Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

By Elizabeth Scripturient

Rating: R/NC-17
Summary/Teaser: Roofs and steeples and the cellar door. "I have known them all already." He never rescued her, but she found him anyway. "We who were living are now dying." There is no happy ending. "Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison."
Fandom: Firefly
Pairing: kind of a secret, kind of not.
Warnings: AU. Dark and fucked up. Explicit sex. Pleasurepain. Ambiguous consent. Abuse of allusions/quotations from the Bible and T. S. Eliot.
Standard Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and co. own the characters, I'm just playing with them. I do, however, own this story, so don't steal it. Archive it anywhere; just ask first.
Thanks to Justine (Phaedra) and Alixtii for betaing and also to Paige (Rhi) and RŠna EressŽa for their feedback.

***

1. in the beginning (evening is spread out against the sky)

She wore a veil. Her entire outfit was scarves. She danced, stripping. Her body beneath the scarves was painted in dead languages. She had thought it a humorous touch, externalizing her internal death. As a practical matter, it meant she didn't have to worry about anyone getting distracted reading her skin. She knew that would have been a problem since she catered to scholars.

This party was in honor of the trauma unit's newest head surgeon: Simon Tam. The guest of honor. Who had had far too much to drink. His friends had to help him stagger over to the chair of honor. She gave him his own personal lap dance, removing everything except her veil. Though even through the veil it was obvious she wore a mask. Dark cloth clinging to her skin, covering her eyes and nose and even part of her cheeks. She tugged on his tie--his jacket already long gone. She began unbuttoning his shirt. "Get a room!" one of his friends yelled. She smiled. "Shall we?" she whispered, leaning in close to his ear. Her hand rested on his crotch. He nodded shakily--the alcohol already thick in his head--but excitedly.

He is scared. He has never gone all the way with a woman. Always too busy. He is afraid of hurting her, afraid also of losing himself inside of her.

She gives him a blowjob.

She remembers games they used to play as children. There were so many things she could have done to give herself away. And one always wants to be known, doesn't one? But she knows this is not the time.

His body sickens her. He tastes like ashes in her mouth.

She escaped one slavery, through her own cleverness, only to willingly enter into another one. Her only recourse. Sometimes she wonders if this is what they made her for after all.

2. there was the word (tedious argument of insidious intent)

He has fallen in love with a nice young woman. Very smart. Very sophisticated.

So he is cheating on two women, she thinks. She cannot find herself in his mind.

She asks for twice her usual fee.

He balks. Tells her it is hard enough to keep it discreet as it is.

"I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you."

He cannot say no to her. (He never could.)

He sought her out, the very day after his party.

After she made him come, made him shudder and cry, falling down weak-legged against the wall, a wreck from the newness and power of it all, she dressed herself carefully and walked out the door.

He gasped her name, begged her to stay with him.

She told him he would not want her when he woke up, that he had a life to return to.

The truth was that she could not spend the night curled up against his skin; she would kill herself, or him, or both.

When he awoke, all he could remember from the previous night was the orgasm, and the desperate desire that she not leave.

He forced her name out of his friends. They told him she was a hired girl for parties, that if he wanted a little action there were plenty of women who would be willing for free. But he insisted on learning her name. His friends quickly realized that he wouldn't shut up about her until they gave him the information, so by the end of breakfast he had a name. (Not her real one, of course. Not the one that would make him know her. But everyone expected hired girls to have false names anyhow.)

Serpina.

An abbreviation of the Roman goddess who was kidnapped by death, whose death led to winter. Smaller name means smaller myth. No goddess she, but merely a girl. Her absence a localized winter, already melting away under new growths. Added bonus was the Latin: serpens, from the present participle of serpere -- to creep. Creeping in to hidden places, biting down with poisoned fangs, feared and revered.

They tried to convince him to at least wait a day or two before contacting her, let her think he wasn't all that interested in her -- don't give her any leverage over you, they said. But all he wanted was her over him. On him, under him, all around him.

"It's just because she's your first, not that she's anything special."

"Believe us, it'll never be as good as that first time. Don't set yourself up for failure. Find a different girl."

But he wouldn't listen.

And so he had found her.

There were special rooms where she would take her clients. No girl ever goes to a man's private rooms, nor does she allow him back to hers.

The room she keeps for clients is spartan. A solid wooden bed. Dim walls. She lights Companion candles and incense in each corner, unsure as to whether this makes the acts more or less profane.

Sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells. Oyster shells? Why oyster shells? Cowry shells are for fertility, but she wants no children. Ashes and snakes. Snakes out of the ash? Phoenixes? She almost started writing on the walls to calm herself back into sanity but she remembered that this was not her sanity room.

