even finish the thought. He is curious about how Stefano escaped the cuffs, but what’s much more important now is how he is going to get out of them himself, and he has a sinking feeling that Stefano may not be much help in that regard.

 

“You do not need to do everything yourself, you know,” Stefano says mildly, ignoring Sebastian’s questions.  His face rearranges itself into an expression that, on anyone else, would be a sympathetic smile. On Stefano it makes a chill run up his spine.  “Just look at you… the weight of the world on your shoulders. No wonder you are so unhappy.”

 

Sebastian’s chest is heaving under Stefano’s hand, and he wants to tell him that he isn’t unhappy, wasn’t unhappy until Lily was taken from him, but there is also a terrible, tight, aching feeling in his chest, and he can’t get any words out.

 

“Relax, Sebastian,” Stefano purrs as his hand begins to rub circles on Sebastian’s chest through the thin material of his T-shirt.  “Let someone else take the lead. You may find that you enjoy it.”

 

Stefano’s words slip in one ear and out the other, because Sebastian is much more focused on what he is doing with his hand.  His initial response is to recoil, because Stefano is the last person on earth who should be touching him, but the firm, even pressure is somehow calming, and how long has it been since someone touched him, since someone wanted to touch him… and of course now that someone finally does it has to be Stefano.

 

“Stop it.”  His words come out in a low growl, but Stefano shakes his head.

 

“You need it,” Stefano replies.  “It is, as they say, for your own good.”

 

“You don’t know what I need,” Sebastian replies, trying to put as much strength into his voice as he can when he is completely unable to follow through on any threats.  He would never admit it, especially to Stefano, but he does need physical contact. His body is starving for it, and he has to physically fight not to press up into Stefano’s hand.

 

“Oh, but I do,” Stefano replies.  “I know you. I have been studying you, and I know how to take care of you.  I will do a much better job than she ever did.”  The word ‘she’ is spoken with such venom that Sebastian shivers.

 

“I cannot tell you how many things have been done to me at the hospital ‘for my own good’,” Stefano continues.  “Sometimes quite unpleasant things, but I can assure you that this won’t be unpleasant at all…” His hand slips down from Sebastian’s chest along his abdomen, stopping at the top of his boxers.

 

Sebastian’s heart is pounding in his ears even harder than it was at the abandoned house, and he has forgotten how to breathe.  He wants to tell Stefano to stop. He should tell Stefano to stop, but he can’t get the words out, and to his absolute horror, there is some part of him that wants Stefano to continue, wants Stefano’s hand to dip even lower, to touch and squeeze and stroke and-

 

Stefano’s eye flicks back up to his face, and the look there is slightly incredulous.  “You are not going to tell me to stop?”

 

Sebastian’s heart is still racing, and his mouth is bone dry.  “Why would I?” he rasps. “You’re just going to do it anyway.”

 

For a split-second, Stefano looks almost hurt, but he quickly rearranges his features into his usual implacable mask before he says, “I am a murderer, Sebastian.  Not a rapist.”

 

He takes his hand away, and Sebastian’s skin burns for it to come back, to soothe the ache in his heart, to relieve the pressure between his legs, and there must be something wrong with him, because this is another man, this is Stefano, and of course Sebastian doesn’t want Stefano to touch him, but his brain can’t seem to communicate that to his body.

 

His heart leaps as Stefano’s hand descends over his chest again, but this time it is only to deposit the keys to his handcuffs in the center of his chest.  Stefano rises from the bed and enters the bathroom, and a few moments later, Sebastian hears the shower running.

 

Getting out of the handcuffs requires some gymnastics, though nothing as strenuous as the mental gymnastics that immediately follow as Sebastian tries to figure out what the hell just happened.  One thing is for sure: he’s going to have to be a lot more careful about how he secures Stefano for the night.




It isn’t particularly easy to shower without getting the bandage on his leg wet, but Stefano manages it by adjusting the showerhead and standing sort of sideways.  All things considered, it is still the most pleasant shower he’s had in years, much more effective than the sponge bath he gave himself last night and certainly preferable to the hygiene ritual imposed on him at Beacon.  The water pressure is acceptable, and there is plenty of hot water, and most importantly no one is watching him.

 

He finishes washing his hair and as much of his body as he can without involving his injured leg, then rests his forearm on the wall and leans his head against it.  His mind is clear for the first time in many months, and the urge to create is running through him hard and fast like electricity in a closed circuit. Even though this is what he desires, what he has planned for, he did not anticipate the full effect of having access to Sebastian for more than an hour at a time.

 

In the last twelve hours, Stefano has watched him go through such a broad range of emotions, and Sebastian is so expressive in his fear and his rage and his determination, so responsive to every outside stimulus.  And Sebastian is responsive to his hand as well. He smiles as he remembers, then almost jumps in surprise as his other hand finds his cock.

 

This is an indulgence he rarely allows himself.  He finds more release in art than in any physical sensation, but it feels good, feels right to make a loose fist, to stroke himself languidly as he remembers the way Sebastian’s heart pounded under his hand.  Was it in fear, excitement, arousal? He doesn’t know, and it doesn’t particularly matter.

 

What does matter is that he affected the Sebastian the way that Sebastian affects him.  It gives him hope that he can mold Sebastian, can shape him the way he would a piece of sculpture, can remake him in the image of his choosing.  His hand is moving faster now, squeezing harder, and his breath is coming faster as he imagines Sebastian laid out before him, arranged by his hand, controlled by his touch.  Sebastian is a tangle of flesh and blood and raw emotion, and if he can just capture that, if he can preserve it for eternity…

 

He comes with a stifled groan, pressing himself against the wall of the shower as visions of Sebastian fill his head.  He heaves a sigh, shoulders slumping as the tension leaves his body and his breathing returns to normal, then finishes rinsing himself, shuts off the water, and grabs a towel from the rack.  Sebastian is going to be utterly furious when he manages to get out of those handcuffs, and Stefano certainly doesn’t want to miss that.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Before Stefano emerges from the bathroom, Sebastian has freed himself from the handcuffs, dressed, replaced his firearm in its holster, and seated himself in one of the chairs next to the door.  He’s also undertaken a little investigation of how Stefano escaped from the cuffs, though the results are...inconclusive. In truth he has no fucking idea how Stefano managed it, but Stefano doesn’t have to know that.  His ego doesn’t need to be any bigger than it already is.

 

As he is waiting for the shower water to stop running, he plays back the events from earlier this morning in his head over and over again, trying to figure out what the hell was going on when Stefano was touching him.  He focuses on Stefano first, because he’s not sure he’s ready to sort out his own side of that particular equation.

 

In a way, Stefano’s behavior this morning confirms a theory he’s had for a while now, namely that Stefano’s interest in him is more than purely professional.  He could tell that there was something unusual going on the first time he sat down with Stefano in person in one of KCPD’s interview rooms, but he’d written it off as a phenomenon he’s seen a few times on the force- one where an investigation has been so long and so complicated that the criminal and the detective have formed a kind of relationship.  He was definitely feeling a bit of that with Stefano. Of course, they couldn’t be much more different in their goals and values, but Stefano seemed to respect his investigative skills and, more importantly, Stefano posed a challenge.

 

Even investigating homicides can get monotonous when the crime scenes and the suspects all follow one of just a few possible patterns, but Stefano’s case was different.  Sebastian can still remember the way his heart would start pounding when they got a call about another victim, the spectacular displays of gore and depravity, the tantalizing clues that Stefano left.  The case awoke something in him that he hasn’t experienced before or since- the feeling of matching wits with a worthy adversary. He’ll never condone anything that Stefano does of course, but he does afford him a grudging sort of respect.

 

At any rate, Sebastian had always tacitly assumed that this feeling was mutual, and that it was the explanation for Stefano’s letters and continued interest in him.  He can admit, privately, that he felt the pull to respond to those letters more than once. This new development puts things in a different light, and Sebastian is almost certain that Stefano is interested in more than just his mind.

 

He’s really never had cause to think much about Stefano’s sexual preferences.  To the best that Sebastian can tell, Stefano is telling the truth when he says he’s not a rapist.  None of the women he murdered were sexually assaulted, but because all of his victims were women, Sebastian had assumed that was where his preferences lay.  Now it seems that may not be the case. Unless of course Stefano was only doing all of that to get a rise out of him, in which case all bets are off, and Stefano’s plan is definitely working.

 

Sebastian is aware that his mind is wandering into dangerous territory now, but he felt something earlier.  He can’t deny that. He felt something besides the pain and fear and rage that have been crashing around inside him since Lily was taken.  He’s not sure yet what this new feeling is, but it beckons him like the beam of a lighthouse, and he is drawn to it even though he knows it may lead him to run aground.

 

Sebastian thinks hard, thinks back to what he was experiencing when Stefano’s hand was on his chest.  He wants to remember that it was fear, wants to be sure of that, but he’s not afraid of Stefano- not exactly at least.  He has a healthy appreciation for Stefano’s cunning and skill in certain areas, but it’s not the same as fear. Truth be told, Stefano has had several opportunities to harm him already- times when his guard was down and he would have been able to put up very little resistance.  If Stefano hasn’t hurt or killed him yet, he’s probably not going to.

 

So why exactly was his heart hammering underneath Stefano’s hand?  His mind plays out the scenario again, lets it go farther this time, imagines Stefano’s hand on his boxers, under his boxers, and his heart is accelerating again even though it’s only in his imagination.  He is at once intrigued and repulsed, breathless with anticipation of what those hands could do but recoiling as he remembers that he has seen those hands stained with the blood of innocent people.

 

He’s never been with a man before, but he doesn’t think that’s the reason his mind is resisting this so hard.  No, it’s because this is Stefano, and Stefano is a murderer and a psychopath, and he is married, god damn it. Of course, that raises the much more pressing question of where his wife is.  Why isn’t she here with him, sharing his struggle and his search for their daughter? Why does it seem like she’s given up hope of finding Lily alive? Why is the only person who believes in him the aforementioned murderer and psychopath who may also be lusting after his body?

 

None of it makes sense, but it leads him back to two inescapable facts:  Myra isn’t here with him, and Stefano is, and no matter how he tries to rationalize it, that’s the way it is.  Maybe Myra is right. Maybe he’s deluding himself, and that’s why his only ally in this mess is certifiably insane.  He doesn’t want to think too hard on that point, and luckily he doesn’t have to, because right at that moment the bathroom door opens.

 

Stefano has at least had the decency to put on what’s left of his clothes this time, though his eye is on Sebastian immediately as though challenging him to say something- anything.

 

Sebastian settles on what is foremost in his mind.  “What the fuck was that?” He asks, careful to keep his voice as neutral as possible.  If Stefano really was just trying to rile him up, he doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of an emotional response.

 

“A moment of indiscretion,” Stefano replies smoothly.  “I would like to be able to reassure you that it will not happen again, but I often find myself feeling...indiscreet where you are concerned, Sebastian.”  His eye is still locked onto Sebastian, and the way he speaks Sebastian’s name sends a shiver up his spine, reminds him of how much Stefano can do with his voice alone.

 

Sebastian swallows hard, all of his intentions to maintain an air of authority over Stefano forgotten as he struggles to come up with a topic of conversation that will take them away from Stefano’s ‘indiscretions.’  “How did you get out of the handcuffs?” he asks finally.

 

Stefano smiles slightly at that, taking a seat on the bed across from Sebastian and stretching his injured leg out in front of him.  “I am not sure I want to answer that particular question,” he muses. “I may want to use that trick again.”

 

“There is no way in hell I’m giving you another chance to pull a stunt like that,” Sebastian says.

 

“Now, Sebastian,” Stefano says, his face rearranging itself into an expression that could be called a pout if it wasn’t so calculated, “what exactly are you worried about?  That I will escape? That I will harm you?”

 

Sebastian is silent, and Stefano heaves a sigh before he continues, “I am still here, and you are still alive, and I believe I have made it clear that I will keep your...virtue intact.”  He raises an eyebrow.

 

“My what?” Sebastian sputters, because somehow they’ve ended up back on this topic and it’s the last thing he wants to discuss right now.  “Never mind,” he says quickly, because Stefano looks like he might actually be going to respond.

 

The little smile Stefano gives at his flustered state is infuriating, and Sebastian narrows his eyes.  “Why didn’t you leave?” he asks.

 

It’s probably the most troubling question that he hasn’t thought to address yet.  He’s just now coming to the realization that Stefano could have taken his gun and left, and Sebastian would have had no idea until hours later.

 

“The thought never crossed my mind,” Stefano replies with a shrug.

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“Ah, I forget sometimes that you know me so well,” Stefano says.  “It is remarkable, you know. I have been at that hospital for two years.  I have attended countless sessions with Doctor Jimenez and- with the doctors, and not one of them can tell when I am lying.”

 

“Well that was kind of an obvious lie,” Sebastian points out.

 

“Perhaps, but still, you know me in a way that others do not,” Stefano says, “in a way that others never will.”

 

“But that doesn’t mean anything,” Sebastian interjects.  “That doesn’t mean I owe you anything.” He’s not sure where Stefano is going with this, and he probably doesn’t even want to know.

 

“Of course not,” Stefano replies.  “You do not owe anyone anything.” His tone immediately shifts to something lighter, almost breezy.  “Now, I hope our agenda for today includes obtaining some more suitable pants.”

 

“Sure, that’s fine,” Sebastian replies absentmindedly.  He’s still mulling over this supposed special understanding he has of Stefano, but Stefano has a point about the pants.  Sebastian has no plans for this to turn into a long term arrangement, but even another day with Stefano dressed the way he is could cause some major problems for them.  He’s also starting to feel a little lightheaded from lack of food, so he grabs his keys, does a last scan of the room, and throws a “Let’s go,” over his shoulder at Stefano as he heads out the door.

 

He stops in his tracks when Stefano clears his throat loudly, and he turns to see that Stefano is holding out his hands, palms facing down, presumably so that Sebastian can cuff him again.  Sebastian starts to reach for the cuffs in his pocket but freezes with his hand still in midair. They’re going to have to make a couple of stops for clothing and food, and it’s now broad daylight.  The handcuffs are going to draw attention they don’t need right now, and, as skeptical as he is of Stefano’s motivations, Stefano didn’t run last night when he had the chance…

 

“Not this time,” he says gruffly, gesturing Stefano out the door.  “But don’t make me regret it.” He is halfway to the car when he realizes that Stefano didn’t actually answer a single question he’s asked him this morning.





The hassle of stopping off to get Stefano a pair of jeans and a T-shirt is almost worth the amount of entertainment Sebastian gets from watching him stare at them disdainfully.  He’s sure that they don’t fit with Stefano’s personal style at all, but he’s also sure that he’s not going to any more trouble to cater to Stefano.

 

To his credit, Stefano changes clothes without complaint once he is done glaring at them, and he manages to avoid making any more suggestive comments over breakfast.  Sebastian has decided their next move has to be going back to the house from last night. It’s the only lead they haven’t fully explored yet, and privately he wants someone else to see the replica of Lily’s room to make sure that he’s not going crazy.

 

They approach on the back road, because Sebastian isn’t sure whether the neighbors have been tipped off and whether further traffic on the main road will lead to someone calling the police.  They drive slowly. The department car isn’t really up to tackling the poor condition of the road, and Stefano is still wincing with every bump and rut they hit.

 

“Sorry,” Sebastian says reflexively after a particularly bad one.  He hasn’t given much thought to Stefano’s injury aside from keeping it dry and controlling the bleeding, but he’s obviously still in some pain from it.

 

“It’s nothing,” Stefano replies through gritted teeth.

 

“Suit yourself.”

 

“I will,” Stefano says.  “And we do not have time for you to be sentimental.  Time is not on our side at the moment.”

 

“I’m not being sentimental,” growls Sebastian.

 

“Says the man who was so quick to rush to my aid back at the hospital.”

 

Sebastian opens his mouth to protest and realizes it won’t do any good.  Stefano is determined to interpret things his own way. Instead Sebastian settles for rolling his eyes and refocusing on the road ahead of them.

 

They reach the house in a few minutes, and it appears to be exactly as they left it, or at least the front door is still standing open and as far as he can see the lights are still on.  It looks even more dilapidated in the daylight, since the signs of disrepair are more visible, though it is distinctly less creepy this time. He parks near the end of the paved road and walks up to the porch with Stefano trailing behind him.

 

“I take it you already looked into whoever owns the property?” Stefano asks.

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian replies without turning around, because he did that before he even came to Stefano with the information about the address, back when he had access to his KCPD resources.  “It’s in foreclosure. Previous owner is dead, and no links to anyone else.”

 

“That is what I expected,” Stefano says, stepping up beside Sebastian.  “They are very skilled at covering their tracks.”

 

“Then why are they leaving any tracks at all?” Sebastian asks, as he climbs the creaking steps of the porch.  “I mean, I know it’s intentional, but is this just a game to them? Are they getting some entertainment out of watching me run all over the place to follow up on these clues?”  He turns to face Stefano, aware that his voice is rising in frustration.

 

“That is one possibility,” Stefano replies, still infuriatingly calm.  “Another is that they intend to distract you from something more significant- perhaps the real culprit or a clue that would actually allow you to trace them.”

 

Sebastian shrugs, and Stefano continues, “Still another is that they intend to isolate you… to separate you from others who would support you and aid in your efforts.”

 

“If that’s what they want, then it’s working,” Sebastian says with a sigh.  He’s cut off from KCPD, which is where he would normally get his resources, and from Myra, who is- or was- his only pillar of emotional support in this entire mess.  Of course, some of that is his own fault. He knows he’s not the easiest person to be around when he’s under stress. And speaking of stress, some of his current isolation is also Stefano’s fault, though he’s not really in a position to attack his only potential ally when he is otherwise so profoundly alone.

 

Stefano doesn’t speak, merely pats him on the shoulder and steps forward into the entryway of the house.  Sebastian opens his mouth to tell Stefano to keep his hands to himself but closes it again and follows him over the threshold.

 

The dust is less apparent under the glare of the overhead lights, but the footprints are still visible, and his stomach turns over at the sight of the smaller ones.  Stefano looks at them and seems to be taking care not to step directly on them, but otherwise doesn’t comment.

 

“That’s the basement door,” Sebastian says, pointing it out to Stefano.  “I haven’t been anywhere else in here. If you see anything that might be important, just call me.  Don’t touch it.” Even as far removed as he is from his job right now and as much as the department has let him down in the recent past, he’s still aware that this is a crime scene, and if they do reach the point of having to call it in to KCPD, he wants to take at least the most basic steps to preserve it.

 

“Should we start upstairs and work our way down?” Stefano asks.

 

“Maybe,” Sebastian replies.  He squints at the stairs, but there don’t seem to be any footprints in the dust there.  “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been up there. Hold on a second while I see how stable the floor is.”

 

He climbs the stairs carefully, staying close to the wall in hopes that if the steps are going to collapse underneath him, he’ll at least be near an anchor point.  He only has to get to the first landing to see that this is a dead end, because the second flight of stairs is completely rotted through. It would be tough to negotiate the stairs in the first place, and even if someone did, it doesn’t bode well for the condition of the second floor.  He tiptoes back down to the foyer, where Stefano is examining the boarded windows.

 

“Some of this looks fairly recent,” he points out.

 

“Weird,” Sebastian says, because most of the house looks like it’s been abandoned form some time.  “Upstairs is out. Looks like it’s in bad shape and neither one of us needs to fall through the floor right now.  I know the basement’s okay, but be careful on this floor too.”

