It had been a week since Magnolia returned from her trip. The flight back had been tense, and none of the staff said anything to her. They could tell.
She hadn't heard anything from Lily, or Kassandra, or even Chain that week. Nothing. She attempted to text them or call them, but the texts were never read, and the calls went to voicemail. Out of desperation, she'd even spent two nights in their apartment, praying that she would wake up to find Lily there, serving her as they always would. But they weren't there. Magnolia didn't even know if she would ever see them again. And even if she did... would she ever see Lily again?
She hoped they had come back to the city. In a foolish moment of panic, she'd canceled their credit card, hoping it would force them to come back. Instead, it just made her worry more. Were they eating? How would they have even made it back? They had nowhere else to go. They had no money, no connections, nothing. Although they probably remembered their parents now, Magnolia doubted that they'd have gone to them. Not when their stepbrother might be there. She'd checked with Jenn, and even Pierre - she refused to give Rye the satisfaction of a call - but she'd heard nothing. Pierre had apparently known about Magnolia's ownership of Lily, which was a shock. He'd explained that he had a fight with Rye after he saw him blow off Lily's handshake, and had wrangled the answers out of him. That should have been good news, satisfying news. But it was just numb.
Absently, her hand went to her collarbone, where the half-necklace Lily had given her was. She'd worn it constantly since they'd left, bearing the looks of confusion and disdain. Ignoring those looks was the best course of action. It didn't matter what they thought. She needed something to ground her more than she needed appearances. Something to remind her of them.
Her work suffered. She wasn't on top of her game like usual, and her secretary had to remind her of the most basic tasks she neglected to complete. He'd tried to cheer her up by joking that he could tell she was down because she wasn't insulting him. That just reminded her of Lily.
And so, a week after that dreadful confrontation, she sat at her desk, unable to focus. She'd asked her secretary to keep the management requirements to a minimum, and he'd complied without much fuss. She hadn't realized that was an option she had. She reached out for her coffee, but found it empty. That was her third cup within the last two hours. She hadn't been sleeping well. All she could think about was how desperately she wanted to sleep by their side.
Her phone rang. Phone calls usually never came through. Her secretary would always defer them to 'not Magnolia' because he knew her time was more valuable than that. And lately, even the important ones were being deferred, at her request. She just didn't have the heart to work, an experience new to her, and not one she enjoyed.
Magnolia picked up the phone, then nearly dropped it.
"Hey," Chain's voice came from the line. He was tired. As tired as she was, maybe.
Magnolia didn't respond. She couldn't find the words. It wasn't from their number, so where was it from? The connection was awful, with his voice more static than signal.
"I got arrested," he sighed. "I came back to the city. Beat someone up."
Her heart dropped. If he was arrested, that meant Lily was too. She didn't expect the police to understand their situation. That was difficult, even for her. But the effort was more than worth her while.
What would happen to them? If Lily came back to the front, they wouldn't be able to fight back against anyone in prison. They had the strength, perhaps, but not the will. She could imagine them huddled on the ground, as sleepless as she was with worry. And that didn't even approach how bad it would be if anyone started to look deeper at their history.
Magnolia didn't want to fight Chain. She was the only person he could call, after all. Lily, and by extension him, didn't have anyone else to go to.
"I will be over as soon as possible," she said tonelessly, fighting to keep her emotions under control.
Chain hung up without so much as a thank you, but she didn't care. She had to see them again. If she could get Chain out, then she could get Lily back out from whatever depths they were in. Or at least Kassandra. There was no way that Kassandra would lie down and give up. She was hard to handle, but she would want Lily back as much as Magnolia did, if not more. They could find a solution, together. Kassandra had to know more about how this all worked, too. What must it be like for Lily? Were they trapped in some deep, dark place within themself, helpless to do anything but sit there and watch? Were they even conscious?
Would she ever see Lily again?
Chain sat on the bench in one of the cells. The other people being held in the jail gave him a wide berth whenever he was out for meals. He'd proven he was dangerous, and most of them weren't more than petty criminals. They had other things to worry about. So did Chain.
Soon enough, the guard opened the gate and led Chain out to the front. He had expected to be greeted by a cross Magnolia, but raised an eyebrow when he saw two buff, tall men in suits dropping a huge amount of money as bail instead. He almost felt bad for the expense. Almost.
