“Uh, Seb?” Miki arched an eyebrow as he shuffled down the bus aisle. “You do realize this isn’t our stop, right?”
Seb flashed what he hoped was an innocent smile. “Yeah, I just, um, thought I’d walk Sophia home,” he shot a look back at his fidgeting escort for confirmation. “Y’know, be a gentleman for once.”
“Good thinking,” Tobias interjected before Miki could form another question. “We’ll catch you guys later.”
Seb gave a grateful nod and hurried off the bus, pausing only to make sure Miki didn’t try interrogating Sophia as well. Fortunately, they both made it out unscathed, stepping onto the curb just as the doors folded closed and the hydraulics hissed. Seb turned as the bus pulled away, offering a half-wave to his departing friends. To his relief, Miki returned the gesture, completely unaware that Tobias was flashing him a “thumbs up” over her shoulder. Seb managed to keep a straight face until they were out of sight.
“S-so it’s just down the street,” Sophia piped up, leading the way down the leaf-strewn sidewalk. “It won’t take long, I promise.”
“I know,” Seb assured her with a bemused smile. “I’ve walked you home before, remember?”
“Oh. Yeah, duh.” Sophia laughed, only to shoot another anxious glance over her shoulder.
She was nervous. But not in the usual way. Ever since their reunion at the coffee shop, Seb had noticed a constant tension prickling on her skin, so sharp it was impossible to get close without it nicking him as well. At first, he had chalked it up to lingering ill-will from their high school days.
But this was different.
Or…no, maybe he was just seeing it clearly for the first time.
The way her deep brown eyes sought his, only to glance away the moment they made contact. The way laughter seemed to bubble out from her, as though his presence made it impossible to contain. The slight flush in her cheeks when she smiled at him.
As he watched her walk ahead, her dark hair flitting in the breeze, her hips subtly swaying with every step, Seb finally saw her. Not as a childhood friend he had grown apart from. Not as a high school crush he had ruined. He saw the Sophia he had glimpsed in that corset: a Sophia who reveled in the allure of her own body, who beckoned his touch with a glance. No longer innocent, yet pure all the same, glowing with a desire so basic it burned through all the history and hurt.
The realization hit with a searing clarity.
That glance over her shoulder wasn’t hesitation. It was anticipation.
Yet even as the Vox stirred inside of him, Seb tried to suppress it. He had to be careful. These sort of feelings had torn Sophia from him once, and that was before he had to worry about mind control powers and a jealous, potentially vengeful heiress. It was best he take it slow.
Even if he what he really wanted was to take her.
Seb quickened his pace, matching his strides beside Sophia. “Something just occurred to me,” he said with an abashed smile. “Mercy Hill is a girls-only dorm, right? I’m not gonna get you in trouble by hanging around, am I?”
“Don’t worry,” Sophia replied. “The no-guys rule doesn’t really kick in until 10:00, so we have time.” Again, her eyes met his, then darted away. “A-and anyway, most of the girls only live there ‘cause it’s close to central campus. Or their parents put them there like mine. So…I don’t think they’ll snitch on us if…you know…you ended up staying a little later.”
That told Seb everything he needed to know. Everything he desired. And everything he feared.
The stairs to the front door weren’t steep, yet Seb couldn’t help but fixate on each step. There was a threshold here, beyond the waiting wooden door, a dangerous divide he would soon cross. Whether or not anything “happened” in Sophia’s room, the evening’s weight was already set in stone, and would cast wide ripples through their relationship. The possible consequences were dizzying.
So Seb focused on the now, following Sophia’s steps through the entrance foyer, past a sitting area filled with overstuffed furniture and a fake fireplace glow. An elevator stood at the far end, its cold, modern doors a strange contrast to the warm brick and tile that lead to it. The metal squeaked slightly as it opened, sending a small jolt through Seb as he stepped inside.
The lift was empty. But Sophia still kept close to him, her shoulder briefly brushing his torso when she leaned forward to hit the third floor button.