 

Stefano nods absently and wanders off into what looks like it was once the living room, so Sebastian turns the other way and moves into the dining room, wondering all the while why he is even bothering to tell Stefano to be careful in here.  He’s supposed to be protecting society from Stefano, not protecting Stefano himself. Maybe Stefano’s right. Maybe he is going soft.

 

He is scanning the room, which is mostly taken up by a large, heavy dining table and chairs, when he catches a flash of movement to his right.  It makes him jump, spin toward it, and put his hand on his gun until he realizes it’s only his own reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall.  He’s about laugh at how jumpy he is today when Stefano calls out to him.

 

“Sebastian?”

 

“Yeah,” he calls back.

 

“I think you’d better get in here.”  Stefano’s voice doesn’t sound urgent, but it does sound serious, and Sebastian is already in motion, heading back across the front hall, through the living room, and beyond it into some kind of study or office.

 

Stefano is standing in the middle of the room, staring at an array of small TV monitors- a security system probably- that is totally out of sync with the condition of the rest of the house.  Sebastian is about to comment on this, but just then he steps into the room far enough to see what is on the monitors, and it stops him in his tracks.

 

There are four monitors on the desk, and each one shows a different view of the room downstairs in the basement- Lily’s room.  Each one shows a different view of Lily herself, sitting on the bed or standing at the door. In one of them, she is even standing in the middle of the room staring straight at the camera.

 

Sebastian’s heart is pounding again, because just seeing her, just looking at her face spurs him to action.  His muscles tense, prepare to take off, to carry him to her, because he needs to get to her now. But he also knows it’s a trick his brain is playing on him.  He has been in that room downstairs, and she wasn’t there. She isn’t there, but his adrenaline spikes and he can’t come down from it, and he launches himself at the TV monitor with a snarl of rage at whoever did this to her, whoever is doing this to him.

 

Stefano catches him before he can get there, stepping in front of him and wrapping his arms around Sebastian.  He’s stronger than Sebastian would expect, especially for someone who was so recently injured, because Sebastian is throwing his whole weight into trying to get to the monitors, but he can’t move Stefano from his path.

 

“God damn it!” he shouts, pushing away from Stefano and taking a step back toward the other side of the room.  “What the fuck is this?”

 

“This is information,” Stefano says, raising his arms in what is either a pacifying gesture or an attempt to keep Sebastian from making another dash at the monitors.  “Or it will be if you don’t destroy it.”

 

It is taking everything Sebastian has not to just shove Stefano out of the way and destroy the monitors, but he also knows that Stefano is right.  He paces back and forth, energy and frustration building in a confined space, until finally his heart rate starts to come down and his jaw unclenches and he feels like he might be thinking clearly again.

 

“What information?” he demands of Stefano.

 

“That Lily was here,” Stefano offers.  “That Lily was alive…” He turns to look at the date displayed on the monitors.  “...yesterday.” Sebastian steps in closer and confirms the date for himself.

 

“Shit,” he breathes.  The time stamp marks it as yesterday evening, probably just hours before they got to the house.  “We really were close.” He was in that room last night just hours after Lily was in it. He might have been ‘too late’ but it wasn’t by much.

 

“Can we play these tapes back?” he asks, wondering if the kidnapper was careless enough to leave in any portion of the tape that would help identify them or give any information about where Lily is now.

 

“Somehow I doubt it,” Stefano says.  “In fact, I don’t think we have access to any tapes or hard drives at all.”  He gestures to the general area of the desk, and Sebastian’s gaze follows his hand.

 

Now that Stefano mentions it, it’s kind of strange that the only thing on the desk is the four monitors.  There should obviously be more components to the security system, but they don’t seem to be here. He steps forward, tracing the wires from the backs of the monitors to a wireless receiver.

 

“So they’re being broadcast in?”

 

“More or less,” Stefano replies.

 

“We’re only seeing what they want us to see,” Sebastian says, resignation in his voice.

 

“Exactly,” Stefano says.

 

Sebastian sighs.  Every ‘discovery’ is bittersweet, because every ‘clue’ is also a reminder that they are being manipulated, that someone else is in control.  He pulls out his phone and takes a picture of the monitors and the receiver box, just in case any of the information there can help them later.

 

He shakes his head and scans the room, but nothing catches his attention, so he continues on into the kitchen.  There are some basic supplies and food in the cupboards and refrigerator, which isn’t surprising now that they’re sure this place was inhabited recently.  The juice in the fridge is Lily’s favorite kind, which only makes Sebastian smile darkly as he considers who would know that and why they would be helping with the kidnapping effort.

 

The kitchen leads back into the dining room, where there is nothing of interest, and before he knows it he is back at the basement stairs, cautiously descending even though the basement of the house seems to be in significantly better repair than the other two floors.  Stefano is right on his heels.

 

He goes straight to ‘Lily’s room’, because there is nothing else down here, steps over the threshold, and gestures around for Stefano’s benefit.  “See what I mean? This is fucking crazy, right?”

 

Stefano doesn’t answer, but slowly walks around the room, pausing every so often to pick up a book or open the closet or inspect some other item.  When he makes it back around to Sebastian, he seems to be deep in thought. “This is quite detailed,” he observes. “And you say it is a faithful reproduction of her room in your home?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian answers with some irritation, because he’s already explained this to Stefano and the accuracy of the reproduction is what is so fucking creepy about this whole thing.  “So tell me what’s going on here? Why take the time to do this? Is it for my benefit or hers or what?”

 

“For yours, undoubtedly,” Stefano replies without hesitation.  “All of this is being done for your benefit. This is just an especially time-consuming way to go about it.”  He frowns. “Can you look at it again- very closely this time- and tell me if there is anything here that is not in Lily’s room at home?”

 

Sebastian doesn’t have to look around again to answer that.  “The cameras,” he replies immediately, gesturing to the cameras in each corner of the room.  “And we don’t have the dumbwaiter or the bars on the windows.” He figures that should be pretty obvious, but he points it out anyway in case Stefano finds it important for some reason.

 

Stefano smiles indulgently.  “Of course not,” he says, “but I am thinking of something else.  Humor me and take another look around.”

 

Sebastian is mildly annoyed by Stefano’s insistence, but it’s not like he has anything better to do right now, so he makes a slow circle of the room, concentrating hard on picking out anything that looks out of place.

 

As he passes by the bookshelf, something does catch his eye.  There is a big, black book on the bottom shelf that he recognizes, but that he’s sure isn’t in Lily’s room at home right now.

 

“There,” he says pointing to the book and stepping aside so that Stefano can see what he’s talking about.  “We own that book, but Lily won’t let us keep it in her room anymore.”

 

“What?”  Stefano seems perplexed.  “Why?”

 

“It’s a book of scary stories,” Sebastian explains.  “Not very scary ones. I mean, she’s five, so they’re more like little Halloween poems and stories for kids, but there’s a picture in the book that she doesn’t like, so she used to hide it under the couch in the living room.”

 

Sebastian finds he is smiling a little bit at the memory in spite of himself.  He remembers thinking how silly it was the first time he found it there and tried to return it to Lily.  “She was really insistent that it not be in her room,” he adds.

 

“Interesting…” Stefano replies.  He reaches for the book but pauses.  “May I?”

 

“Sure, go ahead,” Sebastian says.  It’s not like this is going to be meaningful to anyone but him and Stefano, so it probably doesn’t matter if he handles it.

 

Stefano opens the book and flips through the pages.  Sebastian looks over his shoulder. Admittedly, he’s not that familiar with the whole book since Lily refuses to look at it after the first time, but nothing looks out of the ordinary about it.  Apparently Stefano can’t find anything either, because he closes it with a huff.

 

“Now what?” Sebastian asks.  He doesn’t really expect Stefano to have an answer, because why would Stefano have an answer at this point?

 

“And you said that she kept the book under the couch?” he asks.

 

“Yes,” Sebastian replies.

 

Stefano hands the book to Sebastian, turns on his heel and strides out of the room.  Suddenly, he doesn’t seem terribly impaired by his injury, and by the time Sebastian catches up to him, he’s at the foot of the stairs.

 

“What are you doing?” Sebastian asks.

 

“I am not sure,” Stefano says, “but let me check something.”

 

Sebastian shakes his head, but follows Stefano up the stairs and to the living room, where he goes straight to the couch.

 

“Okay, Stefano, don’t you think that’s a little-”  He’s going to say ‘farfetched’, but before he can finish his sentence, Stefano is bending down and taking hold of the edge of the couch.  “Woah, hold on,” he says, placing a hand on Stefano’s shoulder. Heavy lifting is exactly the kind of thing Stefano needs to avoid right now.

 

“I’ve got this,” Sebastian says.  He bends down himself to take hold of the couch and lift it, standing it up on end so that if there is anything underneath, they’ll definitely see it.

 

“You were saying?”  Stefano’s tone is so smug that Sebastian knows there has to be something there, but he still draws his breath in sharply when he steps around the upturned couch and catches sight of what Stefano is looking at.

 

There is a trapdoor in the floor, and it’s held closed by a new-looking padlock.




 

The girl’s temporary escape doesn’t concern him.  She was recaptured quickly enough, and he knew at the outset that she wouldn’t be a pushover, even at her age.  She is determined and resourceful, like her father, and he certainly doesn’t want to change that. Those qualities are part of what make them of interest to him in the first place.

 

Nor is he particularly worried about Sebastian’s newfound associate.  Valentini is a wild card, to be sure. He has his own agenda, and he is apparently capable of keeping Sebastian quite occupied, which works to everyone’s advantage for the moment.  Besides, if push comes to shove, he is more than capable of bringing Valentini back in line or taking him out of the picture completely.

 

Valentini himself has one of the more interesting minds he has seen in some time.  He wishes he could say that he discovered this all on his own, but he grudgingly admits that Jimenez deserves some of the credit there.  While his scientific inquiries leave something to be desired, he does have a way of assessing potential subjects quickly and accurately, and Valentini has turned out to be a rare find.

 

He is drawn out of his thoughts by a knock on the door, and he looks up to see the owner of another mind that is of particular interest to him.

 

“Mrs. Castellanos,” he says.  “Right on time.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Almost ten seconds pass during which nobody speaks or moves or probably even breathes.  

 

Sebastian’s brain is working frantically.  This is too much. It’s too convoluted and too close to home, and Stefano knows too much.  Some of this might be explainable by luck or intuition or an ability to tap into an unusual kind of thought process, but there’s a limit, and they’ve definitely passed it.

 

He turns on Stefano, sees just a hint of fear flash across his face.  Good. He should be afraid. Sebastian grabs him by the shoulders and shoves him against the nearest wall.

 

“How did you know?” he growls.  “How did they know?”  He steps in close so that his face is inches from Stefano’s.  Stefano is still meeting his eye, but his body is rigid under Sebastian’s hands.  He doesn’t speak, and Sebastian has had enough of his bullshit, because Stefano owes him some answers.

 

He doesn’t think about what he is doing, but in the next moment his hand is around Stefano’s throat, as though he can physically wring the information he needs out of him.  “Answer me, god damn it,” he snarls as his grip tightens. Stefano’s breath is coming hard and fast, his chest pressing against Sebastian’s forearm, so Sebastian knows he can breathe, knows he should be able to answer, but still he says nothing.

 

Sebastian’s eyes flick back up to Stefano’s face, which is serene, utterly relaxed.  There is a vague hint of a smile there, and Stefano’s pupil is dilated so that he looks almost aroused.

 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he snaps, giving Stefano one more shove before he releases him and steps back.

 

Stefano’s hand immediately goes to his own throat, massaging it slowly as he speaks.  “I must say, Sebastian, I am impressed.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about now?” Sebastian shoots back.  He begins to pace up and down the living room now, desperate to work off some of this furious, burning energy before he actually does kill Stefano.

 

“Your first reaction is strangulation.”  He looks Sebastian up and down with an appraising eye.  “So...intimate.”

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Sebastian says, turning on his heel to make another pass of the room.  “I try to kill you, and you’re talking about intimacy.”

 

“Now, Sebastian,” Stefano replies, “We both know that is not true.”  He gestures to the gun on Sebastian’s hip. “If you were trying to kill me, I would be dead.”

 

“Fine,” Sebastian snaps, coming to an abrupt halt and turning to face Stefano.  “I’m not trying to kill you, but you’re fucking with me. I know you know more than what you’re saying, and you need to come clean -”

 

“Or what?” Stefano prompts.

 

Sebastian looks at him, looks through him really, because just a moment ago he wanted to hurt Stefano, and that’s not an impulse he has very often.  His natural instincts are more protective in nature, and it’s strange to feel such a strong urge to do harm. Before he can think of what to say, Stefano is speaking again.

 

“You see, Sebastian, this is why you fall short, why you cannot get what you want.”  Stefano’s hand drops back to his side. “You have the ability to solve this problem, but you refuse to follow through.”

 

“How?” Sebastian asks.  “By actually killing you?”

 

“No,” Stefano replies with a broader smile.  “Nothing quite so dramatic as that, but you might find that if you ask a bit more…forcefully, you will get a different response.”

 

Sebastian stares at Stefano for a moment.  “You’re insane,” he says simply.

 

“Quite,” Stefano says matter-of-factly.  “Which is why you need to stop treating me as you would a more rational person.”

 

“This is ridiculous,” snaps Sebastian.

 

“What is ridiculous,” Stefano says calmly, “is that we could be much closer to finding Lily if you weren’t so squeamish.  I am starting to think you do not want to find her at all, that your moral code is more important to you than your daughter’s life.  You-”

 

Sebastian isn’t even aware that he is in motion until his fist makes contact with Stefano’s cheek.

 

Stefano staggers backward as Sebastian looks on in shock, but then he rights himself, bringing a hand to the side of his face where Sebastian just struck him.  There’s a gleam in his eye and a triumphant note in his voice. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

 

There is a small part of Sebastian’s mind that is trying to remind him that Stefano is injured and mentally ill, and supposed to be helping him, but it is easily overpowered by the part that is telling him to grab Stefano by the throat and drag him down to the floor.  “God damn it!” he shouts as he follows Stefano to the ground. “What do you know?”

 

Stefano’s fist catches him in the side of the face this time, and as he reels back, Stefano surges up off the ground and knocks him onto his back.  In a flash, Stefano is on top of him, straddling his chest and grabbing his wrists with surprising strength.

 

“You will have to do better than that,” Stefano says, voice somehow soothing as he starts to push Sebastian’s hands to the floor on either side of his head.

 

“Fuck you!” Sebastian snarls, managing to get his feet under him and roll so that he is on top of Stefano now, pinning him to the ground with his entire body.  Stefano thrashes under him, but Sebastian just uses his forearms to keep Stefano’s hands pinned and lets his weight hold Stefano down until he quiets.

 

“Now,” he says, breath coming hard and fast as he struggles to remain in control, “Tell me what you know about Lily.”

 

“You are hurting me,” Stefano jerks his head toward his injured leg.

 

“I don’t care,” Sebastian answers reflexively.  It’s not entirely true, but there are things that are more important than Stefano’s comfort right now.

 

“Good,” Stefano says, his satisfaction obvious in his voice.  “You shouldn’t. You are, however, compressing my lungs quite a bit.”

 

“And I’m going to compress them a hell of a lot more if you don’t start giving me some answers,” Sebastian says, shifting his weight for emphasis so that Stefano gasps.

 

“Very well,” Stefano replies.  “It is not exactly what I know, but what I have surmised.  This plot, this...scheme that involves your daughter- I suspect it is connected to some research that Dr. Jimenez and his associates are performing at Beacon.”

 

“What?” Sebastian asks, because this is so far out of left field that his mind is spinning to process it.  “How did you even find out…?”

 

“People say all sort of things in front of you when they believe you are too heavily medicated to hear them, or that you are too psychologically damaged to understand, or that it doesn’t matter what you know because no one is going to believe you anyway.”

 

Sebastian pulls back a little so he can look at Stefano straight on, but as far as Sebastian can tell he is dead serious.  His hair has fallen away from his face, and it somehow makes it easier to read his expression.

 

For a fleeting moment, he feels a touch of sympathy, and then Stefano brings his knee up sharply, catching Sebastian between the legs.  It’s not a direct groin hit, but it’s still a hard impact to a sensitive area, and Sebastian sucks his breath in hard. He’s ready for Stefano’s next move though, and when Stefano tries to jerk his arms free, Sebastian’s hands are already around his wrists, shoving them back down to the floor.  “What the fuck was that?”

 

Stefano doesn’t even look particularly upset by this outcome.  “An incentive to keep your softer side in check,” he says, before he goes limp under Sebastian.

 

Sebastian rolls his eyes, and shifts up onto his knees, throwing one leg over Stefano while he is still and relatively compliant.  With any luck, it’ll reduce his chance of getting kneed in the groin again, and he has more control over Stefano’s arms from this angle.

 

“What makes you so sure Lily is part of this ‘research’?” He asks through gritted teeth.  He’s not sure if he’s angry at Stefano or at the doctors at Beacon or at the world, but Stefano is the only one here to take it out on.

 

“You misunderstand me, Sebastian,” Stefano says, still as calm as ever.  “I am not sure. I am merely suspicious, but some of what I have seen here leads me to believe that you and Lily are part of this plan.”

 

“Tell me then,” Sebastian presses.  “What are you talking about?”

 

Stefano smiles.  “As much as I am enjoying...this…” He nods to indicate the way Sebastian is currently straddling him.  “...I prefer to have a conversation of this length in more comfortable surroundings.”

 

“Make up your fucking mind,” Sebastian says with a sigh.  “Two minutes ago you weren’t going to talk to me unless I was hitting you.”

 

Stefano shrugs as much as he can while lying on his back on the floor.  “Sometimes more visceral interactions can be very pleasurable, but at the moment I would appreciate a softer touch.”

 

Sebastian’s grip has loosened considerably since Stefano became cooperative, and now Stefano’s arms slither out of his grasp and Stefano’s hands smooth their way up along his thighs.  Sebastian’s heart is still pounding from the struggle on the floor, and his confused brain considers arching up into those hands for a moment before he jumps to his feet, eager to put some distance between his body and Stefano’s.

 

Stefano’s face twists into a little smirk until he tries to get his feet under him and utters a little groan of distress.  Sebastian sighs and offers him a hand. Stefano takes it without comment, and Sebastian hauls him to his feet. He is dismayed to see that there is fresh blood visible on Stefano’s jeans.  It’s not a lot, but it drives home how stupid he is for letting Stefano provoke him into fighting. He gestures to it.

 

“See, this is why we can’t do things your way,” he says.

 

“It is a small price to pay,” Stefano replies, “but if it upsets you, you are welcome to treat it again.”

 

The idea of Stefano continuing to bleed or succumbing to infection before he tells Sebastian what he knows is what actually upsets Sebastian, but regardless, he needs to do something about that wound.  Besides, his head is starting to throb where Stefano punched him, and Stefano’s cheek is already streaked with red and purple. As much as he hates to pause in the investigation, they both need a little patching up.

 

He flips the couch back down onto the floor, though he makes sure not to obscure the newly-uncovered trap door.  “Sit down,” he commands Stefano. “And take your pants off unless you want me to cut them off again.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Stefano says a little too enthusiastically.  Sebastian can’t be bothered to respond.

 

He retrieves the first aid kit from the car and a couple of bags of frozen food from the freezer.  When he returns to the living room, Stefano is seated obediently on the couch in his boxers, looking so demure it’s hard to believe that just a few minutes ago he was enticing Sebastian to fight him.  Then again, Stefano is crazy. Or maybe Sebastian is also going crazy. It’s hard to be sure right now.

