Content warnings: Torture, blood, sadomasochism, graphic violence, sexual themes, dubcon.
NARCISSUS BECOMES THE MARIGOLD
PUPPY-LOVE AND DOG-EAT-DOG
ZEBRA’S MANY MISTAKES, THEIR COSTS, AND THE PAYMENTS THEREOF
HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE THE KNIFE
There was something about Hyde that kept him on Zebra’s mind well after the whole body-swap nightmare was cleared up. Something about the way Hyde looked at him when Zebra asked after his business, something that said Hyde was a man who would fight back.
Zebra did like it when they fought back.
For weeks, he found himself in idle thought, thinking about doing pleasantly unpleasant things to the questionably British man. He had never thought about anybody for weeks, before. He had always been far too fickle for that.
But a month passed, and then two, and he was still thinking about Hyde. There was something about him, yes. Something about the way he carried himself, about the way he dressed, about his pale skin and long hair and serious, yet quietly amused demeanour. About the suspicious package he’d come into and left the shop with.
They were kindred spirits, Zebra knew. They belonged together. Together, until one of them destroyed the other.
Zebra broke into Sor’s shop in the middle of the night.
He had to use up a bobby-pin to do it (one of the four he kept in his hair for just such an occasion) but there was no avoiding it. And, anyway, that was what the bobby-pins were for.
It didn’t occur to him until later that there was probably supposed to be some sort of magical alarm or security system that should have gone off when he broke in. Maybe it had and he hadn’t noticed. Maybe that was why things turned out so very wrong.
They started off fine, of course. Zebra was no fool, and he knew the building was empty. Sor was at his own shop, doing something or another with Katters. Alis and Hyde were gone, as was usual for them. Gabe had gone to bed hours ago, and then, after everyone else had left, had snuck out of the shop and disappeared into the night. Weeks of watching the building told Zebra it would be empty until well into the morning.
He was alone.
He took a moment to delight in his trespassing, but otherwise did not dally. One day, he would have to come back and sabotage something, now that he knew how easy it would be. But today, he couldn’t waste any time. He did not know what waited for him beyond the bookcases, but he thought he would have a lot of work to do, preparing for the night’s pleasantries.
He was wrong, as he discovered soon enough. Things were made very easy for him — the building’s other basement hid beneath an obvious trap door in one corner of the shop, easy to find and easy to open. Stone stairs curved gently down to a wooden door with a large but trivial lock holding it shut. And beyond that was a murder room.
It was dark, and every attempt to find a light-switch failed. The place reeked of death, a smell so strong it made Zebra’s teeth itch. Keeping the place clean was obviously not a priority, though it was kept tidy — he couldn’t see far, but he could see that there was nothing cluttering the floor or tables, that everything had been put away before Hyde left.
He wandered deeper into the room and found an archway. And, just beyond it, a control panel, covered in carefully labelled switches. After a little experimentation, the room was bathed in dim but adequate illumination.
Murder rooms, it seemed. Almost an entire murder house, buried and hidden away beneath the unassuming, if unusual, bookshop. Like Sor’s lab, the walls were wood-panelled and the floor was stone, but the similarities ended there. Hyde’s workshop was larger, and contained features that suggested a much more sinister purpose. More sinister, even, than mundane, vanilla murder.
There would be no preparations at all required for Zebra’s planned festivities. Hyde had thoughtfully provided everything he would need.
Cages hung from the ceiling, human-sized but presently empty. Next to Zebra and the light-lever was a table with wrist and ankle clamps, tilted to an angle from the floor. Other torture devices, ranging from simple to elaborate, lined the walls — a rack; an iron chair; some kind of small, elevated pyramid that he did not recognise, but could guess at its purpose.
He passed these, and more, to the far wall and the floor-to-ceiling cabinets that stood there. They, too, were full of torture implements, also ranging from the immediately recognisable to the obscure. One cabinet contained nothing but knives, hanging from the back and doors by magnetic strips, and slotted into blocks resting at the floor. Some of them looked brand new, others were rusting. Which, he wondered, were Hyde’s favourites? The well-cared for? Or the ones that saw frequent and messy use? He would have to ask, when he had Hyde tied up. He could use Hyde’s favourites while cutting him down into nothing.
He lingered by the cabinets, admiring the collection, and later he would think that was the biggest and most important mistake he had made. If he hadn’t been lost in thought, he might have noticed the shadow creeping over him, might have heard the careful footsteps. Might have caught the sweet, chemical smell mixing with the acrid stench of the basement itself. Might have caught Hyde, before Hyde caught him.
