AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is full of gory, icky, horrible, gross things.... and that's just my grammar, punctuation, spelling, plot holes, and the like. then there's the story itself. anyway.... the characters, the plot, and all the crazy details are from my sick and twisted brain. please do not copy or post elsewhere without my permission.
before I forget, the snippet of poetry in chapter 1 was from X:WP S6 EP19 MHR. why? because I happen to love that poem! rated R for violence, sex, and general psychotic mayhem. if you are squeamish or homophobic stop reading now. what are you doing here in the first place? enjoy. or not. your choice. thanks, barbara. for everything!
WARNING: This story deals with the crime of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To keket1976[at]yahoo.com
The Breaking of The Bones
By Valerie Ross
"Running. I remember running. So hard and so fast I thought my lungs would burst from my chest and my limbs would tear from my body."
She grabbed at a sapling - nearly snapping it in two - and caught herself before hurtling over the cliff's edge. Pebbles skittered over the side and fell to the churning water below.
The wind whispered through the trees as she held tight and looked down.
She drew in a ragged breath as birds sang cheerfully and small animals scurried through the underbrush.
Her heart thundered against her ribcage and blood rushed in her ears.
The fear coursing through her body was so strong she could taste it, like ozone before a lightning strike.
Panic closing in, she let go of the tree, and jumped.
Warm air whistled in her ears as she fell.
The water enveloped her in a freezing rush and she couldn't help but wonder what the water would have felt like had it been winter.
Nine months ago, she thought. The middle of December.
She surged up from the rocky bottom in a few powerful strokes, then struggled to keep her head above water as she rode the rapids downstream.
Bruised, battered, choking and weak, she reached the side and climbed up the muddy bank, every move a painful struggle.
On her hands and knees she crawled through the sharp, thick sedge grass and muck. The sun was warm on her naked back, chasing away the chill and drying her body quickly. Her hair remained wet, greasy, and matted to her scalp.
The pain was nearly unbearable, making her nauseous and light headed. But, as long as her adrenaline was pumping, she could ignore it.
Or so she hoped.
She stayed close to the shore, following it downstream for several miles. It was slow and treacherous. The mud sucked her down with every step and drained the strength from her already weakened limbs. Tree branches, thorns, and vines grabbed at her skin and hindered her progress, but she pushed on until the sun had set. She would have kept going but the moon was only a tiny sliver and she could no longer see to traverse the rocks without risking serious injury.
Exhausted, she pushed through the brambles and away from the bank till she found a small clearing.
Feeble though it was, the light from the moon led her to a towering tree where she carefully wedged her body into its massive roots.
Shaking, teeth chattering, she brought her knees up to her chest and wound her arms around her body for warmth.
Now that she wasn't running she could assess the situation better.
It was summer. There was some radiant heat from the tree and the ground, so she wouldn't freeze during the night.
Starving. Always starving. But one thing she'd learned was that while her body might be weak she no longer felt hungry. It was a strange concept, really.
She was bruised, bloody, filthy, smelly, and broken. Her hand throbbed, swollen, grating and painful. Her recently mended ribs pinched but weren't nearly as bad.
The forest was coming alive around her. Bugs, bats and furry little rodents. An owl high in the tree hooted. Fireflies blinked in and out of existence.
A soft breeze blew and eyes glowed in the dark recesses of the forest.
Suddenly she couldn't breathe.
Something crawled across her foot. She slapped at it in a panic. The noise was deafening. She nearly jumped out of her skin.
Don't panic over a fucking bug, KD, she berated herself. Not after what we just survived!
She almost laughed. Almost. She wasn't sure her voice would work after all this time. Even if it did, she wondered if she'd ever voluntarily make a sound again.
Her cuts and scratches itched, burned and bled. By feel alone she picked stuff out of her wounds. Pieces of bark, rocks, and mud. Pieces of.... Her mind shut down before she could finish the thought.
A snippet of a poem she'd heard a long time ago came to mind - There's a moment when I look at you, and no speech is left in me - and she repeated it over and over until she slipped mercifully into oblivion.
She was awake before dawn, pushing her way back to the bank. As she'd done yesterday, she continued to follow it downstream, traversing the rocks and mud.
The river became smaller and smaller, as it kept branching off in all directions, till it was little more than a trickle and a puddle in places.
With little choice, she followed it till there was nothing left but spongy moss and verdant grass. Then even that faded, and she was left to walk through a dense, humid forest of towering trees.
With no idea which direction to go.
She followed a deer trail for awhile, mentally forming a map of where she'd been, hoping it wouldn't lead her in circles. After awhile the ground began to rise and she found herself walking uphill.
Her muscles burned, and her mouth was dry and sticky. A pounding headache was building behind her eyes.
Have to stop, she thought. Rest.... No. Must keep going. I've got to put as much distance as I can.... Time is running out....
The hill was getting steeper, interspersed with boulders and loose, rocky, crumbling dirt that made climbing difficult. She had to grab at roots and branches one handed to pull herself up.
But, she was almost there.
At the top of the hill - which was actually more of a small mountain - she sank to her knees, gasping for breath.
Something caught her eye. Something so completely out of place in the woods that at first she thought it wasn't real. But then a shaft of sunlight struck it again and she knew it was the gleam of metal.
Glancing nervously around, KD wondered if it might be some kind of trap. But, at this point, did she really have a choice?
She started downhill, the loose dirt shifting under her unsteady feet and sending stones flying in all directions. A root pulled free and dirt gave way beneath her. She grabbed for a tree branch as she fell. It snapped like a gunshot and down she went on one knee, the full weight of her body behind it. She clenched her jaw shut and barely managed to hold back a scream as fire lanced through her kneecap where it cracked against a jagged rock.
Completely off balance now and in tremendous pain, she continued to fall. She rolled and flipped and finally smashed into the exposed, twisted roots of a fallen tree.
Groaning and breathing hard, she sat up and spat out dirt and bits of decayed leaves. After a few deep, steadying breaths, she tried to stand. At first her leg wouldn't hold her weight and the pain was unbearable. But she was used to pain. And desperation.
Even if she could only limp, she had to keep going.
Eventually - finally - she made it to the bottom of the hill, and the gleaming metal lay at her feet.
A mirror, she thought. What the hell is a car mirror doing in the middle of who knows where?
Could she use it? Signal someone? Even if she could catch the sun under the canopy of dense foliage.... What if she signaled them?
She dropped the mirror, and left it there without a second thought.
The smell of motor oil hung heavy in the late afternoon warmth. But she couldn't hear cars on a road or a highway.
When she broke through a dense cluster of tall bushes she pulled up short, surprised to find a corrugated metal fence directly in front of her. It ran for some distance in either direction before being swallowed up by the forest.
Up and over? she wondered. Or around?
She hesitated. It would be dark soon. Would she be safer with a fence between her and them? The answer was immediate; Yes.
Up and over, then. Somehow.
Run. Jump. Grab. Try again. Run. Jump. Grab. Pull.
Fuck, that hurt!
She dropped down the other side, straight into a junkyard full of rusty, mangled vehicles.
Was there a guard dog? She stopped to listen, but it was unusually quiet. No dogs. No motors. No people. Nothing. Just the occasional creak of metal expanding in the sun.
A path wound its way through the rows of cars to a small, one story, cement block garage with a sloping tin roof.
She stopped and crouched painfully behind an old Chevy Nova.
Several dirty windows had been shattered. A side door hung haphazardly on broken hinges.
It appeared the place hadn't been used in a really, really long time.
The interior of the garage was dimly lit. Every surface was covered in dust, and cobwebs hung thickly in the corners. Metal oil cans sat rusting on the warped wooden shelves. Tools lay scattered about the old work table as if someone had left in a rush and never returned. And, in the middle of the concrete floor, amid numerous oil stains, sat a hollowed out antique car.
A pair of mechanic's overalls lay draped over a cracked plastic office chair.
She touched the dusty, greasy, dark blue cloth with equally dirty fingers. It felt soft. Worn. Comfortable. She coughed as she shook it out. When it touched her skin she reveled in the luxurious warmth of it.
She zipped it to her chin then rolled the sleeves up. The cuffs dragged along the floor as she limped to the front door. Through a filthy window she could see a driveway that led to a tree lined dirt road.
It would be dark soon. Should she stay here for the night? Rest? And be ready to walk again in the morning? Or should she walk the road, using the cover of darkness?
Her knee decided for her, as a shooting, fiery pain forced her to grit her teeth. She just didn't have the strength to continue.
There was a cushioned seat next to the old car and she sank down onto it. Even with the rusted springs, grease and dust, it was heaven. Before she knew it, she was asleep.
She woke up slowly, realizing that a spring had been poking into her hip for what felt like several hours.
Morning's weak light filtered through the grimy windows.
Before she left, she scoured the garage for anything useful. She found an old Swiss Army knife with a chipped blade, and a long, wicked looking screw driver. She placed them in the deep pockets of her coveralls, rolled up her pant legs, and limped out the front door and down the dirt driveway to the front chain link fence. It was padlocked, but she was able to slip under the chain and squeeze through the gap between the gates.
She hesitated at the edge of the old dirt road.
With the screwdriver she drew a line in the loosely packed dirt. She picked up a palm sized stone and tossed it into the air.
Let fate decide, she thought tiredly.
It landed on the right side of the line with a dusty plop.
So, she went to the right.
It was hot. Perhaps the hottest day of the summer so far. Perspiration beaded on her lip, at her hairline, and stuck her coveralls to her damp body.
She needed water. Desperately. Her mouth felt like the Sahara. She was weak. Dehydrated. Disoriented. And terribly dizzy.
Perhaps that's why she didn't hear the truck till it was nearly on top of her.
A horn honked.
Her hand reached into her pocket to grip the handle of the screwdriver as she spun around. An ancient Ford pickup sped past, kicking up a violent dust storm. She coughed, nearly doubling over.
Breaks squealed. A moment later a door creaked open.
"Good Lord, child. What the hell happened to you?" Dorothy Gale Chambers had been driving this road every third Sunday into town for far longer than she cared to remember. She rarely saw other traffic, and she'd seen even fewer people walking it. Especially one that looked like she'd just crawled out of the grave. "Hon? You alright?"
Sky blue eyes met Dorothy's aged green ones.
Those blue eyes were so dull, so lifeless... but so feral and wild that Dorothy hesitated to come any closer. A decision that probably saved her life.
Dorothy repeated her question, "You alright?"
The young woman opened her mouth as if to speak, but no words came out.
"I've got some water in the truck. Would you like some?" Dorothy took a few steps backward, keeping her eyes on the young woman, sure she'd bolt at any second. She reached into the cab and retrieved a bottle of water.
"Here, hon. Drink as much as you need." Dorothy held out the bottle and waited what felt like an eternity before the young woman reached out a shaking hand to accept it. "There ya go." Dorothy smiled gently. "Why don't I give you a ride into town?"
The first sip of water KD swished around and spit out to get rid of the dirt. Then she took a large gulp and her stomach churned. The second and third sip went down easier. She put the cap back on, for now.
The two women studied each other silently.
Dorothy was elderly. Slight. No threat.
KD limped to the back of the truck and struggled to climb into the bed.
"Gonna be an awfully bumpy ride back there, hon."
Dorothy wasn't sure where she should take the girl first. The sheriff? Or the hospital?
One long look in her rear view mirror and she made up her mind. She got up on the highway and headed to the ER in Athens.
An hour later, and several twists and turns through the city's never ending construction sites, she pulled into the ER bay and shut off the engine.
"Wake up, hon." Dorothy was astonished to find the girl asleep. "We're here."
KD jerked awake and struggled to sit up. Stars swam before her eyes and her vision dimmed.
Dorothy was motioning her out of the truck, so KD placed her bare feet on the warm asphalt and tried to stand. She crumpled to the ground.
"Help! Can someone help us, please?" Dorothy shouted.
That was the last thing KD heard.
Beeping invaded her consciousness first. Then voices and the bitter scent of antiseptic. Bright white lights burned her eyes.
Hospital? She squinted against the light. Pain. So much pain.
Her broken hand was suspended, the fingers stretched to reset them. The other, pinned with an IV. An oxygen tube was under her nose.
"Hey there," a soft voice with a hint of a smile said. "Finally awake?"
KD slowly turned her head and blinked several times before the nurse's youthful face came into focus.
"How're you feeling, Blue Eyes?"
"W-water?" she whispered, her voice hoarse from lack of hydration and nearly nine months of intermittent use.
The nurse raised the head of the bed and handed her a small cup of tepid water. She pushed a button on the wall. "Mary? Will you let Jeff know she's awake?"
There was loud static and then something that sounded vaguely like 'okay.'
"How long...." KD managed after a few sips. "...have I...."
"You've been out a few hours."
A man appeared at the doorway. He was tall, handsome, and dark skinned. A badge glinted from the belt at his waist.
"Hey, Jeff," the nurse said. "She just woke up."
"Thanks." He smiled at the nurse and waited till she'd left to once again assess the young woman in the hospital bed. He noticed that her eyes watched every move he made, much like many POWs he'd known. She hadn't been in the missing persons database, but he was pretty sure he knew what he'd be dealing with. "Feeling better?"
"My name is Jeff Tand. I'm the local sheriff. What's your name?"
Name? What's my name? She stared blankly for a second, then whispered, "KD."
"Katy? Katy what?"
"No." She tried to speak a little louder. "Kennedy Downs. KD."
He scribbled in a small notebook he'd withdrawn from his back pocket. "Can you tell me what happened to you?"
"I was kidnapped." She hesitated. "Nine months ago."
Jeff blinked several times though his expression never changed. "From where?"
He folded up his notebook and placed it in his pocket. "If you'll excuse me? I need to make a call."
"FBI. How may I direct your call?"
"I need to speak to the agent in charge of the DC area kidnappings."
"I can give you the hotline-"
"No. I'm Sheriff Jeff Tand. I need to speak to the AIC. I've got one of the victims. She's still alive."
"I'll transfer you right away, sir."
They re-broke, reset, and cast her hand. Her knee would require surgery they would have to use wire to keep her kneecap from splitting completely in two. All her cuts and scrapes had been cleaned and bandaged, as necessary. The x-rays they'd taken had shown no sign of further broken bones. She appeared to have no internal bleeding and with the IV fluids, water, and a meal, she was feeling better than she had in months.
Jeff knocked on the door frame. "Alright if I come in?"
"There are some people here who need to talk to you."
She tensed as two men and a woman entered behind Jeff.
Not them. Thank God.
"I'm SSA Gates. And these are agents Ryder and Adams." Gates was older, in his mid fifties. He was average height with dark hair that was just beginning to gray. Adams was the youngest, tall, and very cookie cutter FBI in his suit and tie. He looked like he was fresh out of the academy. The woman, Ryder, stood separate from them. She had long raven hair and hard chocolate eyes. She was slim and gorgeous in khakis and a button down shirt. There was a hint of Native American ancestry in her high cheekbones and skin tone.