He didn't say anything to the two hired thugs as he was led out. Not until they opened the back of a van, and shoved him towards it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he growled, trying to physically fight back. But clearly, that's why Magnolia had sent these two. He was strong, but they were bigger, and had the physique of bodybuilders. So he was helpless to struggle as they sat him down in a chair bolted to the floor of the van, then strapped his limbs and torso down. Adding insult to injury, they threw a blindfold over his eyes. Chain continued to scream, hoping someone would think he was being kidnapped and give him a chance to escape.
The sound didn't echo. Soundproofing. So she'd planned for that, too.
Chain lurched to a halt, groaning at the pain where the straps cut into him. He'd stopped shouting when he'd realized it was pointless. Best to conserve energy.
The blindfold was not meant for anything other than the dark back of the van, clearly, as he could basically see through it with the light pouring into the van. With a power tool of some sort, they undid the bolts in the chair and picked it up, with Chain still strapped to it. A quick glance showed that he was somewhere underground. He didn't scream. He knew she'd be expecting that. He just growled "go to hell" softly, and was met with silence.
He had to admit. It was respectable that the guards were strong enough to carry him and a metal chair. He had no idea where he was, and so, waited patiently, every muscle alert and tense, as they carried him through two rooms, then sat him down, still blindfolded.
"Here he is, boss," one of them rasped, the first time Chain actually heard either of their voices.
There was no response, besides the guards stepping out, closing the door behind them. He winced as the blindfold was ripped off, returning color and light to the world, along with the face he'd been cursing silently for the past week.
"Aren't you going to thank me," Magnolia began slowly. That wasn't good. Cold fury was more dangerous than the stuff that burned itself out, like poor stupid Kassandra. "To thank me, for spending so much time, money, and energy on you?"
"Fuck off," he spat.
"That's no way to talk to the reason you're not rotting in a jail cell," she remarked with dark amusement, slapping him across the face casually. As if he was her plaything. "You're lucky I'm not letting you suffer too much. But you know it's not because I care about you. It's because I care about Lily, and I could care less what hell you burn in."
"Why would you care about that idiot?" he laughed, forcing himself to put on his grin. "You always say it, don't you? That they're stupid, mindless, only have two braincells, whatever. To their face, even!" He laughed harder at that, though Magnolia wasn't amused. "Though I'm not hurt, honestly. You have a point."
"Lily may not be smart, Chain, but they are no fool. More than I can say for you," she said icily, her eyes burning holes through him. "Not that it matters, though. I don't particularly care what you think about me, and certainly not what you think of Lily. All I care about is having them back."
She grabbed a fistful of his hair, meeting his eyes. He just grinned.
"Bring. Lily. Out," she snarled.
"Make me," Chain snorted.
"Very well," Magnolia said, as though she'd expected that. Chain's grin faltered for a moment. "Then I will force Lily to the front and make sure you can never harm them ever again."
"Aww, and just how are you going to do that?" Chain cackled, his voice sickeningly sweet. "What, are you going to open my skull up and rewire my brain? Like those stupid cartoons where you shrink down and enter my body? Cause I don't go under, lady."
Magnolia had stopped paying attention. It didn't matter what he said. All he was spouting were empty insults and threats. He really would have to try harder. She'd heard far worse from people who actually mattered.
She pulled out her pocket watch, a watch that had been custom made for her. She dropped it in front of his eyes, letting it swing, the clock ticking loud and clear.
"Oh, so this is how you're going to try to make Lily come out! Pathetic. Didn't you hear me? I don't go under, idiot."
"You must know that no one is listening," she said absently. "No one cares about your opinions or your words. All anyone cares about is the ticking of this clock, and watching it go back and forth before your eyes. It's such an intriguing sight, isn't it?"
"No," he snarled, closing his eyes.
"But why not? It's so enticing, so beautiful. Much more beautiful than anything you've heard or seen before. After all, you've only ever experienced your own company. I almost feel sorry for you."
She fell silent, and Chain realized just how soundproofed this room was. There was nothing, not even the faint buzz of background noise. Just... the clock. Ticking. It was maddening. Impossible to ignore. He gritted his teeth, doing his best to ignore it.
