Vixenscratch

Short stories and serials by Alexandra Herakai

The Gift of Rosiel: Wings of Ash and Acid Tongue

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Roxeen must have fallen asleep at some point, because he woke up feeling stiff and miserable on the cold floor, to say nothing of the pain in his injured hand. He could remember the events of the previous night all too clearly, and he could remember Raol and Cress leaving at some point during the night. Some time after that he had apparently gathered enough energy to pull his pants back on right and curl up in a corner.

His spine felt kinked enough to rival lamb’s fur, probably a combination of the position he’d slept in and the cold, drafty room he was in. But at least he seemed to be alone, which was endlessly better than having Raol there with him. The Gods only knew how long he would have that kind of peace.

Moving slowly as to avoid even further pain in his hand, the blond rose and walked clockwise around the room, fingers trailing along the wall, barely brushing against the drywall. He paused briefly by the door – it was locked, but he wouldn’t have expected anything else – and then continued. There was no light aside from the small bits visible through the crack around the door and here and there in the seams between sections of wall. No wonder the room was drafty.

Once more he wandered around the room, trying to work out the stiffness from how uncomfortably he’d slept, again pausing by the door, this time to feel around for a light switch. He knew there had been light the previous night, but he couldn’t find the switch, so he assumed it was outside.

They could at least have had the decency to return his jacket. He was freezing.

By the time someone turned the lock, he’d long since tired of pacing. Instead he sat in a corner, knees pulled up to his chest, trying in vain to stay warm. The floor seemed to sap all heat from him, however.

“Breakfast for you, Spot.” The thin, feminine voice could only belong to Pawn, though she sounded even more yielding than she had the previous night.

Suddenly, the room bathed in harsh light from the naked light bulb hanging from its cord in the ceiling. Roxeen couldn’t recall that it had seemed quite so bright the previous night, but then again his eyes had adjusted as well as they could to the near-complete darkness that had reigned in the room since he’d woken up. He kept his lower arm lifted to shield his eyes and instead watched Pawn’s feet as she walked over to him, noticing with a sting of guilt that two of her sickle-claws were missing. Far as he could remember, she’d not been disfigured like that the previous night. It might be that they would grow back, but it still bothered him.

She knelt in front of him, bringing into view the too-big men’s shirt that was draped across her shoulders, only the top button done up, and placed a stainless steel dog bowl on the floor, giving him an apologetic look.

“It’s okay, it wasn’t your decision,” he muttered, nudging the bowl aside with his foot. Apparently Raol was still at least a bit upset about the previous night, enough so to want to make a point.

The food wasn’t the fare that would be offered to a dog, though it might as well have been kibble far as Roxeen was concerned. The smells that wafted up from the bowl sooner turned his stomach than they tempted him. Fried eggs, bacon and toast. Greasy food. The kind of food that had had a tendency to make him sick since high school.

“Master said he wanted me to have a look at your hand. Could I see it, please?”

He rolled his eyes and held out his right hand to her. At least she didn’t come off as trying to deliberately win his trust in order to turn on him, the way Raol did. A tube of salve came out of one of her shirt pockets, a roll of gauze from another. In another, less pressured, situation, he might have been more impressed by the way she so effortlessly managed to use her hands despite the two enlongated fingers and the wing membrane that stretched between them and from what on a human would be the little finger to her sides.

Pawn gently rubbed the salve into his injured hand, sending pain shooting up his arm even with that light touch. She saw him grit his teeth against the pain and paused, ran the back of her hand over his cheek.

“I!m sorry, it has to be done.”

Once the actual punctures were covered with salve, she bandaged it, just as gently as she’d handled the wounds. It didn’t really make anything feel better, but Roxeen could appreciate that it would serve to keep any more dirt out of the wounds and possibly help them heal at least a bit faster. That didn’t mean he was going to thank her, though, after all far as he knew she had been just as involved as Raol and Cress in abducting him. And she wouldn’t let him out.

“I need to go home.”

“You!ll get over it,” she soothed, completely missing the point. “Cress had a hard time adjusting at first, too, and you have at least learned from Master once.”

“That’s not…”

“You!ll see. It!ll pass in no time. I need to go now.”

He watched her leave, cast another glance to the bowl of food on the floor in front of him, and curled up again best as he could, pressing further into the corner and closing his eyes. There wasn’t much to look at in the bare room, so he might as well try to get some more rest, if he could stop thinking about how cold he was for long enough to fall asleep.

