I got the text in the late afternoon.
I was wrapping things up in the lab, weary from a long day of no progress on the Castor protein. I would have stayed all night if it hadn't been for Scott begging me to take a break, begging me to get some rest.
"Go," he said. "Perhaps you'll have an answer in the morning."
"What about you?"
"I'll stay, if only to keep these matrixes running. I don't expect much, but who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky."
"Yeah, maybe," I said. "Maybe you're right."
I sighed, slipping my lab coat from my shoulders and setting it on the back of the chair.
I picked up my bag, said my goodbyes, and headed for the elevator.
And that's when I heard it, a little vibration and bell. It rang out from somewhere deep inside my purse. I reached in and dug around. When I pulled the phone out, the notifications screen was lit up with a single message from Delphine.
You've been a bad girl.
That was it. There was nothing else, no message that clarified my crime, no message demanding explanations or listing repercussions. But it didn't matter. I knew what it meant.
Somewhere in my chest, my weary heart beat a little faster. A rush of adrenalin. A flush of heat. Fear and excitement tangled together in the pit of my stomach, at the base of my spine. I pushed the elevator close button and held my breath all the way to the first floor.
I stood in the lobby of DYAD, my thumb running idly over the screen.
What do you want me to do?
I waited, my hands tucked into my pockets and my mind racing at the possibilities. Did she know about the book? Did she know about the Castor clones? Did she know about the deal with Rachel? Was she coming back to DYAD? Or…
Go to my apartment. Wait for me.
Or, was she back already?
Forget beating, my heart was pounding, pounding against my weary ribs in a way that I was not used to. Blood rushed from my head, rushed to places that had been dormant for weeks.
I called the company car. I crawled into the back seat, and I let it take me to her place. And when I opened the door to her apartment, the lights flickered on to invite me in. The place was as welcoming as the DYAD offices—sleek, cold, meant to intimidate.
I had once laid my scarf over the lamp in her bedroom in an effort to soften up the place. I smiled when I saw that she hadn't removed it. I set my bag on the bed, and pulled the scarf away, watching the purple silk slip from the lamp shade. It had been one of my favorite scarves, and so I was happy to see it again, but shocked to realize that I had not missed it at all.
I ran the thing through my fingers, the smooth texture sending chills through me. I held it in my fist as I pulled off my coat, as I pulled off my stockings, as I pulled off my dress and turquoise jewelry. No, I didn't let the thing go, not even as I stripped down, slipped out of my bra and panties, and set them neatly aside.
I reached for the night stand drawer. I pulled it open.
I felt another flush of heat. It ran from the floor of my feet up to the inside of my thighs. I squeezed my legs together at the sight.
A set of handcuffs. And another. And another. Three sets lined up neatly as if untouched. A bundle of rope. A long switch wrapped in soft brown leather. A blindfold made of black silk. A wooden paddle. A feather. A harness.
I reached for the smallest pair of handcuffs, but took nothing else. Those were not mine to touch, save for the blindfold.
But I didn't need the blindfold. No, I didn't need it at all. I had something better.
I shook out the scarf until the cool fabric covered both of my legs and draped over my knees. Slowly―mindfully―I rolled the scarf up into my hands, feeling it catch against my skin, against the fine hairs of my upper thigh.
I brought it to my own face, covering my own eyes and waving a hand before my nose to check for coverage. Even folded as it was, the fabric was not completely opaque. I could still make out the form of my hand in the lamp light, but I decided to keep this secret to myself.
I tied it at the back of my head. Next, without the help of my eyes, I slipped the handcuffs over one wrist, and then the other. It was not easy to do this by myself, but it was something I had gotten the hang of.
And when I was finished, I simply sat there, on the edge of her bed, hands behind my back and eyes hidden beneath my purple scarf.
She has finally come home, I thought.
But between these thoughts were darker ones, worries about her message, her accusation. She said that I had been a bad girl. And it was true. I had done many things while she was away. I wondered how she knew, and how much she knew.
Of course, she knows, I thought. It's her job to know.
And I wondered if she knew about me. Surely, she had been receiving reports about my vitals, about the downward trend in my health. But did she know about the other things? The things that did not show up in any report―the doubts, the depression, the lackluster desire to save my own life.
She had said it was my job to heal.
To heal how? I thought.
I sat alone in the room and wondered.
