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Before she even opens her eyes, Casey is acutely aware of her surroundings. The soft whimpering of her school mates doesn't echo. It doesn't drift or bounce. The sounds are isolated and almost nauseatingly crisp. She's not in the car anymore. The walls must be thick. It's cold but her skin feels warm. Moist, as if misted by hot breath. The room must be unfinished. A stone floor, incapable of regulating temperature. Her fingers pluck absently at the scratchy sheet beneath her. It feels cheap, like something an airline gives out during redeye flights. One use. Her stomach lurches. Sweat pulls her clothing impossibly close. It's like her thermal shirt is melding with her skin. She feels cold and dirty. Her head bobbles as she strains to lift it from the cot. Casey's eyes don't focus right away, but they don't need to. Claire and Marcia cling to one another for comfort, barely registering her existence until she lets out a strangled gasp. Her first clean breath since...

Her hand is on the door, fingers inching towards salvation. He doesn't seem to see her. How does he not see her? His outfit is clean. Impeccable. He's precise. Muscles shift beneath a dark shirt like a second layer of skin. The clothing strains briefly against him. Tailored. Perfect. This isn't a random act of violence. This was planned. She was never supposed to be here. Her fingers wrap around the plastic door handle and slowly, carefully...

"What the hell is going on? What are we doing here?" Claire's voice trembles. Casey's eyes slink painfully around the room. Small. Plain walls. Brick. A single door. Two cots... three girls.

She was never supposed to be here.

Casey's lip trembles but something inside refuses to break. She can't show weakness, not now. She takes a deep, calming breath. Tears won't help. They never do. She allows that sick, fearful feeling to wash over her. Her guts feel tight. Her jaw aches from clenching. She's still so tired.

"He's out there..." Marcia breathes, sinking into Claire as if pressing herself against a wall. Claire stills her with a frantic sort of confidence.

Footsteps.

The door swings open and their eyes meet for a brief and terrifying moment.

Casey doesn't look away.

Chapter Text

Dennis smoothed his hands carefully over his thighs, tracing the beautiful seams that ran along the top length of the fabric. Of all of Kevin's alters, he was the only one who ever bothered to iron their slacks. He liked how it gave the otherwise shapeless fabric a clear, distinct line. It was clean, intentional and orderly. Dennis liked order. He did not like standing beside the filthy off-white columns at the entrance of the King of Prussia mall. Hundreds of thousands of visitors with their sticky, dirty, inexplicably oily hands had left fingerprints along every inch of it's eggshell surface. Freckles of filth, some elongated as if left by a casually trailing hand, others oblong and printed perfectly onto the paint's surface, taunted him in chaotic forms. They swirled like flocks of diseased birds. A pestilence on humanity. How revolting. Dennis couldn't understand how a person's hands could get so dirty. He could practically smell those little bits of dead skin and dirt from where they clung. The hot, soupy scent of unwashed flesh crept into his nose and down onto the back of his tongue. He would spit if it weren't such a nasty habit. His fingers came to rest on the bulge in his back pocket. A safety mask, intended for filtering small debris, pressed into his palm reassuringly.

'Not yet.'  Miss Patricia's stern voice slipped out of the darkness, pulling Dennis into the present. One long, cleansing breath and he finally found the strength to swallow. Dennis' hand returned to his side in an almost robotic manner. Attentions turned from his irrational aversion to filth and back to his assignment. He had slipped into obsession to hide how truly uncomfortable he was with the task at hand. That wouldn't do. He needed to be aware. He needed to be strong. But...

"Are you sure this is the only way?" This wasn't the first time Dennis had been uncertain about the plan. Patricia soothed him with a gentle hush hush.

"Please, Dennis. You know as well as I do that we have no other choice. Kevin has already endured so much. Isn't it your responsibility to protect him?"  Dennis' frown deepened, a severe line breaking his skull into two hemispheres. His hands balled into fists. Dennis was Kevin's bodyguard. He had always viewed himself as a man who did necessary things for necessary reasons. His compulsions were strange but never violent. He had done unsavory things before but he'd never hurt anyone. He was a shield who accepted things with a stubborn and impregnable stillness.

"I've always done my best. But this..." Again, Patricia soothed away his rationality and he quieted, much like a small child would before his disapproving mother.

"You must have faith in me, Dennis. You must have faith in all things. We have discussed this at length already, have we not? Retribution is so close we can practically reach out and touch it. Why the sudden apprehension?"  Dennis pursed his lips, letting a long breath slip from his nostrils. She was right. In fact, she had spent the better part of two years subtly reasoning her way into his head. At first, her ideas seemed strange and fanatical. But their sessions with Doctor Fletcher had softened him to the possibility of their true potential. His very existence suggested there was more to life than shielding the others from the inevitable. He didn't have to take things on the chin. Kevin was weak. He would always be a target. He would always suffer. Kevin didn't realize it but he had the power to change. To become something extraordinary. The others didn't understand, either. They didn't want anything more for Kevin. They just wanted to exist beside him and support him when he called for it. But Patricia said they could will a stronger, more powerful creature into existence. She claimed it was already underway. That with diligence and loyalty and prayer, they could bring forth the prodigal son. All they had to do was believe enough and Kevin would never have to worry again... and Dennis wouldn't have to live in the darkness anymore. But Dennis had never seen The Beast. What if she was wrong?

"What if we get caught?" His voice was soft and Patricia wasn't sure if he was begging his way out of this or begging to be convinced. Patricia sighed but the annoyance never left the tip of her tongue. Patience and grace were her ultimate weapons. One of the things that made them such likely allies. Despite everything, Dennis and Patricia were very similar. They existed for similar reasons.

"We have taken all of the proper precautions. Just do everything as I've said. We are acting righteously, in His command, and so we shall succeed. It is written and so it shall be."  Her voice was steadfast and reassuring. Dennis' eyes clenched shut as he mulled over her words. He couldn't tell if he believed them anymore. He just wanted to stay in the light.

"What if someone see's us? A mall security guard. A passing police car. Even if we get away, they could run our plates. Track Kevin down. What if we put him in Jail?" It was at that moment the sedan he had been stalking chirped, signalling the approach of it's owner and passengers. Giggles erupted from his right but the intended were still out of view. The girls. Sacred food. He pressed himself against the protective shade of a nearby column, fighting the urge to hyperventilate. It was now or never.

"The time for doubt has passed."  Patricia sighed gently, the tone of her voice stroking Dennis' furrowed brow. "Such a thing won't matter once He has risen."

Dennis took a wavering breath and hardened his expression. After all was said and done, he would burn these clothes.

Chapter Text

Their eyes linger on one another for a split second - or perhaps it's an eternity. Thick glasses act as a wall between them. A two-way mirror at a police station. They're large and out of style. A security blanket, perhaps. Her thin fingers grip the edge of her over-sized flannel in subconscious solidarity. This man, their captor, is tall. His body strains against his tucked and ironed clothing in a way that only makes him appear larger. She can tell, despite the soft precision of his movements, that he's terribly strong. Casey curls into herself. It's a natural reaction, neither submissive nor aggressive. Neutral, even. She feels safer when she makes herself small. His expression softens and he finally pulls away from her gaze.

He lowers the wooden folding chair in his hand, setting it to a perfect angle. He removes a yellow rag from his pocket, folded into a pleasant little reactangle, and wipes a smattering of dust from the seat. That sense of fear and uncertainty that once held Casey still is transforming. Her heartbeat slows. She is naturally observant. A lifetime of watch and listen makes this surreal situation seem perfectly reasonable. Her reactions are calm and still. Though his attention has diverted, Casey's eyes never leave him as he settles into an uneasy position on the old wooden chair. The breath hitches in Casey's throat. It looks so small beneath him. His eyes linger over the girls, regarding the more confident of the three with a quiet intensity. Marcia shifts beneath his glance, grabs her mini skirt and attempts to pull it down over her shapely thigh. Casey winces. She recognizes the mistake and drops her eyes to the floor. Don't touch your body in front of him. Don't pull focus. He may have been taking in the whole picture before, admiring it. That's harmless. You're allowing him to look and that makes him feel in control. Now you're hiding from him. He's thinking about what's beneath that little piece of fabric. Having you on display like this isn't good enough anymore. He wants to see it.

"I choose you first."

He clears the space between them too fast and takes Marcia by the arm. Claire squeals, holding onto her friend with a predictably weak grasp. She doesn't want him to take her, but she also doesn't want to get hurt. Better Marcia than her. She'll put up a little fight to show she cares but what's done is done. Casey pulls into herself, jaw slack with shock. She's taking it in. She's trying to make sense of it all. If this is just about sex, why take all three of them? It can't be that simple. Marcia lunges for her, screaming, eyes bulging, spit flying from her trembling lips. Casey can't help her. She couldn't if she tried. Her brain searches for anything familiar. Anything that works. Casey latches on to Marcia's flailing form, pulls her close and whispers.

"Pee on yourself."

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There's shouting, crying, begging, silence... the man is screaming, practically sobbing. The sounds that escape him seem inhuman. Claire bangs on the door with both hands, begging Marcia to answer, but she doesn't. Through the cacophony, a second voice joins the man's. One final thud and the space outside the room has gone quiet. Claire stands there sobbing and knocking for what seems like hours before turning her back to the door and sliding into a heap on the floor. Casey knows she should comfort her, but she doesn't.

Now isn't the time to make friends.

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Claire has been knocking on the walls of their protective cell for hours. Her face is still swollen and red from crying. She still bursts into small sobbing fits but for the most part she remains diligent in her task. Claire is confident. She's a survivor. She knows she is. Casey lies on her cot, unswayed by Claire's many attempts at teamwork. She's tried many tactics ranging from gentle pleading to crying to threats of physical violence but Casey isn't stupid. She knows Claire is all talk. A real scholarship, trust-fund type who honestly believes the world is her oyster. A princess in a white belt. Casey buries her head in her hands and wonders if the man has killed Marcia. She doesn't bother about the why. Why does anyone do anything. 

"There's something here..." Claire whispers in a sharp tone.

Casey looks up, almost dizzy from how long she's been recumbent. Claire is standing on her cot, hands splayed across the half-painted ceiling, stocking clad tip-toes swaying. She's trembling with adrenaline as her fingers tear into the loose drywall. Her eyes scan Casey's face wildly for some sort of recognition. Don't you get it? It's a way out. Freedom. We can get help. We can find Marcia. We're not gonna die. Casey just shakes her head softly and sinks back into the safety of her thin sheets. Even if they could get out, they have no idea where they are and no understanding of the layout. Their safest option is to wait it out. There must be security footage from the mall. Someone must have seen something. He hasn't come back to take either one of them and Marcia only disappeared because she resisted. Running away would make him angry. They just need to stay here in silence and wait until he comes back. Staying in the room means staying alive. 

"Claire..." Casey whispers, desperate to convey something that she herself can't even understand. Then she hears the outside door swing open. Footsteps.