Spartan. No comfort for her in this room. The Spartans left their babies -- who were property of the state, not of the genetic donors, mind -- out to die, and the ones who survived proved their worthiness to live. She tried not to think of Lycurgus, tried not to feel the fox beneath her skin.

Here now. She was here now. Focus on the now. No tea leaves, no coffee spoons. This time. This place.

She let him make an appointment for once a week. The same night every week, same time even. Let his anticipation build. Sometimes she would even cancel. Let him know he didn't control her. Make sure he really did want her, that she wasn't just some routine.

She would never do more than suck him off.

He grabs her hair, massages her scalp, tries to maximize the amount of physical contact, but he learns quickly that she gives better head when he stands against the wall, arms by his side.

"It lets the feeling all concentrate in one spot," she explains. "If you're touching my hair, or any part of me, you're not completely focused on what I'm doing. But if you can't feel anything but me working on just that one spot, then it's powerful."

It never is as good as the first time, but he keeps coming back.

Even after he has begun going out to dinner with a nice nurse.

He pushes her out of his mind whenever he is with Serpina, but the night that she can feel the woman in his mind, even as she brings him to the height of pleasure, she knows he has fallen for her.

She is glad. She was waiting for this, hoping it would happen sooner rather than later, though she has almost forgotten what it feels like to not have ashes in her mouth.

She tells him prices are going up -- food, housing, everything -- that that is why she is increasing her fee.

"You don't have to come back if you don't want to. I understand you can find this for cheaper elsewhere."

But of course he will not let her go. He would move in with her, give up everything, just to be with her.

She smiles inside her mind, thinking about how that is all she has wanted from him for years and how now she will not take it from him.

3. the lord your god is a jealous god (beneath the music from a farther room)

"What if your wife found you here?"

"I'm not married."

"Oh but you're just as good as."

Simon doesn't answer. Doesn't ask how she knows. Makes excuses in his head. People talk. She must have heard idle gossip and put two and two together.

She does not tell him that two and two have a near-infinite number of possible combinations and permutations.

She can hear the anxiety in his brain, the fear that he might have to give her up.

"Would she spank you? That nice inviting white flesh of yours. Now that she knows it's not as pure as she had hoped, would she make it pink, red even, make you wear your shame?"

She pinches one cheek. She feels him stiffen, can hear in his mind that he doesn't want to like this feeling but that he wants nothing else.

"Wouldn't you like that?" she asks, pinching him, sharp pinches of small folds of flesh. She starts to run her fingernails along the skin.

She moves her body in front of him, not taking her hands off of him. As she sucks him off, she grabs the skin harder, digs her nails in deeper.

He can't tell where the pain stops and the pleasure begins. This is perfection, he thinks.

He is nearly glowing when he comes back the following week.

"Every time I sat down, it burned just a little bit. I couldn't stop thinking of you." She waits. "I want you do that again." She smiles.

"Take off your clothes and bend over." He stops suddenly, as if someone else has been speaking for him and he doesn't really want to do this.

"Don't worry, honey. I won't hurt you any more than you want me to. Once it starts to hurt too much, just move forward a little. You don't even have to tell me to stop. And there's no shame in stopping. I'll keep doing it until my arm falls off if you let me, so just stop when it stops feelin' good for you."

She has learned to imitate the accent of the outer planets, the less cultivated talk. It is how most of the girls talk, and it is so easy to lose herself in it. It sounds forthright and trustworthy; "salt of the earth" people call it, forgetting that to salt the earth is to poison it. No one wants to hear about Carthage.

He takes off his clothes. More slowly than usual. Folds them neatly and places them on the bed.

He stands facing the wall. Immediately he begins to regret this, because he cannot see her.

But then he feels the wood against his flesh, and he remembers how he will feel her for days. Even when he is with another woman. And he knows he should be punished, that he is wrong. And he tries to focus on the pain, but his cock keeps getting harder. He wants to fall to his knees and take his cock in his hand, allow himself release. But he doesn't deserve that. He clenches his jaw, willing himself to remain standing. The rest of his muscles are tense as well. He knows this will only make it hurt more, but he needs to remain standing.

Finally he can't take it anymore and he falls to his knees. It takes all the willpower he has left to keep his hands off his cock.

He is lying on his back before he has even realized he heard her command.

She is on her stomach, not having removed a stitch of clothing. Her tongue flicks out, just brushing the tip of his cock. Oh, this is exquisite pain, he thinks.

