"Have you considered my offer, Lily?"
Engrossed in their game, the question startled them, as they'd assumed Magnolia was similarly engrossed in her work. The two had just finished breakfast, and Lily's Mistress had immediately been distracted by something on her laptop, and had been working intently while Lily just relaxed next to her.
"I... what offer, Mistress?"
"A week ago, when you had that horrid nightmare. I asked you to think about it, remember?"
Lily shook their head, still not remembering. Magnolia sighed.
"I had offered to consider sending you to therapy, if you wanted it. I took some time over the past week, and I think I have found a strong candidate for the position. Of course, that choice is yours."
Lily smirked despite themself. "You aren't making the decision for me, then?"
Magnolia frowned, and Lily's smirk faded at the admonishing look in her eyes. "I do appreciate that impulse, Lily, but now is not the time."
Lily shifted in their seat, suddenly uncomfortable. "I... I think I would rather you do make the decision, Mistress. I..."
Lily flushed. "I just don't think that I should..."
Magnolia nodded, pensive. "If that's your decision, then you won't go to therapy. Tell me your reasoning for not going, so I understand why."
"I don't... you shouldn't have to deal with my burdens, Mistress. You shouldn't have to hire someone to 'fix' me. If- if I'm broken, that's my job to deal with, ri-" They jumped as Magnolia's clenched fist hit the table, jangling plates in a rare display of genuine anger. She got up, walking to the kitchen's stone counter, and gripping it tightly.
"Stop. That. Stop thinking of it like you're broken, or a burden. Or that you have to do this yourself."
"But you don't-"
"I understand that you're stupid, Lily, but you need to get this through your head. You don't need to be 'fixed.' Needing therapy doesn't mean you're broken."
Lily blinked, as a half-remembered phrase passed through their head. Learn to have some faith in yourself, Delta...
Magnolia turned, grabbing Lily in a tight embrace. But despite that, they just felt... dead. They wanted so badly to follow orders, to believe her, but...
Magnolia released them, stepping back. "Tell me, plaything, would you call me broken? Or say I need fixing?"
"Of course not!"
"And if I told you that I go to therapy?"
Lily gaped. "You... but you're not..." Their mouth worked silently, as they processed that.
Magnolia bit back another comment about Lily's intelligence, deciding that there would be time for fun later, and that now was not the time.
Lily started crying. Magnolia hesitated for a moment, unsure what to do. Acting on impulse, she grabbed Lily in a soft hug, arms wrapping awkwardly around them. Their tears slowed, and they leaned against Magnolia, resting their head on her chest. Magnolia stiffened slightly, unsure whether she should admonish them, comfort them, or just let them be.
She waited for their tears to stop before she released them from the awkward embrace. Realizing that they were still too anxious, and still too unsure of themself to answer, she decided she would help them do what she could see they wanted.
"Lily, if you don't want to make the decision, fine. I order you to accept my gift of therapy, then."
Lily wiped their eyes with the sleeve of their hoodie, and nodded.
A week later, they sat, apprehensive, in the unfamiliar office waiting room. They remembered Magnolia telling them that she had explained the situation to the therapist in full, but that just made them more worried. How would they react? Would they call the authorities, creating trouble for their Mistress? Would they tell Lily that the hypnosis, something they had come to enjoy and look forward to in their relationship, was cause for concern?
They shook their head, trying to push their worries aside. Magnolia said she talked to them. She wouldn't have decided to hire them if she hadn't thought they could be trusted, right?
The budding panic was cut short as the door to the office opened. A woman with light brown hair, almost blonde, stood in the doorway, her green eyes studying Lily from behind round glasses. A scar ran up her cheek, somehow making her face look more dignified, more composed.
"Lily Hawkins?" she asked. "I'm ready to see you now."
They stood awkwardly, wishing that Magnolia could have been there to give them a push. "Y-yes, that's me."
She gestured Lily to come inside, sitting down in a rolling chair across a glass table from a couch. They did, shuffling uncomfortably as she closed the door. They looked up at her, a hint of fear in their expression.
"So, Mx. Hawkins, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Dr. April Laraia, and I am looking forward to helping you."