With one final panicked look, Claire lifts herself into the open ceiling shaft and disappears. When the man enters the room it only takes him a moment to understand what's happened. He's quick. He gives Casey a quick once over and something about her expression confirms that she has no intention of leaving her room. His brows quirk in confusion but he turns, slams the door and stalks noiselessly down the hallway. That familiar silence fills the room and Casey finally allows herself to cry.

Chapter Text

"You will not see your friends again. They will be kept separate." Dennis feels the words passing through his lips but they don't feel like his own. In fact, nothing that's happened in the past 24 hours feels like it's been happening directly to him. He's just a vessel. A big, strong body through which Miss Patricia's intentions and desires can come to pass. He removes the yellow handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his hands. He's been repeating this gesture several times an hour since he took the first girl.

He didn't want to touch her.

He had asked her to dance for him and the fear in her face became indignant rage as she screamed and battered him with all her might. Didn't she realize how weak she was? He had wrapped his strong arms around her, if only to stop her flailing. If she didn't stop screaming, Patricia would wake up. She would call him shameful. Make him feel dirty. He took a whiff of the girl's curly hair and his stomach tightened. Jasmine. His body involuntarily pressed her towards the door. Then she had to go and... he swallowed back the urge to vomit at the memory of her hot urine soaking his pant leg. He couldn't return her to the room after that. He couldn't let her taint the other girls with that filth. He shouldn't have struck her, but she was safe from him now in the storage closet on the other end of the complex. He shook the memory from his mind, face pulled into a controlled grimace, and finally let his eyes rest on the only girl who remained. He immediately wished he hadn't.

"Take off your shirt." He groaned painfully, disgusted by the state of her. Her flannel was an awful mess of drywall, dust and wet patches. Her face was ruddy and smudges of dirt and tear streaks marred her features. Her long, dark hair mussed outward and pieces clung to her lips and the patches of her skin where sweat gathered. She looked frightened. Of course she did, he was asking her to undress after what he'd just done to her friend. She must have thought him a disgusting pervert. Was she wrong? He scanned the room for something, anything to prevent him from having to touch the soiled shirt and was relieved to find a neatly folded paper bag on a nearby shelving unit. He opened it wide enough for her to fit her shirt inside and turned his face away.

"Your clothes got dirty from the dust." He added, a weak attempt to absolve himself. Her quivering stilled, somehow comforted by the gesture, and she carefully pulled the garment over her head, letting it pull against her face in a childlike manner. Dennis nodded his appreciation and felt his anxiety dissipate into a manageable simmer. He closed the bag and gave this "sacred food" a quick appraisal. Beneath the flannel was a long-sleeved white t-shirt. How curious. The other girls dressed much more provocatively. This girl dressed in layers. They weren't a very cohesive group at all. The rest of her clothes were free from any obvious dirt or dust but her face was a mess. She looked like she had spent all evening blubbering into what were surely filthy hands. His grip tightened, crinkling the bag ever so slightly. His gaze dropped to her pink, bowed lips. They quivered and he forced down another dry swallow.

"There's a restroom here. The shower is available for you to use at any time. Clean yourself. Please." She watched him with lose large, frightened eyes, lashes glossy with still unshed tears, but she didn't move or speak or revolt in any obvious way. Dennis felt awkward within her innocent gaze. Why didn't she shout or rush him like the others had done? Why didn't she run past him into the open hallway? She was either very smart or very dumb and her lack of conversation suggested the latter. Oh god, had he abducted a simpleton? That wasn't part of the plan. It was just supposed to be the two of them. She wasn't even supposed to be there. He turned to leave the room, head dizzy with shame.

"Thank you." The girl's voice was so soft and sweet that it actually startled him. Dennis blinked away the spiraling chain of thoughts and straightened himself as to appear even larger. Had she really just thanked him? The look of miserable acceptance on her face spoke volumes. Only a damaged creature would thank her captor. He peered at her from the corner of his eyes, still facing the doorway.

'Don't think of them as people, Dennis.' Miss Patricia's voice crept into the forefront of his mind. And she was right. They weren't girls. They were food.

"You're welcome." He replied dutifully, his unusual sense of right and wrong demanding he react with a polite and civil response. He smoothed out the awful wrinkles his large hands had crushed into the bag which contained her clothing. Soon she would strip off the rest and cleanse herself in the pristine white of his new ceramic tub. Layers of sweat and dirt and dust would cascade from her body in circular bands, swirling down and far away, leaving her fresh. She would use his soap, a plain and sterile brand that smelled equal parts floral and antiseptic. Clean. The thought of it calmed some parts of him... excited others. His fists clenched again, forcing those dirty thoughts down the drain.

"What are you going to do to us?" She asked plainly, voice vacant of emotion. Dennis swallowed, still unable to bring himself to face her. He would have to reassure her that he wouldn't give her any trouble. It was wrong of him to touch her friend the way he did. He was trying to be good. His shoulders dropped as he slowly turned to face her again.

"You serve a very important purpose. It was wrong of me to take your friend and scare you like I did." The girl's posture softened. She was at least somewhat reassured by this statement but he wasn't so sure how she would respond to the next one.

"You and your friends are sacred food. Not to be tampered with." He didn't allow the girl a chance to react. He swung the door open and stepped into the accompanying office, hesitating to close it just a crack.

"I promise not to bother you again." He breathed through clenched teeth. The girl gestured towards him with a shaking hand. She still didn't understand.

"Wait..." She whispered desperately.

Dennis closed the door behind him. He didn't want to talk about it anymore.

Chapter Text

Casey hadn't slept soundly since her father died, so the exhaustion of the past 48 hours didn't really register. She had spent so long alone in this room, patiently awaiting her fate, mind chasing countless possibilities. She still had no idea what this was. Yesterday, the man had called her sacred food. The word sacred suggested she wasn't to be harmed but 'food' was another suggestion entirely. What a fucking oxymoron. When she did begin to drift off, the slightest noise or shift in the air would drench her in a cold sweat and force her eyes open again. She had no choice but to be alert. It wasn't so different from home, not really. Was it sick that this room was so like her own? Sparsely decorated, underwhelming, cold. Anyone could live there. Anyone could live here. How was she any more a captive here than in her own home? She hadn't been touched since that man loaded her from his car and onto her scratchy cot. She hadn't hurt in days...

Somewhere down the hall, footsteps echoed. Casey's body tensed defensively, knees tucked into her chest, but still she was mindful enough to face the door. The footsteps fumbled briefly before settling into a... clumsy rhythm. Something wasn't right. This wasn't the big man's walk. His feet were heavy and precise, movements practiced and perfect. Her heart skipped a beat and nearly lodged itself in her throat to stopper the desire to shout - who is it? Help me! Her fists clenched anxiously against her shins, upper body leaning towards the door.

'I won't bother you again...'

Did the man have an accomplice? Of course. That was the reason he couldn't come near her. Someone had forbidden him. There was a chain of command here.

The outer door swung open so violently that it battered against something and shook several other somethings from their proper places. There was a cracking thud. Wood hitting wood. A wardrobe or a desk perhaps. Whoever it was out there, he hissed regrettably, as if the noise might wake someone. Was he really expecting her to sleep in this place, not knowing what or who might descend upon her in the night. Or was it daytime, now? The room didn't have any clocks. Her curiosity wasn't long to be sated. Whoever was behind that door was impatient. They cleared the span of the outside room in a few quick steps and slowly, carelessly jiggled a key into the lock. The door inched open with an agonizing creak and a pair of wide, curious eyes peered from behind it. Casey finally allowed herself to breathe.

"Hi..." The man whispered, voice quiet but excited. He peered from the safety of his wooden shield an smiled bashfully. Casey swallowed hard but couldn't find her voice. It was the same face, the same mouth, the same man... but at the same time, it wasn't him at all. Her mouth hung open slightly, testing the words before she spoke them but nothing seemed right. She licked her lips dumbly and replied weakly.

"Hi." Her heady voice had shriveled from lack of use. For a moment an odd and terrifying thought entered her brain. Did the man have a twin? Had they been taken by a pair of brothers? She pushed herself towards the wall that cradled her cot. She had moved the bed closer to the wall after the man's previous visit. She figured a few inches of space in her favor might help her somehow, someway. He had seemed like a very picky person. He would notice the difference. It might confuse and disorient him, even if just for a minute. Buy her time in one of a thousand scenarios to come.

"My name's Hedwig." The man lisped, still barely visible from behind the doorway. He had owlish eyes, impossibly big. Hedwig. Unusual name for an unusual man.

'A kidnapper' her brain reminded. But this person standing before her wasn't the same as the strong, lumbering, serious man who had taken her and her classmates only days before. His expression was soft, his voice gentle and innocent, his distance safe. If her instinct was correct, and this was in fact the other man's twin, he was very... simple. Maybe even mentally disabled. This situation was far more complicated than she had initially anticipated. Even now her understanding was shifting, her subconscious taking in every detail to repaint the image of what this really was. Sacred food. Twins. How many people were involved in this? He still hadn't moved, despite her vulnerability, so she did the only thing she'd ever done in a strange and precarious situation. She let out a little bit of a line... just to see what could happen.

"Hi, Hedwig. I'm Casey."

The man in the doorway smiled wide, revealing a mouth full of slightly offset teeth. His eyes crinkled. Sincere. She couldn't help but notice the way he lingered at her thermal's scoop neck and her hackles raised. His brother had taken one of them without warning. She could never trust a man around her in public, or private, and this situation was no different. He seemed delicate but this situation wasn't delicate in the least. Maybe it was just his turn. Her stomach lurched at the thought of his massive hands tearing into her clothing, his lips leaving wet marks on her face and neck, his weight on top of her. She was already preparing herself for his onslaught. She wouldn't fight him off, couldn't if she tried...

"He's on the move..." He whispered, voice practically shaking with excitement. This stranger's eyes never met hers but they were drinking in all of her features nonetheless. He seemed to feel safe by the door and had yet to abandon that spot but his face had become a bit more visible. She found this person easier to look at than his looming relation. His face was bare of details and distractions. There was nothing to hide behind and seemingly no desire to do so. She couldn't forget, despite the playful energy he was giving off, this was a mentally stable adult. He was the same as his brother... perhaps just easier to trick.

"Who?" She asked, trying to still the tremble in her voice. She had to remain calm if she wanted any chance of gathering information.

"Don't you know? Mr. Dennis told me that he got the girls for the plan and I wanted to see all of the girls but the other ones are locked up somewhere else and your room is the only one I that I know where the key is." His words were poorly spaced and tumbled out without much of a cadence. Casey had found herself leaning forward again just to better track what he was saying. She briefly allowed herself to feel a rush of relief. The other girls were locked up somewhere. Maybe they were safe. She fumbled internally for something to say, a way to play off of what was clearly a very open and easily attainable tome of information. But she couldn't press for too much too soon. He might get confused. He might get angry. She would have to be careful if she wanted answers.

"Mr. Dennis is on the move?" She asked flatly, trying desperately to sound interested without interrogating him. His brow fell, displeased, and Casey's eyes fell to the floor casually.

