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XT: im still not sure with this

A?: n0 pr0blem we can g0 0ver y0ur tetrarchs plan again

A?: me T and C will secure the base from the inside

T?: then ii'll contact you once we have the control room down.

C?: AFTER THAT IT PRETTY MUCH BOILS DOWN TO YOU, ?C, AND G? PROVIDING TROLLPOWER THROUGH THE SIDE ENTRANCES.

C?: WE'D INCLUDE ?T HERE, BUT...

C?: YOU KNOW.

C?: HE KIND OF GOT FUCKED OVER TWELVE WAYS FROM LAST PERIGEE A FEW WEEKS AGO?

C?: A?, SORRY IF I WAS BEING BLUNT.

A?: its fine

A?: speaking 0f which the tetrarchs 0nline

T?: we'll leave you alone then.

A? has left the messaging board.

T? has left the messaging board.

C? has left the messaging board.

XT: hey

??: h0w'd it g0.

XT: think were all following your stuff pretty well

XT: i mean im not completely down with it all the way

XT: but

XT: you made it

XT: so it should be all good X:)

??: ...y0u realize that's 0ne oF the stupidest mindsets t0 have, right?

??: just blindly F0ll0w s0me0ne's 0rders with0ut ever even questi0ning?

XT: sorry

XT: tetrarch

?? has made the chat PRIVATE

XT: ?

??: we need t0 talk.

XT: ...we are?

??: in pers0n.

The tetrarch doesn't waste any time. In minutes he's knocking away at your hive door with enough force that even your lusus begins stirring. You quickly relax Slothdad back to slumber, noting the lighting outside -- it's almost daybreak, the moons hazy blurs on the horizon. You wager you have hours left.

"Xefros."

"Sorry, sorry, I'm coming." You stumble through the living room, trying to squash down the chills that creep up your spine at the sight of the Heiress staring at you with cold, fuchsia eyes. The tree's been getting outgrown again; you remind yourself to clip the uppermost leaves with your lusus when you've got the time. 

You peer through the front door slots; standing outside, half-covered in shadow, half in pink-green moonlight, is your moirail. You can count the number of times he actually knocked on your front door as opposed to just slipping in through the windows and berating you for not keeping up with hive security. Whatever's going to happen -- and your stomach clenches at what you think might happen, if you're guessing correctly -- it's serious. It's dead serious if he's giving you a heads-up on it.

You let him in.

It always makes you flush a little in embarassment when he spots the photo you have of him on the adjacent wall. You know for sure he doesn't have any photos of you, and yet you subconsciously memorialize him, hanging photos of you two in the hallway upstairs. There's one he doesn't know about, and one that you swear on your grubhood you will never tell him -- it's a candid one of him sleeping, shades off his face, and you just -- he's not yelling at you or snarking at you or anything, he's just soft and relaxed in that moment, and currently the photograph's situated under your recuperacoon. You'll never tell him. 

"Hey," you say slowly, testing the waters. If you catch him at the wrong mood he might just turn away from you, dismiss your greeting as background noise. You hate it when he does that, but he probably has his reasons. "Did you want to...uh, talk about something? Anything?"

"Sure," he replies listlessly. 

"I guess...I mean, let's just move to the living room. I've got grub juice."

"Okay."

Wow, something's gotten into him. For a moment you wonder if you should draw closer -- he'd probably smell horrible, or maybe he'd smell like the scent he has when he actually uses the ablutions -- the citrus-cream smell, that one -- but he's already trudging his way to your living room, slumping down onto the couch. He doesn't even take off his shoes. He's tired, and you don't know why, and so much of you wants to lie down in the rather small space besides him and throw your arms around his hoodie, the way you used to do it, and he'd stroke your horns and mumble something like glad you're okay too, but those days feel like a million sweeps ago. Now you don't even know if you have the courage to poke at his shoulder. You'd blame the rebellion for making his eyes shadowed, his face thinner, his horns duller, but in the depth of your bones you know it's something else.

And you wonder if it's you he's losing rest over.

"Tetrarch," you say, gently handing him a can of juice. He rolls the bottle between his hands, letting his fingers cool on the sweet stickiness, but doesn't pop it open. "So -- I -- what did you want to talk about?"

He stares at you -- at least you think he does, you can't be sure behind the shades -- and nods.

"C'mere." He sits up and pats the cushion besides him. Your heart flutters a little at the gesture; without hesitation you're sitting besides him, acutely too aware that your shoulders are only inches apart. Maybe if you leaned over enough he'd let you rest your head on his neck, let him play with your hair -- annd he's talking again, and you flush those thoughts straight down the sewer.

