Jeremy fumbled around in the dark for a moment, finally producing a small lighter. He flicked it on and waved it around, and Cassiel studied the area the best she could.

A long, high staircase extended before them, spiraling upward and out of sight. Along the stairs at even intervals were small, rectangular windows set into the walls. The staircase bore no railing or much apparent support, yet it stood even and sturdy among the old stone. Jeremy silently started walking up the staircase, careful to avoid shining the lighter in any of the windows, and Cassiel followed him just as quietly.

No sounds could be heard; their feet lightly tapping the stone staircase made the only noises present, and in the near silence, they sounded like gunshots. Cassiel, her nervousness growing, tried to keep her feet quiet. Almost daintily, she crept up each stair, close behind Jeremy and his light.

After a few minutes, each second seeming more like a minute, the pair finally found themselves at the top. More of the rectangular windows surrounded them, the row ending at a cluster of doors. Jeremy glanced at Cassiel, and then went to the first door to try it.

Once more, the door opened easily. Before her nervousness could get the best of her, Cassiel marched into the room. With the moon's light shining through the windows, and Jeremy's lighter casting a small circle of additional illumination around it, they studied the room carefully.

Even with the lights trying to chase the darkness away, the room seemed black as night. The walls, painted a dark, indeterminate color, seemed to fade into the darkness within them. Cassiel hesitantly made her way to a bed that stood under a larger window and ran her hand across the sheets. The familiar, musky smell that haunted her room and her dreams rose from the bed, and the sheets gleamed a dark, blood red in the moonlight.

Still tentative but appearing bolder than she felt, Cassiel carefully pulled herself up onto the bed; sinking into the intoxicating softness, she had to force herself not to relax and close her eyes.

Jeremy quietly stood in the doorway, silently watching her. Fighting the sleepiness that suddenly fell upon her, she carefully stood back up and walked past him out the door, to another door. As with the previous doors, this door didn't have a lock, nor did the last two.

Each room, in sequence, appeared to be a generation more modern than the last. Jeremy's lighter, however, revealed that they all shared common themes: each possessed a bed that bore the same blood red sheets, each room's walls bore dark shades of blue, and each room carried the distinctive smell of the man from Cassiel's dream. The nervousness she'd felt while climbing the stairs returned and increased exponentially every time she smelled the man's cologne.

Turning away from the last room, Cassiel mumbled, "Let's go," and headed down the stairs. Confused, Jeremy followed, carefully trying to light her path. "What about what that guy said, that this place is haunted or something? Don't you want to check that idea out?"

Cassiel paused and glanced up at him, chewing her lip nervously. While she normally could keep the painful memories and emotions of her past hidden away while conscious, the rooms of the tower seemed, somehow, able to peel away her defenses. Though logic told her it couldn't be him, smelling the smell of that man, the man in her dreams, brought the memories of her parents, her home, her only friend back to life.

In sleep, Cassiel had never been able to hide from them, but now, even in the waking world, they crowded her, threatening to overwhelm her. She could hardly bear the emotions and memories now; if she continued to explore the tower and allowed her emotions to take over...

"No, I, uh, I can check it out some other time." Jeremy, his expression bewildered in the sparse light, hesitantly nodded and continued down the stairs to the door. "Okay...I guess...but let me know when, and I'll-" Trying the door and its not opening cut off his speech. He closed the lighter, stuck it in his waistband, and tried again with both hands.

Dread filled Cassiel as, once more, her companion failed to open the door. Jeremy glanced at her, the fear in his expression warring with the concern. "Are you okay?" he asked, his eyes probingly studying her face. She nodded faintly at him, unable to think beyond the fact that they were trapped.

Jeremy pulled his lighter back out and flicked it on, his face paler in the light than his voice had let on when he'd spoken. Cassiel quietly watched him, concentrating on keeping her voice even as she asked, "What should we do?"

He hesitated, his eyes widening slightly in panic; his gaze flicked over at the stairs, and then flicked back to her face, his expression unsure. "I…um…" Jeremy mumbled helplessly for a moment before shutting up and motioning at the staircase. Cassiel slowly turned to look at them, her dread crowding out rational thought.

Moonlight flickered in the little windows, the puddles of light spilling onto the staircase and growing dimmer as the night wore on. The staircase felt quietly ominous to her; though she hadn't heard any howls since entering the tower, the silence only heightened her sense of foreboding.

