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Clockwork Heart

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I do not have an identity, nor do I possess my own form. Instead, I’ve built a human-shaped shell out of pieces picked up from others; and sometimes I worry that when I meet them--real people--they’ll realize that there’s nothing there. 


            Theodore Nazari adjusted his tie, then neatly checked the cuffs of his shirt, ensuring they were exactly one centimeter past the sleeves of his jacket. He straightened up and smoothed the lapels of his coat, lifting his prosthetic hand to nudge his glasses slightly higher on his nose. He studied himself in the mirror for a moment, then gave a practiced, cool smile. It was even, pleasant, and generally polite. It had taken him years to hone it, to ensure it did not look forced, fake, or even a bit disinterested. But it was simply a thin coating of paint, carefully and delicately applied to a shell, a husk. There was nothing behind it, no feeling, no emotion, no desire. Theodore blinked at himself for a second, then turned from the mirror and exited his bathroom, hand coming up to click the light off as he went. He walked past his bed; with sheets and covers so smooth they could pass a military inspection. In a few more minutes he was out of the house, fingers clasped loosely around his briefcase as he stepped into his garage and got in his car. He glanced at the time as the engine purred to life. 7:15. Spotless, flawless, immaculate. Like a machine in constant motion was his life. Never faltering, never stopping, never worrying. There was nothing, absolutely nothing that could bring him to a halt, nothing that could give him pause. 

            He pulled into the parking lot of his workplace exactly fifteen minutes later. 7:30. Spotless, flawless, immaculate. The gears of his brain turned without issue, well oiled and smooth. He was composer, conductor, and orchestra of his life, a single man symphony of endless paperwork, boring meetings, and hollow words. To call it a symphony was perhaps an overstatement, it was more of a lone chord, striking out with no intention to reverberate or be heard. A manuscript cobbled together by some coffee high author, long abandoned when they realized their creation was nothing more than odds and ends. He was entirely synthetic, only given form by the people around him; the laugh of his secretary, the frown of his coworker, the verbal cadence of his long forgotten therapist. Meticulously catalogued and absorbed by his mind, stored in neat, alphabetical compartments to be pulled up at a later date and used. 

            Theodore stepped from his car and crossed the lot to the next door cafe. He entered the building--7:35--and took note of the people in line before him. He recognized one of them, another cafe regular, a human like him. Martin was his name, double espresso was his order. Theodore had never spoken to him, never considered him worth knowing, and yet he knew. Spotless, flawless, immaculate. The drawer that stored Martin’s information peeked open, but it was unneeded, and so Theodore shifted his eyes, glancing at his watch. The line moved, and he stepped forward. Two more people now. 7:37. Ideally, he would have been out of the cafe by 7:45, and he had every intention to be, even if it meant skimping on his morning coffee. Routine and order were important, imperative even. Without them, people were little more than beasts, and he would never permit himself to fall to such levels. 7:38. Another person down, another step forward. When he was younger he had wondered what was wrong with him, if there were others like him. Unlovable, unloving, unfeeling, unreal. He’d questioned it once and after years of therapy had simply resolved to keep his mouth shut. It frightened people. He frightened people. And so they never saw him, never knew that the person they were speaking to was not there, a Frankenstein’s monster of all the people before them. He would be them tomorrow as well. 7:40. The line moved once more, he was at the front now. He looked up, prepared to order. 

            The symphony of his life, the single, hollow note that had sustained since his birth, crashed. It didn’t stutter or falter, instead it burst like the falling wreckage of a long exploded aircraft, a travesty in the night that had been seen by few and mourned by none. 

“Good morning, Sir,” the young elf before him chirped, voice light and friendly. “What can I get for you?” 

Theodore swallowed thickly, the cogs of his brain stuttering and grinding. What did he want? 

The elf’s brow furrowed slightly and his smile faltered just a tad, a barely perceptible reaction that most would not notice. But Theodore did. 

“My apologies,” Theodore said, voice smooth and even. It had been so long since he’d heard his own voice, he wasn’t even sure what it sounded like anymore. This was the voice of his old boss, a charismatic and charming fellow, he’d never figured out that Theodore was simply mimicking him. “Early mornings, you know?” 

The elf relaxed and laughed, nodding. “I sure do. Were it not for the fact that I work in a coffee shop, I certainly couldn’t stay awake.” 

            The elf’s laugh was the most beautiful sound Theodore had ever heard. His eyes flicked down to the nametag he wore, declaring him ‘Passeri’. Within milliseconds the expression of his joy was catalogued. However, it was not simply slipped in with all the other ‘P’ names. No, he brought it to the forefront, placed it gently and carefully on a pedestal in the very center of the hollow, echoing chamber of his consciousness. 

“I’d like a large drip coffee. Name for the order is Theodore,” he said after a moment, realizing he had once more lapsed into silence. He chanced a glance at his watch. 7:43. Three minutes. How had he possibly been standing there for three minutes? The gears of his mind ground and caught once more, screeching like the stuck transmission of an old, dry car. He needed to leave, he needed to get away from Passeri. 

“Coming right up, Sir!” Passeri smiled, briefly closing his eyes as he did. 

Theodore tore his gaze from him and moved, steps even and mechanical. He paid and then settled himself against the wall, not wanting to look at his watch but finding himself unable to prevent the action. 7:44. He had but seconds to spare. His jaw clenched tightly, a slight swell of anger rising within him. It was a strange emotion, hot and sticky, one he hadn’t felt in years, and years, and years. He didn’t like it. 

            “Large drip coffee for Theodore!” Passeri called, and Theodore snapped to attention, body stiffening like he’d been nudged by an electric prod. His name. The elf had said his name. He moved forward and took the coffee, dropping a tip in the jar and giving Passeri a nod. 

“Have a nice day, Sir! Come back soon!” 

Theodore pushed out the door and darted his eyes to his watch. 7:45. 30 seconds past, but still on schedule. A slow, shaky exhale left him and he began to walk back to his work building, thoughts lingering on what had just happened. What had just happened? Anyone else would have stopped, perhaps furrowed their brow or looked confused. But he did not. He kept moving, a steady, calculated gait that never wavered or faltered. His face was blank and calm, not a single twitch or crease. But there was a shift, a change to the droning, hollow chord of his life; an addition. He placed it instantly, of course, as there was no mistaking it. The laugh of the elf. He’d captured it, trapped it within the empty, sterile rooms of his mind and now it echoed throughout, filling everything with a soft, twinkling light. He knew he could not replicate the sound, not in a million years, so genuine and true it was. But he did not want to. He did not want to cheaply imitate it, nor share it with others. No. It was his. It belonged singularly to him. He would ensure that. By any, and all means necessary. 


            Theodore had easily settled into the flow of the day, hands and mind moving through the steady, monotonous stream of his life. While he kept himself occupied, remaining productive and constant, the larger part of his mind wandered back to the elf. To Passeri. Passeri: the clade of perching birds known as ‘songbirds’. Often described as having a cheerful and uplifting call. It was funny how things worked out, surely his parents could not have known the weight of their child’s name, how he would live up to it. Theodore shifted slightly in his seat, scooting closer to his desk and lifting his head to glance out the window. It was a grey, dreary day, the sun covered by clouds despite the fast approaching middle hour. He’d never much paid attention to the weather. It was a constant, no matter how it shifted, and it didn’t bother or excite him one way or the other. He blinked, then looked back down to his work, fingers moving swiftly over his keyboard while his eyes flitted over the screen. There came a knock, and he paused in his typing, gaze shifting to the doorway where a coworker leaned. 

            “Theodore,” the man said with a slight smile. “We’re going out for lunch, would you care to join us?” The man’s name was Kai. He had always been friendly to Theodore and enjoyed his sense of humor, entirely oblivious to the fact it was simply a hollow reflection of his own. He would typically invite Theodore out once a week, sometimes more, making his interest more than apparent. Theodore had taken note of Kai’s behaviors, the way his eyes would linger on Theodore’s lips when he spoke, how he would unconsciously shift to mirror Theodore’s own posture and movements, the way he seemed to preen and fidget whenever they were in each other’s presence…. Theodore had filed these behaviors away, of course, as he did everything, but made absolutely no attempt to reciprocate. And yet Kai still persisted. It was true that Theodore had recently taken to joining him for lunch when invited, but he remained polite and cool through their interactions, rarely divulging information about himself or his home life. And really, there was nothing to tell, no special moments or funny stories. His days moved like clockwork, never shifting, never faltering, a routine that lasted, unshakable, unhindered by any inconvenience or circumstance. 

            “No, thank you,” Theodore replied. “I have a fair bit of work today.” This was a different voice than the one he’d used in the coffee shop, not his old boss, but one he’d grafted into himself from a particularly ineffectual therapist. It was pleasant and even, but there was no familiarity or warmth in it. To the original owner of the voice, and to those who heard it, it simply sounded like a friendly, but reserved tone. But Theodore had known the truth when he’d first encountered it, and he knew it now when he used it. It was cold and disingenuous, lacking in any of the kindness the owner had attempted to put into it, coated in a layer of sugar that comforted the anxious and despairing like lollipops given to crying children. 

Kai’s smile faltered and he lightly tapped his fingers on the doorframe. “Oh...you sure? Breaks are good for you, you know! Don’t want to overwork yourself.” 

            “It’s quite alright.” Theodore gave him a smile, perfectly even and balanced, the same one he’d practiced in the mirror that morning and every morning prior. “I’ll take a short break soon enough, but I haven’t the time for a full lunch.” His voice had shifted, no longer the lacking therapist, it was now the slightly remorseful tone of his mother. This was a voice it had taken him some time to perfect. Not for lack of hearing it, but for the crackled, tinny quality it had, always coming through the damaged phone his father never saw fit to replace. ‘Next time, Theodore’, she would always say, with a hint of sadness, ‘I promise I’ll see you next time.’ If he stopped to think about it, perhaps he would wonder why he felt no sorrow in those memories, why he was not upset then or now. But he didn’t stop, and so he didn’t think, and so he did not feel or care. 

Kai nodded, shuffling his feet for a moment and then smoothing his hair. “Next time, maybe?” 

Theodore gave a slight, even incline of his head, which caused Kai to smile broadly, a breath of relief escaping him. 

“Great! Hope work goes well!” With this, Kai lifted a hand to wave, lingered for a moment, then left. 

            Once he was alone again, Theodore’s eyes flicked to bottom right of his computer screen. 12:00 PM. He looked back to the document he’d been typing, saved it, and then put his computer into sleep mode. Theodore stood from his desk and used a hand to tuck his chair beneath it, stepping from his office and flipping the light off as he went. He paused, turned, and locked the door behind him, then tucked his keys into his pocket and headed for the elevator. His workload was rather light that day, despite what he’d told Kai, and he was going to the cafe for lunch. This was nothing out of the usual, as he typically would go there for another coffee and a sandwich. The elevator arrived and he stepped in, nodding politely at the faerie inside. She was a tenth floor worker, three above Theodore, and her name was Senna. She was the manager for an outreach program that the engineering firm had with a nearby public school, helping to educate and scout promising students. They had never spoken and it was unlikely she even knew Theodore’s name, but she smiled broadly before looking down at her phone once more. Theodore lightly pressed the button for the ground floor, then neatly folded his hands behind his back. 

            Theodore knew that when most people stood still, they were not truly still. There was typically some aspect of fidgeting, some slight shift or motion that kept their bodies fluid and occupied. But he was not most people, and try as he might, he had not perfected this particular form of camouflage yet. His posture was tall and poised, eyes focused blankly on the metal doors before him. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of his chest, it would have been entirely possible to mistake him for a statue. Perhaps some sculpture come to life, on the run from its creators and attempting to hide within humanity; a twisted gargoyle that had pushed erect and slipped a mask over its grimace. The woman glanced at Theodore, and he could see her slight shift of concern. His stillness had made her nervous. He relaxed his shoulders and began to tap his fingers against his lower back, a steady, measured action, with each thump coming in even, 1.5 second intervals. The woman calmed, let out a small sigh of relief, and resumed looking at her phone. The doors dinged open on the third floor, and the woman gave Theodore a smile before stepping out. He returned it, of course, honed and perfect, and for a moment she seemed flustered, a slight pink coming to her cheeks. But then the doors slid shut once more, and their interaction was immediately stored inside her folder, brushed away by the gentle, musical laugh of the elf. 

            As he stepped out on the ground floor, Theodore tilted his head to check his watch. 12:03. On schedule as always. He was a well oiled set of gears that would simply mince any sort of cog. He walked from the office building and into the cafe, settling himself in line. 12:05. Perfectly on time. He leaned slightly to the right, eyes briefly flicking over the people in front of him. Three of them, the same number as that morning, the same amount of time to wait through. He continued to return to this cafe for its efficiency. They had never put him behind schedule in all the time he’d been a patron, and if he were capable of feeling gratitude or fondness for that, it is likely he would have. His reactions that morning had simply been an anomaly, an unexpected change to his routine that had left him scattered, had brushed just a smidgen of dust onto the otherwise perfect machinery of his life. But it was gone, and he was immaculate once more. He moved forward as the line shifted, lifting his gaze to study the menu above him. The cafe’s specials and sandwiches changed daily, and it would not do to be one of those fools that stood and stared and held up the line. No, just as he chose this place for its efficiency, he dealt it the same respect it did him. A brief, downward flick of his eyes. 12:08. Another step, another customer gone. The person before him stood still, a low, droning noise coming from their lips. Theodore blinked. Once, twice, again. 

            “Uhhh…” the man sustained the sound, tilting his head back to study the menu. 

12:09. He felt a brief swell of annoyance, similar to the anger he’d felt earlier that day, but this was more dry and acrid, a bitter soot that clumped in the back of his mouth and caked his throat.

“Uhhh...I’ll just get a cranberry muffin and a kale smoothie,” the man finally said. 

“Coming right up, Sir!” The barista chirped, and Theodore once more experienced the oddity of his brain’s transmission stalling. It was the elf from that morning, the new worker. There was absolutely no mistaking his voice, and though this was only his second encounter with him, Theodore knew he could pick the sound from a buzzing crowd if need be. The man moved, and finally Theodore was at the front. 

“Oh! Good afternoon, Sir!” The elf, Passeri, smiled. “Welcome back!” 

            Theodore paused for a moment. The machinery of his brain screeched across an overlooked speck of dust, momentarily halted by the unexpected and tenacious grain of change. 

“Thank you,” Theodore finally said. “How has your day been?”

“Busy!” Passeri laughed. “First days, you know?” 

He nodded. He had absolutely no idea to what the elf was referring, had never found any sort of difficulty in firsts as opposed to hundredths, but it was an expected social grace to agree, and one he was not at all bothered to give. “I hope your day improves,” he remarked with a smile. This was not the polite, smooth expression he practiced every day, his most worn and fitted mask, but one he’d stolen from an old acquaintance, a halfling who spent most of his time flattering. The elf’s cheeks flushed slightly, clearly noticing the gentle charm in Theodore’s facial shift. 

“Th-thank you, Sir!” He stammered out, another laugh escaping him, though this one was softer, the nervous flutter of a bird’s wings. “Oh, uhm, what can I get for you?” 

“A large drip coffee and the spinach and artichoke sandwich, please.” 

Passeri nodded. “Coming right up! Name for the order is...Theodore?” 

            Theodore returned the nod and moved to pay, acquaintance's smile still on his face. He ignored the sparks that sizzled within him, leaving small scorch marks of obsession along the otherwise smooth, white walls of his mind. The elf had remembered him, remembered his name. 12:13. Still on schedule despite his brief chat. A moment later, his name was called, unfortunately not by Passeri, but by another worker. His face had since slipped back to its usual blank, emotionless slate, and as he stepped up to the counter to get his food, he quickly donned the carefully painted mask of his most courteous smile. Theodore glanced at Passeri as he moved to leave, noting that the elf was currently making a coffee. However, a second later, he lifted his head and their eyes met. Passeri blinked for a moment, then smiled and raised his hand in a slight wave. 

“Have a good day, Sir!” He called. “Come back soon!” 

            Theodore gave him a brief, friendly nod, then stepped from the cafe. 12:15. He began the walk back to his office and it was at this point, midstep, that he had his first realization of two. Namely, that he had not the slightest clue which voice he’d used when speaking to Passeri just moments prior. He could place the smiles, the posture of his body, and the motion of his hands. He could bring up each folder they belonged to, pinpoint exactly where they were stored, and who he had stolen them from. But the voice he could not. It had seemed to come from somewhere else, some long abandoned, cobweb ridden corner closet of his being that had not seen light in many, many years. It was not catalogued or numbered and did not belong to anyone he’d ever met, but it was familiar, if difficult to place. It was not the reverberation of some past figure, nor the imprint a real human had left on his sterile, mechanical mind. No, it was something else entirely. It was the shift of gears and the twist of machinery that had given way to the dark, grating sound of a chisel cracking too deep within the earth and releasing a frenzied, desperate torrent of magma. It was his own voice, the single note symphony of his life. Thrown out of harmony with his own apathy, it had burst forth in an attempt to blend with the brilliant, blinding orchestra of the elf; rising and falling, until the pieces had become intertwined and united. 

            The second realization Theodore had as he stepped into his office building and headed for the elevator. This one, while equally as strange as the use of his own voice, proved to be far less confounding. Perhaps he had suspected it, if not consciously. He pressed the elevator button and lifted his eyes to the dial above the doors, keeping track of the lift’s location as it slowly descended to meet him. This realization came with a flush of warmth, building in his core and settling over his entire being. Not in the way his masks did, small and well painted, easily covering the blank, expressionless face that belied no life or familiarity. No, this was different. This was hot and messy; unpracticed, unrefined; a hoarse, shuddering staccato that beat a non-rhythm against the walls of his mind and threatened to shatter the sturdy glass that had long comprised his being. It was a fire that blazed through him, melting the sterile white paint and curling the precise, straight beams of detachment he’d spent years tempering. Ruinous and unforgiving, it burned him; and were he a weaker man, one with less refinement or grace, likely he would have gasped or trembled. Instead, he stood stock still as the meticulously constructed asylum of his person was damaged, the climbing heat leaving only one thing untouched in its otherwise impartial wave of destruction. The pedestal of the elf. It sat, pure and whole, not a single speck of soot upon its flawless, white surface. As the doors of the elevator opened with a soft ‘bing!’ Theodore stepped in and turned, hands neatly and loosely holding his lunch. The inferno within him would go unnoticed by all, his poise all too perfected to belie the catastrophe that had boiled his insides and left him consumed. But he knew. He knew and he accepted it all too graciously. He was in love. And there was not a single thing that could even hope to stand in the wake of his flames. 

Chapter Text

 

            Passeri sighed tiredly as he shoved his key into the lock of his door, twisting it several times before it finally budged and slid open with a loud clack. He stepped inside his apartment, shutting the door behind him and twisting the deadbolt. He then lifted his hand to move the chain into place, but paused as his fingers brushed over the damaged object. He’d once again forgotten to call maintenance to come replace it. Passeri let out another sigh and simply turned from the door, heading into his bedroom and quickly stripping out of his work uniform. Though his first day had gone smoothly, he was worn out, and wanted nothing more than to slip into some comfortable clothes and simply relax. Once he was changed, Passeri went to his kitchen and opened the refrigerator, brow furrowing as he studied the food within. He’d also forgotten to go shopping. He shook his head and straightened up, swiping an apple from the counter as he walked into the living room and dropped himself on the couch. He tugged his computer into his lap and opened the lid, logging in and going to his Facebook page. 

            It had been a few weeks since he’d last updated any of his social media, and so he took this opportunity to post about his new job. He then scrolled through his feed, shifting the mouse to dismiss each pop up notification whenever a friend reacted to his status. After several minutes, his computer dinged, and he glanced to the bottom right corner of the screen, taking note of a flashing chat bar with his friend, Ari. Passeri rubbed at his face for a moment, contemplating whether he truly had the energy to talk, then sighed and clicked on the bar. While he knew he was exhausted, he hadn’t spoken to Ari in nearly a week, and he was beginning to feel like a bad friend. 

 

 

Ari: Passeri!! How’s the new job??
Passeri: It’s good! Right next to an office building, so we stay pretty busy tbh. 

Ari: Oh nice! Are you just paid hourly, or you get tips too?

Passeri: We get tips! We have a tip jar and we just sort of...divvy it up at the end of the day. 

Ari: That’s great! I miss you! You should come visit soon, or I could? 

Passeri: Sure, that sounds great! I miss you too. It’s so weird having moved away...I’m really not used to it yet, you know? 

           

            Passeri took a bite of his apple and lifted a hand to rub at his eye. He stifled a yawn, then slid his computer onto the couch and stood up. His apartment had only four windows, each of which he’d covered with heavy blackout curtains to keep out any sort of prying gaze. He knew it was rather unnecessary, after all, it was rather unlikely anyone would be coming up to the third floor to peep, but he had been unable to relax within his new home until he’d done so. He walked to each window, nervously pulling back the curtains to check the locks and ensure they were properly situated. His throat was tight and dry the entire time, and he let out a shaky breath of relief once he’d finished. He walked back to his laptop now, sitting and checking his messages. 

 

 

Ari: Ah, yeah, that makes sense… How’s the new place? 

Passeri: It’s...alright? The windows are kinda big, so I had to get double curtains to cover them all, but managed to do so. Climbing the three flights of stairs is a bit annoying though. 

Ari: That’s good about the curtains at least! Keep all the dark out. 

Passeri: Haha, yeah. The dark is out, and so are any peeping toms. 

Ari: Peeping toms on the third floor?

Passeri: One of my windows has a fire escape attached to it. Someone really committed could get up here, you know? 

Ari: Oh Passeri...you’re just spooking yourself thinking like that. 

Passeri: Yeah, you’re right… Still, kinda hard not worry about, I guess. Just spooks me sometimes. Anyway, I should probably be headed to bed here soon. It was good to catch up!! Night! 

Ari: Yeah, likewise! Sleep well! 

 

            Passeri closed his laptop and finished off his apple, heading to the kitchen and tossing the core into the trash can. His stomach growled quietly, and he briefly considered ordering takeout, but eventually decided not to. Though he was hungry, he didn’t currently have the expendable income to waste on potentially expensive food. Passeri sighed softly and rubbed at the back of his neck, then pulled out his phone and turned on his flashlight, flipping off the light in the kitchen and going to his bedroom. He slipped into bed and plugged his phone in to charge, turning off the flash, and stretching a hand out to plug his nightlight in, the room lighting up with a soft, purple glow. He sometimes felt embarrassed to be twenty-one years old and still so afraid of the dark. But try as he might, it was a fear he simply could not get over, and so he coped with it to the best of his ability, making use of his flashlight, and keeping the areas around him well illuminated. The new and unfamiliar setting of his apartment also did not lend itself well to a peaceful and relaxing sleep, and he would often find himself waking every few hours, disoriented and confused. He was not used to his home yet, and without the glow of his nightlight, he was sure that he would surpass puzzlement during those moments of wakefulness, and slip straight into a vice grip of panic. He snuggled into his pillows, tugging his blanket up and over his shoulders as he closed his eyes and let out a heavy exhale. The day had been long and he was eager to finally rest, wrapped in the soft, warm cocoon of his bed, desperately hoping that the next time he woke, it would already be morning. 

 

~~***~~

 

            Theodore pushed the door to the cafe open, his steps even and measured as he crossed the floor. He came to a stop at the back of the line, eyes moving over the people standing before him. Martin was there. His file jumped out at Theodore, pages flipping, waiting to be glanced at. But that was not why he had come to the cafe. He ignored Martin, shifted his gaze further, but did not find what he was looking for. He blinked, glanced at his watch. 7:38. His elf should have been there. Theodore blinked once more, could feel the flames of obsession licking at the corners of his mind as his eyes darted around the room. No Passeri. His elf was not there. The line shifted as Martin moved, and Theodore stepped forward. 

“Good morning, Sir,” the woman behind the counter said. “What can I get for--?”

“Where is Passeri?” Theodore asked. The interruption, though rude, was carried across the counter in such a polite, concerned tone that the woman did not even balk. Instead, she gave a small shrug and tapped her acrylic nails against the counter, the rhythm unrefined and sloppy. 

“He called out,” she replied, shrugging again. “Sick or something.” 

“I see. A large drip coffee, then. Name for the order is Theodore.” His tone had shifted, no longer concerned, but still polite. It was not his voice. He had tried, gazing into the mirror with head cocked to the side, to pull his own voice from his larynx. When that had not worked, he’d attempted to coax it out, but he had never been very gentle, and it continued to avoid him. 

            Theodore stepped aside after paying. The shift in his routine was bothersome. Every morning for the last two weeks he would come into the coffee shop and order from his elf. And every afternoon, he would return and order from him once more. Careful, meticulous clockwork. These were the only times his voice, so evasive it was, would come forth, bubbling from his lips and dripping to the floor, a bloody stain on his otherwise flawless composure. He was crafted perfection in every other instance of his life, and even in the other aspects of these interactions. But his voice, the discordant grind of gears and machinery, a sound that belied his true nature and exposed him as inhuman, he had no control of it then. At first, Theodore had wondered why this did not upset him, did not bring forth any of the hot, sticky anger he’d felt when his routine had first been interrupted by his elf. But the answer was simple. He was in love. He was in love, and love was forgiving. His elf did not mean to stir the feelings within Theodore that he did, just as his elf certainly did not mean to forego seeing Theodore that day. He was not upset with him. Theodore stepped forward as his name was called, taking his coffee and exiting the building. 7:45. On time as always, despite the interference to his day. 

            For a time he had been satisfied, seeing his elf in the mornings and afternoons, their brief chats playing through his head all day while he busied himself with paperwork and meetings. He had memorized Passeri’s work schedule down to the second, lined it up with his own, twining their routines together and marveling at how perfectly they fit. However, his satisfaction was short lived. For the first time in Theodore’s life, he wanted. He craved, he yearned, and he ached. The sterile rooms of his mind had been scorched by the fire of obsession, and though he had grown far more accustomed to the burning, had reshaped the melted beams and reapplied the white paint, the scars of his desire were still there. The pedestal of his elf had expanded, holding more and more as they interacted, pushing the meaningless further into the dark, receded corners of Theodore’s psyche. The unnecessary was not forgotten, no, that was impossible for a machine such as himself. But the code, useless and clunky, was simply not needed, and so it collected dust, files tossed to the floor and covered in cobwebs, their pages curling and wrinkling with mildew. It seemed to Theodore, that as the inferno of his passions blazed stronger, the untouched parts of him grew colder, wetter, and darker. Locked rooms with long abandoned keys, areas he had not entered in years, permitting them to rot and decay, unseen and unknown. Theodore felt the flames of his love rise and flare, more of his carefully constructed rooms swallowed in their fervor. The cafe was not enough. Not anymore. 


            Theodore shifted his hands on the steering wheel and tilted his head to the side. He had followed Passeri to the pharmacy, and was now sitting in his car as he watched him shuffle inside. A large part of him had simply wanted to call out of work the moment he’d noticed his elf’s absence from the cafe, but he had resisted. It would have been an oddity, unusual and curious. He had never called out of work before, never been sick, never taken a personal day, never even come in slightly behind time. There would have been questions, poking and prodding, eager to pull back his skin and see what had clogged the machine. No, he had not skipped work. He had gone, sat through meetings and discussions and briefings, took notes and filed paperwork until his eyes threatened to bleed. And then, he’d been out the door at 5:30 sharp, heel hitting the smooth pavement as the second clicked to zero on his perfectly set watch. That was when the shift in his routine had begun. He did not travel homeward, as he always did on Wednesday evenings, but instead to the apartment of his elf; an address he’d easily found and carefully catalogued, tagging it for swift access, even though the very notion he could forget or lose it was laughable. He let out a small sigh, then reached over to unbuckle his seatbelt and open the car door, his movements measured and mechanical. 

            The inside of the pharmacy was quiet, soft muzak spilled from the speakers and wormed its way into his ears, determined to spin around and around his brain stem until he was forced to put his head through a window. Theodore flicked his eyes upward, noting that the sections for cold and allergy were directly beside each other. An excuse for his presence, fate or coincidence rather than meticulous plan. He stepped into the aisle and took note of Passeri, huddled in on himself and sniffling quietly, buried in at least three layers of sweaters. Theodore gazed at his elf for a moment, then turned his body to face the allergy medicine, eyes held in a downward slant, his mind too preoccupied with Passeri’s proximity to allow him even a moment of reprieve. He had never seen Passeri outside of his work clothes, and he was briefly struck by how small his elf was, especially in comparison to his own size. The realization set a heat coursing through him, a desire to protect, if only for the reward of breaking. His elf was so little, so fragile and weak, eyes watery and nose red, his body shivering as though he were beset by some terrible frost. The fire within him climbed, licking streaks across his back and neck, creating a yearning so powerful that for a moment he was sure he would melt. 

            Theodore was pulled from his hungering thoughts by the sudden knowledge that he had been standing still for too long. He lifted a hand to the shelf before him, eyes briefly pulling from Passeri as the fingers of his prosthetic connected with a smooth, cheerful blue box. He blinked at it for a moment, roving his eyes over the text as though he were unfamiliar with the words. He’d read this box perhaps a hundred times or more in his life. He could recite every warning, every ingredient, every side effect, every doctor’s suggestion without missing a beat, perhaps even in his sleep. He knew the exact dosage he needed, just how much would be helpful, and how much would push too far, make him sick and groggy and useless. He had learned that at a young age, when his body, malnourished and scrawny, had been too small to handle any sort of dosing for a child of his own age, let alone adults. He blinked once more, pretended to consider. He pulled the face of his secretary on, a mask of pondering, brows furrowed and lips pursed. He lifted the box closer, angled it in the light, squinted his eyes and-- 

            “Th-that’s a good brand,” a soft voice interrupted from his right, broken up by quiet sniffles and thick with phlegm. “My sister uses it...and she’s allergic to basically everything…” 

Theodore tilted his head to look, keeping a slow, even pace, ignoring his body’s desire to snap sideways, attention raptly focused on his elf. They had never spoken outside of Passeri’s work, never spoken outside of brief, light conversations about the day.

“Oh! Hey!” Passeri smiled as Theodore’s gaze fell on his face. His skin was sallow, lips sleep swollen and eyes ringed by dark circles. He had never looked more beautiful. “Fancy meeting you here,” his elf continued. 

Theodore gave a slight nod, returning Passeri’s smile with the practiced, flattering one he would so often adopt in his presence. “Sick?” He asked, resisting the urge to flinch as his own voice crawled forth, battering all common sense and order from his brain as it longed for freedom, dropping its heaving, desiccated body at Passeri’s feet, jaw agape and eyes leaking. But Passeri did not tear his eyes from Theodore’s face, did not seem to notice the excoriated, bloody creature before him, with skin so tender that the very air made it wail. 

“That obvious, huh?” Passeri’s smile shifted, became less polite, more tired. “I guess I do kinda look like shit…” he laughed quietly and rubbed at the back of his neck. “I don’t think I’m contagious though, so no worries about proximity. Just figured it’d be better to call out, you know?” 

“You look fine,” Theodore replied, attempting to draw his voice back, to cover the unsightly thing with a cloth or a mask. But it refused. It batted him away and pressed closer to Passeri, leaving bloody handprints as it began to tug itself upward, desperate to climb inside and live somewhere else. Theodore wanted to crush it. Unsightly, malignant beast it was, he wanted to bring his heel down upon it and grind it into a worthless paste. The audacity of his voice, to force itself out; a disobedient animal tracking blood and viscera with each dragging step of its limp and pathetic body. It ruined his composure, spoke with the twist and grind of gears, a peek into the machinery that ran his cold, inhuman body. 

Passeri let out a small laugh, stuffing one hand into the pocket of his hoodie. “Thanks. I don’t know what looks okay about this,” he gestured to his face with his other hand. “But I appreciate it.” He nodded to the allergy medicine Theodore still grasped. “That for you?” 

            Theodore shifted his eyes to the box, giving only a small nod in response, not wanting to open his mouth lest the despicable cadaver of his voice stir to life once more. 

“What’re you allergic to?” Passeri asked, tilting his head slightly. However, the moment he said this, he lifted his hand and gave a small wave, cheeks darkening with embarrassment as he pursed his lips. “S-sorry, that’s a bit personal. We’ve never really talked outside the cafe before, I don’t want to seem like I’m prying, I guess? You’re just...nice and I see you a lot and I don’t really have any friends around here, so--” His cheeks flushed further and he bit his lip, the action causing Theodore’s eyes to snap to his mouth. He longed to replace Passeri’s teeth with his own, to throw his elf on the ground and bite every inch of him, not stopping until he was an unrecognizable mass of writhing blood and gore, veins thick and stringy between his teeth. He could feel his mask waver, the inferno of his desire warping and melting the hard plastic. But no, not here, not now, not yet. He straightened himself, fixed his mask, quenched the flames, and responded. 

            “It’s alright.” The creature began its ascent once more, mewling and trembling as it moved, shaking hand over shaking hand. He ignored it. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable. I’m allergic to pollen. With the seasons changing soon, I thought I’d get a headstart on stocking up.” 

Passeri nodded sharply, cheeks still burning a soft red. “O-oh, that sucks! I’m not allergic to anything, but that also means my immune system is awful…” He kicked at the floor for a moment, then shrugged. “So if anyone even thinks about getting sick, I get a fever.” 

Theodore blinked, attempting to come up with a response. He had never participated in small talk, had simply recused himself and avoided it at all costs. He didn’t know how, was unsure of the proper mirroring technique. 

“It’s okay, though!” Passeri continued. “Win some, lose some, right?” He laughed softly. The creature made a noise, and it took Theodore a moment to realize he was laughing as well, an unfamiliar and almost painful sound. It was pressed right next to Passeri’s ear now, blood gurgling from its lips as it wheezed out another laugh. Passeri smiled at Theodore. “I should probably be heading home. I’m feeling...a bit faint from all this activity. But, hey, you know where I work. Don’t be a stranger.” His smile broadened and he lifted a hand to wave as he stepped around Theodore. “Maybe next time you come in, we can get a coffee together instead of you just ordering one from me?” 

            Theodore gave a quick nod, his refusal to speak causing the simpering creature to fall from Passeri’s body and splat wetly against the marble floor. Theodore stepped forward, pressed his foot over it, the pressure muffling its panicked sobs. He wanted to feel it burst, wanted to crush its soft, flabby body so that it could never again betray or disobey. 

“Sounds good!” His elf chirped, fixing him with another smile. “I look forward to it.” With this, Passeri turned and left, heading for the front counter. Theodore stood where he was for a moment, looking back down to the box in his hands. He could feel his voice writhing beneath the toe of his shoe, weak, pitiful mewls escaping it. Traitorous bastard that it was, it would never obey him, bursting forth to embarrass him, again and again like an excited child. He gave a slight tug of his suit jacket, adjusted his sleeves, then walked to the front, barely sparing a glance to the floor behind him. He had felt the beast slip back in, its slimy, hairless body sliding down his throat, where it tucked itself once more, crying and whimpering, a battered and foolish animal that refused to learn its place. Theodore approached the counter, set the box down, donned his most practiced mask, but did not dare speak. A smooth, flawless transaction despite the itchy feeling of his voice crawling and squirming within him. 

            He did not permit himself to think until he was back in his car, hands clasped on the steering wheel as he gazed out the windshield. Passeri was not there, he had gone home. Theodore briefly considered following him, wanting to see more, to press close and dissect him. But there was little point. He had noted the curtains on Passeri’s windows and knew it was unlikely they would be pulled back at this point in the day; the sunlight was waning, and it seemed improbable that his elf would be fond of the darkness, so soft and fragile he was. He rubbed the skin of his palm against the leather of the wheel. Passeri wanted to get coffee together, had spoken familiarly toward him, had even been embarrassed, worried about frightening Theodore off or discomforting him. Theodore blinked for a moment, somewhat amused by his elf’s nervousness. The very notion that he could be driven away was almost laughable, and it caused him to shake his head as he put his car in motion and began the drive home. His elf had been so worried, so scared of being alone, of not having him anymore. Thankfully, the solution was easy and readily apparent: he would simply become even more of a constant in his elf’s life, prove to him that there was nothing he could do to get rid of him. He turned onto the main road of the city, giving another small head shake. His elf was so silly, so nervous and fluttery; it would be easy to prove his devotion, and to remind Passeri where he belonged. 

Chapter Text

            “This is the third time I’ve called this week!” Passeri said angrily into the phone, tears burning in his eyes as he paced within his living room. “If you can’t find the check, I don’t know what to tell you! I paid for it, it’s been taken out of my account! I don’t have the money to write a whole second check!”  

He heard his landlord sigh on the other end. “Taken out of your account and put where? It’s not in our system. If you mishandled the check and someone stole it--”

“I didn’t mishandle shit! I put in the drop box!” 

“And it was not there. Perhaps it fell out?”

“How would it fall out?” 

Another sigh. “Or perhaps you never paid it at all.”

“Wha--”

“Have it paid by the end of next week, or we will begin the eviction process. Have a good day, Mr. Maelon.” 

Passeri froze in his steps, fingers trembling around his phone. He stood still for so long, that his phone shrieked at him, furious he was still on the line long past the dial tone. He flinched and pulled back, stuffing it into his pocket and collapsing on the couch, shoulders heaving with sobs. 

            However, he had only moments to cry before the alarm on his phone went off, warning him that he really should have been out the door and headed to work five minutes prior. He quickly wiped at his eyes and shoved to his feet, leaving his apartment and running down the stairs in his hurry to be on time. Thankfully, traffic was light and he managed to arrive at the cafe with moments to spare. He went in, slipped his apron over his head, slapped his customer service smile on, and prepared to take his first order of the day. After a few customers had trickled through, Passeri was treated to the pleasant and familiar presence of his favorite customer. Theodore was always kind to Passeri; he’d never blamed him if one of the other barista’s messed up his order or took too long, and Passeri now returned that kindness by ensuring he was always the one to assist him. He felt his practiced smile slip, Theodore’s arrival proving comforting enough that a few tears leaked from his eyes. 

            “Are you alright?” Theodore asked, giving Passeri a slight, concerned head tilt. 

“I’m...um.” Passeri bit his lip, choked up. “I’ll be okay, sorry.” He began to plug in the order automatically, fingers trembling. “L-large drip--”

“Passeri,” Theodore interrupted, his voice gentle, but firm. Passeri had become fond of the sound, though the first time he’d heard it had been somewhat jarring. It seemed out of place for the way Theodore carried himself and interacted, his behavior so refined but his voice so raw. “What’s wrong?” 

This question had drawn the attention of another barista within the shop, and she paused in her work to come over, setting a hand on Passeri’s shoulder. “Do you need to step away for a moment?” 

Passeri’s lips quivered, but he nodded, giving Theodore a pleading look as he moved around the counter. He felt pathetic. Though Theodore was his favorite customer and seemed to hold some fondness for him, Passeri was sure the older man did not regard him in such a friendly manner. He was certain that his miserable, pitiful display would scare him off and he would lose the only friend he’d managed to make since moving away from home. 

            However, Theodore moved with him, his hand gently pressing to Passeri’s lower back as he escorted him to the patio outside. The moment they were seated, Passeri burst into tears, burying his face in his hands. 

“I’m s-sorry,” he managed to blubber out, “this is so pathetic, and you have work soon and--”

“What’s wrong?” Theodore repeated. 

Passeri let out a soft, heaving sob, then lifted his head, fixing watery eyes on Theodore. “M-my landlord lost my check. He l-lost it and some ass took it and deposited it a-and now I’m being threatened with eviction and I d-don’t--” he choked up, fingers curling against his skin. “I don’t know what to do b-because I can’t pay it again b-but I can’t be evicted, where would I g-go? I just moved here, I don’t know anyone, I--” he dissolved into sobs once more, hands trembling against his skin. He felt furious with himself, sure that he was not only coming off as pitiful, but useless as well. 

“I could cover it for you,” Theodore replied. 

This response shocked Passeri so much that for a moment, he stopped crying, a soft, weak whimper escaping him. He then shook his head sharply. “N-no, I couldn’t ask you to do that, it’s a lot of money and you barely know me and--”

“I don’t mind.” 

            Passeri gave another quick shake of his head. “N-no…it’s really okay…”

“It clearly is not. If you’re unable to pay it and you get evicted, like you said, where would you go?” 

“I…” he sniffled and looked up, biting his lip. “Back to my parents, I guess…. God…” Fresh tears filled his eyes and he clenched his throat around a despairing moan. “They’ll be so mad at me…” 

“For your landlord’s error?”

“They would think it’s my fault...that I wasn’t responsible enough...they were...worried about me coming to live on my own anyway.” Passeri shifted slightly and wrapped his arms around himself, a shaky sob escaping him. “All my friends were too…” his voice dropped to a soft whisper. “They all think I’m pretty incompetent, and I guess this just proves it, right?” 

Theodore tilted his head. “Well, you’re young. Mistakes are going to be made and you will suffer the consequences for them, especially without someone to ensure your wellbeing. But...that doesn’t sound like what’s going on in this case.” 

            “I guess…” Passeri let out a soft sigh and steeled himself. “I should go back in…” 

“Would you not prefer to take a personal day? I’m sure the management would be understanding.” 

Passeri shook his head. “No...if I need to potentially pay my rent again, I can’t afford that. Maybe I can sell some stuff…” he trailed off with another sigh, then pushed himself to his feet. “I’m really sorry, Theodore.” 

“For what?” 

“H-holding you up this morning...you didn’t get your coffee and--” 

Theodore glanced down at his watch, face remaining impassive as he noted the time. “Ah, I do suppose I am a bit behind schedule.” 

