Originally , I was planning to release this exactly on Halloween but… well. This week is going to be Hell Week for me in terms of school so I thought it'd be best to just finish it up and post this right now. And I have to say… this is one of those fics. Those fics you pour your heart and soul into, only to look at funny afterwards and wonder if it was all worth it. I've never written a horror/mystery story before so I have absolutely no idea if this is any good. Reviews, comments and corrections areextremely appreciated for this piece, especially since I'm thinking of writing another like it if this experiment does succeed.

In any case, this is for the extremely kind and tolerant Puella Nerdii and her upcoming birthday. I hope you a very wonderful one that more than exceeds the happy ending found here. ;)

And Happy Upcoming Halloween, everybody!

Title: Imprint

Fandom: FFXII

Characters/Pairings: Vayne, Larsa, Penelo, Venat, Varies

Rating: R

Summary: Stop. Rewind. Play back lost time. You always have the option of redoing all that has happened previously.

Warning: Disturbing themes, non-graphic sexual content. If this doesn't disturb you, I haven't written this properly.

Nowadays, whenever Vayne wakes, Larsa is always the first object that he sees.

It always happens very quickly, early in the morning, before he has even stirred towards his morning cup of tea. It will be with him even before he rises, before his foot even encroaches on his bedroom floor, his form still draped in suffocatingly rich sheets. It is in the strange breath he stirs with, rancid with his sleep, and in the corner of his eyes, both still stirring. It is the hole Venat left in him, when she had wrenched herself away, in the small hollows to be filled with dreams. It is in the air he breathes, the water he drinks, the sweat he perspires, the dreams that haunt him. It is in all atmosphere he exists within, lucid and still wrenching.

And most of all, it is in his heart and in his lungs, where none of it can be expelled quickly.

Nowadays, when Vayne first opens his eyes, light always glimmers on the side of his lashes and Larsa's hands stir his temple hair serenely.

"Good morning, brother," Larsa murmurs, eyes wide and lips smiling. "Tell me, of what have you last dreamed?"

The year that he had turned thirteen, Larsa had brought in a pauper girl home from one of his first excursions abroad, from the first of his several solo journeys.

She had came from the sunless and stifled slums of Rabanastre, something that Vayne had looked upon with dismay at the time, though it had somehow excited Larsa obscurely. In fact, everything abut her seemed to stir some distant echo of pity within Vayne's gentle hearted brother, everything from her palm of her hands (scarred with work, scabbed over) to the knobs of her (pinkish, bony) knees. Even before he had turned thirteen, before he could be said to understand baser yearnings, Larsa had spent more time than Vayne had thought possible expounding on her virtue and her sweetness and her warmth, as though such were really impressive qualities.

Larsa had tried, time and again, to make his brother understand his own fascination. But nothing within her struck Vayne as so very distinguished and even now, Vayne cannot look at her-- at her lank yellow hair or her nerveless fingers, at all the marks of her ill breeding-- without wondering why she was so loved by someone worthy of love. What had set her apart from all else in her low-grounded, hollow sphere.

But Larsa, Larsa

He had been so excited, then and now, at the thought of caring for such a being. As though by doing so he could prove himself a man, worthy less of protection than protecting.

But now she wears Larsa's ring upon her finger now and carries Venat within, scribing. And Vayne supposes that this as much as anything else makes the girl his brother still madly loves a proper member of their family.

"Sometimes," Larsa begins with a murmur, "I fear I must trouble you greatly."

Timidity, Vayne decides, is not a quality that suits Larsa well. In fact, Larsa found a certain assertiveness in all he did since the age of three, when he had decided that as a man of House Solidor, he should be allowed to roam wherever he pleased. Though it had led to some unexpected outcomes, like the creation of the first sister Vayne had ever had, it was a quality he appreciated in his brother most dearly. And in response, Vayne finds himself down at Larsa's upturned face and blushing cheeks, lower than his even at almost-fourteen.

"It's not like you," he notes with a small sigh, "to sound so penitent about doing such as of late."