A rag covered Zebra’s nose and mouth and the chemical smell washed everything else away. He tried to jump back, but only pressed into Hyde’s chest. Hyde’s free arm wrapped around him. He was trapped.
The vapour tore at his throat. He became light-headed, a little giddy, and then he was gone.
Zebra had a headache when he came to, but that was the least of his problems. More pressing were his locked limbs, chaining him to the rack. Even more pressing than that was Hyde, sitting on the angled table and waiting for him to wake up.
“And here I thought I was going to have a boring night,” Hyde drawled. “Normally, it’s a bad sign when I have to come home early.”
He stood, unbuttoning his coat. Zebra’s own coat, and his jacket, were missing — found again with a quick scan of the room, thrown to the floor and kicked under the chair. There was a chill in the basement and gooseflesh rose over Zebra’s arms.
Hyde hung his coat off the corner of the rack, and Zebra felt vaguely like he was some sort of decoration. Furniture. But that wasn’t how Hyde looked at him — Hyde’s eyes moved up and down Zebra with great interest, taking in everything except Zebra’s face. Hyde looked at him like he was dinner.
The gooseflesh spread over Zebra’s back.
“I was wondering when you were going to do something,” Hyde said. “You’ve been watching me.”
“I’ve been watching everyone.”
“You’ve been watching me. I’ve been watching you.”
“You all live in the same building,” Zebra argued. “I’ve been watching everyone.”
Hyde didn’t smile. Zebra recognised the expression — it was like a smile, but there was no warmth to it, only a cold, wry amusement. It meant Hyde had just come to a decision, and Zebra would not like it.
“Fine,” Hyde said. “Why have you been watching us?”
“Reconnaissance, of course.”
Zebra’s arms were getting tired, held above his head as they were, and there was a spark of annoyance in him. Hyde had him, captive, in a bona-fide torture chamber, and now seemed content to talk him to death.
It wasn’t that he wanted to be tortured, but the situation was interesting. He didn’t have a plan for this — yet — and he did not know what, exactly, Hyde’s plan was (though he did have a few guesses). But his interest was waning.
Hyde stepped closer, close enough that Zebra could feel his body heat. He was rolling up his sleeves and still looking down, his hair hanging over his face, over his shoulders.
Zebra forgot his annoyance, remembered his curiosity.
“Bastien,” Hyde said, and he didn’t mispronounce it like people normally did.
Zebra cocked his head.
“Or is ‘Zebra’ the preferred nomenclature?”
“It’s more common,” Zebra said, uncertain. “I wouldn’t say it’s preferred. How did you…?”
“Oh,” Hyde said, and he finally looked up and met Zebra’s eyes. “I know plenty about you.”
A nervous chill ran through Zebra. A queasy excitement equal parts trepidation and anticipation.
Hyde ran his fingers over a lock of Zebra’s hair, following it from his temple to his shoulder. “You work in that shop, with Kat,” he said, “when you’re not stalking me. You have a rivalry with the Sorceress, for some reason. You’ve kept out of Ramsey for a very long time until very recently, and what I don’t know, is why.”
His hand, gloved, leather, found its way to Zebra’s neck and rested there, his pinky fitting snug in the crook made by Zebra’s collarbone. His thumb traced the side of Zebra’s larynx, trailing slowly up and down, while Hyde considered.
“Where did you come from?”
“Chavidea,” Zebra said. He could feel his heartbeat against Hyde’s hand.
“No. Why the sudden interest in the bookshop? Why the sudden interest in me? I know who you are — but who are you?”
Zebra smiled. “Not Superman,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
Hyde frowned, trying to place the familiarity of the phrase — then his eyes lit up and he grinned. His grip tightened a fraction, his index finger digging behind Zebra’s jaw. “You did find me.”
He leaned in, his breath hot in Zebra’s face, and his grip tightened again. Zebra’s pulse thumped in his neck, trying to get past Hyde’s fingers.
“You shouldn’t have.”
He could breathe, Hyde wasn’t choking him. But he was already light-headed from the lingering effects of Hyde’s drug, and now his vision was blurring and the basement was suddenly very cold. He kept Hyde’s gaze as he felt his pulse slowing, staring back into his eyes. Hyde knew he was in control — how could he not? But Zebra wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of admitting it.
Hyde let go just before Zebra blacked out again. He turned and walked over to the cabinets, and Zebra slumped, rocking his head back against the slats supporting him. His head cleared, though his face felt hot and flushed and his body was still cold, had a bit of a tremble in it.
“Tease,” he said.
Hyde looked back over his shoulder, bemused in both the original and modern sense. “Excuse me?”