"No! Mr. Dennis is... he's like the big guy but he's not in charge. You know him. He went to get the special food and he said you weren't supposed to be there but he had to take you too because you saw us and you might tell someone and we could get in trouble... I have red socks." He seemed to go on and on without stringing much thought together, eyes often darting between her and his own hands in an absent-minded way. That last bit threw her off just a little. He was prattling away and only just inching into the room without any clear intention. She wasn't supposed to be there and she had gathered that already. Casey bit into her lip, cursing herself for being stupid enough to attend that fucking party. Those girls weren't her friends. She just didn't want to go home. That couldn't be helped now. She was here and she had to figure out what to do next. What was coming and how to handle it. What her chances were if she had any at all.

Dennis. That was the man who had taken them. Hedwig, his twin brother. That made sense. But now the second mention of food. Food for what? And did they really mean... sustenance?

"Hedwig... why does Mr. Dennis call us food?" She pried, finally letting her eyes focus on her strange company again. He was only a few feet from the bed now but his hands were tucked safetly into his pockets and he fidgeted endlessly with the legs of his pants. He chewed on her question for a moment before letting out a mocking giggle, eyeing her suspiciously.

"Pfff... duh... what are you, stupid?" Casey held her stance, trying to keep her expression blank and fearless. He sighed but it sounded more exasperated than annoyed.

"Mr. Dennis and Miss Patricia said that we need a special food to give to..." He stopped himself suddenly, an expression of pure shock and joy overtaking his features. "...oh, I'm not supposed to tell you that!" He scolded her with a wagging finger, clicking his tongue as if mirroring some authoritative figure. Casey's brows narrowed in thought. So he was simple but he still understood that this was all very serious business. He couldn't tell her the plan, or describe important details. But he had already spilled too much. Casey was formulating a narrative. So much didn't make sense... but it didn't have to.

"Why are you asking so many questions anyway?" Hedwig spat, the toe of his youthful sneaker scuffing at the floor. Not a single ripple of dirt clouded the air. The other man must have scrubbed this place clean before putting them down here.

"I just... wanted to know why I'm here. How much longer I'll have to stay down here." Casey looked dejected but maybe it would help her case. This guy was calm, almost cutesy. He didn't understand the severity of the plan nor did he seem to care about the implications of such a thing. Like he said, he just wanted to see the girls. Clearly his life was pretty fucked up. He was surrounded by fucked up people. Maybe he was just looking for a friend. A glimmer of understanding forced Casey to speak before she could even fully understand what she was attempting to do. She was so tired. And hungry. And she had to get out of here.

"Oh, you won't be down here much longer... he's done awful things to people... and he'll do awful things to you, too." The way his tone trilled to match his beaming face was almost too much. All at once a blazing rage and fear swept over Casey's skin. It was like the burst of heat after opening a searing oven. If Dennis wasn't going to hurt her, then who. Who was the man in charge. She had to get this guy on her side if she wanted out. She wasn't even supposed to be here. Maybe she could convince him to let her go.

"Could you help me, Hedwig?" She rasped, voice soft and pleading. Hedwig's eyes suddenly went even wider, a feat that Casey wouldn't have thought possible.

"No, I'm not even supposed to be here. I stole the light from Mr. Dennis but he'll be back real soon. I can't steal the light for too long or he'll know and get angry." Already he was backing away from her, making his way to the open door. That deliciously open door, a portal to freedom that he so willingly took for granted. Her brain fumbled for some way to keep him here, to draw him in, to keep that door open...

"Wait..."

"I'll see you later, etcetera!"

"Wait!" Casey finally allowed herself to shout. Desperate times called for desperate measures. He stopped with his hand on the door, turning over his shoulder to look at her a final time. Clearly he wanted to stay and talk but, it was like he said, Dennis would be back soon. And what was that part about the light? It didn't matter right now. She had to think fast. She had to lie.

"I heard something. I didn't understand it before but now I do." Her voice was deadly serious and her face twisted to match. Casey was a good liar. It had saved her before and maybe now it could save her again. Hedwig perked up, turning to face her again with that goofy grin.

"What did you hear?" He whispered playfully, releasing the door from his loose grip.

"Come here. I'll whisper it to you." She gulped, already preparing herself for the possibility of violence.

"Okay..." Hedwig giggled again, looking away like a bashful schoolboy. He inched carefully towards Casey, lowering himself childishly onto his knees, hugging them in preparation for a big secret. Casey leaned forward, still on high guard, and breathed softly into his ear. His cheeks went red.

"This guy... is coming for you."

"You're a big fibber." Hedwig snapped, all joy leaving his features as his body tensed with anger. Or was it fear? Casey swallowed her apprehension.

"I never lie, Hedwig." If Casey had a dollar for every time she lied her way into detention or out of an explanation, she'd be living in a mansion in California, far away from the possibility of whatever the hell this was. Hedwig didn't need to know that. He was no better than his creepy brother, no matter how innocent he seemed.

" -But Mr. Dennis said, he followed those two girls for four days a-and he knew that they were the ones he would want!" He was shouting now, his brow was wet with sweat and his hands were wringing as he sat back to search Casey's face. Casey dug into that fear with all she had.

"Dennis and Patricia, they talk about it when you're not around. They say he wants a boy this time." She had no idea who Patricia was. For all she knew it was his sister. Maybe even his mother. But she had gathered from their short time together that Patricia and Dennis were in charge. And this man who wanted them for food, whoever he was, must have been the highest rung on the ladder. Their father, perhaps? A cannibalistic family? Ridiculous. Impossible.

"No, Miss Patricia said she isn't mad at me anymore. She sings to me sometimes." His eyes were growing wet now and his nose runny. He sniffed pathetically. She clung to his forearms in solidarity, pulling him closer.

"I think Miss Patricia is still a little mad at you." Casey soothed, her tone soft and understanding. She couldn't help but notice how his blue eyes trembled beneath the weight of his thick, tear-soaked lashes. His mouth pulled into a trembling line and he stilled in her hands.

"Miss Patricia thinks I'm... she thinks I'm stupid. She says I make silly mistakes." He whimpered, hands balled into tight fists. Casey imagined one of those large hands grabbing her face, throttling her by the throat, striking her. She was playing a dangerous game... but she could tell this guy wasn't so dangerous. Not really. He was scared, too.

"Look at me... I can be your friend. We can go watch TV and play games together... but we need to get out of here." She whispered, fingers tightening their grasp on his arms. She had to convince him that he was safer with her than with his own sick, twisted family. She had to get outside, kick him square in the dick, run for the police and bring them back here before it was too late. She couldn't have Claire and Marcia's deaths on her conscience, not when she knew she had a better chance than them at surviving this. There was no ego in that statement. She simply did.

"N-no, I gotta go, I gotta -" Hedwig trembled in her clutch, pulling away from her gently but still sobbing and blubbering against her shoulder despite his body's attempts to withdraw. For a moment she thought she had him. His mouth bobbled silently as his eyes searched desperately for the right choice. She needed him to believe her. She needed to get out... but then he stilled, his sobbing all but swallowed, his ruddy face going smooth white like the surface of a hag's stone. His brows fell serenely over his eyes, which were now bone dry. His massive hands seems gentle on her now as they withdrew, sleeve dabbing his leaking nose, expression bare. His energy had changed dramatically. He was calm but he was also... softer somehow. More graceful. Without a word he stood, brushing Casey's hands from him, and stepped backwards towards the door, head shaking from side to side as if terribly disappointed. When he spoke, it was with a foreign and feminine voice.

"You shouldn't lie to children." He began, deadly serious but not without some maternal disapproval. A British accent, stiff and proper, with all the flourish of an old school marm. Casey's mouth bobbed open in confusion. Was he fucking with her? Had it been that Dennis guy all along? Was he absolutely out of his mind? "Now sit here in silence and think about what you've done. It will take hours to soothe him - and I'd finally reassured him that I wasn't angry anymore."

That last part was more to himself than anyone else. With that the man turned on his heel, closed the door and clacked sensibly down the hall... the footsteps, again, were so different. Casey sat there in a daze for several long, silent minutes, mind racing. The urge to be sick threw her from the bed and into the pristine white bathroom. She gripped the toilet bowl and dry heaved, stomach empty but mind fit to bursting with understanding.

There was no twin. There was no Miss Patricia. There was no Hedwig.

There was only the man.

Chapter Text

"How could you leave him alone like that, and with so much at stake? You know how precocious Hedwig can be." Patricia had been hammering into Dennis for the better part of an hour and his temples were beginning to pulse. A migraine was imminent. Surely she could feel the veins around Kevin's brain clenching and writhing like an angry snake. If she did, she had no sympathy. Patricia's lecture persisted, ensuring a man who already felt lower than dirt would see bedrock before the evening had passed.

"I'm sorry, you know he can take the light at will. There's nothing I can do." Patricia tisked in her usual way, circling Dennis like a spitting cat. 

"The boy needs more discipline. Perhaps you do as well, Dennis. You're much too sloppy with all of this, much too selfish." She hissed, pressing Dennis' face just a little deeper into the dirt with each graceful syllable. He was sloppy. He'd been stalking those girls for days, learning their favorite places, their movements, determining their suitability, eyeing their youthful sins... just to risk it all by capturing them alongside an unexpected guest. What if she had screamed or ran? What if she'd been carrying a knife? Pepper spray? Did he even realize until this moment how lucky he was that she just let him take her? Dennis winced. Why hadn't she done anything?

"I know. I'll do better, I promise." Dennis didn't make promises lightly. He was, after all, every righteous, rigid and purposeful part of Kevin, and he always did good by his word. Dennis didn't lie. Well, Dennis impersonating Barry lied... if anything, Dennis' lies were just acting. At least that's what Patricia had convinced him. It was for the greater good. If anyone found out Kevin was so far gone and Barry was under the blanket the whole plan could go up in flames.

"I will keep the child in line, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten about your transgressions." Patricia continued, finally breaking away from her stalking circle to hold Dennis fast by the shoulders. Her hands were always cold - just like Kevin's mothers. Dennis swallowed, both comforted and horrified by her memory. Patricia was a lot like Mrs. Crumb. She was, by all accounts, the mother Dennis had craved and imagined when he had stepped into the light for a much younger Kevin. Where Kevin's mother made him feel hurt and scared and dirty, Patricia would comfort and soothe and cleanse. Time and time again she had proven herself trustworthy and right. She was a washing bowl for Dennis to rinse of his sins and now she was in alliance with the beast, who promised not only a cleansed inner world, but a cleansed outer world as well. A place where Dennis could really breathe. A clean place, free of pain and wrong and shame. Patricia was the answer then and she always would be. She had become different with time... but time had changed them all, hadn't it? Well, all but Hedwig.

"I behaved like a pig. It won't happen again." Dennis dropped his eyes to his shoes, losing himself in their perfect shine. Patricia was not convinced.