 

He hands Stefano one of the bags from the freezer.  “Put this on your face,” he says when Stefano gives him a puzzled look.

 

Stefano brings his fingers to his own cheek and flinches back in a way that makes Sebastian wonder if he even knew he had been hit before this moment.  He still looks slightly dazed as he complies with Sebastian’s direction.

 

Sebastian kneels on the floor in front of him to look at his leg, and as he suspected, the blood has entirely seeped through the bandage.  It’s not aggressively bleeding, which is a good thing, and it was probably time for a bandage change anyway, but Stefano needs to be more careful.  Of course, Stefano can’t really be expected to take care of himself, so maybe it’s Sebastian who needs to be more careful.

 

He cuts through the old bandage and removes it, taking care not to touch the wound itself.  It’s still slowly oozing blood, but a clean-up and a fresh pressure bandage should take care of that.  Sebastian wonders for a moment whether Stefano was actually so precise in his self-mutilation as to be sure that they’d be able to treat his wound without advanced medical care or whether it was just dumb luck that the injury wasn’t more serious, but decides that it doesn’t matter.  Figuring Stefano out should be the least of his worries, and he’s pretty sure it’s impossible anyway.

 

“I’m going to flush this and bandage it again.”

 

“Fine,” Stefano replies.  His voice is soft now, mild, but that doesn’t really register with Sebastian who is focused on the task at hand.

 

He takes a fresh betadine bottle from the kit and pops the top off, then directs the stream into the wound.  He jumps when Stefano’s hand lands on his shoulder, and glances up to meet Stefano’s eye.

 

“Hurts,” Stefano says quietly.

 

“I know,” Sebastian replies.  There should be satisfaction in his voice, but there isn’t.  Stefano’s hand squeezes his shoulder tightly, and he doesn’t object, just finishes flushing the wound, uses some gauze to wipe the excess liquid from around it, and reaches for a bandage.  He applies it carefully, tight enough to stave off any more bleeding, but hopefully not so tight as to cause Stefano any problems with circulation.

 

He pauses for a moment to admire his handiwork.  It’s been a little while since his last training session, but his bandage skills are still solid, and hopefully Stefano will feel more like talking now- or at least, more like talking without fighting.  He realizes he’s been frozen in place for several seconds with his hand on Stefano’s knee and Stefano’s hand still on his shoulder, and glances up at Stefano, who is regarding him dreamily over a bag of frozen peas.

 

“You alright?” He asks, removing his hand from Stefano’s knee but waiting a moment to stand up in case Stefano is going to fall forward or something.  “You don’t look so good.”

 

“And you, on the other hand, look particularly enticing at the moment...on your knees...”

 

“Oh for god’s sake,” Sebastian groans, shrugging Stefano’s hand off his shoulder and getting to his feet.  He’s not sure how many more of Stefano’s bizarre mood swings he can take. He seems to be cycling between the cold, calculating man Sebastian is familiar with and someone who is much more in touch with his baser urges, whether they be amorous or violent.

 

Stefano laughs and Sebastian feels a hot flash of frustration, because he still can’t tell how much of this is intentional on Stefano’s part.

 

“Are you just playing with me?” He snaps.  “Or is this really what you’re like when you’re off your meds?”

 

Stefano’s face goes very serious.  “Oh, Sebastian,” he says, his tone almost apologetic.  “I am afraid I do not remember anymore.”

 

Sebastian shakes his head.  It seems like asking Stefano direct questions about himself never gets them anywhere.  He pushes the first aid kit out of the way and picks up a bag of frozen vegetables, holding it against his head as he sits down on the couch beside Stefano.  “Now what was it you were saying about the doctors at Beacon?”

 

“They were conducting research into the mind,” Stefano begins, “but they placed great emphasis on locating specific types of minds.  I know this because they spent quite a while considering me.”

 

“You?” Sebastian interrupts, surprised.  “Why?”

 

“I suppose I have a particular type of mind that they were interested in,” Stefano replies.  This makes Sebastian even more intrigued about the nature of the experiment, because Stefano’s mind has got to be pretty fucked up.

 

“What were the experiments like?” He asks.

 

“They were not explained to me in detail,” Stefano says.  “I was a captive specimen after all- no one to monitor how I was being treated.  I suspect they were stimulating different areas of the brain, though for what purpose, I cannot be sure.”

 

“How…?” Sebastian begins, because he still doesn’t fully understand.

 

Stefano shifts on the couch so that his back is to Sebastian.  “Feel the back of my head, under my hair.”

 

Sebastian tentatively raises his free hand and runs it up underneath Stefano’s hair, unsure of what he is supposed to be feeling for until he encounters a small, round, raised area.  He runs his fingers over it again, and Stefano shivers.

 

“Scar tissue,” he explains.  “That is where the probes were placed.  I am not entirely sure what happened after that, but the things I saw and knew and remembered…”

 

Sebastian moves his fingers around and encounters several more small scars on Stefano’s scalp.  He is starting to develop a mental image of this experiment, and it’s not pleasant, but Stefano doesn’t seem to be particularly upset, so he asks another question.

 

“What kind of things?”

 

This time Stefano’s voice holds wonder.  “All kinds. Things I had no way of remembering.  Things that never happened. Beautiful, terrible, viciously intense things.”

 

Sebastian removes his hand, and Stefano turns back to face him.  His pupil is dilated again, and his face is slack. “Things that made me...made me feel , Sebastian.  Do you know what that is like?”  Sebastian is about to ask what the hell he’s talking about, but Stefano forges ahead.  “Of course you do. All of you do, but for me it is so rare, so precious. And I felt , Sebastian.  I felt everything.”

 

His voice rises as he speaks until he sounds almost panicked, and Sebastian instinctively puts a hand on his shoulder.  “I’m sure you did,” he says soothingly, because the last thing he needs right now is for Stefano to get all worked up. “But what does this have to do with Lily?”

 

Stefano’s voice is more even when he replies.  “When I returned to myself...after one of their sessions, they knew things about me.  They knew things I had never told them...things I had never told anyone. I still cannot explain it, but when you told me the story about Lily and that book, I could not help but wonder…”

 

It takes Sebastian a moment, but he catches on.  His hand falls from Stefano’s shoulder as his mind reels.  “What the hell are you saying? You think someone’s been inside my head like that?”

 

Stefano is gazing steadily at him.  “I do not know, but it would explain the level of detail that is in play here.  The room, the book, the couch...do you understand?”

 

Sebastian can’t say that he truly understands or that anyone could truly understand a concept like this, but he nods wordlessly.  After all, the idea that someone might have recreated Lily’s room from his own memories is only slightly crazier than the idea that Myra or Juanita gave someone sufficient access or information to create this replica.  But even if that’s what’s going on here, he is still faced with the same overarching questions: where is Lily and what do they want with her?

 

Stefano is still watching him closely, leaning in a little almost as though he is seeking approval, and Sebastian collects his thoughts to answer.  “I understand the connection you’re making. I just don’t understand the purpose. And when would they have even been able to do this? I mean, I’d remember that, right?  You remember being in the experiments.”

 

“I do remember some instances,” Stefano replies, “but as I may have told you, I think some of my medications interfere with my memory, and I am sure there are many things I do not remember.  At any rate, I expect they have- or had- greater control over my mind than I was aware of.” He cocks his head in Sebastian’s direction. “Think about it. Are there stretches of time that you do not remember when you were at Beacon?”

 

He raises a hand to rub at the back of his head, and maybe the gesture is unconscious, but it stirs something in Sebastian, makes his breath come a little quicker.

 

“Stefano,” he says.  He can hear the urgency in his own voice, and apparently Stefano can as well, because he is immediately focused back in on Sebastian.  Sebastian turns away from Stefano, feels the couch shift, and then Stefano’s fingers are running through his hair, tracing along his scalp.  He is suddenly hyper aware of every breath he takes, every beat of his heart, every tiny change in the pressure Stefano exerts.

 

“Nothing,” Stefano says finally, removing his hands and shifting back so that Sebastian can turn around.  “My apologies. I thought that perhaps-“

 

“It’s alright,” Sebastian cuts him off.  “You had me going there for a minute, but even if this experiment is real, it didn’t happen to me.”

 

“What about your wife?”

 

“Myra?”  Sebastian can’t help but notice a barely-suppressed scowl from Stefano at Myra’s name.  “Why would she be at Beacon? When would they have even had access to her?”

 

“Perhaps in the course of one of her cases?” Stefano offers.  “Or for herself? They also have outpatient therapy programs. Do you think she might have consulted a therapist for some reason?”

 

“Watch it.”  Sebastian’s voice is low and serious, because they are dangerously close to talking about the problems in his marriage again, and Stefano doesn’t need to know any more about that than he already does.

 

Stefano goes quiet, and Sebastian’s eyes fall on the trapdoor in the floor again.  His makeshift ice pack is starting to thaw, and they’re not going to get much more out of sitting here rehashing Stefano’s conspiracy theories, even if they do provide a possible explanation for some of the crazy shit he’s seen today.

 

“You seem to be an expert with locks,” he says to Stefano with more than a little sarcasm in his voice.  “Want to take a shot at this one?” He gestures to the padlock on the door.

 

“Certainly,” Stefano says with a vague smile.  “Just let me get some tools.”

 

He rises to his feet, puts his pants back on, and disappears into the kitchen.  Sebastian thinks to remind him that he didn’t need any tools to get out of the handcuffs this morning, but in just a moment he returns with a fire extinguisher in his hand.  He crouches somewhat awkwardly due to his leg and brings the extinguisher down hard on the padlock, sending the two halves of it shooting off in different directions.

 

“Well, that’s not very impressive,” Sebastian objects.  “ I could have done that.”  He was hoping for a little insight into Stefano’s ability to escape the handcuffs, but apparently he’s not going to get it.

 

Stefano gives him another little smile.  “I do not generally prefer brute force, but sometimes it gets the job done.”

 

Sebastian joins him on the floor and opens the door.  He is expecting a ladder or a secret passage or something, even though it wouldn’t make sense since the house has a basement that extends into the space under this room.  What he actually sees is a small compartment that contains only a plain white envelope.

 

He takes it and opens it up.  He has no concern for contaminating evidence now.  Whoever took Lily has made it more than clear that they don’t leave prints or DNA on anything, and KCPD isn’t going to help him find Lily.  Even if they were, Sebastian can’t think of a way to explain how he got to this point that doesn’t make him sound like a complete lunatic.

 

There is a single sheet of paper in the envelope, and it’s one that Sebastian has seen before- a letter with his own signature at the bottom.  It is addressed to Warren Anderson, and even before he starts to scan it with his eyes, he knows what it says.

 

Services will no longer be required...conduct unbecoming an officer...terminated effective immediately…

 

He gets to the bottom, but this is the standard termination letter, the exact one that he issued Anderson a few months ago.

 

Stefano is looking over his shoulder.  “You wrote this?”

 

“Yeah,” Sebastian says.  “This was one of my detectives on the Homicide squad.  We had to terminate him for tampering with evidence in a murder case.”  Sebastian remembers the situation all too well, maybe because Anderson’s behavior made so little sense.  What’s worse, he had gotten rookie detective Kidman involved in the whole thing, though she got off with a warning due to her inexperience.

 

“And might he be angry with you about that?” Stefano prompts.

 

Sebastian doesn’t particularly like where this is going.  “Maybe…” he says cautiously. “I mean, I’m sure he’s angry with me, but not enough to do something like this.”  He didn’t know Anderson particularly well, but surely he isn’t the kind of person who would take his frustrations with Sebastian out on his family.

 

“Can you be sure of that?”

 

“No,” Sebastian breathes.  “I guess not…”





This new place isn’t like her room at all.  There is a bed and a bookshelf and some toys and games, but everything is white and shiny.  Sometimes it hurts her eyes to look at it.

 

She sits on the bed with her legs dangling off the side, just like she did in the other room that was like her room, just like she used to in her real room at home.  Will she ever see that room again? Or her house? Or her mom or dad? Lily doesn’t know, but she doesn’t like this new room at all.

 

Her eye is drawn down to her knees, each of which has a big bandaid on it now from where she fell in the street running from Other Miss Flores.  In P.E. class, Lily is the fastest kid in her group, but Other Miss Flores is faster. The really weird thing was that Other Miss Flores wasn’t even mad that she ran away.  She just picked Lily up and took her back to the car without saying anything, and when Lily tried to open the door again a few minutes later, it wouldn’t work.

 

Even though she doesn’t like this new place, she feels a little better.  She had to eat some of the sandwich and juice Other Miss Flores brought when she got here.  She was too hungry to say no, and she doesn’t know what the rules are anymore. Maybe this place has no rules.

 

She also met someone new when she got here, a doctor with a funny name that Lily can’t remember right now.  He had a lot of questions and things for her to do, and some of them were kind of boring, but at least he was someone to talk to.  Her new room seems to get smaller the longer she is in here by herself.

 

She pulls her knees in to her chest and wraps her arms around them.  Maybe someone will come soon. Lily doesn’t even care if it’s a stranger this time, as long as it’s someone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Anderson is involved in this whole thing.  Anderson took Lily to get revenge on Sebastian for ending his law enforcement career.

 

Even when he says it to himself it doesn’t make sense.  Anderson probably doesn’t care much for him at the moment, but kidnapping is such a disproportionate reaction to what happened between them that Sebastian can’t figure out how one would lead to the other.

 

But why would Anderson’s termination letter have been left here if he wasn’t involved?  No, wait a minute, why would Anderson’s termination letter have been left here if he was involved?  Did he want to lead them straight to him?  Or did someone else? And is Anderson the kind of criminal mastermind that could even pull off a scene as complicated as this?  And what does this mean about Myra or Juanita’s potential involvement?

 

There are too many thoughts crashing around inside Sebastian’s brain, and he might as well be in a room full of people who are all shouting different things for how well he can focus on any one piece of information.  The volume and intensity of the voices rise until he can practically feel himself shaking with frustration, unable to process what is happening.

 

Then one voice cuts through all of the others, and it is a calm, collected voice, a familiar voice.  “Sebastian,” Stefano says, his words like a soothing balm on Sebastian’s tortured brain, “this won’t do at all.”

 

Stefano’s hands are on his shoulders, guiding him back down to the couch, and Stefano’s voice is in his ear again.  “Listen to me, Sebastian. Listen only to me.”

 

Just like that, the other voices go silent, and Sebastian finds himself staring at Stefano, who is standing in front of him with his hands braced on Sebastian’s shoulders.  Sebastian takes a few deep breaths. He can focus now, or at least, he can focus on Stefano who is occupying most of his field of vision.

 

“Fuck,” groans Sebastian, bringing his hands up to rub at his eyes.  “There’s just too much… I can’t…”. He lets his hands fall back to his lap as he looks at Stefano helplessly.

 

“You do not have to,” Stefano says simply.  “Not by yourself at least. That is why I am here.”  His hands come up to rest on either side of Sebastian’s head, rubbing small circles at his temples as he continues, “Let me help you, Sebastian.  Let me organize your thoughts.”

 

Stefano’s voice drifts pleasantly into his ears, and his head lolls forward until Stefano is supporting it with his hands.  Maybe this is too much for one person to deal with. Maybe he does need help. He nods ever so slightly, and Stefano speaks again.

 

“Very good, Sebastian,” he purrs, as his fingers continue to massage Sebastian’s head.  “Now, you might think that our next question is whether this...disgruntled former officer kidnapped your daughter, but I do not believe it matters whether he did or not.”

 

“What?”  This catches Sebastian by surprise, but he doesn’t look up, just continues to rest his head in Stefano’s hands as he asks, “How could it not matter?”

 

“Because,” Stefano replies, “the placement of this letter, like everything else about this case, is deliberate.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”  Sebastian heaves a sigh of frustration.  “But I still don’t follow you.”

 

“We are following the breadcrumbs they leave for us,” Stefano explains.  His fingers are carding through Sebastian’s hair now, and Sebastian should be objecting, but he doesn’t have the strength.  “We followed them to the car and to this house and to this letter. If this Anderson person took Lily, then this is the next clue he has left us to investigate.  And if someone else took her-“

 

“Anderson is still our next lead,” Sebastian cuts in, because he has finally caught on to what Stefano is saying.  He doesn’t particularly like it. It makes him feel used, manipulated, like a pawn in someone else’s game, but Stefano is right.  They’ve been handed Anderson as their next lead, and the only thing they can do now is to follow up on it. He raises his head to look at Stefano.

 

“Do you think he did this?”  He knows it technically doesn’t matter, but Stefano’s insight has been very valuable in the past.

 

“No,” Stefano replies gently, bringing his hands back to his sides.  “But I do believe that he is a convenient suspect. He has knowledge of how law enforcement works and a reason to be angry at you.”  He pauses for a moment. “Has he ever been in your home?”

 

Sebastian has to think on that one for a moment.  “Once,” he says. “For a Christmas party, I think?  We had all the detectives from both our units there.”

 

Stefano nods and takes a step back from Sebastian.  “So in theory, he could have known what Lily’s room looks like?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Sebastian says, though he can hear the doubt in his own voice.  It doesn’t seem like a single visit to the house would be enough to allow someone to recreate Lily’s room as faithfully as they’ve done here.

 

“As I said, a convenient suspect, but I have my doubts he is actually involved,” Stefano says.  “And if he is, I have my doubts that he is acting alone. Does he still live at the address on the letter?”

 

“As far as I know,” Sebastian replies.

 

“Then that is our next stop.”

 

“Agreed,” Sebastian says.  “Are you going to be okay?”  He gestures to Stefano’s leg.

 

“Now, Sebastian,” Stefano scolds.  “What did I tell you about worrying about me?”

 

Sebastian is about to tell Stefano that he’ll worry about whatever and whoever he wants, but Stefano has already turned and is heading for the door.  Sebastian picks up the letter, which is on the floor by his feet, and follows him.





The drive to Anderson’s address is quiet, but the atmosphere in the car feels tense.  Sebastian doesn’t know what he is supposed to think at this point, but he hates the feeling of being manipulated, of being led down a path that may or may not lead to Lily.  Whoever set this up is almost as good as Stefano at getting inside his head, and that’s not a comforting thought at all.

 

They pull up in front of the house, which looks like any other house on any other street in the suburbs of Krimson City, and it’s hard to believe that anything nefarious could be going on here.  The house is tidy, and the yard is well-maintained, but there is no car in the driveway. Sebastian shuts off the engine and makes no comment when Stefano gets out of the car along with him. At this point, he’s not in a position to refuse help or to question why Stefano is doing this.

 

He knocks on the door and rings the bell.  Then, against his better instincts, he turns the door knob.  It’s a bit of a surprise when the door opens, and Sebastian freezes with the door open just a few inches.  He’s not acting as a law enforcement officer at the moment, which means he’s breaking and entering, and his instincts are telling him to stop.  This is madness, surely, to compromise his career and his morals based on such flimsy information. But this is for Lily, and this is the only way to get closer to Lily, and he can’t let his sensibilities hold him back.  He pushes the door the rest of the way open.

 

“Well done,” Stefano says from behind him, and Sebastian is about to comment that it’s a little stupid to praise him for something as simple as opening a door, when a noise sounds from somewhere in the house- a phone ringing.

 

Sebastian freezes and listens, but the phone is the only sound.  After a few seconds with no footsteps or other movement inside the house, he glances over his shoulder at Stefano, who shrugs.

