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Valour and Blood || 3.2
One morning, near dawn, Erica wandered out to the sitting room to find Roman and half the company crowded over a table. As she shuffled closer, she got a glimpse of what they were poring over: a supply list and rough designs, prices tallied below. There was a buzz of activity different than the usual gatherings. It was enough that she couldn't pass it by, not knowing.
"Roman," she mumbled. "What is all this?"
Roman looked up, brightened, and quietly excused himself to speak with her aside.
"Thought you would never wake up," he chuckled.
Erica did not smile. "What are they all doing here? What's happening?"
Roman took a breath. "King Amos is willing to forgive our past crimes in exchange for our expertise."
Her eyes widened. She had feared it would come to this. "You're not a soldier, Roman. You have no place making a deal like that!"
"It's already done," he said. "Besides, we have experience taking down giants when we must… what difference will it make to take down a few more on
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Valour and Blood || 2.27
Ross awoke in the same position, curled up facing the wall. A part of him, frozen from the poisonous sedative, expected to find Valeria just now tumbling from his grasp, and soldiers looking on as an audience, armed and ready. 
His hand twitched shut around empty air, and Ross immediately struggled to fight off the awful morning-after effects of the Kiss. 
"Val?" He rasped. "Valeria?"
In the time he'd been out, there was no telling what they'd done with her. His own voice echoed in the dungeon, making his heart race at the implications. She might've already been dead. 
Ross twisted about with some struggle, rolling around to face the other side of the dungeon. He was not alone.  
"You look worried," Rionny declared. He stood well past the white boundary, but Ross felt that the tension in his chains had been doubled. The bastard wasn't taking any chances. 
"You," his weak voice managed a growl at the sight of him. "Where is she?"
“Oh, Valeria?” Rionn
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One morning, near dawn, Erica wandered out to the sitting room to find Roman and half the company crowded over a table. As she shuffled closer, she got a glimpse of what they were poring over: a supply list and rough designs, prices tallied below. There was a buzz of activity different than the usual gatherings. It was enough that she couldn't pass it by, not knowing.

"Roman," she mumbled. "What is all this?"

Roman looked up, brightened, and quietly excused himself to speak with her aside.

"Thought you would never wake up," he chuckled.

Erica did not smile. "What are they all doing here? What's happening?"

Roman took a breath. "King Amos is willing to forgive our past crimes in exchange for our expertise."

Her eyes widened. She had feared it would come to this. "You're not a soldier, Roman. You have no place making a deal like that!"

"It's already done," he said. "Besides, we have experience taking down giants when we must… what difference will it make to take down a few more on the battlefield?"

Erica folded her arms. "It's been over a month since the giants' siege. They haven't attacked since." Roman gave her a blank look, not seeming to understand her point. She rolled her eyes. "Obviously, they aren't eager to fight us!"

"Phillip is a coward," Roman argued. "But you'd be foolish to think he isn't gathering an army. And after the Cyclops’ escape party…" he paused, face turning grey. "We're running out of time to replenish. Amos needs all the help he can get."

Erica, too, went sick in the stomach at the thought of Ross roaming freely again. The wreckage his comrades had left had been nothing short of brutal. There was a tally of over ten missing men and women even after the body count. Erica knew their end had to have been more cruel than that of those slain in the battle field.

“Why are you so enthusiastic to help him?” she asked. “You’ve managed to keep yourself hidden thus far, why bother with the deal?”

Roman’s eyes shifted briefly to the others around the table. “As it stands, Amos is on the side of right,” he explained. “Phillip might as well have torn that treaty to shreds when he set his beasts on the castle. If we continue mucking about, causing trouble on our own raids… we give the giants leave to wage war.”

“There’s no avoiding a war now, Roman,” Erica hissed. “Not if what you say is true.”

“Least we won’t have started it.”

“But I don’t understand why you’d put yourself in danger for Amos. Amos.”

Roman let out a terse sigh. “Quite frankly, Erica, he didn’t give us a lot of choice. He could have any number of guards watching this island right now. If we try to leave…”

“Alright, I get it.” She rubbed a hand down her face, then folded her arms tight over her chest again. “So what does he want of your expertise then, hm? Does he expect us all to fight?”

"No," Roman said. "We're not soldiers, as you said. We'll be helping prepare alternative sabotage. Trappings, steel chains, harpoons…"

Erica shivered. "Harpoons?"

Roman nodded. "We've been working on a new metal in the smithing shop. Twice as strong as steel, half the weight… hopefully it will pierce right through those thick bracers."

She groped for a seat, and when she found none she took a seat on the window sill. The cold creeping in was an instant chill to her barely clothed form, but she stayed where she was.

"Do we know when it's going to happen?" She asked quietly. "The battle."

Roman shook his head, seeming to understand her worry. "Soon, I fear. I heard the last message Phillip sent was rather damning. And now smoke is curling from over the Aarlith forest night and day."

A thrill of apprehension shot through her. And then, inexplicably, concern going beyond the fear of Roman’s involvement. Once the fighting started up, nobody would be safe. Not humans, not giants…

The Strykes.

She choked back her fear, pressing hands to her temples and shooting Roman a pleading glance. “What of me?” she ventured. “I can't help. can't be seen with you.”

“I don't think Amos is interested in your crimes anymore,” Roman snorted. “Perhaps he might even favour your opinion. You have every bit the experience that we do. And now that that fool Rionny is dead-”

“Missing,” Erica corrected him. “Rotten coward is probably hiding out somewhere.”

“Either way, Amos can't be swayed by him now. Whether he likes it or not, he needs our help.”

She was shaking her head now, drawing her legs up onto the sill. “I can't, Roman. I don't want any part of this war.”

Roman's face softened as he took her in, and only moments later Erica found herself wrapped up in his familiar arms. "If you change your mind, you could be a great help," his voice came in her ear.

She shook her head again, fingers clutching near his neck, grateful for the body heat. He sighed.

"Wash up, put on a coat," he said, pressing a kiss to her temple. "We'll see how you feel as time wears on."

She mutely allowed him to help her down from the sill and turn her towards the washroom. Then, as she was shutting the door on his retreating form, she paused.

“What if I don't change my mind?” she challenged.

He stopped mid-step, coming back to meet her through the crack. “What?”

She swallowed, eyes fixing on his. “I'm scared for this, Roman. Really. It's… it's not right.”

“There's nothing we can do to stop it,” he breathed in return, bringing up a finger and thumb to pinch her cheek softly. “And if you're not fighting on our side, whose are you really on?”

She had no answer to that. Her lips parted as he broke away, ancient floorboards creaking under his boots.

Cursing inwardly, she gripped the door jamb in frustration. “Roman, please. I…”

He didn't turn around. “Just think on it, Erica,” he called as he disappeared down the curved corridor.

As she dragged a soapy rag over her body, Erica found her thoughts wandering to those giants she had known. She had come toe to toe with Ross Vogel, the one-eyed killer of legend. Her encounters with his ruthless bloodlust for humans endured, primarily in the form of nightmares. She shivered, recalling his hateful glare from nine stories up.

Erica groped for a towel, hurrying to dry herself off before the water had a chance to freeze into droplets on her skin.

Phillip had been a villain in his own right. Despite the occasional kindness experienced under his care, she could not rid herself of the memory of his groping fingers under her skirt. The lust in his eyes. He whored himself for the sake of curiosity.

She sniffed, shuffling on bare feet across the rug to rifle through her wardrobe. She pulled on tan trousers and a long sleeved green tunic. She groped for a belt hanging in the bag, determined to keep these pants snug on her hips regardless of the weight she had dropped. Her hand brushed silk instead, and her racing thoughts quieted.

After glancing around her, she gently pulled the garment out into the open. The giant-made nightgown glittered in the pale light of winter. Thinking of its creator, she smiled. There had been pleasant times in Aarlith, despite the many sufferings. Aaron Stryke and his wife had seen to that, never asking for payment in return.

They didn't want this war, she remembered. She clenched her jaw, bunching up the slippery fabric of the dress in one hand. The giants are just as scared as we are. She also remembered her own fear, thrown out into the rainy night by a man she trusted, to be left at the mercy of whatever awaited. He'd hurt her. And if the war happened, no doubt he would suffer for it.

But the hurt she had felt never boiled into rage. The thought of Sari and little Cameron - even Aaron, she thought to herself - getting caught up in the crossfire of the treaty feud caused a dull sensation of horror to rise in her chest. They didn't deserve it. If she agreed to help Roman, she'd be part of the cause of their misery. Not even the possibility of facing the Cyclops down one last time was enough to stir a hunger for battle.

“I've caused enough damage in my lifetime,” she murmured aloud. She stretched up on tiptoes and swiftly placed the dress back in the wardrobe, slamming the doors shut. Spying her socks and boots lying by the hearth, she padded over and slipped them on over her trousers.

There was a crash from down the hallway and voices rose in a crescendo. It sounded as though arguments were getting out of hand again - it seemed to be all Roman’s people were doing these days, Erica realised in annoyance. Reluctant to join in the disharmony but loathe to have Roman worrying about her, she snatched up her sword and left the washroom.





Less than a week later, deep in Aarlith, Valeria was just stirring awake. The encroaching ice and snow outside were entirely unknown to her, tucked under a giant's hand. With a faint mewl, she arched her back, rolling under the heavy weight. She smiled, ducking low under his hand. If she burrowed deep enough, she could pretend the day had not broken yet.

The hand's owner breathed deeply at present, far more lost to the world than she was. This was not entirely uncommon. Since taking his transitional duties for King Phillip, Ross scarcely had to leave the house, He would sleep late in the day, leaving late afternoon for the span of a few hours, just taking inventory for the local artisans. Hardly a chore for a warrior, but if he was unhappy he never let on.  

She stared at his sleeping form, half hidden to her as he buried his face in the pillow. There was something fascinating about the peaceful look on his face. With his bad eye tucked out of sight, he looked like an entirely different person. Distantly under the covers, his stomach groaned. Valeria shook her head, knowing he would sleep right through breakfast and lunch too, if he had the chance. She worked herself free of his hand and crept closer to the pillow.

"Ross," she called lightly. "Ross, you must get up."

No response. Still she paused, holding her arms out at her waist to keep her balance on the huge soft dunes of quilt. Though she waited, his serene expression didn't falter.

Precariously, she turned on the spot to squint critically out through the window. Though a thick frost still lingered near the bottom of the pane, the glaring winter sun beamed through, bathing the bed and the stone floor in yellow light.

“Ross…” she sing-songed, cupping a hand over her eyes. “I thought we agreed you would get up earlier today.”

A quiet noise was the only reply. She turned to see that he was simply shifting his position on the pillow. The hand she had been sleeping under curled closer to his body and he released a deep sigh before going still once more.

She staggered up towards the pillow before his face and gripped hold of the edge. With a grunt of effort she tried to pull herself up, but the thick down hiding beneath allowed her little purchase. A sigh of frustration left her as she hunkered down and leaped up onto the thing, limbs scrabbling to keep her from sliding back down.

“Wake up.” She raised her voice this time, crawling closer to his face. Where she used to feel fear at the sight of him looming so close, she was now utterly accustomed to him. Close enough to touch him, she cleared her throat, affecting an authoritative tone. “I mean it. Come on.”

"What's the hurry?"

Her shoulders slumped in relief when she finally got a rumbling reply. His good eye flickered, peeking out at her through a slit.

"People generally eat a meal around this time of day," she remarked wryly. "At least, I'd like to."

Ross was not in agreement, and turned onto his stomach; her cry of surprise was muffled as she slipped onto her arse amongst the tightened folds of the pillow.

"I just need a few more minutes," he mumbled.

"No," she persisted, crawling closer. His ear was of nearest proximity, and she gave the lobe a tug. "Come on. I can't fix tea by myself."

Ross growled in his throat. She thought for sure she had made a mistake in disturbing him when his hand soared up to corner her against his neck. But his touch was gentle as ever. He stroked her back with fingers that were as strikingly warm as the rest of him. They wrapped around her waist as he went to push himself up in bed. He squinted at the window, massaging the bridge of his nose with his other hand. She tried not to stare at his mottled socket. It was always at its most tender when he first woke up.

"You're hungry?" he asked blearily.

“Aren't you?” She adjusted her hands on his fingers, trying to draw herself into a more comfortable position - easier said than done, especially when Ross was fidgeting on the bed for a more comfortable spot himself. He huffed out a sigh, looking back down at the warm, rumpled mess of sheets.

“I'm tired,” he grumbled. “What time is it?”

She didn't bother to conceal her amusement, cocking her head at him with a smile. “I wouldn't be surprised if it was nearly noon. You sleep a lot for someone who has so little work to do.”

“I've earned it,” he argued, then trailed off into a yawn. He curled his fingers more securely around the human as he arched his back in a gratuitous stretch. “Maybe I'll just lie back for a few more-”

“Ross.”

He sighed again, casting a shadow over her as he doubled over and jerked himself out of bed. “Alright, alright. Tea it is.”

The kitchen was freezing despite the vivid sunshine outside the window. Ross cursed at the chilling feeling of icy stone under his feet and cupped Valeria ever closer to his chest.

“Fire went out,” he griped, moving over to the cindery hearth to regard it with annoyance.

He lit a match against the side of the fireplace, settling a small bit of kindling ablaze. After adding two logs to the grill, the flames began to strengthen. He stayed crouched there until he could feel a toasty glow, then moved to prepare some porridge for them both.

Valeria was still getting used to the strange accumulation of spices and fruits that characterized giant dishes. Ross insisted he was a novice when it came to cooking, but she could hardly tell. She tipped back the thimble full of porridge to her mouth, sipping delicately at the milk brimming on the surface.

"I had a dream last night that I could fly," Valeria remarked between bites. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

"Did you?"

She nodded, taking another swallow. "You were in it too, only you weren't… you. You were smaller. Almost human sized."

