Actions

Work Header

Your Gift Keeps on Giving

Chapter Text

I lay there, stone-silent, waiting. I can hear his breathing, and it sounds like it’s getting slower, but I can't tell if he's slipped into full sleep yet. I slowly raise my head, then slowly push up with my elbows until I’m nearly sitting up, mostly to see if he'll stir. And he doesn't. I continue the slow-motion ascent to fully standing, with no movement from him. I snatch my clothes up off the floor and tiptoe out of the room, sliding the bedroom door closed behind me.

I dress quickly in his kitchen, find a scrap of paper, and scribble an all-too-familiar note on it. "Thanks for a fun night! Sorry to sneak out on you, but I have to be at work at 3:30am (ugh)! Catch you later, --Eve." No phone number, no email. Using this strategy had become pretty effective; I make sure to mention to my date that a drawback of being a pastry chef is having to start my day so early, then later use it as an excuse to bail on said date.

As it happens, I have the next day off. But my suitor doesn't need to know that. It’s about midnight, and I don't feel like walking to the L, so I whip out my phone to order up a car. As I wait in his lobby, I flip through my latest messages. There are some from past dates, to which I have no interest in responding, and that’s pretty much it. I see the text from Natalie that I had received and ignored a few hours ago, right about the same time I was leaving the bar with... Todd? Ugh, I can't even remember his name. I’m becoming such a cliché.

I should've responded to her. She is a past date who I actually want to see again. I keep giving these random guys an opportunity to prove themselves worthy, and they never do. I write her back, "Sorry I missed you! Hope you had a good night. Let's get together again soon." Maybe I'd hear from her again, maybe not. Fingers crossed.

The car pulls up, and we fly silently through the city, and I think back on my evening. It’s hard to say where it had gone wrong, but it all felt very familiar. After work, I’d gone to the bar around the corner from the bakery with a few coworkers, Julia and Sam. Our usual haunt is the dive-iest place in the downtown business district, so it tends to attract young people who are just entering the workforce. They’ve got drive, and swagger that they haven’t earned yet. If I am feeling so inclined, I can pretty much always find a companion for the evening in this place.

I started to get the inclination, and I went with a classic move. I walked over to the jukebox, leaned over it and pointed my ass at a nearby table of dudes in white-collar shirts with rolled-up sleeves. I picked out a song and did a little dance-shake as I walked back to my table, and I could feel all of their eyes on me. Right before I sat down, I looked over my shoulder to see whose eye I could catch – Todd was our lucky bachelor for the evening. A few minutes later he was buying me a drink and I was pretending to be interested in what he was saying about trade regulations. Three more drinks and he was inviting me back to his place.

When I got there, I was excited at the possibility of engaging in some unbridled mutual gratification. But it was quickly evident that tonight was going to be no different from other disappointing evenings I’d had with random men. A quick version of the deed wherein he felt like he had kissed the sky, and I’d found myself counting the ceiling tiles.

The car arrives at my apartment, and within minutes, I am in my bed where I belong. I check my phone to see if Natalie had responded (nope), then set it down for the night. I put my hands on my belly and stare up into the darkness.

***

When I have disappointing nights like this, I try to comfort myself by remembering what a disappointing night looked like two years ago. I'd pick up takeout on my way home from work, throw on my pajamas, and eat it all in front of the TV. And then I’d go to bed alone, where my brain would go into storytelling mode. I'd have these elaborate, thrilling sexual fantasies – I’d imagine anonymous sex in an alleyway, a threesome with my barista and his hot girlfriend, a high-end party where I spend the evening on my knees. I’d dream up these titillating scenarios, and I would lie there alone and enjoy them, but my real sex life was… nonexistent.

I'd been so full of desire, and imagination, and I’d yearned for exploration, but felt powerless to make it happen in my life. I’d been gripped by powerful social anxiety that made it impossible to let anyone get close to me physically. I blamed my hyper-conservative parents for instilling a deep shame and fear of sex in me at an early age. And even as an adult, I’d felt self-conscious and disconnected from my own body.

But 18 months ago, sick to death of feeling that way, I opted to take an unusual path to change my life. It put my entire existence at risk, but I don’t regret it. Laying in bed tonight – even alone, even unfulfilled – I can stroke my belly and feel desirable. And it feels worth it.

***

The next morning I wake and immediately check my phone for a message from Natalie – still nothing. Sighing, I get out of bed and made a beeline for the kitchen to start a pot of coffee before hopping into the shower. Did I really go to bed last night without showering? Ew. When I’m clean and have coffee in my hand, I settle into my couch with my laptop to figure out what I am going to do today.

There is an email reminder in my inbox about a Walpurgisnacht, or “Spring Climax” event. tonight at the Congregation, which I’d been thinking about attending. I’d only gone to one of their events before, and it did change my life, but I haven’t had much interest in going back again. Until recently. Something had kinda been tugging at me, that maybe I should give it just one more try.

My coworker Julia is the one who got me there in the first place. She and I work the first shift together a lot, and she’s always so cheerful, so early in the morning… it’s always astounded me. One morning, I made a comment like, “You know you seem so cheerful here, but I bet you go home at night and worship Satan or something.”

And she had blown my mind by responding, “Actually, I do!”

She told me all about the Church of Satan, and her little unsanctioned “congregation”, the Congregation of Devoted Souls. She explained how there are lots of different ways to practice Satanism, and that her theistic version existed pretty far on the fringes – these are folks who actually worship the devil. They believe that there is an all-powerful being, who lives in hell, and who grants humans special favors in exchange for their eternal soul.

For six months I listened to her talk about it, and was pretty sure it was just a bunch of insane people getting together and acting insane as a group. But I found myself wanting to see it with my own eyes. When she asked one night if I wanted to come with her, I excitedly said yes.

I went with her, and it *got* to me. Not the congregation part – I felt no connection whatsoever to the other people in the room – but that night I did feel, distinctly and certainly, that I connected with Satan, who they call The Father. I felt him reach into me and send a signal that he was listening to me.  

Even though I feel like my own connection with him transcends the need to get together in a room with weirdos, I am grateful to the church for making the introduction. And while I suspect I’ll spend a lot of my time rolling my eyes, I decide that I will go tonight. If nothing else surfaces.

As if on cue, the text I’d been waiting for pops up.

Natalie: “What did you get up to last night?”
Me: “Got drunk with coworkers. You?”
N: “Ha! Same. Hit a few places in Andersonville. Wish you were there.”
Me: “Yeah, me too. My night was pretty disappointing. You busy tonight?”
N: “Not sure. I am supposed to go see a friend’s play but I am trying to find a reason to bail on it.”
Me: “I’ll be your reason!”
N: “Maybe – gimme an hour or so to figure some stuff out.”
Me: “No problem.”

Natalie and I had been out three times, and each evening had ended with a pretty hot night. She is one of the few lesbians I’ve met who didn’t have any hang-ups about the fact that I am bisexual. She’s not looking for anything serious, and neither am I, so it works out well. For example, I don’t feel a need to explain too much to her about where I was last night.

I decide to be optimistic and assume I will be seeing her tonight, and I set about tidying up my place. Then painting my nails. Then I run down to the corner store and get some wine and snacks. It’s been a few hours since her last text, and I’m trying to keep myself occupied – browsing Netflix, cleaning my bathroom – but I’m pretty much just waiting by the phone for her.

This is kinda how it is for me, most weekends. The bakery where I work does most of its business on weekdays, and sometimes I hang out with my coworkers after work, but that’s pretty much the beginning and the end of my regular social life. It had been a decade since I’d moved to Chicago to attend culinary school, and to escape my conservative family in Southern Illinois. I don’t communicate much with them anymore. If I don’t have a date with some random I meet in a bar, I spend my weekends pretty much alone.

A text pops up. Natalie: “I am afraid I can’t get out of the play. My friend spent actual money getting me a seat and I can’t blow her off. Sorry!”

UGH. I don’t bother responding. I guess I’m spending my evening with Satanists. I text Julia to see if she’s going, and she responds right away that she is. Well, at least I don’t have to go alone.

One fun perk of going to church, ironically, is playing dress up. Entering the meeting room is always like walking into a Hot Topic that exploded – so much black, so many skulls. It’s not really my style, but it’s fun to pretend that it is. I dig out a corset, a velvet blazer, and a choker necklace, then I set about putting on overly dramatic makeup.

90 minutes later, Julia is shooting me a text that she’s outside my place in her car. I lock up and run downstairs, happy to be leaving my house.

“Hey girl! You look hot,” Julia says, as I slide into her passenger seat.”

“Well, I do like to slut it up when I’m going to church.”

She laughed. “It suits you. You’re our hot member. So how did the rest of last night go?”

“Fine, fine. The usual.”

“Ah. Did you end up at Tim’s place?”

“Tim!” I exclaim. “That’s his fucking name!”

She gives a half-hearted laugh. I think she’s hoping for more details, but I am just not in the mood to share. What’s there to tell? I put in maybe 20% effort and he had the best night of his life; he tried desperately to please me and failed miserably.

“I’m kinda bummed. I was hoping to go out with Natalie tonight but she blew me off.”

“Aw that sucks. I’m glad you’re coming though! People will be happy to see you.”

A few minutes later we pulled into the parking lot. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I heard a yell. “Eve? Is that you?” I tuned my head. Oh shit. I had only slept with two or three people from the church and one of them was making a beeline for me.

“Hey, Brett,” I said. What kind of Satanist has a name like Brett? “How are you doing?”

“Did you get the text I sent last week?” he asks. He’s rocking the wounded puppy eyes and I am just not in the mood for it.

“Yup.” I said, offering no further insight.

He pauses. “You know I’d really love to see you again.”

“I know.”

“Are you seeing anyone else right now?”

“Well,‘ seeing’ people is not really a thing that I do,” I said. Julia has come around to my side of the car and is waiting for us, arms folded.

“So that’s it, then?” He is really pushing the pathetic angle, here.

“I really don’t know what you mean by that. It’s nice to see you, Brett.” I give him a nod and Julia and I walk away.

“What is his deal?” she asks.

“We spent one night together. It wasn’t the worst ever or anything, but just kind of an average night. And then the next morning he told me he loved me. And I ran the fuck out of there.”

“Damn. You and that enchanted pussy of yours,” she laughs.

I laugh with her. I mean, what else can I do?

We enter the building and the High Priest, Jonathan, is right by the door. He brightens when he sees me and comes running over. “Eve!” he says. “So good to see you! Oh, man… today is such a perfect day to have you here… we’ve got a bunch of new members who are sticking around afterward for orientation. Could I convince you to stay? And talk to them? Just five minutes, I swear.”

This is the kind of stuff I really don’t mind doing. I feel like spreading the word about my experience really does serve The Father. So I say, “Sure.” We chat a bit more and then Julia grabs my arm and ushers me inside.

As we’re walking past him, Julia pointedly says, “Hi, Jonathan,” calling attention to the fact that he’d totally ignored her.

We walk arm-in-arm down the center aisle, giggling to each other. We take a seat near the middle, and she hands me a program. I can feel eyes on me but I keep all my focus on Julia and this piece of paper, not really wanting to engage with anyone else.

When it’s time to begin, Jonathan gets our attention by holding up his hands and saying, “In nomine Dei nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi.”

We all respond with “Ave Satanas.” And just like it happened the first time I came to the church, as soon as those words come out of my mouth, I feel The Father’s presence within me. I stop paying attention to what’s happening in the room — people are talking, responding, standing, sitting. But I sit in my own little world, in a place of quiet peace, while he speaks to me. I can’t actually see or hear him, but the feeling is like he’d sat down behind me and wrapped his arms around me, and is whispering into my ear. Promising me that I’d served him well and my day of exaltation was coming.

I have no idea how much time went by. I sit perfectly still, eyes closed. Eventually I feel The Father give me a final squeeze and say something akin to “Now get back to work.” I smile, feel him leave me, and open my eyes. The room appears empty except for Jonathan and Julia, who were standing and looking down at me.

“Hiya. Is everyone gone?”

Jonathan gestures at the back of the room. “Not quite.” I turn my head and saw about a dozen people watching me. One of them is Brett.

“I turn to Jonathan. “Are those the new people? Do you still want me to talk to them?”

He sits down. “Are you OK?” He asks.

“I am outstanding.”

He pauses for a second then asks, “What happens? Does he talk to you?”

I nod. “He knows I just need some reassurance sometimes.”

Jonathan nods. “Are you good to talk to some people?”

“Yup!” I say. I am feeling downright chipper. Like I’d been walking around on empty and was finally full again.

***

A few minutes later the chairs have been organized into a circle. It’s me, Jonathan, Julia, and a handful of new members. Some of the other people who’d been gawking at me had left, but Brett remained, in the back of the room, arms folded, leaning against the wall, sulking. I’d rather he wasn’t there, but I kinda didn’t care. I was flying high.

We do the usual “Go around the circle and introduce yourself” piece. They are mostly young, mostly goth, and most have been coming for just a few months. Jonathan starts. “Eve here has had a remarkable experience with the Congregation, and I’d like for you to hear about it, but I’m going to start with a ‘results not typical’ disclaimer. Her story is unlike any other I’ve heard.” He looks at me and nods for me to start.

“OK! So, I’m Eve, and I’ve been a member for about two years. I started coming because of Julia here, who is a coworker of mine. She used to tell me about the Congregation, and sparked enough interest that I came with her one day.

“I had no idea what to expect – it was just a regular service, not a holiday or anything. I’m not sure if any of you saw me earlier tonight, kinda entranced? That happened that night as well. We started the service, I said a handful of words, and Satan came to me.” Gasps and murmurs.

I continue. “Prior to that, I’d been pretty certain that this church, well all churches, were kinda bullshit. To be honest. I believed that we were created by powerful forces and that there is a value to maintaining a balance of good and evil, to being open-minded, to avoiding conformity. But the idea that there were actually powerful *beings* behind those forces, and that they’d want to communicate with us and help us in our trivial lives? It just seemed unlikely to me.

“But when The Father came to me, he showed me the truth, and I’m eternally grateful for it. He does exist, he does care, he does want to help us achieve our potential, and we are not alone. For a few months after that, he came and spoke to me frequently, at least once a week. His message was always that I was destined for something greater. Eventually, I came back here to get Jonathan’s advice, and her recommended we try a Black Mass.

“And for me, it worked. During the Black Mass, he came to me, clear as day, and it was like we sat down at a table and had a negotiation. He asked me what I was missing, and I told him I was unhappy in my body, I was depressed, and missing out on a whole world of experience and gratification that we humans are designed for. He understood. He wanted to help me. He offered me a solution in exchange for my pledge of eternal devotion, which I was happy to give.”

A small girl with blue hair speaks up. “Does that mean you sold him your soul?”

I smile at her. “Well, *I* think the honest answer to that question is ‘yes.’ I could spout technicalities about how the church doesn’t call it a ‘sale,’ and doesn’t characterize the soul as such… but I think that is a lot of semantics. Jonathan may choose to answer that question a little differently.” I look at him, and he’s nodding, but he doesn’t butt in.

The blue-haired girl speaks up again. “So what did you get?”

I spread my arms wide. “He opened me up. He took all the shame and anxiety that I’d been riddled with since childhood, and, dare I say it, gave me swagger. I can’t control minds, or anything, but I can bend people to my will in a certain kind of way, which has removed so many of my fears, and empowered me to experience everything that I had been missing.” I pause a moment, relishing the mighty feeling that washes over me as I say those words.

“That was about 18 months ago. Since then, I haven’t heard from him much, and haven’t felt compelled to come back here. But tonight he wanted to get my attention again.”

The room is quiet for a second. Jonathan chimes in. “I advised Eve to do the Black Mass, and we were all thrilled when it worked. Most of the times we’ve done it, The Father has denied the request. It’s a powerful ritual either way – to communicate with him, to be recognized for your devotion – but he just can’t help everyone.” I nodded.

Another little gothy girl raises her hand. “So… you made a deal with him and he… changed you. Are you, like, blissfully happy now?”

“Nope,” I say. “When I went to him, I didn’t say ‘Satan, spice up my social life.’ I told him I was unhappy and I asked for his help. He chose to do digging in my brain and find what was causing me pain, and alter it the way he saw fit. And I am grateful for that! But neither he nor I are so naïve to believe that instant happiness would follow. I still struggle to find pleasure in my life. But I think that was part of his message for me today – he’s not done with me yet.”

Jonathan looked surprised. “Do you think he wants you in the Cooperative?”

I shrugged. “It could be that? I don’t know. He’s never gotten that specific.”

This time, a gothy boy asked, “Cooperative?”

Jonathan responds, “Yeah. They are a group of powerful members who are positioned to advise The Father and carry out his wishes. Once members join, the church kind of never hears from them again, so we don’t know as much as we’d like about what they do.”

I nod, and notice Brett staring at me from the back of the room, and I start to feel like maybe it’s time to go. “So, that’s my story,” I say. “I have come a long way, through Satan, but apparently I have further to go. Stay tuned.”

We say our goodbyes, and Jonathan gives me a hug. I see Brett walking my direction and I gesture to Julia with my eyes that we need to leave through the front. We nearly sprint outta there.

***

Julia and I agree to go hang out at my place afterwards, and enjoy the wine and snacks that I’d bought for Natalie. When she suggested it, I’d said, “Hey, I could fuck you while we’re at it!” and she’d laughed. Julia was not interested in women, and we’d often joke that both our lives would be a lot easier if she were.

Once we’re at my place, wine glasses in hand, we resume the dynamic that we often have – she pummels me with questions.

“OK so talk to me about this Brett kid. This is the kind of shit that happens to you all the time, right? Since you sold your soul?”

“I don’t know about all the time, but yeah. Last night, with Tim, was along those lines, too. The whole *point* of making the deal with The Father was to find fulfillment in my own body… and it just isn’t happening. Not with dudes from church, not with dudes from the bar, not with Natalie… I’m still pretty fucking dissatisfied. Grateful for his gift! But it just feels like there should be… more to it.”

She nods. “But you got a sense of that from The Father tonight? He has more in store for you?”

“I guess? I don’t know if it’s necessarily ‘more in store,’ but just that things will change for me. That it won’t go on like this forever.”

She nods some more. “So Jonathan’s suggestion about the Cooperative… you don’t think that’s a real possibility?”

I shrug. “What the fuck do I have to offer? Those people have money, and power, and influence. All I have is…”

“Uh, duh? The enchanted pussy?”

“Ah, right.”

“Well, I am grateful for you. Watching everything you’ve gone through has really strengthened my faith, if nothing else,” she says.

“Aw, that is so sweet! Thank you.” We toast our wine glasses spend a delightful evening just chilling on my couch.

Chapter Text

The following Monday, it’s the crack of dawn and I am arriving at the bakery for my morning shift. I don’t always go to work this early, but it does actually happen sometimes, and I don’t really mind it. It’s peaceful here, alone in the kitchen, with no one to keep me company except butter and sugar.

I pop in my headphones and disappear into a dream world for a few hours. While my hands are occupied mixing and rolling, my mind drifts to Saturday’s meeting. That feeling I had while The Father was talking to me was such a comfort, so invigorating. But I had no idea what it meant, or how much longer I had to wait before it would become evident. My mind drifts through a number of possibilities, lingering on the idea of joining the Cooperative that Jonathan had suggested. My thoughts get interrupted when I hear the back door unlock, and wave to Sam as he walks in, which means it’s time to get the front of the store ready.

We open at 6:00, and the first customers usually start trickling in at 6:30. I unlock the door and flip on the neon sign at 6:00 on the nose, then go behind the counter. By the time I turned back around to face the door, there is a man standing in front of me.

“Shit!” I yell. “Oh! Ah, sorry, you surprised me. What can I get you?” He doesn’t say anything. I wait a bit, but he keeps looking at me. “Sir? Do you know what you want?” He reaches his hand inside his jacket and I have a moment of panic. He is dressed entirely in black and has an intensity about him that I find unsettling.

It turns out that he is pulling an envelope out of his pocket. He hands it to me. It’s black, embossed in silver with my full name and a familiar insignia, the upside-down pentagram. I roll my eyes a bit at it – why do Satanists have to be so dramatic about everything? “OK, got it sir, thank you. Can I get you anything?” I ask, as I tuck the envelope in my back pocket. He holds his finger up to his mouth, making the “shhhh” gesture, which elicits an even bigger eye roll from me. “All right. Thanks, bud!” I say, then walk into the back room. I do peek out to make sure he was leaving, and he was.

I ask Sam, "Hey, can you watch the front for a sec? I need to pee." He says sure, and I head into the restroom and lock the door behind me.

I open up the letter. Inside is just one card, black, with more silver writing. It says:

"Michael Langdon requests the pleasure of your company
at a summit meeting of the Cooperative minds, to launch a new initiative
to preserve and protect our way of life.

The evening of Friday, May 20.

Contact 555-344-2344 via text for further details."

My heart starts pounding like a freight train. I re-read the letter two, three times, then tuck it back in my pocket and return to work. I try to keep it out of my mind and just push through until 11:30 when I can go home, but it’s not easy.

The name Michael Langdon sticks with me; it was on everyone’s tongue around the time I joined the church. He’d been discovered at a congregation on the west coast, and rumors of his power and stature had spread far and wide. Some say he is the son of Satan, and they called him the Antichrist. Some believe his whole persona is bullshit. But it is universally agreed that there is *something* to him, something compelling and beautiful and terrifying. I guess this is what the father has in store for me.

***

The meeting is just a few weeks away. I wait until my shift ends and I get home, and I text the number on the card. “I can be there. Where am I going?”

I few minutes later I get a long text in return with a full itinerary. The meeting will be in northern California, at a rich-person resort, and they’ll have a room for me. There is info about which airport to land in, but nothing about flights – I guess I am to pay for my own ticket. I am so broke, and a plane ticket will be hard to scrape together. It’s embarrassing, but I go ahead and ask.

“Will you send a plane ticket, too?” A few minutes go by.

“We are expecting Cooperative members to make their own travel arrangements.”

“OK, but I am not a Cooperative member.” A few more minutes go by.

“My apologies. Yes, then, we can send you a ticket from O’Hare. Please provide an email address to send the confirmation.”

Relief washes over me. Not only because of the money, but it is good to get some confirmation that they know I am not a member and they want me to come anyway. I’d been wondering if my name had gotten on the wrong list, or something. I start to flip through my phone, deciding who to tell first – Julia or Jonathan – when one more text pops up.

“One final important direction from our leader: DO NOT tell anyone from outside of the Cooperative that this meeting is happening.”

Aw, shoot. But I’m so excited! And they’d be so excited for me! I text back, “Understood,” and set my phone down.

***

The next two weeks feel like two months. I have absolutely no idea what is in store for me at this summit, but something will surely happen there, and I’m allowing myself to feel hopeful that The Father’s plans for me will become apparent. Or maybe I’ll meet some amazing people. Or maybe I’ll just meet some total freakshows, but have fun rolling my eyes at them. Maybe I’ll get to lay eyes on Michael Langdon and size him up for myself. Maybe I’ll just get to relax in the resort’s fancy hot tubs. No matter what, something will happen there, and something is better than the nothing-limbo that I’ve been living in for a few years now.

It’s hard to keep my mouth shut about it. I create a lame lie for Julia and Sam about heading to California to spend a weekend with my cousin and her new baby – I do have a cousin, and she does live in California, but her baby is about six years old now. It was the best lie I could come up with.

I fight the urge to buy a whole new wardrobe for the trip. I need to look my absolute best, but I continue to be broke as hell, so I don’t go nearly as crazy as I’d like to. I invest in replacing the heels on my favorite boots, and I buy one new lipstick, and that’s it.  

At long last, May 20th arrives. My flight isn’t until 11:00am, but by 8:00, I am up, showered, dressed, coiffed, made up, packed, and waiting for the cab I called. I usually let myself look like a slob when I travel, but not for this trip. On my way to the airport, I stare out the window with an idiotic smile on my face, my heart pounding like a kettle drum.

Chapter Text

The flight to the Sacramento airport is about three hours, and I spend the whole time idly flipping through magazines, unable to focus on a single printed word. The flight is uneventful, and after landing I make a beeline to the restroom to touch up my makeup. My carryon and I make our way to ground transportation, where a man dressed entirely in black, wearing sunglasses indoors, is holding a sign printed with my name, “Evelyn Florence.” Oh man I have always wanted to get picked up like this!

I walk over to him, give him a wave, and he asks to see my ID. This seems a little excessive to me, but whatever. I show it to him, he grabs my bag, and we walk to a black limo parked by the curb. I climb into the back and look around, trying to look uninterested, like I ride in limos all the time.

“The ride to the resort is about 90 minutes, ma’am,” the driver says. I thank him, and am thinking I might strike up a conversation with him about what it’s like to live in this area, but just then, he rolls the glass divider up, cutting off that option.

So I spend the whole ride second-guessing my decision to come. The uncertainty about what is in store is making me nuts. I know that Cooperative members will be there, and they know that I am not one, but I’m still invited so… am I being asked to join? Is it a big meeting that will include a ton of non-Cooperative folks? And how quickly will any of this become apparent? And how should I introduce myself to people? “Hi, I’m Eve, I sold my soul 18 months ago. And you are?”

The scenery switches from highways to scenic side roads, more mountainous, more posh. I know we’re getting close. The driver pulls off onto a gravel road and starts a steep ascent up a long private drive, then pulls into a circular driveway in front of a large rustic-but-luxurious-looking hotel.

He opens the door for me and I hop out, hand him a tip, and take my bag. Without saying anything more than a “Good Day,” he is back in the car and hightailing it back down the hill. I take a deep breath in and out, and walk in the front door. There is a large reception desk, and a bright-faced young woman behind it, smiling at me.

“Hi there. I am Evelyn Florence, here for the… summit? With Mr. Langdon?” I don’t really know what else to call it.

“Of course, Ms. Florence. Welcome!” She walks to a counter behind her and pulls out a shiny black gift bag, and hands it to me. “Your itinerary and agenda are in there, and I’ve got you in room 514. Here is your key. The elevator is that way. The folks who attended the morning session are enjoying some drinks on the porch right now, if you’re interested. Out that side of the lobby. Enjoy!”

Oh, man, drinks? The socializing at this event is the thing I am the most freaked out about, so I am just not ready to go there just yet. But I am dying to see what this looks like. I walk over to the porch door, quickly, and poke my head out. It looks *identical* to the meetings at Julia’s congregation. A bunch of quirky goth types, placed wildly out of context. A sea of folks in black velvet, red satin, corsets, high-heeled boots… sipping chardonnay in a wine country resort at 3:00 in the afternoon. I stand there staring for about 20 seconds, and decide that is enough.

I turn to start walking back to the elevator, and I nearly slam into a man who is approaching the door. “Oh! I’m sorry!” I say, then I look up at him. I feel like my stomach drops down to my knees. This man… he is tall and imposing, with flawless skin on his flawlessly chiseled face, topped with a wavy mop of boyish blonde hair. His blue eyes are like ice, and they stare right through me. He looks like an angel – a very intense angel.

He doesn’t say anything, but his eyes say everything. You are insignificant and in my way. I should move out of his way, but I seem to be frozen. I just stand there, staring at him. After this goes on embarrassingly long, he breaks into a kinda-creepy smile and places his hand on his chest. “Michael Langdon,” he says, bowing his head a bit. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

A wavery croak comes out of me, “Eve. I’m Eve. Florence,” I sound like an idiot.

“Enchanted,” he says, but I notice he doesn’t take my hand. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he says, as he nudges his way around me. It’s only then that I notice that he is not alone; there is a woman following him, and the two walk out to the porch together. I don’t really look at her face or anything, but I can tell she is glaring at me as she walks by.

I watch him enter the room, and I watch everyone run over to him, gushing, fawning, bowing, smiling… acting like sane people act when they meet their leader. Well, great.

I watch them all, and drop back against the doorframe with a defeated, “thunk.” A woman about my age is standing about three feet from me and looks over, smiling.

“I saw that,” she says. “That was pretty bad.”

“Wasn’t it?” I asked. “I don’t know what I’m doing here. Those people,” I say, gesturing at the fawning crowd in the porch. “Those are the people who belong here.”

“Who, them? Eh, they’re all Cooperative. Sucking up is in their DNA.”

I look at her, startled. “You mean you’re not?”

“No…” she says. “Are you?”

“No. I’ve been very confused about what this is all about.”

She gestured at my gift bag. “Did you read the shit in your folder yet?”

“No!” I say. “I just got here.”

“Read it,” she says. “It’ll make more sense. What do you do for a living?”

“Pastry chef,” I answer.

She points at herself. “I own a cleaning business. We’re support staff,” she says.

“Support staff,” I repeat.

“I’m Val,” she says, extending her hand.

“Eve,” I say, giving it a shake. I pause a moment to check her out—she’s shorter than me, with long dark curly hair, pouty lips and a curvy figure. “It is lovely, truly, to meet you.”

“You too. Go to your room, drop off your bag, read the shit, and then come back down and we’ll have a drink,” she says.

I smile at her. “That sounds like a plan,” I say. And I walk across the lobby to the elevator.

My room is gorgeous, with an enormous bed and fancy soaking tub and a view down the mountain. It seems a shame I’ll just be sleeping here. I dunno, Val is pretty cute? I drop my crap on the floor and sit down on the bed with the bag. In it is a folder full of papers. The folder is indeed labeled with a sticker that says, “Support Staff.”

Within a few minutes of browsing, this is starting to make more sense. There are tiers to this meeting — Cooperative folks have a very busy itinerary with a bunch of closed-door small group meetings with Michael and his associates, and then there are support staff, who mostly have plenary sessions and socializing. That painful ten-second encounter may be the most contact I have with Michael on this whole trip.

I’m still a little mystified by the phrase, “support staff.” Who or what are we supporting? Are they putting us to work here? But I’m not too phased by it — it’s clear that I’ll mostly be interacting with normal schmoes like myself, and this realization bring me such a sense of relief.

***

I touch up my makeup and head back downstairs. I go back to the porch and the crew out there looks a little different — younger, rowdier, with more piercings and more tattoos. And I don’t see Michael anymore. I find Val pretty quickly. “Where’d the big man go?” I ask her.

The tall, skinny guy next to her responds. “Michael? The Co-ops have him now. We get him next.”

I nod. “Dang. I was hoping to continue impressing him with my wit and eloquence,” I joked.

Val laughed. “This is Eve,” she said, to the two dudes standing near her. “She met Michael this afternoon,” she said, still laughing.

The tall guy says,” I’m Jared, this is Jack,” and I shake each of their hands.

“Hi there. So I guess it’s time to start drinking?”

Both Jared and Jack chime in at the same time, “I can get you something!” I smile at them both, look Jared in the eyes, touch his hand and say, “Thank you. Gin and tonic, please.” He beams and walks away, while Jack sulks.

I turn to him, “So where are you from, Jack?” and his mood visibly improves. He’s from some other part of California, and he drove here, and he starts talking about taking the 101 to the 128 and I zone him out instantly. I make eye contact with Val and send her a laughing smile with my eyes. Eventually he stops talking, and I say to her, “And you?”

“Philadelphia,” she says. “I flew in yesterday.”

“So you’ve been living it up in this place? I can’t wait to try out the tub in my room.”

“There’s a spa downstairs, too.”

“OMG yes, please.” Jared returns with my drink. I give him the flirty eyes and say, “thank you!” And then I grab Val’s elbow and say, “Will you two excuse us for a second?”

They’re both like, “Yeah! Sure!” and Val and I walk away.

“Those guys both totally want to fuck you,” she says.

“Yeah, I know,” I sigh. “And such is the gift that The Father hath bestowed upon me—the ability to get free drinks.”

She laughs. “Where are you from?”

“Chicago,” I say.

“Is there a congregation there?”

“There is, but I barely go. I think I’ve been three times?”

She nods. “We had one, but it kinda dissolved after a few years. We had this stretch of failed Black Masses, and people felt defeated and lost interest.”

“Huh. Our priest finds that the ones that don’t work out are still pretty inspiring. Maybe he’s just good at putting some spin on it.”

“I’ve tried three times. No luck. So far, that seems to be a common theme among the support staff here. We’re all devotees, but no one has made a deal yet.

I nod, and say nothing. We continue drinking and chatting, about how lame men are and how tedious the church can be and how stunning Michael is. She hasn’t specifically said that she was bi yet, but I am getting a vibe, and I am excited about it.

We hear a hush fall over the room. I can’t see or hear what’s going on, but it looks like everyone is moving into the room next door, where the meeting is happening.

“OK, then,” I say, feeling some butterflies in my stomach. “Let’s go.”

***

We file into the room with everyone else, and gather around a huge table. The room is weirdly dark and the energy is intense. No one knows if we’re supposed to sit down, so we all just kinda mill around and whisper at each other. After a minute or two, Michael enters, and we all fall silent.

He steps up to the table, makes a gesture with his hand and we all sit down. He’s dressed entirely in black, with red leather gloves.

“Devoted followers of Satan, the rumors you have heard are true. My name is Michael Langdon and I am the Antichrist.

“This morning, I met with esteemed members of a group known as the Cooperative, which is, as you likely know, a group of the wealthiest, the most powerful, and the most influential Satanists, who have risen to their positions of power by pledging their immortal souls to my father. I shared with them the same information as I will now share with you.

“My father has enlightened me to the fact that the world as it is today is no longer sustainable. In his infinite wisdom, he has foretold that the end of days, the apocalypse, is coming. The specific details of when and how it will happen are still classified, but I can tell you that that world as we know it *will* come to an end, by the end of the year 2020. But that doesn’t mean the human race has to end.

“You all are here because you are my father’s most devout followers. As devoted, hardworking Satanists, I invite you all to ride out the end of days in the luxury fallout shelters that I am building with the help of the Cooperative. While they have the resources that we need to build these sanctuaries, we need more people to staff them. To keep them clean and maintained, to keep us all healthy and fed, and to protect us from any who would attempt to invade our spaces. This is where you all come in.

“While we are doing this work, I want both Cooperative members and support staff to live together in a resort hotel that we’ve procured, and are currently refurbishing, in West Virginia, close to where the largest underground Sanctuary will be located. Once the shelters are completed, you all will move into them, and we all ride out the apocalypse together.

“This intervening period in the compound is necessary for efficiently accomplishing the many tasks at hand, for ensuring that this advance knowledge that we have about the end of the world stays within the Satanist community, and to properly vet our shelter inhabitants. There are three things that I request of you:

  1. “In one month’s time, come to the compound in West Virginia. Tell no one where you are going or why, and be prepared to have no contact with the outside would once you arrive.
  2. “In their daily lives, Cooperative members choose to keep their membership a secret—so much so that, at their summit this morning, they wore disguises that concealed their identity. (He says this with a bit of an eye roll.) ‘Outing’ a Co-op member to the outside will be grounds for banishment from the compound and from our shelters.
  3. “Perform your support tasks effectively. You will be placed into working teams, with a supervisor, and they will evaluate and report your performance back to the Cooperative.

“As long as you can follow these three rules, and remain devoted to my father, you all can join us, survive this end of days, and help us rebuild humanity in my father’s image.”

Cheers and applause break out in the room. I imagine that for a lot of these folks, this is outstanding news. We are being rewarded for our years of devotion to The Father. The world is going to come to an end, but we will survive, and all we have to do is cook meals and scrub toilets for the wealthy elite. I’m feeling… I don’t even know how to describe what I am feeling. I look around the room and think to myself, These are the people that I am going to spend the rest of my life with.

But… what else do I have going on? If I had a strong bond with my family, or a bunch of good friends, I’d be sad about their untimely end, but in this moment, I didn’t really feel sad. Stupid thoughts popped into my head, like, Will the next Star Wars movie come out before the apocalypse? How many condoms should I pack to last me forever?

I look at Val. She looks like she was in shock. I try to catch her eye, but she appears to be lost in thought. Michael resumes speaking.

“All that is on your agenda for tonight is this announcement, followed by a dinner and reception. I encourage you all to sit with this news, get to know each other, and celebrate Our Father, whose grand plan will save us all. Tomorrow, we’ll get into more details about your work and roles in the compound and beyond. Have a good night,” he concludes. More cheers, more applause.

***

Ten minutes later I’m standing next to Val in line at the bar. She’s still being pretty quiet. A dude in line in front of me is trying to chat me up, and I pretend to want to hear his thoughts on this evening’s activities, but really, I just want to get drunk and get away from everyone.

He hands me two drinks, one for me and one for Val. I thank him, grab Val by the elbow and steer her to our table. Once she’s sitting, I hand her the drink and say, “Chug it.” She does as she’s told. “How are you doing?” I ask her.

She looks at me. “My mom thought it was weird when I started attending Congregation meetings, but she supported me. She’s a good person and she loves me. She doesn’t deserve this.” I nod.

She continues, “I am totally unable to focus on anything other than that. Yeah yeah, Hail Satan, woo hoo he’s got a son… where was he when I needed him before? And I’m just supposed to be there for him now? While everyone I love is out there dying?” I can tell that the drink is starting to hit her, and the anger in her voice is rising. I nod some more.

“You don’t have to go, you know. If you want to stay with your family, spend your last days with them, you certainly can.”

She shakes her head. “No, I don’t want that either. I think I just need some more time. And more of this,” she says, holding her empty glass.

“I’m on it.” I stand up and walk back over to the bar, scanning the room as I go. As I do, I am reminded why I’ve gotten so used to going everywhere with my head down. When I look around at people, I see them looking back. I see their hungry eyes, scanning me like I’m their next meal. But I endure it, because I am dying to know if Michael is in this room somewhere. I don’t see him. I get back in the bar line, and again, endure the chattiness of some more gothy men who want to know me better.

Within a few minutes, I am back at the table with a follow-up drink for Val. She smiles at me. “Thanks. I’ll feel normal-er again soon, I promise.”

“I don’t think anyone expects any of us to feel ‘normal’ right now. But I think there is something to the idea of turning off our brains for tonight and letting it all come crashing down tomorrow.”

“Amen to that,” she says, holding up her drink for a toast. I clink my drink against hers, then I lean in and kiss her on the cheek. When I pull back, she is looking at me with a red face and a raised eyebrow. She doesn’t say anything, but I can see the sparks flying from her eyes.

I force her to eat prime rib and drink well gin with me, and I even get her out on the dance floor a few times. We’re approached by men again and again and we give them polite smiles and nods, but not one gets very much of our time. Eventually, we’re in line for the bathroom, and I lean in and start kissing her for real. And she kisses me back, more passionately than I’d expected. We each take our turn in the bathroom, and when she comes out, I take her by the hand and lead her out of the banquet hall. I see the door to the conference room is open, and it looks totally dark in there. We duck inside.

Once we’re in the room and our eyes adjust, we can see light peeking in from curtains on one wall. I cross over to that wall and pull the curtain back, revealing a lovely private balcony with comfy-looking patio furniture. “Oh, we’re going out there,” I say. Val giggles. I slide the glass door open and we step out, and collapse into a couch together. She polishes off the drink she’s holding and turns to me.

“So are you a lesbian?” She asks.

“No, I am bi. But I’ve been really disappointed by men lately.”

She laughs. “Yeah, I get that.”

“There are times when I am so so attracted to them. But then when I decide to go for it and actually fuck one, it’s always a huge disappointment.”

She nods. “I am over disappointment,” she says, tracing her finger up my arm.