Larsa lowers his face at the remark, his hands moving upwards towards his still childish cheeks, hiding his flush with the heels. "Perhaps not, lord brother, at least not as usual. But can you really fault me? As of late, all of Archadia as a whole has gone through some trying ordeals and I can only conclude that I have helped in generating more worry as of late."

Vayne tilts his head in inquiry and, shoulders hunching, his brother carries on. "More specifically, and to be frank, mostly around the issue of my southern guest. Though I do not regret bringing her here, she has set our lives a bit awry."

He puts his chin in his hands, emit's a sigh, allows a wary smile to blossom on his face. "Do you mean the way you've had me restructure Archadia to suit both your girl and your governing style? And how the former has been somehow more trouble than the latter, especially in these last few days?"

This time, there is no hiding the blush. It spreads across Larsa's pale skin until it came neatly down the curve of his throat, interrupted by his shirt's ruffled lines. "You put it more succinctly than I thought possible, brother. Perhaps more than I'm comfortable with, honestly."

It takes an effort here not to sigh. "Timidity really does not become a man of House Solidor, Larsa. And stuttering suits you terribly. You've pirouetted around your point long enough. What is it that really haunts you here?"

His brother shrugs slightly, still embarrassed, still pinking up. "I know you have gone through much trouble for her sake, brother. For both of our sakes."

He does not deny this because, rationally speaking, there is nothing to deny. Besides the expense of rehabilitating her-- or at least what there was of her that could be salvaged, perhaps her sanity could still be pieced together, questionable though it might be-- there was the expense of feeding her and clothing her, of ornamenting her and anointing her, of treating her as would-be royalty. He has slipped rings around barren fingers, draped necklaces about a bare collar, threaded coronets through hair that could not be more coarse or unrefined. Had done it with a smile on her face. Had done it for the sake for the sake of Larsa's dreams.

And still she-- this young girl, she-- Larsa's chosen-- she--

(that little bitch)

she persisted in acting--

"I shall not," Vayne says, voice even, "pretend that when I am with her, I am most at ease.

Larsa's eyes droop slightly, sadly. Vayne's lips twitch at the sight, at what he has hoped to never encounter again, set forth before him presently.

"It is worth it though," his brother says quietly, voice soft, mouth trembling. "You do realize that in the sky fortress of Bahamut, she was the only one who tried--"

The air in Vayne's lungs suddenly fights against him; it is astonishingly hard to breath.

"I know," he concedes gently. "I know you have reason to value well her life."

"But for all that," Larsa asks gently, "lord brother, do you mind? Do you mind caring for her presently."

Vayne pauses for a minute, enough to ruffle fluster Larsa quietly, enough until he himself breaks into a teasing smile.

"No," he admits finally, resting his hand on Larsa's shoulder, destined to grow as broad as his own some night soon. "If only for your sake, I could bear the greatest of burdens, female or other. And surely a burden of the feminine persuasion is less hazardous than what the insurgence still offers up occasionally."

For nearly six months after the incident within the sky fortress, Vayne had seen little to nothing of his brother's pet project, which is more or less just as he prefers her being.

For almost a week after all the rest of her party had been done and disposed of, she had spent much of her time within the city's healing facilities, her thin-blooded, small-veined life prolonged by both the best of all possible medical attention and quiet insistence of the best of all hume beings. She had been moved afterwards into the palace proper, a mere three doors away from his brother's suites, though she had not stirred beyond her own for the first few weeks according to Vayne's ears and eyes. And even when she had, she had moved like one of the apparitions said to haunt the palace proper, a weedy looking thing with tangled hair and thin limbs and a piteous cry that was nearly haunting. Her face had never been of interest but during the few moments when Vayne had seen her, even he had to concede she looked a fright, like the ghosts of the dead said to haunt unfaithful men during the waxing moons of some eves.

Sometimes, when Vayne had breakfast in the terraces overlooking the courtyards, he could see Larsa playing with her, courting her still ardently, circling her with gentleness, persistence, warm smiles and charity.