"I see we're doing this the hard way," she remarked. "Very well. I can play that game. I've dealt with much more difficult people than yourself. Did you know I work in business?"
"No." Chain snapped. "That doesn't matter to me."
He heard fabric against plastic and skin as Magnolia pulled out her phone, then the soft taps of her fingers on the screen. Then, music started playing. It was obvious why. It was supposed to calm him down. It wouldn't work. He just had to focus on something else.
"You're right, it doesn't matter," Magnolia continued. "You're resisting so well, aren't you? Fighting the music so hard. It's unfortunate. I really thought it would work. But instead, your focus isn't there." She sighed.
She was right. He wouldn't let it work. He just had to focus. Focus on that beat, the metronome. Her own stupid clock was going to be what screwed her over. He relaxed, letting that beat fill him, driving away the music. Lashing out at her would be just what she wanted. He just had to hold out.
"It's so unfortunate that you aren't listening to the music, isn't it? It's so nice, so relaxing..." He ignored her, even though something about the way she was speaking sounded off. It was too even, too measured. He just focused on driving away the music.
"But you're too strong for that, like I feared." He grinned, baring his teeth. "So strong, so capable of listening to something else, to the ticks of my clock. It's a shame."
Yes. He could listen to the clock. He was strong enough.
"Truly a shame. You're not falling deeper into that lovely sound, and instead, you're just listening to something boring. I truly did think it would work, Chain."
But it didn't.
She put the clock away.
That didn't matter. He could still hear that beat, count it out in his head.
"You won, Chain," she said softly, words timed to the beat. "You listened to the clock so well, and now the music can't put you under at all, can it?"
"Nnoo," he mumbled.
"Isn't it amazing?" Magnolia cooed, her voice soft, barely louder than the music. "You beat me. You're safe. You can retreat. Rest. You've won."
"Get... fucked," Chain sighed.
"That's alright," she said soothingly. "You won. You can boast. You can let go of that anger and frustration. You don't need it. You've won. There's no need to fight anymore. You can relax." Chain nodded, his body slumping in the restraints.
"Just like that," she cooed. "You won. So you can retreat. You've won so soundly, you've won the war. You won. You're done. So you can just rest." He nodded slowly.
"You don't need to worry about Lily or Kassandra anymore. Because you've won. You got what you wanted. So you don't need to fight any longer. You can finally rest."
She snapped, and he dropped.
"You can rest, and never need to come back."
She snapped, and he dropped.
"You've won, so you can leave Lily alone. You deserve it, for doing so well.."
She snapped, and he dropped.
"You can just rest, and never worry again."
Chain - although she wasn't sure if he was still there - slumped into the chair. Any struggle was long gone. He was long gone. Magnolia didn't think she'd killed him. It couldn't be that easy to erase someone's mind, their identity. But... he would rest. And for now, that would be enough.
"Now," Magnolia said slowly, carefully, "all that's left, in front of me, is Lily's body. Foolish, dopey, silly, amazing, incredible, wonderful Lily. Because you're always there, aren't you? Always ready to listen. To obey. To be here for me." She sighed. "Even if you forgot that for a while. But you're always there if you need to be, aren't you? I know you're strong enough for that. You're my precious plaything, after all. And I only accept the best."
She slumped back in her own chair, feeling that flow state evaporate. She'd practically put herself under. She certainly had been in some kind of trance. But... it had worked.
At least... she hoped. Although she supposed that now, she would find out.
Lily opened their eyes. That simple action felt so difficult. They had been hiding, hadn't they? They were afraid of something...
But they were stronger than that. They were hers.
"Mistress," they murmured. "What... happened?"
Magnolia didn't respond. She pulled something from her pocket, and their restraints - they had been restrained? - loosened. Then, wordlessly, she grabbed them tightly.
Lily sighed. This was something familiar. This was something they could...
They had been held...
They pushed her away, stumbling back, shaking. She watched them in shock as they huddled down against the wall.
"... Lily? That is you, right?" she asked softly.
"Are you... alright?"
They shook their head.
"Kassandra told me what happened. Sort of. So... are you..."
"Remembering," Lily rasped, surprised at how scratchy their voice was. It was as if they hadn't spoken in days. But...