How can I heal without you?
I smiled again. Because now she was coming back. Now she was on her way. And it didn't matter how long it took her to get there, because I knew she was coming, and every moment that I waited for her, my anticipation grew. Soon, I would not be alone.
I smiled because I had been a bad girl. I smiled because maybe...just maybe...I knew that the Castor DNA would get her attention. I knew she would not be able to resist the information, and I knew she would not be able to discuss it from Frankfurt. I knew she would have to come back.
"I knew it," I whispered to myself.
"Knew what?" she said behind me.
I flinched, but I didn't turn my head.
I heard her footsteps as she crossed the room. The ghost of her shadow appeared, dull red beneath my blindfold. I smelled her perfume as she leaned close to me.
"Knew what?" she repeated.
Her hair brushed against my bare shoulder. I smelled cigarettes on her breath, a habit she had said she wanted to quit, but I guess we all have our vices.
"Nothing," I said.
"Just that I've been a bad girl."
"Yes," she said as she stood up. "But let's talk about that after my shower. Get on your knees."
"I said, get on your knees. I want you to bend over the side of the bed. I want to see you while I take my shower."
I clenched my fists in my handcuffs and slid from the side of the bed. She made no effort to help me, but I felt her watching me, her presence strong over my shoulder as I shimmied into place, until finally I was kneeling over the side of the bed, with my hands behind my back and my face down against her expensive duvet. It smelled like her, not like her perfume, but like her, like the salt and sweat of her body. I took a deep breath.
"Comfortable?" she said.
"Mhhmm," I said into the duvet.
I felt her take a step toward me. It was a subtle shift in the carpet at my feet. I felt her reach a hand out. It was a subtle heat just above the skin of my arm. But then, as though she thought better of it, she stepped away again.
"Don't move. I will be watching."
And I knew it was true. The shower stall was made of glass, you see. And I, too, had once been pressed up against it, my face pressed against the glass with her behind me. I, too, had seen the bed from that angle, and so I knew that at that very moment, my exposed ass was in her direct line of sight.
The thought excited me.
I felt the urge to grind my hips, to push my pelvis down against the soft corner of the mattress, to feel the pressure of it against my pubic bone. But she had told me not to move and I knew better than to disobey.
But the longer I waited for her―the longer I felt her gaze on my back, on my legs, on the bottoms of my feet―the more restless I grew.
Where I had been weary before, I was now restless. My skin crawled with the need to move. A cough tickled the back of my throat, but I bit it back. A draft chilled the back of my arms, but I held my shivers still. A growing desire pulsed in my clit, but I held that still, too.
It was only when I heard her turn the faucet off that I broke my vigilance.
I knew she would reach for her towel, that she would cover her whole head with it, that she would shake out her curls and squeeze them dry.
I listened for the shower door. I listened for that, the subtlest of sounds―the sound of the towel sliding off the rack.
And when I heard it, I bucked hard against the side of the bed, and that one thrust―my secret pleasure stolen when she wasn't looking―that one thrust sent a shock of pleasure through me.
I heard her bare feet on the bathroom floor, on the bedroom carpet, and then right next to me.
She pulled open the nightstand drawer without a word. She paused, deliberating silently. Then she pulled something out, something that sounded like leather and buckles.
I ground down against the bed, ever so slightly. I hoped she wouldn't notice, but of course she did.
I felt the switch come down against my open palms―not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to sound.
"I said don't move."
I whimpered into the mattress and she moved off.
My palm tingled where she had struck me. I opened and closed my fist as I listened to the sound of leather and buckles behind me. I heard her pull a strap tight, and then another. I heard her moan to herself real low, so low that maybe she thought I didn't hear her.
But of course I did. I heard everything with that scarf over my eyes. I listened with my whole body, the hairs standing up on my neck, on my arms, on my back. I listened with my knees and my feet, feeling the carpet stretch beneath us as, beneath her weight as she moved around me.
I heard the sound, the rubbery sound as she set it in place, as she pulled it through the loop. I even heard her hand on the silicone, and another low moan. I knew that she had her hand on it—the cock that she was going to fuck me with.
I heard her breath. I heard her mouth as she licked her own lips. I heard her pick something up from the nightstand.
I braced myself against the bed in anticipation of the stinging blow, the one that I knew was coming—my punishment, my repercussion.
