The Strongest Bond
Disclaimer: The characters are mine! They may share a passing resemblance with other people but I just blame their stylists. Sequel to ‘The Binding Tie’ you really need to read that first in order to understand what is going on here.
Slavery exists in this fic as does extreme violence. Sexual violence
of a m/f variety in here. Also a loving consensual f/f relationship. If you’re
too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.
Feedback: Much appreciated firstname.lastname@example.org
Loping dazedly out of the dark confines of the van, she felt the familiar crunch of gravel under foot. Maintaining the illusion that she had been drugged, she kept her head bowed limply. Her arms seemed to hang lifelessly at her sides and her jaw was slack. She dribbled a little. Standing motionless, she waited for what would come next.
“Hey!” The voice was impatient and surprising close to her right ear. “Keep moving!” A foot planted itself on her butt and pushed forward, sending her sprawling into the jagged little stones, face first.
“Get up!” It was the other man this time. He reached down roughly and dragged her to her feet. With a man on either side, she was marched towards the building that loomed ahead.
Intelligent grey eyes peered at her appraisingly; looking for any possible weakness. Trying not to fidget under his scrutiny, a clear sign of how unsettled she was, she shot a glare back at him. These people didn’t own her; why should she be cowed by them? Forcing her body to relax, she cast a bored glance at her interrogator, simply waiting.
“So, are any of the rumours true?” She had wondered how long it would take for him to get to this. Heaven forbid that the chat show host actually concentrate on her newly released material for more than two minutes!
“What rumours would those be, Tim?” Her smile was saccharine sweet and her voice oozed sensuality, luring him into her carefully constructed web of lies.
“Francesca, now don’t be coy, everybody is talking about you and your adorable little bodyguard.” On cue he looked over her shoulder and into the wings, searching for the woman in question.
“If you like her, Tim, you could have her, for a price. How much are they paying you TV stars these days?” Her words were delivered with a conspiratorial wink and a smile. “My bodyguard is currently being reprogrammed. There was an incident at home and she harmed guests. Needless to say, she needed to be disciplined.”
“You mean to say,” she could see the wheels turning, “That she is not free and you lover?”
“Oh, Tim!” Laughing a little too hard, she even managed to let a tear slip down her cheek, though that was for real, “honestly, you can’t believe everything you read in the tabloids! Of course not. I will admit that my family and I have allowed our slaves a little more freedom than was perhaps wise, but we certainly haven’t freed them!” She felt like Judas, renouncing her love this way.
“OK,” with the wind out of his sails, the host turned to camera. “Coming up, more chat with the very talented Francesca Prince and I think we may even convince her to sing her new song!” Clapping filled the air as the show cut to commercial.
Now out of her apparent stupor, there was only so long she could keep that up, she was once again in the heart of slavery. Still standing in the waiting area after three hours, shackled to the wall, surrounded by other like her, she contemplated her plan. She would have to appear defiant, aggressive and mean in order for this to work. It shouldn’t be difficult, that was exactly who she had been, before. Trouble was that seemed way too far away.
Gazing at the people around her, some tearing at their chains, others screaming, she found it hard to believe that this had once seemed normal. To blend in she periodically spat at a passing warden or pulled at the restrains around her wrists, chaffing them and causing blood to trickle over her wrists.
Soon the male slave next to her was dragged, fighting all the way, to the counter where he would be processed and sent on to programming. Hunter had only been here a few times before; it wasn’t something you got used to, that was the point. She had certainly lied to Francesca when she said it would be nothing. It would be little more than torture, with the slave so worn down in the end that they would toe the line just in the hopes of going back to some semblance of normality.
“Your turn,” the warden closest to her unsnapped her chain from the wall and dragged her to the desk. His voice had been emotionless, almost echoing in its emptiness. These men and women viewed the people under their supervision as no more than animals, to neither like nor dislike, simply to shuttle from place to place.
The desk clerk looked up at her with bored eyes as they approached, the boredom quickly changing into something like excitement. Ushering the young man and his cargo through to a side room, he followed them to processing, his station being quickly filled by another empty faced drone.