“I’m sorry…” Passeri repeated softly, tears leaking from his eyes. “God, this is so pathetic, I’m sorry.” 

Theodore looked up at him, arching a brow. “Hm?” 

            Passeri huffed and rubbed at his eyes. “I just...I don’t want to freak you out. I know you don’t really know me all that well, and I don’t know you that much, but I...I enjoy talking to you and the time we spend together when we’re both on break.” He sniffled. “Y-you’re a good guy, and I just...really worry about being too needy and weird and making you think I’m trying to use you or just...scaring you off, I guess.” 

Theodore blinked for a moment, then gave Passeri a smile. It was a charming, gentle one that made Passeri’s face feel warm and his heart flutter. “You’re not going to frighten me, Passeri, I assure you. I am not so easily gotten rid of.” 

“I…” Passeri nodded sharply, dislodging a few more tears. “Th-thank you…” 

“Of course. Do keep in mind my offer, though. If things become tight monetarily, I am more than happy to assist you.” 

“I...I’d feel bad about that…” He bit his lip. “If that does...end up happening...I can pay you back, right?” 

“While there is certainly no need for that, I would like you to do whatever would make you most comfortable.” 

“Th-that would, yeah…” he gave another nod, feeling somewhat more at ease. “Thank you… I really… I’m really glad we met.” 

“As am I.” 

~~~~

            Theodore knocked sharply on the door before him, his other hand tucked neatly behind his back. He was angry. He could feel it within him, humid and dripping, a sheen of oil clinging to the burnt black walls of his mind. He was beyond angry, even, he was furious. He knocked once more, and a moment later the door was jerked open. A squat, bald little man squinted up at him, lip curled slightly. 

“Who’re you?” The man asked. 

“That’s not important,” Theodore replied coolly. “I’m going to give you two options, one far easier than the other, and you’re going to pick one. Understood?” The voice that slipped out of him was familiar and made his blood chill. It was the voice of his father. Cold, stern, with an underlying threat of danger. He had not intended to use this one, had not meant to slip the key into the heavily padlocked room of his childhood and allow it to eke out. 

The man’s eyes further narrowed, but he took a slight step back. “I...what is this? Are you threatening me?”

“No.” 

            The man blinked for a moment, then moved to shut the door, a startled squeak escaping him as Theodore brought his hand up to stop it. He pushed, shoving the other man back, then stepped inside, neatly shutting the door behind him and pointedly twisting the lock. 

“G-get out!” The man stammered, stumbling backwards. He was terrified, face pale and oozing sweat. Theodore could feel the fire inside him growing, flames of passion, of fury, coursing through his body. He wanted to burn everything around, wanted to reduce this man to a blackened char. How dare he. How dare he make Theodore’s elf cry? Who did he think he was, this disgusting little swine, sitting in his bed of filth and muck, to threaten that which Theodore held so dear? 

“Two options,” Theodore replied softly. “One is easy. The other hard.” 

“Easy way, easy way!” 

He nodded, stepping forward and tilting his head to the side. He cast a discerning gaze over the room, eyes briefly studying the disarray around him. A flare of disgust rose within him, but he quashed it down. For now. “Passeri Maelon’s rent. I will pay for it, and you will tell him you found the check and cleared it. You misplaced it, it was your mistake. You will apologize. You will not bother or heckle him about any late fees or charges that have occurred because of your malfeasance. Are we clear?” 

            “P-Passeri Maelon? That elf? D-did he send you? Is he threatening me--?”

“I already stated you were not being threatened.” 

“I won’t be cowed by some--”

Theodore stepped forward. The movement of his body was painfully familiar as well. There was nothing poised or elegant about it, he moved not like a machine but as a predator, one that knows its prey is too weak to fight back. He could see the blood quivering within the greasy swine before him, a squealing piglet before the butcher. “Are we clear?” he asked quietly. 

The man stood still for a moment, quivering. He lifted a hand, wiped some sweat from his brow, then nodded quickly. “W-we’re clear.” 

“Splendid.” His demeanor shifted. He slammed the door on his father’s ghost, locking the grimacing specter behind doors and chains. No longer needed, no longer wanted. He was the pleasant, polite businessman once more, the voice of his old boss, the even face of his colleague. “I’m thrilled we could come to an agreement.” The man seemed taken aback by his shift in tone. “How much?” 

“W-what?”

“The rent. How much?”

“Five...five twenty…” 

“For this place?” He quirked a brow. “You really hold yourself in high esteem.” 

            The man’s face twisted for a moment, cheeks darkening in an angry flush. Theodore quirked a brow, the action measured and careful, showing only the vaguest hint of danger. It was enough, however, and the man balked once more, rubbing at his forehead and looking away. Theodore withdrew his wallet from inside his jacket, unfolding it with a small flick of his wrist. It was simple; black leather with no distinguishing marks. He had stopped by an ATM on his way over, not wanting to leave any sort of paper trail that could lead back to him. He pulled the money out, set it on the table, then boredly watched the man as he scooped it up and began to count it. 

“All there?” Theodore asked, cocking his head to the side. His voice was light and mocking, hints of his father creeping in, tendrils of smoke that curled from under the locked door. 

The man nodded and shoved the bills into his pocket. “Y-yeah.” 

“Excellent. Do you remember my instructions for how you will handle this?” 

Another nod. “Y-yes.” 

            Theodore shifted his position, crossing his arms over his chest and angling his chin slightly upwards, the stance imposing and domineering. He felt a brief flash of disgust, hatred, despised that the mask he donned for such a situation was simply the mocking visage of his father. “Do it now.” 

“Call him?” 

“What else?”

The man’s cheeks flushed once more, though this time it seemed to be born of embarrassment rather than anger. He shoved a hand in his pocket and withdrew his phone, the object greasy and shabby, much like its owner. He quickly dialed a number, then pressed it to his ear. A moment later, Theodore could hear Passeri’s voice coming through the phone, high and nervous. He felt his own voice shift within him, the pitiful creature mewling and climbing, longing to push itself from his mouth and slither away. He clenched his jaw, tightened his throat around it and crushed it back down. 

“M-Mr. Maelon,” the landlord said, “I found your check here...it’s all correct. I must have misplaced it after depositing it...I’m so sorry ah...for…” he glanced at Theodore, who narrowed his eyes. “F-for my foolishness...it’s...really my fault…” 

            Passeri could once more be heard on the other end, the relief and gratitude clear in his tone. Theodore felt a swell of affection, the fires of his passion climbing and coiling within him, longing to reach out and engulf his elf. A moment later, the landlord hung up, giving a polite goodbye as he did so. 

“Happy?” The man asked, crossing his arms and furrowing his brow. “I apologized.” 

“You certainly did,” Theodore replied softly, no longer concerned about his voice leaking out. The moment the phone conversation had ended, it had receded; slipping its slimy body behind his heart, where it curled up and began to weep once more. “I will be taking my leave then. Thank you for your cooperation.” 

“My cooperation…? You threatened me! I have half a mind to call the cops and--”

Theodore stepped closer. “I did not threaten you. Had I, you would not be feeling so bold. You have your money, Passeri is satisfied with your apology, and thusly I am as well. Let’s not make this situation less than amicable.” 

            “He your boyfriend?” He shifted, moving back from Theodore and looking at the ground. 

“He is important to me, and that is all the information you will be afforded.” He turned to leave, pausing as he unlocked the door. “And if you ever make him cry again...I will not be so understanding.” With this, Theodore slipped out, his motions mechanical and smooth once again. He shut the door, perhaps a bit more swiftly than intended, curious to see if he could trap his father’s phantom with someone else. But as he descended the stairs, he felt it settle within him once more, retreating to its home of broken glass and locked doors, salty tears and frightened whimpers. It had been foolish to think he could lose it. He stepped into the cold, clear night, sparing a brief glance at his watch. 11:37. Not on time, not on schedule. He should have been in bed over two hours ago. A tremor attempted to wrack him, but he stifled it. He could hear the pounding, slamming, beating of his father’s shadow, hitting the door, screaming to be let out, to punish. He was off schedule. Off schedule, off routine, off order. Without order, humanity was lost. Humanity was nothing, little more than beasts. 

            Theodore gritted his teeth and slipped into his car, leaned forward, pressed his forehead to the steering wheel. His heart was hammering in his chest, his voice wailing, an infant’s cry. It was terrified. It could hear the continued shrieking, yelling, tormenting of his father, of its father, of their father. His fingers curled against the cool leather of his chair, he attempted to ground himself, to remind his body and mind of where and who he was. He was in his car. He was not in a closet. He was thirty-seven years old. He was not a child. He lived in the city of Rochester. He was not in Ecorse. He took a deep breath and sat up, body settling. His left hand quivered on the wheel for a moment, but he steadied it with his right. The mechanical would always still the flesh, would always win. Another deep breath, a quick glance at the time. 11:45. Panic swelled in him once more, and he desperately sought for something to fight it, something to hold onto, a buoy in the storm of his memories. His elf. His elf, where was his elf? He dug his fingers into the crumbling foundation of his mind, clawed and pushed until he had ripped himself from the debris that had toppled around him. He could hear the echoing timbre of his father, it mingled with the wails of his voice. He ignored both. They didn’t matter, neither mattered, the only thing, the only thing that mattered, that could save him--

            A sharp exhale. There he was. Passeri. His elf. He pressed to the pedestal, nail beds bleeding and palms streaked with filth. The purity of love washed away his sin, cleansed the dirt and rot of the dark corners he’d lurked in for far too long. Gentle, warm hands caressed him, brushed free the cobwebs that clung to his suit, wiped away the fears that had wormed their way to the surface, writhing bodies pressed taut to the skin of his disguise. The gratitude of Passeri’s voice enveloped him, the beautiful, lilting symphony of his laugh, his smile, his presence. Theodore calmed, a slow, shaky breath leaving him. He could no longer hear his father, no longer feel the gritty muck of memory clinging to his skin, no longer hear the piercing wail of his own voice. There was just Passeri. Fire rose within him and he climbed higher onto the pedestal, longed to press closer, to feel more, to hold and break and mar. The blackened char of his mind shifted, soot and ash blown by wind, carried on the breeze of his songbird’s call. His elf. His Passeri. His everything. His routine was not broken, it was simply bent. A slight change that he had afforded for his love. He put the car in motion and began to drive home, body still and poised once more. He would not balk or shatter, not when Passeri needed him. He would be anything, do anything, ruin anything, build anything--everything--he would, for his love. 


            Despite the shift to his routine the night before, Theodore easily put himself back on schedule the following morning. He stepped into the coffee shop at exactly 7:35, as he always did, and took his place in line. There was only one person in front of him, and they moved shortly thereafter, freeing his sight and allowing him to focus it on the only thing that truly mattered. His elf. Passeri looked much happier than he had the day prior; his eyes were no longer red or tear swollen, and he seemed to be in a far better mood. He smiled at Theodore’s approach. 

“The usual?” His elf asked, quirking a brow and widening his smile. 

Theodore nodded. He wanted to speak, wanted to tell Passeri of his actions, to hear that same gratitude he’d heard on the phone. But he held back, jaw clenched tightly against the squirm of his voice.

“Coming right up!” Passeri punched the order in, then leaned against the counter. “My landlord called me, apparently he’d misplaced my check after depositing it.” He scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Can you believe that? He was threatening to evict me, but he had my money the whole time.” He sighed, giving a slight shake of his head. This action dislodged a few strands of hair from the loose bun they were normally held in. 

            Theodore’s eyes traced the free curls for a moment. He longed to tangle his fingers in those dark tresses, to pull Passeri’s head back, expose his throat, and press heated, hungry kisses to his skin. He wanted to mar his flesh, to bruise and wound him, each injury a testament to his love and a claim of his territory. 

“It’s kinda funny though,” Passeri continued, pulling Theodore from his thoughts. “I was so panicked yesterday, and now...everything’s okay.” He shrugged, then let out a small laugh. “Almost feels like I’ve got someone watching over me, you know?” 

“It’s possible,” Theodore replied, stifling a flinch as his voice finally punched its way free, an ugly rasp of gears that filled the air and demanded to be heard. 

Passeri laughed again. Theodore’s mind enclosed the sound, trapped it in the beautiful, gilded cage he’d crafted for his songbird. How he longed to keep Passeri in there as well. 

“I’m glad it got sorted out,” he continued, giving Passeri a practiced, charming smile as he paid for his coffee. 

“Me too!” Passeri nodded. “I really appreciate you talking to me yesterday. I know it was...kind of a lot, so it really means the world to me.” Passeri’s smile softened, into one Theodore had not seen before. It was gentle and warm. Familiar. 

            The raw, bloody hands of his consciousness stirred, reached out, grasped the smile and pulled it within their heaving, wailing bodies. His voice was pressed so close to Passeri now, stroking shaking, desiccated fingers over the soft, smooth skin of his face. It wanted to pry his lips open and slip inside, to live within a body not made of grinding gears and razor wire. Its skin was weak and easily opened, and the churn of Theodore’s inner workings constantly broke it, crushed it, hurt it. Theodore would not permit it the kindness of escape. He returned Passeri’s smile, but clenched his throat around his voice, drawing it back across the counter, its legs kicking as it wailed and fought. He could control it. He would control it. 

“Of course, Passeri,” he replied, and his voice slipped. Its body was too soft, too slick with blood. He was left clinging to bits of flesh as it threw itself against Passeri once more, begging to be seen, crying to be loved. “I was more than happy to help. Please let me know if I can ever do anything else for you.” 

Passeri nodded. “The same goes for you, okay? If you ever need something, please don’t hesitate to ask, Theo.” 

            The nickname slipped off Passeri’s tongue as the last drop of rain does from a heavy tree. It splatted loudly against the ground, but the rain had long gone, and there was nothing to cushion its fall. Theodore blinked. Once, twice. The cogs of his brain spun, desperately trying to push past the sticky, wet need that clung to them. The fire inside him roared, burning past doors and gateways of safety, reducing files and catalogues to ash as it longed to burst forth and claim what was his. He could not allow it to. Not here. Not like this. 

He gave Passeri a sharp nod, another charming smile. “I will, Passeri, thank you.” 

A moment later his name was called for his coffee, and he quickly stepped aside, chancing a glance behind and noting that there were no other customers. A brief politeness afforded him by fate. He had been spared the embarrassment of standing there, holding up the line while he stammered and faltered, unable to even speak to his elf. He took the cup with a nod and a smile, then swiftly exited the cafe, noting the time as he went. 7:45. A brief exhale left him, and he calmed. His passions wavered, settled, receded. Quelled by the order and routine he ascribed to, they permitted themselves to be pushed back. But they would no longer hide behind locked doors, they had proven that much. Instead, they gathered around the pedestal of his elf, gentle flames licking at the smooth, white surface. They yearned to climb, to touch, to burn. He had to have more. He simply had to. 

Chapter Text

            Theodore shifted in his seat, sinking slightly downward. However, despite this motion, his gaze never wavered, and his eyes remained firmly locked on the moving form of his elf. He was walking into the theater, accompanied by another elf, Ari was her name. Theodore had never met her, and he didn’t care to. Were it not for the meticulous, mechanical way he had gone over Passeri’s social media, using a fine tooth comb to learn everything he could about the object of his adoration, he wouldn’t even know her name. She was a friend Passeri had made in high school, and she was visiting for the weekend, staying in his apartment. They were going to see a movie, a horror film that Passeri was excited for and had mentioned to Theodore earlier that day. Theodore tilted his wrist to look at his watch. 8:30. It was around the time he should have been arriving at his cabin--no. His uncle’s cabin. Taking ownership of the building still felt strange to him, and he was sure it always would. But that was not the issue at hand. He shook his head to dispel these thoughts, waited a few more minutes, then pushed himself from his car. He walked to the front kiosk, purchased his ticket for the movie, and slipped inside. 

            He did not particularly want Passeri to see him. If Passeri had not asked him to go, it must have been he was simply too nervous, perhaps anxious about moving too fast. His elf was so shy, so worried. Theodore stepped into the bathroom, locked himself in a stall, and waited. He checked the time. 8:45. Previews would have just started, the lights in the theater likely dimmed. He left the stall and paused to wash his hands. There was no real need to, after all, he had not used the toilet. But he found public restrooms disgusting, and the notion of leaving with unwashed hands repulsed him. He walked into the theater now, eyes immediately lighting upon Passeri, who blessedly had not noticed him. He moved swiftly, situating himself in the row directly behind his elf. The room was not particularly crowded, but it was also not otherwise empty. He settled into his seat, eyes focused on the back of Passeri’s neck, on the exposed skin he so longed to sink his teeth into, a soft golden he yearned to transform into a bloody black. 

            Theodore had never been on a date. He’d been asked on them several times, but he’d always declined, politely, kindly, but always a negative. He wasn’t fond of movie theaters either, they were usually too crowded, and the floor was always somewhat sticky. The gears of his mind worked differently within them, discomforted by the shift in lighting, in sound, in presence of others. To have his first date within one felt rather ironic. But it was what Passeri had wanted and, of course, he would gladly do anything for his love. In front of him, Passeri shifted in his seat. He leaned over to his friend, whispered something in her ear, and the two dissolved into a quiet fit of giggles. A streak of frustration pulsed through Theodore, a spilling of ink on the otherwise perfect, flawless white of the evening. He was jealous. The presence of this woman was not something he had been expecting when he’d planned to follow Passeri that evening. It was not something he’d expected when he’d abstained from his usual weekend plans. Her presence was a difficulty. Unexpected and unwanted, he longed to eradicate her. The familiarity with which Passeri pressed close made him want to scream, it made his blood boil and his skin feel as though it were going to melt. 

            Passeri was his. This was their date. Their first date. He could understand Passeri’s nervousness, his worry. He had not wanted to move too fast and frighten Theodore, did not want to seem too eager. But he’d had to know, when he told him about the movie, that Theodore would come. Why wouldn’t he? Theodore gritted his teeth and glanced away for a moment. He could forgive all of Passeri’s missteps with the evening, forgive his anxiety. And in fact, he did not mind them. Love was understanding, love was forgiving. But this woman. Her intrusion infuriated him, caused the flames in his body to rise, to scorch his bones of flesh and blood, leaving them bright and mottled. How did she not understand she was a third wheel? An unwelcome party? Theodore stifled a sigh of frustration and returned his eyes to Passeri. The movie had started, but he paid little attention to it. Instead, he spent the whole two hours gazing at his elf. He watched every twitch, every grimace, every startled laugh, every smile, every jump, and he stored them all in his memory banks. He placed them, stacked them, lovingly set them, one by one, brick by brick, onto the pedestal in the center of his mind. He ignored the stain they had to them, tainted by the presence of the woman. He would scrub them clean soon enough, wipe away the greasy fingerprints of her existence, until all that remained was their perfect, wonderful, amazing first date. 

~~***~~

            Passeri shifted nervously in his bed. He was sure he had locked the windows, the front door, and was currently contemplating locking his bedroom as well. He fidgeted, bit his lip, then pushed himself to his feet. He was anxious, on edge and uncomfortable because of the last week. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he could not seem to shake the feeling that someone was watching him. It seemed to happen everywhere but home. Whether that be at work, in the store, getting dinner, walking to his car. He had first noticed it when he’d gone out to the movies with Ari, a sinking feeling, like there was something lurking just close enough that he could sense it. There had been nothing, of course, and they were watching a horror movie, so he’d pushed the thoughts from his mind. At work, these feelings could also be explained. He’d noticed that one of his coworkers, Thomas, seemed to have a crush on him, and so he would occasionally glance up and notice his eyes. Other times, he would turn from the blender to find Theodore watching him, and he would feel calmed, soothed. Theodore’s presence was familiar and welcome in his day to day, and though he was embarrassed to admit it, there was a sense of safety the older man brought with him.  

            Outside of these occurrences, Passeri could not explain the worry he felt. He wanted to wave it away, to say it was nothing, and that he was being foolish. Passeri sighed and moved to double check his windows. As he drew the curtain of the first one back, his phone buzzed in his hand. He glanced down, brow furrowed. An unknown caller. He frowned, and hit the power button on his phone, sending them to voicemail. A moment later, his phone lit up once more, buzzing again. He felt a chill creep up his spine. He bit his lip, then answered the phone, pressing it to his ear with a soft, nervous gasp. 

“H-hello?” 

Silence on the other end. 

“Hello?” He repeated, voice quivering softly. 

Still no reply. 

“Th-this isn’t funny,” he whimpered. He knew he was likely being paranoid, that it was probably a misfiring bot, unable to complete its programmed commands for some reason or another. 

            He heard the click of someone hanging up, and he gulped. He quickly locked his phone, then went back to checking the window, ensuring it was tightly locked. As he did, he glanced down toward a playground that was situated near his building, freezing in his actions as his eyes landed on a figure sitting on a bench. Their head was angled back, as if they were looking up at his apartment. Passeri felt tears spring to his eyes and he quickly jerked away from the glass, dropping the curtain in place and rushing into his bedroom. His heart was slamming into his ribcage so hard that he was sure it would break. A soft sob escaped him and he locked his door, crawling into bed and pulling the covers over himself. He was terrified. Too many coincidences in one night, it was simply too many. The worry, the phone call, the figure. Hot tears coursed down his cheeks as he continued to cry softly, pleading whispers escaping his lips. 

            He tried to calm himself, to think rationally about what happened and to logically parse out his situation. However, he found this far easier said than done, and within a few moments he’d pulled his phone out to send an email to his therapist, asking to reschedule for as soon as possible, an emergency meeting if she could. He then buried himself in his blankets once more, winding them tighter and tighter around his body until he felt some sense of security from their pressure. He let out a deep, shaky breath. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “It’s okay. You’re okay.” 

While Passeri knew it was unlikely he would be able to fall asleep, he still tried, desperate to no longer be conscious. He didn’t want to feel the fear and terror that pulsed within him, the lack of safety and security. He bit his lip to stifle another sob, tilting his face to hide it in the pillow. He was so scared. He’d never felt more vulnerable than he did in that moment, and he had not the slightest clue how to reconcile or solve this. Eventually, he managed to slip into a light, restless sleep, his dreams coming in panicked fragments that left him twisting and whimpering within his sheets for the remainder of the night. 

~~***~~

            Theodore’s gaze moved slowly over Passeri as he walked past, head down and hands shoved into his pockets. He had situated himself outside of a small sandwich shop near to Passeri’s therapist, and had been waiting for the appearance of his elf. The building was not far from the cafe, or his workplace, and so he had walked, just as Passeri did. Passeri looked rather worse for the wear, cheeks stained with tears and eyes puffy. Theodore felt a swell of concern for his elf, the need to make things right and quell whatever had upset him. He stood from his seat and moved after Passeri, pace even and measured, careful to remain several steps behind him. For a brief second, his eyes darted downward. 12:35. Things were still progressing smoothly, and it was likely he would arrive back at the office with plenty of time to spare. He gave himself a small, mental pat on the back for his ability to remain on schedule with all the shifts to his routine, and took a slight step closer to Passeri. He noticed now that his elf seemed agitated, his movement increasing as he began to duck and weave between people. Though this confused him, Theodore did not allow it to stop or hinder his pace, and he continued on. 

            Several minutes later, Passeri turned down an alleyway. The area was not usually very trafficked that time of day, but there was always the potential for some illicit or shady deal to take place within. Theodore quickened his steps now, a slight panic rising in him. He could not permit his elf to travel in such a dangerous area. Despite this, he paused just before he would have rounded the corner. He pressed himself to the wall, and peered around, noting that Passeri was currently nowhere to be seen. His brow furrowed and he stepped within, gaze curious and prodding. Where had his elf disappeared to? He tilted his head to the side and noted that the alleyway looped back around to the street. He moved in that direction, preparing to follow, but stopped once more as he heard the sudden slap of feet against pavement. The sound came from behind him, and he quickly realized his situation. Passeri had become suspicious, and indeed, he had perhaps not been as careful as he should have been. Between following his elf in his spare time, to calling him at night, eager to hear his sweet, musical voice before bed, Theodore had been toeing the line of danger. His eyes swept along the walls, then landed on a dumpster. He stared at it for a moment, grimaced, then lifted the lid and climbed in. 

            The trash around him was foul and rotting, flies buzzing within the confines of his metal hiding spot. He adjusted the position of the lid and bent his knees to avoid arousing suspicion, and a moment later, Passeri’s form appeared in his vision. His chest was heaving, his cheeks flushed with exertion. 

“W-where are you!?” Passeri cried, and Theodore could hear the pain and panic in his voice. “I know you’re following me! Whoever you are...j-just leave me alone, okay!?” He bit his lip and gazed around the alleyway for a moment. 

Theodore remained still, head slightly tilted to the side as he watched his elf. The scent and touch of the filth surrounding him made his skin crawl, made him want to shudder, but he did not move. A machine does not feel, it does not worry, it does not shiver in revulsion. The only thing he focused on was his elf. 

Passeri cast a panicked glance around the alley once more, then began to look somewhat sheepish and embarrassed. A moment later, tears began to fall from his eyes, and Theodore had to resist the urge to climb free of the dumpster, to take his elf into his arms and soothe him. 

            Passeri was quiet for a moment, then he let out a shuddering sigh. “Maybe she was right,” he whispered. “Maybe I am just being paranoid…” With this, he gave a slight shake of his head and left the alleyway, dragging his feet and rubbing at his face as he went. 

Theodore waited a few minutes longer, left hand trembling against the fabric of his suit jacket. He longed to steady himself, to feel something firm that was not attached to him, but the very notion of touching the rot slick walls made his stomach turn. Finally, he moved to leave, but found himself unfortunately paused in this action by a young man stepping out from a nearby building. The man sighed and dropped himself on the ground beside the dumpster, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. Theodore resisted the urge to scream, to slither out of the trash; a foul, verminous banshee, and assail the man for halting his exit. With the small sliver of light afforded to him, he checked his watch. 12:55. He was not on time, he was not on schedule. His jaw clenched. Bile rose within him and was met by a wave of vitriol. The two mingled and he pressed forward. He would slip out of the dumpster, a poisonous ooze, similar to the filth and muck that coated his clothes. 

            The man took a deep drag of his cigarette, pulled out his phone, and began to play music. It was loud, obnoxious, grating. It slammed into Theodore’s skull, the beating of a thousand mallets determined to use his brain as their drum. His hand quivered, and he pressed forward once more. He had to leave, he had to escape. He was running out of time. Another glance. 12:57. He had to go. He couldn’t stay in this dumpster, he couldn’t be late to work. Order, he needed order. The noise around him was chaos, the beat of drums, the scream of guitars, the buzz of flies. Rot and filth, decay and ruin, it surrounded him, pushed him, infuriated him. He could feel the grasping hands of the dead clinging to his legs. They begged him to join them, to abandon the falsehood of his life and become one of them. 12:58. The man got up, flicked the butt of his cigarette onto the ground, and went back inside.

            Theodore burst from the dumpster, a scream building in his chest that was crushed only by the tightness of his throat. The tugging fingers of death released him, bitterly, forlornly. He heard them whisper their goodbyes as he threw himself to the damp pavement, chest heaving and nostrils flared. He scrambled back, away from the dumpster, away from the creatures within. They moaned and writhed, pushed aside by something else, something even more sinister, something horribly familiar. The specter twisted, it grinned and danced, beckoning him. Why had he been in the dumpster, why was he off schedule, why was he late for work, why, why, why? The phantom smiled its awful smile and shook its head. He knew why. Passeri. Passeri was to blame. The ghost cheered, it bobbed its head and shimmied its hips. Anger, it wanted his anger. Theodore stared at it, a chorus of wailing rising in his ears as his voice sobbed, its wet grasp pulling at his arm, desperate to force him away. For the first time, he listened to it. Theodore shoved himself to his feet and spun from the alleyway. He ran, ignoring the odd glances and curious gazes that followed him. He moved, and moved, and moved, until he finally made it to his car, and then he flung himself within it. He slammed the door, locked it, and buried his face in his hands, shoulders heaving. 

            He wanted to cry. He longed to cry. But his eyes, uncooperative as always, refused to grant any sort of moisture, any catharsis from the pain and terror he had felt. The anger that had welled within him in that alleyway; the poisonous muck of his father’s influence, a scar on his brain that would simply not go away. Love was forgiving. Love was understanding. Passeri had not meant to throw him off. His elf would never hurt him, would never make his life more difficult. He took a deep, steadying breath, then pushed his hand within his jacket and removed his phone. He stared at it for a second, considering, then dialed a number and pressed it to his ear. A moment later, the voice of his boss answered. 

“My apologies, Mr. Decland,” Theodore said, voice even and polite, a careful mirror that did not offer even the slightest glimpse into the hollow man it came from. “But I’m afraid I’ve fallen ill and will have to take the rest of the day off.” 

He barely heard his boss’s response, outside of permission given, an affirmative received. He hung up, pressed shaking hands to the steering wheel, and began the drive home. His elf. He needed his elf. 

 

Chapter Text

            Passeri let out a small hum as he pulled his hair up into a loose ponytail, allowing the thick curls to cascade down his neck and flare over his shoulders. He stared at himself in the mirror for a moment, then stuck his tongue out and turned on his heel to leave the bathroom. The anxiety he’d felt the past couple weeks had begun spilling into his daily life, and though he was not especially eager to leave his home, Ari had recommended it as a good idea. After dressing, he walked into the living room and picked up his laptop, briefly checking his email while waiting for his phone to buzz. Eventually, it did, and he pulled it out. 

Ari: Hey! I’m here! 

Passeri: Be right out! 

He set his computer down on the couch, then did a last minute check of his pockets to ensure he had his wallet, keys, and phone. Satisfied, he left his apartment, locking the door on the way out. 

            Passeri lifted his hand in a slight wave as he approached Ari’s vehicle, opening the passenger door and slipping in. 

“Hey, Passeri,” she smiled. “How’re you holding up?”

“Best I can…” he sighed, rubbing his palm against the soft fabric of his sweater. “I’m just...anxious. Freaked out.” 

“That’s definitely understandable…” 

“It feels like I’m being followed, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay, well, maybe we could try to figure it out?” Ari put the car in motion, then bit her lip. “Can you think of anyone who would do that?”

“I don’t...really know anyone here?”

“What about that guy you mentioned, the one you work with? The satyr?”

“Thomas?” 

“Yeah!” 

“I don’t know much about him,” Passeri replied with a sigh. “But he doesn’t really...seem like the type.” 

            “Alright, well...hmm...what about uhh...the other guy...the one who comes to your coffee shop a lot?”

Passeri shook his head sharply. “N-no way. Theodore wouldn’t do something like that. He’s way too nice, and just...normal.” 

“Have you talked to him about it at all? He seems to be the person you’re closest to here--”

“I already felt so bad when I broke down about the landlord thing…” Passeri huffed quietly, tears brimming in his eyes. “Like I said, he’s so normal. I’d feel like such a burden for dragging him into any sort of mess...especially if I’m just being paranoid.”

“Well, it wouldn’t really be a mess then, would it?”

“I guess not…. Just a nuisance.” 

“You know, it’s okay to need help.” Ari gave him a sympathetic smile. 

“I do know that...I just…” He curled his fingers into the hem of his sweater and squirmed for a moment. 

“Just…?”

“I…”

            “You like him, don’t you?” 

Passeri’s cheeks flushed and he bit his lip. 

“It’s okay to have a crush on someone too.” 

“I-I know that!” Passeri snapped, cheeks darkening further as he gazed out the window. “It’s just…what if I ask him for help with this matter, and then...later down the road work up the nerve to ask him out and...and he just thinks I like him because of what he can do for me? That I don’t like him for him but because of...material stuff or something?” 

“Well, why do you like him?” Ari tilted her head. 

“H-he’s really sweet. He’s always been so nice to me....” Passeri sniffled. “Sometimes the other baristas will get his order wrong or s-something, and he never yells or get mad, and he certainly never blames me, even though I’m the one who takes his order…” 

“Mmhm?”

“And I know that...jeez, that sounds like the bar is way too low, but there’s more! He’s so understanding and helpful, like when I was upset about the stuff with my landlord? He offered to pay my rent for me, a-and we barely even knew each other then…” 

            Ari nodded, glancing over at Passeri, who was still staring out of the window. “That was pretty nice of him, yeah.”

“Y-yeah!” Passeri gave a sharp incline of his head. “And then...when I was sick, I ran into him at the pharmacy, and we just kinda...chatted for a bit. And he told me I looked nice, even though I looked awful…. He’s just really a gentleman…” 

“What does he do, again?”

“Um...something with engineering. I’ve never actually asked. He works in the building next to the cafe though, which I know is an engineering and technology building.” 

“That’s a pretty competitive field! So he must be smart too, yeah?”

“So smart…” Passeri mumbled, burying his face in his hands. “Just from the way he talks, you can tell. He’s so eloquent and well spoken...but he’s not...arrogant, you know? He doesn’t think he’s better than anyone, that’s just how he talks.” 

“He sounds like a really nice guy.” 

“He is…and that’s why I can’t tell him about this kind of thing…” 

            “You lost me again.” 

“He’s so nice, and so normal and just...what if I scare him off?” 

“Scare him off by telling him you’re worried you have a stalker?”

“Y-yeah...I mean...that doesn’t really scream ‘dateable’, you know?”

“I...guess not, yeah.” 

Passeri sighed and rubbed at his eyes, tears welling within them once more. “I really like him…” 

“I feel like you could probably tell him. Things will be okay. And if he’s weirded out by it, or gets scared off, then...he probably wasn’t the best person for you.” 

“Nnn…”

“You know I’m right.” 

“I do...I do…” Passeri sighed, then suddenly lifted his hand and pointed. “Mall is right there.”

“Got it, turning in! Some shopping will take your mind off of this, promise. You can get something really cute.” 


            Passeri unlocked his door and stepped in, waiting for Ari to enter before he closed it behind. He had a few shopping bags on his wrist, but they were nothing compared to the multitude the other elf carried. 

“You sure you don’t want any help?” Passeri asked, quirking a brow. 

“Nah, it’s no biggie. I’ll just set ‘em on the table.” Ari headed over to the aforementioned furniture, then paused. “Hey, can you move your laptop?” 

“Hm? Oh yeah, sure.” Passeri came over and picked up his computer, then set it on the coffee table. “All clear!”

“Thanks,” Ari smiled, putting the bags down and rubbing at her wrists. “It’s a shame you didn’t get that cute lingerie we saw at the store. It looked gorgeous on you.”

“W-well, I don’t really have anyone to wear it for!” Passeri mumbled, rubbing at his neck with a sheepish smile. 

            “I dunno…” Ari teased, giving a slight wiggle of her brows. “Could wear it for Mr. Cafe Engineering Guy…”

“He has a name!” Passeri snapped, cheeks flushing deeply as his smile widened, much to his chagrin. “And I don’t even know if he likes me too!” 

“He comes in every day to order from you? He definitely has the hots for you as well. No doubt about it.” 

“The ho--! I don’t have the hots for him!” Passeri dropped himself on the couch and buried his face in his hands. “You’re being so mean! If I’d known you would tease me about it, I wouldn’t have told you…” 

“So...you don’t think he’s hot?” 

Passeri lifted his head to glare at her. 

“Knew it.” 

“Shut up…” Passeri grumbled. 

Ari let out a small snort of amusement, then waved her hand. “Come on, let’s put the movie on and get dinner started, I’m starving!” 

~~~~

            As Theodore stepped through the doorway of his house, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He blinked for a moment, then pulled the object out, and studied the screen with a curious gaze. He had a text from an unknown number, though he recognized the area code as his own. 

Unsaved: Um, hi. I hope this is the right number and I’m not just making a fool out of myself. Is this Theodore Nazari? Uh, this is Kai Almasi, from work? I, um, still had your number saved from when we had that big project we worked on together? If you’ve changed it then...well, I guess this won’t reach you, but if it is you...uh...hey? 

Theodore stared at the message, head cocked to the side. After a few seconds, he closed the door behind him and walked into his living room. He settled himself on the couch, sparing a glance at his watch as he opened the message from Kai. 5:50. He was on schedule, but had only a few minutes before he would need to begin preparing his dinner. He studied the text once more, then finally typed a response. 

Theodore: This is Theodore Nazari, yes. 

            Within seconds, his phone buzzed. 

Unsaved: Oh, awesome! Hah, I was really worried you’d maybe changed your number or something and I’d just be texting some random person. How are you? Any plans for the weekend?

Theodore: I am doing well. 

He paused at the question of plans. His elf’s friend, Ari, was visiting once more and seemed to have the intention of remaining for the entirety of the weekend. He felt a brief flare of annoyance, bitter and chalky within his mouth. Perhaps if they had met on better terms he would have been able to reconcile her continued presence. But she had forced herself upon his and Passeri’s first date, made herself a nuisance and a third wheel. Further, she caused Passeri’s schedule to become unpredictable, as she seemed prone to sudden, impulsive whims. 

Theodore: I do not currently know what my weekend plans are. 

Unsaved: Good! Uh. Well, not that you don’t know. Just...um… 

            The message trailed off, and Theodore tilted his head. It was clear that Kai wanted to ask him something, likely an invitation to some annoying, busy event. Though he had long stomached the man’s crush, it was beginning to grate on his nerves, leaving him with a lack of patience or grace. It confounded Theodore that Kai could be so oblivious, so incognizant of the fact that his feelings were entirely unreciprocated and largely unwanted. As his phone screen lit up once more, he took note of how long he’d been sitting. 5:56. Six whole minutes had passed since he’d arrived home. He would need to wrap up the conversation soon or risk falling behind on his evening routine. 

Unsaved: Well...I’ll just come out with it then, I guess. Would you like to go on a date with me this weekend? 

Theodore felt his annoyance swell, briefly pushing toward rage and frustration before it was ebbed by the gentle, caressing murmur of his elf’s laugh. He considered ignoring the proposition; he could simply put his phone down and walk away, pretend he’d never received the text if questioned. However, a slight, sticky heat rose within him, a pulse of aggravation at the very notion he would even consider cheating on his elf. 

            He let out a small huff, then quickly typed a response. 

Theodore: No, thank you. I am in a relationship.  

Once again, the reply was swift and immediate, as though Kai was pressed to his screen, staring and sweating as he waited for a response. 

Unsaved: Oh…. I didn’t know that. Sorry. Hope you have a good weekend, then. 

Theodore gave the text only a brief glance before he swiped to delete the messages. The conversation had been a bothersome waste of time, leaving him without opportunity to change from his work clothes before dinner. As he stood from the couch, he pressed the home button on his phone, stilling as his wallpaper popped up. The image in question was of his elf, one he’d taken within the cafe when Passeri had paused during work. His hair was in a slight disarray and his lips were pursed in a soft pout, hands on his lower back as he stretched. Theodore slowly roved his eyes over the picture, allowing the glowing embers of his love to burn brighter, gentle sparks that crept over his skin and left him on the verge of crumbling. 

            He brought the phone to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to the screen, a heat brushing over his cheeks as he made contact. It had taken him so long to select the perfect photo for his background; he simply had so many wonderful pictures of his songbird. Most he’d taken himself. But some, primarily older ones, he’d pulled from Passeri’s social media, using a cold and surgical precision to crop anyone else from the images. Though he did not blame his elf for posing with others in pictures, especially ones so dated, he had no desire to see them. The only one he wanted to see was Passeri. Theodore had no interest, not the slightest inclination, to witness the people who believed themselves worthy to look upon, or even be near, his elf. He placed another gentle kiss to the screen, lips grazing over the tired, irritable face of his beloved. He longed to trail real kisses over Passeri’s cheeks, to feel the soft, smooth warmth of his skin as he submitted, eager and pliant, to Theodore’s every demand and plea. He would ensure that Passeri never felt frustration or stress, never worried, never feared, never had to work or struggle or suffer. He would take excellent care of his elf. Always. 

~~***~~

            “I really appreciate you coming down two weekends in a row…” Passeri said, giving Ari a tired smile. “It means a lot to me. Are you sure you don’t want me to reimburse the gas?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ari replied with a flippant wave of her hand. “I’m just happy to help. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to make it down next weekend, though. I have a date.” She gave a slight wiggle of her eyebrows. 

“Oh! That’s exciting!” 

“Mmhm. Hopefully it goes well.” 

“I’m sure it will,” Passeri assured her. “You’re wonderful, everyone loves you.” 

Ari let out a small snort of amusement. “Says you.” 

“Says me?” 

She grinned. “How many secret admirers did you have in high school?” 

“Ah...I feel like most of those were a joke, honestly…” 

“Seriously?” Ari shook her head with a laugh. “Are you really unaware of how cute you are?” 

“I mean...I don’t think I’m not cute. Just…” he shrugged. “My track record is pretty bad, you know?” 

            Ari’s smile faltered, and she gave a small nod. “Yeah…” 

“I don’t think I’ve had...a single good relationship.” 

“Some of them started out okay.” 

“They did,” Passeri agreed. “But…” 

“Yeah…” 

“Something would always happen. They’d cheat, or become distant, or…” he trailed off for a moment, “abusive.” He bit his lip with a sigh. “And I, stupid doormat I am, just let it happen again and again.” 

“Passeri--”

“It’s true, Ari. I let them walk all over me and use me however they wanted. I gave second chance after second chance after second chance.” Passeri’s eyes welled with tears and he quickly scrubbed the back of his hand over them. “At what point does it stop being another chance and simply become a cycle of self-harm?” 

“Hey…” Ari gently touched Passeri’s shoulder. “That’s in the past. You’ve moved on, and you’ve become a stronger person. Something like that won’t ever happen again.” 

