The next punch landed just under Dominic's ribs, in that soft fleshy hollow of skin and fat and muscle and organ. It drove the breath out of him with a surprised whoof
, left him choking on nothing as he tried to drag in oxygen, feet still inexorably dragging him forwards. His words were gone with his air, but his lips still moved, mouthing desperate pleas, eyes wide and dark with the pupil swallowing up the brown.
The punch after that swung wild, knocking his shoulder and sending him staggering, off balance. The one after that connected neatly with his ribs so that he half-fell, dull ribbons of pain twining around his midsection, forward motion finally arrested and the single shocked scream of WHY repeating itself in his mind, his lips forming the word over and over and over until a heavy blow to the side of his head knocked him into the dirt, dead leaves, rotting things invading his mouth and making him spit.
After that, he lost track.
Alexander's shoe made bright starbursts of pain, thudding over and over into his body. The occasional difference was a fist, or open-handed slap, but they all ran together. His eyes were closed now, rolled up into his head as he fought to curl into a ball. Once in a while, he cried out, the abrupt sound of an animal being stepped on. When he heard the crack, felt two ribs buckling under the assault, giving way to curl around his lungs. When the toe of a sneaker connected with his lower back, once, twice, three times, until his world dissolved in white-hot sparkles without pity or sympathy enough to bear him away on wings of unconsciousness. When his glasses shattered, and glass splinters bit deep into his cheek. When he ran out of air to vocalize, he buried himself in his mind and prayed.
He wasn't sure anymore.
Just as he wasn't sure how long it had been when he finally registered that the blows had stopped raining down, leaving him in a broken bundle on the forest floor. He started to uncurl, stopped as white-hot knives buried themselves in his sides, suns exploding in front of his eyes, fingers refusing to listen to his order.
He opened his mouth to cry out, to heave great dry sobs the way a child would, frantic for their mother, but all that emerged was a tooth. A canine, coated in blood.
He probed the inside of his mouth with a tongue that felt like it had gone through a paper shredder. Two molars slid out with just a little prodding, the incisor taking a little more work before the root ripped free of the pulped gum. It didn't particularly hurt. The little nuggets of enamel dropped from his lips, one by one, and when he opened the eye that would still open and saw, blurry and indistinct, the teeth lying on the ground, he vomited.
It hurt almost worse than the beating, and he lay shaking long after he had finished. There seemed to be altogether too much blood dripping from his mouth, but that somehow didn't feel important right now. What was important was Alexander.
Alexander. Had done this to him - but no, that was impossible. He wouldn't. No student would, no one in Bayview, not since Pondsworth had gone, and that left the simple, easy to understand concept that someone else, some sicko, perhaps the same one who had dreamed up this game, had done it. And Alexander was gone. Perhaps to find help? Or he was scared. Dominic could understand scared. He was scared too. It ran deep, still waters, current humming through him, but he forced himself to ignore it.
Alex could be hurt too.
He should (kill him)
Raising himself on his hands made him feel like there was something hot and fiery inside of him, lava, slowly running through his veins. Achingly sharp, burning him from the inside out. He made one abortive attempt to get to his feet, but his knee buckled under him and send him shrieking back to the ground, a thin, high noise that sounded like the keening of a dying animal, one of the many he'd tried to save. Eventually, he made it back to his hands, planting one after the other, dragging the injured leg behind him in an awkward half-crawl. Each movement made fresh explosions go off dully in his organs. He spat blood. Some from his mouth, cut as it was, but some came from deeper, hot and fresh.
But he had to keep going. He knew that much.
Barely able to see, barely able to crawl, barely able to talk, Dominic Stratford dragged the bleeding, broken heap of flesh he had so recently called his body forwards, following footsteps which weren't there, the last vestiges of adrenaline propelling him into the trees.
((Dominic Stratford continued in No Valhalla For Pacifists