 

By all appearances, no one is home, or at least, no one is willing to acknowledge that they’re home by answering the phone, so Sebastian cautiously crosses the threshold.  He scans the living room, but it seems to be in perfect order. The phone is still ringing, and Sebastian keeps waiting for the call to end or the voicemail to pick up, but it continues to ring as he crosses the living room and moves through the dining room into the kitchen.

 

He spots the cell phone on the counter.  It’s still ringing, and he takes a quick glance at it, just to see if there is any information that might tell him whether it’s Anderson’s phone.  The name on the caller ID stops him in his tracks- Myra Castellanos .

 

Before he even knows what he is doing, the phone is in his hand, and he is swiping his thumb across the screen to answer it.

 

“Sebastian,” Stefano warns from behind him, but the phone is already at his ear.

 

“Myra?”  His own voice sounds strange to him, harsh in the otherwise silent house.

 

“Sebastian?”  It’s Myra’s voice.  He’s sure of it.

 

“Myra!”

 

“Come home, Sebastian.  You have to...come home.”  Myra’s voice is shaking, and she sounds overcome with emotion in a way that Sebastian has rarely heard her.

 

“Myra, what-?”

 

The phone beeps, signalling the end of the call, and Sebastian takes it away from his ear, holds it in front of him so that he can see the screen.  His first thought is to call Myra back and ask her what the hell is going on, but this isn’t his phone, and of course when he tries to use his code to unlock it, it fails.

 

“Shit,” he growls, slamming the phone back down on the counter.

 

“Was that actually Myra?” Stefano asks.

 

“Yes, of course it was!” snaps Sebastian.  “She said to come home, but after everything that’s happened, I have no idea whether I can trust her or not.”

 

“She called you on a phone that is not yours in a house that is not yours, and somehow she seemed to know that you would be here at this very moment,” Stefano offers.  “I think you have every reason to be suspicious.”

 

Sebastian considers just for a moment that there is a fine line between suspicion and paranoia.  Then he considers who else knew he would be at this house at this time. He turns to Stefano.

 

“You don’t have a phone, do you?”

 

“What?”  Stefano seems genuinely taken aback.  “No, how would I have obtained one?”

 

“I don’t know,” Sebastian replies, “but like you said, I have reason to be suspicious, and you’re the only one who knows where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing for the past twenty-four hours.”

 

Stefano raises his hands in a pacifying gesture.  “You are welcome to search me,” he says, “but you will not find anything.”

 

“Fine,” Sebastian says.  “Turn around.”

 

Clearly Stefano didn’t expect Sebastian to take him up on his offer, because there is a brief moment where he looks surprised.  Then a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth and he turns around. He places his hands on the counter without being asked, and Sebastian is forcibly reminded that Stefano is well-versed in how law enforcement operates.

 

Sebastian conducts his standard pat down, but pauses when he reaches Stefano’s right front pocket, because there is something hard in there.

 

“Stefano.”  There is a note of warning in his voice.

 

Stefano’s voice is infuriatingly calm.  “I suppose I may have exaggerated a bit when I said that you would not find anything , though I did not lie to you about not having a phone.”

 

“Is this going to hurt me if I try to retrieve it?”

 

“No,” Stefano replies.

 

Sebastian slips his hand into Stefano’s pocket, and as soon as his fingers touch the object, he recognizes it.  He draws his hand out and holds up the folded pocket knife. “You’ve had this the whole time?”

 

“Yes,” Stefano says.  “You were so busy playing the hero back at Beacon that you never looked for it.  I put it in my pocket when you were talking to Brandon.”

 

“Does this have anything to do with how you got out of the handcuffs this morning?”

 

“Perhaps.”  There is a hint of smugness in the reply that rubs Sebastian the wrong way, but he ignores it in favor of completing the task at hand.  He tucks the knife back into his own pocket and finishes the patdown, finding nothing else.

 

“Satisfied?” Stefano asks after Sebastian has removed his hands from him and stepped back.

 

“No,” Sebastian says, because he is not at all satisfied that Stefano isn’t caught up in this whole thing.  Clearly he lies when it suits him and does it smoothly enough that it’s difficult for Sebastian to detect, and that’s disturbing for so many reasons.  “But we don’t have time for this right now. I need to get home.”

 

“You are going to do as she says?  After everything we have learned?”

 

“It’s like you said,” Sebastian replies.  “We’re following their trail. This is just the next breadcrumb.  Besides, there’s still a chance she’s not involved and she has information about Lily.”

 

“Should we at least finish checking this house?” Stefano asks.

 

Sebastian considers.  He is almost certain that the reason they were led here was to receive this phone call.  Myra probably would have just called him on one of his phones if he hadn’t turned them off.  On the other hand, it seems foolish to leave without taking a quick look around. They’ve already committed a felony to get in here, after all.

 

“Take the first floor,” Sebastian directs.  “Check anywhere that’s large enough to hide a person- even a child- and meet me back at the front door when you’re done.”

 

He doesn’t stop to see whether Stefano is following his orders.  He heads for the stairs and conducts his own sweep of the second floor.  The three bedrooms and two bathrooms up there are unoccupied, and nothing seems out of place.  About two minutes later he is joining Stefano at the front door.

 

“Nothing?”

 

“Nothing,” Stefano confirms.

 

“Alright then,” Sebastian says.  “Let’s go home.”

 

The word feels strange in his mouth.  Stefano nods and follows him out the door.





The first thing Sebastian notices when they pull up outside his house is that Myra’s car isn’t here.  It should set off alarm bells, but after everything that’s happened yesterday and today, he isn’t going to let something like that stop him.  He knows it was Myra’s voice on the phone, and Myra told him to come home.

 

He’s still not sure whether he can trust Myra or not, whether Myra is somehow involved in Lily’s disappearance, but the evidence is mounting that she is.  Sebastian’s stomach is twisting even as he gets out of the car. Myra has been going behind his back. Myra has her own agenda, and the next time they meet, they might not be partners anymore.

 

He also briefly considers whether it was a good idea to bring Stefano home with him.  What is Myra going to say when he walks through the front door with Stefano right behind him.  Any chance of explaining all of this away by saying that he was kidnapped, that he was held against his will, is going to go out the window, but this doesn’t seem like the time to worry about that.  Besides, if he’s lost Myra as an ally, he’s going to need someone to watch his back, even if that someone is Stefano.

 

It feels strange to turn his key in the door- like he hasn’t done it in years.  He pushes the door open and casts about with his eyes before he enters. Everything in the front hallway and the living room is just as it always is, and that somehow feels wrong, like so much has changed in the world that he can’t possibly be coming home.

 

“Myra?” he calls as he steps over the threshold.  Stefano is right behind him, but that suddenly doesn’t seem very important.  What is important is finding Myra and asking her what the hell is so urgent that he needed to rush home, what she’s been doing for the last twenty-four hours, what she’s been keeping from him.

 

The house is silent, and he continues through the living room and into the kitchen.  He calls out for Myra again, and the silence seems even thicker here somehow, like a physical presence.  His heart sinks because he’s sure now that there is no one else in the house. There is a certain kind of stillness here, in this house that used to feel so alive.  Of course, it hasn’t felt that way since Lily disappeared.

 

He heaves a sigh, disappointment flooding through him.  Myra isn’t here. Still, there has to be something to be learned- the next clue, the next lead- and he knows where he has to go.  He’s already been in that room once today, in the basement of the abandoned house, and his feet carry him there again.

 

He takes the steps one at a time.  At first he’s surprised to hear Stefano on the stairs behind him.  He had almost forgotten that Stefano was here, but it doesn’t matter right now, because he can only concentrate on his own footsteps, his own breathing.  When he reaches the upstairs landing , he pauses, takes a deep breath, and continues on to her room.

 

Everything around him is still and quiet, even though his heart is pounding in his ears as he places his hand on the doorknob.  He turns it and pushes the door open. Then he isn’t breathing and his heart isn’t beating, and there is a rush of air all around him, a surge of adrenaline in his brain.

 

Everything is happening very quickly but also in slow motion.  Darkness is encroaching on the corners of his vision, but he can see a body- a child’s body- on the bed.  He has about one second to recognize Lily’s pajamas, to start to process what this means, to see Anderson’s body on the floor, before the room bursts into flames.

 

Even then, his first instinct is to dash forward, and he would except that Stefano’s hands are on his shoulders, jerking him backward into the hall.

 

“Sebastian.”  Stefano’s voice is firm, but Sebastian struggles against him, fights to get into the room, because Lily is in there, and Sebastian has to get to her, has to see her one more time, has to hold her one more time, even if she’s…

 

“Sebastian.”  Stefano’s voice is louder this time, commanding, and Stefano is wrapping his arms around his chest, pulling him back, his hold much stronger than Sebastian would expect, especially with his injury.

 

He throws an elbow backward into Stefano’s chest, and Stefano grunts and loosens his hold for just a second.  Sebastian starts forward again, but Stefano catches him by the arm. “Sebastian!” he shouts. “We have to go!”

 

“No!”  Sebastian tries to twist out of his grasp, but the word ends in a cough as smoke starts to invade his lungs.  It’s then that he realizes that it isn’t just Lily’s room that’s on fire. The whole house is burning around him.  There is a wall of flame in front of him, and smoke is billowing up the stairs, and the only point he has to anchor himself is Stefano’s grip on his arm.  He staggers, turns back, and fumbles for Stefano, who takes him by the arms and leads him forward into the smoke.

 

He is not entirely sure how he finds himself back on his front porch, but the house is burning behind him, and there is a revolver on the porch in front of him.  He bends and picks it up, heedless of whether it might be evidence. They’re way beyond that now.

 

He knows what he will find even before he pops the cylinder out- two spent casings and one live round.  It’s a six-shot, like the one he favors, but it’s not just the weight of the gun in his hands, because the weight of those words is also bearing down on him.  Three rounds.  One for her. One for me.  One for you.

 

He laughs bitterly.  It made some kind of sense the first time he read it.  He had a vague idea of where this was going even then, but his hands are shaking, because he is now certain that each of the bodies upstairs has a bullet in their head, and the last one has his name on it.

 

Never in his life has he considered suicide, but after what he saw upstairs, he doesn’t even think of this as suicide.  It is simply the only course of action available to him. He can’t do anything else if Lily is gone. He can’t go to her funeral.  He can’t go to work tomorrow. He can’t face Myra. He can’t even take one step off of this front porch. He can’t.

 

He pops the cylinder back into place and raises the gun to his head.  His finger twitches on the trigger.

 

“Sebastian…”  Stefano’s voice is soft this time, but it pulls him out of his own head, if only for a second.

 

He doesn’t even look at the other man.  “I can’t…” he says, more to himself than to Stefano.

 

“I know,” Stefano says.  “Let me help you.”

 

Then Stefano’s hand is on his, and Sebastian thinks for one wild, exhilarating moment that Stefano is going to pull the trigger for him, but then the gun is being pulled away from his head, and the gun is out of his hand, and Stefano’s arm is wrapped around his waist, propelling him forward.  His feet are on the ground again before he realizes he’s moving.





Stefano doesn’t try to make conversation as he drives back to the motel.  In the passenger’s seat, Sebastian is staring straight ahead, hands resting on his knees.  The gun is in the trunk, even though Stefano doesn’t actually believe that Sebastian would follow through on shooting himself.

 

It’s not the intensity of Sebastian’s sorrow that he doubts, but his motivation to act on it.  What he sees when he looks at Sebastian now is a blank canvas, an uncut piece of marble. He is empty, he is broken, and all of this suits Stefano perfectly.  He has been chipping away at Sebastian for the past few days, placing ideas in his head, making subtle adjustments, but it hasn’t been easy. Sebastian has a strong sense of who he is, and shaping his identity into something new has proven to be a terribly slow process.

 

He isn’t sure whether Sebastian paid for more than one night at the motel, but the room key, which he finds in Sebastian’s pocket, still works, and he manages to half-lead half-drag Sebastian into the room and sit him down on one of the beds.  Still, he doesn’t speak, and his eyes are unfocused, and he doesn’t move once Stefano guides him down onto the mattress.

 

Stefano frowns.  There is more than one way to skin a cat, but in this case he is worried that they’ve blown this cat up with dynamite.  He knows that a shock to the system is a critical part of re-programming. He has heard Jimenez and Victoriano talk about it more times than he can count, but in this particular case he is starting to wonder if they might have gone a bit overboard.  If he is going to reshape Sebastian, there has to be some of Sebastian left.

 

Sebastian has captivated him even when the rest of his world was intolerably dull.  Sebastian has matched wits with him at every turn. Sebastian is more than the empty husk of a man sitting on the bed in front of him, but now that he is stripped down to his very bones, Stefano finally has something to work with.  There is a fluttering sensation in his stomach, and his fingers are tingling with anticipation. It is finally time to create again, and he is more than ready.  He has been waiting for this moment for two years.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sebastian wakes up even though he doesn’t remember falling asleep.  There is a sort of emptiness gnawing at his chest, eating away at him from the inside, but he can’t tie it to anything.  He feels as though he just woke up from a particularly awful nightmare, one that he can’t quite remember but that affected him deeply.

 

He wants to turn over, to shake off the feeling and go on with whatever it is that he’s supposed to be doing today, but he is drained, completely exhausted, and his muscles won’t respond.  He grimaces. There is an acrid smell in his nostrils. Fire...there was a fire. He remembers the searing heat, the smoke so thick he couldn’t see through it, remembers reaching for someone…

 

“Stefano…”. His mouth is so dry that the word is barely audible.  It slips past his cracked lips and disappears into the silence of the room.  He is alone. He is alone here, and that thought is somehow more frightening than anything.  He can’t be alone now.

 

“Stefano…”. He forces the word out again, a little louder this time.  He isn’t even sure exactly who Stefano is or why he is so important, but he needs him to be here right now.

 

The bed dips next to him.

 

“Yes, Sebastian.”  The familiar voice laps at his ear.  “I am here.”

 

There is a hand on his back.  He doesn’t stop to worry about why his shirt is off and why Stefano is touching him.  What matters right now is that he is not alone, and if he can maintain this contact, he’ll know that Stefano is still here.  Stefano’s hand makes slow circles and some of the fear begins to subside.

 

Sebastian’s eyelids are heavy, but he fights to open them.  It doesn’t help much, because the room is quite dark. A single, dim lamp is on the table, but there is no other light source, and the shadows are deep.

 

Now that he has managed the one small movement of opening his eyes...now that he is sure he can move, that his body will still respond to his commands, he tries to bring his hands to the mattress, to push off of it so that he can sit up, but his hands actually won’t move, and he can feel the metal edge of handcuffs digging into his wrists.

 

“What the-?” he gasps, jerking his hands away from the headboard, but the cuffs hold fast.

 

“Sebastian.”  There is a note of warning in Stefano’s voice, but Sebastian ignores it.  The panic is rising up in him again, and he contracts all of his muscles at once, struggles against the restraints, struggles against Stefano.

 

It’s not a particularly impressive effort, because he is still so weak, so uncoordinated, that he can’t make any progress in any direction.  They cuffs are digging into his wrists, and Stefano’s hand is firm on his back, and after a few seconds of fighting he is exhausted and still in exactly the same position as he was before.

 

“There now, Sebastian,” Stefano murmurs.  He adjusts the angle of Sebastian’s arms, props them up on the pillow so that the metal edges aren’t digging into his skin any more.  “Isn’t that better? There’s no need to struggle. You will only hurt yourself if you do.”

 

“Uncuff me,” Sebastian says with as much force as he can muster.  Admittedly it’s not very much.

 

“No,” Stefano replies simply.  His hand has moved from Sebastian’s back up to the base of his skull, and Sebastian has to fight not to press against that hand as it works its way under his hair, scratches at his scalp.  “This is for your own good.”

 

Sebastian has no idea what that is supposed to mean, but Stefano’s hand in his hair feels so nice that it doesn’t matter.

 

“Besides,” Stefano continues.  “The restraints are only temporary.  Soon we won’t need them at all.”

 

Sebastian has no idea what that is supposed to mean either, but Stefano’s hand is doing magic things to his head and he relaxes into it and lets his consciousness slip.





When Sebastian wakes up again, it is to the rumbling of his own stomach.  His shoulders ache, and he tries to stretch out his arms only to be brought up short by the handcuffs that are still connecting him to the headboard.  He heaves a sigh, rolls onto his side, and tugs against them a little bit for good measure, but he definitely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

 

The bed dips behind him and Stefano’s hands are on his bare shoulders.  He doesn’t remember getting out of his clothes, but then again he doesn’t remember much of anything.  Stefano’s fingers are moving, exploring, pressing into sore muscles hard enough that it hurts.

 

“Stop it,” Sebastian forces out through gritted teeth.

 

Stefano’s fingers keep moving, rubbing, squeezing.  “Is that really what you want, Sebastian?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian answers, because this is wrong.  Stefano shouldn’t be allowed to manipulate him like this, to take liberties with his body like this.

 

Stefano’s fingers don’t let up.  “Is that really what you need ...Sebastian?”  The way Stefano speaks his name is almost a hiss, and Sebastian shivers at the sound, at the way Stefano’s fingers are probing deeper, coaxing his muscles to submit.

 

Sebastian ponders that question for a moment.  He does need something. The emptiness is spreading inside him, and he can’t remember what he is supposed to be doing, what motivates him, what his purpose is in this world.  He is adrift, and if not for Stefano and his handcuffs, he might float away entirely.

 

He doesn’t know what he needs.  He says nothing.

 

“Very good,” Stefano purrs, and Sebastian shouldn’t feel a rush of warmth in his body at the praise, at the sound of that voice, shouldn’t lean back into those hands that are so deftly working his muscles, but he does anyway.  He doesn’t want to think. He doesn’t have to think.

 

It could be minutes or hours that Stefano keeps massaging him- Sebastian can’t be sure- but he does know that his shoulders are feeling nice and loose and warm when Stefano speaks again.

 

“You have been carrying this tension for a long time.”  His hands are moving lower, down the muscles of Sebastian’s back.

 

“Mmmm,” Sebastian hums noncommittally.  He has a vague idea of what Stefano is talking about.  He does remember a time before this bed and Stefano, or rather, he has impressions of a time before this- fear, rage, and stress like a physical force bearing down on him, crushing the breath out of him.  He doesn’t want to dwell on that too much though. He doesn’t want to return to that time.

 

“Why?” Stefano asks.

 

Sebastian doesn’t answer, because the answer to that question is behind a door he can see in his mind, a door he doesn’t want to open.  He presses his face into the pillow.

 

There is a brief, stinging pain on his back and the sound of flesh on flesh, and he jerks his head up, because Stefano just slapped him.

 

“What the hell?” he snaps, but Stefano is already rubbing the afflicted area, soothing it with gentler strokes of his fingers.  The strike wasn’t particularly hard, but it was startling, and he twists to look over his shoulder at Stefano, who firmly pushes his head down to pillow and goes back to massaging him.

 

“I expect an answer, Sebastian, per the terms of our agreement.”  Sebastian doesn’t remember having any kind of agreement with Stefano, but Stefano’s hands are soft again, and Stefano doesn’t sound angry, and for some reason that makes Sebastian breathe a sigh of relief.

 

“Why so much tension?” Stefano prompts, and Sebastian quickly casts about in his mind for an answer.  It’s not that he doesn’t want to be hit again. He just wants to hear that note of praise in Stefano’s voice.

 

He is still not ready to throw the door wide, but he can ease it open a crack, can get the information that Stefano wants without having to cross that threshold.  “Responsibilities,” he says finally. He’s sure that it’s true even though he can’t remember exactly what they are at the moment. “People depend on me.”