"We're both about to be nine," he mumbles.

"Yeah."

"You scared?"

That you'll be leaving me, but you don't voice that thought out loud. "I mean, kind of? I don't really want to go off to space and kill other aliens. Seems kind of pointless."

"It is," he agrees, lifting a hand to rub at your left horn. Your whole body stills, your heart pounding against your ribs, and you're not supposed to be this excited when he does anything remotely pale to you but you can't help it -- you instantly lean into his touch, letting warmth shudder down every muscle and sinew. He's barely cooler than you, being a bronzeblood, and your skin prickles up in goosebumps.

He continues to stroke the membrane, unaware of your inner turmoil. "But -- you're eight now, Xefros, you know what's going to happen."

"I...do?"

"Drones." He stops touching your horn, his hand falling back down into his lap. You try not to stare at his fingers desperately. His other hand clenches tightly around the can of grub juice, fingers leaving wet, condensation smears across the metal. "They just issued the buckets yesterday."

You stare at him in horror.

Sometimes you forget Dammek's just a wiggler, just like you, especially when he's up on the rebel meeting tables and just stamping out how exactly they're going to dismantle the Heiress' reign, how they're going to reconstruct Alternian society until it's egalitarian for everyone, until blood color is rendered worhtless -- but he's just a wiggler too, just a troll that likes music and watching you play Stickball (and doesn't that just give you the warmest, fuzziest feeling) and messing around with your hoverboard -- no, his, it's his now -- and -- and -- ordinary things. Very much like you. 

"Tetrarch -- "

"You got anyone in your quadrants?"

He knows the answer to that one. For the past sweep there's been some trolls that caught your eye -- there's another nice rustblood that lives several hives down the street, there's an orangeblood that shows up to Dammek's meetings and gives you the sharp, wry grin that always leaves you a little flustered -- but each time, each time, Dammek's always hovering near you, watching you even when he isn't, and to let another troll in your quadrants -- when you've already got a perfect one, one that fills every gap of your life -- seems...

Like a betrayal, you guess.

"Just you," you whisper.

His face is unreadable. "So you're saying..."

"Y-Yeah. I don't have any...I can't -- " you stare resolutely at your toes now, this strange mix of despair and frustration bubbling acidly in your stomach. "I don't -- tetrarch..."

"You've got up to two days to find someone flush and someone else pitch."

"I know," you murmur. Then the thought strikes you, rings inside you like a great bell tolling for your death, and you swear the faintest of copper flushes across his cheeks as you turn to fully face your moirail.

"What about you?"

"Filled a flush bucket this evening," he says, and you think he looks ashamed of looking at you. That's why he was so tired when he showed up to your hive. You can't pinpoint the sudden tightness in your stomach at hearing his words, like someone had swiftly and violently uppercut you below the ribs, and you wonder --

"Who -- ?"

"You don't know them."

Right. Why would he ever tell you, anyhow. You imagine someone else straddling him, touching his horns in a way you wish you could, treasuring him with light, gentle kisses across his face and fangs -- and previously, you're the only one that touches him in any way passable, able to lull him into a drowse by sensation alone, and now he's --

corrupted

but you don't dare say that.

"Okay," you say lightly, trying to ignore how much your voice trembles. "So -- so what, you here to give me directions, I mean -- like whatever, right? I've got 24 hours to pail twice and I've never even touched anyone -- " except you, it's always just been you -- "and you can't exactly help me either here." It's not uncommon for moirails to help fill out a flush bucket, especially when the line between pale and red is so easily blurred. Pitch is infinitely harder: to stir up true, caliginous hatred takes some interval of time, not just a scoop of basic empty pity. It's easy to feel sorry for someone. It's harder to admire someone for their depravity.

Dammek just stares at you.

"You're...here to help me fill a pitch bucket."

"If you don't want to, that's fine," and his tone is so emotionless, so flat, and that's the last thing you want tonight. "But you don't have that much time, bro. I'm trying to help you."

Like everything else, huh.

You wonder how long he's been thinking on this. You wonder if he specifically chose a redrom partner so he didn't have to touch you in that way -- maybe he's aware of your feelings, messed up and confusing and ambiguous, and he doesn't want anything to do with you. Maybe it's his way of saying everything's over --

No, Xefros, you're just overreacting. He's trying to help you. He said so himself.

"Okay," you repeat. At this angle you can see your own reflection in his shades. "Alright. Uh, hit me with it then. Not actual hit, just -- let's get it over with." You're not sure how he'll be able to stir up enough hatred in either of you in such a short span of time, not when you couldn't hate him even if it killed you --

could you?

and he doesn't hate you, since he's trying to help you, since he's your moirail. He can't hate you.