Ryder's face was impassive, though she stood with her arms crossed, wondering if this trip was going to be another colossal waste of time. Maybe she could still get home in time to watch some Xena reruns this weekend.
KD wondered what she must look like to them. Brown hair that had grown considerably longer, was matted and tangled with things she didn't want to even consider. How jagged and garish was the scar on the left side of her forehead? What kind of bruises, blood, and dirt must she be covered in?
She suddenly realized that Gates was looking at her expectantly. "Sorry?"
"Can you tell us where you were held?"
"Anything about the place itself?"
"Old. Wood." She hadn't dared look back.
"Anything else?" Disappointment colored Agent Adams youthful voice. "Anything at all that can help us find its location? Please, Ms Downs, it's imperative that you tell us what you remember."
"I remember everything," she whispered harshly. "But none of that will tell you an exact location."
"You don't know that, Ms. Downs," Gates chided, not unkindly. "You'd be surprised the kind of clues that could lead us in the right direction."
She looked helplessly at each of their expectant faces.
"She obviously doesn't know anything that'll help us," Ryder said flatly.
"Maybe she just doesn't understand the severity of the situation, Agents?" Jeff said. "She has been gone... quite a long time."
Ryder gave a sigh that seemed to indicate they were now just wasting time.
Gates gave her a pointed look. "For the last two years we've been hunting a man who has kidnapped women and children in and around the DC area-"
"C-children?" KD stuttered, blanching.
"Yes, Ms. Downs," Adams replied. "Twenty-eight women and fifteen children. That we know of."
Children. Oh. Dear. God. There were children there somewhere. And I left them behind. With them. Small, defenseless children.... She threw the covers off and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. Her bare feet slapped the cold tile floor. Pain lanced through her knee and she clenched her teeth to keep from crying out in agony.
Ryder watched as the tendons in the woman's neck tensed and her face paled even more.
"KD," Jeff shouted, alarmed. "Please, don't get up. The doctor said your knee-"
"Is fine. I need clothes." She looked around the room at their startled faces. "I need some fucking clothes. Please."
"You can't leave the hospital before your surgery," Jeff said.
"I can. And I will. Who else are you going to get to take you back there?"
"Back there?" Gates asked. "I thought you said you didn't know where you were held?"
"I remember the way back. Just ask the woman who brought me in where she picked me up. That's the only fuzzy part."
"Dorothy," Jeff clarified. "She picked you up on old Route 38."
"How far from the junkyard?"
"Only a few miles."
"Okay. Take me there. I'll find the way," she promised.
"That's impossible," Ryder declared. "You'll have us running around in circles in the middle of nowhere."
KD glared at her. "Fine. I'll go myself."
"Ms. Downs, we can't allow you to do that. Adams, call Dover and get satellite pictures of the area. Do you know where this old junkyard is?" He looked at Jeff.
"Yes, sir. Get me a map and I'll show you."
KD bit her tongue, knowing that arguing now would be pointless.
"There's nothing," Dover replied "I've got Nada. Zip. Zero. Bubkis-"
"Okay, point taken, Agent." Adams hung up and turned to face Gates, Ryder, and the sheriff. "Dover says there's nothing there."
"We can't let a victim lead us blindly through the woods," Ryder said.
"At this point, what else have we got?"
The three FBI agents and the sheriff reentered KD's hospital room.
"Shit," Adams cursed. "Where the hell did she go?"
Ryder spun around and raced down the hall. She turned a corner and headed towards the hospital's main entrance. There she was, limping to the glass double doors, wearing nothing but a pair of scrubs that were far too big.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?"
KD's hand hesitated on the door handle. She didn't turn around. "Anyone tell you, Agent Ryder, that you've got one hell of a bedside manner?"
"It's been mentioned," Ryder drawled.
KD turned then and met the Agent's eyes. "I can't leave them out there."
"Gates has agreed to let you go. Against my better judgment." But her voice had softened, just a little.
Relief flooded KD's pale, dirty face.
Jeff came up behind Ryder. "Good," he said. "You found her. I'll see what I can scrounge up for camping equipment." He left to make some calls.
Gates and Adams had also appeared. They urged KD to return to her room to wait.
But she wouldn't wait for long.
"The sun rose. Like it does every morning. But there was a chill in the air. An expectant hush. Like it knew before I did."
The sheriff's jeep - packed with camping gear and two of his deputies - sped down old Route 38 in a cloud of dust, heading to the old junkyard.
The FBI's rented SUV followed. Gates was driving, and the other agents were staring straight ahead rather grimly.
KD was silent, trying not to wince with every bump and rut in the road. She was in considerable pain and doing her damnedest not to let anyone see it, afraid they'd call off the search and send her back to the hospital.
A nurse had bandaged her knee before they left, and it was helping. A little. Some of the hospital staff had donated articles of clothing, the rest she'd gotten from the lost and found box. She was now dressed in jeans, a Comic Con t-shirt, and cowboy boots that were surprisingly comfortable.
There'd been little time to do more than wipe ineffectually at the grime that covered her body. She'd done her best to get to the 'pertinent' areas. If the agents were offended by her smell, they made no comment. For that she was grateful. Though Adams was looking a little green around the gills. It could have been Gates' driving though.
They pulled up to the locked gates of the junkyard.
As KD left the SUV, her stomach roiled. She stopped and watched as Jeff pulled out a pair of bolt cutters and snipped off the thick chain. The gates swung open with a rusted squeal and they walked up the short dirt drive to the garage. The two deputies unloaded the jeep and brought up the equipment.
Something touched her elbow and she jerked away.
"Sorry," someone mumbled.
I can do this, KD thought. I have to. I have to save them. If I'd known.... Her thoughts suddenly shifted as she stared blankly up at the mountain that rose behind the junkyard. Would she be able to lead them back as promised? Or would she get them all lost like Agent Ryder had predicted? She cut her eyes to the agent's profile.
"You ready?" Jeff asked, interrupting her thoughts.
"Ready as I'll ever be." KD fingered the Swiss Army knife one of the nurses had been kind enough to return. She ignored the throbbing pain in her knee as they divvied up the camping gear. When they were ready to go, she subtly shifted her pack so more weight was on her good leg. Then she led the way past the garage, to the maze of rusted out cars.
When they got to the back of the lot, KD jumped up on one car, climbed to the next which was almost level with the top of the corrugated fence leapt onto the fence, and jumped to the ground on the other side.
"Fuck me," someone exclaimed as she disappeared.
She waited impatiently as they all struggled to make it up and over.
Insects buzzed and a gentle breeze blew through the humid forest. It was gonna be another hot summer's day.
They pushed through the brush behind KD as she retraced her path almost step for step. Up the mountain. Past the rock where she'd split her kneecap nearly in two. Up. Up.... She didn't remember it taking so long before.... Up, and finally to the top, where they all had to stop to catch their breath.
As they slipped and slid down the other side and into the valley, KD sought out the landmarks that were burned forever into her memory.
There was the tree recently split by lightning. The grape vine that hung in the shape of an R. Six little patches of ivy, flourishing in the sun that broke through the canopy of leaves. The deer trail, winding its way back to the spongy moss, verdant grass, and mud puddles.
Water began to trickle over rock and she followed it till it met the shallow end of the river.
They stepped rock to rock along the muddy banks.
The sun was high in the sky, beating down mercilessly. They stopped several times for water and to rest, but KD kept pushing them ever onward.
The sky was darkening when KD started to fight her way through the brush, away from the river.
"Shouldn't we make camp for the night?"
"Up here," KD said, pointing into the trees. "There's a clearing. We'll stop there."
They broke through the trees and into a small field covered in tall willowy grass and purple, yellow, and red wildflowers. In the middle was a massive tree with twisted roots growing up out of the ground.
"I spent the night here."
Ryder surveyed the field, astonished that the young woman had been able to bring them this far. She doubted her luck would hold. But she kept those thoughts to herself.
They set up the three tents, gathered some wood for a fire, and fixed some dinner.
KD ate mechanically. Everything tasted like cardboard and was just as hard to swallow. Her body ached something fierce, and there was no end in sight. Her knee was now so swollen that she could barely bend it.
The fire was warm and soothing. Cheery even. Like a summer at a camp whose name had been forgotten, long long ago. Flames danced and sparks rose into the night sky. One by one they drifted off to their tents, till only KD and Ryder were left staring, memorized by the flames.
Finally Ryder spoke. "You really think you can keep this up?"
KD just looked at her.
"That you can find this place again?"
Firelight warmed KD's pale face as she contemplated her answer. Finally she shrugged. "How can I ever forget?"
Ryder gave her a strange look but said nothing. She excused herself and went to their tent. A few hours later KD could no longer keep her eyes open. She raked out the coals and crawled into the tent. She lay on the borrowed sleeping bag and was out in seconds.
Thankfully, she slept so deeply that she didn't dream.
Ryder rose early, surprised to find the sleeping bag next to her empty. Had KD slept at all?
Birds chirped happily, insects buzzed merrily, and the pine scented air was warm and hinted at another brutally hot day.
Someone - God bless them - had made coffee. Adams, looking rather grouchy, was seated near the fire. KD was seated farther away on one of the twisted roots in the middle of the clearing, letting the sun warm her face.
"Was she up when you got up?" Ryder asked Adams in a near whisper as she sat beside him.
"Yeah. How'd you sleep? I had a damn rock in my kidneys all night long."
Ryder grinned. "Like a baby."
"Shut up." But Adams was grinning.
After everyone had risen and had breakfast they packed up the tents, sleeping bags, and cooking equipment.
With a limp that was much more pronounced, KD led them back through the brush to the muddy river bank. They trekked upstream for several hours, stopping occasionally to rest.
Ryder watched with a combination of alarm and respect as KD's face became paler and paler with each passing hour.
At about midday KD found the spot where she'd climbed out of the river. In the distance, distinct above the tree line, was the cliff where she'd jumped. The current had taken her further than she remembered.
They made it to the base of the cliff in the late afternoon.
KD pointed up, shielding her eyes from the sun with her cast. "I jumped from there. We'll have to find a way up-"
"You jumped? From there?" Adams asked incredulously.
She just shrugged.
"How much further is it from up there?" Gates asked.
"Not far." She paused. "Coupla hours maybe."
Gates glanced around at his weary travel companions, then back up to the cliff. "We'll camp here tonight."
KD started to protest.
"If we keep going tonight it'll be dark when we get there. It'll be safer to rest and then reach the place with plenty of daylight."
KD slumped onto a fallen log, half anxious they wouldn't be moving on and half relieved that they wouldn't be moving on. She shrugged out of her backpack, then helped the others set up camp.
Jeff tried to hand KD a plate.
"No, thanks. I'm not hungry."
"You need to keep your strength up," Ryder admonished.
KD bit back a nasty retort and took the plate. She made her way back to the river bank to sit on the sun warmed rocks. She tried to eat. She really did. But it kept getting stuck in her throat. Eventually she set the plate aside and lay back on the large, mostly flat, rock.
The sun was setting, bathing the sky in ribbons of yellow, red, and orange. Fireflies sparked. Crickets and cicadas chirped. She could smell the sweet grass and the musty earth and the cloying smoke from the fire.
I'm going to be sick. She rolled onto her side and leaned over the edge of the rock just in time to vomit the entire measly contents of her stomach.
"You alright?" Gates asked.
She jerked upright and wiped her mouth absently with the back of her hand. She hadn't heard him approach and it irritated her. "Fine. Thanks."
"Water?" He handed her a bottle.
"Thanks." She eyed him warily as she swished some around her mouth then spat it out. "Need somethin'?"
"No. Just checking up on you." Gates laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, but she flinched away as if she'd been burned. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." He stood, then paused. "If you need anything just let me know."
"Okay. Sure." She'd never asked anyone for help before and she sure as hell wouldn't ask now. She lay back again and looked up at the stars. They were so bright, sparkling like gems in the midnight sky. The names of the constellations eluded her. She'd never studied the stars before. Now maybe she would. Maybe she'd do a lot of things she'd never done before. Like get her GED. Get a decent job instead of the stuff she'd been doing. A career maybe? In what she didn't yet know. A car. She'd vacation somewhere. She'd never done the vacation thing but she could name more than twenty places she'd love to visit. Maybe go on a date....
That thought stopped her cold.
She fingered the nasty scar on her forehead, then thought of the other scars and nearly wept.
Who would ever want her now?
KD crawled through the tent flap and struggled to zip it back up. She didn't bother to kick off her boots, just lay on her side on top of the sleeping bag, and closed her eyes.
"Thought maybe you got lost out there somewhere," Ryder murmured.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. I haven't been able to get to sleep yet."
A neon green light illuminated the hands on Ryder's watch. "4am." She groaned and turned on her side to face KD. "You get any sleep last night?"
"Some." Cloth rustled as Ryder tried to get comfortable. "I need a very hot, very long, shower. Maybe a couple of beers. And my nice soft bed."
KD made an unintelligible noise that Ryder took as agreement.
"Pizza," KD managed. "Pasta. Burgers. Fresh fruit and vegetables more than anything else. Or just something remotely edible."
Ryder chuckled. "What? You don't like the MREs we've been eating?"
"Ummm. No." She paused, suddenly conflicted, wondering what was okay to say and what wasn't. "But they are better than what I was eating before."
There was silence for a long moment, broken only by the hoot of a night owl.
"He did feed you then?"
"What about the other women? Did he feed them too?"
Silence, then, "Less than sometimes, more than never. Food was one of his games."
"Games?" Ryder pushed herself up onto one elbow, studying KD's profile in the darkness. Before she got an answer or could ask anymore questions, KD turned away from her.
"Prob'ly should get some sleep," KD mumbled.
Some time around dawn Ryder gave up on trying to sleep. She left the tent as quietly as possible, glad that KD was actually getting a little sleep. She certainly needed it.
Ryder rebuilt the fire and started some water boiling for coffee. One by one the others awoke. Breakfast was eaten - KD choking hers down - and then they broke camp. The tents and supplies were packed and loaded onto weary shoulders and they set out to find a way up the cliff.
They had to go a couple hours out of the way, but they eventually agreed upon a section that looked fairly easy to traverse.
Jeff went first, easily going from handhold to handhold. The deputies and the FBI went next, leaving KD to go last.
She was panicking, though her face betrayed no emotion. With a cast hand, a broken and swollen knee, a heavy pack, exhaustion, and her fear of heights... she wasn't sure she'd make it.
She closed her eyes and took a deep, centering breath. I can do this, she thought. After everything else I've been through this should be a piece of cake. She let out the breath and opened her eyes. Let's get to it then.