Ross snorted. "Sounds more like a nightmare."

"No, it was… nice."

He hummed, still pottering about the room while his own enormous serving cooled on the table. “Nice for you, maybe.”

She scoffed, setting the thimble down heavily to one side and reaching for her tea when his shadow fell over her. “You didn't seem to mind,” she commented. Her legs crossed tight as the tabletop juddered slightly, Ross leaning over to sprinkle a generous handful of brambles into his bowl.

“Oh yeah?” he grunted.

“Would it really be so bad?” she teased him, catching his eye with a smile.

He kept one berry in his palm, using his thumb to pick it apart some. Valeria’s smile grew at the concentrated scowl that crossed his face. “I guess not if you were with me,” he allowed. He opened his mouth as if to say more, then thought better of it. Instead his finger and thumb crowded into Valeria’s space as he dropped a few misshapen pieces of fruit into the thimble.

“I could show you how it's done,” she agreed, pulling the thimble back towards her with marked interest.

“What happened in your dream then?” he challenged her as he dropped into his chair. The table quaked again and he leaned forward to steady his arms on either side of his bowl.

Valeria stammered as he unintentionally loomed. Friendly, handsome, kind as he had proved to be… he was still immense compared to her, and she couldn't shake the shiver that ran up her spine.

"You know, I don't remember," she exclaimed, looking sheepish. "It's all blurry now, just bits and pieces."

Ross eased back, turning his attention to his food. "So long as it was pleasant."

They hardly had a moment between them to relax before there was a gentle knock at the door. Ross bristled, his hand immediately inching towards Valeria.

"It's me!" A muffled voice proclaimed.

"Alasdair," Ross muttered. He visibly slumped in the relief that his secret was not about to be discovered for a second time. He let him in, offering him a seat at the table and a bowl of porridge.

The other giant eyed her as he circled around to take his seat.  He had dutifully kept her presence a secret, but Valeria got the distinct impression he was still undressing her with his eyes every time he came around.

"Human." Alasdair nodded at her.

She scowled, relocating near the arm Ross had resting on the table. "I told you before, my name is Valeria."

"I don't care what your-" A glare from Ross promptly silenced him. Alasdair sighed. "Valeria it is."

Valeria looked satisfied, though still wary as she sipped the last dregs of milk and oats from the thimble. It filled her vision so she couldn’t see the giant opposite her when she lifted it to her face, but she had no doubt he was still staring at her.

“How are things going out there?” It was the question Ross always demanded.

Alasdair huffed out a sigh. “Honestly? The damned kingdom is recovering from our attack more quickly than we could’ve hoped.”

“I thought you and Rhey saw the castle still in ruins,” Ross frowned.

“Oh, it is.” He pulled his bowl in close to his chest and picked up his spoon. “Still no sign of Amos either, other than his letters. But a couple of days ago Phillip sent us out further.” He glanced up, regarding Ross grimly. “Looks like Pacifia finally decided to step in.”

Valeria gave a start. “I thought Winifred would stay out of something like this,” she piped up. “Her kingdom never gets involved with our disputes.”

Alasdair shook his head. The serious look on his face didn't suit him. "Seems the entire world knows we've reached a turning point."

Ross leaned forward. "The armour improvements I discussed with Aaron… have they been implemented?"

"We're working on it round the clock. But we're running out of time," Alasdair went on, paling. "We've seen their numbers. Over the border, in the fields by Greendale… a sea of them."

When Ross was quiet, he leaned forward eagerly. "There's room for another knight in our ranks, Ross."

"Alasdair-"

"Phillip still puts his faith in you! A whole team of men could be yours to lead, if you wanted it."

Ross shook his head wearily. "I'm not in shape for any fighting right now."

Alasdair's blue eyes flickered down, and Valeria felt her inside squirm as they narrowed at her. "This is about her, isn't it? You won't fight because she's here."

Ross' hand was immediately around her, a protective wall. His palm hit her feet, cupping her closer to the arm she was leaned against.

"She needs me. And besides… those wicked contraptions the humans constructed - what's left of them - don't do shit. I made sure of it. This battle has no need of me."

“Whether that's true or not, we want you,” Alasdair pressed on, turning his steely gaze onto Ross. “Me and the boys. We want you with us when we take on the humans. Leading us.”

“Look, I just said-”

“I know. But you haven't been around to see what's been going on these past few weeks.”

Ross’ hand didn't relax around Valeria. “You've been telling me,” he argued. “Everything.”

“But you haven't seen it,” Alasdair insisted. He dug his spoon into his bowl with needless aggression. “They're recovering so fast. Fixing their machines quicker than our knights can break them. Fahlingdale have their own supply too, possibly a greater one than Greendale. We still haven't dug up their supply of the Kiss.”

Ross was very still, staring back at Alasdair as if he were having difficulty processing what was being said. Then, he scowled. “Phillip’s men can deal with that problem on their own. I'm done with human weaponry.”

“You're just going to abandon us then?” Alasdair demanded after a swallow of porridge. “You're picking a human over your comrades?”

Glancing up at the underside of Ross' chin, Val caught him rolling his eye in impatience.

"How many times are we going to have this argument?"

"At least admit that's what you're doing, Ross. You're too busy with your little pet to even consider-

"Don't call her that," Ross snapped. Valeria nearly spilled her thimble of porridge when his fingers twitched and his voice rumbled above her.

"What exactly would you call it, then?"

“Alasdair…”

“Because it's definitely not normal,” he went on, stirring the contents of his bowl. “Not when it's gone on for this long. You should have done her in as soon as you got the chance. Why didn't you-”

“Don't say that. She's sitting right here for fuck’s sake,” Ross growled. “She's not some animal. Stop acting like she is.”

Alasdair barked a laugh, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “She's just a human, Ross. You can't get attached, or you'll be slave to their whims forever. You've heard the stories.”

Valeria squirmed under Ross’ hand but was ignored.

“She's not like other humans,” Ross insisted. “She's different.”

“Oh yeah?” Alasdair regarded the little woman scathingly. “And how's that then?”

Ross paused.

“Ross-”

“Shh. Shut up.” He sat straight, turning towards the front door. The six scrawny chickens in the patch of grass out front were squawking madly like they always did when someone came into the garden.

“Someone coming?” Alasdair cocked his head.  

Ross fixed him with an urgent look. "You didn't bring anyone, did you?"

Suddenly, Alasdair looked fearful. He looked to the back door as a shadow filled the frosted glass.

"Oh shit," he murmured.

"Ross?" Valeria set her thimble aside, pulling herself up. "Is everything al-"

"Shhh!"

She was promptly hushed by the man in question, and scooped up into the palm of the hand that laid before her. She was still gasping from the sudden change in altitude when there was a resounding knock, and Ross decided it was no longer suitable for her to be out in the open.

"Ross! Open the door. I need to speak with you."

She recognized the booming voice with an unpleasant twist in her stomach. That one. The one who had stolen her right out of the dungeon.

"Just let him in," Alasdair whispered, brandishing a hand at the door.

But Ross was nearly as panicked as Valeria. "He'll see her," he breathed.

She could see his mind racing as he looked over himself, at Alasdair, and then the rest of the kitchen. His eyes lit up as he spotted the pots and pans hanging over the stove. Valeria was jostled something terrible as he crossed the room in a hurry, and gently dropped her into a small saucepan hung facing the wall.

"Don't make a sound!" he whispered. Then, his face disappeared, and the back door creaked open moments later.  

All she could see was the dark wall before her, a tiny chink of light around the very rim of the pan. She couldn't see the tall giant who strode into the hallway when Ross moved to the door.

“Morgan,” Ross greeted him.
Valour and Blood || 3.2
We get to check in on how Erica is faring! And Valeria continues to find her peaceful new life with Ross interrupted by new trouble D:

Co-Written as always by the very talented MentalcaseVole!
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Patrick had a new spring in his step when he walked from the communal staff area after dumping his lunch on the table. The scientist was not on DEMFAC premises, which meant it was an ordinary, if monotonous day in store for the sentry. No consultations, no experiments: just him and his hoverpad and his titanic prisoners.

“In a good mood today, Patrick?”

Nadine arched an eyebrow at him from her lofty position up ahead. With a bashful laugh, Patrick hurried to catch her up.

“How can you tell?” he panted as he climbed into her hand. It was an everyday occurrence now; some kindly Jüren warden would offer a lift to a human colleague if they had a minute to spare.

“You're smiling,” she replied, lifting him to a polite distance from her face.

“It's Summer’s day off.”

She gave an understanding nod and a smile of her own. “Say no more.”

Indeed, the entire DEMFAC facility seemed to be taking a deep, calming breath in her absence. When Patrick made his rounds around building two for breakfast time and recreational periods, he was met by more than one "good morning" and a cordial nod from the enormous brutes.

He came to Thomas last. Though he'd been spending a great deal of time with the giant as of late, he really had no reason to avoid his primary inmate. He navigated the hoverpad with robotic motions, knowing the route around the circular cell block by pure muscle memory now.

Thomas was already up and active, currently in the midst of a vigorous workout routine. He made the push-ups look effortless, his muscled arms glistening under the thin sleeves of his tee.

"Morning," Patrick called, opening the sound barrier on the field.

Midway through his next set, Thomas stopped short and lifted his head. He looked peeved for a moment, before spotting who'd called to him. Patrick's stomach clenched oddly at the broad smile that came next.

"Hey, Red!"

"Too busy to eat? Doesn't seem like you," Patrick asked, inclining his chin towards the delivered portion.

Thomas looked over to the tray of porridge and fruit with genuine surprise, though he looked pleased to see it. "I forgot it was there. Thanks."

There was something different about the Jüren that Patrick couldn’t quite put his finger on at first. It only clicked when Thomas rose to his feet, scratching his chin as he made his leisurely way to the tiny table.

“What happened to the beard?” Patrick inched his hoverpad closer. Where there had once been a thick layer of coarse hair, there was now the solid, clean-shaven jaw of a Greek sculpture.

Thomas paused with one hand on an apple slice, then shrugged. “I just noticed how scruffy I was getting a couple days ago. Thought it was time for a change. They cut my hair too.” He passed his free hand through the close cropped hair behind his ears, which before had been an artfully swept mess of curly locks.  

The giant had not looked old before, but now his youthfulness was all too apparent. Patrick swallowed. “They did a good job,” was all he managed to get out.

"Thanks. So is this business or pleasure?" Thomas asked around the bite in his mouth.

"Call it a social visit. I thought it would be refreshing to talk without Summer breathing down your neck with her next lively idea."

Thomas laughed, a harsh noise. "Her charm wears off real quick, doesn't it?"

"I'm sure the doctor is enjoying her afternoon off," Patrick said, unable to stifle a chuckle. When their eyes met, it was as if they were sharing some inside joke. It was wonderful and terrifying.

Thomas continued to prod at his breakfast. Patrick watched bite after bite of porridge and nuts disappear behind those full lips, vanished forever after a lazy chew and a swallow. It was hypnotizing, and awful to think of how those same movements had meant the death of over a dozen people.

It was too much to hope that Thomas didn't notice him ogling.

“Didn’t you eat?” he rumbled around a mouthful, not even looking up from his bowl.

Patrick flushed guiltily. “Ah, no. I can’t stomach much more than espresso in the mornings.”

“Shame,” he grunted, swallowing and then spooning up a ridiculously enormous portion. “Only good thing about this place is the food.”

Patrick remembered the story of Prennan’s unfortunate demise, and had to withhold a shudder. You’d been fed three and a half meals that day, Summer had remarked. A vicious man-eating tiger or alligator would have been safer to get into an enclosure with, providing they had been well-fed; this Jüren was apparently afflicted by more than mere survival instinct.

“You really like it?”

Thomas looked up finally. “Uh huh. Why?”

“Oh. Nothing.” Patrick shook his head. “It was something I read.”

To Patrick’s mild surprise, Thomas looked genuinely curious. “Try me.”

“Some stupid folktale. About… giants like you. They say flesh-eating is addictive: like once you try it, you can never go back to eating anything else.”

The Jüren snorted. “I wouldn’t say that. I mean… not that I ever met anyone else with my problem. But I’ve personally never felt like that. I’m glad in a way.”

Patrick looked at him sharply. “You are?”

“Sure. It means there might be some hope for me after all,” he grinned.

This earned a raised brow from the sentry. "I thought you said you didn't see a normal life for yourself," said Patrick.

Thomas smiled rather sadly at his bowl. He pushed the spoon around a raspberry, creating a moat around the fruit with the tip of the utensil.  "It's a long shot, sure. Maybe I just don't have the imagination for it."

Patrick deliberated in quiet while Thomas salvaged the berry at last and spooned it into his mouth. "Well, why shouldn't you?" The words were out before he could take them back. Thomas looked up, those piercing eyes wide.

"What?"

"I don't believe much is impossible. Not even people like you. You'll never be a cop, again, sure. But…"

“It’s better than staying in here my whole life,” Thomas finished thoughtfully. “Or getting executed.”

Patrick was disturbed by the pang he felt at the last three words. “They said they wouldn’t do that.”

“Not until they’ve found out what they wanted to find out from me,” he said. “They let me watch the news sometimes and… it looks like pretty much everyone wants me dead, Patrick. It’s bound to happen one way or another.”

He didn’t look troubled by this realisation, rather stating it as a simple fact. He scraped his spoon around the bowl again.

“What would you do,” Patrick said hesitantly, “if we did fix you? If we set you free?”

Thomas chuckled. "That's never going to-"

"Humor me."

The giant swallowed the lump of porridge in his cheek and gave a thoughtful frown. "New York City. I'd find work somewhere- they always need more J-Über walkers, you know?" A smile began to grow on his face, distant and sad. "Then… maybe I'd find a boat."

Patrick laughed before he could stop himself. "As if you could find one."