Once they were in the booking room, he turned to face her. The warden had taken a station outside the door, ready to burst in at the first sound of trouble, happy for the brief opportunity of some peace. The clerk smirked at her as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves; involuntarily she shivered, knowing what they meant.
“Never thought I’d see you here again,” his voice was nasal and matter of fact. He was a man who revelled in his position of power. A man like him could never lead the free but he was more than well equipped to command the ensnared. “Thought you were free; all la-dee-da with that heiress bint. What happen, she get tired of you?” He laughed at his own joke, goading her. She stayed calm and simply appraised him.
Understanding that she was no less strong willed than she had ever been, he snorted and indicated for her to hold out her arms. Tapping a code into the cuffs they released, falling to the table top. Waving a hand at her, knowing she knew the drill, he relaxed against the wall to watch the show. This was one of the perks of the job.
Mentally rolling her eyes, Hunter reached up and pulled the shirt she wore over her head and let it fall to the floor. It was soon followed by her pants and underwear until she was left standing naked under his scrutiny. Skin crawling under his lascivious gaze, she waited for the indignity that was to come.
“I see she hasn’t completely let you go to the dogs.” As he walked closer she could smell stale smoke on his breath, his words were conversational. “You wouldn’t believe how many privately owned slaves we get in here, all flabby and spoilt. I really do think the papers have it wrong, she obviously keeps you on a tight leash, just as it should be!” Now he was touching her, feeling over her body for concealed weapons; her mind went blank.
Television show after television show blurred together as one, the day a never ending circus of media attention. Each show different but the questions the same. Far from feeling that she may win a Grammy, she thought she should be awarded an Oscar for this performance!
Constantly, in the back of her mind was the fear for Hunter’s life and what may be happening to her at any given moment. She had wanted to believe that it would be routine, but part of her screamed that it was another moment of self sacrifice form her smaller partner.
Falling into bed that night, she felt lonely. Exhaustion made her limbs heavy; her eyelids refused to fall. For hours she lay staring up at the ceiling until tiny steps sounded at the door. Propping her head up on her hand she saw her three children attempting stealth. They had yet to realise she was awake. Letting them get a little closer she cleared her throat.
“Ahem!” Three pairs of startled eyes met hers and then the bed was attacked by three bodies. The children settled themselves around her under the sheets. Happy to have their company she kissed each tousled head and the family finally dozed off.
Standing on the burning sand, wearing nothing but a sports bra and panties, a rush of memories flew through her. She could still remember the first day when, as little more than a child, she had stood in the centre of an arena much like this. Her young heart had suddenly thundered in her chest and she had felt truly alive. Truth be told, she still got a thrill from the idea of battling before a crowd, it was too much a part of her not to. Today there would be no fighting; that would not serve their purpose.
Today she was to be worn down. That was the first step in the re-education of a slave. To remake them, you first have to break them. So there stood the greatest warrior of her generation, on the white hot sand in the centre of the arena. Bare foot and alone, save for one warden and his rifle, she would remain standing until told otherwise. It could be hours but more than likely it would be days, without food, without water or distraction.
Sweat was already beading on her upper lip and hairline; the sun was barely up.
Morning had been another blur of media activity. If asked she couldn’t have named any of the dozen shows she’d made appearances on that day. Fortunately her dance card was blissfully empty this afternoon. The children would be home in minutes and they would get her full attention (granted it would be far from undivided, a part of Francesca was always with Rhani).
“Mommy!” Three screaming children came careening towards her in the garden. As usual Terry and Shelle were enthusiastic to the point of becoming annoying while Becky kept herself back a little.
“How was school today, my darlings?” That was Terry’s cue to jump right in. Each day the boy looked more like his father and his mother was sure he would grow up to be a real ladies man.
“I won the spelling contest Mom!” His chest puffed out with pride. Francesca tousled his hair affectionately, noting as she did that he needed a haircut.
“Well done! I told you you’d do well!” Noticing his eyes roaming towards the house she kissed him on the cheek, “go and tell your Grandpa, he’ll be so proud of you. Maybe Nana will let you bring us some lemonade.” With a whoop of excitement he charged towards the kitchen with the enthusiasm that only a boy can possess.