“Ditto,” I say. She’s laying down, kinda half on the couch, and I swing her legs so that she’s totally on the couch, then I climb up so I am straddling her. I yank off my blazer so I’m just in my corset top, then I lean over and start kissing her again. I immediately unbutton her shirt, and kiss her neck and chest. Once I open up her shirt, I can see that she has got a gorgeous bra on — it’s pale aqua, with black lace overlay, and run my hands over it.

“Oh that bra is amazing,” I say.

She giggles. “I bought it new. For this trip.”

I don’t want to take it off, so I grab her breasts over the bra and run lines of kisses along its edge. “So beautiful,” I say.

I reach my hands up under her skirt and grab her underwear. I yank it down quickly, pausing to admire that it matches her bra, then I swing her legs back onto the floor, so I can kneel before her. I drop down my knees, push her skirt up around her waist, and spread her legs. I open her up wide, and start sliding my fingers up and down her vulva, making sure her clit is slick and wet before I really get started. I see her eyes screw tightly closed in anticipation. It occurs to me to whip my head around for just a second, making sure there is no way anyone could be watching us.

Val’s back is to the sliding glass door that we came out, and just when I am looking in that direction, I see a figure behind the glass step into the light from the balcony. I gasp, but I don’t stop doing what I am doing with my fingers. The figure steps closer, and when his face enters the pool of light, I see that it’s Michael. I look at Val; her eyes are still closed. I look up at him; he’s got his arms folded across his chest, and his head cocked to the side, as if to say, Whatcha doing down there?

Electric sparks are shooting throughout my body. If it had been any person other than Michael, I’d have jumped up and screamed him away. But the prospect of putting on a show for him is intoxicating. My right hand is still doing its work under Val’s skirt, and I hold up my left hand. I look him in the eye, and use my index finger to make a come here gesture. He gives a small, gentle smile, but shakes his head no.

So I shrug, and mouth, “OK,” and bend down. I start my tongue in circles around her clit, and she opens her legs even wider. She starts moaning softly. I can’t see Michael’s face anymore, but I can see him from about his elbows down, and he hasn’t moved an inch. I wish I could see his face, but I need to keep myself focused if I am going to give him a good show.

I run my hands up her thighs, over her belly, and grab her breasts again. She holds my hands in place once they got there, and moans a little louder. I keep them there for a moment, then pull my right hand back down, take two fingers, and start pushing them inside her, just a tiny bit at first. I slowly ease them in deeper and deeper and when she starts grinding against my face, I know I’ve hit the right spot.

I check the window. Yup, he’s still there. I up the intensity on her clit, making unnecessarily big lapping movements, for show. Val is getting pretty close. She’s switched to grunting profanity at me, “Fuck, yes, oh, god, yes, fuck, me, yes!” And then she comes, loudly and exquisitely, doing me proud. I lift my head and smile up at her.

“Good work, my darling,” I say, kissing her belly.

She laughs. “Are you really saying ‘good work’ to me?” I look up at the door and see that Michael is still there, but he’s turning back into the room. And then he’s gone.

“Yeah,” I say. “Making you come is the most fun I’ve had all week,” I smile up at her. “Let me see if I can find your panties around here,” I say, feeling around on the ground. I find them, slide them back on for her, and drop down onto the couch next to her. She has a purse next to her and she hands me a tissue. I laugh and mop off my face.

“I need about ten of those,” she says. With my face all tidy, I lean in and kiss her some more. She pulls back and asks me, “You next?”

I nod back. “Sure, but how about we head upstairs. You wanna crash in my room tonight?” I ask.

She smiles at me. “I’d love to.” I stand up, reach down and pull her up off the couch, and we head in the sliding glass door.

Once we’re inside, I pause for a second. “I just want to let my eyes adjust so I don’t smack into anything,” I say. Which is not quite true – I am hoping to see Michael hiding among the shadows. After a minute, I can see fairly well in there, and there’s no sign of him anywhere. “OK, let’s go,” I say, and we walk through the room and out into the hall.

“Want to see if anyone is left in the banquet hall?” I ask.

She says, “Sure,” and we poke our heads in the door. The room has emptied out except for one group in the corner. There are a few people I recognize, but no one I particularly want to talk to. i.e. no Michael.

“Eh,” I say. Let’s go upstairs.” I take her hand, smile at her, and we start walking to the elevator.

Val leans her head on my shoulder as we wait for the elevator to arrive, and I kiss the top of her head. I guess I won’t be seeing Michael again tonight. And who knows if he’ll even acknowledge me if I see him tomorrow. And I am feeling pretty guilty about not telling Val that he had been watching us. But that balcony scene was still the single hottest thing I’d ever experienced, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop thinking about it.

Chapter Text

I wake up in my fancy-ass bed, in my fancy-ass room, with a sexy-ass woman sleeping next to me. I look up at the ceiling with a little smile on my face. Yes, the world is coming to an end, but The Father has chosen to save me. In the morning light, I feel grateful and hopeful and a lot of other things I haven’t felt in a while.

And then an image of Michael’s face flashes into my mind, and I feel my heart skip a beat. His head cocked bemusedly, looking down at me, his face a mixture of curiosity and titillation. I’m eager to get downstairs, where I might see him again. It occurs to me that once I get to the compound, I’ll have at least a few months of living in the same building as him, and that prospect is causing *me* titillation.

I slide out of bed and tiptoe to the bathroom, careful not to wake Val. A few minutes later I emerge showered and refreshed, and I start flipping through my clothes, deciding what to wear today. Most of what I’d brought was black, but I kinda want to stand out today, so I grab the only other option I have, a red dress. I get dressed and sit down at the vanity to tackle my wet hair. I’ve finished toweling it dry and am adding some product when I see Val in the mirror, sitting up in bed.

“Hey gorgeous,” I say.

She looks at me with a scowl on her face. “What are you, a morning person?”

I laugh. “Not usually, no. But I’m actually excited to get downstairs. Is that weird?”

She smiles. “No, not weird. It’s cute. You’re like a little overachiever. That dress is hot.”

“Thanks. I could not bear to wear more black today.”

Val crosses the room, still totally naked, and leans down to kiss me. I go for her lips, but she cocks her head and gives me a cheek kiss. “Girl, I need to brush my teeth,” she says. She goes into the bathroom. I continue working on my hair until she comes back out.

“Ok, all my shit is in my room and you’re almost ready. How about I go get dressed in my room and meet you downstairs. Breakfast goes until 9:00?”

I check the schedule. “Yup.”

“Cool. I’ll see you down there. Try not to break too many hearts this morning.”

And she’s gone. It occurs to me that if I was back home, her speedy departure would likely have made me upset. But at this moment, I have to admit that I have so much Michael on my brain that I don’t really mind.

I finish up my hair, do my makeup, and evaluate myself in the full-length mirror. This dress is something of a secret weapon. It’s not particularly revealing — surplice top, calf-length, ¾-sleeves. But the fabric is this knit poly blend that magically clings in all the right places. My hips and ass, in particular, look fabulous in it. I admire myself a little more, jokingly say, “Hail Satan!” into the mirror, then step out the door.

***

Breakfast is from 7:00-9:00, and it’s just about 7:00 right now. I have my iPad in my purse, and my plan is to get some food, sit by myself at a table, and stare at my iPad looking super-engrossed in something until someone comes over to talk to me. I accept that I may sit totally alone for an hour or so until Val shows up, and I’m psyching myself up to look like I am totally OK with that.

I enter the banquet hall and, as I’d expected, it’s pretty much empty. I execute my plan—fill a plate, grab some coffee, sit down, whip out the iPad. And for about 10 minutes, I am alone, half-heartedly reading stories on Jezebel.

But then I feel the electricity wash through the room, and I look up. I don’t see Michael, but I can guess that he’s nearby. My eyes scan the whole room, and there’s no sign of him. Maybe he’s out in the hallway still? I try to continue to look busy. I’m staring down at the iPad, watching the words blur, not reading any of them. And then I hear, “Good morning,” in a voice barely louder than a whisper, and I turn my head—Michael’s face is about six inches from mine.

“Gah!” I exclaim. “What is it with you scaring the shit out of me?” Inwardly I’m patting myself on the back for coming across sassy and conversational, not frozen and stammering.

He laughs. “Occupational hazard.” And then he sits down in the chair next to me.

He points at me. “Evelyn.”

“That’s right. We met on the porch yesterday. Sorta.”

“And you were on my balcony last night.”

I blush. “I hadn’t realized it was *your* balcony,” I said. “Did you enjoy the show?”

He tilts his head to the side and sorta squints at me for a second, not answering my question. “I’ve brought you all here so that I can observe you, and deduce who will be an asset to me in the shelters.”

“Oh yeah? And what have you deduced by observing me?”

He pauses. “You are… service-oriented?”

I laugh at that, louder than I’d intend to, which makes me blush even harder. “I think you just called me a slut.”

“That is not a word I would ever use,” he responds.

“If you have any issue with my current level of sluttiness, you can take it up with your father,” I say.

He opens his mouth to speak, but just then, a woman walks up to the table. She’s a little older, with short black hair. She looks fierce, and I’m instantly pretty terrified of her.

“Have you met Ms. Mead?” Michael asks.

I smile at her. “No, not yet.” She does not smile back.

“Ms. Mead is my oldest and dearest friend, confidant, and advisor. This,” he gestures to me, “is Evelyn.”

“The baker,” she says.

“Hmm?” Michael asks.

I respond. “I bake. I’m a pastry chef.”

The face he makes in response to this is… troubling. It’s kind of an “Ooh, how delightful!” face but it is so insincere, it actually scares me.

Ms. Mead clears her throat. “Ah, Ms. Mead is also my taskmaster. There must be someplace I need to be.”

She nods.

“It’s been a delight,” Michael says to me. “Until next time,” he declares, standing up.

“Absolutely,” I say, as I watch him walk away. And then I become acutely aware that everyone in the room is staring at me. I suddenly wish I was wearing black.

***

Thankfully Val walks up at that very moment. If I had been left at the table alone for a while, I am sure some folks I don’t want to talk to would’ve come up and started talking to me.

“Dude,” she says. “What the fuck was that?”

I shrug. “He was just saying hello,” I say.

She smiles at me. “It’s the red dress.” I think it’s also the fact that he watched me fuck you last night.

“I guess so,” I say.

“What did he say?”

“Not much. That lady friend of his sure seems to think I’m an idiot.”

“I think she’s mean to everyone. Like, it’s her purpose on this planet to protect him, so she assumes everyone is terrible until they prove themselves to be otherwise.”

“That’s probably not a bad way for her to be,” I say. “You need to get some food?”

“Yeah,” Val says. “Be right back.” She walks away, and I feel exposed again. Stare at the iPad, stare at the iPad.

It doesn’t work. A guy about my age walks over to me. He’s got chin-length black wavy hair, a dark complexion, and stubble. He’s pretty adorable, and I decide to get over myself and talk to him. “Is this seat taken?” he asks, pointing to the chair Michael had just vacated.

“No, go ahead,” I say. And he sits.

He holds out his hand, “I’m Edward. I heard a rumor that you’re our pastry chef.”

I nod. “That’s right.”

“I’ll be with you. In the kitchen that is. I met our supervisor last night and she gave me the rundown of what our staff will look like.”

“Oh, cool! Nice to meet you! Who is our supervisor?”

“Her name is Connie. I’m sure she’s around here somewhere. We’re all meeting with her after breakfast.”

“Awesome,” I say. “How does she seem?”

“Smart. Maybe kind of a bitch, but she knows her shit.”

I nod. “I’m OK with that.”

“Yeah, same. So, what’s your story? Why are you sitting here, just chatting up Michael like it’s no big thing?”

“Is it a big thing?” I ask. “He just sat down and started talking to me,” I shrug. Trying to appear super-nonchalant about it.

“I don’t get the impression that he ever communicates directly with support staff. Like maybe he tells Ms. Mead stuff who tells your supervisor stuff and that’s how you hear it.”

“Hmm. I dunno. He just said that the point of getting everyone together this weekend is so he can observe us all.”

“Girl, I think he just wants to observe you,” he chuckles.

I smile at him and say nothing. Just then, Val returns. “Hey, Val, this is Edward. He and I will be in the kitchen together for the rest of our mortal existence!”

Val sits down and says, “Hey!” The three of us chat until the breakfast hour is up. It’s a fun discussion – it becomes clear that Edward is gay, and he picks up pretty quickly on the “we’ve been fucking” vibe between Val and I, and he makes fun of us. It’s silly, good-natured, and I’m jacked-up from my Michael interaction this morning. I am feeling excited, certain that this future we’ll all have together might be kinda great.

***

After breakfast is our meeting with our supervisors. Edward and I go to meet with Connie and the other kitchen staff. He is absolutely right – she’s a smart bitch. She talks fast and doesn’t smile a lot, but she makes me feel certain that she knows what she is doing. She breaks it all down for us.

At the compound, there will be about 30 Co-op members and 30 support staff. The support folks are broken into five groups: kitchen, hospitality, maintenance, health, and security. Our kitchen group has seven people. Connie is our executive chef, and she reports to a mystery celebrity chef who is a Co-op member. (She assures us that we will find out who it is as soon as we arrive at the compound.) There are six of us who are under her: Sharon and Latoya are her sous chefs, I’m on pastries, and Edward and one other guy, Leo, are the line cooks. The last guy is Matt, who will be our line prep/dishwasher. We’re a pretty small team, and it’s made clear to us that we need to be flexible and help out wherever it’s needed. It’s also made clear that we can expect to pretty much never get a day off.

Once we arrive at the compound, our first job will be to feed the Co-op members – breakfast will be a daily buffet, lunch will be served family-style, and there will full dinner service every night. A few hospitality folks will be helping us out with setting up, serving, and striking meals in the fancy dining rooms on the fifth floor. We in the kitchen won’t have much for direct interaction with the Co-op members. Our second job will be to make less-fancy meals available in the downstairs dining area for support staff. We’re given a detailed daily schedule of how that will all work out.

Our third job will be to prepare to feed the people living in the Sanctuary, the largest of the planned shelters. All 30 of the support staff will be going there, but we can expect a larger group of Co-op members, as some of them will bring their spouses and children. Some of them, also, will be moved to the outposts, and I am thankful to hear that none of us will go with them. Each outpost has an administrator who is responsible for setting up their own support system. They likely won’t have any dedicated kitchen staff; they’ll only be stocked with vacuum-packed or dehydrated food.

We are supposed to head to the Sanctuary with enough frozen or nonperishable food to last us for five years. There is a plan to build a hydroponic garden underground, but we are to prepare as though that doesn’t exist. If it works out, great, but we can’t assume that it will. We’ll also have an additional five years’ worth of vacuum-packed stuff, as a safety net.

Connie encourages us to spend the next month digging through recipes and doing some research and testing, so we can arrive at the compound with ideas. She also tells us to think about things we’d want to bring – spare pairs of work shoes, comfy socks, tools we can’t live without, and so on. I am glad to have a few assignments to keep me busy for the next month. I think I’m going to be jumping out of my skin, eager to get to the compound.

Our kitchen staff meeting takes up the full morning, and when it ends, I am surprised that I actually want to eat again. Lunch is served to us in little boxes, and there seems to be an expectation that we’ll eat them on the porch or lawn or some other outdoor space.

“What, like in nature?” Edward asks, and I laugh. He and I drop down on a floor in the corner of an empty conference room. “Fuck the sun,” he says.

We dig our sporks into our plastic cups of pasta salad. “How are you doing with all this?” I ask him.

He ponders. “I don’t even know. I feel pretty groovy and excited about it, like, while I am here. But I know that I’m going to go home and start looking around at my cats, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite club, this dude at my gym who I have a crush on… and I’m gonna feel shitty for all of them.

I nod. “I kinda don’t want to go home. I don’t want a month to pack up my life and think about the fact that it’s all ending. I just want to go straight to the end game.”

“Shit, yeah, packing. What the hell do you buy when you know it’s your last chance to ever buy anything?”

“About seven thousand hair ties?” I offer.

He nods. “I’ll need a full suitcase for my hair products alone.”

I shake it off. “Ugh I don’t wanna think about it! So, what’s next on our agenda for today?”

Edward pulls out his folder. “Uniform fittings. Then—ooh fun—vaccinations.”

“They better give us more booze after that.”

“Yup,” he says. “There’s an evening reception, and then we’re released back into the wild.”

I feel myself smiling, thinking about what another evening could bring.

Chapter Text

As it happened, the rest of day two didn’t have too much to offer by way of excitement. Right after our afternoon staff sessions – the fittings, the vaccinations, getting fingerprinted and photographed for our ID badges, filling out forms – Val had to fly home, to get ready for work the next day. So we say our goodbyes in the hotel lobby before the evening reception starts.

“I guess I’ll see you in a month,” she says.

I wrapped my arms around her waist. “This is nuts. You’ll text me, right? It’s gonna be so hard to talk to *anyone* from the outside.”

“I know,” she says. “Words like, ‘I’ll have a latte, please,” will come out of my mouth, but you know that all I’ll be thinking is ‘You’re all going to die.’ Like, all the time.”

“Seriously. You have my number. Text me. We’ll keep each other sane.”

“Will do,” she says.

“I also welcome sexts. Just FYI.”

She laughs. “Good to know.”

We share one last kiss, and she waves to me as she walks out the lobby door. I watch her get into a black limo, and pull away.

***

I wander back into the banquet hall. The whole support staff crowd seems to be split into two camps – there are the folks who are just starting to get hit by the reality of what’s going on, here, and seem a little bewildered and depressed. I’d put myself in that camp. And then there are those that are coping with their reality by getting shit-faced drunk. I don’t blame them, really. But it is kinda unattractive.

There is another reception happening, up on a higher floor, for the Cooperative folks, and it’s safe to assume that Michael is up there, too. Which won’t stop me from spending the whole night looking around, hoping to spot him. But chances are… I won’t.

I spend my evening at a table with Edward and a few others, including some of the kitchen staff who I’ll be getting to know so well in upcoming months. Latoya, one of the soux chefs, is a sweetheart, and I can tell I am going to enjoy working with her. She’d done some pastry work in the past, and it’s fun to talk shop with her about techniques and ingredients.

The other soux, Sharon, gives off a vibe that I did not care for one bit. She is a suck-up, for one, trying desperately to win our supervisor Connie’s favor at all times. And she just seems to have a chip on her shoulder. She seems to resent the Cooperative, for having status above ours, and she seems to resent the other support staff, as though we’re all bringing her down. My guess is that she is another one who’d tried the Black Mass, maybe a few times, and it did not work out.

I choose not to tell the other support staff that my Black Mass *had* worked out, and that I had sold my soul. It seems possible that they’ll find out some way or another, but if they don’t need to know, I won’t mention it. It could only bring more questions, questions I don’t really want to answer. What did you get? What were you like before? Why didn’t you ask for more? Fair questions. Understandable, at least. But not conversations that I feel like having with people I barely knew.

***

The next morning, I pack up and get ready to leave. I knock on Edward’s door, and we said a quick goodbye. We trade cell numbers, and promise to keep each other sane, just like I’d done with Val. I am already feeling lucky that I would have friends where I was going.

I take the limo to the airport, the plane back to Chicago, the cab to my house. As I walk in that door and set my bag down, I am consumed with this desire to just burn my apartment to the ground. What the hell does anything matter, anyway? I know I’m not going to pay rent this month, that’s for sure.

In our small group discussions at the summit, we’d done some brainstorming about what to tell everyone when we were back home. If all the people who went to the compound just disappeared without warning, on the same day, it might raise suspicion. So we were encouraged to think of a plausible and unique disappearing story. I had decided to go with the Crazy Christian Family Narrative. I’ll tell folks like my coworkers Julia and Sam that my Crazy Christian parents had gotten wind of my involvement with the Church of Satan, and that they will bring me home to stay with them.

It makes me sad to think about how there is so little to do to prepare. Julia will tell Jonathan and the other folks at the congregation where I’d gone. I’ll quit my job, cancel my lease. Past hookups won’t miss me. Natalie never texted me back after she bailed on our plans a few weeks ago. My parents would hardly get suspicious when they don’t hear from me for a few months.

I donate all of my stuff – my furniture, appliances, clothes. The idea of a last hurrah appeals to me, but I don’t really have anyone to celebrate with. So I mostly spend my last few weeks walking around the city. Savoring good coffee. Visiting my favorite museums. Watching kids play. Smiling at senior citizens. And maxing out my credit cards buying sturdy shoes and a few pieces of fabulous jewelry.

I am grateful that The Father is able to predict when the end is coming, and grateful that I’ll be able to survive it. But for these few weeks, I try not to think too much about what the end will actually look like for those on the outside. And not surprisingly, I don’t get very much sleep. I spend most of my nights with my hands on my belly, staring up into the darkness.

Chapter Text

I have my entire life packed into two suitcases and a backpack. I have to be out of my place on the June 15th, and the compound arrival date is the 20th. So I rent a car for five days, to take one last road trip.

The Sanctuary is being built underground in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right by the border of West Virginia and Virginia. The “compound” is an impressive-sounding name for a mediocre hotel located in the nearest small town, Lewisburg. On my way out to West Virginia, I spend one night each in Detroit, Toronto, Pittsburgh. Then I head to Philly to pick up Val. We’d planned that I’d meet up with her on the 19th, and we’d spend our last night of freedom together.

My GPS steers me to the place where she is staying. She, too, has vacated her apartment and got a gig pet-sitting through the 20th, just so she’d have a place to stay. I walk up to her door, itching to see her, and knock.

She answers wearing an oversized sweatshirt and nothing else. She throws her arms around me, and we hug, silently, for a really long time. When she finally does pull away, I can see tears in her eyes.

“How are you doing?” I ask her.

“This is hard,” she says. “Come in.”

She walks inside and sits down on the couch. I drop my bags and sit down next to her, taking her hands into my own.

“I said goodbye to my mom today. It’s so hard to lie to her,” she says.

“What did you tell her?”

“Alaskan fishing boat. I’ve spent the last month transitioning the house-cleaning business to my brother. They think I’m following a guy. To Alaska.”

I nod. “That’s pretty good.”

“Yeah. They’re actually really happy for me. Which, oddly, makes it harder.”

I nod some more. “So what do you want to do with our last night?”

“I made dinner reservations at this place in Center City that I love. There are lots of cute clubs near there; I figured we could eat, drink, go dancing.”

“Sounds perfect,” I say.

And it is. The restaurant is within walking distance of her place, and we have an awesome meal of rustic Italian food with tons of wine. And gelato. Then we stroll around the corner to the nearest club—a gay bar that is hosting a drag show that night.

“Shit, I am really going to miss drag,” I say, as we’re waiting outside the club to get in. She lays her head on my shoulder. It’s kinda hard to go all out for your last night, when you know it’s your last night.

But once we’re inside, we’re swept up by the lights and the contagious enthusiasm of the performers and the audience. We dance and sing and scream and drink for a few more hours. It’s around midnight when we decide to roll to another club. She tells me that this one is more chill, more lady-focused.

It’s a pool hall, more than anything else, and it’s kinda dive-y. But I love it—it’s totally my kind of place. She kicks my ass at pool for a solid hour, while we down beers and shit-talk each other. Val is a regular there, and the bartender is super-sweet to us.

It’s getting to be late, near closing time, and I’m kinda done paying pool. Because I really do suck at it. Val comes around to the front of the table and moves like she’s going to rack the balls again, but I sit down on the table and block them. “We’re done here,” I say.

She laughs at me. “Had enough?”

I laugh back. “I guess so.” Sitting in the table puts me a few inches above her, so she has to look up to kiss me. Right when she does, the overhead lights go out.

“I asked Tasha to let me stay up here with you for a bit,” she said. “She and the staff are all downstairs.”

I raise my eyebrow, but don’t say anything.

She continues. “We’re gonna be sequestered from the world for the rest of our days. I’m kinda into the idea of having one last go in a public place.”

I’m laughing, but I am loving this idea. “Pool table, huh?” I ask. She puts her hands on my shoulders and pushes me back until I am laying down. Then she climbs up on the table and lays down on top of me. I’d kinda played the aggressor with her last time, and it’s thrilling me that this time, she is having her way with me.

We kiss for a bit, and when she starts to move down and kiss my neck, I turn my head sideways and look out the window. The overhead lights are out, but it’s not totally dark in here. And the entrance to this place is split-level, so, even though we’re technically upstairs, someone walking down the street could potentially see us. Because I can definitely see them. “You little exhibitionist,” I say.

With that, she snaps her head up, looks me dead in the eye, and says, “You’re one to talk.”

She knew.

For a moment, I contemplate pretending I don’t know what she’s talking about, but I don’t think I can pull it off. “How did you know?” I ask.

The look on her face was fascinating. This combo of pissed off, righteous, and ravenous. “You wanna know how I know? I got in that fucking cab, to go the airport from the summit, and you know who was waiting in there for me? Fucking Ms. Mead. And she starts into this whole spiel about how it’s her job to protect Michael from people like me. And I have no idea what she’s talking about. And then she whips out her goddamn phone and shows me fucking video. That she had found. On Michael’s phone.”

“Holy shit.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Holy shit! He was recording us??”

“What, you’re surprised? This is what they do, Eve—they play games with your head! And you got totally played.”

I’m stunned silent. She continues. “I was so pissed off in the limo, enough so that Ms. Mead believed me when I said I didn’t know. But she’s got video of you, looking him square in the eye. Saying, ‘come here.’ She knows you’re trying to land him, and I’ll bet that means she’s coming for you.”

My heart is pounding. This is not good. “I’m not trying to land him. In that moment, I just… fell under his spell? I dunno, I’m so sorry.”

She shrugs. “I get it. I was pissed for a while but I’m all right now. Except, it *is* payback time.”

I look down at her, and my eyebrow pops back up. She grabs the bottom of my shirt and yanks it over my head in one move. Two seconds later, my pants are off. And then she’s after my bra. I look out at the street and instinctively try to stay her hands, but she shakes her head at me. “You can’t stop this now,” she says. Then my bra is on the floor.

Next off are my undies, and then I am on my back, totally naked. She climbs up on top of me, remaining fully clothed. She leans over, kisses me on my lips, my neck, my shoulders, and down to my breasts. I slide my hands up underneath them and give them both a push, holding my nipples up for her. She wraps her mouth around first one, then the other. Then she hops down and grabs my shirt off the floor. “Lift up your ass,” she says, and I do as I am told. She slides the shirt under me, and I realize that she’s doing this to protect the felt on the pool table.

“Good call,” I say. She wastes no time. She opens my legs wide, runs a quick line of kisses up my inner thigh, and starts going to town on me. She starts with wide sweeps of her full tongue, starting back by my ass and ending above my clit. And then she zeroes in, with the tip of her tongue, and starts tickling.

I close my eyes and focus in on the waves of pleasure she’s bringing me—such small movements can make such a big impact. It’s then that I open my eyes, and see that there continue to be people walking back and forth in front of the bar. Mostly drunk people, on their way home from a bar. If any one of them turned their head, they’d get quite a show.

Her tongue movements intensify. I grab my knees with my hands and pull my legs as wide open as I can. I’m arching my back, gasping for air, feeling stronger and stronger waves. My muscles tense all over and I start to moan. “Oh god don’t stop,” I say to her—she’s in just the right spot. And just a few seconds later, the waves start crashing up and down my body, and I am shuddering out an orgasm. I feel my breathing start to return to normal, I open my eyes, and it’s happened. A group of four dudes are standing there in the window, slack-jawed, staring at me. I sit up and make eye contact with at least one of them, and then they run off.

Val is laughing at me, wiping her mouth with my shirt. “You’re such a bitch!” I say to her.

“Oh come on, it’s funny!”

I shake my head. “You’re twisted.”

“I think we’ve established that we’re both pretty twisted.” She climbs up on the table and lies down on her side between the window and me, giving me some cover. “Hey at least they didn’t have their phones out,” she says. I kiss her.

“You better hope not,” I say.

Chapter Text

After the antics on the pool table, we’d walked back to her place, giggling the whole time. And then, after nearly a month of insomnia, I sleep like a baby in her bed.

I slept in until about 9:30 the next morning. We had about a six-hour drive to the compound, and we had wanted to hit the road by 10:00. But it didn’t look like that was happening.

When I woke, I rolled over and saw that she was just starting to stir as well. “You up?” she asked me.

“Yeah. We should get going, huh?”

She groaned. “Meh. I don’t really care what time we get there, as long as we return the car by 9:00pm.”

“Ah, cool,” I said. I sat there for a second, while the events of last night returned to my head. “Can I ask you something?”

She sat up. “Sure,” she said.

“You said last night that you thought Ms. Mead was coming for me. I’m sot sure what you meant by that.”

“She’s got a real Mama Bear thing going with Michael. She wants to protect him, at all costs,” she said.

“But in what way am I a threat to him?”

Val shrugged. “Put yourself in her shoes. Can you imagine how many women—and men—must throw themselves at him? He’s hot and powerful, and we’re all devil-worshippers, so we’re all big ‘ole sluts.”

That makes me laugh, at least. “Did she say anything to you? About, like, what she thought about me? Or what she was going to do? About me?”

Val shook her head. “No, no, nothing specific. And seriously, I wouldn’t worry. You didn’t get uninvited from the compound or anything, so she can’t be mad in any real way.

I nod. “OK. I’m gonna try to believe that.” She leaned over and gave me a long kiss.

“And I’m gonna hop in the shower. Today’s the big day! Could you make some coffee?” she asked.

I throw on Val’s oversized sweatshirt and pad into the kitchen. I hear her singing in the shower. I suppose I should be excited about arriving at the compound today, but my mind is now consumed by thoughts of Ms. Mead. She monitors his phone? She watched the video? She interrogated Val about it—why didn’t she interrogate me? We had a six-hour drive ahead of us, and I could already tell that this would be my train of thought the whole time.

Within the hour, we both are showered, dressed, caffeinated, and ready to hit the road. I’d been driving for the last four days, so Val agrees to do the driving today. I climb into the passenger seat and prop my feet up on the dash. She turns the satellite radio to the New Wave station and we both sing along to alterna-pop classics for the next few hours.

Sun, wind, freedom… I am trying to soak in my last doses of these things. And a road trip is pretty much the perfect setting for it. We stop at a BBQ place just outside of Washington D.C. for lunch. We stuff ourselves silly and even get slices of pie for the road. As we get closer to our destination, I feel the butterflies descend, and I turn to Val and say, “We’re going to be OK, right?”

“Totally,” she says. “We have each other. And Edward!” I smile at that.

It’s about 6:00pm when we arrive at the compound. From the outside, it just looks like a Marriott. We pull up to the entrance, which is guarded by two tattooed guys in black.

“ID’s, please?” One of them asks. Val and I each pull out the support staff ID’s that we got at the summit. They scrutinize our faces closely, then check our names against a clipboard.

“What’s happening with your vehicle?” the other one asks.

“It’s a rental. It needs to go to a place downtown.”

“I’ll take it,” the first dude says. “Grab all your stuff.”

Val gets a wheelie cart that is sitting near the door, and we load up our suitcases. She hands the keys and car contract to dude #1. We look at each other. We both take one last look up at the sky, then we walk through the door.

From the inside, this place does not just look like your average Marriott. It is Posh with a capital P. Plush red carpet, black jacquard wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, lit fireplaces – and this is all just in the lobby. And who is the first person we see? Ms. Mead. She is sitting on a black velvet sofa, and she stands and walks over to us as we enter.

“Valerie, Evelyn, welcome. The next orientation starts at 7:00pm.” She is holding two envelopes with key cards. “Valerie, room 209; Evelyn, room 314. The first thing I need to ask: Give me your phones.” We look at each other, then both dig into our bags, pull out our phones, and hand them to her. “If you have any other devices—laptops, tablets, whatever—you’d do best to hand it over now.” We both shake our heads.

“OK. Head on up to your rooms and get settled. Orientation is right over there,” she says, gesturing at some tables on the far side of the lobby. “I’ll see you there at 7:00.

We both nod, say thank you, and head to the elevator. “I’ll come with you to your room,” I say. Val nods at me. Once we’re inside the elevator with the door closed, we both let out a long exhale.

“OMG she makes me so nervous!” I say.

Val laughs at me. “I’m sure you’ll get used to her soon enough.”

We get off on Val’s floor and walk to her room. The second floor looks more like a normal hotel, and the rooms themselves are pretty normal, too. I’m OK with that; it’s not like I was hankering for more velvet and jacquard where I sleep. I help Val take her bags off the cart, and we look at each other for a second.

“Should I come up with you, too?”

“Nah, I think I got it. But I will come down and get you before we head down at 7:00.”

“OK. That’s in just a half-hour!

I give her a kiss, and wheel the cart out the door. She closes the door behind me, looking at me with eyes that say, “It’ll be OK, really.”

***

A half-hour later, we are back downstairs, seated at a lobby table. There are eight other support staff people there for the orientation – the only one I recognize is Matt, my dishwasher. I wave hello to him.

Ms. Mead comes over to us and starts her spiel. “Support staff members have been arriving all day, and I’ve been doing this orientation every two hours. Once everyone has arrived, there will be 32 of you in the compound. I think we’re just waiting for four more.

“Welcome to the compound. We’ve been doing renovations on it for the last two months, and we’re pretty pleased with how it’s come together. The hotel has seven floors. The top floor is the penthouse, which can only be accessed by Mr. Langdon and myself. Floors four, five, and six are for Cooperative members. You all are on the second and third floors. The first floor has the cafeteria where you all will eat your meals, through that door, by the kitchen. There is a formal dining room on the sixth floor, where the Cooperative members will take their meals. In the basement is a pool and gym, and there are some hours every day when they are available to support staff. There is a schedule in the folder in your room.

“There are two rules that I really want to emphasize for you all. Number One: No contact with the outside world. We will be checking rooms from time to time, and if we find a phone, or any other device that can connect to the internet, or evidence that you’ve sent letters, or anything of the sort, the penalty… is death. We know it’s not easy and we appreciate your sacrifice, but we cannot and will not budge on this issue. You all do have TV’s in your room, and you’re welcome to know what’s happening out there. We just can’t risk them knowing what’s happening in here.

“Number Two: Cooperative members need their privacy. There are 35 of them living in the compound. Many of you will never interact with them directly. But if you see one in a hallway or elevator or such, please do not speak to them unless they speak to you. Some members are more relaxed than others. Some will continue to wear costumes that conceal their face. You must respect their wishes.

“Members also have privileges that you do not have. You will see them with phones, with computers, receiving packages, etc. They need these privileges to do their essential work. Please do not complain about how this is unfair, to me or to your supervisor—it is simply the way it must be.

“If you find that you do need something, to do your job, or for personal use, place a request with your supervisor. They will decide what purchase requests get passed forward.

“Check the closets in your room – your clothes should all be there. There are uniforms that you should wear when working, and plain clothes for your off hours. If you brought your own clothes from home, you will be able to wear them, but only at certain social events.

“Tonight, we’re having pizza delivered for your dinner – it’ll be in the cafeteria around 8:00. Support staff breakfast is available from 6:30-9:30 in the cafeteria. Your folder in your room will tell you when and where you are to meet up with your supervisor in the morning. They’ll have your work schedule for you.”

She checks her watch. “That’s all I have for you right now. Have a good night.” She doesn’t offer to take any questions, and she walks away immediately. Val and I turned to each other and shrug.

***

We get up from the table and start to head toward the elevator, but I’m intercepted along the way by Connie.

“Hey there!” she calls. “Sorry to, uh, ambush you… Can we run through a few things? For just a minute?”

“Sure,” I say. I wave at Val and she heads away without me.

“Thanks. I’d begged Ms. Mead to let us come a day early to start prep, but she wasn’t having it. Breakfast starts at 7:00am tomorrow, and we have nothing prepped. Can you come with me?”

“Sure,” I say again. She starts walking speedily toward the kitchen, and I have to trot a bit just to keep up with her.

“It’s our first meal, you know? It has to go perfectly.”

“How early can we start?”

“She looks back at me. “I could kiss you for asking that. How early would you want to start?”

“For 7:00 service, if we want pastries, I’d wanna start by 3:30.”

“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” she says. “What are you thinking?”

I shrug. “My standard morning bake is three kinds of croissants and three kinds of muffins. What else are having?”

“The buffet will have Benedicts, home fries, chicken sausage… shit, where is my list?” She’s frantically flipping through her notebook. I follow her into the kitchen.

“Damn,” I say, looking around the room. This kitchen is huge, sparkling, and appointed with top-of-the-line everything. “Did you help set this up?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t. Our Cooperative sponsor did all of this. Not bad, huh?”

“Oh yeah, our mystery man. Or is it a woman?”

“It’s Bobby Flay,” she says.

“Ahh. Have you met him?”

“We’ve talked on the phone a bunch, but no, I haven’t actually laid eyes on him yet. He always struck me as a bit of a tool before all this, but he’s been pretty great to work with.” She laughs a bit. “I mean, he’s got a lot on the line here, too.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“I feel like he could walk in here at any time and starting finding flaws with everything we do, so… we gotta get our shit together.”

I nod. “It’s cool, we got this.”

We check the pantry and fridges to see what we’ve got to work with, then sit down at a prep table and plan the menu for the full day. Somewhere in there, she runs to the cafeteria and comes back with a few slices of pizza for us – we didn’t have time to stop for dinner. She and I both seem to have having some fun with this. I mean, it’s kind of a dream scenario—this kitchen is so well-stocked and all of the decisions are totally up to us, at this point. I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.

“OK, so I’ll come down at 3:30 and get started. Will everything be unlocked?”

She smacks her forehead. “Keycard!” she says. “I have one for you upstairs.”

“No problem—I’ll come up with you. I really just have one more question. Where will I be able to get coffee at that hour? I’d rather not start the urns, if I don’t have to,” I gesture at the drink service area, which has two industrial-sized coffee makers.

She nods. “Coffee maker. I can ask for one, but it’ll be a few days. Let’s see, tomorrow… oh! I know! Come with me.”

I follow her through the lobby, and we cross back by the table where I’d had my orientation, and into a hallway behind it. There’s a little bar back there, with one of those single serve coffee makers. “Will this do?” She asks.

“Perfect. Thank you!”

“OK, let’s go up to my room.” We start back over to the elevators. “I really appreciate your help! I feel about 200% better than I did an hour ago.”

“My pleasure,” I say.

“Is starting at 3:30 pretty standard for you?”

I laugh. “Yeah, but usually I also have a commute! So this feels like a step up.”

She pushes the elevator button. “I’m gonna need you to do made-to-order dinner desserts sometimes, too. I’m thinking on Fridays and Sundays? So I’ll work on a pastry-free breakfast spread for those days. I don’t want you working an 18-hour day.”

“That sounds good. I can’t imagine I’m going to sleep very well here anyway, so feel free to use me whenever you need me.”

We’ve arrive at her door. She’s just a few rooms down from me. She ducks in, grabs my card, and hands it to me. “Thanks again. You’re a…” she laughs. “I was about to say godsend. Not quite, huh?”

I laugh with her. “No, not so much. Good night!”

I walk back to my room, feeling kind of excited. I've got a supervisor who thinks I’m awesome, at least for the moment, and some fun things on my to-do list for tomorrow. I check my closet to make sure my clothes are where they’re supposed to be, and pull together my bag of tools. I brush my teeth, set my alarm for 3:00, and climb into bed.