 

“Of course they do,” Stefano replies.  “You are a very important man.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t feel important right now, but Stefano probably knows better than he does, and more importantly, Stefano’s fingers are pressing into his lower back, kneading the muscles there in a way that makes Sebastian breathe a sigh of pleasure.

 

“Who depends on you?” Stefano asks after another minute or so of silence.

 

Sebastian eases the door open a little more, peeks inside to find the answer he’s looking for.  “Lots of people,” he answers. “I’m a police officer. I protect people.”

 

“Indeed,” Stefano says.  Sebastian can hear the smile in his voice.





“Sebastian.”

 

Sebastian’s eyes drift open.  He doesn’t remember closing them, though he does remember Stefano’s voice, Stefano’s hands.  Stefano is standing in front of him now.

 

“Are you hungry?”

 

There is a fog in his brain, and he has to repeat the question to himself a few times before it makes sense.  His stomach growls, and maybe that is answer enough.

 

Stefano smiles indulgently.  “You should eat something,” he says, “but first let’s try some water.  I am afraid you have become a bit dehydrated.”

 

Now that Stefano mentions it, Sebastian’s mouth is terribly dry, and his gaze falls on the water bottle Stefano has just retrieved from the bedside table.

 

“Sit up,” Stefano urges.

 

It takes a tremendous effort, both to move in the first place when his body feels as weak and heavy as it does right now and to contort himself into a sitting position while still handcuffed to the headboard, but he manages.  Stefano takes a seat on the bed beside him and uncaps the bottle of water, then pauses.

 

Sebastian clears his throat.  “Aren’t you going to uncuff me?” he asks, because of course he won’t be able to hold the bottle to his mouth with his hands restrained the way they are.

 

“I can’t do that, Sebastian,” Stefano says, a look of genuine regret flashing across his face before the corners of his mouth turn up into a slight smile.  “But I will help you.”

 

He starts to move the bottle toward Sebastian.

 

“You can’t be serious,” Sebastian says, because even though this room and Stefano are his entire world right now, this seems a little ridiculous.  He is perfectly capable of drinking water by himself if Stefano would just uncuff him.

 

“I assure you that I am,” Stefano replies.  He raises the bottle to Sebastian’s lips, and Sebastian briefly considers resisting, but his lips are so dry and his throat is so parched, and as soon as the water touches his tongue everything goes out of his head except the relief of a cool drink.

 

Stefano is lowering the bottle much too soon though, and Sebastian does protest that.  “I need more,” he says.

 

Stefano smiles and brings the bottle back to Sebastian’s lips.  He drinks deeply, getting his fill this time before Stefano lowers it again.  He finishes the bottle like that, waiting patiently each time for Stefano to offer it to him, and by the time it is empty, he has earned a smile from Stefano that brings back the warm, pleasurable feeling from earlier.

 

He feels more alert now, and his senses are sharp enough to detect the smell of food.  Clearly Stefano has been out of the room at some point, because there is a take-out bag on the table.  Sebastian feels momentarily abandoned, hurt that Stefano would leave him alone like this, tied up and vulnerable, but that feeling is quickly overpowered by hunger as Stefano approaches the table and opens the bag.

 

“I thought soup would be easier on your stomach,” Stefano says, taking the lid off a styrofoam container.  Sebastian doesn’t know what has happened to his stomach recently that would require special treatment, but now that food is so close at hand, he is ready to eat literally anything.

 

He is so hungry that he doesn’t even balk when Stefano makes it clear that he intends to spoon feed him.  He does raise an eyebrow, but Stefano gives him a stern look, and he submits and opens his mouth so that Stefano can spoon soup into it.  He can’t even identify what kind of soup this is- cream-of-something, maybe- and it doesn’t matter, because it tastes better than anything he has ever eaten, and soon he is taking it eagerly from Stefano, savoring each spoonful, until it’s gone and Stefano tells him that he can’t have any more right now.  Sebastian wants to argue with him, but Stefano is probably right.

 

He lies down and falls asleep again shortly afterward, feeling warm and sated and inexplicably pleased at the way Stefano is seated on the bed beside him ruffling his hair.





So it goes for days- or weeks?  Sebastian can’t be sure. Stefano feeds and waters him with great care and escorts him to the restroom regularly.  Even though Sebastian would rather be freed from the handcuffs, it doesn’t occur to him to resist Stefano during these brief times when he is uncuffed.  Stefano gives him simple, clear directions and praises him when he complies. These interactions are the only thing that makes sense to him right now, and he is terrified to lose them.

 

Stefano does lay hands on him often, stroking or massaging his body in a way that Sebastian has come to look forward to.  He asks questions during these sessions, and sometimes the questions make Sebastian squirm in discomfort or embarrassment or recoil from some unknown aversive stimulus, but Sebastian does his best to answer because he doesn’t want to disappoint Stefano.

 

The questions are sometimes difficult to answer, but they are carefully crafted.  Each one requires him to push a little more, to reach a little further through the crack in the door that he is still trying to hold closed.  But Stefano is careful with him, very careful, and each question eases the door open a little more without throwing it open, the same way Stefano’s fingers work their way deeper and deeper into his muscles without tearing him, without breaking him.

 

Stefano doesn’t strike him again.  He has no reason to, as Sebastian answers every one of his questions to the best of his ability.  He is sometimes afraid that Stefano will be displeased when he can’t remember something or struggles with an answer, but Stefano only pets him and reassures him and tells him that he is doing very well, that more of his memories will come back in time.

 

Sometimes Stefano talks about art and beauty, about things that he has witnessed or created.  He describes them so vividly that Sebastian can almost see them, despite the fact that he doesn’t recall ever having a particular interest in art before.  All the while he is talking, Stefano is drawing his own patterns, elaborate tapestries on Sebastian’s skin. Sometimes his touch is light, raising goosebumps in its wake, and sometimes it is firm, so that Sebastian relaxes into it, but Sebastian wants to feel more, needs to feel more.  Once or twice, he almost finds himself asking Stefano for more, for something he doesn’t fully understand, but the words refuse to pass his lips.

 

At some point, it dawns on Sebastian that he probably doesn’t smell very good.  After all, he’s been in this bed for some unknown amount of time without bathing, and his skin is beginning to feel grimy.  He is contemplating this feeling when Stefano asks, “What is wrong, Sebastian?”

 

Sebastian hesitates, because Stefano has been very kind to him, and he doesn’t mean to suggest that Stefano’s care has been lacking in any way, but Stefano inclines his head toward Sebastian and waits politely until Sebastian answers.

 

“I think I need a shower,” he says, hoping that Stefano will understand.

 

“Ah yes, of course,” Stefano says with a smile, and Sebastian feels a wave of relief wash over him.  He expects Stefano to come to him, to unlock the cuffs so that he can escort him to the bathroom, but instead Stefano disappears into the bathroom himself.  Sebastian hears the water running, then Stefano returns to his bedside with a motel ice bucket full of warm, soapy water and a washcloth.

 

Sebastian had thought he was beyond protesting anything Stefano proposes to do with him, but a sponge bath is a little more...intimate than he was expecting.  “I can do this myself,” he says quietly as Stefano sets the bucket down on the bedside table.

 

“Can you?” Stefano asks, raising an eyebrow.  “Go ahead then.” He sets the washcloth next to the ice bucket and turns to walk away, leaving Sebastian to wallow in the feeling of helplessness that comes from not being able to reach anything on the table, cuffed as he is.

 

“Stefano,” he says.

 

“Yes?” Stefano stops with his back to Sebastian, then slowly turns around.  He is clearly expecting Sebastian to say something. Sebastian can feel his cheeks burning hot with shame and frustration at his own vulnerability.

 

Stefano takes pity on him.  “Would you like some help?”

 

Sebastian nods, dropping his eyes down to the bed, because he can’t quite bring himself to look at Stefano.  He may not know who he is, what matters to him, but even he can tell that he is diminished right now, pathetic.  He’s probably lucky that Stefano is still willing to help him. He can’t imagine who else would stand by him when he’s in this state.

 

Stefano’s hand sweeps under his chin, lifts his head so that he has to meet Stefano’s eye.  “It’s alright, Sebastian,” he says. “You do not have to do everything yourself.”

 

Stefano’s voice, Stefano’s hand on his face, the words Stefano speaks are familiar, and Sebastian feels a little less lost.  Stefano helps him prop himself up on a couple of pillows and then dips the washcloth into the water. He wrings it out, then turns his attention to Sebastian’s face.

 

“Close your eyes,” he instructs.  Sebastian doesn’t even think about disobeying.

 

Stefano washes his face and neck.  Sebastian struggles not to lean into his touch, then realizes that he doesn’t know why he’s fighting it.  It seems silly to deny himself the only thing that brings him any comfort. On the next stroke of the washcloth, he lets himself press into Stefano’s hand.  Stefano chuckles and scratches Sebastian’s head with his other hand, and it’s a little condescending, but it feels so nice that Sebastian doesn’t complain.

 

Stefano washes his arms and his back before turning his attention to Sebastian’s chest and belly.  His strokes are gentle, and the warm water is soothing, and as his hands move lower Sebastian starts to become a little more conscious of the fact that he is only wearing his boxers.  Stefano’s touch is light enough to be exciting, sends little tingles of sensation along his skin and makes the heat pool in his groin, and it is starting to have a certain...effect on his body.

 

He shifts uncomfortably, trying to hide his state of arousal by crossing one leg over the other, but of course Stefano notices.  “I’m sorry,” Sebastian says quickly. “I’m not sure why-”

 

“Nonsense.”  Stefano cuts him off, lifting the washcloth from the area just above Sebastian’s waistband.  “It is a perfectly natural reaction. There is no need to be embarrassed.”

 

Sebastian can’t completely let go of his embarrassment, but it does make him feel a little better that Stefano isn’t disgusted by him.  He breathes a sigh of relief when Stefano directs his attention down to his feet, washing each of them before working his way back up Sebastian’s legs.

 

When he gets midway up his thighs, Sebastian is starting to feel a little self-conscious again, but Stefano doesn’t falter.  He matter-of-factly sets the washcloth aside and hooks his fingers into the waistband of Sebastian’s boxers. Sebastian’s cheeks are burning, but the idea of Stefano undressing him, the idea of Stefano touching him there is as exciting as it is uncomfortable.  He turns his face into his arm, hiding his eyes as Stefano peels his boxers off of his legs, leaving him completely exposed.

 

His erection hasn’t subsided much while Stefano has been washing his legs, but Stefano makes no comment, simply dips and wrings out the washcloth again, and then he is rubbing it between Sebastian’s legs with warm, wet strokes.  Sebastian can’t suppress a moan as Stefano makes a loose fist around his cock and strokes up and down.

 

“It’s alright,” Stefano soothes.  His grip tightens just for a moment, and Sebastian whimpers at the firmer stimulation, but then Stefano is releasing his cock and moving on to his balls.  The warm water feels good there as well, though it’s a less urgent feeling, and he can relax a little more as Stefano cleans them thoroughly.

 

Then Stefano’s hand is on his hip, and Sebastian lets Stefano guide him, turns onto his stomach and rests his face on the pillow between his arms.  He jumps a little when he feels Stefano’s hand spread his buttocks apart, feels the warm, wet pressure of the cloth moving down between them.

 

“Easy, Sebastian,” Stefano says, but there is no reprimand in his voice.  Sebastian is vaguely aware that no one has touched him here before, that maybe no one is supposed to touch him here, but Stefano’s voice lulls him, and his hands and the washcloth are warm against Sebastian’s skin, and even though the feeling is strange, there is nothing really unpleasant about the way Stefano is rubbing the cloth over his opening.

 

In fact, it’s actually starting to feel sort of nice and exciting, and even though Sebastian thinks that he’s probably clean already, he doesn’t feel the need to point this out to Stefano.  His cock is still aching, and he presses his hips down into the mattress, seeking some relief.

 

Stefano pauses in his ministrations.  “Oh, Sebastian,” he says, “you seem to be in quite a state.”  Sebastian can imagine the indulgent smile on Stefano’s face, but he keeps his own face hidden against the pillow.  “Would you like me to help you?” Stefano asks.

 

Sebastian is beyond embarrassment now, in a haze of lust and need, and Stefano’s voice wraps around him like a blanket.  “Yes.” His own voice is barely more than a whisper, but Stefano places a hand at the small of his back.

 

“Very well,” he says.  “Just give me a moment.”

 

Sebastian stays where he is, floats in this strange space Stefano has created for the two of them.  He hears a drawer open and a bottle being uncapped, and when Stefano touches him again, it is to rub over his opening with slick fingers.

 

Sebastian’s heart is beating faster now, and he presses his face into the pillow to stifle a whimper.  He had no idea this was such a sensitive area, but Stefano’s teasing fingers are setting off ripples of sensation up and down his spine, making him squirm as he tries to get some friction on his cock.

 

Stefano is exerting more pressure now, and everything is so slippery that almost before Sebastian realizes what is happening, one of his fingers is sliding into Sebastian’s body.  It takes Sebastian by surprise, and he tenses up, finds his voice.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Helping you,” Stefano replies.  “Or trying to, but you have to trust me.”  He pauses. “Do you trust me, Sebastian?”

 

“Yes.”  There is no other answer.  Stefano is his entire world at the moment, and he has trusted Stefano to feed him, to care for him, to handle every other part of his body.

 

“Good boy,” Stefano says, giving Sebastian’s hip a squeeze with his free hand.  “Now relax, and let me take care of everything.”

 

As strange as all of this is, Sebastian takes a deep breath and relaxes his body.  Stefano’s finger slips in a little farther, and it feels foreign, invasive, almost too intimate until Stefano speaks again and Sebastian is lost in his voice.

 

“It’s alright, Sebastian,” he murmurs as his finger advances.  His hand tightens on Sebastian’s hip to hold him steady. “It will feel better soon.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t doubt Stefano for a moment, and it seems that Stefano is going to make good on his promise, because in the next moment Stefano’s finger is brushing over a place that feels distinctly different.  It’s raw and sensitive, and he tries to pull away, but Stefano is holding him tightly.

 

“Sebastian.”  Stefano’s voice is firm and his finger is probing deeper.  “This is for your own good.” It must be, because Stefano seems to know what he needs.  He sure as hell doesn’t know what he needs anymore.

 

He drifts again, relaxes, lets Stefano explore the inside of his body.  He is aware of warmth and pleasure and tension building low in his belly, but more than that, he is aware of Stefano’s voice, of the praise and reassurance and encouragement that Stefano is giving him so liberally.

 

His climax takes him by surprise, tears the breath from his throat, and makes him jerk against the cuffs, but Stefano is still speaking, telling him how well he is doing, and his heart swells because he can’t think of anything that matters more right now than Stefano’s approval.





He rests his elbows on his desk, looking over the tops of his steepled fingers at Jimenez.  The doctor is clearly ill at ease, shifting in his seat. Beads of sweat stand out on his forehead.  He would rather not interact with Jimenez at all, but such interaction is unfortunately necessary to his current project.  Apparently Jimenez isn’t going to make this quick either, because he isn’t saying anything.

 

“What is it, Doctor?” he asks, not bothering to hide his irritation.  “What is so important that it couldn’t wait until our regularly scheduled meeting?”

 

“It’s...it’s Ruben,” Jimenez stammers.  “He is becoming more unstable every day.  I have reason to believe that he is going to compromise the project.”

 

“And I have reason to believe he has outlived his usefulness to us.”

 

Jimenez looks slightly horrified.  “Surely you don’t mean to-”

 

“What I mean to do is no concern of yours.  You will have the fruits of his research, and you will be able to continue your own.  Do not trouble yourself further about Mr. Victoriano.”

 

He isn’t worried about Ruben.  The young man may have been critical to the project at earlier stages, but they have taken what they need from him, and he is quickly becoming a liability, much like the girl’s father.

 

Sebastian, too, is of little concern to him in the grand scheme of things.  While Sebastian was under consideration for some time, the girl’s mother is a much better candidate for CORE maintenance- more practical, more stable, less reactive.

 

Sebastian is of no use to him anymore.  As far as he is concerned, Stefano can have him, and from the looks of it, Stefano already does.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Sebastian?”  Stefano’s voice slips into his ear.

 

“Hmmm?”  Sebastian turns his head, which is resting in Stefano’s lap, to look up at him.  Stefano’s face is serious, but the fingers of his left hand comb through Sebastian’s hair affectionately.

 

“I am afraid I must ask something of you, something rather difficult.  Do you think you will be able to do it for me?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian answer without hesitation.  The way Stefano phrases his request makes it sound as though it is something unusual, but in fact, Stefano asks him for things that are difficult every day, sometimes several times a day, and Sebastian is always eager to please.

 

He reaches deep into his mind to answer the questions Stefano poses, he relaxes his body to allow Stefano to penetrate him with his fingers, he holds perfectly still, breathing through the pain as Stefano carves patterns onto his skin with his knife.  There is nothing Stefano could ask of him that he would not willingly give.

 

He waits for Stefano’s next instruction, wonders if this is something he must do with his body or with his mind.  It hardly matters; Stefano owns both of them.

 

“I must ask you to remember some things, Sebastian.”  Stefano’s fingers continue to stroke his hair, and the effect of this combined with Stefano’s voice is almost hypnotic.  “Painful things, things you may not wish to remember, but that you must in order to do what must be done next. Do you understand?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian replies. He doesn’t understand what must be done next, and he doesn’t have to.  Stefano will take care of that. He understands only that he must do what Stefano asks. Stefano does everything for his own good after all.  Sometimes those things do hurt, both his body and his mind, but Stefano wouldn’t be doing them if they weren’t necessary.

 

Sebastian stretches his arms out in front of him, rolling his shoulders forward.  He hasn’t needed the handcuffs for days- he’s very proud of that- but his wrists and shoulders are still a little sore from being restrained for so long.

 

“Very good,” Stefano replies.  His fingers scratch at Sebastian’s scalp in a way that is comforting, familiar.  “Now, tell me about Lily.”

 

Sebastian thinks hard, cracks open the door in his mind to peek inside, but he comes up with nothing.  “I’m sorry,” he says. “I...I don’t know anyone named Lily.”

 

“Yes, you do.”  Stefano smooths his hair as he replies.  “You were looking for Lily in the fire. Do you remember, Sebastian?”

 

The word ‘fire’ triggers something in his brain.  He knows he is in the motel room with Stefano, but there is smoke creeping into the corners of his vision, thick black smoke that obscures the room and fills his nostrils.  He coughs, chokes, convulses as he hears Stefano’s voice.

 

“Where is Lily, Sebastian?”

 

Where is Lily?  He came here to find her.  He knows that now. He has to find her, but the smoke is so thick and he can feel the heat on his skin.  He knows he hasn’t left the bed, but somehow he staggers forward through the swirling smoke.

 

There is a door in front of him, one that he recognizes- the door to Lily’s room.  He reaches out and grasps the knob, hesitating for a second, because his heart is pounding, and he has to open this door even though his mind is screaming at him to leave it be.  He doesn’t want to know what is behind it, but he has no choice. The smoke will overcome him if he stays here.

 

He turns the knob and pushes the door open, and the flames rush out all at once, surround him, consume him.  The pain is overwhelming, but it’s not the pain of being burned. It’s a pain that starts deep inside him, in the center of his chest, and radiates outward, lighting up every one of his nerve endings as it goes.

