Her raspy breaths sounded unnaturally mechanical against the ever present noise of the churning and bubbling of hot wax. It was a complete dichotomy, the sharp wind exhaled from a surface dwelling creature trapped beneath the earth with roiling magma where it did not belong. Other than these two seemingly opposite elements, not a single sound permeated the unsettling silence that had dominated this underground kingdom for too long. It had been days since she'd last heard the screams of another victim being dragged mercilessly down into the basement. Or at least she thought it was a basement. Dungeon would also be an apt descriptor of the bleak place she'd been dragged into.

After weeks of being confined to a solitary position, usually curled into a tight ball against the stone wall or lying limply on the stained and rotting mattress He'd thrown her upon, her legs trembled and folded over themselves with the exertion of limping down the candle lit corridor. It was no help that her right ankle still ached from where it had twisted during her first escape attempt. She could feel the burning pull of her tendon with each lurching step. Her hands scrambled for purchase against the stone wall as she leaned against it for support, earning her palms and knuckles a myriad of scrapes alongside the red crescents she'd already pressed into her palms. Dirt and blood caked beneath her ragged, uncut fingernails. The buildup of grime would have disgusted her at any other time, but her pounding heart and aching legs were more than enough to distract from the disgusting sensation.

A pitchy yelp clawed at her throat when her hand suddenly caught against one of the candles mounted on the wall, hot wax spilling over her open wounds like hot magma. Instantly, she slapped the offended palm over her mouth and cringed at the reverberating echo. Twice in a row now she'd made a loud noise that could have alerted her captors. No doubt that if they hadn't discovered her escape already, they'd be upon her soon. A shiver stroked her spine as she imagined His single pale eye narrowing as it landed on an empty cot, lifeless in its shallow socket before realization settles in. It would darken with rage, burning with the unsettling intensity she was now familiar with but would never become used to. She suspected that she had not yet seen the full extent of his anger and found herself desperate to never discover it. Her pace rapidly transitioned from hurried to frantic as she began to hobble along even faster, a distressed whining noise building in the base of her throat so low and tight that her chest burned.

Bursting out into a larger room she stumbled over her feet at the sudden lack of support from the wall, hips ramming straight into a metal table. She strangled back her cry of pain as the force of the collision threw her backwards. After fumbling off kilter for a few moments, she unsteadily regained her balance and threw her momentum towards the door at the far end of the room. The uncoordinated motion made her feel like an infant taking its first unsteady steps. This is what her time beneath His "care" had done to her. Her head felt both light and heavy, on the verge of floating away or thudding to the ground. No doubt her constant malnutrition for the past weeks was to blame.

Never mind that she had been the one starving herself by stubbornly denying the food He pushed at her everyday with that same entreating look. It was only when He would snatch the plastic spork out of her hand and attempt to force the gunk into her mouth that she would quiveringly pick at whatever meal He'd given her.

Eyes completely focused on the peeling wood of the door before her, the same one she'd been hauled through kicking and screaming what seemed like years ago, she paid little attention to her surroundings. Just after she placed her abused hand on a nearby table for support, it landed on a loose pile of papers and slid forward. Her feet flew out from beneath her and her head bashed against the table with a sickening thump. She fell face first to the floor surrounded by a flutter of dislodged papers. A subdued groan left her throat as she lay limply on her front, eyes clenched shut against the trickle of blood pouring from the fresh wound on her head. Her face felt hot and slick and a painful pressure was building up just behind her temple.

Surrounding her were sheets of off-white paper speckled with crimson, each one containing a rough charcoal sketch. Head foggy and judgement clouded, all sight of her initial objective was forgotten as she reached a weak hand out to grab one of the drawings. The paper crinkled slightly beneath her fingers, but she had lost the mental capacity to handle it gently as she lifted her head to look at it.

It took her eyes a moment to focus on the full picture as they traced each stroke of graphite. Thin lines merged into smooth slopes and curves as she began to see a face take shape. No, not just any face, her own face. She felt as if she was staring into a mirror, but knew that it couldn't be true. The last time she'd caught her reflection she'd looked gaunt and faded, a direct contrast to the soft smile etched on the drawing's face, or its bright eyes that crinkled with unspoken joy at their corners. The face was eerily serene, reminding her of a corpse she'd seen one summer at an open casket funeral. The drawing of her reached its hand out, as if beckoning silently. Come, it said, come sit with me and remember how to smile.

She let the paper flutter to the ground as her stomach began to churn, grabbing another drawing from the pile surrounding her and another one after that.

