Disclaimer: See previous chapters
A/N: I am SO sorry for the amount of time that has passed since I last updated. I really have no excuse other than a complete lack of time to spend on this one. There were some real life issues associated with this, that have been completely sorted out, but don't worry, the angst won't suffer just because I'm in a happier place. ;)
For all those people that have stuck by me, and have waited with amazing patience, you guys kept me wanting to come back and write, and now I have. I'm off Uni until October now, with little but writing to do, so this will get updated so very much quicker. I hope it was worth the wait.
Dedicated to Mars and Pam...Mars, without your nagging, this might not be done yet, and Pam...you are the worlds best beta.

Please Enjoy!

Unraveling Soul

You tie your shoes too tight, you know,
'cause it feels better that way
and when you don't, all night, you are dreaming,
you walk, laces streaming down the street behind you
a river of tangled string you are unraveling
(Unraveling, Deb Talan)

"It's not like I actually have to work. Just be myself, you know? Just..." He shuddered dramatically. "well, straight."

Jack paused to take a handful of potato crisps from the big bowl on the coffee table.

"Yes, but you do know that you have to learn the script, don't you Jack?" Will didn't look like he expected Jack to know that, and the surprised expression that appeared on the other man's face wasn't wholly unpredicted.

"Well…" Karen huffed a small laugh at her Poodle. He really was lost in his own world sometimes. He'd dragged her back to Will's place straight after his meeting and had ignored all of her objections. They'd almost made it to Barney's, but Jack excitement had exceeded his need of all things shiny and new, and so three hours later she found herself here; sipping the red wine Will had rather begrudgingly handed her and listening to the two men have the same conversation over and over again while she tried to contain the trembling her body was determined to do. As she watched the red liquid ripple out in the glass she decided she wasn't all that successful with that last one.

She couldn't get the monster out of her mind for more than a moment at a time. The alcohol she had been able to consume hadn't been nearly enough, and she was still a little adverse to taking too much, the headache from the previous night's activities hadn't left her yet, though she doubted if it was just caused by too much over indulgence. So much had happened since she woke up this morning. Did it make her a coward if all she wanted to do was climb back into bed with Stanley and never leave?

She had scrubbed her cheek almost raw, trying to get the feel of his hand off of her. It made her feel dirty and used. She hadn't felt that way in so long, and all she wanted was for the feeling to go away. Pretending it hadn't happened wouldn't work, she'd figured that out on the ride to Will's. She had even tried to convince herself that it had just been a parting action, a way of saying goodbye between friends. Except they weren't friends, and that certainly hadn't had the atmosphere of goodbye, all he'd said, and all the memories he had purposefully stirred up; he was just saying hello.

The sound of the apartment's door opening brought Karen from her dark thoughts, and she lifted her head to see Grace enter. She tried a small smile, but it went unreturned before it dropped from her face completely when she saw the man behind the red-head.

Lucas stepped into the apartment a smug expression falling instantly onto his face. So Karen had remembered Fischer then. That was good. So was the shaken tension that literally oozed off of her. He really had forgotten how much fun breaking her the first time had been.

Grace shifted in front of him, moving to pour them both a drink, and Lucas allowed a smirk to twist his features as he greeted the other men. He wondered just how much he had affected Karen already. Time to find out.

"Hi Karen. I spoke to Fischer after you and Jack left, said you made quite the impression on him. Apparently he's very interested in getting to know you all over again. I gave him your address, I hope that was okay. I remember how much you used to like your, um, meetings."

The change was almost instant in Karen. The words echoed through her mind, dragging with them the images she had been trying to control all day. The thought of that man talking to her again, touching her, kissing her and now, even in her own home, the one place the horrors of her previous life had never touched, wasn't safe anymore. And he would come there; she knew that, if Lucas said he would, then that's what would happen. Unbidden the image of Fischer touching her, on her bed, her and Stanley's bed, passed across her mind and she barely had time to run across the small room and into the bathroom, before her stomach forced itself up and out her throat.

Lucas barely contained his smirk at the shocked looks on the faces of the others. He did notice, however, that no one moved to follow her, not even her precious Poodle. It was almost too easy.

"I'll go check up on her. Must have been something she got at Fischer's." He turned to Jack. "Did he provide any food for you two?"

Jack thought for a moment, still confused over Karen's reaction. In all their time as friends he couldn't think of one instant where she had gotten sick like this.
"Um, no nothing for me, but Karen did spend some time with him while they gave me the first script, maybe he gave her something then."

This time Lucas did smirk as he headed for the bathroom. Oh he gave her something, he always did.

: ks :

She had barely reached the toilet before her stomach moved to release its contents. Falling to her knees, Karen grasped the sides of the bowl as she heaved. Unable to hear anything over the sound of her own mind and stomach, she never noticed the bathroom door opening and Lucas entering, nor the sound of the bolt clicking locked as he closed the door.