He...

He can't.

"Alright," the tetrach says, clapping his hands together. "Let's do this." His tone has changed; now it's sharper, more brisk, like he's about to order some peons around. Out of his sylladex you see him withdraw a single, slightly-rusted pail, the spade stamped on its side slightly faded in print. It drops to the floorboards with a clang.

"You have a safeword?"

"W-What?" you instinctively draw back from him. "Wait -- right now? I -- I thought -- "

"We don't have much time, man, at least not for you." He nods toward the sunrise. "Hurry up, Xef. We don't have all night."

Is he trying to make you hate him? It's not working -- you love him too much. You'd die for him in an instant. 

You've only touched yourself before, and you've never kissed anyone else -- still, you can see Dammek getting impatient. Restless. He wants to get this over with as quickly as possible.

"Safeword," he repeats.

"Uh -- um -- " you glance around the living room quickly, trying not to stall -- "er...stickball. Yeah. Stickball."

"Stickball, huh."

"...Yeah."

"Cute," he comments, and a mortified blush crawls up your neck. He doesn't call you any adjectives these days, apart from the list of negative ones -- slow, stupid, annoying -- and now he's sitting lazily at the end of the couch, none of the previous urgency present in his frame. "Hey. Get over here."

You scoot over to get closer --

"Get in my lap."

Okay. Okay. You can do this. You shuffle closer and straddle his lap, let your knees brush against his hipbones. His face is just inches from yours. You reach to pluck off his shades, your arm shaking from the sheer temerity, but his hand flies up and closes harshly around your wrist, claws digging into your skin.

"Don't touch them."

"I'm sorry," you instantly respond, and wince at yourself. This is supposed to be pitch -- fuck, fuckfuckfuck there's no way you can do this, there's no way you can keep up any glimmer of caliginous -- your heart pounds a mile a minute, your mouth drying up like you're in a desert. You should touch him. You should touch him, right? At least stir up some intimacy --

He lets go of your wrist and yanks your head back by your hair, and holySHIT his mouth's pressing to the front of your throat, just below your chin, fangs scraping over skin --

Something electric jolts down your veins, straight to your groin. You feel like the skin where his lips and tongue touch you are ablaze. Your pulse hammers frantically under his mouth, and before you're even aware of it a soft, shaky moan escapes from you, like you're sighing. Like a burden's being relieved. No one's ever touched you like this before, prod you toward the path of arousal, and then here's your moirail making your mind go fizzy and blank, kissing and mouthing at your neck like it's the elixir of life. You try to -- stop him? tug him closer? -- but your hands just rest on his shoulders instead, idly tracing the curve of bone. He's holding your head up now, steadily working down your neck, and you hear him gasp roughly as he reaches your collarbone.

"Tetrarch -- " you don't even know what you're pleading for, but subconsciously you've been rolling your hips against his and this sharp, painful warmth's oozing into your abdomen like heated water. You feel shivery and sensitive all over. He's trying to tug down the collar of your shirt, his mouth resting in the hollow of your throat.

"Dammek, I -- "

His hands slip up your shirt, tracing your spine. Then he sinks his claws in and drags down, and even if it doesn't draw blood the pain has you arching your back and moaning even louder, and your thighs are trembling in your effort to stay astride. Your hands touch his cheeks, his ears, his eyelids, treasuring him, mapping him solely by touch. 

Then his hands are clenching around your ass and you can't help it -- your moan this time is rough and breathy, like you're about to lose all air from your lungs, and your hips jut forward -- something's stirring in your crotch, this lazy movement of heat and wet, wet arousal --

He shoves you off the couch.

The surprise of it startles you more than the impact; you land on your knees, but before you can stand up the tetrarch's twisting your wrists behind you, stretching and bending your arms in a way it's probably not supposed to. Fabric loops around your wrists; he's tying you up, forcing you back down on your legs, and before you can protest he's licking up a line of saliva up your neck, right below your ear, and your garbled shout of pain stutters out into a groan instead. His lips trace the nape of your neck.

"Dammek -- "

"Shut the fuck up," he snarls, his breathing noticeably ragged. He mouths furiously at the junction of your neck and shoulder like he's trying to tear you down into bared nerves. The rim of his glasses press into your jaw. "Stop fucking whining, you desperate, needy --"

His other hand gropes at your grubscars, palming at your crotch -- "always following me around, like a little stunted dog, if I told you to jump your miserable sack of skin wouldn't think twice, you pathetic -- "

He pops open the button of your jeans.