Resigned to her fate, Cassiel silently started the climb back up, Jeremy close behind with his lighter. Quietly, she walked to the room she had first looked into, the smell of that man from her dreams assaulting her again. Steeling herself against the smell, and silently forbidding her mind to remember him, she crawled onto the bed under the satin covers, and rested her head on a pillow that smelled of the man.

Jeremy waved at her from the door and murmured a soft "Good night" before going to another room. Cassiel closed her eyes and silently drifted into sleep, feeling as though she wasn't quite alone yet…

What a lovely couple…

Don't be foolish, sweeting, they're not a couple. See, they're in separate beds…

That's a shame, if it's true. They both seem so lonely, and they're both trapped in this gods-forsaken place.

I hope you don't plan to meddle again, Meredith…

Oh, posh…this isn't meddling, it's simply…ah…

Meddling?

Hush, Henry, and leave me be. Is it so horrible to want to see two people happy?

I hope you're not making it harder on them…

Cassiel woke with a start, her hands and arms flailing, trying to grab something. Confused, she pulled her arms back to herself and sat up, almost immediately noticing the absence of her clothes.

Carefully, she got up and dragged a blanket off the bed, wrapping it around her body as she searched for her clothes. Her shirt laid on the floor just outside of the door, and when she moved to retrieve it, Cassiel saw her bra in the hallway.

Disturbed and focusing on retrieving her clothes, she didn't notice Jeremy leave the room he slept in; when she turned to go back to the room she'd slept in, he was watching her from his doorway, staring in bemusement.

Cassiel uttered a startled, high-pitched squeak, immediately wishing she could take it back, and fled back to her room. Shaking slightly, she quickly dressed, hoping no one outside of the tower had heard her distressed sound. When she finished and peeked out of the room, Jeremy was nowhere in sight.

Hesitantly, she made her way down the stairs. Jeremy stood at the bottom, trying to undo the door and quietly ignoring her and her footsteps.

Cassiel silently walked over to him and watched as he worked on the lock with his lighter and a piece of metal. She couldn't remember seeing the lock the night before, and it seemed odd that there was suddenly one on the door. I guess I just didn't see it… she mused, trying to ignore the feeling that she was wrong.

Jeremy finally was able to unlock the door; quietly, he opened it for Cassiel and stepped out of her way, and she silently walked out past him. The pair made their way to the mansion, at first in silence. Before they reached the door to the slave quarters, though, Jeremy paused and turned to her. Cassiel paused with him, nervously waiting to see what he would do.

"…I'm sorry, Cassiel...about…what happened…" She blinked slightly in surprise and continued watching him. "I…I should've looked away…" Jeremy looked away now, obviously uncomfortable and even a little sad. Cassiel kept quiet and tried to think of something to say, but before she could speak, the head slave opened the door and glared out at them.

The pair's gazes turned to the ground under the man's glare. "Where have you two been?" he demanded. Cassiel watched out of the corner of her eye as Jeremy started to reply. "We went to the far tower," she mumbled, not giving him a chance to speak.

Jeremy hurriedly looked up at their leader. "I talked her into it, though. She didn't really want to go," he said, almost stumbling over his words in an effort to get them out. The head slave simply looked at Cassiel, his expression asking for a response.

She couldn't let Jeremy take the sole responsibility; aside from the fact that the little trip to the tower had been her idea, Cassiel had spent the past year trying to prove her independence, and to prove that she didn't need a man's help, just as a strong woman should be. In addition, the truth and the entire story would take too long to tell, and not only would it bore their leader, it would undoubtedly lead to even more trouble.

However, Cassiel's intent and her words didn't quite match, and she heard herself state simply, "…we decided on it together."

Jeremy shook his head in protest and started to speak, but the head slave simply sighed and held up his hand. He began to walk off, motioning for them to follow, and Cassiel quietly did as he bid, her perpetual shadow close behind her.

Silently, the head slave led them to the kitchen and stood in the middle of the room. His gaze pinned both of them before he started to speak. "The two of you will clean the kitchen today, alone. You will have it done by sundown, and it will be spotless. Understand?"

Trying not to visibly relax, Cassiel silently nodded, Jeremy's head following her motion. The head slave watched their reactions for a beat longer, and then he turned away, leaving the kitchen at his usual, rushed gait.