Lucas moved from the door to lean a hip against the sink, a smile spreading across his face as he watched the brunette in front of him. It was not very often that Karen could be found throwing up, only when he had been forced to kick her hard to the stomach would she ever usually react this way. Of course, she had done the same the first few times he had left her with Fischer. But then almost suddenly the reactions had stopped and Karen hadn't seemed to care anymore. No that wasn't right. She had started to enjoy Fischer's attentions. Why else would she stop feeling nauseous after a visit with him? Lucas had always known what the photographer was doing to Karen, it had been necessary after all. Karen needed to be taught lessons that way, always had, and Fischer never minded playing teacher for that particular subject.

Lucas was broken from his musing by the sound of the toilet flushing. He snapped his attention back to Karen but she had yet to turn, and he knew his presence had not been noticed yet.

Karen raised her head as her stomach finally stilled and she was sure there was no more liquid in her anyway. Flushing, she ran a shaky hand across her face, trying to shake off the unsteadiness. She turned to the sink, intending to wash her face and instead caught sight of Lucas, his body in a casual lean and a predatory smile on his face that she knew all too well.

"Hello Kare." Neither could tear their eyes away, as though they had somehow been glued to each other. Lucas could feel his pleasure rising at the broken look that flashed through Karen's eyes. It didn't stay there for long and he knew that it was just a reflection of the past, but it fueled his hope. He would get her, it wouldn't be instant but it would happen.

Karen for her part was fighting down another wave of nausea. There was nothing good in Lucas' eyes, and she wondered again what she had ever seen in him. She could tell how much he was enjoying seeing her like this, and that knowledge pushed her from her distress, straight into white hot fury. Her hand rose and struck out almost before she realised what she was doing. Somehow Lucas had predicted the movement, and had his own hand up ready to catch hers. She groaned as he twisted, turning her around until her back faced his chest, and her arm was held bent between them, her shoulder joint straining.

Lucas' breath was hot on her neck as he bent slightly to whisper in her ear.

"Now, now Karen, you know what happens when you're naughty." He flicked his tongue out, and she squirmed, ignoring the pain that action caused, when she felt the wet muscle circling her earlobe. He pulled her arm a little tighter and she stilled when a bolt of pain shot through it. "Hold still Kare-Kare, I think we need to go over your lessons again, it's been so long, you seem to have forgotten them."

His lips came down to her collarbone and dipping beneath her top, he bit down hard until she was forced to bite her own lip to keep a cry in. Finally he let her go and she spun on the spot to face him again. Before she had a chance to react, his hand swung up and slapped her across the cheek.

"Lesson one. No hitting." Her eyes dropped to the bathroom floor and she hated herself for nodding in acceptance; she had thought she was better than that. She didn't raise her gaze until she heard the lock unlatching and the door swinging open, Will's chuckling breaking into the world they had created. "Let's see if you're a quicker learner now than you were Karen. Let's see." And then he left, leaving the door open and Karen had only enough time to pull her hair down to cover her cheek before she followed him out, hoping she looked calmer than she felt.

: ks :

"Do you really have to go now Kare?" Karen barely controlled a flinch at the nickname; it wasn't Jack's fault after all.

"Sorry Poodle, but I have to get back for Rosie and the Kids." She paused for a moment waiting, and then as she saw the corners of Jack's eyes crinkle, she forced a laugh along with him. "No, I've really got to go, pills to pop, alcohol to drink…" She trailed off when she noticed his attention move from her to someone over her shoulder. It didn't take much for her to decide that it was Lucas standing in Will and Grace's doorway, the hairs standing up on the back of her neck told her that. With a controlled shudder she moved past Jack to the elevator, wanting to be as far away from her ex-husband as she could get. Unfortunately, the elevator picked that moment to move as slowly as possible and the time enabled Lucas to move closer and begin talking.

"We forgot to tell you Karen." At the 'we' Karen finally saw Grace where she stood, tucked against Lucas' side. "Grace agreed to move in with me. Isn't that great?"

It took all the power she had left not to scream at the self satisfied expression on the man's face. While Grace grinned and Jack jumped around like a possessed monkey, asking if he could have her room, even though he was currently standing outside of his own apartment, Karen thanked the Heavens that the lift had finally arrived.

"Well it's about time she and Wilma split completely, can't be healthy living with a failed relationship like that." As she spoke she stepped into the elevator, willing the doors closed. Just as they did she heard Grace mutter something that sounded suspiciously like "jealous bitch" but that could have been her recently overactive imagination. Safely shut away from the others she allowed only one word to slip from her mouth as all the day's revelations piled on top of her.

"Shit."

: ks :

She didn't remember much of the drive back to the Manse. She found that she couldn't remember much of the day at all; only the groundbreaking moments seemed willing to stay with her. Such was the irony of her life.

She looked up from her lap as the limo door was opened, and Driver stood waiting for her, his hand outstretched as though to help her out. Normally she loved the way the old man would treat her like royalty. Queens and Princesses were held by a kind gentleman as they left a car after all. But not today, she couldn't bear the thought of anyone touching her, not even Driver. So instead she slid away to the other door and let herself out, pointedly ignoring the driver's shocked look.