"Pathetic," he repeats coldly into your ear. You don't know why you're reacting like this, why every word starts up firecrackers in your gut. All you're aware of is how warm his fingers are as he kneads and massages the front of your underwear, where it's already beginning to stain from your arousal. You wonder if he's just going to stroke your bulge, but then there won't be enough material. Hell, maybe he'll bend you over and finger your nook, thrust at the spot until you're a quivering, sobbing puddle beneath him, and somehow that image makes you burn with hot, flaming guilt. You're not supposed to imagine anything. 

His fingers slip inside your underwear.

You think you scream, then, throwing your head back, and he takes the opportunity to bite and suck at your throat until you're sure there's going to be a hickey come dawn. There's absolutely nothing gentle in his motions, your bulge tangling slipperily around his fingertips as he strokes roughly at you. You've never felt so much heat before, thrumming through your every nerve like you're sitting atop a stereo, and you're barely able to comprehend what he's saying to you -- that you're worthless, useless, more abysmal than seadwelling filth, that he wishes you were culled when you hatched --

Stickball, your mind screams at you to say, just say it. Trust him. He'll stop, he'll wait for you, he loves you, he's in love with you -- but you can't, not when his hand traces the outline of your nook and your folds clench and glisten, desperate for stimulation, and you realize you're practically humping his fingers like a dog trying to mate. He's slipping them in one by one, and if he had done so gently you would've believed it was just for this pailing, just helping you, but he plunges it in and pain and pleasure rock through you like you've plugged your whole body through an electrical outlet. Tears trickle out of your eyes from the intensity as he curls his two fingers inside you, touching you right there -- holy shit, holy fuck, you're practically begging him to stop, to continue, to keep touching you like the worthless whore you are, to never stop and pull away. As long as he pays attention to you. 

He withdraws his fingers all at once from your nook, and you suck in long, sharp breaths, trying to calm your heartrate. You must be an absolute mess by now, with your hair sticking in all directions and saliva and tears coating your chin, bite marks crossing your throat and shoulders everywhere, clothes stained and messy. A whimper bubbles out of your thorax, but then Dammek's shoving his fingers into your mouth; you taste yourself, bitter and stale, but he forces his fingers deeper until your tongue's lapping at your own material like you're a troll dying of thirst. Your moaning is uncontrollable now as you lick at his fingers desperately, wantonly, your ass pushing into the front of his thighs. You can't stop. You should. You should tell him to stop, this isn't what moirails do, but then what does that make you -- just one of so many trolls vying for the tetrarch's attention, his approval, just one of many --

"Wow," Dammek says, releasing you so that you fall face-first onto the ground. "Damn, Xef, didn't know you were into this shit. Who am I kidding: you're practically a pailfuck here, aren't you? How many people have you sucked off, huh?"

Your cheeks burn with shame. He's too close to the target; you wonder if he knows what you think about in your coon sometimes, just kneeling and having his bulge stuffed deep into your throat, and the thought of him watching you the whole time through some shitty camera has your fluid stain your hand in hot, painful waves, mixing into the sopor around your body. 

"No one," you mumble against the floor. Your ass is up and exposed to the world: you hear him unzipping his pants, peeling them off, and then he's doing you the same -- you wish he'd untie your wrists, but then he's yanking down your own jeans and wresting them off your legs. He flings them aside and you get the first evidence that he's getting something out of this too, something he can't deny with words or expressions; his bulge presses against your leg, shifting and curling lazily along your skin.

"Didn't hear that," he drawls. You try to glance back at him but he grabs your hair and forces your face back into the floor, smushing your nose and mouth into the wood, and for a terrifying moment you think you won't be able to breathe. 

"No one," you repeat, struggling to breathe in air. His bulge brushes along your nook, still wet from his earlier ministrations, and you gasp a little. "No one, tetrarch, I swear, I never looked at anyone that way -- you said so, you said so, I won't look at anyone that way -- "

"But?"

"Just you," you whisper miserably. The truth crashes down horribly into your guts; you won't ever feel anything for anyone, not when the tetrarch still breathes and lives and gets to touch you like this. Not when he slams his hips against yours and his bulge just touches that spot again and you're nothing but a puppet to him, your body to be manipulated and played with like a rubber toy. Something venemous swirls in the pits of your stomach, something you'll swear was at the heat of the moment but you know better, it's been there when he turns away from you like you're nothing or ignores you or swipes at your stuff, sneers words at you in contempt, the way he'll just stare at you like your pan's leaked fluid when you try to kiss him good-day, and you let him. You're probably stronger than him, given the chance, you're the one with psychics, and yet here he is, fucking you into the ground effortlessly, and he doesn't even want to look at your face. 

