He sinks into the chair, all coiled muscle and suppressed rage. Adrenaline speeds through his over-sensitized body, throbbing in his veins. Bile claws its way up his esophagus with austere familiarity. He beats it back with a deep pull of scotch.

He is tainted, polluted, and he longs to scrub himself raw under the scalding water of his shower, but this is his penance. He will be unclean, lingering in the unholy slime of what he is for some time yet. He doesn't deserve to forget. Out, out damned spot!

Letting go would be so effortless. Reckless oblivion is so near he can taste the tranquil nothingness, and he craves it- needs it- he's so close; all he needs to do is let it swallow him

He'd never again feel this crippling guilt, this shame, this corrupted, soulless hatred. Never have to feel anything at all. He could let go, let the other out, and never again endure the brutal rape of his own mind as he re-chains him.

So easy. Such release.

He clenches his eyes shut against the piercing gray light of morning, its rays clawing out from under moth-eaten curtains, hurling daggers of pain into his skull.

She creeps down the stairs; mouse-like, cautious. Her every movement batters his ears with sound. His lips twist into a mirthless grin at her futile timidity.

Later, the guilt will double him over the toilet. Dear lord, have I made her, of all people, frightened of me? He'll huddle there, retching painfully long after his stomach is empty and blood is the only offering his throat can make, sweat and tears congealing on his face.

He will drag himself to his feet, wipe his mouth with a tremoring hand, and meet his own colorless eyes in the mirror, acknowledging that his body can't take much more of this.

Instead, a vicious laugh bubbles up in his chest; manic, black humor that doesn't belong to him. He wrestles it down and waits for the girl to approach. She looks unusually frail; her face pale and drawn, hugging her arms around her reed-like torso, bare feet peeking out from under her nightgown, a pallid, glacial blue.

His mouth attempts a comforting smile, but it is a brittle parody, and some primitive terror flashes in her huge eyes just before she ducks her head, staring at the floor. Her anxiety is rich on his tongue. It emanates from her, this potent combination of confusion and a fear she doesn't understand. The other revels in it- such trust to be shattered, such hope to destroy. She isn't looking into his eyes, and he doesn't blame her, because he's not quite Nathan, yet, and the corner of his mouth twitches at the thought. Fear… fear is familiar, and he simply waits with callous amusement, offering no quarter. The curtain of dark hair doesn't quite shield her face, and after a few moments of deafening silence, her jaw clenches and she finally lifts her chin.

Big, dark, doe-eyes meet his and they lay him bare without a word. He wrenches his gaze from hers, panic ripping through him. He can't breathe, can't think; She sees him, all of him, this creature he's become-

Nathan realizes with a jolt that the pungent fear he can smell – as surely as if it were his own – is not for herself, but for the soulless husk of a man before her.

He slams back into himself, battling with nausea and pain, and somehow, somehow it is not revulsion or condemnation in this tiny girl's eyes, but impossible, irrational love.

And he shatters.

His face crumples, and she crosses to him, silent, wrapping the frail looking arms tight around him. He clutches at her, his lifeline, buries his face in her hair, distantly aware that he is gasping for breath. Loud, shuddering sobs rip themselves from his chest. The front of his shirt is becoming damp, because she's crying, too, their barriers splintering in a mingling of grief and pain and the tears for those neither had ever been able to mourn. Each too busy being strong for the other.

In this moment, the abyss could never take him.

In this moment, Nathan Wallace is free.