He thought Thomas might've been offended, but he only grew sheepish. "Come on, Jüren tickets are hard to find but not impossible. You see the ships all the time off the coast of Grendall. I'd love to feel the wind on my face." Suddenly, Thomas shook his head. "I sound like a fucking idiot."

“No you don't,” Patrick replied, almost gently. “Honestly? I’ve never been on top deck of a ferry either.”

“Really?”

“Uh huh. I'd love to, one day. This job pays a little better than my last one. Maybe I'll be able to afford it in a year or two.”

Thomas pushed his bowl aside and propped his elbows on the table, peering at Patrick more closely. “You ever left the States?” he asked.

“I went to Canada once,” Patrick offered.

“That doesn't count.”

Patrick ignored him. “Where would you go on that boat of yours? Back to England?”

"I don't think they'd want to see my face around those parts. I'd be better off going to Argentina."

Thomas pushed away from the minuscule excuse of a table and shuffled over to the barrier. He dropped into a crouch, leveling himself down to Patrick's level with his face looming like a beautiful billboard just on the other side of the glass. Patrick's stomach twisted.

"You can't be comfortable, standing on that little platter." Thomas cocked his head the side. "Why don't you come in here with me?"

Just like that, Patrick remembered who he was dealing with. "That's funny," he grunted, gaze shifty.

"I'm not kidding. The restraints are there. You could use them, I won't fight. If Summer can do it, why can't you?"

Patrick studied him hard. There was a tiny drop of raspberry juice - he noticed - on Thomas’s bottom lip. “I'm not supposed to,” he said.

His expression didn't change. “That's a lie. You can do what you like.”

“And get myself killed in the process?” Patrick laughed. “Isn't this how Prennan died? I know your game, Lancaster.”

“How am I meant to get better with humans if the good ones are always on the wrong side of a screen?”

He lifted his hand to the barrier, letting it hum and crackle under his palm. Great grey-blue eyes remained dolefully on Patrick, almost pleading. In that moment, the giant looked more vulnerable than he had in that simulation the other day.

Patrick scowled as best he could. “You get in those restraints,” he said, “and if you try anything, I'll trigger your neck piece so hard you'll see stars.”

Despite the very real threat, Thomas grinned wide, looking so damn relieved at Patrick's answer. He slid his tongue over his lower lip, pulling off that last little drop.

"Just tell me where you want me, Red."

Patrick felt the burn of security cameras on his every side. What would his superiors think of this? Strictly against the rules? No. But it would do more to raise a few eyebrows when his fellow officers caught wind that he'd willing stepped into the same breathing space as Thomas Lancaster.

Maybe they'll be impressed. I can manage what their head psychiatrist can't.

"Lie down on your cot facing the ceiling. Feet shoulder width apart, hands by your sides," Patrick ordered.

He was ready for another protest, but Thomas did exactly as he asked. Not even a second of hesitation in the matter. Once the giant stopped shifting around on the mattress, Patrick activated a set of localized cuffs that snaked from beneath the cot and clamped around his wrists and ankles.

"Give them a tug for me," Patrick spoke into the microphone this time.

On cue, Thomas flexed each hand and leg. The bonds held.

Patrick considered adding in the neck guard for good measure, but held off. He would detach the control tablet from the dock so he could alter the restraints from inside.  

Perfectly safe, he thought to himself. I'm perfectly safe so long as those stay.

He took a deep breath before pressing the button that opened up a section of the force field for his hoverpad to enter through.

At first, he parked it on the tabletop, next to the discarded breakfast tray. The creamy smell of porridge and tangy aroma of fruit lingered there still. He found his legs were trembling slightly as he stepped down from the metal platform and glanced over at the bed.

Thomas had his head turned towards him. “Aren't you going to come closer?” he wondered. “I can barely see you over there.”

“Just a minute,” Patrick replied gruffly. His eyes darted over the cuffs that were visible from this side. Firmly locked in place. Thomas’s hand flexed again, as if to prove his point.

“Scared, tough guy?” Thomas’s smile was taunting. “I promise, you don't have to-”

“I'm coming,” he snapped.

He made a circuit around the cot, guiding the hoverpad near every restraint to make sure they were shut. It struck Patrick just how massive Thomas was. Ninety feet tall, rounded down. Patrick knew there were bigger Jüren out there, but it didn't feel like that in this moment.

When he made it back up to the head of the cot, Thomas's expression was unreadable. There was a sincere reverence as their eyes met, with nothing but air between them now. The reality of what he'd done sank in all over again-- though it was no less surreal. It felt as if up until that moment, he had been dealing with a virtual projection of the man. A vision, never truly tangible.

Now, Thomas's breathing swirled the air around him. The nearness bordered on intimate, and Patrick found a cool sweat already beading on his forehead.

"What?" he demanded, if only to break the unbearable silence.

"Nothing," Thomas said hastily. "I just… I didn't think you'd actually do it. I'm impressed."

The giant's words hit him like gentle rolls of thunder, ringing lightly in his ears. Patrick did his best to maintain a passive expression. "Well, it's… nice not needing to shout at you."

“I bet,” he smiled.

Patrick maintained a respectful distance, knowing Thomas’s head was free and that it would only take one sudden movement to result in tragedy. But an attack seemed to be the last thing on Thomas’s mind. The monitor showed an increase in heart rate, true, but the giant’s body was entirely relaxed.

“Maybe I'm crazy,” Thomas murmured, “but your hair… it looks even prettier when I can see it this close. Without the force field.”

Patrick gave a sharp laugh, breaking eye contact. “You'll flirt with anyone, won't you? What, Summer isn't here so you gotta pull that crap with me now?”

Thomas bit his lip, giving his head a slight shake. “I'm just making an observation,” he said innocently. “I do love a redhead.”

"I suppose you'll be telling me how good I smell next."

"Well…"

Patrick balked, raising his eyebrows sternly.

"I'm sorry," Thomas chuckled weakly. "but you do smell rather good."

"I thought you said you weren't going to do this sort of shit."

Thomas's eyes widened, as if he might threaten to leave. "Hey, I never said I wanted to eat you. You don't think you're still same as the rest, do you?"

At these words, Patrick slowly set his craft into motion again. His stomach churned as it lifted higher, then settled into position a few feet over Thomas’s collarbone. The giant’s head had followed his path, and now Patrick found himself looking almost straight down at that perfect face. He folded his arms on the metal bar and leaned closer.

“Why wouldn't I be?” he challenged him.

“I told you. You're nice to me.”

“I’m nice to you. Really. That's it?” Patrick scoffed. “Well, from what I heard, your last keeper was a nice guy too. So was your first girlfriend. Didn't stop you putting them on the menu. Come on, Lancaster, give me something better than that.”

Thomas huffed. "Look, man, I used to be a cop. I've met countless officers who like to think themselves good men. That donning a badge and vest," he said, nodding at Patrick's starched attire. "makes them a hero, without having earned it. But you're not like that."

Patrick rubbed the back of his neck. It was always unsettling, hearing Thomas speak calmly, intelligently. It was easier to be stern to him when he was vulgar and brutish.

"You think too highly of me," Patrick snorted after a while. "But I'll admit, I'm glad to hear your appetite is er… sated."

“I promise, Patrick,” he said, giving him a radiant smile. “You won't come to any harm in this cell with me.”

“It's all well and good you saying that in restraints,” Patrick pointed out.

Thomas tilted his head, giving the metal cuffs a sage onceover. “True enough. Guess if you want proof that I'm serious, you'll have to let me out of these.”

The human laughed shortly. “Nice try.”

“You think I'm lying?”

Their eyes met. Thomas looked earnest, desperate and almost hurt. There was no evidence of deceit in those blue depths.

“No,” Patrick sighed at last, inching the hovercraft a little closer. “I don't. But you're too unstable at this point.”

His eyebrows pinched. “You think I'm gonna just lose control? Patrick, I was in England for years. I would have been arrested a lot sooner if I was just picking people off the street whenever the urge overcame me. Give me a little credit.”

"I'm not letting you out of those."

Thomas's expression flattened. "Fine. Do what you want."

He tipped his head back on the cot. The fabric groaned under his mighty weight as he made himself more comfortable. When he found a sweet spot on the linen and plastic, his eyes flicked back to the hoverpad and lingered.

"I guess it's easier to eye me when you've got me tied up, isn't it?"

Patrick chewed on the inside of his cheek, wondering if Thomas knew more than he let on. But before he could answer, the man was giving him another one of those wide, dizzying smiles.

"It's okay, Red. Everyone does it, I don't mind," he said with a gentle laugh. "And anyway, I can hardly blame you. I'd stare at me, too."

"That's rich," Patrick said, his voice as hot as his cheeks. "Considering you've been eyeing some of us humans like carrot sticks."

Thomas shrugged, not denying it. The look on his face was an odd one. Fascination without the lust. He looked almost peaceful. "Everyone is so determined to delude themselves that we're the same. They can't see."

"Can't see… what?"

"All the differences between us are beautiful. You should be allowed to stare. I want you to."

Patrick gave a strained laugh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh my god,” he murmured.

“What?”

“‘Extreme narcissism’ is listed as a personality trait on your file. I wondered when it would rear its ugly head.”

Thomas bared white teeth as he chuckled. “You mean handsome head.”

And good lord, he was handsome. It was becoming harder and harder for Patrick to ignore. The fact that the brute knew it too did nothing to decrease the human’s amazement.

“For the record, I don’t care what they all think of me,” the Jüren continued, more softly now. “But you…”

Patrick swallowed. “Me?”

Thomas blinked, a certain vulnerability in his expression now. “I can sniff out someone like me a mile away, you know,” he said. “And you struck me the moment we locked eyes.”

“I’m nothing like you,” the human snorted. But his heart was fluttering madly. He knows. Somehow he knows.

“Sure you are, Red.” His tongue traced his lip briefly, just a hint of it peeping out. “Face it. Half the time… when you look at me… it’s like… you’re really looking, you know? Not at a prisoner. At me.”

A muscle twitched in Patrick’s jaw. “I don’t have a crush on you, if that’s what you think,” he grunted.

Thomas’s eyes twinkled. “Not even a little one? You don’t have to hide yourself from me. I get it.”

Patrick stammered over his words, torn between berating the Jüren once more or trying a gentler hand. Or fly the hoverpad straight out of DEMFAC so that he couldn't be caught staring at those long lashes. "Thom-- Lancaster. I'm trying to be sympathetic," he said with a huff. "Don't look a fucking gift horse in the mouth. You can get a friend or another enemy out of this, your choice."

Thomas lifted his head without warning- there was no way he could have prepared himself in time. The movement was slight but the hoverpad still bumped into the bridge of his nose on the way up, nearly spilling Patrick right off its safety. He feared the worst, but Thomas's face was anything but malevolent.

"Friend?" he repeated, on the brink of laughter.

Patrick stayed where he was on hands and knees. "Call it whatever the fuck you want," he mumbled.

“I'll take that.” He was still grinning. “It's good to have one person round here who doesn't hate me.”

Though adrenaline was spiking hard in his veins from the near fall, Patrick found himself smiling back. He shakily pulled himself back to his feet. “Look, I really ought to go,” he said reluctantly.

A pout from the giant. “Why?”

“You're not the only inmate here. I've got to make my rounds some time before lunch,” he replied.

Thomas nodded, turning his head a little to the side despondently. “Shame.”

“I… I will come back though,” Patrick offered. “And when Summer’s back I'll keep her well in check. There'll be no repeats of last time.”

The mention of Summer seemed to have drained the light from those great blue eyes.

"We'll see," Thomas mumbled.



"I'm telling you, Kate, I think I'm making real progress with him."

Patrick stood on the cramped balcony of his apartment, looking out at the city. He pictured his sister out there somewhere, chewing on a lock of her hair nervously in the comfort of her favorite armchair. She'd never had the stomach for criminal justice the way he had.

"Patrick," she sighed though the phone. "You expect me to applaud you for… for being stupid? This is really scary for me."

“You don’t need to be scared. Honestly, if you were there, you’d know what I mean. He can’t even fucking move for security.”

“It’s not just that,” she pressed on. “It’s you I’m worried about. First you’re going into the cell with him - alone? Next you’ll be telling me you’ve taken his cuffs off too!”

“It… might not be such a bad idea,” he responded. “You know? If it makes him feel he can trust me-”

A laugh cut him off. “You’re actually out of your mind.”

“Kate…”

“Patrick. You need to at least tell someone what the hell you’re doing.”

“I will! I will. Once I’ve gotten a little further with him. Once I know for sure that my hunch is right.”

A pause. “What hunch?”


“Look, I think-” he paused, eyes darting around at the balconies to either side, as though he feared someone may be eavesdropping. “I think maybe, this guy has some… feelings… for me.”

A choked laugh crackled in his ear. "You're joking."

"I'm not saying he's in love with me, for heaven's sake!" Patrick hissed. "It's not some romantic bull crap. It's more than that."

"More?"

Patrick drove a hand through his fiery hair and pulled, dismaying over how he could make her understand.

"Maybe he's only ended up the way he is because he hasn't had a real, honest relationship with a human in his life. The whole reason DEMFAC exists is to rehabilitate these Jüren. I'm not doing my job if I just sit and watch Thomas rot, am I?"

"Oh! And you're on a first name basis with him now?" Kate exclaimed. "God, Patrick, why don't you just write out your social security number for him while you're at it!"

“Dammit, Kate, I thought you of all people would get it,” he sighed. “Instead of making me feel stupid.”

“This is stupid. You realise that right?”


“I know how it sounds. But I also know what my gut is telling me, and it’s saying I need to take a chance on this guy.”

“The serial killer,” she intoned.

“He can change. I wanna help him change. And that’s a bad idea because…?”

“Look, do what you want, if you really think you have to. But I don’t like this, Patrick. Not one bit. What happened to just doing your job?”