***

I didn’t sleep much, but I got a few hours. When my alarm goes off at 3:00, I’m able to spring out of bed relatively quickly. I take a speedy shower, brush my teeth and hop into my uniform. It’s not bad – gray chef pants with a black crewneck t-shirt, and standard-issue white chef coat. There is a hat, too… I figure I’ll bring it with me, but hope that I won’t actually have to wear it in the kitchen.

I take a last look through my bag of tools to make sure I have everything – the apron I like, the whisk I like, my offset spatula set, my headband, and so on. It’s all there. I also check my pocket about eight times to make sure I have my keycards. I do.

And them I’m out the door. It’s dark and eerily quiet, but this is something I’m used to, waking up before the rest of the world. I don’t want to make the elevator ding, so I take the stairs. As I cross through the lobby, I see our two security guards – one by the front door and one by the reception desk. They both turn and look at me and I give them a little wave. I walk over to the hallway with the coffee maker, and start making myself my first cup.

One of the guards –Tweedle Dee?—comes over to me. “You’re up early.” He says. I decide this one is Tweedle Dum.

“Yup, gotta start breakfast for everyone!” I say, gesturing to my uniform.

He nods, considering this like I’ve said something complex.

“Do you like croissants? I can bring you one when they’re done.”

His mood shifts instantly. “Really?” he asks.

“Yup. Chocolate, almond, or plain?” I ask him.

“Dude, chocolate.” he says.

“You got it,” I say, making a ‘cheers’ gesture at him with my paper coffee cup. I head back toward the kitchen.

Once I am in there, all is right with the world. I put in my headphones, start up my iPod, and get to work. My to-do list includes three kinds of croissants, three kinds of muffins, compote for pancakes, then cookies for lunch. Then I have to start on the desserts for dinner—white chocolate cheesecake, dark chocolate and raspberry mousse parfaits, and pecan tarts. Connie was hoping I’d get all of this done by 2:00, so I could be out of the way when the dinner prep starts. I have no idea how likely that is, but I intend to do my best.

I start with the croissant dough and get it chilling right away. I have made them in three hours before, but it’s tight, and I can’t spare a moment. I make the butter flat next, and start it chilling as well. Then I start the muffin base. And I keep going, and going. The next thing I know it’s two hours later and I am dying for a second cup of coffee. I’m at a decent stopping point, so I head back into the lobby.

As I wait for the water to heat up, I wander over to the window. It’s just before sunrise, and the sky is starting to lighten, washing the landscape in blue. I love this time of day. I love that I am often the only one around who gets to experience it. And the view from this place isn’t bad—there are open fields right across the street, then some mountains in the distance behind them. I’m lost in daydream land until I am startled out of it by a voice behind me. “Good morning.”

I know who it is. My heart starts pounding and my stomach drops to the floor. I pause for just a second to appreciate this sensation before I turn around. “Good morning,” I say.

Michael is looking at me, bemusedly. “You are a mess. Hard at work already?”

I look down at myself – I am indeed covered with flour, and batter splatters, and probably some other stuff. He steps toward me, reaches for my face, and pulls a fragment of eggshell out of my hair. At this close range, I can smell him, and I feel my knees go weak. “Yeah, I have a lot to do before breakfast. What are you doing up so early?”

He shrugs. “Sleep is a luxury I often don’t have time for.”

I nod. And then I notice, with a startle, “Your hair! It got so long! Last I saw you it was only down to here,” and I gesture up to point at his cheek, but he recoils. And I step back. I guess he’s allowed to touch my hair but I’m not allowed to touch his.

“Yeah, that happens. My father gets impatient sometimes, and he fast-forwards my clock a little bit.” He looks a little embarrassed, and I regret mentioning it.

“I like it,” I say.

“I’m glad,” he responds. The coffee machine beeps, and I walk over and grab my cup, and reach for the sweetener. I’m facing the counter, with my back to him, and he steps closer to me. I can’t see him, but I can feel him moving in. He stops when he is standing just an inch or two behind me. And he just stands there. I can feel the warm air between us, hear him breathing deeply. I grab the counter for stability. I am dying for him to touch me. But he doesn’t. He stays there for maybe 20 seconds, and then backs off. I turn to face him, and he is walking away.

“You have a good day,” he says to me, without looking back.

There is a chair at the end of the bar, and I scramble to it and sit down. Before I fall over. Every interaction with him is like a fucking riddle. I am floored, and confused, and *so horny* all of the sudden, but I need to get back to work. I let myself sit there and regain my composure, for about a minute, then I grab my coffee and head back into the kitchen.

***

The rest of my day goes off without a hitch. I manage to finish everything by 2:00, as we’d hoped. Edward shows up right about that time, and we leap into each other’s arms. I am so happy to see him, but it’s time for me to get out of there and let him and the other chefs get to work on dinner.

I head up to my room, where I write a quick note to Val. “I’ve been buried in flour and eggs for the last 24 hours. I wanna catch up with you! Come get me before you go to dinner tonight? –Eve.” I go downstairs to her room and slip it under her door. Life without phones is a trip.

And then I return to my room, where I lie down on my bed and stare at the ceiling, lost in thought, for about an hour. I am eager to get these clothes off, eager to take a shower, eager to see Val, but I need to take some time to shake this feeling of stunned off of me. Something is going on with Michael. But I don’t know what it is. I am terrified, and excited, and nauseated… this is all new territory for me.

Chapter Text

Another hour later, Val is knocking on my door. By this time, I’d had a chance to get cleaned up and changed, and I am feeling a little less freaked out. And happy to see her!

I throw my arms around her on sight. “GIRL. It has only been 24 hours since I saw you last, right? Not even! It feels like it has been a whole freaking lifetime.”

She laughs. “I agree. Time kinda doesn’t seem to exist in this place.”

“You said a mouthful right there, honey. Sit down!” We both plop down on my bed and I grab her hands in mine. “Tell me everything. What is your work like?”

She twists her face up and thinks for a second. “Back home, I was running a fucking housekeeping business. But here? I’m a housekeeper, period.”

“Dude, that blows.”

“Yeah. I’d had this expectation that my supervisor and I would be working together to schedule things and order supplies and make arrangements for special work that needed to be done and, um, no. I get to clean up the Cooperative’s shit. Literally.”

“Oh fuck,” I say.

“Mm-hmm,” she nods. “They sang me this whole song about how special and fancy and secret the Cooperative members are and how they require a level of security and professionalism that the other housekeepers just can’t provide.” She makes a jerk-off gesture.

“So, do you get to see any super-secret stuff?” I ask.

“Well, it’s only been a day. But I am the housekeeper for all 35 Cooperative bedrooms – I hit them each once a week. And the conference rooms up on the penthouse floor – I hit them every other day. Michael and Ms. Mead both have bedrooms up there, plus there are a few other locked doors. I don’t know who is cleaning those rooms, but it ain’t me.

“They basically made me pledge with blood that I wouldn’t share anything I saw with anyone else. And I’m pretty dang sure that the walls in this joint are bugged, so even if I do see anything super-cool or super-secret, I don’t know if I wanna tell you.”

“Fine, fine,” I say. “Is it just me, or does this place have some fucked-up upstairs/downstairs dynamics at work?”

She laughs. “Langdon Abbey?”

“Right?” I ask.

“How about you? How’s the pastry life?”

“Well, I have won the good graces of my supervisor, and that means a lot to me. I kinda saved her ass last night, and got up at 3:00am so we could pull an awesome breakfast together for the Cooperative, on their first day.”

“Because you’re awesome.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “I don’t know, I kinda had a great day. That kitchen is the bomb, yo. I made some amazing fucking food today.”

“That’s great! When do I get to eat some?”

“I’ll have to squirrel out some treats for you. Pretty much everything I make is for the Cooperative. The food prep that they do for the staff meals is a lot more like elementary-school-cafeteria-style.”

“Or prison-cafeteria-style?”

“Yeah, kinda. Mostly pre-fab, heat and serve stuff that we can throw on steam trays. Edward and I barely have anything to do with it. Just the prep chef who is below Edward, and the dishwasher. And all he does is load it onto carts, really.”

She nods. “Any contraband food you can bring me is greatly appreciated.”

I pause a moment before continuing. “I had another run-in with Michael this morning.”

She rolls her eyes up to the ceiling. “OF COURSE you did.”

I didn’t quite know how to take that, so I wait to continue.

She looked at me, “Well, what happened?”

“Do you want to hear about it?” I ask.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I dunno, you sounded annoyed. Just then.”

Val takes a deep breath. “I think he’s toying with you, and I think you’re letting him, and I just have a feeling that this could result in some not-great consequences for you.”

I nod. “I don’t disagree with anything you just said. But I don’t really feel like I can resist him. Like, even if I’d decided I *wanted* to resist, I don’t know if I am capable.”

“Listen, you’re on your own journey here, and so am I, and however things play out, I adore you and I am here for you.”

“Damn,” I say. “That statement had a ring of finality to it.”

She shrugs at me. “You’re in love with him.”

“What? I cannot be in love with someone I barely know.”

“Well, you’re infatuated, or something. He’s on your mind, like, way up here,” she says, holding her hand above her head. “And I’m somewhere down here.” She moves it to chest level.

I can’t argue with her there. So I don’t say anything.

“Seriously, Eve, you’re my best friend here, and that will not change. And if you want to tell me every single word of every conversation you have with Michael, I will listen, and I will support you. But you just need to know that the more of that you do, the less I want you to see me as a romantic partner. And vice versa.”

I nod. We sit there in silence for a second. I wrap my arms around her and feel tears sliding down.

“Remember when we met at the summit? Before we knew how any of this was going to go down? I want to go back to that time.”

She shook her head. “When we met at the summit, you had just had your first interaction with Michael, remember? What *I* remember about that moment is seeing a strong, beautiful woman fall to pieces over him.” She had a point.

***

In the weeks after that first day, life falls into a surprisingly easy routine. Val is still my best friend, and I see her every day. But we were done sleeping together.

Connie and I get a better handle on my schedule. I started doing some pastry prep in the afternoons, so I can work 5:00am-5:00pm most days. And that means I overlap with Edward most afternoons, which is just a blast. If they need me for dinner, I take a break from 2:00-6:00pm or so and come back to help. Those nights are probably the most fun, hanging out with Edward and the other kitchen staff after dinner service, when everyone is punchy and tired, sharing beers in the kitchen.

And I never see Michael. For a week, then two, then three… our paths just do not cross. Ironically, in the course of doing her work, Val sees him a lot more than I ever did. And, true to the good friend that she is, she tells me. When she sees him in a meeting room, when she passes him in the hall, she lets me know. Neither he nor Ms. Mead ever let on that they have any clue who she is, that she was the other girl on the balcony. She says she just fades into the wallpaper.

I wonder if this is my new normal. Wake up, make food, chill with friends, do it again. It’s not a bad life, but The Father’s voice, telling me that I am destined for more, is always with me. I wonder if he has a grander plan, if he ever did. And if he does, when will I learn of it?

Chapter Text

It’s a Thursday, about a month into my stay on the compound. I’ve been at work for about six hours when I realize I need to run up to my room for a second. I’ve washed my hands about 400 times already today, and I don’t have any lotion down here, and my dry skin is killing me. I give Connie a heads-up, then I go up via the stairs, run straight to my room, and open the door to find Ms. Mead sitting in my desk chair.

“Oh. My… Hi!” I say, trying to seem pleasantly surprised, and not scared shitless. Has she been here all morning? If I didn’t need lotion, would she have been here all day?

She looks at me with her usual enthusiasm. “I’m going to need your help with something this evening. I’m coming back to this room at midnight, and you need to be ready to join me on an errand.”

I nod. “Is there anything I need to do to prepare? Or to bring with me?”

“No,” she says. “Just yourself. Tell no one about this.”

“Should I wear… my uniform?”

She thinks about this for a second. “No, street clothes.”

“OK. Understood,” I say. As is typically the case with Ms. Mead, I have a hundred questions for her, but I know she won’t answer them, so I just play along and pretend I am OK with it.

She stands up and exits the room wordlessly. I flop down on the bed with a protracted, “Ugggghhhhhh.” Midnight is half a day from now, and I will not be able to eat, rest, think, work, or do anything else until then. If Ms. Mead is taking me to do it, this errand must be Michael-related. Maybe… it’s his birthday and he needs a cake. Maybe he’s doing one-on-one interviews with everyone in the building to assess whether we’re Sanctuary-ready. Maybe Ms. Mead or some other Co-op is running the interviews and seeing Michael isn’t even part of the plan. I feel like I need to prepare myself for any possibility.

But I’m more excited than anything else. Since that one run-in we’d had by the coffee maker, I’ve not seen Michael at all, which has been disappointing. I’d expected that there’d be the possibility that I’d run into him on an elevator, or bump into him when I helped with breakfast set-up, or something. But he’s been pretty much sequestered on the top floor the whole time we’ve been here. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but it feels like there is a chance I’ll see him tonight, and I need to make sure I prepare accordingly.  

I grab my hand lotion bottle and head back downstairs. I resume making my mousse and curd and compote and try as hard as I can to get swept up in my work and to not think about tonight. My shift ends at 5:00pm. The minutes crawl by until then.

I decide that today is going to be one of those days where I skip dinner with the other support folks. An advantage of working in the kitchen is that, when I am feeling anti-social, I can just grab something to eat and hide in my room. I don’t think I can sit and chat with Val or Edward today, without giving away that *something* is up with me. When 5:00 rolls around, I throw a sandwich and a banana in my bag and scoot over to where Edward is already hard at work on dinner for the Co-op. I give him a peck on the cheek.

“I’m out, love, and I’m skipping dinner tonight. Give Val a sloppy wet kiss for me.”

“You OK?” he asks.

“I’m just fine. But I am feeling like hiding from people. If I change my mind later, I might stop by your room.”

“Sounds good, chica. Have a good night!” He’s walking away from me, heading over to the other prep station. I feel lucky, as I often do, that I get to sneak out right when the rest of the kitchen is moving into their most hectic part of the night.

I get to my room, and check the clock. Six hours and fifty-two minutes to kill before midnight. I try to think of all the preparations I can do to pass this time – shower, wash hair, make hair look presentable, give myself manicure and pedicure, makeup… I plan on doing all these things, but I have to make sure I strike a balance, here. I need to look natural, like I’m not trying too hard. Like I just got off work and hopped onto the elevator looking fresh-faced and gorgeous.

***

At long last, it’s midnight. I feel like I have achieved the best result I can, given the limitations of the compound. I am wearing my stretchy black-and-white houndstooth skater dress and my beloved black riding boots. I had considered any number of other things – fishnets and heels and corsets and all that – but this is my look that least screams “trying too hard.” My hair is down and its waves are cooperating, and I think I look… pretty fucking good. There is a knock at the door. Deep breath.

I open it, and Ms. Mead greets me with a wordless nod. She starts walking down the hall and I follow her, closing my door behind me. We get to the elevator, I follow her in, and she pushes the button for the seventh floor. The penthouse. More deep breaths. We exit the elevator, and it takes a second for my eyes to adjust. It is *dark* up here. There are little sconces every few feet, but the light they put out is dim, and the walls are covered in navy blue damask, and there are no windows anywhere. Y’all. We’re Satanists, here, not vampires.

On our way down the hallway, we pass a number of conference rooms, and open rooms that are set up kind of like doctor’s office waiting areas. And then there is a long empty stretch, and then a set of double doors on the left. Ms. Mead uses her keycard to open them and we step inside.

My eyes need to do some more adjusting – I am now in a well-lit room with high ceilings and pale hardwood floors. Ms. Mead turns to me. “Stay right here,” she says, and she walks back out the double doors. OK, I’ll stay here. Where is here, exactly?

On my right side is a seating area next to a fireplace, which is not in use, but you can tell that it gets lit often. Across the room from me is a large open area with no rugs, no furniture. The brilliant thought that pops into my mind is, “a place to do yoga, maybe?” And then I noticed piles of stuff in the corners – dead leaves, burned-out candles – and wince to realize, Oh yeah. Rituals. I am such a poor excuse for a Satanist.

As I continue to look around to my left, I am astonished to see a four-post bed against the farthest wall. Holy shit is this Michael’s bedroom? My question is answered when I hear footsteps back near the fireplace, whip my head around, and see Michael entering the room from a side door. He sits down in an upholstered chair near the fireplace and looks directly at me. I expect him to gesture toward the chair across from him, but he doesn’t, so I just turn to face him and stand there, awkwardly.

We stay there, in silence, for a moment. I have no idea what I would’ve said, but I don’t seem to possess the power of speech at that moment anyway. Being alone with him is unnerving. His crystal blue eyes seem to bore straight through me. His expression is unreadable. Finally, he breaks the silence.

“I am having a hard time figuring out where you fit here,” he says. My heart starts to pound. He continues. “In this building there are two types of people,” he holds up his right hand. “There are Cooperative members, who have pledged their eternal souls to my father in exchange for power and wealth. And who are now using those resources to serve him.” He switches hands. “And then there are devoted followers of my father’s congregations. Who have spent years worshipping him, hoping to earn his favor, and who continue to serve him through the hard work they are doing in support of our survival.”

I nod.

“And then there’s you. You made a deal with my father.”

I nod.

“But you didn’t ask him for power or wealth.”

“Sir, I didn’t ask him for anything,” I respond. His eyebrow raises and he doesn’t say anything. So I continue. “I went to your father and asked him to help me. I didn’t make a list of demands.”

“So how did he help you?”

“I was unhappy in my own skin, walking around all day feeling nothing but fear and shame about my body, my sexuality. And he broke me free of all that.” I clear my thought. “That’s it so far.”

Michael is quiet for a second, considering this. Then he shifts in his seat and says, “Show me.”

“Pardon?”

“This ‘freedom’ that my father has given you. Take off your clothes and show me your shamelessness.”

One might expect that I’d find this request alarming, but in this moment, it makes a weird kind of sense. So I waste no time, and start peeling off garments. As I do this, he keeps talking.

“You had the attention of my father, and the opportunity to ask for anything. Any sort of power, or resource, that you could use to serve him better.” His eyes travel slowly and purposefully down my body, and his face shows no sign of reaction. He continues, “And you spent that opportunity on… carnal pleasure?”

“I guess that’s what he thought I needed,” I say.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“I am grateful. His vision for me is still a little unclear but… I love my newfound freedom.”

“Yeah, I can tell,” he says. Then he commands, “Turn around.” I do as I’m told.

“This is what I’ll never understand about you humans. The thing you seem to value more than anything else in this world is your own gratification.” I can feel my chin start to quiver. “Yet for some reason my father wants you here.”

I am just about to start crying, but something goes off in my brain. A white-hot rage floods in, and takes over my mouth. I whip around and face him again. “I can’t believe this. You’re shaming me,” I say. He opens his mouth to speak, but I decide not to let him. “Look, I didn’t ask your father for a damn thing. He came to me, and talked to me—at length—about what he wanted for me and how he wanted me to serve him. This puritanical shit you’re spewing? I don’t recognize your father in any of that.”

He’s dumbfounded. And pissed off. He stares at me, eyes afire, but doesn’t say anything.

“If you want to sit there and pretend you’re above the rest of us, that we’re the filthy hoi polloi who just sit around and jerk ourselves off all day, fine. But don’t act like you’re doing it in your father’s name. These are your hang-ups, sir.”

He stands up and takes a step toward me, and starts talking though clenched teeth. “I have shit to do here, and I need people here who can help me get shit done. And not create distractions.”

I roll my eyes at him. “Yeah, I’m the one creating a distraction. I’m working my ass off down there. What the fuck do you know about it?” I start grabbing my clothes off the floor, and getting dressed.

“Working your ass off?” he asks. “Or your knees?”

And then I go and do it. Seemingly out of control of my actions, I drop my clothes, my hand flies up, and I fucking slap him across the face. And then I just stare at my hand. That does it. I’m done here.

I pick my clothes back up. I don’t even look at him to see his reaction; I just keep getting dressed. Hot tears are spilling down my face. He is standing just inches away from me, but I refuse to look at him. Once I’m dressed, I make a beeline for the door, leaving him standing right where I slapped him.

***

As I stumble out the door and into the dark, silent hallway, my heart is pounding, my ears are ringing, and my mind is racing. What the HELL did I just do? He already thought that I was a stupid shallow whore who served no purpose here. That I’d squandered his father’s gifts. And what is he going to think of me now? I couldn’t think straight, let alone walk straight, but I continued down the dark hallway.

Until I encounter a dead end. I had gone the wrong way. Ms. Mead had escorted me up to Michael’s suite, but I’m on my own now, and only now do I realize that I don’t know which way to go. I stand stupidly at the end of the hallway, panicking.

When we arrived, his room was on the left. So I should’ve turned right. But I went straight. A wave of relief comes over me when I figure out that much, which quickly reverts to panic when I realize I have to head back toward his door. If he sees me, or even hears me… I’ll be mortified. So I step out of my boots and tiptoe back in that direction.

This is the quietest hallway I have ever been in, I think. I can swear that my stocking feet are as loud as tap shoes. The whooshing of blood around my ears sounds like ocean waves crashing — surely he can hear that. I realize I hear breathing. Oh shit I am breathing too loud.

No, wait. That’s someone else’s breathing. I whip my head around in all directions and see no one. I keep on with my tiptoeing. The breathing grows louder as I got closer to Michael’s door. That’s him. I can hear his breathing.

I can’t move. I am six feet from his door and certain that he is seconds away from walking out of it. So I freeze. And continue to listen to his breath. He sounds exasperated. Or like he is exerting himself. A vision pops into my mind of him all pissed off, lifting weights or doing push-ups to burn off his pissed off energy. I feel tears welling up in my eyes again, I wipe them away, and begin tiptoeing again.

Now I am three feet from his door. And I can hear something else on top of his breathing. A tiny-but-familiar sound of a skin slapping against skin. Repeatedly. In sync with his breathing. Oh my god. He is masturbating in there. I stand, stone-still, for the 60 most intoxicating seconds of my life. His quickening breath, sometimes tinged with the slightest little moans, the slaps getting louder and quicker and then… my own knees give out when I hear him come, a long low groaning sigh, and I nearly land on my ass.

I am still steadying myself when I hear the sound of a chair leg scraping against his floor, and I bolt down the hallway, boots still in my hand. My feet pad loudly with each step, but I don’t dare slow down. I find a staircase, sprint down four floors, sprint to my room, fling the door open, and lock it behind me. Within four seconds I am on my back on my bed, naked from the waist down, legs splayed. I replay that long low groaning sigh in my mind over and over and quickly bring myself to a climax. And then I keep going and have another. My body is crying out for me to continue, but I need to stop and catch my breath. What the HELL had just happened, indeed?

When I walked out of his room, I felt certain he was ready to kick me out or kill me or both. But maybe he’d actually seen something in me that he liked.

Chapter Text

There is no sleep for me that night. My alarm is set for 4:30am and I watch the hours tick away on the clock. Maybe I doze off for a half-hour? Somewhere in there? But that’s about it. My head will not stop swimming. I am certain that I won’t last another day in this place. Later today, I fully expect Ms. Mead to show up at my door, scowl at me, and tell me to GTFO.

I think about what I am going to do next. Maybe heading back to Illinois and spending some time getting shamed by my Crazy Christian Family would do me some good. Maybe I’ll show up on Julia’s doorstep and beg her to let me stay with her. “Don’t worry,” I’ll say, “It’ll only be for a few months.” At least that part will be true.

When my alarm does go off, I get up, but I am a zombie for the rest of the morning. I shower, and I go downstairs, and I pour muffin batter and roll out sticky buns, but it’s all happening like I am hovering above myself, watching. Thankfully, a lot of this work has become muscle memory for me, and I don’t do anything stupid like slice my finger off.

I do decide to join Val for lunch. I know she’ll give me that, look like I am this girl who has been set adrift on ill-advised seas, but she’s the only one I can talk to. I head over to the cafeteria, spot her standing in line, and walk over.

She starts in immediately, “I’ll bet you think I know something. But I don’t. I don’t know anything!” She’s waving her hands at me in a “back away” gesture.

“What? What don’t you know?”

“You haven’t heard yet? About Michael?” Oh god.

“No…?”

“He’s gone. He just disappeared into the night and didn’t even tell Ms. Mead where he was going.” OH GOD.

“What? How do you know this?”

“Everybody knows it. There were meetings and stuff scheduled for this morning, and he didn’t show up, and she went all crazy, tearing through the rooms upstairs, screaming, looking for him. Everyone could hear it. Now, half our security force is out looking for him.”

I feel all the color drain out of my face. Val asked me, “Eve, are you OK?” but I didn’t respond. I stumble backward a bit, and she reaches for my arm to hold me up. “Come here, sit down.” She settles me on a nearby stool. I look up at her.

“She’s going to kill me,” I say.

“Who? Ms. Mead?”

“Yes,”

“Why. What did you do?” Val asks me, but I don’t answer her. There are too many people around, watching me.

A security guard walks up to me. “Ma’am, are you OK?”

I look up at him. He’s playing the part of someone who is concerned about me, but I can tell it’s an act. I decide to go along with it.

“I’m just feeling weak. And emotional.” I say. He bends over and picks me up out of my seat. He starts carrying me out of the room. I look back at Val and say, “Take care.” For all I know, I’ll never see her again.

***

The guard takes me up to the seventh floor, to one of the waiting rooms, and throws me down in an armchair. There is another guard in there, and both of them have big guns, and position themselves on either side of me. I should be crying, I should be scared, but I am too sleep-deprived to be able to make sense of what’s happening here.

Ms. Mead walks in and stands above me. “Start talking,” she says.

“I have nothing to tell! You left me in his room, I talked to him, and I left. I swear that’s it. I was in there for like five minutes.”

“What did he say?”

“He was an asshole to me. I got sick of listening to it and I stormed out of there.” She doesn’t need to know I was naked. Or that I slapped him. Or that he jerked off after I left.

“Well, about 10 minutes after you left his room, he walked out the front door of the compound. He used magic on the security guards so they didn’t see him. But we have it on video. We didn’t know he was gone until eight hours later when he didn’t show up for meetings.”

This is the point when I finally start to cry. “Where would he go?”

She sits down in the chair across from me. “My guess is that he went to find his father. He did this once before, after I… had to leave him. He went off alone into the woods and didn’t eat or sleep until his father showed up to give him some guidance. It took about four days, and then he found his way to the church.”

I nod. “And there are guards out there looking for him?”

“There are, but it almost doesn’t matter. He can hide from them if he wants to. And if he doesn’t want to come back, they can’t make him.”

I continue sobbing.

“I know everything about that boy’s life. Everything. But he hasn’t said a word to me about you. If you know anything, can think of anything that might help, please tell me.”

“I will. I… I’ve really only spoken to him, like, four times. I wish I had more insight than I do.”

She nods. “You should go back to work now. I’ll make sure someone tells you if we find him.”

“Thank you,” I say, and get up and walk out of the room.

***

I head down to the kitchen, not sure what I am walking into. Pretty much everyone is busy when I enter, and I don’t feel like anyone really notices me, and I’m thankful for that. I realize that I had neglected to eat any lunch at lunchtime, so I head into the pantry and fill one pocket with almonds, the other with dried cranberries, and I snack on them while I get back to work. I was certain that the kitchen staff would’ve heard about what happened to me in the cafeteria, but I guess the rumor mill isn’t quite as fast as I’d thought. Life without phones has its perks.

I finish my shift uneventfully. When it’s time to go, I make up a dinner from the pantry – a ham sandwich, some fruit, a muffin – and I bring it up to my room. I am starving, but I am not going anywhere near people right now.

Times like these I wish I were a better Satanist. I’m sure there is a ritual I should be doing right now, that would help me find Michael, connect to him, or to his father. But I can’t think of anything to do but lay around my bedroom and cry. I inhale the food I brought up, without really tasting it, then I fling myself across the bed and pass out.

Mercifully, I sleep for nearly 12 hours. I wake when my alarm sounds that it’s time to go back to work. I’m eager to check in with the security guards, so I shower and dress quickly and head down to the lobby. There is only one guard on duty, since the others are out looking for Michael. I head over to him. “Any sign yet?”

“No, ma’am,” he says.

I cross the lobby to the window that faces the mountains. I stare out into the darkness. I try to send a message out to him, or to his father, whoever is listening. I need you to come back to me. I don’t know what happened but I know I fucked up and I need to make this right. Please be OK. Please come back.

Not that that’ll work, but it’s better to feel like I have at least tried *something.*

I head into the kitchen. For the first hour, I’m alone, and I am able to lose myself in my usual routine. Sharon shows up at 6:00am. I wave at her when she enters, and she walks over to me.

“I heard you passed out in the cafeteria yesterday?” She says.

“That’s not quite right. I was just feeling lightheaded, and it got to me.”

“Are you OK?”

“I’m fine now,” I answer her. “I barely slept the other night, and I hadn’t really eaten, and I was feeling really emotional.”

“Because Michael is missing?”

I looked at her. I could see emotion on her face, too. “Yeah.”

She nods. “Without him, we have nothing. It’s going to be tough to keep plugging away, until he returns.”

Sharon has not been my favorite person to date, but it’s reassuring to me to hear her say this.

***

It seems like a crazy thing to do, but I go to lunch in the cafeteria again today. Mainly to check in with Val, and let her know that I am OK. When I arrive, she’s already sitting down, eating with a few of her hospitality buddies.

She takes my hand. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, really, I’m fine.”

“Where did that guard take you yesterday?”

“Just to have a quick chat – nothing crazy. I’m fine, I swear,” I answer.

She looks relieved. “I wish I had some good intel for you, but I don’t. No one’s seen anything; no one’s heard anything.”

I nod. That doesn’t surprise me. “It’s Saturday, so they need me to work the dinner shift tonight. Edward and I will probably be hanging out afterward; would you want to join us?” I ask.

“Sure, that’d be fun,” she responds.

“Cool, just come by the kitchen whenever. Dinner usually dies down by 10:00.”

***

Things continue like this for two more days. No sign of Michael, and I do my best to remain in my normal routine, to stay surrounded by friends, to find as many distractions as I can. Saturday comes and goes, Sunday comes and goes. Monday morning I am in the kitchen, and it’s about 11:00am, and I hear men’s voices yelling in the lobby. Without thinking, I bolt out of the kitchen, into the lobby, toward the yelling. A security guard is crossing the hotel parking lot, and Michael is propped up against him. He is pale, emaciated, filthy. He has streaks of blood on his hands and face. It pains me to see him like this, and I feel tears slip down my face.

As he and the guard cross the front door, Ms. Mead springs out from behind me, and runs up to him. She puts her arm around him and tries to escort him to a nearby sofa, but he won’t be strayed from the path he is walking. He keeps moving forward, into the lobby, and in my direction. He lifts his head up high enough that his hair falls away from his face, and I can see his eyes. He is saying something, mumbling something, and looking at me.

I step closer to him, trying to hear. When he is right in front of me, he drops to his knees, and wraps his arms around my waist. He buries his face in my belly, sobbing. I lean over, hug his shoulders, stroke his hair, and shush him. We remain like that for what feels like an eternity, with a room full of people watching us. I can feel Ms. Mead’s stare, too, but I am afraid to look at her.

After a minute or so, I feel him start to slide down. “Help, help!” I cry, as he slumps to the floor. I drop down next to him and touch his face. “Michael, look at me!” I cry, as the two guards yank him from my arms. One of the health staff has appeared with a gurney, and the three of them move him onto it. They whisk him away to the elevator, and Ms. Mead runs after him. I get up and follow her, but as she steps onto the elevator, she turns around and faces me, shaking her head. The doors close, and he is gone. And I am left standing there in the center of a crowd of gawkers. A bunch of the kitchen staff have come out to watch the spectacle, and Edward is among them. He walks over and throws his arms around me. I lean into him, and cry onto his shoulder.

Chapter Text

I had thought that once Michael returned, I would return to feeling like myself, but at this moment, nothing could be further from the truth. The knowledge that he is up there, maybe sick, maybe in pain, maybe needing me? It is more than I can take.

After the scene in the lobby, Edward escorts me back to the kitchen, and sits with me in the storeroom while I got my self back together.

“So what on earth am I supposed to do now?” I ask him. “I have no means to get Ms. Mead’s attention – I can’t get up to the 7th floor, and she never comes down.”

He shakes his head. “I have no clue.”

“I mean, you were there, right? That whole scene… he… seemed like he wanted me to be with him, right?”

“Totally.”

“I don’t understand it.”

He gives me a sad smile. “I can only imagine that she’s keeping him from you, because she feels threatened. He’ll get better, I’m sure of it, and then he’ll come to you.”

“So I just… do nothing? Go back to work?”

He shrugs at me. “If you can? I don’t know, hon. Do what you need to feel better.” I sit with him a bit longer, and he helps me come to the conclusion that staying with him, and working, is better than freaking out alone in my room. I have about four hours left, and I stick it out. When 5:00 rolls around, Edward comes over and gives me one more hug, and I head up to my room.

When I get to my door, Val is sitting on the floor in front of it, waiting for me. “Hey there,” I say.

“How are you doing?”

“How much have you heard?” I ask.

“Let’s go inside,” she answers.

I open the door, go in, and sit down on my bed. She drops down next to me. “OK, here’s what I know. There is a room, sort of off of his bedroom, which they already had set up like a little hospital. The entire health staff is up there. He’s unconscious, and on IV fluids, and an antibiotic, just to be on the safe side. They think that he was out there, without food, water, or sleep, pretty much the whole time he was gone. So he needs time to recover, but he should be fine.”

“He hasn’t woken up? At all?”

“I don’t think so. The last update I got was maybe 90 minutes ago?”

I throw my arms around her. “Thank you so much.”

“I told one of the nurses that I was asking on your behalf, and she was happy to tell me the whole scoop. She saw how it went down in the lobby, and is pretty pissed as Ms. Mead. A lot of them are.”

I take a deep breath, and exhale out slowly. “I will see him tomorrow. I don’t care what I have to do.”

Val nods. “I’ll see if there is anything I can do to help.” She puts her hands on my face, and gives me a kiss on the forehead. “It’s going to be OK, I promise you.”

***

Another day goes by. Another day of being consumed by my thoughts of Michael, and my fears of what is coming next. Another morning of mindlessly completing my work tasks, another lunch break in the cafeteria.

Val and I are finishing up our meals. She had given me the latest report on the top floor — the health staff were still up there, but in a waiting room, no longer in the room with Michael — and we are walking our trays up to the dishwasher counter. I’d just set mine down when I hear a collective gasp on the other side of the room, and a hush fell over the crowd. I look in that direction and spotted Ms. Mead, standing in the entryway.

Her eyes scan the room and stop when she finds me. With a nearly imperceptible head jerk, she indicates to me that I need to go up to my room ASAP. I don’t think anyone else even notices it.

I turn to Val, “Hey, I need to grab something from my room. I’ll catch you later.” She nods without looking at me, keeping her attention pointed at Ms. Mead. I slip past her and head to the stairs.

I don’t know how she does it — I’m always marveling at stuff like this on the compound — but Ms. Mead is waiting for me at my door when I got to my room. “Hi there,” I say, trying to hide the terror in my voice.

She snorts. “It’s time for you to start packing. You won’t be coming back to this room, so grab everything.” She extends her arm out to me, holding a few large canvas tote bags.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I say.

She shrugs. “I’m just executing Michael’s orders, here.”

I take the bags… and burst into tears. This is happening. I unlock the door and she follows me inside.

She plops down in the chair next to the door, seeming bored with the whole affair. “Take your time, I’ll wait,” she says. I continue sobbing, mindlessly grabbing my socks and undies through the tears, stuffing the bags like I am on auto-pilot. After only about five minutes, my suitcases and three tote bags contain everything I own on that compound — my clothes, my toiletries, my baking stuff, and just one photo album from my prior life. I have just enough brain capacity to take a moment to feel sorry for myself. I am about to return to my life back in the “real world,” but there is barely any life there.

We move into the hall, I close the door, and Ms. Mead holds out her hand for my key. I hand it to her, still sniffling. We walk down the hall, and pass two staff members who are coming out of a room — they stare at us in stunned silence.

We get into an elevator and I don’t even watch as she pushes the button. The elevator starts moving, and it surprises me by going up instead of down. I look at her for answers, but she continues staring straight ahead. I guess this is going to be a slow reveal.

We continue to the top floor, and I feel deja vu as I follow her down the same path to Michael’s suite. We enter, and Ms. Mead makes a beeline for the chair by the fireplace. This time, she gestures for me to sit down next to her. Michael is nowhere to be seen.

I drop my crap on the floor and sit down. She has her eyes closed, like she’s resting from a terrible ordeal, so I take a moment to glance around the room. Some things are the same — the bed, the open space, the fireplace. But some things about the way the room is arranged seem different from what I remembered. I can’t quite place what’s new.

As we sit there in silence, I feel my anxiety ramp up again, and the tears start flowing. Ms. Mead sighs. “You’re not leaving, you’re just being moved, so stop your blubbering.” I go silent and look at her, waiting for her to continue explaining. Her eyes are still closed.

With another sigh, she opens her eyes, sits up in her chair, and looks at me. She inhales deeply and starts talking. “Michael has been communicating with his father. He reaches out to him when he needs his guidance and it’s always… a trial. It leaves him drained and depleted and in need of recovery, sometimes for many days. That’s where he is now.” She gestures at the door next to the fireplace. “Through that door is his private chamber — we keep it locked at all times and you are not to go in there. Under any circumstances. Do you understand that?” I nod. I can’t fathom why she is telling me this. She continues.

“He asked his father about you, about why you’re here. And he got his answer, all right.” She clears her throat. “When The Father made his deal with you, 18 months ago, he had a plan for you that no one has known about until now. You were, shall we say, ‘built’ for Michael. To be his companion. And to bear his son.” She let the words hang in the air.

The moisture drains from my mouth. The blood drains from my face. My head starts spinning and I feel I might pass out. She is looking at me, and I sense she expects me to speak. Eventually.

“Built?” I ask

“Yes. When his father first met you, he decided that he wanted you for his, I dunno, daughter-in-law, I guess. And he set all this in motion. He made sure you were on our lists, came to the summit, and got invited here. And Michael had no idea, until a few days ago.”

“I see,” is the best response I could come up with. I am having a hard time processing the enormous amounts of relief, anger, joy, fear, curiosity, and extreme… well… horniness I am feeling at that moment.

She snorts again. “Well, now you know, too.” She gets up and walks across the room. She puts her hand on a dresser against the far wall. “So this will be your room now. Put your clothes in here.” She gestures at the door next to it. “This is your closet. There are two sinks in the master bath; yours is the one on the left.”

She comes back over to where I am seated and hands me a key card. “This gets you onto this floor, and into this room the conference waiting rooms. Not the conference rooms, and not that one.” She gestures again to his chamber door. “Resume attending your regular work, meals, and meetings until further notice. Refrain from telling anyone about this until further notice. You may see Michael today; it may be several more days before he emerges. We never know how long the recovery will take. Do you have any questions?”

I have a million questions. I can tell that she isn’t going to stick around while I ask them, so I try to think of the most important one. “What does he think of all this?”

She seems surprised that I’d asked that, and maybe (just maybe) I see a tiny bit of softening around her eyes. Ms. Mead has never been kind to me, and I sense that she never will. But she loves Michael more than anything in the world. And maybe it means something to her that I ask about how he is doing.

But then she snaps back into business-mode. “This all came as a surprise to him. It’s as though his father gave him an assignment that he didn’t know was coming. He will do as his father instructs.” And then she turns and walks toward the door. She gives me one last look and, without saying a word, leaves me alone.

