The Taking of Lena Ch. 08byablondegoddess©
Lena stepped out into the cold air of night, and her chest seized painfully. She began to cough, hard, and she pulled her woolen shawl around her aching shoulders tightly.
The coughing fits had started after only one day of work at the factory. For the first week, Lena was very worried that she would become seriously ill. Each cough shook her entire body, and made her feel as if her lungs and heart would burst through her chest. She didn't have enough money for proper treatment, but a kindly visiting doctor had briefly observed her, and had encouraged her to rest, in order to prevent pneumonia.
However, three more weeks went by, and the cough neither worsened nor impaired her basic functioning. It was painful, but now, she was used to it.
Lena laboriously walked through the bitter chill of wind, praying that she would soon lose feeling in her legs. Her work required her to stand all day, with no rest, from sunrise until long after sunset. By the end of the day, there wasn't a single part of her body that didn't hurt.
Lena folded her arms in front of her body protectively and lowered her head when she approached the rapidly deteriorating pub, where drunken men were already acting belligerently outside. Their behavior used to frighten her, but Lena quickly learned that they were mostly harmless in their inebriated states.
"Welcome home pretty wench," a man she recognized said. His eyes were bleary with intoxication, and he smelled of bodily filth and beer.
Lena wrinkled her nose in distaste and kept her head lowered as she increased her speed, quickly walking past him, and into the smoky pub.
She hurried over to the corner, where a narrow staircase led to the crude room rentals above. Lena heard her bones crack louder than the rotting wooden stairs she climbed, and she experienced another coughing fit when she finally reached the top floor, completely out of breath.
"I was just going downstairs to look for you," Erich said. Lena smiled weakly at him.
"We were a bit behind today. I couldn't leave until after ten," Lena replied. Erich's face was very concerned, and he rushed towards her, wrapping his arms around her narrow shoulders.
"You're shivering. Let's get you warm," Erich said, supporting her as he opened the door to the small room they shared.
Lena gasped in delight when she saw that the basin in the far corner of the room was steaming with hot water.
"Oh, Erich...you didn't," she said, completely awed.
"I thought you might enjoy a hot bath...I don't think the cold water is helping your cough," Erich said.
Lena turned around and gratefully leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Thank you so much," she said appreciatively.
She approached the tub, and began pulling at her clothing. But then she turned around expectantly when she realized Erich was still standing in the room.
Almost as if breaking from a daze, he suddenly cleared his throat and lowered his head bashfully.
"Right. I'll be right outside," Erich said, nervously exiting the apartment.
Lena exhaled then, and quickly disrobed, and crawled into the basin of warm water.
She curled into a tight ball, just to cover as much of her skin in the water as possible. She trembled as her frozen limbs began to defrost, blood rushing painfully throughout her aching body.
They'd been living together for over a month, but Lena still didn't feel comfortable enough for Erich to look at her, much less touch her.
She tried daily to encourage her interest in Erich, because he really had been kind to her, and his polite patience nearly brought her to tears. But Lena had forgotten how to rouse passion and desire, and she feared she'd never remember.
Lena washed herself quickly, harshly scrubbing away the dyes and dirt and soot of the day, for the water was rapidly losing warmth. Once she finished, she emptied the water and dried herself hurriedly, muscles and bones screaming for rest. She pulled on a plain cotton shift, and crawled into bed before her legs finally abandoned her.
Erich came back into the room a few minutes later, his expression careful and attentive.
"Did the bath help?" he asked. Lena smiled sweetly and nodded.
"It did. I really needed that today...you are so kind," Lena replied, curling up beneath the thin blanket.
Erich tentatively sat down on the bed next to her.
"How was your day?" Erich asked softly.
Her eyes lowered in exhaustion as he slowly brought his hand to her face, and pushed away the damp hair that clung to her cheek.
"It was very busy...three machines were broken. How was yours?" Lena asked. Erich smiled apologetically.
"I imagine not as tiresome as yours. I know this type of work isn't what you are used to," Erich said.
He reached for her dry and calloused hands, and Lena blushed in embarrassment.
"I promise I will find a way to make a comfortable life for us. I get closer each day. Please don't lose faith in me," Erich said.
Lena gave him an encouraging smile, and she squeezed his hands tenderly.