“You don’t know that…” 

“I do. I’m your best friend, and what I say goes.” 

            Passeri gave a small, watery huff of amusement. “Yeah...guess so.” 

“See? You know I’m right. Besides, a lot of the reason they were able to manipulate and hurt you like that was because you had unresolved dependency and attachment issues, yeah? And you’ve worked on those a lot. I’m really proud of all the growth you’ve made. Seriously.” 

Passeri smiled slightly. “I have done a lot of work on that…” 

“Exactly. And the next time you date someone, it’ll be a really good relationship.” 

“And what if it isn’t?”

Ari shrugged. “Then you dump him and move on. I know that you won’t allow someone to mistreat you like that again.” 

“I appreciate your confidence in me…” 

“I’m confident because I know.” Ari got to her feet, pausing to give Passeri a tight hug as he stood as well. “You’ve got this. Next relationship--it’ll be awesome.” With this, she gave him another squeeze, then picked up her backpack from beside the couch, slinging it on her shoulder and lifting a hand in goodbye as she left the apartment. 

            Passeri stared at the door for a moment, then gave himself a shake and went to lock it. He brushed his fingers over the still broken chain with a grimace.

“Oh well,” he mumbled, turning and heading into his bedroom. Once there, he undressed, tossing most of his clothes into the laundry hamper, but opting to set his hoodie on the bed. He then walked into the connected bathroom and turned the shower on, humming quietly to himself as he waited for it to warm. A few minutes later, he pulled back the curtain and slipped in, easing himself into the hot steam and letting out a soft sigh as his body began to relax. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the cool tile, tilting his head to the side as the heat streaked down his back. He could feel himself calming, the rushing stream easing his troubled mind and releasing the tension he carried in his muscles. Passeri had always enjoyed the water, and he would often retreat to the safety of his shower when he felt stressed or exhausted. It soothed him; a soft caress, like the gentle touch of a lover after a long, tiring day. He stood like this for ten more minutes, eyes closed and shoulders slumped, until finally, he straightened and began to clean himself. After washing his hair, face, and body, he stilled once more and allowed the rapidly cooling water to run over him. The heating tank in his building always seemed to be in short supply, and so he could never truly bathe for as long as would be ideal. 

            With a sigh, Passeri turned the faucet off and gave himself a slight shake, reaching a hand out to snag his towel as he stepped onto the bathmat. He dried his hair first, lengthy and sopping as it was, then moved to his face and body. Once he was sure he was fully dry, he hung his towel back up and left the bathroom, pausing at his dresser to get a pair of underwear. He tugged them on, then turned to look around the room for his sweatshirt, hands set on his hips and brow furrowed. He stood still for a moment, then walked to his bed and crouched beside it, looking beneath and sticking his arm under. When he came up empty handed, he straightened and set his palms against his knees with a huff. 

“Where are you?” he mumbled. A moment later, his eyes lit upon his desk, where his hoodie was gently draped over the back of his chair. “Oh!” He sprang to his feet and picked it up, pulling it over his head and nestling his hands within the pocket. Humming quietly, Passeri flicked off the light in his bedroom and climbed into bed, ensuring his alarm was set for the morning as he snuggled under his blankets and plugged his phone in to charge. He nestled his face into his pillow, enjoying the rub of the soft texture against his cheek, then closed his eyes and settled in for sleep. He was right on the verge of unconsciousness when the realization hit him, causing his lids to snap open and a swell of nausea to rise within him. 

            He had not left his hoodie on his desk chair. He had set it on the bed before his shower, specifically with the intention of simply grabbing it as he slid under the covers. A soft, panicked whimper escaped Passeri and he quickly shoved into a sitting position, jerking his phone from the charger and jumping to his feet. He rushed into the kitchen, turning on every light as he went. He stopped and grabbed the largest knife from his drawer, chest heaving and eyes stinging with tears. He checked his front door, letting out a thankful whine as he found it locked. However, this comfort was short lived as he remembered the fire escape that led to his living room window. Swallowing thickly, Passeri slowly approached, heart hammering in his chest as his tears began to drip down his face. He pulled the curtain back with a swift jerk, a sharp cry leaving him as he saw that this lock was in place as well. His knees gave out at this point and he collapsed to the floor, dropping the knife beside him and burying his face in his hands, broken sobs heaving from his chest and leaving his throat ragged. 

            He wasn’t sure whether to feel relief or dread. It was entirely likely he’d simply been scatterbrained and thoughtlessly set his hoodie down in an unintended location; after all, he’d done it many times before. This was the hope he clung to as he weakly pushed himself back to his feet, taking the knife and depositing it in the sink before heading back to his bedroom. Opting to leave the lights on, he slipped into bed and tightly clenched his eyes against another rush of tears, fingers curling into his blankets as he cried quietly. He knew he would not be able to sleep that night, so haunted he was by the other possibility, one he hardly dared let himself consider lest he make himself sick. Just a couple months prior he had felt so lonely in his apartment, had wished for company to ease his seclusion. But now, in this moment, he wanted nothing more than to be, and feel, utterly, completely alone. He yearned for the ache of solitude, so desperate he was to no longer have the shadow of a stranger hanging over him, watching his every move. He was terrified. Not only of being right, of learning that someone was following and stalking him. But also of the alternative: that his mind had simply betrayed him and that there would be no one to pull him from his sinking ship. 

 

Chapter Text

            Had it not been for the slight, sideways glance Theodore spared the cafe as he walked to his car, he would not have noticed his elf, who stood outside, arms wrapped around his quivering torso and lips pursed. He paused, briefly snapped his eyes downward--5:30--and then crossed the parking lot to his beloved. Passeri looked up at his approach, hand quickly darting up to wipe away what appeared to be tears. 

“O-oh, hey, Theo,” he greeted weakly, the nickname immediately worming into Theodore’s ears and winding around his brain; the soft, coiling caress of Passeri’s love. 

“Are you alright, Passeri?” Theodore asked. His voice, as always, pushed forth. Wet and sticky, it began its ascent of Passeri’s body, chapped lips dragging bloody kisses over his skin. 

“I’m...I’m okay, yeah,” he nodded sharply. “Just a bit stressed...it’s nothing too serious, hopefully.” 

“Would you like to talk about it at all?”

“I don’t think so…” His elf trailed off, looking briefly contemplative. Then he gave a small shake of his head. “No, but thank you.” 

“If you’re certain…” He could feel his concern building: worried that something was upsetting his songbird, and panicked that he was being kept in the dark. “I’d like to do anything to help, if I could.” 

            Passeri smiled slightly, but it was tired and haggard. “No, no, it’s alright, really. I’ve just been having some trouble sleeping, mostly. Nightmares and such…. I don’t think I slept a wink last night, honestly.” 

“Ah.” Theodore nodded now, a sense of relief settling over him. Nightmares were simple, sleep was simple. Issues he could easily and quickly solve. “I used to have sleep difficulties in my youth as well,” he stated, ignoring the way his voice wailed at the memory, trembling fingers scrabbling over Passeri’s cheeks. “I found that having a comfortable and favorite meal a few hours before bed helps. Following that, some lengthy exercise and a nice shower.” 

“Oh, uhm...yeah, I’ll try that.” His smile brightened somewhat and he rubbed at his arm. “Thank you...I really appreciate your advice. I hope you have a good evening!” With this, he lifted a hand to wave, and turned to walk into the parking lot. Theodore watched him go, eyes lingering on his form until he’d disappeared into his car. He then turned and moved to his own vehicle, his steps mechanical and precise as always. 

            As he slipped into the driver's seat, he flicked his gaze to his watch. 5:37. Two minutes behind. He braced himself for the wave of panic and terror; for the spinning, twisting nausea that would reduce him to a trembling mess. He waited for the screaming sob of his voice as it battered against his ribs, shrieking to be set free, to no longer live in a cage of barbed wire and crushing gears. But it never came. He blinked for a moment, but then gave himself a slight shake and started his vehicle. The slip in his schedule was minor, negligible really; especially when it had afforded him extra time with his elf. He pulled out of the parking lot and began the drive home, keeping a careful, steady pace to ensure he would be able to slide back into his routine with relative ease. As he pulled into his garage, he once more sought the stability of his watch. 5:50. He felt his body settle. So long as he kept to his schedule, so long as he did not permit himself to falter, he could keep himself real. It was a fine line to walk: to stop the fires of his love from rising and scorching his body. The flames longed to burn him, to destroy everything in their path and leave him a bleach boned skeleton, wandering in the charred ruins of a world long gone. But he would walk that line, he would not permit himself to tip. He would not fall into chaos or disarray. He had order, he had routine, and so long as he had that, he had humanity. 


            Theodore brushed his hands over the steering wheel as he looked up at the window of Passeri’s apartment. The heavy curtains, closed as always, obstructed any view he would otherwise receive of his elf; something that welled a pit of frustration within him. He longed to see his beloved, to gaze upon his songbird in his natural habitat. It seemed so unfair that he was never permitted to, never granted a single peek of how his darling fluttered inside his nest. His eyes were suddenly drawn downward as the front door to the building burst open, his elf scrambling out at a quick, frantic pace. Theodore squinted slightly, head tilting as he noted the way Passeri clenched his left hand, fingers pressing what appeared to be a stained red towel to his palm. His elf clambered into his car and pulled out, leaving Theodore in the parking lot with a burning curiosity, and even stronger, a hungering desire. Without a second thought, he stepped from his car, and walked closer to the building until he finally slipped into the alleyway. His eyes lit upon the fire escape and he grasped a nearby trash can, situating it beneath and carefully climbing on top. He tugged the ladder down, then hopped off the metal can, lightly brushing his hands together to dust them off as he used his foot to push his previous stand aside. With a practiced ease, he climbed to the stairs, then set himself upon them, only pausing in his machine-like gait when he arrived at Passeri’s window. 

            Theodore crouched down, and spared a brief glance around the area. No one there, of course. The alleyway was largely non trafficked, but it was still quite the foolish and potentially dangerous stunt with the light of the sun still lingering. He pulled a small knife from the inner pocket of his jacket, carefully jimmied it into the window, then tugged upward to pop it open. Unusually, however, the lock stuck, and his brow furrowed. He wiggled the knife a few times, a relieved sigh escaping him as the mechanism suddenly clicked and slid aside. Theodore carefully lifted the window and slipped into Passeri’s apartment. The moment he was inside, a deep, soothing calm settled over him, a sense of belonging and warmth. The fires within him flickered and quivered, eager to once more find themselves within the hearth they so longed to live in. He brushed a hand over Passeri’s couch as he walked past it, fingers dancing lightly over the soft blanket that always hung on the back. He paused, bent, and pressed his face to it, nose twitching as the soft fabric tickled his beard. The scent of his elf immediately enveloped him; warm and sweet, it wrapped around his body and made his head swim. Some small part of him felt embarrassed; a man of his age, swooning like a schoolgirl at the very aroma of his beloved. On a whole though, he was happy: comforted by the surroundings of his elf, to exist within the natural habitat of his songbird. 

            He cast his gaze around the room, noting Passeri’s laptop in its usual place on the couch. So silly his elf was to leave an expensive electronic somewhere it could get crushed. Theodore picked it up, set it on the coffee table, then moved further into the apartment. He stopped once more when he arrived in the kitchen, and his eyes lit upon the cause of Passeri’s earlier distress. On the counter sat a large knife. Streaked with bright red blood, it rested beside a cutting board, upon which were a few slices of mango. He approached the objects with a cautious step, could feel the fires of his desire, his need, rising and pulsing, flames pushing out to scorch the world around him and leave him in a ruin of emptiness. There was nothing but the knife. The knife, painted crimson with the blood of his elf. Theodore’s hip bumped the counter, and his brow furrowed, cracks forming in his mask. He did not know when he’d arrived, when he’d crossed the entire kitchen to stand where he now stood. His lips quivered and he outstretched a hand. He wanted to stop himself, to pause, pull back, recollect, perhaps even check the time. Instead he grasped the handle of the knife and lifted it, angled it in the light to study how the drops of his elf’s life force ran down the blade. So much blood. He once more tried to force his attention to his watch; he had to keep schedule, to keep order. But his gaze did not shift, it did not waver. He brought the knife closer. 

            He could feel the cracks in his mask deepening, furrows swelling across its smooth, flawless exterior. Desire, raw and bloody, pushed at the tempered glass of his being. Routine, schedule, order. Routine, schedule, order. Routine. Schedule. Order. Without routine, without schedule, without order, humanity was lost; it had nothing to separate it from the animals. More cracks formed; canyons broken apart by the coursing rivers of poisonous ichor that seared his veins and called itself blood. The yawning, gaping maw of a long dormant beast pushed forth, a creature that had lurked beneath the surface his entire life, held at bay by the unbroken, textureless ice that sat upon him. A being born of pure darkness and obsession; putrid and rotting it lumbered forth, claws scrabbling at the back of his mask, desperate to break free of its prison. The knife quivered in his hand, so close to his lips. He could smell his elf’s blood upon it, longed to drive the blade into the base of his skull so that he would never forget the sultry, coppery aroma coiled around his brain stem. The scent which had awoken the roaring monster within him, a possessive passion that drove him forward, made him crave, made him need. More. He had to have more. Within him, the beast lurched forward once again, and this time, the ice shattered.

            The knife connected with his mouth a moment later, drool already dripping from his lips as he laved his tongue over the stained, wet blade. He moaned. Loud and heated, it carried the trembling, quivering timbre of danger. Theodore dropped his left hand, quickly tearing his belt and pants open, fingers shoved into his underwear within seconds. Saliva leaked down his chin as he began to pump his cock, the writhing, climbing flames of arousal licked up his spine and brought tears to his eyes. He had never tasted something so delicious. Thick and sweet, the blood coated his tongue, mingling with his drool as he slavered over the blade and continued to stroke himself. He expected to feel revulsion, hatred or disgust. He had kept himself in check for so long, had not permitted himself even the thought of pleasure, not the slightest stroke or touch at the image of his elf. He pressed close once more, and a low, hungering moan burst from his mouth. 

            He was no human. A chameleon in his own right, he had kept this hidden for quite some time, the structure of his routine acting as a ward against the hibernating monster within him. But now it was awake, drawn from the ice by the inferno of his obsession, by the desire he carried for his elf, it would not fall back into complacency so easily. He had been young the first time, his beastliness lulled into a deep, unflinching slumber, tethered by safety cords of abuse beneath the glass of order and schedule. A low, shuddering groan escaped his lips as the beast within him shifted once more. His orgasm nearly peaked: an inferno of passion that scorched his body and threatened to drive him wild.  The abyss yawned, creatures made of filth beckoned to him, their eyes dead and flesh rotting. He licked a string of blood tinged drool from his chin. Not yet, not now. He turned from them, set the knife down, and fixed his pants, sparing a glance at his watch as he moved toward the window. 7:45. He slipped onto the fire escape and tugged the frame back into position. A brief, sorrowful lament cooed from the beast within him, echoed in murmurs by the creatures that lurked in its gaping, fetid maw, teeth soaked with the blood of his elf. 

            He began to descend the stairs, eyes flicking to the right to catch sight of his reflection in a passing window. There was no mask upon him, the twisted, heaving gears of his being were exposed and quivering, shuddering as they were touched by the air of humanity. He was not one of them. He blinked at himself for a moment, then smiled. There was nothing practiced about it, no meticulous paint job or careful craftsmanship, and indeed, there could not be. For it was no mask, but the rotting, hungry gape of a malnourished and neglected fiend that had finally received its first taste of sustenance. The sweet and intoxicating blood of innocence, of obsession, serving only to stoke the flames of his desire and create an immediate and pressing need for more. He was a monster; a beast without conscience, empathy, or control. A spreading plague that knowingly infected everything in reach and brought it crumbling down to nothing, to ruin. 

            His feet touched the ground. 7:48. He was burning, rotting, the flesh of his body singed and bloodied by need, his desire killing him more and more with each second that ticked by. There was no hope of salvation. No benevolent entity that would stop the decay of his mind and soul, bring him back from the brink of madness he teetered over, eyes wild and teeth bared. With every step he took, he could feel more of his flesh slough off, the metal framework of his body laid bare and bloody to the world. He was not one of them, he was not human. And he was finally awake.

~~~~

            Passeri shoved the door to his apartment open with his shoulder, bloody towel still clenched over his hand. He kicked it shut behind him and walked to the sink, awkwardly tossing the plastic bag full of medical supplies onto the counter. He pulled the towel away with a hiss, then turned on the faucet and pushed his hand beneath the water. A small whimper escaped him at the contact, and he sought to turn his attention from the lacerated flesh of his palm. However, this caused his gaze to fall on the cutting board he’d been using earlier, and more importantly, the knife sitting beside it. His hands began to quiver, and he immediately slapped the sink off. Passeri scrambled across the room to look at the knife, hardly daring to touch it as tears sprang to his eyes and burst forth, cascading down his cheeks as a ragged sob escaped him. The blood was gone. The knife was spotless. Spotless, save for a slick, clear liquid that coated the blade in place of the prior crimson stain. Another sob left him, and now he did lift the knife, fingers quivering around the handle as he turned it. There was slightly more blood on the other side, and the pattern of something having been dragged across it, mingled with the clear liquid and filled with the unmistakable form of spit bubbles. Drool. 

            The knife tumbled from Passeri’s hand and he collapsed to the floor, barely managing to grab his trash can and jerk it over before he became ill. He could feel his eyes and throat burning. The thick smell of vomit mingled with the garbage and he threw up once more, weak, mewling cries escaping him as he attempted to calm himself. Finally, his stomach was empty, and he drew back from the plastic container. Passeri pushed himself to his feet and stumbled to his bathroom, hardly noticing the blood he dripped along the floor, the wound on his hand having split open again. He made a beeline for the bathroom, vision blurred with tears and ears filled with the sounds of his hiccupping sobs. He shoved himself into the shower and twisted the knob, neither feeling nor caring that the water was ice cold. He curled in on himself and continued to weep, terror and disgust trembling and welling within him. The confirmation of his worst fears did nothing to bring him relief, and in that moment he bitterly wished that instead his mind had betrayed him and that he’d simply gone insane. But the knife was proof, it was evidence. Someone had been in his home, someone was stalking him. And he was not safe. 

Chapter Text

            Theodore wrapped his fingers around the handle of the cafe’s door and gave a slight tug. He knew the exact amount of force to apply to ensure that it opened smoothly and without catching, this movement carefully calculated and adjusted depending on time of year or day. He stepped into the softly lit building and cast a brief glance around, eyes landing on the quivering form of his elf a moment later. Passeri’s eyes were tear swollen and his hands trembled against the counter while he worried his lip. One of the other workers, a faerie, was quietly talking to him, her tone soothing and concerned. She looked up at Theodore’s approach and seemed about to speak, but cut off as Passeri suddenly burst into tears and hastily stepped around the counter. A second later, his elf was pressed against him, face buried in his chest as he sobbed. Theodore responded without thinking, arms immediately winding around him and tugging him close. The faerie studied them for a moment, then pressed her lips together and took a step away. Theodore gently guided Passeri to the outside patio, allowing his elf to continue clinging to him as he nudged him back onto a table. 

            “I-I-I’m sorry!” Passeri blubbered out, hands trembling against the lapels of Theodore’s jacket. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, this is so--I’m sorry.” A choked sob escaped him and he leaned away, wiping his sleeve over his eyes and then immediately grasping Theodore once more. 

“What’s wrong, Passeri?” Theodore asked. His voice was hoarse, ground bloody by the panicked twist of gears within him. His elf was crying. His elf was inconsolable. Something was wrong, something was wrong with his beloved. He could not even feel delight in Passeri’s touch, in the soft press of his body, so great was his worry. A heat rose within him, the steaming pistons of his brain churning and pumping as he tried to pinpoint the problem. He could feel his blood boiling, a festering rage building inside and threatening to claw its way out, a slavering attack animal that simply needed to be pointed in the right direction. 

“I...I think someone is stalking me…” Passeri whispered. “I...I’ve felt like...someone has been following me...for a while now…?” 

Theodore tilted his head, brow furrowed. If someone had been following his elf surely he would have noticed. He kept an exceptionally close eye on his beloved and always took the necessary steps to ensure his safety. “Why do you think that?” He asked after a moment. 

            “I just...I feel like someone is watching me…” Passeri sniffled out, pressing closer to Theodore and letting out a quiet whimper. “And I...I thought maybe I was just going crazy for a bit… But stuff has been moved around in m-my apartment...put in different places than I left it...and…” Passeri choked on a wail, coughing weakly for a few moments. “And yesterday...I c-cut my hand while making a snack a-and I went to get s-some medical supplies…”

Theodore’s gaze shifted downward, eyes moving over the white bandages on Passeri’s left hand. 

“And when I got back...m-my computer had been moved…? And also...also the knife...the knife I cut my hand on...s-someone had…” Passeri shook his head swiftly, dissolving into tears once more, clearly too upset to continue speaking. 

Theodore pondered for a moment, a sense of puzzlement setting over him. For a brief moment, he wondered if perhaps he had been the one frightening his elf. Certainly, he had not meant to, after all, he was only following Passeri to ensure his safety and to spend time with him. He set a hand on Passeri’s back, mouth drying and words all but forgotten as Passeri pressed forward to bury his face against him once more. Theodore blinked rapidly, struggling to remove the thick, clinging coils of desire that clogged his brain, and caused the machinery of his mind to stutter and stall. 

            “I just don’t know what to do…” Passeri whispered. “I’m so scared, Theo… I’m so afraid someone is going to hurt me…. I...I think I might move back with my parents...I just can’t keep staying here alone, you know…?” 

This was the push Theodore needed, the hit that jarred the stuck cogs into spinning once more. Passeri was going to leave

“I think it might be the b-best thing for me to do... I’m just so frightened...” his elf continued, still clinging to him, as if he were the last bastion of sanctity in a decaying, death infested world. He wanted to be that. Desperately, frantically, more than anything, he needed to be that. 

“You can stay with me,” Theodore interjected. “Or I could stay with you.” 

“W...what?” 

“If someone is stalking you, it’s unlikely they’d simply quit because you moved. Especially if they’ve been in your home,” Theodore said. He clenched his left hand into a fist, nails digging into his palm as he struggled to ground himself. So much had he lost in his life--people, places, things--he would not permit his elf to go too. “A deterrent would be better.” 

            Passeri leaned back to look up at him, eyes watery and puffy. “A-are you sure? I...I really wouldn’t want to impose on you like that…” He glanced away. “And I have a really hard time sleeping in new places...and I’m so tired...I feel like if I don’t get some rest soon I’ll drop...I just--”

“Then I’ll come stay with you. At least for tonight. If it helps you feel safer...we can discuss further logistics.” His voice had squirmed too far from him now. Already he had such wavering control over it; but now, so close to his elf--the danger of loss staring him in the face--it was all he could do to watch as the deformed creature pressed itself to Passeri. Unsightly and revolting as always, it stroked its bloody, shaking hands over Passeri’s cheeks. It rasped out assuring coos, panicked wheezes leaving its underdeveloped and damaged lungs as it attempted to calm his songbird, to still the frightened flutter of feathers. Theodore found, in that moment, he could not bring himself to hate it, could not feel revulsion for the weak and agonized amalgam that had slithered from behind his ribs. He pulled Passeri into a firm hug. “It’s going to be alright,” he said quietly, lifting a hand to mimic the paltry actions of his voice, brushing Passeri’s tears away and sighing soothing murmurs against his hair. “I’m going to keep you safe. I promise.” 

            Passeri was quiet for a moment, then collapsed into small, whimpering tears once more. He pushed himself against Theodore, an insistent pressure that made Theodore feel as though his elf was trying to crack him open and climb inside. He tugged Passeri closer. He would permit it, of course. Any act Passeri wished upon him he would more than willingly allow. 

“It’s alright,” Theodore whispered. “I won’t let anything happen to you.” 

“I d-don’t...I don’t know what I’d do...if I’d never met you…” 

Theodore rubbed his prosthetic hand over Passeri’s back, the artificial limb steady and unwavering in its touch. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m here.” 

“Y-yeah…” Passeri nodded shakily. “I just...a-are you sure this is okay? It’s a lot...a lot to ask and...I don’t want to be a burden...I don’t want you t-to resent me or--”

“That isn’t going to happen,” he interrupted softly. “I’m here, Passeri. And I’m not going anywhere. I promise you this, there is nothing you could do to get rid of me.” 

            Passeri was silent for a few seconds, then he nodded once more. “Th-thank you, Theo…” 

“Of course, Passeri.” Theodore settled against his elf and watched the reassuring attempts of his voice, its movements jerky and nervous. He mirrored them with his own hands. His touch calm and confident, it belied the frantic beat of his heart, hid the rushing, boiling passion beneath his skin. He was throwing himself into disarray, he knew that. Reckless and foolish, to so far remove himself from his routine that he would sleep somewhere else, rely on the presence of another. Without order there was chaos, and with chaos there were no tethers to bind him. He pulled Passeri closer, sighing softly as his elf curled into him: small, weak frame trembling against his chest. He had accepted the truth, the reality of himself and his situation. There was no order, no sense or logic to the grinding wheels and jutting spires that twisted and churned within him. The heat of passion and desire had melted the cold, unfeeling ice; had thawed the slumbering beast of his heart and permitted it freedom. Lifted from the sterile asylum of his existence, he had panicked at first; the touch of humanity upon the freshly exposed wires of his being had frightened and angered him. But now, the mechanisms within slowed, the click and whir of gears that had long sustained him softened, and were replaced by the gentle pulse of a soul. A machine he once was, he had been granted life, given a purpose for existing. His elf needed him. And nothing would stand in his way. 


            Theodore lifted his prosthetic hand to knock lightly on the door before him, his other quivering around the handle of his overnight bag. He could feel his heart thumping behind his ribs, the rising wail of his voice threatening to peak and bubble forth from his lips, a viscous, putrid stain on his otherwise immaculate presentation. The lock clicked, and a moment later the door was pulled open. Passeri stood in the entryway, hand on the knob and soft smile on his face. His eyes were filled with tears and he quickly moved back to permit Theodore passage. He stepped inside. It was far easier to walk through the door than sneak through the window, and he was thankful for the access he’d been granted. 

“Th-thanks for coming…” Passeri said quietly, shutting the door behind him and quickly twisting the bolt. “I really appreciate it…” His voice cracked and he let out a small sob. 

Theodore’s own voice lurched, clawed, scraped to be free. “Of course, Passeri,” he replied, the gentleness of his tone belying the shredded mess of his throat. “It’s not a problem.” 

Passeri gave a quick nod. “If you’re really, really sure…”

“I am.” 

Another nod, then Passeri loosely wrapped his arms around himself, and Theodore took the opportunity to study him, noting just how small he truly was. His frame was slender and almost delicate compared to Theodore’s own. Further, his elf stood at well over a foot beneath his own height, and he felt certain he could lift him with one hand if need be. Passeri shivered, and this motion drew Theodore from his pondering. 

            “Are you cold?” 

“Hm? Oh, um...sort of…” Passeri rubbed his hands against his shoulders, then shrugged. “It gets a bit chilly in here, but luckily I have a lot of blankets. If you end up needing any extra, just let me know, okay?” 

“Certainly.” 

His elf continued to stand where he was for a moment, then pursed his lips and glanced toward the floor. “Do you want to sleep on the couch?” 

“If that’s where you would like me. I’m here for your comfort, after all,” Theodore replied simply, clenching a tight hand around the excited rasp of his voice, the creature all too eager to pipe up and exclaim that he would gladly sleep anywhere. 

“Um…” Passeri remained silent for a few seconds. “W-would you maybe sleep...in the bedroom with me?” 

Theodore blinked. At one point the gears of his mind would have been able to grind through this cog with ease, mincing it and permitting him to produce an appropriate and timely response. But now he found that they could barely turn. The awakening of his being, of his soul, had left them fleshy and weak, covered in blood and muscle, and yearning to breathe. “I…” 

            Passeri’s cheeks flushed deeply and he seemed to stare harder at the floor. “Y-you don’t have to if you don’t want to, I just--”

The mechanisms within him finally churned into motion. “No, it’s alright,” he interrupted. “If you would like me to sleep in there, I can. I suppose I could make a cot on the floor or--”

“N-no, you can sleep in the bed...um...if that’s okay with you, that is…” 

Theodore wasn’t sure whether he wanted to rejoice or sob. He had been invited to sleep with Passeri. Their first night together, and he’d been welcomed into his elf’s bed. He knew he had to remain calm, could not let his excitement betray his calm exterior despite the fact that he wanted nothing more than to throw himself into bed and pull Passeri into his arms. 

“You...um…” Passeri sounded shy and frightened, as though Theodore’s lack of a response had been a negative reaction. “You really don’t have to...I’m sorry...I don’t mean to be weird or anything...I-I just...would really feel better if--”

“I’ll stay in there with you. I’ll sleep in the bed,” Theodore replied quickly. He felt a brief flash of annoyance for the slowness of his replies, irritated that he had to wrestle his voice into submission before he could even open his mouth, lest he unleash the torrent of passionate flames that longed to engulf his elf. 

“Y-you sure?” 

            Theodore nodded, then set his bag down, stepped forward, and gave Passeri a smile. It was not practiced, nor was it a mirror. It was genuine, if timid and unrefined, a rough grit across the smooth, marble surface of his being. His elf stared at him for a moment, then he returned the expression with a slight, gentle quirk of his lips. 

“Thank you, Theo…” Passeri said softly. “I really appreciate you being here for me…” He suddenly pressed close and wound his arms around Theodore’s waist, burying his face in his chest with a small sigh. “Your presence is very soothing...I feel really safe with you around…” he admitted quietly. 

Theodore blinked rapidly once more, then he swiftly returned the embrace, engulfing Passeri and tugging him flush to his body. “I’m...glad to do that,” he whispered, stifling a grimace as his voice pressed trembling, clinging fingers to Passeri’s cheeks. A small well of anger rose within him, but it was not for the creature’s display of need, as it usually was. Instead, this feeling was born of envy. How unfair it was that this pitiful beast was permitted such tenderness, allowed to touch and caress the soft skin of his elf with an almost reckless abandon. He longed to do the same, to refine the shaky and crude motions and perform them with his own hands; to leave trails of beautiful, dancing flame rather than streaks of ugly, oil-tinged blood. 

            They stood in this manner for some moments longer; Passeri’s face pushed into his chest and arms wrapped around his waist. Theodore couldn’t pinpoint the exact number of minutes that had passed once his elf pulled back, couldn’t even fathom the notion of checking his watch to find out. He had no concept of change or time in his current state; he was able only to focus on the soft press of Passeri’s body and the shy curve of his lips. He yearned to press forward once more, to hold Passeri flush and feel the gentle flutter of his lips. For a brief moment he considered it. He’d never been kissed, never wanted to be. But now… Theodore dropped his hands and took a slight step back, glancing away from Passeri’s sheepish expression. 

“Sh-should we get ready for bed?” Passeri asked. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I’m probably going to be trying to sleep soon…” 

Theodore shifted his gaze to his watch. 9:48. He should have been in bed 18 minutes ago. “I’ll likely come to bed as well.” 

Passeri nodded and gave him a tired smile. “Bedroom’s this way,” he yawned, heading toward the back of the apartment. Theodore followed after, casting a brief look toward the living room and stifling a sigh as he noticed Passeri’s computer resting on the couch. 

            This thought was quickly washed away, however, as he entered Passeri’s bedroom and his eyes landed on the bed. It almost seemed smaller than he’d remembered, and he felt a flustered swell of nervousness rise within him. 

“The bed isn’t too big,” Passeri commented as he noticed Theodore’s gaze. “But we should both fit? I...again, I’m really sorry if that’s weird...I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, so if you’d rather sleep on the couch…”

“It’s perfectly fine, Passeri,” he replied softly. “I don’t mind.” 

“Thank you…” Passeri murmured, giving him a slight smile. “Oh! Um...I need to check the windows, give me just a moment…” 

“The windows?”

“I like to make sure they’re locked,” Passeri said. “Though…” He trailed off and his eyes brimmed with tears. “I suppose that doesn’t matter too much…”

Theodore tilted his head. 

“The last time...the window was unlocked. I always double check. There’s no way I did that…” 

“I see.” Theodore stifled an internal desire to scream. The window. He’d forgotten to lock the damn window when he’d left, so lost in his euphoria and newfound life had he been. But now was not the time to dwell, and so he quickly waved the storm clouds of annoyance from his mind. “Would you like me to come with you?”

“N-no, it’s okay. You settle in. It’ll only take me a moment.” 

            Theodore watched Passeri walk from the room, then let out a small sigh and brought his hands up to his tie. He brushed his fingers over the knot, then quickly tugged it loose and pulled it from his neck. His jacket and shirt followed seconds after, and soon he had stripped himself to just his underwear. Theodore paused for a moment and stifled a shudder of excitement, doing his best to ignore the creep of heat along his spine. He knelt, opened his bag, nudged aside the neatly folded pile of clothing for tomorrow, and pulled forth a pair of snug, grey sweatpants and a plain black tee shirt. He dressed once more, then carefully placed his discarded clothing into the bag as well before zipping it shut. A moment later, Passeri came back into the room, arms wrapped around himself and brow furrowed. 

“Is everything alright?” Theodore asked as he straightened from his crouched position. 

Passeri nodded. “They’re all locked, yeah. Hopefully they stay that way…” 

“Ideally my presence will work as a deterrent,” Theodore replied with a slight smile. 

            Another nod. “Y-yeah, hopefully.” Passeri worried his lip for a moment, then flicked his eyes over Theodore’s body, a slight pink tinging his cheeks. “I, uh, I’ve never seen you outside of a suit before.” 

“No, I suppose not.” 

“Y-you...you look good…” Passeri’s blush deepened and he cast his gaze away. “N-not saying you don’t look good in a suit, of course! Because you do, just, um--I’m gonna shut up now.” 

Theodore blinked for a moment, somewhat confused, but mostly endeared by his elf’s shyness. It was so common for Passeri to begin complimenting him, only to then clam up and become embarrassed. 

“Should we go to bed?” Passeri mumbled. 

“Certainly.” 

With a nod, Passeri slipped under the covers, curling in on himself and pressing his face into the pillow beneath him. Theodore stood still for a moment, then followed suit, carefully sliding onto the bed and gently pulling the blankets over his body. It took all of his willpower to clench his throat around the unwitting moan that threatened to escape him, his voice quivering and shuddering with delight. The soft, warm scent of his elf surrounded him, enveloped him, it was everything he’d ever dreamt, and he longed for more. 

            “Theo?” Passeri’s voice broke through his fevered thoughts, and he snapped his attention to him. 

“Yes?” 

“Um...you really don’t have to, and I understand if this is...crossing the line...but...would you maybe be okay to...to hold me?” 

Theodore barely managed to trap his voice this time, excitement welling within his chest and pushing the mewling creature higher toward freedom. 

“It just...it gets really cold at night, and it would make me feel safe? But you already make me feel safe, so you really don’t have to do that if you don’t want to and--”

Theodore shifted forward and wrapped an arm around Passeri, tugging him firmly to his chest and stifling a sigh of contentment as Passeri eagerly pressed back against him. The small body of his elf fit so perfectly in his grasp. He had been worried, though he had not long permitted these thoughts, that when he finally slept with Passeri, when he held him for longer than a moment, he would find that they did not mesh well. Theodore had feared the worst, that Passeri would find the grind of his internal gears and press of his metallic wiring too uncomfortable, too aggravating, and would push him away. 

            Passeri settled against him with a small murmur of thanks, then rested one of his hands against Theodore’s arm and began to slowly stroke him. “I really appreciate it…” 

“Of course, Passeri.” 

“You’re...really warm...and strong…” Passeri continued, voice soft and sleepy. “You make me feel so safe and protected…” 

“I’m glad to be able to do that.” 

A small, tired laugh escaped Passeri. “Mm...me too. It really means a lot. I’m...I’m really happy we met, Theo.” 

“I am as well.” 

“You, um...you really mean a lot to me…” Passeri’s tone shifted, and he sounded somewhat nervous now. “I like you...a lot, you know?” 

Though Theodore felt puzzled by this admittance, he nodded. “I do. I like you as well.” 

“Oh...um...good.” Passeri sounded a touch disappointed. “G-goodnight! I hope you sleep well!” 

“Goodnight, Passeri,” Theodore replied gently, doing his best to ignore the frustrated and uncertain feelings rising within him, the desire to shake Passeri to full consciousness and ask him what was wrong. “I hope the same for you.” 

“I’m sure I will...you’re here, after all.” 

            Theodore blinked rapidly, then pressed his face against Passeri’s hair, briefly tensing his body to still the quiver that threatened to run through him. He had never felt happiness of this kind before, never felt so warm and safe and secure. That isn’t to say he’d never experienced those things, as he’d often felt safe with his uncle, Adrian, when they were at the cabin or out on the lake. And he’d felt happiness on his eighteenth birthday, when he’d packed his meager belongings and burst from the door to his father’s hovel, threw himself in his car and never looked back. He tightened his grip on Passeri, pulling a small, sleepy sound from his elf’s lips as he settled closer. But none of those could compare to this, nothing could compare to the sheer heat and joy he felt in this moment. The flames of his love were not roiling as they usually did, nor threatening to burn everything in their path. They were soft and kind, quietly pulsing embers that wanted nothing more than to ensure his elf had a good night’s rest. Now was not the time for unbridled passion, not the proper moment to touch and scorch and claim and mark. Theodore relaxed his body and closed his eyes, a slight exhale leaving him. Passeri was everything; every single instance of happiness or despair in his life had led to this moment. This perfect, flawless moment.

Chapter Text

            Theodore spent his morning in a haze, the fog of Passeri’s continued presence acting on his brain in a manner one might describe as intoxication. He’d never experienced any sort of inebriation or high, but as he leaned back from his computer to check the time--11:45--he thought he could understand why so many became addicts. He wanted nothing more than to simply leave work, to walk to the cafe and take Passeri in his arms once again. When he’d woken to find his elf still curled against him, he had just about wept from happiness--though, as always, no tears found their way to his eyes. He’d gently shaken Passeri from his slumber, which had been met with soft whining and a quiet insistence that they simply stay in bed; something he’d been all too eager to agree with when Passeri had fully come to his senses and sheepishly slipped from the covers. He was pulled from his reminiscing, however, by the gentle rap of knuckles upon his door, prompting him to look up. 

            “Theodore,” Kai smiled at him from the doorway. “Uh, were you wanting to come out to lunch with us?” 

Theodore stared at him for a moment, resisted the welling desire to laugh in his face. The very notion that he would skip out on an opportunity to see his elf was absurd, especially to spend time with coworkers he found, on a whole, noisy and obnoxious. “No, thank you,” he replied simply. He’d sifted through his files for a tone, polite and even as always, but there was an underlying warble from his own voice, a giddy excitement. 

Kai’s brow furrowed and he rubbed a palm against the polished handle of the door for a moment. “So, uh, you’re dating someone, yeah?” 

“I am in a relationship, yes.” 

“Cool. That’s cool.” 

Theodore did not reply. 

“You, uh, you seem happier today. Sorta excited. Do you have a date or something later?” 

            He felt a brief flash of annoyance, an acrid chalk that coated his tongue. He wanted to spit it out, to snarl a spike of vitriol and disgust in Kai’s direction. The man’s sense of entitlement to his personal life was aggravating, his constant need to poke and prod, as though it was his right to know what Theodore was doing. “Or something,” he finally replied. His tone was cool and clipped, a brief spin of the wheel to find the perfect voice. It was still polite, but now it was also cold, icy waters that bubbled around the fin of a lurking shark. 

“Understood, fucking off,” Kai replied, lifting his hands and taking a step back. “I was just curious. Hope you have a good lunch.” With this, he turned and walked away, shoulders slumped and fists shoved into his pockets. Theodore watched him for only a brief second, then quickly darted his gaze to the bottom corner of his screen. 11:57. He put his computer into sleep mode and stood from his chair, hands coming up to smooth his clothing as he walked from his office. He was early. But he could not contain himself any longer, could not sit in his chair and flit his fingers over keys while he pretended to care about the letters on screen. He longed for his elf, wanted to talk and laugh with him; and so he went. 

***

            With his prosthetic hand settled on the doorknob, Theodore inserted the key to the cabin’s lock and carefully twisted it. The old door was finicky, and he’d often have to wiggle it a few times before it fully opened. Once he had, however, he pushed his key ring back within his pocket and stepped inside, inhaling deeply and looking around the cozy living room. With fall in full swing, it was getting colder, and he made a mental note to stock up on firewood before bringing his elf to visit. He shut the door behind him, then sighed softly, a sense of ease rolling over his body and washing away the stress of the week. Though he was not particularly thrilled about being apart from Passeri, had wanted to argue when he’d been told his elf would be travelling out of town for the weekend, he had politely obliged, and decided he would take the opportunity to visit his uncle’s cabin and ensure everything was in order. The drive into the thickly wooded mountains was familiar, and he’d even enjoyed it, had permitted his thoughts to wander and fantasized about what it would be like when he made the two hour trip with Passeri. He lifted his bag from where it sat beside him, and walked down the hall to what had once been his room. In his youth, the walls had been covered with various chalkboards, places for him to write and theorize and work. He’d taken them all down, however, moved them to the exterior storage shed, and replaced them with paintings and posters of things Passeri was fond of. A few of his things had remained, his bookshelf, stocked full of old science texts, most about engineering, but some with broader topics like insects or chemistry. 

            As he cast a brief glance over the books, he noticed that he’d neglected to clean out the bottom shelf, and that many of his childhood journals were still stacked upon it. He stared at them for a moment, then stepped forward and folded himself onto the floor, pulling them out and running his fingers over the cover of the topmost one. They were all carefully dated, the pages yellowed by moisture and time, relics from a bygone age. He opened the first one, the date proclaiming that he would have been approximately seven years old at the time of its inception. He flicked his eyes over the words, the handwriting so much like his own, but far less precise, more shaky and rushed. He’d always kept his journals at the cabin once they were full, the terror of his father finding them and punishing him for their contents proving far too nerve wracking for him to store them elsewhere. And his uncle had been understanding. Adrian had never questioned why Theodore had needed to store them there, nor looked within them. Theodore continued to stare at the page for a moment, a slight stinging in his eyes letting him know that he wanted to cry. How different his life would have been if Adrian had ever looked within them. 

            He flipped several pages further into the journal, gaze flitting over shakily scribbled words and phrases, many places where the writing had become clouded and difficult to see, smudged by the salty tears of his childhood. A few times, he read long enough to garner some insight into what he’d been writing--‘he did it again, he says it’s because I made mom leave, and he needs some way to relieve’--but he would always keep moving, unwilling and unwanting to remember the torment of his youth. Several more pages in and he paused again, the breath knocked from his lungs as a particular passage caught his attention. A discussion with his uncle, the mention of how the other students at school treated him, how the teachers and doctors and counselors reacted...

            “How is school going?” Adrian asked, a slight smile on his face.

Theodore glanced to his uncle, then shrugged and shifted his eyes back to the water before him, hands moving over the fishing pole in his hands. “It’s okay. The other kids don’t like me.”

“No?”

“They think I’m weird,” he replied flatly. “At first it was just...jokes about stuff like my glasses or race, but now…” he shrugged again. “It’s stuff about how mom left. They say she ran away because she hated me.” 

Adrian was quiet for a moment, then he cleared his throat. “You know that’s not true, right, buddy?”

“Well then why did she leave? Dad says the same thing. That she left because of me. That it’s my fault, that--”

“Theodore. It’s not.” 

            Theodore was quiet for a moment. 

“It’s not your fault, Theo.”

“Then why did she go? Why did...why did she leave me with him?” His eyes brimmed with tears and he tightened his grasp on the pole. 

Adrian sighed. “I couldn’t tell you why she left you. I know that...she couldn’t handle your dad, that he was too much for her. And I don’t blame her for that. I mean, I grew up with him, he’s my younger brother, and even I...I can’t handle him.” He fell silent, then sighed. “But she shouldn’t have left you. You should have been her top priority in that situation, bud.” 

“I don’t think she liked me,” Theodore replied softly. “I don’t...think anyone does. Not just the kids, but the adults at school...the counselors and teachers...they think I’m weird. Or wrong. Dad tells them that...he doesn’t know how to deal with me. That I’m opp...oppos...itional... and rude and--”

            Adrian suddenly cut him off by pulling him into a tight hug. Theodore all but collapsed into the embrace, bawling now. “He’s lying. That’s not true. You’re the best kid I’ve ever met.” 

“I don’t want to live with him…” Theodore whispered. “I hate it so much…” 

“Would you…” Adrian trailed off, then pulled Theodore closer. “Would you like to come live with me? I’ll have to fill out the paperwork and I’m sure go to court, but--”

“R-really?” 

“You’d have to go to court, too. Your dad’s parental rights would likely need to be terminated, or he’d have to be proven an unfit parent. But…” He leaned back and flicked his eyes over Theodore, gaze lingering on the bruise that covered his left cheek, the heavy tape that held his too old glasses together. “I doubt that would be difficult.” 

“Please…” Theodore blubbered out, tears flowing down his face as he pressed close once more, small, malnourished frame shaking with sobs. “I’ll do anything, Uncle Adrian, please.” 

“You don’t have to do anything, Theo...it’s going to be okay. We’ll figure it out…” 

            Theodore shut the journal. He knew there was nothing else within it. The paperwork, whether it had been drafted or not, had never come. Adrian had never come. The stinging in his eyes grew stronger and he pushed his glasses to the top of his head so he could press his hands to his face. He wondered if perhaps he could no longer cry for all the tears he’d shed as a child, all the weeping he’d done when he’d heard the news. He’d been unable to muster a single, solitary whimper at Adrian’s funeral, despite the hateful whispering of his family, cold and disgusted. They’d blamed him. After all, if he hadn’t been so needy, so insistent on seeing Adrian every weekend, he never would have been driving on the highway at the time of his aneurysm. He pushed himself to his feet, gathering up several journals and taking them into the living room. He set them beside the fireplace and carefully lit it, stoking the flames within until they were large enough to chase away the shadows of his past. One by one he fed the books in, face expressionless and cold as he watched the puzzle pieces of his life burst and spark. Finally, he went back into the bedroom, and prepared to grab the remaining journals. However, he paused to open the bag he’d brought, pulling forth a blanket set he’d spent days trying to find. He removed his phone and pulled up a picture he’d taken within Passeri’s apartment, brows furrowed in contemplation. It was not an exact match to Passeri’s, the color slightly darker, but it was close enough. He nodded and moved to the bed now, stripping the unwanted memories and covering the mattress with the new, desired future he would make with his elf. A swell of flickering warmth rose within him and he allowed a small, pleasurable shiver to roll across his spine. Everything would be perfect when his elf finally arrived. They would be perfect. 

***

            Theodore shifted in his seat, a small sigh pushing from his lips as he flicked his eyes downward to check the time. 11:20. He was not especially eager for lunchtime to roll around, as his elf would not be next door, and there felt little reason to visit the cafe without him. The morning had begun as expected, with both of them rising and chatting as they normally did. Passeri had seemed far more comfortable the past few weeks, not only around him but also in general, clearly assured by the fact he was no longer being followed. However, the change had come rather suddenly, with Passeri letting out an exclamation of happiness when he received a text telling him that his work had overstaffed and he would not be needed. He’d happily wriggled back into bed, voice light and teasing as he told Theodore that there would be no one to ensure his coffee order was correct. How he’d longed to climb beneath the covers and press close to Passeri, to hold him and insist that he didn’t need coffee so long as they were together. Instead, he’d simply shaken his head and finished getting ready for work. 

            And now here he sat, unfocused and in a sour mood. He had no desire to be at work, no urge to be away from his elf. He wanted to leave and return home, to spend the day with his beloved in comfortable laziness. Theodore drummed his fingers against his desk for a moment, then pulled his phone from the inner pocket of his suit jacket and pulled up Passeri’s primary social media profile. He’d made a fake account some time ago, a generic name and picture, then slowly added enough of Passeri’s friends that he wouldn’t think twice about accepting his request. His heart stuttered and his breath caught as he refreshed the page and saw a new post from Passeri, a picture he’d taken of himself as he lounged in bed, lips parted and eyes sleepy. He was holding up a peace sign, and the caption he’d written simply stated “Lazy days mean I’m a lazy boy”. There were already several reactions and comments on it, various people telling Passeri he was cute or handsome. Theodore flicked his eyes over the image once more, a heat creeping over his cheeks as he focused in on Passeri’s lips. They looked so soft, and parted as they were, their fullness was exacerbated further. How he longed to feel them against his own, to exchange sloppy, hungry kisses and pull him close. 

            The heat on his cheeks blossomed further, and began to trickle down his spine, sending tingles of excitement through his body. He clenched his throat around a small gasp as he realized he was growing aroused. Theodore shifted in his seat and pressed his free hand to his mouth, quickly darting his eyes to the door before looking back to Passeri’s picture. He set his phone on the desk, carefully hiding it behind files and papers, then pushed his hand against his crotch, adjusting his erection and permitting a sharp pant to escape him. He rubbed his palm along his length, eyelashes fluttering weakly as a moan threatened to leave him. His desire for Passeri was swiftly becoming too much, almost impossible to deal with. He felt so desperate, so needy, so hungering for the touch of his elf. He tilted his hand to the side, grazed the tips of his fingers over the head of his cock. Theodore bit his lip to stifle another moan. His behavior was unacceptable, perhaps even more than that. Without his schedule, his life had swiftly fallen into disarray. Try as he might, without his rigorous order he was prone to chaos, too easily swayed by impulse. Another weak pump of his hand. It had been so long since he’d climaxed. Since well before he had even met his elf, and that had been months ago. 

            He pushed his fingers tighter to his lips as he continued to stroke himself, eyes half closed but focused on the image of Passeri, on those soft, gently parted lips. At this point he felt more than desperate, so eager and frantic to have Passeri, to feel and claim and tease every inch of him. He wanted to do more than kiss him. He could admit that to himself, even if the notion welled embarrassment and shame within him. He wanted to touch him, to hold him and press into him. He gritted his teeth around a sheepish whine as another thought struck him, this one more pressing and urgent than any of the others. He wanted to make love to Passeri, to have sex with him, more than that even, he wanted to fuck him. Theodore jerked his hand from his crotch and quickly locked his phone, shoving it back into his pocket and burying his face in his hands. A few shaky breaths escaped him as he attempted to calm himself. It was inappropriate to masturbate to the thought of his elf, not only because he was at work, but most importantly because he had not been given permission. Passeri’s comfort was paramount, and he was certain that his elf would find it discomforting to know of his lust. Indeed, even he found his desire to be repulsive and sickening. He did want Passeri, that much was true, but he would not take without being told, and so he refocused his attention on his computer, planning to work through his break and until he was allowed to go home. 

Chapter Text

            “I don’t know, Ari…” Passeri sighed, rubbing his hands over his arms and frowning. “I mean sometimes it really seems like he likes me, but then when I try to flirt he just...doesn’t seem to notice?” 

“How so?” Ari asked. She was lounging upside down on her couch, legs slung over the back and head hanging off the cushions. Passeri sat beside her, tucked in on himself and wrapped in a blanket. 

“So, the first night he stayed with me...I told him I liked him. And he just replied with ‘I like you too’. But...in the way that you’d just tell a friend, you know?” 

“Mmhm?”

“Which was super weird because we were cuddling.”

“You were cuddling?”

“Y-yeah…” Passeri’s cheeks flushed and he glanced away. “I told him he could sleep in the bed with me--well, I asked him to. And then asked him to hold me because well...it helps me feel safe…”

Ari quirked an eyebrow and smirked. “Mmhm?”

“It does!” 

            “Of course, of course,” she nodded sagely. “I’m sure I’d feel safe too if someone I found hot was in bed, holding me close.” 

Passeri huffed. 

“Continue.”

“I guess...I really don’t think he’s interested in me. I keep dropping hints, and he just doesn’t seem to reciprocate at all…” he trailed off with a sigh. “I’ve even tried being a bit enticing sometimes, coming to bed in just a sweater and my underwear, or snuggling up to him in the mornings and teasingly not letting him out of bed...but he just...doesn’t ever flirt back.” 

Ari shook her head with a sigh. 

“What?”

“He’s obviously into you. He’s just being a gentleman. He’s waiting for the right moment or explicit permission. No man who isn’t genuinely interested would be so polite and helpful. If he wasn’t into you or just wanted some ass, he definitely wouldn’t have been up to staying.” 

            Passeri grimaced slightly and glanced away. “Well, I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I really like him, but I don’t want to just wait around forever...and then...I also don’t want to scare him off, you know? What if me being forward makes him think I’m gross or something?”

“Why would that make him think you’re gross?”

“I don’t know...what if he thinks I’m a slut?”

Ari scoffed. “If he thinks that, then he isn’t the guy for you.”

“I know, I know,” he grumbled. “You always say that.” 

“Because it’s the truth. But he doesn’t sound like that kind of guy, just from what you’ve told me. I’d maybe just...try to talk to him about it. Make your interest clear.” 

Passeri was quiet for a moment, then he nodded slightly. “I suppose I could do that, yeah. I’ve never done that before though. I usually wait for other people to approach me. Maybe I should just give up. Or…I don’t know, pressure him into making a move?”

“Pressure him?” 

“Yeah...maybe flirt with someone else when he’s around?”

“I would not recommend that. It’s far more likely you’d end up pushing him away instead.”         

            Passeri let out a frustrated whine and buried his face in his hands. “Why are men so damn difficult…? How am I supposed to say ‘hey, I think you’re hot and I wanna make out with you and also go on a date’?”

“Just like that.” 

“No…” Passeri groaned. “That’s way too embarrassing…” 

“Those are about your options,” Ari laughed. “Tell him, or wait for him to make a move.” 

“Nnn...I feel like I’ll be waiting forever, though...I really don’t think he likes me at this point…” 

“I’m almost positive he does, but go with your gut feeling. If you don’t think anything will happen, then you don’t want to be hung up on him forever, you know?” 

Passeri gave a nod and a small sigh. “Yeah…as always, you’re right. I suppose I’ll just see how it goes when he’s around again.” 

“That sounds like a good plan to me. Where is he this weekend? Back at his place?”

“I think he said he was going out of town as well.”

“Oh? Where to?”

“Umm…somewhere in the mountains?” Passeri shrugged. “He has a cabin up there or something.” 

