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Prudence, Chapter 55

Mark woke to a ringing telephone and warm bodies curled up on either side of him. Apparently Kayla and Aaron had arrived at some point while he was asleep and simply crawled in with him and passed out. He fumbled groggily for the phone, trying to untangle his hand from one of Kayla's predatory curls. "Yeah?" he asked, blinking and looking around for an apparently non-existent clock.

"I need to crash now," Steven said. "She still hasn't woken up, but she's off the respirator and they're moving her and Angie to a semi-private room."

"Oh." Mark finally located the clock. 10:38 AM. Five or so hours of sleep. Not bad. He could function on that. "Okay. Gimme a couple of minutes to wake Kayla and Aaron. Looks like they crashed as soon as they got here."

"She's in transit right now, anyway. Should be settled in by the time you get here," Steven said. "Wait there for me, though. I gave the kids my key."

Mark agreed and hung up the phone, then nudged the two somnolent teenagers. Kayla blinked up at him sleepily. "Mmm?"

"We need to wake up," he said quietly. "They're moving Kristen and Angie to their own room."

"Oh!" She sat up quickly, tousled curls falling around her shoulders, rubbing at her eyes. "I'm awake! She's still okay, then?"

"You saved their lives, Kayla," Mark said, as he nudged Aaron again. The boy's lashes fluttered, then his eyes opened and he smiled sleepily up at him before sitting up. He was wearing a large shirt, at least several sizes too large for him, which made him look incredibly young and fragile.

"I wasn't sure we were actually doing anything," Kayla said, anxiously... guiltily, too, Mark realized, as Aaron shot him a pleading look and then reached for her hand. Mark bent to kiss Aaron's forehead, then wrapped an arm around Kayla's waist. "You were," he promised. "You healed that damaged lifebond, Kayla. I watched it. You did it."

She bit her lip. "But did she wake up, Mark?"

He shook his head. "Not yet, but she's off the respirator."

"God... respirator..." She shuddered. "Too close."

Mark nodded, and then looked thoughtful. "Yes. But you did save her. It helped, it really did. And we might barely have time for a quick session to raise a little extra energy before Steven gets here..."

She ran a hand through her hair. "Are you sure it got to her?" she asked. "I felt like such a total bitch, having sex while I didn't even know what was happening to her..."

He nodded, squeezing her gently. "I watched it, Kayla. You healed that bond. You saved two lives last night. She flatlined, and they'd given up... and then your energy touched her."

She shuddered again, hiding her face against his shoulder.

"You saved her," he repeated firmly, but she shook her head.

"Something saved her. How or what, I don't care," she said.

"You did. I can... tell the difference between you and me and her and Aaron. And it was you."

She peered up at him curiously. "How?"

"Um. Well, I sort of 'see' it. In colors. You're green, I'm blue, Kristen is gold, and Aaron is silver."

"Ah... okay," she said uncertainly. "I guess that sort of makes sense for some reason."

"And wherever the green touched, it healed the lifebond a little," he said, then hesitated. "So, do we want to try for a bit more, real quick? In the shower maybe?"

"Um... no," Kayla said. "It's not a real long walk from the hospital to the hotel. Let Steven in first."

"Okay," he said, then frowned. "Wait... first?"

"First what?"

"You said let Steven in first," he said, wondering if he were less awake than he thought he was.

"Right," she said. "Let Steven in so he can go to bed, then we'll try and raise some energy... quickly... and then we'll go see Kristen."

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised. I hadn't thought you'd be willing to have sex with him right out here."

"Huh?" She looked confused for a minute, then laughed. "Mark, there are three bedrooms in this suite."

He looked around. "Oh. I guess that shows how tired I was."

Kayla laughed again, and kissed him before crawling out of bed and heading for the bathroom. Aaron was padding about, looking for a coffeemaker, and Mark was looking for his shoes under the bed when Steven knocked.