The rock was warm under her fingers. Solid. She placed one foot and pulled herself up one handed. The fingers of her cast hand gripped the next handhold and white, hot, shooting pain lanced up her arm. She growled deep in her chest and pulled herself up anyway. It felt like her fingers were ripping from their sockets. She reached the next hold, but her foot slipped, slamming her swollen knee against the rock. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming, and tasted blood.
Halfway. I've made it halfway. I can do this. Shit, it's a long way down.
Never look down.
I can do this. I can do this.
She closed her eyes. They flew back open in alarm when a hand gripped her arm.
"I've got you," Ryder said gently. She took KD's backpack and placed it on her own shoulders. Then she pulled KD tight against her side and hauled her gently up the cliff.
"Thanks," KD murmured once they'd reached the top. She lay back in the soft, warm grass and willed her body to stop hurting. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to breathe normally, then forced herself to get back on her feet. She grabbed her pack and slung it over her shoulders with a determined grunt.
They had to keep pushing forward.
No matter what.
By midday they made it back to the cliff, to the exact spot where she'd jumped.
Adams looked over the edge. "My God, I can't believe you survived that."
"It's only an hour or so from here," KD said, ignoring Adams. "We should get going." She adjusted her pack strap and started walking to the first landmark: a cluster of butterfly bushes.
Ryder lingered at the cliff's edge, the last to leave. How had KD survived a jump like that? What kind of fear and desperation drove a person to risk a broken neck for the sake of freedom? She shook her head, then jogged to catch up with the others.
KD led them past the cluster of birch trees, the heart shaped rock, the roots that looked like a dragon, the dead stump with orange mushrooms, the rabbit hole and the blackberry bushes.
She stopped suddenly and pointed with a shaky hand.
"There. At the tree line."
The trees grew densely together, but now that she'd pointed it out they could distinguish the tree line from the field beyond. In the distance was a weathered building.
"Son of a bitch," someone whispered fiercely.
They dropped their packs and crept to the edge of the tree line.
KD lay on her belly and peered out from under the brush. The building appeared to be an old saw mill, probably from the early 1800's. The water wheel was dilapidated but miraculously still functioning. The wooden exterior was light gray, almost bleached white with age. The door she'd escaped from was still wide open.
"No wonder Dover couldn't find it," Adams muttered.
That was when she realized that the roof was covered in a camouflage net like the ones that the military used.
"Can you smell that?" a deputy whispered, wrinkling his nose.
No one answered.
After a moment Gates said, "Vests, people. We're going in. Ms. Downs, stay here until we signal for you."
They donned their bulletproof vests and checked their weapons one last time. KD watched, detached and curiously unafraid. She stayed on her belly as the sheriff, his deputies, and the FBI advanced on the building.
Ryder, Adams, and a deputy went in the side door. The others split into two groups and went around to the front and back doors.
Without much thought, KD rose and limped across the field.
Adams and the deputy both raced back outside, retching violently into the bushes.
She walked past them and went inside.
Ryder heard her approach and turned to her with absolute horror in her eyes.
The mutilated and decaying bodies of several women were scattered around the floor. A few women were still chained to the wall. One of them was headless. Maggots and flies were everywhere.
KD looked past them to the two women lying on the floor on the opposite side of the room. They were still clothed and, in stark contrast to the others, had only a single gunshot wound between the eyes.
She walked around them to the door. It opened into a wide hallway.
"Wait," Ryder said hoarsely, grabbing her shoulder. "Get behind me." She stepped into the hall, gun drawn. They walked down the hall to the next door, which was slightly ajar. Ryder kicked it fully open and the stench hit her like a solid wall of death.
"Oh, God." Ryder clapped a hand over her mouth and nose.
"Breathe through your mouth," KD said gently. "It helps. A little." For some strange reason she could smell nothing at all. Inanely, she wondered if she'd been able to smell anything lately. She hadn't really noticed.
"Great. Now I can taste it," the agent muttered.
KD stepped around Ryder and stopped abruptly. There, just a few feet into the room, lay three small children. They were fully clothed and all had a single gunshot wound between the eyes. Beyond them, on the far wall, hung the naked, mutilated bodies of five children in various stages of decay. There were others on the floor.
KD could feel herself shutting down. Her breath becoming rapid and shallow. Heart racing. Body going numb. Detaching from reality. And she couldn't stop it. Didn't want to stop it.
Babies. They were just babies. And I got them killed.
She must have made some sort of strangled choking noise because Ryder gripped her arm and hastily pulled her out of the room.
Was Ryder saying something? Yelling at her?
They went down another hall and out the front door, down some stairs, and onto an overgrown rocky walkway.
The sun was suddenly warm on KD's shoulders. A gentle breeze ruffled her shirt.
Ryder handed her off to one of the deputies and she struggled out of his grasp, tripping, ending up sprawled on her ass in the dirt.
"I should have saved them." KD buried her head in her hands and began to rock back and forth. "I should have saved them. I should-"
Ryder was suddenly beside her, sitting in the gravel, touching her shoulder, and somehow grounding her. KD looked up and their eyes met.
"I should have saved them," KD whispered.
"You didn't know."
"I should have-"
"Do not do this to yourself, Kade! You didn't know."
KD dipped her head back down and stared at her dirty hands. Filthy hands. Bloody hands. So much blood.
I should have saved them.
When Ryder's hand left her shoulder she felt more adrift than ever.
"I sent our GPS coordinates to Dover," Adams told Gates.
He nodded, still unable to form a coherent sentence.
"Think she's okay?" Adams asked, nodding his head towards KD, who was still sitting in the dirt.
"Would you be?" Ryder demanded.
They both fell silent.
"Helicopter's on its way," Gates finally said. "Ryder, you and Adams get her back to the hospital. Make sure she gets that knee taken care of."
"How can one human being do that to another? How was I ever gonna look at someone again without wondering what sort of evil they were capable of? Could I ever trust anyone ever again?"
The helicopter ride in the fading light was silent, except for the deafening whir of the blades. Every now and then KD felt Ryder's eyes on her, but when she turned to look, Ryder was always facing the window.
They landed on the hospital's heli-pad and were met by a nurse, a doctor, and a gurney. KD didn't have the energy to protest and let them whisk her away to surgery.
Ryder and Adams followed behind her.
"Anyone here for Kennedy Downs?"
"Yes." Ryder sprang to her feet. "Is everything okay?"
"She's fine. The surgery went well. She's in recovery now if you'd like to go and sit with her."
"The doc'll come explain how it went once she's awake."
"Okay." Ryder followed the nurse down the brightly lit hall, hesitating at the door to KD's room.
"Go on in, hon. She'll be waking up soon. I'd wager she'd feel better seeing a familiar face."
Ryder walked in and stopped abruptly, startled by what she saw. KD was so white, so pale... but none of those words adequately described the young woman on the bed. There were so many wires and tubes and beeping machines.... She slouched down into the chair by the bed to wait.
About an hour later - just as she was drifting off to sleep - the doctor came in. KD was still asleep and neither had the heart to wake her.
"How'd the surgery go, doc?"
"Good. All things considered."
Ryder raised a questioning eyebrow and canted her head.
"When she left with you we warned her that any sort of activity could lead to the kneecap separating. That it could lead to permanent damage, infection, and possibly even death."
Ryder had the grace to look chagrined.
"Honestly?" the doctor continued. "I don't know how she even managed to walk on it at all. The pain must have been excruciating.
"There was a lot of fluid build up, but we were able to drain that and scrape out the infection. The kneecap halves shifted so much that they caused severe nerve and muscle damage."
"But she'll be able to use it?"
He hesitated. "We've wired it back together... and once the swelling goes down... well, we just won't know yet. But, I expect she'll walk with a limp for the rest of her life."
It was nearly dawn when KD awoke, clawing at the sheets and breathing hard. Disoriented and afraid, she looked desperately around the room.
White. White everywhere. Bleach. Machines. Ryder. Must be the hospital.
She was slumped in a chair, asleep, with her chin touching her chest.
"Hey, you're finally awake." Agent Adams came through the door carrying two steaming cups of coffee and smiling.
"One of those had better be for me," Ryder grumbled, sitting up and reaching for one.
"You're welcome," Adams griped.
"Hey, Kade. 'Morning." Ryder grinned at KD then looked up at Adams. "Any news from Gates?"
"No, not yet."
She nodded dismissively and sipped at her coffee. "This coffee is worse than the shit you make in the bullpen." She continued to drink it anyway.
"Look who's talking."
"Fair enough." Ryder grinned and glanced at KD. Crystal clear blue eyes were watching her intently. Her smile faltered. "Uh, how'd you sleep?"
"Fine. I'm ready to go home though."
The two agents exchanged a look.
Adams cleared his throat when it became apparent that Ryder wasn't going to answer. "Uh. Well. The thing is... you weren't part of the initial investigation. Dover says that originally no one expected any foul play. Some of your clothes and possessions were gone. Your landlord thought you just skipped town.
"When the FBI was called in and the taskforce was started, we began to realize the full extent of what was happening. None of the missing were ever found alive...."
"Your landlord had already given away or sold the rest of your stuff and rented out your apartment."
"Of course he did," KD muttered. She looked at the ceiling and asked; "What else?"
"Your bank account was wiped out and closed."
She said nothing, just waited.
"Once we officially connected your case to the DC kidnappings you were declared missing and then when some time had passed... legally dead."
She closed her eyes. The bastards had taken everything from her. Absolutely everything. "Fan-fucking-tastic," she muttered. "I thought you had to wait seven years to declare someone legally dead?"
"Under certain circumstances it's done a lot quicker."
"Let me guess. Terrorism? Natural disasters? Kidnappings? Those sorts of things?"
Fuck them. Fuck them all.
"The lab techs'll be combing through... evidence... for a month, at least," Adams said, his face pale at the mere mention of the Mill's crime scene.
Adams and Ryder were walking back to KD's room from the cafeteria.
"How did she do it?" he asked.
"Do what?" she snapped, annoyed that Adams never seemed to shut up.
"Survive that. I mean, we don't even know the half of what she went through. But just look at the mess we saw-"
"That mess, Agent, was once people. Living. Breathing. People."
Adams shut up. For about fifteen seconds. "The smell alone.... I'm going to have nightmares for weeks. Can you imagine living in that for nine months? I'd 'ave gone mad."
"We don't know yet if he even kept her there the whole time." Secretly though she agreed. She'd have gone mad too.
"Well, we'll find ou-"
Their attention was diverted by the sound of someone shouting.
"You can't fucking keep me here."
KD, standing barefoot in the hall, was holding her IV stand for support.
"Hey. Everything alright?"
KD turned on Ryder, her eyes flashing. "No. No, everything is not alright. I-"
"It would be best if Ms. Downs stayed in the hospital for a few more days," a nurse said, looking more than a little anxious.
"I'm leaving. AMA if I have to," KD snapped, looking at Ryder and suddenly seeing something close to understanding in her eyes. And something else she couldn't name.
"The jet is leaving for DC in a couple hours." Ryder laid a gentle hand on KD's arm. "We'll take you with us if you can wait just a little bit longer."
"I don't recommend-"
"No disrespect meant, ma'am, but I wasn't talking to you."
The nurse huffed and walked away.
"Come on." Ryder grinned. "Let's get you back to bed."
KD signed out of the hospital, AMA. The agents wheeled her out to the car park and loaded her and her crutches into the rented SUV. They were now headed to the airport where they'd meet up with Gates and fly back to DC.
Adams was his usual chatty self, much to the annoyance of both women.
"So, KD," he asked. "Do you have family in DC?"
"That's a shame. Family out of state?"
"Any idea where you'll stay or what you'll do?"
Ryder shot Adams a look of disgust, but he appeared oblivious. She could see the tension and fear radiating off KD's rigid body and she was seconds away from lighting into her fellow agent, who was rambling on about his own family now.
"You're staring, Agent," KD said softly.
Her eyes snapped to KD's face. "What? Sorry."
"No worries. Wanna talk about it?"
Ryder doubted she'd be as gracious had their roles been reversed. "Just thinking," she replied absently.
"Thinking can be highly overrated. Or so I've been told."
The agent chuckled and KD found it endearing.
"I've got plenty of room at my place." Ryder rushed on before she lost her nerve. "You could stay with me for a bit? You know, just till you get things figured out?"
KD's eyes widened involuntarily. She should say 'no.' There were shelters and other resources all over the city. She'd be nothing but a burden to this woman. She needed time alone.... Instead, she heard herself saying; "Thank you. I'd like that."
They both briefly wondered whether their lives would ever be the same again.
Shaky fingers plucked at the front of the worn Comic Con t-shirt. She'd never flown before and was contemplating just how long it'd take a bus to get her back to DC. If she'd had the money. She pushed the SUV's side door open and scrambled awkwardly out onto the tarmac, leaning heavily on the crutches. Her eyes traveled to the small jet, then to the three agents standing by the steps. She couldn't make out what they were saying but she'd lay good odds it had everything to do with her flying back to DC with them.
She made her way to the stairs.
Ryder turned, her face blank. Then she smiled and it completely transformed her face into a thing of god-like beauty.
KD felt her heart flutter. And realized it wasn't from anxiety.
"Ready?" Ryder asked.
"Ever fly before?"
KD shook her head.
"Flying is absolutely amazing," Adams interrupted cheerfully. "When I was little my father would take me to the airfield. Once a month there'd be an air show. When I was older he took me to...."
Ryder rolled her eyes behind Adams back, and KD quickly looked the other way so she wouldn't laugh.
The jet's interior was all leather and shiny chrome. There was an area with a couch on either side, beyond that a table and seating, and beyond that, still more seats. Most of the window shades were up and the inside was well lit. On the tabletop was an open laptop with a darkened screen.
She chose a seat near a window in the back, belted herself in, and laid her crutches against the seat opposite.
Adams plopped down beside her, smiling.
She groaned inwardly, forcing herself to smile back, all the while wishing Ryder would come and rescue her by throwing Adams out the airlock.
The flight was quiet and uneventful. Quiet, that is, except for Adams. KD had never heard anyone talk so much. And his favorite subject seemed to be himself. He wasn't being egotistical, just... thoroughly autobiographical.
An SUV was waiting for them when the jet landed. Weakly KD hobbled to it as the others stowed their away bags in the back. Pain was lancing through her knee and she wished she could drown it out with a bottle of whiskey and some morphine. Lots of morphine.
Gates drove, with Adams riding shotgun. Ryder was stuck in the back with her, staring out the window. The ride to the Bureau was blessedly silent. But KD knew that soon enough situated in some sterile interview room, no doubt it'd be her turn to speak. She didn't know if she could.