One picture depicted her from the chest up, shyly side eyeing something just out of view with her hand lovingly splayed across her sternum. Another featured her full body stretched out with the column of her neck exposed as her head stretched backwards, a serene look on her face. A heavy weight dropped in her stomach as she realized the drawing was clothesless, naked and vulnerable. Each one seemed to capture her in some vulnerable state, a moment when she'd thought she was safe and alone, an imagined scenario in His mind which she'd turned to Him and smiled at His presence. A moment where she hadn't immediately tensed at the sight of Him, prepared to defend herself from the monster.

She might have been able to appreciate His artistry if she wasn't so thoroughly sickened. There must have been hundreds of these drawings piled around her like the piles of dead leaves she used to jump into as a child. His desire surrounded her on all sides, caging her in with red speckled images of her own smiling face. She stared blankly into her own eyes and felt deeply that she would never know that little girl who threw herself headfirst into leaf piles again.

The squeak of rusty hinges and a loud bang startled her, and she twisted her pounding head to glance over her shoulder.

The sight of Him then was worse than she ever could have envisioned. He towered in the doorway, head almost scraping the ceiling as His broad chest heaved up and down. One hand was clenched into a tight fist and the other gripped an old bat, raised so the tip stuck forward in defense. She assumed it was this blunt object He intended to subdue her with. She distantly remembered the smarting pain in the back of her skull from where His brother had slammed it with the butt of his shotgun.

Despite the impassivity of the poreless wax mask covering His face, His pale eye revealed the intense rage brewing beneath that facade as it searched the room. It's times like these when she was relieved His other socket remained a dark void. She knew that if He could fix that gaze upon her with the strength of two eyes she would surely die on the spot.

After a rapidly scanning the room, His eye finally traveled to the floor and landed on her. His eye widened and she was sure He was taking stock of His now ruined drawings. She desperately wanted to scramble to her feet and continue to run, but she was paralyzed by both the certainty that she wouldn't get very far and the fear of what He'd do when He inevitably caught her. All she was able to do is let out a faint whimper as the throbbing in her head continued to intensify.

As soon as the pathetic sound left her throat, He snapped His silent gaze towards her. His eye slowly moved down her prone body and she couldn't find the strength to apologize or beg for mercy. But she doubted He would hear it even if she did. He was practiced at ignoring her insults and begging for freedom. He'd had weeks to learn how best to tune out His captive when He could no longer bear her screams.

Even from beneath the mask she could tell He was unsettled as He took note of the gash on her head and the bruises and scrapes marring her arms and legs. His breathing was heavy and uneven now, a far cry from His usually icy and silent composure.

He stood as still as His wax figures for a few moments before abruptly jolting forwards, causing her to instinctively flinch back and let out a little scream as the gleam of the bat in His hand caught her eye. He halted abruptly, seemingly taken aback by her distress. Her lower lip trembled and tears stung at her eyes.

"P-please don't hit me." She managed to whisper, lips distorting into a pained grimace as salty tears licked at their edges.

She felt burning shame from within as she realized that this was the first time she'd cried in front of Him since her first day down in this dungeon. Gone was the defiant woman who'd railed and screamed and rattled her chains at any given moment, replaced by a weeping girl who's only desire was to avoid further misery. This easy surrender disgusted her.

He paused with his lone eye trained on her, allowing her increasingly intense sobs to fill the entire room. Her entire face scrunched against the torrent of dry heaves released from within. This was the worst torture she'd been subjected to by far, the man's silent judgement confirming everything she'd feared all along. She no longer had the strength to fight back, and He knew it. He was like a vulture circling above her, patiently waiting for the moment she would fall. This had been her last chance, her final stand, and she'd blown it. Humiliation hit her like a tidal wave, drowning her beneath its force.

The sound of clattering made her snap her eyes open. She just managed to catch the bat bouncing against the floor before her eyes snapped to His slowly approaching figure. If her captor hadn't already proved He was anything but, she would've thought His movements gentle. His shoulders hunched as He crouched over in an attempt to make Himself look less intimidating as He held his palms towards her in a placating manner. All it managed to do was remind her of the monster under her bed reaching out to grab her. He may have thought Himself convincing, but she knew the truth. She'd heard the screams of His victims from his workshop too often not be aware of His true nature. She sniffled pathetically and managed to weakly flip herself onto her back in an effort to provide some semblance of defense.

It was hard not to be intimidated by the visage of His imposing figure and uncanny mask, but she tried to remain calm and reduce her sniveling to a faint whimper. Unlike His brother, she wasn't sure the masked man enjoyed watching her pathetic breakdowns.