I stand there, unable to process this. Two minutes ago I thought Michael didn’t want me, and I was getting kicked out. Now I find out that he’s my new roommate and that he has “an assignment” to impregnate me. I look down at my sad pile of belongings. I am supposed to report back to work in about 10 minutes. It’s hard to imagine working right now, but she’d told me to go back. And it is harder still to imagine sitting in this room by myself any longer.

I root through my bags, find my apron, and grab my face wash. I go into the master bath, but have to stop for a moment to marvel at it—it is the most stunning bathroom I’d ever seen. I walk over to the sink on the left, run some cold water and try to tame my emotion-addled face. I walk out of the bathroom, my apron in my hands, and almost run into Michael, who is standing next to my dresser, wearing a satiny bathrobe.

“Oh! You’re here.”

He looks me in the eyes. “Mm-hmm.”

"Ms. Mead said you’d be in recovery for a while.”

He looks almost… impish? Spritely? His face was a tangle of emotions ranging from bemused to sly to… I don’t know what. Reading him is so hard for me. “I feel amazing,” he says.

“Oh. OK.” I say, then look at the floor.

He puts his hand under my chin and lifts my face. “I’m sorry. I am so, sincerely sorry for the way I treated you.”

I nod. I don’t know what to say.

“Slapping me was exactly the right thing to do. I deserved it. I talked to my father and everything is making sense to me now.”

“Is it?” I ask him. I’m not quite ready to take him at his word.

“It is. Can I explain?” I nod. “From the moment I saw you, at the summit, there have been all these thoughts flying around in my head. The type of human emotions that I’m not used to – jealousy, possessiveness, lust.”

More nodding from me.

“I thought I was in control, and I resented feeling like I was losing control. But it turns out that’s what my father wants for me.”

“He wants you… to have more human emotions?”

“Yes,” he starts, “to embrace the parts of me that are human. To embody his philosophy of living a life without shame, without inhibition.”

I nod some more. “So… how did it happen that you weren’t already living that way?”

He thinks for a second. “My father wasn’t in my life when I was young. I had no idea who I was until Ms. Mead found me. I didn’t have his guidance at all until fairly recently, so… I think I’d be a very different person if I had.”

“Got it.” I say.

“You started talking to him about 18 months ago?” he asks.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“That makes sense. That was right after I found him.”

“I remember that. All the way in Chicago, people were talking about you.”

“Oh yeah?” he asks. “What were they saying?”

“The words I remember are ‘beautiful’ and ‘terrifying’.”

He laughs. “Sorry if I don’t live up to the hype.”

I shake my head. “No, you definitely do.” I look down at my hands and see I am still holding my apron. “I was just heading back to work,” I say.

The sly-face comes back. Then he says, “I am afraid you’re going to be late.”

Chapter Text

In this moment, alone with him, seeing his eyes sparkling and a smug little smile on his face… I feel like the ground is shifting underneath me. I want to call a time-out. To take a step back and say, “OK, whoa. What is going on here?”

But I can hear the voice of his father in my head, from our fateful negotiation so long ago: “You know what I like about you, Evie? You hunger for experience. You need your pleasure and decadence and you could give two shits about the consequences.” When he’d said it, it was true. I’d been begging for his help, knowingly mortgaging my future, and I didn’t care – I craved the self-indulgence too much. That was the woman he chose for his son. That’s the woman he needs me to be right now.

But to be in a situation this intimidating and try to will myself to turn off my inhibitions? This is going to be tricky. I inhale sharply through my nose.

“Am I?” I toss my apron on top of the dresser and put my hands on my hips. That’s it, girl. Confident. Sassy.

He is standing just a foot or two away from me. One of us is going to have to make the first move. I want it to be me but my feet seem to be frozen in place. Move! Move it, bitch!

Somewhere in there I find the strength to take a step forward. My eyes are locked with his. Another step, and I am inches away from him. I reach up and grab the lapels of his robe, still gazing into his eyes. My thumbs brush against his bare chest, making contact with his skin, and I glance down at my hands, half-expecting them to be on fire. I let go of one of his lapels and slide my right hand under his robe, pressing my full palm against his chest. I close my eyes and relish the feel of his skin – smooth and firm and *hot* to the touch. I add my other palm. I stand there getting drunk on the smell of him, eyes closed, feeling dizzy. Without thinking, a whisper of “oh, god,” comes out of my mouth. He tips my chin up with his finger, and I open my eyes again.

“He’s not here right now,” he says.

I smile. “I imagine not.” I find myself frozen in place again. I feel like I could stand there with my hands on him forever, and I am having a hard time coming up with a strategy. I could… kiss him? Throw him down on the bed? Wait here terrified until he makes the next move? I take a deep breath. “So… I need you to help me out a little here… what would you like to happen?”

He nods. "I haven't known much pleasure in my life. My father's instructions were to indulge my human instincts and experience some real gratification."

“Is that what you want?

His eyes close, and he breathily responds, “Yes.”

I exhale. "I can work with that." I drop my hands down to the sash on his robe, untie it, and slide it off his shoulders and onto the floor. He still has a pair of satiny pajama pants on, and I leave those on, for now. I put my hands back on his chest, tilt my head, and start kissing his neck. He rolls his head back and I hear his breathing intensify. All right, we have contact.

I push him gently back, and down onto the bed. He follows my direction and lays down, eyes locked with mine. I just stand there, admiring the view for a second. His flawless skin, his long hair cascading across the pillow, the intensity in his eyes. I still wasn’t sure how I’d gotten myself here, but I need to pause a moment and appreciate the scene in front of me.

I realize I am still wearing my uniform – the black crewneck t-shirt and grey chef pants. I yank those off quickly, and am relieved that I’d chosen acceptable underwear today – a light pink bra with black lace trim, and black cotton panties. Not the sexiest things I’ve ever owned, but not too bad. Note to self: acquire better underwear.

I climb up on the bed, throw my knee over him, and straddle his waist. I grab his hands and put one on each of my hips. I slide my hands up his arms and over his shoulders, cupping his face in my palms. I drop my head down and kiss his neck some more. I’m dying to taste his lips, but I feel like I need to work up to that. I scoot down a little so I can kiss his chest, and my ass scoots below the waistband of his pants. I move my pelvis in little circles, hoping to detect what’s going on under his pants. Nope, not there. Nope, not there either. THERE it is.

He feels me finding the right spot and lets out a gasp. That’s my cue. I shoot up and start kissing him on the mouth. I am breathless, panting, feeling shock waves radiating down my body. He moves his hands from my hips and slides them up my back. His mouth is on overdrive, kissing with intense, out-of-control pressure. I know my face is going to be red all day, but for his first time, he was doing a pretty amazing job.

He jerks his head back, gulping for air. Know what else needs some air? I shimmy back down and wrap my hands around the waistband of his pants. I look up at him to make sure he’s still with me – his eyes meet mine and he gives me the tiniest little nod.

There is a drawstring to untie, and as I work at it, I can’t help but smile at the black satin pajamas. Whoever has been dressing this man puts him exclusively in black and red, usually satin and velvet, occasionally leather. It all strikes me as a little on-the-nose, and I wonder if I’d have a chance to help him improve that a little. This is what you’re thinking about right now?

Drawstring untied, I reach under him and grab his waistband from the back first, pull it down under his ass, then lower the front. A wave of relief washes over me when I uncover his erection. I admit that I had spent some time wondering what the heck I’d find in there – I’d seen some illustrations of his father in which he was sporting a huge, scary-looking animalistic member. But this one is perfect. Big and hard and hairless – what more could I ask for?

I scoot his pants the rest of the way down and look back up at him. His head is thrown back and his eyes are screwed shut like he’s bracing himself for something. I lower myself down to my left elbow and wrap my right hand around the base of his cock, and start moving it slowly up and down, my eyes on his face the whole time. His mouth flies open and his breathing intensifies. OK, this is working. This is familiar territory.

I keep that going until I feel my mouth start to water – I am craving him. My desire to hear him moan and to make him come takes over me. I keep my hand going and wrap my mouth around the head of his cock, and feel him jerk up. He is propped up on his elbows, watching me. I lower my mouth all the way down to the base, a skill that I’d mastered over the last few years, and his breathing switches to grunting. All right, girl, it’s time to do your very best work. I deftly work my usual technique – fingers tight around the base, lips squeezing the shaft as I bob up and down, avoiding too much pressure on the ridge, keeping my teeth out of the picture, breathing through my nose.

After about 20 seconds, his grunting switches to soft moaning, then loud moaning. You want to experience pleasure, do ya? I quicken my pace, and after about 10 more seconds, I know he is close. And then he is there. Every muscle in his body tenses up, he lets out one long sustained moan, and his seed fills my mouth. I keep going, milking out every drop, until I feel his body relax. I slide my mouth off his cock and pause for just a second before swallowing. I run my tongue around the inside of my mouth, assessing what I’d just swallowed. Nothing too different from what I’d tasted before, but I am pretty sure it was *hotter.*

I look up at him. His head is still thrown back, so all I can see is his chin. I sit all the way up and crane my neck to see his face – his eyes are closed, his features relaxed, and he has a little smile on his face. I run my hands up his torso and drop down next to him, my head on his shoulder. We lay there in silence for a moment or two, and then he lets out a long, slow exhale. I look up at him.

I can see him open his mouth to speak, then close it, then think a second… words are failing him. He looks down and flashes some eye sparkle at me. I smile back at him and give him a quick kiss on the neck. “Thank you,” is all he says. I am OK with that. We lay there for some time, gripping each other and getting comfortable with our new arrangement.

Chapter Text

When it finally occurs to me to check a clock, I am indeed late for work. By about three hours. “Oh shit,” I say.

“Hmmm?” Michael says. I think he had drifted off to sleep.

“I’m like three hours late to work. They’re gonna kill me.”

“No, they aren’t. I’ll take you,” he says, then he gets up and walks toward his closet. This is my first chance to ogle his bare ass, and I am thankful for that.

“Really?” I ask. Ms. Mead had made it sound like our arrangement was a great big secret, so I didn’t expect him to walk around with me in public just yet.

“Sure. It’s the least I can do,” and he looks back at me, with… a wink? Did he just wink at me? What an interesting turn of events.

While he is in his closet, I go into the bathroom and got ready – brush my teeth, straighten my hair, and put my uniform back on. When I come out, he looks more like the Michael I am used to. Black pants, red satin shirt, and a hooded black cape. Those fucking capes, man. His hair, however, is a tangled mess which, while adorable, would not do. Every time I’d seen him before it was smooth and flawless. “Hairbursh,” I say.

“Shit, yeah,” he says, stepping past me into the bathroom. Seeing him like this is fun. It was becoming clear to me that a lot of the persona I’d seen before today has been carefully curated. And it is effective; I’d been struck with reverence and awe every time I’d seen him. But there is a normal-ish person just under the surface, and seeing it show through is really eye-opening.

He is in the bathroom for a while, giving me a chance to find my key card, collect my tools from my tote bags full of stuff, slip on my shoes… I am now going to be nearly four hours late. He emerges again and I swear he is now wearing eye shadow. I have to admit, he makes it work.

As we exit his room and walk down the hallway, I am struck by how nervous I am. I am going to walk into my workplace with him, and the rumors are going to start flying immediately. And where is Ms. Mead? I’d always assumed she slept outside his door or something so she could accompany him everywhere he went. We step into the elevator. When the door closes, he steps close to me and gives me a long deep kiss. And it is a *good* kiss – no mouth-smashing, a perfect sexy balance of strength and tenderness. When the door’s bell goes off, he pulls away. I stand there for a second, bewildered. He looks back at me. “Come on,” he says, his eyes smiling.

As he steps out of the elevator I feel a discernible shift in his demeanor. The smirks and sparkling eyes are gone; he is regal, above it all. I’m not sure if I should walk behind him? But he waits for me, so I step up next to him, and we walk together. All we have to do is cross the lobby, go down the hallway to the kitchens, and go in the staff entrance. This is maybe a two-minute walk. We both keep our eyes forward, and I try to pretend I don’t notice the eyes on us, but I can feel them.

Once we enter the main kitchen door, we are in an empty hallway, and I stop. “Wait,” I say. “I just need some clarity, here. Ms. Mead acted like I am supposed to keep us a great big secret, but a buncha people just saw us together and now you’re going to talk to my supervisor… there will be questions.”

“A great big secret?”

“That’s what she said. Don’t tell anyone that I’ve moved, don’t talk about you, keep showing up at stuff like nothing has changed.”

His brow furrows. “That was… not my instruction.” He brings his face close to mine, his breath hot. “I want to… make something clear, here,” he says. “You. Belong. To. Me. Do not pay any attention to what anyone else says about us.”

I nod. Feeling bold, I put my hands on his chest, and whisper, “I belong to you.” He pulls me in close and plants another long kiss on me.

“Later,” he whispers. “We’ve both got work to do.”

We continue walking down the hallway, to the door to the prep kitchen. He opens the door and gestures for me to go in first. As soon as the florescent lights hit my eyes, I hear Connie yell, “Eve, what the fuck?” I continue walking in, with Michael behind me, and I hear her gasp. And then a bunch more gasps from around the kitchen. It is so silent you could hear a pin drop. Michael steps up, and looks to me with his finger pointing around the room, so as to say, “Her? Him?” I gesture at Connie and he walks over to her.

“Excuse my intrusion. I just wanted to make sure you knew that Evelyn’s lateness is entirely my fault, and she should not reprimanded in any way.” Connie stands there stammering. He doesn’t wait for her to pull herself together; he walks back over to me, picks up my right hand and kisses it. “Have a lovely evening.”

“My lord,” I say, bowing my head a little. He walks out the door, his cape sweeping behind him. He turns right and starts walking down the hallway, and seconds later, Ms. Mead crosses the doorway as well, just a few feet behind him. My jaw drops. Has she been following us the whole time?

I don’t really have time to ponder that. I turn around and face a firing squad of my coworkers’ astonished faces.

***

 “Hey, sorry y’all. Did someone start the baguettes already?” They all stare. No one wants to talk to me about bread right now. “Ok, I’ll go check the proving drawers, then.”

“Eve. What the actual fuck?” Connie asks. How am I supposed to answer that?

I sigh. “I’ve had a very… unusual day and I’d really like to just do some work now. Please?” The stares continue.

“And we’re supposed to pretend like you didn’t just walk in here with the Antichrist?” she ask.

“Yes, please,” I say. She and few other folks graciously step back and it is just Sharon and Edward remaining. I can tolerate Edward’s presence right now, but I need Sharon to back the fuck off.

Edward speaks up. “Come with me, Evie, I’ll show you where we are.” He tugs on my sleeve and I follow him to the cooler, where today’s menu is posted. I feel Sharon continue to glare at me, but I do my best to ignore her.

A few seconds later Edward and I are in the pantry and he whispers, “Girl, what the actual fuck?” With Edward, I am able to smile at that.

“Soon, when I am done processing what has happened today, I’ll tell you all about it,” I say.

“You better,” he says, and starts loading heavy bags of flour into my arms. Until I am struggling under the weight.

“Ow, hey!” I say.

“Penance,” he replies, chuckling. I laugh back at him, but I can tell that this is just the tip of the giant iceberg of awkwardness that I have in store.

Chapter Text

I work a little late to make up for the time I lost, and totally skip dinner. I don’t even remember to grab anything from the kitchen, as I am focused on making a stealthy getaway. Right now, I just want to get away from people. Even as I walk back to the elevator, I can feel the stares. My key card successfully gets me to the top floor and into Michael’s suite. I can hear people talking in a conference room, but the bedroom is empty. I enter and flop down on the bed, which is still disheveled. His pajamas are still strewn across the floor. I bury my face in the pillow, and I can smell him on it.

I’d be happy to stay like this for the rest of the night, but I am thirsty as hell. I get up and wander around the room. It seems like he should have some food or drinks in here? On the other side of the bed is a table with a fancy-looking stereo on it. Next to that is the open area (which I will always think of as “yoga studio”), then the door to the balcony. I open it and pop my head out — it was pretty nice out there. A table, some lounge chairs, what looks like a little outdoor kitchen. There is a mini-fridge, which I open, and it is full of drinks. “Score!” I say, and grab a beer.

I step back inside and continue my tour. Next to the balcony is a normal door that is locked. And then the fireplace seating area, and then the super-secret chamber door, the one that I’ve been told I can’t enter under any conditions (I don’t even try to open that one). And then the last wall has the closets and the bath, and I can’t stop myself from wandering into Michael’s closet.

Black velvet, red velvet, burgundy satin, black satin, cape, cape, leather pants, cape… I smirk my way around the small room, delighted to be smelling him again. There are a lot of drawers in here, too, but I hold myself back from opening them.

My closet is much smaller, and totally empty. I suppose it’s time to unpack my stuff. Still sitting by the foot of my bed, I grab my suitcases and tote bags and start unpacking my bland support staff clothes and work uniforms. I only have about four outfits from my pre-compound life, which I hang up carefully. I am reflecting on one of them, a dress I’d worn for my last birthday, when I hear raised voices in the conference room. I freeze; I’m not going to be able to discern what they are saying through the solid walls, but I can tell that one is definitely Michael. I hear stomping in the hallway, and his bedroom door open and close. Twice. Ms. Mead follows into the room, and they are arguing.

“You’re putting this whole operation in jeopardy!” Ms. Mead yells.

“I am fulfilling my promise to my father!” He yells back.

She tries to level off her voice. “Look, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and all the time in the world after it’s done. Can’t you just wait until then?”

“No! This happens now!” I hear a bit of adolescent boy creep into his defensive wailing. I’m not certain what they are talking about (though I can guess), but I know I need to make my presence known before this goes on much longer.

“I’m in here,” I say from the closet doorway. They both turn and look at me, and Michael’s face breaks into a relieved sigh, while Ms. Mead’s turns even scowlier than before.

“Oh great,” Ms. Mead says sarcastically.

Michael’s eyes turn dark. Like, scary-dark. Still looking at me, he says, “Excuse me for a moment,” and he turns back toward Ms. Mead, grabbing her by the elbow, and pushing her into the hallway.

I know I should give them their privacy, but I suspect they are talking about me and I am dying to hear it. I step over to the door. Michael is talking.

“... so it’s time for you to get on board with this.”

“Listen to you. You’ve *never* been so disrespectful to me,” she says.

“You’ve never stood in my way before!”

I tiptoe away from the door. Yeah, this might be about me. I go back into the closet, because it seems like a safe place to hide out. I sit on the floor and finish my beer.

***

About five minutes later, Michael returns to the bedroom. I suppose I should come out of the closet to greet him, but I am comfy on the floor and figure he’ll find me eventually.

When he does, he looks down at me bemusedly. “You OK?”

“I had one of your beers,” I say. “I hope that’s ok.”

“What’s mine is yours,” he says.

“Wait, do you drink?”

He kinda shrugs. “It doesn’t really appeal to me. I keep it around for guests.”

“If you did drink, would you get drunk?” I have no food in my stomach and, probably against better judgment, bombarding him with questions seems like a fun thing to do.

“Yes. My physiology is almost entirely human.”

“Ah, so you’re not immortal?”

“No,” he says, plopping down on the floor next to me. “Why, you wanna kill me?”

I laugh. “Not yet. Although… what guests are you entertaining in your bedroom?”

He looks confused for a second. “Oh, because of the fridge? You can access that balcony from the conference room. Co-op members really seem to get off on having a beer with the boss after meetings.” He looks bored just talking about it.

“So, ‘*almost* entirely human.’ Which parts aren’t human?”

He doesn’t answer; he just looks at me like I’m nuts. “Are you feeling alright?” he asks.

“I have no food in my stomach and I think it’s making me punchy. Do you have anything to eat up here? I skipped dinner and totally forgot to grab something from the kitchen.”

“Want to order a pizza?”

“From, like, the outside world? You can do that??” He hops up and brings me a menu from a local place. I take a look at it and say, “Dude, margarita pizza.”

“Done,” he says, and he whips a phone out of his pocket.

“Whoa, and you have a phone?”

He laughs. “Anything you need, m’lady.”

He places the call, stands up, and holds his hand out to lift me off the floor. When I am standing next to him, he wraps his arms around me and we share another long kiss. “Mmmm, you’ve really got a knack for that,” I say. I want to continue, but I have some business to settle first.

I step out of the closet, walk over to the fireplace, and sit down in one of the chairs. He follows me, and sits across from me. I pause for a second to gather my thoughts, then I speak up. “Being here is an honor, and I am thrilled about it, honestly, and you are amazing. But I have about a thousand questions running through my head and it’s hard to be as present for you as I want to be, when my mind won’t stop.”

He nods. “I can imagine. Ask me anything.”

OK, where to start. “She hates me, right?” I ask, gesturing at the hallway, referring to Ms. Mead.

“I will work with her on that. She will come around; she just needs time.” He pauses. “Do you know what she has done for me?”

“No. not really.”

He sits back. “She’s the one who showed me who I am. Before she came into my life, I was lost and in pain, and she made everything make sense.”

He continues. “My mother died giving birth to me. My father was totally absent for the first half of my life. I was raised by my grandma, who was a good woman, who loved me. And I loved her. But she didn’t know why I was the way I was. She spent her days trying to convince me that everything that felt natural to me was wrong. Eventually, she lost any hope that she could save me from myself, and committed suicide.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah… thanks… she was the second mother I lost. I lived alone in that house for a while, until Ms. Mead literally showed up on my doorstep. She and a few members of her congregation been called to me by my father. They showed up and suddenly, everything made sense. They knew who I was, they knew how to read the signs, and they showed me how to use ritual to communicate with him—finally.

“And then I walked away from her one day, which I had to do, to infiltrate and destroy those that would try to stop me. And that ended up being the path that caused her death. Those fucking watches burned Ms. Mead at the stake – my third mother, lost.”

“She died?” I ask.

“She did. I couldn’t save her. I was lost again for a while, until my father steered me toward a congregation, and eventually the Cooperative. Who helped me rebuild her.”

He sighed. “My life has been full of people who thought they knew who I was, and tried to change me, or use me to their advantage… except for Ms. Mead.”

“She loves you. I mean, everyone in this building loves you, but I can tell that she loves you like a son.”

He gives me a half-smile. “And I love her. She takes care of me when I’m sick, she buys my clothes, she manages my finances… she’s the reason I am what I am today.”

“OK, next question. What made you call me up here, the first time?”

“We have had all these lists, in preparation for the move to the sanctuary. Who comes to the summit, who comes to the compound, who will live in which facility, who will work, what their jobs will be, etc. And my father kept moving your name around on my lists, always making sure you were with me.”

“Moving it?”

“Yeah, he shows up unexpectedly to weigh in on things. And he usually doesn’t reveal his motivations, he just says ‘Make it so,’ and we do. So after he moved your name for the third time, I asked to see you. And after that meeting, I went to talk to him.”

“On the mountain.”

“Yes. The only way I can get clear messages from him is to move myself away from all distractions.”

“And he told you that he’d chosen me?”

“Yes. He told me about his plan. Once I’d connected with him, and he had his proxy here on earth, he wanted to ensure a sustained presence here.”

“Succession planning,” I say.

“I suppose. But more than that. It’s also that he wants me to connect to his followers’ practices. You know, all that stuff you were screaming at me about. Before you slapped me.”

I blush. “I see.”

“Glad to hear it. Also, the Co-op knows where your name has been on the lists. Half the compound saw me fall at your feet. So I’m guessing that, by now, the whole building knows that he wants us partnered, so I don’t see any need to hide it.”

“So… why did Ms. Mead say that?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll talk to her.”

“OK, next question. I understand that your father lives in his palace with something like 30 concubines. The man is, like, dripping with sexuality.”

“Yes, that’s right. Except he’s not a man.”

“Yes. Right. And weren’t the church members throwing themselves at you? I guess I am wondering… why aren’t you a giant slut like you’re supposed to be?”

He laughs. “There are people who want to fuck me because Satanists, as a community, value gratification and indulgence and pleasure and all that. But there are also people who want to fuck me because I am powerful and they want to use sex to get proximity to power. And Ms. Mead wanted to protect me, so she just kept me away from it all.”

He continued, “I suspect this is her issue with you. We all know that my father selected you, but she would argue that we don’t know *your* motivations.”

“My motivations? To do something I just found out about this morning?”

He shrugs. “Trust me, she’ll come around.”

Just then there is a knock at the door, and he goes to open it. “Come in,” he says to a hospitality guy, who pushes a cart inside the room with our pizza on it, plus plates and stuff. I know I’d met him before. He works with Val, but I’m blanking on his name. He sees me and his eyes bug wide open. I give a lame little wave at him, not really knowing what else to do.

After he stands there gawking long enough, Michael says, “Thank you,” his cue to get the heck out. Michael closes the door behind him and I make a beeline for my dinner.

I didn’t bother getting a plate, I just open a box, grab a slice and shove it in my mouth. “Ohmigod,” I say. “Food is the best.”

Michael smiles. “Want another drink?” he asks, walking toward the balcony door. The Antichrist is fetching me a beer.

“Yes, please,” I say, taking a second enormous bite. I grab our plates, set them on the coffee table, and plop back down in my chair. He hands me a beer.

“I have some stuff for you, “ he says, and crosses over to his dresser. He grabs the black leather messenger bag that is on top of it, and brings it back to the table. He reaches in and pulls out an iPad in a purple case. “This is yours,” he says.

I sit up straight. “No way!” I exclaim. I wiped my hands, snag it from him, and whip it open. “Oh, internet, precious internet,” I say.

He laughs. “It cannot leave this room, but it has a Wi-Fi connection and you can use it to do anything you want. Well, not anything… you know.”

“So, no announcing the apocalypse on Facebook?” I joke.

“Not funny.”

“Sorry. I get it. I cannot imagine what would happen if the world found out.”

He nods. “It’s been tough. There are Co-op members who still have phones, as they need to order materials, talk to construction crews, and such. But we just couldn’t risk spreading the connectivity any further. We’ve got an advantage now, not having to compete with the rest of the world for resources.”

“Thank you for trusting me with this.”

“You’re welcome. We’ve got about nine months before we head to the Sanctuary, and I want you to be able to stock up on whatever you’re going to need. To that end,” he reaches inside the bag, and pulls out a credit card, “this is for you, too.”

My eyes light up. “Score.”

“Buy what you need, have it delivered here, stash it in the closet if you don’t need it on the compound.” He gestures over his shoulder at the locked door by the balcony.

“Oh, that’s a closet?” I ask.

“Yup, and your third thing… key to the storage closet.” He holds his hand out, dangling a key on a keychain that looks like a little skull. I grab it, point the skull back at him, and arch my eyebrows. “I know, I know… Co-op members can be so predictable.”

I laugh. “OK, got it. I’m tempted to buy new clothes, but… I think I want to continue wearing this?” I gesture to my uniform. “I assume I still eat with the other supports? I mean, I have to work with them…” I’m not really sure of the rules here.

His face turns unexpectedly serious. “I want you to be happy, and to enjoy yourself, so you can work if you want to work, quit if you want to quit, spend your time with whoever you want. I have only one rule for you. Do not talk to Cooperative members about their work.” He is getting the scary-eyes again, so I nod gravely.

“They’ve been instructed that the work of planning and building the Sanctuary happens in this room only, nowhere else,” he says, pointing at the conference room next door. “You’re not allowed in that room, and they shouldn’t be talking about the plans anywhere else. If you hear one of them doing it, please tell me.”

“And that room, too? I’m supposed to stay out of that one.” I point at his chamber door.

He pauses a second. “The next time I go in there, I may want you with me… we’ll see.”

I don’t know what that means, really, but I am feeling pretty good about things right now, and figure it can wait for another day. “OK. Understood.” I finish my pizza, and down the last of my beer. “Man, I feel so much better now. I’m gonna hop in the shower; I think I still smell like pie.” I stand up.

As I walk by him, he reaches up for me, and pulls me down into his lap. We start kissing, but I pull away. “Please, just give me a moment!” I say.

“Don’t be too long,” he calls after me, as I walk into the bathroom.

I really need to freshen up. And I need a moment to myself before moving on to the evening’s next activities. I just got a lot of information dumped into my lap, and it all seems good to me – things that had made no sense were starting to make sense. But it is a lot. I remember when I woke up this morning and I thought I’d spend the day making pie, and that was about it.

I think about Ms. Mead. I am glad to better understand her role in his life, and I feel a need to figure out how to get her to like me. But also, how had she appeared out of nowhere after he dropped me at work? Does she watch him all the time? Could she be watching me now?

I am naked, stepping into the fancy shower. It’s huge, and made from a gorgeous charcoal granite with little sparkly flecks in it, and has a nice big bench along one side, and lots of sprayer options – it occurs to me that this would be a good sex shower. Noted.

Having internet access is a crazy development, and I need to think that through a bit. One of the first things that had popped into my head was that I could look things up for Val or Edward, who are often wondering about their families or friends or the news back home. But… that could get tricky. I think that my best strategy there is to not tell them I have it, and to make extra-special sure I never accidently mention that I have it.

Also, the next thing I am gonna do when I was alone in this room is to look in that storage closet. I am dying to know what Michael is stockpiling for the Sanctuary. Leather pants?

And then I just spend a few moments zoning out. Feeling the water running down my back, staring at the sparkly walls, breathing deeply, thinking of nothing. My entire world has been flipped upside down in one day, and I am mostly excited. And eager to get back out there and spend more time with Michael. But I also know that I need to make sure I didn’t lose myself in all this.

Remember how this all got started. You were frustrated because you felt you weren’t in control of your life. And now you’ve ceded all of your control to Michael and his father.

I am determined to stay in control, at least in some ways. I certainly know of one area where I held all the power. Turning off the shower, I wrap myself in the largest, most luxurious towel I had ever touched. I had been thinking about what kinda pajamas I’d put on, but this towel makes my decision for me. I walk out of the bathroom wearing it and nothing else.

***

Michael is lying on the bed, in a *different* pair of black satin pajama pants (these had faint pin stripes), typing away on his phone. He looks at me when I come out, and his eyebrow pops up.

“This towel is giving me life,” I say.

He doesn’t say anything, just keeps looking at me, and sets his phone down. He gets up onto his knees and extends his arm toward me; I climb onto the bed and scoot over next to him. I expect him to hold me, but instead he goes straight for the towel. And then he tosses it aside, and I am naked. He continues to keep a little distance from me, and just stare.

Then he looks me in the eye. “So this morning was all about me; now I want to learn how to satisfy you,” he says. I am a-ok with that plan. He lays me down onto the bed, still kneeling above me. “Tell me where to start,” he says.

“Kiss me,” I respond, and he does. He starts out pretty lightly, but within seconds, he is lying fully on top of me, kissing forcefully. I swear that he started out this morning kissing like a 13 year-old boy, and has worked his way up to masterful within twelve hours. Feeling his body pressed against me does a lot to get me going, and I open my legs and start rocking my hips.

He presses himself up and onto his side, then placed his hand just below my navel, and starts sliding it down. “I need your help,” he whispers in my ear. I smile at him. I don’t think he’s ever seen one before.

“OK, sit up, and move right over here,” I say, guiding him to kneel right between my thighs. I spread my legs as wide as I could, and scoot my butt right up against his knees, to give him a better view. “You want the tour?” I ask him.

He looks at me, his face grateful. “Yes, please,” he says.

I put his hands on my knees. “OK, step one,” I stick two fingers right up against my vagina. “This is where all the moisture is. A good place to start is to move it around.” I show him what I mean and say, “Try that.” He does as he’s told.

“Excellent. So that’s my vagina. Here, try this, “ I say, and insert one of his fingers inside me. He gasps, which makes me smile. I have given this demo before, and I am entertained by how his similar his reaction is to every one I’ve seen.

“But that’s not a great place to start; you generally want to work up to that. So there’s sensitivity here,” I say, running his fingers up and down my inner labia, “and this is my urethra. Which I point out only because *a lot* of people don’t know where it is. Right here, though, is where the magic happens,” I say, pushing his fingers up against my clit. “Rub it,” I say.

And he does, lightly at first. “Harder,” I say. I throw my head back, screw my eyes shut, and execute a series of commands. “Harder. Right there. Bigger motions. Wetter. Harder. Yes, right there. Don’t stop!” When he’s got me right where I want to be, I look back at his face again. He looks so astonished, so focused. I am loving this. “Now do not stop what you are doing with that hand. Do. Not. Stop. Take two fingers from your other hand and put them inside me.” He does as he’s told. “Now fuck me with those,” I say, and he starts moving them in and out. “All of that, just like that, just keep going,” I say, and decide it’s time to shut up.

I am grinding my hips against him, which was making my breasts bounce. I grab them roughly, hold them tight and kept grinding. I am panting, gasping for air louder and louder with every bounce. My back is arched so I can’t see Michael, but I can hear his astonished breath. He is putting in an impressive effort, and I want to make sure he knows it, so when I feel it coming, I open my throat and let fly with a long and vocal orgasm. It comes in waves, first increasing, then decreasing in volume, wave after wave.

As I feel my equilibrium return, I relax my back and am able to look up at Michael. His hands had stopped moving, but he still has them in position. I tilted my pelvis down a bit, signaling to him that he can let go. He does, and then finally looks back up at my face. We gaze at each other for a bit, neither of us knowing what to say after that. And then he speaks. “I think that… was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”

I smile and reach my arms up toward him. He leans over and gave me one long, slow kiss before dropping to the bed next to me. “You did some excellent work, there, my lord.” I grab my bath towel and toss it at him.

“Yeah, I got the impression you enjoyed that,” he says, drying off his hands.

I laugh. “So that, right there, is about 90% of what you need to know about making a woman come. There are variations… but you’ve got the high points covered.”

“I’m so glad you showed me,” he says. “Thank you.”

We lie there for a bit, until I start to feel myself drift to sleep. I sit up and say, “I have to warn you about something… I have to get up at 4:30am, pretty much every morning.”

“Seriously?” he says.

“Have you been enjoying your fancy breakfast spread every morning? That wouldn’t be possible without yours truly, down in that kitchen at 5:00.”

He groans. “I run this fucking place. There must be some way I can change that.”

I laugh. “Sure. Go tell the Cooperative members that they don’t get croissants anymore because you don’t want to be disturbed in the morning.” I cross over to my bag, grab my alarm clock, and start setting it.

“You make those?” he asks.

“Uh, yeah. Pastry chef.”

“Huh. Sometimes we have donuts. Do you make those, too?”

I am flat-out laughing at him. “Yeah, those, too.”

“I like the donuts,” he says, making his boyish face again.

“I’ll remember that,” I say, dropping back down in bed.

He shifts himself onto his side, pulls me next to him, and we’re spooning.

Chapter Text

After my evening of beer, pizza, and a screaming orgasm, I fall asleep surprisingly quickly, and I sleep surprisingly soundly. Until the alarm goes off. My eyes blink open and it takes a bit to remember where I am. Oh yeah. Remember how you fell asleep spooning with the Antichrist?

I slap the alarm off, roll over, and take a look at Michael. He’s on his back, sleeping the sleep of the dead. And I almost mean that literally — I have to stare at him for a good bit before I can confirm he is even breathing. And his breath is totally silent. I don’t want to creepily watch him sleep for *too* long, but I do watch him for a bit.

His features are so chiseled and sharp, his hair and skin so smooth and flawless. He doesn’t appear to have any facial or body hair whatsoever, so he is seemingly preserved in this state of perpetual youth. I know he said his physiology was human, but there has to be some of his father’s magic at work here. I can’t imagine that he ever snores or sweats or gets sunburnt or anything like that.

I think back to right after my transformation, waking up that first morning after his father and I had our negotiation. I remember feeling like my mind was sharper, my senses heightened. My morning sluggishness was a thing of the past. And over time, I’d noticed other changes. My skin was more vibrant, my hair was shinier, and my own body hair got thinner and thinner until it was gone. In this moment, it’s dawning on me that his father had maybe done these specific customizations, to make me more a perfect companion for Michael. And I wonder what else he might have tweaked about me, which is a trippy thing to think about. Ok let’s stop thinking about it then.

I do still pee, though, and I need to go. I sneak to the bathroom, careful not to wake him. As I sit on the toilet, I stare at my hands. When was the last time I had a hangnail?

I feel a pressing need to talk to someone normal and gain a little perspective on all this. I decide to leave a note on Edward’s door on my way down, and hopefully find some time to catch up with him today.

I shower and dress as quickly and quietly as possible, keeping an eye on Michael to make sure I don’t wake him. As I am pulling on my jacket, though, I see his eyes snap open and he is fully alert, instantly. No sleepy eyes, no yawning. I yawn, though. Don’t I?

“Hey, sorry to wake you,” I say.

“Quite all right,” he says. He stands up, crosses over to me, puts his hands on my hips and pulls me right up against him. I suspect he is hoping to derail me with his discernible erection, but I can’t be derailed.

“I’ll hurry back, this afternoon, I promise,” I say.

He gives me a long, slow kiss and says, “You better.”

I step out the door, exhaling slowly as I walked down the hall, calming myself. That man can really rile me up with just one kiss — this could get dangerous.

***

I drop my note under Edward’s door and head down to the kitchen. The first thing I do is check to see if we’ve got everything we need to make donuts, and we do. I smile, and get started.

About a half-hour in, I hear a knock at the door. I look over and see Edward through the window, and wave to him to come inside. His hair is still wet from showering.

“GIRL!” He exclaims when she sees me. “I hope it’s OK that I am here early – are you alone? I am *dying* to know what is up!”

“Yeah, I’m alone. Sit down,” I say, gesturing to a stool near my prep table. “I can talk, but I gotta keep working.”

He sits. “So a bunch of us are sitting in the courtyard last night, and Anthony comes over after his shift and proceeds to tell Val and I that he saw you last night. In Michael’s bedroom!”

“Anthony. That’s his name. I was blanking on his name,” I said.

“What, so it’s true?”

“It is.”

“I’m gonna need a little more information, here.”

“I know. I’ll explain. Can I ask you a question first?”

“Sure,” he says.

“You tried to make a deal with The Father, but he said no. Correct?”

“That’s right,” he said, wincing.

“Do you know why he said no?”

He thought for a second. “I talked to my priestess about it at the time. She explained that Satan doesn’t want to just collect a bunch of souls, he chooses souls that can get him something he needs. And I guess I didn’t have anything he needed.”

“Huh. Well in the last 24 hours, it has become clear what he needs from me,” I said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.”’ I took a breath, stop cutting donut shapes, and look at him. “When he agreed to my negotiation, he had a plan. He was crafting me into a companion for his son. He chose me to be Michael’s partner, and ultimately bear his children.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. Can I ask you something? Have you ever seen me yawn?” I ask.

“Uh, I don’t know. I mean, sure, I imagine I have? What do you… why?”

I take a breath. “I was watching Michael sleep this morning and was overwhelmed by how perfect he is…”

“Wait, you spent the night?” he asks.

“Oh yeah! I live up there now! But like, he doesn’t make any noise when he sleeps. He doesn’t sweat, or have any imperfections anywhere. And I was thinking that I’d never live up to that… but then I realized that a lot of these things changed for me as well. My skin got clearer and my hair got better, I lost my body hair…”

“Wait… you don’t have any body hair?” he asks.

“No,” I said in a small voice, sensing his surprise. “I figured it was a hormonal thing or seomthing? I dunno what I thought. But, now I think the father might’ve made me this way.”