Would she be able to say, out loud, the things she'd barely lived through? Talk about what he'd done to those women? To her? To imagine what those kids had endured? If it was half as bad as what she'd gone through.... She felt sick. And Gates' driving wasn't helping. Part of her wanted to shut down. It had to. Or she'd lose her mind.
She thought of a story she'd read a long time ago. She imagined the feel of the pages and the smell of the paper. Saw the black ink and the lines of characters. And, in her mind, she began to read.
KD set off the metal detector.
"Ma'am, can you please step over here? Thank you. Do you have any jewelry on? A belt maybe?"
If he noticed her state of disarray - and surely he did notice - he remained silent. He was probably the most professional and courteous security guard she'd ever met. But still she was at a loss for words, her recent state of nearly perpetual panic making her mute.
"She's got metal in her knee from a recent surgery," Ryder said, stepping up beside her and touching her elbow.
"Afternoon, Agent Ryder." He waved his wand over KD's leg. It beeped shrilly and he nodded. "Okay. Go ahead."
She refrained from mentioning the Swiss Army knife in her pocket. It was her only worldly possession at this point. Her security blanket. And she was loath to part with it. She remained silent and hobbled after the agents.
They rode the elevator up and stepped into a brightly lit lobby. Ahead, through double glass doors etched with the FBI insignia, was the bullpen where Ryder and Adams had their desks. Gates had his office on the far side.
They went down another hallway to a door marked 'Interview Room 1.' She smiled ruefully as she sat at the table and leaned her crutches on the chair next to her.
A row of windows overlooked the city, the blinds partially closed against the late day sun. The table was large, rectangular, with several chairs spaced around it. A laptop, several legal pads and pens, lay scattered along its surface.
The agents sat and Gates said, "I know things have been a bit chaotic the last few days but we'd like to bring in our sketch artist while things are still fresh in your mind."
He tapped a key on the laptop and brought it to life.
"Yes, sir?" a young woman asked brightly. "What can I do for you?" She was young and blond and pretty, in a very geeky girl-next-door sort of way.
"Send Dalton up, Dover."
"Yes, sir. Anything else?"
"That's it for now." The screen went blank and he turned to KD. "Would you like something to drink while we're waiting?" Gates asked. "Coffee maybe?"
Adams hopped up. "Cream or sugar?"
Dalton showed up just as Adams was returning with a tray of steaming hot mugs, stir sticks, and cream and sugar packets. KD took a mug and wrapped her icy fingers around it while she studied the sketch artist.
Stacey Dalton was about 5' 4", several inches shorter than both Ryder and herself. She was thin and curvy with short, wild spikes of red brown hair. KD couldn't help but smile at her as she sat down.
"Hi." She held out a small hand with long fingers. "Stacey Dalton."
"Kennedy Downs. KD to most everybody."
They shook hands.
"Well, KD, it's nice to meet you." Stacey withdrew her hand and flipped open an 8 x 10 sketch pad. "You ready to get started?"
"I'm going to ask you to close your eyes."
After a moment's hesitation, KD complied.
Dalton had been briefed on the case. "Think about the last time you saw the man. Can you envision his face?"
KD shuddered and paled. "Yes," she whispered.
"Okay. What's the shape of his face? Round? Oval-"
"Square... ish. He has this Jay Leno kinda pointy chin though."
Stacey chuckled. "Good. Is his face thin? Fat? ...."
"Gaunt. Hollow. His eyes are set back. I'd guess average width apart."
Dalton began to sketch.
"His nose is long, straight, and thin. His lips are thin too. The cheekbones are high and sharp."
"Graying. Thin. Wiry." She paused. "But well kept. Everything about him was always immaculate."
"Okay. Open your eyes." Dalton turned the sketchbook so KD could see it and waited as she studied it.
"His ears were a little bit longer, but, yeah, that's him."
"Adams," Gates said. "Make copies and get it out. Now."
"Good job. Thank you, Dalton."
KD opened her mouth to speak but Gates was scribbling on a legal pad and Dalton had already left the room. She shut her mouth and looked down at her hands, still wrapped around the coffee mug. She realized she hadn't touched a drop of it.
"Looks like the BAU's profile was pretty dead on," Ryder commented, flipping through a folder. She looked up to find curious blue eyes on her. "White male. Age approximate 50 to 60. Wealthy, independent, and living off the grid. A psychopath, devoid of emotion.
"What we've failed to do so far is figure out how he chooses his victims. And why."
Blue eyes looked away before KD began speaking. "I was walking to the grocery store. It was December 18th, at about 7:30 pm. The streets were busy. Everyone was gearing up for the first big storm of the season. You know the one they were predicting? Two feet of snow, white out conditions? Well, I remember my hands were freezing. I didn't hear him. Or see him. Everything went black. They must have drugged me, because I didn't wake up again until after they'd shackled my wrist to the floor. I was naked, cold, wet, and sticky. That's when I realized the floor was covered in blood...." She had to pause, nearly choking on her own saliva. "And... pieces." She let go of the coffee mug and scrubbed at her face one handed, as if trying to wash it all away.
"We can take a break if you need to?" Gates said.
"No. No, it's okay. I can do this." But she wasn't so sure. "At first I didn't hear the others. The smell was overwhelming. Blood. Urine. Waste. Body odor. Mold. Rot. And death. I'd never smelled death before. Not like that. But it wasn't until I started looking around that I really got sick.
"There were bodies and parts scattered around the floor, and bodies chained to the wall. Three of them were still alive, even after...." She tried to clear her throat. "Even after he'd cut them up." She looked helplessly at the faces around the table. "I threw up and didn't stop until there was nothing left.
"There was a woman who could still talk because she still had her tongue, and she said, 'They'll be coming back soon. You'll live longer if you're silent.'
"She saved my life."
"You've said 'they' a couple times now, Kade. Were there two of them?"
Dull eyes met Ryder's.
She nodded. "I called them the Father and the Son."
Someone muttered a curse.
"The Son was the one who came to me first. He was... vile. Dirty, disheveled, and unkempt. Whatever you wanna call him, he was evil. And stoned. He was always stoned," she muttered. "I don't know what made me think I could kick his scrawny ass but when he took off the shackle I tried to fight him. He slammed my head into the floor and split my eyebrow to the bone." She unconsciously fingered the jagged scar that stretched from her eyebrow, close to her temple, up an inch on her forehead.
"When I woke up again, I was tied on top of the big work table. The Father was staring at me, contemplating what he wanted to slice first, I guess." She shuddered at the memories that came next. How he'd touched her. Like she was nothing but a side of beef. The way the knife had sliced through her skin that very first time. Sharp, like a paper cut. The blood inside her mouth as she bit down against a scream. The punishing blows. The screwdriver he'd thrust into her hip. How she'd almost passed out from the pain. But she never made a sound.
She'd played this game before. She could do it again.
"Ms. Downs? Are you alright?" Gates asked, alarm whitening his face.
"I think we should-" Ryder started.
"I'm fine," KD interrupted, shaking her head to clear it. "He did to me exactly what he'd done to the other women."
"But he kept you there for nine months," Adams protested. "Why did he kill all the others and not you?"
"I guess 'cause I knew how to play the game." She shrugged. Her voice was flat. Detached.
"The one where he inflicted as much pain as possible without actually killing me. A game that if I lost, if I broke down even once, he'd kill me, chop me up, and throw me away like the others. So I kept my mouth shut and played the game like a pro."
"How in hell did you manage to escape?" Gates asked.
"I waited." She shrugged again. "I could reach Jill's body. It took some doing, but I worked her femur out of the muscles and tendons. The femur is the strongest bone in the human body. Did you know that? I read that somewhere once." She barely glanced at their shocked faces. "When they went out hunting, I took the bone and broke my hand so I could slide it out of the shackle. I-"
"That's enough," Ryder demanded. "Kade, you don't need to do this." She stood up abruptly and glared at Gates. "Reliving it like this can't possibly be good for her. I'm getting her out of here. We'll be back tomorrow." Ryder touched KD's shoulder. "Let's go."
No one protested.
"If you want to take a shower I'll see if I can come up with some dinner." Ryder shut the apartment door. "It's up the stairs, at the end of the hall. Towels are in the closet. There are plastic bags under the sink you can use to wrap your cast in. And there's plenty of soap and whatever else you might need."
"Thank you." KD crutched over to the stairs.
"Now," Ryder mumbled to herself, "do I actually have any food in here?" She rifled through the cabinets first. Barren. The Mojave was better stocked. Maybe the fridge? Nothing but beer and condiments.
Way to go, Ryder thought. Next time you invite a beautiful woman over, you might actually want to be able to feed her.
"How about pizza?" she shouted up the stairs. She dialed without waiting for an answer.
Upstairs, KD was looking in horror at the face staring back at her from the mirror. The scar on her forehead was far worse than she'd been imagining all those months. Raised, jagged, and luridly purple. She was gaunt, hollow, filthy - which was an understatement of epic proportions.
With shaking hands she touched her matted hair. Beneath the dirt and blood it was impossible to tell what shade of brown it was.
From the cabinet she took a bar of soap, a razor, and a plastic bag. Her eyes landed on a pair of scissors and she hesitated.
Downstairs, Ryder had turned on the TV and was waiting for the pizza to arrive.
Damn, she thought. KD's going to need clean clothes. She ran upstairs and grabbed a t-shirt and sweatpants from her dresser, then dropped them on the carpet by the bathroom door.
"There's some clean clothes out here for you."
Someone knocked on the front door. She ran downstairs, caught her breath, and opened the door. She shoved a twenty in the guy's hand and grabbed the pizza.
"Thanks." She slammed the door in his face. And realized she was tired, hungry and grouchy. She sighed and took the pizza to the coffee table in front of the couch.
After inhaling two slices she looked over to the stairs. What was taking KD so long? She tossed her pizza crust down and went upstairs.
"Kade?" Ryder knocked on the bathroom door. There was no response. "KD? Dammit, Kade, if you don't answer me I'm coming in." She picked the clothes up off the floor and tucked them under her arm. Steam rushed out when she opened the door. She noticed the scissors on the counter and the hair in the garbage. She placed the clothes on the toilet seat, reached for the shower curtain, and hesitated.
"Kade, I'm going to open the curtain."
The first thing she saw was the tattoo spanning the expanse of KD's back. It looked like Chinese or Japanese script, but wasn't. It seemed like nonsense; squiggles, scratches, dots and symbols.
The next thing she realized was that KD was sitting hunched up on the floor of the tub. Water pelted the plastic bag covering her cast. Her body was pink, her skin rubbed raw and nearly bloody. Her drastically short hair stuck up all over, uneven, but clean.
Ryder reached for the tap and turned off the water, half drenching herself in the process. She grabbed KD under the arms and pulled her to her feet with a grunt. She gripped the young woman's forearms to hold her upright, averting her eyes from her nakedness.
"Kade? Come on, don't shut down on me now. I need you to stand, okay? Kennedy Downs, look at me when I talk to you!"
KD's head snapped up and their eyes met.
"Much better. Can you stand on your own now?"
KD nodded, beginning to shiver.
Ryder grabbed the towel off the hook and wrapped it around slim shoulders. She grabbed another towel and started to dry KD's hair.
"Look at you all clean. Not too shabby." Ryder grinned and gently dried KD's face, neck, and arms. "Think you can do the rest?"
KD nodded again.
"Okay, I'll leave you to it then. Come downstairs and have some pizza when you're ready." Ryder left reluctantly and went to put on some dry clothes. She hoped leaving KD alone with a pair of scissors wasn't a bad idea.
"What's your name?" KD asked, somewhere between her third and fourth slice of pizza.
"Your first name, Agent."
"I prefer Ryder," she said flatly, looking over just in time to see KD glance away. "Why do you prefer KD?"
Ryder stood and wiped the crumbs off her shirt. "I'm going to bed. I'm wasted. You done with the pizza?"
KD nodded and helped her clean up. They turned off the TV, all the lights, and went upstairs.
"Bed's all made up in the spare room. That door on the left," Ryder called over her shoulder.
It was raining. Big, fat drops that left her warm and soaking wet.
Strange that the rain was warm.
She looked around at the trees, brush, grass, ivy, and vines, and realized she was deep within the forest. Her heart beat faster and her breathing became erratic.
She looked at her feet.
She looked at her naked body.
She wiped the raindrops from her face. And realized it wasn't water. It was thick, red, warm, coppery blood.
She looked up.
Dangling from the tree branches were the mutilated bodies of small naked children. Their eyes were all open and staring right at her. Accusing.
Why did you leave us?
The wind howled through the trees.
The bodies twisted and danced and broke apart, pieces falling all around her, splatting on the blood soaked ground.
Maggots writhed at her feet.
No, she screamed, then clamped her hand over her mouth. Oh God, what have I done?
At the corner of her eye something moved. Suddenly he was right there, reaching for her. Grabbing her neck and choking her.
He smelled like death when he spoke. You're mine. Forever.
KD awoke and stumbled to the bathroom just in time to vomit in the toilet. By the time she was done, she was shaking uncontrollably.
"Water?" Ryder asked gently. She stood in the doorway with her arm outstretched.
KD nodded and took the glass. "Thanks."
"Wanna talk about it?"
But one look in KD's watery blue eyes and Ryder said; "The things that sick bastard did are not your fault."
"Those five. You saw them. The ones still wearing clothes? With the single shot to the head? I could have saved them. If I'd just waited, I could have-"
"What?" Ryder interrupted. "Jumped two grown men with a broken hand and a hunger starved body? You'd be dead too."
It was said so brokenly that Ryder felt her heart clench. "Don't say that," she whispered.
"What? That I wish I'd died months ago?"
Ryder touched KD's arm, but she pulled away.
"I should be dead. I should have died like the others. Why was I any different?"
"You said you played his games. That's what saved you."
"Why would he even care if I played his games?"
"Power and control. Two things every psychopath craves. But he didn't get that from you. And that's why he let you live."
I should have given in, KD thought. I should have let him kill me. I can't live like this. Afraid all the time. Scared of my own shadow. Jumpy. Shaky. Full of anxiety. Unable to breathe half the time....
"Nothing is ever going to be the same again, is it?" she asked, looking into Ryder's warm brown eyes.
"No, probably not."
Ryder's wrong, KD thought. He did have control. He'll always have control.
Finally Ryder spoke. "Life is constantly changing. Adapting. Re-adapting. People come and go from our lives every day. Our circumstances change. The work I do.... I have to believe that everything happens for a reason. You and I? We met for a reason. You're alive, here in my bathroom, for a reason. Even if we never know what that reason is."
"Like fate? Or destiny?"
"Yeah, I guess. It's like we all walk down a road to the same destination. But everybody's journey is different. Maybe we were meant to walk down it together?"
A tiny grin lifted the corner of KD's mouth. Together. She liked that.
