Like a fog lifting, clarity returned to Lydia as the sated beast's rattle stilled, the swirling pools in his eyes calming. She was never not cognizant throughout the ordeal. She knew what was happening, remembered every moment of it. Certainly felt it all, but now she was feeling even more, parts of her tensing in pain when she regained control of herself and attempted foolishly to sit up, crawl out of the mess of scales sticky with bodily fluids.
Of course, she didn't make it far, letting out a low, long groan and collapsing back over a thick, treetrunk like expanse of tubular muscle. Now that there wasn't any rapturous, euphoric pleasure to distract her, she could distinctly feel the sting of all the long papercuts across her back and throat, as well as a line of puncture wounds encompassing her right shoulder, these bleeding more generously than any of the others; three pretty little holes in front and three in the back, each a perfect match for the serpent's dominant fangs.
That was all just her torso. She was too nervous to trail blood-slicked fingers lower and assess the damage there.
"Be‒" she stuttered over his name as he kissed over her gentle and loving, hissing praise. Nearly making the mistake of saying it full and proper, the offense that earned her the nastiest of her injuries, she defaulted to something else at the last minute, a nickname that wasn't nearly as offensive or scary as his cursed name, and didn't carry any of the negative connotations Lydia had come to associate with it.
It was pure and sweet, like something a child would name an especially adored pet, and she decided in that instant that if he didn't hate it, it was all she was ever going to call him from now on.
"I think… I think I need to go home now."
There was no way he had a clean, functioning bathroom here in this crypt with a disinfected tub to soak in. He wouldn't have painkillers or creams or balms or rags. She couldn't expect him to know how to take care of this, and she couldn't blame him for being responsible for the carnage in the first place. After all, she asked for it. She could have been normal, done things the way he offered initially, but she was a freak and damaged, and with that came its burdens.
"Not goin' home yet, Lydsss. Gonna keep ya here n' let ya ressst up."
Slowly, his scales melted away until his human form returned. He needed arms to get her limp body around, after all. Scooping the girl up, Betelgeuse climbed out of the ruined coffin and went to another portion of the crypt. A quick snap and there was a clean tub for her filled with steaming hot water. He let Lydia test the water, changing it to make it comfortable, and then placed her inside.
"Got soaps n' shit for ya. Salts, too. I know chicks dig all that frou frou shit," he grunted. Ever the asshole, even when sweet, disgust was clearly evident in his tone. He couldn't fathom why she‒ or anyone‒ would want to bathe but knew better than to press the matter.
The poltergeist did put on gloves before he smoothed a disinfectant on her wounds, to make her feel better and not be afraid of getting an infection or something. As long as she was comfortable and happy, he was happy. Proud of himself as he did so, he made quick work of cleaning and patching her up, then departed to let her tend to herself as necessary.
While she washed up and got herself relaxed, Betelgeuse set about fixing up his room. Gone was the cum stained coffin, replaced with a new one that was double the size. Lydia deserved a fresh set, and they both needed the room. Candles popped around the crypt and covered the musty smell while he brushed through his hair a bit and switched to a slightly cleaner shirt.
He returned when Lydia called for him using the new nickname she decided on. One arm held her up and the other draped a fluffy black towel over her thin shoulders. Betelgeuse let her put her hair up in a towel, and helped her shuffle back to the main section. Again, it was quick work to dry her and replace her slip with a soft spider silk nightgown and matching lingerie.
"Smell good," he offered as he dried her hair with the towel, not taking any fighting back or no's as an answer. He was going to care for her, make her happy and adored. Even if she did feel like a doll or his little plaything, he didn't care. He was going to pamper her, dammit.
Somewhere beneath the lethargy and lingering ache, Lydia appreciated his efforts. Nevertheless, being a handmaiden was not the ghoul's calling. His grooming was rough and unpracticed. When he smoothed antibiotic ointment along the cuts, he did so impatiently and without any gentility, making Lydia cringe deeper into the water when he ran his palm over her‒ like she was a car in need of a good wax.
"It's supposed to go on after‒" his gloved hand slapped down a bit too hard, rubbing it in, and she bit her tongue. Rather than toughing this out a second time, she would just do it again for herself after she was out and the water had finished rinsing off his rough work.
She was grateful when he departed to flit around the space, tidying up marginally and sprucing himself. Quiet, wary of accidentally provoking more romantic attention, she kept to herself and tried to keep her splashing minimal as she took her time shampooing and conditioning her hair. He was always in her sights. Or alternatively, she was in his. The tub was claw-footed, independent from any plumbing or pipes, and tucked away in the corner of the open-space concept crypt, an antique folding partition providing a shred of mock privacy.