Any other, Vayne imagines, would no doubt have been flattered to death by such condescension. By the great honor being accorded to their evenings. But the girl had generally responded by looking away, burying her face in her hands and losing herself with what passed, in Archades, for wilds. For something that soothed her dearly. Some days, Vayne had even had caused to wonder if she would think of running from them, of scattering a false map of crumbs behind her to ensure they would lose the scent of her trail, never mind their guards and power, never mind the hold they had on her now.

Still, Vayne discarded the thought instantly. Her eyes could never meet his without her flesh draining but there is still Larsa and she loves Larsa. He had seen ample proof of that already.

And there was no other home for her to go home to, anyway. There was no one who waited for her in Rabanstre any longer. A minor regiment had seen to that easily.

"I wish you would speak to her," Larsa had requested one evening, too innocent to know what could happen between them if they had to suffer each other's presence for too long. As though loving him could bond them permanently. "She seems deaf to me now, brother. I speak and she turns her face away; I touch her and she loses her smiles. Perhaps you could show her better what is to be done? Perhaps you can teach her to once more demonstrate where all her hopes now lie?"

And for the pleading hopes in Larsa's eyes, Vayne finds himself acting swiftly.

As Vayne had explained, she nodded in all the right places, her eyes wide and fever-bright, her smile taut and trembling. She could not move her right hand, not when he was as such, but her left one had pressed persistently against her lips, as though to force something back that had wanted desperately to go awry. And when he had finished, she had sunk down to her knees with a rattling sigh, with damp, undistinguished cheeks.

And this is what his brother loved. Nothing, absolutely nothing.

But as he had turned to leave, he had heard for voice for the first time in weeks, when not raising upward into a trembling cry. In fact, as she had spoken, her voice had been eerily self-assured, almost uncanny.

There was an echo of Larsa in her, enough to make Vayne turn on his heels. Enough to understand, perhaps, what it was that his brother so admired. Had tried to communicate incoherently.

"He had talked about you before," the girl had said, her face blank and her mouth firm. As though resigned to something.

"Larsa?" he had said. Quickly, almost incredulously.

"Nobody else in Archades," she whispered, "would even bother speaking to me when I came the first time. Who else would even be willing here?"

"Larsa," Vayne had said, and it almost hurt to say that name in front of her blanched white face. "Larsa. What did he--"

"He told me you were a remarkable man," she had interrupted, ill-mannered, as though her lord had said nothing. "He said that you were less like a brother to him than like a second father, you had raised him so dearly. He said--"

When she swallowed, the muscles in her throat throbbed slowly. He could see the workings of her body as though her skin was as translucent as glass, and the bones beneath it already interring.

"He said you were like him. But I didn't understand, even then. I still don't understand why. I mean, when he was… even in the Bahamut. I'm sure he didn't mean…"

Vayne had to smile here. Clearly, coherency was not so highly prized in the desert lands. "Our character. Our appearance. Our ambition. Our intelligence. Point by point, line by line, most of those who know of us would consider us consider very much of the same type."

"No," she said, her hands then crossing over her body. As though already anticipating something. Anticipating and repelling. "No, really, you're nothing alike."

Almost without knowing it, Vayne had taken a step forward. She still stood a little higher than his brother, even with her bare feet.

"Your laugh is too low," the girl continued quietly. "Day or evening, mourning or breathing… it always gives you away eventually."

The gouges on his arms afterwards hiss, tremble, sting. For Larsa's sake, Vayne chooses not to mind.

When Vayne had been young, over and above everything else, he had held a certain fear of the nursery, of that long corridor of airy rooms and broad ceilings that had once cradled and nurtured all the young in his family

His eldest brother, being just as he was, would always grin at the very thought, throat exposed as he had laughed, as though he had never feared anything. And what precisely, he had questioned, has excited so, such morbidity, such imaginary fancy? That you shall be sent back in? Shall be supplanted? Shall be treated as we were, eventually?

But Vayne had been treated as such even before, even before Larsa had entered that nursery. And it is a point of pride to Vayne that he has long since stopped dreaming of the place, ever since he had turned seventeen.

(The walls of the place so rough against his skull. The wetness on his skin still stinging.)