“Now, girls, what about you?” The twins came to perch on their mother’s lap, one on each knee, gazing up at her.
“I drew a picture of a rabbit and Miss Perkins said it was the best picture she’d ever seen!” Shelle was bouncing with excitement. “Then I wrote a story about it!” Francesca kissed her daughter’s forehead and placed a finger over her lips to stop her taking over before her sister had a chance to speak.
“What about you Becky?” The singer sometimes worried that her quiet daughter understood too much of the world already, she always seemed quite sober and watchful and now was no exception.
“I drew a picture too, Mommy. Mine was a horse and I wrote about going to the ranch…will you take us there soon Mommy? I wanna be able to ride like you can.” Two pairs of big eyes looked up at her, and she couldn’t help feeling just a little ambushed by her children.
“When I’ve finished with all this promotion I’ll take you all to the ranch.” Just then the clinking of glasses on a tray was heard as the nine year old got closer.
“Really Mom? Cool! I’m gonna be a cow boy!” He beamed as he carefully set the tray down.
Chattering excitedly the children continued making plans, Francesca making occasional comments but happy just to let the kids talk. Eventually Terry and Shelle were running around the lawn on imaginary ponies, hollering at each other and making passable horse impressions. Becky, meanwhile, had climbed back on her mother’s lap and was toying with her long fingers absently. The older brunette dropped a kiss on the child’s head.
“Where are you going tomorrow, Mommy?”
“I have to go to lots of different places; Canada, Europe, Japan,” she would be gone for more than a week and loathed the idea of being away from the children for that long. She also hated the idea of leaving Hunter in such a precarious position. It was the part she disliked about the fame game.
“Is Hunter going with you? Is that why she went away yesterday, to get ready?” The small girl missed her playmate.
“No, sweetheart, Hunter is…busy.”
Searing heat gave way to biting cold as the sun turned the sky to flame. All day she had stood under its cruel eye and now the moon would take its turn. Looking up with eyes made hazy from heat and hunger, it almost looked as if the crescent grin of the moon was smirking down at her.
Hunter could feel her skin prickle as it was given respite from the sun. She was badly burnt and tomorrow would bring more of the same. Gooseflesh covered her as her stomach growled. Though her body had remained hard, she was soft! Her life with Francesca had seen to that. In the time before she could have done this for days, now she already wanted to give up. That wasn’t an option. They told you when to stop. If you falter; if you fall; you start again.
Eight hours until sun up. At least she didn’t need to sleep.
My skin’s on fire!
“Chess? What are you doing here?”
All around her the sand was empty.
“More champagne, Miss Prince?” the air stewardess leaned over the seated heiress, bottle poised over her glass.
Startled out of her contemplation Francesca raised her eyes to the beaming hostess. Demurring politely she watched as the young woman made her way to the next first class passenger, performing the same routine all over again. Turning her attention back to the documents in her lap, Francesca continued to prepare herself for her stop over in Europe.
Her very brief stop over in Canada had been a blur of press and photographers. She hadn’t even left the airport. Sequestered in a conference suit, she had seen interviewer after interviewer over a relatively short period. Chuckling lowly to herself, she realised that she had probably provided a sound bite for just about every major TV show in the country. Her time in Europe was to be no less intense, hopping from Paris to London to Berlin, with major news agencies from other countries flown in to meet with her. At least she would have the opportunity to sleep in a real bed.
Snuggling further into her plush seat, she went back to her study of her itinerary. Tomorrow was another day.
Wood connected with the back of her knees, sending her crashing onto the burning sand. Each tiny grain seemed to rub at her reddened skin, making her want to scream. Biting back the scream that wanted so desperately to exit her body; not yet broken enough to give her tormentors the satisfaction of the sound, she went limp, simply waiting.
The same hooked wooden pole which had sent her to the ground was looped over her foot. Then she was being dragged across the red hot sand, the golden grains slicing through her skin like glass. Despite the pain, the relief of finally being off her feet was overwhelming. Conflicting sensations ran through her delirious mind; darkness to envelope her.
