Marcelina woke up absolutely exhausted. Again. Ever since that awful night, Arturo had kept the scales escalated and in his favor. Every night Marcelina was put to that feverish sleep. Every night she dealt with his perverse touches, his breath on her, his promise of ruining her coming ever closer with each grind, each forced inner burn. Emilio offered help, but from a distance. He struggled just to touch her, after seeing a new hickey, a new finger-shaped set of bruises way too far up her inner thighs. He would only kiss her forehead and rub her back as she cried herself to an uneasy sleep. Every night. For two weeks.
And here was another deceivingly beautiful dawn peeking over the horizon. It bathed the room in a mix of gold and pink and purple. Her eyes were dry and puffy. She tried in vain not to relive last night, but it was too hard to forget. He had almost lost himself, his hands rubbed just outside of her core, and when it was said and done, the tips of his fingers were soaked. He had her taste herself then, before kissing it out of her mouth. She woke up choking. Marcelina's lips were still sticky from that.
Marcelina rubbed at her eyes, trying not to wince at the dull ache it brought. The movement roused Emilio, who looked just as ragged as she. His eyes were distant and pained, unsure what to do first: mourn the loss and defeat of his mate, or dive into his unbridled rage. They stared at each other, equally unsure, equally starved for connection. Softly, slowly, a cool breeze filled the room. It was a familiar cool to Marcelina. A small sense of content warmed her, almost unknown. "Come with me, Emilio," she whispered, carefully extracting herself off the floor. The cooler air made her shiver, rubbing her arms. Her hair hadn't been braided for a long time, to cover all the marks, so it stuck out as errant curls and fluff.
Emilio followed robotically, his eyes trained on the new and old marks that peeked out from under her hair. It made him want to collapse and cry into the floor. Those teasing blemishes only reminded him of Arturo's victories that he was helpless to prevent. Sucking in a sob, he trailed after Marcelina all the way to the kitchens. Their bare feet were silent as they padded on the floor, in step with each other. In the kitchen, the air was coolest, mist clouds forming with every exhale, every hair tickling with the almost...sentient air current.
The emptiness of the room unnerved him; he tapped her shoulder, "Marcelina--"Shh, Emilio, give it a minute." Emilio frowned at being cut off, his hand tightening just a fraction on her shoulder. Marcelina's words held true, however. The ship sprite returned, slowly rising up from the floor. He smiled brightly at them once he was fully present. "Marcelina, this man is your mate?" He asked, looking Emilio up and down. Emilio immediately flinched, giving Marcelina a wary look. "He knows your name?" She gave his arm a pat. "It's fine: he's a ship sprite, no reaction. Besides, I'm mated to you, extra bonds aren't going to arrive spontaneously anymore," she explained.
Ammon looked them over and his smile softened to a neutral state. "Arturo has been especially adamant in his methods, but he is growing impatient," he stated, his mood dipping into solemn. "Sometime today, I believe, he is going to take his final strike, and then, he will ruin you," he finished, the mist of his breath frosting the ends of their eyelashes. The news jarred the couple to the core, Marcelina felt her chest clench painfully. As she took a staggering step back, Emilio took one forward. He had reached the breaking point.
"The bastard already stole enough from us and all we can do is watch and suffer! If you're so powerful, why haven't you stopped this, why haven't you helped?!" Emilio squared up to Ammon despite being significantly shorter than him, teeth bared. Marcelina quickly intervened, tugging him back. "Don't disrespect a ship sprite, Emilio. You'll make an enemy of them and then there will truly be no hope." She successfully pulled Emilio back as Ammon rose an eyebrow at him. An icy bite, more dangerous than alluring, crept up the walls, frosting the windows and blueing Ammon's skin. "It would be wise to listen to your mate, little halfling. I have been working with a power far greater than you, and I have no reason to 'prove myself' to you. You aren't the true victim here," he hissed.
Turning to Marcelina, the bite eased off, but remained heavy in the room, becoming a warning sign. "Today, you will be tested far beyond what has already happened. You must handle it accordingly, for it will decide your chance at freedom," he instructed. Then, to Emilio, he added, "Put more faith in her, she will need you at the darkest hour. You have lost your purpose as support, halfling. Rekindle it or you will have none to blame for losing your mate than yourself."
Dawn gave way to true morning, making the room a rosy pink and flaming orange. Ammon gave them another smile before fading into the ship, his instructions given. Marcelina began to shake, her calm facade melting away. Looking at Emilio with her eyes wide, she shakily asked, "Do...do you not trust me anymore? Do you not want me anymore? Did..." she paused, taking an unsteady breath, "do you think I've given into Arturo? That I don't fight him anymore?" Her voice was so quiet it was like a whisper. Emilio met her eyes, those lovely greens, filled with tears. He looked at her, bathed in sunlight and still so beautiful, so precious in her size but immense in her strength, and instead of amazement, he felt bitter.