"I can't believe I have to repeat myself. Listen closely this time, Dennis. Hedwig is not to interact with the sacred food, and you are to do so only when absolutely necessary. I swear, if I could handle this all from start to end, I would...." Dennis looked up at Patricia with his small, serious eyes, cool grey and hard as steel. He hated to see her this way. She had never been this anxious before. He missed the calm, godly woman who used to take his hand in times of trouble and soothe away his compulsions. He wanted Mother Patricia back. As if sensing his longing, Patricia finally ceased her pacing and blew a cooling sigh from her pointed nose. A placid smile overtook her face and she grasped one of Dennis' large hands in her petite ones.

"Forgive me, Dennis. Time is drawing near and he's so hungry." Dennis imagined the gangly beast, hair to his tailbone, fingers protruding like razors, eyes yellow with rage and salivating. Hungry for sacred food. Hungry for girl flesh. He swallowed hard. He had only seen the Beast once, and that was the first time he had ever been truly frightened. The Beast had the power to save them - and to destroy everything else. Dennis forced the guilt down, down into the pit of his stomach where all of their anger and sadness churned like a boiler. It was swallowed up by the hot flame of revenge but he could still taste it, sour on the back of his tongue.

"It's all so very tense, isn't it?" Patricia continued, patting his hand in a gentle rhythm. "It seems like only a few days ago since he appeared to me with his message of power and salvation. We've gone through so much, haven't we? Cast from the light, abandoned by the group and lifted from the ashes by a child of all things... all of this can't have been for nothing, Dennis." 

They shared a silence that seemed almost reverent, wordless but hefty with praise of Him. Dennis shook softly beneath her sharp touch, eyes screwing shut. Big, brown eyes like bowls of honey bore into his lonely soul. Why didn't she run? Why did she let him take her?

"Everything will go according to plan." 

"See that it does." With that, Patricia stood from her humble kneeling position and retreated towards the familiar darkness.

"And Dennis," She called suddenly, voice echoing against the far reaches of Kevin's head. "...feed them something. There's no use in allowing them to suffer before his arrival. Spoils the meat."

That Evening

Dennis stood over the sink, gloved hands carefully spreading equal amounts of peanut butter onto three equal sized pieces of white bread. His hands, though large, were gentle as to not leave finger-shaped dents on their surfaces. He tried to busy his mind with the task at hand but all thoughts kept circling back to the third girl. The unexpected thing. She was not a part of the plan and, as a result, there was no real place for her. No purpose. Sure, they could feed her to the Beast, but Patricia had said herself the sacred number was two. Wouldn't three complicate things? He was surprised that Patricia seemed unbothered by the residence of a third. She was more concerned with being caught in the act than ruining the specialized ceremony she herself said was written down straight from the Beasts' mouth. He shook his head, silently reprimanding himself for his carelessness and pressed the knife down the center of the sandwich. Two perfect, uniform halves. His lip quirked - a shadow of a smile. 

The first two sandwiches were pushed unceremoniously through matching slots in either utility closet door. Marcia in the left cell, Claire in the right, separated by little more than a foot of dense concrete. He heard them gasp slightly and the sound of melamine plastic scraping across the polished linoleum. The girls would eat and sleep and live another day. They had no idea what terrible fate awaited them in just two short days' time. Dennis lowered his eyes to the remaining sandwich. The third meal. It didn't fit into their nice, neat little plans but he would carry it down the hall, through the computer room and hand it off to the strange girl in the renovated storage room. What fate awaited her, he wondered. How unlucky she was. Wrong place, wrong time. Put in the end, with the company she kept, how could she be anything but impure?

Dennis straightened himself, smoothing a hand over his perfectly razored head and knocked politely on the door. He waited three beats for the scurrying inside to stop before unlocking the door and stepping inside.

"I've brought you something to eat." He stated plainly, eyes never leaving the plate as he held it out awkwardly towards the cot. The girl sat there, as she always did, clutching herself protectively. His eyes scanned over her curled form to her clenched hands, her pale neck and finally, her blank face. Only a hint of fear lingered there, but her eyes were quirked into a... discerning line. She appeared to be studying him. He breathed deeply, avoiding her gaze. 

"Take it." She did, scurrying forward in an instant to gently take the plate from Dennis' waiting hand. She looked down at her meager meal curiously and he couldn't help but huff.

"It ain't poisoned if that's what you're afraid of. We can't have you stuck in here without food. You'll die." The girl's body language softened and she took a few steps back until her calves touched the base of the cot. Dennis nodded his approval and turned towards the door. It was difficult being so close to any woman with thoughts like his.

"Are you Dennis?" The giant stiffened and he instantly cursed Hedwig's excitable mouth. Who else would have told her his name? He cleared his throat, neither turning back to face her nor leaving.

"Or is it Hedwig?" He turned to face her now, a pained expression begging her to relent. He couldn't talk to her. It wasn't part of the plan.

"Just eat, please." Much to his surprise, the girl slowly lowered herself into a seated position on her cot - which was immaculately made, hospital corners and all - and took a cautious bite. She chewed briefly and swallowed dry, not allowing herself to taste the pathetic meal he'd brought her. Her willingness to comply relaxed him a little. He felt in charge. Capable. He appreciated her for that. Soon, his mouth was looking for any excuse to keep him near her. To build that feeling of confidence and control.

"He shouldn't have come here. This is very important work. He's too young to understand." He wasn't sure how much Hedwig had told her, but any moron could see that Hedwig was significantly younger than his corporeal form would lead them to believe. The girl, whose name he had not been divulged to him during or after Hedwig's brief but stern reprimanding, held the sandwich gingerly in both hands. She looked so soft. So... young.

"How old is Hedwig?" She breathed. The question was so quiet he was barely sure she'd spoken at all until her big brown eyes looked up cautiously at him. They never quite met his, he noticed. Always focused on his mouth or his nose. That frustrated him. In this moment, hovering above this small creature, he wanted her to see him. He felt his heart quicken in his neck.

"I can't talk to you." He sighed, defeated by the promise he'd made Patricia only moments before. This conversation wasn't necessary so it didn't need to happen. 

"Why not? I'm just food, right?" She tempted, eyes finally locking onto his own. Thick molasses and smoldering gold smelted into pearls. She understood her place - but her sarcasm didn't go unnoticed. That was oddly brave for someone in her position and he bit right back.

"Didn't your parents teach you it's rude to play with your food?" He toyed, placing his arms firmly over his chest. His words would have sounded playful coming from anyone else but something about his tone suggested malice. He had to play the part of the immovable captor. He was acting.

"My parents are dead." Dennis hadn't been expecting that. Impure ones weren't supposed to have complicated backstories. They were simple, perfect boxes with no missing parts, wrapped in crisp bows. His brows quirked and suddenly, the existence of a third didn't seem so inconsequential after all. 

'She's lying. Tugging at your heart strings. Leave her, Dennis, you've already said far too much.' Patricia's voice called from behind his eyes. 'She keeps company with the impure. She is nothing.'

"How long?" He tested. If he could keep her talking, he'd be able to tell if she was lying. And if she lied to him...

"My mom died of cancer when I was a baby." Her eyes seemed clear despite the heavy confession. Dennis recalled briefly how it felt when Kevin's mother died. How Kevin retreated from the light entirely. How he himself had to swallow that odd, guilty grief into the black, painful pit of his stomach. She was a monster... but she was also their mother.

"And your father?" He continued, still chewing on her admittance, testing it for any measure of deceit. His eyes never left hers. If they dared to look back up at him, he would search them.

"A heart attack. I was 5." Her eyes shimmered and their corners came alive with red and pink veins. His jaw clenched in some sort of deep, mutual recognition of loss. Kevin's father left on a train...

"Is anybody looking for you?" The girl finally looked up again. Her eyes quaked with moisture in the dim, yellow light, but she never allowed a single tear to fall. He could see in that moment the girl had already cried a lifetime of tears. What did she have to prove to him with a few more? His heart sunk in his chest and he tightened his grasp on his own biceps. There they stood in a long silence, holding themselves, somehow holding each other.

"No." Dennis' tongue passed over his teeth, lips never parting. He was starting to panic. She had no one. She hadn't done anything because, even if she did, it wouldn't have mattered. Nobody was waiting for her. She really, truly wasn't supposed to be there. The desire to say something, anything comforting overwhelmed him but he had never been the reassuring type. He knew he should, but he didn't understand the how or what of it. He wanted to apologize for taking her, rationalize their decision making, say it was for the best, make it all not so... but his mind went blank.

"Hedwig is nine."

Chapter Text

Dennis pressed his back against the cool, rough surface of the office door. Even with a room between them, he could still feel the heat of that girl's big, sad eyes. He'd divulged a carefully guarded secret to some girl whose name he didn't even know. And for what? Because he saw something in her that reminded him of himself? Aside from Doctor Fletcher, nobody knew Hedwig's age. Nobody else on the planet even knew they existed. Patricia was right. He was selfish. He clenched his fists and beat them both angrily against the door. Two doors behind him, the girl let out a small, surprised yelp. The desire to return to that room was suddenly as overwhelming as any compulsion. He ripped the yellow cloth from his back pocket and ran it roughly over his hands. His breathing was near hyperventilating. He had to get away from her. 

Hey Mr. Dennis, are you okay?

"Everything's fine, kid." He breathed through his nose, careful not to lose himself when Hedwig was present. He needed the boy to trust him. He needed to be big, strong, dependable Mr. Dennis. It was his only remaining qualifier to staying in the light. To stay in Patricia's good graces was one thing, but everyone knew who really had control of Kevin's little circus act. 

Did that girl make you nervous? Etcetera? She made me feel really scared and weird... do you think Miss Patricia will let me talk to her again?

"I don't know, kid. Maybe." Dennis could honestly care less about Patricia at the moment. He needed to get down the hall and into his kitchen, where his bleach and his neatly folded white rags awaited. The counter would be sanitized and wiped dry exactly 33 times. Only then could he breathe properly again.

Hey, do you think Casey has a boyfriend?  

"Who? Casey who?" Hedwig had a way of smacking his lips when he spoke that Dennis found absolutely revolting but he could never bring himself to chastise the kid for it. He had a lot of patience for Hedwig. He was innocent in all of this.

The girl in the room, you were just there! Jeez, you're not even listening to me... You're weird sometimes, Mr. Dennis.

Dennis' steps slowed, bringing him down to a level of mild panic, hands still fiddling endlessly with the yellow handkerchief. Casey. Her name was Casey. Casey was different. Casey wasn't supposed to be there.

"Hey kid, I need to speak to Miss Patricia in private." Hedwig moaned, already frustrated and on the cusp of throwing a fit.

"Awww maaaaan..." He whined, flailing in that childish way of his.

"It's just for a little while. Then you can come out and do whatever you like." Dennis reassured the boy as soothingly as he could but all of his tones sounded the same. Flat. Serious. Honest.

"Okay..." Hedwig relented, pouting. "...but when I come out I wanna put on my green pajamas, not the red pajamas, and I wanna watch TV later!" With that, Hedwig skipped off into the recesses of Kevin's mind and the familiar cold wind of Patricia took his place. She was humming some old piece of organ sheet music that Kevin had memorized in church choir as a child, hands clasped calmly before her heart. She knew very well what Dennis was going to say but clung to her silence anyway. She made him say it.