“Come back here and finish the job,” Zebra said. “Or let me out, and I’ll show you how these things should be done.”
“You want me to strangle you to death?”
“Do something, at any rate.”
It was clear this was an unusual situation for Hyde, too, and even clearer that he had opinions about how things were going. He wasn’t a fan.
“Do something,” he echoed, stepping back over. “Do something. Like this, perhaps?”
He pulled the lever jutting out of the side of the rack and the chains holding Zebra in place pulled just a little more taut. Zebra’s heart jumped, and he flinched, looking down at the rack before catching himself and pulling himself together.
But Hyde had seen the panic in him and was not-smiling again. He pulled the lever, back and then forth, and the rack made a deep chunk-ing noise as Zebra was, himself, pulled taut.
Hyde leaned over him. “I think you’ve made a grave mistake in your assessment of the situation. We are not here for you.”
“I’m here for me,” Zebra said. “Take my tongue if you want me quiet.”
Hyde frowned. Sniffed. Slapped Zebra. Zebra’s head slammed against the slat behind him and for a moment he saw stars. He licked the inside of his cheek — blood. Cut on his own teeth.
“Well, it’s a start,” he said.
It was a risky game he was playing, but he could tell Hyde wasn’t used to taking criticisms during his torture sessions. If he could keep Hyde off-balance — upset him enough — Hyde might make a mistake that would grant Zebra his freedom.
He’d break him either way. Zebra didn’t have much to lose.
Hyde grabbed his face. His hand covered Zebra’s mouth, and his fingertips dug into Zebra’s skull, and then his other hand came up with a boning knife and Zebra couldn’t look away from it.
The knife came to his cheek. Just touched his skin. He was breathing hard, his chest hitching, as Hyde pressed against him, almost straddling him, and snarled.
He couldn’t see the knife, anymore. He met Hyde’s eyes, again, instead, and tried to look like he wasn’t terrified.
The knife’s tip caught Zebra’s skin. Flicked up, leaving a tiny cut in his cheek.
He tried to jerk away. Had nowhere to go.
Hyde repeated the cut, plucking Zebra with the knife, spotting him with little, red marks. Zebra flinched each time, and Hyde’s snarl turned into a grin.
“You pretty boys are so easy,” he said. He stopped plucking, held the knife just inside Zebra.
He pushed. Slow. Careful.
“How’s this?” he asked. “Are you happy, now? Is this what you wanted?”
A whine caught in Zebra’s throat. He couldn’t answer, not with Hyde’s hand over his mouth, but he was having trouble thinking of repartee just then, anyway. The knife’s tip was scraping over his teeth, now, catching on his gums.
Hyde let go of his face and pulled the knife away, and he wasn’t gentle about it. A noise escaped Zebra, something between a whimper and a moan, and then he hissed inward. He touched the cut on — in — his cheek with his tongue, and winced.
“I know what you’re doing,” Hyde said. He set the knife on the table, letting it rest in a small puddle of Zebra’s blood. “It doesn’t matter. Do you think I’ve never had difficult prey before? People who thought if they were too much trouble, I’d give up? Or that they could trick me into letting them go, if I were mad enough and irrational enough? They’re all dead, now. I couldn’t tell you where they wound up, there’s been so many of them. But they’re all dead, and they did not enjoy their last moments.”
He was back at the cabinet. He opened one of the doors and stared into it.
“There have been those who cooperated,” he said. “They’re dead, too. As I said, it doesn’t matter. Be difficult, if you want. It’ll make no difference, in the end.”
It was going to scar. Even if Zebra did escape, he’d do it with a big, obvious, ugly scar. Was escape even worth it, come to that?
There was blood running down his neck, down his chest, filling his mouth. It was hot and sticky and swallowing it made him feel slightly ill, so he spat it onto the floor.
Maybe he had something in the lab that could treat the wound. Maybe there was something that could be done. He couldn’t give up now, even if Hyde was onto him and even if he was having trouble thinking straight.
Hyde came back, carrying a black canvas bag he’d stocked with toys. He set it down and stood in front of Zebra, smirking.
“Speechless, are we? Have we decided to cooperate?”
Zebra spat blood at him.
It spattered against Hyde’s shirt, a small splot over his left breast. His expression didn’t change, he didn’t acknowledge the stain at all.
“I can think of better things for you to be doing with your mouth, anyway,” he said.
He came forward, raising a hand to Zebra’s face, and he grinned when Zebra flinched away. A little embarrassed, Zebra straightened, touching Hyde’s fingers with his cheek. Defiant, or compliant, it was hard to tell.