When the time came to get out‒ Lydia didn't know how long she soaked, the water never cooled and Betelgeuse didn't have any clocks‒ she tried to hobble out on her own only to splash clumsily back into the water when her muscles failed her. It was embarrassing, but she called for assistance and he came, every bit as crass and rough as before when he pulled her up out of the tub by her underarms and saw to getting her dried and dressed. Given vague permission now, he was quick to bully her around some more, pushing her into a rickety wooden chair next to a matching table so that he could set about playing with her hair.
She supposed he was trying to dry it, and maybe he was a little bit, but all his jostling was just making knots that pulled at her scalp. On top of that, the tight, lacy lingerie beneath the nightgown he magicked her into was irritating and painful on her litany of bruises and slices.
"Stop!" She snapped eventually when he continued to ignore her meek, shy whispered suggestions and nonverbal cues. The brush he was trying to pull through her copious, knotted mop of black hair was stuck in the midpoint. Scowling severely, she slapped his hand away to carefully unravel it from where it was stuck. Once it was free, she brought it to the ends and started brushing herself properly, gently, the inky strands quickly smoothing under her ministrations.
"You're too rough," she criticized, staring down at the dusty table to avoid looking him in the face while giving her scathing review. "You have to start at the ends and work up‒ and it wouldn't be so tangled if you hadn't practically given me a noogie with the towel. All you have to do is squeeze the moisture out. It's not hard."
Stupid boy. Didn't he know anything?
"This underwear hurts. It's too tight, it stings. I don't want to wear it. I want to go home."
Every complaint grated on his nerves. The soft, dove-like coo of her voice even pissed him off after she had said "no, this way," too many times for his taste. She didn't appreciate this at all, why the fuck was he doing it? The human had everything to complain about and nothing to thank him for. If this was what their marriage was going to be‒ complaints about everything he tried to do nice for her‒ he was ready for a divorce.
The last straw was when she snapped at him. With a growl, Betelgeuse shoved the brush into her little hands, giving Lydia a scowl in the mirror over her shoulder.
"Fuckin' do it yerself then, see if I do anythin' nice for you again," he hissed. "Never done a moment of this shit in either my life or afterlife 'n you just fuckin' nag. No 'Beej that's too rough' or 'here Beej can I show you'‒ 's just all complaining."
He was being stupid. He knew it. The him inside of him was rattling around in his ribcage, howling for his mouth to shut and his words to stop. But this little human, millennia younger than he, had the fucking gall to treat him like he was some imbecile and beneath her. Little fucking princess in her ivory tower, brought down to nothing and roughed up by a nasty, illiterate peasant. Fuck that.
Betelgeuse didn't say another word to her, turning his back and stomping to his chair. Fuck his little wifey. She could primp herself if she wanted, he was going to relax. Let her deal with the ache and pains of fucking him later on her own.
Well. Maybe not that far. He would still be at her beck and call, just… Less eager than normal. He slumped in his chair and turned on the sports, half paying attention as he grabbed a beer. Cracking it open he took a long drink, grunting as the carbonation went up his nose. Stupid beer. Stupid Lydia.
She flinched violently when he snapped back thrice as hard as her frustrated little slip. Stupid. She shouldn't have lost her temper on him like that. He was only trying to help. It just hurt. Now her insides hurt too, tummy curdling cold and rancid as he stalked away grumbling, the static of the television the only sound filling the air after the pop of yet another bottle of beer being uncapped. He'd had several so far.
Could he get drunk? Was he a mean drunk like some of Mother's friends were? She tried to keep brushing her hair, but the more her nerves gnawed at her the more her hand shook, to the point that she couldn't anymore and had to abandon it half-tangled. She felt she might burst into sobbing, ugly tears or just implode on the spot. She felt so ugly, so dirty and used. Not at all like how a freshly "deflowered" bride was supposed to feel.
All she wanted to do was crawl back into the now empty tub and slip underwater until the bubbles stopped, until its scalding heat burned away all her filth and impurities. Instead, after she got too cold and the confining discomfort of the lingerie she never asked for became too much, she made her way on trembling, limping legs back to the coffin in the corner‒ ready to lick her wounds like a beat dog.
For a precious small while, Lydia had entertained the concept that he was in love with her. It made the most sense. He was just so into her, more than she could ever recall anyone being… well. That wasn't true. She could remember men that were similarly attracted to her. Too many, and she remembered too well. They didn't love her, and neither did Betelgeuse. She was just a convenient mediocre fuck.
Bile pushed at the back of her throat and those tears finally made an appearance. They were quiet, and Lydia tried her best to tamper her panicked breathing, anything to keep from garnering his attention again. He already thought she was a shrill nagging harpy. No need to add "cry baby" to her ever-growing list of faults and deficiencies. What was she going to do now? He was supposed to take care of her. How was she going to get home? How was she supposed to explain any of this to her parents... if she ever even got there?