Rubbing tiredly at her eyes, the brunette stumbled over the carpet of the plush hotel room. Shuffling feet found their way to the bathroom; a hand groped blindly and found the light. Almost working on autopilot the star stood over the sink. Looking up at the mirror the face that stared back was caked in makeup and not her own.
Running a hand under the sink censor she filled her hands with water before splashing it over her face. As the sink filled, clothes were shed with almost drunken fumbling. Finally scrubbing away the day’s makeup, and the day itself, she could finally see herself in the mirror. She looked into tired blue eyes and wondered, not for the first time, why she did this for a living. I would have been so much easier to join the family business. A low chuckle escaped her.
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have as much fun… This is nothing.” Smirking at her reflection she couldn’t help but add, “And now I’m talking to myself, I’m either too tired or too crazy to care!”
Towelling off her face she left the bathroom, once again plunged into darkness and climbed into her huge bed. The bedside light illuminated the pillows and the assortment of paraphernalia that covered the small table it perched upon. Sliding naked under the sheets, she turned to take in the picture that sat beside her each nigh that she was away from her family.
Terry, Shelle and Becky looked out at her, the three children clustered around a fourth figure who dwarfed them with her bulk. The quartet had been messing about in the pool when she had decided she just had to take a picture and so she had posed them. In their rainbow of different swimming costume colours, with beaming smiles, the picture always helped to lift her spirits. Sending up a silent prayer for her children as she did each night, she turned the light out and settled into sleep.
“Goodnight my love, I’ll be home soon.” Hunter was the last thought on her mind.
It was almost meditative, hanging there from the ceiling. Her ankles were shackled and she found herself gently revolving. Perhaps it was all the blood pooling in her head; perhaps it was the gnawing exhaustion; perhaps it was the hunger, whatever it was left her feeling light and peaceful. All sense of time had fallen away from her now that she was out of the suns cruel glare and she knew that she was reaching her lowest ebb.
Mind wandering, drifting from time to time, place to place, she was still aware enough to know that soon the suggestions would start. She was broken, little more than an empty vessel waiting to be filled with instructions. Bereft of personal contact, of the sound of voices, for so long her mind would latch onto anything it heard and want to believe it for truth.
Having survived this experience more than once, and with far less to lose, the part of her mind that was still capable of logical thought, was not worried about any long term danger. It was more worried about the next step. About what they might make her do to prove that she was once again under their control. That part of her kept a single thought, a single image to latch onto. Francesca. Home.
“Hey babies, can you all hear me?” Taking a rare opportunity to call the children, Francesca sat in a secluded spot in the restaurant. She literally had no more than ten minutes to eat and talk to her family before she would be back to the grind of PR.
“Yes Mommy, we have the speaker phone on.” As always Terry took the lead, his sisters’ voices shouting hellos in the background. “Where are you today?”
“Well, yesterday I was in London and now I am in Paris.”
“Is it pretty Mommy?” Becky this time.
“Yes, darling it’s very pretty here, I think you will all have to come and visit properly with me!”
“Ew, I don’t wanna go somewhere pretty!” She laughed at the audible disgust in her son’s voice.
“There are loads of non-pretty things too Terry, I promise!” Realising that her more exuberant child had been noticeable by her absence, Francesca redirected her attention, “how about you Shelle? Do you want to come and visit not-too-pretty Paris?”
“Of course I do Mommy; I want to be where you are!” The voice was tiny and uncertain. “You’re not here and Hunter’s not here and Grandpa and Nana just aren’t the same!” She could hear the tears in her child’s voice and a decision was made then and there.
“Babies, I’ll be home tomorrow and I think its time that Hunter came home too!” The happy whoops from her children told her all she needed to know. No matter how much bad publicity it might cause, no matter the arguments it would cause with Raz, she had to go home. “I have to say bye now so I can book a flight and talk to Raz, you be good and go and tell your grandparents. I love you all very much!” A chorus of ‘we love you too’ followed before the line went dead.
Hitting speed dial she braced herself for the confrontation she was about to have.
It tasted so good! The thin broth flowed over her tongue and filled her mouth with flavour. In truth it was the worst meal she’d had in months but today, today it was a feast fit for a king! After so long with nothing in her belly the opaque liquid was all she could handle. This was her reward for obedience, for not struggling and paying attention.