His father had never known. The judges had always been called away. And his other brother had, Vayne recalled remotely, always looked down at his blanched white books and pretended to have never seen anything.

He had not been back in years. Not since Larsa had been young enough to be cradled therein and his brother, the only brother left to Larsa at the time, had come to visit the new being. And if Vayne had walked there afterwards, after the incident had happened and after the girl had recurred, it was for something distant more than nostalgia and something more potent than mere mercy.

And when Vayne had found himself within Larsa's old rooms, running his hands down the frame of what had once carried them both... that was when he had first realized that dealing with the girl might actually benefit his House greatly.

"Brother," Larsa had asked afterwards, after their talk. "Brother, I know now why you ask me to do such. But why is it that you haven't done so yourself? Why have you never taken your own bride?"

So many reasons, Vayne could have said. Too many to think of, too dark to speak, too many inconsequential little bits and lies. Too much to say, too much to admit, too much that could make him seem beyond understanding. Too much to tell of what he was afraid, too much of what was unreasoning.

There was only one truth he was willing to tell and so he had said it easily.

"You were already the most perfect heir I could conceive of," Vayne said, voice lowering. "What need did I have for engendering another when I already had you at the ready?"

The wedding was quiet, private and beautifully embellished, though it had not anything of the pomp that the marriage of the heir to the greatest throne of Ivalice would held if bride involved therein still had some measure of sanity. But despite the pains towards discretion that had been taken, some prominent brows had still been raised when the announcement had been made. And when Vayne is willing to face the truth, he understands why quite clearly.

Though the laws of Archadia allowed its citizens to marry young, it was not every day that a young lord of only thirteen took in an older, foreign and (worst of all) untitled wife. Had she only fortune or heritage or even some beauty, it all could have been passed more easily.

But there was no one who loved the groom better, at least from outside his own family. And though Vayne thought nothing well of her, he knew she loved Larsa and loved him well, even to point of sacrificing everything. mind. No other woman, no matter how high bred, could hold so dearly hold Larsa's life in her hands. And no other who could make him so happy.

In all, as long as Vayne did not think of her lineage too often, there really was no better possible bride to keep his brother at ease.

She was docile enough at the ceremony, though whether this was more because of her joy or Vayne's own grip on her arm remained a little in doubt to his being. But she had been obedient in nodding in all the right places, had walked down the aisle with something like dignity, had not even protested when Vayne had informed her that he would be present to see her do her first marital duty.

Her eyes had been bright as she had heard him. Bright enough, almost, for tears. But she had not quite cried.

She was a better wife for the Solidor than he had expected. Even then, she had been biding her time, trying to peer through his armor intently.

And when she had stripped herself of her wedding dress before them, she had done so without a word. As though she had expected this already.

When Larsa had been younger and the Draklor labs still productive, Vayne had once carried home a toy that he thought suitable for a boy his brother's age and yet curious enough to suit his strange needs.

Even in his youngest years, Larsa had been hard to please when it came to toys and dolls and any other possible pretty playthings. It was never enough merely to hand his brother a contraption; Larsa needed to know its providence and its probable activities, its special secrets and possible mysteries, before he would take to anything of a kind. It had exasperated Vayne often enough in the past to anticipate it with everything he had gifted his brother from age six and onwards.

Nowadays, of course, Larsa had the girl to entertain himself with, however much the concept made his older brother ill at ease. But if Vayne closes his eyes, he can picture the device, still grasped within his brother's chubby, childish hands, still fascinating him completely.

There had (he remembered) been a tape within the device, a tape that had done nothing but hold a melody of some sort, the sort of thing sung by a woman who always lingered briefly. And when Larsa had hunched over and pressed the buttons of the thing, the voice would play, over and over again-- or at least, until one of the contraption's buttons had broken and Vayne had had promise Larsa that he would ask Dr. Cid to fix it and dithered so much on doing so that Larsa had given up eventually.

Even then, Larsa had known enough not to mourn about what couldn't be. And even now, Vayne can remember what had delighted his brother so dearly.