"Were you in there with me?" He breathed, turning the corner to the living room and sitting rigidly on the couch to remove his shoes. The urge to scrub the countertop was gone.

"I was there - and I couldn't help but notice some unnecessary words being exchanged, isn't that so?" Patricia's criticism stung. Dennis removed his work boots, carefully dusting the tiniest hint of lint from the left shoe before lining them up flush with the base of the couch. His socks remained on. He never removed his socks before bed. These rituals calmed him. They made everything make sense. They kept the migraines at bay.

"Were you there for everything? Her parents...?" He continued, desperate for her to say something, anything that would suggest she felt the same as he did. That they had made a terrible mistake here. One of these things was not like the others. Patricia sighed in her all-knowing way, looming over Dennis like a holy statue. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, skin chapped from senseless washing and drying.

"I'm sure she's toying with you, Dennis. She saw you take her friend, don't you remember? She knows exactly how to get in your head. Amazing self preservation skills, that one, I can see it now. She could have a person like you wrapped around her delicate little finger..." Patricia trailed off, lost in her own head for a brief moment before Dennis pulled her back in with him.

"She was tellin' the truth. I'd know if she was lying." The statue nodded stoically. Dennis, though quiet and odd and terrible at socializing, was incredibly perceptive. Years spent observing Mrs. Crumb's nonverbal cues, analyzing her body language, listening to the spaces in her breathing, even tracking the number of steps she took from her bedroom to the kitchen had sharpened his intuition to a deadly point. He learned to recognize - was she happy or manic? Pessimistic or suicidal? Affectionate... or horny? Patricia's well timed laughter prevented that thought from lingering too long in their subconscious. 

"What are you suggesting then, Dennis? That we open the door and let her run wild into the streets? Bye bye, darling, please do us this one small favor and don't involve the police." She waved a hand coyly, amused by her little joke, totally satisfied with that being that. The righteous sword of justice loomed over Dennis' neck like a guillotine. He couldn't back down.

"We can't give her to the Beast. She's not like those other girls. I followed them, I know..."

A foggy memory, though only a few weeks old, came over the room like a projection. Two girls, faces blurry at first, slowly trotted into view. Kevin, inhabited by Dennis, was turning a stuck lock round in his expert hands. He removed one of his gloves, something he rarely did in a place as filthy as the zoo, to dislodge a piece of rusted metal from the locking mechanism. Dark curls bobbed into view, tapping him on the shoulder. He winced, already poised to call Patricia- socializing was not his strong suit and he wasn't allowed near little girls - but before he knew what was happening, the blonde one grabbed his degloved hand and mashed it against her heavily padded chest. His hand locked, a shocked and open claw, as her friend repeated the motion and the two of them broke into mocking shrieks. 'Look at this old pervert!' A nearby group of girls laughed and squealed. Girls gone wild. Dennis left work early that day. Despite the freezing shower beating against his back, he masturbated until it hurt - but he did not cum. He wouldn't allow himself the satisfaction.

"What they did... to Kevin... this one isn't like that. We could be making a huge error." His hands trembled beneath the weight of his shame. 

"I'm sorry, Dennis. It really is a state but, like I said before, if it weren't for your carelessness she wouldn't be here at all. What's one more sacred offering to a God?" Dennis just shook his head and slumped his shoulders. He was exhausted by this whole affair. Patricia grimaced but pulled back on her onslaught. How much longer could he bare the weight of their actions? She needed his strength for this. She needed all of him. Patricia's tongue clicked in her mouth as she replayed the image over and over in her mind, if only to properly register those two faces. Those same girls were now held captive in the unit's storage closets. They were specially chosen for this solemn meal. The third girl... for all they knew, like Dennis said, she could have been completely undeserving of such a fate. Never mind that, would the Beast look down upon his humble servant for bringing him a pure meal? Would the Beast, in his just anger, tear her to shreds? Dennis had a point. 

"For the sake of your work, of your plan... don't you want to be absolutely sure?" One final attempt to reach her... and Patricia bowed her head in mock prayer.

"I'll check in on her in the morning. If she passes my assessment..." Dennis' head shot up in near shock. Something he had said had actually breached her guard.

"Well, if it comes to that, we shall determine how to proceed from there." Dennis placed his head in his hands and let out a dry, strained chuckle. Patricia would question the girl in the morning. The girl was pure, he was sure of it. Patricia would see that. Dennis wouldn't harm an innocent person. Dennis wouldn't harm Casey. This was a good deed.

Chapter Text

THE FOLLOWING MORNING

Casey had remained fairly catatonic since Dennis had left her room. Another long night, hours crawling like minutes, her body restless against the cot which she was starting to believe might be just as comfortable as the cement floor. She was sore and, unable to fall into a deep sleep, exhausted. Despite her best efforts, without any sunlight to guide her, Casey had completely lost track of time. Now her only indication of hours passed were the sounds that she heard down the hallway. Heavy, purposed steps meant he was awake and preparing for something. He must have had a job, after all. She tried to imagine what a man like Dennis might do. His outfit suggested maintenance man. Maybe he worked at the mall? He'd been stalking Marcia and Claire for four days. What better place than that to watch teenage girls?

Frantic, frolicking steps were certainly Hedwig - and he seemed to come out only in the late evening. She had heard him briefly the night before, long after her sandwich had been served. She thought of the way his expression lit up when they spoke. It was difficult to believe that Dennis and Hedwig were two separate entities. Two personalities, two different ages, sharing a body. Then there was Patricia. She had only come into contact with Patricia once, and it was a brief scolding for making Hedwig cry. She briefly recalled the film Sybil, which her High School Psychology teacher had shown clips from the previous semester. Multiple Personality Disorder was a highly debated mental illness. Most professionals still refused to acknowledge it as a real disorder. Yet, it was the only explanation - aside from faking insanity - that fit. Dennis, or whoever he was, was so different from Hedwig. So different from Patricia. What were the odds that he really was just a sick, lonely man? If only she had paid more attention in class. She closed her eyes, drifting into a half-conscious state...

"Wake up, Casey. Breakfast is served." Casey jolted out of near sleep, barely registering Dennis' form as it hovered dangerously close. No glasses. Clip-on earrings. Was it Dennis? Casey took a deep breath and instinctively rubbed at her eyes. There wasn't any sleep there. Patricia took a polite step back, allowing her to sit up and remove the itchy throw blanket from her torso. There was no plate in Patricia's hands. Casey looked up, confused, before a jolt of panic lit up her stomach. Was she breakfast? Patricia held her in her dark, pitiful gaze.

"Big, doe eyes. Bowed lips. You really are quite the specimen." Casey swallowed, not sure if she should break eye contact or keep it. How could she avoid the outfit... long, black skirt. Wedged church heels. Knit shawl. 

"You're Miss Patricia." She stated dumbly, sitting up fully to place her feet steadfast on the floor. Her shoes were still on. Ready to run but all too aware that she would never have the opportunity to do so. Patricia let out a sharp sigh, clasping her hands in front of her belly. A cool smile creased her face. 

"Hedwig really is a spirited child, isn't he? So talkative. Gullible, too. Poor dear... absolutely hates a scary story." Patricia accentuated her point with a raising of the eyebrows, yet her dour expression didn't really change beneath them. Casey couldn't help but examine every inch of his face... or was it her, now? Somehow those lips seemed pinker. Plusher. The eyes had a soft, feminine shine, yet nothing about them had physically changed. There were clear distinctions between this person and Dennis but nothing looked that different. All too aware that Patricia was waiting on her, Casey formulated a passive response.

"I didn't mean to scare him. I'm sorry." They shared a brief silence, Patricia looking Casey up and down, the lines in her face crinkling and smoothing as she determined the girl's worth. Casey stood still beneath that serious gaze, folding her own hands in her lap. She wished Patricia would drop the act. If she was going to be food, let her be food. Take her to... whatever hungry thing was waiting for her. It was better than all of this waiting.

"All is forgiven." With that, Patricia stepped back, extending a slender arm towards the open door. Casey stood, numb to her fate.

KITCHEN

"Eat up." Patricia laid a perfect square in front of Casey. Another sandwich, but this one was missing the crusts and seemed to be filled with a modest serving of meat and spread. So different from Dennis'. She took the sandwich in her hands, as expected, and tried a small bite. Bologna and mayonnaise. This option wasn't unfamiliar. Uncle John didn't like grocery shopping and he didn't trust Casey with money. She practically lived on deli meats. Suddenly, it was hard to swallow.

"Dennis tells me you have no family." Patricia breathed, snapping Casey's attention back to the present.

"Some people might not believe you. They might think all of these little lies are well placed attempts to make a big man feel sorry for a vulnerable little girl. Some might say a pretty little thing like you aims to bewitch him, like you probably have with so many other gullible men. Manipulate and trick your way right out the door. Spoiling all of our plans. Dooming us. But not I. I wouldn't never be so critical." There was a long silence between them and Casey felt a lump grow in her throat. This wasn't her first time being accused of such a thing. Her uncle often accused her of stringing boys along for one reason or another. Patricia, satisfied with her response, settled back into calm.

"No mother. No father. That must be so lonely." Their eyes met briefly and Casey saw that Patricia's gentle tone was not mirrored in her eyes. They were stormy. Untrustworthy. They begged questions. Why was she allowed to leave the room for her meal? What exactly was Patricia trying to figure out? She finally forced down her first mouthful and prepared for interrogation. Lying had become second nature over the years but she had never been in a situation like this before. She wasn't sure how to lie to someone who was equally skilled in lying. That was a presumption, sure, but she imagined Dennis - and his mental counterparts - were only able to exist because they were equally versed in hiding, distraction and deceit. She would have to walk the line between half-truths and outright denial if she didn't want to anger him. Her. Whoever they were.

"Sometimes, but mostly I don't feel anything at all. They've been gone a long time. I didn't really know my mother so it's impossible to miss her." It felt strange to talk about her mother. Casey had only ever seen her in photographs on the wall, and that was back when she still lived with her father. Her uncle didn't hang any photos in his home.

Uncle John was asleep on the couch. When that happened, he didn't wake up for hours. No matter how much Casey prodded and whined and complained. No matter how hungry or cold or lonely she was, he would shoo her away and go back to his forceful snoring. He would wake up when he was ready, grab another six pack of beer from the fridge and turn on the basketball game. Then, and only then, did she have a chance to eat or play... but she didn't really like the games Uncle John played, anyway. She knew Uncle John kept a box of her father's things in the hall closet. It was mostly objects from his bedroom. A cheap wristwatch, a lighter, a little crystal clock that must have belonged to her mother... and a little framed photo of her father and her very pregnant mother. She wasn't allowed in the closet. She wasn't allowed to do a lot of things. She was quiet and careful, just like her father had taught her to be. She removed piece by piece from the box and cradled them like precious family heirlooms. Casey had smiled when she found the photograph, too little to feel the sorrow of it all, and ran her little fingers over the bump where she had once slept and grown. Dust gathered on her fingers and she wiped it against her shirt. Dust only settled on old things. How long had it been since her father had died? 