There were only a few hours till morning. Neither woman even bothered to go back to sleep.
I can't do it. I can't do it.
Several pairs of eyes were watching KD expectantly.
"Ms. Downs, I understand this is difficult," Gates began, but was interrupted.
"Difficult?" Her voice rose. "Difficult? You have no fucking idea!" She'd been able to describe the Son to the sketch artist and gone over the details of December 18th again, but as her anxiety rose, her mind had begun to shut down. She couldn't face those memories. She couldn't live through that again. Not and keep her sanity intact.
"There could be something in your memories that'll lead us to their location."
"No." KD stood on shaking legs.
Ryder stood and slowly pushed in her chair, drawing all eyes to her. "Gentlemen. Maybe we can do this another time." It was not a question.
KD crutched out of the interview room and down the hall.
"Kade," Ryder called.
She paused. "I don't know where they are."
"Why don't I take you out for lunch?"
The question was so unexpected that KD smiled. "Okay."
"I don't think my life was meant to be easy. Or good. I think it was meant to teach me something. What it was meant to teach me, however? I have no idea."
Nothing like limping around the streets of DC, going from one damn government building to the next, trying to get your life back. Trying to convince people you aren't dead. I'm tired, hungry, in pain, and nothing to show for it but a very bad headache.
KD collapsed on a bench with a loud sigh.
A small sign caught her eye and she stared at it for a very long moment. Below the words was a picture of an angel, drawn by a child.
"I'm not dead yet, you buzzard, so back the fuck off."
His hands rose in mock surrender. "Soon enough, bitch." He kicked her as he walked past. "Soon enough."
She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out.
"I told you, you can have the dead ones. Now, get over here and leave that one alone."
"How many times have I told you not to call me that?"
"Sorry, P- Sorry." The Son scuffed over to the work table on the other side of the room.
His father was tightening the straps on a beautiful young blond who was babbling on and on.
"My family has money," she was saying. "They'll pay for my safe return."
"Money?" The Father laughed. "I don't need money."
"Anything then," the girl begged. "They'll get you anything you want."
He paused, canting his head, as if considering. "The only thing I want is your warm blood on my hands."
The Son chuckled.
"No, please. I'll do anything you want."
KD wanted to scream at the girl to shut up.
"Anything?" the Father asked, amusement coloring his words.
"Really?" He was mocking her now.
"Yes, please," the girl said with sudden hope. "Don't hurt me, please?"
KD knew the Father was smiling now. He loved to hear them beg almost as much as he loved to hear them scream.
"What should we do?" The Father scratched his chin thoughtfully.
"Make her bleed," the Son cried gleefully.
"Make her bleed," he repeated softly.
The Son leaned close to the young woman's ear. "If you weren't such a dirty little whore we could have gone to Angel Falls. You would have liked it there. I would have killed you quickly. Painlessly. It's so beautiful there this time of year...."
There was a noise. The clattering of tools against the metal tray.
And the screaming began.
KD gasped, lurching painfully back to reality.
I need to find Ryder.
Ryder had loaned her some clothes. A gray, over-sized t-shirt with 'FBI' stamped on it in big bold block letters, and a comfortable pair of jeans. She was scrubbed clean and her short hair was sticking up in random spikes.
As she sat waiting in the interview room, she couldn't help but feel dirty and disgusting.
She picked at her clean white cast, her belly rumbling with hunger. She'd already eaten. Twice. Would she ever feel full again? Maybe starvation had rewired her brain to make her constantly hungry, hoarding, or craving food.
"Hey. Security told me you'd come up," Ryder said, by way of greeting. "Everything alright?"
KD shook her head as the agent pulled out a chair next to her.
"The Son's at Angel Falls. But I don't know where or what it is."
"You sure?" Ryder pulled the laptop over and tapped a few keys. A window popped open. "Dover?"
A beautiful face came into view. "Hey, chickadee, what can I do for you?"
"Can you find a place called Angel Falls? US only. Presumably east coast."
"Okay." A pause. "Let's see. I've got an Angel Falls in NY state. One in Maine. Oh, and there's an Angel Falls State Park in North Carolina. That looks like it."
"Thanks, Dover. Float the two sketches to the local cops in those areas."
"Okay. Will do."
The screen went black.
"Now what?" KD asked.
"Unfortunately, all we can do now is wait."
"I'll just stay at a shelter." KD scrubbed her face with her good hand, tired and frustrated. "I've eaten your food, borrowed your clothes, taken up your space and your time...."
"I don't mind," Ryder said, surprised to find it was true. "Besides, you're safer here." Where I can see you, talk to you, be near you, protect you.... KD looked about to argue, so Ryder changed the subject. "Come on. Let's go get something to eat."
KD touched Ryder's arm. "Only if you promise to let me repay you for all of this someday?"
"Sure. If that's what you want." Ryder smiled and was pleased to get a genuine smile in return.
KD glanced at the prices on the menu and did her best not to look horrified. No wonder Ryder had suggested KD borrow a white, linen button down shirt. There'd even been a valet. And their waitress had given her a critical once over and immediately dismissed her.
The lighting in the restaurant was dim. The white tablecloths were starched to perfection. There were candles, too many different plates, and far too many forks.
KD had never before been anywhere so fancy. Truthfully, it was overwhelming.
"Wine?" the server asked, glancing between the two women. Ryder inclined her head.
"No. Thank you," KD replied.
They ordered - KD having found the cheapest thing on the menu - then sat in silence for several moments. Conversation around them was held to a polite level. Utensils clinked against china.
Finally, Ryder spoke. "Have you lived in DC your whole life?"
"Yeah." She suspected that the FBI had a rather thick file on her by now so she wondered whether Ryder was just making polite conversation or if she was really interested.
"Do you like it here?"
"I have nothing to compare it to. The only time I've ever left the city was... well, you know...." KD looked away awkwardly.
"What about you?"
"My father was a marine. We moved frequently. But DC's not too bad."
"What was your favorite place?"
Ryder smiled and her eyes lit up. "I was little. Five, maybe? I'm not even sure where it was. My mother says she can't remember. But, I know there was a treehouse that my father built for me. And there was a little park that had all these gorgeous purple wildflowers that my mother always called weeds. We'd go on bike rides and things like that." She paused to take a sip of water. "It's the only place where I remember all of us being happy."
"Do you get along with your mother and father now?"
"My father died a couple of years ago."
"It's okay. My mother and I.... Well, I think we mostly just tolerate each other." Ryder shrugged. "What about you?"
KD stared at the tablecloth. "My mother OD'd when I was fifteen. We never got along." She refused to think about how she'd learned to play the game of survival. "After that I was on my own."
"What about your father?"
"Never knew him, but I suspect my mother didn't either."
The food arrived - to fill the awkward silence - and the waiter and busboy scurried around the table. Once they were away their conversation resumed.
"So, Agent, what do you usually do in your spare time? When you aren't babysitting torture victims?"
"Work takes up most of my time. But, when I can, I play guitar."
"In a band?"
"Sort of. My cousin lets me play with his band when he's in town and I have time off. Which isn't very often." Ryder frowned, her fork halfway to her mouth. "Don't get me wrong, I love my work. It's important. And I worked my ass off to get where I am in the Bureau."
"But?" KD prompted gently.
"But it leaves little time for anything else. I can't remember the last time I went to the movies, a ball game, or even on a date." She smiled ruefully. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't even be out tonight either."
KD grinned. "You're welcome. You know, I'd love to hear you play sometime."
"Yeah? I'm sure that could be arranged." Ryder grinned back. "What did you do for work... before?"
"What day, week, or month you asked me. I'm a Jill-of-all-trades, I guess." Some not so legal or reputable, she mused silently. "I've dabbled in so many things it might be easier to ask what I haven't done." KD shoved a forkful of pasta into her mouth to keep from talking too much.
They ate in silence for several moments.
"Oh," KD mumbled, "if it makes you feel any better... about the not dating thing? I've never even been on a date before." She felt her face grow hot and looked down at her plate.
"How the hell does that happen?"
KD opened her mouth to make an angry retort.
"I mean, you're gorgeous." Ryder met KD's stunned blue eyes. "And you're smart and compassionate and caring. I'd think guys would be lining up the block to date you."
KD absently touched the gash on her forehead. "Not anymore. Besides, I wouldn't date guys."
"Okay, girls then." Ryder didn't miss a beat. She smiled crookedly. "When did you know?"
That crooked grin sent KD's heart pitter-pattering. "Are you trying to profile me, Agent?"
Ryder laughed. "Sorry, not in my job description. I'm just curious." She took a long sip of water. When KD didn't answer right away she said, "You can tell me to shut up if you want."
Blue eyes met brown and KD smiled before looking quickly away. "I always knew I was different." She shrugged. "Back then I didn't read much. Or study. Or do schoolwork. Hell, I was hardly ever even in school. I wasn't very well educated and surprisingly naive. Considering."
"You wouldn't know it. I mean the not going to school part," Ryder said.
"Mmmm, no, I guess not. Since then I've read everything I could get my hands on-"
Ryder's phone rang. She sighed. "Hold that thought. Ryder. Yeah. When? I'm on my way." She snapped her cell closed. "I've got to get you back to the apartment. I'm sorry." She waved the waiter over. "Check, please."
"What's going on?" KD asked, alarm making her heart clench painfully in her chest.
"The local PD in Tichinaw, NY called. They've picked up a man matching the Son's description. The team is flying up there to escort him back to DC."
The ride to the apartment building was painfully silent.
Ryder parked her Jeep and said; "I should only be a day or two. Three at the most. Take my key." She pulled out her wallet and KD looked hastily away. "Here's some cash in case of... an emergency... or whatever."
"Please? So I don't have to worry?"
Their fingers touched as KD reluctantly took the cash.
"Be careful, Ryder."
Tichinaw must have been Native American for either 'Ass End of The World' or 'Abso-friggin-lutely Gorgeous.' Ryder couldn't decide.
The police department was a rustic one room cabin - for lack of a better word - with a metal cage tucked into one corner, a couple of desks, and a waist high divider wall separating 'operations' from a few plastic chairs in 'reception.'
It was directly across from a little bar called, of all things, The Bar. And right next to the Bait 'N' Tackle.
In the distance were the sounds of power boats and jet skis playing on the lake. Which, apparently, were the main tourist draws. Cabins dotted the waterfront, circling all around the lake and back into the woods.
The young man in the metal cage was exactly as KD had described, though nothing could have prepared Ryder for the absence of anything human in his eyes. He was reed thin with mousy hair and hawk like features. He hadn't inherited his father's Jay Leno chin. Or his brains. He'd been picked up across the street from the police station at The Bar. He was sleeping it off now.
Sheriff Daniels stood and shook hands with Gates, Adams, and Ryder.
"Welcome to Tichinaw, Agents."
"Thank you," Gates said.
"The guy seems pretty harmless. Been comin' in to town on and off for as far back as I can remember. What's the FBI want with him?"
"He helped murder dozens of women and children."
The sheriff's eyes widened. "Well, I'll be damned."
"Would you happen to know where he stays when he comes here?" Adams asked.
"A cabin, on the other side of the lake. Old Crenshaw place, I think."
"Can you show us?"
"Sure. Got a deputy out by the lake right now, at the rental office. I can let him know you're on the way."
"Good Lord, what is that smell?" a sheriff's deputy asked.
"My guess?" Gates answered. "A fresh, and rather shallow grave, under the porch."
"I'd better call Sheriff Daniels."
You do that, Ryder thought.
"You might wish to suggest he deputize a few good men. There'll be more than one body on these grounds."
Adams was looking a little queasy. "I think I should have become a dentist like my father."
"Anyone wanna wager on who'll get here first? The sheriff? Or the press?" Ryder asked, making sure the deputy was out of earshot, her tone bitter.
"Tichinaw will certainly get its fifteen minutes of fame before we're through here."
"No doubt," Ryder muttered. "No doubt at all."
"I know he can't see me," KD spoke, her voice plaintive, "but I can't help still being terrified."
"He's never going to hurt you again."
The venom in Ryder's voice surprised them both.
"What if he gets off on a technicality? It happens all the time."
Adams, who had just stepped into the viewing room, heard the last sentence. "Not as often as you might think. And not when there's so much evidence against him. Everything's been by the book. I wouldn't worry."
Easy for you to say.
KD's eyes were riveted to the door of the interrogation room as it opened and Agent Gates stepped inside.
"Well, well, well." Gates' voice crackled over the intercom. "Seems someone's been a very bad boy. Haven't they? We have enough DNA evidence to send you away for a very, very long time."
"Dude, you got the wrong guy."
"Dude," Gates mocked. "DNA doesn't lie. And your DNA is everywhere. In fact-"
Adams turned to Ryder. "Do you know what that sick fuck was doing to them?"
"I haven't read the report yet."
"Having sex with their dead bodies," KD interrupted flatly, so matter of fact that Ryder and Adams just stared at her. "I need to get out of here." KD crutched her way to the door.
"Hang on. I'll drive you home."
"You'll be alright for a few hours?"
KD shrugged. What choice did she have?
"I could stay?" Ryder offered.
"I'll be fine. Besides, you've got work to do."
"There'll always be work to do," Ryder admitted.
"I'm just gonna go lie down anyway."
"Okay. I shouldn't be too late. I'll see you later."
KD made sure the apartment door was locked and went upstairs to lie down.
She woke up screaming. Something she'd never done before. It scared her more than anything else. A noise at the doorway made her scramble off the bed in terror.
He's found me!
He heard me when I screamed! Oh God, I screamed.
"Kade?" Ryder flipped on the bedroom lights.
KD pushed herself into the corner disoriented and afraid and put her arms up to protect her face. Something touched her arm. She whimpered and instinctively swung at it. Her cast struck Ryder's cheekbone.
"Fuck," Ryder hissed. She knew it was dangerous, but she grabbed both of KD's arms to keep from being hit again.
KD reacted violently.
"Kade!" Ryder cried as she was knocked backward. She rolled and pinned KD's flailing body to the floor with her arms at her sides. "Kade, baby, it's me. It's Ryder. It's okay. You're safe."
Blue eyes met hers.
Both women were breathless, their bodies pressed tightly together.
"I hit you, didn't I?" KD whispered.
"It's okay." She released KD's arms.
"No, it's not." KD touched the burgeoning red mark on Ryder's cheek, trailing her fingers down smooth skin, to her jaw and over the racing pulse in her neck.
Ryder felt the heat of their bodies, twined together on the floor. Her hips were snug against KD, their centers intimately touching.
Ryder leaned down and they were suddenly breathing the same air.
Their lips brushed softly. Then desperately and deeply. Their breasts touched and Ryder moaned into the kiss, her hips pushing into KD.