Stop. Rewind. Play back lost time.

The rhythm of it is oddly soothing.

The girl used to spend more of her time with his brother, Vayne remembers that much.

When Larsa had first brought her to Archades, she had been a nuisance of the highest order, distracting Larsa from all his duties, treating him as she might any other. Instead of acting as his station demanded, he had spent vast swatches of his time with her, acting as though the fate of Archadia would not one day hang on his thing shoulders. Vayne himself had done his best to reduce the hours Larsa spent in her presence, even from the farthest corners of Rabanastre. But still his brother had persisted in being her shadow, of understanding and attending to her.

Now, though, Vayne looks back and wonders if it was really such a terrible thing that she had done. If stopping her was an error he had committed. If Larsa had been happy for once, with whatever he had done with her.

It should not matter now, though. Vayne has done his best to repent, to give his brother both a fairy tale and a role.

But the girl, the girl… she refuses to understand, to realize the wrongs being made right. And short of dissecting her and examining what her slowly swelling form held, Vayne has no way to understand why either.

Venat no longer stays with him for very often now.

She had been sent to the girl's mind very early on, to cease any more attempts the girl might have made at slashing her wrists or sinking into the bath or (this had been the last and most desperate yet) biting her tongue out entirely. But it has been weeks and weeks and weeks since the girl has given up on those attempts, since she had learned of what was impending. And it has been still longer since Vayne has felt the pulse of Her senses within his flesh or felt the membrane of Her presence seep into his own mind, as ready to spread within.

He cannot help but be sour at the thought of a society of obstinate women folk assembling against the men still left to House Solidor, however absurd the notion seems.

It all comes to a head one evening in the spring, a few months before Larsa's child is said to be born in the summer time. "I do realize," Vayne finds himself saying to Her, almost bitterly, "that the mind of a woman so fitfully ripening must be of interest to you, you who can never bear any seed. I understand, I allow for allowances, I make room for your interests clearly. But what compels you to remain within her so constant of an hour and never answer my pleas either?"

There is a long silence, the space of three heart beats. Once, when Larsa had been seven and learning human anatomy, Vayne had let his brother press a flushed ear to his chest, as though to feel the workings of the organ that could, even then, beat on command for his being.

"I can hear it, brother," Larsa had whispered, eyes wide and wondrous. "Quiet but steady. I can hear it all so clearly."

Even gods, Venat says in the here and now, are entitled their moments of defeat.

Barring disembowelment, there is always conversation. For his brother's sake, Vayne tries repeatedly.

"Do you still expect to be rescued someday?" Vayne asks the girl one night, one hand tucked under his chin, another one dreaming upon his knees.

"I can't even begin to imagine," she replies after a second of hesitation, "why you'd ask me such a thing. Or why you'd even try to care to know it either."

There is a knitting needle in her hand and a half-done sample in what is left of her lap. She is, to his surprise, domesticating.

"You are my sister," Vayne says, both because it is true and because he wishes to needle her ever so slightly. He knows precisely what she thinks of her position in his life, of her new-found role in Archades. "You have already married my brother. You do not feel as though the idea of your being kidnapped or spirited away by what you ought to have forgotten already would bother me?"

Her bloodless eyes lower of their own accord but then snap back up to meet him. What they hold, he cannot read.

"Rescue?" the girl says at last, hands clenched on her needles. "There's no use doing any fantasizing. There's no one in Archades even left to--"

A space of 3... 6... 12 separate heart beats. And three stories later, Larsa had fallen asleep and Vayne had let him dream the eve away in his bed, curled up and softly snoring.

Afterwards, Vayne pretends to believe that she had said that there was no one in Archades left to rescue her.

And it was all true. The princess and the pirate, the guardian and the viera, the young boy nipping at all their feet...

It made sense. They were all dead and gone, buried beneath innumerable piles of rust and stardust. Of them, there was left nothing. And there was no one else in her world that would dare move against him, that would come into the heart of his power and snatch away one-- two-- of his own family.

It made sense, that first meaning.