~~~~

            Everything was almost entirely ready for Passeri’s visit. This trip to Uncle Adrian’s cabin had ensured he would have any items or supplies he or Passeri might need. He was positive he was entirely prepared. Theodore adjusted the knob on the water heater, then tested the pressure, nodding to himself and checking these items off the list he’d made. He then went upstairs and studied the bathroom next to his--no, Passeri’s bedroom. He’d repainted it, made it look very similar to Passeri’s at home. It was imperative to him that Passeri would be comfortable when he came to stay, that things would be familiar and cozy. He took a deep breath, a smile creeping over his face as he flicked the light off and moved into the bedroom. Everything was in order within this room as well, and so he made another check on his list and moved to the kitchen. The pantry and refrigerator were well stocked, many of Passeri’s favorite foods interspersed by healthy snacks and items as well. His beloved was a bit of a junk food fanatic, and though he wanted Passeri to eat better, he could not deny that the slight softness afforded to his elf’s bottom and thighs due to his diet was enticing. He quickly waved these thoughts away as a pulse of heat crept over his skin and streaked the length of his back. Now was not the time for these sorts of feelings. 

            With the kitchen check complete, Theodore headed out into the backyard, studying the logs he’d brought from the woods. He’d chopped all of it the day prior, had spent the entire morning and afternoon out in the yard with an ax in his hands and sweat dripping down his body. When he’d finally stopped for the evening, he’d been exhausted, but pleased with his efforts. The sheer amount of firewood he’d been left with would be more than enough to keep his elf as warm as he needed. Further, if any additional heat was desired, he could happily provide it. He made another check on his list, then stepped back inside, checking the locks on the doors as he went. He was distracted from his task by the feeling of his phone buzzing in his pocket, and he tugged it out with a slight furrow of his brow. He smiled broadly as he noticed a text from Passeri, hardly able to keep control of himself when it came to his elf. The meticulous shift of gears within him had long become useless in the face of his love, their turns and twists unpredictable and nerve wracking. 

            He quickly unlocked his phone and went to his messages, pausing to gaze at the image of Passeri that served as his wallpaper. It was unfortunate that he could not always enjoy the picture, that he would change it in Passeri’s presence, only to shift it back once he was alone again, but he did not wish to make his elf uncomfortable with his love. 

 

Passeri <3: Hey, Theo! When are you gonna be back tonight? I should be home in a couple hours.  

He studied the text for a moment, then consulted his list. Aside from checking his own bedroom, once his uncle’s, he was entirely finished with it. There would be little reason for him to stay any longer, especially when his beloved seemed so eager to have him home. 

 

Theodore: I’ll likely be headed back shortly. It takes me roughly two hours to get back into the city. 

Passeri <3: Oh jeez, that’s a drive! Want me to have some dinner made when you get in? 

Theodore: You certainly don’t have to, but it would be something to help me get through the trip. 

Passeri <3: Sure! I’ll make your favorite! 

Theodore: Do you know my favorite? 

Passeri <3: Lamb vindaloo, duhhh 

            Theodore’s cheeks heated and he dropped the hand holding his phone to the counter, the fingers of his other coming up to press against his lips as a broad, almost painful smile burst across his face. Passeri did know his favorite meal. Not only that, but he was wonderful at making it and more than willing to do so. 

 

Theodore: I suppose you do, then. 

Passeri <3: Hah, told you. And you think you’re so mysterious. Anyway, I’ll pick up ingredients on the way home! Let me know when you’re headed back, okay? 

Theodore: Certainly. I should be leaving within the next twenty or so minutes. 

Passeri <3: Okay!! Drive safely! 

Theodore: But of course. I have to get my curry after all. 

Passeri <3: I’m also here :(( 

Theodore: That you are. And I look forward to seeing you. 

Passeri <3: I can’t wait to see you either!! I missed you this weekend! 

            This admittance felt like a sudden blow to Theodore’s chest, and he crumpled against the counter, pressing his forehead to its cool surface and allowing a low, keening whine to escape him. Passeri had missed him. 

 

Theodore: I missed you as well. Did you have a good weekend? 

Passeri <3: Yeah! It’s always fun to see Ari. What about you? 

Theodore: It was decent. I spent the better part of yesterday chopping wood. 

Passeri <3: Uhh...all day? 

Theodore: Most of it. 

Passeri <3: ...you must be really sore, huh?

Theodore: Not particularly. I was a bit exhausted afterwards, but it was an enjoyable workout. 

Passeri <3: Oh, uh, that’s good! Well, drive safe, okay? I’ll see you when you’re back! 

Theodore frowned slightly. The slight shift in tone was confusing to him, and he couldn’t place what he’d said that may have upset Passeri. A small sigh of frustration escaped him, but he decided not to dwell on the matter. It was likely a simple miscommunication, and he would clear it up when he arrived home. A thrill of delight ran through him and he stifled a shiver. He could hardly wait. 

***

            A small giggle caused Theodore to look up from his coffee, the sound familiar, but somewhat confusing that it was not directed at him. Passeri was deeply entrenched in conversation with a coworker, a satyr by the name of Thomas, who was standing far too close to Passeri. He stiffened slightly and focused his eyes on them, left hand quivering on the styrofoam cup clenched within it. Thomas crossed his arms over his chest and grinned broadly, saying something that made his elf laugh once more. He watched as Passeri lifted a hand to lightly twirl a few strands of loose hair from his face, this action also not going unnoticed by Thomas. Theodore could feel a pit of jealousy beginning to well within him, confusion and frustration brimming to the surface and pushing against his flesh. Passeri’s eyes darted around the cafe for a moment, and his gaze locked with Theodore’s, at which point he smiled, the action gentle and reassuring. Theodore calmed. It was silly of him to assume anything untoward. Passeri was simply humoring the other man, permitting him to flirt so as to avoid an uncomfortable situation. 

            He lowered his gaze to his coffee once more, but kept his ears finely tuned to their conversation, ignoring the steady drone of everyone else within the cafe. 

“...this weekend?” Thomas was saying, a tinge of hopefulness to his tone. 

“Oh, um, I should be free, yeah!” Passeri replied. 

“Awesome. So, uh...in that case...would you maybe want to go on a date with me?” 

“Um...sure.” Passeri sounded a bit hesitant in his agreeance. “That sounds fun!” 

“Sweet! We can hash out the details later, yeah? Just let me know when works best for you!” 

“Y-yeah, of course!” 

Theodore snapped his eyes toward them, watching as Thomas walked behind the counter and went back to work. A moment later Passeri dropped himself in the chair across from Theodore, jerking him from his staring. 

“You, uh, you will not believe what just happened,” Passeri said quietly. “Thomas just asked me on a date.” 

“I see,” Theodore replied evenly. 

            Passeri studied him for a moment, then sighed, dropping his shoulders. “I said yes. I think we’re gonna go this weekend? You said you were probably going to be out of town, right?” 

He nodded. 

“Okay, I suppose that works then...I was planning to have Ari come over, anyway.” 

“Alright.” 

Passeri gave him a slight, teasing smile. “You look jealous.”

“Jealous?” 

“Mmhm.” 

Theodore lifted a brow. For a moment, he felt a pulse of nauseating anger rise within him, but then he realized what was happening. Passeri was testing him. His frustration quelled, and he relaxed into his chair, returning Passeri’s smile with a slight smirk. “I’m not jealous.” 

“If you’re sure! I promise I won’t make him any curry.” 

“I know you won’t,” Theodore replied. 

Passeri laughed lightly and stood from the table. “Well, back to work. See you tonight!” 

            Theodore watched him go, then let out a small, relieved breath. A simple test, that’s all it was. There was absolutely no chance his elf would go on the date. Not even the slightest sliver of possibility that his elf would cheat on him. He sipped his coffee and exhaled once more. It was little more than a teasing, playful attempt to make him jealous, perhaps to goad him into some grand romantic gesture. In truth, he had likely waited too long to fully express his feelings for Passeri; but he had been nervous, wanting to receive Passeri’s explicit permission. It did not seem that this would come, however, and so he decided he would finally need to take matters into his own hands and prove the extent of his love and devotion. 

***

            As the time passed, Theodore had slowly become more and more anxious about the impending weekend. With each day, he waited for Passeri to tell him he was just joking, that there was no way he was actually going to follow through with his plan for a date. But he never did. And finally, it was Friday night and Theodore was planning to leave. 

“Hey, wish me luck on my date tomorrow,” Passeri smiled at him. 

Theodore blinked for a moment, brow furrowed. He could feel a sticky confusion inside of him, causing his gears to halt and stutter. 

“You okay?” Passeri tilted his head, smile faltering. “You’ve seemed sort of...distant today, I guess. Are you upset about something?”

“Are you really going on this date?” Theodore blurted out, his voice raw and unrestrained. It had burst forth, unwilling to be kept in place. The creature was mewling, bawling, sobbing, pressing shaky fingers and desperate hands to Passeri’s body, clinging and tugging, begging to be seen and heard. 

Passeri looked confused. “Y-yes? Should I not?” 

            “I…” Theodore resisted the urge to clench his teeth, not wanting to betray the sickness rising within him. “What if he’s the person who’s been stalking you?” 

“What? Thomas? I really doubt that. Besides, they haven’t been coming around at all since you’ve been staying with me. I’m sure it’ll be fine, Theo.” 

The nickname made his voice wail, despair and distress bubbling from its bloodied lips. 

“I’ll be okay, promise. I’ll even update you on the stuff we do, if you want.”

“You don’t have to do that.” 

“I will, if it’ll make you feel better,” Passeri smiled. The action usually would have reassured him, but instead he only felt more nauseous. How could Passeri not know? How could his elf not realize what he was doing? Passeri was going to cheat on him, and he so blatantly told Theodore as though he should not have cared. 

“I…”

“Really, Theo. It’ll be fine. You’ll see me on Sunday and I’ll be in one piece. Promise.” 


            Theodore unlocked the door to his cabin with a rough shake, shoving inside of it and slamming the door behind him. He’d prepared for weeks. Weeks he’d spent ensuring everything would be wonderful for Passeri’s visit, for his beloved to be comfortable and happy. And he was repaid in this manner. He collapsed bonelessly on the couch, burying his face in his hands and letting out a despairing, pained noise. He wanted to cry, needed to bawl. But as always, his eyes refused to cooperate. He sat where he was for some minutes, body trembling and teeth tightly clenched. He could feel his voice crawling and shifting within him, leaving handprints of steaming blood along the interior of his frame. He wanted to rip his wiring out, to become a rogue machine and destroy everything in his path. He had hurt before. But this was incomparable. This level of pain, of betrayal, was something stronger than he’d ever experienced. Far greater, it rocked against him, spitting rough seawater onto the weak embers he so desperately tried to protect. 

            He dragged his hands down his face and shoved himself from the couch. His voice began to wail, but he ignored it. He reached into the bag he’d brought, and removed a set of thick, pink coated chains that he’d attached manacles to. He stepped into the bedroom and carefully attached them to the headboard of Passeri’s bed frame, his motions even and mechanical. He could feel the life within him flickering and waning, the flesh that had long covered his metal skeleton peeling back to expose his sparking wires and rusted gears. Once the chains were secured, he walked to the bathroom, then began to sweep various items and ends from the counters and medicine cabinet. Finished with this task, he took a screwdriver from beneath the sink and removed multiple fixtures, until the bathroom was left entirely empty save for a plastic shower curtain, the toilet, a roll of toilet paper, and the sink. He dragged the door out into the backyard, then pushed it into the storage shed, cupboard doors and the back of the toilet cover following shortly thereafter. His heart quivered within his chest, his body aching with pain and sorrow. His elf had betrayed him. But love was forgiving. Love was understanding. He was hurt, yes, but he would not show his anger or upset. Instead, he would simply remind Passeri of who he was, and of how much he loved him. 

            He had heard the phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” his entire life. Always used to describe someone else, perhaps a coworker’s lying ex or a corrupt politician caught stealing from his own charity. A beast that hid among the quivering and defenseless, pretending to be the same. Whoever the person, Theodore had noted that they always had at least one thing in common: they got caught. And after all, what could they expect, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing? Wool pulled taut and fraying over their heaving, writhing body. The seams coming undone with each misstep, until finally, when poised to strike, their disguise slipped off and they were chased away or killed. Death for the unwitting predator, their carcass hauled onto the shoulders of the shepherd’s boy, a trophy of triumph, the flock protected.

            No, he was not like them. His disguise would never be so foolish, so lazy. A hunter could never truly hope to hide among the hunted; to delight and slaver at the thought of the sweet, innocent blood that surrounded them and yet feign terror at the approach of a wolf. He had hidden far more carefully, inserted himself among the loyal, brainless dogs of the flock. The guardians who stood watch with puffed chests and false pride, their empty minds devoid of any original or selfish thought. It had been easy to slip in, to press between their foolish, unthinking bodies and claim to be one of them. They had never questioned his appearance, never imagined that one of their own could be the very predator they so loathed, sitting patiently and biding his time. After all, what did it matter if his teeth were too sharp, so long as they were pointed in the right direction? 

            He’d waited and watched, never leaving the flock; a good guardian, a strong guardian, a loyal guardian. He’d kept careful eye on his herd, ensuring that no danger befell them while under his gaze. Their safety he promised, and they trusted him. They all trusted him. For who would ever wish to admit that a wolf had hidden among them, his stare hungry and maw dripping. Of course, the shepherds would lament the loss of their spring lamb, stolen in the night and carried off without a trace. The dogs would bemoan the vanishing of their brethren, a hole in the ranks. But none would speak up and none would question. He would be forgotten, not missed nor mourned, the hound with teeth too long and eyes too yellow. 

            The seasons would change and spring would burst forth once more, bearing new members to the flock; his position long filled by another obedient slave. A distant memory would he be, unimportant and fleeting, the straggling wisps of clouds after a storm. They would not suspect, and they certainly would not remember. His crimes unpunished and trail unfollowed, his stolen lamb tripping behind him, naive and foolish. He was the guardian, watcher of the herd, and indeed he would keep his lamb safe, let no harm come to it; for after all, it belonged to him. His disguise was perfect. He would no longer sit idly by and observe as other wolves attempted to take his lamb, pushed forth their disgusting muzzles and pressed their filthy claws against his soft, sweet wool. Theodore was done, he’d had more than enough of watching and protecting. Now, he was going to take. And he was going to defile. 

Chapter Text

            Passeri brushed a hand over his cheek, then let out a small breath and stepped from the bathroom. As he headed back to the table he was sharing with his date, Thomas, he spared a glance around the restaurant. He felt on edge and nervous, as though someone were watching him again. However, no matter how quickly or sneakily he looked, he saw no one suspicious, so he simply chalked it up to anxiety caused by Theodore’s absence. He could not help but worry that perhaps they’d left on a sour note or he truly had driven Theodore away by accepting this date. But he had grown disheartened with waiting; the consistent lack of acknowledgement he’d received had simply become too much, and Passeri felt he had no choice but to move on. He sat at the table and smiled at Thomas, who grinned at him and immediately launched back into a discussion of the latest show he’d seen, something Passeri could not remember the name of and had little interest in hearing about. But he nodded and listened politely, the constant stream of dialogue proving a distracting enough noise to keep his anxiety from further climbing. 

            If he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t particularly interested in Thomas. While he was nice, he lacked much of the charm and wit that had so attracted him to Theodore; and though he knew it was unfair, he could not help but draw comparisons. Not for the first time that evening was he struck with a sense of longing and sorrow, a deep frustration that he could not have Theodore, whether that was because of his own shyness or a lack of interest on the other man’s part. 

“So, ready to head out soon?” Thomas’ voice broke through Passeri’s racing thoughts. 

“Hm?”

“We’re both done eating, so I figured we could go. There’s a couple of nice shops we could check out too.” 

“Oh!” Passeri rubbed at his arm for a moment, then nodded. “That sounds good, yeah.” 

“Cool, cool.” Thomas lifted a hand to hail their waiter, who nodded and moved to get the bill. 

~~~~

            Theodore watched as his elf stood from the table and walked outside with the other man. He’d situated himself at a corner table, ordered nothing but water (much to the annoyance of his server), and now prepared to leave. He dropped a handsome tip on the table and quickly made his exit, steps even and mechanical in motion. As he stepped into the chill of the evening, he glanced around, then locked eyes on his target and picked up his pace, moving carefully to avoid detection. A few times, Passeri glanced around the area with brow furrowed, but he’d long been able to anticipate his searching. He felt a pang of sorrow, of anger. How cruel it was that he had to slink and lurk at the corners of his beloved’s vision in order to spend time with him. They had moved past this, they had slept together. And now here he was, once more the kicked dog, a shadow chasing after the one who’d cast him. His only solace in the evening was that Passeri looked bored. He did not seem to be enjoying his date, and Theodore further knew his presence (and lack thereof) was making his elf’s nerves skyrocket. He seated himself on a bench as Passeri and the other man entered a small store, attention fixed and posture settled. He would wait as long as he needed, but he would take back what was his. 

~~~~

            Passeri picked up a well-worn paperback and examined the title, humming quietly to himself while he scanned the words. He then flipped it over to continue reading, worrying his bottom lip as he attempted to place his familiarity with the book. Finally, it struck him, and he let out a sad sigh. It was a book Theodore had recommended to him. The suggestion had come some time ago, closer to when they’d first met. Passeri had spent many weeks looking for it, but his search was ultimately fruitless. He carefully tucked it against his chest and walked to the front of the store, sheepishly setting it down on the counter and smiling at the haggard looking faerie behind it. 

“This all?” She asked. 

“Mmhm,” Passeri nodded. “Just the book…” 

“Five-oh-five.” 

Passeri placed the money in her hand then happily scooped up his find. He stared at it for a moment, eyes welling with tears. Had he truly pushed Theodore away? He’d heard nothing all day, and he hoped that perhaps his most recent acquisition would be enough to spur Theodore into responding. 

            After taking a few steps further into the store, Passeri removed his phone and snapped a photo of the book. He then sent it to Theodore, along with the message: “Look! I finally found it!” He waited a few moments, but when no reply came, he permitted several bitter tears to slide down his cheeks. He stuffed his phone back into his pocket, then tightly hugged the book to himself, a buoy in the storm of solitude he was sure to face. With a sigh he looked toward the window, as if the night sky would offer him some comfort. However, the sight of a familiar figure on the outside bench caused his brow to furrow in confusion, and though he could not be certain, Passeri was almost positive it was Theodore. With an unsure whine, he stepped for the door, moving past a concerned Thomas and bursting into the night. But when he arrived, there was no one outside, and instead of seeing the person he had so wanted to, he quivered in the cold, alone and worried. 

“Hey! Where’s the fire?” Thomas’ voice broke through his thoughts from behind him, and Passeri wheeled around with a frown. 

“S-sorry...I thought I saw someone...um...I think I should probably go home?” 

“Oh. You sure?”

“Yeah...sorry.” 

“No, it’s cool. Let’s head back to my car, huh?” 

~~~~


            With his back pressed to the wall, Theodore watched as Passeri and the other man walked in the direction of the restaurant. He pulled his phone out to look at the message he’d received from Passeri, and stifled a small sigh. The knowledge that Passeri was thinking of him had soothed his pain, but had also caused his frustration to grow. He was not angry anymore, for he could never remain angry at his elf for long. Now permitting himself this sigh, he pushed off the wall and began to follow, keeping his distance and ignoring the slight thrill of happiness that ran through him as his elf and the other man moved toward the parked vehicle they’d arrived in. He quickly slipped into his own car and pulled out after them, the drive swiftly becoming familiar as they approached Passeri’s home. However, a nervous pit of nausea began to yawn within him, a terror that Passeri would invite the other man upstairs. But as they pulled into the lot and Passeri remained in the car for some time, he could feel his worries settle. If he was truly planning to bring the other man inside, he would have already done so. He parked and slipped from his car, heading for the alley and the familiar fire escape. He could hear the screams of the dead as they beckoned, nearly drowned out by the yelling laughs of his father’s mocking ghost. The voices culminated into a jeering chorus, one that told him to turn around--a monster like he would never be wanted. They howled insults and shrieked taunts, questions of his intelligence and his sanity. He ignored them; he had to. He was a fool, but he was in love.

~~~~

          Passeri locked the door behind him as he stepped into his apartment, then let out a tired exhale and shrugged his coat off. His date had been, on a whole, miserable. While this was no fault of Thomas’ and was primarily caused by Passeri’s own despondence and frustration, he could not help but wish that Thomas had talked less about himself. He’d accepted the date because he’d believed moving on from Theodore was best, but he hadn’t expected it to be quite so painful. He carefully set his book on the coffee table, then went into the kitchen to get a bottle of water, cracking it open and taking a few swallows. He still could not shake the feeling that he was being watched, even though a quick check of the windows ensured they were all locked. With a small huff, he set his water on the table, then went to his bedroom, arms wrapped around his body to quell a shiver of nervousness. 

~~~~

            Theodore watched his elf from the pantry, back pressed to the shelves. He knew Passeri would not have found him, as he often did not even open this door, so sparse the closet was. He looked to the water bottle on the table, then he cocked his head as Passeri walked to the back of his apartment. A moment later, the shower turned on. He waited another few minutes, if only to make sure he would not be caught, and pushed free of his hiding spot. He lifted the water in his hands and untwisted the cap to dump a finely ground powder within. He then resealed the bottle and gave it several shakes to ensure the powder distributed and vanished. It pained him to require it. He’d wanted their first trip to the cabin to be perfect, had so looked forward to spending the two hour ride with his beloved. But things didn’t always work out how they were planned. He heard the shower cut off, and he quickly pushed himself into a corner of the room, tucking his body behind a bookshelf. He’d long figured out all the best hiding spots in his elf’s apartment, places he could easily stow himself to avoid detection. Sometimes he even made a game out of it. But tonight was not for playing. 

~~~~

            Passeri snagged his water and settled on the couch. He unscrewed the lid and took a few deep swallows, then set it on the coffee table and picked up his book. He opened it and gently ran his finger over the cover, a small, sad smile on his face. He pulled his phone from the pocket of his hoodie, but found that he still had not received any reply from Theodore. He sniffled quietly, and swiped a hand over his face, not willing to let his tears fall. Passeri felt somewhat pathetic, to be so caught up and miserable over someone who likely had no romantic feelings for him, but he could not help it. He finished off his drink, then smacked his lips a few times. His throat felt somewhat dry, and his mouth held an odd flavor. With a grumble, he pushed off the couch and went to get another bottle of water, which he downed quickly in an attempt to rid himself of the strange taste. When this did not work, he went back into his bedroom, heading for the bathroom to brush his teeth. 

~~~~

            Theodore smiled slightly as he watched Passeri leave the room, relaxing his body against the wall and closing his throat around a sigh of contentment. Soon they would be alone, soon there would be nothing to turn Passeri’s head or distract him from where he belonged. A thrill of excitement ran through him, and he lifted his hand to his lips to hold back a wider smile. He could not wait. 

~~~~

            After brushing his teeth, Passeri dropped himself on the couch once more, giving his head a small shake as he realized he felt somewhat dizzy. He collapsed back onto the cushions and dragged his blanket over his body, a small, confused murmur escaping him. Passeri closed his eyes and let out a small pant. Not only was the room slowly spinning, he was beginning to feel nauseous and hazy. He reasoned with himself that perhaps he had something bad to eat at dinner; maybe even too much alcohol, though he’d only had two drinks. With a soft, worried whimper he tugged the blanket tighter around himself. He wanted to get more water, but the thought of moving was far too much for him to handle and it made his stomach turn. Perhaps he would get a drink when he was feeling better. For now, nothing sounded as good as a nice, lengthy nap. 

~~~~

            Theodore could feel his elation mounting as he watched his disoriented and puzzled darling stumble to the couch and collapse in a tangle of blankets. His tongue pressed against his lips and he permitted it to briefly sneak out, wetting them to stave some of the hunger that built and coiled in his belly. So close. Just a few minutes longer and he would finally reap the rewards of all his efforts. 

~~~~

            Passeri pushed himself further into the cover. He felt exhausted. Exhausted, disjointed, confused. He didn’t know what was going on. He was in his home. He was on his couch. He was alone. No. Was he alone? There was someone in his apartment. He could see them. They were coming closer. Who was that? They looked familiar. Familiar. He recognized them. He calmed. It was Theodore. It was fine, he was fine. Everything would be fine. 

~~~~

            Theodore pressed his hand to Passeri’s cheek as he fell fully unconscious. He’d slipped out perhaps too early, but Passeri had not seemed alarmed. Instead, he’d seemed calmed. He’d relaxed and allowed the drug to fully take him. Theodore lifted his elf into his arms, momentarily amused at how light and small he was. He paused to grab the book Passeri had purchased, then tucked it into his pocket. Satisfied with his work, he moved to the window and unlocked it, keeping Passeri carefully balanced in one arm. He moved to the fire escape and turned to lock the window behind him. The precarious nature of his perch likely would have overwhelmed or worried anyone else. But he was not anyone, he was a machine. And machines did not worry. Machines did not panic. Machines did not feel. He easily made it back to his car. No obstacles or difficulties, as if the world was rewarding him for his patience. He gently placed his elf in the backseat, carefully buckling him in and tucking the blanket further around his quivering frame. He then got into his seat and pulled out of the parking lot, turning in the familiar direction of the cabin. He’d contacted his boss earlier that day, finally cashed in all of his vacation time. The drive would be long, but he had his elf; he had company, and the time they spent together at the cabin would be even longer. Further, he knew. Once they arrived, once they were settled, everything would be perfect. They would be perfect. 

Chapter Text

            Passeri awoke with a weak groan. He shifted into a sitting position and looked around with brow furrowed. He was certain he’d fallen asleep on his couch, but it seemed he’d been moved into his bedroom. After a few more seconds of looking around, however, he grew even more confused. This was not his bedroom. Though it looked very similar, there were a few distinct differences. He felt a slight panic mounting within him, but then the door opened and Theodore stepped inside. Passeri calmed at his presence, though he could still feel a nagging concern chewing at the corner of his mind. 

“Theo! Hey!” 

“Passeri,” he greeted softly. He stood by the door, hands neatly folded behind his back and attention fixed on Passeri.

“I’ve got a nasty headache,” Passeri continued. “I’m not really sure what happened, but--” Passeri had lifted his hand to rub at his temple, but paused when he heard a metallic clank and felt something heavy upon his wrist. Theodore’s expression remained impassive, and so Passeri slowly shifted his eyes downward until they met a manacle around his wrist, attached to a heavy, plastic coated chain, that was then secured to the bed frame. “Um?” 

            “Yes, Passeri?” Theodore asked. 

“What is this?”

“Those are for your safety. You have one around your leg as well.” 

Passeri gave his leg an experimental tug, confirming this to be the case. “Where...um, where did these come from?”

Theodore tilted his head. “I put them on you.” 

“W-what? Why?”

“For your safety, as I said.” 

“My...safety?”

“Yes.”

Passeri frowned. “Where are we?”

“My uncle’s cabin.” 

“Your…” Passeri trailed off for a moment. He could feel more confusion rising within him. “Why are we here?”

            Theodore shut the door behind him and leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest and studying Passeri. “Also for your safety.” 

“Did you...bring me here?”

“Yes.” 

“W-why?” 

Theodore sighed. “Because you are incapable of keeping yourself safe.”

“I’m...what?”

“You blatantly accepted a date with a man you hardly know.” He pushed himself from the door and frowned, jaw clenching slightly. “I even warned you that it could have been dangerous, and you simply did not listen to me. You clearly don’t know what’s best for yourself, or how to remain out of harm’s way.” 

Passeri stared at him for a moment. He could feel a nauseating realization creeping over him, a fear that he was loathe to admit. “Y-you...did you…” 

Theodore tilted his head. 

            “It’s you, isn’t it?” Passeri whispered. “You’re the one...the one who…” 

“Who?”

“You’re the one who was stalking me…” he finally got out, tears welling in his eyes. “You...oh god. That’s why it stopped. That’s why you were so helpful.” His stomach turned. “You kidnapped me?” 

“I brought you here to assure your safety. Everything I’ve done has been for your wellbeing, Passeri.” 

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Passeri mumbled. 

“Would you like a trash can?” Theodore asked, quirking a brow. 

“Don’t mock me,” Passeri hissed. 

Theodore looked somewhat taken aback. “I’m not mocking you. It was a genuine question--”

“Don’t act so fucking nice. You kidnapped me! Y-you’re a fucking freak!” 

“Passeri--” 

“Shut up! Let me go! You f-fucking weirdo! What are you gonna do to me!?” 

“Do to you?” Theodore looked confused. “I’m not going to do anything to you…. As I said, I brought you here to keep you safe. All the actions I’ve taken have been to ensure your wellbeing, to keep you from being hurt.” 

            Passeri glared at him. “Oh, you’re so fucking selfless, huh? I didn’t need to be kept safe until you started to stalk me!” 

“That isn’t true,” he frowned. “You had the difficulty with your landlord, and--”

“Oh my god. What did you do?” 

Now Theodore seemed pained. “I helped you. I fixed the situation. I don’t understand why you’re--”

“You don’t understand!? How can you not fucking understand how wrong this is!?” Passeri screamed. 

“Please don’t yell, Passeri. I understand that you’re confused, but we can simply talk this out like reasonable adults. It seems you have an incorrect assumption of what I want from you, and I believe I have the right to clear that up--”

“You have the right to choke and die.” 

“Passeri.” 

“Stop saying my name. Y-you’re a fucking pervert. A disgusting, perverted freak.” 

Theodore sighed. “You’re angry at me. Alright. I can’t say I understand why, but I accept that.” He opened the bedroom door and took a step out. “I’ll return later, and we can talk.” With this, he was gone, the lock clicking behind him. 

            Passeri sat still for several minutes, staring at the door in disbelief. His hands trembled and he curled in on himself, tucking his legs close to his body and whimpering. The chain on his leg was loose enough that he could pull his leg up, but something as simple as getting out of bed was made impossible. Passeri tucked his face into his arms and began to cry. He was frightened, angry, and nauseous. Above all else, he felt betrayed. He’d trusted Theodore, invited him into his home, slept with him. And it had all been according to his plans, to his machinations. A wave of revulsion crashed upon Passeri and his stomach turned once more. It had all been Theodore. The one breaking into his home, the one following him. Everything, the whole time. Passeri let out a choked sob and wrapped his arms around his trembling frame. Terror coursed through him, cold and foreboding. He was trapped, and at the mercy of a clearly delusional man. Worse still, beyond all these feelings, past his confusion and fury, he could not help but feel some small sliver of hope. Perhaps he was mistaken. Perhaps Theodore was being forced to do this. There was no way his judgement had been so wrong, no way the man he’d come to care so deeply for had done this to him. He sought desperately for an explanation, wracking his mind until he felt exhausted, but one never came. 