I clenched my teeth. I clenched my legs. I clenched my stomach.
I heard her step close. I felt her standing right over me. And though my face was pressed into the mattress and my eyes were covered, I knew how she would look. I knew she was holding her own cock in her hand. I knew she was staring at me, at my back, and my legs, at my ass and pussy which were so exposed in that position.
"Well?" she said. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Sorry for what?"
"Sorry that I was bad."
"And when were you going to tell me about that Castor brain? When were you going to tell me about the new genome? About the protein?"
"I didn't want to bother you."
The strike had landed right across the top of my thighs, sending fire up into my belly. That was no tease. That was intention and I felt it.
"Don't lie to me," she said cooly.
"I wanted to know more before I brought you into the loop."
My thighs burned, and the heat radiated through my legs, through my feet. I was growing wetter by the second.
"I won't say it again," she warned, running the soft leather tip of the switch along the curve of my ass. "Why did you keep this secret from me?"
There was nothing in my mouth, but still, I could not speak. I pushed my face into the duvet and clenched my eyes shut.
"Why?" she whispered, almost gently.
She pulled the switch away. She set it down. I heard her open the nightstand drawer once again. I heard her grab something, and even before I felt it on my cheek, I knew what it was.
The wooden paddle, flat and solid.
She pressed it against my cheek, just so that I could be sure.
"Why, Cosima?" she whispered again. "Oh, I see. You don't want to talk?"
Still, I said nothing.
She sighed and pulled the paddle away.
"I've just arrived from Frankfurt. I'm really very tired. I'm afraid I don't have much patience for your silence right now."
The paddle bit at my ass cheek, stinging like a bee sting. I bucked my hips forward and cried out. Immediately, she held my hips still with her free hand, and I heard her raise the paddle up once more.
"Why did you keep it secret from me?"
"Because I don't trust you, Delphine!"
There was a moment, when she stood over me with the paddle raised, when I expected the strike to land, when I both braced myself against the pain, and opened myself up to it.
But the pain never came.
Instead, she plopped herself down on the bed next to me, her weight shaking me and the mattress both. Then her hands were on my blindfold, fumbling with the knot at my neck.
"No!" I said. "No, don't take it off!"
"I'm too tired for this, Cosima," she said. "Just talk to me."
"No," I said. "I can't. Just finish, please."
She stroked my cheek, the same cheek she had just pressed flat a few moments before. But then her hand was gone. She sighed heavily and pushed herself off the bed.
"Fine," she said through clenched teeth. "You say you don't trust me, but here you are, face down, ass up in front of me."
She had traded the paddle for the feather which she ran is slow circles over my back, and then straight down the crack of my ass, stopping before she touched my pussy.
Then she leaned over me, grabbing me by the hips and pulling me further off the mattress. In one swift, aggressive move, she lifted me up by my hips, and knocked my knees out, so that I was suddenly spread wide open for her.
"I could be wrong," she said, "but it seems to me like you trust me quite a lot."
"You lied to me," I said. "Many times."
She moved the feather in circles on my newly exposed inner thigh. It felt so good, I could hardly speak, could hardly keep my voice straight.
"I was protecting you," she said. "You know that."
"I…" I stuttered. "I don't want you to protect me."
"Then why did you bring me back here?"
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"You didn't think I would notice that you had a Castor brain? You didn't think I'd notice that you were using DYAD labs? You didn't do it just to force me to return?"
"No, I didn't know."
"What did I say about lying?"
"Fine! Fine! I guessed. I guessed that you might know. That you might come back."
"That I might be…" CRACK! "...upset?"
"Yes," I whimpered.
"What else are you not telling me, Cosima?"
"Nothing," I lied.
She ran the tip of the switch over my pussy. It was a threat. I held my breath. If she was going to strike me, I would let her. I would not cry out. I bit my lip and held my breath.
But she was an expert at distraction. I had expected her strike between my legs, but that was not where she struck. No, within an instant, she had me by the hair, pulling just enough to hurt, just enough to make me lift my head back.
She leaned over me. I caught whiff of her shampoo.
"Say you trust me, Cosima."
"No, I want you to say it."
"I trust you."
"Say, 'I trust you, Delphine.'"
I said the words through clenched teeth.
"Say, 'I'm sorry I kept secrets.' Say, 'I will never keep secrets again.'"