He thinks for a second. “I get that this is a lot to take in, but I’m not really hearing any bad news here.”

“Oh, I know. I think I just have some adjusting to do. Yesterday was pretty fucking amazing.”

“So how did this all go down?”

“Ms. Mead came to get me yesterday at lunchtime, and told me to pack my shit. I was sure I was getting thrown out, and I was bawling… but then she took me to Michael’s room. And told me it was my room now.”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah, I have a closet, and a dresser, and his bed is now my bed.

“Wait. So... did you fuck him already?”

“Um, not quite. We did other things.”

He drops his chin and lowers his voice, “How was it?”

I drop mine, too. “Fucking incredible.”

He nods emphatically. “NICE. Yeah, I am just not hearing any bad news here. Unless, will I never see you again?”

“No, I’ll still be around. He says it’s totally up to me. I want to keep working, and taking meals with you all, and he says that’s fine. I just sleep there now.”

“Damn, girl. So… how can *I* benefit from your new position of power?”

“I don’t know yet,” I laugh, “but I’ll be on the lookout.”

“So… what is he even like? Like, to be around?”

“He’s intimidating. But not as much as his public persona. The normal human in him shines through a good bit. He’s actually been very kind to me. And willing to admit that he sorta doesn’t know what’s going on here, either.”

“It was a surprise to him too?” Edward asked.

“Totally,” I say. I get to the end of my dough-cutting. “Can you turn the fryers on for me?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says, heading over in that direction.

“OK, I need to get back to work but I gotta ask you one more thing: What did Anthony *think* I was doing in there?”

“Oh man, we all were trying to figure it out. I think we were pretty sure you were gonna be his human sacrifice.”

I laugh. “No, not yet at least.”

He comes over and gives me a hug. “I’m happy for you. I imagine this answers a lot of questions that have been plaguing you.”

“And how,” I say.

“OK, I’ll get out of your hair… see you this afternoon!”

“Love you!” I call, as he walks out of the kitchen.

Chapter Text

At the end of my shift, I head back to the penthouse and find Michael sitting on the couch with a laptop on his lap. I enter and give him a “Hey I’m back!” but he barely looks up. He’s super-focused on the screen and, for a second, I am offended. But then it occurs to me that the future of the human race does kind of rest on his shoulders, so perhaps taking a moment to focus on his work is justifiable.

I go into the bathroom to get changed and clean up a bit, darting my eyes out the door at him every 20 seconds or so to see if his face has changed. And for some time, it doesn’t. And then he slams the laptop closed and tosses it on the couch next to him, yelling “Motherfuckers!”

At this, I step out the door and look at him, and it seems to be the first time he notices that I’m in the room. We make eye contact, but I don’t dare say anything. He shakes his head and looks out the window, remaining silent. I flip off the bathroom light.

He stands up, looks at the ceiling, and takes a deep breath. He walks over to me, places his hand on my cheek, and touches his forehead against mine. He kisses me, briefly, but still with a good amount of passion. I can tell he’s trying to decide how to say something.

“Tomorrow, I’ll be traveling to see how the construction on the Sanctuary is going, for the first time since they broke ground,” he says.

“OK,” I say.

“On future trips, I think I’ll want you to come with me, but for this one, you’ll need to stay here.”

“That’s fine,” I say.

He pauses for a second. “I have a lot of anxiety about this. I just don’t know what it’s gonna look like.”

“I’m sure everything will be fine; you all are working so hard.” I don’t really know what else to say.

“We’re doing everything we can, but we’re not doing the actual building. Non-believers are, and they don’t know what’s at stake here. They just think we’re a weird doomsday cult with a lot of money. And we need them to continue to think that. But it’s a tough balancing act. The only leverage we have is money, which works a lot of the time, but… I can only hope it’s enough.

“Seeing you in person has to help. You have a… very persuasive presence.” He cracks a smile. OK, that’s better.

He walks back over to the couch and grabs the laptop, moving it to his table on the other side of the bed to plug it in. “I hope you’re right,” he says. “How are things downstairs?”

“I convinced them that I am not going to be your human sacrifice,” I say.

He snorts. “Well that’s a relief.”

“So, what does a normal day look like for you?”

“Not like this. Ms. Mead usually schedules every minute with working meetings and review boards. I told her to go easy on me yesterday and today so I could get you settled.”

“Aw, thanks,” I say.

“You’re very welcome,” he says. “I just wish I weren’t so distracted.” He sits down on the bed, with his back to me. Fragile male ego showing cracks due to fear of failure? I know how to treat this.

I climb onto the bed, and crawl over to him, on all fours. I wrap my arms around him from behind, and squeeze him for a bit. Then I slide my hands down to his chest, and start unbuttoning his shirt. Once I’ve got it off him, he looks over his shoulder at me, and I ease him back and lean him against the pillows. I hop up and strip myself naked in about three seconds. I don't really feel like giving him time to ease into this; I straddle him immediately, and start kissing his chest. His neck and shoulders. His ears. And then his lips. He kisses me back with real intensity, grunting and panting.

I pull away from him and whisper breathlessly, “My lord.” More kissing and then I break away from him again. “My master,” I say. I lift up my ass and get to work pulling his pants down, straddle him again and whisper, “I live to serve you.”

OK, that was pretty cheesy. But his lips, and his hands on the back of my head, tell me that he is *into* it. I reach down and grab his cock, thrilled it’s gotten so rock-hard so quickly. I start rubbing its head against my clit, making high-pitched whimpers. I stop just long enough to lean over and whisper in his ear, “I want you inside me.”

He is panting, “Yes, do it.” And I lower myself down and take all of him inside me. My hands are on his shoulders, and I am rocking against him, determined to do all the work and just let him enjoy the ride. I grab his hands and move them to my breasts, and I hold them in place with my own hands, pressing down hard. Moans are coming out of me in short bursts, and I throw some ego-boosting exclamations in, “Yes. My lord. Yes. Give it to me. Fill me. My master. My savior. Oh yes…”

I look down at him, and hold his eyes with mine. My mind flashes to all those times I fucked all those other guys, and how the movements and mechanics were, essentially, the same as this. But the way this *feels* is worlds apart. I feel a rumbling from deep inside of me, a stirring in my body and soul. Just like I can feel him filling up my body, I feel a fulfillment in my whole being. This is what I was made for.

The rumbling intensifies until I get off on top of him, moaning loudly. Seconds after I start, he’s coming as well, and it feels like every cell in my body is exploding into him, and vice versa.

I collapse on top of him, trembling. My breath is shaky and coming out of me in long “ohh” sounds. I’m gripping his body with my whole body, keeping him inside me. He’s holding me tightly as well, and we just stay like that for a few minutes, until our breath returns to normal.

I lift my head and look down at him, feeling astonished and surely showing it. I say his name, “Michael. You are… everything I’ve been waiting for.”

He smiles, and kisses me sweetly. “Yeah, I… I never could’ve imagined this.” I nod, and start kissing him again. I don’t want to stop.

When we do finally stop, he says to me, “After I get back, we’ll have a status meeting for the whole compound. I want you next to me for that.”

“I’d be honored,” I say.

“I’m trying to come up with a term for what we call you. My… partner? Mistress? Betrothed?”

“Oh, are we getting married?” I asked coyly.

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, since the sacrament of marriage holds so much meaning for me.”

“Shit, I don’t care. Call me whatever you want.”

“*I* think of you as my queen. But I can’t call you that, because that’s akin to saying I’m a king. Which I am not.”

“You’re a prince, no?”

“Yes. But ‘princess’ isn’t right for you either.”

I laugh. “No, I don’t think so.”

Chapter Text

We lie around for a while, alternating between acting goofy and affectionate. Eventually he checks the clock and sees that it’s nearing dinner time. “So…,” he starts. “What should we do about dinner?”

My face twists up. “I have no idea. What makes the most sense? Do you eat with the Cooperative every night?”

“Most nights, yes. Sometimes Ms. Mead and I will eat up here, when we’d rather be alone.”

I nod. “Yeah, I love having the option of just sneaking stuff out of the kitchen and avoiding people. I do that a lot.”

He sighs. “So either we hide out, or you come with me. I don’t think me joining you in the staff cafeteria can happen.”

I laugh at that. “No, I can’t really envision you, me, and Val eating chicken nuggets together.”

“Val. Who is she?

“The woman from the balcony,” I answer.

“Oh, yeah,” he says, and he appears to be blushing.

“So if I join you with the Cooperative… how would that work? Aren’t I still not supposed to know who some of them are?”

“Eh,” he says. “There are other support staff in the room during meals. And we’ve all been here for more than a month now… I think it’s silly to pretend anyone’s identity is hidden anymore.”

“Would they be OK with me being there?”

“They’re OK with whatever I tell them to be OK with,” he responds.

“Fair enough,” I say. “Fuck it. Let’s do it.”

I hop out of bed and get in the shower. I duck into my closet and examine the few outfits I have, and opt for the same red dress I wore at the summit. Around the time I’m finishing up my hair and makeup, Michael emerges from his closet looking like a goth rock star in an all-black suit with a long black jacket. And I see the eye shadow has returned.

“Damn, you look hot,” I say.

“So do you,” he responds. I step toward him and put my hands on his chest.

“I’m nervous,” I say.

He shakes his head. “You shouldn’t be nervous. But I should warn you that Cooperative members… they kind of live by a different set of rules. From what you might be used to, I mean.”

“OK…,” I say.

He smiles. “It’ll be fine. I’ll make them behave themselves.”

We head out and walk down the hall. He surprises me by stopping at an unmarked door about halfway down, and knocking on it. Ms. Mead emerges. “May I escort you to dinner?” he asks her. And she smiles and comes out the door. Then she sees me and her face falls.

“She’s joining us?” she asks Michael.

“Apparently I am,” I answer.

She pauses for a moment, considering this. “Michael, are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” he says, closing the matter. “Let’s go.”

***

The elevator doors open on the sixth floor, and as Michael steps out, I detect that he’s shifting into regal-mode again. He extends his arm to me, and we walk down the hall to the dining room, with Ms. Mead right behind us.  

There have been a handful of times that I helped set up the breakfast buffet before it opened, but I have never seen the dining room in the evening, and I’ve definitely never seen it full of Co-op members. There are two long tables down the center of the room that are set for dinner, and some occasional seating around the edge of the room. Everyone is still milling around, most of them with cocktails. A hush falls over the room as people notice that we’ve entered. Michael nods at a few people who are staring at us, and he turns to me. “Would you care for a drink?” he asks.

“Yes, I would care for many drinks, please,” I respond. He gestures toward the bar on the other side of the room, and we head in that direction. As we walk by, the Co-op members are all silent and gawking and staring, and I wish I could disappear.

Michael orders a gin and tonic for me, red wine for Ms. Mead, and hands them to us. He hold up his own glass, and says, “Hail Satan.” The three of us toast, and I can’t help but chuckle.

The other people in the room are starting to return to their own conversations and what-not, and this is when I start to notice what some of these folks are up to. Two young guys are sitting at one of the dining tables, snorting lines of cocaine off a bread plate. There’s a man crossing the right side of the room holding a leash, connected to another man in a latex suit, who is following him. There is a man sitting in a chair near the door we came in, having a conversation with someone while getting his dick sucked by a woman in a maid’s outfit.

“Different set of rules, huh?” I ask Michael.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“That chick in the maid’s outfit… is she hospitality?”

Ms. Mead chimes in. “She is. She’s one of the dinner waitstaff.”

“Fuck. I had no idea that our servers… provided other services.” I wondered how much Val knows about this. It occurs to me that she probably knows this and a lot more.

About a third of the people in the room are celebrities who I recognize on sight. A rap musician sitting in an arm chair by the balcony door, surrounded by a cloud of marijuana smoke. A former Vice President of the United States, with an unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth. Several industry giants. A daytime talk show host. And then I spy Bobby Flay, and I chuckle again.

“It’s like the Garden of Earthly Delights up in here,” I say.

Michael nods. “That’s the idea. Speaking of which… this is classified, but I’m telling you anyway, because I think you’ll get a kick out of it. See that gentleman down there, in the gray suit? He and a few others are working on an effort to acquire about 100 of humanity’s most influential works of art, to bring to the Sanctuary for safekeeping.”

“Oh, I love that! I’m so glad to hear it,” I say.

We are then approached by two women in harsh business suits. Michael introduces them to me as two “titans of real estate.” And he introduces me to them as “his inamorata.” They look puzzled at that word, but don’t interrogate it. They talk through a few logistical details of their trip to the Sanctuary tomorrow, and then they head back to their table.

Once they’re gone, I turn to him. “Inamorata? What the fuck thesaurus did you pull that one out of?” Ms. Mead laughs at that, which blows my mind a little.

He throws his hands up. “If you’ve got something better, let me know. But for this crowd, I think it’s kinda perfect.”

I shake my head. “It’s your circus.

We are then approached by two old white dudes. More introductions – these two are finance guys – and then they ask Ms. Mead and I if they can steal him away for a moment. We both nod, and Michael walks away, and the two of us are standing alone.

“Wanna go check out the balcony?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. We walk out there, and it’s quite lovely. A nice cool night, with a clear sky full of stars. My drink is pretty strong, and it’s making me want to say things to Ms. Mead.

I turn to her. “He thinks the world of you. I know you know that already… but for me, it’s been really sweet to get to know him, and to see how much he loves you.”

She nods. “I saved him and he saved me. Neither of us could make any sense of our place in the world, until we found each other.”

“I feel the same way. Meeting him has given my life a purpose that I didn’t quite realize I was looking for.”

She nods, considering that. “I am glad he has you.”

“Are you?” I ask her.

She looks at me. “I am. It probably hasn’t appeared as such, but I am.”

“You know, the last thing I want to do it come between you two…”

She laughs. “Honey, that is unavoidable. But it’s OK, really.”

I look at her. “If all goes as planned, we’re both going to keep needing you. A lot.”

She’s quiet for a second, thinking on this. “He’s still a child, in so many ways. I don’t know if he is ready to be a father.”

I shrug. “I don’t know if anyone is ever really ready for it.”

Just then, Michael steps out onto the balcony. “Here are my two favorite ladies.”

Ms. Mead and I both turn to him with grossed-out looks on our faces. She says, “Ugh!”

And at the same time, I say, “Ew!” Which makes us both start laughing.

***

Dinner is being served, so we head back in. Michael is at the head of one table, with Ms. Mead and I seated on either side of him. As I walk to my seat, I notice that the debauchery level seems to have amped up a bit while we were outside. The coke-snorters are now doing their lines off a topless woman who is sprawled across their laps. The man in the latex suit is lying on the ground, next to his master. The two real estate ladies are making out in an armchair in the corner.

I sit down next to Michael. “They do realize that a meal is being served here, right?”

He laughs. “Some of them do, some of them don’t.”

“Is it like this every night?”

“Pretty much,” he says.

The seat next to me is taken by a young tech mogul. The seat across from him is taken by a country music singer. Ms. Mead surprises me by gushing over the singer a little; I never would’ve pegged her as a country music fan. The first dinner course is set before us, and it makes me smile—it’s a salad, and I can tell that Edward dressed these plates.

Tech-bro next to me is obviously coked-out, talking way too fast about some system he is trying to crack – he lost me like 10 minutes ago, but he is oblivious.

I lean close to Michael and just say the word, “Really?”

He puts his lips close to my ear and responds, “Ironic, no, that the remnants of humanity will be saved by a bunch of drug addicts, perverts, and thieves.” Right as he says that, a man from the next table sprints out of the room, naked from the waist down.

“Hey, is that Ryan Reynolds,” I ask.

Michael rolls his eyes. “Probably.”

“Don’t you think they’re behaving disrespectfully? Toward you?”

He leans back in his chair, shaking his head at me. “No. No! This is chaos. This is what feeds the human soul.” He’s makes a switch from talking to me, to orating to the table. “The new world my father will create will be built on vitality, on humans’ ability to thrive through their own will. Not through self-denial. Not abstinence.” He says it like it’s a dirty word. Cheers erupt throughout the room.

And then he leans back close to me, smiling. “You realize that this is why I need you, right?”

I nod. Just then, the second course of dinner is served, and I am a little relieved at the opportunity to change the subject. While we’re eating, a steady stream of members stop by to say kiss-ass things to Michael, and to get introduced to me. It’s kind of the same interaction over and over – it’s obvious that they’re curious, but they know better than to ask questions.

My solution to the awkwardness of being here is to keep drinking. By the time the main course comes, I am feeling loopy, and when the server comes back to announce the dessert options, I am drunk. She starts to say, “We have dark chocolate mousse with…”

And I interrupt her. “With salted caramel tuiles, and an apple galette with Grand Marnier cream.” Ms. Mead snorts at me. “I’ll have the galette,” I say.

I look around the room, spinning though it is, and see a blurred vision of Co-op members taking bites and making ecstatic faces. Sucking cream off each other’s fingers. Smearing mousse across their bodies. Licking their plates. I turn to Michael and ask, “Is this really happening?” He smiles back at me, but doesn’t respond. I mumble, “Either way, it’s kinda turning me on.”

He turns his chair sideways and holds his hand out to me. I take it, stand up, and face him; he guides my knees onto his lap. I am vaguely aware that Ms. Mead is leaving the table, and I am thankful for that. I stick my finger in the cream on my plate, then slip it into Michael’s mouth. His eyes are boring through me as he sucks it off, and my head starts spinning even more. He has a little on his bottom lip, and I lean down and lick it off, and we start kissing aggressively. His hands start on my hips, the slide around to my ass, then one slips underneath my ass and I can feel it pressing on my vulva through the slinky fabric of my dress. I moan urgently into his mouth. And then it’s like the lights come on, and I become acutely aware of my surroundings.

Everyone in the room is staring at us. A semicircle of people has formed behind us, and it occurs to me that those are the folks getting the “hands on my snatch” view, and I’m instantly mortified. “We need to get out of here,” I say to him.

He laughs up at me. “As you wish,” he says. We both stand up, he takes my hand, and we walk to the door. He stops to give Ms. Mead a kiss on the cheek on our way out. She avoids eye contact with me.

Standing by the elevator, I ask him, “What happened in there? That was… unreal. Was there magic at work? Or something?”

He considers this. “That whole scene had my father’s name all over it.”

“Huh,” I say. What a fucked-up family dynamic. Thanks, old man, for giving my sex life a boost!

We adjourn to our room and have normal sex in our bed, without an audience, and fall asleep like a normal couple.

Chapter Text

The next morning, I wake with my 4:30 alarm, and hear Michael groaning next to me.

“I’m sorry. I’m gonna order one of those alarm clocks that vibrates. That you wear on your wrist. So it doesn’t wake you.”

He shakes his head. “It’s fine, I want to wake up with you.” I lean over and kiss him lightly. Then I sit up, and my head feels so funny. “Whoa,” I say. “Last night. It’s blurry in my mind… what the hell?”

He chuckles. “You were pretty drunk.”

“So why don’t I have a hangover?”

He gives me a wink. “Just lucky, I guess.” He pulls me back down, into his arms, and turns on his side so he can lean into me. He’s still naked, and I feel his erection pushing against my hips. “Can I keep you for five more minutes?” he asks.

“Five minutes? What can I do for you in five minutes?” I ask.

“You tell me,” he answers.

I give him a sly smile, and a deep kiss, pondering what I should do. “OK, I got it…” I scoot to the edge of the bed, and stand up. “Come here, sit on the edge of the bed.” He does as he’s told. I drop to my knees and spread his legs. I look up at him. “Lie back,” and he does.

I push his knees up onto the bed, so he’s spread-eagle. His cock is perfectly erect, and I wrap my hand around its base, holding it out of the way—my target is a little lower. I start by using my tongue to bathe his testicles, and then I take them into my mouth and suck them gently, first one, then the other. The sounds coming out of him aren’t moans, they’re more guttural, primal. This is almost too easy.

I push his legs back a little more, and let a little river of saliva fall down my tongue as I start rimming him. I’m realizing that I’d never actually l done this to a man before. With women, sure — it’s a pretty natural progression. But with men, I’d managed to avoid it. In this moment, I am having such a blast with it, because he is going crazy. Groaning, gasping, twisting his torso all around.

I slide my index finger inside him, just a tiny bit, lubricated by all the saliva I’ve left behind. Then I scoot back up and take his cock into my mouth. After a few seconds of giving him head, I go for it and ram my finger all the way inside of him, and he lets out a full-throated cry. About ten seconds later, he’s coming in my mouth, wailing at the top of his lungs.

I swallow every drop down, wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, and move up onto the bed. I look down at him. His arms and legs are splayed out, his breath is still heaving, and his eyes are still closed.

“I believe I even have a minute to spare,” I say.

He opens his eyes, looking up at the ceiling. “What the fuck did you just do to me?”

I laugh. “Do you want me to draw you a diagram?”

He looks at me, and just sighs and drops his head back down, a big dumb smile on his face.

“I have to admit I’ve never done that before. I take it… it’s effective?”

He laughs hard. “Yeah, it’s effective.”

I lean over and kiss his chest a few times, then hop up. “Now I gotta get ready.”

***

I shower and get dressed, and emerge from the bathroom to see Michael in the exact same position I’d left him. I have to laugh.

“You gonna be OK?” I ask him.

His eyes are closed and he’s still smiling. “Yeah, I’m good.”

“Well, I gotta get downstairs,” I say. “What time are you leaving for the Sanctuary?

“Later this morning, like 11:00. I’ll come by the kitchen before I go.”

“Please do. I’m gonna miss you,” I say. I lean over and kiss him goodbye. He still doesn’t move from his position, sprawled across the bed on his back, still naked.

“I will get up, eventually,” he says, winking at me.

I chuckle at him. “See you later.”

On my way down to the kitchen, I leave a note on Val’s door. I am dying to talk to her about my Cooperative experience last night, and with Michael away, it seems like a good time to do it.

***

A few hours later, she knocks on the kitchen door and I wave her in. She comes over and gives me a hug. “When was the last time I saw you?” I ask her.

“It’s been a few days. Michael was still in recovery… I understand things have changed since then.”

“Holy shit,” I say. “Yeah. Listen, he’s away tonight, and I’d love a chance to catch up… I have a lot to tell you, and a lot to ask you about. Are you free? I could bring some dinner stuff up to your room, maybe?” I offer.

She nods. “Sounds good.”

I give her another hug. “Oh, I’m so glad. I get off at five — see you then.”

She nods. She looks concerned, and I guess I’m not surprised. I’d kinda disappeared for a few days, and I’m sure she’s heard some crazy rumors in the meantime.

Another few hours go by, and the lunch staff have all shown up. The kitchen is pretty busy, and I’ve tucked myself in a corner, where I am assembling parfaits on a prep table. A hush falls over the kitchen, and before I even look up, I have a hunch I know why. Michael has walked in, an he’s spotted me from across the room. He’s all dressed up in his fanciest attire—a three-piece suit with a long, sweeping cape over it, and his red gloves. “Nice travelin’ clothes,” I say. When he steps closer to me, I examine his face, too. “Yup, eyes look good and terrifying. I think you’re ready to go.”

He smiles. “Thanks,” he says.

“It’ll be great. You’ll do great,” I say.

He steps even closer to me and presses his forehead against mine. I wrap my arms around his shoulders and squeeze him for a good minute or so. He pulls back and looks me in the eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says.

“I’ll miss you,” I say.

“Me, too.” He closes in for a long, slow kiss, his arms tight around me. “Until then, m’lady.”

I smile. “Farewell, my lord.”

Then he’s walking away, and I’m watching him go, and feeling my heart sink. It really is going to be difficult to go 24 hours without seeing him.

And as often seems to happen, after he’s gone and I’m out from under his spell, I notice that everyone in the room is staring at me. I sigh, and wave to the room. “Whassup, y’all?”

Edward walks over, leans on my table and puts his chin in his hands. “That was about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” he says, making goo-goo eyes at me. I fling chocolate shavings in his face. “I’m serious!” he says. “You two have a real thing going on here, don’t you?”

I don’t answer right away. “I think the answer to that is yes. But it’s hard to say—everything is moving so fast.”

He nods. He opens his mouth to say more, but Sharon has come over to us, and she butts in.

“So… you’re like, what, his concubine?” she asks.

“Excuse me?” I say.

She stares back at me. “I mean, that’s what I’d call you.”

Edward interrupts her. “The word Michael uses is ‘inamorata,’ which I LOVE, by the way.”

“How did you know that?” I ask him.

“Girl, what the hell else do we all have to talk about in this place?”

Sharon is still scowling at me. “Does that answer your question?” I ask her. I stare her down until she walks away.

“That girl needs to get laid. So badly,” Edward says to me.

 ***

A few more hours later, I am packing up a luxury dinner to take to Val. I include salad and bread and dessert and everything. I smooch Edward good-bye, and head up to the second floor, and knock on her door.

Val answers it, looking happy to see me. We hug hello and I show off the dinner I brought. We plop down on her bed, and start catching up.

I tell her the full story—Ms. Mead kicking me out of my room, The Father’s plan for me, the reaction from my coworkers so far. I stop short of mentioning last night's dinner, just yet. I pause, and then I ask her, “So what do you think?”

“It makes sense. You’ve been infatuated with each other since day one, and now you know why.”

I nod.

She thinks about it some more. “I’m happy for you. As long as you’re happy… is everything OK on your end?”

“I’m still reeling a bit from all of this. It’s a lot, and it’s happened really fast,” I say. “And… last night, I had a particularly weird experience—I kinda wanted to talk to you about it. I had dinner with him and the Cooperative.”

“Yeah, I know,” she says. “It’s all anyone’s talking about today.”

“Oh shit. What are they saying?”

“Everyone’s disappointed that you two started to put on a show, but stopped.”

I shake my head. “Yeah. That’s the weird part. When that whole thing happened, I didn’t feel like I was in control anymore. It’s hard to explain.”

She nods. “No, I get it. I’ve seen it,” she says.

“Seen what?”

“With my hospitality girls. They go into a meeting with the Cooperative and come out, confused about what just happened.”

“Yeah. I saw some of them in there.”

We sit in silence for a moment.

“Have you experienced it?”

“Yes,” she says.

More silence.

“When I asked Michael about what happened, he said it was his father’s doing. But it’s all fuzzy, because I was also pretty drunk.”

She nods some more. “Here’s my observation: Satan likes to work them to the bone, and then compensate them by putting them in a state of rapture in their off-hours. And if he has to use drugs, people, violence to get there, that’s just what he does.”

“That sounds about right.”

“If you have to spend time with them, I urge you to keep your wits about you. But if you can… I’d just avoid them. They act normally when they’re working, but you and I aren’t allowed to be around them when they’re working, so we mostly only see them in their unhinged state.”

More nodding from me. “Are you OK? With how things are going for you?”

She looks a little emotional. “I see things up there. That scare me.”

“I know you can’t talk about it, and I won’t pressure you. But anything you’re willing to share, I’m all ears. I feel like I need to understand what I’m getting into, here.”

She sighs. “I don’t really know anything. But… if I were planning to make a Sanctuary to hide a bunch of people in, I would think that my planning documents would mostly be about construction and supplies and security and stuff. I see a bunch of things in those rooms that look more like… like they’re planning an attack.”

“An attack. On… marauders?”

“I mean, maybe? I haven’t read my Book of Revelation in a while. Maybe they’re expecting an attack from… an army of God? Or something?”

“Huh,” I say.

“I’m only speculating. I just feel like there is something more going on here that we don’t know about,” Val finishes.

“When Michael explained our whole arrangement, he said he had only one rule for me—I can’t talk to the Co-op about their work.

We sit in silence some more.

“You hungry?” I ask her.

She sorta chuckles. “Not really. What kinda dessert did you bring?”

We dig into our desserts first. It seems like the thing to do, since we’re both feeling so unsure what tomorrow would bring.

Chapter Text

I contemplate staying in Val’s room that night, since being alone up in the penthouse might get a little spooky, but I just don’t know what Michael would think of that. So when 11:00pm rolls around, I say goodnight to Val and head upstairs.

The first thing I do when I get to the room is head to the balcony and check out the bar. I spy a bottle of tequila, and pour myself an ample shot. Just to help me get to sleep. My mind is swimming from the conversation Val and I just had, but I need to sleep, I need to go to work tomorrow, and I need to appear fresh-faced and eager when Michael returns in the afternoon.

I change out of my work clothes and climb into the big, empty bed. I place my hands on my belly and look up at the ceiling. I can’t stop weighing my current situation against where I was – a week ago, a month ago, two years ago. What if I’d never met Julia, never joined her congregation? Or if I’d just found a way to get my body issues under control without The Father’s help? Or if I’d skipped the summit? Sleep finds me eventually, but not until I’d second-guessed every decision I’d made in recent years.

***

I’m at work the next day, and it’s about 1:00pm, when Ms. Mead walks into the kitchen. I smile at her and expect her to come over to me, but she heads over to Connie instead. They exchange a few words, and she leaves. She does give me a nod on the way out, with maybe a tiny touch of a smile? I’ll call that progress.

“Hey, all,” Connie yells, “Can you stop what you’re doing and come here for a sec?” We all gather around her in the center of the kitchen.

“So this is a fun little twist… Michael wants to convene everyone – staff and Cooperative – for a meeting at 5:00pm today. In the dining room. And every one of us is expected to be there, so this is going to totally fuck us on dinner prep. We’re allowed to start service late if we have to, but we’re going to try not to… Sharon, come with me and we’ll re-work our timing. And Eve, they need you upstairs by 4:00.”

I nod. All of the eyes are looking at me. Edward giggles. “I mean, someone has to do Michael’s makeup.” I’m still holding a rolling pin, and I smack him on the butt with it.

“Back to work, y’all,” Connie yells.

***

At 4:00, the kitchen is in a frenzy with the rushed dinner prep, so I sneak out without saying goodbye to anyone. I head on up to our room, feeling tingly at the prospect of seeing Michael after a whole day without him. I’m envisioning running into his arms, falling down onto the bed, rolling around and devouring each other.

But when I open the door, Michael is nowhere to be seen. Standing next to my bed, instead, is Ms. Mead.

“Where is he?” I ask.

“In the conference room,” she responds. “I’ve been tasked with getting you ready for this meeting.”

“Ready?”

She looks at me. “Honey, you should know by now that there is a little theater in everything we do.” She crosses over to my closet and pulls out a garment bag. “He picked it out himself,” she says. She hangs it up on the bedpost and unzips. “We had to guess at your size, but it’s got a corset back, so it should be pretty forgiving.”

The dress she uncovers is stunning. It’s a deep purplish-blue shantung gown, with an off-the-shoulder neckline and sweeping bell sleeves. The folds in the fabric are lush and shimmery, and my jaw just drops. I look at Ms. Mead. “That is fucking gorgeous,” I say.

She smiles. “Right? Our boy did good. How are you on shoes?”

“I have some that should work.”

“OK, good. We struck out on those. But I do also have this.” She hands me a velvet box that was sitting on top of the nightstand. I flip it open. It’s a choker, made of antique silver studded with small black gemstones, with one large teardrop sapphire hanging from the center, ringed with more stones. I gasp at it.

“Are those…?”

“Black diamonds? Yes.”

“Fuck me,” I respond.

“All right, get to it. Hair and makeup first, then we’ll strap you in.”

I head into the bathroom and get to work.

***

45 minutes later, I am staring at myself in the mirror, unable to believe the vision that is staring back. “I love this. I love everything about this. I’m just… I’m in awe.”

Ms. Mead nods. “It fits you pretty damn perfectly.” She crosses over to the bed and slips on her own formalwear – a vest and long jacket – and whips a comb through her hair. “Done,” she says, smirking at me.

Just then, the door clicks open, and Michael finally comes in. As he comes around the corner and sees me by the mirror, his jaw drops. I’m dying to run to him, but I feel like I should stand here and let him see how we’ve done. “Evelyn,” he whispers.

Oh fuck it. I run over to him and throw my arms around his neck and kiss him. He holds me so tight and our mouths are on overdrive, like we hadn’t seen each other in months.

“Kids, kids, knock it off,” Ms. Mead says. “You’re going to undo everything we just did.” I pull back from him, giggling. She grabs Michael’s elbow and yanks him into his closet. “We’ve got, like, four minutes.” He goes with her, looking back over his shoulder at me, his eyes sparkling. I stand in the doorway as she swaps him from one black suit into another, in a more luxurious fabric, with a longer coat. She points at his face, and spins her finger in a little circle, saying, “Now go fix this.” He scoots past me, giving me more eye sparkle, and heads into the bathroom.

“So… is there anything I need to know about this meeting? Am I going to have to do anything? Say anything? Or can I just sit there and look pretty?”

“Look pretty,” Ms. Mead says.

“Excellent,” I respond.

A few minutes later, Michael’s eyes look enchanting and his hair shines like glass, and the three of us are walking down the hallway together. It occurs to me that I know nothing about what is going to happen at this meeting, but I am so swept up in the glamour of this moment, I kind of don’t care.

We arrive at the dining room. The doors are closed, and I can hear the roar of a full house inside. We pause for a moment, and Ms. Mead positions Michael and I next to each other outside the doors. I am clutching his right elbow. He looks at me. “Don’t smile unless I smile at you first. Look at them like you think every one of them is beneath you.” I nod, and then he winks at me. “You look absolutely stunning. But I cannot wait to take that dress off of you.”

I start blushing, but Ms. Mead chooses that very moment to open the doors, so I put my game face on. The two dining tables are set like they were last time, but further apart from each other, creating an aisle down the middle. The Cooperative members are all seated at the tables, with the staff members all standing around the room, mostly against the walls. We walk down the aisle and a hush falls over the room. In the front of the room are two velvet-tufted chairs; once we get there, Michael gestures for me to sit in one. Ms. Mead, who had been walking behind us, sits in the other.

I gaze at Michael as he prepares to speak. It really is something to behold; it’s as though there is a veil that descends over his eyes, and the earnest, passionate, excitable man that I know is obscured by this cool, distant, commander, who appears to be perpetually passing judgment on everything he sees. He clasps his hands behind his back, and begins.

“I want to thank you all for coming today. The only way that we will succeed is if our compound remains united around our common goals. To this end, I intend to hold regular briefings such as this, to update you all on our latest developments. Today I returned from my first visit to the Sanctuary, where I received a complete tour and a full progress update from our contractors. I am pleased to report that across all measures, the Sanctuary’s progress is on or head of schedule, and is meeting or exceeding all our requirements. And I want to thank the hardworking members of the Cooperative who have made this effort possible.” A smattering of applause breaks out.

Michael keeps talking, describing the levels and the systems and what’s done and what’s not, and my eyes start drifting around the room. I scan the staff folks first, spotting Val among the hospitality crew, and my kitchen crew all huddled together in the back. I make eye contact with Edward and for a moment, I fear he’s going to do something to try to make me laugh, but he knows better.

Now Michael is describing what’s going on with the Outposts, and I know that I should be paying attention, but I’m not. All I really wanted to know was whether his trip went well, or went badly, and now that I know it went well, I’ve zoned out. He’s taking Q&A, I’m scanning the Cooperative members looking for Bobby Flay. A handful of members still wear their masks everywhere, and I can’t fathom why. Like, if we all find out who they are… who are we going to tell?

The questions taper off. There is a moment or two of silence as Michael appears to gather his thoughts. And then he begins again. “The status update I’ve provided is the first item on my agenda, and there is really only one other point for discussion. Miss Florence, can you stand here with me for a moment?

Oh shit, that’s me. I try to keep my expression totally unchanged, but I can feel the heat creeping into my cheeks. Michael looks back at me, extending his hand. He narrows his eyes at me for just a flash, and I read his message loud and clear, It’s time to put your bitch face on.

So I do. And I take his hand, and I stand next to him. “My father has a specific vision for the future, wherein he is the highest ruler among the immortals in hell, and I am the highest ruler on earth, a new world populated exclusively by his devotees. And since arriving at the compound, he has further revealed to me that in his vision, Miss Florence is standing by my side. As it has been decreed by my father, so shall it be done, and any additional questions you might have about it will be met with only one response: none of your fucking business.

“Are we clear on this point? Anyone needing any further explanation, here?” No one in the room even shakes their head no; they just sit there looking terrified. “Well that’s wonderful. Everyone is welcome to stay, enjoy a cocktail, and celebrate our achievements before the Cooperative’s dinner hour starts. I thank you all for your time and attention.” Another smattering of applause.

People in the room begin to stir, and Michael turns and faces me, taking both of my hands in his. “Am I allowed to smile yet?” I ask him.

“Oh hell, no,” he responds. There is grin in his eyes that is making my knees go weak, but his face remains stern. Beautiful and terrifying.

I look around the room and see my kitchen crew heading for the exit, which doesn’t surprise me – they’ve got a lot to do. I see Edward among them, but he’s looking over his shoulder at me as he’s walking away. Once we spot each other, he breaks away from them and sprints toward me. I can’t help it; I start laughing. I have to let go of Michael’s hands when Edward practically collides with me, throwing his arms around me, screaming, “GIRL! You look so fabulous!” He backs up. “Let me get a look at this ish. OMG that necklace, honey.” Michael can’t help it; he’s laughing as well.

“Michael, do you know Edward? My favorite chef in that whole kitchen?”

Michael offers his hand. “A pleasure.” Edward takes it and gives it a shake, looking at me with his jaw dropped.

“I have to go. We have a shit-ton of work to do. I just had to come tell you—you look amazing.” He turns to Michael. “Sir. My Lord. Sir. It’s an honor. Byeee!” And then he sprints back across the room.

Michael, still smiling, offers me his arm. “Care for a drink?” I nod, and take his arm, and we walk over toward the bar. I drink a drink, walk around with Michael, get introduced to Cooperative folks I hadn’t met yet, and introduce him to the staff that I know. The energy in the room is so much less creepy than it was last time, and I find myself wondering if that whole scene had been all in my head.

Once my first drink is down, I excuse myself to the restroom. My dress is pretty voluminous, so I walk down to the handicap stall on the far wall, take it off completely, and hang it on a hook before sitting down. Right as I finish peeing, the door slams open and two women enter, talking and laughing. They’re obviously Co-op members.

“I don’t care what anyone tells me, I will not be bowing down to the fucking help.” Laughter.

“Seriously. How did that even happen?”

“It’s like his father wanted him to stop being such a prude, so he just sent him the biggest slut he could find.” More laughter. Then the sounds of them moving into the stalls.

Oh, hell no. I think at first that I’ll just hide and wait for them to leave, but a rush of courage comes over me. I slide my gown back on and tiptoe back to the bathroom entrance, which they don’t hear over the sound of peeing and flushing. I position myself by the entrance, hands on my hips, as they finish up.

“Ugh it’s such a waste. Every time I even look at that man I’m like instantly wet.”

Ew. I mean, me too, but who fucking says that?

“I knoooooow.”

“And now we have years of this shit ahead of us? Trapped in a bunker with him and his whore?” The less-chatty one busts through the stall door. She stops dead in her tracks when she sees me, jaw dropped.

The chatty one keeps going. “It can’t last. He’ll figure out soon enough that he can do better than that dyke.”

And then she bursts through her door. I remain where I am standing, staring both of them down. I enjoy a few seconds of silence, then speak up.

“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Eve. And you are?”

One of them starts stammering. “Please, please forgive me, Miss.” And the other starts nodding. They both look like they’re about to fall to their knees and beg.