Her hand fell to her side. So close to his he could practically feel the warmth radiating from her.
She smelled nice.
The elevator rumbled. Not a peep escaped from its passengers. In the fraught quiet, Seb couldn’t help but remember Chelsea’s words. She had called him a coward. Had called his feelings for Sophia nothing more than a childhood dream.
His fists clenched. He wasn’t sure what awaited him in Sophia’s room, but one thing was for certain: he was going to prove his haughty foe wrong.
The silence persisted after Sophia and Seb left the elevator, the hallway smothering their steps as they made their way to Sophia’s room. It took a moment for her to slot her key-card into the reader, a bout of fumbling she covered with an abashed laugh. Seb laughed too, if only to release some of the tightness in his chest.
It didn’t help much. And he still found himself holding his breath as Sophia swung the door open, gently ushering him inside.
It was uncanny. Like stepping back in time. Wait, no…more like entering an alternate dimension. The familiar touchstones were all there: the anime figurines arrayed on the desk, the bookshelf stuffed with dog-eared paperbacks and faded manga volumes. The empty soda cans in the trash and the promotional game posters on the walls. Even her bedding was the same, covered by the worn fantasy-map comforter she had gotten in eighth grade.
But this was not the same room he and Sophia had shared that devastating kiss in. And this was not the same Sophia bending down in front of him, her jeans stretching across her ass as she set her shopping bag down.
The Vox rumbled. Seb coughed. “So I’m guessing there’s a new series you wanna show me? Something about high schoolers battling demons? Does that narrow it down?”
Sophia let out a shaky laugh. “I-I mean, you know I’m always down for high schoolers battling demons.” She tugged absently on the strings of her hoody. “But uh, I was wondering if you’d take a look at my Velma costume first. Y’know, to make sure I got it right.”
Seb wasn’t sure what expression to make, so he settled for a blank smile. “Sure.”
Sophia’s eyes brightened. “Great! Uh, just don’t look for a sec, I’ll get changed.”
Seb nodded, turning and exhaling a shaky breath. The Vox thrummed impatiently in his chest. He tried to quiet its demands. Tried to ignore the sound of Sophia’s hoody unzipping behind him. Tried not to picture her peeling her undershirt over her head, her dark hair cascading down her bare shoulders, her breasts swaying as she tossed the garment aside and bent to remove her jeans.
Seb stared at his phone, boring holes in the screen. He scrolled mindlessly through his social feeds, the pictures and posts barely more than a blur, a facile distraction from tightness in his pants, the yearning surging from his crotch to his head.
His phone buzzed. A text message from Chelsea.
Seb’s heart leapt, his thumb tapping the icon before he could stop it. A silent roar of victory filled his ears as the image filled his screen:
Chelsea Jaeger. Crouched and begging like a bitch in heat. Her pale skin naked for his appraisal, her pussy dripping for his cock. Her eyes were rolled back, her mouth open and tongue drooling, the red letters above her slightly upturned nipples confirming what she was: “A DUMB SLUT.”
The recording had worked. Chelsea had fallen to his power. The blackmail video was gone. And now he held all the cards.
Seb clenched his jaw, but still couldn’t stymie the wicked grin spreading across his features. He was triumphant. He was ascendant. He was her Master. And she was his…
“Um, you can turn around now,” Sophia called.
Seb did so automatically, for a moment forgetting where he was or what he had been doing. But it didn’t take long to remember.
The ochre turtleneck was probably a size too small. That would explain how the fabric clung so perfectly to Sophia’s body, the subtle lines of the knitting distending over her large, pillowy chest. Her skirt fell at the exact right length, the pleated edges leaving an enticing glimpse of her soft thighs before the line of her matching socks. She shifted her hips back and forth uneasily, causing the skirt to swish to and fro, threatening to expose what lay beneath.
“S-so what do you think?” she asked.
For a moment, Seb was struck speechless. Until his other voice spoke for him.
“You look great.”
Sophia blinked, stumbling back, causing her sweater to bounce as she grasped for balance.