They stared to the side, not wanting to meet her eyes. "Lily is fine, thanks. So, how much is she paying you to keep quiet?" they asked, a bit of an edge to their tone.
"Quite a bit, actually."
Lily blinked. They weren't expecting such a candid response. They waited for a moment, thrown off by that honesty.
"I wasn't going to break her confidence even without the money, though. I told her as much, but she insisted. I think she was quite taken aback, actually."
They smirked a little, despite themselves, at the thought of Magnolia being as off-guard as they were.
"She had explained the situation by then, of course. I don't have a problem with it, though. From what she explained, Magnolia saved you from potentially worse - literally, in fact - from being given no will or freedom. And breaking up a trafficking ring would put too many targets on her back, so while it's regrettable, I can't fault her for not saving the others. She genuinely cares for you and helps you, and the fact that she owns you is something you enjoy. Is my understanding of the situation correct?"
"Was my summary inaccurate?"
"I... no, but... Magnolia really told you that much? About me, and about her?"
"Of course. She wanted the best for you, after all. I couldn't help you without knowing what I was helping with, could I?
"And even if I wasn't fine with this, it's not as if I could do much about it without my life becoming a living hell," she chuckled darkly. "Money can do a lot of things, as I'm sure you've learned."
Lily nodded, feeling dizzy despite sitting down.
She waved her hand dismissively. "I have no intention of breaking her trust, though, so it's nothing I have to worry about."
Lily just kept nodding, unsure what else to do. How the hell did they react to someone who just... understood?
April took out a pad of paper, starting to scratch down something. She looked up every few seconds, seeing if Lily wanted to talk, but they stayed quiet.
She wrote a final line, then put the pad down. "While silence is often necessary in therapy, this is the first session, and despite knowing your story, I do not know you yet."
"So you're free to talk about whatever you wish. I don't have a specific agenda, I merely want to get to know you."
They frowned. Just... talk? About what?
They took a deep breath, seizing on the first thing that came to mind. "I... I've been playing Pokken. It's a fighting game..?" They trailed off, but April looked receptive, so they continued.
"I... I go to a gaming cafe, there's a group that plays Pokken there that I play with. There used to be some history with one of them, Rye..." They grimaced at his name. April wrote something down quickly on her notepad, but didn't press the matter further.
"But we're fine now, although he keeps his distance. His friend Pierre is alright, though. He plays Machamp, and he says it's because he enjoys the challenge of playing a low-tier, but we're all pretty sure he's just attracted to him." They relaxed, feeling a bit of their tension drain away as they got talking.
"I got into the game pretty easily, even before I went to that cafe. It was one of the games Magnolia had bought, along with a Switch, for me to play with when she first... well, bought me."
April nodded at that, raising her hand slightly. Lily bit off the rest of their comment, waiting for her reply. "So, she seemed to want to give you a great amount of freedom and care from the start, is that right?"
"I... yes, I mean... I hadn't seen it that way, not until the end. She warmed up over time." April nodded, gesturing for Lily to continue.
"She never really forced me to do anything at first, not really. She insulted me a lot, though!"
"And that's okay with you?" She asked it matter-of-factly, like a cashier asking if a product will be its price. Lily blinked again, but they were a little used to her blunt understanding by now, so they continued.
"Yeah. I mean, it's fun. She did some things that might be questionable, at the start, but... I think she was genuinely trying to look out for me. The games were an attempt to bring me out of a depressive funk I had been in when I first met her, along with her telling me to find a creative hobby. I don't think she would have gone as far as she went, if she didn't know I liked it." They felt oddly surprised as they talked, these realizations coming to them for the first time.
"She saved me, in a lot of ways. From the auction, from my own depression, from... my step-brother... and from... from 'Chain.' A hostile alter, who put my life in danger, and attacked her, too. If she didn't already own it, I'd owe her my life several times over.
"I... I really love her."
April smiled warmly. "I can tell." Her expression cooled as she pursed her lips. "But about this 'Chain'... Magnolia mentioned you had DID, and that it had defined much of the early interactions between you. She mentioned two alters. One of them was Chain - she explained the circumstances behind his... removal - and the other was Kassandra, correct?"