His father-in-law looked awful. Steven seemed completely exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes, and uncharacteristic stubble on his gaunt cheeks. He stumbled into the room when Mark opened the door, and leaned tiredly against the wall. "Okay. If there's no objection, I'm going to bed. You have my cellphone number. Call if there's any change."

Mark promised they would, and Steven headed for the far bedroom.

***

Once they were alone again, Mark noticed that Kayla and Aaron both seemed slightly nervous, with Kayla being more so and a bit guilty as well.

He sat down on the bed and looked at them, frowning. "What's wrong?"

Aaron glanced over at Kayla and blushed, then lowered his eyes.

She sighed and looked away. "I was scared to death. I've never been further from aroused in my life. I was angry, too."

Aaron looked down, then. "It was my idea," he said softly.

Worried, but not having a clue what the problem might be, Mark raised an eyebrow. "And?"

Kayla's shoulders hunched, and her face was full of guilt. "Aaron, show him."

The boy hesitated, his hands clutching the front of the shirt almost protectively. "It was my idea, Sir," he said in a rush. "Not hers. I thought it would help her."

"Just show me," Mark said, trying not to jump to any conclusions.

Aaron nodded, and reluctantly unbuttoned the shirt and slipped it off. He turned to show Mark his back, bowing his head.

Beside him, Kayla gasped, her eyes widening in horror. Aaron's back was criss-crossed with angry welts, and most of the skin was covered in deep purple and blue bruises. It was also broken in several places, the small splits crusted in dried blood. "Oh god! Aaron... Aaron, why didn't you stop me," Kayla whispered, her voice trembling. "Why didn't you say something. Oh, gods help me... I didn't know it was that bad!"

"You wanted to," Aaron said, his eyes locked on the floor. "You enjoyed it. I wanted you to enjoy it. i thought it would turn you on."

Mark finally managed to stop staring and turn to Kayla. "What happened?"

"He... he suggested I whip him," she whispered miserably. "With a belt. Something physical and violent, to... to arouse me. Something to distract me. I didn't know... it didn't look like that last night!" She sounded on the verge of tears.

If Mark had had a different set of friends, he would have been totally at a loss for how to deal with it. But he had at least known people who were into the kinky side of things, and while he'd never really understood how some people could like being hurt, he knew that some of them honestly, truly did. It was hard to believe, though, that anyone could really want the kind of beating that would leave marks like that, though, but he was trying hard to keep an open mind. He looked at Aaron, tilting the boy's chin up so that he could see his face. "Did you enjoy it?"

He blushed. "I... don't know," he said. "It hurt worse than I thought it would. But it did work. And I wanted it, even if I didn't enjoy it."

Mark nodded thoughtfully, then turned to Kayla. "Did you enjoy it?"

She nodded, ashamed. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she whispered, and he made his decision.

"Hey now, love, it's okay," he said, brushing her hair back from her face. "Don't freak out about it. Do you honestly think you're the only person to get off on this sort of thing?"

"No," she said, miserably. "I'm sure there are lots of psychopaths out there."

He shook his head. "Not psychopaths. I'm surprised you don't already know about this sort of thing. Some people like to be beaten, and some people like to beat them." And some people needed to invest in a couple gallons of arnica gel, it seemed. "As long as it's consensual, I don't see the problem."

"It's not consensual if he won't say no!" she snapped.

Mark looked back at Aaron. "Would you have told her to stop if you didn't want it?" he asked. He expected the boy to agree immediately, and was a bit taken aback when, instead, he didn't seem to want to answer the question. Mark frowned. "Would you?" he insisted.

Aaron lowered his eyes. "No, Sir," he said quietly, as if he knew it wasn't the answer Mark wanted to hear.

Which was most certainly the truth. "Why not?" Mark asked, startled.

"Because she wanted to."

"You'd do something you didn't want to just because she wanted to?"

Aaron seemed a bit confused by the question. "Um... of course?"

Mark stared at him. "Don't you think that what you think should have some bearing on the situation?"

"No, Sir, not really. I don't want it to."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want it to," Aaron said, again. "I don't know how else to explain it."

"You want us to choose everything?" Mark asked.