Hyde brushed his thumb along the cut there, smearing Zebra’s blood over his jaw. He brought his other hand up, taking the other side of Zebra’s face, and the scent of leather was overwhelming. Warm, and inviting, and undercut by hints of blood and death.
Hyde’s hands were large and the leather was smooth and well-worn, and as he came closer to Zebra and kissed him, his thumb slipped into the wound, splitting it into an even bigger future scar.
Zebra whined, a keening noise that he couldn’t stop, and he gushed blood around Hyde’s thumb and into his own mouth. Hyde pressed harder against him. Pressing against his lips. Pressing against his body.
This was a lot to deal with. Hyde was a lot to deal with. Tall and strong, a predatory smell clinging to his neck and jaw, growls coming from low in his throat while he bit Zebra’s lip — the knives and the restraints and the blood.
Zebra was confused.
The blood loss wasn’t helping.
He realised one of Hyde’s hands was gone just before the rack chunk-ed again. He yelped, a noise half surprise and half pain. Hyde stopped kissing him, leaned his forehead against Zebra’s, and chuckled.
His thumb was still in Zebra’s mouth. It had wormed its way between his teeth, keeping his mouth open. He explored it with his tongue, tasted the leather. And then he bit down.
Hyde jerked back, more surprised than anything else — the leather stopped Zebra from doing any real damage. Hyde’s mouth, his face, were covered in Zebra’s blood. He snarled, and even his teeth were red.
“I will break your jaw,” he growled. Something had happened to his accent. It had burned away in his anger, and what was left was dirty and harsh.
Zebra grinned. It hurt, but his face hurt anyway, so why hold back? He ground Hyde’s thumb between his teeth, and suddenly tasted blood that wasn’t his. Hyde’s eyes widened, his brow and mouth curling with fury, and he tried to yank his hand away but Zebra wouldn’t let go. The gash in the glove split further and his teeth sunk deeper into Hyde’s flesh.
“Break my jaw,” he slurred. “Break my teeth. Break me. It’s all the same in the end.”
Another chunk. Zebra cried out, his voice a broken thing, as his shoulders and hips threatened to separate — but didn’t. His teeth clenched and Hyde actually reacted, his arm twisting from the pain. He pulled the lever again and Zebra’s limbs became hot lines of agony. Still together, by some miracle, but not for long.
He let Hyde go.
Hyde brought his hand to his chest, glaring at Zebra.
Zebra laughed, a hoarse, breathy sound. “What’s the matter? Could it be you do care if I’m difficult, after all?”
Hyde peeled the glove off, carefully picking the leather away from his wound. His hand was paler than the rest of him, taking on a blue tint that contrasted in the best way with the blood painted over it. His thumb was a mess of gashes just before the final knuckle, and Zebra thought he saw a little shiver in it.
He laughed again, but that quickly turned into a groan. Just breathing was pulling against his joints.
Hyde looked up at the sound, a bit of a smile playing at his lips. “Something wrong?”
“Not at—” Zebra said, and winced. He took a shaky breath and tried again, taking the words like stepping stones across a river. “This has all gone according to my plan.”
It was Hyde who laughed at this. “Yes,” he said, gesturing at his captive with his wounded hand. His loftier accent was back, settling comfortably into his usual prosody as he, himself, settled back into his rhythm. “I can see I have walked right into your trap. So carefully laid,” he purred. “So cleverly orchestrated.”
“It’s about time someone noticed.”
Hyde picked the boning knife back up and touched it to Zebra’s chest. Zebra flinched and immediately regretted it, hissing at the pain the rack was causing him.
One by one, Hyde cut the buttons off Zebra’s shirt. Zebra tried to hold still, tried to ignore the knife’s sharp edge, the cold metal and the cold room. He was panting by the time his shirt fell loose and open, shaking from the way the basement air mixed with the sweat running down his back and sides — shaking from the way he had to hold tense to hold himself together.
Hyde slid the knife through his belt-loop, then took the hem of Zebra’s shirt in his teeth and tore a ragged strip from it. He wrapped that around his thumb, tying the ends off in a neat, little knot. Red bloomed through the bandage, staining it.
He flexed his hand. “Tell me,” he said. “In your plan. What happens next?”
Zebra’s realist streak raised its head. “Pain,” he said. “Of course.”
“It’s a good plan.”
It wasn’t a good plan. Zebra’s plan was falling apart, just like he was. He was too distracted to put up a fight anymore, too fuzzy and grey to think of biting commentary. Unless Hyde put his hand back in his mouth, there was no way in hell he’d be able to keep him angry. Irrational. Off-balance.
He had put up a good fight, or at least he thought he had. Maybe another miracle would happen.