 

His eyes are closed.  His eyes are filled with smoke, but he can still see the room in his mind’s eye.  He can see the bed with the small figure on it, can see the print of Lily’s favorite pajamas, can see Lily’s brown hair tucked behind her ear.  He can’t see her face. He couldn’t bear to see her face.

 

All of the air is gone from the room.  His lungs are collapsing. His chest is going to split open or cave in on itself, or maybe he is bleeding on the inside, because he hurts .  He gasps for air, curls in on himself, because he’s on the ground, on the bed, and Stefano’s voice is in his ear again.

 

“Where is Lily, Sebastian?”

 

“Dead,” he chokes out before the pain overwhelms him and he knows nothing.





When he wakes up, the tears are already in his eyes, on his face, running down his throat, choking him.  He’s being ripped apart from the inside, bleeding out, because Lily is gone. She’s really gone. As much as he’s tried to prepare himself for this, to be realistic, to accept the likely outcome of this whole situation, there was no way to prepare for this.

 

He is lost.  All hope is gone.  There is a hand on his back, a voice in his ear, but he is beyond hearing anything but his own sobs, beyond feeling anything but the searing pain in his chest.

 

He stays there, curled up on his side, cries for what feels like hours or days, cries until there is literally nothing left in him.  Then Stefano is helping him sit up, pressing a glass of water into his hand, and helping him lift it to his lips. The action feels mechanical, pointless.  His health doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters now.

 

He feels the water on his tongue, feels his throat contracting on its own as his body swallows for him.  It’s just as well. He may have let himself drown if given the choice.

 

“Sebastian.”  Stefano’s voice is gentler than it has any right to be under these circumstances.  Stefano did this. Stefano is the one who made him open that door, who forced him to remember.  He has every reason to hate Stefano, but that voice draws him in.

 

Then the glass is being taken from his hand.  Stefano’s hands are guiding him, and Sebastian is leaning in, resting his head on Stefano’s chest and heaving a sigh.  He knows he hasn’t moved, but he feels like he has just run a hundred miles. Stefano’s hand makes soothing circles on his back, and he could easily drift off to sleep again like this, escape his reality for at least a few more minutes, but there is a question on his lips.

 

“Why?”

 

Stefano’s hands go still, and he hesitates for a few seconds before he answers, “Her memory is part of you.  You would have spent the rest of your life missing that part.”

 

“Not her memory,” Sebastian says with as much conviction as he can muster.  His voice sounds thick, unnatural in his ears. “ Her .  She’s part of me...she was part of me.”

 

Reality is crushing him, because he’s going to have to live the rest of his life without her, missing that part of himself, and he can already feel it- a great hole in his chest like a chunk of his flesh has been torn out.  It aches, and it sucks the strength out of him, and not even Stefano’s carefully chosen words can make it better.

 

“I know,” Stefano replies, “but you would not have been yourself without her memory.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t want to be himself right now.  He wants to be someone who has something- anything- to live for.  “That doesn’t matter,” he sighs.

 

“It matters to me,” Stefano says.

 

Sebastian draws back to look him in the eye.  “Why?” he asks. There’s enough of himself left in him right now to recognize that what’s been going on in this motel room is not normal, but not enough for him to punch Stefano in the face and make a break for the door.  “Why are you doing all of this?”

 

Stefano stares evenly back at him.  “For you,” he says. “You would have put a bullet in your head back at the house if I had not been there.”

 

He brings a hand to Sebastian’s shoulder, squeezing lightly.  “For us,” he says with a faint smile. “We work quite well together, and I can only imagine what we might be able to do if we undertook a more...involved collaboration.”

 

Stefano’s hand migrates from Sebastian’s shoulder to the side of his face, and Stefano’s palm cups his cheek as he speaks again.  “For me.” His thumb brushes just under Sebastian’s eye. “I find myself quite taken with you.”

 

He leans in to press his lips to Sebastian’s.

 

Sebastian’s mind reels.  This is insane. This is so far from okay that Sebastian is frozen in place for a moment.  It needs to stop. He needs to tell Stefano to stop, but Stefano’s lips against his bring a rush of emotion- of lust and anger and urgency- and he doesn’t know where those feelings are coming from but thank fuck they’re better than the horrible cold ache he’s been feeling.

 

He lunges, presses Stefano down to the mattress with his weight, and his tongue is in Stefano’s mouth, and his knee is between Stefano’s legs.  He can taste blood, and it doesn’t matter whose it is because nothing matters but rubbing up against Stefano and just not fucking hurting anymore.

 

He’s not sure how it happens, but suddenly their positions are reversed, and he’s on his back with Stefano straddling him, pinning his wrists on either side of his head.  It’s not unlike that time they were fighting inside the abandoned house, but Sebastian’s feelings this time are very different. He pushes his hips up against Stefano, and a little surge of excitement runs through him at the way Stefano’s mouth falls open and his hands tighten on Sebastian’s wrists.

 

Then Stefano is bending to kiss him again, and it’s rough and invasive and full of teeth and blood and this time he’s pretty sure the blood is his.  It hurts, but this pain he can get his head around. This pain he can resist, and he does, sinking his teeth into Stefano’s lower lip.

 

Stefano groans and muffles a curse against Sebastian’s mouth.  One of his hands closes around Sebastian’s throat, exerting just enough pressure to make Sebastian go still underneath him, to remind him that Stefano is in control.

 

“Sebastian.”  Stefano’s voice is deep and rich, rubbing up against him just as Stefano’s body is doing.  “Do you wish to please me?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian gasps out through his constricted airway.  He knows the answer to this question without even thinking about it.  Stefano has asked it many times over the last few days, and Sebastian’s heart races at every opportunity to please him.  He only needs to know what Stefano wants him to do.

 

“Very well.”  Stefano’s hand leaves his throat and he shifts off of Sebastian.  “On your hands and knees.”

 

He feels a thrill of excitement at the words, because he’s been asked to do this before.  What is new this time, though, is the way the heat rises in his cheeks as he gets up on his hands and knees in front of Stefano.  He doesn’t remember feeling so embarrassed before, so uncertain, but it is followed by a wave of dizzying lust as Stefano draws his boxers down his legs, leaving him fully exposed.

 

He shifts on his knees so that Stefano can remove them entirely, still puzzled at how this feels at once so familiar and so unnatural.  Stefano’s hand is on the inside of his thigh now, urging his legs apart. His mouth is dry and part of his brain is urging him to resist, but it’s Stefano’s hands on him and Stefano’s voice in his ear telling him that he doesn’t need to think right now, that Stefano will take care of everything.

 

He doesn’t want to think right now, and he lets Stefano’s hands manipulate him, lets them guide his knees apart and his chest down to the bed so that his face is resting on his crossed arms.  He sighs and lets his mind drift, because it seems like Stefano really is going to take care of everything.

 

Stefano’s hand slips between his legs from behind, palming his cock and balls with no preamble.  Sebastian jumps a little in surprise, but Stefano’s hand is warm, and his cock is already responding.  Or maybe he’s been hard since they were kissing. He can’t remember. He doesn’t want to remember.

 

“Hard for me already, Sebastian?” Stefano purrs.  He presses Sebastian’s cock and balls up against his belly with one hand as the other rubs the small of Sebastian’s back.  “Good boy.”

 

Sebastian bristles at the condescending way Stefano is talking to him.  He’s about to give a retort, but just as he opens his mouth Stefano gives him a firm squeeze and his words are lost in a harsh gasp.  Even worse, he realizes that he’s pressing his hips down, rubbing himself against Stefano’s hand. What is he doing? What the hell is happening to him?

 

“That’s right,” Stefano soothes.  “I have been taking care of you this whole time.  Let me take care of this too.”

 

The last few days may be a little hazy in his mind, but Sebastian does remember being relaxed, being taken care of, and right now that sounds pretty good.  He breathes a sigh and lets some of the tension out of his body, hips still rocking gently against Stefano’s hand.

 

Stefano pets and rubs and squeezes, massaging his cock and balls so expertly that within a few minutes, Sebastian’s heart is pounding in his chest, his breath is coming faster, and he is rutting into Stefano’s hand without a second thought about what he is doing or why.  He’s not fantasizing. He’s not thinking at all. He’s just focusing on the way Stefano’s hand feels on his cock.

 

Stefano’s other hand is pressed between his shoulder blades, holding him down to the bed. It answers a question he hasn’t asked yet, a question he doesn’t really want to ask or think about.  It’s better this way, better to know that he can’t resist than to have to make a decision about whether he should try.

 

When Stefano removes his hand from his cock, it tears a whine of frustration from Sebastian’s throat.  “Stefano…” he protests.

 

“In due time,” Stefano replies, giving him a pat on the thigh.  He pushes down on Sebastian’s shoulders for emphasis. “Don’t move.”

 

Sebastian’s brain is too addled with lust for him to think about moving, even when Stefano gets up from the bed.  He simply waits for his return, which comes mercifully soon. His stomach flutters as the bed dips behind him again, and then Stefano’s slick fingers are touching him, sliding up behind his balls to trace over his opening.

 

He knows Stefano has done this before, knows he has tolerated this before, and he doesn’t mean to disobey, but the touch still feels foreign to him, and he’s very sensitive there, and his hips jerk forward away from Stefano’s fingers.

 

“Sebastian,” Stefano warns, and for one terrible moment Sebastian’s heart is in his throat at the possibility of having disappointed Stefano, at the thought that Stefano might leave.  He can follow orders. He’s better than this. He doesn’t understand his own hesitation, but he can’t let it control him, because this is what Stefano wants, and Stefano knows what’s best for him.

 

Apparently Stefano understands, because he slips his arm under Sebastian’s hips, holding him securely as the fingers of his other hand return to Sebstian’s opening.  They rub back and forth, gliding easily due to what must be some kind of lubricant, sometimes making small circles, sometimes pressing forward in a way that makes Sebastian want to pull away again, but Stefano holds him steady, comforts him, praises him, and soon the little flutters of fear are giving way to excitement.  He wants more, needs more, needs to feel Stefano’s fingers in him.

 

Stefano pauses to apply more lube, and Sebastian is practically panting in frustration by the time Stefano’s fingers touch him again.  Stefano is still holding him, still keeping his ass perfectly on display, but he doesn’t have time to be embarrassed about that, because one of Stefano’s fingers is pressing into him.  He feels his muscles clench, feels his body spasm around it, wants to tell Stefano that he’s not doing this on purpose, that he can’t help it, but before he can even open his mouth, Stefano is speaking to him.

 

“Breathe, Sebastian,” he murmurs.  “It’s alright.”

 

Sebastian immediately feels calmer just knowing that Stefano isn’t upset with him, and he does breathe.  His body relaxes a little, stops fighting quite so hard against Stefano’s intruding finger.

 

“Very good, Sebastian,” Stefano says.  “Now relax a little more for me.”

 

Sebastian takes another deep breath and exhales, consciously loosens his muscles so that Stefano’s finger can advance a bit farther.  It doesn’t feel quite so strange anymore, and Stefano’s words are surrounding him in a pleasant haze of comfort.

 

Stefano’s finger is moving now, pressing in and drawing back out, tracing lightly over that place that Sebastian remembers from their previous sessions.  Sebastian is moving too, but this time he’s trying to press himself back onto Stefano’s fingers instead of away from them.

 

Stefano chuckles before he lets his finger slide out and pushes back in with two.  Sebastian grits his teeth against the dull burn, the sensation of being stretched open by something larger, but the discomfort passes, and Stefano probes deeper until he is teasing Sebastian’s prostate with the pads of his fingers.

 

Sebastian is acutely aware of the little thrills of pleasure that even this light touch brings him, of the way his cock is still hanging heavy between his legs.  He knows that he should be patient, should trust Stefano to give him what he needs, but it’s not enough, and just when he is at the point of begging, Stefano’s fingers press harder, giving him that firm, rough stimulation where he needs it most.  He moans, grabbing handfuls of the sheets as his body trembles with excitement.

 

“So responsive,” Stefano says, fingers still circling Sebastian’s prostate so that he can only whine in response.  “So lovely to watch.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t care whether Stefano keeps talking about him like an animal or a piece of art or whatever it is that he is doing as long as he doesn’t stop touching him.

 

“Can you take a little more?” Stefano asks, his fingers going still inside Sebastian as he waits for an answer.  Sebastian is beyond speaking, but of course he can take more. He can take whatever Stefano wants to give him as long as he doesn’t have to go back to that place in his mind, to the pain and the emptiness.  He nods, and apparently that’s answer enough for Stefano.

 

When Stefano pulls his fingers out and begins to press in with three of them, Sebastian has a vague sense that this should be hurting, that this might be doing some sort of damage, but he is still so overwrought from Stefano’s earlier attentions that his nerve endings are firing at random.  Everything- the pressure, the stretching, the raw intimacy of the act- blends together, makes his heart race and his chest heave, and before knows it, Stefano’s fingers are fully sheathed in him and he is stifling a groan against his forearm.

 

“Well done,” Stefano praises as he works Sebastian open with his fingers.  They thrust in and out, sending jolts of pleasure up and down his spine and making his cock impossibly harder, and Sebastian knows if this can just go on for a little longer, he can get to where he needs to be.

 

When Stefano lets his fingers slide out of him, it feels almost like a betrayal, because he was close- close to feeling something, close to feeling nothing.  He doesn’t know which, but he needs it. Stefano is shifting, no longer restraining him, so that one of his hands is at the small of Sebastian’s back and the other is resting on his ass.  Sebastian lets his breath out in a long huff.

 

“What’s wrong, Sebastian?”

 

He hesitates, because he doesn’t want to beg, doesn’t want to embarrass himself any more than he already has, but something is wrong, and it is wholly within Stefano’s power to fix it.  “I don’t know,” he says finally, voice muffled by his arms.

 

“I do,” Stefano replies with confidence.  “Will you let me help you? Let me give you what you need?”

 

“Yes.”  There is no other answer.

 

“This is going to feel like more than what we’ve done before,” Stefano cautions him.  “Do you think you can take more?”

 

“Yes,” Sebastian replies.  “Just do something, please, anything…”

 

He can hear Stefano adjusting his own clothes, has some sense of what’s about to happen.  Fear is tickling his stomach, but so is excitement, the promise of pleasure, of numbness, of a chance to forget even for a moment.  Then Stefano is moving in close behind him, and he can feel Stefano’s cock rubbing against him, mimicking the motions of his fingers earlier.

 

“Do you wish to please me, Sebastian?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good boy.”

 

Stefano’s hips push forward, burying himself in one smooth thrust, and Sebastian gasps, struggles to catch his breath, because it feels like too much, feels like this is going to break him, but god damn it at least he is feeling something.  His body spasms again, struggles to adjust, but Stefano’s hands are on his hips, and Stefano’s voice is in his ears, and Stefano is inside him.

 

“Easy, Sebastian,” Stefano soothes.  “You can do this.”

 

Sebastian can do this.  Sebastian can do anything to please Stefano, anything to stay in this room, this private world Stefano has created for them.  He relaxes, little by little, and Stefano begins to move inside him, to make slow, steady thrusts that make him grunt and curse and knock the breath out of him.

 

There is pleasure there too, but it is swirled in with a haze of raw, visceral sensation, with pain and excitement and freedom, and it’s not what he’s focusing on at the moment.  He is focusing on the way Stefano is taking control of his body, molding him, shaping him, fucking him until he is utterly pliant in his hands and around his cock.

 

He knows he is giving up something, losing something, but it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that Stefano is taking care of him, filling him up where he has been empty, giving him pleasure where there used to be pain.

 

Stefano is still speaking to him as well, that smooth voice never faltering, even as Stefano’s thrusts increase in pace and intensity.  Stefano is telling him how well he is doing, that he is safe here, that he can stay here, that he never has to go back to the other world, that he- Stefano- will take care of everything.  And Stefano is taking care of everything, and Sebastian is going to let him, because it just hurts too much right now to take any kind of responsibility himself.

 

The first time he comes is when Stefano presses in hard and deep, grinds against his prostate, tells him how perfect he is, how tight and how sweet and how completely undone he is.  He spills his seed onto the sheets beneath him with a groan, and Stefano slows down, eases up, but doesn’t stop.

 

Sebastian’s heart is racing, and he’s oversensitive.  He tries to pull away, but Stefano’s cock is still moving inside him, stimulating him relentlessly.  “Stop, please,” he gasps breathlessly.

 

“Is that what you really want?”  Stefano presses forward again, still holding him firmly by the hips.  “To stop feeling?”

 

The next thrust makes Sebastian groan.  “No,” he sighs, because he does not want to stop feeling, and he is afraid of what he is going to feel if Stefano stops fucking him.

 

“Very well,” Stefano says.  He doesn’t stop, but he does keep his movements slower and gentler for a while, building back up to harder thrusts as Sebastian’s erection returns.

 

The second time he comes, Stefano is pressed along the length of his back, whispering in his ear all of the deliciously vulgar things he wants to do to him.

 

The third time he comes, Stefano is biting down on his shoulder and pressing one hand over his weakly throbbing cock.

 

After that, he loses count, loses track of what Stefano is doing to him, loses his sense of time.  He welcomes the nothingness, the rush of air in his ears, leans forward into the void and lets it swallow him up.





Later- he doesn’t know how much later- he lies with his head pillowed on Stefano’s chest.  Despite the warm, lightheaded feeling of post-orgasmic bliss, something is still bothering him.  

 

“Are you going to kill me?” he asks.

 

“Of course not,” Stefano replies.

 

Sebastian believes him, but somehow the sense of dread remains.





She isn’t keeping track of the days anymore.  Her new room doesn’t have windows, so she doesn’t even know if it’s daytime or nighttime anyway.

 

She hasn’t seen Other Miss Flores again, but there have been more doctors and more questions and more tests.  She answers everything they ask and solves all of their puzzles, because the longer she spends doing those things, the less time she has to be alone in her room.  Sometimes, being alone is even worse than being scared.

 

They use big words when they are talking about her, words like “imaginative” and “compassionate” and “precocious.”  Lily has some idea what those words mean. She’s heard some of them before at school, but right now she doesn’t care about whether or not she is any of those things.  She only cares about getting out of this place.

 

Sometimes she tries to ask the doctors questions- where she is, where her mom and dad are, when she can go home- but they only smile and shake their heads and start talking about other things.  It makes her angry, because grownups do this all the time when they don’t want to answer something.

 

She points this out to Dr. Jimenez during one of their meetings, but he only laughs and says she is very much like her mother.  He is out the door by the time Lily thinks to ask him how he knows her mother, and she is alone again.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“There is something we have not talked about,” Stefano says as his hand lazily rubs Sebastian’s chest.  “Or rather...someone.” His tone is casual, but Sebastian is sharp enough now to detect an undertone of tension.  This is important.

 

“Who?” he asks, trying to keep his own voice neutral.  There is an awful, queasy feeling in his stomach. He’s all but certain that Stefano is going to make him talk about Lily again, is going to tear that wound open and expose all of his fear and his doubt and his guilt.  But they have talked about Lily, haven’t they? It can’t be her this time...

 

There is a pause before Stefano speaks again, and the queasy feeling intensifies.  “Myra,” Stefano replies finally. His tone is clipped, disdainful.

 

Sebastian’s first impression is of relief, because he isn’t sure he could handle talking about Lily again right now.  Maybe Stefano knows that though. Stefano has a way of knowing exactly how far to push, exactly how much he can bend Sebastian without breaking him.

 

He shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve come back to Myra.  They were going to have to come back to Myra eventually. Myra is his wife.  Myra is the most important person in the world to him besides Lily. He turns the words over and over inside his head, but even there, they don’t ring true.