Seb bit his tongue, forcing the Vox down as he rushed to help. “Whoa, are you okay?”
“Y-yeah…” Sophia managed to catch herself on her desk. “Sorry, not sure what…that was…”
Seb laughed uneasily, as though that would help drown out the Vox’s bellowing frustration. It had slipped free for a moment, but he refused to unleash it on Sophia. If she wanted him…not just as a friend, but as something more…he needed to hear her say it. Not under the influence of his power, but of her own free will.
“M-maybe you should sit down,” Seb offered with a disarming smile. “Before you knock over any more of your figurines.”
His hand was on her shoulder.
When had that happened?
Sophia looked up at him, seeming to come to the same realization. But she didn’t move away. Didn’t flinch or deflect his gaze. Instead, she opened her lips, hesitated, then spoke in a voice almost too quiet to hear.
“I, um…” she began, then swallowed. “There was actually something I was hoping we could do together tonight.”
Seb struggled as the Vox and his voice clashed in his throat. “Wh-what’s that?” he croaked.
“Can you…” her doe eyes flitted away. “Can we…try that hypnosis thing again?”
Seb’s knees almost gave out. He stepped away from Sophia, struggling to stand, struggling to think as she followed up her request with a rush of qualifiers and assurances. She was okay if he didn’t want to. She understood if he felt weird about it. She just found the whole experience really relaxing and nice and thought it would be cool to try it again and…
“Okay,” Seb finally managed to say.
Sophia froze mid-sentence, her mouth hanging open for a beat before she seemed to process what he just said. “Really?”
Seb’s muscles were so tense, even nodding was an effort. “Sure. I-I might be a little rusty but. Uh. I’m definitely down to give it a shot.”
Sophia’s face reddened. She crossed her arms, her fingers digging into the fabric of her sleeves. “Great. So. Uh. I don’t really have a pendant or anything like we used before, but…uh…” She took a few half-steps in differing directions before finally moving to her desk and scooping up her phone. “M-maybe something like this will work?”
She held up the screen for him, displaying a gif of a classic black-and-white spiral spinning in an endless, hypnotic loop. Seb’s first thought was that it would indeed work. His second was that she had found it awfully quickly.
“We, um…” Sophia withdrew the phone, as though embarrassed to show it any longer. “We just need something for me to focus on, right? So I figured, y’know…can’t go wrong with a classic. Right?”
“Oh. Totally.” Seb replied. Technically, not all inductions required visual fixation, but he wanted to keep his answers short, lest the Vox decide to slip into his words.
Plus, he wasn’t about to talk himself out of having Sophia stare into a spiral. That much was a given.
“Awesome, so…” Once again, Sophia seemed to debate several directions in her head before finally crossing to her bed. Her skirt fluttered slightly as she plopped down on the squeaky mattress, a full second passing before she remembered to cross her legs. “Why don’t you, um, sit right here,” she patted the space next to her, “and that way you can hold the phone, like…” she tried to demonstrate, then gave up with a flustered laugh. “Am I making sense?”
Seb gave an affirming smile and joined her, crossing his own legs in a feeble attempt to cloak his eager erection. “Like this, right?” he held his hand out in front of her.
“Y-yeah,” she reached out and gently pressed the phone to his palm, the gif already spiraling before her eyes. “Just…like that.”
“Is there, um,” Seb fought with his phrasing, “anything in particular you wanted to, like…do, or experience or...?”
“Just…a trance to start,” came the hesitant answer. “And we can…see how we feel afterwards.”
“Okay,” Seb exhaled, trying to center himself even as his head spun. Things were moving so fast, and yet each second felt magnified into an eternity. He was almost certain Sophia meant this as a pretext to a more…amorous evening, but he couldn’t be sure. And he couldn’t unduly influence her in that direction. All he could do was play along, fixating on every glance and shift of his subject, reading the hidden signs that lay beneath.
Sophia took a quivering breath, anxiously adjusting the hem of her sweater and pressing her skirt down.