She jerked back as His pale hand reached for her, the back of her head colliding with the palm He'd snuck around the back without her noticing. It unnerved her to feel His spindly fingers brush against her flesh, and her brain unconsciously likened His touch to spiders scuttling across her skin. She attempted to thrash in blind panic but He held strong, His grip firm and unyielding as His fingers slid through her thick curly hair for better leverage. He held her still as the other hand tentatively brushed across her forehead, the rough pads of His fingers rubbing against the blood drying there. He took great care not to press the wound and caressed it with an unexpected gentleness. Where had His anger gone? She shifted her body slightly, uncomfortable with the intense scrutiny but unable to hide from it. Her eyes darted in every direction but His, searching for anything to distract her from this moment.

He pulled His hand away after a long moment, interpreting her clenched face as an indication of pain. The one at the back of her head remained though, His large hot palm cupping almost the entirety of her skull and keeping her stationary. She felt like a newborn kitten being restrained by the scruff of its neck. Although she could feel her heart pounding through her ribcage, she found her body relaxing unwillingly.

A mortified blush bloomed across her cheeks as He made a soft murmuring noise, similar to the one her mother would make when she hurt herself as a child. The hand not supporting her head tentatively lifted her limp hand as He examined the bruises and blisters left by hot wax. The pad of His thumb ran across her knuckles soothingly and the sickening tenderness made her want to vomit. He treated her as if she was fine china, a prized possession to be cradled and handled with the utmost care. The stark contrast between how He treated her now and the cold, removed demeanor He'd shown her these past few weeks was dizzying. Or maybe her dizziness stemmed from the concussion she'd just received. Or maybe it was because she was still shaking and sniffling with fear. Who knew?

He held her like that for another moment, both hands pressed against her as He gently shushed the occasional sob that still came from her, until they'd both gone still and silent. She'd closed her eyes at some point, giving herself over to that oppressive pounding in her head. Although, she didn't even realize she'd let go until she felt her weight shift as He picked her up.

Her eyes sluggishly opened again as He adjusted her in His arms. Her cheek pressed against something warm and she belatedly realized He was cradling her to his chest. Part of her knew she should be sickened by being this close to him, but a larger, much more overwhelming part was tired and happy to absorb the heat after being trapped in this cold basement for so long. Without truly recognizing her actions, she closed her eyes and burrowed deeper into His chest. She felt a startled hum reverberate from inside, but couldn't find it within herself to care. When had she become so exhausted? She couldn't remember being this tired before in her entire life.

Moments, or maybe hours, later she was laid upon some sort of firm surface. She grimaced and reached out blindly for the source of warmth but found only empty air. Peeking out from beneath her eyelids, she sees Him in the corner with His back turned to her rummaging around in something.

Time warped after that as she faded in and out of consciousness. All sense of clarity left as one moment He was standing with His back to here and the next He was skimming His fingers over her bruised hand, that haunting eye inches from her face. She didn't feel the way His hands shook as He bandaged her body, taking great care not to disturb her light sleep. His motions were timid and confident at the same time, both afraid of hurting her and emboldened to take certain liberties by her lack of consciousness. One hand traced along her jaw while the other smoothed her brow, both completing their task with reverence. Even with the slight downturn of her mouth, she looked angelic in her rest.

She didn't feel Him carry her back to the ragged mattress in the corner, or hear the scratch of His pencil as he carefully sketches the outline of His newest work. There is fever in His motions, a kind of sickness fueled by addiction and she just happens to be the drug He craves. He ignores the cramping of His hands as He rushes to capture this peaceful moment before it leaves Him, just as everyone else has.

She didn't feel it when a weight perched lightly beside her on the mattress, nor did she feel the light brush of mangled lips against the crown of her head. She did hear, as her consciousness returned for a fleeting moment, the retreat of footsteps and the quiet clicking of the door. She turned slightly in her sleep, her bandaged hands tightly gripping the blanket tucked over her body.

In her dream she sat on her porch's front step with her mother somewhere behind her, humming along to the radio as she watched her father rake leaves. He stopped for a moment and glanced over at her, gesturing to the large pile he'd amassed. He knew this was her favorite part of autumn. She giddily pushed herself off the step and began to run forward. She closed her eyes and took it all in, the warmth of the sun, her father's laughter, the abundant joy of a fall afternoon. She smiled as she jumped headfirst into the leaf pile, bracing herself for the fall she'd always loved.

And when she landed, when she opened her eyes expecting to see her father's smiling face above her, she opened them to find herself curled up on her side in that dark and cold room, a rotting mattress beneath her.