 

Myra should be the most important person in the world to him besides Lily, and now that he reflects on it, he can’t believe how little he has thought about her these past few days in the motel room.  When he thinks of her now, there is a sour taste in his mouth, a tension in his shoulders.

 

“What about...Myra?” he asks.  Even if it’s not quite as bad as talking about Lily.  This is dangerous territory. He’s willing to venture into it as far as Stefano wants to, but no more.

 

“Myra summoned you to the house, Sebastian, before the fire,” Stefano says.  “What do you suppose that means.”

 

“She knew.”  The words come easily, and he doesn’t have to look at Stefano to know that he’s smiling.  The approval radiates from him.

 

“Very good,” Stefano says.  “And I agree. She knows more than she has shared with you.  However, Lily was her daughter as well.”

 

“Oh, god,” Sebastian breathes.  Not once since he’s been here has he considered the fact that Myra is also dealing with Lily’s death, that she has had to face the same crushing sense of loss, the same anger, the same cold, creeping guilt that he has been dealing with.  And she’s had to do it alone.

 

“She couldn’t have known,” he says before Stefano can speak again.  No matter how much Myra was hiding from him, he’s sure that she would never had intentionally endangered Lily.  “She couldn’t have known. She would never have been part of something like that. She would never have hurt Lily.”

 

“Again, I agree,” Stefano says.  “And if that is the case, then she may now be in a position to tell you much more than she has before-”

 

“But what good will it do?” Sebastian interrupts.  Stefano’s hand stops moving on his chest. He is risking Stefano’s displeasure- he knows that- but just for a moment that anger burns hot again, and he presses on.  “Lily is dead. Even if Myra tells me everything, how would that matter now?”

 

“We will not know that until we know what Myra has to say.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t particularly want to hear whatever Myra has to say right now.  He’s sure nothing he could learn from her would make it worthwhile to endure the pain of seeing her again, but Stefano’s intentions are clear.  “You want me to go talk to Myra?”

 

“I wish it was not necessary, but I fear it must be done,” Stefano replies.  “Sebastian, have you considered the implications of how Lily-?”

 

“Don’t say it.”  Sebastian cuts him off.  Even though he knows what happened, he can’t bear to hear it spoken out loud.  “And what do you mean ‘implications’?”

 

Even starting down this road is making his head throb and his chest ache.  There is a surge of restless energy in him, and he disentangles himself from Stefano and gets up from the bed.  His feet carry him back and forth across the floor as his mind struggles to catch up.

 

Anderson.  Anderson was there in the house.  He’s sure of it. He saw the man’s face, saw his body crumpled on the floor.  He doesn’t remember seeing the gun, but there must have been one. Three rounds.  One for her. One for me.  One for you.

 

Anderson shot Lily, then shot himself, so there must have been a gun there.  Sebastian remembers having a gun at the house, remembers holding it in his hand, remembers raising it to his head, but he doesn't remember how he got it.

 

And how did the fire start?  He’s never considered that. Surely it can’t have been something Anderson set up.  Someone planned this down to the last detail, made sure he would see just enough but not too much before he was forced out of the house.  Was it the woman from the video who appears to be his accomplice? Or is there something much bigger going on here?

 

“Stefano,” he begins.  “I remember having a gun in my hand when we were at the house.  What happened to it?”

 

“I took it,” Stefano answers, rising from the bed gracefully.  Like Sebastian, he hasn’t bothered to dress today, but he seems unfazed by his own nudity.  He opens the drawer in the nightstand and takes out a revolver, holding it up for Sebastian to see.  “I did not trust you with it at the time.”

 

“I don’t blame you,” Sebastian replies.  After all, he was holding the gun to his own head the last time he had it.  He reaches out, and Stefano allows him to take it. He pops out the cylinder, considers the two spent rounds and one unspent round still loaded, then snaps the cylinder back into place.  “Did you see…?” He begins, but he can’t quite articulate what he’s trying to ask Stefano.

 

“Yes,” Stefano says, as though he knows exactly what Sebastian is talking about even though Sebastian isn’t sure himself.

 

“Were they already…?”

 

“Dead?  Yes,” Stefano says, “or at the very least, they were not moving.”

 

“Why would he-?” Sebastian begins before he realizes that they probably aren’t just talking about Anderson and interrupts himself.  “Why would anyone do this?”

 

“As usual, we know only what they want us to know,” Stefano says.  “And the reason they’ve provided us is a disgruntled employee.” He approaches Sebastian, takes the gun from him, and sets it down on the table before reaching up to take Sebastian’s face in his hands.  “There is a choice you must make now, Sebastian.” His voice is gentle, but with a serious undercurrent that puts Sebastian on edge.

 

“They have given you a way out, a chance to accept that Lily is gone, that Lily was murdered, and to continue with your life.”  Stefano’s face is so close to his that their foreheads are almost touching. “No one could fault you if you took that chance. No one else would ever know that there was any more to this case than a man who believed you had wronged him, a man who chose to exact his revenge on your family.”  He pauses.

 

“This is your choice, Sebastian.  Will you see this through? Or does it end here?”

 

Sebastian doesn’t answer right away.  The man he was a few days ago, the man who was so overcome by pain and grief that he couldn’t form a coherent thought, would say that it ends here, that Lily is dead, and that nothing else matters.  What’s the point of following through on this, of finding out who is really behind it? It won’t change anything. It won’t bring Lily back. Nothing will bring Lily back.

 

He has vague memories of another man, of being another man- one who did value the truth above almost everything else, one who would not rest until he knew who did this, who tore his family apart.  It isn’t the easy path. It has never been the easy path, but he is drawn to it somehow, as though part of him wants to be that man once again.

 

There is one more thing on his mind.  “Will you stay with me?” He asks Stefano.  “Will you help me?” What he wants to ask is ‘Will I be alone?’ But even he knows that sounds pathetic.

 

“Of course,” Stefano tilts Sebastian’s face down,  presses a kiss to his forehead. “Whatever you choose, you will not be alone.”

 

The wave of relief that follows is nearly overwhelming, and Sebastian wraps his arms around Stefano, pulls him close, holds him, takes in the smell of his hair, the warmth of his body.  It dawns on him after a few seconds that this is more of a display of affection than Stefano usually allows, but Stefano offers no comment or correction.

 

When Sebastian steps back, Stefano’s eye is already fixed on him.  “Which will it be, Sebastian- peace or justice?”

 

Sebastian doesn’t have to ask what he means, and he knows the answer.  “Justice.” He doubts he will ever know peace in his life again, regardless of what he chooses.

 

“Then you know what you must do.”

 

Sebastian takes a deep breath.  “Talk to Myra.”

 

Stefano nods and before Sebastian knows it, Stefano is pressing something into his hand.  Sebastian has to look at it for a moment before he even recognizes what it is, because he hasn’t seen it in days, but it’s his cell phone.  For some reason it feels less familiar in his hand than the gun did, but he doesn’t question that at the moment.

 

He powers it up, finds Myra’s number, and dials.  Stefano steps away from him and begins to dress himself.  His movements are practiced, methodical, and Sebastian finds them soothing, even as his mind reels at the thought of what he is going to say to Myra, what Myra might be going to say to him.

 

“Sebastian?”  Myra’s voice is breathless on the other end of the line.

 

“Yeah, it’s me,” he says.  Neither of them speaks for several seconds until Sebastian breaks the silence.  “We need to talk. Can I meet you somewhere?”

 

“My parents’ house,” Myra says without hesitation.  “They’re out of the country.”

 

“Okay,” Sebastian replies.  “I’ll meet you there.” He feels like he should say something else- ‘How are you?’ or ‘I love you,’ or even just a ‘Goodbye’, but he can’t force the words out, and after a few seconds the phone beeps to signal the end of the call.  He lowers it from his ear and stares at it absently as his mind turns over the conversation.

 

It’s not so much what Myra said that bothers him.  It’s what she didn’t say. She didn’t mention Lily at all, so she must know what happened.  Or maybe she knows even more than he does. She didn’t seem worried about him or ask about Stefano.  She didn’t even seem surprised to hear from him after what must have been days with no contact.

 

It doesn’t make sense, but none of this makes sense, and Sebastian can’t ignore the fact that his own behavior recently has been pretty far from normal.

 

Stefano, who is now fully dressed, takes the phone from him and sets it down on the table.  “Get dressed, Sebastian,” he prompts.

 

Putting on his clothes feels a little strange, makes him wonder how long he’s been in this hotel room with Stefano, how long he’s been cut off from the outside world.  His clothes don’t seem to be particularly clean either, but that’s the least of his worries at the moment.

 

When he is dressed, Stefano steps in front of him and takes him by the shoulders, peering deeply into his face.  “Are you ready, Sebastian?”

 

Sebastian nods even though his mind doesn’t really process the question.  It doesn’t matter if he’s ready or not. This is what he must do next. Stefano stares at him for a few more seconds.  Sebastian isn’t sure what Stefano is looking for in his face, but apparently he finds it, because he nods as well and releases Sebastian.





Stefano drives, which is probably a good thing, because Sebastian finds himself staring out the window for most of the ride, watching the world go by and listening to the static in his head.  The numbness he felt earlier has returned, and he can’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds. Stefano doesn’t speak, simply lets him stay lost in his own thoughts or lack thereof.

 

He’s not sure if it’s minutes or hours later- where do Myra’s parents even live?- when they arrive.  Stefano pulls into the driveway and shuts off the engine. Sebastian looks at him, momentarily at a loss for what to do next.

 

“I cannot go in with you,” Stefano says with an indulgent smile.  “But you will not be alone.”

 

It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to.  Stefano is reaching over the console, handing something to him.  He takes it reflexively before he realizes that it’s the revolver from earlier- from the hotel room and from the burning house.

 

“What..?” he stumbles over his words as he tries to formulate a coherent thought.  “Why?”

 

The gun shouldn’t be here.  The gun shouldn’t be in play anymore.  The bullets intended for Lily and Anderson found their marks, but the third one- the one that was supposed to be for him- did not.  Stefano put a stop to that, and now he isn’t sure what relevance the gun has to anything.

 

“The third round is for you,” Stefano says, echoing the words from the note Sebastian has played back in his head so many times.  “Use it as you see fit.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t know what that means, but he takes the gun and tucks it into his waistband before he gets out of the car.  The bright sunlight makes him blink. The fresh air feels strange in his lungs. When was the last time he was outside? And does it even matter?

 

He sees Myra’s car parked in front of his, remembers why he is here, and starts up the driveway to the house.  He thinks he’s been here before, but his thoughts are still muddled and he can’t be sure. He opens the front door and calls out.  “Myra?” His voice is hoarse, like it hasn’t been used for some time.

 

“Sebastian.”  Myra steps into his field of vision.  Her eyes are rimmed with red, and her shoulders are hunched.  She doesn’t look at all like the person he remembers, and for a moment, he isn’t sure what to say, what to do.  Instinct tells him to take her in his arms, but he feels nothing. She may as well be a stranger, and he hesitates, swallows hard while he waits for her to say something, anything.

 

“Sebastian,” she says again.  She swallows hard, eyes wide. “It’s Lily, she’s...she’s…”

 

“I know,” Sebastian says.  He doesn’t want to hear the words any more than Myra wants to say them.  But why is Myra telling him this? Wouldn’t she already know that he knows?

 

He doesn’t have time to figure that out, because Myra’s mouth is trembling, and her shoulders are shaking, She’s pressed up against the revolver in his waistband, but she doesn’t react to it.  and she is stepping forward, burying her face in his chest and wrapping her arms around him. His arms come up around her reflexively, and he holds her while she sobs into his shirtfront. He doesn’t cry.  He has no more tears left in him.

 

He has a sense that he has held her like this before, that it used to mean something, that he used to feel something when he did this, but now he is numb, and she is cold in his arms, and his heart is cold inside his chest.

 

When Myra’s tears subside, she steps back, looking at Sebastian imploringly.  “Why?” she asks. “Why would he…?”

 

“Anderson?” Sebastian says, surprised.  If Myra knows more than he does, she certainly isn’t acting like it.  Maybe she’s a better actress than he realizes, but for the moment, he plays along.  “No, Myra, it wasn’t him. I mean, it wasn’t just him.”

 

Myra’s face softens, and she raises a hand to his cheek.  “Oh no, Sebastian,” she says, and her voice drips with pity.  “No more conspiracy theories...not now.”

 

He jerks back, away from her.  “It’s not a conspiracy theory, Myra!  It’s the truth! There’s no way this was all just Anderson.  It’s too elaborate. Whoever set this up knew things they shouldn’t have known.”

 

“Come and sit down, Sebastian,” Myra says, gesturing toward the living room.  Sebastian recognizes the voice she’s using- the same calm, pacifying voice she uses when she’s talking to the hysterical parent of a lost child...or maybe trying to talk a perp into confessing.

 

“I don’t want to sit down,” growls Sebastian.  “I don’t need to sit down.”

 

“You’ve been missing for over a week.  You’ve been under a lot of stress, and you’ve suffered a serious loss- we’ve suffered a serious loss.  Of course it’s had an effect on you, but that doesn’t mean-”

 

“Don’t tell me what this means!” snaps Sebastian.  “You don’t know what happened! You don’t know what I’ve seen.  You’ve just been sitting at home this whole time!”

 

“Because one of us needs to be in touch with reality!” Myra shoots back.  “Dr. Victoriano says that-“

 

“Who the hell is Dr. Victoriano?” Sebastian interjects.  The name doesn’t ring a bell for him, and he’s immediately suspicious of any doctor that Myra’s been seeing without his knowledge.

 

Myra’s expression softens, and she looks almost apologetic.  “He’s a psychiatrist, Sebastian. I’ve been seeing him for marriage counseling.”

 

“What?  By yourself?”

 

“Yes,” Myra insists.  “Because you wouldn’t go with me.  I asked you. Don’t you remember?”

 

Sebastian is about to object that she never asked him about this, because surely he would remember something this important, but a memory is stirring deep in his brain.

 

“Can we talk?  I’m worried about you, Sebastian.”

 

He looks up from his desk, from the case file he’s been studying.  He hates to bring work home, but the past couple of weeks he’s had no choice.  “About me? Why?”

 

“You’ve been working so much lately.  Lily and I hardly get to see you anymore.”  Myra’s face is drawn, and she looks years older than she did just this morning.

 

“I know I’ve been picking up a lot of shifts, but we’re understaffed.  Hell, we had three more shootings just tonight.”

 

“Language, Sebastian.”  Myra cuts her eyes toward the doorway.  Sebastian doesn’t know exactly where Lily is in the house, but Myra’s implication is clear.

 

“Sorry, sorry.”  He lowers his voice.  “Look, I want to be here for you guys- you know that- but Krimson needs me too.”

 

“We need you,” Myra says, putting emphasis on the ‘we’, “and you need to rest sometimes.”

 

He heaves a sigh.  “How am I supposed to rest when there’s so much violence out there?  How am I supposed to know you guys are safe?”

 

“By being here.”  Myra raises her chin, challenging him with her eyes.

 

“Myra, you know I can’t-”  His tone is apologetic, but Myra cuts him off.

 

“And I can’t keep living like this.  You’re gone all day and half the night, and when you’re here you’re exhausted.  It’s not good for any of us- you or me or Lily.”

 

He knows she’s right, but he doesn’t know how to fix it, and the frustration rises up in him, makes him lash out.  “What do you want me to do? I can’t flip a switch and solve all of our problems, Myra! One of us has to be in touch with reality.”

 

A muscle twitches in Myra’s jaw, but she doesn’t take the bait, doesn’t snap back at him.  She takes a business card from her pocket and puts it down on the desk in front of him. “Kidman gave me this.  It’s someone we could talk to, someone who might be able to help us.”

 

Sebastian doesn’t even look at the card.  “You told Kidman about this? About us?”

 

Myra shakes her head.  “No, not everything. She asked me why I was looking so tired, and I just told her we were having some trouble working out our schedules.”

 

“God damn it, Myra,” he growls, tearing his eyes away from her and looking at the card on the desk.  “Marriage counseling? You really think we need marriage counseling?”

 

“We need something,” Myra insists.  “We can’t just keep pretending everything is okay.”  There are tears in her eyes, and the sight sparks something in Sebastian.  The anger drains out of him.

 

He stands up and wraps his arms around her.  “Shhh, Myra, it’s alright,” he murmurs. “Everything is okay.  You’ll see. We’ll figure this out.”

 

Sebastian shakes his head.  They never did figure it out.  They just stopped talking about it.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says.  “I remember now, but I just never heard you talk about it again.”

 

“I didn’t talk about it again,” Myra replies.  “I was afraid if you found out I’d been going to Beacon, you’d-”

 

“Beacon?” Sebastian interrupts, genuinely alarmed this time.  If Stefano is right about what’s been going on at Beacon, maybe it’s not a coincidence that Myra’s been getting treatment there.

 

“Yes, that’s where Dr. Victoriano works, and I’ve met a few of his colleagues as well.  They’ve really helped me work through some things, and I wish you’d come with me next time.”

 

Sebastian shakes his head violently, takes a step back as though being in proximity to Myra somehow places him in danger of falling under the influence of the doctors at Beacon.  “You don’t understand! They’re doing some fucked up shit at Beacon, Myra. They’re experimenting on people’s brains.” His whole body is shaking now at the idea that Myra’s been to Beacon, that Myra might be one of their test subjects.

 

“Please, Sebastian, not this again.”  Myra raises her hands in a pacifying gesture.  “There’s no ‘them.’ There’s no conspiracy.”

 

Sebastian only knows one way to find out if she’s right.  “Come here.” Sebastian beckons her toward him.

 

She steps in, closing the distance between them, though her eyes are wary.  He places his hands on her shoulders, turns her around so that her back is to him, and lets his fingers comb through her hair.  A month ago this might have been an affectionate gesture. Now it has a much darker purpose.

 

He finds what he’s looking for almost immediately, but the second his hand brushes over one of the small, circular scars- the same ones he felt on Stefano’s scalp- Myra is twisting in his arms, yanking the gun from his waistband, and shoving him away from her across the hall.

 

“What the-?” he starts to say, but as soon as he regains his footing the gun is trained on him.

 

Myra’s eyes are wild, but her voice is dull, monotone.  “You need to calm down, Sebastian, and you need to come with me to Beacon.  This is for your own good.”

 

“No, you need to calm down,” he says, raising his hands as he takes a step toward Myra.  He has no idea what is happening, but he knows he’s not going to Beacon- at least not voluntarily.  “It’s going to be alright. We’re going to figure this out.”

 

Myra backs up to preserve the distance between them.  Her voice is shaking now, but at least there is some emotion in it.  “Please, Sebastian. Don’t do this. Don’t make me-”

 

“Give me the gun,” he says, starting to move forward again, but Myra shakes her head, keeps the gun pointed at the center of his chest as she backs up into the living room.

 

He follows, and his stride is longer than hers.  He’s almost close enough to disarm her. He just needs another foot of distance, just a moment of distraction…





Stefano toys with Sebastian’s knife, turning it over and over in his hand as he leans against the car.  He isn’t worried about Sebastian losing his nerve. Stefano is nothing if not thorough, and he’s spent enough time working with Sebastian over the past week and studying him over the past few years to know how his mind works, to be able to predict his behavior.

 

Sebastian will confront Myra with the information they have learned.  He is sure of that much. What happens next is less clear, even to him, but Stefano cannot see any outcome that preserves Sebastian and Myra’s relationship.  Sebastian will disengage from Myra the same way he is disengaging from Lily, and that suits Stefano perfectly.