“Relax,” Seb said, his hypnotist instincts clicking into place. “Remember, you’ve done this before. Let it come back to you at whatever pace you need. Nice, easy, and natural. You don’t have to rush or force anything. Just relax for me.”
“Relax…” the word slid from Sophia’s lips, her shoulders lowering.
Seb grit his teeth, silently cursing. It seemed like just yesterday he had to actively concentrate to draw the Vox out—now it was practically dripping from his tongue. All the practice at parties was coming back to haunt him.
“Focus your attention on the spiral,” he continued. “Feel it pull your eyes to the center. Follow those swirling lines down, and see if you can find where they lead. Try not to fall too quickly. But it’s okay if you do. It’s all part of this wonderful feeling. You do remember how good it feels, don’t you?”
Sophia’s head dipped slightly, and when she lifted it back up into place, a smile was playing on her lips. “Yes…” she answered, her voice already dulling.
Seb hesitated. “You want to feel that way again, don’t you?”
He could see the reflection of the spiral in her eyes, pinpricks of monochrome swirls in the center of her dilating pupils. There was no hesitation or fear there. No second thoughts. Just a desire to do as Seb commanded, to follow the spinning light into the sweet abyss she yearned for.
Maybe…maybe using the Vox wasn’t such a bad idea.
Not to control her. But to help her.
To please her.
“That’s right…” Seb murmured. “You can remember how easy it was to relax for me, to let yourself go. Just let my voice and the spiral guide you into that blissful state. Let everything else slip away, and fade into the background. It’s all so unimportant now. You don’t need to worry about anything else. You don’t need to do anything else. Just listen. Watch. And relax.”
Sophia let out a long, languid sigh. Her head started to droop again, but she didn’t bother to correcting it. She just let her chin fall towards her chest, her eyes still pinned to the swirling phone screen, causing her heavy-lidded gaze to tilt upwards.
So this was what it was like using the Vox on a willing subject. Seb could get used to this.
“Very good. You’re doing so wonderfully,” he assured her. “The more you relax, the easier it becomes. Each breath in, feel yourself fill with that warm, blissful, tranquil sensation. And each breath out, feel all the tension in your body slipping away. So with every moment that passes, you sink deeper into this moment. Deeper into my voice. Deeper into trance.”
“Deeper…” Sophia repeated, her lips hanging open as the final syllable faded into air. Her arms slid off her lap, resting limp at her sides as her legs drifted apart. Seb felt her thigh press against his, sending a shiver through him. She was so close. So vulnerable. So soft and warm and…
Seb tore his gaze away from her body, focusing instead on her face. Her expression was glazed and distant, her jaw slack and her breathing slow. It was likely she was already experiencing a trance of sorts but…just to be safe…
“Now,” Seb murmured. “I’m going to count to three. And with every number that passes, you will feel your eyelids grow heavier and heavier. When I reach the number three, your eyes will close, and you will feel a wave of relaxation flow through you, pulling you with it deep down into a wonderful, blissful trance. Your body will remain upright, as it is now, but all tension, all lingering cares and concerns, will be washed out of you by this wonderful, irresistible wave, which you will feel when I count to three. Do you understand?”
“Yes…” Sophia answered blankly.
Sophia’s pupils rolled back, her eyelids fluttering briefly before closing. Her head fell forward, and Seb moved to catch her before she pitched off the bed. Fortunately, she stopped herself short of tumbling, and managed to sway back into an upright position, even as it looked like every muscle in her body had gone limp.
It was just as Seb commanded. She was deep in trance. All that was left to do was let her enjoy the feeling for a moment, then bring her out and…
Seb paused. He couldn’t help but notice the two tiny nubs on her breasts, standing stiff against the fabric of her sweater, gently rising and falling with each breath. Her legs were spread far apart now, and her hips were subtly swaying back and forth, as though she were rubbing her crotch against the sheets.