I keep smiling, shaking my head. “No, no, it’s fine, really. I’d be saying the same thing if I were you, really. I get it! But I just need to know… what’s your name?”

“Teri,” she says.

“And yours?” I ask of her friend.

“Hope,” she spits out.

I nod. “Thanks, really. Lovely to meet you both.” And I turn and walk out, with a brilliant smile on my face.

I head back into the dining room, and I see that Ms. Mead has taken a seat, and I drop down next to her. “What are you grinning about?” she asks.

“Question for you… what would you do if you overheard two Co-op members talking shit about me. Calling me… slut, whore, dyke, and ‘the help’?”

Her eyes got wide. “Ohhhhhhh! Oh! That’s delicious. You know how long it’s been since I’ve murdered someone?”

I laugh. “No explanation, no penance – just straight to murder, huh?”

She smiles. “Yeah. Takes me back to the good old days.”

I shake my head at her. “I’m not going to do anything. I made them tell me their names and I’m sure they *think* I’m gonna do something… and I kinda dig the idea of just letting them freak out.”

“What you should do is tell Michael. And see how he reacts. And let me be there when you do it.”

“Holy shit… what do you think he’d actually do?”

“Oh, they’d be dead, no question. It’s just a question of how he’d do it. Or maybe he’d let me do it,” she grins.

I shake my head at her some more. “You’re hopeless,” I say.

***

Dinner this evening seems a lot less bizarre. Sure, there are people doing drugs and making out and stuff, but they seem to just be more like isolated activities, and not like the whole place is whipped up into a frenzy. Conversation flows, and Ms. Mead is downright chipper.

After we finish eating, I am ready to go back upstairs. There are a number of people who seem to be settling in for long evenings of drinking and conversation, and on another night I might be up for joining them. But I’d slept alone last night, and my need to be with Michael was consuming me. I lean in close to him and ask, “When can we go back upstairs?”

He looks at me with arched eyebrows. “Anytime, my love.” My love. I don’t think he’d ever called me that before. Yup, I am done for the night.

“OK, let’s go.” I stand up.

He stands up as well, chuckling at me, then offers me his elbow. I take it, we say goodnight to Ms. Mead, and head out the door. I’ve got a dreamy smile on my face as we stroll toward the elevator.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” he says.

“Yes, of course. This has been such a great night.”

He nods. “I think it’ll only get better from here.” We step into the elevator, and I put my head on his shoulder. He looks down at me. “I have a question for you,” he asks.

“Ask me anything,” I say.

“Are you on birth control?”

“I am.”

He nods a second. “I don’t want to pressure you, but I do think we need to decide… when you stop.”

It’s my turn to nod. “What do you think?”

“The way my father described it, you’d be pregnant when we move to the Sanctuary. So we have a few months.”

We’re walking down the hallway outside his room now, and I’m thinking on this. “Frankly… I think I should go off it right away. It can take a while to get pregnant, you know.”

He seems surprised. “You’d be OK with that?”

“Yeah, I mean, this is supposed to be my new purpose in life, and I don’t think I could handle it if I failed you. The more chances I have, the better, right?”

He opens our door. “So… we’re doing this.”

I smile at him. “I sure as hell hope so.”

***

Inside the bedroom, I take off the necklace and stare at it for a bit. I turn to him, “This is so gorgeous I can hardly stand it.”

“I’m so glad you like it.”

“Thank you, for this, for the dress, for setting everyone straight tonight… it means a lot to me.”

He nods, and says, “You’re welcome.”

“So, now it’s your turn.”

“Hmmm?”

“You’ve spent this whole night making me feel so special. I want to know what I can do for you.” I turn and face him.

He raises an eyebrow. “I missed you last night. I spent the night coming up with… ideas.”

“Oh yeah?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m kinda feeling up for something… Do we have a safe word?”

Then *I* raise an eyebrow, “Not yet.”

“Hmm,” he contemplates. “How about ‘sapphire’?”

“I like it,” I say. “Who is going to be needing it, you or me?”

He grabs my arms, pinning my elbows against my body, and moves his face about an inch from mine. He grunts his response, “You are.” He throws me face-down on the bed, and when I try to turn to look back up at him, he pushes my face back against the mattress. “Listen… I can spend an evening behaving myself, smiling and laughing, and talking to your worthless friends. But at the end of the night, I need you to remember that I am the fucking Antichrist.

I keep my face buried and say, “Yes, sir.”

Master. I am your master.”

“Yes, master.”

His hands start digging at the ties on the back of my dress. This place that he’s taking us is so hot I can hardly stand it. But I cringe to think that he might damage this gown. I reach back to help him, and am grateful when he lets me. Between the two of us, we get it off, and he tosses it onto a chair.

“There. You done pretending to be a princess now?” I nod back up at him. “I couldn’t hear that,” he commands.

“Yes, master.”

“That’s better.” He grabs my underwear and yanks it off roughly. He spends a moment trying to unhook my bra, but it’s not cooperating for him. “Take that shit off,” he tells me. I do, which leaves me totally naked. He walks over to his dresser and pulls out a tangle of belts. He looks down at me as he walks back over to the bed and commands, “Now get on your knees and grab your ankles.” I do as I am told, and he presses my head back against the mattress, then uses the belts to secure me into that position. My face, shoulders, and knees are down, and my ass is up in the air.

He starts fingering me roughly, shoving his thumb inside my vagina while his fingers explore my asshole. I start to whimper, and he says, “Shut the fuck up.” He’s still totally dressed, so I hear him unbuckling his pants. He slaps my ass with his open hands, one on each side, then grabs my reddened flesh so hard, I feel his nails dig in. He spreads me open a little wider, and slams his cock inside me. I’d done a decent job of keeping quiet until that point, but I can’t anymore, and I cry out.

“You like that? Take it, you mortal. You fucking worship me.” He’s slamming into me so hard, and I can’t stay quiet. Grunts are coming out of my mouth, until he says, “Who am I?”

And I switch to calling out for him. “My lord, my master, my dark prince.” After just a little more of that, he is coming, in a loud gruff wail. I’m right behind him, screaming out, “My savior!” at the top of my lungs. He throws himself down on my back, resting against me and panting. He lays there for just a moment, then he hops up and starts unbuckling the belts on my arms and legs. Once I am untied, I fall over onto my side, rubbing the sore fronts of my thighs.

He sees me do that. “Shit, are you all right?”

“Oh, yes.”

“That was all… OK?”

I let out a long, shuddering sigh. “That was fucking amazing,” I say. I can see the relief on his face.

“I feel like I should apologize.”

I laugh. “No, no. No need. I’ll let you know if you take it too far. But that was… just right.” He drops down next to me and starts kissing me, then pulls back suddenly.

“I don’t think your friends are worthless.”

I stroke his face, “I know you don’t, really.” I look down at myself for a moment. “Um, can you bring me a towel? I am a fucking mess here and I don’t think I can stand up yet.”

He hops up, tosses me a towel, and then finally gets around to taking off his clothes. “Yeah, I don’t know if this suit is salvageable, “ he says, looking at the mess he has made of his shirttails and pants. He starts laughing, and drops back down next to me. I lay my head on his chest.

“We are something unbelievable,” I say to him.

Chapter Text

I wake before my alarm the next day, which means I get to watch Michael sleep for a bit. I always feel like a creeper when I do it, but it’s mesmerizing. I try to appreciate how crazy it must be to be him. The parts of last night when we were acting like the royal couple – being gracious, making small talk, planning our family – it had felt to me like he was putting on an act. And the parts where he was telling me to shut the fuck up and worship him? That felt like it came more naturally.

This dichotomy actually makes a lot of sense to me. And I’m finding myself able to imagine how we could live a life together where he have closeness, affection, and family, without trying to force him into a box where he just doesn’t fit. Over the next month or so, we seem to slide into a comfortable rhythm. We work, we dine with the Cooperative, I still get to hang out with my staff friends sometimes, and we fuck a lot.

As the weeks go by, Michael seems to be feeling more and more pressure – and I’m not sure where it is coming from – to get me pregnant. Which means I’m feeling the pressure, too. After I’ve been off birth control for about a month, he asks me what all we can do to make sure it goes smoothly. And now, I find myself on my iPad at all hours, learning everything there is to know about fertility awareness, and using an app to chart my various biorhythms.

One Monday night, and just as we’re drifting off to sleep, I tap his shoulder. “Hey I need to tell you something.”

He rolls over, “Hmm?”

“The next two days are my fertile window.”

He looks at me like I am crazy. “Your what?”

I laugh. “I’ve gotten a handle on my cycle, and I just thought you should know that the next two days are when I’m ovulating.”

He nods, considering this. “So that means…?”

“That you should fuck me tomorrow. And probably again on Wednesday.”

“Consider it done. Way to game the system.” He extends his arm out for a high-five.

I laugh again, and slap his hand, then he buries his face in his pillow.

***

The next morning, when my alarm goes off, I try to stir him a little, but he’s not really responding. OK, fine. Sleep in. I get up, get ready, and head to work as usual.

And of course once I am downstairs, with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company, my mind starts racing and all these fears creep in – what if I can’t conceive? What the hell will happen to me once I am pregnant with the Antichrist’s baby? Will this be… like a normal baby? Will it kill me, like Michael killed his mother? Overthinking this is not helping.

I am relieved when the kitchen starts to fill up with coworkers to distract me. I manage to go an hour or two without thinking about it. Sometime around noon, I head into the storeroom to start tomorrow’s bread dough. I’m using giant scoops to move flour into giant mixing bowls, focusing on counting, when the storeroom’s front door suddenly flies open and Michael storms in with a wild look in his eye. He startles the heck out of me and I get instantly worried. “Is everything OK?” I ask.

He comes charging toward me and grabs my face with both hands, kissing me aggressively. He backs up and starts furiously trying to unbutton my shirt. “I was in this boring-ass meeting and a vision flew into my head. Of the altar in my father’s house, and you’re on it, and you’re delivering our child and there’s exaltation…” My shirt buttons are not cooperating for him so he moves on to my pants. “It made me so rock-hard; I told the Co-op I needed a break and ran out of the room.”

I grab his hand that is now failing at unbuttoning my pants, and say, “Wait, we just need to move next door.” Fucking in a food storeroom seems like a bad idea. And this room has another exit to the kitchen in the back, which doesn’t have a door.

I lead him into the bathroom down the hall. Once the door is closed, he picks me up and puts me on the counter next to the sink. With my help, he finishes unbuttoning my pants and yanks them and my undies off in one rough move. He scoots his pants down a bit, the grabs my ass and pulls me toward him. “You ready?” he asks.

“I just need one more minute,” I say.

He looks me in the eye. “I’ll get you there,” he says. And then he drops to his knees. I lean back and open my legs a little wider. 40 seconds ago I was measuring flour and now the Antichrist is on his knees for me.

The man has clearly been taking my lessons to heart. He does an exquisite job of priming my clit with his fingers, then getting started with just the right amount of pressure from his tongue. Within a few seconds, my legs are totally spread-eagle, my head thrown back, my mouth wide open, gasping for air.

In that very moment, when I’m at my most unhinged, as it were, the bathroom door clangs open and two giggling coworkers start to come in. Michael doesn’t stray from the task at hand. He remains exactly as he was, but makes a gesture toward the door with his left hand. And then it slams shut so loudly, I fear it’ll break off its hinges.

Seeing him use magic always gets me. “OK now I’m ready,” I say. He stands back up and pulls in against me, but the counter is a little too high. So I hop down to the floor, spin around and bend over for him. And then he is inside me, thrusting aggressively, and I can tell he isn’t going to last very long. The best part is that I can see his face in the mirror over the sink, and I watch him, now that it’s his turn to be totally unhinged.

I also notice shadows under the bathroom door. I watch them for a bit, and realize that they’re from someone’s feet. Ew, really? Now they’re listening? Michael is really close so I figure I’ll just ignore them.

The low moans are coming and I look back at Michael’s reflection. His head is thrown back and his face is twisted up in ecstasy, and I’m having so much fun just watching him that I am not terribly focused on my own pleasure. He finishes his orgasm, drops his head back down, makes eye contact with me in the mirror, and we make laughing eyes at each other.

I turn around, put my hands on his chest, and stare up at him. “And what, we’re both supposed to just go back to work now?” I ask.

He laughs. “Until next time. Which may not be too far off.” He’s pulling his pants up and putting himself back together.

“OK, thanks for the heads-up,” I say, laughing. In actuality, I’m feeling pretty off-balance by this whirlwind of activity, and I really want to just sit down and stare at my hands for a bit, asking myself what the fuck just happened? But with Michael, I need to remain light, easy, ever-ready.

He takes a moment to freshen up, washing his face and hands while whistling to himself. I locate my pants and underwear, untangle them from each other, and get dressed. He wraps his arm around my waist and leans in for a long, slow goodbye kiss.

“Are you good to walk yourself out? I think I need another moment in here,” I say.

“Sure,” he says.

“Can you throw some wrathful stares at my intrusive coworkers on your way out?” I ask.

“Oh most definitely,” he says.

I smile, give him one last kiss, and say, “Until next time,” and then he’s walking out the door.

***

I listen to his footsteps as he walks down the hall. I stare at myself in the mirror for a good minute. I go into one of the stalls, sit down, and set about the business of cleaning myself up. When I’m done, I just sit there for another minute or two, staring at the floor.

I know I have to go back out there and face the staring eyes of the other kitchen staff, and I am dreading it. Maybe I can just hide in here for the rest of the day? I stay hidden for a little longer, head to the sink and scrub my hands and face, take a deep breath, and open the door.

I am relieved to see that no one is standing in the hall waiting for me. I slink back to the storeroom, where I can see that my work has remained untouched while I was gone. OK, good. I’ll resume what I was doing and we won’t have to acknowledge that anything just happened.

“So, how's your day so far?” Edward asks in a song-songy voice as he enters the room.

I look at him and sigh. “Does everyone know what just happened?” I ask him.

“You bet!” he says cheerfully. He does this voice sometimes that I think of as Midwestern Stewardess, and it pretty much always makes me smile. “Sure I can’t get you something, hon? Need a little Gatorade, maybe?”

OK, now I’m laughing. I plop down on a nearby stool, lean over, and let out a long “Uggggggh.” I snap back up and look at him with a glare on my face. “Who were the assholes that walked in on us?”

“Sharon and Latoya, but seriously, it was not their fault. The only one who saw him come in was Connie, and she didn’t tell a soul.”

“That bitch,” I grunted.

“Unquestionably, she is a bitch. But I gotta say, that bitch was worried about you.”

“Worried?”

“Yeah, I think she thought he was gonna kill you or something.”

“To be honest, I had the same thought for a second. He was in crazy-intense mode,” I said.

“That sounds hot,” Edward said.

“Well, yes. Hot, but terrifying.”

He looks at me. “You never have the expression on your face that I’d expect to see when you talk about him.”

“Lemme guess… exaltation?” I look up at the ceiling and plaster a crazy-fake smile on my face.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“So here’s the thing. I’d be a-ok if my situation was just ‘there is a stunning and powerful man who wants to fuck me all the time.’ But my situation is more like ‘there is a stunning and powerful Antichrist who wants to impregnate me all the time.’ And I’m about 75% sure that birthing his child *will* kill me.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. I mean, that’s what this whole thing was about. He knows I’m ovulating. I’m sure we’ll do it at least two more times today.” I pause for a moment. “To be clear, I am devoted to him, and honored, and he is hot as shit, and a *very* fast learner. I don’t mean to sound at all like I am complaining.”

Edward looks at me. “But…”

“But as hot as that was, it was also totally not optional. And that’s a hard dynamic to get used to.”

He nodded, slowly. “Just so you know, every woman and gay man in this building is burning with jealousy toward you.”

“Oh, I am sure of that.”

“So while I love you, and I can see why this is complicated for you, I’d advise you to keep a stiff upper lip about this shit in front of everyone who is not me.”

I nod, but I am not sure what he means by this. “Why?”

“People are going to use anything they can to take you down, girl.”

“As in… you think someone would go to Michael and tell him they heard me complaining?”

“Michael, maybe. Ms. Mead, definitely.”

“Holy hell. I’ve heard a few things, just jealous grumbling. But I didn’t know that people are conspiring against me.” I stare at him, taking this information in. The potential impact of it hits me—the prospect of losing my position, of losing Michael—and I burst into tears. Edward starts rubbing my back.

“I’m sorry to upset you,” he says.

“No, thank you, really. I just… that had never occurred to me.” And it hadn’t. I was hand-picked, hand-crafted by The Father for this role. And in my mind, that means it is a done deal and not up for renegotiation. “Is there anyone specific I should watch out for?”

“Sharon was the one listening at the door. That’s all the more I’m gonna say, and you didn’t hear it from me.”

I threw my arms around Edward and gave him a tight hug. “Thank you,” I say.

“He hugs me back and said, “Girl, I got you.”

***

I make it through the rest of the day by keeping my head down, and speaking as little as possible. I see the glances from Connie and Sharon. I smile when they joke about how we need to learn to churn our own butter before heading to the Sanctuary, and I laugh when Edward drops a bag of cornmeal that explodes all over the floor. By the end of the day, I am almost able to slink out of there with my dignity intact. I hang up my apron, grab my bag off my coat hook, and head for the elevator.

I step in, tap my key card, and push the button for the penthouse. About a half-second before the doors close, Sharon steps in and gets shut in with me. I kinda nod at her, hoping that she won’t engage. I won’t be so lucky.

“So, pretty crazy day for you, huh?”

“Yup,” I say.

“It’s not every day that you get fucked at work, huh?”

I don’t say anything.

“Well maybe it is for you. Since fucking Michael *is* sort of your job, right?”

I decide to ignore that. “What floor do you need?”

“Oh, I was thinking I’d just ride up with you.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” I say. “You need to get off on the support floor where you belong.”

And then. This bitch. Up and slapped me.

I’d never been hit before, at least, not as an adult. When her hand made contact with my face, I felt rage. Blind fucking rage. She got up in my face.

“Soil the name of our lord on your own time, but don’t you go rubbing our faces in it, you slut.”

I had no idea what I was doing, but I lunged for her, and knocked her to the ground. I grabbed her shoulders and pinned her down and got up in her face. “You just made. The biggest fucking mistake. Of your short-ass life,” I said, through clenched teeth.

And as if on cue, the door went ding, and opened, and Michael was standing in the doorway. He looked down at us with fire in his eyes. He waved his hand and I was off of Sharon, standing back up. He stepped aside and gestured that I should exit the elevator. I did, and then he stepped in. He pushed a button to close the door. He looked at me while the doors slowly closed, with Sharon still inside, still on the floor. In the last second before it closed completely, he winked at me.

Holy shit. I feel my legs go wobbly. There is a chair across from the elevator, and I sit down in it. I have no idea what is happening right now. Is he… giving her a stern talking-to? Breaking her legs? Is she pleading for mercy? I’m sure he is gone for all of one minute, but it feels like a lifetime.

And then the door opens, and he’s now alone, and he steps out. “You OK?” he asks.

“Do I get to know what just happened in there?” I ask.

“She hit you,” is all he says in response.

“How did you know she hit me?” I ask.

He gestures for me to follow him. We go into our room and he shows me the video panel next to the door, which I’d thought just functioned like a digital peephole. He pushes a button and it shows a video feed of the elevator. “It comes on whenever anyone pushes the penthouse button, so there are no surprises.” He scrubs the video back a few minutes and I see myself getting slapped. He takes his finger off the screen and lets it play.

I see myself on top of her, I see myself standing. I see myself leave and Michael enter. He reaches down to help her up. She takes his hand and stands up. Michael puts his face scary-close to hers, and I hear him say, “You don’t get to fuck with my family.” She starts sobbing and apologizing. He shushes her and places a hand on her forehead. And then she’s gone. She just dissolves into dust, right before my eyes. I look at the Michael standing next to me. “Where did she go?” I ask.

“She’s my father’s problem now,” he says, then walks over to the sofa, sits down, and pulls out his phone. I’m still staring at the video screen. I see him standing perfectly still, staring up at the ceiling, breathing deep. He seems entranced. After a few seconds of that, he pushes the button, looking like nothing could be more normal. He exits the elevator and the video screen goes black.

I walk over to the sofa and sit down next to him. He’s distracted, so I put my hand on his knee to get him to look at me.

“Had you heard anything from her? Or anyone like her? Before?” I ask.

He looks puzzled. “Heard anything?”

“Yeah. I just learned this today. There are people in this building who are plotting against me. Plotting to,” I feel the lump rise in my throat, “to turn you against me.”

“Who?” he asks. He’s getting pissed.

“Well, the only one I know of is Sharon, who is now… out of the picture. But it sounded like there are others.” I can’t read his face. Is he pissed at them? Pissed at me? “I’m sorry for bringing this up. I know that it’s just rumors. But to hear of even just the possibility that I could be taken from you…” That’s it. I break down and start bawling on the couch. I know this is a wholly unattractive look, but I had managed to keep my shit together this far and I think I deserve to freak out for a moment.

Michael reaches for me, pulls me close to him, and wraps me in a tight embrace. I cling to him and sob onto his shoulder.

“No one can take you away from me,” he says. “I believe that I have demonstrated that if anyone tries to get between us, I will end them.

I nod.

“To answer your question, yes, I have heard these complaints before. There are a bunch of Cooperative members, for example, who are angry my father didn’t choose one of them. These people whine to Ms. Mead, who tells me, and then I tell Ms. Mead how to deal with them. Today was the first time I dealt with one myself but… she attacked you. And I watched it happen. And maybe I could’ve handled that better but… you are my future. Any attack on you is an attack on me.”

I look deep into his eyes. I’m ovulating. My hormones are wreaking havoc on me. My head is swimming. And I’d sworn up and down that I wouldn’t say it but I cannot stop myself, and I say it now. “I love you, so much.” I don’t want to wait to see if he says it back so I just start kissing him, immediately. He kisses me back for a moment, then stops. He holds my face in his hands and looks me in the eyes.

In barely a whisper, he says it back. “I love you, too.” We resume kissing, with intensity like I’ve never felt before. I feel like his magic is flowing through me, or some other kind of electricity. And I can feel his father’s presence. His sense of satisfaction fills the room, like this thing he’d been planning for so long was finally coming together, and it was working out perfectly.

***

Michael picks me up and carries me to the bed. We’ve had a fair amount of sex in this bed before, but something feels different now. There is a charge between us, and the more we touch, the more it surges. I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel like there is no stopping us. It’s time to create your son. I don’t know how I know, but I can just tell that it’s about to happen.

Unlike earlier today, Michael is in no hurry. We kiss each other everywhere, removing our clothing piece by piece. His shoulder blades, his hip bones, the backside of his knee—there is no part of his body that escapes my mouth’s exploration, and he gives my body the same treatment in return. I want to draw this out as long as possible, but my body is aching to feel him inside me.

I am lying on my back, and his lips are traveling up my belly. When we’re face to face again, he gives me a look that says let’s do this, and I nod at him. He grabs me close and then rolls over quickly, and suddenly I am on top. I smile down at him, scoot into position, and slide him inside of me.

As soon as I do, I can feel a change in him. His body stiffens, his eyes shut tight, and he throws his head back. His hips keep moving in slow, repetitive motions that are almost hypnotic, and I can see his lips moving as well. I try to angle his face, so I can see him better, but his whole upper body seems frozen. The words coming out of his mouth get louder, and he slowly starts to lower his face. When he finally looks back at me, and opens his eyes -- they’re black. No white, no crystal blue, just all black.

I back away from his face, fear striking me cold in my heart. A tear slides down my cheek, and slips off the bottom of my chin and hits him on the chest, which seems to snap him back to life. His eyes blink open, and he looks like himself again, and he says to me, “I’m here.”

“Stay with me,” I say.

He shakes his head. “Come with me,” he says. He pulls me close to him, holds me tight, and kisses me, slowly and deeply. I feel the energy surging through me again, even stronger than before. I feel the room disappear. It’s terrifying, but I feel powerless to stop it. The two of us are locked together, just as we are, but there is nothingness all around us. Black emptiness. He pulls away, and starts moving his lips again. I don’t even know what the words are that he’s saying, but I feel my lips move along with him; the sounds come out of me, too. Neither of us are in control anymore.

I hear a third voice. It fills the empty air around us. When it starts, it scares me, but as it continues, I start to find the familiarity, the comfort I’d felt when The Father has spoken to me before. There is a joy, and a freedom, in knowing someone loves you exactly as you are, which I’d always felt in his embrace – acceptance, encouragement, and unconditional love.

With the fear and panic starting to subside, I am able to better take in what is happening here. We’re not in total emptiness; there is a surface beneath us. A stone structure that can best be described as an altar. And there is enough light that I can look down at Michael, though it’s not clear where it’s coming from. And then I feel hands on my shoulders. They run down my arms and cradle me from behind, exactly as they did when The Father came to me at the congregation.

My brain finally reconnects where I am with what I am doing. You’ve got to finish this. In this place, Michael’s eyes are blue again, and I look down at him and cradle his face. He smiles up at me, and I lean down to kiss him. He’s still inside of me, and I resume moving against his hips. “My lord,” I whisper to him, and it echoes in all directions. I keep rocking up and down on him, watching his face as his breathing starts to speed up. And as he speeds up, the black air around us begins to warm, and to brighten. The Father’s embrace is keeping us from getting burned, but I can feel the heat of it. He’s getting closer, yelling now, still the words I don’t understand. And then he’s there, and the air around us erupts into flames. He cries out, a long, sustained wail, and then, in a heartbeat—we’re back in our bedroom.

I look down at him, he’s panting and sweating and his eyes look like they’re struggling to grasp what he’s seen. I reach down and touch him, “Are you all right?” I seem to startle him, and I suppose he just needs a little recovery time. I climb off of him and lay down next to him, on my side looking down at his face. I give him a minute or two for his breathing to return to normal, and I try again. I place my hand on his chest, “Michael?” This time he looks at me. He sits up. He looks down at my body and places his hand on my belly. He scoots down, rests his head there, and passes out pretty much instantly.

Chapter Text

It’s two weeks later, and I mercifully wake up before my alarm and I sneak into the bathroom without waking Michael. If TV commercials are to be believed, couples like to have their ‘peeing on a stick’ moment together, but in my reality, I really want to do this alone. I’d ordered some tests online, then hidden them inside a box of tampons, not wanting Michael to even know I had them. I get one out, pee on the stick, set it next to the sink, and stare at my watch.

It feels like a formality, really. We are both pretty certain that The Father has sent us about 700 signs that this is happening. But I still need to see it for myself. After our dramatic Romp Through the Flames, Michael had slept for nearly 16 hours straight. Whatever magic had been required to make that happen had been sucked directly from him, and he’d seemed depleted for a day or two after he woke up. After all that, if it turns out I’m *not* knocked up, I am going to be pretty pissed at The Father.

And if it turns out I *am*, I am going to experience extreme versions of every emotion under the sun. Elation that we’d succeeded, and to be bringing Michael this thing he wants so much. Excitement to experience pregnancy, to meet my baby. Terror that the baby was going to kill me. And if he doesn’t, terror that he’d be impossible to care for because, you know, Antichrist. Anxiety about delivering a child in an underground bunker while the Apocalypse rages overhead.

And the thing I wonder all the time but never say aloud, What if it’s a girl? Everyone’s always talking about how I’m supposed to bear his son… but… who says it’ll necessarily be a boy?

The requisite three minutes have gone by. I take a deep breath and walk back over to the sink. Two lines means pregnant. One line means not. I pick up the test and hold it, but I keep staring at myself in the mirror instead of looking down and reading it. It’s now or never. I lower my eyes. Two lines.

***

I step back into the bedroom and stand over Michael for a moment, watching him sleep. I whisper his name, and his eyes blink open right away. “I’m so sorry to wake you,” I say. “I need to show you something before I go to work.”

He nods and sits up in the bed. I climb in and sit next to him. Without another word, I hold the test out to him, and he takes it, and looks at it for a few seconds. The realization of what he is looking at spreads over him slowly, and his eyes grow wide, and he breaks into a grin. He makes a sound that’s kind of an “Ahhh-hah!” and he wraps his arms around me, holding me tight, then pulls me into his lap and kisses me. He pulls away like he wants to say something, but words fail him, so he just starts kissing me again.

“Are you excited?” I ask him.

“Yes, of course. And you?”

“Yes, I am… and so relieved. We both want this so much and I was so fearful that it wouldn’t happen.”

He nods. “I know you’ve been worried, but I never had any doubt. I always knew that my father could make his vision a reality.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I say.

“So,” he says, “what… happens now?”

“I think we need to tell Ms. Mead next – I’ll want her to set me up with a regular schedule of checkups with the health staff. But I’d recommend we keep the news limited to just a handful of people, for now.”

He nods. “That makes sense.”

I smile up at him. “And I’m going to need to start buying a lot of stuff. Maternity stuff and baby stuff.”

He nods. “That’s fine; whatever you need.”

“Do you know if there is a room at the Sanctuary that will be the baby’s room? Do we need to set that up?”

He smiles. “I actually thought ahead on that one; there’s a room. I can show you the plans, if you’d like.”

“Oh, good, thanks.” I lean into him and we sit quietly for a few moments. After all the pressure I’d placed on this moment, it feels a little anti-climatic. “I don’t want to get up but I have to get going.”

He squeezes me tight. “All right,” he says.

I hop out of bed, then lean down and kiss him. “I’m happy. And I hope you are, too.”

“Oh, definitely,” he says.  

***

I’m alone in the kitchen for the first two hours of the day, and I’m thankful for it. I need some peaceful time to get my head adjusted, once again, to a new normal in my life. And it’s nice to give myself a chance to just get excited – to daydream about motherhood and to think about things like baby names and nursery colors. While I don’t imagine it’s possible to create a normal childhood for the son (or daughter) of the Antichrist, in an underground bunker, in a post-Apocalyptic world, I feel it’s my duty to do the best I can.

Around 7:00am, Connie shows up, with the new sous chef in tow. She’d been able to make the case to Ms. Mead that we needed to bring in a new staff person to replace Sharon. It took a while to convince her, but once Connie had told her that losing Sharon was going to demand more of my time, Ms. Mead had given in.

She introduces me to the new guy, Greg. He seems nice enough, but I can’t stop wondering if he knows that this job became available because my boyfriend had turned his predecessor to dust. I figure I’ll just be as nice to him as I can, and hope that he doesn’t spend his days feeling terrified of me.

At noon, I wander over to the cafeteria to get myself a quick bite, and I spy Val in the hallway. “Hey!” I say. She turns to me and gives me a tired-looking smile.

“Hey,” she says.

I hold her eye for a second. “You OK?”

She nods. She holds out her arms and I give her a hug. For a moment, I feel guilty; my new life with Michael has pulled me away from her so much, and I imagine she’s feeling kind of lonely. “Can I eat with you?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says. We head in the doors, grab our trays, collect our mediocre meals, and sit down.

“What’s new?” she asks.

I wait a few seconds to answer her, not sure how she’s going to take this news. But I really don’t want her to find out from anyone else, so… “I took a pregnancy test this morning.”

“And?” she asks.

“Positive.”

Her jaw drops. “Wowww,” she says. “I mean, congratulations. I know you both want this. A lot.”

I nod. “Most days I do. Today I am feeling some pangs of absolute terror… but mostly I’m into it.”

She looks at me. “You’re going to be fine. I’ll make sure of it.”

“That’s sweet. I am not sure what you can do, but I’ll take as many people on my team as I can get,” I say.

“What does Michael think?”

“He never had any doubt that it was going to happen. He’s happy, but I think he feels like the test was unnecessary. I, on the other hand, wasn’t going to believe it until I saw those two lines for myself.”

She goes quiet for a second. “Shit. This is going to change everything,” she says.

I nod. “Yeah, I imagine it will.”

She looks at the table for quite some time.

“Val?” I ask.

She looks up at me with a quizzical expression. “When are you due?”

“July 12,” I answer.

She nods, thinking some more. “Has Michael indicated whether… you’ll have it here in the Compound? Or in the Sanctuary?”

“He said his father told him we’d be in the Sanctuary.”

She nods some more. “So you will move there, the Apocalypse will happen, and the you’ll have the baby underground.”

I nod. “That’s my understanding, yes. Why?”

Her face remains twisted up in thought. “I’m just trying to sleuth out when everything is going down. I get the impression that the Cooperative knows, but they’re not telling us.”

I shrug. “I’ve always assumed that the only one who knows is Michael’s father, and the rest of us will know once he tells us.”

She continues, “I don’t know about that. Remember those concerns I had? About what the Cooperative is up to?”

I whip my head around to see if anyone is nearby who could’ve heard her say that. “Shh!” I say.

She waves her hand, “Fine, fine, I’ll shut up. But let’s talk again soon – I think I have figured some things out, and I think I need your help.”

I nod. “Yes, sure.”

We resume eating in silence. I need to change the subject.

“The new Sharon started today. His name is Greg, and he seems nice. Do you think I should tell him why his job became available?”

I am relieved to see Val smile at this. “That’s terrible,” she says.

“Isn’t it? For some reason I keep thinking about it and laughing, which makes me feel like a terrible person.”

She shakes her head at me, but she is smiling.

Chapter Text

A few days later, it is October 31, All Hallows’ Eve. As one might expect, the Cooperative is pretty into this holiday, and plans have been underway to throw a raging party tonight. Since Cooperative-style parties still freak me out a little, and I can’t even enjoy a cocktail while I am there, I’d gotten the OK from Michael to skip it all, and spend the evening in the kitchen. A fancy occasion calls for fancy desserts, and I am happy to help my team.

I work a 5:00am-1:00pm shift, then I have a four-hour break to rest a bit before coming back for dinner service. In the past, I’ve used my afternoon breaks to watch TV or play around on my iPad or even hang out with Val or Edward. But today, for the first time, I take a nap. I am just exhausted.

Two nights before, Michael and I had sat Ms. Mead down and told her our news. Despite some of the trepidation I’d seen her express in the past, she reacted to the news with jubilation. Taking care of Michael had always been her number one priority, and it became immediately evident that this baby was her number two.

She’d arranged for me to meet with the lead doctor on our health staff, which happened yesterday. He confirmed the pregnancy, told me that everything looked just fine so far, and we made a schedule of recurring appointments. He’d said that, for the first few months, most of what I could expect would be exhaustion and maybe nausea. So far, no nausea, but I was definitely tired all. the. time.

***

It’s about 10:00pm. The rest of the kitchen staff is up in the dining room, but I’m down in the kitchen by myself. I am just about to finish drizzling a raspberry puree on the last batch of chocolate lava cakes, when the kitchen door bursts open and a visibly drunk Cooperative member comes stumbling through.

I’d seen her before. I remember noticing her accessories and thinking she had fabulous style. Which I don’t often think about Co-op members. They tend to be nerdy-looking tech guys in desperate need of a shower, button-down corporate types (think American Psycho), or goths who clearly take themselves too seriously.

She is rocking a sparkly purple dress tonight, which I think is pretty amazing. And she is drunky-drunk drunk.

“I had a theory that I could come down here and find some chocolate.” She says.

I laugh, and gesture to the table covered with chocolate cakes. “You’ve come to the right place!”

“Can you believe one of those turds knocked over the chocolate fountain upstairs? These fucking tech-bros do not know how to hold their liquor.”

“These are still warm, if you want one,” I say.

She makes a face like I’d told her she won the lottery. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sit down. I’ll hook you up.”

I watch her struggle a bit to secure her butt into the aluminum stool next to the work table. I first pour her a glass of sparkling water. “Is there gin in this?” She asks.

“No, but there can be, if you’d like. I just find that chocolate makes me thirsty.”

“You’re probably right.” She starts gulping the water down. I snag the bottle from the fridge and leave it next to her. Then I grab her a cake that’s already got sauce on it, and set it in front of her.

“Holy shit! I know who you are! You’re the Khalessi!”

“Excuse me?”

“That’s what they call you. No one can keep track of what your ‘title’ is. And they’re nerds so that’s the most original thing they could come up with.”

“Huh. The Mother of Dragons? I admit I don’t hate it…” I trail off.

“Damn. DAMN. It is you, right? Wow. You… you must have some stories to tell.”

I walk over to the service area to grab her a fork. I set it next to her plate and said, “Bon appetit.”

“Girl. You are seriously my favorite person on earth right now. Thank you so much.” She takes one bite and I watch her eyes roll back into her head. “Holy shit.”

“Glad you like it.”

“What the fuck are you doing working in a kitchen? Shouldn’t you be, like, lounging in a chaise somewhere? Getting fanned by Cooperative members?”

I laugh again. It has been so long since I had a normal silly conversation that made me laugh, and I realize how much I miss it. “I like this work. I was a pastry chef before I came here and I loved doing it. It’s creative and relaxes me. Plus it passes the time.” I pause for just a second before continuing. Talking about Michael in front of a Co-op member seemed like something I maybe shouldn’t do. Oh what the hell. “Michael told me I could quit working if I wanted to, but if I did, I’d just sit up there all day waiting for him.”

She nods, considering this. She takes another bite of cake. “You’re so fucking lucky,” she says with her mouth full.

I shrug. I can’t argue with her there.

“He’s so fucking sexy. I’ll bet he’s got some moves.” She looks at me with inquisitive eyes.

“Uh, he would *not* want me talking to you about that.”

“Bummer. You have to forgive me. I am just so fucking horny.” I decide to forgive her. She’s drunk, and I am pretty sure that I’d be thinking the same thing, were I in her shoes.

“That surprises me. I kinda would’ve imagined that you Co-op members are, like, having orgies all the time.”

She gestures at the ceiling. “With these fucks? Have you *seen* any of them?”

I laugh at that. “You know I’ve never really thought about it… You all are going to be able to bring family to the Sanctuary, but for now, you are alone.”

“Well it’s not like I’ve got anyone to bring to the Sanctuary either. I’ve got this plan, right. Before we head over I’m gonna go on like a Rumspringa and find myself some beautiful man-whore. I’ll offer him safety from the Apocalypse in exchange for fucking me for the rest of my life.”

“I mean, that’s a good deal right there.”

She laughs. “Escape the Apocalypse by running away with the ones who orchestrated it! Yeah, the boys will love that.”

Orchestrated? My heart skips a beat and I immediately think of what Val was saying the other day. I ponder that word choice while she scrapes the last of the cake up with her fork. I want her to elaborate but I know I needed to tread lightly.

“Hey, humans are the ones bringing the firestorm on themselves! They’d be lucky to be saved from their fate.”

“Right. Human fate and about $6.2 billion. Do you have any more bubbly water?”

I snag her another bottle and set it on the table. I feel something ominous growing in the pit of my stomach. I could hear the direction from Michael: The Co-op’s work is of no concern to you. You’ll refrain from discussing business with them, or meet my wrath. I know I have to change the subject.

“So what else will you do on the Rumspringa? Shopping?”

“Oh, man, yes. If they’d let me show up with a shipping container full of gin and chocolate, I would.”

“I’m doing a bunch of research on chocolate-making. I understand that there’s some hope that we can grow cocoa beans in there?”

Her eyes grow wide. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week.” She downed the rest of her water. “That was amazing. You are amazing! I’m so glad I met you, Khalessi!” She’s burping a lot as she speaks, but I can tell she’s sincere.

“My name is Eve. And you are?”

“Heather. They call me Nickels. Because they’re dorks and everyone has to have a dumb-ass nickname.”

“Why Nickels?”

“Because I only contributed money, no real estate or nukes or anything. They’re such snobs.”