"So do you live with foster parents?" Patricia asked from over her shoulder. She had risen from her seat to heat some hot water over the stove. Her fingers ran delicately through a box of tea like a Rolodex. 

"No." Casey replied flatly. She silently cursed herself. It was too brief. Too forced. Patricia chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Silly thing, you are much too young - and without means - to live on your own. I can tell by the state of those second hand clothes." She took a plain white mug and a delicate ceramic teacup from the cupboard just beside the stove. Casey's eyes went wide at the contents. Dozens of different cups - unique colors, textures, sizes and patterns. That was the first time she thought to ask herself, were there only three people in there... and if not, when would the rest show up? Patricia closed the cupboard and slowly went to pouring steaming water into both mugs. She dipped her chosen sachets and returned to the table, cups held carefully in both hands. She smiled down at Casey before setting the plain mug beside her plate.

"You told Dennis that there's nobody waiting for you. But that's not entirely true, is it?" Patricia lingered overhead, scenting the steam from her cup - Earl Grey by the smell of it. Her eyes closed in simple delight. She breathed a sigh of relief when Patricia returned to the seat across from her and took a long sip from her cup.

"I think you do have a family. I think they're alive and well, and worried about you." Casey abandoned her meal, sickened by the familiarity of it. Sickened by the power play. This felt too much like one of Uncle John's interrogations. Who was that boy he saw her with when she was walking out of class? Why did she wash his rifle rag with his work jeans? What was that sad noise she made when he touched her thigh? The answer never really mattered. Like Uncle John, Patricia had already come to a tidy little conclusion about her. The questions were merely a formality.

"I don't have a family. Nobody is worried about me." Casey's fingers touched her mug, comforted by the warmth of it. She watched the steam as it danced up and disappeared. She envied it. Patricia examined her melancholy, taking mental notes of every this or that. 

"You're very different from your friends. The odd one out, if you will." An obvious understatement. Casey dressed in layers upon layers of flannel and thermal and thick working jeans. She didn't allow a single flash of skin or curve to make itself known to the prying eyes of her peers. She wasn't sure girls like Marcia and Claire even owned jeans.

"We aren't really friends, Claire just invited me to her party because..." Casey had no idea why she had been invited to the party. Claire and Marcia were High School royalty. Not mean girls, exactly. Perfect girls. They lived in beautiful two-story homes with two parents, two cars, two backup plans for every college they applied for... and look at them now. Locked away somewhere, probably more miserable than she was, but lacking the skills to cope with it. Never in a thousand years would they have thought something like this would happen to them. They were smart and pretty. Their daddies were powerful. They were prepared for anything. Anything but this.

"Oh goodness, did she feel sorry for you? No, that can't be it. She's not that sort of girl. Probably humiliated at being seen with someone like you. You'd be like a little stain on her pressed school jumper." Patricia's words were scathing but delivered in such a tidy little package that they seemed perfectly polite. Casey wasn't a stupid girl. She wasn't Ivy League bound like her fellow abductees, but she was brilliant when it came to people. It was starting to seem like the best option for her to take was silence. Where was any of this going anyway? Did she have to be humiliated before she was eaten? The reality hadn't quite set in yet. It was still easy to refer to herself as 'edible' and 'food'. Patricia, sensing her shutting down, did not let up. She pressed a little harder.

"Why would you attend such a horrible affair?" She tested, eyeing Casey's faltering expression curiously.

"It was better than going home." Casey spat, trailing her fingers up her mug, pressing them a little firmer into the glass. It burned.

"Teenage humiliation is better than a stifling night in with Grandma and Grandpa?" Patricia cooed. She didn't buy the girl's little orphan story. She just needed to push her a little more... catch her in a lie. Casey was immovable but she winced at the mention of blood family. What was the next natural progression? Where did little girls go when nobody wanted them anymore?

"Or is it Aunt and Uncle?" Casey released her grasp on the hot mug, lying her hand flat on the well-scrubbed tabletop. Her eyes sought Patricia's, open and defeated. Patricia hummed, setting down her own cup thoughtfully.

"So, there we are. A classic case of the jealous Aunt and the neglectful Uncle?" Casey felt her face grow hot. Patricia carried herself like a nun but she spoke like a witch. She wanted to see Casey's pain, but why? Why couldn't taking her and holding her here be enough? She had already won. Casey bit her lip, eyes burning. 

"Tell me. What do they do to you? Why don't you want to go home?" Patricia hissed like a snake. Satan poised around a plump, juicy apple. Casey was exhausted and confused. So, if only for the want of silence, she would give Patricia what she wanted. There was no point in hiding it now. If she was positioned at the beginning of the end, she may as well cleanse her soul. Tell things she had never told. Show things she had promised never to show anyone. She stood up, hands gripping the edge of the table. She trembled and swayed as she stood, unable to meet Patricia's thorny gaze.

"There is no 'they'." Her hands left the table, found the outside buttons of her off-white thermal. Dennis still hadn't returned her flannel since taking it to be laundered the previous day. She snapped the top three buttons as slowly as Patricia's lingering gaze would allow her to and pulled the garment down over her shoulder. A knob of white flesh teased its way into view. A cigar burn. Patricia sat up in her chair, leaning forward just enough to make out the lines of it. Beside that, hairline scars - clearly made by a very sharp knife. They littered the curve of her shoulder mercilessly. At the nape of her neck, no longer obscured by her long hair... teeth marks. Only a few days old by the yellowing bruise which blossomed around the jagged little scabs. 

"My uncle never got married. It would have... complicated things." Patricia's expression softened. For the first time since Casey had met her, she appeared truly shocked. The outline of Patricia's eyes went moist but she refused to dab at the trickling tears. She joined Casey on her feet and extended her arms, taking the child into her cold embrace. Casey stilled. Her whole body felt hard and nauseous. Despite the tears, Patricia was smiling.

"Lord almighty... what a blessing. What a gift you are." She took Casey by the upper arms and held her out to take in a better view of her. Up close, all of the things she had taken for granted were so obvious they were practically gilded. The long hair to hide beneath, the frightened eyes, the various fresh bruises lain to rest beside years-old scars. Her flesh, hidden beneath long sleeves and thick cotton, screamed of betrayal. Casey shivered beneath a look now gone reverent. Casey was no meal. She would be like a child to Him.

"Praise him. You will be no third course, but He will be delighted.

 

Chapter Text

Dennis wasn't present for Patricia's interrogation. She didn't like sharing the light with him. Patricia was a very private woman and, although he was very skilled at keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself, she could still sense him peering through her eyes. Despite his talent for shielding the others from whatever he saw, he didn't quite know how to keep them from feeling him. She had once told him that she found his shared presence "comforting yet wholly revolting". Dennis didn't know how to take that, so whenever Hedwig handed Patricia the light, he kept to himself. Usually, sitting in the dark with his thoughts wasn't a completely unbearable experience. With the girls in the house, staying blank had become... difficult.

The first night had been the hardest. Every vacant thought had been replaced with those girls. He couldn't close his eyes without seeing smooth thighs in black stockings or the flash of a pale midriff against a soft, cropped sweater. Knowing they were locked in the house, completely susceptible to his will, the girls had become a fixation. The old Dennis, the one who existed before he and Patricia were banished, wouldn't have restrained himself so. After the unpleasant situation with the hysterical, curly-haired one, he would have taken the blonde, urged her to dance. He didn't think she could piss on herself if she tried. She was clearly the alpha of the two. Much too proud to stoop that low. 

Dennis' jaw clenched. He hated those girls. He hated that they had something he wanted. They should have been nothing to him. Impure little teases who lived fragile, forgettable lives. They had thrown themselves at him at the zoo but now, only a few weeks later, they didn't even seem to recognize him. How many times had they used their soft, sweet little bodies to fuck with someone like him? How often did they taunt decent, hard-working men with something they could never have? Well, he had them now. He'd teach them both a lesson in humility if his body would let him. His anger made it a little easier to see them not as people, but food. Dennis sighed, taking his head in his hands. Who was he trying to convince? He couldn't wait for this whole ordeal to pass. The Beast would take over and all of their actions would belong to him. Dennis could finally get some rest, knowing he had done all he could.

Relaxing into his seat, Dennis tried again to calm his mind. He couldn't stand all of these annoying, irrelevant thoughts. In two days time, the girls would be dead. The revolution would be underway. People would see them. Whether in awe or horror, people would really see them. Yet, he couldn't help but wonder about something he was failing to convince himself was trivial. A submissive something who didn't quite fit in with the other two. Something that concerned him. Patricia had been gone for nearly an hour now. 

His brow furrowed in eternal frustration. Today was supposed to be easy. He had the day off. He could clean the house, take care of the laundry, do some light grocery shopping. There was only one important item on his to-do list. Feed them. Just make something, push it through the slots in the doors and forget about them. He knew he was breaking the rules when he lingered in the room with her, felt something shift inside of him when he ordered her to eat and she did. Unlike the other girls, she listened. Her dark eyes didn't just shine with fear or narrow with rage. They sought something. He could see her making sense of all of this. Trying to make sense of him. His fingers dug into the armrests of his chair. If Patricia could sense him now she would probably have him saying the Lord's prayer until his knees gave out.

"Well, Dennis, it seems you were correct in your assumption." Speak of the Devil. Dennis sat up in his chair, adjusting his glasses as if shielding his eyes might put a wall between his conflicted thoughts and Patricia's encroaching form. He stood to greet her, struggling to maintain an air of indifference. Patricia walked slow circles around him, speaking to the air as if dictating a letter to her secretary.

"She has an uncle and she's clearly been abused. If you could only see what he's done to her body. Absolutely monstrous." Patricia tisked her way between thoughts, one thin arm holding the other by the elbow as her free hand swayed dramatically with every detail. Dennis felt something in his chest begin to burn. 

"What did he do to her?" His imagination, while underdeveloped and infrequently used, had already begun stringing memories together. Things Kevin's mother did to him, but now, a little girl stood in his place. He swallowed hard, breaths coming in short, hot currents. 

"She did not say much, but the scars tell her story in a thousand screaming voices - and they are old scars, mind you. Knife wounds, cigar burns, bite marks. I'm sure that pathetic creature has done anything and everything to her. Poor lamb." Patricia's head hung, eyes cast to the floor in respect. The fire in Dennis' chest spread slowly outward, searing his veins, turning his steady hands into fists. Children did not deserve violence. They did not deserve pain and anguish. They were not pin cushions and punching bags and secret play things. He stared straight ahead as a mixture of relief and rage swarmed him.

"So, she will be spared?" His voice trembled, vocal chords stuttering as he struggled to remember his purpose. He was their calm in the storm and, no matter how furious this impression of shared experiences made him, his emotions could not take over. Not now, not ever. With his eyes back in focus, he was now aware of the strange, confused expression on Patricia's face.

