Summary: A ritual is lot like control. To have real power, it has to be complete.
Warnings: Rated NC-17. m/m, incest
Logan opens the closet door and lingers there, not out of fear or dread. That will come later, but this--this is almost reverential. They are not religious people, his family, this town--if they worship at all, it's down on their knees praying to the god of cold, hard cash--so they have to take their rituals where they can find them. The scent of leather is strong in the enclosed space, as dark and thick as incense. Logan steps inside, drifts slowly past the tidy rack of belts, occasionally stopping to finger a contender. Each one is different, and he knows them all intimately, its heft in his hand, the way it sings through the air, the harsh timbre when it comes cracking down onto flesh, the sound as unique as its workmanship.
He chooses the Italian leather with the silver buckle and the embossed design that will leave raised welts all over his back. There's something strangely honest about carrying the evidence of his decisions on his skin, and he's pretty sure his father will understand it as the fuck-you gesture it's meant to be. I picked the scariest mother-fucking belt in your closet, Dad, because you can't break me. Logan isn't sure when his life devolved into one big game of chicken--it's been going on so long now that he can't remember anything else--and he can't seem to fight this driving need to ratchet up the stakes, even when there's no such thing as winning, at least not for him.
His father is getting impatient, even from the next room he can feel it. Walking back down the hall is like moving underwater, every step slow and deliberate. His mother is holed up in her sitting room, consoling herself with another round of Scotch. When it's over, if she says anything at all, it will be merely to ask him, "why?" She's tried so hard to teach him capitulation. Don't antagonize your father and You know he doesn't like it when you talk back to him and Why can't you just learn to stay out of his way? And he will have nothing to tell her. How can he begin to explain rebellion to a woman who has conceded her entire life away?
In the bedroom, his father is standing by the windows. A harsh slant of light seems to fasten on every wrinkle, every crag of his face, distorting his features until he looks almost like someone else. Logan makes his offering, eyes cast down at the rug. His throat is clenched and he can't swallow, but there's a light feeling in his chest, as if some desperate thing is beating its wings against his ribs, trying to get out. He can't explain this either, this tortured hope that refuses to die even when there's nothing left to feed it. It's as much the reason he put his father in that half-a-million-dollar bind in front of the cameras as the urge to defy him. Because maybe this will be the time when it's all finally different, when he can screw up and there will be only forgiveness.
It isn't, and his father takes the belt without a word. There's no need to give instructions. It's their ritual, and Logan knows what to do, understands what's expected. His arms feel like dead weights as he raises them over his head and pulls off his shirt. He stands as still as the air, barely breathing. His father snaps the belt a few times against the bed, just to see if he'll jump.
The first blow is always the worst. No matter how hard he tries to hold on to the memory of pain, the cold reality of strap on skin always comes as a fresh shock. He doesn't cry out, though, won't flinch or gasp or beg. His father beats him soundly. He seems to keep a balance sheet in his head, carefully calculating the ratio of punishment to crime, and Logan can only hope this will be enough to even out the columns. That this ounce of bruised flesh is all he'll take.
The pain blurs into nothing. Logan stares stonily at the wall in front of him, and when it's finally over, his father is the one breathing too hard. Logan tightens his grip on his shirt and turns to go. He is almost to the door when his father catches his arm and whirls him around. His face is heavy and red, and there's a look behind his eyes that Logan has learned to be terrified of, as if there's something monstrous locked away in that dark grotto of skull that should never be allowed to escape.
His lip curls back from his teeth, and he throws Logan face down onto the bed. It's happened before, more than once, and yet it still always comes as a surprise. Logan tries to get up, tries to get away, his heart pounding in his throat. His father brings his knee down hard into his back, and mutters through clenched teeth, "You aren't nearly sorry enough."
He reaches under him, unfastens his pants, and yanks them down to his ankles. Dad, please! thrums through his head, but it won't do any good, and Logan won't give him the satisfaction. His father holds him down with one hand on the back of his neck, and Logan hears the sliding of the nightstand drawer, the rustling of foil, the glide of his father's zipper. He's always used a rubber, every time, and there's a part of Logan that would pathetically like to believe it's for his protection, a barrier between him and his father's many whores, but the realist in him knows it's probably just to keep from leaving behind any potentially embarrassing evidence.
His father lays heavily on top of him, pushing him into the mattress, the buttons of his shirt digging into his wounds. He has to bite down hard on the bedspread to keep from screaming. A second later, this agony is all but forgotten as he father forces his way inside him, and it's so far beyond pain, so much more than loss, there's not even a word for it.
"Fucking brat." His father breathes hotly against the side of his face. "I'll teach you to defy me."
Logan digs his fingernails into the blankets and closes his eyes and tries to make his mind a perfect blank. It seems to go on forever, his father taking and taking, everything he has, everything he is. By the time it's finally over, he's whittled out, dangerously empty. His father pulls out and gets up, and Logan slides his pants back up his legs. When he stands, he can't feel his feet or the floor beneath them, like he's nothing now, and gravity has no hold on him.
His father straightens his clothes, clears his throat. "When I was young, my father taught me some hard lessons, too. I didn't always understand back then, but later I could see he was only trying to do what was best for me, and I learned to be grateful."
Logan nods mutely. He's heard this story before, knows what his answer is supposed to be, but he doesn't want to say it.
It's a ritual, though, and there's no power if it's no completed. His father won't stand for that. He puts his hand on Logan's shoulder, as if this is some Hollywood father-son moment. "Now, don't you have something you want to tell me?"
Logan ducks his head. "Sorry, Dad." The words feel like sand in his mouth, like he's going to choke on them.
His father fixes him with a prompting look. "And what else?"
He bites his lip, but it won't be over until he's said it. "Thank you." His voice is a scratchy whisper.
His father nods, appeased at last, and lets his hand fall away, lets Logan escape.
It's quiet in the rest of the house. He pauses for a moment
in the hall, but his mother doesn't stir, doesn't come out to
see if he's all right, doesn't do anything, as usual. He takes
the steps two at a time up to his room and locks the door behind
him. In the bathroom, he throws his clothes in the hamper, washes
up, inspects his back. It's bad, but it's been worse, and it doesn't
matter anyway, because he doesn't feel a thing.