Was this…the Vox’s doing? Or…had Sophia always…
Suddenly, a pained gasp escaped Sophia’s lips, causing Seb to jolt. Her body went stiff, her face scrunching into an expression of surprise, confusion, and hurt. It was a complete reversal from how she was just behaving, and for a moment Seb was too shocked to respond.
“Wh-what’s wrong?” he finally stammered.
“I…I…can’t be here,” his subject answered, her voice wavering. “But…I…I…”
Seb let out a hissing breath, cursing himself for asking such a vague question to someone deep in trance. “Sophia, listen to me,” he said. “You’re safe. You’re in control. If you want to come out of trance, you can at any time. Do you want to wake up now?”
“No…don’t…wanna wake up…” Sophia slurred, her brow furrowing. “But…gotta…leave…or…or…”
“It’s okay,” Seb assured. “Just keep breathing, tell me what you’re feeling, and I’ll help you. Okay?”
“Okay…” She took a deep breath, the strain in her voice easing when she spoke next. “I feel…bad because…I need to leave you alone.”
Seb blinked, confused. “What do you mean? Why do you have to leave me alone?”
“’Cause…you told me to…back then…”
The realization descended like an icy mist. “You mean…back in high school, don’t you?”
Seb’s heart shuddered as the guilt chilled his blood. He had always assumed Sophia had hated him after their falling out. But now he knew: his rejection hadn’t set her against him. It had set her against herself. It had deepened the scars of self-loathing he knew she bore. For that pain to flare up now, for it to be so fundamental that it would break through even the Vox’s influence…Seb couldn’t let it go without redress.
“Sophia,” Seb murmured. “Open your eyes and look at me.”
She did so, her movements halting as she met his gaze, as though afraid of what she might find. It was enough to squeeze the air from Seb’s throat. Yet when he spoke next, the Vox sounded gentler and warmer than he had ever heard it.
“I don’t want you to leave,” he said. “You are the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. And I care about you so, so much.”
Sophia’s breathing slowed. Her hands unclenched. “Y-you do…?” she whispered.
“More than anyone else,” Seb continued. “I don’t want you to feel guilty or bad about what happened back then. I want to make you feel good. I want you to be happy.”
Scattered tears dripped down her cheeks, but still her gaze remained fixed on his. Seb leaned forward, brushing the errant droplets away.
“Relax,” he whispered. “Everything is going to be okay. Just breathe, and relax.”
Gradually, her lips curved into a smile. “Relax…” she repeated.
“Let all the bad feelings slip away. You don’t need them anymore. Just let my voice and my words guide you deep into a state of complete relaxation. Free from pain. Free from worry. So totally at peace, that nothing can harm or disturb you. You want to go there, don’t you?”
“Yes…” Sophia answered, her expression becoming dreamy and distant.
“Very good. Then that’s what we’ll do. On the count of three. One…two…three.”
Once again, her eyes closed. Her body slouched forward, her head falling on Seb’s shoulder, startling him. His entire body tensed, unsure of how to respond. In a way, after what he had put her through, it felt wrong for her to be so close, for him to be the pillar of comfort holding her aloft.
As Seb began to move away, she nuzzled closer into him. Her breath wafted over his neck, warm and languid. There wasn’t a trace of the earlier discomfort on her face. Just blank, blissful contentment. If he didn’t know any better, Seb would say she was in a deep, peaceful sleep.
So Seb let her rest. And caught his own breath as well. He doubted Sophia would be in the mood to take things further when she was awake. Yet even as he realized this, he didn’t feel disappointed. After the session had veered so closely to disaster, after he had witnessed the potency of Sophia’s pain, all he felt now was relief.
Curiously, the Vox seemed to share the sensation. Even with Sophia completely under his influence, even with all the heat and desire that had been building over the course of the evening, the wicked voice inside him had quieted. It was no longer clamoring for satisfaction, no longer demanding Sophia’s complete servitude.
Instead, like Seb, the Vox was content to sit in this moment. To enjoy the feeling of her leaning on his shoulder, a picture of trust and comfort. Her hair falling in strands before her sleepy expression. Her lips pursed slightly, a tiny murmur escaping whenever Seb shifted.