"I -- " something's breaking inside you, the revelation shaking you to your very core. His claws drag along your scalp; the other one's pinning your hip in place, letting him pound into you better. You're not crying from the pain. You're -- you're...

"I hate you."

The words are utterly foreign in your tongue. You think the tetrarch freezes up behind you, but there's no way he'd even give a shit.

"I hate you,fucking hate you, I wish you were -- I wish you were dead, asshole," and it's ugly, harsh, tearing outside your mouth -- but that's what he is, wasn't it? He knew your feelings for him, that's why he chose this quadrant to fuck you in -- he wanted to see you unravel, to break apart into nothing. To prove you're nothing without him. "I -- "

"Xef -- "

"SHUT UP!" You've never screamed so loud in your life, not even when you're being fucked to an inch of your life. You want to die. You feel like you're drowning, this dizzying spiral sagging every bone down with a weight of a thousand worlds. "Why don't YOU SHUT UP, okay, shut your filthy, lowblooded mouth -- "

"Hey -- "

You're openly sobbing onto the floor now. You don't even give a shit on how much tears you're pouring onto the floorboards, how hard your hips are thrusting into empty air, all you know is that you loathe him with every fiber of your being. 

"I hate you," you hiss out, barely recognizing your own voice. "I wish -- I fucking wish I never met you. Never touched you. Wherever you touched me, I want to -- I want to cut it out, it's fucking disgusting, you touching your filthy, fucking hands over me like you actually give a damn, I want to burn that skin off, I -- " your head's swirling, and at the moment you wished he'd just -- you don't know -- just shoot you through the back of your head with one his guns, cut off your tongue and stuff it down your throat. You wish you were dead so you never have to look at him. Never have him look at you again.

Your orgasm releases in you such intensity your limbs feel like they got liquified. Dimly you're aware that a bucket's being inserted under your hips -- not a single drop spilling -- and it's your degrading rust pouring into the receptacle, slathering the bottom and sides like piss-poor paint. You barely feel the tetrarch sliding out of you, touching at his own bulge, and when you turn to look at him...in the wane moonlight he looks...weary. Old. Like all life's being sucked out of his very marrow.

His copper streams out steadily, less messier than yours, swirling with your red.

You can only hear your heartbeart slowing down back to normal. Trembling, you tug at the cloth around your wrists, managing to pull one hand roughly free.

And then it hits you.

The pail's slurry is already catalyzing black -- the kind of black you've only heard stories about from the most legendary of kismesissitudes, like the Pirate Queen and her Orphaner, the kind where the hate spans sweeps and universes and burns like an unquenchable fire -- but they were kismesis. They were spademates. They weren't what you and Dammek were -- or thought what you and the tetrarch were, in the very least, and you don't know what he's thinking, not when he's staring at the bucket like he's watching a worm crawl.

"Tetrarch," you hear yourself plead, your voice cracking and hitching in your throat, "Dammek, I didn't mean -- " you can't tear your eyes off the pail, not when the contents burn midnight-black.

He buttons up his pants with a detached sort of deftness that you haven't seen in a while. You think he glances at you -- noticing what a fucking mess you were, your tears still streaming from your eyes -- but he doesn't say a word. He picks up the bucket by the handle and shuffles it into his sylladex, not acknowledging whatever...whatever just happened.

Between the two of you.

You shakily try to stand up on your own legs, fumbling with your pants. He makes for the door.

"Dammek!" You grab at his arm, remorse rising in you like a tidal wave. You need to apologize, to yank them out of your guts until you're spent, to tell him how impossibly sorry you were. Your fingers close around his hoodie and he stills.

He slaps you.

It's not even a hard slap, just his fingers -- the same one he pushed into your nook -- smacking you against the cheek, smearing trails of your rust material across your face. The force, however, still turns your head, and in your state the blow feels magnified, amplified by a thousand times. You're staggering against the wall, cupping your cheek in your hand, and you're -- he's never hit you before, that's a taboo among moirails, even the sickest of paleroms never ever struck out at their palemate, no matter what happened, and he just -- he's standing at your door, he doesn't even look guilty, just inspects his fingernails like he's got dirt on them and not your disgusting slurry. He just struck you like he was slapping a fly away.

"Stay the hell off of me," he says simply, like he's commenting about the weather.

The door slams shut then, the fury in his motions enough to root you where you stand. You cradle your face, watching his silhouette melt away into his hive's porch even as the sun rises, and you've never felt worser in your life.