Very slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible‒ be invisible, do not attract attention, do not make yourself a target, Lydia‒ she removed the lingerie without taking off her too-pretty nightgown, slipping both the invasive uncomfortable thong and the overly tight bra down under the skirt and through the armholes, discrete and without showing anything. Not that he was looking. He hadn't looked at her once since deciding she wasn't worth it anymore.
Again, Lydia didn't blame him.
He was acutely aware of everything she did. The beer and the TV did nothing to distract him. Every shift of her hair, her nightgown, even the little hiccups she tried so hard to muffle… They were imprinted in his memory, in one ear and buried in his brain. It hurt to be so mean. It hurt to hear her crying over his treatment of her. He was a stupid fucking idiot.
When she pulled off the lingerie, the soft sound of the lace and fabric falling onto the dirty ground of his crypt, he wanted to get up. He wanted to be angry, yell at her, tell her off for ruining them. A nasty part of him even wanted to give her a taste of what his slaps felt like. But he just sat there. Fat beer gut out, commercials droning in his head, foreign warring emotions tearing him in different directions.
Shame and regret were winning.
She was quiet after an hour and a half.
He stood slowly and turned his TV off, looking at his coffin. She was in the tiniest ball she could manage, shaking against the cold of the crypt. When Betelgeuse stepped close he saw the redness of her eyes, the tear tracks on her delicate face. He fucked up. Pulling a blanket out of thin air, he knelt next to Lydia to wrap her up gently, manipulating the girl so he could turn her into a tiny burrito.
Betelgeuse's hand cupped her pale cheek, fingers running over her skin. He didn't deserve her… One finger ran over her neck and shoulder, pressing against a bite mark. When she winced, making a distressed mewl, he jerked away as if shocked, eyes wide. She was sleeping, so whatever that was had to be a real show of emotion, no farce meant to manipulate him like the dead were so prone to doing.
At that moment, it settled heavily in his head that she did feel pain. She was human and alive and she meant it when she said things hurt. He forgot it, being in the Netherworld so long… and he had caused her hurt. On purpose.
Fuck was he an awful husband.
She continued to whimper and cry out like an injured baby, something small and delicate. Something he should never hurt. He was going to wake her, to apologize and give her an opportunity to yell at him, punish him the way he deserved, but paused when the sound of heels on the stone sounded. The smell of cigarettes hit him before the sight of her slit throat. Every bit of irrational rage and bitterness he had buried for Lydia resurfaced in an instant for the caseworker.
"Juno. Fuck off."
Juno was pissed.
The past twenty-four hours had been a nonstop shitshow circus of trying to track down the misplaced poltergeist after he disappeared without a trace from his high-security cell in lock-up. As his caseworker, everything he did was ultimately her responsibility, and this was the motherload of all fuck ups.
"What did you just say to me, you sonuvabitch?"
She spat at full volume upon his grim, lackluster greeting‒ as if she was merely an annoying Jehova's witness knocking on his door and not the harbinger of his doom. Where the fuck did he get off? Mouth wide, taking in a deep breath what made the wrinkles around her eyes concave further, Juno was fully prepared to rip him a new asshole with a verbal lashing that would shake the walls‒ but then she stopped abruptly.
"Wh‒ … who is that?"
Black hair. Juno didn't need to see her face to know the answer, to understand what had happened here‒ what had gone so horribly, terribly wrong. She actually gasped, horrified at the revelation, and turned stormy eyes on her ex-protege.
"Betelgeuse," she gave his full and proper name, well aware that there would be no saying it to any real effect anymore. No, only his wife held that privilege. "You didn't."
Nothing the poltergeist did flew under her radar… except for this. According to Netherworld law, he wasn't her charge anymore, didn't have any obligations to them or their bureaucracy. No, he belonged solely to the unfortunate little girl snoozing in his coffin. Upon a closer examination, she was able to discern the dried tear tracks on the girl's cheeks, the scabbed over wounds on her shoulder… the discarded lingerie on the ground.
Betelgeuse was a bad man. His laundry list of crimes told her so but Juno had always thought that hurting little girls‒ much less one that he called his wife‒ was… beneath him. Apparently, nothing was too low for this cretin. The girl murmured low in her sleep, sounding pained. For the most part, it was incomprehensible gibberish, but three words were clear to both ancient sets of ears; No. Stop. Please.
"Jesus Christ, Betel," Juno sneered, jumping quickly from horror to disgust once she had a clearer picture. "What have you done?"
"Havin' fun cleanin' up my mess, June? 'M proud of myself," he chuckled, crossing his arms with a smirk. He was pleased with himself, knowing that he had caused her an undoubtedly huge pile of work, and grinned as he looked at the slit-throated woman.
… but when she turned her attention to Lydia, his teeth bared. Just knowing that she had been in his intended's home, influenced the Maitlands, had him pissed off. Juno didn't deserve to be in his wife's presence. Hell, she didn't belong in his crypt. Fuck her, this was his territory.