If it was up to Seb, he would’ve made the moment last forever.
But his shoulder was falling asleep. And, if he didn’t wake her soon, Sophia was probably soon to follow.
“Sophia, can you still hear me?” he asked.
“Yes…” came the almost imperceptible reply.
Seb let out a relieved breath and—after taking a beat to absorb his surroundings, to etch the moment in his mind for eternity—he began counting her up out of trance. Ten…nine…eight…he delighted in the way she sighed….seven…six…five…the drowsy groan she made, the way her body stirred as the energy returned to it…four…three…two…the movement behind her eyelids, flickers of awareness returning…
Sophia blinked awake, swaying slightly as her body straightened and reoriented.
“Hey…” Seb ventured, watching her closely.
Her head slowly turned to face him. “Hey…” she repeated with a smile.
“You doing alright?”
“Um. Yeah…it’s just…” She looked away and laughed, embarrassed. “That was…uh…wow…I…I’m not sure…what…”
“It was a lot, huh?” Seb ventured.
Another unsteady laugh. She brushed the hair out of her face, her hand shaking slightly. “Y-yeah, it was really…gosh...I…” she wiped her eyes. “I dunno how to really describe it.”
“But…” he paused, scanning for any signs of discomfort. “You feel okay, right?”
Sophia met his gaze. “Yes,” she answered. “I just…need a moment, I think.”
“I totally understand,” Seb checked his phone. 10:00PM was approaching. And he was exhausted. “Maybe we should…” he hesitated, and was surprised to find no resistance from the Vox. “Maybe we should call it a night. Take it slow.”
Sophia fell silent, seeming to process this. Then she smiled. “That sounds good,” she answered, a lingering dreaminess still dripping from her voice.
Seb stood. “I’ll text you tomorrow,” he said. “Then we can take time to really unpack all of this, okay?”
“Yeah,” Sophia breathed, seeming to relax even further. “I’d like that.”
Seb smiled and headed for the door, giving one last goodbye before exiting the room. He left the dorm quickly, waiting for the Vox to flare up and demand his return. Yet as he stepped into the cold autumn night, the hunger he had felt so acutely upon arrival was completely extinguished. The Vox remained dormant. Content.
Perhaps it wasn’t only sexual desire that fed the monster inside him.
Perhaps it wasn’t a monster at all.
Sophia’s head felt fuzzy.
And so, so good.
It had been over an hour since Seb had brought her out of trance, but it still felt like she hadn’t fully woken up. She drifted through her room as she got ready for bed, sporadically realizing she was putting on her PJ’s or brushing her teeth. The entire night felt like a dream. Too strange and wonderful to be true. Even in her wildest fantasies, the sensation of hypnosis hadn’t even been close to what she had just experienced. It had been overwhelming. Intoxicating. A headlong plunge into an ocean of pleasure and possibility.
One she had emerged from transformed.
The other voice was gone. Seb had taken it away.
Even as she struggled to explain it, she knew in her heart it was true. When she thought back to that moment in high school, when she tried to conjure the hurt she had become so accustomed to, the memory returned dull and harmless. The words that had scarred her were gone, replaced by new truths.
“You’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.”
“I want you to be happy.”
Sophia smiled, a giddy rush tickling her body. Drowsy as she was, she doubted she would get much sleep tonight. A new horizon was shining before her, boundless and bright. She wanted to chase it as far as she could, sprinting headlong into this new world she and Seb had discovered.
She could still hear an echo of him as she lay down in bed and closed her eyes. A phantom of his voice, wrapping itself around her body, soothing her skin and stoking the heat in her veins. So exciting and arousing. So warm and familiar.
Where had she heard it before..?
The voice she heard when she was in trance…it was the same one Seb had used on Chelsea at the variety show…
Sophia’s eyes snapped open. The air vanished from her lungs.
The block party.
There was no mistaking it now.
Seb had been there.
And both he and Chelsea had lied about it.