"I believe in you, Erich," she said. His pretty eyes, lovely amber starbursts against a pale blue sky, slightly twinkled.
"Have you eaten?" he asked. Lena shook her head.
"I'm too tired to eat," she admitted. Erich frowned disapprovingly, but he didn't push the issue further.
"I'll let you get some sleep then," he said, leaning forward. Lena slightly tensed as he brought his lips to her cheek and softly kissed her, before crawling off of the bed.
Lena held her breath as Erich settled into his space on the other side of the room. When she heard him begin to lightly snore, Lena finally allowed herself to partake in her new nightly ritual: she cried herself to sleep.
Lena slowly opened her sore eyes the next morning, and saw that Erich was already gone. She felt somewhat relieved to be alone, for it was the only time Lena allowed herself to truly feel all of the conflicting emotions inside of her. It was her time, just a few minutes a day, to think about whatever she wanted to think about. And each day, she felt a little bit stronger.
Lena sighed as she removed her mental barriers, and allowed her thoughts to center on Renz. She actively stifled all thoughts of him during the day, only allowing these short, contained periods to dwell on everything that had happened.
Lena's anger with Renz had dissipated within just a few hours of leaving Schloss Wolfenbarger. It took too much energy to be angry with him; it felt forced and unnatural.
Instead, Lena felt grief.
Lena knew she could never return to Renz, because there was too much scorched earth between them. Their union was perverse, and there was no way anything meaningful could come of it. She wanted to believe Renz when he told her he loved her, but she was certain Renz had lost his ability to love.
Or maybe, he had just never been taught how.
Lena grieved for the lost possibility. Because despite herself, and despite Renz, there was a hopeful part of her that had dreamed of a life with the sophisticated, yet playful man she'd gotten to know in Berlin. A man who had been tender with her, giving, and surprisingly thoughtful. He'd made her feel better about herself than she ever had. Lena had been prepared to forgive all past wrongdoings, if that was the person he would continue to be.
Through her heartache, Lena realized just how much she'd grown to care for Renz, so much that the idea of sharing him with another woman had angered and hurt her.
And through their distance, Lena realized just how much she'd forgotten about caring for herself while she was with him. Lena knew she didn't amount to much, but she also knew that she deserved to be more than a man's whore. Lena's esteem was not especially high, but it was high enough to prevent her from running back to Renz, despite her heart's desire. And she hoped, that one day, she would stop caring for him, and be able to give herself to a man who wouldn't break her heart.
Reluctantly, Lena crawled out of bed, once she saw the sun begin to rise. She shook away the remaining thoughts of Renz, locking them away in that private place in her mind. She then quickly dressed, and silently tidied the room before heading downstairs to the main pub.
Lena slightly groaned when she realized how cold it was, for her sore muscles were not at all welcoming of the early morning frost. She reached for the door handle, cold fingers cracking, and she yelped in fear when a large hand slammed it closed.
"Good morning, Georg," Lena said politely.
Georg frowned at her, and folded his arms disapprovingly.
"Your rent is past due," he said. Lena blinked several times, certain she'd heard incorrectly. She could never tell for sure when he was speaking, for his lips disappeared beneath his very well groomed moustache.
"There must be a mistake. Erich told me he brought you the payment three days ago," Lena replied. Georg shook his head.
"Erich has done no such thing. I offered you the room on good faith, but my patience is wearing thin," Georg said sternly.
Lena frowned and brought her hand to her forehead. She began to pace, attempting to remain calm and find a solution. She gave Erich her days' wages every night. Surely there had been enough to pay for their room.
"Lena?" Georg asked.
"I'm not sure what happened...and Erich has already left. I can bring you my day's wages tonight? And I'll clean the pub when I return," Lena suggested hopefully. Georg shook his head.
"That won't be enough, Lena," Georg replied.
Lena sank into a small wooden stool, and sighed in exhaustion and despair. The heavy sigh initiated a coughing fit, and Lena brought her hand to her mouth in an attempt to cover it.
She felt Georg's heavy hand on her shoulder, and Lena looked up at him bashfully.
"Why don't you have some breakfast before going to the factory," he said suddenly, his round face slightly softening. Lena sniffled, but gratefully followed Georg into the pub kitchen.