~~~~

            Theodore sat on his couch, hands folded neatly between his thighs as he stared at his knees. Passeri was furious with him. He’d expected his elf to be confused, perhaps even worried, but this...this was beyond anything he could have anticipated. The vitriol that his beloved had hurled at him, cruel words made of sharpened daggers, had left him shocked and uncertain. He could not comprehend why his songbird was so upset; all of his actions had been selfless and pure, to ensure Passeri was safe and happy. The implication that he was a pervert or that he was receiving some sort of sexual gratification from Passeri’s captivity or fear left him reeling. How could his elf think so poorly (and incorrectly) of him? Had he not proven his love time and time again? With a sigh, Theodore stood and slipped his hands into his pockets, sparing a glance at his watch. 10:18. It was still decently early in the morning, and he reasoned with himself that perhaps his darling would feel better and more amicable on a full stomach. With a determined grit to his teeth, he stepped into the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast for Passeri, taking great care to make everything exactly the way he liked. 

            With the meal finished, Theodore lovingly organized it on a tray and returned to Passeri’s bedroom, unlocking the door and gently nudging it open. Passeri was curled up on the bed, staring at the wall with tears running down his cheeks. His eyes darted over as Theodore entered, and he frowned slightly. 

“I made you breakfast,” Theodore smiled gently. “It’s your favorite--”

“Let me go.” 

Theodore’s smile faltered and he walked closer to the bed. “I can’t do that. I need to ensure you are protected. Now eat, you have to keep your strength up--”

“Let. Me. Go.” 

“I’m not going to do that, Passeri.”

“Be upfront with me…” his gaze wavered and he sniffled. “Is someone making you do this?” 

“Making me?”

“You...is it really you? I trusted you.” 

“I’m not sure what you’re asking me.” 

            Passeri slammed his hand against the bed and sat up. “Cut the fucking bullshit! Are you the one who was stalking me? The one who broke into my home? Was it you all this time!?” 

Theodore frowned and adjusted his hands on the tray. He needed to explain himself, to prove to Passeri that he was not a monster. “I did follow you, yes. But as I said, that was to make sure you were safe. And I did enter your home, I will admit to that. But I...I wanted to be closer to you. And that was also with good intentions, I assure you. You have...such a habit of leaving things in disarray or in precarious places. I wanted to be certain nothing would get broken or damaged.” 

Passeri buried his face in his hands and began to weep, his sobs ragged and bitter. 

“Passeri…” Theodore said gently, setting the tray of food on the bedside table. “I’m really not this monster you seem to think I am. I do apologize if you were frightened by my actions, but they were not born from a desire to cause you terror or discomfort. I want to keep you safe. I love you, Passeri. You’re my--”

“You love me?” 

“Yes. I’m in love with you. I have been from the moment we met.” A warm, nervous shiver ran along Theodore’s spine at the admittance. His voice wailed softly, its fleshy body lurching across the covers and pressing closer to his elf. 

            Passeri stared at him for a moment, then let out a short breath. “Fuck you.” 

“Excuse me?” Theodore frowned. 

“Fuck. You. You fucking freak. You goddamn, motherfucking freak. Fuck you! You love me? You’re in love with me? Well I fucking hate you!” 

Theodore stiffened, the words striking him in the ribs and knocking the air from his lungs. “You don’t mean that. You’re upset. You don’t hate me. You shouldn’t say things like that, Passeri. Hurtful things you can’t take back. I forgive you, it’s alright. I understand that you’re upset. But you really shouldn’t--”

“I don’t want you to forgive me!” Passeri screamed, and Theodore flinched. “I want you to let me go and then I want you to kill yourself, you disgusting freak! I fucking hate you! Don’t you get that? You’re a sick, revolting, deplorable freak and I want you to die! I hate you!” His voice pitched higher and he swung his hand out to upend the tray from the table, spilling the food Theodore had so lovingly prepared and placed. 

“Passeri, please--” He cut off as Passeri suddenly spit at his face. Theodore’s jaw clenched and he lifted a hand to wipe the glob of saliva from his skin. He could feel the gears within his body clanking and grinding, attempting to work, to mince the cog of confusion that stalled them. 

            “Very well,” Theodore said quietly. “If you are so determined to be difficult and ungrateful, then I suppose you will have to be punished.” He took a step back, then studied Passeri for a moment, eyes lingering on his heaving shoulders and furious expression. “When you are ready to speak to me in a polite and understanding manner...I will give you food again. Until such point, you will receive nothing but water.” 

“I’ll die before I talk to you like a person,” Passeri snarled. “You’re fucking scum.”

Theodore straightened his back and folded his hands behind it. “I will come to check on you periodically.” 

“Fuck you.” 

With a small sigh, Theodore turned to leave, hand lingering on the doorknob. “As I said, Passeri, I understand that you are upset with me. But you should not be so cruel to the person you love.” 

Passeri laughed, the sound cold and mocking. It sent a discomforted chill creeping over Theodore’s skin and he frowned. “I don’t love you. I hate you. I’ve never hated someone as much as you. You can watch me wither away in this room, I don’t care. A painful death is far better than ever speaking kindly to a freak like you.” 

            Theodore tugged the door open and slipped out, locking it behind him and gritting his teeth. He had hoped to reach an agreement with his beloved, to parse things out and fully explain the reasons behind his behavior and actions. He had not expected Passeri to be so obstinate. With a small sigh, he pushed himself into motion. His steps were not even, nor mechanical. They were weary and far too human; dragging and miserable, he went into his room and dropped himself on the bed. Theodore buried his face in his pillow and allowed a weak, pained whimper to escape his throat. He did not want to hurt his elf, so desperate he was to love and be loved by him, but he was not sure what else he could do. Of course, he would keep a close eye on Passeri, ensure that he was not becoming too ill without food. His beloved simply needed the clarity that starvation would provide. He would show Passeri, prove to his elf that there was no one in existence that could ever love him as much as he. 

~~***~~

            A weak mumble left Passeri and he twisted in the bed, biting his lip and drumming his fingers against the sheets. He’d held off on drinking for as long as he could, but when his headache had become too much, he’d been forced to guzzle the water beside him. Now, he could feel a pressing pain in his bladder, and he wasn’t entirely certain what to do about it. He’d briefly entertained wetting the bed, but that had seemed far too embarrassing, and there was nothing to say Theodore would not simply leave him in his own mess. He dug his teeth further into his lip to stifle a whimper, a startled gasp leaving him as the door to the bedroom opened. Theodore stood there, and though he was loathe to admit it, Passeri felt some relief at his arrival. 

“I have to use the bathroom,” Passeri said plainly. “And there isn’t any sort of bucket in here, so what am I supposed to do?” 

“There’s a bathroom just down the hall,” Theodore replied. “I’ll take you to it.” 

Passeri worried his lip for a moment, then nodded. Perhaps he could figure out an escape plan, or disable Theodore in some way and slip out of the cabin. 

“Remain still,” Theodore commanded softly as he approached the bed. He removed a key from within his jacket and inserted it into the chain on Passeri’s leg, then followed suit on his arm. Passeri immediately pushed into a seated position, but paused as he earned a sharp glance from Theodore. “Still.” 

            Passeri’s cheeks flushed with anger, but he did as he was told. He wanted to attack Theodore, to scream at him and rip him apart. But he knew it would be futile. Theodore was much larger, not only in height, but mass, and he’d seen the musculature his captor sported. 

Theodore studied him for a moment, then nodded and took a slight step back. “Alright, you may get up.” 

Passeri glared at him, but once more obeyed. He got to his feet and scowled up at Theodore, arms crossed over his chest. “Bathroom?” 

“Yes, it’s just this way.” Theodore set his hand on Passeri’s bicep, and he resisted the urge to violently shake him off. “Come along.” 

Passeri permitted himself to be led into the hallway, but balked as he approached the doorless bathroom. “Um. There’s no door?”

“I’m aware.” 

“That...you want me to just go in front of you?” 

            Theodore studied him for a moment, then gently pushed him into the room. He turned his back to Passeri and crossed his arms. “I’ll have my back turned.”

“Y-you can still hear me, though. That’s gross. It’s weird. It’s--”

“There’s nothing weird or gross when it comes to love,” Theodore interrupted, voice quiet. 

Passeri’s jaw clenched and he glared at his back. “Pervert. Do you want to listen to me piss? Is this how you get your rocks off?” 

“Do you need to use the bathroom or not, Passeri?” 

Though he wanted to continue insulting Theodore, Passeri tugged his shorts and underwear down and sat on the toilet, lightly tapping his bare feet on the tile as he tried to force himself to go. After a few seconds, he did, and he bit his lip to stifle a sigh of pain as the pressure in his bladder was finally relieved. Once he was done, having flushed and washed his hands, he stepped toward the doorway. “I-I’m finished…” he mumbled, cheeks a deep, burning red. 

Theodore turned and nodded, then grasped Passeri’s arm and took him back to the bedroom. Passeri struggled weakly against his hold but this amounted to nothing as he was easily rechained.

            “How are you feeling?” Theodore asked, stepping back and folding his arms over his chest. 

“How am I feeling?”

“Yes.”

“Fucking awful? I haven’t eaten in over 24 hours, and the person I trusted, who I thought was my friend, is actually a perverted freak who kidnapped me.” 

Theodore frowned. “I’m not a pervert. I’m not going to do anything to you, and I can assure you I’m receiving no sexual gratification from this situation.” 

“Oh, so you’re just going to keep me in this room and watch me die?” 

“No. I’m simply waiting for you to become more agreeable, and then we can discuss our future plans.” 

We don’t have any future plans,” Passeri snarled. “I’m never going to talk to you kindly, I am never going to be agreeable. You know what I want for the future? For you to fucking die.” 

Theodore sighed. “Passeri. Your attempts to get a rise out of me--”

“A rise!? Is that what you think this is? I’m not trying to hurt your fucking feelings, I’m telling you how much I despise you! You’re a freak! You’re a pervert! Y-you’re...you’re a rapist, I bet!” 

            Theodore suddenly stiffened and jerked back from the bed. He looked as though he’d been hit. “You don’t mean that,” he whispered. “I am not.” 

Passeri swiftly realized that, despite Theodore’s comment on getting a rise from him, he’d clearly struck a nerve. “You are,” Passeri hissed. “You’re a rapist. You think I love you? You think we’re in love? So what? You’ll prove that to me by raping me? Is that what you’ll do?” 

“Stop.” 

“You’re disgusting. You’re a perverted freak. I have never hated anyone as much as you, never despised someone like this. I hate rapists, and not only are you one, you’re a delusional maniac to boot.” 

Theodore straightened and took a few steps back. His jaw was tightly clenched and he was no longer looking at Passeri. “If that’s how you feel...then I suppose I have still been too lenient with you. It is clear you don’t understand the breadth of my feelings for you, nor the purity of my love.” 

“What’re you--”

“I will be withholding water as well, then. As with food, once you have become agreeable, I will return the privilege.” He cast a brief, sorrowful look toward Passeri. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you’ve left me no choice.” With this, he was gone. Passeri flinched slightly as the door slammed and the lock clicked. He was alone once more, and though he did not want to be around Theodore, the solitude was somehow worse.

Chapter Text

            The first day was surprisingly not too difficult, though Passeri ended it exhausted and with a headache. By the second, however, he had surpassed weariness and could feel himself beginning to grow desperate. He was not entirely sure of the full effects of dehydration, or how quickly it would kill him, but from how poorly he already felt, he could not imagine it would be pleasant or lengthy. Already, he could feel his mouth drying and his body cramping. His joints were stiff and sticky, and despite the cool temperature in the home, he found himself near constantly wracked by flashes of heat that left his brow damp and his skin crawling. He longed to cry, to wail and sob for his predicament, but he knew he could not allow himself to, could not permit Theodore the pleasure of seeing him break. As the second day drew to a close, Passeri realized he had somehow lost track of time. He could see that the outside had grown dark, but whether days or hours had passed he was unsure. He felt disoriented and confused; and while he had some hope that Theodore would not allow him to die, with each second that passed he became less and less certain. 


            Passeri let out a soft, wheezing gasp and weakly twisted his head to the side. He’d had no water in...how long? Days? Weeks? Logic told him it couldn’t have been weeks, but the passage of time had become so uncertain, so disjointed, that someone could have told him he’d been trapped in this room for months and he wouldn’t have questioned it. He’d wanted to remain strong, to drive Theodore away and let himself die. But he couldn’t. His self-preservation instinct was kicking in, and too many times he’d had to close his throat around a cry for help. Now, he wasn’t even sure he could cry. Instead, he whimpered quietly, lips cracked and bleeding as he repeated the same word over and over. 

“Please...please...please...please…” he got out. “Please…” 

There was no one in the room, no one to hear his pathetic mewls. He was alone. He did not know where Theodore was or if he was even in the cabin. But he was sure that he was dying, and that he could not hold out any longer. As if in answer to his thoughts--his prayers?--the door opened and Theodore stood there. He held a glass of water in one hand and a rag in the other, and Passeri knew that if he could bawl, he would. 

            “Please…” Passeri rasped. 

“‘Please’ what?” Theodore asked as he stepped into the room. 

“I’m sorry...” Passeri barely managed to reply, his voice rattling in his lungs. “I’m so sorry...please…” 

Theodore studied him, gaze impassive and stance poised. He then dipped the rag into the water and pressed it to Passeri’s lips. A few drops trickled into his mouth and he hungrily swallowed them, the liquid carving furrows into the scorched desert of his throat. 

“Please…” Passeri begged. “Please, Theodore…” 

“Are you ready to cooperate?” 

“Y...yes…” 

Theodore nodded, then pressed more water to Passeri’s mouth, which he greedily licked and slurped down, sucking at the rag in a frantic attempt to moisturize his body. “You’re ready to talk to me?” 

“Yes…. Please…” Passeri pushed his tongue flush to the rag, a delighted sob escaping him as Theodore wet it once more. “Please...I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” 

            Theodore did not reply this time, but continued to give Passeri water, eventually pressing the glass to his lips and allowing him to guzzle the remainder. Passeri then collapsed back into the pillows and closed his eyes, chest heaving and hands trembling. 

“I’ll be back in a bit to see how you stomach that,” Theodore said quietly. “We can talk then. If you continue to behave amicably, I will give you more water.” 

“Yes...okay…” 

“Good.” 

Passeri kept his eyes shut as he heard the door open, close, and lock. He kept his eyes shut as he heard Theodore’s receding footsteps. And he kept his eyes shut as a wave of self-hatred washed over him. He was pathetic. Weak. He’d given in, mewling for water and begging forgiveness from a monster. But he was too exhausted to remain angry for long. His mind, tired and haggard from dehydration, quickly snatched him from consciousness, and he fell into a dark, dreamless sleep. 


            Passeri awoke to a gentle hand shaking his shoulder, causing him to let out a confused murmur and roll to face the newcomer. As he saw Theodore, he tightened his jaw to keep down the insult that had risen to the back of his throat. 

“Water?” Theodore asked, holding the glass out. Passeri studied it for a moment, then nodded and pushed his hand forward. However, Theodore pulled it from his reach and shook his head. “First we talk. Then you can have water.” 

A soft wheeze escaped Passeri, but he collapsed against the bed in compliance. “F-fine…” 

Theodore nodded and sat on the floor, crossing his legs and setting the glass on the bedside table, just out of Passeri’s reach. 

“So...what are we...going to talk about?” Passeri asked, his voice hoarse and weak. Speaking was difficult and the words grated his throat in a manner that made him want to cry, but he knew he could not afford to lose the moisture. 

“I think we should discuss expectations, firstly. I would like you to treat me with the same level of respect that I have given you. I have not insulted you, or called you names, or been purposefully vitriolic, despite my unhappiness with you, and I would ask that you do the same.” 

            Passeri stared at him for a moment, then allowed his eyes to shakily flutter shut. “Your unhappiness?”

“Yes.”

“Why...why are you upset with me…?” 

“You cheated on me,” he replied simply, and had Passeri more energy, he might have wheezed out a laugh. 

“I cheated on you?”

“Yes. With that...other man you work with.” The disgust in Theodore’s tone was clear. 

“We...aren’t dating.” 

Theodore did not reply, and so Passeri forced his eyes open and looked at him. His jaw was clenched and his gaze averted. 

“I flirted with you, and you...didn’t reciprocate...you ignored me…” Passeri whispered. “So I moved on. I was asked out and I accepted. If you had some issue with it, you should have said so.” He couldn’t believe his own words, furious at himself for playing into Theodore’s delusions. But he had to survive, had to regain his strength so he could escape. 

“I told you I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Theodore snapped, his tone frustrated.

            Passeri sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand,” he said softly, ignoring the spike of nausea that rose within him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I’m sorry I did.” 

There was another moment of silence from Theodore, and then he cleared his throat. “Really?” 

Passeri tilted his head away and clenched his jaw. The hopeful tone to Theodore’s voice filled him with anger, and he could accept that, was happy for its presence. But it also filled him with guilt. And this guilt made him want to scream, made him want to slam his head into the wall until his brains and blood painted the room. “Really,” he finally replied. “I was...confused and upset when I got here...but I understand that...that you’re just trying to keep me safe.” 

“I am,” Theodore said, eagerness apparent. “Your safety means everything to me, darling.” 

Passeri’s teeth grated over the pet name, the word sticking in his gums like glass. “I-I’m glad…. But you can’t keep depriving me of food and water like this...or I’m going to die.” 

Theodore scoffed. “I wouldn’t let you die. And besides, I have no reason to now. This is all I wanted, dear. I simply wanted us to talk, to reach an understanding.” 

            Passeri was quiet for a moment, then he nodded. “Alright…” 

“But I’m sorry to say...I don’t quite trust you yet.” 

Passeri twisted his head to look at Theodore. “H-huh?” 

Theodore shook his head. “Wonderful as it would be for you to have such a change of heart in this short a time, I’m no fool. We’ll go slowly. But I don’t fully trust your claims yet.” 

“I…”

“I will give you food and water, as promised. But do know I will withdraw it if I suspect any ulterior motives.” 

Passeri worried his lip, then nodded. He could pretend, he could play the part. He would be the sweet, obedient captive, and when this monster least expected it, he would strike. 

“Good,” Theodore smiled, and Passeri stilled a quiver of revulsion at the familiar, fluttery feeling the expression welled in his stomach. Theodore got to his feet and pressed the glass of water to Passeri’s lips, watching as he eagerly swallowed it down. Theodore then took a step back. “I’ll make you something light for dinner. It won’t be much, since I don’t want you to get sick, but it should be enough to help you feel better.” 

Passeri stared at him, certain that he was waiting for gratitude. He rolled the words in his mouth for a moment, stifling a grimace at their poisonous taste. “Th...thank you,” he finally mumbled, averting his gaze as Theodore beamed at him. 

“Of course, my love,” Theodore replied, and Passeri held back another shudder. “I shall return shortly.”


            Passeri glanced up as Theodore entered the room. Within his hands was a tray, upon which a bowl of oatmeal and toast sat, along with a banana and two glasses: one containing water, and the other containing orange juice. The smell of food made Passeri’s stomach growl and he weakly pushed himself higher as Theodore approached. However, he drew back slightly as Theodore sat on the bed, and he had to resist the urge to kick at him in an attempt to make him leave. 

“The orange juice and water both have an unflavored mineral add-in,” Theodore said as he handed the glass of water to Passeri. “These should help you get to feeling better soon.” 

Passeri took the glass and quickly guzzled the liquid down, ignoring the droplets that ran along his chin and neck. When he’d finished, he glanced at Theodore, a flush coming to his cheeks as he noticed the small, almost dreamy smile on his face. “What?” 

“You’re simply adorable,” Theodore responded. “So messy…” He lifted a napkin from the tray and gently wiped at Passeri’s face. Passeri stiffened, but did his best to keep from leaning away, permitting the action despite the disgust that pulsed within him. 

“Can I eat now…?” Passeri mumbled. 

“Certainly. But eat slower than you drank that, or you’ll make yourself sick.” 

            Though he wanted to argue, Passeri nodded and reached for the toast, then took a bite from the corner. It was perfect, exactly the way he liked it, and it made his eyes sting with anger and sorrow. How many breakfasts had Theodore made for him when they’d been staying together? This felt almost the same, but he could not permit it to. 

“How is it?” Theodore asked, voice gentle. 

“It’s good...th-thank you…” 

Theodore smiled, but did not reply. 

Passeri finished off the toast, then reached for the banana, peeling it and hungrily continuing to eat. 

“Ah, ah, a little slower, darling,” Theodore tutted. “Again, you don’t want to make yourself sick.” 

Passeri held back a biting reply, the urge to tell Theodore that the only thing making him sick was his presence. Instead, he nodded once more and slowed in his chewing. When he was done with the banana, he extended his hands for the bowl of oatmeal, doing his best to ignore the pang of sadness that struck him as he recognized the scent. Apples and cinnamon. Another favorite that Theodore would make for him. Now tears did form, and he set the bowl in his lap, burying his face in his palms and beginning to cry. 

            “Darling?” Theodore sounded panicked, but Passeri could not bring himself to look up, could not even take solace in the terror he’d caused his captor. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?” 

Passeri curled his fingers into his hair and sobbed louder. It felt as though the true reality of his situation had finally hit him. He was trapped. He was stuck in the home of a delusional madman that was convinced they were in a relationship; and worse, he could not bring himself to hate him. Try as he might, he could not forget all the time they’d shared, nor the safety that Theodore’s presence had brought him. Indeed, this security would not have been necessary were it not for Theodore’s beliefs, but Passeri could not force his feelings to change, nor wash away the memories of how right it had felt to be held in his arms. He bawled harder now, shoving the food away and twisting himself into the pillows, his shoulders heaving and throat burning. 

“Passeri, dearest, what--”

“Get out,” Passeri wailed. “Please. Just...just get out.” He could not summon vitriol nor kindness in his words, they were simply raw and pained. He could not bear Theodore’s presence any longer, for the sheer panic that if he did, he would become overwhelmed by his feelings and truly forgive him. “Please.” 

“A...alright.” Passeri felt the bed shift. “I’ll come back later, then…” A moment later, he heard the door open, then close, and so he pushed himself deeper into the covers to continue his weeping. 

~~***~~

            Theodore set a second bowl of curry on the tray before him, then gently nudged it a few centimeters to the left. Then right a centimeter. Then finally gave it a small, upwards push. He frowned at the bowl, annoyed with its refusal to center in a visually pleasing manner. Eventually, he simply sighed and lifted the tray, making the decision to ignore the obstinate dishware. A few moments later, he stepped into Passeri’s room and smiled as his elf looked up at him. Passeri stared for a moment, then quickly dropped his gaze and curled in on himself, tightening the blanket around his body. Theodore’s smile faltered slightly, but he shook his brief flash of worry away and stepped in. 

“I made curry,” he said cheerfully. “I doubt it’s as good as yours, but...hopefully you’ll enjoy it.” 

Passeri glanced at the bowls, then away, hands rubbing gently over his shoulders. The trust between them had grown over the past while, and the only manacle Passeri now wore was the one around his ankle. 

“Is everything alright, dear?” 

“I...I’m not very hungry,” Passeri replied softly. “Could you maybe just leave it?” 

“Leave it? It will get cold. Would you prefer me to bring it back later?” 

“No...just leave it, would you?” 

           Theodore frowned and studied his beloved for a moment. “This is the third day you’ve asked me to do this. Are you feeling alright?” 

Passeri nodded. “I’m okay. Just...not super hungry.”

He wanted to refuse, to insist that Passeri needed to eat, but things were finally starting to improve. Passeri seemed almost happy to see him at times and the fear of having that hateful, angry gaze turned upon him once more made him hesitant to argue. “Well...alright, if you’re sure.” He ignored the pang of sadness in his chest, the sticking of his gears. He’d wanted to have dinner with his elf. But he had to be patient, he could not force acceptance of his presence. He set Passeri’s bowl on the bedside table, along with a plastic spoon, then turned to leave. “I’ll come back later to get the bowl?” 

“Sure…” Passeri said. 

Theodore nodded, glancing over his shoulder with a frown. He could feel the words within him burning at his throat and clawing their way up, his voice wailing and sobbing to be free. “I love you,” he blurted out. “You don’t have to say it back. I understand if you’re still upset with me. But I do.” He quickly exited the room, not wanting to hear Passeri’s response for fear it would be cruel. 

            After locking the door behind him, Theodore settled on the couch and began to eat. His curry was certainly not as good as Passeri’s, but it was still an enjoyable meal. Once finished, he walked to the kitchen and washed his bowl. He then moved to dry his hands, but paused in this motion to watch his reflection in the window. He felt a brief sorrow rise within him, a pulsing sadness that welled in his chest and bubbled into his mouth. He did not recognize the creature that stared back at him. There was nothing real or human about it; no living aspect to its twisted metal, made of rusted gears that jutted forth from bruised and broken skin. He wondered if this was how he appeared without his masks, if this was why he’d been so loathed in his youth. Had he always been like this? A synthetic monster, made of wires and cogs? How could he ever expect his elf to love him if this was the kind of creature he was? How could something so alive and so beautiful ever love a machine like he? Theodore clenched his jaw. Passeri had loved him at one point, he was sure of it. But was it the reveal of his true self, the heaving, mechanical beast of his real nature that had driven him away? The despair within him peaked and he tore himself from the window with a shaky breath. He could not dwell on these thoughts. Love was understanding. Love was forgiving. Passeri would love him again, he was certain of it.  

Chapter Text

            Theodore tilted his body under the steady stream of water within his shower, a small, tired sigh escaping him. He’d stood in the doorway of Passeri’s bathroom earlier, waiting as he got clean, and now he was glad to be washing himself. He pushed further under the faucet and allowed his eyes to close. Passeri had been with him for nearly three weeks now, and were he a weaker, or perhaps less confident man, he would have grown disheartened. Though his elf no longer spoke to him with a bitter, reviled vitriol, his distaste and nervousness were still readily apparent. Theodore longed to beg Passeri’s forgiveness, to explain himself in such a manner that he would be understood. But all of these desires felt futile. No matter what he did, it seemed as though Passeri was determined to remain cold and distant. Theodore let out another sigh and pressed his forehead to the wall. He would not allow himself to give up. He couldn’t. He’d come too far, and Passeri was his. He would not give in and take him back, not to that annoying woman and nosy other man

            He gritted his teeth and pushed his thoughts elsewhere. Without the structure of work, his life had fallen into something of a disarray. But he’d easily fixed that by creating a new schedule for himself. Now, he treated Passeri as his primary job, and simply crafted the rest of his routine around his elf’s needs and limits. This had permitted his skin to heal, allowed him to better cover the trembling and confused machines that powered him. And he was thankful for this, as it seemed to comfort his elf. He did not want to frighten his beloved, nor drive him away. Theodore wanted Passeri to love him; for his elf to reciprocate the same dedication and care that he had put into their relationship. He lifted his washcloth from the rung within his shower and began to lather it with soap, rubbing it over his body a moment later as he continued to think of his darling. The closeness he’d shared with his beloved over the past weeks made him happy, even if he had to somewhat remove it from Passeri’s cold glare. There were many nights that he stood outside of Passeri’s door for nearly an hour, fingers mere centimeters from the handle as he convinced himself to keep it shut. He longed to sleep with his elf once more, to hold his songbird close and still the nervous flutter of his wings. He wanted to assure him that it would be alright, that he would always keep him safe. 

            Theodore sighed and opened his eyes. His mind felt like a broken record. No matter what he did, he simply kept spinning back to the hot, sick worry that Passeri would hate him. And what would he do if the only thing he lived for despised him? The very thing that pushed flesh onto his bones and blood through his veins? He would die, he was sure of it. Without the love of his darling, he would simply rust and rot until he was nothing more than a forgotten automaton, a broken shell left in the rain to crumble into nothingness. He did not want that. He wanted Passeri, so desperately and burningly. He wanted his passion, his love, to burn away any of the moisture that threatened his destruction. But he did not know how to express these feelings. Did not know how to explain to Passeri how deeply and strongly he loved him, nor how to show him that his intentions were pure. He would not lie, could not tell his elf that he did not want, did not ache for his contact, but this was not at the forefront of his mind. At least...not always. 

            Despite his best efforts, despite his nerves, he could not ignore the deep, churning desire he had for his elf. He hung the washcloth back up, his left hand drifting down toward his crotch. He desperately craved his beloved. Theodore gave his cock a weak pump, a flare of shame rising within him as he realized he was already completely aroused. He gritted his teeth and permitted his eyes to flutter shut as he began to rock his hips forward, hand sliding along the length of his erection. A low moan escaped his lips and he froze. The well of guilt in his stomach deepened, a black abyss of disgust that threatened to drown him. He did not want those feelings, did not want the shame and hatred he felt for himself and for his lust. It was natural to be sexually attracted to one’s partner, he’d told himself that time and time again. But nothing felt natural about his desires. Nothing felt natural about how desperately he craved Passeri, how he longed to feel and touch for hours; how he yearned to cut his skin open and taste the rich tang of his blood once more. 

            His mind drifted back to the knife and he jerked his hips forward with a soft pant. His elf had tasted so wonderful. So sweet and delicious, it had created an instant longing within him. He wanted more, perhaps even needed more. Theodore suddenly jerked his hand back, fingers twisting over the shower knob until the water that poured over him was icy. He needed to stop. Passeri was already angry at him, had already called him a rapist. He could not permit these lustful feelings to get the better of him any longer. He stood in the chilly downpour until his body had calmed, his arousal had subsided, and he was wracked with shivers. He could keep his desire in check, he was more than positive of it. He would not masturbate to the thought of his beloved, no matter how desperate or hungering he grew. It was not the appropriate thing to do. Despite the filthy, depraved thoughts that scorched his mind, he was a gentleman. And a gentleman he would remain.

~~***~~

            Passeri pushed the covers back from his body, then gently wrapped them around the chain attached to his foot. He’d spent many painstaking days scouring the room for any sort of item he could use to escape, and salvation had come in the form of a discarded paperclip beneath the desk. It had taken him a significant amount of time to carefully bend it into a proper shape, but he’d finally managed to get it situated in such a manner that he was certain he’d be able to pick the lock. He’d heard Theodore leave the cabin some fifteen minutes prior, and though he could not be certain when he would be back, he knew he could not risk waiting any longer. Passeri gently shimmied the clip into the lock, then began to twist and pull. He could feel his nerves fraying with each motion of his hand, terrified that he would break the sole object that could guarantee his freedom.

Several minutes of tedious work had passed, and Passeri found himself no closer to escape. Sweat beaded on his brow and tears stung in his eyes, a panic within him that whispered he would not be able to escape. He wanted to take a break, to pause and allow himself to cry. But he could not. He did not know when Theodore would return. He could have only minutes or seconds. He wiped his face, then set back to his attempts, worrying his lip so hard that it split, blood oozing down his chin and causing him to whimper. Another twist, and he felt the paperclip bend in his hand, pulling a terrified gasp from his lungs. But it did not break, and so he slowly turned it back in the other direction, attempting to straighten the thin, metal object. 

“Calm down,” he whispered, voice hoarse and scared. “Calm...you have to be calm.” 

He pushed the paperclip forward, and heard a soft ‘chink!’ Passeri remained still for a moment, unable to believe his own ears. Then, with trembling fingers, he tugged at the metal cuff, a soft pant leaving him as it fell away.

He was free. 

Chapter Text

            The ax in Theodore’s hands whizzed through the air and slammed into the log, splitting it in half with a spray of splinters. He paused to wipe some sweat from his brow, then studied his handiwork. The freshly chopped firewood he’d been working on all morning would last for the next several days and he was glad to finally be done. He let out a small, contented sigh, then turned toward the cabin and marched inside, kicking snow from his boots as he went. A moment later, he heard a sound. One that was entirely unexpected and made his blood run cold: the slamming of the front door.

~~~~

            Passeri scrambled over loose, powdery snow in an attempt to distance himself from the cabin he’d been trapped in for the last four weeks. He was barefoot, and the only barrier he had from the icy cold came in the form of small shorts and an old sweatshirt. He knew that he likely only had hours to make it to civilization, before he would be too frostbitten and disoriented to move. Already he could feel the bitter chill of winter clinging to his bones. But the sting of ice, which numbed his toes and made him tremble, currently only succeeded in pushing him further.  He had to get away. Even if this attempt at escape was futile and he died in the woods, it would be better than withering away as a captive. As he reached the edge of the forest, he chanced a brief, backwards glance. His eyes lit upon the cabin’s porch, some hundred meters off, and the man who stood upon it. Theodore had clearly heard Passeri’s flight, and within seconds he was on the ground and moving. Passeri spun around and began to run once more, tears leaking from his eyes as his feet crashed over twigs and pine needles. He could not afford to stop again, but already his legs ached and his lungs burned. The food he’d been hoarding the past several days had done little to provide him with energy, and if he did not so fear the punishment he would receive upon capture, it is likely he would have collapsed and simply wept. 

            He felt thankful for the coldness in his extremities. His hands and toes tingled, and it permitted him to move over foliage and obstacles that would otherwise be too painful. For a brief second, he considered running in a different pattern; a zig-zag or a circle. However, he knew he was swiftly approaching his limit, and if he deterred from his path, it was likely he would become lost or an easy capture. A soft sob escaped him as he leapt over a fallen log, a shock bursting through his knees as he landed. For a moment he almost crumpled, but with a ragged cry he forced himself onward. Passeri was no fool, despite the recklessness of his endeavor. Theodore had mentioned growing up in the area, and Passeri was certain his captor was no stranger to the very woods he now sought escape in. His only advantage had been his headstart, and if he dared to falter, or stumbled for even a second, he would certainly be apprehended. He could not focus on the menial; not the fact that he could no longer feel anything from his shins down, not the fact that his hands were burning, and not the fact that, under the glaring sunlight, he was leaving a direct trail for Theodore to follow. His only hope of salvation was to find someone. 

~~~~

            Despite the panic that welled in his chest, Theodore did not run. He walked. Slowly, evenly, mechanically. He placed one boot in front of the other and followed the trail his songbird had left him in the snow. He ignored the shadows that flickered at the edge of his vision. Ignored the mocking taunts of his father’s ghost. Ignored the broken wails of his voice. Ignored the anger that burned within him and threatened to scorch the synthetic skin from his metal bones. His elf had run away from him. Theodore had become comfortable; he’d believed that Passeri was warming up to him. But it had clearly all been a ruse. He stepped over crushed leaves and snapped twigs, easily following the clumsy aftermath of his fleeing darling. It was apparent that Passeri was simply hoping to reach civilization before he was caught. It did not seem that his elf was concerned with Theodore’s ability to follow him, and so he moved with little urgency, confident in his ability to find and claim what was rightfully his. 