"I...I don't know. I've had to watch you make the same noises, shake the same way, call the same name for two weeks. I've had to see the glaze of every finish in your eyes, hear the lull in your voice that I've dreamt of giving you. All I can do is hold you and let you cry. I am useless to you! For two weeks, I have been useless, forced to watch you defiled and forced to see Arturo's smug face every day! Knowing that he's touched you, given you these things, what am I to think?" He launched into a rant, his check on his emotions undone.
"Every night I see you finish at the hands of the man I hate, and every night I see your kiss-swollen lips, and every damned night I hear you call 'Arturo'! Every night you cry with guilt and shame, and I can do nothing! What am I to think? What, Marcelina?" he asked in a shout, furiously blinking back tears. Marcelina choked on her breath, shaking her head and pointing a quaking finger at him.
"Idiot! Blind, deaf idiot! You didn't need to think! I needed your love! I needed you to tell me it's ok, that we're ok! Every night I wake up confused, terrified, and violated, and all you have done is be numb! I've had to deal with him alone, in the dark for two weeks! Idiot!" She walked Emilio into the wall and grabbed his hands, placing them above his head in a vice grip. Even though she had to raise herself to her toes to do so, she was imposing and intimidating. Her teeth were bared and their faces so close their noses brushed.
"He had me like this every night. Suffocated on my own air, manipulated like a plaything for his pleasure. I've been lucky that he's only rutted on me all this time. Do you understand, idiot? Lucky! All this time, I've been crying out for you, terrified, all control taken from me. I begged that man, every time, to make.the.madness.stop. And he only keeps going, he wants me to break and you've been helping him!"
Emilio felt his anger rise in an abrupt rush, tugging at his hands, but Marcelina growled deep in her throat and held him tighter. He squirmed, but when her other hand came to press dangerously on the throbbing vein of his jugular, an icy hot realization came to him. "You've been helping him, Emilio. When I wake up, and you don't speak to me, it feels like rejection. I feel guilty because he was once again able to steal this from us, that he controls me so well, that I have to suffer alone. How do you feel right now, Emilio? Do you feel like you can win like this? Do you feel loved and protected?"
When Emilio didn't answer, she sobbed. "For two weeks, I've felt like this. I've felt like a terrible mate, that when this is over--if it ever ends--that you would rather kill us both by breaking away then have me. Even though none of this is truly my fault, you've made it feel this way. You and Arturo both," she whispered now, then went slack against him. Emilio grabbed her close, rubbing her back and staring at the ceiling. "I'm terrified of losing you, Emilio. That you don't know if you want me anymore, that terrifies me. I only want you, Emilio. Don't you believe me? I can't--I won't--do this alone. Not anymore, Emilio. Please." Marcelina broke down, hiccuping and clinging to him like it was her last time to hold him.
Emilio let out a shuddering sigh, feeling so stupid, so awful, to have done this to her. She had been absolutely right. "You aren't a bad mate, Marcelina. I am. Of course I want you, I'll always want you. I let myself lose faith, see only my hurt and not yours. I got so caught up in my assumptions and my emotions that I lost sight of what mattered most. You." He kissed the crown of her head, muttering apologies into the soft locks. "It's ok to feel this way, but Emilio, you can't stop talking to me. We're stronger together, we're stronger when we understand each other. Neither of us can do this alone anymore. You can't do that to me or yourself." Marcelina couldn't help but to forgive him, heaving a long sigh. A part of her relaxed, but not enough.
"Look at me, my love," Emilio cooed, using his gentlest voice. When she tipped her head up, he leaned down to press a kiss to the corner of her lips. "We'll get through this together. I promise, you won't lose me. I'd rather die than lose us. I want you more than life itself," he whispered into her ear, his hands squeezing her gently. Marcelina was silent for a moment or two. "I believe you, Emilio, but I'm tired of words. I want you to love me, like you did in our cave. I want to feel wanted."
They locked eyes and Emilio didn't hesitate. He lifted her off her feet, crashing their lips together as if he'd never kissed her before. She kissed him for all she was worth then, her arms wrapped around his neck and pulling closer, closer still. He sighed out in deep relief, like sleeping in a lavish bed after a hard working day. Marcelina was awash in warmth, glad to have something she wanted, glad to have the right man in her arms, holding her, loving on her. This kiss rekindled them.
After many, many minutes, they pulled away, flushed and clinging to each other almost seamlessly. "I believe in you, Marcelina. I believe in us. Soon, I will show you what true intimacy is like. Soon, we will consummate what we've already known: that nothing, that nobody is more destined to be together than us," Emilio vowed to her with intense passion and sincerity in his eyes. It thrilled Marcelina on a new level, making her blush. It was almost forgotten, this pleasant fluster.
"I look forward to it. I love you." She smiled as Emilio slowly put her back on her feet, giving his forearms a loving caress. He smiled back, tucking an errant curl behind her ear. "I love you, too. Always."