Georg offered her a modest plate of sausage, potatoes, and cheese, and a warm mug of tea, and Lena felt her stomach seize in reawakening hunger. She ate delicately but quickly, and began feeling much more alert and healthy as her strength returned.
"Would you like more?" Georg asked, once she finished. Lena looked down at her empty plate. She was still hungry, but she didn't want to be rude or presumptuous.
"No thank you, Georg," she replied quietly.
Georg sat down in front of her, and folded his arms across his belly.
"Lena...what are you two doing here?" Georg asked. Lena would have been unnerved by his question, but his voice betrayed no hostility, just curiosity.
"We're just trying to save some money. That's all," Lena replied honestly. Georg's curved, thick gray eyebrows rose.
"And then you'll be getting married?" Georg asked.
Lena lowered her head, unsure of how to answer. That was the plan, eventually, but the idea of being Erich's wife, or anyone else's, terrified her. Lena couldn't imagine giving herself to Erich the way she had with Renz. She wanted to be able to, but the thought of opening her heart and body to him scared her. She wasn't finished healing yet.
"Yes...eventually," Lena replied slowly. She noticed Georg's round cheeks slightly redden.
"Do you know what Erich does for work?" Georg asked. Lena sipped her tea. It was very strong and bitter, but she was grateful for the extra bit of energy for her work.
"He's working on investing what I earn from the factory," Lena said.
"And...do you know the type of investing he's trying to take part in? Do you know the kinds of people he is meeting?" Georg asked. Lena shook her head. Erich very rarely gave her much detail about his business efforts. Lena figured he was just embarrassed that he hadn't made very much yet.
"I don't...I'm sorry," Lena replied.
Georg's gaze slightly narrowed. He opened his mouth several times, as if he were about to speak, but then he shook his head.
"The factory is closed on Sunday. You may clean the pub then. I'll expect rent by the end of next week," Georg said. Lena finished her tea and reached for his hand earnestly.
"Thank you, Georg. Thank you," she said gratefully, slightly bowing.
"And...why don't you bring me the payment directly, from now on," he said. Lena nodded.
"Of course. We will not be late again, I promise," Lena said, trying to assure him. Georg's moustache curved into a smile. Lena wasn't certain, but she had a feeling that Georg was a very kind person beneath his standoffish appearance.
"Enough of this. Go to work now," he said, gravelly voice striking her as oddly pleasant.
For the first week, Renz was certain Lena would return to him.
He waited for her everyday, absolutely sure that at any moment, her pretty face would reappear. Surely she didn't mean everything she'd said. And surely she knew that he didn't mean everything he'd said. Once she calmed down and gathered her wits, his Lena would return to him.
But she didn't.
For the second week, Renz was furious. He spent his days constantly on edge, his face permanently etched with a harsh scowl. His rage was steady and omnipresent, boiling beneath the surface, and periodically, it would volcanically explode in the form of an aggressive verbal outburst. His servants feared him, even Otto avoided him, but Renz couldn't focus on assuaging anyone. He was just too angry.
He was certain he hated Lena, and possibly even all women. He'd given Lena more of himself than he had to any other woman. And he'd thought she was beginning to give herself to him. But she'd led him on, had waited to punish him, just like Ilise. She'd waited until Renz had professed his love for her before rejecting him.
She'd told him he was nothing more than a rapist to her. Renz had half an urge to find her and drag her back to Schloss Wolfenbarger by her hair and tie her up to his bed, and demonstrate precisely how forceful he could really be.
But he had no idea where Lena was.
His anger faded by the third week, and was replaced with nervous energy, insomnia, and shame. Renz had developed tremors, and was overwhelmed with guilty thoughts. He was constantly restless, unable to stay still for even a minute.
He tried to occupy himself with various matters of business and sport. His anxiety caused him to finish tasks much too quickly, and Renz was left feeling bored and agitated.
It was during the night, after Renz had pushed his body to the limits of exertion without rest, that he began to experience moments of manic inspiration. Renz wrote drafts of letters he would give to Lena if he ever had the chance. He would tell her how much he loved her, and how much he hated how much pain he'd caused her. He would tell her that he would do anything, and sacrifice everything, to prove to her that he was worth her love.