He didn’t quite manage to get that far, but he was at least dozing when, quite some time later, the door opened again. He remained leaned against the wall, eyes closed, senses coming to attention even as his body stayed immobile. Raol could probably tell the difference, so there might not have been much point, but there was little harm in trying.

The raev’s footfalls were light enough that it was difficult to tell exactly how far they were. But they were getting closer.

And then the fox hit the back of his head, open-handed, but hard enough to jostle him. He scrambled in an attempt to get his feet under him before he was even sure whether he just wanted to try to get away or to give as good as he was getting, but thought better of it when Raol’s eyes met his. There was something there that he didn’t like one bit, and he wasn’t even sure what he’d done to deserve the fox’s ire.

“Is the food in my house not good enough for a mutt, now?” This time Raol’s hand hit his cheek. “I could give you table scraps, but I am kind; my pets should eat no worse than I do. Do you think you’re better than your Master, now?”

“Yes, I am,” Roxeen quipped before he had time to think about it, then immediately regretted it. The expression on the fox’s face was enough to tell him that getting smart with Raol would be a bad idea. Had been an incredibly bad idea.

A hand grasped his hair and he was half-pulled, half-thrown out of the corner to fall flat on the floor. His hand was caught under him and he cried out in pain when his weight came to rest on it. A paw pressed down between his shoulder blades, and jaws gripped the back of his neck. Even thus muffled, there was no mistaking the anger in Raol’s voice. “You need to know your place, Spot. You are fallible, imperfect, and you need me to guide you.”

Tears were forcing their way out between the blond’s tightly shut eyelids in response to the sharp pain that was continuously shooting up through his arm until his shoulder and most of that side of his back as well as the base of his skull seemed to be full of something very sharp, very malicious. He couldn’t breathe; he gasped much like a fish on dry land.

“Tell me you’re sorry,” the fox growled, his teeth pressing in a bit harder, then a bit harder still. A trickle of something started running down the skin of the human man’s neck; he hoped it was saliva and not blood. “You’ve been a very bad puppy, Spot, and you need to show me that you regret it.”

He sucked in air, tried to speak, but the moment he opened his mouth again most of the air in his lungs escaped in a tortured gasp. Trying a few more times yielded no further result, and Raol had him caught in a way that made the idea of attempting a struggle seem preposterous. Overwhelmed by his own helplessness, he went limp, ignoring the way the fox’s teeth scraped across his skin or the way his forehead rested against the cold, dirty concrete floor.

“Can’t talk, puppy?” Raol’s voice was sweeter, now, but not in the faux-pleasant manipulative way Roxeen knew from their prior encounter. This time the raev was openly mocking him, even though he had to know why the human man couldn’t manage to speak. “You want me to let go, don’t you?”

He choked out a desperate sound, but didn’t try to move. This was a side of Raol he’d never seen, though in all fairness Artemis had warned him that crossing the raev would eventually drive him to outright cruelty. The time he spent there on the floor, sharp teeth grinding against his neck, felt like an eternity.

Eventually, Raol did move, and Roxeen could have sworn he lifted a few inches off the ground once the fox’s weight was no longer pressing down on him. Dazed, he dared to very slowly work himself back up to a sitting position.

The raev sat back on his haunches, head cocked, looking at the blond. Beyond the posture, there was nothing innocent about the way he studied his captive, though, and there was something hard in his eyes that still wasn’t going away. And he sat there, staring and obviously waiting for Roxeen to make the first move.

“What do you want?”

“I’m waiting, Spot.” One of the black raev’s paws nudged the stainless steel bowl closer. “Finish your breakfast. You’ll need it.”

The blond shook his head and bit his lip. He wasn’t quite sure how to handle this situation – the food was about as appealing to him as toxic waste, but Raol’s temper was obviously under a lot of strain. If he’d known he’d be able to stomach it, he might have choked it down just to make sure he didn’t further upset the fox, but he had a strong suspicion his stomach wouldn’t approve of something as rich as a full fried breakfast. The question was whether Raol would be more upset with him for refusing to eat or for losing the food after.

“Spot. I told you to eat. Do you need another reminder of who calls the shots here?”

There was the slim, slim chance that honesty would save him. Trying certainly couldn’t get him into much more trouble. “I can’t.”

“Nonsense!” A hint of a growl; he was treading a very thin line, here.

“I’m sorry, but I really can’t.” Roxeen cowered under the fox’s gaze, expecting his captor to snap at any moment. “Greasy food like that, I wouldn’t be able to keep it down.”

“Don’t lie to me, Spot. I’ve seen you eat it before.”