She was a good little girl; she would do as she was told. She had to, she wanted to go home!
Coming home had been the best decision she could have made for her children, they had greeted her with a nearly desperate joy. Shelle had barely left her side in the hours since she had arrived at the house. It had taken a little longer to get home than she had hoped, having to placate her management and the various news agencies. She had finally had to promise an interview and tour of her home, an invasion of privacy she wasn’t comfortable with but which would go to every network and seemed to more than satisfy her detractors. Raz was fuming but he had been unable to change his stars mind.
Once again safely ensconced in the heart of her home she had tried to get Hunter back. It was proving to be an impossible task. Francesca couldn’t even get past the switchboard of the facility. She could have pushed, could have demanded to be put through, talked about lawyers and made a scene but that would have flown in the face of everything Hunter was doing. The warrior was trying her best to shield her lover and her family from harm and Francesca couldn’t destroy that. So, instead she had had to listen to a woman tell her the procedure was going well and that she would be delivered home in two more days.
Sitting on the sofa, Terry laying on the floor at her feet, busily doing his homework, a little girl snuggled up to each side, the singer felt content and in two days she would feel perfect. Raising the remote clutched in her right hand she witched over to the news, watching the world scroll by in three minute segments. Hoping that she had missed any mention of herself, she relaxed further into the cushioned embrace.
‘The polls close in less than two hours and signs are looking good for Bradley Dettore. Voters have been out en mass, one of the best elections for some time. We now go to our correspondent…’
Francesca almost hit herself in the forehead. How could she have forgotten that the election was today? Her vote had been cast online days ago but she should still have remembered! If Dettore got in it would change everything! She wasn’t sure why but a cold finger ran up her spine as the grinning face of the would-be senator filled the screen.
Something was wrong. Like the savannah just before a storm, the animals were restless. Hunter couldn’t help the analogy, for too long she had been considered, and had considered herself, to be an animal. Under the circumstances it was hard not to go back to thinking that. This morning she had felt fed, rested and overall in fairly good condition. The words of the conditioners still reverberated in her brain but she was doing her best to push it aside. She had been released amongst the general population today, those at the end of their ‘treatment’, like herself, those who were considered low risk and newbies.
Looking around at the tense bodies and glowering eyes, she could feel the danger in the air. The tension was something you could almost taste and it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. This was not the norm. All of them should be broken, automatons awaiting their hand over. These people were scared, troubled and clearly in command of facts that she was not.
Sidling up to a male she recognised from her first day, she cleared her throat, drawing his attention away from his obsessive gaze at the warden’s office. Dead eyes turned her way, he was broken and yet a tension still existed around his jaw, his fingers still flexed in an angry rhythm. Confused and becoming increasingly agitated herself she voiced her worries.
“What’s going on?” Those empty orbs looked at her blankly, blinking once or twice but no answer was forthcoming. “OK, let’s try again, why are you so worried?” At this she got a response.
“You don’t know? We’re all screwed! Remember those owners you had, that brought you here? Kiss them goodbye!” His words were bitter and finally there was a light in his eyes, a fire burning with pure rage. “No more private slavery! We’re state owned again. Dettore got in and our releases have been suspended until he makes a statement.”
“How do you know all this?” Fear held her heart in a vice that with each turn tightened and turned to a cold ball of anger.
“You need to listen to the warden’s.” He turned his back on her and went back to his silent vigil.
I can’t go back to this! The thought screamed through her brain as the realisation of what this meant to her and her family hit and she sank to the floor.
“Mama, what are we going to do?” Francesca was worried. With Dettore’s election the night before things were no longer clear for her. The biggest question hanging over her life now was what would this mean for Rhani?
“We can’t be sure we need to do anything sweetheart. Hunter’s ruse seems to have worked and she’ll be delivered home tomorrow. Until then I suggest that you calm down.” Darla wished that she felt as confident as she sounded. Dettore’s acceptance speech had been less than comforting.
“I guess you’re right Mama, after all he can’t change anything over night.” Embracing the older woman she took comfort in her arms.
To Be Concluded in Part 13.
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