"Yessir. Whatever you want," Aaron said, meeting his eyes, his voice leaving no doubt of his sincerity.

Mark looked over at Kayla. "Um. Well. It's definitely consensual, I guess, love. Just... a hell of a responsibility for us. You are not a monster, though."

She groaned and hid her face in a pillow. "You can look at his back and say that? Honestly?"

"Honestly," Mark said.

She raised up, shaking her head. "Well, I can't." She glared at Aaron. "Damn it, Aaron! I could have killed you!"

The boy nodded, completely unconcerned. "Yes, ma'am."

"What do you MEAN, 'yes ma'am'?!?

Mark looked at the bruises again. It was badly swollen, but it probably hadn't looked anything near as bad as it did now at the time she'd done it. "Call it a learning experience, Kayla," he suggested. "You'll know next time how easily he bruises."

Aaron turned to smile down at her. "It's okay. You didn't hurt me permanently. If you want to, you can, though, if Sir says it's okay."

Kayla groaned again and closed her eyes tightly. "I'm not touching him again. Not like that. He doesn't have a self-preservation instinct. And I'm making ice-packs before we go, and he's staying here in bed with them on his back."

She didn't catch the boy's disappointed look at her words, but Mark did, and he frowned thoughtfully. "He might not have a self-preservation instinct," he said, slowly, "but he will follow orders. Right, Aaron?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Then you are not to allow us to do any permanent damage to you," Mark said, firmly. "Do you understand? You might be willing to allow it, but we are not willing to inflict it."

"Yessir," Aaron whispered, his chin quivering slightly. "Not any?"

And to think, Mark had once thought that being involved with Kristen was the most confusing thing that could possibly happen to him. "Do you want us to inflict permanent damage on you?" When Aaron nodded, he just stared for a minute, then asked, "What?"

Aaron looked at the floor. "I want to be... marked," he whispered. "Cut, ringed, branded. Whatever. I know that you don't... that I haven't earned the right to wear your mark yet, but I'd hoped that I might someday."

It was... sweet, if you looked at it the right way. And he could sort of understand it. Maybe. "I... see," he said, slowly. "Very well. No permanent damage that we have not discussed and agreed to inflict beforehand."

The boy smiled up at him, relieved. "Yessir!"

"Is that better, Kayla?" Mark asked.

She frowned and shook her head. "Not really. Now I'm beginning to feel like a child-molester. Shit. I've got to seriously think about this, I really do." She sighed, looking at Aaron. "It's okay, Aaron. Don't look like that. I'm not mad at you. I just wish I'd realized you wouldn't stop me before I beat your back into raw meat."

"If it helps," Mark said, "it probably didn't look like that when you were doing it. Bruises are always worse the day after. You've never done this before, so how could you know how much damage you were doing?"

"Yeah, I know. And it didn't look like that. But that doesn't really help any. Kristen would be so disgusted with me--" Her voice broke, and she bit her lip. "She'd be scared of me, if she found out."

Mark wrapped his arms around her. "Oh, love. I don't think so, I really don't. She loves you."

"She would," Kayla whispered against his chest. "I know she would. She loves me, but this is too much."

He stroked her hair. "I don't think it would be, love. She'd just have to get used to the idea-- and she already is getting used to the idea that Aaron likes pain. You didn't intend to damage him, or know that you were doing so. You just wanted to make him hurt, right?"

"Yes." She sniffled. "I was angry. I wanted someone to suffer because I was scared. He was there, he offered... he likes pain... I thought it'd be okay."

"And that's fine, love. It is okay. You just have to learn how to hurt him without damaging him."

"I... don't know. Like I said, I have to think about it. I'm still not sure it's okay to hurt someone who won't say 'no'. Period. But I'm not going to make any decisions right now. I'm just too tired and confused." She sighed, laying her head against his chest. "Let's go crawl in that nice, huge, handily railed shower. I want to hurry up so we can go see Kristen."

He kissed her forehead. "All right, sweetheart. We can do that."



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