But by the fourth week, Renz was a man heartbroken. As his anxiety faded, realization began to sink in, and Renz knew that Lena would never come back to him. He'd damaged her too much already. She could never love him, because he was nothing but a monster to her. She'd told him, quite emphatically, that there was nothing in him worth loving.
And Renz knew that she was right.
Renz lazily opened his eyes, slightly surprised to see Karl standing in front of him.
"What do you want?" he asked sleepily. Karl removed his jacket and placed his bag on a footrest.
"Your servants sent for me. When is the last time you've eaten?" Karl asked, gazing at Renz warily.
Renz felt his vexation steadily begin to rise, and he turned away from Karl before he had another outburst.
"I'm in foul temper and am very tired. Come back in a few days if you want a social call," Renz answered.
Karl ignored him, and approached the lounge where Renz lay, stethoscope around his neck.
"I've been told you're spending most of your time sleeping. Your staff is very worried about you, as am I," Karl said carefully.
Renz snorted bitterly.
"Surely you all have your own lives to worry about," Renz said.
Karl's face suddenly contorted in a frown.
"Good god, when is the last time you bathed?" he asked in disgust. Renz rolled his eyes.
"You can leave any time, Karl," he replied dangerously. Karl sat down, undeterred.
"I'm considering recommending you to a sanitarium. Your servants tell me you've had manic episodes followed by extreme melancholy," Karl mentioned. Renz growled.
"Careful, Karl," Renz warned.
"And you reek of smoke and brandy. This maid leaving you has turned you into a filthy drunkard as well?" Karl taunted.
Renz rapidly sat up, head slightly spinning, a consequence of the previous night of excessive alcohol, and he gripped Karl's collar angrily.
"You would be very wise to mind your words," Renz fumed. Karl smiled faintly.
"Good. You're up. Now tell me what happened."
Renz told Karl everything about Lena, from their first meeting to their last words. It was the first time he'd chronicled everything about his relationship with her, from start to finish, and he was surprised by how composed he was able to be. He wasn't sure if it was because he was speaking to Karl the doctor, or Karl his closet friend, but he felt his overall unhappiness slightly wane by a very small degree.
Karl listened intently, donning the neutral bedside manner characteristic of all good doctors. He asked questions for clarification, but otherwise remained largely silent as Renz spoke.
"Do you have a cure for me?" Renz asked. Karl didn't respond immediately, carefully processing everything Renz had said. Renz felt himself growing uneasy again.
"So...when you first told me of the maid you took. You truly meant...you took her," Karl said cautiously. Renz lowered his head and nodded.
"You wanted to harm her," Karl said. Renz raised his eyes and shook his head angrily.
"No, of course not. That's now how I envisioned the night ending at all," Renz said. Karl frowned and appeared thoughtful again, and Renz knew he was trying not to judge him, a gesture he appreciated.
"How did you envision it, then?" Karl asked. Renz slightly shifted where he sat, remembering how delectable Lena had been.
"I thought she'd be willing when I first saw her, honestly. She'd been so sweet and open...she was telling me about her broken heart within two minutes, for God's sake. I figured a girl that open with her feelings might also be open with her body," Renz said. Karl's mouth folded over into a thin line.
"But she wasn't," Karl added. Renz nodded again.
"I thought I could coax it out of her. Excite her enough to make her desire sex. And when she responded...I was a lost man. I couldn't resist if I'd tried," Renz said.
"And how did you feel once it was over?" Karl asked. Renz slightly reclined, and crossed his legs in front of him. He folded his arms across his torso, and took a deep breath before speaking.
"I felt like...my whole world started and ended with Lena. I felt sated, but also insatiable. But...I also felt regret that I'd hurt her," Renz admitted.
"And the nights after that, before you took her away...you didn't think you were hurting her then?" Karl asked.
"The last woman hurt by me nearly destroyed me with her vengeance. I thought by controlling Lena, I could avoid that, and extinguish that...hunger for her. But I had no idea her purity ran deeper than her body. She's...addictive," Renz said.
Karl slightly gasped, and Renz brought his hands to his forehead. He began regretting telling Karl anything, and was highly annoyed that his friend was such an advocate of these worthless techniques brought on by German physicians' sudden renewed interest in mental processes.