“This is part of it now.” His voice was softer as he leaned on the balcony rail, propping his chin on his hand, but still insistent. “Either I help him, or they torture him until there’s nothing left, then they hang him. No one deserves that. Not even him.”

Kate was quiet for a long time. Patrick worried for a moment she was crying, hearing a little sniffle on the other side of the phone.

"Tell me this, then," she finally said. "What happens if you do rehabilitate him? You cure the most vicious man-eater in recorded history, then what?" Patrick's heart began to sink as her words took hold. He paced to face away from the glaring lights of Jüren skyscrapers, towards the railway lit blue and green in the night that led out to the country. To DEMFAC.

"You know they'll never let him go," Kate went on when he remained silent. "The law won't change. He'll be hanged in the end of this, anyway. What's the point?"

“He won’t.”

Patrick was disturbed to feel emotion well in his own throat.

“The law says-”

“It’s not set in stone,” Patrick interrupted. “Back where he came from, yes. But not here. They told me things would be different.”

He could practically sense her shaking her head. “They’ll still never let him out of prison. He’s a listed psychopath with a hell of a body count. Where’s he gonna go where he or anyone else will be safe?”

“I’m working on it,” he muttered, and hung up before his sister could say another word.
Metamorphosis || SIX
Metamorphosis is a peek at an AU that takes place a few years after the events of Caught.

The year is 2132, and up-and-coming security Officer Patrick is eager to impress when assigned to the facility housing the world’s most dangerous giant— in particular, a notorious man-eater, Thomas Lancaster. As Patrick grows closer to Thomas, he begins to question what he thought he knew. Soon, he can’t help but wonder— is a remorseful soul being imprisoned?

Part of the New Dawn AU.






You will notice there are a lot of trigger warning on this one. This story is definitely more adult than much of the stuff I’ve written before. Be warned for profanity, occasional sexual themes, and graphic descriptions of disembowlment.

Co-written by the super pretty and super talented MentalcaseVole!
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Patrick imagined that Summer stayed up in her queen-sized bed that night, replaying footage of Thomas's torture again and again. Whether it was in the name of medical study or not, it made Patrick's blood boil to think about.

And yet, he found himself standing before the real thing.

It was hours after lights out, and the cells were lit only by the backup lights. An eerie bluish-green glow made every shadow sharper, and every face cloaked in shadow. Thomas's still form looked perfect - too perfect - even in sleep. Patrick leaned forward over the bar of the hoverpad, positioned right against the barrier. From the right angle, it looked like there was nothing between them at all.

All these fuckers, and this one causes more trouble than the whole lot of them.

He leapt a foot in the air when the control pad gave a sudden chirp that echoed in the emptiness. Worried he would wake the prisoners, he scrambled to shut the sound off. The screen was lit up with Thomas's data, oranges and blaring yellows replacing the calm blue background for normal readings.

His heart rate had spiked.

Patrick glanced up, brow furrowed. He'd half expected Thomas to be suddenly on his feet. But the giant was still lying flat on his back upon the cramped cot. Eyes shut, motionless.

A nightmare?

Several seconds passed, and Thomas remained impassive on the outside - but more and more often the reading on the heart monitor twitched. Patrick briefly scanned the brain model on the other side of the screen: multiple areas were flashing with activity.

Next time he glanced up, he could see Thomas’s eyes moving beneath their lids. His lips twitched into a frown, perfect brows furrowing.

“Stop,” Thomas mumbled.

For half a moment, Patrick thought the giant was talking to him. But he was still asleep. Clearing his throat as quietly as possible, Patrick leaned in closer, affording himself an even nearer view of that handsome visage.

Dark eyebrows were drawn up in a worried scowl. His lips were moving, incoherencies of please and please, don't coming out in whispers and mumbles.

"Lancaster!" Patrick blurted before he could reconsider. "Lancaster, wake..." He stopped. Even if the barrier didn't add a layer between them, he knew from experience that his voice couldn't carry far enough to wake a Jüren.

The heart rate spiked again, and the sound of it made Patrick's thump as well. He stared hard at the giant as he began to toss in his sleep, moaning. Other Jüren in the cells began to stir as well. The right neighbor turned his head, eyes shining in the dark.

It was without a conscious thought that Patrick's hand found the trigger hooked on his waistband. He thumbed it, and watched with a flinch as the charge on Thomas's neck flashed white.

Gasping like he'd been half drowned, Thomas sat bolt upright in bed. Sweat matted his hair and in patches though his plain grey shirt.

"I'm sorry," Patrick called. "I didn't know how else to wake you."

Thomas turned his head, great eyes searching the dark to find the tiny platform.

"The fuck are you doing here?" he mumbled, rubbing his neck.

"You were going to wake the whole lot with that dream you were having. You were screaming."

“I was?”

“Must have been a bad one.”

Thomas’s jaw twitched. “Yeah. It's gone now, though.” His glare seemed to bore holes in the force field with its intensity. “You been watching me, Patrick?”

He swallowed. “Actually, I… just wanted to make sure the guards were telling the truth when they said you'd recovered.”

“Oh yeah?” Thomas cocked his head. “And how do I look to you?”

He didn't give Patrick a chance to answer. His hand had found the front of his shirt and he grimaced at the dampness of the fabric, yanking the whole thing over his head.

“Y-you, um…”

His words got caught in his mouth as Thomas balled up the shirt, dabbed his forehead with it and tossed it aside.

“There’s no marks,” he said. “No bruises. Except for my head.” He tapped the faint pink rectangular outline where the Obtainer had been pasted. “But it still fucking smarts. I felt sick for hours after.”

Patrick's eyes roamed to Thomas’s bare stomach. There was no evidence of the monstrous open wound inflicted during the simulation. There had never been one. It had all been in his head. But he had been screaming like he was literally being ripped open.

"Those things can pack a punch," Patrick remarked distractedly.

"No kidding." Thomas ran a hand through his messy hair, scoffing. "I warned you about Summer. The other fucks that have come through here had nothing on her."

Patrick snorted softly. At present, he didn't entirely disagree.

"Are we doing that again?" Thomas asked.

"Doubtful, after the state you were left in. Though I suppose it's not really my call to make."

Strangely, this got his attention. The giant eyed him curiously through the barrier. He leaned closer, but Patrick got the sense it was not to intimidate, but rather to level himself to the hoverpad's height.

"And what would your call be, Patrick?"

Patrick shrugged. “Does it matter? I'm never gonna be put in charge.”

“I'm just curious.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Patrick blew out a long breath and glanced away. “I don't know. I don't like that hyper-real tech. It's sensitive shit, and it could put you at risk.”

“Surely you enjoyed it a little.”

“I didn't, actually.” He shot Thomas a pointed look. “Unlike some, I don't get off on other people's pain.”

He didn't rise to the bait. “Summer loves watching me squirm,” he said instead. “Don't you think? When I asked her to stop, she kept at it.”

“She should have turned it off,” Patrick admitted.

Thomas’s eyes flashed at him. There was a silent break, in which he traced the barrier between them with a fingertip. It was trembling slightly, Patrick noticed.

"She is right about one thing," Thomas murmured after a while. "It's a sickness. I can't… I can't fight the urge when it takes over." He hung his head, voice choking off.

Patrick was still staring at the hand spread over the barrier. Massive and rimmed by blue light. "You don't seem to care about stopping yourself. Hell, you were happy to talk about your fantasies about the other human guardsmen."

"You don't know what it's like," Thomas said, eyes flashing. "To be burdened with something like this."

"Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you?"

Muttering under his breath, Thomas whipped his hand away. He combed his beard, scratching a few fingers through the tangled black hairs.

"There was a girl, once. Before I moved to England. She loved me. And I've never loved anything like her since," Thomas went on, not looking at anything in particular as he spoke. "But the urge took over and I nearly... I couldn't stop myself. It was like I didn't even have a choice."

Patrick just about resisted a shudder. “A human girl?”

“You sound surprised.”

“It’s just…” Patrick sighed, steadying a hand on the hovercraft. “The way you talk about us. It’s as if we’re beneath you somehow. You don’t seem the type to be having a crush on a human girl.”

Thomas turned towards him so fast that he flinched. His jaw was set with sudden emotion, nothing like the smugness or the raw pain he had seen there before. This was something else. “I’m not a monster, Patrick.” Each word came out with strenuous effort. “Not like everyone thinks. I never asked to be this way, and… maybe… if someone had helped me beat it a long time ago, it wouldn’t have come to all this.”

“Did you even ask for help?”

“Not in so many words,” Thomas mumbled. “Look, I was just a kid. I guess I thought it was some weird kind of phase at first. That I’d get over it. But…”

“But you didn’t,” the human finished softly.

Thomas locked his jaw. "I'd give anything to go back to the beginning," he said in a low voice. "But, gods… Can you imagine me, living a normal life?"

Patrick cocked his head. "Not really." He moistened his lips, forcing his eyes up from Thomas's toned arms.  "Look you… You never really talk about your victims."

"Believe it or not," the giant muttered. "It's actually difficult for me."

“Difficult,” Patrick scoffed. “I can't believe this…”

Thomas scowled. “I'm not lying.”

“It's difficult because you got caught. That's the only reason you're saying any of this.” Patrick was almost laughing in disbelief. “You trying to tell me you would have handed yourself in?”

“Maybe I would have!”

Patrick pursed his lips, folding his arms across his chest. “Then why do you say all that shit to Summer? Huh? About how much you get off on it. You expect us to believe you actually feel bad for them all?”

"I'm saying I can't help it!"

Patrick jumped at the rise in Thomas's voice. He fumbled with the trigger he'd been holding, nearly letting it plummet off the side of the hoverpad. Fixing it to his belt once again, he stepped up to the rail and gripped it tight. Poised to stun Thomas into submission, Patrick was stunned to find the giant had his face in his hand.

"I want to stop. But I know my place. Its it's too late for me," Thomas murmured.

“Summer just wants to help you-”

“Oh, give me a break, she wants to punish me.”

“That simulation did its job, didn't it?” Patrick shot back, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice. “Made you feel how your victims felt?”

“You don't seriously believe she did it to help me, do you?” It was Thomas’s turn to laugh, running a hand through his thick hair. “Her ‘treatment’ isn't gonna reform me, and you know it. One of these days, she's gonna actually kill me.”

Patrick hung his head, too haunted by his earlier words with her to bother hiding his distress.

"You're a murderer, Lancaster. You'd deserve it."

"Look at me. Hey. Look at me." Thomas pressed his face close to the barrier, and those beautiful eyes caught Patrick's. "You don't believe that. I can see it."

Patrick wished he had the strength to look away, to tell him off. But his lips wouldn't move, his feet stayed rooted in place.

Thomas was shaking his head, dragging his teeth over his lower lip in a way that was almost hypnotising. “I've done horrible things,” he mumbled. “And I tried to justify it to myself. Helped me sleep at night, you know? If I told myself I was feeding some urge that was natural.”

“What you do,” Patrick said gravely, “is not natural. And you know that.”

The giant looked almost ashamed in the wake of his words. Patrick was hardly certain he was looking at the same Jüren who had smiled as he remembered his countless victims.

“I didn't want to believe it was wrong. There's… there’s so much evidence that the first Jüren communities thrived doing what I did. They're passed off as horror stories but I read them for what they were: historical evidence of the natural order.”

"You really believe that?"

Thomas gave a stiff shrug. "I didn't know what to believe. I was young." The cot gave a mighty groan as the Jüren shifted position. "Come on, Red… haven't you done anything you regret?"

"No. And don't call me that," Patrick said as sternly as he could manage, which wasn't much.

It was as though Thomas knew the effect he had on him. He was benevolent this evening, and didn't pounce. "Not even taking this shit job?" he teased in his larger-than-life murmur.

Patrick rolled his eyes, but the jab rang with truth. The job wasn't as black and white as it had been in his last post. It was like a different world here, run by people who could have been just as corrupt as the people they monitored.

He glanced at his watch, shocked to find that twenty minutes had passed. Summer wouldn't be pleased. She and Simons both had warned him about talking to this one too much, and too often.

Screw 'em, Patrick thought.

He pulled off his hat and ran a hand through his short fiery hair. Dropping down to a seat on the hover pad, Patrick stretched out his legs and sighed.

"When I was in college, I was in a hit and run," he announced. "I'd had a few drinks and I… I hit a guy. Homeless fellow on the side of the road. Never saw him coming." No quick quips from Thomas. No snide remarks. So he kept going.

"I got out and tried to help him but he was already so weak; drugs, I guess. Or maybe he'd been on the bottle too. I couldn't wake him, and I ran."

Thomas waited a few moments, patient, before making a soft noise. "You tried to help him. Makes you better than most, hm?"

Patrick pulled a face. "It's not about being better, you know."

“It's not?”

“I probably killed a guy,” Patrick answered. “And I didn't look back. Being ‘better’ than the average guy doesn't make me a good person.”

“I think it does.” He shifted lazily on the bed, maintaining Patrick’s gaze.

“Really?” he scoffed.

Thomas smiled. “Compared to me? You're a fucking saint, Red.”

Patrick searched his face, looking for a mocking note in his eye, but all he saw was sincerity.

The spell broke and he shook his head. “I don't know why I'm telling you any of this,” Patrick mumbled. “I'm not even supposed to be talking to you.”

Thomas chuckled softly, and it didn't sound malicious this time. Patrick wondered if the man was really that exhausted, or perhaps…

"That's the problem with guys like you. There's too many rules out there," he rumbled, nodding towards the general direction of the exit passage, lit sky blue with evening emergency cells. "You can't follow them all without breaking others in the process."

The sentry raised his chin, bitter. "So it's hopeless. Thanks."

Perfect white teeth flashed behind that mess of a beard. "No, I'm saying you have to figure out which rules are worth breaking."