"... Yeah. Kassandra. She was... something of a protective instinct." They winced unconsciously as they said her name, which April noted down, with a worried look back at Lily. "She was a crutch, one that let me ignore the past. She hasn't come back, not for a long time... and neither has my fear of what happened to me."
April's frown deepened.
Lily stepped out of the elevator, pushing open the door to the office building. A black limo pulled up, and the window rolled down slightly to show Magnolia's face. They breathed a sigh of relief. It had been years since they'd been kidnapped and attacked by 'Mistress Crimson,' but Magnolia and Lily still took more precautions than they used to.
They opened the door, settling in next to their Mistress, and strapped a seat belt on. The driver pulled away as soon as they had, heading back to the house.
"So, how was she?" Magnolia asked.
"She... well, I don't think she's going to do anything about the legal issues in our situation. I don't think she'll tell anyone, really. I trust her, but... I just have no idea what to make of her, y'know?"
Magnolia, rather than admonishing them for their idiocy or slowness, just groaned. "I know how you feel, Lily. She's so... candid, and she understands things in minutes that take hours for most people to figure out. I don't know how to deal with her at all, if I'm being quite honest."
Lily chuckled. "That's good. I was worried it was just me being an idiot."
Magnolia ran her fingers through their hair absently, scritching the back of their neck. "I'm sure that didn't help, plaything."
She sighed, putting her arm around Lily. "But... this was good?"
"Yeah... It was," Lily yawned, stretching. "I didn't realize talking could be so exhausting."
Magnolia gasped with false shock, putting her hand to her mouth. "Really now? I wonder why someone would take a job that required you to talk all day. Those people must be crazy!"
Lily didn't respond. Magnolia glanced over at them, and a quip about their response speed died as she saw their eyes were closed, snoozing softly against her shoulder.
"All right," she whispered. "Just this once."
"Hey, April!" They walked into the office, falling into the couch. Their initial stiffness had faded over two months, replaced with a warm respect for the blunt woman.
"Hello, Lily. How have you been since last week?"
"I've been doing pretty good, honestly."
"Do you want to talk about what happened?"
Lily grinned. "Oh, I'd love to. Mistress..." they trailed off, blushing. "She took me to a meeting with a business partner she's friends with. It wasn't an important meeting, so she didn't worry about me being stupid and messing it up. She turned it into a date, walking me through his garden. It was... nice, to just be able to come with her to something like that." They shook their head, trying to keep their mind moving.
"We watched some movies this weekend, too! One was... I don't quite remember the title. Something about a burning lady?"
"Portrait of a Lady on Fire?" April raised her eyebrow. "I can see why Magnolia would choose that to watch with you."
"Right? Gay, forbidden romance, and highly acclaimed, too. She had been raving about it for weeks, but she..." They smiled sheepishly. "She wanted to wait until she could watch it with me.
"We watched it together on the couch, and she just held me and cuddled. It was... really, really nice."
April smiled slightly, one of the few expressions besides neutral calm Lily had seen her make. "You two really are cute together, you know." Lily blushed, nodding.
"We watched Inside Out, too. I had meant to watch that a while ago, but it never ended up happening, and Mistress got tired of hearing me talk about it. I wanted to watch it with her, after all."
April's expression grew apprehensive. "And what did you think about it?"
"It was... nostalgic. Lots of the emotions - it doesn't quite feel right to call them alters - had... pieces of her, in them."
"Ah. They reminded you of her? In what ways?"
"Disgust... was trying to keep her safe, even if it was an overreaction. Kassandra was constantly telling me to try and escape, even after I decided I loved Mistress. Fear's panic over what could go wrong was part of that, too. Anger is obvious. She always was fiery. When she felt useless like Sadness, determined like Joy..."
April pursed her lips, nodding slightly. "I see, I see."
"But the movie nights were great!" they said, waving their hands in a placating gesture. "It was really nice, since she had a lot of free time the past week. A... lot of free time..." They trailed off, blushing furiously. April cocked her head in a questioning gesture, waiting for them to speak.
"She... ah, she decided she was going to beat some confidence into me."
"I assume that is a hypnosis - or BDSM - thing?"
"Y-yeah." April's blunt honesty still caught them off guard, a tad, but they were getting used to it.