Cassiel quietly looked around and spotted the buckets and cleaner, and with Jeremy close behind to help, she gathered them and started mixing the solution. "You didn't have to speak up…" he mumbled quietly; she merely shrugged and set about cleaning, and he quietly cleaned alongside of her.

They worked in silence the entire day, the only sounds coming from the rags squishing and squeaking over the stove tops. Cassiel finally finished scrubbing the last range in time to see the head slave bustle into the room. She stood aside with Jeremy, half-asleep on her feet and not noticing anything particular about the inspection. Bed…I want to go to bed already…

Finishing his inspection, the man nodded to himself and looked at the pair of them. "Looks good," he stated brusquely. "Go to your quarters now…and don't think of disobeying the master again." He gave them both a half frown and hurried back out, his gait swifter than usual.

Jeremy looked at Cassiel, uncertain but silent. She simply walked out of the kitchen toward her room, leaving him to follow her. When they reached her door, Jeremy mumbled a soft "Good night..." and continued toward his room.

Quietly, Cassiel undressed and slipped her gown on, trying yet again to ignore the smell clinging to the garment, yet unable to ignore how much stronger it seemed. She slipped in between the covers on her cot and laid her head back, her eyelids immediately relaxing. With little to keep her mind awake, the quiet noises from the other rooms quickly lulled her into a deep sleep.

Wiping her palms on the side of her skirt, she silently watched the man in black once again take his seat behind the imposing podium. He smiled at her, his rough face softening with regret. "Ms. Simmons...your father's sister has declined to accept your custody..."

She simply nodded, her eyes lowering to stare at the floor. The judge continued speaking, his voice struggling to stay impassive. "Several families and individuals have stepped forward to offer to be your adoptive family..." A warm hand clasped her shoulder, and she listened more intently, praying, hoping that he wouldn't win.

"We've had to make the decision for you, Ms. Simmons, and based on our observations, we've decided that Nicholas Marino is the best choice for your adoptive father. Mr. Marino has made adequate preparations for your arrival and stay in his home, and has demonstrated that he is capable of taking care of your emotional needs as well. Ms. Simmons, I wish you luck in your new life." The judge tapped his gavel against the podium and stood, leaving the room amid the small murmurs of disbelief.

She almost collapsed against her chair. Feeling her eyes sting, she merely stared at the ground as long, loving arms wrapped around her from behind. A young voice whispered in her ear, the sound soothing her in a small, odd way. "It's okay, Cassiel…we'll…we'll figure it out…"

Her nightmare in flesh walked toward her from his seat across the room, chocolate toned eyes glittering in triumph. "Come along, Cassiel," he ordered, his voice faintly hoarse. She ignored him and moved closer to her comforter, the young man tightening his arms around her.

Damon glared up at her new father, his eyes so much like the other's but so different. She quietly wiped her eyes and sniffled, allowing herself a moment more in Damon's arms before whispering. "I'd…I'd better go…"

His large, sad eyes turned to her face as she spoke; he simply nodded, knowing as well as she did that there was no fighting the inevitable. "W-we'll see each other in school...we can plan how to...to get you away from him..." he whispered, his voice a little unsteady. She gave him a small nod, and he leaned forward, gently kissing her with the movement.

She wanted to stay there with him, to not leave with the man glaring down at her, but she had to. There was no choice; someone else pulled the strings, and she could only move along as they bade her to. She gently pulled away and stood, feeling cold and alone when his arms slipped out from around her; involuntarily meeting Nick's eyes, she silently studied the victorious smirk growing over his face. He took her hand and led her out of the building, looking peevish as the Jackyzes shouted words of encouragement after her.

They both got into his car, his movements agitated and eager and hers slow and withdrawn. He drove to his apartment, a small place, and ushered her out of the car and inside. Her stomach dropped lowly as Nick coaxed her into a bedroom and quickly began undressing her.

She pleaded for him to stop, but he didn't seem to hear her. He took his time with her; his intimate touches confused her, making her hesitate and want more. When he finished with her, pushing her over the edge, she felt torn between asking for more and running away to hide from his hands.

Nick's dark, knowing gaze moved over her body freely; self-consciously, she turned her face away and stared at the wall as he began again, wishing Damon would come and save her…

Cassiel woke with a start; feeling eyes on her, she sat up and looked around the tiny room. Jeremy watched her quietly from the door, his expression hard to determine with the light at his back. "Are…you okay, Cassiel?" he asked tentatively, his voice wavering as he spoke her name.