Patrick stared up at him for a long moment. There were some moments when Thomas looked very little like a murderer at all.

“You should go back to sleep,” he mumbled finally.

Thomas shifted, great muscular biceps twitching in a way that was hard to ignore. “I’m not tired anymore.”

“Well, I need to go,” Patrick replied, reaching for the start-up button on the hovercraft. “I’ll need to turn out the lights and-”

“Don’t leave yet!”

The words stopped him in his tracks. When he looked up again, those blue eyes were beseeching. Patrick laughed uncertainly.

“Dude. I’m not staying down here all night. I have a warm apartment to get back to.”

Thomas was undeterred. “Look… you’re the only one who talks to me in this place. Really talks to me, without all that psychoanalytical bullshit. I’m going crazy without someone to have a conversation with.”

“You’re already crazy,” Patrick argued. But still, he hovered.

"Please, Patrick."

His name sounded foreign in the Jüren's pleasant, resonating voice. He wasn't entirely sure Thomas had known his name as anything more than Red, but he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised. The man was clearly far more observant than he let on.

Patrick lingered at the edge of the hoverpad, his boots scuffing against the cold metal. "They've put me on night duty while Summer's re-strategizing. I'll be back tomorrow. Try not to provoke anyone while I'm out."

Thomas gave him a winning smile. "Cross my heart."

Patrick rolled his eyes, trying not to smile back.  




Unable to sleep, Patrick spent the better part of his private hours browsing the internet from the comfort of his couch. He had it projected onto the wall, and scrolled through the endless web pages with a flick of his hand.

Thomas Lancaster had invaded his mind like a virus. He'd seen glimpses of a man that might not be the man-devouring monster he'd been charged to be. It would set him at ease, he decided, to do a little more research on his own.

There's evidence the first Jüren communities thrived doing what I did, he'd said. Maybe that was a good place to start.  

Patrick took a pull from his beer, eyes darting back and forth across the lines of text.

It was not pleasant reading, not that Patrick had expected it to be. He could find very little at first: only a museum archives page complete with images of mouldy, centuries-old medical records, historical anecdotes and story books. There was even a tapestry, dating back to the 1100s, which bore gruesome, yet somewhat comical depictions of loin-clothed Jüren devouring armies of humans.

He wrinkled his nose and moved on. One piece of parchment, written in Middle English, came complete with a description underneath. This 1273 study, the description declared, gives an eyewitness account from a human explorer who encountered a pre-Unification community of giants on Rathlin Island (N. Ireland).

The writer of the diary claimed to have washed up on the isle during a storm that knocked their ship off course. Once they and the other surviving sailors had alighted on the island, they were soon set upon by ‘beestes reaching heights over thirty metres, with footsteps of thunder that fain shooke the earth upon which they trod.’ The writer, unnoticed, followed along as their comrades were taken to the giants’ place of dwelling - where they were ultimately tortured and eaten in what the extract described as a ‘hellish ritual.’

‘Torture’ sounded familiar; records alleged that Thomas had played with some of his victims for hours or even days before finishing them off. It was hard to believe that that was the result of some instinctual impulse.

Patrick frowned and closed the tab. This was all well and good, but he needed something more recent. Something that would actually explain the cause of such cannibalistic behaviour.

He found another case from the 1850s. This one was from the diary of a lost wanderer in the country of Azen. The woman claimed to have been taken captive by one of the Grey Folk, living in a mountainside cave in the wilderness. She was kept captive for weeks, being prepared for his dark appetite, only to be set free eventually. The only documented case of a Grey Person acting… normal.

Patrick leaned forward in his seat. "Set free?" he mumbled, flicking down further on the page.

Legends of magic and myth weren't uncommon in those early days. To his shock, she claimed to have merely talked the giant into submission.

I befriended the beast and learned his name. Antony. That was the beginning. And in the end, the favourable change was nothing I could beg or plead or pray for. The love I gave him freely was the first he'd received from any human. It changed his heart and saved my li--

The rest of the scanned letter became too indistinct for Patrick to read. But there were photographs, too. And more letters, detailing her capture and release in vivid detail.

He was going to feast on me, the last line read in elegant script. And he changed his mind.

Patrick quickly typed the keywords of that case into his search bar, which brought up another dozen pages of similar material. The Grey Folk were the most notorious race of giant ever detailed in written history. Patrick remembered learning about them as a child: the only time such a taboo subject had ever arisen in his education. They were opportunistic predators: carriages passing within range of their territory tended to go missing along the way and turn up days later, smashed and empty of any passengers.

As far as Patrick had been concerned, they had been little more than savages. Monsters, like in old fairy stories. But as he read on, he soon found this was not the case. Blurry black and white photographs showed pallid, glaring titans kitted out in Victorian attire, albeit slightly shabby from their mountainous environment.

Despite contemporary claims, one article declared, the Grey people were not inarticulate brutes, closer to animals than men. They were as evolved as any other Jüren - or indeed human - of the time, possessing remarkable intellect and cognitive ability, which was only to their advantage when luring potential victims into striking distance.

A retelling of Antony’s story followed, this time with some scientific studies of the giant himself. His former dwelling had been discovered some years ago, and not long after, his remains. They had been preserved in a peat bog on the land he had lived in, still almost entirely intact. Though examinations were made, no traces of human DNA had been found in his stomach.

“Love,” Patrick mumbled. He took another drink from the bottle and sighed. It seemed like too romantic an idea, but if it had worked on one giant…

He gave a sudden snort. What are you gonna do, Paddy? He thought wrily. Flirt with a murderer? Seduce Thomas until he stops eating people?

He stroked his chin, recalling vividly the look on Thomas's face as he spoke about his first love. A human girl. Suddenly, the concept seemed a little less ridiculous. If she could soften his heart, he could too.

But maybe he didn't need a lover to change his heart. Maybe he just needed someone to understand him. Talk to him like a normal man. It could be as elementary as that.

He tried to picture that sinful smile with no malice lurking beneath. The image was strangely alluring. Beautiful, even. He found his grip tightening on the glass throat of his bottle.

Summer couldn't fix Thomas. But he could.

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Six weeks later

Valeria pulled at the sash around her waist. The robe was soft and crudely made. She shrugged her shoulders and let it slip to the countertop. With acquired grace, she climbed over the lip of the wide basin and slipped into the bath. For Ross, it served merely as a bowl. But for her, it was a luxurious tub that even the Queen of Greendale could be jealous of. She sighed, and slipped up to her neck in the clear water.

Sunlight streamed through a window more vast than a house, embracing her behind closed eyes. She could not any longer take long walks outside on her own. Nor could she even manoeuvre the giant's own home without his help. Still, she had found a strange peace here.

Upon her insistence, he had promised to return her to human territory when they had both healed. But as the weeks flew by, Valeria found herself less eager to put his word to the test. Ross had been kinder to her than she ever could have hoped for.

She surfaced and reached for the herb-speckled soap floating on the surface. Even now, she could hear him moving in the other side of the house, each of his footsteps becoming distant vibrations that traveled for ages. The sensation scarcely troubled her now, save for the rare occasions she was set on the floor. It was a comfort to know that her friend was near, looking after her.

Humming an old tune softly, she spread soap along her arms and up her neck, adoring the aroma of pungent flowers so unfamiliar to her. Ross said they grew in abundance not far from his own village. But as of yet, she had not left the house to find out if that was true.

She submerged her upper half once more to wash it free of suds. So deep was the water, and so relaxed was she, that she let her legs float up until she was drifting on her back.

Within five minutes, those ground-shaking steps increased in severity. The surface of the water rippled as Ross strode into the room, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. The moment he saw she was watching him, he smiled, but swiftly downturned his eyes from her bare form out of respect.

“You've been too quiet,” he teased her. “Not like you. I thought you might have drowned.”

She giggled, now treading water. Splashes of her own rose against the sides of the bowl as she came to rest her elbows on the rim closest to the giant.

His transformation over the last few weeks had been startling. His wounds had all but melted away, only a few patches of stitches and some scar tissue remained in tiny quantity. His missing eye no longer looked as swollen and sore, and didn't bleed from fresh whip-marks. The pallid white sickliness of his skin gave way to a healthier tone and his cheeks were ruddy with good diet and fresh air. The effects of his freedom were bodily visible.

He went to the bigger basin of his kitchen sink, working a pump to deliver a stream of water over his hands. Valeria kicked her feet in the warm bath, sending small waves of suds to the other side.

"I did not," she called back lightly. "See for yourself."

She resumed her humming, wading back to the soap sliver to lather up her hair. She heard the water in the sink turn off, and then Ross' slow, thudding steps approaching. He moved so swiftly and surely she had no chance to seize back her words. His shadow washed over the entire bowl. With her hands still in her hair, she went very still as he lowered himself down behind her.

She heard him moving, but still gasped when his hand brushed along her back. His fingertips, smelling of that spicy soap, glided over her bare skin, smoothing swirls of bubbles over her shoulder blades. When she glanced carefully over her shoulder at him, she could make out only a part of his concentrated expression, and the sliver of his thick leather patch. Valeria chewed on her lip and released it, allowing him to continue.

"I'm still not used to you wearing that thing," she said eventually, unable to stand the quiet.

A soft laugh hit her back like a breeze. "It's not as nice as yours."

She felt her cheeks grow hot when she smiled, and quickly splashed water on her face to hide her blush, as if he was going to see it from that angle. “Mine had a certain charm,” she agreed modestly. “But it wasn't as… you know…”

He frowned, puzzled, as he dipped his hand into the water behind her. “As big?” he guessed.

“As scary,” Valeria said after a beat, scratching her neck sheepishly.

Ross blinked, considering this. “Scary?” he repeated, scooping up water and pouring it delicately over her shoulders. His good eye caught sight of his rippling reflection in the bowl. He reached up to smooth two fingers over the dark leather.

“Mhmm.” Swiveling, she tilted her head back to direct a warm smile at him. “You look every bit the giant we know from the legends.”

She had intrigued him. This close, Ross' scrutiny was more diligent than ever. "You don't look scared," he pointed out.

She smiled wider. "I know better."

His face warmed. Modesty hit her suddenly, when she noticed Ross' single eye glance down at the rest of her. Something tightened inside her, prompting her to fold her arms over her breasts. She was very small to him, but at this distance, she knew nothing was hidden to him. She glanced shyly down at her own body before lifting her eyes.

"Can… Can you help me out?"

Ross cleared his throat. “Uh, of course. Hold on, though, lemme get you a towel first.”

He rose away abruptly, almost kicking the table in his haste, and went to the hearth. The fire had almost died but the two small sheets he had left nearby were still beautifully warm. When he turned back to her she was pressed up against the side again, her hands clutching the ceramic edge.

Quick as a wink, he laid out one folded towel on the tabletop and submerged his hand in the bowl. He let Valeria position herself there before actually scooping her up. His lips parted at the sensation of soft limbs and tiny buttocks but he set her down on the sheet as quickly and carefully as he could.

The minute she was out she was shivering. Her teeth chattered until Ross bundled the second towel around her.

“Oh,” she sighed, gathering the folds up to her chin. “It's warm.”

"You humans. So sensitive to the elements."

Valeria held her breath as his face crowded close, a familiar smirk lowering into view. She gripped the edges of the towel to her chest while his hands cupped around her to towel her dry. She scrunched her face up when the movement rocked her, nearly laughing at how silly she must've looked. The towel nearly slipped as she reached out to gently bat at his hands. Despite his remarkable recovery, she couldn't bring herself to be rough with him.

Ross grinned and pulled back obediently, sitting down to pull his boots out from under the table. They were shiny and sturdy, a far cry from the ragged things he'd worn for so long in captivity.

"I'll be heading out to visit Aaron shortly," he remarked, glancing over. "Do you need anything from the market?"

“Mm-mm. No. Well…” She inched up onto her knees, watching him as he tugged one of his boots on. “What about that fruit we had a fortnight ago? The orange one with the prickly roots.”

“Sunfig,” Ross guessed.

She nodded eagerly. “That's it.”

“It should still be in season. Honestly it's been so long since I've been here I forget…” he trailed off, shaking his head with a half-smile. He sighed and reached for his second boot.

“You won't be gone long, will you?” she ventured, eyes beseeching him. “It gets awfully quiet after a while and I-”

“Not more than a couple of hours at most,” he was quick to reassure her. “Is there anything I can leave out for you so it doesn't become too dull? A book, maybe?”

She pursed her lips, disappearing to comb her fingers through her tangled hair underneath the cloth. "If you could leave the rest of that nice cloth on the table," Valeria hummed. "I might try to fix another dress or two for myself."

"None for me?" Ross teased.

"Not unless you want one you can wear on your finger."

The chuckle she got out of him made her stomach flutter. She groped for her robe while he fastened his belt, slipping into it in record time. Ross finished packing a few items into a small satchel: some dried fruits, a sealed jar of milk, and a small bit of the money Phillip had gifted him with. Valeria paced closer as he fastened the bag shut, trusting the care of those enormous hands.

"I wish I could come with you," she admitted, folding her arms across her chest.

His face said the same thing, she thought, as he looked back at her. But there was also caution there.

“Valeria… you do understand, don't you? Why you have to stay in?”

“I understand.”

He shouldered his bag but moved closer to her, not entirely satisfied. “I hate to keep you cooped up like… like some prisoner. That's not how I want this to be.”

“No, I know,” Valeria assured him. She folded her arms tighter, paying more attention now to the seam of her robe than the giant. “I don't feel like that.”

“Someday soon maybe,” he said. “We’ll go out together.”

She raised her head, looking past his bulk to the window across the room. Gigantic trees waved their bare branches under pale sunlight. She longed to feel the sensation of that breeze, see the strange nature of Aarlith herself. But certainly not alone.

"That sounds nice," she allowed. That got a smile back to his face, the rugged, boyish one she scarcely had thought him capable of before his release.