She pulled back. "Shit, Kade, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
Silently KD wound her hand around the back of Ryder's neck and pulled her back down.
This time the kiss was deeper. More intense and even more passionate.
Fire ignited in KD's belly as Ryder slipped a leg between her thighs. She couldn't help but groan and press her body closer.
Finally they had to pull apart to breathe.
And that's when KD started to panic. What the hell had she been thinking? What was she doing? "Up. Up. Please. Get up."
Ryder scrambled to her feet, the frantic words like a slap in the face. "Kade, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
KD awkwardly got to her feet. "No, it's not your fault." She paused, clearly torn. "I should leave."
"Leave?" Ryder stammered.
KD limped around the end of the bed to retrieve her crutches. She refused to look at Ryder as she said, "Yes, leave. I need to get out of here."
Ryder took a step back, clearly stunned. "It's 3am."
"Fine. When it's daylight then."
"If that's what you really want," Ryder murmured.
"I think it's best."
KD hesitated. "Yes, I do."
Ryder left the room quickly, afraid that KD would see the tears in her eyes. She hadn't cried since.... Since her father died. Well, I'm not gonna fucking cry now. It's her decision. Her life.
And I guess she doesn't want me to be a part of it....
"You're really leaving." A statement, not a question.
"Yes." KD was wearing the Comic Con t-shirt and jeans the hospital staff had given her. She had nothing else but the crutches and the Swiss Army knife in her pocket.
"Where are you going to go?"
KD shrugged. "A shelter for now, I guess."
"Here." Ryder handed her a sealed white envelope. "You can read it later."
KD's hand shook as she took the envelope and put it in her back pocket. "Guess this is goodbye then?"
"I guess so."
"Stay safe." KD tried to smile, but failed miserably.
I'll miss you.
KD sat on a rickety old army cot in the basement of a Catholic church. Her crutches lay on the floor, pushed partially under the bed so no one would trip on them.
In her hand was the sealed white envelope. She'd been unable to open it for two days as the kiss played over and over in her mind. There was a familiar ache between her legs and a hollowness in her chest as she'd tried to figure out if the kiss had been sympathetic or....
Please, don't let it be pity. Please, I couldn't take that.
The shelter was only half full. In the summer months, when the nights were still warm, many people preferred the fresh air to the stale confines of a church basement or grungy shelter room.
She was too much of a target in her condition. Plus she was ashamed to admit she felt a little safer behind locked doors.
You'd be a lot safer with Ryder, she thought. Kiss or no kiss.
She looked at the envelope again.
Finally, she decided to open it. Inside was $172.00 and a note. She left the money in the envelope and took out the note.
I'm sorry. I never should have kissed you. Not like that. I'd kiss you again in a heartbeat though, if I thought you wanted me to.
I want to know what it's like to hold you in my arms. To feel your skin against mine. To touch you. Make love to you.
But I guess I'll never know and for that I am deeply sorry.
Please be safe.
I hope the money is enough for now. It's all the cash I had on hand. You don't owe me anything.
You know where I am if you need me.
A tear rolled down KD's cheek and she angrily wiped it away.
If you need me....
She reread the note then folded it and tucked it back into the envelope.
Two days, and she'd been unable to think of anything but that kiss, and the hurt in Ryder's eyes.
The hurt that she had caused.
She sighed and placed the envelope in her pocket.
It had been eleven days, five hours, and about three minutes since KD had last seen Ryder.
She'd been unable to find a job. No one wanted to hire a homeless woman who looked like she'd just fought Zeus and lost. Plus, she had no GED, no resume, no ID, no phone number and no permanent address.
The diner on the corner was open.
A little bell above the door signaled her arrival. She took a seat at the long scarred laminate counter.
"What can I getcha, hon?"
"Coffee, please. And toast and eggs."
"Scrambled or sunnyside up?"
"Scrambled. Thank you."
"Comin' right up."
The diner was busy and loud, patrons chatting amiably.
Deep in thought, KD missed the first part of the newscast blaring from the TV up in the corner.
"...was killed yesterday. He had been charged with more than a dozen counts of murder. After an extensive search across the country he was arrested in picturesque Tichinaw, NY."
KD's head snapped up.
"He was to have stood trial in the coming months, but apparently a fellow inmate thought justice should be served a lot sooner. In other news...."
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining in a brilliant blue, cloudless sky. A gentle breeze blew, dissipating some of the summer heat. Hundreds of people strolled the sidewalks and grass across from the Museum of Natural History. Cars rushed past, windows down, stereos blaring. Horns honked. People shouted. A group of teens played Frisbee. Somewhere a dog barked. Street vendors were cooking up a heady brew of hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and much more.
A beautiful day.
Slowly she turned around.
Adams and Ryder stood on the sidewalk, looking every bit the FBI agents they were.
Ryder was wearing a navy blue, perfectly fitted suit. Her long dark hair was loose around her shoulders. The sunlight made it shine with stunning streaks of blue. She wore sunglasses, hiding her brown eyes.
"What's up?" KD asked hesitantly.
"Can you come with us?" Adams waved his hand to an SUV that had pulled up next to them at the curb.
KD looked to Ryder.
"He's killing again, isn't he?"
"Two that we know of," Adams answered.
"What do you need me for?"
"If you'll come with us, we'll show you."
She should have killed the bastard when she had the chance.
"I thought I knew pain. I thought I knew how to survive it. But this is another kind of pain altogether."
"Chicken Scratch. It's a children's book that was printed in 1873 by a company called Edgar and Mead. Mark Hamilton was the author. He died before the book was ever published. I think it was one of his grandchildren that submitted it. Anyway, there are only five known copies left in existence. I... owned one of them." KD figured that telling a room full of feds she'd stolen it wasn't a very good idea. Even if she'd only been nine at the time.
"What does that have to do with this?" Gates asked.
They were all looking at the two pieces of paper spread out on the interview room's table. The papers were copies of notes that had been found at the two crime scenes. Both contained odd markings that looked like some sort of code.
The same marks that Ryder had seen tattooed on KD's back.
"The book was about a little boy who found what he thought was a treasure map. The problem was that it was written in a code he couldn't decipher. He called it chicken scratch. And he spent his whole life trying to decipher it. The book is all about his adventures. When he's an old man he finally figures it out and follows the map to an ancient tree. Inside the twisted roots is a box. Inside the box is a piece of parchment that says,
KNOWLEDGE IS THE GREATEST TREASURE OF ALL
"He's so mad at first that he wants to tear up the map and smash the box and its contents. But then he begins to remember all his adventures. All the people he's met. The places he's been. All he's learned and been able to accomplish because of Chicken Scratch. So, he puts the paper and the box back in the tree and leaves the map somewhere it can be found. Like others before him have done for centuries."
"Heavy stuff for a kid's book," Gates mused.
"Okay...." Adams drawled. "So, the Father took the code from the book and used it to leave us clues or whatever?"
"That's just it. He had to learn the code," KD explained. "The book is all about learning it. You have to follow along with the clues and figure it out for yourself."
"How long did it take for you to learn Chicken Scratch?" Ryder asked.
"Well, I was nine at the time, so it took me a little while," she admitted.
"But why?" Gates asked. "Why would he take the time to learn the code?"
"Because now it's all about KD," Ryder said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"It's tattooed on Kade's back. Think about it. He must want to draw her back into his games." Ryder looked into KD's beautiful eyes. Eyes she'd been unable to get out of her mind for nearly two weeks. "What do they say?"
KD leaned over the table and studied the two papers.
"This one," she pointed to the paper on the left, "says, DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD GET AWAY FROM ME? And this one," she pointed to the paper on the right, "says, I WILL FIND YOU. UNLESS YOU FIND ME FIRST."
Adams, who had been tipping his chair back on two legs, suddenly sat up straight. "He thinks you know where he is?"
"Maybe." KD shrugged. "I did know where the Son was."
"And do you?"
KD bristled at Ryder's tone.
"There's no way she could possibly remember everything he ever said or did," Adams protested. "Certainly not while being tortured."
"But I do."
"Remember everything." KD finally looked at Ryder, surprised to find a dullness to her usually warm eyes. "I remember every single horrible moment of those nine months."
"Impossible," Adams scoffed.
Ryder remained silent, only her eyes giving away her inner turmoil.
"Not impossible, Agent. I have an eidetic memory. Sometimes referred to as a photographic memory." KD tore her eyes away from Ryder to look at Adams. "I store everything. It's just a matter of recall."
Adams' curled lip was an indication that he remained unconvinced.
"You need proof? Consider how I was able to lead all of you back to the Mill through miles and miles of forest."
"You got lucky?"
KD was really beginning to dislike Adams.
"Ask me about any books I've read or movies I've seen. Ask me-"
"Okay. Enough," Gates said. "We don't need to be arguing over this when there are two women missing. What we need to do now is sift through those memories and find him before he kidnaps anyone else."
KD's body went absolutely rigid. Can I? Can I live through that again? Can I unlock the doors and open the floodgates?
She realized she had no choice.
There could be no more death on her hands.
"Where do you want me to start?"
After that first time on the table.... The Son unstrapped me, threw me on the floor, dragged me through the blood and mess, and re-shackled me.
I still hadn't gotten use to the smell, but there'd be plenty of time for that.
The Son walked out and we were left alone.
"I'm Alice. What's your name?"
"KD. How long have you been here?"
"Not long. A couple days maybe."
Alice was a beautiful young woman. She had curly reddish brown hair and a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. She had dark green eyes and a lithe body. The Father had skinned part of Alice's thigh and blood was seeping slowly down her leg. He'd also burned her in several places.
"How'd you do it?" Alice asked.
"Keep silent like that while he was torturing you."
"I had to go someplace else."
"What do you mean?"
"When I was little, my mother would beat me and lock me in the closet for days. If I made a sound she'd beat me harder. The only weapon I had was my mind. I'd close my eyes and escape." Of course, when I was older, I had also turned to drugs and alcohol, but I saw no need to mention that to her now.
"Teach me," Alice pleaded.
But I never got the chance.
The Son came back and took Alice to the table. A moment later the Father came in. I watched as he walked around the table, studying her. Suddenly he unbuckled his leather belt and snapped it against the table.
Alice whimpered, then screamed as the belt snapped against the inside of her thigh. He landed fifty-three snaps across her body, raising welts and breaking skin.
When his hand unfastened his jeans, I closed my eyes.
And while he raped her, I fought not to vomit.
Then, when he was done, the Son brought her back to the wall and re-shackled her. He kicked me in the ribs on the way out.
I looked up at Alice.
She couldn't hold up her own weight anymore.
She opened one partially swollen eye.
"He's going to kill us all, isn't he?" she whispered.
"I don't know." But I had no doubt that he would.
"Are you talking about Alice Chambers?" Adams interrupted.
Gates gave him a look.
"What were the names of the other two?"
"Alice said the blond woman was Hannah. The other woman? None of us ever knew."
He would take the dead ones - what was left of them anyway - and throw them on the floor. And there they'd rot.
Usually when one died they'd go out hunting for another. The Son always said, 'You can never have too many toys.'
The maggots would sometimes get in my hair while I was sleeping.
I lost track of the days for awhile.
But sometimes I could see the Father's watch, so I could figure it out.
After they came back from hunting, Alice only lasted two more days. That last day... the Father ripped out her throat.
Our eyes met in that split second before, and I saw her smile. For her it was finally over.
For her there would be no more pain.
For me... it was really only beginning.
The blond girl, Hannah, bled out.
The new girl, Natalie, and I watched as the Son unshackled her and tossed her on the floor. He'd come back for her later. When she was good and cold. He loved blonds.
Natalie and Jill were both blonds.
"Jill?" Adams interrupted again.
Gates gave him another, much more pointed, look.
KD blinked several times. "Oh, sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. Jill didn't arrive till later. For awhile it was just me and Natalie. She actually lasted one of the longest."
"What's your name?" I asked. It was the first chance we'd had to speak.
"Natalie," she stammered.
Nat was the typical girl-next-door kind of cute. She'd been a mathlete, not a cheerleader. Her parents had worked hard to put her through college. And she'd been working even harder to repay them. She'd been a veterinarian. She missed her dog and her cat. She missed her parents and her sister.
I told her that to survive she'd have to learn how to play the game. I wish I'd told her to scream and beg so he'd kill her quick. So she'd never have had to go through what she did. Or see... what she'd seen.
Maybe I was just being selfish. Maybe I didn't want to be alone.
I don't know.
That night - I think it was night - the Son came back. He.... He went to the blond. And.... I closed my eyes and covered my ears so I couldn't..... But he.... He was so loud....
Natalie was crying.
I wanted to puke.
Then he was gone and-
It was Ryder who was interrupting this time. Her brown eyes were round and horrified, and her hand was on KD's cold, trembling arm.
"Stop, Kade. Breathe."
She hadn't realized how short and shallow her breathing had become. Or how light headed and dizzy she was.
"Adams, get her some water. Now."
KD's eyes were glued to Ryder. They were connected by touch, and KD was suddenly grounded.
"You can stop this at any time, Kade."
"I know." KD took the water Adams offered. "Thanks," she said absently. "I have to figure out if I know where he is. I have to stop him. And the only way to do that is to relive those memories."
"Okay. If you're sure?"
She wasn't. "I am."
"What happened next?" Gates prompted gently.
Neither one of us could speak or look each other in the eyes after what he had done.
We ate because we had to survive.
We slept only when we could no longer keep our eyes open, or when the pain knocked us out.
By my count, Natalie lasted about a month.
It wasn't until the Father made The Box that she screamed.
He'd built a wooden box - or bought it, I don't know - that was roughly the size of a coffin. It was completely air tight, mostly sound proof, and pitch black inside. A tank at the top supplied oxygen. Or not. His choice.
Natalie was the first one in.
She was claustrophobic.
I remember how the Father laughed as she beat and clawed and kicked and screamed.
After awhile though she went silent.
They took her out and chained her back up. She'd managed to rip off most of her fingernails in her frantic attempt to escape. Her knuckles were bloody, her face ashen, and her eyes... empty. After that.... He'd broken her. He was bored. He sliced her open and ripped out her insides.
Then they went hunting again.
When they came back they brought Jill and Stephanie.
I didn't get a chance to warn them. I immediately got thrown in The Box. At least I didn't have to listen to the Son defile Natalie's gutted corpse.
The Box didn't break me like it had Nat. It was almost a comfort. It was like I was a kid again, locked in the closest, with only my imagination and blessed silence.
I don't know how long I was in The Box that first time, but when I got out Stephanie was already dead.
"Hey," I said to the new woman, after the Son had left us alone. "I'm KD."
She looked at me really strange, then finally told me her name was Jill.
"Don't worry," I said, "I'm not the one that bites."
"Oh, she thinks she's funny." Jill rolled her green eyes at me.