            He could hear his voice crying out in confusion, the desperate sobs of a child abandoned by the one they love. He felt betrayed. So much he had done for his songbird. He’d put every ounce of himself into making Passeri happy, and he was repaid with a paltry dash for freedom. Theodore gritted his teeth and pushed forward, fixing his stare on the trees and brush before him. It was not long before he caught sight of the shivering, stumbling form of his elf many meters ahead. He quickened his pace, unable to keep his gait steady. Though he was pained by his darling’s deceit, he could not help the flickering of his internal flames. The long destroyed asylum of his mind once more began to twist and melt. The flaking paint that barely covered the walls continued to peel away, and the already distorted beams of his consciousness warped further. Everything within him pointed in only one direction: the direction of his elf. Without Passeri, he was nothing. Without Passeri, he was soulless and aimless; a machine with no purpose, no sentience. He could not permit Passeri’s escape, could not fathom the possibility of losing him. With a quiet snarl, he hastened his steps. He would not allow his songbird this flight, even if it meant clipping his wings. 

~~~~

            Passeri knew he was slowing down. His steps had become labored, and the pain in his feet was beginning to outweigh their numbness. His breath came in shallow bursts, a deep cough already forming in his lungs. Passeri’s eyes stung with tears as his body begged him to stop, to simply collapse and let the snow take him. He longed to rest, but he could not. Theodore was far better equipped for the trek; not only in terms of familiarity, but clothing too, and Passeri was certain he would be recaptured before he had the chance to die. He quickly swiped at his tears and forced himself on, desperate to reach some sort of road or town before he permitted himself to still. He could see a brighter stream of light ahead, as if the trees were beginning to break apart. With a soft cry he pushed forward, increasing his pace with each step, until finally he burst through foliage and brush to find himself on a gravel road. He could not be certain where it led, but he allowed a sob of relief to escape him. He’d made it out of the woods. He’d found something that could lead to civilization. 

            Gritting his teeth, Passeri began to walk along the road, thankful for the lack of feeling in his feet. Though it made him stumble, it allowed him to walk upon the small, sharp stones. Passeri let out a small huff and wrapped his arms around his body, stifling several spine wracking shivers. It was then that he heard the crunch of a vehicle, and he quickly ducked to the side of the road, tears of joy streaking down his face. Someone was coming. He was going to be saved, he was going to be rescued. Another wail escaped him and he quickly lifted his arms and began to shout, desperate to be seen and heard by whoever was approaching. He could hear the vehicle getting louder, the clunky, rattling sound of an old pickup truck. Passeri wanted to rejoice, to bawl with happiness, and so he let out another loud yell. 

“Hey!” He called, jumping into the air and waving his hands. “Help! Please help me!” 

The sound further increased, it seemed as though the car was just around the bend. He was saved, he was rescued. He stumbled forward, pushing into the road so that the driver would be forced to stop. 

“Please!” Passeri sobbed. “Please stop!” 

            He could see the very front of the car now, a rusty truck that approached slowly. Passeri took another step forward, then suddenly yelped as a sharp pain ripped through his scalp. The next thing he knew, he’d been jerked back into the woods, his body slamming into the cold, wet ground. 

“No!” He screamed, thrashing wildly against his attacker. 

“Quiet, quiet,” a soft voice murmured, one he’d never wanted to hear again. A moment later, Theodore knelt behind him and slipped his prosthetic hand over Passeri’s mouth, shoving his fingers between his lips and against his tongue to muffle his shrieks of panic and despair. “You don’t want us to get caught, do you?” Theodore continued. “Then you’ll be taken away.” 

Passeri let out a choked sob. He could see the truck slow briefly, but then it sped up once more and quickly vanished. He stared after it, then lifted his hands to roughly scrabble at Theodore’s wrist, desperate to hurt him enough that he would be released. 

“Ah, ah,” Theodore tutted, suddenly shifting his grasp such that his prosthetic hand was tangled in Passeri’s hair. “Don’t be so uppity, Passeri.” He stood now, and began to walk, dragging Passeri behind him through the snow. Passeri furiously kicked and writhed, slamming his fists repeatedly against Theodore’s arm in a futile attempt to escape. 

            “Let me go!” Passeri snarled, twisting his body to grab a passing root. Theodore simply let out a sigh and tugged at his shoulder, wrenching him free of the tree and causing some of his nails to tear. Passeri knew that were it not for the numbness in his extremities, he likely would have been shrieking in pain, and so he once more made a wild grab for something to hold onto. 

“Passeri!” Theodore snapped, and for the first time, he sounded angry. Passeri balked at his tone, a brief panic rising within him. “I said stop.” 

“Let go of me…” Passeri whispered tearfully, tucking his foot into a loose branch in the hopes of slowing Theodore’s steps. 

“I will not,” he replied coldly. “You are coming home, and you are going to be punished.” 

That’s not my home!” Passeri screamed, flailing within Theodore’s grasp and wheeling one hand around to punch at his leg. His aim was off, however, and instead of causing Theodore’s knee to buckle, he simply slammed his fist into the solid muscle of his calf. Theodore sighed and sharply pulled on Passeri’s hair, tugging so hard that Passeri eventually collapsed against him with a sob, the pain in his scalp proving too much for him to continue struggling. 

            Though he longed to fight, to force Theodore off of him, Passeri knew his attempts were futile. With a quiet whimper, he allowed himself to be pulled through the woods and back to the cabin. As he was jerked onto the porch, body hitting each step, he began to formulate a plan, another attempt at escape once he was released. However, it seemed that Theodore had anticipated this sort of thing, as he opened the door and immediately pulled Passeri inside, not relaxing his grip for even a moment. He twisted the lock behind him, then leveled his gaze on Passeri. Passeri began to cry again, terror rising within him. He was certain that whatever punishment was in store for him would be beyond cruel, perhaps further starvation or dehydration. 

“Why are you crying?” Theodore asked, voice soft once more. 

“W-w-what are you going to do to me?” Passeri blubbered. He flinched as Theodore turned to face him, adjusting his grip to hold Passeri’s chin and force his head back. 

“The punishment should fit the crime,” he said. “I will not harm you more than is necessary.” 

A shaky, nervous whine escaped Passeri’s throat, a sound he wished he could have trapped. He did not want Theodore to see his fear, to know how scared he was. 

            “I will ensure you cannot flee again,” Theodore continued, suddenly kneeling down and grasping Passeri’s right leg. He jerked it forward, then stood once more. “Keep your leg straight, or you will be injured far worse than I intend.”  

“What are you going to do?” Passeri repeated, his breath hitching rapidly as his panic swelled. 

“Keep it straight and still.”

What are you doing!?”  

“Straight...and still,” Theodore replied simply, shifting his foot to press it upon Passeri’s shin.

“N-no, what’re you--” he cut off as Theodore suddenly lifted his boot and brought it down upon Passeri’s leg, the impact producing a sickening crack. For a moment Passeri was too shocked to respond, and then the pain hit him. He screamed in agony and jerked back from Theodore’s grasp, collapsing to the floor as he was released. “What the fuck!?” Passeri shrieked, tears streaming down his face. He weakly fluttered his hands over his leg, wanting to touch but knowing he shouldn’t. 

“You will not run away from me again.” 

            Passeri let out another wail of pain and curled in on himself, fingers shaking as he dug them into his thigh, hoping that he could produce enough pain to distract from his obviously broken leg. He could see that his foot was now held at a strange angle, slightly too far sideways. Further, the press of bone was obvious against his skin. Passeri began to sob, unable to hold back the terror and suffering he felt. 

“Shhh,” Theodore murmured soothingly, crouching down and setting his hand against Passeri’s knee. “I’m going to set this. You have to remain still.” 

Passeri frantically attempted to twist away, but a pulse of sharp nausea forced him to stop. 

“Remain still, Passeri,” Theodore whispered. He shifted his palm downward and pressed it to Passeri’s injury. A moment later he gave a forceful push, his other hand coming up to stabilize and pull. Passeri’s vision swam as, with a loud pop, his bone was cracked back into place. Unable to utter anything but a weak moan, Passeri tucked further in on himself. His stomach heaved and he vomited. Passeri heard Theodore sigh, but found himself incapable of producing any response as his vision turned black and he fell into the blessed oblivion of unconsciousness. 


            Passeri groaned softly and tilted his head to the side, burying his face against the softness of a nearby pillow. He remained in this position for only a matter of seconds before a streak of pain shot through his leg and caused him to shove into a seated position. His hands dropped to his shin, but his fingers trembled inches away, too terrified to touch for fear of furthering his agony. He could see that his right arm and left leg had been chained once more, and a brief examination of the room showed that the floor had been picked spotless. A small sob of despair left him, and he weakly collapsed against the bed, careful not to agitate his leg on the way down. Despite the cruelty with which the limb had been snapped, it had been carefully and securely wrapped in medical tape and gauze, and he could feel the stiffness of a splint beneath his bandages. Passeri wiped his eyes and worried his bottom lip, a thick and bitter frustration rising in his throat. 

            The setback of being caught was significant, but it had been tolerable. This injury, however...he knew he could not even think of escape before it had healed. Despite this, he gave a small flex of his leg, hoping that perhaps he had simply overestimated the severity. When this motion sent a wave of nausea through his body, so dizzying that he had to close his eyes, he felt a dam break. Despair washed over him, heavy and unforgiving; a black wave of sorrow that threatened to pull him down and drown him. With a muffled cry, Passeri buried his face in his hands and began to weep. He had fought valiantly for the whole month he’d been trapped at the hands of a delusional madman, but it seemed that he had finally lost. He would not be able to escape. And in that moment, his only solace was the knowledge that he could at least allow himself to die. Theodore had proven ruthless before, and Passeri was hopeful that if he simply antagonized him enough he would be left in the bedroom to rot. 

            He found himself pulled from his thoughts by the sound of the lock clicking open, and a moment later Theodore stood in the doorway. His back was straight and his hands were folded, a slight frown on his face. Passeri mustered every ounce of energy he had left to give him the most hateful, venomous glare he could manage. Theodore’s frown deepened, but he seemed otherwise unconcerned with Passeri’s anger. After a moment of silence, he lightly cleared his throat. “How is your leg feeling?” Theodore asked. 

“How is it feeling?” Passeri whispered. “It feels fucking broken.” 

Theodore stepped into the room and carefully shut the door, turning his attention to Passeri once more as he came to sit by the bed. He crossed his legs neatly, then settled his hands on the floor and leaned back. “It is broken.” 

“I’m aware of that. I was there when you broke it, asshole.” 

Theodore sighed. “The rudeness is unnecessary, Passeri. I understand that you are upset with me, but it was an action I needed to take.” 

            Passeri’s jaw clenched and he felt a well of hatred rise within him. “So you can continue to keep me captive? So you can keep playing your sick little game?”

“This isn’t a game, Passeri,” Theodore replied, expression becoming somewhat pained. “This is our life--” 

“Our life!? We don’t have a life, you freak! I don’t fucking love you!” 

Theodore flinched. “Darling--”

Shut up!” Passeri screamed. “Don’t fucking call me that! Don’t call me darling, don’t act like I’m being unreasonable, and don’t keep thinking this is going to magically work out! I hate you! You disgust me! If you dropped dead right now that would be the best thing you could do, not only for me, but for yourself and everyone else in this world.”  

“Passeri,” he began once more. 

Don’t say my name, either. A freak like you isn’t worthy to speak it.” He buried his face in his hands with a sharp sob. “Just get out.” These last words held little malice despite the rage he felt. Passeri was exhausted, and he found himself unable to continue speaking with the venom he so wished he could spit into Theodore’s face. 

            “I take it you don’t want dinner?” Theodore asked after a beat of silence. 

“No, I don’t want fucking dinner.” 

“I’ll...see you in the morning, then.”

Passeri wanted to lash out, to spew vitriol into the air until it was so clouded and poisonous they would both assuredly choke. Instead, he remained silent and curled his fingers into his hair. He heard Theodore stand and walk to the door, but still he did not speak. 

“I...I love you, Passeri,” Theodore said softly. “I know you’re angry with me, and I’m not going to attempt to force your forgiveness. I don’t want to hurt you. I get no joy out of causing you harm. But...you have to learn, darling. You have to let me take care of you.” With this, he stepped out of the room and shut the door. Passeri jumped slightly at the loud click of the lock, and finally he looked up. He wrapped his arms around himself and began to cry once more, wails soft and ragged. He knew there was nothing he could do; no safety to find or hope to kindle. While earlier Passeri had planned to die, he was now certain this would not be permitted; sure that Theodore would find some way to keep him alive. He knew that regardless of his efforts he had no chance of escape, whether in life or death.

Chapter Text

            “You need a bath,” Theodore said as he swung the door to the bedroom open, a slight frown on his face. 

“Well, it’s a bit hard to bathe with only one leg,” Passeri replied shortly. 

“That’s why I’ll be assisting you.”

“You...what?” 

“I will assist you.” He stepped forward. 

“N-no the fuck you won’t!” Passeri frantically pushed into a sitting position and tucked in on himself. His body began to tremble as he remembered the pain he’d suffered last time Theodore had touched him. “D-don’t come near me!” 

“You need to be clean.” Theodore ignored Passeri’s protests and swiftly unlocked his manacles, a small sigh escaping him as Passeri swiped at his face with one hand. “Really, Passeri, this is uncalled for. I’m not going to hurt you.” 

“How can I possibly trust that?” 

“If you cooperate, you will not be punished. It’s simple logic.” 

Passeri stared at him for a moment, then dropped his hand and glanced away, teeth worrying his bottom lip. “F...fine.” 

            Theodore nodded. “This is much easier, don’t you think?” He asked quietly as he slipped his hands beneath Passeri’s body. 

Passeri still refused to look at him, but a small, panicked gasp escaped his throat as he was suddenly lifted from the bed. “M-my leg...you have--” 

Theodore adjusted his grip, tucking Passeri to his chest and maneuvering him in such a manner that his injured limb was fully supported. “Better?” 

“Yeah…” He bit his bottom lip to stifle a grimace. “Thanks…” 

Due to the proximity of Theodore’s body, Passeri felt the slight increase in the older man’s heartbeat at his expression of gratitude. “You...you’re very welcome, Passeri.” 

Tears stung at Passeri’s eyes, but he did not reply. Theodore stood silently for a moment, then seemed to give himself a slight shake before he began to move toward the bathroom. Once they arrived, he gently set Passeri on the closed toilet, then knelt before him. 

There was a flush to his cheeks, and he briefly looked away before he spoke. “I’m going to undress you, alright?” 

            Passeri stared at him, then shrugged weakly. He could feel his skin crawling with revulsion at the thought of being naked before his captor, but he knew he had no option other than compliance. “Sure…” 

“Alright, then,” Theodore murmured. He set his hands on Passeri’s hips and curled his fingers into the band of his shorts, which he then tugged down.

Passeri’s cheeks heated and he let out a small, embarrassed whine. “I can...take the rest of my clothes off...if you want to go.” 

“Go?” 

“Y-yeah, you don’t--”

“I’m going to help you, Passeri.”

“...what?”

“We’re going to shower together.” 

“Together!? No way! I’m not going to shower with--”

“How else will you get clean?” Theodore interrupted. “You can’t stand.” 

“I’ll just s-sit…” 

            Theodore scoffed quietly and pushed to his feet. “And how will you reach things? How will you climb in? How will you get out?”

“I--”

“I’ll help you,” he repeated firmly. Theodore lifted his hands to his shirt and began to unbutton it, casting a glance towards Passeri as he did. “Finish undressing.” 

“I don’t want to. I’m not going to shower with you.” 

“It’s less of showering together and more that I am simply assisting you--”

“I’m not getting naked in front of you, pervert!” Passeri snapped. 

“I am not a--”

“Would you prefer rapist?” 

Theodore tensed, and Passeri could see a tendon in his jaw twitch. “Do not call me that.” 

“Why? Because it’s the truth?” 

“Because it isn’t.” He stepped past Passeri and to the shower, cutting the faucet on and testing the water with his left hand. “It’s rude and hurtful. And you shouldn’t--”

“Say hurtful things to someone I love?” Passeri mocked. “I don’t. I say them to you because I fucking hate you. How are you so goddamn delusional that you can’t wrap your mind around that?” 

            Theodore did not reply, but Passeri could see that his body stiffened. He watched as Theodore reached down to plug the tub, then glanced around the bathroom, wondering if there was something he could use to cause physical harm. 

“If you don’t want me to get in the shower with you,” Theodore interrupted Passeri’s pondering, “I will simply draw you a bath.” 

“And get out?” 

“No. I’ll keep watch.” 

Passeri scowled, his stomach twisting. “Pervert…” 

Once more, Theodore was silent as he shifted to his feet and rolled his sleeves up. He looked back to Passeri, face creased in a frown. “Get undressed.” 

“No,” Passeri replied, crossing his arms. “I’m not going to undress in front of you.” 

“You need to get clean.” 

“I can do it myself.” 

“Oh? Can you?” Theodore stepped closer and quirked a brow. “Then get in.” 

“W-what?”

“Get up, get undressed, get in the bath.” 

            Passeri bit his lip. “I can’t...walk over there. I can’t--”

“You can’t?” Theodore’s hand suddenly lashed out and he grabbed Passeri by the arm, jerking him off the toilet and onto the floor. Passeri let out a startled sob as his knees hit the tile, the impact sending a shock of pain through his broken leg. 

“S-stop! Let me go--”

Theodore pulled Passeri to the tub and threw him against it, air abandoning his lungs as he hit the side. “Go on, Passeri. Get in.” 

“I-I can’t...my l-leg…” Passeri blubbered, eyes overflowing with tears. “You hurt me, you--”

“I will not harm you if you comply,” Theodore hissed. “Your decision to repeatedly push me is why you are punished. I want to take care of you, I want to be sweet to you.” He shoved Passeri harder against the porcelain basin, then kneeled behind him and grasped the back of his neck. “Now,” his voice softened, “do you want me to help you get in?” 

Passeri curled his fingers around the tub’s rim. “I don’t need your help...” 

            Theodore’s grip tightened on Passeri, and he could not hold back a small cry of pain at the sudden increase of pressure. “You don’t need it?” 

“N-no...I don’t--” Passeri cut off as he found his body upended, face splashing into hot water a moment later. His clavicle hit the shower wall as he went in, and the pain caused him to sharply inhale, swiftly flooding his lungs. Passeri thrashed against Theodore’s hold in an attempt to free himself, a garbled scream escaping him. 

Theodore pulled Passeri back and studied him, expression even and gaze impassive. “Do you want my help?” 

Passeri sputtered weakly as he tried not to choke on his words. “F-fuck you…” 

Theodore raised a brow. “No?” 

With a shuddering whimper, Passeri lifted his chin. “N-no…” He could feel terror welling within his body, positive that he would be reprimanded for his obstinance. But he would not give in so easily. He could not run, he could not hide. He knew he had no hope of outwitting Theodore, and certainly no hope of beating him in any show of strength or speed. All he had was his defiance. All he had was his will. 

            “You don’t need my help?” Theodore asked softly. “You can do this by yourself? It certainly doesn’t seem like it.” He slammed Passeri’s face back into the water, then pushed up onto his knees and leaned over him. Passeri violently struck his hands out, whether hoping to hit or grab he could not say. His throat clenched around a sudden influx of water as his brain, addled with pain and confusion, once more sought oxygen. A moment later he found himself able to breathe as Theodore jerked his face from the tub. 

“S-stop…stop…” Passeri sobbed. “Stop hurting me, stop--”

“Do you want my help?” 

Stop hurting me!” Passeri screamed, voice raw. “Just let me go! Why won’t you let me go!? You freak, you sick fucking freak! Why won’t you just--” he cut off as he was again forced beneath the water. He could hear his heart roaring in his ears, and it muffled the sound of Theodore’s voice from above.

“You certainly don’t seem able to handle this task by yourself, Passeri,” he said. “You seem like you need help. Let me help you. Let me take care of you.” He relaxed his grip and allowed Passeri to shove into a seated position. 

            Passeri stared at him for a moment, whimpering softly in terror. “P-please...stop hurting me…” 

“Do you want my help?” Theodore repeated softly. 

Passeri cast his gaze away, then lifted his hand to wipe at his eyes. His chest heaved and his lungs ached. He wanted nothing more than to continue arguing, but his body was weak and he knew he could not keep himself from giving in. Though he longed to fight, to infuriate Theodore and free himself through death, he knew he could not. He was afraid, he was exhausted, and he was in pain. His self-preservation instincts would not permit him to continue his behavior, so dangerous and foolhardy it was. Stifling a shudder of revulsion, Passeri finally nodded. “Y-yes...I want your help…” 

Theodore shifted closer. “You want me to help you bathe?” 

“Yes…” 

“Then I shall. Get undressed.” He stood and turned the faucet off, allowing the tub to drain as he waited. 

With a quiet, shaky sniffle, Passeri lifted his hands to his sweater and tugged it off. His fingers trembled as they approached his sports bra, but with a sharp exhale he pulled it and his underwear free. Passeri cast his gaze downward and wound his arms around his body, embarrassed and frightened to be seen. 

            Theodore stepped past him and turned the shower on. “Do you prefer your showers on the hotter or colder side?” 

“H...hot…” 

“Mm,” he murmured in acknowledgement. 

Passeri glanced up at him, watching as he tested the water. He averted his eyes as Theodore then began to undress, pulling his shirt from his shoulders and dropping his hands to his belt. 

After a moment of silence, Theodore lightly cleared his throat. “I’m going to come pick you up now.” 

“Okay…” Passeri whispered. He found himself lifted into Theodore’s arms a second later, his body involuntarily flinching as his skin met the cool metal of his prosthesis. “It’s...cold…” he mumbled. 

“It is rather lacking in human warmth,” Theodore replied quietly. “I do apologize for that. Hopefully the shower is warm enough for your liking.” He stepped over the edge of the tub, then gently maneuvered Passeri into a standing position, his body providing the necessary support Passeri needed to remain upright. 

Theodore firmly wrapped his left arm around Passeri’s waist and pulled him closer. “If you need anything, tell me.” 

            Passeri opted not to reply, and instead tilted his head back and closed his eyes. The hot gush of water over his face soothed him, despite the panic it caused just minutes prior. He shifted slightly in Theodore’s grasp, a longing desire to be fully enveloped in the stream nearly overwhelming him. 

“Closer?” Theodore asked. 

Passeri nodded. 

“Very well.” He moved slowly and carefully, lifting Passeri and stepping forward before setting him back on the floor. “Here?”

“Yeah…” Passeri worried his lip, then glanced down, taking note of the fact that Theodore’s underwear were still on, though thoroughly soaked with water. “Shampoo…?”

            Theodore lifted the bottle from the side of the tub, then handed it to him. Passeri flipped the top open and poured some into his hand, roughly scrubbing it through his hair as he tightly closed his eyes. He wanted to cry out, to make some sort of noise or fuss so Theodore would not think himself the victor. But Passeri knew there was little he could do. His attempts at angering Theodore had proven futile, as the responses he received were always even and measured. Punishment, he would say, as if Passeri was a disobedient animal, a creature that needed reprimand to learn. He bit his lip to stifle a sob, but this noise did not seem to go unnoticed by Theodore, who shifted his hand and pressed it to Passeri’s hip. Passeri expected anger at this contact, awaited the swell of disgust and panic he had long grown accustomed to. But he was exhausted, and his body longed for rest. In his isolation he had unknowingly yearned for contact; and now, bleary with confusion and dizzy with pain, he leaned into his captor’s grasp.

Chapter Text

            Passeri nestled into his blankets with a small sigh. He was miserable, to say the least. The tide of emotion he’d felt over the past several days was beginning to wear on him, and he was certain that soon he would be overwhelmed. Bitter tears stung at his eyes, but he quickly lifted a hand to wipe them away. He knew that his continued resistance was futile. With each passing moment, he was forced to become more and more dependent on his captor, and he was terrified that before long he would come to crave Theodore’s presence. Passeri stifled a shudder as his mind flitted back to the first shower they’d taken together and how he’d pressed into Theodore’s touch. He swallowed thickly as a wave of self-loathing crashed against him, bringing with it another well of tears. As the door unlocked, he bit his lip to stifle a sob, hardly daring to look up as Theodore entered the room. 

“Passeri,” he greeted softly. 

“What?” 

Theodore did not reply, so Passeri chanced an upwards glance at him. His lips were pursed and his eyes were cast to a corner of the room, shoulders set in a firm line. 

After a few seconds of heavy silence, Passeri cleared his throat. “Is it dinner time?” 

“Yes. Would you like to come to the table and eat with me?” 

            “I--” Passeri quickly cut himself off, teeth once more digging into his bottom lip. He’d been about to agree, an excited exclamation on the tip of his tongue. He swallowed his words, forced back the revulsion he felt for his emotions, and sharply shook his head. 

“No?”

Passeri gave another quick head shake. 

Theodore sighed. “Are you certain?”

Passeri fidgeted with the blanket for a moment, then finally nodded. “I-I’m sure. I don’t want to eat dinner with you.” 

“We’ve eaten dinner together plenty of times...why do you suddenly not want to?” 

“I just don’t want to.” Passeri did his best to ignore the tone of hurt within Theodore’s voice. Usually, the sound would have delighted him, a small victory over the madman who kept him hostage. But today it only made him feel guilty. 

“That’s hardly a reason…” 

            Passeri peeked up at him; there was injury and confusion written all over Theodore’s face, clear distress caused by Passeri’s refusal. He shifted his gaze to the wall. “It...it’s more than enough. I don’t want to eat with you. I don’t want to be around you.” 

“Passeri--” 

“I don’t like you,” he quickly interrupted, unsure who he was attempting to convince with this last statement.

Theodore fell silent for a moment, then lightly cleared his throat. “Very well...if you wish to be alone, then you shall be.” 

“What do you--”

“I will recuse myself from your presence, if that is your wish. I shall continue to bring you meals, but other than that...I will leave you be.” 

Passeri expected to feel relief, but when none came, instead a sick panic began to build. He watched Theodore turn and leave the room, the click of the lock making him flinch. He was alone, and solitude had never seemed so bleak. 

***

            As the door to his bedroom opened, Passeri’s head snapped up, an almost hopeful expression creeping onto his face. Theodore stood in the doorway, empty handed, and with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. 

“Good evening,” Theodore greeted. 

Passeri studied him for a moment, then inclined his head. “Evening.” 

“How is your leg feeling?” 

“It’s...doing better. It hurts less.” 

“Good. Would you like to go shower?” 

Passeri worried his lip, nervous to agree, but terrified to say no. Finally, he gave a small, hesitant nod. 

“Very good.” Theodore stopped forward and unlatched the manacles from Passeri’s limbs, scooping him into his arms a moment later. Passeri clung to the front of his shirt, his terror of being dropped outweighing his fear of Theodore. 

            When they arrived in the bathroom, Theodore gently set Passeri on the lip of the tub, then turned to the faucet. “Get undressed,” he said plainly as he twisted the knobs. Passeri remained still for a few seconds, his fingers tapping a nervous, staccato beat against his thighs. However, a sharp glance from Theodore spurred him into action and he quickly tugged his sweater from his body, shorts and underwear following soon after. He lowered his eyes to the floor now, not wanting to watch as Theodore stepped back to undress. 

“Test the water?” Theodore’s voice broke through Passeri’s pointed staring, and he shifted to do as he was told, fingers flitting under the stream. 

“It’s fine,” Passeri replied. 

“But could it be better?”

“Um…” he adjusted one of the knobs, slowly pushing his hand beneath the water to further test the temperature. Once he’d gotten it to the perfect position, he glanced to Theodore and nodded. For the briefest of seconds his gaze lingered, eyes wandering over Theodore’s toned, muscular form. Passeri remembered the first night they’d spend together, before all of this, before Theodore had shown his true face. He’d thought him so handsome and charming then. 

            “Ready to get in?” Theodore asked, stepping into the tub and glancing down at Passeri. 

“Y-yes…” Passeri nodded once more and twisted to face him, keeping his gaze averted. Theodore bent and helped him stand, then pulled Passeri back against him as he turned the shower head on. Passeri tilted his face into the water with a sigh, his body immediately relaxing under the hot stream. He was loathe to admit it, but he’d become accustomed to their showers, had even begun to look forward to them. The fact that they had not bathed together (which meant he had not bathed at all) in the last week was somewhat frustrating to him. On top of this, his interactions with Theodore had been incredibly minimal, with his captor spending most of his time away. He felt a brief flash of confusion, concerned that perhaps Theodore was growing bored of him. These emotions welled disgust and fury inside of him and he unconsciously struggled against Theodore’s hold on his body. 

            “Hm?” Theodore’s quiet murmur broke Passeri from his thoughts. “Are you alright, dear?” 

“I’m...yeah, I’m okay. My leg hurts a bit…” 

“Do you want to get out?” 

“N...no, I need to get clean. Can you just hand me the shampoo?” 

Theodore obliged, and Passeri began to lather the soap into his hair, biting his lip in frustration. They continued the shower in relative silence, but when they got out, Theodore lightly cleared his throat to draw Passeri’s attention. Passeri glanced over to him, his eyes briefly flicking down to take note of how the fabric of Theodore’s underwear, soaked as it was, clung to every curve and angle of his hips. Another swell of self-hatred rose, but he managed to crush this one down. 

“Would you like to have dinner together?” Theodore asked. 

Passeri lowered his gaze and did not reply for a moment. Then, very hesitantly, he nodded. “Yes.”

“Splendid!” Passeri could hear the smile in Theodore’s voice. “We’ll get you dried off, and then you can wear something nice, hm? We’ll make an evening out of it. You can even come into the dining room with me.” 

Passeri felt his breath catch in his throat. The dining room; so close to freedom. If only his damned leg wasn’t broken. “Um…” he got out, voice trembling. “Y-yes, alright.” 

“Then it’s a date.” 

Chapter Text

            Passeri gently stroked a hand over his curls, fingers briefly fidgeting with them. He’d neatly combed and twirled his hair once he’d gotten into his room, then dressed in the clothing Theodore had left him. Though they were a bit looser than he’d expected (clearly he’d lost some weight since arriving) they overall fit well; further, the sweater was comfortable and looked nice paired with the pinstriped pants. He pushed himself to the edge of his bed as he heard the door open, and glanced up as Theodore entered. Theodore paused in the doorway, eyes wide as he stared at Passeri. 

“W...what?” Passeri mumbled after a beat of silence. 

“You’re...just so beautiful, darling,” Theodore replied softly. “I...you always look lovely, of course. But…” He glanced away, and Passeri could hear a slight hoarseness to his tone. “You’re dressed so nicely for me, and that’s...it makes me happy.” 

            Passeri’s jaw clenched. He wanted to tell Theodore to get out, to yell and curse at him, to sneer that he was not dressed up for him. But he wasn’t sure that his words would hold true. 

Theodore softly cleared his throat. “My apologies...I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, dear. Shall we go?” 

“...yes, let’s go.” Passeri permitted himself to be lifted, his fingers trembling nervously against the lapel of Theodore’s coat. He had dressed up too, and Passeri found himself studying the barely noticeable pattern on his charcoal tie; a gridwork of lines and dots that seemed almost mathematically placed. It felt fitting, but he wasn’t sure why. 

            Theodore set Passeri at a sizeable, oak table that looked as though it had been made by hand. Passeri gently rubbed his palm against it for a moment, then glanced up as various dishes were placed before him. His stomach growled loudly and his cheeks flushed when Theodore smiled at him. 

“Hungry?” 

“I guess, yeah.” Passeri looked back to the table. 

“I hope you enjoy it. I’m certainly not as good a cook as you are, but I did my best.” 

Passeri’s eyes flicked over the food, the recognition of the dishes feeling like a punch to his gut. All of them were favorites of his, ranging from lamb to a light soup with rice. “Um…” 

“Is something wrong?” 

“I...I don’t…” His eyes stung with tears. A strange emotion began to well in him, one he had not experienced in many, many months. 

“Darling?” 

Relief, he felt relief. He had missed Theodore. A few tears fell, and he quickly swiped at his face, wanting nothing more than to wring his feelings dry for their betrayal. “I don’t want this,” he mumbled. “I’m not hungry.” 

“You just said you were.” 

“I’m not. I was just trying to appease you,” Passeri replied quickly. “So you wouldn’t hurt me again.” 

            Theodore let out a quiet sigh. “If you don’t want this, you don’t have to have it. But I would never hurt you--”

“What do you call breaking my leg?” 

“That was a punishment for your infraction. I was teaching you--”

“Oh, bullshit. Fuck off. Take me back to my room. I don’t want to be around you.” 

“Passeri…” The dejection in Theodore’s tone made Passeri’s heart ache, but he gritted his teeth against the apology that bubbled to the back of his throat. He hated Theodore. He had to hate him. 

“Take me back.” 

“Do you want to be alone?”

“Yes. I don’t want to fucking be around you. I hate you.” 

Passeri heard Theodore sigh once more, but he gave no other reply. The only sound from his side of the table was the slight scrape of his chair as he stood. A moment later, he knelt beside Passeri, voice soft and even as always. “You’re not hungry?” Theodore asked. “You’re certain? And you want nothing to do with me?” 

“I think that’s pretty obvious, you freak.” From the corner of his eye, Passeri saw Theodore flinch, but he simply set his jaw. He was determined. He would hate Theodore. He would not balk, he would not break. 

            “Very well.” Theodore straightened and set his hands on the back of Passeri’s seat. A moment later, Passeri found himself tossed to the floor as Theodore jerked the chair from beneath him and shoved it out of reach. He came to stand above Passeri now, arms crossed and gaze reproachful. “Go back to your room, then.”

“W...what?” 

“Go back to your room.” 

“I’m on the f-floor...I c-can’t get back there alone, I--”

“You said you wanted nothing to do with me.” He spread his hands in an impassive shrug. “So go.” 

Passeri’s eyes threatened to overflow with tears and he let out a confused whimper. “I--”

“Go, Passeri. Or do you need my help?” 

A shudder of disgust ran through him. He could not break. He would not break. With a determined, yet shaky breath, Passeri began to scoot toward the hallway. However, the pain in his leg soon made this impossible and he started to whimper. He glanced up at Theodore, a panicked wheeze escaping him as he noticed that he’d only moved a few feet, and that Theodore had easily closed the distance with a single step. “L-leave me alone…” Passeri whispered. 

“I’m not doing anything.” 

            Passeri glared at him, but he knew that the hateful effect of his gaze was lessened by his red cheeks and trembling limbs. “F-fuck you…” He shifted onto his side and began to weakly drag himself forward, but collapsed after only a foot, a few tears slipping from his eyes. 

“Darling,” Theodore sighed from above him. “You were so adamant you did not need my help…. If you want it, I am more than happy to offer it. You’re going to hurt yourself.” He knelt down. “Let me take care of you, dearest…” 

“Fuck off,” Passeri croaked. He pushed himself onto his elbows in an attempt to crawl. But only managed a few inches before his arms gave out and he dissolved into broken, panicked wheezing. 

“Do you want my help?” Theodore asked softly. 

“N-no...go away…” 

“Mm, if you’re sure.” He rose to his feet, and soon Passeri heard the sound of his retreating steps. 

            Passeri continued to lay where he was until he’d regained some of his strength, then once again began to move. He repeated this process several times, with each attempt bringing him slightly closer to his door. However, his bursts of energy were coming slower and slower, and his breaks were lasting longer and longer. He knew he would not be able to make it back to his room, and he finally allowed himself to sob. He buried his face in his hands and wailed, resisting the urge to pound his fists into the floor and scream about the unfairness of the world. He did not know what he’d done to deserve this torture, to deserve being trapped and controlled by the whims of a madman; a madman he’d once regarded as a friend. Passeri continued to cry, tears dripping down his face and soaking the sleeves of his sweater, until finally he lifted his head, no longer able to bear the pain that wracked his body with each breath. 

“Theodore!?” He all but screamed, and a moment later he was there. 

“Yes?” 

“P-please...please…” Passeri blubbered. “My room...please...can you take me back? W-will you take me back? I’m s-so tired and I’m s...sorry and I hurt and please...please, Theodore…” 

            Theodore studied him for a moment, then stepped forward and scooped him into his arms. As he walked, he cooed tender reassurance into Passeri’s ear, his voice gentle and soothing. Despite the disgust that welled in his stomach, Passeri clung to him, unable to let go even once he’d been set in bed. 

“Darling,” Theodore said quietly, “do you want me to get your dinner?”

“N-no...not right now...just...wait…” He tightened his grip on Theodore’s coat. “Just...wait…”

“I’ll wait as long as you’d like me to, my love.” 

Passeri’s eyes clenched at the pet name, and bile rose in his throat. He felt lost and confused, entirely unsure of what he could do or what was wrong with him. The dependency he’d come to have on his captor was infuriating, but it felt as though he grew more and more accustomed to it with each passing day. Even now, he gripped Theodore tightly, as if his presence was the only thing that could stop the flood of tears that threatened to beset and drown him. 

            He was conflicted. Set adrift between two islands, his bruised and battered body did not know which way to turn. He could hate Theodore, and perhaps in his obstinance he could eventually infuriate his captor into killing him. Passeri knew that this was the sensible choice; the right and dignified one. But a small part of him, the one that had always filled him with so much insecurity and need, suggested something else. It told him to pretend, to play up his weakness and compliance. To let Theodore take care of him and to indulge his sick fantasies. Then finally, when the moment was right, he would strike and free himself. However, he knew that this part of him was not entirely honest. The moment would never come, and the wait would destroy his resolve. Eventually he would be left a mindless, obedient doll; a slave to the desires of a monster. Passeri knew he could not listen to either. He had to escape, to somehow traverse the rocky shores without meeting his death. But the water was dark and tumultuous, and though he tried, he could not remember how to swim. 


            Passeri sniffled as he took the final bite of his dinner, then collapsed against his pillows and looked away from Theodore. 

“Are you feeling any better?” Theodore asked softly. 

“My leg hurts...a lot…” 

“It’s possible you strained it with all of that moving. Would you like some painkillers?” 

Passeri shook his head. “No...I think I just want to go to sleep.” 

“Very well, darling, if you’re certain. If you end up wanting them, just call.” Theodore stood from the bed and lifted the tray into his hands. “I hope you sleep well, my love.” He was silent for a moment, then let out a soft sigh. 

Passeri glanced up at him, his cheeks flushing as he noticed the burning intensity in Theodore’s gaze. “W...what?” 

“I simply…” he trailed off, then shook his head. “Ah...it’s not important right now. You’ve had a long evening.”

Passeri’s brow furrowed and he frowned. He could feel a gnawing concern within him, another flash of confusion, a spike of worry that perhaps Theodore was growing bored of him. A wave of fury coursed through him for the feeling. After all, was it not the best case scenario that his jailer lose interest?

            “Goodnight, Passeri,” Theodore said as he headed for the door. “I hope you have sweet dreams and wake up feeling well rested.” 

Passeri stared after him, unsure of how to reply. He could feel both sides of his mind warring within him, each one convinced that the other was wrong. Did he want to die? Did he want to give up? He had to think quickly; he had to make a choice. He knew that he had no chance of escape, not in his current state, not with his broken leg. Compliance was the smarter option--if the more revolting--at least until he had healed, a sense of security that he could use to his advantage.

“G-goodnight, Theo,” Passeri replied softly, his hands quivering as Theodore froze. “I h-hope you sleep well too…” 

“I…” Theodore wheeled around to look at Passeri, and the elation on his face caused Passeri to avert his eyes. “Thank you, darling. If you need me...or want me...simply call and I’ll come. I…” Passeri heard Theodore’s breath catch. “I love you, Passeri. Very much. I’m so, so in love with you.” 

Passeri closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, unwilling to open his mouth for fear of what might come out. 

“Rest well, dearest,” Theodore murmured, and a moment later, Passeri heard the door shut. 

            With a shaky sigh, Passeri opened his eyes and looked around the room. Blessedly, he was alone. He waited for the wave of relief that usually came from solitude, but found that there was none. He squirmed slightly, then let out a soft, whining huff. His compliance had clearly been effective, but he wasn’t remotely sure if he’d be able to keep it up. The warmth and happiness his words had caused in Theodore were both sickening and assuring. He told himself that it was simply the comfort of knowing that Theodore had not grown bored with him, and he would not be left to rot. Passeri knew that his main goal was survival with an eventual escape, and that it was imperative he keep Theodore happy in order to achieve this. Injured as he was, he had no hope of living if he angered his captor or caused him to lose interest by being too difficult. Satisfied with this reminder, Passeri curled in on himself. As he settled into his blankets he was struck with the realization that he was not chained; Theodore had not bothered to put the manacles on him when they’d come into the bedroom. He bit his lip and considered his options, wondered if he could attempt to flee. But then he thought back to dinner, and his pathetic attempts at movement. There was no reason for Theodore to cuff him, he could not possibly go anywhere. He had to be patient. He would heal, and then he would run. 

Chapter Text

            Theodore slowly pulled a comb through his hair as he examined himself in the mirror. He had been away from work for six weeks, but his vacation had come to an end, and he would have to leave his beloved songbird alone. He sighed quietly, then began to pick his brain for a mask; something to slip over his exposed wiring. He blinked at his reflection a few times, brows furrowed in a frustrated crease as his disguise eluded him. Theodore continued to stare at a monster, one made of broken metal, twisted spires, and viscous oil. A vice of panic gripped him, and he dropped his hands to clench the cold porcelain sink. Too long had he spent living as himself, too long had he ignored the need for maintenance. And now here he stood, a rotting geist that could not cover the stench of its own decay. With a determined grit of his teeth, he let out a slow, shaky breath, then tore his eyes from the mirror. He fixed them on the countertop, the fingers of his prosthetic tapping a harsh, tinny beat into the sink. Focus. He had to focus. His masks were not gone, he simply had to brush the cobwebs and dust from the long ignored corners of his mind.  

            Theodore returned his gaze to the mirror where he allowed himself to poke and prod at his reflection. It had been many years since he had studied his true self, and with his desiccated form laid bare, he had to admit he felt some curiosity. His eyes flicked over broad shoulders and a tapered waist, honed by his nightly exercise, perhaps the one part of his regimen he could not seem to abandon. He was not vain, as a machine he held no self-image; but he found the exhaustion enjoyable, a hot blooded rush that made him feel, if only for a moment, that he had a chance at personhood. He shifted his attention now, a slight frown working its way onto his face as he took careful catalogue of the scars on his body. Though most were faded, there was a softness to their color that felt almost glaringly obvious against the dusky olive of his skin. Various burn marks spattered his chest; small, splotchy, unmistakable. How many times had a cigarette melted his synthetic flesh? The mocking whispers of his father reached him, a shadow that slid from beneath a locked door to coil, thick and heavy, in his throat.

            With a small, tempered sigh, he pressed on. He did not want to dissect himself, did not want to dig into the core of his being and pull his wiring out, but there was simply too much. He could not cover his wailing, grinding gears with a mask, not like this. Theodore’s attention drifted to his right arm, his eyes slowly working over the shiny, neatly polished metal of his prosthetic. It had been so long since he’d obtained it, that it was difficult to imagine his body without it; impossible to imagine a world in which he had not been branded a machine. Was it a kindness from the universe that he had been permitted to survive? The specter behind him snickered and grimaced. Of course not. Kindness was not something he’d ever been afforded. Theodore shook his head and lifted the comb from the countertop once more, tugging it through his thick, sometimes unreasonable curls. As he continued to smooth his hair down, he could feel an even, careful mask settling over his body. He began to recite his routine, voice a soft, monotone whisper. 

            By the time he had tamed his appearance, he had been rewarded with a new paint job. Sitting over his flesh was a smooth and even coat of mimicry. Though it had taken time, he had resolved the issue. Efficient. He was efficient. He was a well-oiled, unstoppable, unthinking machine. He stepped from the bathroom and to his closet, where he swiftly dressed, the familiar cut of his suit providing another layer of paint. As he exited his room, he paused by Passeri’s, fingers lightly tapping against his thigh for a moment before he pushed the door open. It was early, exceptionally so, and his elf was still asleep. He studied the resting form of his songbird, a sharp, inward glare quelling the roiling heat of his desire. 

“Passeri,” he murmured. 

“Mm…?” His beloved stirred, eyes fluttering open. 

“I’m going to work. I’ll be back this evening, though. While I’m gone, is there anything you’d like?” 

            Passeri pushed into an upright position and rubbed at his face, a few tired mumbles escaping him. Theodore’s voice threatened a scream, but he silenced it with another glance. It was his own home, there was no reason for him to be so cold. But he knew that the moment he permitted himself freedom, the moment he released himself from his bonds, his true from would come slithering from behind the mask. A bleeding and hideous creature, he would be unable to restrain it once more. 

“When will you be back…?” Passeri’s voice broke through Theodore’s thoughts, and he straightened. 

“I get off of work at five-thirty. It’s a two hour drive.” 

“Two hour…?” Passeri lowered his eyes and worried his lip. In moments like these, Theodore could not tell what his songbird was thinking, and he longed to pull open Passeri’s chest and examine his insides, yearned to fully understand the thoughts and desires of that which he so loved. 

            “Yes. If you want anything, I’ll get it on my break, to minimize the time you’re alone here.” 

Passeri remained silent for a few seconds longer, then shrugged. “I don’t think I want anything.” 

“Are you certain?” 

“Um...yeah.” He slid back into the covers, his small frame quickly becoming lost in the thickness of his blankets. “Thanks, though…” 

Theodore blinked, the expression of gratitude still so foreign despite their recent increase in frequency. 

Passeri glanced up at him. “What?” 

“Ah…” Theodore straightened and gave a slight shake of his head. He’d almost slipped. He wanted nothing more than to abandon his facade of humanity. To present himself, bare and bloody; to beg for love. “It’s nothing, dear.” 

Passeri frowned now. “It doesn’t seem like nothing.” 

            Theodore blinked once more, then lightly cleared his throat. He was not sure what to say in that moment. There was no part of him that wanted to lie to his darling, but he was terrified of speaking the truth and being rebuked. “I’m...going to miss you while I’m gone,” he finally replied. 

“O-oh…” Passeri glanced away from him. 

Theodore did his best to ignore the tremor that wracked his body, a quivering pain that he would never grow accustomed to. Rejection. Denial. Was he truly asking so much of his songbird? Was he really the monster that Passeri seemed to think he was? He could not dwell on these questions, nor the pained and wheezing sobs of his voice that they gave rise to. His mask had to stay on. “I’ll see you when I’m back,” Theodore said quietly, tone clipped and even. Without waiting for a reply, without even daring to look at his elf, he turned on his heel and walked from the room. He paused, locked the door, then did the same as he exited the cabin. 

            As he slid into his car, he felt his heart quiver and his eyes sting. For a moment, for a brief, glorious moment, he thought he might cry. No tears came, however, and soon the unfamiliar discomfort washed from his body. But as he started the car and pulled from the gravel driveway, he noticed how the fingers of his left hand trembled against the wheel. Though physically speaking he was unharmed, he knew he was in agony. Wholly and completely, his soul was burning in the most unforgiving and unregarding fire. As a machine, he had never experienced these emotions, not before his songbird, not before the return of his true self. He had never been so full of want and need and desire. He had never yearned and bled for something so pure, so beautiful, so full of bitter hatred for him. He was a foolish man, he could admit that, if only to himself. Weak hearted and shaking, he was not created to love or be loved. But his core--his heart--black and rotting as it was, could not help the choking and afflicted greed it felt, the requital it demanded. Though all logic told him his attempts were a lost cause, he knew that he must not stop. Would not stop. Could not stop. 

“He’s mine,” Theodore whispered. “He. Is. Mine.” 


            Theodore leaned back from his desk, a small breath leaving his throat as his eyes lit upon his watch. 12:14. He’d worked into his break. Heaving a frustrated sigh, he locked his computer and pushed himself from his chair. He had wanted the time to get something for his elf, perhaps a present or trinket of his devotion. Instead, he was running behind on schedule. He felt weary and short-tempered, his mask an ill-fitting tarp tossed across a mutilated murder victim. He did not want to be around people. The buzz of life was an affront to his decaying brain. He wanted silence. He needed silence. Theodore adjusted his tie and moved to step from his office. However, this action was halted by the sudden appearance of an orc he’d never seen before, and whose presence gave him pause. 

“Mr. Nazari?” The orc asked. 

Theodore studied him for a brief second, eyes flicking over the intruder in an attempt to catalogue him. He was about the same age as Theodore, and dressed in a suit that had perhaps once been nice, but lost much of its crispness due to time and neglect. After a few seconds, Theodore lightly cleared his throat and raised a brow. “Yes?” 

“Ah, good. I was told you’d be back today, but wasn’t entirely sure. I’m Detective Winters. I wanted to ask you a couple questions.”

            Holding back a sigh of annoyance, Theodore stepped back to his desk. He knew why the detective was there, but that did not make his sudden arrival any less of an inconvenience. He sat once more, then gestured to the chair opposite. 

“Thank you. I understand you’re a busy man. You’ve been away from work for the past while, yes?” As the orc took his own seat, he pulled a notepad from his coat pocket. Similar to his suit, it showed its age and for a moment Theodore was almost jealous of the man’s apparent disregard. He eyed Winters once more. Where just moments before his mask had felt uncomfortable and itchy, it had locked into place the second he’d needed it. Well-oiled and gleaming, the gears of his mind spun unfettered by confusion or flesh. 

“That’s correct,” Theodore replied, his voice even and pleasant, the polite and helpful tone of a fourth floor coworker that was always eager to assist. “I was on vacation.” 

The detective nodded, jotted something down. “That’s odd for you, though, isn’t it? Your boss said that you’ve never even called in sick before.” There was a hint of suspicion to his tone, one which did not surprise Theodore. Of course it was unusual that he’d been gone, but it had been a special occasion.

            Theodore shrugged, an easy, well-practiced action that looked entirely real; a motion of metal so lifelike he appeared human. He could not tell whether he was pleased or disgusted with how easily he’d been rewrapped in his disguises, their fleshy surfaces hiding the beastly desires that lurked within his frame. “I suppose I was simply saving up for a rainy day.” 

Winters laughed, and Theodore relaxed slightly. The sound was genuine, if tired. “I see, I see. Well, I’ll get to why I’m here. Passeri Maelon.” 

“Yes.” Theodore dug his fingers into his thigh, used the pain to halt the spread of a foolhardy smile at the mention of his songbird. 

“You’re aware he’s missing?”

“It was...mentioned to me.” 

“When?” Winters scooted closer and Theodore stifled a snarl of revulsion. The nosy, prodding curiosity of the detective infuriated him. Winters did not deserve to know anything about Theodore’s beloved, not a single, solitary detail existed for him. 

Theodore tilted his head slightly, his mask did not slip. “He works at the cafe next door. I go there every morning for coffee, and again for lunch. Some of the workers know of my...relationship with him, and they asked me if I’d heard anything when I went in today.” 

            Winters once again took note of Theodore’s words. “I see. And what exactly is your relationship with him?” 

Theodore’s voice threatened to burst forth, to drag its heaving body to the rooftop and shriek its adorations of his elf. But the detective would not understand. Not even his songbird understood. He dug his teeth into the warbling throat of his voice. A swift shake of his head caused the mewling, hideous creature to fall silent, the putrid froth of its blood splashing onto his face. “We’re friends.” The words burst across his tongue in a hot spray of blistering agony. “He felt uncomfortable and unsafe in his home, he thought he was being stalked. He asked me to stay with him. I went out of town for vacation and...he went missing.” He looked away now, a grimace threatening his face. He could feel his mask cracking, filth leaking from these new furrows. 

“I’m sorry that happened,” Winters replied, his voice heavy with sympathy and regret. “I imagine you must feel awful about that. Did you ever see anyone following him?” 

“No. But he said it stopped happening once I started staying.” He heard the scratch of Winters’ pen, but still did not raise his eyes; an attempt to hide the bubbling, viscous oil that dripped from his mouth; proof that he was not human and that his core was bleeding. 

            Once more, the detective expressed his remorse. It was clear that whatever suspicion he’d held had long waned, but Theodore hardly heard him. The only sounds available to him were the grinding whines of his internal mechanisms, though these were nearly drowned out by the echoing screams of the dead. Voices that rose from the abandoned crevices of his mind; words belonging to shades that slithered from behind padlocked doors to thrust their spindly, rotting fingers into his throat. He choked on their laughs and taunts. They mocked him, derided him. Friends. Friends and nothing more. Delusional. He was delusional, a madman, a fool, a--

“I’m sorry to have bothered you. I think I have everything I need, but do stick around, would you?” The question aroused no suspicion in Theodore, and indeed, it had no need to. There was no lurking motive, no hidden meaning. A machine could always sense another, and this man was genuine. Real. What he wouldn’t give to carve Winters open and coat himself in his essence, give himself a warmth that would bring Passeri’s favor.  

“Of course.” 

Winters reached across the table to shake hands, which Theodore obliged. The action firm, it belied the tremble of machinery within. “Have a good day, Mr. Nazari.” 

“You as well.” 

            Theodore stood as the detective vanished around the corner of his doorway. His left hand shook and he tightly clenched his eyes. Passeri was his elf. His darling, his beloved, his everything. Passeri had simply forgotten the breadth of his love, or overlooked it in his anger. He clenched his teeth and let out a slow, deep breath, then moved to the door to wrap his fingers around the handle. Theodore exhaled once more, and calmed. He smoothed the furrows from his mask, delicately reapplied the curling paint. He would not lose his elf. Not to that other man, not to the prodding of nosy detectives, and certainly not to his own mistakes. He had claimed his songbird the moment they’d met, smeared the bleeding, blighted oil of his person into Passeri’s flesh; the frenzied scribbles of a mindless and rotting golem. Even now, he could feel the flickering flames of his passion rise, a sick heat that crescendoed and threatened to burn him from within. A fever. An all-encompassing blaze that would eradicate everything in its wake. It needed to be fed. Within the wasteland of his mind there was little left to sate its hunger, and ruin him it would. It was not enough to sit and wait and hope. Not anymore, not any longer. Whether by grace or by force, he would ensure that Passeri loved him.

Chapter Text

            Passeri squirmed where he sat, and did his best to keep his mind focused on anything but the pressing pain in his bladder. When Theodore had mentioned he’d be at work, Passeri had not realized just how long he’d be gone. With a small whine, he bit his lip and glanced toward the window. Dark. It was dark out, and he was still completely alone. Frustrated tears stung at his eyes and he dug his fingers into the flesh of his thigh to stifle another whimper. He could feel an encroaching discomfort, a nervous energy that bubbled in his chest and threatened to make his despair overflow. It had been so long since he’d last been alone; he’d expected to feel relief. Instead, he sat with a parched throat, an uncomfortable pressure in his abdomen, and a creeping dread. Passeri pressed his hands to his face in an attempt to quell his sorrow. He would not allow himself to cry. To cry at his captor’s absence would be an admittance of feelings he did not dare consider; could not consider. 

            The sudden sound of tires crunching over snow caused Passeri to lift his head and let out a small keen. Theodore had returned. A comfort settled over him, one that was immediately met by a forceful push of revulsion; how could he find solace in the return of his jailer? He lowered his hands to his arms and gently rubbed them with his palms. A moment later, he heard the cabin’s front door unlock, and the sound of something being maneuvered inside. Though the noise raised curiosity within him, he had more pressing matters to attend to. 

“Theodore?” He called. “Um...I-I need to use the bathroom…?” 

After a few seconds, the door to his room opened, and Theodore stepped within, a settled blankness to his features that Passeri had not seen in many weeks. He almost didn’t recognize him. However, as Theodore’s eyes lit upon him, the ice of his expression began to melt, and soon Passeri was gazing upon a more familiar, but still restrained man. 

“C-can I go?” Passeri asked softly. “To the bathroom?” 

Theodore stared at him for a moment, then lightly cleared his throat. “Yes.” He stepped forward and quickly lifted Passeri into his arms. 

            “O-ow!” Passeri yelped, the sudden shift in position sending a streak of pain through his leg. 

Theodore stilled, and Passeri could feel him tremble. 

“You...you just lifted me too quickly…” Passeri whispered. “It hurt, but…” He swallowed a cold lump of disgust. “It’s okay. I-I’m not...upset with you.” 

Though he received no reply, Passeri felt Theodore’s grip soften and relax. 

“I do really need to go to the bathroom, though. It’s...urgent.” 

“Of course, dear.” Theodore gave himself a small shake, as if trying to clear some fog from his person, then set into motion. Soon, he deposited Passeri on the toilet and took his usual position in the doorway, arms crossed, back turned. Passeri stared at him for a moment, then lowered his eyes, bit his lip, and went about his business. 

            “I’m done,” Passeri murmured as he flushed the toilet and carefully tugged his shorts back on. 

Theodore nodded and turned to step inside, then gently maneuvered Passeri to the sink to wash his hands before carrying him from the bathroom. When they passed Passeri’s room, Passeri tensed with confusion, his brow furrowing in quiet question. 

“Um?”

“I got you something,” Theodore said plainly. 

Passeri thought back to the noise he’d heard when Theodore had returned. “What is it?” Before Theodore could reply, however, they were in the living room, and Passeri took notice of a wheelchair sitting by the door. “Oh!” A smile tugged at his lips, but he quickly and furiously dug his nails into his palms to keep it from spreading. There was no reason for him to be happy, no reason for him to feel thankful. Were it not for Theodore’s delusions, he would have no need of this object. 

            Theodore lightly cleared his throat. “With me being away from home, I thought it would be useful. This way you’ll be able to move around.”

Passeri studied the chair, then nodded. “That makes sense.” 

“Would you like to try it out?” 

“Sure…” For a brief second he wondered if he could perhaps use the device to make an escape, but that thought was quickly dismissed when he remembered the stairs that led to the cabin’s front door. Even if he could manage to get out, a wheelchair would not carry him through the miles of surrounding wilderness, nor offer him any further chance of outside survival. He had only been granted the image of freedom. Passeri let out a small sigh as he was lowered into the seat. While its acquisition meant that he would no longer be forced to entirely rely on Theodore’s presence for survival, he could not feel relief, would not permit his bitter resentment to lessen. He ran a finger over a smooth, leather coated armrest, then glanced up at Theodore. “Thanks.” His tone was clipped and even; it held no malice and no appreciation.

Theodore’s expression became unreadable, but finally he nodded. “You’re welcome, Passeri.” There was a note of hurt to his voice, a clear pain at the lack of gratitude. Guilt attempted to overwhelm Passeri, but he would not allow himself to feel it. He had nothing to be thankful for. 

***

            Though the initial shift had left him shaken, Passeri was slowly growing accustomed to Theodore’s absence. With the help of his chair, he was able to traverse the cabin and promptly take care of anything he needed. Despite this, he still spent most of his time in his room, though now with a steady supply of books. Theodore would often bring him a new one every other day, and though Passeri did his utmost to not feel appreciative of the gesture, he was more than aware of the creeping recognition that often threatened to seize him. Though he loathed himself for it, he had begun to look forward to Theodore’s return. These feelings sickened him, but he was too frightened to dwell on them, too fearful that any attempted destruction would break a dam he had no hope of fixing. 

            With a small sigh, Passeri shook himself from his thoughts and attempted to return his attention to the book in his hands. It was not one he’d read before (or even heard of), but Theodore had recommended it. Though he was furious to admit it, he found himself enjoying the text, despite its tendency to dip into lengthy, sometimes pedantic passages. He let out another breath, then dogeared his place and tossed the novel onto the bed. He was growing tired of simply sitting in his room all the time. Further, he despised that he had come to think of it as his room, instead of the room he was being forced to live in. He grumbled quietly and tapped his fingers against his thigh. He was unsure of what to do or even what he could do. Passeri’s attempts to explore the cabin had been, much to his annoyance, largely thwarted by Theodore simply placing a plank of wood in the doorways of rooms he did not want Passeri to enter (primarily his own). Though Passeri did not hold much interest in his captor’s private affairs, the man’s secretive precautions were, at the very least, curiosity piquing. 

            He glanced around the room, his eyes eventually landing on the bookshelf. It had been mostly empty when Passeri had arrived, save for a few texts on the bottommost rack, but was slowly beginning to fill as Theodore procured more and more for him to read. Passeri rubbed his face, then wheeled himself to the shelf, a quiet hum in his throat. The sound startled him, so peaceful and pleasant it was. It felt out of place and out of sorts with the rest of his being; a soft trill that had been pulled from some past, long dead version of him. It sounded happy. He was not--could not be happy. He gritted his teeth and swiped his hand at the bookcase, fingers snatching up an old, well-worn notebook from the lowest shelf. He squinted at it, brow furrowed in contemplation. After a few seconds of consideration, he flipped it open to read the inside cover. The handwriting was shaky and unrefined, as if the writer was only just learning penmanship, but he could see that it read: Property of Theodore Nazari. If found, please return to… The writing was too smudged and faded to read at that point, but from the block of lettering, Passeri could only assume it was an address. He looked to the first page, his eyes lingering on the date in the top right corner. 4th of March, 1992. 

            As his eyes scanned along the words, he came to the swift conclusion that it was a childhood journal. For a moment, he contemplated putting it down and simply pretending he had not found it. After all, as with Theodore’s room, he had no desire to know more about the delusional man who kept him prisoner. But there was...something about the writing, so uncertain and sloppy. It did not fit. It was out of sorts with the person Passeri saw each day, even when he showed his true face. With a slight sigh, he smoothed the page out and began to read… 

            The doctor said that this would be helpful. That if I did this, I could learn to write faster. I don’t need to learn how to write, I know how to write. I’ve been writing for years. It’s not fair that I suddenly can’t anymore, that because of HIM I have to learn everything all over again. I can’t write fast enough to keep... 

Here the text became almost entirely illegible. Passeri tilted the journal in various directions and squinted at the letters, but finally gave up and skipped on until he could again understand the scrawling.

...can’t I say what I want to say anymore? This was all I had, the only thing, and HE took it. I hate him. I hate him so much. I don’t know what I did to make him treat me like this. He says it’s because mom left, but mom left because of HIM. I hate her too. She left me. She abandoned me. Everyone left me, everyone abandoned me. Nobody cares. Even that stupid social worker didn’t care. I LOST MY ARM!!!!!! Does that mean NOTHING to these people?? He said it was an accident and they believed him, they BELIEVED HIM. What even is the POINT anymore!? They all just believe him anyway, they all just think I’m lying. 

            The only one who ever believed me was Uncle Adrian. The only one who ever cared. And he left me too. He promised he would save me, and he left me. I-- 

The remainder of the line was roughly scratched out, so aggressively that the page had been torn. Passeri’s brow furrowed and he gently rubbed his nail over the markings. Something written in anger, he was sure, a bitter notion that Theodore had immediately wanted to take back. He worried his lip for a moment, then sighed and resumed reading on the following line.

I didn’t mean that. He was the only person who ever cared about me. I just miss him. I miss him so badly. I really wish I could be with him, I wish I could just die. I don’t want to be alive like this. I don’t want to learn how to do everything again. And I don’t want the other kids to see my arm… Everyone already hates me. They all think I’m a freak and now they’re right.

            The entry cut off here. Passeri swallowed thickly around the lump in his throat, then slowly turned the page to look at the following passage, dated: 9th of March, 1992. His eyes briefly scanned the date, and he wondered how old Theodore would have been. While he did not know his exact age, had never thought to ask, he seemed to be in his late thirties. After some brief, mental math, Passeri let out a slow exhale. It didn’t particularly matter Theodore’s exact age, he finally concluded; regardless of what it was, the author of this journal was a child. He considered putting the book down, a conflict of feelings welling within him. It was a breach of privacy to continue reading, but had Theodore not repeatedly breached his privacy? It was a juvenile thought, a whiny ‘he started it’ that reminded Passeri of children on the playground, squabbling about who pushed the other first. He had been pushed first, his own security tarnished and ruined. He shook his head and refocused on the page: Theodore had no right to privacy. 

            I have a fake arm now. I guess they had to get it molded or something, but we went to pick it up today. It’s weird. I feel less off balance, but I still don’t like it. Besides, it’s not going to make things any different. It doesn’t do anything. Maybe I’ll put a glove on it and pretend it’s real. Dad said it was expensive so he took the money from what Uncle Adrian left me, and that he’s been doing it for a while. That’s why he doesn’t go to work anymore. He said he would sell the cabin if he could, but apparently it’s the one thing he can’t touch. I guess I should be angry, but I’m not. I don’t really feel anything. I kept trying to cry after it happened, but I can’t. I haven’t cried since Uncle Adrian died. I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. Maybe because of that social worker, the one who said he’d “help out”. All he did was send me back to therapy. He said there was nothing to report. 

            I thought about calling mom last night, I even dialed the number halfway. But there isn’t a point. What would I even say to her? What would she say to me? Probably that she’s sorry. That’s all she ever says. Maybe she’d tell me to be happy I have this new arm, but I don’t see what I should be thankful for. I wouldn’t need this stupid thing if it wasn’t for him, if he wasn’t such a jerk… I keep wondering if maybe he was trying to kill me. I keep having nightmares about it too. In them, I can’t move, and I’m face down in the dirt. I’m stuck and I can’t breathe and I can taste blood. He’s laughing at me. I can hear bugs and animals and they’re laughing too. I know it wasn’t an accident because he laughed at me. He asked if he’d be free of me. He asked if I was finally going to die. I wish I had. 

            Passeri was startled from his reading by a sudden drop of water hitting the page and smudging the already faded words. He sat up, confused, but then realized the moisture had come from his own eyes. He quickly brushed his fingers over his face, wiping away several more tears before they could fall. Passeri had not expected to find sympathy for his captor within the journal. Much to his frustration, however, he could not push the animosity he felt for Theodore onto the written memory of a frightened, despairing child. He gritted his teeth and closed the cover, then pushed the object back onto the shelf. If he had known what the pages harbored, he would never have looked within them, wouldn’t have even spared the book a second glance. He had to hold onto his anger, his will to escape, his hatred. Without those things he was sure to falter, certain to be tugged under the unforgiving waves of compliance and meet his end. His bitter rage was his only remaining vestige of self, the final wooden plank that stood between him and a churning, abyssal depth. He could not permit Theodore the privilege of personhood. He knew that the second he began to think of his jailer as a person, as something other than a delusional madman, all would be lost. Passeri had already sensed his will weakening over the past weeks, but it had never been so close to destruction. 

            He steeled himself with a tight clench of his jaw, scrubbed his hands over his face, and wheeled himself into the hallway. After a few minutes of contemplative grumbling, Passeri settled in the living room to position himself by the fire. The cabin was cold and he felt glad for the heat. With a small sigh, he pushed his hands into the pocket of his hoodie and gazed into the softly flickering flames. Theodore was a monster. There was no soul behind his dead exterior, and if there was… Passeri swallowed thickly as tears once more sprung to his eyes. He was more than capable of despising a selfish and unfeeling beast, able to long for its death and delight in its torment. But, as he thought back to the journal, to the agonized words of a child, Passeri found himself overcome by his tears. If there was warmth--life--a real person buried beneath Theodore’s blood-smeared, insanity-scoured porcelain shell, then Passeri was doomed. If there was something there, real and tangible, genuine thoughts and feelings and desires and fears, Passeri knew he would come to care for it. He could hate Theodore the monster, yes. But he could not hate Theodore the person. 

Chapter Text

            “...what happened to your arm?” Passeri’s quiet voice pulled Theodore’s attention from the carrots he’d been chopping, and he lifted his head with a questioning hum. 

“What was that?” 

“I asked...what happened to your arm?” 

Theodore blinked. While the subject was not one he was unused to, it was one he’d hoped his beloved would never bring up. His songbird’s acknowledgement that he was less than whole, less than human, was painful. He cleared his throat and looked back to the cutting board. He did not know how to respond. It had been so long since he’d told someone the truth of the injury, but he did not want to lie to Passeri. “Why?” He finally replied, an attempted lightness to his tone. “Is something wrong with it?” 

He heard Passeri sigh, then the sound of fingers drumming against wood. “If you don’t want to tell me you don’t have to,” his elf muttered. “I get that it’s a personal topic, and I’m sure you’re asked about it a lot…” He trailed off into silence, then sighed once more. “But don’t treat me like an idiot.” 

            Theodore resumed chopping the carrots. “Why do you want to know? Why does it matter?” This final question came out too quickly, too harshly. Accusatory. He could not hide his hurt, could not pull a mask over the raw timbre of his voice. “Why is it important.” He paused in his meal preparations again. His left hand was shaking too much for him to continue, and so he simply curled his fingers over the cool countertop and waited for a response. 

“I...guess it doesn’t matter too much…” Passeri said, his words slow and careful. “I was mostly just curious…” 

Theodore’s shoulders tensed. There was something his beloved was hiding, a secret he was keeping. “Why?” 

“I...j-just wanted to know, I guess…” 

He tapped the knife against the cutting board, a rapid clink that broadcast his agitation. “Why,” he repeated.

“I…” Passeri’s voice pitched, became high and nervous. He was frightened. “I just…I f-found one of your old journals...in my room. I didn’t really…realize what it was until I started reading it. You...wrote about how you’d lost your arm and--” Passeri cut off with a choked whimper as Theodore turned to look at him. “I was just curious,” he finished in a lame whisper. 

            Theodore studied his elf, the slight quiver of his frame, the tears that glistened in his eyes. He had not meant to frighten his beloved, but the threat of rejection had pushed him into a corner, and he had responded as a wild animal. Now he attempted to soften his expression, to pull the gentle smile of a former teacher onto his lips. A teacher that had been kind to him for a time, concerned even. Then she’d met his father and… He could not permit himself to dwell in this room. He tugged the smile from its folder and quickly slammed the door, his skin crawling as the wet slap of his father’s corpse hit the frame. Blessedly it made no further attempt to follow. Theodore fixed his gaze on Passeri once more, teacher’s softness quirking over his mouth. 

“I’m not angry with you, Passeri,” Theodore murmured. “It’s simply...a bit of a sore topic. I don’t want you to think any differently of me for it.” 

Passeri blinked at him, then tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

“Because of my arm. I don’t want you to view me as...less than others.” 

“Um…” Passeri’s brow furrowed, and he looked confused. “Why would I?” 

            A heat welled within Theodore’s chest, the blazing inferno of his passion rising to envelop and swallow him. Within moments the flames had licked across his face and melted his mask, their warmth exposing the twisted wires and broad grin of his true self. Of course his darling would think no less of him. Love was understanding. And Passeri loved him, this much was proof. 

“T...Theodore?” Passeri’s quiet question pulled Theodore from his fevered thoughts, and he snapped his eyes down to where Passeri sat, hands clasped and lips twitching. “Are you okay?” 

“Yes, my love,” Theodore replied as he stepped forward. “I’m wonderful, even.” He dropped to his knees beside Passeri’s chair and leaned close, a shiver of excitement creeping over him as Passeri did not move away. “I’m just so happy…that this does not lessen your love for me. I was so worried...that perhaps…” He absently rubbed his thumb against one of the arm rests, his fingers itching to crawl forward and snap his songbird‘s fragile wings. 

“Perhaps…?” Passeri prodded. 

Theodore cleared his throat and settled back on his heels. While he desperately wanted to remain close to Passeri, he knew in that moment he could not keep careful control of himself, and he worried that he would be unable to halt the spread of his fire. 

            “Perhaps…” Theodore continued, “you would not find me compatible. That when you saw me for who I truly was you would become...disgusted. Or hate me.” He paused, then hurriedly added: “and I know you were angry to begin with…but...you love me now, don’t you? You love me again?” His voice quivered in his chest, a broken mewl that threatened to creep forth and poison his words with insecurity. Pathetic. How could he be so pathetic. On his knees, weakly groveling for a love that should belong to him. Passeri was his. He had claimed him, he-- 

“I don’t...know if I’m ready to say that yet. After all, it’s...a big step in a relationship...but I don’t hate you…” Passeri’s voice pulled Theodore from his thoughts once more. “I’m not disgusted by you, either.” 

Theodore stared at Passeri, his desire coiling and rising with each passing second. Every flutter of Passeri’s lashes was a fan to his flames, and he wanted nothing more than to surge forward and engulf his elf. “That’s perfectly fine,” he croaked out, voice hoarse with restraint. “I never want to push you, darling.” 

            Passeri looked as though he wanted to say something, but then gave a small shake of his head. “So, your arm?” 

“My arm...yes.” Theodore fell silent, his gaze fixed on the floor. “Well, you read my journal. What did it say?” 

“It was written after the fact...after you lost your arm. Um…” He quieted, then let out a small breath. He seemed nervous, his posture tense and fingers twitching. “You didn’t really...say what happened in the journal, but you were learning to write again… I guess with your other hand? And you talked about...getting your prosthetic and you mentioned...your father…” 

Theodore blinked at the smooth wood paneling beneath him, as if something might rise up and give him some sort of answer. He did not wish to lie to his beloved, but the sordid events of his childhood were a foul and rotting stain he had long attempted to wash from his person. 

“You said,” Passeri continued, “i-in the journal, that...you didn’t think it was an accident. That whatever it was that happened...it was done on purpose. And from the way you wrote it...I guess it seemed like it was something your father did.” 

            Theodore let out a low, shuddering breath, then settled himself on the floor and crossed his legs. He shifted his eyes to Passeri, and slowly moved them over his gently trembling form. So small, so weak, so frail. There would not be enough strength in his songbird to hear the full truth of his life. It was a pain he would never place upon that which he loved so dearly. Finally, he cleared his throat and prepared to speak. “It was not an accident,” he said. “He attempted to kill me, yes. And when that did not work, I suppose he simply settled for permanent disfigurement.” 

Passeri let out a small gasp, a noise which puzzled Theodore. After all, his darling had just admitted to reading the journal. Why did his words come as any surprise? 

“You seem startled,” Theodore murmured. “Why?” 

“I guess...I just didn’t expect that. W-what did he do…?” 

“He took me out hunting.” His lips twitched as an onslaught of insults poured forth from the closet of his youth, its door threatening to buckle under the strain of repression. “He said it would teach me how to be a man. I’m not sure if he genuinely intended to impart some sort of life lesson, or if his plan from the start was to kill me.” 

            Passeri lifted his hands to his mouth with a soft, sharp breath. 

“Would you like me to stop, dear?” Theodore asked. He scooted closer to Passeri’s chair, brought a hand up to rest on the wheel. “I don’t want to upset you.” Passeri’s expression became unreadable, and Theodore felt a flare of frustration. He wanted Passeri to be plain with him, to be open and honest always. It was not right for him to confound Theodore so. 

“I think I’ll be alright,” Passeri whispered after a beat of silence. “It’s...well, horrifying to know that your father wanted to kill you...but I asked, so…” 

Theodore ruminated over Passeri’s words. Horrifying. He supposed that if he stopped and took an objective view on the situation, if he looked at it as an outsider would, then it would be horrific. Certainly, he had found it unfair in his youth, but no one else had questioned it, and so eventually he stopped too. He shifted his hand to the armrest of the chair, then let out a slow sigh. “He brought a shotgun. He told me to look at...something. I can’t remember what.” 

            This was a lie, but he had not the slightest idea why he felt the need to tell it. His father had told him to look at a bird that was perched in a nearby tree. It was small, with a pale chest, a tan back, and a bright yellow face broken by a black mask. Its song was delicate and warbling, a high trill that had caused him to pause and smile. He remembered the sorrow he felt when the gunshot rung out and the bird took to startled flight. It was before he’d even felt the pain, and as he’d collapsed to his knees the only thing on his mind was where the beautiful creature had gone, and why had it left him. 

“Theodore? You...uh, you just sort of stopped talking,” Passeri said. “Do you...want to stop talking about this?”

Theodore remained silent. How often had he thought of the bird after his injury? How many times had he attempted to replicate its lovely call with his own bleeding, lachrymose throat? 

“T...Theo…?” The nickname finally jerked him from his thoughts and his head snapped up, so quickly that Passeri flinched.  

            Theodore settled his face into a soothing smile. “My apologies, Passeri...as I said, this is a bit of a sore subject. Many painful memories of...loss.” 

Passeri nodded. “You don’t have to keep going if you don’t want to.” 

“No, it’s perfectly alright. The story is almost over, anyhow.” He brushed his thumb against the armrest, the action largely to keep him from reaching for his beloved. “He shot me. As I said, I know it wasn’t an accident. I’m sure he was trying to kill me, but...when the initial attempt failed, I am not certain why he did not try again.” 

Passeri did not reply, and for a moment, Theodore feared that the brief tale of his life had been too much, and that Passeri would once again hate him. Instead, he found himself pleasantly startled as his beloved suddenly placed a soothing hand on top of his. His eyes immediately shot to where they touched, and he resisted the urge to grab Passeri so tightly that he could never even think of escape. Theodore clenched his jaw as a pain welled within him, a yearning so deep that it caused his gears to stutter and his frame to ache. He needed his songbird. 

            “I’m sorry that happened,” Passeri murmured. “That sounds so...awful. I can only imagine what that must have been like, especially because...well...you seem so calm about it. And your journal...it led me to believe that he was always pretty awful. And nobody...did anything? Nobody called someone?” 

“We had a few visits from social workers.” 

“But nothing happened…?” 

“Not particularly. My father very well convinced them that I was simply an oppositional child in need of discipline.” The words left his mouth in a puff of bitter smoke. Angry. He was still angry. His fingers tensed on the arm of Passeri’s chair, the cloud of vitriol inside of him pushing and rising in his throat, longing to finally be free. But then Passeri’s hand moved, and he was gently--so gently--stroking the back of Theodore’s hand. His touch was light and fluttery, the soft caress of a frightened bird’s wings. Theodore calmed. The fires of his love rose and flickered, and soon their ash blocked out the wet scent of death and memory. 

            “You didn’t deserve that.” His songbird’s beautiful call, a trill that again and again pulled him back to the present. “You were just a child...and he was supposed to take care of you. And I’m sorry that happened…” Passeri glanced away, and Theodore could see moisture glistening in his eyes. “I can sort of understand, I suppose. Not entirely, but...my mother was always quite awful to me. Nothing like...that, of course, but...she was cruel. I mean, I didn’t get shot, but--”

“She hurt you,” Theodore interrupted. 

Passeri nodded, this motion freeing a few of his sparkling tears. Theodore’s brow furrowed as a mixture of feelings welled within him. On the one hand, his elf looked so beautiful when he was enveloped by sorrow or pain. But on the other, it would simply not do for someone else to cause his beloved that agony. 

            “Do you want me to kill her?” 

Passeri let out a shocked, watery laugh. “W-what? Kill her? No...no.” 

Theodore tilted his head, unsure why his darling had responded with amusement. “Why not?” 

“I...I don’t want her to die, I guess. Yeah, she was a shitty mom, but...that doesn’t mean she deserves to die.” 

“I see.” Theodore’s face creased in further confusion as he contemplated Passeri’s words. 

“Did you...kill your father?” 

“No.” 

“Is he still alive?” 

Theodore lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. It was a casual motion he’d seen others do many times; one he’d carefully bookmarked because he was admittedly eager to use it. “I’m not certain. I left home the moment I turned eighteen and never looked back. I’ve made no attempts at contact, and I assume he hasn’t either.” 

            “That’s...good at least. That he isn’t bothering you.” Passeri’s voice was soft and tired, as if the conversation had drained him. Theodore had expected as much. After all, the dark affairs of his past were no place for his fragile little bird. 

“Yes,” he agreed. “You sound tired. Would you like dinner still?” 

“Um…” Passeri glanced toward the countertop, at the abandoned vegetables, then shrugged. “I’m pretty tired and not particularly hungry, but...I could eat?” 

“Would you perhaps want to rest while I finish cooking, then?” 

Passeri blinked for a moment, then nodded. “That sounds...good, yeah.” His tone was clipped and dull; it lacked any of its usual music. This emptiness frightened Theodore, and he felt his mouth dry as his skin crawled. Even when his songbird was angry, he still had a tune. 

“What’s wrong?” Theodore asked sharply. 

“Huh? Nothing…” Passeri looked away from him. “I’m just tired.” 

“Don’t lie to me.” He could feel a panic rising in his chest, a swelling, pulsing nausea that slammed into his ribs and threatened to break him. “What’s. Wrong.” 

            “I…” Passeri’s expression became nervous, but Theodore could not quell the sickening terror that threatened to burst from within. “It was just a heavy conversation, I guess. I’m feeling a bit drained after it…”

“Do you promise?” His body moved against his will, tugged forward by the frantic jolt of his voice, the paltry creature longing to be held. He pressed against the side of Passeri’s chair, his hands twisting into the one that still rested atop his own. 

“Ah…” Passeri glanced down to where they were connected, and for a moment he seemed upset, a clouded, indecipherable expression on his face. But it was gone so quickly that Theodore knew he could lie and tell himself it was just his imagination. “I promise,” Passeri finally replied. “I’m just tired, really.” 

            Theodore swallowed around the hoarse pain in his throat. He wanted to press the issue, to force Passeri to open up and fully explain himself. But he knew better. While he was not a gentle person, he had no desire to lose any of the progress he’d made. Instead, he nodded and rose to his feet, then resumed his position at the counter. He took the knife into his hands once more and began to chop the vegetables, his brow furrowed and eyes focused. He heard Passeri wheel from the kitchen, but he did not turn to watch, despite his gnawing desire. He would continue to prepare dinner, would perform his meticulous task until it was done, and he would permit nothing to distract him. This resolve lasted only a few seconds, however, as a soft and gentle noise reached his ears from the living room. His songbird was singing. Singing in his home. Singing around him. The sound was a light, delicate warble, not dissimilar to the bird he’d coveted in his youth. Theodore’s breath caught and he paused in his motions to listen. He had lost the bird from his childhood, watched it slip through the branches and flitter away as he lay in a pool of his own blood. But this was not the case now. He was no child; he was a man. He was not bleeding, he was not dying, he was not in danger. And his bird, his beautiful, lovely little songbird, would never leave him again. 

Chapter Text

            With a small sigh, Theodore settled in his seat, delicately painted mask evenly applied to his face. This was a familiar veneer; one he’d donned nearly every day of his life for the past decade. It was a warm, pleasant smile, a slight quirk of the brow, to show interest and feign flattery. He did not care about the man sitting across from him; a self-important moron drenched in cheap cologne and draped in a tacky suit. He did not care about their meeting or the money it would bring his company, nor the praises that would be lauded upon him for landing the difficult client that had long evaded others. He resisted the urge to glance at his watch. He knew what time it was; he’d checked it only seconds prior. 6:42. He should have been well on his way home, returning to his songbird after a long day of agonized yearning. Instead, here he sat, listening to the inane prattle of a man who thought himself above making deals. A business meeting was no difficult task; a simple parley that always ended with a victor. He’d met many a person like this man, strong-willed and contemptuous fools who believed they could pull the wool over his eyes and leave him begging. They couldn’t, and he was nothing if not persistent.

            “Mr. Vituz,” Theodore interrupted, voice soft and polite. “I do apologize, but we’ve been here for nearly an hour and have yet to discuss the proposition offered to you.” 

Vituz chuckled and gestured to a server, ordered another glass of wine. Theodore noticed the sideways glance Vituz gave him, as though the action should have aroused annoyance. A display of power, he concluded. Vituz was under the impression that Theodore was the one footing the bill. He was struck with a new understanding of his client, and he realized he’d been going about their interaction entirely wrong.  

“Please,” Theodore murmured as he adjusted his mask; a quick flicker of files and he was suddenly the relaxed, casual visage of a former mentor. He’d learned much from her, but not in the way she’d expected. “Order as much as you’d like…” Here he leaned forward, almost conspiratorial in this action. “The company is the one paying, after all.” 

Vituz blinked for a moment, then let out an uproarious laugh. “Oh, I like you. The others they sent to meet with me,” he gestured vaguely, “they were so uptight the whole time. As if they couldn’t wait to get out of here.” His wine was brought, and he used it to toast Theodore. “But you, I feel like I could have fun with you. You’re not in a rush to get out of here.” 

“Why would I be? This is an enjoyable meeting.” 

            “Good man,” Vituz grinned. “You’re the first human they sent to meet with me. I was beginning to think the whole company was nothing but…” he trailed off. “Well. Others.” 

If Theodore had not been so used to hiding his true nature, he likely would have grimaced or twitched with disgust. Though Vituz’s casual display of human superiority was enough to make his skin crawl, his mask did not shift. 

“You know, when they asked to meet again, I told them nothing would come of it. But…” he eyed Theodore, then smiled once more. “You seem like a nice enough fellow. Smart, friendly. I have a great sense for people, real people at least.” 

Theodore drummed his fingers on his knee, face still and pleasant. 

“And I can tell,” he set his wine down and pointed, “that you are a good, sensible man.” 

“I’m flattered you think so, Mr. Vituz.” 

            “I notice you haven’t got a ring on your finger, Mr. Nazari. No ball and chain, eh?” 

Theodore glanced down, eyes lighting upon the bare digit in question. His mask threatened to slip, to expose the raw and bloody desire behind it, but he did not permit it this lenience. “No,” he finally replied. “I am not married.” 

“Ah, good. Stay that way! Marriage ruins a man. You do every single thing for a woman, and all she does in return is nag about how you do nothing. I’ve been married four times, can’t seem to stop…” He laughed. “Guess I’ve just always been something of a lady’s man.” 

Theodore responded with a polite chuckle. Marriage seemed such a foreign concept. He’d only briefly permitted himself to entertain the notion of marrying his elf, of sweeping Passeri into his arms and carrying him across the threshold. He could not possibly fathom how such a thing would ruin someone, least of all a malfunctioning machine like himself. He wanted that tether, needed it; a chain that bound him to his darling and kept his wires from sparking and twisting. Why would he ever want to leave his beloved? Why would he ignore the very thing that kept him sane and grounded; the love that kept his rusted mind from further decay?

            “Women are nothing but trouble.” Vituz was still talking, and so Theodore forced his attention away from Passeri and back across the table. “They just take and take and take. No gratitude, no concern, nothing. And believe me…” He leaned forward with a grimace. “The sex stops happening too. That’s not just a myth, Mr. Nazari.” 

“No?” Theodore asked lightly. It was the only sound he could muster from his heat engulfed throat, a single syllable of courteous confusion. He had not expected their conversation to shift to this, had not expected sex to be a topic anywhere on Vituz’s mind. Each word out of the repugnant man’s mouth struck into the smooth glass of his mask and threatened to make it shatter. 

Vituz shook his head. “Not at all. And trust me, you don’t want any woman around your age either. The younger, the better. Grab them before they go to college and get any big ideas about feminism, you know?” 

“I see…” Theodore tilted his head to glance at the floor.

“Anyway,” Vituz cleared his throat. “Enough of that. Just thought I’d impart some life lessons. On to the real topic of our meeting...what can our companies do for each other?” 

Theodore laced his fingers and leaned forward, business smile on his face. “I’m so glad you asked.”  