"What do you remember, Lily?" she said softly, sitting down against the wall across from them.
They winced. "I... remember being on stage, with... with him. The one I told you about. My..."
Lily nodded, looking nauseous. "And then he... said to me... the Word." They were having trouble speaking. Their past was too fresh. Too raw. A wound they would have rather left closed. "And I ran. I got back to the hotel, and... I couldn't. Couldn't... remember, any longer." They shook their head, voice choking up. "Not... couldn't remember... couldn't take remembering. Kassandra came out. I... nothing else."
"A third alter came out."
Lily nodded. "Chain. I... remember him, now."
Magnolia sighed. "Yes. Him. I subdued him, eventually, but... he ran for a while. It took me a week to rescue him. I said that Kassandra told me what happened. About who that person was. Who Chain was."
A long pause.
"How are you feeling?" she finally asked.
Lily looked down. They would have started tearing up, but they felt too blank for that. As if their body, mind, and soul were numb. The memories hurt too much. The only thing they could do was not to feel at all.
"I see," Magnolia said softly - and Lily was surprised to find they believed her. "Perhaps I can help you feel again."
She got close to Lily, and Lily flinched. Magnolia shied back, shocked - that had been common when they'd first met, but Lily had been so comfortable with her lately. She'd thought things were fine.
"Stand up," she said softly.
Lily stood up numbly. At least they could still follow orders.
"Relax. I'm not going to hurt you. Just let me touch you. Comfort you." Comfort me, she added silently.
She approached Lily again, splaying her hands to show she wasn't holding anything. Lily tried their hardest to relax, to forget. They really did. But the moment Magnolia's hands got within an inch of their skin, they instinctively recoiled, their breathing growing ragged.
Magnolia retreated, her eyes narrowing. "I told you to relax," she said slowly. "We've done this before. We've done far more. This is no different just because you remember your past now."
"Y...yes, Mistress." Lily's voice shook. They wanted to obey, didn't they? But they couldn't feel that now.
They didn't know what was scarier - being touched, or being unable to just sink into their Mistress's arms. What was wrong with them? Magnolia reached out, insistently, desperately. Lily forced themself to let her touch them. Even still, the moment her hand met their skin, they froze. They could hear her talking to them, asking a question. Asking why they were acting like that? They couldn't make out the exact words. They couldn't focus on anything.
Magnolia pulled back, looking hurt. But they were being hurt. Why? Why did they have to remember? Why did that have to mean pushing her, of all people, away?
They weren't sure how much time passed before Magnolia spoke again.
"If this is how... things will be..." her voice broke, "I don’t think there’s a way we can continue our relationship."
Lily's heart turned to ice and shattered.
"No - no, I can work through this, I-I promise!" they protested, nearly shouting. "I've worked through so much with you, please, I-I need you!"
"Then you need to let me in, let me touch you again," she sighed. "Can you do that? Can you truly be comfortable with me by your side? Touching you? Sleeping together? Fucking you, over and over? After what happened, can you do that?"
Lily froze. They so desperately wanted to answer yes. But that would be a lie.
"I don't know."
Magnolia smiled bitterly. She stepped away, turning her back to them. That... hurt, more than Lily could describe.
"I will arrange for you to move to another city, so you can live separately from me," she whispered, although it sounded deafening in the soundproof room. "I'll give you enough money to get on your feet. You won't starve, or sleep on the street."
"Please..." Lily begged, but they couldn't find the words to keep speaking.
"This is how things should be," Magnolia finished quietly.
Lily just sat there, shellshocked. In so few words, their life had ended. The life they had so carefully built, the life she had so caringly provided, the trust they'd learned, their love, their safety - gone. As if it had never existed. And they couldn't do anything about it. Magnolia had made up her mind.
"I'll be taking my leave now," she whispered, voice strained. "I have some things to think about."
She headed towards the door. Lily reached out for her, but didn't have the strength of mind. They lay out on the floor, looking up as she left. "Please don't go," they whispered, but she had already shut the door behind her.
The quiet sank in. Too quiet. Like there wasn't a world around them. They hadn't realized how suffocating silence could be. They whispered the words they wish they'd said, knowing she wouldn't be able to hear, but needing to say them anyway.
"I love you..."