“I liked your other plan,” Hyde said, fishing something out of his canvas bag. When he straightened, he was holding what looked like a metal light-bulb, with a ring welded to one end. A pear of anguish.
He spun it around one finger by its handle, grinning. “Let’s break something.”
Zebra could think of three or four places that could go and he didn’t approve of any of them.
Hyde stepped up to him again and wrapped one arm around his waist. He pulled him forward — as far forward as he could go — and as another yelp escaped Zebra, he slipped the pear into his mouth.
Zebra jerked his head back, trying to get away from it. But with a quick twist of the handle, the pear blossomed and became stuck.
“You’ve been very chatty,” Hyde said. “I’m getting tired of it.”
Zebra panted, his breath coming metallic through the petals of his gag. It pinned his tongue, kept his throat open. He grew dizzy. Over-oxygenated. Hyde let him go and that was almost pleasure, the level of pain he was in. It was almost nothing, for a moment.
Hyde twisted the handle again and Zebra’s mouth was forced further open. The wound on his cheek split wider, threatening to meet the corner of his lips.
Apparently satisfied, Hyde stepped back and looked him over.
“This is a good look for you, pretty boy.” He pulled the knife back out and tossed it from one hand to the other. “You’ve never been prettier.”
Hyde ran the back of the knife down Zebra’s chest, raising gooseflesh and shivers in its wake. “You’ll never be prettier.”
Somehow, Zebra still had the wherewithal to flinch and jump, and Hyde orchestrated him with an expertise borne of a frankly concerning amount of experience. The knife danced over Zebra, cutting into his chest, his stomach, slicing along his sides and arms. Rivers of blood ran down his increasingly pale skin.
Hyde was tracing Zebra’s ribs when, finally, the something that had to give, gave. Zebra twisted wrong and his hip wrenched out of its socket.
That side of his body locked up and his shoulder took the opportunity to follow his hip’s lead, and he screamed again.
Hyde disappeared behind the rack, and then Zebra was falling, his hands unchained. He landed poorly for his still-chained feet, hitting his head on the floor. The impact re-located his swelling joints, but he also sliced the roof of his mouth and his tongue with the pear.
He was shaking. Laughing. Crying. He couldn’t feel anything — couldn’t feel any pain, could only feel relief. Tears cut through the blood on his face as he lifted himself to his palms and his knees.
Hyde hooked a finger through the handle of the pear and pulled him the rest of the way up. Zebra’s laughter tapered off into weak chuckles, aches surfacing through the adrenaline haze. Hyde stood him there, for a moment, looking Zebra up and down. He sniffed.
“It’s getting early,” he said, tugging at Zebra’s gag to prompt him into moving. “And I don’t have a spare.”
He lead him to the control panel. Zebra limped after him, every step sending a shooting pain through his hip and shoulder. He almost tripped several times, his legs felt so weak, but thankfully he made it across the room without the pear of anguish ripping out all of his teeth.
At the control panel, Hyde flipped a switch, and one of the hanging cages began to descend. “You were—” He paused, giving Zebra a final look-over. “Fun,” he said, and pushed Zebra into the cage. “We’ll do this again, some time. Finish what we’ve started.”
He locked the cage and sent it back to the ceiling, then turned the lights off. “Say, tomorrow, perhaps.”
He disappeared up the stairs. The door let in one last flash of light before Zebra was left to sit, alone, in the dark.
Zebra pulled the pear out of his mouth gingerly, and it took a flap of skin with it. He gave it a blind, disgusted look before setting it aside.
It figured that Hyde would just leave him hanging.
He took a minute to collect himself, to let some of the shock wear off. He curled up, pulling his knees to his chest and leaning against the side of the cage. It shouldn’t have mattered if his eyes were closed, but it somehow helped, anyway.
He listened to himself breathe until breathing came easy again.
Okay. Enough of that. He had his miracle, and he couldn’t waste it by wasting time.
Zebra broke out of Hyde’s basement in the middle of the night. He had to use up a bobby-pin to do it, and had to drop seven feet onto a pair of shaky and injured legs, but there was no avoiding it.
The bookshop was empty, as he discovered when he crept up the stairs. Sor would find it bloodier than she remembered, but there was no avoiding that, either — Zebra left a trail of it as he went, bloody footprints along the floor and bloody handprints on the books where he had to stop for a moment to support himself. Still, by the time he made it to the door, he’d found some strength. Hopefully, strength enough to make it home. If not that, then strength enough to make it away from the bookshop.
The sun rose behind him as he embarked on his walk of pain, and he spent it thinking idle and venomous thoughts about Hyde.