And it is only later, when he stares at a curious new stain upon his glove, that he realizes that what she had really meant was that there was no one left in Archades worth rescuing.

There are places, now, that the girl will venture, that Vayne refuses to pass entirely.

Slowly, Vayne finds himself testing the boundaries of the control he has opposed on her, testing when precisely to rein in her leash. She has been surprisingly stable during the last few months, since the news of what was impending. She talks less and eats more and spends much of her time within her room, quietly reading and knitting. There is little enough of the wanton Vayne had known before, with even her features having been distorted with the fine living in his sphere, turning softer, whiter, more fleshy. If Larsa had protested, Vayne would have been concerned, but his brother seemed to approve of all the changes in his wife presently.

"She looks lovelier and lovelier every time I see her," Larsa says, and blushes at the comment quickly.

It makes sense, of course. Fairy tale prizes were never hellions who hid shards of glass or screamed themselves hoarse or threw themselves at their would-be-brothers with their thighs and nails and teeth. She was so much easier to deal with when she had given all of that up, when she had become the wife Larsa needed her to be.

She is so docile, in fact, that merely letting her out into the grounds, accompanied by a guard or two, seems as though to cost nothing. Even if he could not understand why she'd go there so often, only to come back with petals in her hair and dirt on her feet. How she could stand the sight of the thing.

The only hitch is those times when Zargabaath, who reports on her most, looks as though ready to recommend doing the same to his lord. Looks ready to offer some pity.

And those are the times in which Vayne wonders if perhaps the ranks of the Judge Magisters, decimated though it might be after Gabranth's execution, could use still yet more pruning.

Sometimes, when Vayne thought his heart could stand it, he could recall with ridiculous clarity the last time his brother had loved him completely.

He had been, perhaps, twenty five, and his brother a young boy of less than ten years. He had been in his own rooms and practicing in front of his own mirrors, hands gracefully arching through the air, the speech in his mind already bubbling. And in another moment, he had looked at his own reflection and realized the duplicate beside him, hands floating and head dipping, copying him so closely. And then he had smiled and then Larsa had beamed and the rest of the night had been spent demonstrating the art of fascinating a crowd to his brother, till he as well could do so exactly.

And that had the first time he had realized who Larsa was and why he meant the world and why he himself could do anything for his brother, his child, all that was left of his family. The boy who had once heard the beat of his brother's heart, who had mimicked his movements in the mirror with pride, who had curled up against him in the cool of the night and demanded stories of princes and noble quests, of enchantments and helpless maidens dreaming. This stubborn little wisp of a boy who had gone where he pleased, who had asked endless questions and mimicked his every movement, who had lived always on his own two feet.

"Do you still love me, Larsa?" he asks ever night. Eyes wide awake. Arms open. Reaching out to something and nothing.

"Do you still love me despite what I've done? Despite how I've ruined everything?"

There was no answer for him at times. And Vayne pretends that he is surprised and notes that he fails to be so completely.

On the last night together, his brother's bride comes to him for a change, decked out in the best of her finery.

Her footsteps strike Vayne as odd even before he sees her proper; she has never approached him before, though her eyes had never dropped from his whenever he caused them to meet. But tonight she comes and she wears the dress she wore on her first night with Larsa, the one he had wrapped himself against eagerly. There are roses from the orchard garlanding her lank hair and pearls twined around her hands and feet. She is not beautiful but she is graceful… and when she approaches him, she sounds of cathedral bells, of a thousand little cacophonies.

She is not beautiful and has never been so-- especially not with her form so distorted with a Solidor in the making. But she does not care and she knows enough of him by now to know that he will not care and there is something in her boldness that strikes him as strange, that makes her almost exciting.

And when she presses herself to him, she smells of crushed flowers and feels like a bird, small bones easily broken and still mending.

"Oh," she says with delicate precision. "Oh, how I've missed you so much, love. You haven't been in my bed for weeks."

And he cannot help but bend to her, cannot help but go down before her on his knees. As though he were smaller than as he really was, as though he was before her transmuting.