She stared up at him for a moment in silence, carefully keeping her expression neutral. Not after…that dream again… Aloud, she murmured that she was fine.

He nodded silently, but stood there for a moment longer, his stance unsure. She raised her brow slightly in question, causing Jeremy to speak abruptly. "It's…it's almost time to work…" Cassiel nodded quietly and carefully got up; he turned his face away and left, carefully closing the door after himself.

It didn't take long for Cassiel to change into a fresh outfit and to make up her little cot, but in that time, she realized how tired she was from working. I don't want to work today… She made the decision while finishing her cot's preparations; deciding on her answer, she carefully moved to the floor and crawled under the cot.

The head slave wasted very little time in deciding to come look for her.. At first, he merely opened her door and looked in, seeming ready to walk away. Instead, he walked on inside and looked more closely at the room. "Woman?"

Cassiel kept her mouth shut and her body as still as possible, but he seemed to sense her presence anyway. The man crouched and peered under the bed, his expression darkening when he saw her.

"What are you doing under there?" he demanded, seeming more nervous than angry. She merely moved closer to the wall. "I…I don't feel like working today."

The man's frown deepened, his eyes gleaming with a troubled light. "He won't like this; you're already going to be punished for disobeying. Do you really want to make it worse?" When she didn't reply, he hastily continued, "Do you really want to make him angrier?"

Unsure but unwilling to do what he said, Cassiel snuck a covert glance at the open door. The man started to move under the bed and reached for her arm; she scooted farther away.

"Come out," he said irritably, crawling further in underneath the cot. Cassiel crawled away, avoiding his hands, and moved out from her shelter. Reaching free, open space, she ran out the door.

"Get back here!" His startled cry only served to make her run faster. Rounding a corner, Cassiel looked up to see a tall, rather thin wall standing in her way. She tried to stop, but her efforts only led her to land, face-first, against the wall with a faint thud.

Trying to gather her thoughts, Cassiel jumped in surprise when strong, unrelenting hands gripped her arms. She blinked up into a pair of hard emerald eyes, and the familiar, musty cologne emanating from the man froze her in place.

"What's going on?" he demanded curtly, his faintly accented voice sounding bitter. In the time she had spent gaping up at this man, the head slave had appeared behind her. He spoke tentatively to the other man, his voice quiet and fearful. "This…u-um, she's the worker who…didn't appear for her…her duty today…"

Frozen from fear and the memories attacking her, Cassiel continued to stare up at the man before her. Her mind racing with ways to escape once more, she concentrated on a lock of black hair that stuck out before his face. The rest of the man's hair seemed nicely trimmed and carefully combed into place, but a small cowlick stubbornly refused to be tamed.

Barely thinking about it, Cassiel interrupted the man's heated questions toward the head slave; she reached up, her arm resisting his grip, and ruffled the black mane.

He blinked down at her in astonishment, his pale face turning white. Feeling his grip on her loosen, Cassiel jerked away and ran, this time toward the slaves' entrance. Once more, the head slave chased her with a startled yell, but he couldn't catch her; she ran on until she nearly reached the forest on the outskirts of the estate.

Panting slightly, she looked around, trying to spot some sign of civilization beyond the hills and trees. I've got to leave…I've gotta get out of here…

Engrossed in her pacing and study of the surrounding land, Cassiel didn't realize until too late that the tall man with green eyes had found her. While she walked in the open and plotted her escape, he silently made his way to her until he was close enough to grab her and sweep her into his arms. She squeaked and struggled to get away, but he merely tightened his arms around her and began carrying her away.

Panicking, Cassiel pushed at his chest and kicked her legs in order to knock his arms away; the man paused long enough in his walking to tighten his arms even more, and then continued walking. "Don't fight me," he stated quietly, his voice even and cool. "It'll go much easier for you if you don't try to fight."

She watched his face silently, her panic turning into fear at his darkened expression, and meekly laid in his arms as he carried her into the mansion. The man took Cassiel into the same room he had been standing outside of when she'd run into him and set her on her feet, almost immediately taking her arm to lead her to a wall of chains. He forced her to face the wall while he chained her to it; she tried to ignore the recent smell of blood and the red-stained metal he used to secure her, but the blood smelled so familiar. Jeremy..?