"Married her," he declared importantly, victoriously, nose high. "She married me. Fuckin' deal done, consummated, all that shit. Th'fuck's it look like?"
Betelgeuse scoffed, sitting on the edge of the coffin near Lydia, one hand gently laid on her hip. When she murmured and flinched, he jerked his hand away. Nightmares. Another one of those human things he forgot about. He hoped it wasn't about him… but the sick feeling of doubt in his stomach would not be quelled by hope.
Juno's rage didn't faze him. He didn't care if she was pissed or not. She had no power over him with his marriage to Lydia. He shrugged one shoulder, still looking only at his wife and not the nasty coworker.
"Didn't hurt her, though. Wouldn't never hurt her, not unless she wanted it," he offered‒ even if that did feel like a lie when he looked at her back and the marks he left on her. "I like her a lot, June. Really like her. First girl I been anywhere near havin' feelin's for," he explained with a shake of his head.
"What's it to you anyway- why you here?" Betelgeuse didn't care if he was snippy, he was still pissed from Lydia earlier, and wanted to curl up with his wife. Not arguing with some old hag from his desk job.
Wouldn't ever hurt her, unless she wanted it.
"Right. And I'm sure those were tears of joy she was crying into your coffin. Bleeding. Half Naked. Sure, Betel."
With a heavy sigh, completely ignoring the ghoul's possessive body language, Juno took a seat opposite him at the edge of the coffin, mirroring, a sympathetic frown aimed down at the fitfully sleeping girl. She was just a baby.
"I came here to drag you kicking and screaming to the Lost Souls Room to carry out your sentence." At his expectedly negative reaction, Juno waved him off dismissively, lighting a cigarette, gaze still locked on the girl child they both hovered over. "Didn't know she was here. Didn't know what happened. My business here is done, but before I go, I'm going to tell you a story…"
Virtually no details of the caseworker's living life were privy to anyone in the Nether. Her history was as mysterious as her occupation‒ in part because talking about it made her feel weak. Embarrassed. Threw her back to a time when she was powerless.
"My husband was a foul piece o' shit. Locked me in our basement without food or water for a whole week once while he had whores over to fuck in our bed. Hated me because I couldn't give him children. Divorce wasn't an option. You know. Neither was running away. I didn't have anything. It was all his. My Daddy died and left me everything he had in the world‒ which wasn't a lot to begin with‒ and I still didn't have the right to a single damn thing all because a cheap copper ring and a piece of paper told everyone else in the world that I belonged to this man."
Her voice was steady and monotonous, almost desperately so. As if Juno feared that if she were to allow emotion in, it would be too much, and it would all come pouring out. Now was not the time or place.
"I wasn't allowed to wear nice, pretty things. He pawned all my late Mother's jewelry when I inherited it. Sold it for liquor and whores, even their wedding bands. There was this… this really gorgeous silver necklace my mama kept with a tiny little ruby dangling in the center. It was the nicest thing our family ever owned. Said it was a gift from 'fairies', that she found it in the woods. She was a little touched like that. Always promised it would be mine one day. Never did get to wear it."
Finally, those grim gray eyes drifted up from the sweet sleeping lamb to the wolfish husband, dark with the ghosts of her past.
"So I gave myself a necklace Edgar couldn't take away."
Standing, she took one last deep drag of her smoke before tossing the butt.
"Husbands should always be good to their wives, Betel, or else just not have them in the first place. I don't want to see this girl in my office. Get your shit together."
With wisdom imparted, Juno dissipated with a puff of smoke, disinterested in whatever it was the poltergeist was going to tell her and himself to attempt to wash down the bad taste of her scolding.
Even if it pissed him off to have the bitch lecture him, he sat and listened to Juno. He knew nothing about her living experience, nor did he even care all that much. But he knew she was going somewhere with it so he listened. Her words, monotonous and uncaring, held more than she let on. The knowledge of her going through that, hurting in that way, it made him feel something akin to sympathy for the hag. Not a lot, but enough that he squirmed under her harsh gaze and her painful story.
He couldn't stand the thought of being that kind of husband to Lydia, of her being able to tell a similar story to Juno's one day. Even thought he knew she was a strong girl, and very seriously doubted she would tread the path of suicide knowing what she knew now, there was a worm of doubt in his head. It made his stomach bubble with fear. Betelgeuse stared at his wife, his hand gently curled in her soft hair, and he felt something shift in him.
The poltergeist wasn't pissed anymore. He was almost guilty, feeling like a shit man. He only let himself deflate when Juno disappeared. Betelgeuse sighed as he melted into his snake form, curling around Lydia and squeezing his coils around the tiny girl.
"'M sorry, Lyds..."