"She wanted to try using punishment - in that way, of course - to reinforce a positive message. It was... it was really really nice. If I said something self-doubting, she'd hurt me, and..." Their expression melted as they remembered it.
April shook her head, smiling. "A nefarious and evil Mistress indeed."
"Oh, the worst," Lily said with a huge grin.
"I probably shouldn't just talk about her, though. I mean, I could, but I think we'd reach the end of the session before I stopped. Hm..." They paused for a second, trying to shift their mind off that topic.
"I met up with Jenn again, and we did a bit of drawing together. It was nice catching up with them! Gah, what else...
"Oh, right! We had a local tournament this weekend at ASZ. I won, but some of the new kids are really starting to catch up. Natan gave me a close final game, and they nearly had me at the end. My match against Rye, though... he said after I won, that A-Asher could have beaten me."
April grimaced. "Wow. Even after... that person was banned from the cafe... And what happened after?"
"I-I didn't need to step in. I felt like something should have been trying to come out, to hurt him for that, but it was empty. Pierre elbowed him hard, though, and gave me a nod and a worried look. He's... he's alright."
"Something? Do you mean Kassandra?"
"Yeah. Whenever someone mentions... him, or I'm really afraid, it feels like she should be there, like she used to be. It feels so uncomfortable, every time it happens."
April held her hand up, and Lily quieted, waiting for her to speak.
"Why would Kassandra being gone make you feel uncomfortable?"
Lily's eyes widened. Is... that what this is? "I... I don't know. I guess... At first, it felt like she was just a part of me, in a new way. But now..."
April nodded, understanding. "You think that even if you don't need her, that doesn't mean she should be gone?"
Lily nodded, tearing up a bit as what they had felt was finally put into words. "Y-yeah. I miss her, April. It's been years. I miss her a lot, but I'm afraid of what her coming back would mean for me."
April grimaced, and Lily stared at her with tears in their eyes, confused. "W-what's wrong?" they asked.
"I... know that your... history with hypnosis is complicated. Especially considering your history with... your stepbrother, and what he did to you." They shuddered, remembering that voice, that Word. Sweetstuff. They felt sick, but it passed quickly, leaving behind that emptiness where someone should be.
"And, although it's more of a positive, your current relationship complicates that subject further. But I think that hypnotherapy might help. Over the past few weeks, you expressed great discomfort over the fact that she's gone, and you told me that she could be brought out with hypnosis, which Magnolia proved while she was still testing the limits of what she could do to your mind. If you believe she deserves to exist, then... this might allow us to give her a chance to do so."
Lily blushed, thinking about going under in front of April. Obedience is pleasure, after all, and I'm not exactly shy about saying that in trance... But April already knew all of that, and she didn't mind. Lily nodded. "Alright. I'm willing to try, at least."
April exhaled sharply, a weight seeming to have lifted from her shoulders. "Alright. I was worried that suggestion would offend you, but I'm glad to see you considered it. That just leaves one question. Do you want me to be the one to put you under, or should I ask Magnolia to make time for a session soon?"
Lily didn't have to think. The answer came as naturally as breathing.
Magnolia felt unusually apprehensive as she sat, Lily by her side, in the small waiting room. It was rare she entered a situation she didn't have some measure of command over, especially of her own will - besides therapy sessions with Freyja, of course. Lily had reassured her that April was extremely good, and Magnolia had vetted her herself, April having been highly recommended to her by Freyja. But still, her heart was racing. You've faced worse than this, she reminded herself.
April opened the door, quickly scanning the two of them, reaching out a hand to Magnolia. "Thank you for making time for this session. I understand you are a very busy woman, so I do appreciate your flexibility."
Magnolia stood up, shaking April's outstretched hand. "Of course. I understand you're treating what's mine well?"
April rolled her eyes, ignoring the question. "One wonders how you keep yourself professional when referring to them normally, if you're using pet names without even thinking about it."
Magnolia raised an eyebrow, her grin predatory. "One wonders how you keep yourself safe, mouthing off to people who could end you on a whim."
"Because analyzing my patients and their relationships is my job, of course."
Magnolia opened her mouth slightly, then closed it, unsure how to respond.
