Advent: Day Ten
Title: A Debt to Pay
Characters: Cain, Lilith
Origin: Wanderlust: Land of Faith (WIP)
Advent Day: Day 10 (December 6th)
Word count: 1,887
Lilith’s carriage pulled up the hovel in the bowels of Paris. She looked out the small window and wrinkled her nose. The scent was foul. Absolutely foul. How anyone could lower themselves to visiting such an establishment in such a putrid district, she’d never know.
There was a time, her mind whispered, when you were in such a hellhole, bought and sold for a copper.
That had been then. This was now. She was a lady with a title, an estate, a dead husband, and lots of money. That time, which was too many years ago to have any bearing on her life now, was done. That woman was dead and buried.
Lilith blinked, focusing on her driver outside the carriage. “This is the establishment, yes.”
Her driver opened the door, and her footman helped her out of the carriage. Lilith sighed as her fine satin shoes stepped in some sort of filth, and then she looked to the large, battered doors of the crumbling building. Was he really inside? Would he hate her still? Would he even accept her help? When last she’d laid eyes on him, he was weeping, cursing her for having no care for anyone but herself as he cradled his dying daughter in his arms. It hadn’t been her fault… not really… not… well, perhaps a little.
Which was why she was here, now. Whether Cain wanted her help or not, she would provide it.
Lilith approached the door of the brothel, and it opened even before she could pull the cord. In moments, she was led into the dark, fetid building. Lilith pulled out her handkerchief and pressed it to her nose and mouth. “The man with blood red hair,” she demanded. “I have come to purchase him.”
The man who led her inside looked seedy, his small, dark eyes far too keen for the rest of his emaciated form. “You have livres with you? How many are you prepared to part with? Such a rare man is worth a rare price.”
Lilith narrowed her green eyes at him, and the force of her stare made him shiver and avert his gaze. Haggling with Cain’s pimp in the pit of putrid rubbish that passed as the brothel was certainly not prominent among her desires. “Seventy-five livres.”
The man’s face scrunched up, nearly unrecognizable, and his beady eyes shifted about until he glanced up. “One hundred fifty, my lady. He is worth every livre and is sure to please for many years.”
Lilith huffed and waved her handkerchief at him for a moment before placing it back over her nose and mouth. “One hundred, and not a livre more.” It was a ridiculous price for a whore, especially one who was likely deathly ill. Well… not deathly, not for this man, but the pimp couldn’t possibly know that. She snapped her fingers and one of the two footmen at her back bowed and stepped out. A minute later, he had returned with a large sack of denier. Lilith motioned him forward, and he handed the sack to the pimp. “One hundred. Now, take me to him.”
A toothless grin curved the pimp’s face, and he cradled his prize as he turned and limped his way back past a curtain and down a decrepit hallway. Her footmen followed behind her at a safe distance, and she was glad for their presence, even if this hovel was a threat to their health. The pimp pulled back a curtain, and she stopped short of stepping inside the cell of a room. Bile rose to her throat, and she barely managed to swallow it back. “Leave us,” she ordered sharply, and the pimp bowed, making a hasty retreat, most likely to stash his money where no one else would find it.
The figure on the bed was practically a skeleton. God Almighty, she had never seen him so wasted, even worse than the pimp. His skin was pasty, an unnatural pallor having stolen the flush Lilith so vividly remembered. The scar on his back was the only mark that shown clearly on his skin, angry and red. She swallowed thickly, eyes taking in his naked, sickened form, and stepped forward.
Cain rolled over, slowly, as if every bone ached with the movement. His eyes, a dull, dead brown, took a moment to focus on her. And then he laughed. Well, it wasn’t quite a laugh. More like a choked bark. “God, you.”
“Sorry, Lil, don’t think I can suit whatever needs you have tonight.” Cain closed his eyes, and a full-body shiver took hold of him before he began to cough, a horrid, hacking sound that was too wet. “You don’t have a cock to plow my ass with, and Gaston thinks that’s all I’m good for at the moment.”
Lilith winced internally. Cain’s natural preference wasn’t men. “I haven’t come for sex, Cain. I’ve come for you.”
Cain took several rattling breaths, and then opened his eyes to look at her. “Such… a saint.”
Anger surged through Lilith. “If you want to stay in this pit, then by all means, do. I owed you, and I thought I could help.” She shook her head. “You’re just like all men. Proud right to the end—but there is no end for you. You’ll just waste away here, wallowing in sickness and sweaty, wine-drunk men who use your body to sate their own need.” Lilith remembered vividly the hatred she’d felt when the men had used her, beat her, made her weaker than them through fists, cocks, and money. It was something she’d hoped to spare Cain. He might have had a taste of defilement, but he wasn’t broken.