Ross lowered on one knee then, and stretched out his open hand towards her. Valeria uncrossed her arms and approached without hesitation. As he extended a single finger in farewell, she pressed her hand to its tip. Their own secret goodbye.

"Be careful," she bade him.

“Don't go worrying about me,” he said, carefully taking back his finger. With a final, comforting smile he rose, making for the cupboard that held the little scraps of fabric and other things Valeria used to make her clothes.

Halfway back to her, he faltered, turning back to gaze at the window. The table was in full view from the outside. Someone only had to walk past and…

“Almost forgot. Let's get you somewhere a little more discreet, huh?”

She steeled herself patiently as Ross swept her up off the towels and cupped her at chest level, surveying the room.

“Where’d I put you last time?” he mused.

Valeria pointed. "The lower sets of cupboards there."

"Ah, right."

The empty cupboard had been cleared of its previous contents and dusted out to be clean for her use. Ross laid everything out inside before delicately lowering down Valeria herself.

"Leave the cupboard open, please," she called as he started to stand. "All the way. I need the light."

He did just that, and even pulled over a weighty doorstop “in case it falls shut and you can't get out.” Offering her a final smile, he got to his feet.

“Have fun in there.” He shifted the bag on his shoulder and wandered to the door. “I'll be back before you know it if you keep busy enough.”

“I will!” Though she shouted, her voice was remarkably faint to his ears.

He put his hand on the doorknob, then paused as it clicked open, remembering something. “If you want to roam around on the floor, remember don't come out to the hallway, alright?” He winced at the very thought of hurting her by simply opening the door and stepping in too soon. “Just in case I'm home early.”

“Don't worry about me,” she echoed his words, and he fancied he could hear the smile in her voice. “Goodbye!”

“I'll see you soon.” With these final words, and a satisfied nod, Ross stepped out and slammed the door shut behind him.




Things were never quiet, Valeria found, living in a giant's home. The sound of the foundation settling was like a resident banshee, and that tree breezing outside sounded less lovely when its branches began to scratch against the kitchen window. She never knew how much Ross made these noises seemed smaller until he was absent.

To make the long wait a bit more endurable, Valeria would take to humming or singing songs as she worked. Some, old ones the castle staff used to sing. When she ran out of those, she made up her own.

She was halfway through the chorus of a ballad about a grasshopper when a door in the house swung open. Brightening, Valeria stopped what she was doing to look around at the front hall. The steps sounded from the other direction, from the door in the back of the pantry. She ran her hands through her hand and pushed the giant sewing kit off her lap.

"You're back early," she declared, cupping a hand around her mouth.

At the very edge of the cupboard, she realized the approaching steps were not Ross' careful gait.

Her veins seemed to flood with icy water, her knuckles were white against the edge of the cupboard. As the stranger moved closer, she began to feel the whole piece of furniture tremble with his strides.

“Is somebody there?”

The deep voice was startlingly familiar. Hardly daring to breathe, Valeria peeped around the side of the alcove, training her gaze in the direction of the pantry.

She almost screamed when the pantry door flew open, clattering against the wall with an almighty din. Then there was momentary silence, as whoever it was paused at the edge of the room.

“Ross? You home? I brought the stuff you wanted.”

Taking a deep, quiet breath, Valeria looked up.

And up.

It's him.

From the first night. She'd recognise his face anywhere. The one they had called Alasdair. The cold feeling in her veins turned freezing.

He began to move again. Snapping out of her horrified stupor she whirled, darting into the shadows at the back of the cupboard. Feeling panic bubbling, she clapped her hand over her mouth and nose to stifle her breathing.

His heavy steps came to stop just outside of the cupboard and its counters. Alasdair dropped something large onto the counter directly over her head, rattling the entire cupboard around her. A whimper bled through her fingers when he stepped right in front of the open cabinet. His shin-high boots filled the opening, blocking her exit.

"If you're here, Ross, the parsnips are on the counter!" Alasdair bellowed. "And some brandy too. Cost me six silver! You're fucking welcome."

When no reply came, the giant set about arranging the goods on the counter. Every movement made the cupboard quake. Valeria squeezed her eyes shut, willing the man to just leave. Just put it down and leave!

She watched in horror as one of the parsnips dropped off the counter. It landed idly at the foot of her hiding spot, musing the corner of the cupboard.

Just leave it alone, just leave it-

Alasdair dropped to a crouch, groping around. His hand hit the parsnip at the same moment as Valeria's bright blue robe caught his eye.  

No.

"I'll be damned," he breathed. He dropped the parsnip, and reached for her instead.

“No… please - no!” she squealed.

To her horror, his only reaction was an intrigued smile. “You’re the little thing Morgan picked up, aren’t you?” he said brightly, powerful fingers casting aside her barricade of boxes and fabrics like they weighed nothing. “Didn’t know you could talk.”

Tears sprung to her eyes. She was pressed right up against the back of the cupboard, but it was no trouble for the giant to reach that much further and pry at her waist, drawing her out into the light. The world spun as he tossed her briskly into the air and caught her again in a more secure grip, and drew himself up to his full height.

“I thought he’d have dealt with you by now,” Alasdair went on, grey eyes drinking her in as she fought against his fist. “You been hiding away from him all this time?”

“Please… put me down,” she gasped. She forced herself to meet his eyes, her own narrowed in a warning expression. “Ross, he… he’ll be angry if he finds out you laid so much as a finger on me.”  

"I know, I know," Alasdair drawled. "He wanted you for himself. But what the hell's taking him so long, hm?"

Valeria choked back another cry as he brought her right up to his face, turning her this way and that.

"What are you wearing?"

She screamed as he dropped her down into the palm of his other hand. Leaned up against the counter, he began pulling at the seams, puzzled.

"St-stop it! I mean it," she cried. "You'll be sorry." Her hands were whisked away with laughable ease. The worn leather of his fingerless gloves had nearly no friction, and she found herself slipping onto her ass like a baby deer.

"Are you threatening me?" Alasdair's dropped into a lower decibel. "Have you forgotten yourself? You're not jailing prisoners in Greendale anymore, woman."

“I wasn’t Ross’ jailer,” she squeaked out, shrinking from his dangerous tone. “Well… a bit, but - it was my job to take care of him! He only told you those things so your… your friend would hand me over. I looked after him.”

“Oh, sure.” Alasdair took hold of her, flipping her onto her front and continuing his examination of her dress. His voice suggested he didn’t believe her in the slightest. “Because humans are so adept at taking care of us guys, right?”

“Ross will tell you!” She struggled to the very edge of his hand, judging the distance to the floor below. Not a survivable one. “You’d believe him if not me, won’t you? Just… he’ll be home soon. Put me down a-and we can resolve this.”

"I don't take orders from bites like you, sweetheart. Now hold still." He wet his lips and tore her robe upward, revealing pale, kicking legs to the open air. "I'm sure Ross won't mind if I just get you warmed up."

Valeria's screams were muffled effectively as he clamped his thumb down over her back. With a finger and thumb, he tugged the robe off her upper half as easily as peeling an orange. Though the hand curled round her was as unyielding as a cage, she clawed desperately against him for release.

Her stomach dropped to her feet as the hand rose up, closer to its owner’s face, and her skin prickled when a rush of air enveloped her.

“I don’t know how he’s been able to resist you for so long,” he whispered at her back. “You smell incredible.”

The pressure around her body left somewhat, but only to be replaced by the giant’s other hand grabbing her up by the legs. Sobs wracked her body as she continued to struggle. “I’m begging you,” she implored him. “Don’t do this.”

"Oh," Alasdair said with a laugh. "This will be nothing compared to what Ross will do when he finds you."

The more she fought for release, the more satisfied his smile grew. It was a pure, primal sort of enjoyment that Valeria recognized in the depths of his large eyes. She hit and struggled for all she was worth, but she couldn't stop the teeth from grazing down her bare shoulder. Something hot and wet snaked down her arm, and she was sure she could smell his last meal on his breath.

And then, as if the heavens had heard her desperate prayers, the front door swung open.

“Val? Watch out, I’m coming in.”

Her eyes fluttered closed.

Ross.

More surprised than she was, Alasdair shut his mouth, eyebrows furrowed as he straightened to see the man easing in through the door. Valeria yelped, still suspended upside down.

“Ross, get in here!” she howled.

“I’m coming, hold on,” he exclaimed, sounding slightly bemused. When he strode into the kitchen, his attention was focused on the collection of spherical fruit balanced in the crook of one elbow.

“The market had sunfig,” he went on cheerfully. “Not just the orange either so I got…”

He caught sight of Alasdair, and his mouth opened. A split second later, he saw Valeria dangling there at his mercy, and the blood entirely drained from his face.

"Alasdair, no," Ross uttered. He dropped the groceries in a heap on the table, marching past the fruits that rolled down onto the floor. "Give her here, now!"

Suddenly he was a blur of movement, shoving a chair out of his way in his haste to reach them. He thrust out his hands under Alasdair's with a pleading look in his eye.

"Just drop her here. Please…"

"Alright, alright, back off me." Alasdair backed up into the countertop and opened his hand.

Valeria landed with a grunt in familiar palms. Ross drew her away immediately, cradling her close. She caught a glimpse of Alasdair's bewilderment as Ross set her down on the table and gently set about securing her robe around her.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…" he breathed.

She shivered there on the table, clutching her robe around her like it was a lifeline. Seemingly unable to utter another word she just blinked up at Ross, as if assuring herself that she was saved.

“Are you hurt?” Ross demanded tremulously. “Did he…”

He straightened up, turning his scrutiny back onto Alasdair. The other man almost wilted under the fierceness of his gaze.

“How did you get in?” Ross growled.

Alasdair pointed to the pantry. “Back door was unlocked,” he said innocently. “I told you I'd be dropping round this week didn't I?”

"And was eating Valeria part of your plan?"

"Look, I just found her under the sink there," Alasdair said, pointing. "I left you more than enough to work with. And I'd be quick about your revenge if I were you. She's not going to taste that nice if you let her get all old and stringy."

Alasdair looked positively befuddled by the murderous look Ross was sending him.

"You shouldn't have even touched her," Ross hissed.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know…"

Ross softened abruptly and glanced down at the table; Valeria had grabbed hold of his sleeve as if terrified he would leave her side. He smiled down at her, stretching his hand up to pet down her wild hair.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Alasdair meandered to join them by the table. He frowned when he noticed how Ross’ hand curled just that bit more around the little human when he came to stand at his side.

“I’m not going to do anything.”

“I don’t want you even looking at her,” Ross snapped in return.

Valeria fidgeted under his touch, shakily drawing a hand back through her hair. “Ross,” she whispered. “I-It’s okay.”

“The hell it is,” he mumbled, sliding his palms under her and picking her up once more.

Alasdair cocked his head. “So… what? You’re keeping her? But you told Morgan-”

“He wouldn’t have handed her over if I hadn’t lied.” Ross didn’t look at him, still smoothing down Valeria’s hair with his thumb. “She might be human, but she deserves to live. She took care of me.”

The other giant still looked disbelieving. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. Just leave her alone, alright?” He finally looked up again, leaning in and glaring hard into Alasdair’s face. “And don’t you go telling any of the others.”

Alasdair's quiet was unsettling. "Ross… you know I trust you. I'd follow you into almost any battle. But this… it's not right."

He edged slowly, bit by bit for the door. Ross brought Valeria to his chest, shielding her from the icy daggers he glared towards the other.

"I swear, Alasdair. You so much as breathe a word of this, you'll regret it."

The stalemate was terrifying, the sort of silence that could have led anywhere. Valeria shuddered in relief, clutching at Ross' vest, when she heard the other giant reluctantly trudge for the door.

"Food's on the counter," Alasdair muttered. Glaring over his shoulder, he skulked to the door.

“Alasdair!” Ross barked, but there was no answer other than the door slamming shut.

The minute he was gone, Ross sagged, letting himself slide onto the floor next to the table. He could feel his own heartbeat drumming wildly against his chest, and knew that Valeria could no doubt feel it too.

“Fuck,” he sighed, flexing his hand around Valeria’s tiny form. “It’s alright, Val. He’s not gonna scare you like that again.”

She didn’t answer. He could feel the light buzzing sensation against his palm that told him she was still shaking like a leaf. Letting out a shuddering sigh, he lifted her up before his face.

“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he rumbled. “I had no idea anyone could-”

“You promised me no one would touch me,” she interrupted. He winced, waiting for her anger, but all that came was more tears. “You said I’d be safe here.”

"You are-"

"But I wasn't!" She buried her face in her hands, hiding her quickly reddening cheeks. "You… you saw what happened. It wasn't even a fight."

Ross brushed his thumb over her fingers, against her sticky cheek. "I won't take any more chances. Mark my words."

She merely bit her lip and drew herself into a tighter ball in his palms, scrubbing at her eyes. With increasing anguish, Ross lowered her down to chest level again, holding her close to the warm fabric there. It was then he noticed how damp her shoulders were where the robe had slipped down.

“How about I heat up some more water,” he murmured soothingly. “You’ll feel better after another bath, I’m sure.”

At her approval, he got to his feet. He kept hold of her in one hand now when he grabbed up the heavy black kettle and set it back on its handle over the licking flames of the fire. She was quiet the entire time they waited for the water to warm up, and when Ross poured the hot liquid into the bowl and added soap.

With his help, Valeria disrobed and slipped eagerly into the warm water. She shuddered and sighed, wading up to her neck. Ross folded his arms on the table to watch her. She felt no lust or depravity in the gaze that followed her, but she kept her back to him all the same. It was easier, if she didn't have to look at him.

"I can't stay, Ross," Valeria said, soft and sudden. "The others… they just don't see me the way you do."

She felt his agitation in the way the table shook beneath her when he moved. “Them? They don't matter, Val. Not when it comes down to you. Alasdair coming in was an accident. You don't have to come face to face with any one of them.”