~~~~

            Passeri glanced at the kitchen clock as he wheeled past it. Theodore should have been back nearly two hours ago. Passeri felt furious and anxious, unsure if he’d been abandoned or if Theodore had simply forgotten about him. He didn’t know which idea he hated more. He settled in the living room and reached for the iron poker, awkwardly stoking the wood within the fireplace to warm his shivering frame. He was not cold, but there was a definite, creeping chill over his mind. He did not want to be alone, not this late, not in such an unfamiliar location. But he knew that if this thought process continued, he would soon begin to miss his captor, perhaps even yearn for his arrival. Passeri shoved the tip of the poker into the flames as bitter tears stung in his eyes. Though he was loathe to admit it, he’d started to look forward to Theodore’s return each day, and the weekends they would spend together. If he held their life at an arm’s length, it almost appeared normal. His mind suddenly screeched to a halt, and he felt bile rise in his throat. Their life, he’d thought. They did not have a life, this was not a life, he was not living, he was dying, he was hardening into a porcelain puppet, a doll to be positioned by a temperamental child. He could not, would not permit himself to grow comfortable, he had--

            Passeri was snatched from his frenzied worries by the sound of tires upon snow. He straightened in his chair and set his hands in his lap, heart trembling in his chest. He was not sure whether he was angry or excited, repulsed or eager. He heard the front door unlock, and he wheeled himself forward until his eyes lit upon Theodore, who stood in the foyer. 