Lilith didn’t want to see Cain—first born son of the world—broken by anyone or anything.
“Yes, Lil, just like all… those disgusting men you… hate so much,” Cain spat, wheezing between words. “So leave me to rot. It’s… what you’ve always wanted… isn’t it?”
Lilith clenched her jaw and ground out, “No. That’s never been what I wanted.” When another round of coughing made Cain convulse, she felt her legs move without her permission, taking her to his side. “Dammit, Cain, you’re such a fool. You aren’t supposed to just give up without a fight.”
“You don’t want me to… give up, but I’m… supposed to let you hel—” The word was cut off by a particularly gruesome cough that ended in a terrible, garbled wheeze.
Lilith bit lightly at her lower lip behind her handkerchief before cursing under her breath and ripping a portion of her expensive underskirt to press it to Cain’s nose and mouth, wiping away some of the fluids. “Yes, you’re supposed to accept my help so you can become well enough to fight.”
He seemed surprised by her uncharacteristically tender touch, wincing and staring up at her for several seconds. The next cough came so suddenly that she didn’t have time to pull her hand back properly and was sprayed by the fluids as he instinctively clung at the clean strip of fabric. She nearly pulled her hand away in disgust, but couldn’t bring herself to recoil completely, even if she did make a face.
Lilith sighed, refusing to let her face soften, even as she reached up with her free hand to push oily, tangled locks of red hair back from Cain’s face. “Stop being stubborn and just accept my help.”
“And be… beholden to… you?”
“And be free.” Lilith stared at him for a long moment. “That’s what we both have always wanted, isn’t it? Freedom. You’re hardly free here.”
Cain smiled at her, a slightly delirious look to his eyes. His teeth were tinted pink, and Lilith knew she had to get him out of this hovel. “Free. How can… I be free if you’ve… bought me?”
“I didn’t buy you, asshole. I bought your freedom.” Lilith crouched beside the cot, not thinking about what filth was under her feet. “Come home with me, Cain. Let yourself heal.” She smiled. “We can have some fun, can’t we? I love how difficult you make my life, and you love how complicated I make yours. A couple of years, and you’ll be as good as new and utterly bored of me, and then free to move on.”
Something flickered in Cain’s eyes Lilith couldn’t quite understand. She’d seen it a few times in the past, but he never elaborated, never shared whatever thought went through his mind at those moments. “Go home with… you. You intend to… play sick-nurse?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I play at nothing. I’m not some useless lady of noble birth who hasn’t been allowed to read by the controlling men in her life. Besides,” she added with a wry smile, “whatever you have would likely infect my entire household. You’ll be under my personal care, whether you like it or not.”
Cain sighed, the sound a wet, rattling sound. “Do I have a choice?”
“No.” Lilith stood again and motioned behind her. “My footmen will carry you out whether you want them to or not.”
“You must be loving this,” Cain rasped.
Lilith was quiet for a moment. “No. No, Cain, I’m not.” She snapped her fingers and nodded, and the larger of her two footmen approached. “Be careful with him,” she warned.
The man hefted Cain up from the filthy cot, and although she saw Cain trying to help, trying to move on his own, he must have been too weak to do anything more than give in. He coughed and convulsed, trying to curl into a ball in her footman’s arms, and the way his shivering hands held to the stripe of fabric from her dress made her chest ache for an instant.
“I said careful!” she snapped before turning and navigating back through the decrepit brothel to her carriage. Part of her didn’t want to see Cain like this. Cain was never weak, never defeated by the world he’d been cursed to inhabit forever. Yet, here he was, surrounded by sickness and plague and poverty. She didn’t like it, and because she didn’t like it, she took control.
She stepped up into her carriage, happy to be free of the worst of the stench from the brothel. Her man followed, carrying Cain up into the enclosed cab, and she rearranged herself, directing him until Cain was settled along the seat next to her. She cradled his head in her lap and signaled out the window for the driver to go. He shivered again, even though his skin was feverish under her fingertips, and she covered him with a blanket, determined to make him comfortable.
He settled against her as the carriage rattled its way along the Paris street, and before long, she could tell he was either asleep or had fallen into a delirious stupor. The tightness of her chest returned, and she exhaled slowly, petting his matted red hair. She couldn’t control everything in the world, couldn’t control what diseases overtook humanity time and again, but she could repay the debt she owed. She could help Cain this time, and she would.
The smallest of smiles played at the corners of her lips, and she nodded to herself as she murmured beneath the noise of the carriage. “You’re safe, Cain.”