Lily tugged on her sleeve. "Can we... go inside?"
She shook her head. "Yes. Lets."
April opened the door, and Magnolia and Lily took seats next to each other on the couch.
Magnolia frowned, feeling extremely awkward. Why should I be feeling awkward? That's ridiculous. She throws me off guard too easily.
Lily squeezed Magnolia's hand, and the sudden gesture shocked her out of her internal admonishments. She sighed, refocusing herself on the situation at hand.
"So that we're all on the same page, I would like to explain the plan again.
"Because Lily expressed concern over Kassandra's non-presence, I offered hypnosis as a possible solution, as you had used that to bring Kassandra out in the past. They agreed, and asked that you be the one to put them under, which I had no issues with. Is that correct?"
Magnolia nodded. "So, Lily, April, are you both prepared for me to put them under, and for you to guide this session?"
April shook her head. "No, you'll be guiding it. I will provide help and guidance to you, but since they asked for you to put them under, it stands to reason that you should be the one to do this."
Magnolia considered that. "Alright. So if you're both ready..."
Lily and April both nodded, Lily apprehensive.
"There's no need to be worried, Lily. You're safe, and we're both here. You know I wouldn't hurt my lovely, loyal Lily..."
And they were gone. April blinked in surprise. "I know they had said they were well trained, but... it is quite something to see it myself."
Magnolia nodded absently, thinking through the wording of what she wanted to say.
"... Alright. Now, my lovely, loyal Lily, I want you to reach deeply into your mind, as deep as you can go. Once, you told me she wasn't gone. That Kassandra wasn't gone. Can you find her?"
April and Magnolia sat, tense, as Lily was silent for a moment.
"No," they breathed, face scrunching up.
"What? Of course she's there. She has to be. Find her!" Magnolia said, taken aback. April shook her head, holding up a hand to quiet her. Pushing down her anger, Magnolia bit her tongue, and waited.
"She's not there..."
Magnolia took a breath, trying to keep her emotions out of the way. "My lovely, loyal Lily, I want you to listen to April right now, as you would myself."
Nodding at Magnolia, April spoke. "You can't find her. But do you remember Kassandra?"
"She is a part of you, is she not? Still there? Can you see her, in your mind?"
"Can you picture her in your mind?"
Magnolia's eyes widened as she realized what April was doing. She held up a hand to ask her to let her speak. "Is she there?" Magnolia asked hesitantly.
"Could you bring her out, if I asked?"
"When I snap my fingers, I want you to wake up again, Lily, and be fully out of trance. Now, Lily, bring out Kassandra."
She opened her eyes. Where am I?
"What... you... they... she..." she sputtered, a flood of information coming to her all at once.
It's been years. I left. I shouldn't-
"Welcome back, Kassandra." That was her. Magnolia, the one who bought Lil- no, Delta.
"Me," Magnolia said, a look of what had to be fake concern on her face. Why would she care what I thought? She just wants Delta to herself.
"Why did you bring me back? Delta isn't supposed to have me anymore, you idiot. I just weighed them down."
Magnolia blinked, taken aback. "I brought you out because Lily has been worried sick about you for well over a year, you ungrateful... Lily may be many things, an idiot among them, but they do truly care for you."
The other woman - April, something told her - smirked slightly at the "idiot" comment. Well, so you're on her side.
"If you were a burden to them staying, you became a greater burden to them by leaving. You know they love to help, to be useful. Have you been paying attention these past four years? They wanted to help you, even if you don't think you need help."
"Paying attention? Paying attention? I'm supposed to be gone. So tell me what you've been doing. Cutesy dates with your oh-so-precious flower, keeping everything the fucking same? What have you been doing to help them?"
"Oh, shut up, Kassandra." Kassandra recoiled, as if slapped. "Have you forgotten how we left things off? We hashed out this argument long ago. You respected me. You called them by their name. And now, you just make Lily suffer in silence, not even knowing it. They may have pretended otherwise, but you fading hurt them deeply. I've seen it over the past four years. Look back over their memories, and tell me I'm wrong. Every time you're mentioned, they hide the pain, but that adorable idiot can't hide anything from me."
April put down her notepad, worried.