"Spared? She shall be anointed! She shall be cleansed!" The crease in Dennis' forehead deepened as he struggled to understand her meaning. 

"Anointed?" He repeated slowly, the word sounding foreign on his tongue. 

"This girl, oh, how she has suffered. The look in her eyes when she told me. She reminded me of our sweet little Kevin. I simply can't turn her away now. Not with the knowledge I have." Dennis shook his head slowly, too aware of Patricia's thought process to drop his point. Of course the girl reminded them of Kevin. There were thousands of pure, tortured souls out there to remind them of Kevin. Did that mean each one of them had to be brought directly into the fold? The safest option for everyone, themselves included, was to keep their numbers small.

"So, we let her go. She isn't food. We still have the other girls. It's done." Dennis' tone was flat, purposeful. He had no intentions of letting Patricia take the reigns on this one. Her plans had always been, in her own words, handed down by The Beast. His word, his law. She hadn't consulted The Beast on this one. She was going off script. Dennis disliked many things, but none more than acting without a plan. If she was bringing it upon herself to save this girl, it could only complicate things. The plan was already complicated enough. They had to determine the best way to release her without compromising the Beast's arrival. Patricia threw her eyebrows up, clearly unconvinced. 

"What a waste that would be, what an affront. Her body is all but massacred. She is precisely the type of person He was born to protect." She cooed passively, patting Dennis' large shoulder. He winced at the contact and she retracted. Dennis was breathing in steady little huffs now, repeatedly adjusting his glasses against the bridge of his nose.

"Are you suggesting we keep her?" If the stories were to be believed, The Beast was not the type of creature one imagined when the word 'protect' was spoken. He was about as comforting as a fighting dog and that was precisely his purpose. Devour those who threatened the existence of people like them. How could someone like that protect her? The irony was lost on him as Dennis rolled his jaw in frustration. Patricia merely smiled her placid little smile, nodding her agreement.

"You were right, my dear. She is not food. She is a gift. We shall bathe her in milk, drape her in jewelry and white linens. A flower in her hair, just so. Quite a pretty picture, don't you think, Dennis?" She tucked a strand of grey hair behind her own ear as if imagining the blossom that could rest behind their sweet captive's. 

"You want to give her to him?" He breathed, rough voice barely breaking a whisper. No longer did the thought of a broken little girl cloud Dennis' judgement and confuse his allegiance. Protecting the broken was his purpose - and, ultimately, The Beast's, though his methods were far more severe. Patricia wasn't suggesting they keep Casey to protect her, or to "bring her into the fold" as he had so foolishly misinterpreted. She was meant to be, in so many words, his whore.

Kevin had never taken a lover. Everything his mother had done to him, from the physical to the sexual, had suppressed the part of him that desired human contact. Even emotional connection seemed impossible - or perhaps unnecessary. His meager time in the light wasn't spent chasing skirt. Ever. Barry, on the other hand, had entertained a few - men and women alike. Dennis was kept firmly at bay in those moments. Back when Barry was in charge, he had a unique talent for keeping others completely in the dark once he stepped into the light. There were a handful of mornings where Dennis had woken up beside one of Barry's conquests. The first time it happened, he was acutely aware of an unfamiliar stickiness that matted his trim pubic hair to his flesh. He vomited over the side of the bed and retreated back into Kevin's mind. The second time, not even a pounding hangover could distract him from the feeling of soft, round breasts pressed against his back as Barry's partner slept. While something in his stomach flickered at the overwhelming reality of it, even the gentle tickle of her lips against his neck felt dangerous. It was as if that gentle pressure could become daggers against his flesh without the slightest warning. He flung himself from her grasp so quickly that the back of her head connected with the wall. He was barely dressed when he ran down the stairwell of her apartment, skin burning with her filth. Dennis' sexuality was... complicated.

Dennis had experienced urges many, many times, but his fear of being touched and the memories that came along with it had rendered him effectively impotent. Pretty, young things roused more than just his interest, but the thought of touching or being touched - it terrified him in a strangely primal way. Attempts at masturbation always ended in frustration. Kevin's mother's voice would always cut through the fog, replacing that red-headed girl on the 39 Bus with old, sagging breasts and a screeching, slobbering mouth. "Make it hard! You like girls, don't you?!"  The memories lived somewhere deep within him, not to be shared with anyone else who inhabited Kevin's head. They could fuck whomever they well pleased, but Dennis was doomed to live in celibacy. He was more like Patricia than he cared to admit. So, as an adult, Dennis had never touched anyone sexually. He had barely allowed himself to be touched in any manner. As a result, he couldn't help but wonder what The Beast's eyes would allow him to see. What he might be able to feel through the ether. 

"Really, Dennis, The Beast might not be a man but he still has a man's desires." Patricia continued, seemingly unaware of Dennis' introspection. "Whatever He decides to do with her is righteous and just. We are but his servants. Oh, divine Beast, accept our sacrifice, do unto her as you will, devour the flesh of the impure and lead us to salvation."

Dennis stared off into the darkness, trying to make sense of the drastic change in plans, but he couldn't focus on the bigger picture. The image of Casey's soft little body, limbs littered with bruises and razor-like scrapes, both sickened and excited him. His stomach flipped.

Why was he like this?

 

 

Chapter Text

Casey was trapped somewhere between the cold, damp little room and a lovely Vaseline dream. The weight of her companion pulled her deep into the mattress. A pair of warm hands fumbled over her, knuckles dragging carelessly against the sides of her breasts. The sensation of dull knives brought every hair on her flesh to stand. A low growl reverberated it's way up her spine and her lips parted to let it out...

"Are you awake?" Casey's eyes flickered open as the hard body behind her's tightened it's embrace. The voice was quiet but firm, pulling her quickly out of sleep. Surprisingly, waking up like this didn't urge a sense of panic. She was far too tired for such a strong response and her shriveling faculties chose confusion instead. 

"Dennis?" She breathed senselessly, eyes adjusting to the faint light. Her throat tightened, trying to catch the name before it escaped, but her overworked mind had already betrayed her. The person behind her curled inward, hands clenching desperately to her undershirt, dangerously close to her skin. A strangled breath forced it's way through Casey's nostrils. Patricia must have told him about her uncle, given him permission to hurt her. Had he finally come to take what he wanted? 'Relax, it will be over soon...' She soothed as her mind forced his touch into the distance.

"No, it's Hedwig!" The boy snapped. The breath Casey had been holding in escaped with a hard, rasping laugh. It was less of a reaction and more of an instinct. In a few short hours she had come to understand her predicament and Hedwig was easily the safest person to be with. Whether her captor believed a child was living within him or this was all just a sick fantasy, she was certain by Dennis' descriptions of the boy and the boy's own behavior that he wouldn't give her any trouble. He just wanted to play. He was easy. Still, the feeling of his arms wrapped around her, hands clasping at her belly, heavy legs tangled around her own, was enough to freeze her in place. It didn't feel forced. She couldn't sense any danger here, none of the implications that came with an older, more practiced man's embrace. Still, his body was that of a fully grown adult and it stirred impatiently behind her... so, she placated him.

"You scared me." She breathed, voice somehow playful despite everything. She had made the mistake of scaring Hedwig away the last time they spoke. She wouldn't be so foolish this time. He was clearly enamored by her for one reason or another and she needed to play that to her advantage. Hedwig snorted listlessly behind her and a sudden burst of hot breath made her cringe. His hands were still pressed firmly against her hips and even the slightest pressure was oppressive. She needed to create some distance.

"You scared me that one time and I decided to forgive you because I don't have anyone to play with and you said we could watch TV together. Do you still wanna watch TV?" His words came out in long, nonsensical bursts and every so often that characteristic lisp marred his already childish pronunciation. Casey eased away, slipping expertly from his unpracticed grasp to rest safely on her back. If he was offended by the gesture, he didn't show it. Casey peered around the room before cautiously answering.

"There's no TV in here." Hedwig was too simple to catch that Casey was teasing him. He practically cackled at her blank expression. "No duh, dummy, it's in the living room!" 

"I thought I wasn't allowed to leave my room." Hedwig threw himself over her, bracing his weight on either side of Casey's head. A big, playful smile lit up his face as he stared obliviously down at her. With his hands placed so close, she couldn't help but focus on the wisps of hair that swirled down his forearms. Nothing about Hedwig matched his body. Was he even aware of his strength? The damage he could do with those thick, calloused hands...

Casey swallowed back a grimace.

"The other girls aren't allowed to leave their rooms but you're special so I can be nice to you. Also, Mr. Dennis always says what everybody else doesn't know ain't gonna hurt them." The other girls were still alive. He was going to let her out. Casey sucked at her own tongue, pressing it firmly between her lips and upper teeth. It was a small, subtle act of anxiety, but it kept the explosion of optimism at bay. She could memorize the layout, learn where all the doors and windows were and map an escape route. Even if there was no obvious way out, she could keep Hedwig calm and happy, make him trust her. If he believed they were friends, he would let her out to play whenever he could. She just had to learn where the keys to the front door were or convince him to crack open a window. He was naive enough for this to work. She slid up the single sleeper, hoisting herself stiffly onto her elbows, creating just enough space between them to feel comfortable faking a smile.

"Yeah. That sounds like fun."

Hedwig inched quietly through the office that separated Casey's room from the hallway. He pressed himself firmly against the wall and peered around the door frame into the hallway. It was as if he really thought Dennis or Patricia could round the corner at any moment and catch him in the act. Casey bit her lip in a poor attempt to force down a smile. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, or maybe she really did find something about this overgrown child endearing. '...maybe this is how Stockholm Syndrome starts.' No, that couldn't be it. She had lived in her uncle's madhouse for years and never once did she empathize with him or attempt to rationalize his behavior. If she was going to get out of this, she couldn't question her thoughts. For now, a smile could simply be a smile. She could afford to over analyze herself when she got out of this mess.

"You sure you won't get in trouble for this?" She whispered, playing into Hedwig's sneaky fantasy. He jumped at the sound of her voice and cocked his head dramatically in her direction. His brows were narrowed, an exaggerated caricature of frustration. 

"Shhhhh! You're supposed to be quiet in the hallway." He whisper-shouted. Clearly it was important to him that he appear in control, so Casey would allow him to feel capable. She followed him down the hall, their footsteps barely echoing down the long, sterile tunnel that lead to the kitchen. When Patricia had taken her into the kitchen for lunch, she hadn't taken the time to observe her surroundings. Something about Patricia made her feel like she was always being watched. She had kept her eyes planted firmly on the floor ahead of her and only dared to look up when she was spoken to. Hedwig was only as intimidating as a giant child could be so her eyes were free to drink their fill. They passed blank walls with splitting hallways that all looked the same. Some had overhead lights, others did not. There were plain, neutral-colored doors here and there and she couldn't help but linger on two doors with very obvious mail slots. The eerie silence that hung over them was very telling. She decided, if she had the opportunity to seek the other girls out, she would check those doors first. Hedwig looked back at her from time to time but, when they had made it to the kitchen and she still hadn't made a run for it, he seemed to relax. He strutted confidently through the kitchen and into the attached living area. It was cramped and purposefully cluttered. He hopped onto the adjoining prep counter and kicked his legs rhythmically. 