Nukes? The pit in my stomach grows.

“Well, I’ll call you Heather.”

“Thanks again. I guess I’ll wander up to bed now, and pass out dreaming of chocolate lava. Have a good one!” She walks toward the door.

“You too.”

***

I gather up Heather’s dishes and take them over to the sink. I am trying to recall all the reasons Michael had insisted that I never speak to members of the Co-op. He’d described a group of power- and influence-hungry people who fought constantly over governance and chains of command. He’d insisted that they’d try to use me to their advantage, or try to pry information out of me. His reasons had always appeared to be motivated by protecting me from them; I am realizing now that maybe he just didn’t want me to know what they were up to.

What had Heather said? Orchestrating the Apocalypse? Human fate and $6.2 billion? Nukes? The horror of what I am realizing is starting to set in. And now I am starting to feel nauseous.

And the way Heather has thrown these terms around so carelessly—she just assumed I knew. Of course I would know. I’m at Michael’s side, right? He has nothing to hide from me, right?

My lover, the father of my unborn child, the man I was built to serve, is not making a plan to save our community from the end of the world. He is making a plan to end the world. And I am supposed to stand by and watch it happen.

I need to talk to Val.

Chapter Text

I finish up the last of the desserts, and load them onto trays. A few minutes later, Edward and Matt show up to collect them for me.

“How is it going up there?” I ask, casually.

Edward rolls his eyes at me. “They fucking knocked the chocolate fountain over.”

“Oh I heard that! What a mess.”

He and Matt look at each other. “It gets worse,” Edward continues. “There’s kind of a chocolate wrestling situation unfolding in its aftermath.”

“Oh, god. I’m so sorry… I really don’t think those are going to help the situation much,” I say, gesturing at the trays of lava cakes. The two of them groan.

“I think I’m gonna go upstairs and get to bed, once I finish cleaning up down here. You think anyone else will need anything from me?” I ask. They both shake their heads.

“Awesome. Thanks. Good luck, guys,” I say, giving Edward a kiss on the cheek.

***

10 minutes later I am tapping on Val’s door, as softly as I can. She cracks it open and I duck inside. Wordlessly, I sit down on her bed and look up at her. “Michael is not a savior,” I say.

She shakes her head. “No, he’s not.”

I need to say it out loud. “He’s ending the world.”

She nods.

“All along, the narrative we’ve been getting is that the Apocalypse was happening ‘out there,’ that humans were bringing it on themselves, as prophesized, with their warlike ways and weapons and disregard for the planet…” I trail off.

“But the humans aren’t bringing it on themselves fast enough, so they’ve created a trigger, and Michael will be the one to pull it. And yes, he will save us… but he is not a savior.” She sits down next to me. “How did you figure it out?”

“A Cooperative member just drunkenly dropped one too many hints. How did you figure it out?”

“I saw the maps again. They were doing a good job of hiding them for a while, but they were back out this week. Maps of sites for nuclear attacks, maps of the blast radius… the plan to end the world.”

“I’m supposed to have that man’s baby.”

“He’s not a man, Eve.” Tears start rolling down my face.

“You warned me. From the get-go. That he was playing me.” I shake my head. “I should’ve listened to you, but instead I listened to my fucking hormones.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, Eve – you’re not the only one they’ve lied to. But I think you might be the one with the power to do something.”

My eyes widen. “What do you mean? You want me to kill him?!”

She shakes her head. “No, no. What has Michael told you about the witches?”

“Ohhh, let’s see,” I say, thinking. “He hates them. They killed Ms. Mead—”

Val interrupts. “They killed Ms. Mead?”

I nod. “Yeah, they burned her at the stake. But he brought her back. Somehow. And he knows that some are still out there.”

“There are five of them, and they are the only ones with the power to stop him. I’ve been communicating with them.”

My jaw drops. “How?”

“I bribed the dry cleaner to mail letters for me. I’ve been smuggling them out in the Cooperative’s clothes.”

I actually manage to smile at that. “You’re so clever.”

She continues. “They think that they could stop Michael, but they need to buy some time. They think that he will hold off on pulling the trigger if he doesn’t know where you are. There’s no way he would risk killing you or his child. So they want to smuggle you out of here.”

I nod, my mind reeling at this idea.

“They can use magic to hide you. But they want to make it look like a kidnapping. So that he’ll think you were taken against your will, and if he ever finds you, he won’t hurt you.”

I nod some more.

“They want to know one thing – do you think he can read your mind?” Val asks.

“I… I can’t say for certain.”

“Do you think you’d be able to find out? Without giving anything away? If there’s any chance he could see this plan coming… that’d be bad.”

I ponder that for a second. “Yeah, I have an idea of how I could find out.”

“Give it a try. Let me know how it goes. Beyond that, we want to keep you in the dark about the plan – when, where, how. The less you know, the better.”

“OK,” I say. I am nodding and agreeing with her… but my mind is not really absorbing what she’s saying.

She wraps her arms around me. “It’s going to be OK. I promise you. I’ll find you again at lunchtime tomorrow.”

I nod at her, but I don’t believe that for a second. “See you tomorrow,” I say.

***

I head upstairs, and am relieved to see that Michael isn’t back from the party yet. I take a shower and crawl into bed, thankful that I’ll be able to use the pregnancy as an excuse when he asks why I went to bed so early.

I am doing everything in my power to keep my emotions at bay. I need to try to nail down the facts, here, and decide what I actually think, what I actually want to do. I can’t stop feeling like I’ve been lied to – but have I really? Isn’t the job of the Antichrist to usher in the end of the world? It had been too long since I’d read up on this stuff. Poor excuse for a Satanist.

Either way, I’ve been positioned at Michael’s side, and with that, I take on some culpability for his actions. If I know what I know now and do nothing, what does that make me? I am pretty sure that I have to assist Val and the witches. Or else I’ll never be able to live with myself.

But my emotions… they can’t handle it. I can’t handle feeling duped. Feeling like I had loved, and felt like I was loved by, someone who was lying to me on such a grand scale. All those moments we’d shared – they all feel like lies to me now.

Yet I still yearn for him. Even now, I lie in this bed, anxiously awaiting his return so I can be with him. Even more than before, actually, since I know my time with him could be limited.

I am so thankful for my exhausted body right now. Miraculously, I am able to fall asleep before he returns from the festivities.

***

The next morning, I wake on my own. I actually hadn’t set the alarm today – we all had permission to start our day a little later, since everyone would be sleeping in after the party. I look over to Michael’s side of the bed, and he’s there. I have no memory of him coming back last night.

I get up to pee, then crawl right back under the covers. I stare at him. I still want him so badly. I still feel saddened to think that this might have to end. I am going to miss that face. Those eyes. Those strong arms and soft lips. I sigh. His eyes pop open.

“Good morning,” I say.

He smiles up at me. “Hey, you.”

“Sorry I didn’t wait up for you last night. It’s like the doctor said – I am just fucking exhausted all the fucking time.”

He scoots over and wraps his arms around my waist, placing his head on my chest. “No worries,” he says. “I’m glad you got the rest you need. Don’t you have to head downstairs?”

I shake my head. “We get to sleep in today. How was the party?”

He looked up at me. “Oh. Shit. It was so disgusting.”

I laugh. “I heard a little about it, from Edward.”

He shook his head. “Ms. Mead and I basically sat on the balcony all night, because the dining room was just… shameful. I think even my father might’ve been grossed out.”

I laugh some more. “I can’t say I’m sorry I missed it.” He lays his head back down, and we lie still for a moment, enjoying the silence. OK. You need to do a little digging, and then you need to have mind-blowing sex, in that order.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” I say.

“I’m all ears,” he says.

“In those moments, when our child was being conceived, did you and I go… to hell?”

He gets a funny little smile on his face. “We went to my father’s house. Whether or not that realm is called ‘hell’ is kind of open to interpretation.”

“OK,” I say, hoping he’ll continue.

He pauses a moment. “There is a realm where my father lives, in his palace, with the souls that have been pledged to him. It’s where you and I will go when we die. But other souls are locked in a network of individualized afterlife experiences — some would call that ‘hell’ as well.”

“And you’re able to move between these realms? And take other souls with you?”

“That was the first time I’d brought anyone down with me. I do have some experience bringing souls back to earth.”

I nod. “And you’re the only being that’s ever been powerful enough to do that, correct?” Flattery will get me everywhere.

He considers this. “I imagine so,” he says.

I put his hand on my belly. “And now you’ve created a soul.”

He laughs. “Well, any normal human can do that.”

“But you’re nothing like normal,” I say.

He leans up and kisses me. I pull back for a moment to tell him, “I’m just trying to wrap my head around how powerful you are. But I guess you already know what I am thinking.”

He shakes his head. “I can’t read your mind.” JACKPOT. “But I do think I could take it over, if I wanted to. His face changes, and he looks at me with an intensity that makes me gasp. “Can I try something?” he asks.

“Sure.”

“Close your eyes,” he says, and I do as I am told.

I’m lying on my back, and he gets up on his knees next to me. I feel him place his hand firmly on my forehead, and he asks me, “What do you see?” A vision begins to appear inside my mind, dreamlike at first, then it becomes more realistic.

“I’m on a table, and my hands are bound to it,” I say.

“An altar,” he corrects me.

“You’re there,” I say. And he is. In my mind, I am looking down at my naked body, and I see him standing next to me. I see him reach over me and place his hands on my breasts, and the sensation is 100% real. I gasp, “I can feel that.”

“Good,” I hear him say.

Mind-Michael lowers his head and takes my right nipple into his mouth. It feels so real, I start breathing heavily in real life.

And then I see another figure approach the altar from the left side. It’s barely more than a shadow at first, but as it gets closer, I can see that it roughly resembles a person. This startles me enough that my eyes blink open. “Someone else is there,” I say. He’s still kneeling above me, his left hand is still on my forehead, but now his right hand is wrapped around his cock.

He smiles down at me, “Close your eyes.” And I do. I’m snapped right back to where I was, and that shadowy figure is placing its mouth on my left nipple. I try to discern what the figure looks like – is it human? A demon? But its outline is fuzzy, like a vision in a dream moreso than an actual person.

And then a third figure approaches down by my feet. I feel hands, spreading my legs, then fingers, spreading my labia wide open, then a tongue, which attacks my clit with firm pressure, right away. In both reality and in my mind, my head is thrown back, and I am moaning loudly.

The mind-Michael still working on my right nipple stands and steps closer to my face, I can tell that real-life Michael is moving into the same position. I don’t dare open my eyes to confirm that, but I can feel and hear him in the bed next to me. The sucking sensation resumes on my right nipple, and I can’t really tell where it’s coming from. Is that a fourth person? I’ve lost count. In both my mind and in real life, Michael turns my head sideways, fills my open mouth with his cock. And then, in addition to the work he’s still doing on my nipples and my clit, I feel a set of fingers sliding inside of me—I can’t say whose—and I want to cry out, but I have to keep my mouth working. This is too much. I can’t take it much longer.

“Oh, you can take it. You’re gonna take it,” he says. He starts lightly thrusting into my mouth, and I hear him start to moan. I’m doing my best to keep my mouth on him, to keep suction going, but I lose it at times, and start gagging at times. I guess it’s still good enough to get the job done, as his moaning soon reaches its crescendo and he ejaculates. I try to swallow, but a bunch ends up on my face, down my chin. Once he pulls out of my mouth, I can finally open it as wide as I need to to gasp for air. I try to calm myself for a second so I can keep these pleasures that he’s giving me going a little longer, but my body has other ideas, and I scream out the long, shuddering orgasm that’s been building and building. I keep my eyes closed for a while and the figures disappear one-by-one, until the only Michael left is the one next to my face. I look up into his eyes, open my eyes for real, and he becomes my real-life Michael.

I just lie there, staring up at him. He’s looking down at me with such a satisfied little smirk on his face. I try to find some words to say to him… but the best I can come up with is “What the fuck was that?” He throws his head back, laughing.

“I sit in that conference room all day, bored senseless, and I keep my mind occupied by thinking of twisted things to do to my lover. I came up with that one a few days ago.”

“Twisted, maybe. But that was outstanding.”

“Excellent,” he says. He gets up, walks over to the bathroom, and grabs me a towel. He hands it to me, and I wipe off my face. “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”

He drops back down on the bed, and I lay my head on his chest. A sadness pulls at me; I know that if I leave this place, experiences like that will be gone from my life forever. I’ll return to being unfulfilled Eve. But you’ll have saved the world. I try to convince myself that it’s a fair trade.

***

I don’t go down to the kitchen until 7:00, which feels decadently late, and I am still the first one there. The morning flies by quickly – as each person rolls in, they share weirder and weirder tales from last night’s party. I’m simultaneously horrified and fascinated by them. Noon arrives much quicker than I’d expected, and I head to the cafeteria to find Val.

I see her sitting down and I plop down across from her. “We’re good,” is the first thing I say.

“OK, good,” she responds. “Can you tell me how you know this?”

I giggle. “I think I did an awesome job of bringing up the subject, and confirming that he can’t read my mind. But he took it as a challenge, it seems, and he tried to hop into my mind. Which was dangerous, I know. But once we were connected, I realized how much control I have over where he can go in my mind. We’re good, I assure you.”

“You’re, like, weirdly happy right now.”

“I’m not gonna lie to you; it was the sexiest thing we’ve ever done. Goddamn I’m gonna miss him.” I sigh.

She smiles. “Well, then, get it while you can.”

Chapter Text

It’s a few weeks later. I’m nearly 10 weeks pregnant, still in the zone where pretty much no one knows about the baby. Michael recently announced that we’ll be ready to start moving to the Sanctuary in about a month, and folks are assuming that means that “the end of days” will follow pretty closely thereafter, but it’s not like we’ve been given a date. Val hadn’t said a single word to me about he plans with the witches, and on a number of occasions, I’ve found myself wondering if she was still planning anything. But I didn’t ask. I preferred to be kept in the dark.

I’ve been focusing on making a transition, in my mind’s eye at least, from being helplessly in love with Michael, to being helplessly in love with Michael’s cock. To him, I play it off as pregnancy hormones; I’ve just been devouring his body every chance he would give me. Enjoying my last supper, as it were. It’s a coping mechanism, that helps me to feel a little empowered over my emotions – seeing him as a tool, a piece of meat, rather than the star of my life.

It’s just past 5:00am, and I’ve only been in the kitchen for a few minutes, when there is a knock at the door. I go over and open it, and it’s the security guard from the lobby. “Ma’am, I need you to come out to the main entrance with me.”

“Is something wrong?” I ask.

“No, ma’am. We just need you to take a look at something we found.” I take off my apron, and follow him to the lobby and see three women, who I have never seen before, standing in the entrance. The other security guard is lying face-down on the floor. One of the women walks over to the one who escorted me, waves a hand at him, and he falls to the floor, too.

“You’re the witches!” I exclaim.

The one standing closest to me, who has wild red hair, says, “That’s right,” then waves her hand at me, and everything goes dark.

***

I wake up to the feeling of my face pressed up against leather. There is a loud whirring sound that I can’t identify at first. Slowly I regain consciousness and realize I am lying down; I sit up and see that I’m on a private airplane. There are two witches sitting in seats right across from me, and three more in the seats behind them.

The one sitting closest to me starts talking. “My name is Cordelia, and this is Myrtle. She gestures to the ladies behind her. “Mallory, Coco, Madison. I assume you know who we are — we are the only witches remaining after Michael Langdon massacred our coven. Before we even left the Compound, we protected you with a cloaking spell. He will never be able to find you.”

“Where are we going?”

“For your protection, we’re going to keep you in the dark about that. We’re taking you to a lovely house in the country, thousands of miles away, where you will be safe. You will remain there until your child is born, and you’ll have all of us—and our magic—to help you bear and raise that child.

“This was Val’s doing, yes?”

“Yes,” she replies.

I nod. “She didn’t tell me any details. She said that whatever happened, I’d end up separated from Michael. And eventually he’d end up dead.”

Myrtle spoke up. “We can only hope.”

“Where is Val now?” I ask.

“Right here,” I hear, from behind me. I stand up, whip around, and am so thrilled to see her. “I didn’t know you were coming, too!” I throw my arms around her.

“That was the plan – to keep everything a mystery to you.”

“You know, there are security cameras in the lobby. He’ll see the footage and know that you all did this. And his vengeance will be swift and brutal,” I say.

“He’ll have to find us first.”

“You really think your spell can keep us hidden? I mean, maybe from him… but from his father, too?”

“Yes. It’s the most powerful magic there is.”

I nod. I sit for a second and let this all sink in. A few tears start to fall. Myrtle moves over to sit next to me, and starts stroking my hair. “You’re going to be safe, your child is going to be safe. And most importantly, the world will be safe – because of you.”

I nod. “I know. And I’ll be OK with this at some point. But I… I’m still reeling. I really did love him, once. Is there a spell than can make me forget that?”

Myrtle winks at me. “Of course there is, child.”

I take Val’s hand, trying to find some joy in the fact that we’re flying toward our future together. I am wondering what will happen in the Compound when Michael discovers that I am missing, and I wonder if I’ll ever know. I wonder how my child would turn out if we raised it together, but I’m feeling pretty certain that I’ll never know that either.

Chapter Text

The expression “Idle hands are the devil's plaything” had never seemed so apt. Sitting around a house, unable to leave, no meaningful work to do… it’s enough to drive you crazy. That was the world I found myself in, since I’d been squirreled away from the Compound two months ago.

There had been an initial shock, when I’d learned what Michael was planning, that had ruled my thinking. I’d found my way to his father because I was dissatisfied with my life. His father had seen fit to put the two of us together, and I’d felt the satisfaction I’d been seeking, and so much more. And when I’d learned of the horrific thing he was planning, the unforgivable way he’d misled me about it, I had put my fate into the hands of the witches.

And for a while, I’d felt good about my choice. I convinced myself that what I was doing was for the greater good, and my personal experience—my broken heart, my dissatisfaction—wasn’t important enough to factor into the decision-making process.

But now, I am in agony. Every day is so boring I can hardly stand it. I am now halfway through my pregnancy, and I live in daily fear about what this child will be like, what it will do to me. Val stays by my side, and does her best to keep me in good spirits. Members of the coven take turns staying with us, making sure I am safe. But when they leave, I know they are going home to continue working on their plot to kill Michael. To be honest… I think about fleeing them all, and running back to him, at pretty much all hours of the day.

And at night, he haunts my dreams. It tears me up to not know how he had reacted. Is he angry with me? Is he looking for me? Visions appear, all night long. Of him crashing through the door, sweeping me up in his arms. Of him laying waste to this place and taking me back to the Compound. Of laying down in his bed with him again.

All I know is that the trigger has not been pulled. The Apocalypse he has been planning was supposed to happen a month ago, and it hasn’t happened. So by that measure, the coven’s escape plan worked. He and his followers are still living in the Compound. The Sanctuary is complete, but they haven’t moved there yet. I can only assume that he’s spending his days looking for me, and his plan is that once he’d finds me, he’ll kill the witches, take me to the Sanctuary, and pull the trigger.

I also have this vision, frequently, of Ms. Mead trying to convince him to move on. To impregnate some other girl and continue the mission. But that’s just a guess. Either way, if the witches are going to kill him, they needed to hurry up and do it. Michael won’t remain in a holding pattern forever.

***

It’s Wednesday. I know this, because I check my email and see my weekly “your baby is now the size of X” message. This week, Week 20, my baby is as long as a banana. My doctor visit will be next week, and I’ll find out how accurate that is. When Michael had been in his mother’s belly, he’d grown much faster than a human baby. So far, I’ve been measuring pretty normal, but every time I see him, I half-expect the doctor to be like, “What the hell? Your baby doubled in size overnight!”

The doctor makes house calls, because I’m not allowed to leave the house. He’s German, and speaks very good English, but Val tells me that we’re not in Germany. She reviews any literature he leaves, before she lets me look at it, to make sure there is nothing in it that could reveal to me where we are. We have a satellite dish, and we only watch American TV — nothing local. I am allowed to get on the computer and do stuff online, but all the location services are turned off. I have some guesses, but I have to say that they’ve done a decent job. I still do not know where I am.

I continue scrolling through my email. Mostly junk. And then I spot it — a message from Julia. She had been the one who introduced me to the Church of Satan a few years back, but I’d said goodbye to her some nine months ago when I’d left for the Compound. I probably shouldn’t read this. I look around to see if anyone else is in the room. I’m alone. There’s no way I could not read this.

“Dear Eve,

“I do sincerely hope all is well with you. I hope you’re able to read this. A member of the Cooperative came to our congregation today. She spoke with Jonathan, who sent her to me. She told me that you’d been staying with them, but that you’d been kidnapped by witches, and that the Cooperative is trying desperately to find you. She thought maybe I’d be able to get a message through to you.

“The only message that she had, really, is that the full resources of the Cooperative are being used to find you. And that you should stay strong. And if you have any information that can help them find you, you should send it to me and I’ll get it back to her.

“Eve, we’ve been so worried, since you left. Your parents were asking after you, a few months back. Which made Jonathan and I so scared, since we thought you were going to stay with them. The fact that you’re actually with the Cooperative makes so much more sense now. I was happy for you when I heard it, and now I hope they find you ASAP. (They even said that I can join, too, if I help them find you!) We’ll be praying for you.

“Stay safe. We love you. Hail Satan.

“Sincerely, Julia.”

I move the message to my deleted mail file right away. I close the laptop and stare off into space. If I want to go back to him, there’s my answer. It’s true I don’t know where I am, but I also haven’t really been trying to find out. In this moment, I decide that it’s time to find out. I don’t decide whether I’ll necessarily email Julia back; I need to sit and think on that some more.

“What’s new?” Val asks, entering the room.

“My baby is as long as a banana,” I say.

She chuckles. “It’s always fruit, isn’t it?”

I nod. “What do you have going on today?”

“Mallory leaves today and Myrtle arrives. I’ll head to the airport this afternoon, but that’s it. How about you?”

“Oh, busy day. I’m gonna lie here for a while. Then I’m gonna move to that chair and lie in it for a while. Then maybe I’ll eat something. Then I have to start the whole chair decision-making process over again.”

She rolls her eyes at me. “Want me to get you some more books?”

“Yes, books, magazines, ANYTHING as long as it’s not about pregnancy.”

She nods. “No problem.”

Val’s trips to the airport usually take about two hours. How much location research I could do, with two hours alone in this house? My heart is thumping. I am pretty sure that there is a spell on the place that would notify everyone if I walked out the door. But there has to be *something* inside this house with an address. Even just a city. An airport code. Not that I’d necessarily send it to Julia. I just want to know. Just in case.

Mallory enters the room, dropping her suitcase next to the door. “So before you head out, you wanna give me an update on what you all are planning?” I ask her.

She crosses over to the couch and sits down. “What do you want to know?”

I shrug. “I keep waiting for the day when you tell me that you’ve killed Michael, and I can leave this place. Are we… close to that day? Do I have another… month? A year? Living in limbo is turning me into a crazy person.”

She nods. “I can imagine, and we really do appreciate the hardship you’re enduring. It’s just really in your best interest that you know as little as possible. I will tell you… we do have a plan, and we do see progress being made on that plan. I can’t say for sure how long you’ll be here, but I expect it’ll be less than a year.”

“Do you have people on the inside helping you?”

She just looks at me. She’s not going to answer that.

“This fucking sucks,” I say, and I get up and leave the room. I head to my bedroom and flop down on the bed.

***

About an hour later, I hear something in the hallway, and it stirs me from my sleep. It hadn’t been my intention to nap when I’d come in here, but my body had other ideas, and I have to admit I feel better for having gotten a little rest. I hear the sound in the hallway again, louder this time, and I sit up in the bed. It sounds like someone stomping through the halls. The door to my room crashes open with a loud bang, and there, before me, is Michael. He flies across the room to my bedside, I rise up to my knees, and we throw our arms around each other.

He cradles my face with both hands, and looks me in the eyes, searching. “My love,” he says, “You’re OK. Are you OK?” I nod at him. “I’ve searched the world, the whole world, and now I’ve finally found you.” He kisses me, lightly at first, then with more pressure, until I am gasping for air. He drops down to his knees and lays his hands on my rounded belly, over my nightgown. He turns his head and presses the side of his face against me as well. He is whispering, “I have you back, and our child back. I’ll never let you go again.” He lifts my nightgown up and starts kissing the skin on my belly, stroking me with hands as he goes. I entwine my fingers in his long blonde hair. His hands grab at my underwear and he yanks it down in one forceful move. He looks up at me with fire in his crystal blue eyes. He starts running his hands up my thighs, and that’s when I hear a knock at the door.

And then Val walks in. “Hey, we’re about to head to the airport.” I open my eyes. There’s no Michael, just my sad, empty bed in my bland, drafty bedroom. I let out a long, whiny groan.

“Did I wake you?” she asks.

“Yeah. Ya did.” I say, sounding more pissed than I’d intended.

“Oh, sorry. Do you want to say goodbye to Mallory?”

“Sure,” I grumble. I get out of the bed and head into the living room. She’s putting on her coat.

“Don’t listen to me,” I say to her. “I’m pregnant and horny and losing my mind over here.” She reaches out to me and gives me a big hug.

“It will be OK, in the end, I promise you.”

I nod at her. “Thank you. And safe travels to you.”

“Thanks. Myrtle may have more to tell you than I do! Think positive, Eve.”

“I will.” I wave goodbye to Val. “See you later,” I say.

***

I watch them walk to the end of the driveway. They keep the car parked on the street so I can’t see the license plate. I keep watching until I see them pull away. OK, where to start. The house has three bedrooms — mine, Val’s, and the room that a rotating cast of witches stay in. Val’s room feels like the best place to start. I open her door and scan the room. I won’t find anything out in the open, or anyplace obvious like a drawer. I’m looking for hiding places. I start with her closet. I crawl around in the floor, looking for a loose board, or a crack in the wall. I check all the shelves, press all over the walls, under the rug, under the mattress. Nothing.

It occurs to me to try a different tactic. Surely the groceries and stuff that they’re bringing into the house have receipts that get thrown away — I start digging through the trash cans in the kitchen and bathrooms. Nothing.

I try the other bedroom, starting with the closet again. I push around on all the floorboards and move my hands up the wall. When my fingers near the ceiling, I feel a tiny draft of cold air against them, which makes me pause. I step out of the closet and grab a side chair and slide it into the closet. Then I hop up, push up on the ceiling panel, and its lifts. I slide the panel open, poke my head through the hole, and see a file box tucked to the side. I grab it and pull it down, my heart racing. I sit down in the chair and rip the top of the box off.

Everything I need is here. The first thing I see is the lease on this house. It’s in French, but is annotated in English. Am I in France? I scan it and identify the slot where the address has been filled in — Rue de Quatre-Vents, Goudinière, Belgium. Well, that answers that.

I don’t want to dally in this closet, but I do at least flip through the rest of the contents of the box. I see a bundle of letters, presumably the ones Val sent from the Compound. My passport. A bunch of plane ticket stubs and receipts for Western Union transfers. And the last thing I spot is a wad of tissue paper. I open it, and it’s the choker that Michael gave me. For the meeting where I was introduced to the Compound as his partner. The black diamonds, the sapphire pendant. He chose sapphire as our safe word that night. Tears stream down my cheeks. I put it back and grab the lease, stare at the address, repeating it to myself ten times, then I pack everything back up into the box and stash it back where it was. I return the panel, return the chair, and creep back out the room. I have about a half hour before Val will return.

***

I’m sitting on the couch, staring out the window. OK, so, now I know. What do I do with this information? I could send it to Julia. The Cooperative would be here to get me, probably within a day. They’d take me to the Sanctuary, and I guess they’d take Julia there as well, and then I’d be reunited with Michael, who would pull the trigger and end the world.

Maybe Michael could be reasoned with. Maybe I could convince him to stop. Maybe the witches could do something to him that changes his mind, without killing him. And then we could… what, get a brownstone in Chicago together? He could get a job? There is no solution to this that makes any sense. No way that he and I end up together without ending the world.

I see the car pull up in the street. A few moments later, Val and Myrtle are walking up the driveway. It always makes me smile to see Myrtle — she’s my favorite witch, hands down. I decide to put the whole Julia decision on hold for a while, and just try to pump as much information out of her as I can.

The two enter through the kitchen, and I go in to greet them. “Hello, dear child,” Myrtle says, and we share a big hug. “ I brought you all the junk food that I could fit in my carry-on,” she says. She sets it down and starts pulling out all the American foodstuffs that she usually brings me — peanut butter, Pringles, Sour Patch Kids.

I laugh. “You know me so well. Fortunately the food is pretty good here in Neverland,” which is how I typically refer to where we are.

“You got that right,” she says. “Let’s make some dinner.”

We get to work making an unnecessarily big spread for three people — roast chicken and potatoes with green beans, and some bread I had baked that morning. While they’re working on the main course, I whip up some chocolate mousse for dessert — which I accent with a little peanut butter crumble because I’m addicted to the stuff. We sit down and eat like royalty, Val and Myrtle throwing back glass after glass of wine. When everyone is feeling full and festive, I decide it’s time to start my probing.

I just come out and ask her: “OK, it’s time for you to give me my update. What the hell are you all up to with Michael?”

She gives me a smile, like a mother whose child has just asked for a pony. “Oh, dear girl. What do you expect me to be able to tell you?”

I shrug. “ANYTHING. Seriously, anything. About what he’s doing or what y’all are planning or where my friends in the Compound will end up. How much longer I’ll be here. Who’s looking for me? You must know some things!!”

She nods. “We do indeed know some things. Much like you know why we can’t share them with you.”

“Anything. Just… anything you can think of that would be OK for me to know.”

She thinks for a moment. “Well… the Compound has been drained to a skeleton crew, while everyone is out looking for you. I am sure they are talking to your parents and friends and anyone who knew you before you went to the Summit.”

I nod, wondering if she knows about Julia.

“So, that’s what’s happening. They still haven’t moved to the Sanctuary.”

“And where is Michael?”

She shrugs. “I actually don’t know the answer to that.”

“What?” I exclaim. “How are you supposed to kill him if you don’t know where he is?”

“That is Cordelia’s job. We’ve divided up our tasks, here, and she’s on Michael duty.”

I sigh, and look at my plate.

“I do have one question for you — have you heard from Michael’s father at all? Has he come to you? Sent messages at all?”

I shake my head no.

“Good. He shouldn’t be able to find you. But he’s our most powerful foe, so I want to make sure the magic is holding.

I nod.

“What is it, dear? Tell me what’s troubling you.”

I figure it can’t hurt to speak the truth for a bit. I let out a long exhale. “I still love him,” I say. “I don’t want to, it doesn’t make sense, and I try to stop. But he’s inside of me now and… I’m miserable here. And I know that there is no possible way that I can be with him again. Without, you know, causing the end of the world. It just… hurts. So much.”

“I know. We all know how you suffer. It’s written all over your face. You see, when powerful men make chaos and war, it is so often the women who have to be the strongest.”

Tears stream down my face. “So how can you help me?”

“When Michael is no longer a threat, the world will know that you were the one who saved us all. Your risk, your sacrifice, your suffering — it will not be in vain.”

I think about this for a moment. “But if he walked in here tomorrow, I’d go with him in a heartbeat. I know I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.”

Val chimes in. “That’s what we’re here for,” she says.

Chapter Text

Dinner is over, I am getting ready for bed, and Myrtle’s words are really ringing in my ears. I am being selfish. Yes, this life is boring and painful, but one woman having to endure a boring and painful life is hardly a tragedy, when it means that so many others will survive because of it. I need to accept that this is the way it is. I need to make the best of what I have. I decide that I’m going to tell both Myrtle and Val about the message from Julia. I decide that I won’t be responding to it. I decide that I am going to stop badgering the coven about Michael, and leave them to do what they need to do.

I decide I need to find a way to get Michael out of my mind, and an idea pops into my mind. When we’d first arrived at the house, Val and I had shared a bed. We were both terrified, and just felt safer sleeping in the same room. A few of those nights, things between us had… escalated. But as I started to slip into a more depressed state, I moved to my own room, and at this point, she and I have not even kissed for something like a month. In this moment, I feel so grateful to her for her patience, and for tolerating how mopey and whiny I had been. I want to go in and thank her. I want to make things right again.

I tiptoe to her room. I open the door without knocking. She is sitting on her bed, in her nightgown, examining her fingernails. She looks up at me with a sad little smile. I drop down on the bed next to her and take her hands. “I am so lucky to have you in my life,” I say to her. “You’ve been with me through all of this shit… and I have not always been so easy to be with. And I just want you to know that I appreciate you so much.” I raise one of her hands up to my lips, and kiss it.

She smiles at me, but doesn’t say anything.

“I’ve decided that I need to get my head on straight. I need to stop whining, and feeling sorry for myself. There are a lot of beautiful things in my life – you, the coven, this baby, this house – that I should be celebrating, instead of pining after a man. A cruel man who played me, just like you said he would. I just want to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and that I want to do better.”

“Well, thank for saying that. I don’t think you need to apologize, though. I don’t know how you’ve pulled through as well as you have.”

“It’s because of you. I mean that,” I say.

She shrugs. “I love you. What can I say?” And with that, I lean in and grab her face in both hands, and start kissing her. She is a little hesitant, but only for about three seconds. And then she gives in. I lean her back on the bed, and run my hands up her torso, over her nightgown. I can feel she still has her underwear on, but her bra is gone, and I’m thrilled about that. Her breasts are so much more fun than mine; I could play with them for hours. And there’s something about cupping, squeezing, groping over the fabric that adds a certain sensuality – this is getting me going a lot faster than I’d expected. I’m still kissing her, aggressively, and she is starting to whimper back into my mouth. I move down to her neck, to give her a chance to breathe. I also reach down and lift up the bottom of her nightgown, place my hands on her bare stomach, and keep them moving up. When my fingers grab a firm hold of her nipple and she cries out, I decide it’s time to lose the nightgown. I yank it over her head, grab her breasts and push them together, and suck on her nipples one after the other.

Then I hop up to my knees, rip off the t-shirt I am wearing, and start pulling her undies down. We make eye contact for a moment, and she gives me an encouraging smile. “I want you to get into my very favorite position,” I say to her. She nods agreement at me. “Face this wall, on your hands and knees.” While she’s repositioning herself, I step down to the floor, and stand behind her. I pull her ass back, and she wiggles her knees apart, until she’s essentially in a child’s pose, but off the edge of the bed. I spend one moment admiring the view, then I drop to my knees on the floor behind her, open my mouth, and dive right in. I start from her ass and work my way forward, and by the end, my neck is craned back a little, as I am almost underneath her, But the best part is that I can reach forward and grab her tits again while I am doing this.

The other thing I love about this position – the way that she’s squatting is causing her to grind her pelvis in my face a little, which totally gets me hot. She is going nuts, moaning louder and louder. I have a flash of worry that we’re going to disturb Myrtle, but… I imagine she’ll get over it. I crane my neck all the way back, which allows me to start sucking on her clit, and at the same time I pinch both of her nipples, and that does it. She’s wailing, soaking my face, and I am here. for. it.

When she’s done, she falls down onto her side, in the bed, and is panting for air. I look around and find a bath towel by the door, and I wipe my face with it. Then I climb up next to her and spoon her from behind. “Holy shit,” she says to me.

“Yeah, right? I swear, I just came in here expecting to make out a little.”

She laughs. “Just gimme two minutes. Then it’ll be your turn.”

I give her a squeeze. “Take all the time you need,” I say.

***

We both pass out like that, and don’t wake up until morning. I hadn’t intended to sleep there, but waking up next to her, again, is pretty amazing. And I smell coffee.

I sit up, locate the shirt that I’d worn into Val’s room last night, and throw it on. She is still totally sacked out, and I decide to let her sleep in a little. I pad back to my room, put on something that resembles more respectable pajamas, and duck into the bathroom to wash up a bit.

Down in the kitchen, Myrtle has the coffee pot going, and is cutting up a bunch of fruit and bread and cheese. “Good morning!” I say, excited by the spread.

“Good morning, dear. I trust you slept well?”

I nod. “Thank you for getting this started. I’m starving.”

“I can imagine you are,” she muses.

Maybe she means because I’m pregnant, or maybe she means because she’d heard us fucking last night. I decide not to interrogate it.

“So how are things back in New Orleans?” I ask her.

“Nothing is the same. Most of our girls are gone, and we’re leaving the house empty. For safety.”

I shake my head. “I’m so sorry. Do you all have a safe place to stay?”

“The key to keeping us safe is keeping us someplace no one would look. So yes, we’re safe. But the little swamp shack we’re living in is… less-than-desirable. Your little bungalow here is a welcome change of pace.” She hands me a plate of goodies.

“Thank you,” I say. “Listen, I need to come clean with you about something. Yesterday, I should’ve mentioned it… I was contacted by a friend of mine, via email. Someone I knew from the Congregation, from long before I ever went to the Summit. She’d been approached by a Cooperative member, and was offered a slot in the group in exchange for helping them find me. I had a moment yesterday when I was considering responding to her… but I have decided against it. I just wanted to tell you the truth.”

Her eyes grow wide for a second, but then she responds, “Thank you for telling me, my dear.”

“Your words yesterday really hit home for me. I am strong enough to endure this. Michael had a hold on me, but I think I am seeing my way to shake off his influence.”

She nods in agreement. “Good for you. I always thought you could do better than him. Such daddy issues.”

I laugh. “Myrtle, you’re my favorite.”

Chapter Text

In the afternoon, I find myself sprawled across the living room sofa, my head in Val’s lap, reading a book. Myrtle is on the computer in the den, humming to herself. The whole house smells amazing, as I had spent some this morning baking an almond cake to enjoy at dinner time. I pause for a moment just to appreciate how relaxed I feel. How much of a difference a day makes.

We make another ridiculously large dinner — beef Bourguignonne — and have a blast sitting around the table, eating and chatting. Myrtle is trying to convince us that we could become witches if we wanted to.

“You would think,” I say, “that with all my proximity to people with powers, I’d have *some* of my own. Something would just rub off, you know?”

Myrtle laughs. “Unfortunately that just isn’t the way it works.”

“But I went to hell! Don’t you think that making a successful journey to hell and back should earn you some powers?”

Val’s jaw drops. “When did you go to hell?”

I think a moment. “Five months ago, maybe? Michael wanted to fuck me in his father’s house.”

Now both of their jaws drop. I shake my head. “It’s so hard to believe that this is my actual life.”

“Yeah,” Val says. She looks a little overwhelmed by this information. “Let me know if you need to… talk… about that.”

“Thanks,” I say. “I’ll keep you posted. What about you, Val. Have you ever felt like you had any powers?”

“No,” she says. “Not at all.”

“Well,” Myrtle says, “You are not required to have powers to attend our academy. And you’d both be welcome. That is, when the world rights itself again.”

“Ooh that’s an idea,” I say. “Right now, I think I need to adjourn the living room and put these swollen feet up back.” I move to the couch and resume my sprawl. I remain there while the two of them pack up the dinner leftovers and do the dishes. I’m on the verge of falling asleep when they join me in the living room. This time, Val sits on the other end of the couch, so she can rub my feet for me.

“Mmm, you’re a godsend.”

She shakes her head. “Satanist, remember?”

“How quickly I forget. I was always such a half-assed follower.”

“Isn’t that ironic,” Myrtle asks, sitting in the chair next to Val.