"Oh," she says, and surely she has done this a hundred times before, her lips against his forehead, his chest stirring against her ripe beauty. "Oh, we haven't done this in so long." And it is easy and simple and unremarkable and when the pain first begins, it seems almost bit worth noting.

"Oh, I won't let you do this to me anymore," she whispers, and the hem of her dress is being speckled with his blood. As though she had planned this entirely. "I won't let you do this to any of us anymore. To his memory. To my baby."

And that is when Vayne realizes that there is a knife in between her careworn hands.

A knife. Long. Practical. Sharp. And even brighter than her unshed tears.

She must have been planning this for months, Vayne realizes. Weeks and weeks, months and months, edging close to a year. So many hours spent in the dead of the night, trying and planning and dreaming. Forcing herself to be a perfect wife, making herself model a proper Solidor bride, being everything that he and Larsa had expected her to be. All biding for the time when he has his guard lowered, when she had been able to charm someone to garner the weapon at hand, when she knows he cannot kill her quickly.

She is more a Solidor than he had previously given her credit for.

And still, he overpowers her easily.

Perhaps she could have won if the circumstances had been different. If he had not been who he was. If Venat had been loyal even now. If she had not been slowed down by the babe within her swollen body.

If. And only if. Perhaps she could have succeeded. But he wrests her weapon from her desperate hands easily and the wounds that she inflicts, though deep, are nothing to one of Venat's abilities.

And when she is finally down on her knees, for a change, Vayne sees in her eyes actual fear.

"What will you do?" she says, bluffing and shuddering, her white body a corpusclent heap. "What can you do, really? You've done all you can to me and more. I no longer fear you in anything."

"No," he finds himself saying. "No you don't. And nor should you. There are far worse beings here."

He bent his head down and his lips met hers one last time. The blood on her mouth tasted sweet.

"Do you want to know what fear really means, sister? Or perhaps you know already? It's when you truly want to forget something. Want to erase it from the world. But you can't, no matter what you try. It simply follows you wherever you go. There is no possible release."

And she is weeping now, the noise low and constant, the tears on her bloodless cheeks haunting. Vayne wonders if it will be possible to rid her of them before the midwives come to work, to wring her dry completely.

"What will you do with me after the birth?" the girl asks. He has taken pains not to hurt her yet, but she looks perilously close to retching.

Her belly is a living weight beneath her bare, firm breasts. And despite himself, Vayne finds himself smiling.

"You shan't be needed for long," Vayne reminds her, almost kindly, although his hands still hold her collared leash. "If you wish to end this, you will be allowed to do so. In fact, I will attend to you personally."

And surely it is not his fault when this strange creature starts to crawl away, limbs already convulsing.

And soon, it is time enough for the midwives to come calling, ringing the halls of the thousand year palace with the bird song of their maternal cooing.

Soon, Vayne knows, soon they will come and ask him to give his blessing. As Solidor men have done since time memorial, he will be expected to inspect the child and pronounce it his, to ensure his crown's safe passing. He will raise it in his arms and beam with paternal pride and introduce him to all in the empire swiftly. And most crucially, he will see to his son's nomenclature proper, memorializing and disposing of his mother and ensuring not even a hint of bastardy.

The future will be set for this new one, this old one. All is finally as it should be.

And he already has the perfect name for the child, of course. Has known it for months now, actually.

"I shall be with you soon," Larsa promises, and begins to laugh.

Softly. Very softly.

Author's Notes: See. I told you I promised you a happy ending. I just didn't quite specify who it was for. And the first person to piece together an accurate version/summary of just what the hell went on in this story wins themselves a ficlet! I wanted this to be a mystery but I want to it to be a solvable one as well. I hope this is a bet I lose, actually. ;)

This story was, btw, partially based on an excellent asian horror movie. That's one clue you have as to what's going on. I'll post about what movie it was later but it'd give too much away to talk about it immediately.

And finally, I have two more questions left. Would anyone be interested in seeing the annotations for this piece, to see all the clues being held to the spotlight? It would give what happened away but it could be interesting to write up anyway.

And also, would anyone be interested in reading "the girl's" side of the story for this piece…?