"Mr Dennis has a headache because Miss Patricia told him that you are like a really special gift and we have to treat you really nice so I can hang out with you whenever I want and nobody can get mad about it." Casey nodded absently as she walked a careful circle around the room. If she hadn't already determined this place was not a house by the long, unusual hallways, this room alone would have convinced her of that. Though the walls were densely covered with shelves, books and nick-knacks, the room was chilly and her arms had locked into a self embrace. Cleaning supplies, like mops and brooms, leaned against unevenly painted walls. Old light fixtures bathed the room in a sickly yellow-gold glow. It was eerie and cluttered and oddly industrial. There were no windows.

"Besides, I can have the light whenever I want so Miss Patricia doesn't even ever have to know... etcetera." Casey snapped back to attention, confused by Hedwig's unusual terminology.

"What's... the light?" Hedwig grinned sheepishly, as if sharing a fun secret with a friend. He slid off the counter top in favor of the couch, which he flopped onto in a way that suggested he wasn't normally allowed. 

"The light is the place where we have to stand if we wanna be in charge. So, when I'm in the light, I get to do whatever I want." He kicked his feet up onto the armrest and his fingers busied themselves with the underside of the couch cushions. He dug around curiously, tossing lint, folded scraps of paper and the occasional penny onto the floor as he went. Casey closed the gap between them, resting cautiously on the opposite arm rest. Her eyes traveled the floor and found it to be one solid piece of cold, unforgiving concrete with a dingy, brown rug sprawled in the center. Her cell was pristine compared to this. 

"You all choose when you want to be in charge?" She asked softly, eyeing Hedwig curiously but careful not to make eye contact with him. She didn't want to invite him in. She just needed answers. He rolled onto his belly, unsatisfied with the treasures buried in the couch. He grabbed a rubber band ball that had been resting between the back of the couch and the wall and plucked mercilessly as it's rubber exterior.

"No, only some of us get to go in the light." He replied, tossing the ball away just as quickly as he had found it. He lurched off of the couch now, much to Casey's surprise, and walked toward the small, square-backed television that rested on an overstuffed desk just feet away. He pushed aside manila folders and loose papers, letting them scatter carelessly to the floor.

"I get to take the light whenever I want. Nobody can stop me. It's like my very own really cool super power." He finally found the remote, stuffed into a thick volume like a bookmark, removed it from it's leather prison and plopped cross-legged onto the hard floor.

Simply watching Hedwig exist was exhausting. He was always moving, looking for something to do, something to say, something to add the slightest bit of excitement to what must have been a very boring, very adult lifestyle. She allowed her hands to fall to her lap. They picked delicately at the loose threads unraveling at the knees of her jeans. She tried not to recall her own childhood but the similarities were too obvious. It had been spent in a cold, dark house where the threat of something she couldn't quite understand but still feared always loomed overhead. She wouldn't wish that environment on anyone, especially a little kid who wouldn't understand how rough he had it until he'd grown into a fucked up adult. But Hedwig was already an adult. He just didn't realize it.

"Do you like super heroes?" Hedwig asked as he scrolled through a short loop of several low-def channels.

"Sure." Casey didn't know anything about super heroes. The big ones, Marvel characters and Batman, maybe. Hedwig bobbed his head to a familiar jingle as he passed a commercial for a local car dealership for the second time. Casey traced his silhouette with tired eyes. Normally she would take an opportunity like this to scan for "tells" - obvious traits or insecurities that might aid her in the future - but this didn't feel so serious. She realized very suddenly that she was simply taking him in. There on the filthy carpet sat a wild little boy. Maybe he would always be this innocent. Maybe that innocence could protect him forever.

"So Mr. Dennis can't... take the light from you right now? Even if he really wanted to?" Her tone was gentle and aloof, plying even.

"Nope." Hedwig replied lamely, finally getting fed up with the lack of cartoons on at this hour and tossing the remote onto the floor in defeat. "Do you like candy?"

"Yeah." Casey mumbled, staring off into space as she put together all of these new puzzle pieces. She thought Patricia had taken control of Hedwig the previous day, but perhaps Hedwig needed to willingly give up 'the light' in order for another person to come through. If that was the case, escaping this place would be easy. As long as she was Hedwig's trusted playmate, she could explore the house as she desired, find a way out and get help.

"Me too." Hedwig beamed, jumping up and throwing himself on the couch. Despite the distracting and clumsy display, his mouth never stopped moving. "I love chocolate. I'm not supposed to have chocolate but there was a Halloween party at Kevin's work and Mr. Dennis brought all these snacks just for me because I let him have the light even when he wasn't supposed to and now we're like best friends." Casey nodded, looking down at the squirming man child. Kevin was a name she hadn't heard before. Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig... Kevin.

"Whose Kevin?" Casey probed, a sudden feeling of dread weighing down her core. All of the other people who inhabited Hedwig's body were monstrous. They were kidnappers with dark secrets and unthinkable motivations. For all she knew, Kevin could be the guy who organized all of this... but ultimately, they were all the same. Even Hedwig was just a monster in disguise. His eyes went as wide as saucers at the question and, for once, he struggled to find a response. He leaned uncomfortably close, like any child would, resting his weight on the armrest were she sat. Casey did not budge.

"That's like... the biggest secret of all the secrets that we have and we have a lot of secrets." He was back to using that unnecessarily loud whispering tone and his face had lost it's cheerful expression. Casey chewed her cheek. She would have to ply him afterall. She dropped the filter, bringing her face close to his. 

"If I tell you one of my secrets, will you tell me?" They exchanged blank, serious expressions and for the first time since they'd met, Hedwig seemed to be carefully weighing out the pros and cons of this exchange in his head. His lowed lip protruded just so as he glared right into Casey's large, empathetic eyes. A quick smirk lightened the air and Hedwig curled into himself, looking down bashfully.

"Okay..." He inched even closer, his breath warm on Casey's chin as he anchored his ear up to her. Casey steadied her breathing, shifting her body to face her company. She had to find something simple to tell him. Something that felt like a secret. Something shameful and weird that resonated with a broken person who probably felt different from everyone else. 

"I get into trouble at school, on purpose. So I can get sent to detention. To get away from everyone. So I don't have to go home." She had never told anyone that before. She didn't have any friends to tell anything to. She had developed a reputation at school for being bitchy and cold and, even if people did feel a desire to get to know her, she couldn't use anything other than small talk to relate to them. Surprisingly, telling someone something so sad and empty felt freeing. Her chest felt tight and twisty, as though her heart was stuck somewhere between laughing and crying.

"Why don't you wanna go home?" Hedwig asked innocently, peering up at her with vacant eyes. Comforted by the feeling of catharsis, Casey found it easy to continue... but how to phrase it to someone with the understanding of a child?

"I live with a really bad man..." The words stuck in her throat, and instantly it was almost impossible to continue. The evidence of his abuse was written allover her skin, just out of sight, yet her throat sealed itself with a solid lump, refusing to put their truth into words. Whether she wanted to be free of that knowledge or not, her tongue wouldn't allow it. She swallowed at the lump and silence filled her lungs like poison gas. Casey took a deep breath. Her mouth was dry.  "...he scares me."

The warmth had left her skin and she was reduced to a fragile husk. Perhaps some secrets were meant to be hers forever. Instinctively, Hedwig pulled her into a forceful hug. If it weren't for Casey's unflappable guard, she would have fallen right on top of him. She pulled away, bringing balance to the act, but allowed him to press firmly against her. Hedwig liked to touch. Hedwig needed touch to grow close to her and she would allow him that. She had allowed much worse in her short life. The stubble of his buzzed head threatened to rub her ear raw as he babbled into her clothed shoulder. 

"It's a good thing Mr Dennis brought you here. He makes sure nobody hurts us or scares us. Etcetera." Casey lingered in that embrace, finding solace in Hedwig despite the man he inhabited. She was surprised to realize that, even though this man lived in relative squalor, he didn't really have a scent. There was no offensive odor. No alcohol or tobacco smoke. If anything, he smelled... clean. Being touched like this, in such a sincere and unbiased way, was very foreign but the fact that he was so large and the touch was so platonic made Casey feel safe. It was almost like wearing a cocoon. Is this how Hedwig felt, tucked away safely in Kevin's subconscious, free to retreat into that safety whenever things became too real. She nearly melted into the warmth, until Hedwig released her and sat up on his knees like the excited little boy he was. She looked at him in a daze, confused. She had felt too many emotions in too short a period.

"Okay, Kevin, he's like the guy - and me and Mr Dennis and Miss Patricia and Mr Barry and all the others we just live inside here with Kevin but we're not Kevin, do you know what I mean?" She nodded, still coming down from the sudden rush of bonding hormones she didn't know her body could produce. "I think so."

"Kevin used to be in the light and sometimes Mr. Dennis would come out when Kevin was scared or needed help, and sometimes something bad would happen to Kevin and then another person would just like show up with us out of nowhere, etcetera." Casey organized a family tree of sorts in her head. There was Dennis and Patricia, who had previously sat at the top, and Hedwig underneath... but now someone named Barry sat off to the side and Kevin took his rightful place at the top of the pyramid. If Hedwig's thread was to be followed, one could also assume that there were many others, and they would appear at random whenever Kevin needed them to. One big, co-dependent family. 

"So you... and Dennis... and Patricia... and all the others... you live inside Kevin?" There was an obvious hierarchy at play, but if this was Kevin's body, why hadn't she met him yet? Perhaps he was the one she should be most afraid of.

"Yeah." Hedwig was smiling wide again, happy to be understood and believed. Happy to be doing anything at all. Just... happy. Casey couldn't help but mirror the expression by a fraction, though this wasn't one of her carefully calculated choices. She just couldn't help herself. He was too simple, too easy. 

"How many more people live in there?" Casey wrapped her arms around herself, feet coming off the floor to rest on the well worn couch cushions.  

"Like tons. There's Jade and Mr. Orwell and --" Hedwig cut the sentence in half with an annoyed huff, not unlike the sound a braying horse would make "--this is boring I don't wanna talk about boring adults." And with that, much like any boy of nine would, Hedwig rolled off the couch and onto the floor before stomping his way into the kitchen. Casey watched him dig through cabinets and cupboards, tapping his restless fingers over any surface that could even slightly emulate a drum.

"I'm glad we're friends now Casey. This house is really boring. Do you know how to make macaroni?" Hedwig called, shaking a little blue box of dry noodles like a single maraca. Casey nodded absently. She had never babysat anyone before but she had a feeling Hedwig would welcome being taken care of. There was no one else to do it, afterall. Casey inched her way off of the sagging couch, standing awkwardly in the space between the kitchen and the small dining table.

If it meant she had even the slightest chance of getting out of this alive... she would make Hedwig some macaroni.