 

He has had occasion, as he stands here waiting, to question the wisdom of sending Sebastian into this meeting with a loaded gun.  It is a risk, of course, but his artistic sense demands it. That unspent round is an idea, a promise, an opportunity to create, and it is offensive to him to waste it.  He only hopes that the result will be a worthy creation and not another failed experiment.

 

The phone in his pocket buzzes, and he frowns, because he has no desire to talk to anyone right now.  He pulls it out and sees that the call is from Jimenez. He puts the phone away. He will need to talk to Jimenez later- they have unfinished business after all- but now is not the time for that conversation.

 

He has just turned his attention back to the knife when a gunshot splits the air.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“You had one task!”  Jimenez glares up at him from where he is crouched on the floor over Sebastian’s body.  Stefano glares right back, and for a few moments neither of them speaks. The only sound in the room is Sebastian’s labored breathing.

 

“I do not work for you,” Stefano replies finally.  “I work for myself.” His voice comes out cool, indifferent, but there is panic rising up inside him.  This is not what he planned. This is spiraling rapidly out of his control, and if Sebastian dies, all the hard work he has done these last few weeks will be for nothing.

 

“You work for me if you want to keep on seeing the light of day,” Jimenez snaps.  He takes a chest seal from the first aid kit beside him and applies it to Sebastian’s wound.  “The only reason you’re outside of Beacon right now is that you agreed to do this for us- you do remember that, don’t you?”  Jimenez is starting to take on that condescending tone that Stefano has come to loathe. “Your brain isn’t so addled that you’ve forgotten, is it?  Your job was to keep Sebastian busy and away from Myra. Were those not the specific instructions I gave you?”

 

“You also said Sebastian needed closure,” Stefano points out.  “The fire gave him closure on the girl, but he was not going to be able to develop any further without some sort of resolution to his marriage.”

 

“You’re in over your head,” Jimenez replies with a dismissive wave of his hand.  “Stick to your artistic ramblings, and leave Sebastian’s brain to us.”

 

“As I recall, you specifically said you were not interested in Sebastian’s brain,” Stefano says.  “Has there been a change of plans?” He hopes against hope that there has not. He knows that he cannot lay claim to Sebastian if Sebastian is part of their larger plan, knows that any arrangement he has with them can be overturned at any moment, but he wants Sebastian- needs Sebastian- and he will fight for him if he has to.

 

“We aren’t interested in his brain,” Jimenez answers, “but your meddling may have cost us hers as well.”  He jerks his head toward the fourth person in the room.

 

Sebastian’s wife is sitting on the couch, staring straight ahead of her.  The revolver is clasped in her shaking hands. She hasn’t spoken a word since Stefano came in, and he has only just remembered that she is here at all.

 

“From the looks of it, her mind is already gone,” Stefano observes.  He feels nothing in particular for the woman, which is unusual in itself.  The sight of her is enough to make him burn with barely contained rage, but there is no point in being jealous of her now.  She is no threat to him anymore. She is barely anything anymore.

 

“For both of our sakes, let us hope that is not the case.”  Jimenez’s face is deadly serious, but Stefano can’t bring himself to care what happens to the woman.  He is entirely focused on Sebastian.

 

Speaking of Sebastian, his breathing is sounding quieter and less labored with every passing minute, but he hasn’t shown any other signs of life.  “What about Sebastian?” he prompts.

 

“He needs medical attention,” Jimenez replies, “but it’s nothing I can’t handle at Beacon.  He isn’t bleeding severely, and as long as we can maintain his lung function until I get him into surgery I don’t think he is in danger.  Once we get a few more staff members down here to deal with Myra, we’ll take them both back to the hospital.”

 

Stefano feels unsettled, impatient.  “Can’t we just take him now?” He gestures at the woman.  “She is not going anywhere.”

 

“No,” Jimenez says with finality in his voice.  “She is our priority. My employers have been very clear about that.  She is the best candidate for Core stabilization.”

 

“It may surprise you to learn,” Stefano says with a smirk, “that I have been in contact with your employers as well.  Sebastian is my payment, if you will, for playing my part in their plan, so you must excuse my concern for his welfare.”

 

Jimenez sighs heavily.  “I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but I’m quite aware that Mobius will make a deal with anyone who has something they want.  I trust you are also aware of how seldom they follow through on their end of the bargain?”

 

Stefano isn’t, but he isn’t particularly worried about that either.  Then his eye shifts down to Sebastian, and the first prickle of uncertainty sets in.  It’s not how much is at stake that bothers him- he has grown accustomed to working under even the most extreme pressure- but the fact that they are now well outside his field of expertise.  If Sebastian is going to die from what he can only assume is a penetrating gunshot wound to the chest, then there is little he will be able to do to prevent it, and Jimenez is not being nearly as helpful as Stefano needs him to be right now.

 

He tries a different approach.  “How do you suppose she is going to feel if Sebastian dies?”  He nods at the woman on the couch. Her lips are moving, but no words are coming out, and her eyes are cast down at the gun in her lap.

 

“She will feel precisely how we tell her to feel,” Jimenez replies.  “Dr. Victoriano has been very successful in his therapy with her.”

 

Stefano raises an eyebrow.  “Victoriano’s ‘therapy’ did not work on me.”

 

Jimenez lets out a mirthless bark that is probably supposed to be a laugh.  “Are you sure about that? I sometimes wonder if any of us can tell the extent of Ruben’s influence.”

 

Stefano isn’t particularly worried about this either.  Ruben does manipulate people- that is certain- but the reason it is so obvious to Stefano is that they use some of the same tricks, the same techniques.  In many ways, they are alike. Stefano has a certain appreciation for Ruben, for how dangerous Ruben can be, but he is not afraid of him.

 

Just then, he hears the sound of several cars pulling up outside.

 

“You need to come back to Beacon with us,” Jimenez cautions him.  “Don’t try to run.”

 

The corner of Stefano’s mouth twists up into a smile.  “I wouldn’t dream of it.”




The man is standing with his back to the door when Stefano enters Jimenez’s office.  Stefano doesn’t know his name, because he insists on being known only as “The Administrator”, but this doesn’t bother Stefano at all.  He’s certainly had to deal with his share of quirky personalities in the artistic community, and he is much less interested in who this man is than what purpose he can serve.

 

“Jimenez warned me you were the wild card in this plan,” he says without turning around.  “I can see he was correct.”

 

Stefano takes a seat, crossing one leg over the other knee.  He once again mentally congratulates himself on obtaining some more suitable clothing during the last few days.  It is easier to exude confidence when he is dressed in the manner to which he is accustomed, and the smartly tailored suit makes him right at home in this type of meeting.  “My methods may be...unorthodox, but surely you cannot dispute my results.”

 

The Administrator turns around then, looking Stefano up and down.  “What you did today was reckless,” he says, “but you’ve kept Sebastian out of the picture as requested, and I do keep my promises.”

 

The words hang in the air between them, and Stefano is suddenly very certain that there is some term or condition of this bargain that he has not been made aware of.  He resists the urge to shift uneasily in his seat. “And you have promised me that I will have Sebastian and my freedom,” he prompts.

 

“Yes, but let’s talk about freedom for a minute.”  The Administrator takes a seat across from him. The man’s eyes betray nothing, but Stefano is wary all the same.  “We all like to imagine that we are free, but even when we are unencumbered by other men, we are still subject to certain limitations.”

 

Stefano has never felt particularly encumbered, except these last two years while he was locked up at Beacon.  “I don’t follow you.”

 

“The limitations of the physical world,” The Administrator supplies.  “There are certain things we simply cannot do, and you don’t strike me as a man who likes to be told that he can’t do exactly as he pleases.”

 

“Correct,” Stefano replies with a nod.  He doesn’t understand what this man is talking about, but there is a strange energy building within him, a little thrill of excitement, the promise of something foreign but very, very enticing.  “What exactly are you proposing?”

 

“A different kind of freedom.  The kind that comes with power.”

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“As you may have deduced, many of the studies we conduct here involve thought and memory- the intricacies of the mind.  I don’t trouble myself with the science of it- that I leave to Jimenez and, until recently, Victoriano- but they have developed the technology to delve deeper into the mind than ever before.  And with that came the ability to link minds together.”

 

“I have always found science to be inferior to art,” Stefano interjects.  He knows he should probably hold his tongue, but all this talk of science and technology is causing his interest to wane.

 

The Administrator’s expression doesn’t change.  “Think about it this way: Imagine that you had unlimited power to shape the world around you.  What kind of art could you create then?”

 

“I already create art exactly as I please,” Stefano says proudly.

 

“I am not only talking about freedom from laws and moral conventions,” The Administrator says.  “I’m talking about being able to manipulate the physical world with only a thought, to be able to create with no limits at all.”

 

Stefano does have to stop and think about that for a moment.  “Your technology can do that?”

 

“Our technology takes place entirely within the mind.  The only limiting factor is what you can dream up.” He smiles darkly, as though he knows he has Stefano’s attention now.  He’s not wrong.

 

“Which brings me to why I am making this proposal to you,” he continues.  “You see, anyone’s brain can be linked into the system, but there must be one central mind that supports the system itself- the Core, we call it- and there are very few types of brains that have the capacity to serve as a Core.

 

“The girl- Sebastian’s daughter- is one of them, and once we have finished preparing her she will serve as the Core of one of our STEM systems, but our plans are much larger than a single STEM unit.  We will need other Cores, other minds that are strong enough to support an entire system on their own, the kind of minds that are resolute, not easily influenced by others.”

 

He inclines his head meaningfully toward Stefano, who is sitting in stunned silence.  He fully expected there to be strings attached in this agreement, especially after what Jimenez said earlier today, but to Stefano this sounds less like a detriment and more like a golden opportunity.

 

“If I understand you correctly,” he begins, “I would have total control in this world?”

 

The Administrator nods.

 

“Conscious control?” Stefano asks.

 

“Yes, that is why I am telling you all of this.  It is not the case for every Core, but you would have conscious control.”

 

“And there would be other minds in the system as well?”

 

“Yes, at least a few dozen to start with.  Eventually, we might get to hundreds or thousands.”

 

“And Sebastian?”

 

“He would be one of those other minds.  We intend to create a chemically-induced amnesia in the non-Core participants that will allow them to be incorporated into STEM seamlessly with no interfering memories from their previous lives.  I understand you’ve already done a significant amount of reprogramming with Sebastian though.”

 

“Yes,” Stefano replies thoughtfully, “though I can’t say what condition he’ll be in after what happened earlier.  Clearly the meeting with his wife escalated, and I do not know whether that may have affected his mind.”

 

“I doubt it will cause any problems,” The Administrator says.  “According to Jimenez, only memories with very strong emotional connections are likely to interfere.  If he believes his daughter to be dead and his wife to be complicit in her kidnapping, then he has lost much of what ties him to his previous life.  It will not take much to give him a fresh start in STEM.”

 

“You went to some rather extraordinary lengths with your kidnapping plot,” Stefano observes.  He isn’t squeamish about collateral damage, but he is now certain that the man Sebastian called Anderson was simply a red herring in Mobius’ scheme.

 

“Sebastian is a determined man,” The Administrator replies.  “He needed a case to solve, a chance to investigate. He needed to believe that he had done all he could to find Lily, otherwise he would never have stopped looking for her.”

 

Stefano nods, because all of this is true, and in fact, all of this is, in many ways, what allowed him to influence Sebastian as effectively as he has.  He does have one more lingering question. “Would I be able to leave STEM if I wished?”

 

“No,” The Administrator answers.  “But would you want to? Someone with your…proclivities is ill-suited to this world.”

 

“And my proclivities, as you call them, would not pose a problem in your STEM world?”

 

“That’s just it,” The Administrator says, leaning forward and fixing Stefano with his dark, unreadable eyes.  “It would be your STEM world.”

 

Stefano can feel the smile spreading across his face without his conscious control.  He is only just beginning to contemplate the possibilities of this situation, but the excitement, the thrill of creation is building up inside him.  He has been restraining these impulses for so long that he aches with the effort, but those days may soon be over.

 

The world will know his vision.  His world will know his vision.




Sebastian savors his last bite of tiramisu- a perfect end to a perfect evening.  He looks across the table and catches Stefano’s eye.

 

“Is something wrong, my dear?” Stefano asks.  Sebastian isn’t sure if he’s speaking Italian or English, because his brain translates so quickly now that he barely has to think about it.  Even the conversations of the people at the tables around them drift naturally into his ears.

 

“Not at all,” he replies in English, because his own attempts to speak Italian usually result in Stefano laughing at his accent.  “Everything is wonderful.”

 

Stefano beams at him, and Sebastian can’t help smiling as well.  They’ve been celebrating Stefano’s new gallery opening with a late dinner at Stefano’s favorite restaurant, and Sebastian can’t think of anything he’d rather be doing or anyone he’d rather be with.

 

Sebastian is still relatively new to the art world, but Stefano seems to be more than happy to teach him everything he needs to know- or at least enough to not embarrass Stefano when they go out in public.  Stefano has taught him much more than art though. In fact, Stefano practically taught him how to live again.

 

Sebastian has vague memories of an earlier life, of the death of his daughter, of the betrayal of his wife.  He remembers grief and rage and pain, so much pain, but the feelings have dulled over time. He was skeptical of the move to Florence at first, but Stefano said they needed to start over, and as usual, Stefano was right.

 

He is jarred out of his thoughts by the touch of Stefano’s foot to his leg.  It is innocent enough- just the instep of Stefano’s shoe rubbing against his calf- but the look on Stefano’s face is anything but innocent.  Sebastian holds his gaze, feels his own body beginning to respond as it always does when Stefano is paying him this kind of attention. Then Stefano’s foot begins to travel up his leg, and Sebastian decides that they probably need to get home before they end up doing something that will get both of them in trouble.

 

He gestures at the waiter to bring the check, because he doesn’t trust his voice at the moment, and once they’ve paid, Stefano leads him out of the restaurant into the street.  There are a few more stolen kisses, but for the most part they manage to keep their hands to themselves on the way home. All that changes when the front door closes behind them.

 

Sebastian doesn’t even see Stefano move, but in an instant he is pinned up against the wall with Stefano’s knee between his legs and Stefano’s knife at his throat.  His head swims with lust and adrenaline even before Stefano’s voice rumbles in his ear. “I don’t care what the critics say, my love. You were the finest work of art in that gallery tonight.”

 

“I am what you have made me,” Sebastian replies, torn between the urge to press against Stefano and to pull away from the knife.  He knows it’s what Stefano wants to hear, but he means every word of it.

 

“Well said,” Stefano purrs, “but I am not yet finished with you.”

 

Sebastian shivers in pleasurable anticipation at Stefano’s words, but he doesn’t have to anticipate for long, because Stefano’s hand is between his legs, fondling him through his pants as the other keeps the knife at his throat.  He lets his eyes drift close as his hips press into Stefano’s hand.

 

He’s already hard, but that’s no surprise where Stefano is concerned.  All it takes is a slight touch, a few words in his ear, sometimes even just a meaningful look.  Stefano knows his mind and his body better than he knows them himself, and he can easily use that knowledge to work Sebastian up into a frenzy.

 

Stefano’s voice drifts back into his consciousness.  “What do you want, Sebastian?”

 

“I want you in my mouth,” Sebastian answers with no hesitation.  “Let me show you how much I...appreciate you.”

 

Stefano chuckles deep in his throat, and lowers the knife.  “Very well,” he says, “but only because you asked so nicely.”

 

Then Stefano is grabbing a fistful of Sebatian’s shirt, rough and commanding as he always is in the bedroom, and leading Sebastian to his favorite chair.  He sits, tugging Sebastian down with him, and Sebastian willingly drops to his knees, hands running up and down Stefano’s thighs before they go to the fastening of his pants.  He pauses to look up at Stefano, making sure he has permission to continue.

 

“Go on then,” Stefano says with an indulgent smile, and Sebastian needs no further encouragement.

 

He undoes Stefano’s pants, not making any effort to hide his enthusiasm as he tugs his cock free and places a kiss on the tip of it.  Stefano ruffles his hair affectionately as Sebastian takes him in his mouth, using his lips and tongue just the way he knows Stefano likes it.

 

He starts out slow and teasing, keeping time with the way Stefano’s fingers move in his hair, but before long Stefano’s hand is tightening into a fist and Sebastian is swallowing him down.  He can remember a time when he used to be intimidated by Stefano’s cock, when he feared he couldn’t manage something so large and thick, but now it fills his mouth perfectly.

 

He relaxes his throat, takes Stefano even deeper, and Stefano moans and tugs on his hair, pulling Sebastian’s head farther into his lap.  The moan sends a jolt of arousal through Sebastian, and he is all too happy to swallow Stefano down to the root. He desperately wants to bring a hand to his own aching cock, but he knows Stefano won’t allow that, so he focuses on Stefano’s pleasure, on working Stefano over with his mouth.

 

His excitement is growing, and he is taking Stefano as deeply as he can manage.  He is ready to taste Stefano’s cum, but Stefano tugs his hair again, this time pulling his head back so that Stefano’s cock falls from his mouth.

 

“Turn around,” Stefano growls, and Sebastian almost trips over himself in his eagerness to oblige.

 

He is on his hands and knees, and he only has a moment to consider how deliciously dirty it is that this elegant, refined man- the most renowned artist in Florence- is about to fuck him like this- from behind, on the floor- before Stefano is undoing his pants and yanking them down to his knees along with his underwear, before Stefano’s cock, generously lubricated with his saliva, is pressing against him.

 

His body yields easily, comfortably, as Stefano buries himself in one smooth movement, fingers digging into Sebastian’s hips.  It still takes Sebastian’s breath away, even after all these years, even after how many times they’ve done this. Stefano is part of him, is all of him somehow, and Sebastian pushes back against him, welcomes him.

 

Stefano leans forward to press a kiss to the back of his neck.  “That’s lovely, Sebastian,” he murmurs. “You feel so good.”

 

Sebastian’s breath comes quicker, his heart beats faster, and he wants to feel good for Stefano.  Stefano sits up and pulls back before he thrusts in again, hard enough to make Sebastian grunt with exertion.  The next thrust draws more of a high-pitched whine out of him, and after that he loses count, because Stefano knows exactly how to take him, how to use his body until he is a quivering, gasping mess.

 

The physical sensations are intense and pleasurable, to be sure, but even more profound is the feeling of being owned and molded and changed by Stefano, of being made into something that is pleasing to Stefano.  He was lost without Stefano, before Stefano took him and remade him, reshaped him into what he is now. He never wants to return to that time, and he never has to, as long as he is with Stefano.

 

His own pleasure is building, and the gasps and moans that Stefano makes, the whispered words of endearment, only push him higher.  He is desperately close, hanging on by a thread when Stefano hisses, “Come for me, Sebastian.”

 

Then he is coming, and Stefano is coming, and they are in perfect harmony, artist and creation as one, panting and shuddering against each other as Stefano’s chest presses against his back and Stefano’s arms wrap tightly around his chest.  There is comfort and safety in those arms, and Sebastian relishes the feel of Stefano’s skin against his as he struggles to catch his breath.

 

Stefano seems to be doing the same for a few seconds, but then he breaks the silence.  “Well done, Sebastian,” he says, pressing a lazy kiss to Sebastian’s shoulder. “You are truly my greatest creation.”

 

Sebastian’s heart soars, because Stefano is happy, and Stefano is the most important person in his world.  In many ways, Stefano is his world, and he wouldn’t do anything to change that.