Perseverance of the Saint

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"And that was the lovely Paige-Of-Knives! Interested parties may request a private dance at the front, or with Ms. Knives directly. Again, we offer…"

Madam Dolly's speech faded into that earplugged Dollhouse buzz, the ambient mix of hooting, hollering, Top 40s, and backroom chattering that clouded Judith's shifts. The important part was coming up, and it wouldn't do for Babylon to miss it.

Paige was slow in collecting his skins, as usual; something about contorting his body into an attractive shape. It gave the girls more time to prepare and the audience more time to window shop. More time for Judith to think.

Assuming she was requested for a house call, she might be busy until 2 AM, and if that was an hour's drive she might not get to sleep until 4 AM. Judith would probably have to wake up around noon tomorrow if she wanted to be in top shape for the next day's exam. That left… six hours to study, maybe two hours of Federal, three of Nevada, one of Clark. Grab a meal at Manna Equality Kitchen so she isn't starving the next day. Get some coffee after the exam to be ready for her next shift, maybe an apple before the test? Too much coffee might be trouble. Actually, hrm, does she need to know—

Paige pulled himself into the backroom, and Judith flipped back to being Babylon. "Killer, Paige. Nice show as always."

Paige's mantle nodded as he slipped back into his skin. "Uh, thanks." He paused to relax his body, and fit himself into his head. "Looked like, um, about three people who might be interested in the private dance, or maybe more. Had the look on their faces."

"Good haul, man. Good haul." Babylon grinned, and pretended to look him up and down. She'd already seen quite a bit of him, but it was always fun to tease the poor thing. "They look like chasers?"

"No, I don't think they knew, no." Paige licked his lips. "I, uh, don't know. I guess I'll tell them, and hope they don't rip my skin." He paused. "…break a leg out there, alright?"

As if on cue, Madam Dolly began Babylon's introduction. It helped Babylon to ignore the actual words; the Madam had a peculiar fascination with her, which reflected in how Babylon was introduced. Trying to live up to that was a recipe for stage fright, and she wasn't about to blow a show two days before her Criminal Law exam. Besides, Babylon knew she was hot shit.

Babylon climbed on-stage, stole a quick look at the audience, and begin to dance to her song.

Audience was typical, today. Lots of middle-aged men, a few young men, at least one regular, no women at first glance, small size, Maria tending the bar. Beyond keeping her gaze off Maria, Babylon wouldn't need to deviate from her usual patterns. Babylon danced.

She stole another glance as she twirled around the pole. There were at least three regulars, none of whom were Babylon's. One of the "young men" was actually a butch woman, looking around like a first-timer. There was also an older man in a brown coat, that…

Babylon felt herself faltering, and recommitted to her dance.

The music picked up, and so did Babylon, climbing onto the pole and hooking her thighs around it. That part of the song where belt and dress came off was coming up, and something in the back of Babylon's mind told her she should do it as far off the ground as possible.

Babylon scanned for the butch, and threw her a wink as she untied her belt and let her dress fall off. Women loved the technical stunts. Then her gaze rose(?) back to the brown-coated man, and Babylon flipped back onto her feet.

Without her dress, Babylon had a few more moves she could go between. Most runs of this routine had her transition to a more flattering dance, accentuate the curves of her hips and the trim of her abs, maybe play into the preconceptions that paid her rent with some belly dancing. One variation had her stick to the pole, however, performing more technical-oriented stunts; and so, her gaze accidentally finding the brown-coated man's once more, Babylon took hold of the pole, made an obligatory slide down, and climbed back up.

Don't look at the floor. Babylon hooked her leg and spun. Don't look at the floor, idiot. Babylon leaned over, mock stretching, then lifted her free leg up the pole into a vertical split. Don't touch the floor. Don't think of the floor. Reverse warrior pose. Don't think, don't think, don't think. He can't do anything if you never come back down.

This was when she came down, down to the ground, throw the audience a bit more meat, maybe collect a few tips. Thing is, the hoop from Paige's dance was still up, and whatever you do don't touch the ground!

Babylon climbed the pole, hooking her legs as securely as possible before reaching for the ring. She hadn't practiced this as much as the rest of the dance, and her first grab went wide. The second took, but the routine was beginning to fray. She needed time to think.

Settling into an sit, Babylon put a hand to her ear, gesturing the audience to get louder before gently, gradually sliding her right bra strap down. Hype gave her time to think, time to rationalize that inexplicable fear of the floor creeping through her head.

What's wrong with the audience, today? You've seen it all, let yourself enjoy it and lost yourself in the professionalism in equal measure. A hand up to the other ear, and the audience clamored for more. There's nothing wrong with the floor. Paige's mucous is non-toxic, or you'd already be dead. A slow and deliberate slide of the left strap. Maria will be a bitch whether or not you're on the floor. Are you seriously scared of some two-bit john? Fingers meeting behind her back, legs tensed as Babylon scanned the audience for the butch. Keep dancing, Judith. Keep dancing.

Babylon's bra came off in a swift motion, hands coming to her tits for a quick tease before letting herself fall back to an updside-down hang. Arching her back, Bablyon planted her palms on the ground and performed a (surprisingly clean) reverse walkover. She was facing the audience, now.

He's a john. You've know dozens of johns.

Babylon sauntered forward, eyes everywhere that wasn't a brown coat, before dropping to a crawl towards the edge of the stage.

You don't need to go back to his place. You don't even have to go to the private rooms with him. Dolly isn't a slavedriver. Screw your principles.

An older man in a green button-up waved a crumple of bills in his hand, eager to stuff them into Babylon's garters; she tried not to make her laser-focus obvious as she crawled towards him.