And I laughed. An honest to God laugh.
Maybe it was just our desperate situation or.... I don't know.... I felt connected to her. Maybe even loved her.
We had a few days together while they hunted.
Even with all the blood and mutilated bodies it was like it was just the two of us. We talked about everything. I taught her how to play the game.
I'd never been able to talk to anyone like that before. I'd never had a friend-
KD stopped abruptly. She touched her cheek and pulled her hand away, shocked to find she was crying.
"Wasn't Jill the woman whose... bone... you... used... to-"
"Break my own hand? Yes." She looked at Ryder. "She saved my life, but I couldn't save hers."
We'd made a plan. We'd talked it out for days. There wasn't much time left because we both knew she was close to breaking.
But she was breaking for me.
I could take the beatings. And the rapes.
She told me it was killing her inside. She fractured more every time he touched me.
I'd died a long time ago. I felt nothing. Or I'd convinced myself I felt nothing.
When the Son came in to unshackle me, I let him drag me to the table. As we passed the workbench I grabbed one of the long screwdrivers and stabbed it into his thigh.
He screamed and let go of me.
I stabbed him again. He doubled over and fell to the floor.
Just as I grabbed the keys and ran towards Jill, the door opened.
"Kennedy," Jill screamed.
I looked behind me at the same moment the tiny little darts struck my back. Electricity shot through me and I collapsed. I must have blacked out 'cause when I came to I was in The Box. A couple of my ribs were cracked and broken. My face was swollen and crusted with blood, and I hurt all over.
When he let me out of The Box, Jill's body was hanging on the wall... without its head.
I'd thought I'd felt nothing. That love couldn't touch me. But I'd only been lying to myself.
For days nothing happened.
I lay curled up in a ball, unable to even form a coherent thought. I couldn't cry. I couldn't scream. There was nothing in my stomach left to vomit. I was broken into a million tiny little pieces.
But even worse than all of that, I knew. I knew what would happen when the Son came back.
And he did.
Right next to me.
"Oh. My. God."
KD looked up, startled, as Adams made a hasty exit. Gates and Ryder were looking at her in pure horror.
"I think it's time for a break," Gates said gruffly.
"There's more," KD protested weakly. "There's the others. And there's Emily."
"Take her home and look after her," Gates said to Ryder, no longer able to look KD in the eye. "I'll get Dover to check into The Box and see if something like that can be bought somewhere or traced somehow."
"Okay. Come on, Kade. Let's get out of here."
"I could have gone to the shelter, you know."
"I know. I'm just following Gates' orders." Ryder flipped a switch in the apartment entryway and dimly lit one of the lights on the first floor. "Do you want something to eat or drink?"
"No, thanks." KD crutched her way to the large floor to ceiling picture window and leaned her crutches off to the side.
The lights of the city shone brilliantly in the dark night.
She swiped tears from her eyes, refusing to cry anymore for things she could never change. When Ryder came to stand behind her, and she felt the warmth of that long strong body, she leaned back. Ryder wrapped her arms around KD and held her close. She rested her chin on KD's shoulder.
"You don't hurt," KD murmured.
"Your touch doesn't hurt. Other people's do. But not yours." KD paused, as her body trembled. "When you touch me, I feel safe."
"I would never hurt you," Ryder said. "If I could, I'd take away all your pain."
"I know." KD turned in Ryder's embrace and stared into watery brown eyes. "Kiss me?"
Ryder's eyes widened. "Are you gonna run away again?"
"No. Not anymore. Please, Sam, kiss me. Make me feel alive?"
Ryder ducked her head and leaned in to kiss her. Their lips brushed with exquisite gentleness. She pressed KD's body back against the window, their hips and bellies in intimate contact.
KD's hands grabbed the taller woman's waist and pulled her tighter against herself.
Ryder's hands roamed up KD's arms to the bare skin of her neck, then traveled down to KD's breasts.
Ryder broke their kiss. "Am I hurting you?"
"No, baby," KD said breathlessly. "I need you to touch me."
The agent ran her thumbs over taut nipples and shivered when KD gasped.
"Tell me what you want." She pushed her thigh between KD's legs and pressed against her center.
"Kiss me again." As Ryder kissed her, KD pulled Ryder's shirt out of her jeans and ran her hands under it to the swell of her breasts. She teased her nipples through the fabric of her bra, eliciting a moan of pure pleasure.
KD rocked her hips against Ryder's firm thigh.
"I need you to touch me, Kade."
KD lowered her uncast hand and brushed Ryder's jean clad crotch. "Like this?"
Ryder's own hand reached down to cover KD's, to press harder. "I need more."
KD withdrew her hand and hastily unsnapped and unzipped Ryder's jeans. She ran her fingers over the top of her underwear then plunged her hand down between Ryder's legs. Ryder's hips bucked, pushing probing fingers hard against her clit. She gasped as fingers pushed aside her underwear and brushed through her arousal.
"You are so wet." KD pushed two fingers deep inside Ryder then slowly withdrew her hand.
Ryder gave an incoherent protest.
"Take off your clothes."
Ryder rushed to comply, then watched as KD slowly removed her own clothes.
They came together in a passionate kiss. Warm skin on skin. Breast to breast and hip to hip.
KD lay down on top of Ryder's long body, her hips between the agent's spread legs. Her wetness painted KD's belly and brought an instant surge of arousal. But she froze when Ryder's gentle fingers touched the scar on her forehead.
"When we find him I'm going to hurt him like he hurt you." Her eyes met KD's. "If he's lucky, I'll kill him."
Tears rolled down KD's cheeks.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I didn't mean to make you cry." Ryder brushed the tears away with her thumbs.
"Wasn't what you said, but how you said it."
"What do you mean?"
KD looked away. "You said it like... I matter."
"Of course you matter." She gripped KD's chin and gently forced her to meet her eyes. "You are all that matters."
KD angrily wiped the tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry. I never cry. Today I think I've cried more than I have my entire life."
"You don't have to apologize to me. Ever."
Ryder took the blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over their naked bodies.
For the first time in her life KD had felt safe and loved and she was able to sleep peacefully for the very first time.
Ryder fell asleep with a smile on her face.
"Darkness can be absolute or with a glimmer of light. I don't know yet which one is more dangerous."
KD's eyes fluttered open.
Sunlight filtered through the blinds in shafts.
When did we move to the bed?
One of KD's arms lay across a bare expanse of warm skin. Her head was pillowed against Ryder's shoulder. Never before had she awoken in someone's arms, and never before had she felt so safe... and so loved.
Ryder stirred, stretching, and laid her arm across KD's where it rested on her stomach. "Morning," Ryder rumbled groggily. "Sleep well?"
"Mmmm," KD said. She hadn't dreamed at all, or, if she had, she didn't remember. For once she felt rested. "How 'bout you?"
"I take your 'mmmm' and second it."
Ryder's cell rang, startling them both, and she made a mad grab for it.
"Ryder," she said testily. "Okay. On my way."
KD sat up, suddenly alarmed, the sheet pooling around her naked waist. "What's happened?"
"Amber Alert," the agent said, as she threw back the covers and reluctantly left their warm cocoon. She stopped suddenly and met KD's fearful eyes. "We don't know yet that it's him. We won't know until we investigate further."
"Is it here in DC?"
Ryder nodded. "I've got to get going."
"Be safe, babe."
Ryder smiled and kissed her lover soundly. "Always."
Ryder had given her a spare key so she could come and go as she pleased. But, right now, KD was glued to the TV news, desperate to hear if the child on the Amber Alert was safe or not.
There were several things that needed her attention. Like going downtown to try and file tons of paperwork. Or going to the thrift store to find some clothes. Or finding a job. Getting her life together again. Going over her memories of the past nine months again and again to try and ascertain that bastard's whereabouts. She admitted the last was the most important, but also the most... unpleasant.
Would it help to write it down? she wondered.
Often it had been the case in the past. Not because she had any trouble remembering, but because it was like the words flowed easier. She was more detached. Like stuff was happening to someone else.
Ever since she'd learned Chicken Scratch she'd written her inner most thoughts and feelings down in code. Notebooks, school textbooks, bathroom walls, napkins or even toilet paper. Anything she could get her hands on. It had helped to distance herself from the abuse.
And no one could decipher it, so she felt safe.
She searched the apartment for some paper, but found none. Just Ryder's laptop.
She'd need to add paper to her list of things to buy.
Or just use the laptop. But that felt a bit like invading Ryder's privacy, so she wouldn't.
By 10am she was crutching around the apartment the way most people paced. By 10:15am she was clean and dressed and sitting in front of the TV waiting for the newscaster to cycle back around to the Amber Alert.
Before it did, the phone rang. The caller ID said it was Ryder. Hesitantly, she picked up the wireless.
"Hey, it's me."
KD's voice softened. "How are you?"
"Better now." A pause. "I know you've been worried so I wanted to let you know.... It wasn't him."
"Absolutely, but I can't go into details."
KD smiled, her grin nearly splitting her face in two. "Absolutely."
KD crutched around town like a woman on a mission.
Well.... She was a woman on a mission. And semi-successful at that. So far she'd bought - at a large department store - paper, the cheapest model pay-as-you-go cell phone they had, and a package of boxer shorts. She preferred briefs or boxers over Ryder's undergarments. Which, she admitted with a grin, looked a whole hell of a lot better on Ryder than they did on her.
Once again, she had traipsed around every government building she could think of, going from person to person and office to office. At the very last office she'd tried, she had struck pay dirt. Well, sorta. A very young and very helpful intern had made a suggestion that had KD nearly slapping herself in the head.
The intern had said, with a bright, innocent smile; "Perhaps someone in the FBI could verify your story? Here's our phone and fax numbers, though someone here may require a notarized letter or something."
KD had taken the business card, mumbled an embarrassed thank you, and left.
Of course. Why hadn't she thought of it herself?
Now she was on her way to the thrift store, which was still several blocks away.
She fished her new cell phone out of her pocket.
"Hey. You at a pay phone?"
"Nah. Got me a cell phone."
"Didja now?" There was a smile in Ryder's voice. "What's up? Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Just wanted to hear your sexy voice." Ryder chuckled, sending a pleasant shiver down KD's spine, then she explained what the young intern had said.
"Damn. Don't know why I didn't think of that."
"Me either." KD paused. "But then there have been a few... distractions."
"Good ones, I hope?"
"Oh yes, very good."
The apartment was bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. Ryder found KD at the dining room table, bent over a stack of papers.
"Whatcha doin'?" she drawled and leaned down to kiss KD's cheek.
"Writin'," KD drawled back.
"I can see that," Ryder said dryly.
KD looked up with a smile. "A journal, mostly. I'm writing down everything that's happened in the last nine months."
Ryder could see a thick stack of paper was already covered in scrawling black ink.
"Wanna take a break and get somethin' ta eat?"
The pen stilled.
"Sure. Where we goin'?"
"That, my dear, is a surprise." Ryder raised one dark eyebrow. "But you might wanna wear something a little dressier than one of my old ratty t-shirts."
KD chuckled. "No problem."
They both went upstairs to change. KD searched through her new-to-her freshly washed and folded thrift store clothes. Over her colorful boxers she put on a pair of black cargo pants and tucked in a white button down shirt. She left her crutches leaning against the wall and hobbled downstairs.
Ryder was already waiting.
"You look great," she said. "No crutches?"
"Thank you, and no, no crutches." KD took in Ryder's appearance with a crooked smile. Her dark hair was loose of its customary ponytail and cascaded in waves to her shoulders. She wore a v-neck burgundy blouse that made her skin glow, and tight jeans that accentuated her long shapely legs. "You don't look so bad yourself."
Ryder grinned and held out her hand. "Ready?"
"A date. An actual date." Ryder paused, burying her head in her hands. "Shit, Dover, I've crossed the line." And then some, she thought.
"It was only one date, right?" Dover asked.
Ryder's head snapped up, her eyes frantic.
"Oh, hon! What am I going to do with you?"
Ryder let out a chuckle that sounded more like a strangled cat. "There's just something about her-"
"The helpless-woman-needing-to-be-saved kinda thing?"
"She's far from helpless."
"A damaged-soul-you-think-you-can-save kinda thing?"
Silence and a raised eyebrow.
"What if she doesn't want your help?"
"She doesn't." Even if I'd do anything for her. Ryder ran her hands through her hair and stood to pace the tiny office. "She doesn't want or need my help or rescuing. She survived this horrible, indescribable, trauma. All she really wants is to get her life back together."
"I've got those papers, by the way."
"Right. Thanks." Ryder plopped back into her chair with a heavy sigh. "She makes me feel something I've never felt before." Ryder shrugged helplessly. "I can't stop thinking about her. And not just because of the case. It's her eyes. Her smile. The taste of her skin. The sound of her voice when she-" Ryder looked up, her face flushed with embarrassment.
"Oh, hon, you've got it bad."
"I'm screwed, aren't I?" Her brown eyes were so panicked and desolate that Dover engulfed her in a crushing bear hug.
"You've got a few choices here, as far as I can see." Dover scooted back onto her chair, but clasped Ryder's cold hands. "You can leave the bureau...."
"Okay. You could take yourself off this case...."
Ryder was silent.
"You could break all ties with KD...."
Ryder's pained expression was all the answer Dover needed.
"Take some time off. I know you have like a million and a half vacation days."
Ryder opened her mouth to protest.
"Hon, with a case this gruesome, Gates will understand. There are more than enough agents on the task force right now to handle this."
"I know. I hear you," Ryder muttered. She squeezed Dover's hands. "Thank you."
"Anytime, hon. You know that."
"Hey, you're home early." KD looked up from her stack of papers. One look at Ryder's face and she felt her whole body still. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Ryder set her keys, badge, and gun on the table. "I decided to take some time off." She didn't meet KD's eyes as she sat down across from her at the table.
There was silence for several long moments.
"Did you get in trouble because of me? Because of us?"
"No." Ryder had gone to Gate's office. He'd been in folders and paperwork up to his elbows.
"I need some vacation time," she'd blurted, without so much as a 'good afternoon.'
"Now?" he'd asked, barely containing his surprise.
There must have been something in her eyes or written on her face, because he'd simply sighed and told her to take as much time as she needed.
"Not yet, right? That's what you're not saying, isn't it?" KD demanded.
Ryder snapped back to the present and met sky blue eyes. She shrugged. "I don't know. All I know is I crossed a line. But for you.... I'd do it every time."
KD looked away and her eyes fell on the stack of ink covered pages in the center of the table. What could she say?
She was smaller than the others. Feistier. Angrier. She wouldn't last long. I knew the angry ones could never play his game.
"Fuck you!" the woman screamed. "Get your fucking hands off me!"
The Son laughed as they strapped her to the work table.