I did what she said and she let me go. I fell back onto the mattress.
"There," she said. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
I said nothing in response.
She stepped away, and within seconds her hands were on my ass, grabbing and stroking my asscheeks as her breathing deepened. Then she she ran her fingertip over the tender skin on my upper thighs.
"You're so red," she said. "Does it hurt?"
"Yes. Yes, it hurts...but, I like it."
Her hand moved up. She ran her finger along the outer edge of my vagina, careful to avoid my clit or any of the other sensitive parts.
"You're so wet," she said. "Are you aroused?"
"Yes, very much."
"Do you trust me?"
"Will you tell me everything?"
And that's when I felt it, the tip of her cock against me. She ran it up and down my pussy, sliding it easily because I was so wet. She ran the tip against my clit in gentle circles meant to tease me.
"What are you not telling me?" she whispered.
"Fine, but I won't fuck you until I hear the truth."
We were at a stand off. I didn't want to tell her everything. I didn't want to give it all away. But I also did. I wanted her to rip it from me, because it was a burden too big for me. I didn't want to carry it anymore. I didn't want to be responsible for my own health, for my own recovery, for my own life.
"We have a book," I said.
She pushed the tip in, ever so slightly.
"Ethan Duncan's book, but it's in code. We can't read it."
"Then who can?"
I bit my lip. "I don't know."
"Who can?" she repeated.
She pulled out what little of the tip was inside me. She pulled out and away so that it wasn't even touching me anymore.
Just tell her, I told myself. Just let her take it from you. Just let her take care of you, for once.
"Rachel…" I whimpered. "Rachel can."
"Rachel? Is that why her and Scott have been spending so much time together?"
The tip of her cock was back. She pushed it in slowly, slower than I was used to.
"Good girl," she muttered, her raspy voice revealing the height of her arousal.
She grabbed me by my hips and pulled me toward her, growling deep in her throat. And then she started it up, her fierce rhythm. I tried to turn my head, to catch glimpse of even a shadow of her, but she pushed my face forward. She pinned me down by my shoulders as she thrust into me, quickly and mercilessly. I tried to meet her, tried to arch my back and meet her stroke for stroke, but she was so fast and so strong. I couldn't keep up.
"Don't move," she said. "Just take it."
Her words released me of any obligation to perform for her. I relaxed my head onto the bed and let her do the work. I let her fill me over and over with sensation, with shocks of pleasure. She grunted above me and the bed sighed below, with me in the middle moaning into the mattress until my moans melted into murmurs and my murmurs into a reluctant tear or two.
"Do you want me to stop?" she said from behind me.
"No," I murmured.
And she didn't stop, not in the slightest, but she did slow. She slowed and she fell forward onto my back.
She kissed my shoulders and neck as she thrust against me, so slowly. She wrapped her arm around my neck, pinning me like a wrestler. Her weight pushed down on me from above, her cock pushed into me from behind, and the mattress pushed up on me from below. I was swallowed in the sensation of it, of her rhythm, of her slow fuck.
"There's more," I said.
"Tell me," she said as she kissed my shoulder. "Tell me everything."
"The day you left for Frankfurt…"
Her thrusting grew stronger, her grip around my neck tighter.
"The day you left, I think I almost died…"
At that, she paused, her body suddenly rigid on my back, her cock still deep inside me.
"I don't mean that metaphorically," I continued. "I mean that, like, I actually almost died. And I had this out of body experience—I don't know. But I saw my body from above, and I saw you…"
"And I came back for you," I said.
She pulled the scarf from my eyes. She kissed my cheek over and over.
"No, don't stop!" I cried. "Don't you dare stop fucking me now!"
She pushed into me again as she kissed my face.
"I came back for you, Delphine, and then you left me."
I turned my face into the mattress. I couldn't bare to look at her.
"I never left you," she said over my shoulder. "I never left you."
Her thrusts became deeper, harder. She pulled away, in order to get more leverage. She slammed into me, over and over, and I kept my face down, kept my eyes closed.
I paid attention only to her, to the places her body connected with mine, to the sweat between us, to the wetness that dripped down the inside of my thigh. I paid attention to these things, and the way we seemed to be melting into each other.
As my climax approached, I felt my anxieties melt away, too. The sting of her wounds faded in comparison to the sensation of our bodies in synch, the sensation of oneness that comes from the flood of oxytocin and all of those other love drugs.