“Good evening,” Passeri said softly. 

Theodore glanced up from where he’d been removing his shoes. “Ah, hello, darling.” 

“How was your day?” 

“It was alright.” Theodore removed his coat and hung it in the closet. He then walked toward Passeri, paused in front of him and crossed his arms with a smile. “And yours?” 

Passeri narrowed his eyes. There was the distinct smell of seafood upon Theodore’s person, and underneath, a lingering waft of cologne. “Were you...on a date?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. 

“A date?” Theodore cocked his head. “No, I told you--” 

“You didn’t tell me anything,” Passeri snapped. He could feel a rage rising within him. A wave of cold hatred that threatened to engulf and drag him into a black abyss. “You were gone for much longer than you usually were, and I was sat here a-alone, not knowing where you were, while you went on some--some date?” 

            “Darling, please,” Theodore murmured. There was a soothing tone to his voice, but Passeri would not be calmed. 

“Shut up! I’m not your darling! I’m your fucking prisoner, and you left me while you ran off on a date! I’m trapped here! Y-you stalked me! You tortured me--my home? You broke into it! You lied, you...you kidnapped me! And you broke my fucking leg! A-all because of your stupid delusions and--” 

Theodore dropped to his knees and took Passeri’s hands into his own. “I wasn’t on a date, Passeri. I wasn’t. I had a meeting, a business meeting with a client. I did tell you. I told you this morning, and I told you last week. Perhaps you weren’t awake enough to remember this morning, and if so, that’s my fault, and I’m sorry. But it wasn’t a date. I love you, Passeri. I love you, only you. I’m in love with you, darling. You’re everything to me. Everything. I would never--” 

            Passeri jerked himself free and dropped his hands to the wheels of his chair. His mind was spiraling. He was angry, he was relieved, he was disgusted, he was jealous. Jealous. He’d been jealous of the very notion that someone else had turned Theodore’s head; at the thought he’d been forgotten and replaced in the obsessive heart of a madman. “I’m going to bed,” he whispered. He longed to push hate into the hissed words, but he knew he just sounded despondent and bitter. “Maybe you should go find someone else,” he continued, “it’s not like I care anyway.” Passeri gritted his teeth and quickly wheeled to his room, where he moved to shut the door. He was impeded in this motion, however, by Theodore quickly stepping inside. 

“Get out,” Passeri mumbled. He wanted to glare, wanted to summon vitriol and anger, but all he found was sorrow and shame.

“Passeri,” Theodore spoke softly. “Please, just allow me to talk to you. I love you. You know that. I love you more than anything. You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.” 

“Get out.” 

            Theodore stepped forward and Passeri clenched his hands into fists. He told himself it was to keep from striking out, but the quiver of his fingers indicated otherwise. 

“I understand that you’re upset with me, I do. I should have ensured that you knew I would be home late, but it wasn’t for anything like that. I would never do something like that. I am entirely loyal to you, completely faithful. My love, everything I do is for you. Every moment of the day I’m only working to come home to you. I don’t--” 

Passeri’s hands did lash out now. His fingers curled into the fabric of Theodore’s suit, and for a moment, he was not sure whether he was going to push him away or pull him close. His answer came seconds later, and though it brought tears to his eyes, it was the one he’d expected. He buried his face in Theodore’s stomach and began to weep. His body shook and his lips trembled, but he clung to the sturdiness in front of him. Passeri could feel himself slipping. He was weary, he was exhausted, and the only interaction he’d had in months was from a man he could no longer muster the energy to despise. Why would he argue, why would he fight? How could he, when those hands, those cruel, despicable hands, so gently caressed his hair and soothed his agony. Jealous. He was revolting. Jealous for the attention of a monster. A frothing wave of disgust rose within him, and he allowed it to pull him deeper. A monster. His monster.

Chapter Text

            A black abyss. Drowning. I’m drowning. I can feel something trying to claw its way up--screaming to be free--but I know I can’t let it. If I let it out, I’ll never be able to put it back, and I’ve spent so long trying to trap it, trying to keep it subdued. It’s a monster. A vicious, screaming creature that only wants to take and take and take. I’ve spent so long starving it inside of me, hoping that it would weaken and eventually die. But someone else was feeding it. It has fed and grown and become stronger, and now I can’t control it. So the only thing I can do is let myself drown. The inexorable tide of death washes over me, and I am pulled into a bleak nothingness. The waves of despair erode any part of me that was once real. Blackness, darkness, the abyss. I have made my home here, and I will not be pulled from it. I cannot allow myself to be. 

            The darkness above me is suddenly broken by lights, the silence shattered by sounds and screams and whirs. I am not alone anymore, and I am afraid. Hands, I can feel hands all over me; grasping, tugging. They rip me from my home and toss me onto an operating table. I struggle and snarl, but they strap me down. They will not let me escape. ‘Look!’ Their voices cry. They spin me around, and I am in a theater. The lights are blinding, and they scorch my sea salt skin. Let me out. Please. I’m so scared. Put me back in the water and let me sink. I am not for your eyes; I am not for your ears. Please, I do not want to be shown, I do not want to be viewed, I do not want to see. I do not want, I do not want, I do not want, Idonotwant, Idonotwant, Idonotwant, IDONOTWANT!!

            I am alone again. But I am still strapped to this table. No longer in a theater, I lay on the side of one-way glass. I am desiccated and bleeding, but the essence that leaks from my body is no more than a putrid rot. I am dying. I thought I knew what it was like to die before. I have been rubbed raw and tender so many times, but this...this is different. This is true death. I have spent so much time longing for an unattainable end, that now I simply don’t know how to handle it. I see someone. Someone is coming. They stop on the other side of the glass, but they cannot see me. No one can see me. I have never truly been seen and that is why I was not a good show. I have never been a good show. The person is gone. I am alone again. Again and again and again. They come, and they go, and I am always alone. 

            I am beginning to grow weary of this. Why won’t they just let me die? Must I simply sit and watch as I am ignored? I am only viewing the miserable movie of my life on repeat. Alone, alone, alone. No one ever stays, so why would I try to make them? I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to exist. I want to smile and be happy and run and be free. I want to feel the kiss of the sun and not flinch from its warmth and its light. I. Want. To. Live. I begin to scream. I scream at everyone passing with a strength I didn’t know I possessed. Soon there is blood pouring from my mouth and I can no longer feel my body, but still I cry. I want to be seen; I want to live. Please save me. Please. 

            There’s someone. Someone coming. Him. It’s him. He’s coming, he sees me. I fall silent. I do not want him to see me. Do I? Do I want him to see me? What if he comes in? What if he walks away? What if he stays--what if he goes? What if he comes--what if he leaves? What if? What if? I’m so scared. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. I scream again. Please! Please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me! He presses to the glass. He sees me, he has to see me. He’s coming in, I know he is. He’s going to save me. He’s going to love me and set me free. He turns. There’s something in the distance. Someone. No. Where is he going? No, don’t turn away, please. Please come back, please come back, please be here. Please be somewhere. I begin to scream again, louder than I’ve screamed in my life. PLEASE!!! PLEASE COME BACK! I NEED YOU!!!!!

...

            Passeri jerked upright as a shout rose in his already hoarse throat. How long had he been yelling? He didn’t know, but he could not stop. He was alone and that terrified him. 

Theodore!” He shrieked. “Theodore, please!” Tears streamed down his face, hot knives against his clammy skin. “Please! Theodore!” 

His door burst open, and a panicked Theodore entered. “Darling? What’s wrong? What is it?” 

Passeri shoved forward, fell to the floor. Pain wracked his body and he heaved, but he knew he had to keep moving. “P-please,” he bawled. “Please, please, Theodore, I--” He quickly found himself scooped into Theodore’s arms, and he clung to him, fingers digging into his skin as they trembled. “Please, please...p-p-please…” 

“Shh...darling, what’s wrong?” 

Passeri shook his head and buried his face in Theodore’s neck. He could not speak; he would not. To vocalize his dream, to admit the terror he’d felt, would destroy him. 

“Please, my love…” Theodore murmured as he set Passeri onto the bed. “I’m here, tell me.” 

Another shake of his head. 

            Theodore sighed softly but leaned forward to press a hand to Passeri’s hair, his touch gentle and comforting. Passeri continued to hold onto him. He clung to Theodore, a buoy in the storm of his agony, in the downpour of his tears. What could he do? He could not express his feelings, could not admit the frantic churning of his heart. He was incapable of anything other than his cacophony of wails, loud and broken as they escaped. It took him some minutes to realize that Theodore was singing to him, his voice quiet and reassuring in Passeri’s ear. He attempted to calm, to listen.

With no place to go, trapped in the dusty willows…” 

Passeri’s sobs pitched and it took him a few moments to quiet once more. 

I’ll hold you close, through the frozen winter...keep you safe--” 

            More sobs drowned out his words, but Passeri noticed that Theodore did not stop. Sturdy. Theodore was always so sturdy. Unshakable in his confidence. Unshakable in his love

You are my dear, darling lark, my sweet sunshine.” 

A broken heave escaped Passeri, and he tightened his grip. 

Oh, my dear, your song carries me, Your voice, gentle trill, on the morning breeze, Near or far, your heart’s my guiding star, You are my dear, darling lark, my sweet sunshine” 

With a few, final cries, Passeri finally quieted, his noises dying into weak hiccups. 

“Shh, shh, my darling…” Theodore soothed. “It’s alright. I’m here. Did you have a nightmare?” 

Passeri nodded sharply. A nightmare. A nightmare about losing Theodore. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” 

Now he shook his head, the motion so quick, and so forceful it made him dizzy. 

“Alright, alright. We don’t have to. Would you like me to go?” 

            He wanted to shove Theodore away, to make him go, to run him off. But the idea, the very notion of never seeing him again caused a whole new well of sobs to burst free, and he collapsed into tears once more. 

“Oh...my love,” Theodore whispered, gently stroking Passeri’s hair. “I promise it’s alright. It was just a bad dream…” 

Passeri gave no response but to continue wailing. A dream, that’s all it had been. He could admit it was a bad dream; a nightmare to be ripped from your home and mockingly gawked at by an unfeeling audience. But the despair he’d felt then had been nothing compared to losing Theodore; to watching him walk away. A harsh, choked noise left his throat, and Passeri pressed forward. He wished that he could push hard enough to once again bury himself within a blanket of safe darkness. The light hurt and he did not want it. He did not want the fire that seemed to burn all around, flames that encroached on his person with each second. He wanted to go home, he wanted to feel safe. And as he tucked himself deeper and deeper into Theodore’s grasp, as he heard him begin to sing once more, he cried harder. For he knew that he could no longer fight off the inevitable. He was home, and worse, he was falling in love. 

Chapter Text

            Passeri’s eyes slowly traced over the grooves and lines of age that scattered the surface of the dining table before him. A dish sat in front of him, and several more surrounded it. Theodore had made dinner, and though it smelled good, Passeri had hardly taken two bites. The memory of his nightmare clung to him, an oppressive weight that seemed to constantly crush his lungs and choke his breath. The dream had occurred nearly a week ago, but he found that he could not stop thinking about it, nor forget the terror he’d felt at its events. While he could pull his mind free for a short period of time, it would always return to that empty room, and to Theodore’s distracted, retreating figure. Passeri’s jaw clenched and he began to tap his toes against the footrest of his chair; an attempt to focus on something else. However, the black tar of his memories soon sucked him back in, and once more he thought of the nightmare. Alone. Without Theodore he had been alone. Alone and forgotten and abandoned and--

            The clatter of a knife caused Passeri to flinch, and it took him a moment to realize that he had been the one to produce the sound. He looked down at his mostly ignored plate of food, then the dropped cutlery, and finally across the table to Theodore. His brow was furrowed and there was a slight frown on his face, but he did not seem upset. 

“I…” Passeri began, voice soft. “I’m not very hungry.” 

“I see. You haven’t been eating much the past few days, dear.” Theodore paused, then lightly cleared his throat. “You should try to have a bit more. I don’t want you to fall ill.” 

Passeri averted his gaze and focused his attention on the window, his eyes scanning the snowy landscape outside. It felt like so long ago that he’d attempted to flee, almost another lifetime. 

“Especially with how cold it is,” Theodore continued. “And you’ve lost weight since coming here, you really shouldn’t--”

“Alright,” Passeri snapped. He tapped his fingers against the table in an attempt to vent some of his frustration. His heart threatened to burst from his chest, a drum that no longer obeyed the beat of his mallet. From the corner of his eye, he saw Theodore tense. “I just...I’m really not that hungry,” Passeri murmured. “I’m sorry.” 

            Theodore set his eating utensils down, then leaned forward and outstretched his prosthetic hand. A moment later, as Theodore’s fingers made contact with his arm, Passeri quivered and quickly averted his gaze. Whether he wanted to shove Theodore away or leap into his arms he could not say. Passeri’s eyes welled with tears and he quickly jerked back to bury his face in his hands. He was stranded; a battered survivor that did little more than paddle circles around the sinking wreckage of his ship. Ripped from his home and with nowhere to turn, he had taken solace in the darkest corner he could find: Theodore. 

“Oh, darling…” There was the scrape of chair on hardwood, and within seconds, Passeri felt Theodore’s hands on his legs. “What’s wrong? I’m not mad. I’m only worried about you.” 

A choked sob escaped Passeri, despite his attempts to stifle it. 

“I promise, Passeri. I would never be angry with you…” 

The words were so soft, and so reassuring, that for a moment his tears stopped. Never angry. It was true that all of Passeri’s attempts to upset Theodore had proven futile, but never

            “Never angry?” Passeri whispered. “You...would never be mad at me?” He slowly lifted his head to fix a searching, watery gaze on the man before him. “W-what about...when I ran away?” 

“I wasn’t mad at you, dear. I was...frightened. Of losing you.” Theodore rubbed a soothing hand against Passeri’s knee, and his stomach turned, not for the action but the comfort it provided. “I never want to lose you, Passeri. You’re my everything.” 

Passeri worried his lip, a soft sniffle leaving him. “What about when I f-first got here? And you...you didn’t let me eat or drink? You weren’t mad then?” 

“Not at all. I was hurt. Hurt and disheartened that perhaps you did not understand my love for you. I have only punished you to teach you, Passeri. I would never harm you.” He paused, then gritted his teeth. “I would never harm you.” 

A trickle of anxiety crawled along Passeri’s spine; the repetition had not been for him.

After a beat of silence, Theodore cleared his throat. “And I told you that, didn’t I? So long as you listen and are accepting of my love...I will do anything you ask of me.” He pressed closer and began to trace precise patterns against the skin of Passeri’s thighs. “Anything you want. I am your most willing and loyal servant.” 

            “Anything I want…?” 

“Of course, dear. Anything. Is there something you desire?” He sat up slightly and quirked a brow. “Is that what has you so upset tonight? Just say the word and I’ll obtain it.” 

Passeri stared at Theodore as he continued to gnaw his bottom lip. A second later, he felt a slight burst of skin, and a hot blood gushed down his chin. “Ah!” 

Theodore immediately pushed to his knees and pressed the sleeve of his sweater to Passeri’s mouth, the fabric firm against his oozing wound. “You have to be more careful, darling,” Theodore murmured. His voice was low, an underlying shadow creeping within. “Shall I get you a towel?” 

Unable to speak for the pressure against his face, Passeri responded with a weak shrug. 

“Hmm…” Theodore pulled his hand back and examined the blood on his sleeve, then turned his attention to Passeri’s face. “It seems to have stopped. Your face is a bit...messy, however.” 

            Passeri rubbed his mouth, a grimace twisting over his lips as blood stuck to his fingers. “Should I go get cleaned up?” He lifted his eyes to look at Theodore, and the nervous chill he’d earlier felt grew in intensity, until it had built into a steady, sickening pulse. Theodore was no longer looking at Passeri, instead he was focused on his bloody sleeve. Desire burned in his gaze, his posture that of a lean and hungry wolf. Passeri clenched his throat around a frightened whimper, but the sound still managed to squeak past his lips. Theodore’s eyes snapped up to Passeri’s face and he leaned forward, lips pursed and body tense. 

“Theodore?” Passeri whispered. 

Theodore still did not reply. He moved closer, and Passeri froze, a frightened rabbit caught in the teeth of a drooling predator. However, as suddenly as the change had come over Theodore, it vanished, and he slumped into a kneeling position once more. “I’m...sorry, dear.” He cleared his throat. “Let’s get you cleaned up, yes.” 

Passeri tensed as Theodore rose to his feet but let out a relieved breath as he only walked into the kitchen. Now Passeri looked down at his hand, at the tacky flakes of blood that stained his skin and the continued tremble of his fingers. 

            He gritted his teeth as he heard the door to a further room open. Likely the laundry room; Theodore was going to wash his sweater. Despite this assumption, Passeri could not quell the dread he felt and so he quickly closed his eyes and began to count backwards from one hundred. However, the image of Theodore’s starved expression lingered in his mind, and with it, the memory of the bloodied knife he’d left by the sink: licked clean, froths of drool still clinging to it. Passeri’s stomach turned and he clenched a hand over his mouth to keep from sobbing. The pace of his breathing increased, and he folded in on himself, tucking his face into his knees. He had almost felt comfortable. The reminder of his predicament--his captivity--was jarring and nauseating, and more than anything he wished to ignore it. But to ignore his circumstances would be to roll onto his back and bare his belly to the rabid animal that held him. He was an injured lamb living in the den of a wolf, and he could not permit his guard to lower. It did not matter that the wolf spoke to him so sweetly, nor that the wolf held him through the storm. A wolf was a wolf; a monster was a monster. 

            Passeri was pulled from his fevered thoughts by the gentle clearing of a throat above him. He slowly sat up and fixed tear-filled eyes on Theodore, who had changed into a simple black tee shirt and held a damp washcloth outstretched in one hand. Passeri studied him, his lips quivering as he attempted to find anything out of place, anything to implicate Theodore of the terrible actions Passeri knew him capable of. 

“Is everything alright, dear?” Theodore asked. He slightly lifted the cloth, and Passeri jerked his gaze to it. He stared at the offered object for a brief second, then took it and quickly swiped it across his face. His hands shook, and tremors wracked his body with each breath he took.

Finally, Passeri let out a shaky breath and handed the cloth back to Theodore. “I’m alright,” he whispered. “I think I just...maybe need to go lay down. I’m not feeling so well.” 

“Ah, understood.” Passeri noticed Theodore glance toward their abandoned food. “Would you like anything more to eat?” 

“No. Not right now at least.” 

“...very well.” 

            Passeri remained quiet. He tried to force his body into motion, but it was as though half of him refused to cooperate. He knew that he needed to escape, not just the room but Theodore as well. More tears pricked the corners of his eyes and he wrapped his fingers around the rims of his chair. 

“Would you like my help getting to your room?” 

“N-no,” Passeri replied quickly. “No. I...I was just thinking.” 

“Oh? What about?” 

“Nothing important.” Passeri rubbed his palms against the rubber wheels. He had to move. He had to go. He could not stop swimming. To stop was a death sentence, an acceptance of his captivity. He had held on for so long, and fought so hard, that he knew he could not simply give up. But still his body refused to move. “I…” 

“Yes, dear?” 

            Passeri looked up at Theodore. His gaze was gentle, a slight furrow to his brow and a tilt to his head. He was concerned, that much was obvious. Passeri had never been especially good at reading people, and in fact he’d often thought himself quite socially inept. But more and more, as Theodore hid less and less, he had become something of an open book. Pieces of himself that once had been locked away, seen only in the tiniest of slips, were now laid bare and apparent. A twisted and obsessive nature that had terrified Passeri and filled him with a sickened loathing. He had trusted Theodore. He’d put his confidence--his faith--in a man that had done nothing but lie and manipulate him. Any logical person would be angry, would feel resentful. But where had all his hatred gone? Though it had once sat heavy and bitter on the surface of his mind, it seemed that it had sunk too deep to be found. And without it, he had begun to grow comfortable. Without it, he still had not moved. 

            “Passeri? Are you sure everything’s alright?” 

“I...um.” He did not have his contempt or his rage any longer. 

Theodore knelt. “What is it, dear?” 

Passeri moved his lips, but no words came out. He did not know what to say. He wasn’t even sure he had anything to say. 

“Would you like me to take you to bed?” Theodore asked quietly. 

Passeri managed a nod, and he clenched his hands in his lap as he was wheeled to his room. 

“Do you want help getting up?” 

Another nod, this one sharp and short. Theodore lifted him, and Passeri felt something creep across his skin. He could not tell if it was nervousness, born of fear and disgust; or if it was heat, born of comfort and desire. Once he was set onto the mattress, he pulled the covers over his body and fixed his attention on the wall. 

            “Are you going to bed, dear?” 

“...yes, I think so,” Passeri replied softly. His voice was hoarse, and he wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and never open them again. He longed to push himself into the depths of nothingness and become lost in a world of nonsensical dreams. 

“Alright, darling. I hope you rest well…” Theodore trailed off, then let out a small sigh. Passeri glanced at him, searched his face for some sort of sign. “If you need me, just call,” Theodore finally said. 

“I will.” Passeri stifled a grimace at the speed with which he’d replied. He had not even thought about the statement. Who else would he call? There was no one to come for him. No one but Theodore. 

Theodore smiled, and set a reassuring hand on Passeri’s head. His fingers briefly stroked over his hair, and Passeri could not help but to lean into his palm. Soothing. So, so soothing. The warmth and solace that Theodore’s touch provided was enough to make Passeri’s eyes flutter shut, and without thinking, he reached for Theodore. 

            When Passeri realized what he’d done, a startled gasp escaped him, but this brief confusion was washed away by the shift of Theodore’s hand, and a tender, but firm rub against Passeri’s scalp. He sighed quietly and leaned forward to press his face into Theodore’s stomach. His mind felt calm and dark, a tranquil blackness that placated his quivering heart. 

“I love you, Passeri,” Theodore murmured. “I love you so much.” 

Passeri’s grasp tightened, and a small, shuddering breath left his throat. 

“You don’t have to say it back if you’re not ready. It’s alright.” 

Tears began to sting at his eyes, but still Passeri did not respond. 

“I know you love me...” Theodore brought his other hand up, brushed his thumb against Passeri’s cheek. “And you know I love you.” 

Passeri gave a quick, jerky nod. He did know. He knew that Theodore loved him, and he knew that no one had ever loved him like this before. 

“Good…” Theodore murmured, and Passeri felt him relax. “I’m glad you know. You’re everything, Passeri. There is not a single, solitary thing that could ever compare to you.” 

            Passeri clenched his eyes tighter. He did not want to hear these words, nor did he want to acknowledge the warmth they swelled in his chest. He needed his hatred back. He needed to escape. He needed Theodore to die. Passeri’s breath caught in his throat and his fingers curled into the fabric of Theodore’s shirt. Theodore had to die. So long as he lived, there would be nothing to keep Passeri from falling further and further into the endless abyss of his love. He could feel himself sinking, his limbs heavy and exhausted from the struggle to stay afloat. His lungs burned, and his eyes were close to bursting. He could not breathe until Theodore was dead. He would not taste the sweet crispness of air until he was free. Passeri leaned back and released Theodore from his grasp, the motion slower and more reluctant than he would have liked. Theodore smiled down at him, the curve of his lips warm and reassuring. 

“I think I’ll be going to bed now,” Passeri whispered. 

“Alright, darling. Sleep well.” Theodore stepped toward the hallway. “I love you. Goodnight, and sweet dreams.” 

            As the door shut behind Theodore, Passeri dug his teeth into his bottom lip to stifle a cry of despair. He did not want to be alone, but he could not be around Theodore. Not anymore. Not with the desperate yearning of his traitorous and weak-willed heart. He could no longer ignore the way his cheeks heated or how his pulse quickened when he was with Theodore. Nor could he pretend that he did not miss Theodore when he was gone or look forward to his return. Alone in an unfamiliar wilderness and forced to depend on him, Passeri had come to care for his captor. To kill Theodore was a death sentence. No one knew where Passeri was, no one was coming, and there would be no one to help him. Regardless of the choice he made, he would die in these woods. Passeri let out a slow exhale, an attempt to steady himself. He would die; but to die free was better than to be reborn as the mindless puppet of a madman. Another exhale, this one shaky and ragged. It was better to die free. Passeri swiped tears from his eyes, ignored the painful throbbing in his chest. It was better. It had to be better.

Chapter Text

            As his heel connected with the pavement, Theodore glanced at his watch. 4:30. He had left work an hour early without a second thought, though the notion had once been unfathomable. While typically he would only leave ahead of schedule if he desperately needed to return to his elf, today was different. Special. He was in no greater rush than usual to get home, but rather, wanted to stop by a nearby jewelry store. The concept of proposal had been bubbling in the depths of his mind since his rather despicable client, Vituz, had mentioned it, but now that he sat outside of the store, he could not help but feel nervous. Finally, with a deep breath, he pushed from his car and approached the building, hand connecting with the door a moment later.

            The cheerful jingling of the bell above his head caused Theodore to glance up. It was a soft, musical chime that almost reminded him of his darling’s laughter. It had been so long since he’d heard Passeri laugh. Was he so vile, so vehemently contemptible, that he could not pull a single smile from his beloved? For a brief moment he was nearly overcome by a frothing boil of despair, a swell of self-loathing that threatened to make him falter. But he could not let his resolve buckle; would not let the flames of his passion be quenched or weakened. Married. He was going to be married to his songbird. 

~~~~

            Passeri took a deep breath as he stared at his door. He did not know how long he’d been sitting in this exact spot, heart hammering and hands clammy, but he was certain he was beginning to run out of time. He let out a slow exhale and tapped his fingers against the soft leather of his chair as he attempted to force his body into a motion it did not want to give. The war between his brain and his body was not one he’d wanted to give notice, not a concept he’d ever wanted to consider, but there was simply no way for him to ignore it. Every inch of him cried out in a cacophony of contempt and anguish, a drive to action and a sobbing reluctance. 

            “Move, damnit,” Passeri hissed. “Move! Fucking move!” His fingers were clenched around the wheels of his chair, but he found himself entirely unable to traverse even a single inch of the room before him. 

“Go,” he whispered, flinching at the sound of his raw and trembling voice. “Please, just go.” 

Hot tears began to drip down his cheeks, and he shifted to bury his face in his hands. He had to kill Theodore. His hesitance alone was proof enough of this, and he was certain that if he waited even a day longer, he would become too weak to complete the task. As he sat, a dark tendril of worry crept to the forefront of his mind, a thought he could not permit himself to dwell on: perhaps he already was. It had to be today. 

~~~~

            Theodore moved around the store with a slow, careful gait. It was a fine line to walk--not permitting his full level of excitement to show while also not appearing bored, but he managed his emotions well, as he always did. He paused by the front counter and set his prosthetic hand upon it, eyes briefly darting over the necklaces within before he flicked his gaze to the woman standing behind the case and the items past her. She was preoccupied with the polishing of something, perhaps an earring or bracelet, but he hardly noticed as his attention was suddenly snatched by the presence of a ring that seemed almost fatefully placed in his direct line of vision. The jewelry in question had a golden band with a diamond stone, offset by two soft opals and all surrounded by a neatly sculpted, delicate feather pattern. The store lights glimmered off it in such a way that he could not tear his eyes from its gentle beauty, the object welling a sparking warmth within him akin to the first time he’d seen his songbird. It was perfect. 

            “How can I help you, sir?” 

Theodore reluctantly shifted his gaze to the owner of the voice that had pulled him from his thoughts. It was the woman behind the counter, who stood with a pleasant smile on her face as she continued to polish the jewelry in her hands. A quick glance ascertained that it was a ring, and Theodore cleared his throat lightly. He could feel his voice beginning to creep up, as it so often did with matters concerning his elf, but he clenched a tight fist around its writhing corpse to keep it silent. 

“I’m interested in buying an engagement ring,” he replied, his tone even and polite, a neat mask that hid the scrabbling, decaying fingers of obsession that clawed at the back of his lips. 

“Oh! Congratulations!” The woman’s smile broadened. “Must be someone quite special, hm?” 

“He is,” Theodore murmured, gently tapping the fingers of his left hand against his thigh and giving the shop owner a synthetic smile. “He really is.” 

~~~~

            After permitting himself to cry, Passeri shoved back into a seated position and set his hands on the wheels of his chair once more. 

“You have to go. Now. You have to get ready.” His lips quivered, but finally he managed to move, slowly creeping from his room and into the hallway. After what felt like an eternity, he made it to the kitchen, where he swiped a hand over his eyes to keep more tears from falling. 

“Alright,” Passeri whispered. “Alright. To begin, you know you can’t overpower him. He’s too big, he’s too strong.” He worried his lip for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Okay, so you need to weaken him first. Maybe...get him drunk?” He continued to chew at his mouth as he looked around the room, a frustrating realization dawning on him as he did; he’d never once seen alcohol in the cabin. Though he felt the urge to cry, he forced past it and began to open various drawers and cabinets, desperate for some sign of salvation. 

            “Stupid…” Passeri mumbled as he slammed the final door shut. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. Didn’t even think to look at what was here…” He leaned back in his seat with an angry huff. There was no alcohol to be found, and nothing even remotely resembling poison anywhere within the kitchen. The easily accessible bathroom he knew to be empty, and the other rooms in the cabin were all blocked off. For a moment, despair threatened to overwhelm him, and he once more felt the desire to crumple into a weeping mess. Instead, he wheeled to the fireplace and lifted the poker from its iron holder, then set it across his knees as he made his way to the doorway of Theodore’s bedroom. After wiggling the handle open, he used the pointed tip of the fire poker to slowly nudge the heavy block of wood out of his way, until he could finally squeeze past and enter the room. 

“Alright...where to look first…” 

~~~~

            “Do you have any gems or band colors in mind?” The woman, Sharine she’d told him, asked. 

Theodore’s eyes once more found the feathered band in the back of the store. “I was...actually looking at that ring.” 

Sharine turned to follow his gaze, an excited gasp escaping her as she saw where he was looking; it was clear to Theodore that she held a certain fondness for the ring. “Ah! That’s a lovely newer piece I just got in. Would you like to take a closer look?” 

For a moment, his mouth was dry, and he feared he would be unable to respond. He could feel his gears catching and his wires sparking. He was going to propose. He was going to marry his elf. “Yes,” he finally got out, a stifled grimace attempting to accompany the sudden burst of his voice. In the absence of his carefully cultivated files, the simpering creature had decided to take over, something he held a begrudging gratitude for. “I would, very much.” 

Sharine nodded and slipped the ring across the counter. 

            Theodore picked it up and angled it in the gentle sunlight that filtered through the shop’s windows, a contemplative furrow to his brow. 

“It’s a lovely piece,” Sharine commented. “You have quite the eye. Of course, resizing is available, as well as engraving--”

“I doubt resizing will be necessary.” He tilted the band to rest against his fingertip, mentally comparing it to the gentle flutter of his elf’s fragile hands. “In fact, I imagine it would fit him perfectly.” 

“Oh? Almost as though it was made for him!” 

Theodore gave a pleasant smile that was only half mimicry. “Indeed. You mentioned engraving? What sort of options do you have for that?” 

“We have machine engraving, which is quick and cheap, but I can also do hand engraving, which will take longer and is more expensive, but has more of a personalized touch. Any idea what you’d like it to say?” 

“Yes.” He delicately set the ring on the counter. “Eternally mine.” 

~~~~

            Passeri once more found himself incapable of moving. He felt so firmly rooted to his spot in the doorway, that he wasn’t entirely certain he would even be able to turn once Theodore returned. In his moment of stillness, he took the opportunity to study his new surroundings. There were dark curtains drawn over the room’s twin windows, but enough light eked in from the outside that Passeri could plainly see the fixtures within. A large, neatly made bed was pushed against one wall; a desk to another, with a comfortable, leather chair behind and wooden lamp beside it. There were two doorways to his left, one that was open, and seemed to lead into a closet, while the other was closed and likely led to a bathroom. Passeri studied the closet door, then slowly began to inch toward it. Before he could arrive, however, he paused at the bed to gently brush his fingers over the duvet, which seemed to hold a soft, inviting heat. Theodore slept in this bed. The thought should have filled him with disgust or hatred, but it only made the covers and pillows seem all the more inviting, perhaps even enticing. They would probably smell like him; warm and spiced, with just a hint of--Passeri twisted himself from the bed and frantically pushed toward the closet, entering just moments later. 

            Passeri pushed a few suits aside, then nudged at a box with the fire poker in his hand. The closet was rather lacking in any sort of non-clothing related items, and so, with an annoyed grumble, he gave up his search and carefully rolled from the small room. 

“Bathroom next, I suppose…” he murmured, forcing his gaze to remain steady despite his eyes’ desire to creep back toward the bed. Already his resolve was beginning to crumble, and he knew that he could not permit himself to linger even a second more than was necessary. He nudged the door open and entered slowly, a quiet hum leaving him as he scanned the counter within. There were several items upon it; most notably a razor and steel scissors, but he could also see an assortment of various hair, face, and beard products. Passeri studied the bottles for a moment, then let out a quiet scoff in a futile attempt to hinder the small swell of affection he felt looking at their meticulous organization.

“I suppose appearances are very important for someone like him…” 

~~~~

            “And would you like a matching ring for yourself?” Sharine asked as she quickly scribbled down the message. 

“Ah…” Theodore took a cursory glance around the shop, then gave a slight shrug. While a ring to proclaim his devotion was certainly a splendid idea, he had been so preoccupied with getting one for Passeri he’d hardly paused to consider one for his own hand. 

Sharine gave him another smile, this one gentle and understanding. “In all the excitement, it can be hard to think about yourself. You seem like a very...minimalist person.” Her eyes darted over Theodore’s attire, and he resisted the urge to tense in an attempt to make sure the bindings of his mask were pulled taut.

~~~~

            Passeri tapped his fingers against the armrest of his chair, then tugged open the cabinet below the sink. He took note of a few household cleaning products, all of which were useless thanks to their strong smell, and continued his perusal, attention finally landing on a box of allergy medicine. The faint memory of his interaction with Theodore in the pharmacy floated to the front of his mind and he gritted his teeth. At the time he’d thought nothing of it, a simple coincidence that they’d run into each other. But now he was almost certain it had been planned. 

~~~~

            “I do prefer things on the simpler side,” Theodore replied after a beat of silence. Sharine’s smile broadened, and it was apparent that she was happy to have been right.

“Excellent! Maybe a black and gold band?” She turned from him to pick up another ring, then set it on the counter before him. “Something in this style? Though, if you’d like, the gold of your ring could be tempered to match the gold of your fiancé’s.” 

Fiancé. The word sent a torrid of coiling flames licking up Theodore’s spine, and he felt his knees weaken. He barely glanced at the ring, his mind too clouded by heated, romantic notions of love. “Yes,” he murmured. “That’s perfect.” 

~~~~

            Frustration bubbled within Passeri, venomous questions and accusations he longed to spit at the man who’d kept him prisoner for months. Why him? Passeri shoved the thoughts from his mind and quickly picked up the box, flipping it over to read the ingredients on the back. It was of a non-drowsy variety, but Passeri was sure that with enough he could at least disorient his captor enough to kill him. The notion sent a shiver along his spine, and he dropped the box into his lap, turning to leave the bathroom moments later. He was going to kill Theodore. He had to. He needed to. 

~~~~

            Theodore slipped into his car and cast a cursory glance down at the jewelry receipt clutched within the digits of his trembling left hand. ‘Eternally Mine’ was to be engraved on Passeri’s, and ‘Eternally Yours’ on his own, and they would be ready for pickup within a few weeks. While his original intention had simply been to look, he’d become so swept up in the moment he’d been unable to keep himself from buying the rings. He was sure he’d be hearing from his bank first thing in the morning to question why he’d made such a large purchase. Theodore delicately tucked the paper into his briefcase, then settled his hands on the wheel, a soft sigh escaping him as he checked his watch. 5:30. He would be home right on time. 

~~***~~

            Passeri shifted in his chair as the familiar crunch of tires on gravel reached his ears. He’d attempted to busy himself with reading, but found himself incapable of focusing, and so he’d instead passed the time by gazing into the fire. There was a coldness in the pit of his stomach, one so deep and so dark that even the glowing flames before him could not reach it. It was the abyss that had threatened him for most his life. He had spent so long trying to avoid it; attempting to dodge the blackness that lurked at the corners of his mind and threatened to overwhelm him. A darkness that clung to his bones and repeatedly dragged him into dangerous, unforgiving situations, and toxic, unhealthy relationships. But he had fixed the problem. Though he had sunk countless times before, he had gone to therapy, he had overcome his difficulties, and he had healed. He had learned to swim, how to stay afloat, and how to keep his head above water. Most of all, he had learned how to breathe. 

            Passeri had told himself that he would never drown again, would never let the abyss take him. But as he sat in his chair, skin crawling and eyes leaking, he knew that he could not outswim the unforgiving shackles that clung to his legs and continuously pulled him into their bleak embrace. He was weak. He had always been weak. He had always crawled back to the people who hurt him, time and time again, with a bleeding heart and crying lips, he’d begged their forgiveness, as if he was to blame. He heard the door open, and his fingers tensed on the knife hidden beneath his thigh. He would not permit his weakness to overtake him this time. He would succeed. He would kill Theodore. 

            “Darling?” Theodore’s voice rang out, clear and bright. He was happy about something. Passeri did his best to still the quiver of his heart, the soft perk his body responded with. Theodore was happy, and disgustingly it made him happy as well.

“I’m in here,” Passeri called back, his own voice hoarse and exhausted. 

A moment later, he heard Theodore enter the room. “Are you cold? You’re awfully close to the fire…” 

“I’m alright. I just had some hot chocolate.” Passeri kept his gaze fixed on the dancing flames before him. He could not look at Theodore. “I made you some too. It’s in the kitchen.” 

“Ah, darling…” There was a warmth to his tone that made Passeri’s eyes further well with tears. “I do appreciate the sentiment, but...chocolate makes me rather ill--well, no matter. I’ll drink it anyway. I couldn’t possibly waste something you made for me.” 

“W-wait,” Passeri mumbled, snapping his head up as Theodore began to walk from the room. The words had been so plain, so offhandedly stated that it was clear there was no hidden motive or intent behind them. Theodore had not been attempting to guilt Passeri or prove a point. It was a simple declaration of his love. His undying, devoted love. 

            Passeri frantically shoved himself into motion, managing to get to the kitchen mere moments after Theodore. “Wait!” He cried out once more as Theodore reached for the mug. 

“Hm?” Theodore turned to look at him, brow quirked. “Dearest? What is it?” He stepped forward and knelt beside Passeri, fingers immediately pressing to his thigh in a familiar and all too soothing manner. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.” 

“I...I…” The abyss. That damned abyss he’d avoided his entire life, a black vortex at the bottom of his ocean. When he’d heard people talk about drowning, they often would never mention how peaceful it was at the end. Once they were too weak to keep fighting; when they’d finally stopped struggling and kicking and writhing and simply given in. He supposed that most of those people were not alive to tell their tale, but why would they fight so desperately for a surface that had long forgotten them? No one was coming. No one had ever cared enough to come for him. He had often been warned that water was unforgiving, and that to drown was to be pulled into the deepest, blackest underground. And he had always believed these words. He had stood on the shore and watched the beautiful, dancing waves, terrified to move closer lest he be pulled in and sink. 

            “Passeri?” Theodore murmured, one hand coming up to catch Passeri’s trembling fingers. Passeri glanced down at him, his vision clouded with a steady stream of tears. No one had warned him that he could not defeat the tide, that even if he skirted the water, the ocean would still claim him. He had fought, and screamed, and clawed, and begged, and kicked. He had tried

“My love?” There was a tremor of fear to Theodore’s voice now. He was worried, concerned about Passeri, concerned about the thing he loved above all else. No one had ever loved him like this. And in that moment, Passeri finally accepted the inevitable, the fact he’d been attempting to deny for so long now. Death was eventual, and it came for all. It had wrapped him in its cold, decaying hands and dragged him into the filth and mud of solitude. There was no escape from his end. His lungs burst fifteen seconds ago; he just hadn’t realized it. In his bleak and watery coffin, he had become a distant, foregone memory to everyone that had ever claimed to care about him, ever purported to love him. Everyone but Theodore. 

            Passeri blinked the tears from his eyes, then reached his free hand down to grip Theodore’s tie. He jerked him forward, a weak smile twisting his lips as Theodore all too willingly allowed himself to be pulled, and moments later, their mouths collided. He could feel Theodore quivering with restraint, his hand braced against the armrest of Passeri’s chair as he was roughly tugged even closer. Passeri had avoided the waves his entire life, had spent over twenty years hiding on the shore. But now, as he moved his lips against Theodore’s, he realized that it was not the terror of drowning that had kept him away, but the fear of enjoying it. The endless canyon had beckoned him, not out of a desire to destroy, but for the familiar iniquity that lurked within them both. It was not his body that had been chained, but the truth of his soul, a twisted dependency that had all too willingly pushed into the shackles. He had thought himself above the abyss, above the blackness, a being of surface and light. But he was not, and he never had been. He belonged here, in the darkness. He belonged to his monster.