I chuckle. “The Church of Satan itself never did much for me. But The Father tapped me anyway.”

Myrtle seems to ponder that. “What brought you to him in the first place?”

“My friend, Julia. The same one who just emailed me, actually.” She nods. “We worked together and she was so into her church and I just… wanted to see it for myself, I guess. And the first day I went, Satan talked to me.”

“Wow, I didn’t realize,” Myrtle says.

“Yeah, that’s why there were a bunch of folks at the Compound who hated me. They thought my honor should go to someone more devout.”

“Fanatics,” she said, rolling her eyes.

I chuckled. “Val, that feels amazing,” I say.

She smiles down at me. We sit in silence for a few moments. I close my eyes.

From the doorway on the other side of the room, an unexpected voice chimes in. “Well, isn’t this just the most charming scene?” We all look up and see Michael, leaning against the door frame, head cocked to the side, arms folded across his chest.

“No!” we all say, more or less in unison. He takes a step toward us, dropping his hands down and balling them into fists. I can sense where this is going.

I jump up. “Michael!” I scream, and start moving toward him. “I’ll go with you. You’ve got me. Leave them be.”

He looks at me, eyes manic, head still cocked, and says, “Are you insane? No, I won’t be letting these two go.”

I start to cry. “Michael, please. Let’s just get out of here, right now.” By now I am standing about a foot away from him. I reach out and touch his face. “My lord,” I say.

I hear Myrtle yell something. I can’t discern what she says, or even which language it’s in, but she yells it loud and fast, and grabs Val’s arm, then the two of them disappear. A wave of relief hits me.

Michael bends at the waist, grabs at his face and spins around in a dramatic swoop. “Fucking WITCHES!” he wails.

I put my hand on his back. “It’s OK, they’re gone. I’m here. And your child is here,” I say, touching my stomach.

He looks up into my eyes, and tears start falling from his. He drops to his knees and wraps his arms around my waist. I start to stroke his hair. “Shhh,” I say. I’m all right, your baby is all right, we’re all together again.” We remain like this for some time, while he sobs into my belly.

***

After a few minutes, I hear the kitchen door open and close, and Ms. Mead enters the room through the kitchen. We make eye contact, but neither of us say anything. She says, “Michael,” in a very pointed way, and he stands up. He looks down at me, puts his hands on my shoulders, and runs them down to my wrists. He holds my eyes while he reaches into his jacket pocket, and then I feel the click of steel on my wrists.

“Handcuffs?” I say to him.

“We’re not sure if we can trust you right now,” Ms. Mead answers for him.

“Funny, I could say the same thing to you,” I respond, holding Michael’s eye.

“Let’s get out of here,” he says.

I am marched toward a car that’s waiting in the street, and put in the backseat. They wordlessly climb into the front, and Ms. Mead starts driving us away. I look back at the house, thinking about this morning, when I’d felt so happy there.

It feels like we’re in a standoff. I don’t know what they know about me, my role in escaping, my allegiance to the witches. I don’t know how they found me. I’m not going to say anything to them until I have a better sense of where they’re coming from, so… we ride in silence.

I stare out the window as we glide through the dark countryside. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Val or Myrtle again, but I’m so thankful that they got away. Back in that room, all I could think about was keeping them safe. And now that that’s behind us, I feel like I need to do some strategizing. It seems like I’d have my best chance of getting some information out of Michael if I can be alone with him, but it seems unlikely that’ll happen any time soon. I decide, nonetheless, that my strategy will be to continue to be affectionate toward him. To act like what I want is for us to be back together, just as we were.

And I have to admit that I don’t think that will be too hard. Monster or not, the man is beautiful, and it’s very easy to look at him and let my mind wander, taking trips down memory lane. Remembering all the moments we’d shared — getting acquainted, falling in love, fucking our brains out. Back in the house, I’d still felt the electricity when we touched.

The car parks at a teeny little airport, and we board a private plane. The staff at the airport all stare at me, the visibly pregnant woman in handcuffs. It’s pretty humiliating, but I don’t imagine I’ll be returning to Belgium any time soon.

The plane has four little couches, and we each take our own. The pilot gets on and announces that the flight will be 7 hours, and I curl up against the wall, thinking that my best bet will be to pretend I want to sleep. After we take off, I keep peeking up at Ms. Mead, to see if she’s drifted off. Maybe about 90 minutes in, it looks like she has, and I look at Michael. He’s still awake, staring out the window. I don’t know if this is a smart move, but I decide to take my chances and go sit next to him.

He looks up as I sit down, but I can’t read his face. “How are you doing?” I ask him.

He doesn’t seem to know how to answer that question. He keeps looking at me, but doesn’t respond.

“I’ve spent the last two months imagining our reunion, and it’s always looked kinda different from this,” I say.

“How did it look?”

I smile at the floor. “More kissing, fewer handcuffs,” I respond. “Michael, I love you. I still belong to you. I’ve spent this whole time being miserable because I was away from you. And then you show up and… you seem pissed at me.”

He shakes his head. “No, I just… I just have to be careful.”

“You think, what, I’m on the witches’ side now?”

He shrugs. “ I don’t know. You looked awfully comfortable back there.”

“Don’t be silly. I’ve been in that house for two months. I couldn’t spend every hour of every day fighting them. I had to accept my fate and find a way to relax, for our child’s sake. Sure, I had meals with them. And sure, I let Val into my bed again.” His eyebrow raises at that one. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t belong to you anymore.”

“You slept with her?” he asks.

I nod. “Yeah, that’s kinda the only way I know how to connect with her. She’s… she’s in love with me.” It feels so shady to summarize our relationship that way… but it seems like the version of the story that he’d like the best.

“Look, we need to have some conversations, sure. I have learned some things that have raised some questions. That I’ll need you to answer. But… I love you. And I missed you, so terribly.” Some perfectly-timed tears start falling. “And if you don’t feel the same anymore… I need to know.”

He shakes his head. “That’s not it.”

I keep looking at him, my eyes full of tears, my cuffed hands on my belly.

He exhales in frustration. His hand goes into his pocket, he pulls out a key, and he takes off my handcuffs. And then his arms encircle my waist, I climb into his lap and wrap my arms around his shoulders, and we start kissing. Like people who haven’t seen each other in two months—intense, crushing, ravenous. After a few moments, I drop down and start kissing his neck and he sighs, “My love” into my ear. There it is. I’ve got him back.

I glance over at Ms. Mead, to confirm that she’s still sleeping, and it appears she is. If I’m going to get back into his good graces, I need to take this as far as he’ll allow. I lean in and whisper into his ear. “I want to taste you,” I say. He looks up at me, his mouth gasping for air, and he nods. I lean down, kiss him even harder, while my hands get to work on his pants. I get him unzipped, push his drawers down, and free his cock. I take one last look at the snoozing Ms. Mead, then drop to my knees on the floor in front of him.

He slumps down in his seat a little, as I wrap my hand around the base of his cock and jerk it slowly up and down, licking my lips. A few seconds later I open my mouth and take him all the way in, until my lips are around its base. Once I’m there, I feel Michael’s hands on the back of my head. He’s applying some pressure, but I’m still able to move freely. And then a few moments later, he’s gripped my head firmly and I can’t move anymore. He holds my head still, and starts thrusting into my mouth. Even over the whir of the plane, I can hear him breathing heavily, starting to moan. And then he starts grunting out words. “Uggh this is what you’re for. You’re mine, you serve me.”

I try to nod in response to him, but he’s got my head totally locked. All I can do it keep my lips gripped onto him and hold on. “Oh, fuck, yes, fucking take it all,” he groans, and then he moans loud, and long, and fills my mouth. The way he’s got my head gripped down, I can’t swallow without gagging, and I start to feel like I might choke. But he doesn’t let up. I let out some urgent cries, he yanks me back by my hair, and I gasp for air.

I look at him and he doesn’t exactly smile back at me, but he looks satisfied. I decide this is progress. I climb up onto the seat next to him, wiping my mouth in the back of my hand. I sit down facing him, and I lean in and give his neck a few kisses. “You’re so fucking hot,” I say to him. He wraps his arms around me and lays his head on my shoulder. We lay like that, enjoying the moment for all of 30 seconds, and then I feel my arm getting yanked behind me.

“Moron!” I hear Ms. Mead yell. She clamps one of the handcuffs down on the arm she’s holding, and pulls me out of the seat. She clamps the other arm, and pushes me into the seat behind Michael. She leans over and wags her finger in his face. “You are so much smarter when you forget you’re a human,” she says.

Michael turns around in his seat and looks at me. I see, for the first time today, that the sparkle has returned to his eyes, and I smile at him.

Chapter Text

Thinking to myself, Well, I’ve done what I can do for now, I drop my head down on the airplane seat and try to get some rest. I recall that I was just about to head up to bed when Michael materialized in our living room several hours ago, which explains why I am so tired all the sudden. Miraculously, I am able to fall asleep.

A few hours later, I am a awakened by the popping in my ears, as the plane descends. I sit up and look out the window, seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains spread out below us. Back to the Compound. This is going to be interesting. I look forward to reconnecting with Edward, to hearing the tales of what Michael did when he found out I was gone. I’m even kinda excited about working in the kitchen again, but not the long hours on my feet.

We land, I follow Michael and Ms. Mead off the plane. More stares from locals in the airport at the pregnant lady in handcuffs. On the other side is a black van, waiting for us. One of the security guards is driving, and there are two more sitting in the back. Ms. Mead instructs Michael to sit up front, and I’m in the second row, between the two guards. This all seems a little excessive to me.

I expect us to roll up to the Compound in 15 minutes, but I start to realize that we’re driving into the mountains, not away from them. There’s only one other place they could be taking me.

In about an hour, the van pulls into a gravel driveway, that appears to have nothing at the end of it. It stops, and it’s only when we all get out that I see a cement structure set into the ground. It has a set of steel double-doors, no markings, no signs. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was a storage shed. But it’s our Sanctuary.

Ms. Mead is behind me, and as she starts talking, I turn around. “The Compound is pretty much empty right now,” she says. “The Cooperative scattered around the globe to search for you. About half of the staff as well. We need to call them all back now, and give everyone a few weeks to return and regroup. And then we’ll all be coming here, to our Sanctuary. But you, on the other hand, are moving in right now. I’m placing you, plus a small detail of health and security staff, in confinement.”

“What, why? I want to stay with Michael!”

She snorts at me. “I’m sure you do, Missy! But we need to spend a little time evaluating you before we reintegrate you with the rest of the staff.”

“Evaluating? I don’t understand. I was kidnapped. I just want to be back where I belong.”

“Well, that’s one version of the story,” she says. “Or maybe you escaped. We know what that Cooperative member told you. We know what Valerie told you. And then you’re just whisked away a few days later? It doesn’t look good.”

I do my best to look astonished. “Val spouted a new conspiracy theory at me every other day. She was constantly paranoid, so I never took any stock in any of it. You scared the shit out of her back at the Summit, you know, showing her that video. She always thought you were out to get her.”

At that, Michael spoke up. “Video?”

I nod back at him. “Mead showed her the one on your—“

Ms. Mead interrupts me. “Her personality quirks aren’t relevant to what she did.” He doesn’t know. This is valuable information. Sowing mistrust between the two of them could only work to my advantage.

He looks at me, growing impatient. “What video?”

I make an innocent face. “The one you made. Of me and Val, on the balcony.”

He looks at her with fire in his eyes. I’ve never been able to imagine him hurting her, but in this moment, he looks like he might. I can see the waves of realization in his face. She… knew he’d watched us fucking. Had looked in his phone. Has seen the private video he’d made. Had shown it to Val and threatened her with it. This was… a lot for him to take in.

He walks over to me, takes my arm, and walks me to the Sanctuary door. He opens the door, pulls me inside, closes it, and slams down the huge locking mechanism on the inside. He lets out a long, anguished cry, and drops down to the bare cement floor. I drop down next to him.

“I can’t believe I’m defending her, but you know she did that to protect you,” I say. He looks at me, with tears in his eyes.

“I have no one. Once again. I don’t know why there can’t be one person in my life who I can trust.”

“You don’t trust me anymore.” It’s not a question.

He looks at me. “No.”

I sigh. “And I don’t trust you.” We sit in silence for a moment. “Michael, you kept me in the dark about your plan. Me, and all the other support staff. We thought you were our savior.”

He shakes his head. “I’m not. I’m a monster.”

I sigh, and rest my head on his shoulder. “And I’m in love with a monster.”

In this moment, I realize that I have no more secrets from him. He knows everything. There is a real comfort in this. But I do still have some questions for him.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“My father found you. He could access your soul the whole time you were gone, but as long as you didn’t know where you were, he couldn’t know it. And then the other day, he came to me and told me that you started projecting your location out, loudly.”

“Oh, shit. Yeah, that was my doing. Those witches would be so pissed at me if they knew that.” At least that made Michael smile. “Can I ask another question?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Can you tell me what went down? When you discovered I was missing?”

His eyes water a little. “That was one of the worst days of my life,” he said.

I stroke his face. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper.

“Around 7:00am, one of your coworkers arrived in the kitchen and you weren’t there. So they notified your supervisor, who notified Ms. Mead. The security guards had no memory of what had taken place, but we saw it all on the video—the witches came in, knocked them out, knocked you out, and took you. By the time we saw the video, you’d been gone for three hours. It was another hour before we figured out that Valerie was gone, too.

“We convened the Cooperative and told them of the situation. A few of them had connections to airlines, the FAA, and they did what they could to track down your flight, but the witches had cloaked you too well. We started interrogating everyone in the Compound. The only useful information we got from that was from Heather.”

“The chick from the Cooperative. The drunk one.”

He nodded. “She’s not in the Cooperative anymore.” I had a feeling that she’d been banished from more than just the Co-op, but I didn’t want to know.

“Did anyone else get in any trouble?”

He shook his head. “No. We talked to Edward for a long long time, but concluded he didn’t know anything.”

I smiled. “That’s Edward, all right.”

“He’s still at the Compound.”

“Oh, thank goodness.”

We sit in silence for a bit longer, and eventually I say, “Well, now you know all my secrets, and you’ve answered all my questions. Is there anything more you wanna tell me? Or wanna know?”

He thinks on this. “What happens now?”

“Yeah. What happens now?” I pause. “Can I get off this floor?”

He smiles, stands up, and offers me his hands. Once I am standing, he slides his hands down and holds my belly for a moment.

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

“I’m doing alright,” I say. “I was seeing a doctor regularly at the house, who said that everything is progressing normally.”

“Oh good, good,” he says.

I look around and take in the Sanctuary layout for the first time. “This place is so quiet,” I say.

He nods. “Want a tour?”

“Sure,” I say. “Are we just going to leave them out there?” I ask, gesturing toward the door.

He smiles at me. “Yup.”

Chapter Text

“So the place is pretty much done,” he begins. “We have some more supplies to load in, but everything is built, and all the systems are up and running. There are nine levels, and when you enter, you’re at the top. It’s level one; the numbers go up as you descend.”

“Level one, huh? Why not just call it limbo?” I ask. He smirks at me, reaches out and taps my nose with his finger.

“There’s a map over here,” he says, pulling me across the hallway. He starts pointing out the various sections. I can see him getting excited as he describes it. It’s clear he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished—it really is marvelous.

“It’s kind of like the Compound flipped upside down. The top floor is pretty much all common area, and security. Two and three are staff. Four is all food prep and dining. Five is the gym and the hospital, plus all systems and maintenance. Six through eight are Cooperative. And nine is all mine.” He looks at me. “What do you want to see?”

“Where’s the baby’s room?” I ask.

“Right here,” he says, pointing to a section of the ninth floor. “Just you, me, and the kid.” I smile at that. He takes my hand, and starts down the hall, dragging me along.

“So these elevators will access all the other floors, but if you want the ninth, you have to take this one. It’s got biometric security. Give yours a try.” He gestures toward a touch pad, and I put my finger on it — the door pops open. Michael looks like he’s about to start clapping with joy. I giggle at him.

We zoom down the nine floors, and the elevator opens into an opulent entryway. There are doors to the left, right, and center. “Office, den, bedroom,” he says, pointing to them one by one. “You can only access the nursery through our bedroom.”

He opens the office door. There’s a desk and a large conference table, some huge monitors on the walls. “There are other conference rooms up on one, but I wanted my own.”

I point at the computer on the desk. “Who will we be connecting to?”

“The Outposts,” he says. “Via satellite.” He grins at me.

I shake my head. “You’re like a kid with new toys,” I say.

He nods emphatically. “The den is pretty standard. Couches, tables, TV, books.” We stroll through it, and then we’re at the bedroom door. He flashes another grin at me as he swings it open.

“Oh, my,” I say. It’s enormous, and beautifully appointed. He walks me around the room.

“Your closet, my closet, bath, linen closet, nursery.” I open the nursery door. “We put all the stuff in here, but no one set it up yet. In case…” he trails off. I squeeze his hand.

“I’m here now,” I say. The room’s walls are painted light gray, but all that’s in there are tons and tons of boxes — the crib, the changing table, a glider. All the stuff I’d ordered. It makes me sad to see it like this. “I’ll get to work on this.”

He shrugs. “We have a few weeks before we move in.”

“I thought I was moving in today.”

He looks at me. “Is that what you want?”

I shake my head. “I want to be wherever you are.”

“At this moment, I kinda want to move here with you,” he says, looking around the room.

“It’s beautiful, Michael. Everything you've done here is just—it’s amazing.”

“This whole time you’ve been gone, I’ve just been working, working… I couldn’t face the possibility that we might not find you.”

I nod. “I had this vision that Ms. Mead would try to get you to knock someone else up.”

He smiles at that, but shakes his head. “She mentioned that idea once. I let her know that that was… not happening.”

I step closer to him. “Every night, I dreamed of you.”

He nods. “Me too.”

“It always felt so real, and I’d wake up, and you’d be gone…”

“... but I could still feel you. In the room.”

“Yeah,” I say. His hands lunge for my face. He starts kissing me with abandon. I reach my fingers up behind his ears entangle them into his hair. On the plane, he’d been passionate, but cold. And now, he’s connecting with me again. I feel all the electricity, all the magic, flowing into me through his lips, radiating down my whole body.

He’s still a monster, you know. For the moment, I decide that I have to silence that voice in my head. We have some time to sort of what’s going to happen next; right now, I need him. In this beautiful space, that he had built for our family. I can’t ignore how *right* it all feels.

“I need you,” I say to him. He kisses me a few moments longer, then steps back.

“Take your clothes off,” he says, his eyes sparkling.

I look up at him, and smile. “Déjà vu,” I say. I strip myself naked while he scrutinizes my every move.

He looks me up and down. He puts his hands on my belly, slides them up to my breasts. He leans in and says to me, “Your body is doing some amazing things.”

And I respond to him, “And your hands feel amazing on me.” We make eye contact for a moment, and start kissing again, furiously. My hands are flying down his torso, unbuttoning his shirt, and when I’m done, he rips it off in a move that takes him about half a second. I stroke his chest, taking in the feeling of his smooth, hot skin, and he drops his head down and starts kissing my neck. “My love,” I whisper.

I start unbuckling his pants, and then start to slide them down, but then I realize that I won’t be able to get them off, as he still has riding boots on. He sits down on the bed, and I get to work unlacing them. “You’re lucky these are sexy,” I say to him. He falls back onto the bed, his eyes closed, a twisted little smile on his face, waiting. I wrangle his boots off, and everything else. Seeing him sprawled there, totally naked, eyes still closed, -- I just have to stop and admire him for a moment. Everything about his body is just so smooth, so polished, like he’s been carved from marble. He looks up at me.

“You’re just so exquisite, I… I’ve missed you,” I say. He reaches up to me, grabs my arms and pulls me down on top of him. I kiss his shoulders, his chest, his stomach. I long to wrap my mouth around his cock again, but I’m afraid that if I do that, this will all be over too soon. So I wrap my hand around it and move back up so that I am lying next to him, watching his face.

“Tell me what you want,” I say to him.

He makes a delicious, “Mmmm,” sound, while he thinks. “I want to watch you get off on top of me.” He declares. I smile at him and waste no time, sitting up, straddling him, and sliding him inside of me. He starts to make more delicious sounds, his eyes locked on mine, which is just making me delirious. His hands are on my hips, as I start slowly rocking up and down on him. I am aching to move faster, to start jumping up and down with abandon, to feel him filling me up again and again. But I really want to make this last, so I breathe deep, and try to take my time.

His eyes fall from my face to my belly, and he runs his hands from my hips up to my ribcage. He’s noticing how my body has changed in the last two months, and I can see the admiration in his eyes. I pick up the pace just the tiniest bit, which make my breasts start to bounce more, and his hands shoot right up for them. I throw my head back and start moaning, lightly at first. But the urgency I am feeling is getting to be hard to handle, and I have to shift into a faster gear. I angle myself forward a little, placing my hands on his chest for leverage, and I start bringing myself down on him harder, feeling him slide deeper inside me each time, groans escaping me.

I look down at his face. His mouth is wide open, he’s gasping for air, but still holding eye contact. I want to get his permission to bring this home, so I ask him, “May I finish?” He nods at me, and I just let it all go. My thighs lift me all the way up, before slamming back down, over and over, feeling him stretch me open again and again. My throat is open wide, and screams are bursting from me. His breathing is loud, and heavy, but I can tell he’s trying to control himself, to let me finish first. And I do. A huge, powerful, shuddering, shaking climax escapes from me, and while I can’t maintain eye contact the whole time, I do for part of it, and the look of astonishment on his face is priceless. Around the time I am nearing my end, I feel him let himself go, and I delight in watching him – his eyes wide, mouth gasping, back arching, hips bucking. As he shudders out his last few groans, I fall over onto him, and we cling to each other, panting.

We lie like that for several minutes, shaky, panting, clinging. Getting our equilibrium back. Eventually I roll off of him and lie on my side, my head on his shoulder and my arm still gripping his chest. My eyes close, and I try to drink in this feeling of quiet contentment.

Because I know it can’t last forever. After a few more moments in silence, he nuzzles his chin against my forehead. “So how do you feel? Are we back, where we were?”

I grip him even tighter. “I don’t know,” I say. “I want to be, but… it’s hard.”

He sits up a bit. “The way I see it, the only real problem we have here, is that you don’t think the world should end.”

I chuckle at him. “That’s it, huh?”

His face twists into a scowl. “My father owns you, you know. Technically, whether you’re OK with his plan is irrelevant.”

My jaw drops. “But I was lured into this under false pretenses.”

He nods his head. “Well, yeah. I lied to you and you betrayed me, so I think we’re even, there. All that’s left is for you to get on board with the plan, and we can just ride it out together.”

“Michael, that’s not a fair thing to ask of me.”

“Then I’m going to convince you. In the weeks we have left, I will make you see that humanity is no longer sustainable, and it’s time to wipe the slate clean.” He looks dead serious while he’s saying this.

“Well, I guess you can go ahead and try,” I say.  

“I can be very convincing,” he smiles.

“I am aware,” I say, and drop my head back down on his shoulder.

***

“Hey,” he says softly. I’d fallen asleep. “I’m going to run to the office. I need to make a call or two.” I look up at him sleepily, and nod. He pulls on his pants and walks across the room.

I perk up a bit, surprised, when I hear him sit down and turn on the speakerphone. He’s left the office door open. I guess we don’t have anything to hide anymore. I hear a click on the other end. “Hey, this is Jeff.”

“Michael.”

“Hey bro, good to hear your voice! The Battle Ax called us yesterday, man. That’s such great news about the Khalessi.” Oh yeah, my nickname. I smile to myself about that.

“Thanks,” Michael responds. “We’re coming back tonight but probably not until after dinner.”

“OK, cool. We’re psyched to be back in action, man. What do you need?”

“Status update.”

“Yeah, so, the full Cooperative has been notified and they all should be back here within three days. Staff too, but they might take a little longer to wrangle.”

“That’s fine. Anything else?”

“We got one change request in Outpost 3. This hairy old dude literally showed up with a briefcase full of cash. Wants four slots for him and his family. We’re thinking we go ahead, since those Saudi dudes still haven’t paid up.”

“Does he check out?”

“Yeah, so far. He’s a soulless Hollywood billionaire, named, lemme check… St. Pierre Vanderbilt.

“Fine with me as long as he checks out. We gotta keep moving, here.”

I hear you, bro. That’s all I got.”

“Thanks. Talk to you tomorrow.”

St. Pierre Vanderbilt. That name rings in my ear. I sit with it, trying to place it. And then it hits me. That’s Coco’s dad. I remember her talking about his Hollywood money and dubious Hollywood ethics.

So the witches just bought four spots in an Outpost. I don’t see how this helps them prevent the Apocalypse, but knowing that they’re still trying to stop Michael makes me feel… something. I guess relieved. I’d been trying to settle into the idea that my monstrous lover was going to end the world and I needed to just find a way to be OK with that. And here is another option. I need to find out what they’re planning.

Chapter Text

When Michael returns to the bedroom, I sit up. “Did I hear you say we were going back tonight?”

He nodded. “Provided we still have a ride upstairs to take us there.”

“So I get to stay with you?”

“Yeah, until Ms. Mead sees you and tries to lock you up again.”

I roll my eyes. “In that case, can I shower in here?” I ask, gesturing at our fancy bathroom.

“Yup,” he says proudly. “We’ve had hot water since last week.”

Before I head into the shower, I step into the nursery and start flipping through the boxes. The last thing I want to do is put my dirty clothes back on, as I’ve been wearing them since I left the house, and I know that somewhere in here are some maternity things I ordered. I tear into packages, uncovering cloth diapers and burp cloths and onesies.

At one point, Michael steps into the doorway, and looks at me, puzzled. “What the hell, Eve?” he asks.

I’m laughing as I look back at him. “Whatever do you mean?”

“What IS all this shit?”

“Children require a lot of stuff. You told me to get everything we need. That’s what this shit is.”

“OK. So. What are you doing with it right now?”

“Clothes. I should have some clothes in here somewhere. The clothes I arrived in have been on my back since yesterday morning.”

“Ah. Gotcha. Just so you know, there is another closet full of shit waiting for you back at the Compound.”

“Awesome. And I’m sure I’ll think of more in the next few weeks.” He shakes his head at me.

I find the package I’m looking for. “A-ha!” I climb up off the floor, finally ready to head into the bathroom. As I exit the room, Michal is still staring down at the mess, and I kiss him on the cheek as I walk by. “It’s called NESTING, my lord. Look it up.”

***

A half-hour later, I am showered and feeling amazing in my very-stretchy new black dress and very-supportive new undergarments. The cut of this dress really highlights the curve of my belly. I step into the bedroom and look at myself in the full-length mirror for a bit, and remark, “Wow, I am really showing.”

Michael is on the bed, tying his boots back up. “You are indeed.”

Something occurs to me. “Most people at the Compound didn’t know I was pregnant when I left. Do they… know now?

He shakes his head. “No.”

“Whoa.” That had totally slipped my mind. “People are going to freak out.”

He smiles at me. “I’m counting on it. Your return, with child — they’ll find it inspiring. It’s time to get real about my father’s plan, and you are just the kind of good omen they need right now.”

I nod. “I’m glad I can be a useful piece of propaganda for you.”

He shrugs. “Welcome to your life as the First Lady of Darkness.”

*** 

Back up at the front door of the Sanctuary, Michael uses considerable force to pry the giant locking mechanism open, and then we emerge into the night air. The van that had initially dropped us off is now gone, as is Ms. Mead. There is now a sedan, with just one guard, waiting for us.

We walk toward the car and the guard nods. “Mr. Langdon, Miss Florence, good evening. Back to the Compound?”

Michael nods and thanks him. We climb into the backseat together, and as soon as the car starts moving, I realize that I am absolutely starving.

“What time is it?” I ask.

The guard answers. “About 9:00pm.”

“The last meal I had was dinner. In Belgium. And I think that was yesterday.”

“We have about an hour drive to the Compound,” he says.

I groan. Michael gives me a devilish grin. “Wanna go out?”

I look at him, jaw dropped. “Like, to a restaurant?”

He nods. “The offerings in this area are… not exciting. But it’d be faster.”

And this is how the Antichrist and I end up at a Mexican restaurant off of I-64 called Don Tequila. The guard stays in the car.

“Holy HELL I wish I could drink right now,” I say, as we walk through the entrance. It is late enough that the crowd is transitioning from eaters to drinkers, and the beers and margaritas being passed around the room look just heavenly to me.

We sit down, a busboy drops chips and salsa at the table, and I start Hoovering them down like, well, like a pregnant lady who hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. Michael sits there, silently staring at me with a little smirk on his face.

I stop eating and look at him. “You’re really regretting bringing me back right now, aren’t you?”

He laughs. “Not one bit.”

The waiter comes by to take our order. I don’t think I’ve ever really watched Michael interact with a person from outside our community before. He is gracious and polite, but I can tell that our poor waiter is practically pissing his pants with fear.

As he walks away, I comment on this. “That guy is scared shitless right now.”

He nods. “I get that a lot.”

“You aren’t, like, messing with him or anything right now, are you? He’s just picking up a vibe?”

“Did you see his necklace? It’s a Saint Anthony pendant. He’s Catholic.”

“And so… he can just tell? That your dads don’t get along?”

“Without even realizing it, being in my presence is shaking him to his core right now. Making him question everything he thought he knew about God. And that’s what’s frightening him,” Michael explains.

“So tell me, then. Why does that guy deserve to die?”

He shakes his head. “That guy, specifically, probably doesn’t. But the collective death of all the people who contribute to the scourge of organized religion – that will create a better world.”

“Uh-huh, fine. But don’t you feel bad about that guy? I’m sure he’s kind and hardworking and loves his family. And in about a month, he’ll be strolling down the street and just… end. Because of you. Tell me how you manage to square that.”

“You have to shift your focus. I am not ending one man, or one billion men. I am ending the world. And I am not doing it alone – the Cooperative and I have been called into service by my father. As have you, I remind you.”

At this moment, the terrified waiter reappears and wordlessly hands us our plates. Michael smiles up at him, his brilliant boyish smile, with his eyes sparkling. And then I watch the waiter’s face transition – the terror disappears. He looks grateful, and appreciative. And he smiles and walks away. Michael turns to me. “Better?”

“Is that how you land me every night?”

He nods. “Pretty much.”

***

A half-hour later, I am so stuffed I can barely move, and I feel a need to get myself to bed, immediately. The waiter returns with the check, and now he’s looking at Michael like he wants them to run off into the sunset together. It’s kinda fascinating, definitely adorable, but a little unsettling to think of all the times I’d been under his spell like that. Eh. Who needs free will?

We head to the car, I place my head on his shoulder and fall asleep as soon as we start moving. It’s about 11:00pm when we arrive at the Compound, and the place is pretty quiet. Michael ushers me up to our room, gets me into bed, and I pass out.

I sleep the sleep of the dead, for nearly 10 hours. When I wake up, Michael has gotten up and left the room already. I get myself up and showered, happy to have a few moments to myself, and I dress in the only outfit I have up here that still fits me — my trusty skater dress. Though it’s rising a little higher in the front now. I put a little time and effort into my hair and makeup, since I want to look presentable for all the reunification moments that I’ll be having today.

At about 10:30, I step out of the room. I’d missed breakfast, so I’m guessing Michael is behind one of these locked doors, back at work. There’s only one place for me to go. I step into the elevator and head down to the lobby. It’s pretty empty down there, and I’m thankful; for all I know, Michael has some big debut moment planned for me later, and I should be staying out of sight. But I can’t help myself.

I peek in the kitchen window. I can see Edward and Greg, standing at a prep table. When I see Greg step away and head into the store room, I sneak in the door quietly, step up behind Edward, and cover his eyes with my hands. “Guess who?” I ask.

“Shit… Abuelita?” He guesses. I start laughing, let him go, he turns around and screams. He throws his arms around me and jumps up and down, shrieking like a teenage girl. And then he stops, suddenly, steps back, pointing at my belly. “Girl, is there a tiny Antichrist in there?”

I nod, still laughing at him. His jaw drops and he is silent. “I was just a few months in when I got kidnapped; now I’m about halfway,” I say.

“Daaaaaaamn,” he says. “I mean, are you all right? What the hell have you been through?”

“I was trapped in a house with witches. Until Michael found me. Seriously, as kidnappings go, it was pretty tolerable. Val was there, too.”

“So did they grab you both together?”

“No,” I pause. “She was the one who gave me up,” I say. I’d figured he already knew this part of the story. “Didn’t they interrogate you about it?”

“No, not about Val. Just you.”

“Huh. Maybe you’re not supposed to know that. Pretend I never said it.”

“So is she back now, too?”

“No, she’s still with the witches. If Michael finds her, she’s dead.”

“I am so glad you’re back. It’s been crazy here without you. Michael sent the whole Cooperative away to look for you, so work’s been real easy… but everyone has been on edge. When we didn’t go to the Sanctuary, when the end didn’t come… a lot of people had a real crisis of faith.”

I nod. “Well, it’s all back on now.”

“And you’re back upstairs?”

“I think so. Ms. Mead seems to have had other plans for me, but Michael just seems to be ignoring them.”

“And are you coming back to work?”

I pause for a moment. “I assume so? I'm not sure. I guess I need to talk to Michael about that.”

“Well, we’ve putting out some sub-par desserts without you.”

“Ah, I didn’t get replaced?” I ask.

“Oh, hell no. No one dared ask what would happen if you didn’t return.”

Edward and I spend a few more minutes gushing over each other—how great I look, how much I’ve missed him. And then I figure it’s time to make my retreat before too many more people show up. “I’ll be back down here soon, my dear. I’ll keep you posted.”

“You better. Thrilled -- SO thrilled -- to have you back!”

We exchanged air kisses and I scurry out of there.

***

I head back up to the bedroom, locate my iPad, and sit down. All of my lists of baby stuff are there, and I am lost without them; it’s tricky to shop for all the phases of a child’s life in one go. Especially when you’re new to this and don’t actually have any idea what you’re doing. I locate the key to our storage closet, and crack it open – it’s still totally full. I start unpacking.

A few hours later, our bed is covered with neatly organized piles of clothes by size, and I’ve sorted the other supplies, by type, into the empty cardboard boxes – cloth diapers, nursing stuff, feeding stuff, etc. The mountain of trash behind me is out of control, and I still have quite a ways to go. There’s another pile forming next to me of stuff to send back. In my haste, I’d ordered a lot of things in the wrong size, or wrong model – bottle caps that don’t fit my bottles, diaper covers that don’t fit my diapers. I am going to suck at this.

I am sitting on the bedroom floor, trying to figure out how to re-wrap these return packages, when Michael walks in. He looks down at me, and I see a mix of bewilderment and irritation on his face, and I attempt to shield myself by appealing to his paternal instincts – I hide my face with a red onesie that says “Daddy’s Little Devil.”

He bursts out laughing. I look up at him. “This is ridiculous, I know. Gimme a few days, and I’ll get it under control.”

He shakes his head, and drops down to the floor next to me. “I can find someone to help you, you know.”

I nod. “I think I need to get all this shit to the Sanctuary, so I can put it all together and see what I’m still missing. Can someone take me over?”

“Sure,” he says. “I’m heading over this afternoon.”

“Awesome. I want this mess out of here.”

He slides down so he’s laying on his side, and pulls me down in front of him. He wraps his arms around me, and we lie there, spooning among a sea of plastic crap. We sit in silence for a moment, and then I spit out the question I’ve been dying to ask him. “Do you have any intuition about what this kid will be like? More like you? Or more like me?”

He’s quiet for a moment. “What I know is that this kid will know who he is. From day one. Maybe he’ll have powers, maybe he won’t. But he will not suffer years of confusion. And abandonment. Like I did.”

I squeeze his arms a little tighter. “OK, now I have to ask… you seem so certain that it’ll be a boy. It is possible that it won’t be, you know.”

He chuckles. “That’s my father’s doing. He’s always called him a son, a prince. They’re just words.

We lie there for a good while longer, and I am feeling more comfortable and excited than I have in a long time.

Chapter Text

The next few days are a little monotonous, but the part of me that is in nesting mode is feeling happier and happier, as the hours go by. We move all the stuff to the Sanctuary, I finish sorting, updating my lists. Every day I buy more stuff, every day more packages arrive, and every day I hand the front desk a few things to return. Michael requests that I keep myself kinda hidden until all the Cooperative members have returned, so there can be a big moment where he reveals to them that I am back. And knocked up! So I keep my head down, keep working through my lists.

I am in the bedroom sorting through maternity clothes when there is a knock at the door. It’s the latest UPS delivery – four packages this time. I thank Henry, the sweetheart front desk guy who has been so accommodating, and throw the new loot down on the bed.

The first package is books. Some for me, some for the baby. Next is nursing bras. The third is a dress that I’m excited to try on – when Michael told me there would be a “big reveal” moment, I’d rush-ordered a long flowy black Grecian-style gown that, I hope, will make me look like a dark-yet-fertile goddess.

The last one is from a baby store, but I don’t recognize it. Inside is a set of muslin swaddle blankets. I have no memory of ordering them, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t… There’s so much to keep track of. I open the plastic around the blankets, and start to unroll them, smiling at how soft and comfy they seem. A little pouch drops into my lap. It’s made from the same muslin and I almost didn’t notice it. It has a drawstring and I open it up, and gasp.

It’s the sapphire and black diamond choker. The one Michael had given me. The one I’d found in the witches’ closet, back at the house. The only other item in the pouch is a small card. With an address for a P.O. box in Louisiana.

It comes back to me, clear as day. The conversation I’d had with Val about how she had smuggled her letters to the witches out so surreptitiously. I’d been impressed with her ingenuity, and commented that it had been a lot harder for her than it would’ve been for me. Shit, I’m sending and receiving packages of baby stuff every day, and no one pays them any mind, I had said. So… this was her. Reaching out to me.

I hold the necklace and card in my hands for about five seconds. I walk over to my dresser and return the necklace to the box where it had been before. I re-pack the blankets in the package they’d arrived in, and create a new label for it, addressed to the P.O. box. I fetch some paper from the nightstand, and sit down to write a letter.

My Valerie,

You stirred a feeling in me, wherein I literally felt that the fate of the world was in my hands. I thank you, for believing in me, and for believing I could hold that kind of power. Since my return, it’s become apparent to me that Michael’s plan will happen, regardless of my actions. His father will prevail. And I can do nothing to stop him, because I am his property, as much as is any member of the Cooperative.

So I thank you to no longer reach out to me – I cannot be a party to anything you all are planning. I wish you well in your remaining days, however many they may be. You were my best friend here, and my lover, and I will continue to think nothing but warm thoughts about you in my remaining days.

The only thing I can offer is my silence. I know you all are planning something in Outpost Three. Michael does not suspect, and I will not tell him what I know. I fail to see what you all can do, when the end has already come and gone, so I’ll just leave it be, and wish good luck to you. And goodbye.

Your Evelyn

I read and re-read the letter a few times, and… I can’t say I feel good about it, but I feel right. So this is where I am coming down, at last. I sit with it for a moment. Someone is asking me to help them stop the Apocalypse, and I am choosing to… not. I put the letter into the package, tape it up, and leave it on the dresser.

Then I grab my new gown and try it on. It gives me *exactly* the silhouette I was hoping for, and I stare at myself in the mirror for a while. A smile stretches slowly across my face, and in this moment, I feel more powerful than I have in a long time.

“Ave Satanas,” I say to my reflection.