"I came back for you," I whimpered. "I'm yours."
She relented in her fierce rhythm as she fumbled to release the handcuffs from my wrists.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, you are mine. But you are yours, too."
My hands suddenly free, I reached beneath myself. I touched my clit, laying all of my weight—and all of her weight—against my hand. She thrust against the back of me, and I felt each thrust like a promise. But then she paused again.
She leaned way back, her cock barely inside me, and she reached between us. Her excited moan let me know that she was touching herself. She gasped and grunted for a moment, moving just enough for the tip of her cock to pulse up and down. I thought for a moment that she was fucking herself, but then…
Her wet fingertip pressed against my ass, rubbing vigorously—desperately—against it. I cried out when I knew what she was after. I arched my back, pushing my ass back toward her, so that her cock slipped into me even as her finger pressed hungrily against my ass. I heard her grunt and spit behind me. "Take it...take it...take it…"
I did. Slowly, she moved into me. I felt her completely.
She fell forward again, wrapping her arm around my neck and burying her face into my shoulder.
My hands are not tied. My eyes are not closed. I do not have to heal myself alone.
"I came back for you, too," she whispered.
She smothered me with her body, with her sweat, with her kisses and her love. We rocked against the corner of that mattress. We rocked together and we breathed together. We moaned together in haphazard harmonies.
This was not thrusting. This was grinding. There was no need for thrust with her finger inside me like that. I felt every move, every rotation and tilt. There was only a need for a closeness—a presence and closeness.
"I came back," she repeated over and over, as if the more she said it, the more I might believe it.
I lifted my head, knowing my climax was close. I turned to see her, just there over my shoulder. She met my mouth with her messy kisses. I reached around to touch her head, and I was surprised to find her curls—frizzy, damp, and fresh from the shower. I grabbed a handful of them and cried out.
"I came back," she said again. "I'm here. I'm...I'm…"
She didn't have to say it. I already knew. I knew by the way she stopped her fucking, by the her torso tightened against my back, by the way she clutched so tightly at my neck that I could hardly breathe. She held her breath, too, her whole body shuddering over me. She bit the back of my neck and moaned through her orgasm.
And it was this last little bite, this last little point of sensation that set me off, that sent sharp bursts of pleasure through my body.
My body, I thought. Still alive. Still mine.
Delphine collapsed onto my back, our bodies slick with sweat. Her heart pounded into my spine, even as my orgasm rippled through me in short aftershocks. Her heart pounded against my back, and my pulse pounded around her finger. We were both in synch, and out. I smiled at the feeling.
I felt so warm there beneath her. So safe. So taken care of. So protected.
Several moments later, she peeled herself away from me. She discarded her harness onto the floor, then she was at my side, helping me onto the bed, laying my legs out and checking for any signs of distress.
"I was too rough," she whispered. "I shouldn't be so rough in your condition. Are you hurt?"
"No," I said. "No, come here. Just stay here."
She sat beside me, looking down and touching my face, the lamp behind her head, lighting her up with a halo, not unlike the vision I'd had of her that day. She stroked my cheek and smiled.
"No more secrets," she whispered.
"No more trips to Frankfurt."
"No more lies."
But there was no way to say it. No way to ask for no more abandonment. It was an awful thing to have to ask for.
I looked away.
"Cosima," she said, reaching for my hand. "I fell in love with you when I wasn't supposed to."
"I wasn't supposed to because it would interfere with my job, my mission."
"So I tried to end it. I thought it was the best."
"You don't have to explain."
"But it's too late, isn't it? I can't stop loving you and I can't leave you. I can't protect you if I'm far away. But that also means I can't protect the others...your sisters."
"I know," I said.
I grabbed her hand, suddenly full of gratitude for her, for my life, for everything.
I thought I should thank someone for my luck, whisper a silent prayer to some deity somewhere, but I knew of no deity to thank. Nor did I even know how to pray.
I touched her face and stared, basking in awe of her. I smiled and let the gratitude wash through me. That was my prayer. That was the best I knew how to do.
"Cosima...staying here with you might turn out to be a huge mistake," she said. "Are you willing to accept the repercussions?"
"Yes," I said. "Is that selfish?"
"Non," she said, leaning in for a kiss. "Non, that is love."