“That was six fucking years ago. It’ll make me sick.”

“You will eat it one way or another.” Raol took a step towards him, nudged the bowl closer. “If you don’t do it voluntarily, I will have to make you. Which way do you wan’t it?”

“Please, don’t…”

“Spot. Will you eat?”

He sat there, trembling, his lips pressed tightly together. He knew it wouldn’t make the situation any better, but voluntarily doing something that would trigger the lingering traces of the eating disorder that had plagued him throughout his high school years was a heavy task at best. It was too close, dangerously close, to falling back into old unhealthy habits.

The raev took another step towards him, nudging the bowl along, lips pulled back to show a set of sharp white teeth. He didn’t need to speak; the message was clear enough without adding words to it.

Roxeen’s hand shook as he reached out and gingerly picked the slice of toast from the bowl. It had absorbed enough cooking grease to make his fingertips feel slick, and he swallowed hard in an attempt to force back the distaste he felt. When he started to nibble on one corner of the bread, Raol smiled and stretched out on the floor next to him, lazily watching him eat.

The raev had won this round, and his presence only served to help remind the blond of that.

Next was the egg, which Roxeen suspected would have been difficult to eat with both hands, and now he had to use his off hand. Trying desperately to ignore the way he was growing increasingly nauseous, he choked it down in tiny, barely-chewed bites, the loose yolk making a mess of his hand when he bit into it.

He never finished the bacon.

Somehow he managed to force down one slice, but halfway through the next he could no longer force back his nausea. For the first time in his life, his stomach’s rebellion frightened him, in no small part because of the sour-smelling mess which he’d not managed to keep out of his captor’s perfectly-groomed fur.

It seemed to take an eternity before his stomach unknotted and he stopped heaving. When he did, he sank back against the wall, shaking. Part of it in fear, part of it because he was still cold, and part of it because of the strain of so violently getting rid of not only his breakfast but also the mostly-digested remains of his dinner the night before.

Next to him, Raol shifted into bipedal shape, and he tensed up, expecting a blow.

Instead, one of the raev’s hands gently stroked his cheek, brushing hair out of his face. Raol’s voice was soft and soothing, and while Roxeen was still quite certain it was all an act, he couldn’t help but be comforted that at least his captor wasn’t angry. “Poor, poor Spot. You really must be feeling awful. I’m sorry I pushed you so hard, I would never have guessed you’d react so badly to the food. I thought you would like it; you seemed to do so well enough when I last saw you.”

Roxeen was too shaken to point out that he’d just told the fox so, but that was probably for the best.

“It’s such a shame, precious,” the fox purred, turning Roxeen’s head to face him. “That someone so beautiful has such a temper. But foul as your mouth may be, you’re handsome when you’re angry. Like an angel out for vengeance. Though what an angel… Someone needs to control you before you end up hurting yourself.

“To the angels, Spot, you are a swan, wings soiled with thick, black oil. There is such beauty there, underneath the filth of the world, but first a cleansing is in order. I’m offering you that; I’m doing you a favor. I will perfect you, my poor twisted angel.

“I think a new name is in order for you. No longer are you the inexperienced puppy that came to me for guidance. I see here an angel, battered, soiled and bruised from walking in this dirty, imperfect world, cursed with an acid tongue, and it reminds me…

“There was a sharp-tongued angel with wings of ash, wasn’t there, who fell from God’s graces not for lust but for presenting humankind with comprehension of dishonesty? I think his name would suit you well.”

“Rosiel,” Roxeen whispered, almost automatically. He wasn’t terribly religious, but he remembered a few of the stories, and the tale of Rosiel’s gift to humankind was one of the more memorable ones.

“That should appeal to you. See it as a gift, proof of my good intentions.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the name my father gave me.” He said it under his breath, a half-hearted protest at most. Not because it wasn’t heartfelt, but because he had for the time being lost the inclination to fight back when he knew only pain would come of it.

“It’s not for you.” Raol rose and offered his hand to the blond human, somehow managing to look respectable even with the contents of his captive’s stomach clinging to his fur. “Come now, Rosiel. Let’s get you cleaned up. Cress can clean in here.”

Roxeen let himself be helped to his feet, mostly because he feared that if he didn’t take this chance, he wouldn’t get to clean up. It wasn’t until he stood, swaying slightly, that he noticed his captor’s reptilian charges standing by the door. The draconian was glowering at him, while the wyvern’s face, to the extent she was showing any expression at all, only seemed to hold pity.

“Cress, please clean up that mess. Pawn, come with me.”



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