Confused by the smells, Cassiel barely noticed when the man moved his hand to her back. She jumped slightly when he moved his mouth to her ear and whispered, "So you decided you didn't want to work today?" She gave a small nod and frowned as he moved his hand lower down her back.

"I hear that you're the same slave that broke into my tower…this will be your second punishment, hm?" Cassiel closed her eyes tightly as the man's hand moved over her rump, and a small shiver of disgust vibrated down her spine. His roaming hand moved back over her shirt, his fingers slipping under the cloth. "You'll have to take the usual punishment for a second offense, then."

Cassiel stayed tense, keeping her eyes closed and preparing to take whatever the man decided to do; her eyes flew open when the roaming hand found her chest. "We could do it with less mess, though, if I took your clothes off first," he murmured in her ear.

Feeling her cheeks heat, Cassiel clenched her hands into fists, wishing she was freed enough to rake her fingernails across his face. The pair of emerald eyes watching her faded into brown, his hair shortening and his mouth turning sinister. She cringed before his gaze, knowing what he would do to her, knowing that she couldn't stop him. His hands burned her skin as he touched her chest, and his voice was a quiet whisper. "I could send him away and do it correctly…"

Defiant, Cassiel shook her head and glared at him, daring him to touch her again. The man merely pulled his hands away and retrieved a whip from the floor, his voice quieter and more solemn. "If you're sure…" He punctuated the sentence with a sharp movement, the leather whip tearing Cassiel's skin.

Each subsequent movement brought a yelp from Cassiel's throat. Her skin itched and burned from the wounds' immediate attempts to heal and the force of the whip. The man finished and dropped his tool to the floor as he made his way to her. He pulled her slashed, broken shirt away from her back and began licking the wounds, causing the shamed heat to return to Cassiel's cheeks.

Her wounds eventually stopped bleeding and healed. The man finished licking the remainder of them and moves his mouth to her ear, watching her closely as he spoke. "You know...it's been a while..."

Cassiel blinked in confusion, another disgusted shudder ripping through her as the man moved his hand over her back. "It's been too long," he continued, his hand slipped around and down under her pants. She tensed when she felt him touch her and tried to fight the sickening onslaught of memories.

His voice continued his thoughts, but she didn't hear the slight accent or the calming tone of his voice. Her mind focused only on the words that could have so easily come from the mouth of another man, one from deeper within her past. "It's been too long since I've had a...companion..."

Cassiel closed her eyes tightly as he continued his intimate exploration. His voice lowered as his mouth once more found her ear. "I've been lonely…very lonely, for a very long time…"

Disgusted beyond her limits, she uttered under her breath. "Then shut up and get it over with already."

The hand's exploration halted at her words; the man moved his hands away. "What did you say?" he asked in the same quiet voice as when he had first captured her. Cassiel glared up at him, careful to keep her voice as quiet and even as his. "You heard me," she muttered defiantly. "Just get it over with."

He studied her silently for a moment, a cold smile growing over his face. "Very well, then," he murmured quietly, his voice cold; he unchained her with quick, rough movements and picked her up into his arms. As he carried her away, her body hitting against his chest with every step, a single thought repeated itself: All men are the same…

He carried her through a doorway and down a dark hallway, finally coming into a familiar room. He laid her on the red-clad bed and began undressing her, seeming to take an odd pleasure in peeling the clothing off. Cassiel merely stared at the wall and allowed the familiar numbness to take over.

A long, hard shiver arced its way up her back as the man moved onto the bed with her; she darted a glance at his face. He studied her body intently while undressing himself, his emerald eyes glinting brown in the strong daylight. Cassiel heard a familiar voice in her ear, soft but desperate, whispering, "Don't worry, Cassiel…it'll feel good…"

He finished his work and stared down at her body, his muscles tensing with obvious anticipation. She simply closed her eyes and willed herself not to flinch as he moved his mouth down over her chest; she ignored the urge to slap him and to attempt another escape. I wouldn't make it out of the tower…

Finally, he wouldn't hold back any longer, and he began the act with a painful ferocity that startled her out of the numbness. Barely biting back a yelp, Cassiel dug her teeth into her lower lip and stared at the ceiling over his head, silently willing for him to end quickly. Just another man…just another man…