She threw suds onto her arms and scrubbed diligently, eager to banish the awful sensation of saliva that lingered there. “Don't make promises you can't keep, Ross,” she warned him, then ducked under the water to cover her hair. When she came back up for air, she tried to force herself to relax, but it was no use. Her muscles were like tense wires beneath her skin, and she still trembled like a baby rabbit.

“Look, I just need to be more careful, Val. More than I have been already,” Ross insisted. “I won't let anyone else find you.”

“But they will. It will happen eventually, Ross.”

“Not if I keep you indoors, if I-”

“Keep me hidden away? All the time?” Valeria demanded. “Because that seems to be the only option for you. But if I go back… I have a far greater chance of surviving.”

"Do you?" Ross sneered. "Amongst those barbarians? We've talked about this, Val. You left as a criminal in Greendale. They'll have your neck if you return."

"Then I won't go back to Greendale," Valeria said fiercely. "There are plenty of other kingdoms."

Ross scowled, planting his chin in his hand. "They're all the same."

Valeria stiffened and whirled on him, a ripple churning the water. "This may come as a shock to you, but there are other humans in the world capable of decency!"

Ross was quiet, his stubbornness unrelenting. Her face fell a little, finding traces of hatred in that brown eye. It still took her by surprise sometimes, that after all his kindness towards her, Ross' abhorrence for her species was stronger than ever.

"You can't go."

"Is that an order?" There was a new sort of iciness in her voice. She pulled her long hair over one shoulder, covering part of her chest as she worked her fingers through the knots.

Ross diffused it, shaking his head ruefully. "No, of course not. But I… I owe you my life. You've scarcely given me a month to begin paying that debt."

“You think you owe me? That you need to repay me like I'm some debtor?” She gaped at him, expression torn between anger and confusion. “That's what this is?”

“Val, no, I-”

“After all this time.” A bitter smile reached her lips and she shook her head. “I didn't get myself arrested for you so I could exploit you. I did it because it was right. You don't owe me anything.”

“All the same!” He drew himself closer to her and placed his hands around the bowl, dragging it towards him. “I'll never stop being grateful for what you did. And to let you walk right back among those monsters…”

Caught up in the rocking motion of the water, Valeria struggled to stay afloat. “I don't want to! But what kind of life would this be? Shut up like a vulnerable little pet.”

"You've got to know by now you could never be just some trinket to me."

Valeria opened her mouth to reply, and got a mouthful of bathwater. She'd gone too deep, and groped for the rim. Ross pushed up his sleeves, submerging a hand into the water. With begrudging gratitude, she held fast to him to steady herself. Her chest heaved with deep breaths that scarcely seemed to calm her beating heart.

"You deserve to be happy where you choose to be," Ross rumbled, all the fight gone from his voice. "I just thought… That would be with me."

Valeria stopped avoiding his gaze and craned her neck back, lips parted. She cursed Alasdair again for bringing tears to her eyes, for now they couldn't seem to stop. She still shook her head, hating to see the pain on his face.

"Not like this, Ross," she whispered. "I'm not something to be kept."

The hand she leaned against twitched. The next thing she knew, he was cradling her in the crook of his fingers. The prolonged contact of her bare skin on his was as intimidating as it was comforting. She gripped him tighter as he leaned down to give her a crooked smile.

"You can have me too. I'll be yours."

A weak little laugh escaped her and she tilted her head to rest it wearily on his hand. “My giant.” She raised a sceptical eyebrow.

“I mean it,” he told her, smile broadening. “Just… please. I won't ever leave you on your own again if you don't wish it. Anything you need of me, I'll do it. I swear.”

He brought up his fingertip, brushing at her cheeks, but it was impossible to distinguish fresh tears from the bath water. Before he could pull away she shot out a hand of her own, gripping hold of him.

“How do I know you're telling the truth?” she whispered. And yet, with her wide violet eyes boring into him, she already looked half-convinced.

"I've never lied to you," he assured her, and pulled her closer through the water. "I never will. And that's a promise I can keep."

Valeria smiled a little wider at that, tiny teeth sparkling at him. She sighed through her nose and nestled her cheek against him again. "I'll stay a while longer."

“Thank you,” he breathed.

“And…” She sighed, pushing off gently from his hand and wading further into the water. “Thank you, I suppose. For not forcing me to stay.” She blinked up at him from the edge of the bowl.

He made a small noise and sank down to rest his chin on his arms, rendering himself level with the human. “I know what it's like to be imprisoned,” he replied, quirking a conspiratorial eyebrow. “And so do you. It's something neither of us should have to face anymore.”

Valeria nodded sagely. It seemed not long ago that she was making that daily journey down into the dungeon. Not long ago, Ross had been a waif of a giant, too weak to joke about or speak with strength as he did now. She looked over the strong angles of his face now, the colour in his cheeks. Somehow, that was enough to ease the knot of indecision in her stomach.

"What did we say about staring?" she quipped. Ross raised an eyebrow at his own words turned back at him, flinching as she sent a little splash his way. She giggled, and turned her back on him again. She felt very proud of herself until he dipped his hand into the bowl and flicked water at her, too.

She squealed as it rained down on her hair, swimming furiously to evade another little cascade of bubbly water. The table juddered beneath her as Ross caught her up gently and plopped her down in the deepest point.

“Hey!” she yelped when she surfaced again. He merely laughed, and she batted playfully at the finger that came to help brush her hair out of her face.

“You can't blame me for staring,” he said, dropping his head back on his arms. “It's not often one has a person using their dishes as baths. You'll be wanting the whole sink next, I suppose.” He grinned at her, then lifted his gaze to the ceiling while she continued to clean herself up.

“Ross,” she chirped after a time.

“Mhmm?”

She paused. “Is it true that giants control the tides?”

When he looked at her again, her cheeks were pink, as though she felt foolish for asking such a thing.

“Where’d you get an idea like that?” he snorted.

She shrugged. “Just stories. A lot of people believe it. Especially the families of those sailors lost at sea every fishing season. I wanted to ask you before at the marsh but I forgot.”

"Giants control the tides no more than humans control where the moon appears at night," he told her patiently.

She hummed, lathering soap behind her ears. "I bet if you truly wanted to, you could."

"No, I wouldn't bet any money on that."

"I would," Valeria chirped. "You're certainly big enough. And you're recovering so well… I wouldn't be surprised if you could rip the earth up like a blanket within a week!"

Ross chuckled. "Now you're just being ridiculous."

She flashed him a playful smile over her shoulder, but he was still looking the other way. After carefully arranging her hair over both breasts, she waded to the rim and folded her arms on the side, mirroring him.  

"You are looking well, though," she went on. "It's almost a shame I can't take credit this time."

“Yes you can,” he mumbled, inching closer. “I wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for you. That means I never would have gotten back home. That's all down to you.”

She lowered her gaze, beaming at the ripples in the water around her. Seeing him now, she felt a warmth spread through her that had nothing to do with the hot water. Even despite the lingering scars, the unmissable crimson burn mark on his neck and the lingering leanness suggesting he had not quite reached his prime yet, Ross looked to have been reborn since his imprisonment. And Alasdair had been wrong. She could care for a giant.
Valour and Blood || 3.1
The third and final part of Valour and Blood begins!! My co-author MentalcaseVole and I actually went on an international G/t adventure together recently, hence the large delay. We’ll post pictures soon... but thought a nice thickkkk chapter would make up for the wait! Hope you all enjoy!!
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Summer's reinforced therapy took increasingly complex form.

For a week, she and her team made the finishing touches on a simulation. A virtual reality program hand crafted for Thomas Lancaster. Only him. The glimpses Patrick were given of the program were downright nightmarish - and every frame augmented from the real footage Thomas had shot with his Lens. The fucker had filmed almost every murder. Alphabetized the videos, like a library.

Summer thought a taste of his own medicine would give Thomas the remorse she so desperately sought from him.

“Does he know what's happening today?” Patrick asked Summer as they walked through the lobby.

“I told him we were doing a little VR trial on him, but nothing more,” Summer replied. “Most Jüren don't even know this level of Lens tech exists.”

Patrick gave a nervous laugh. “I didn't think it was legal, if I'm being honest.”

“It wasn't, until recently. Exceptions have been made for these such cases.”

When Patrick began heading in the direction of the High Priority Block, Summer caught hold of his arm.

“We’re going to a different block today,” she explained, tugging him towards a different tunnel. “We have a special room that's more appropriate for such elaborate tests. Plus we find it helps the inmates if they have a change of scenery every now and again, you know?”

“Right.”

The thought of seeing that monster outside that heavily barricaded cell troubled Patrick to no end, not that he would admit it to the scientist walking calmly beside him.

The officer manning the entrance to the new block allowed Summer entry without so much as a request for identification.

“They'll be bringing Lancaster along shortly,” she said as they hopped onto the conveyor belt that would transport them more quickly down the extensive walkway. “Right after breakfast.”

Patrick shot her a look. "Really? You're having him eat before watching that horror porn?"

"We have to gauge if his impulse to devour humans is based on appetite. If we can rule that out… We may be one step closer to curing his condition."

Somehow, it was difficult for Patrick to imagine Thomas as a reformed citizen. He doubted there would ever come a day when he wouldn't question the motive behind those sparkling eyes, no matter the circumstances.

"Whatever," he grunted as they stepped off and took their seats along the far wall. "I'm just glad I don't have to watch any more of that shit. I'd hurl here and now."

Summer gave him a cool once over from two seats over. "I would have thought you were made of sterner stuff."

Her gaze lingered a moment too long along his waistline. Ogling him, considerably. Luckily, the Jüren door hissed open, and he didn't have to pretend to divert his attention elsewhere.

Thomas was here.

He didn't see them at first, and for that, Patrick was grateful. It gave him a moment to compose himself. He had never seen the prisoner from so low an angle, or, indeed, out of the confines of his cell. The two Jüren guards holding Thomas’s arms did little to quell his quickening heartbeat.

“Morning, Summer,” greeted the guard nearest to us, and Thomas followed his gaze downward.

“Morning, Dunstan,” she smiled. “Morning, Lancaster. You look all full of the joys of spring today.”

“I haven't left my cell in days,” he replied. “It's nice to be out in a bigger space, you know?”

So familiar, so friendly. As if the last session hadn't concluded with him calling her a crazy bitch.

“You're going to like this room, then.” She turned her blinding smile onto the guards. “Thank you, gentlemen. If you could escort him into the chamber, that would be great.”

About ten feet before the humans’ eyes, the air shimmered faintly. A forcefield. Most of the room was apparently one enormous holding pen. The guards led Thomas through a gap on the far left side, and Summer reached for a control pad lodged in the armrest next to her.

Once activated, it connected with the one neckpiece on the other side of the forcefield - Thomas’s. The screen flashed up with a number of readings, many of which Patrick couldn't understand. Luckily, Summer seemed to.

“So,” she began, nudging her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Looks like everything’s normal. Health is good. You ate all your breakfast this morning.”

The Jüren guards murmured instructions to Thomas as they guided him quite roughly into a sturdy black seat. Heavy-duty clasps were laden into the armrest, gaping like hungry mouths.

"Do I get a treat for being good?" Thomas joked. He smiled, dazzling even beneath that awful beard. "I could go for a lap dance right about now. Been so lonely, y'know..."

He was socked in the stomach for that remark and shoved roughly into the chair. Summer looked at him like he was an insolent child.

"I'm afraid our budget doesn't allow for anything more than abstinence, Thomas. But you might be interested in today's exercise, hm?"

The giant had already lost interest in the banter. He waggled his fingers within their constraints on either side of him. He seemed to feel the additional electrodes running along each knuckle and made a face, looking down at them with unappreciative scrutiny.

“I thought I was going to have space,” he complained.

“And you do,” Summer responded brightly. “You just can't actually use it right now.”

He gave a few more irritated tugs at the wrist straps, but the guards only buckled them up tighter. He sighed. “I'm on the other side of a force field.”

“And?”

“I couldn't touch you even with my hands free. Why do you need me like this?”

“All in good time,” Summer said with a conspiratorial tap of her nose. “Just relax. Concentrate on making yourself comfortable.”

Thomas shifted side to side in his seat, discovering just how little wiggle room he had. "Paranoid little fucks," he said, chuckling tensely. "It would be cute if you weren't so set on these damn- what the hell are you doing?"

One of the Jüren guards had grabbed him by the face and held him still. The other squeezed a small amount of gel from a tube and smeared it over Thomas's temple. Adhered to it was a small tile. It appeared to be made of metal, yet it adhered to the contour of his skin.

Thomas stopped struggling, seeming to understand. And when the Jüren stepped back to consult with Doctor Summer, there was a nervousness flooding those gorgeous eyes that Patrick had never seen before.

"You know what this is?" he called out.

Thomas inclined his head. "We used to use Obtainers in Grendall. Common practice on the scum in the holding cells. Easy to get a full confession out of a man when he thinks he's safe."

Patrick arched an eyebrow. How the tables have turned.

Thomas grew all the more tense as he was left alone, the guards slipping out one by one the way they had come. The door bolted behind him. Only Summer, Patrick, and a single strip of blue light interrupted the plainness of Thomas's room.

He stared at them, studying them in that intimidating way again. "Why do you need to hack into my Lens?" he demanded in a calm voice.

Equally calmly, Summer tampered with something on her tablet screen. “Because it's necessary for the new procedure I have devised.”

Thomas was shaking his head, fingers clenching the ends of the chair arms. “You can't.”

“Why not?”

“It's illegal in the States,” he declared.

Summer smirked. “Not in DEMFAC, it isn't.”

“This is an invasion of privacy.”

Patrick snorted. “You don't have the luxury of privacy anymore. Thought you'd have realised that by now.”

