I woke to darkness and a dull pain in my jaw. The pain wasn't unfamiliar. Someone had just slapped me as hard as they could. I jerked upright, cursing and my wrists exploded in sharp stabs of pain. Also familiar. Shit. Thorn manacles. My arms were stretched out above my head, tight enough to strain my shoulders just this side of pain. I shuffled my feet – my footing was solid, which was a good thing.
“So glad you could join us, Harry.” The voice was rough but familiar. I just couldn't place it. It didn't sound right somehow.
“How could I say no?” I coughed and spat, my own throat dry.
“Ah. Forgive me. I forget my manners.” There was a rustle of clothing, movement in front of me and then the tip of a straw was bumping my lips.
“Please. If I was going to kill you I'd hardly have waited for you to wake up. I would have shot you and been done with it. Gloating over your fallen foe is just as satisfying over their dessicated corpse. Drink.”
Rough-voice had a point. Which didn't make me feel better at all. But I took a sip. Cool, delicious water. I only took enough to ease the scratchy feeling and then spat the straw out.
“Great. Thanks. Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want?”
Rough-voice chuckled and then there was a soft brush of a hand over my shoulder. I jerked, startled. I hadn't registered that I was completely naked until that moment.
“Many things. I want things you cannot possibly imagine, Harry. From you, eventually, I want cooperation. I want you to join me. For the foreseeable future what I want from you is easily obtained.” Recognition clicked and I knew who would be standing in front of me even before cloth was pulled away from my face.
“Hiya Nic.” The leader of the Denarians looked better than he had the last time I'd seen him. Of course I'd been choking the life out of him with his own magical noose at the time so it'd be hard to look worse, but I was still disappointed. I'd really been hoping I'd killed him. Nicodemus was wearing a pair of dark slacks and his noose, nothing else.
I turned from him to check out my surroundings. The room was about as far from a torture chamber as you could get. Plush off-white carpeting beneath my feet, walls bare but painted a light brown. There was one chair against the wall opposite me with a rolling cart beside it. A cup with bendy straw sat on top of the cart, the rest of its contents still covered with a heavy cloth.
“Ooohhh...another join or die speech. Care to guess what my answer's gonna be this time?” Bravado carries you through a lot of scary shit. It doesn't make it less scary, but it sounds better than screaming and pissing yourself. Plus I hate Nicodemus a lot. So being an ass is kind of automatic.
“We'll get to that. I have Lasciel's coin again, and by the time I'm ready to offer it to you, you will take it gladly. You will beg me for it and thank me when I finally let you join me. But that is a long way off.”
“You are a self-deluded son of a bitch. If you weren't so evil I might feel bad for you, having your head that far up your own ass. Or is it having Anduriel's hand up there that makes you so stupid?” Nicodemus was fast. I didn't even see him start to move before he was there, right in front of me.
I had a second to see his eyes glitter in some hot emotion and then his hands were at my throat. Breath hissed out of me in shock and I jerked back, cutting myself more deeply on the manacles and getting nowhere. One hand gripped the back of my neck hard enough that I could feel his short nails cutting into the skin and the other rested in gentle contrast on my collar bone, right beside the indentation at the bottom of my throat.
He shifted his thumb and pressed inward, right there in the vulnerable 'v' of the bone. I gagged at the pressure and tried to pull away, but the hand behind me was like iron. It didn't hurt, not yet, but it was uncomfortable; pressure where there should be none, the body reacting to a threat at such a dangerous point. I found myself swallowing hard without thinking about it, like that could dislodge the obstruction. My leg came up and kicked, kneeing Nicodemus hard in the side. He just took it and pressed in harder, bringing his face close enough to mine that I could feel his breath against my cheek.
Nicodemus leaned in and brushed the skin of his cheek against my jaw, his bare chest pressing the rough hemp of the noose into mine, and then he pulled back. He eased off my throat and I retched, trying to clear the feeling away. It hadn't ever hurt, but it had been frightening on some primal level. My muscles twitched and I twisted my neck in his grip, tearing the skin open more. I suddenly did not want Nicodemus near me at all. And I really really did not want him stroking the front of my throat the way he was.
His fingers were gentle, tracing the column of my windpipe with single minded intensity. I remained tense, unable to move more than a little in any direction, unable to think clearly. Nicodemus' fingers lingered over my Adam's apple, then he spread his hand and pinched inward, fingers pressing towards each other from either side of my throat. My pulse suddenly thudded heavily beneath my skin, having to work through the extra pressure.
“There are so many possibilities for us Harry. I've thought them all through. I've dreamt of them. You should appreciate that, Harry. I took the time to experiment. To find the best path for us.” He squeezed harder and I wheezed, my airway still mostly unrestricted, but the blood was pounding in my head, pressure building and building, my face heating. I knew it was useless but my body fought anyway. Nic was too close to kick, standing between my legs, the rough fabric of his slacks scraping against my inner thighs as I tried anyway.