You learned magic for just such an occasion. Just text Paige his plate, like you always do. If you couldn't handle the heat, you wouldn't have stayed in the kitchen.

Three or four 10s. Babylon blew him a kiss, and flooded her mind with her next moves. She had about twenty-five more seconds of freestyling before she had to get up and complete the routine; Babylon filled them as best she could, and tried not to turn her head towards last she saw the brown-coated man.

The butch emerged onto the front with a crumpled twenty, just a bit too late. Babylon still blew her a kiss and a wink, and maybe kept that focus like a vicegrip over acid as long as humanly possible before she had to look away.

The sight of the relatively empty den lounge was calming, and steeled Babylon for her next movements. It helped that this part was relatively static, some ass-shaking and some teasing as the song built higher, higher, a climb towards the break that called Babylon's fingers to hook themselves into her panty line, cleared her mind of anything that wasn't the dance.

The beat dropped, and so did Babylon's panties.

Step out, look back. Grab the pole with her right hand and cover her crotch with her left. Swing around, slide down, bring her left hand to meet her right on the pole, and work what she had.

Babylon accidentally looked at the brown-coated man again.

For the first time since Babylon's first dance, the thought that she was naked from the thighs up in front of people she barely knew pounded her breast. It was mortifying; amusing; embarrassing; thrilling; terrifying, powerful. This time, however, there was another feeling, a malaise that saturated itself among the swirl.


Babylon bit her lip, half for show and half to snap herself out of the swirl. She pushed herself from the pole, throwing herself into those rehearsed motions, dancing and writhing and gyrating to the end of her routine. Nobody would notice if she didn't let them.

The song closed out. The audience hollered. Babylon was done.

"And that was the exotic Babylon Sheyd!" Babylon grinned, taking a quick bow before scrambling to collect her clothes and tips. "Interested parties may request a private dance at the front," Arms and garter full, Babylon took a quick scan of the audience before sliding off-stage, scrambling to get dressed. "Or with Mademoiselle Sheyd directly." Another look at the crowd, desperate to find the butch before the brown-coated man could get to her. "Again, we offer a plethora of personalized services, so don't be afraid to ask~. Now…"

Judith had dressed herself more times than Babylon had stripped herself down, so she was back in her dress just as Hans and Maria switched out. If she was quick, she could catch the butch, invite her for a drink at the now friendly bar, and score a private request before anything happened.

Making her way through the—

A large and calloused hand grabbed Judith by the shoulder, and that bubbling dread told her everything she needed to know.

A calm, somewhat nasally voice cut through the droning. "Ms. Sheyd."

Judith looked to Maria, who now stood at the bouncer's station, and when Maria looked back her expression was nothing but vindictive amusement.

"I'm interested in a… house call. I believe you provide those?"

("House call" was the euphemism for escort duty.)

Judith turned back to look at the man. He was tall, long-limbed and broad-chested, with a head of grey-streaked hair and a full salt-and-pepper beard. His eyes were grey, and firm like a statue's. The man wore a white button-up with black slacks, black business shoes, a spartan winding watch, and a brown coat.

Judith flipped back to Babylon. "Sir, please take your hand off of me. Dollhouse poli—"

"I will tip you nine times your usual rate."

Judith blinked for Babylon. To this day, she isn't sure if it was the curiosity, the money, or that dreadful bubbling in her chest that drove her to say yes.

Babylon Sheyd was a whore, a fact as indisputable as it was mundane, but she wasn't a "Whore of Babylon" type. There were three of those in the Dollhouse; one of them, a concubus named Beth, claimed to be the Whore. Neither was Babylon really a Sheyd: indeed, she'd named herself before she met Estry. Names could be tricky sometimes, like how Estry the Sheyd wasn't one of the Dollhouse's two estries, or how Henna the Estrie wasn't a gehennian, or how Cali the Gehennian was so often confused for Paige, because why wouldn't the squid-person be named some variation on calamari?

All this to say, most of Babylon's first-timers were disappointed to find a human.

Don't get Babylon wrong, she more than compensated for that humanity. She'd been keeping a private tally of her coworkers limits, explicit and implicit, and used them to ensure she remained the biggest freak in the Dollhouse. Babylon would do anything: cutting, watersports, FLYplay, talk therapy, desecration, you name it and Babylon would do it. For an Undervegas cryptobrothel, that meant something.

The fact that Babylon would do almost anything was, in many ways, more important than actually doing "almost anything". Many of her clients didn't know what they wanted, and assumed they wanted something extreme. Some of them couldn't conceive of anything more extreme than spanking or anal. A couple might have asked for something freaky, only to realize partway through that no, they just wanted some light choking and a handjob.

A few of them, however, knew exactly what they wanted, and the novelty of fucking a demon wasn't it. You could always see it in their eyes, that giddy, straightforward determination to act out their fantasies on a hot twenty-something. They were, without exception, either her favorite or least favorite clients.

The man in the brown coat had those eyes, and it was all Babylon could think about on the ride out of the Dollhouse.

Vegas flashed by in the windows.

The man in the brown coat had booked a room in the fucking Luxor.

Babylon wasn't new to the Overvegas Strip; she'd done some dancing in a few clubs before Madam Dolly picked her up, and more than one client had taken her back to a casino to play. At no point, however, did they take her or any of her coworkers to the Luxor, because it was full of Jailors and that was the quickest way to bust her employer wide open. She almost objected, but by the time the shock wore off she was too close to the gates not to make a scene.

For his part, brown-coat didn't flinch, and whether that was ignorance or apathy was unclear. It certainly didn't look like a

Have you read William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch? I haven't! I have read a lot about Calvinist theology, though.

Thanks to . Special thanks to Mistress Snow, PhD for her advice on the Rite Gud podcast.

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