“Please don't worry, Mister Lancaster,” Summer cooed. “We’re not going to go poking and prodding through your every memory.”

“You could have done that already for all I fucking-”

“We’re merely going to take a look at a few specific moments. One of your crimes. It is necessary for your rehabilitation.”

With a gusting, furious sigh through his nose, Thomas eased himself back against the chair. But he did not relax.

There was something almost pitiful about the giant’s sudden anxiety, but Patrick had his orders. The genius boys in IT had already delivered him a fresh tablet that morning. Patrick unfolded the glass now from where he'd been clutching it in his hands. The creases along each fold sectioned to each other and became a seamless sheet. It was not unlike the tablets he'd purchased for school or gaming over the years. But he'd not be able to browse the web or play Hellfire Seven if he was so inclined. Like much at Saint Demetrius, it had been stripped down to its essentials. A lone application waited for him on the blinding white screen. He could either obey or refuse. There was no third option.

Giving the giant no further opportunity to argue, Patrick thumbed the application and launched the program. The screen turned black. Thomas flinched in the same moment as the Obtainer hummed against his temple. Patrick hated what the device did to people: bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils so wide the user looked like a half-formed demon.

But it worked. Thomas saw, heard, felt - even tasted what they wanted him to.

As the program came to life, a live feed of what Thomas was seeing appeared on the humans’ respective tablets. There was very little to see at present, only the backs of his hands as he glanced down at them and the dark expanse of the virtual room.

“What do you see, Thomas?” Summer demanded.

His head tilted as her voice cut in. “Nothing! Where are you?”

“I will not feature as part of the test, other than as a speaker,” she replied. “Look harder. Surely you can see where you are.”

“Look, I told you I…” The screen was lightening as Thomas adjusted to his environment. The foggy darkness began to give way to large, looming objects.

“Yes?”

He didn't reply. When Patrick looked up, the Jüren was staring about him, transfixed. It was almost amusing to watch, since there was nothing but a force field and the two humans before his eyes.

“Thomas?”

“It's my… my apartment,” he said dully. “But it's huge.”

“It's a Jüren dwelling, Thomas. Of course it's huge.”

“That's not what I-”

“I'm going to leave you alone a bit, to get reacquainted with the place. I'm sure you've missed it.”

She promptly switched off her microphone.

“No, wait,” he called out. “I can't move. What am I supposed to do?”

Patrick too was dumbfounded. He shot Summer a questioning glance, but her eyes were fixed on her tablet.

He knew what was coming, but he still cringed as the image gave a sudden shake and then another. And another, more prominent this time.

"What the fuck," Thomas grunted, looking around him wildly. "What was that?"

Judging by the tone in his voice, he already knew, but did not want to admit it.

Soon enough, the owner of the enormous footsteps filled the screen. Thomas's own clothing had been scanned for the program. No detail was to be missed, Summer said. Patrick could only imagine Thomas's confusion as he stared up at a a man dozens of times bigger than him - wearing his very own trousers and work boots.

"You poor, sweet thing… are you still trying to escape?"

The voice at least, was unfamiliar to Thomas. He was frowning at nothing, hands white on the arms of his chair, determined not to let them shake.

Patrick squared his jaw, sweating lightly beneath his cap. It was so genuinely fucked up that some actor had actually mo-capped this sequence. Done the voiceover work in some confidential studio. In some ironic way, it was as though they were actually immortalizing Thomas Lancaster's atrocities.

"You think you're clever?" Thomas looked about blindly for Summer and Patrick, though it did him little good. "You think you're going to save the world by playing some video in my head?" The heated words crashed against the forcefield.

The screen shook again as the VR giant moved in closer. Readings on the right corner of the screen spiked, betraying Thomas’s anxiety. He looked to be on the verge of a heart attack.

Nothing had happened, and the monster was already terrified out of his wits.

That’s how every one of his victims must have felt in their final moments, Patrick reminded himself grimly. All this is is a taste of his own medicine.

One of the massive arms reached forward - almost casually - and Thomas’s hands twitched in their restraints. He moaned as something clattered behind him, the sound of metal on metal.

“There's no need to be afraid,” the giant soothed him. “This will only hurt for a moment.”

“I see what you're doing,” Thomas exclaimed, sounding desperate where he had tried to sound confident. “I get it. You can turn it off now, Summer.”

Her lips twitched and she scribbled something down, but neither gave him a reply nor signaled Patrick to shut the system down.

Thomas went very still as the simulated hand swept over him. He did his best to sit rigid and strong despite the over-loud voice being streamed into his head, the sensation of hot skin and powerful fingers over his body. Patrick only dared to peek at Thomas for a moment. It was dizzying, to imagine anyone that would be a giant to someone so incredible already.

When the scalpel cut across his belly, Thomas loosed a shout of surprise. Perhaps he had used Obtainers before. But he had never known the full extent of their sensory mastery. For such a small, insignificant device, they could drive a man insane.

Even a Jüren.

"It- it hurts!" he gasped in a loud, frantic voice. He turned his head this way and that, wide unseeing eyes looking for help. "Summer, I can fucking feel this! It- oh f-fuck… Turn it off!"

Summer made another note on her tablet.

“Please!” Thomas was struggling, hands skittering madly and legs frantically trying to propel him away from the apparent danger. It was no use, of course. The chair had him fixed in one place, as though he was strapped down to that table in the simulation.

Patrick ripped his gaze away from Thomas’s throes to see what was happening on the screen - and almost choked. Where the scalpel had opened him up, blood and viscera oozed upwards and spilled across his shirt, staining his pants deep red. All-too-realistic organs glimmered in the dim light. And worst of all, the simulated giant was lowering his head towards that painful, pulsing mess.

“No, no, no, no,” was all Thomas could manage now. “No, no, NOOOOO!”

He tapered off in a deafening scream that all but drowned out the hideous sucking noises coming from the simulation. Patrick ducked his head, squeezing his eyes shut. When he finally opened them again, the giant had raised his head again, grinning, a thick strand of intestine caught between his teeth.

A low whine joined Thomas's awful roar. Summer didn't seem too concerned about it, if she noticed at all, so Patrick chalked it up to his own anxiety. Then he noticed Thomas's wrists had turned ashen white.

"Summer," Patrick breathed, seconds before the bands of steel twisted and went flying an impressive distance to the floor.  

Patrick and Summer leapt from their seats. He threw himself in front of the doctor, though he hadn't worked out yet what he would do if Thomas managed to get to them.

He scrambled for the beeper on his belt that would summon the Jüren guards. They would have no idea if Thomas was screaming, let alone a guard merely six foot two. Suddenly, the soundproof privacy of their therapy felt like a death sentence.

Summer slapped his hand away before he could call the others.  

Glaring, Patrick jerked his gaze up from his belt.

"He can't make it through the barrier," she said in a shaky attempt at authority. "Stand down. Let the simulation finish. He's got another two minutes left!"

His stomach bottomed out as another distinct clattering of metal caught his ear. He spotted the second wrist constraints lying in three pieces on the floor. He raised his gaze, following the leg up the rest of its owner. Thomas was on his feet now, still shouting for relief. He clutched his stomach and cursed at the nothingness around him. The sight was so sudden, it took Patrick a moment to find his voice again.

"Yeah, well, I would've bet he couldn't break out of those, either." He took hold of her shoulders firmly. "I'm getting you out of here."

She fought him. He couldn't believe how desperate she was to remain in danger instead of escaping it.

"He's my patient. I need to see everything. All of it!" Summer's faded blonde hair drifted in and out of her narrowed eyes as she tried to peer past Patrick's broad frame.

"You hired me for a reason. I know Jüren," he all but shouted in reply. "You can't count on your damned barrier. They're celestial compared to us, do you understand?"

She continued to writhe, desperate to keep her eyes on Thomas.

He was white as a sheet, sweat a visible sheen on the entirety of his face and neck. Trembling like a leaf, he made a dart to the right, as if avoiding some invisible hand, and ended up ramming blindly up against the force field.

“Summer!” he roared. “Summer-”

He doubled over suddenly and howled in pain as another sensor twinged. His fist crashed against the force field, which protested with a shrill sound and a spark of electricity. He didn’t even seem to feel the shock, pounding again and again on the invisible wall. It was so much thinner than the one in his cell; a mere backup. It strained and sparked with every one of the giant’s attacks. The Lenses in his eyes were pure white now. Patrick felt a shudder run up his spine when he caught a glimpse of them.

“Fuck this,” he snarled. “I’m getting you out. Now.”

With one great heave, he yanked Summer off her feet and half-ran, half-stumbled for the exit as an alarm began to sound.

“You don’t understand,” she protested loudly in his ear. “W-without his restraints, he could try to tear his Lenses out of his eyes.”

“You’d better hope the guards get here quick then,” Patrick growled.

Said guards almost ran them down as they entered the corridor outside the chamber.

“Shit!” Patrick stumbled backwards out of the path of an enormous boot.

A similar exclamation burst from the Jüren guard it belonged to. They took a second to recover from the near miss, then stepped over the pair of humans and charged into the room, where Thomas continued to scream and scream.




"I can't be the first person to ask you what the hell's going through your head." Patrick was blunt as he dropped into the neighboring stool at the desk. He pushed a cup of hot coffee into Doctor Summer's hand, which she took without looking.

"Lancaster is unprecedented," she replied, having calmed down somewhat. "So he needs unprecedented methods."

He could have very well kept his mouth shut. But he'd been working with Summer for a while now. She would afford him to speak his mind.

She fucking better after that nightmare, Patrick thought, remembering Thomas's glossed-over eyes and the twist of pain on his perfect face.

"What exactly did you think was going to happen with that… that awful thing you had him watch?"

“Patrick, you must understand this is all part of the treatment-”

“You told him he was just going to revisit one of his crimes. You didn’t say you were going to put him on the receiving end of it.”

She bristled at the interruption, but merely pulled the cap off her coffee and blew on it. “Your point being?”

“You could have put him into cardiac arrest, scaring him like that.”

“Do you think the people he killed were any less frightened when he did it to them?” she demanded, setting the cup down. “What happened to them was real and permanent. This was just a simulation.”

“A fucking realistic one, though,” Patrick snapped. “The pain he was in… that wasn’t therapy. That was punishment. That was torture.”

“He has to know, Patrick.” Her voice was irritatingly calm now.

“Know what?”

“How his victims felt. If he can’t learn, if he can’t empathise, how do you ever expect him to respect humans enough not to eat them?”

“He did learn! He begged you to turn it off when he saw what was coming.”

Summer shook her head. “He was just saying that so he could get off easy. I needed him to have the full experience, or he would never understand. Not truly.”

She had her tablet unfolded and open before her on the desk. The footage from the upper right B camera was playing: Thomas being strapped to his chair, muscular shoulders tense with anticipation, his face an impassive mask.

"With all due respect," Patrick said. "I've had experience with his type before. There are some criminals you can get through to, let them back into society. But others… Men like Thomas. You're not going to get through to him by frightening him."

"You think you understand him so well,"  Summer muttered. She took a large pull from her coffee, grimacing at the bitterness that followed. "Would it have killed you to throw a Splenda in here?"

Patrick pushed the tablet away, unable to watch Thomas slam himself against the forcefield another time.

"Summer, I'm here to keep you safe, but part of my duties involve making sure Thomas isn't killed for the sake of your experiments." Mustering up the last of his authority, Patrick leveled her with his best poker face. "Swear you won't put Lancaster through that again."

“I will put him through any damn thing I want if it turns him into a normal fucking person,” she snapped suddenly.

Patrick reared back. Summer sighed, took another sip of coffee, grimaced.

“You're not a scientist, Patrick. No one’s paying you to debate the ethics of this program. They're paying you to keep us all safe. And I promise you, Thomas isn't going to come to any harm on my watch.”

“What was that then? Huh? You didn't just tickle him, Summer, you made him feel like he was being cut open.”

“Do I have to repeat myself? It wasn’t real. There was no physical harm involved.”

“Psychological harm is just as bad. Worse, even.”

“It's psychological healing, Patrick. Cleansing. This program is designed to cure him of his mental sickness.”

Patrick scoffed, eyes raised to the ceiling.

“What?”

He shook his head. “I can't tell whether you sound like some hippie new age guru... or a freaking fascist. All due respect, of course.”

Doctor Summer eyed him with a displeasure that made his skin crawl. Though not intimidating in appearance, Patrick had already firmly made up his mind that he would never want to cross her.

"Patrick, I like you. I really do. But if you don't agree with my methods, that's just bad fucking luck." She tossed the rest of the coffee in the trash and hastily folded up her tablet, tucking it into the front pocket of her slacks.

"Do your job and stay out of my way." On the threshold of the door, Summer paused. "And learn how to make a cup of coffee."

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Obsess-Confess
Little Miss Maggie
Artist | Student | Varied
United States
:iconrequestsopen: :icontradesopen:
Finally uploaded a pic of myself!
I'm a college student, majoring in character animation. My dream is to work at Pixar Animation Studios.
I love to draw people. The human body is a master piece in and of itself. I don't have a lot of my serious art on this account, but that might change.
I gravitate towards romantic subjects, or very emotional things. I like feeling something when I create. In a weird way, the mood of the piece possesses me while I make it.
I love art, writing, and discovering new ideas. I'm always up for a GT roleplay, or doing sketch trades.
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tp32 Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2018
Happy Birthday !!
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Happy birthday
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Happy Birthday!
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Happy birthday, and may you have a good many more!
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happy birthday!
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Happy B'day :cake:
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RedWalls666 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2018
Hi, was the story called The Doll House taken down or was it written by someone else? I read it awhile ago and I reread it a lot and I can't seem to remember clearly but I was sure you were the one that wrote it. I didn't care that it wasn't finished and/or that it died I just enjoyed the interactions.
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Bethelina Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
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Happy Birthday!
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Happy birthday!
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