It wasn't long before the world whittled away, pieces of it flying off and leaving shards of darkness. Before it disappeared completely the pressure was removed and my neck released. I slumped forward and just hung there, breathing freely if roughly.
There was a soft glide of movement out of the corner of my eye and then hands descended on my hips, squeezing with brutal force. I shivered and jerked my hips forward but Nicodemus just yanked back, hard, and slammed against me. He still had his pants on, thankfully, but I could feel the evidence of just how much he was enjoying this through them.
“Nic-” He grabbed the back of my head and yanked sharply, pulling my head up and driving his knee up into my groin at the same time. What little breath I had exploded out of me and tears rolled down my face. Son of a bitch! I'd have cursed if I could.
Instead I got to watch the wall as the shadows there writhed and coalesced into something mostly human shaped, darker than my own shadow and moving independently. Anduriel. The fallen angel's eyes lit up, glowing eerily on a face with no other features. It moved and there was a pulling sensation, something I could see but not see and Nicodemus' living shadow was pulling itself free from the wall and moving across the room towards us. Holy hell.
“Shit.” The shadow form stopped in front of me, taking Nicodemus' previous position and a hissing, nearly sub-vocal sound issued from it. It grated against my ears, almost like it was inside my head, scraping at tender tissues.
Hands formed of solid shadow reached up and wrapped around my throat, thumbs resting over my windpipe. I shivered at the burning cold touch and took as deep a breath as I could. Pressure, direct and deliberate slowly began to be applied. Anduriel took his time and I fought for each breath, twisting against his grip and Nicodemus' grip on my hair, a sharper pain added to the dull one in my throat.
It took forever and was steadily more and more painful. I coughed helplessly, convulsively, and listened to the wet, thin rasp of air into my greedy lungs. There wasn't enough, not ever, and it got harder and harder to get any at all. Nicodemus wrapped his free arm around my stomach, drawing himself against me, resting his chin on my shoulder. He took deep, deliberate breaths as close to my ear as he could, exhaling in long drawn out moments across my cheek.
“I wish you could see this, Harry. It's really quite lovely. Such a fascinating play of colors. Your lips are turning blue, did you know that? Just a little, around the edges, but that's where it starts.” My lips were parted already, colder than the air that whistled over them in little sips. Anduriel chose that moment to press in again, vicious, and there was no more air coming in. I opened my mouth, desperate, but there was nothing – no way for my lungs to drag in the cool air I could feel all around me. “And there -” his warm, nearly feverish hand slid around the side of my head, touching my cheek, the side of my nose, “little flecks of pale pink and blue, they start here, and then spread across your cheeks, telling me about your progress. How close you're getting.”
His hand slid from my cheek, palm cupping my gaping mouth, forcing it shut, thumb and one finger pinching my nose shut. I had a hysterical thought that it was a ridiculous gesture – I was already being choked, what did he think this was going to add? And then he started to grind against me, using his grip on my face and the arm around my midsection to help slap me back and forth, rubbing his leaking erection against the curve where thigh met ass. “A mirror, I think, for the next time. So you can watch too.” His gravely voice broke off into harsh, growling pants.
Black and red flowers began appearing before my eyes, growing larger and larger until I could see nothing at all and even feeling began to fade. It came quickly, in the end, but not fast enough. I still had sense enough to feel the hot, sticky splatter of Nicodemus coming on me, coating my lower body, and to have one desperate thought – 'He said he wouldn't kill me' - almost a plea. And then the pain and the fear and everything else just stopped.
Sensation returned in fits and starts. I could feel rough, nubbly fabric against one side of my body. Warm, strong fingers pressed into my throat and I shuddered, unsure why the sensation made me want to whimper. But the touch was brief. It felt my pulse and then vanished. The movement of air across my body came next, not exactly cold, but there was a slowly drying liquid on my back and down my legs that caused me to shiver and twitch, drawing myself in, shying away from the uncomfortable feeling. My skin stuck together, pulling painfully as I moved. I could feel enough to know that I felt disgusting and then the pain made itself known.
My head throbbed, blood slamming around against the backs of my eyes and in my temples even with my eyes held firmly shut. There were small slices of pain in one side of my neck, and my throat was raw, bruised inside. My wrists burned and I could feel thin tracks of blood drying on my forearms.
I drew in another burning breath and forced my eyes open, the sight of my wrists wrapped in the thorn manacles bringing it all back.
I was alive.
It was surprising and not a little bit horrifying. I was alive, but I was still locked in a room with a psychopath and his fallen angel.
“Water?” Nicodemus stood in front of me and then crouched, holding out a glass with a straw.
“Fuck. Off.” It was barely a whisper, but Nicodemus smiled and dumped the glass over my head. He kept smiling as he picked the straw off of my cheek, caressing it as he did.
“I'm so glad to see you're still with us Harry. I'd have been deeply disappointed if one little session broke you. I have so many plans, Harry.”