He was surrounded by dying stars in an endless sea. He was drifting, floating; bodiless, mindless. He was ash on the wind; dust. He was nothing but a cloud, and all around him there were stars, million and millions of stars. They hung, hot and heavy, burning-
He was surrounded by stars: white stars, blue stars, yellow stars, red stars, hard stars, hot stars, cold, cold stars. They whirled and spun around him and through him, trailing tendrils of fire. They were beautiful, and terrible, and he gave them names which he forgot as soon they were gone.
There was something hard in his belly, something almost uncomfortable, but he could not twist away from it- and it was getting larger, and he was spinning, spinning and spinning- spinning so much he was almost stationary again, but still that lump was buried deep within him. A hot, throbbing lump. He wrapped himself around it, squeezed it, but it grew larger until it was something too powerful to ignore, and it was pulling him somewhere, and he did not want to move, did not want to, but he was, he was being pulled against his will, away from the comforting cloud he had thought he was a part of-
Blackness. Blackness and soft hotness and force that would not relent- he was on a path, now. There was a system to his wandering. He cursed the heat in his belly, for it seemed that the more it grew the stronger he was pulled. For an eternity, he endured, until he began to love the way it pulled him onward, the way it spun him round and round, through a sea of dying stars. He curled around it, and when it began to cool, he kept it warm.
He became aware of others, also floating in this endless sea, searching for each other across vast reaches of time. He ignored them, for the most part, but there were some he watched with special care. He pulled them forwards, danced them round him, and he himself was being danced. One smiled at him and told him that it loved him. He simmered at this voice, because he had never heard another speak in this place, the sea was a silent thing, an emptiness packed full with silence and empty space. The other ones, they did not speak to him, regardless of how much he held them close. He was enchanted by the sound of it, by the idea of it, and when it called out to him, when it asked him for a special favor, he complied-
He was falling. He had not known what it was to fall, but now he did, and he hated it. He was being torn away from the thing in his belly, he clawed at it, clung to it, but it slipped from him and he was tumbling, tumbling-
He was still. Locked somewhere close and tight and uncomfortable. He was cold and alone. The empty pit in his belly was filled with a relentless desire to burn, burn this thing which he had been tricked into loving. He drew in the air around him, but he couldn't get enough, and it was the wrong kind of air and it moved wrong and it tasted wrong. He reached out, but where his fire had been were clumsy, fumbling things, things that did not move as he wanted, as he needed- He fumed, but he could not get warm enough to burn.
There was something near him. A voice that spoke to him. It was that voice that had called him to it. It would be destroyed. He would burn it, melt it. He would not be tricked like this. The hole in his stomach gaped wide and empty. He would not be this way-
A hand, was that was it was called?, touched him. He had never been touched before. He fell apart beneath it, collapsed around it, but this, this body, it did not work like that. It had a way of moving, a system. He understood systems. He opened his eyes, and for the first time, saw.
There was a person. A person wearing a hat that was tall and black. He did not know how he knew this, it was as though he was not alone in this cold, restricting space. The person beneath the hat smiled. Its hand took his, its arm was around his shoulders, and he was sitting. His hair was long and heavy and red and fell around him like a shield of fire. The hand that belonged to the person who belonged to the hat pulled it aside, like parting a curtain.
Are you there? it was saying. Can you hear me? He could. He nodded.
Your name? it was saying. Your name? He told it his name. It hit him. He had not known was it was to be hit and he did not like it. He fumed, and he would have burnt it but he didn't know how. He didn't know how to do things like that here. He couldn't move enough, not in the way that he was used to. It touched him again and he quailed and shrank. There was something about being touched that was completely alien to him. That made him ache and dissolve.
What is your name? it asked again. This time he hesitated. Good, the voice was saying. Good. It touched him in a different way. Not with its hands. With the thing that was talking. A mouth, he understood, now. A mouth. It was better than the hands. He leaned towards it, which was easy, something the body seemed to want to do on instinct. But the person beneath the hat pulled away.
Your name? it asked once more. There was a system, he realized. There was a way things had to be, in order for other things to be.
'I have no name,' he said. His voice was not as powerful as the one belonging to the person beneath the hat. He had never spoken before and he slurred the words together.
There, sighed the person beneath the hat. There. It was close against him now, warm. He wanted so badly to be warm again. It touched him in all the right ways, all the right places. Everywhere there was skin it touched. He fell apart beneath its hands, and it pieced him back together.
Who are you? it asked.
'I am nothing-'
You are nobody. You are only mine. You are what I tell you. You do what I tell you. You feel what I want you to feel.
'I am nobody.'
It pressed itself against him. He curled, greedily, into the warmth. It held him, and he let it, forgetting that he had ever hated it, how could he hate it? Forgetting he had ever wanted to hurt it. He forgot about the sea of dying stars, out of which he had so brutally been torn. The person beneath the hat reached within him, and with a touch and a word filled the hole in his belly, pushing out any desire there had ever been to hate or burn or destroy.
You are mine, it murmured to him. And as long as you are mine, I will make you happy. Just do as I say. My darling, you are mine. Its words flowed within him, filled him up with a new kind of fire.
'I am yours,' he repeated, a mantra, a chant, a spell. 'I am yours. I am yours. I am yours.'