"No. Not you. You're just thinking of them. You think that sacrificing yourself for them helps them? They want you to think of you. To be a little god-damn selfish."
"What makes you less worthwhile than them?" Magnolia said, growing visibly angry. "You're important to them. Wasn't Lily supposed to be the idiot of you two?"
Kassandra stepped back, feeling as though she'd been punched in the gut. Magnolia stepped forward, but April stood up, stepping in her way with arms to the side in a defensive gesture.
"I understand what your point is, Magnolia. I agree, in fact, but Kassandra isn't going to be convinced by this argument."
"No. And I don't even know you, April. Delta might, but-"
"So if Lily was here... would you listen to them?"
Kassandra paused. "I..."
April looked at Magnolia, who nodded. She snapped her fingers.
Lily's eyes snapped open. Something was wrong.
They looked around, trying to determine what had changed. It felt familiar, but what could it-
"It's me, you idiot."
They stood straight, shocked at words escaping their mouth without them speaking. That was familiar, of course. The point of this session seemed to leap out of their memory into the forefront of their mind. Talk to her.
"Oh, you want to talk to me, Delta? And what would you even say?"
Their eyes widened. "You... you called me Lily, before. Why..."
"Because this isn't right. I shouldn't need to be here, and I should be gone. You don't need me. I'm a remnant of your past that doesn't need to still exist, and I should be gone, and... I should be... but... oh god... I don't want to be gone, Lily..."
Distantly, they could hear April apologizing to Magnolia. Then, they heard her words, cutting through their confusion. "No, April. I think... she needed this."
Kassandra recoiled as Magnolia grabbed her hand. "Stay away from me, you..."
"Don't," Lily whispered, grabbing her hand tighter. "Please."
She grabbed them in a hug, that awkwardness familiar and comforting to Lily. Kassandra struggled, trying to escape. "Stop trying to comfort me!"
Magnolia stayed silent, hugging her a little tighter.
Kassandra... you're safe. I'm... here, they thought at Kassandra. Or... that wasn't quite right. I didn't think it so much as feel it at her. Could I do that before?
Is it because I'm different? Or because she is?
"Both," Kassandra whispered, hoarse. She slumped, her anger having burned itself out, leaving only a feeling of uselessness and emptiness in its place. "I... I'm sorry. Please... don't let me leave again, Lily. Please."
"I won't. I promise."
The three of them sat silently, Kassandra sitting on the arms of the chair beside Lily. She was huddled up against herself, arms around her legs. Lily felt almost like they were intruding, but that was ridiculous. This was as much about them as it was about Magnolia.
Magnolia sat, her poise seeming obviously forced to Lily. They'd learned to read the signs of their Mistress's mood, though they'd never be as good as she was, and they'd never tell her that they could see through her hard exterior.
"Kassandra. Are you... okay?" Magnolia asked.
"Do I look okay?" Kassandra snapped, Lily's mouth moving for her. "... No. I don't... I don't know."
"Are you still mad at her?" Lily took Kassandra's hand, feeling an odd sense of disconnect as their hand grasped air and the girl's hand at the same time.
"I... I don't know. I don't think so, but... I'm not sure what I feel."
Lily nodded at Kassandra, who sighed, and continued to speak. Lily stepped back mentally, giving her space.
"I don't think I've... ever learned how to react any other way. I always had to keep them safe." She sniffled, starting to cry, tears flowing down Lily's face.
"I want to learn. I want to... just be safe."
"It's alright, Kassandra." Magnolia stepped over to Lily, putting her hand on their arm. Kassandra relaxed.
"You're being awfully nice to me. Don't you like to insult people?"
"If I care about someone, I only insult them if they like it. I don't believe that's what you need right now. Or am I wrong?"
"... No. You're not."
She thought about the situation. She... trusted Lily. They aren't weak now. Not anymore. She shook her head, thinking of Magnolia. Like she had years ago, she remembered. Lily didn't need her, because Kassandra could trust Magnolia. But... that didn't mean she was unwanted.
She smiled, remembering words she'd spoken to a sleeping form beside her, a day after that sleeping woman had saved Lily. This time, she'd saved someone else.
"Thank you, Magnolia."