A few moments later and she was standing outside her own door. Reaching inside her purse, she pulled out her keys, surprisingly unwilling to make Rosario open the door for her. The keys turned silently in the lock, and she pushed the door open slowly, hoping to remain unnoticed. She refused to think about what she had become in only a few hours; sneaking into her own house like a common whore. Barely pausing long enough to ensure that the door closed just as quietly, she toed off her heels and holding them in her hands, walked on tip-toes up the main staircase.

She didn't know what to expect as she entered her bedroom. Maybe Stan waiting on the bed, ready to continue the morning's argument. She couldn't believe that had been only a few hours ago. But what she found was a single white tulip atop a folder sheet of paper sitting in the center of the large bed.

Dropping her shoes, bag and coat, Karen pulled herself up onto the bed, sliding back until she rested against the headboard. She picked up the tulip and smiled to herself, Stan was always amazed at how much she preferred one single flower to a whole bunch. She brought the delicate petals up to her nose, and took a deep soothing breath of the sweet scent. Unfolding the letter, the small smile fell from her face as she read Stan's words.

Sweetheart,

I know that we had things to discuss tonight, but the office rang, they need me to make some late night conference calls. I won't be home until mid-morning.
We will talk about last night Karen, something happened and I'm worried about you, even if you're determined to act like you're made of ice. I know you, I love you, and I won't let anything hurt you. You know that.
Have a good night Kare, I'll be thinking of you while I'm in these meetings; thinking of you in our bed, barely dressed in my favourite negligee, your hair spread across the pillow, my name on your lips…

Stanley

It was a bittersweet look that passed over Karen's eyes as she reached the end of the letter. Only now did she realise how much she needed Stan's presence tonight. His steadiness was often the only thing that could keep her grounded. There were her pills, of course, and alcohol, but that was more like floating above her problems, than staying settled and letting them wash over her.

: ks :

Olivia approached for Step-mother's door cautiously. She had heard the quiet movements as Karen entered the Manse, and then moments later her room, and unlike the previous night, there had been no load bumps to wake her, or drunken giggles. Still, a sober Karen wasn't as predictable as a high one, and far less common. However this was important, and she needed to know now, otherwise she would never get any sleep.

Creeping closer, she caught sight of Karen hunched at the top of the bed. With a sort of now or never internal shrug, Olivia cleared her throat loudly, and watched in amazement as Karen's figure jumped and seemed to flinch further into itself. Wide-eyed the young girl waited anxiously for the older woman's eyes to seek her out. When they didn't, she took a concerned step forward, moving herself into Karen's line of sight.

"Karen?" This time there was no movement at all and then Karen's eyes seemed to focus, losing their glazed expression and Olivia found herself facing the Karen she knew.

"Yes Curley?" Olivia allowed a moment to wonder what had just happened, but then she remembered the reason for this visit, and shuffled self-consciously where she stood.

"Well, Karen, it's just that…I mean I wanted to ask if…There's this…" She stumbled awkwardly over the words, and Karen was overcome by a sense of pity.

"If you could wrap this up soon 'Livia, some of us need to get our beauty sleep." Oddly the sharp words seemed to help, because the next time the girl opened her mouth, she seemed to have gained her confidence back.

"Well I'm sorry Cruella, if I'm keeping you from something that important, I won't waste any more of your time. I just wanted to know if you would come to the next parent/teacher night tomorrow, because it's earlier than usual, and Dad's still going to be at work, and well, Iwantyoutocome." The last part was spoken fast and almost as a whisper, but Karen heard it just the same.

"Sure I'll be there shorty, it's not like I'd want to miss an opportunity to hear how much of a goody two shoes you are." Olivia grinned at the familiar tease, and nodded her head as though something had just been proven to her.

"Just don't bring Jack again, okay? The guys at school still haven't forgotten him from last time!" She left the room before Karen could reply, the grin still on her face. At least she wouldn't have to ring her real mom now, Karen would be there. Not like the other woman would have come anyway, she had never taken any interest in either of her children's school lives.

Thoughts light as a child's should be, Olivia switched on her television, flicking through the channels contentedly, unknowing of the anguish within the woman in the room next door.

: ks :

Karen watched her Step-daughter leave, already making a note to go to the school tomorrow evening. Rosario would know the exact time, she was sure. She was still annoyed with herself internally for the way she had reacted to the girl's entrance. The day really had unnerved her far more than she was willing to admit to herself.

Feeling her hand cramping, she looked at it, and saw that she had clenched it tight around Stan's letter. Loosening her grip instantly, she tried to smooth out the crumpled paper, but it was no use, and the more she tried, the more it seemed to crease, until little tears appeared where her fingers passed over it ripping the words apart. The ink began to blur as water hit, making it run, and Karen tried hard to hold back her tears. It was just a letter, a note really, it didn't deserve this much of a reaction. But still she couldn't stop herself, and knowing somewhere inside her that it wasn't just the paper that was beginning to break, she stopped fighting and slipped down to lie on the bed. Burying her head in Stan's pillow, sobs wracked her frame.

When they finally stopped, she was too exhausted to do anything but drift into a restless sleep, her last thought before falling into the darkness was that perhaps Stan being away tonight was for the best after all. No one could see her like this.

: tbc :


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