He finds reserves of self-control he didn't even know he had, or perhaps it is just exhaustion keeping him from thrusting deep into her mouth.

He tries to lift his head, to see her face, but of course she is still wearing the mask. He has never seen her without it. Trying to look at her from this angle is like trying to stare down a black hole. He gives up and lets his head rest, lets his whole body relax, except for that one part of him that cannot help but respond to her.

He is dizzy after he comes, but she insists that he leave immediately. He doesn't even have the energy left to put up his usual protests.

4. i will work for you seven years (after the cups, the marmalade, the tea)

"My girlfriend thinks I'm so wonderfully pure that I don't want to have sex. I tell her we should wait until we get married."

"So you are going to get married."

"I --"

She smiles. "It's okay. I don't expect you to marry me. I'm just a common whore after all."

"Oh no you're not."

"Don't flatter me. I know you want me because I'm just that. I don't mind. You wouldn't want me half as badly if I were a respectable Companion."

She picks up the bedsheet and drapes around herself in a mockery of fine robes.

She sits on his lap, leans in and kisses him, holds his wrists down against the bed, feels his hardness pressing against her.

"You wouldn't want a fine woman in fancy clothes, wrapping herself around you, whispering sweet nothings in your ear." She delivers these in fragmented phrases, between kisses, pulling away as he leans toward her, until they are almost falling off the bed, at which point she jumps up and throws off the sheet. "You've already got that, and yet you're coming to me."

He reaches out to her.

"Jacob worked seven years for the woman he loved, and then he got the wrong woman." He's not listening to her anymore, though.

She kneels down to take him in her mouth, but he stands up, not wanting this time with her to end.

"Why do you wear that mask?" he asks.

She tells him she was scarred as a child.

"That's why I have all these tattoos. I wanted to claim the rest of my flesh as my own."

There are no tattoos on her breasts. They stand out bright white against her skin. He is mad for her breasts.

"Why won't you let me touch you?" he asks plaintively.

She laughs and puts her robe back on. "Haven't I explained that to you sufficiently already? One might think you were slow in the head. There is little I have left to teach you. Come back in three weeks."

There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be time to murder and create.

But time is running out.

For fear that argument will cause her to cut him off completely, he keeps his mouth shut and dresses and leaves in silence.

5. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (yellow fog)

She considers leaving. This is what all her efforts have led up to. She was broken to be remade as a weapon, and she rebirthed herself as an instrument of her own, with a singular purpose. But can she really do this? Would she do better to just disappear, leaving him to the rest of his life, bruised but not broken? Should she just forgive and forget? Of course, she can't forget. Not now, not anything. The blue hands made sure of that. And truth has always been a primary value.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

He is startled when he walks in. There are manacles attached to each bedpost. And the sheets are a dark red, and appear to be a fine fabric. In all the times he has been here before, they have always been a worn and over-bleached white, cheap fabric.

"Take off your clothes. Lie down."

Her voice is almost clinical, and he is disconcerted. But he obeys.

She manacles his wrists and ankles. She takes off her robe, but not her mask, and lies down on top of him. He is already hard, and she rubs against him until he is glassy-eyed. Then she stops.

"You wanted to know my story."

She tells him about all the men she has serviced in this room, acting out parts on his body, but never actually bringing him to release. She tells him the stories dispassionately. She wends into his mind to find the best ways to please him, not letting herself fall into the memories she is vocalizing.

She doesn't tell him how she begged them to read to her (to remind her that nightingales and women in jars did not exist only in her mind), how she shuddered at their touch, how she desperately imagined that it was him every single time.

Penetration upon penetration, mimicked by a hand cupped around his cock. Fingers in all his orifices. Teeth on skin. Wet mouth kisses, tongue and teeth pressed hard in. Soft caresses and nails dug deep in.

He hates the men who used her, but his body cannot help but love what she is doing to him.

And after each story she says, "And I survived, because I was waiting for you."

"She named her children," she said, finishing the last story, the one she didn't tell him was about a doctor. "Named them after love, attachment, and praise. Named them after misery and hearing. Do you hear me, Simon?" She has never called him by name, and he startles, but at that moment she lets him enter into her.

He almost doesn't hear her whisper -- a word for each thrust -- as he orgasms. "You . . . deserve . . . the truth."

She gets off the bed and puts her robe back on. "Her name was River," she whispers, and she knows he hears. She would take off her mask and leave it on the floor as a dramatic gesture, but she does not want to arouse suspicion when she returns to her private quarters.

It is an ancient myth she has tattooed on her body. A brother sells his sister into slavery for a position under the king.

The End

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