She fought and strained against the restraints, so hard that the skin around her wrists and ankles became bloody. She swore and spat at them.
The Son laughed harder. He, on the other hand, liked the feisty ones. Especially when they were blond, dead, and cold.
"Can I have this one? Please, Father?" he begged.
The Father looked down the length of the straining, cursing woman. He sighed. "Make it quick. Our 'pet' is next. Then we'll hunt again."
He smiled at me as he left the room.
I turned my back to the table. There was a sickening tearing noise and a high pitched scream.
I no longer cried.
No longer felt.
I counted the days.
Would it ever end?
It would be spring by now, I thought. The dogwoods would be blossoming. Their pale delicate petals would be falling from the trees like dandelion fluff in the wind.
Would I ever see them again?
Would I ever go home?
The woman's dead body was thrown to the floor with a loud, wet thud. It slid through the mess on the floor and one warm hip touched my back.
No, I'll never get to go home.
I'll die here.
With shaking hands, Ryder re-stacked the pages. I shouldn't have read that, she thought. Her stomach churned and her anger boiled. Just that one piece of paper had been too much.
How had KD survived that?
Ryder had woken thirsty, just after 1am, and carefully untangled her body from KD's. She'd slipped on a t-shirt and gone downstairs to the kitchen.
The moon was bright through the large picture windows, making it unnecessary to turn on any lights. Her eyes had fallen on the stack of papers, so thick now that it looked like a script for a three part mini series.
Her fingers had skimmed over the words on the top page, hesitating. It felt like an invasion of KD's privacy, but it had called to her.
And now she was sick and trembling with anger.
What the hell had she been thinking taking a leave of absence when that sick fuck was still out there somewhere?
Ryder was still at the table when KD came downstairs.
The gray light of dawn had done little to dispel the shadows.
Ryder jumped when the chair next to her scraped across the floor and KD sat down.
"How much did you read?"
"Just the top page."
Ryder turned incredulous eyes on her. Shouldn't she be the one asking KD if she was alright? "Not really." She reached over and took KD's hand. "How did you do it? How did you survive that?"
KD seemed to contemplate an answer as she absently rubbed her thumb over the back of Ryder's hand. Finally, she said, "I don't think I really did."
Ryder remembered that first night KD had come home with her. When they'd sat in the bathroom and she'd said she wished she were dead. Did she still feel like that? Would she give up now? After surviving for nine months in that hell? Instead of asking what she really wanted to, she asked instead, "What now?"
Several moments passed in which she thought KD wasn't going to answer.
"I have to start over, I guess."
Ryder didn't dare ask if that starting over included her. For it sounded far too pitiful, even inside her head.
They're finally putting the paperwork through. Something's finally going right. No, that's not true, she thought. Ryder had gone right. Hadn't she? KD had thought so anyway. But the last couple of days those beautiful brown eyes had been distant. Not cold. Just distant. Distracted.
What did I do wrong? KD sat on a park bench and contemplated the last few days. They'd made love. With a desperation that she hadn't thought to consider at the time. They'd strolled through the farmer's market. Well, Ryder had strolled, and KD had limped. She refused to use the crutches anymore. They'd had lunch together. Seen a movie....
But Ryder was restless.
Was she regretting her time off from work? From the biggest career making case in DC history?
Was she regretting them?
KD swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat.
That was it, wasn't it?
KD looked down at her hands, surprised to find them trembling. Her cast blurred behind a film of tears. She blinked furiously and swiped at the moisture on her cheeks.
Her anger was sudden and unexpected.
Who the hell cares anyway? People are far more trouble than they're worth. They cheat. They steal. They rape and murder and rob and butcher others. They... hurt you. They lie. And they leave.
She'd be better off on some deserted, uncharted island in the middle of the ocean with a couple of monkeys for company.
No one and nothing could touch her there.
But then... nothing could touch her.
Frustrated, she ran one hand through her short, shaggy, and spiky hair, then turned her face to the warm afternoon sun.
The news had said a massive storm was rolling in. People, much like the rest of nature, were out preparing. Getting their errands done. Their fridges stocked. Enjoying the sun before the week long severe storms were suppose to strike.
A sudden wave of déjá vu made her shiver.
Foreboding raced through her veins.
Panic made her lightheaded.
He would surely go hunting before the storm.
An Amber Alert scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Little David Holly had gone missing from the middle of a crowded grocery store. His parents were frantic, and KD felt sick. She knew who was calling even before Ryder picked up her phone.
"Ryder." A pause. "Okay. Thanks, Dover."
KD stared blankly at the platinum blond newscaster on the television.
"It was him," she said.
Ryder nodded, muscles working in her jaw. "Dover said he left a note. Next to the Spaghetti-O's, of all things. They need you to translate." She tapped several buttons on her phone, then handed it wordlessly to KD.
She stared at the image, working furiously to concentrate.
I'M DISAPPOINTED IN YOU, MY PET. I'D HAVE THOUGHT BY NOW YOU'D FIND ME.
I'M GROWING IMPATIENT BUT I'M NOT GOING TO KILL THE BOY, YET.
YOU HAVE 24 HOURS TO FIND ME AND SAVE HIS LIFE.
"Dammit," Ryder cursed, as she took the phone back and dialed Dover's extension. She gave her the translation and hung up, angrily tossing her cell phone on the coffee table. "I hate feeling like this. Like there's nothing I can do."
KD stood wordlessly and limped to the dining room table. She stared at the stack of paper, one hand resting, white knuckled, on the back of a chair.
I've missed something.
No, I haven't. She'd painstakingly, word for word, action for action, written down everything that had happened.
Yes, there'd been times she'd blacked out. Maybe that's when she'd missed it.
She frowned at the blue pen on top of the stack.
No, she hadn't missed it.
And she hadn't finished writing.
There was still Emily.
"Hey." A gentle hand touched her shoulder. "You alright, sweetheart?"
KD unclenched her hand from the back of the chair and pulled it out.
"I have to finish. I have to find him." She picked up the pen. And no, I'm not alright, she thought. I'll never be alright.
It's summer now, I thought. The air would be warm and fragrant with the smells of life; of grass and flowers and sunshine. Warm, clean bodies would be full of life and laughter.
A stark and frightening contrast to what I was doing right now - my hand breaking the suction of putrefied flesh and muscle from bone. Jill's body had decayed enough that I could push through her thigh muscles to her femur. I needed a good strong tool. And the femur was the strongest bone in the human body.
I'd read that once, a long time ago, in an article in a magazine that someone had left at the laundromat.
That had been another lifetime all together.
Mindlessly I dug at the tendons that still held the bone in place.
The boards outside the far door creaked.
The knob clicked and I took my hand out and hid it under my body.
Dammit, I'd thought I'd have more time.
They brought in the next victim. For 'victim' was all they were to me now. Nameless. Faceless. Victims.
I hadn't spoken in weeks.
Hadn't made any sound, even when I woke up screaming. Because even then it was a silent scream. My mouth open, my hands clawing at empty air.
There was a thud. I had my back to the table, but I assumed they'd thrown an unconscious victim onto it and were strapping her down.
It was no fun torturing someone when they were unconscious.
I went back to the gruesome task of digging out the femur.
The floor creaked again, the doorknob clicked, and I hastily hid my hand back beneath my body.
"Ahhh, Sleeping Beauty awakens."
I could hear the Father walking around the table and the clinking of metal as he fondled his instruments of death. I could feel his insidious smile and imagine his flat black eyes as they roamed the victim's naked body.
She was surprisingly quiet.
Even when I heard the snap of his belt buckle and the tug on the zipper.... His uneven breathing.... His grunts as he thrust in and out....
She was silent, through it all.
The table groaned loudly as his weight shifted. He was done.
"Put her on the wall," he said as he zipped and buckled his pants.
The Son shackled her to the wall and they both left.
She let out a ragged breath. "Fucking sons of bitches."
I looked up.
"Shit," she gasped, "you're alive."
"Pretty much," I answered hoarsely.
"How long have you been here?"
"Nearly nine months now."
"Sweet Jesus," she whispered.
"What's your name?" I asked. Why? What did it even matter anymore?
"Kennedy Downs." I paused, really looking at her for the first time. She was gorgeous, of course. She was also tall, strong and lean, with corded muscles rippling under her tan, smooth skin. She had short raven hair and a number of tattoos. "You're a soldier?"
Emily nodded. "Marine."
Fucking A! They were bored. No wonder they'd left me alone for the past several days. The Father was revising his strategy. My plan might actually work now. For the first time in nine months I glimpsed the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
"What the hell are you smiling for?"
"Because, my new friend, you are the key to getting us out of here. I've got a lot to tell you and not much time."
"Wish you were home right now, don't you, bitch?" The Son chuckled. "You survive the war and come back to this. Ain't you got all the luck-"
"Shut up. Let's go."
The Son hastily snapped the lock shut and raced after his father.
Once the door had slammed shut Emily let out a strangled cry of anguish. "I'm going to kill those motherfuckers."
I looked up at her and saw that the left side of her face was swollen and bloody. Her hair hung limp and she was already beginning to lose weight. Soon she'd be as weak as I was. And then it would be too late.
I sat up, my head spinning.
Emily watched in silent horror as I took the bone from inside Jill's thigh.
"Ready?" I asked. This was going to get noisy. I situated myself so that my back was to the door, blocking what I was about to do. I took a few deep breaths and lifted my arms. They felt like lead weights. My whole body felt sluggish, but I gripped the bone with two hands like it was a sword I was about to thrust straight down, to dispatch a fallen medieval warrior.
The first clang of bone on metal was pitiful. I struck again as hard as I could, sweating and cursing. The bone was slippery with blood, yet somewhat sticky. My hands held. My breathing was labored and I felt nauseous.
The lock rattled against the floor but held fast.
"Harder," Emily encouraged. "Try one of the links instead."
I shifted my focus to the chain. It rattled and shook as I bashed it against the wide, wood planked, bloody floor.
And then I heard a crack.
I looked down at it in dismay.
"Oh no," I moaned. "Nononononononono."
The bottom third of the bone had cracked and started to splinter apart. The next strike to the chain made it separate completely.
I held it up to Emily, looking at her blankly.
Her eyes flew up, over my head, to the door.
I dropped the broken bone.
"What the fuck is going on in here?" the Son bellowed.
Emily rattled her shackles, slapping them noisily against the wall.
Just as we'd planned.
"Come over here," she taunted, "and I'll show you what the fuck is going on."
Just as we'd planned.
I looked at Jill's femur where it had landed, several inches away from my leg, broken in two.
Not like we'd planned.
Not at all.
I looked up at Emily. "No," I whispered.
She looked at me sadly. "I have to."
"I know." I did. Because if I'd been her.... If I'd been the brave one.... I would have too.
KD sat bolt upright in bed, heart racing and breathing hard. She was sweating and tangled in the sheets.
Beside her, Ryder stirred, but did not wake.
KD struggled to calm herself, the majority of her thoughts jumbled, foggy, and chaotic.
One thought stood out crystal clear, I think I know where he is.
"Could it really be that simple?"
KD stood in front of the large picture window, watching as the sun rose over the Capitol, her arms crossed over her chest.
"How long have you been up?" Ryder asked as she circled her arms around KD's thin waist and pulled her close.
KD covered Ryder's arms with her own, relaxing her body, and letting her head fall back onto her lover's strong shoulder.
"Awhile," she admitted.
"Yeah." KD debated her next words, but Ryder spoke first.
"Wanna go down to the corner and get some coffee and bagels with me?"
KD turned in Ryder's arms, smiling. "I'd love to."
Her doubts could wait just a few more seconds. Right?
"Am I just hungry this morning or are these bagels better than last time?" Ryder asked as she licked the cream cheese off her thumb. "What? You're staring. Do I have bagel in my teeth?"
KD grinned, her eyes lit with mischievousness, all worries temporarily suspended.
"What?" Ryder demanded. "What?"
"Nothing," she said softly. "You're beautiful."
Ryder ducked her head to hide a blush. "Oh."
The morning had started crisp, the sun brilliant in a cloudless blue sky. Gradually the air had warmed, becoming humid and hazy. Far off to the west, dark ominous clouds had begun to gather, portents of the storms that were to come.
As they'd left the apartment, headed to breakfast, KD had fought the unfamiliar and almost desperate urge to put her arm around Ryder's waist or, at the very least, hold her hand. Yet, she'd resisted. There was so much they hadn't talked about. So much that still needed to be said.
Looking at Ryder now - at the rich chocolate brown of her eyes, the tilt of her head, her lips, her raven hair - words began to spill out of her mouth, dangerously uncensored.
"Do you have any idea what you do to me?" KD didn't wait for an answer. "One look from you and I melt. One touch and my heart soars-"
"No, please, let me finish. I thought that every good thing I'd worked so hard for had been ripped from my life forever. It's taken me a long time to realize that those things don't even really matter. They never did. You are the only thing I care about. The only thing.... The only one that I love."
KD stared into Ryder's eyes. "I love you, Sam."
She watched as Ryder's face flushed. As she looked frantically to the left and right.
"No. No, you're right. I'm sorry." KD leapt from her chair. What had she been thinking? Fuck. Of course Ryder wouldn't want to hear some pathetic declaration of love from someone who was so fucked up. So damaged. What the hell had she been thinking?
She turned quickly, nearly tripping, wincing in pain.
I am such an idiot.
Something touched her arm.
She pulled away from Ryder's touch, her heart pounding.
"I need to get out of here." She turned so she wouldn't have to see the look in Ryder's eyes. "Please, just let me go."
Ryder's arms dropped to her sides. She stood motionless, mouth clamping shut against useless apologies. She simply nodded and watched KD limp down the sidewalk.
What have I done?
She felt a tingle of fear skitter along her spine and her hand went automatically to the holster on her hip. Only to touch empty air. She'd left her gun and badge on the table.
The nondescript van in the corner of her eye wouldn't have mattered to anyone else. It was meant to be just that - nondescript. Unnoticeable. Forgettable.
Cold sweat beaded across her upper lip.
In the chaos that followed, the eyewitness reports would be sketchy, at best. Jumbled and inaccurate, at the worst.
Had the dark haired woman shouted first? Or had that guy - was he white, black, thin, average - jumped out of the still moving van first?
Had the woman with the cast on her arm been tasered?
There were no cameras located on the street or nearby businesses. And eyewitnesses, caught up in their own lives, were notoriously unreliable.
Was that an 8 or a B on the license plate? A or 0?
How many men had there been?
Which one had been behind the dark haired woman? And what had he hit her with?
The thing that stunned everyone - the witnesses, the cops, the press - was how swift it had been. One minute the women were there, the next, they weren't. Taken in broad daylight. On a busy street. With dozens of witnesses.
Several hours later the van would be found, stripped clean. Not a single trace of evidence was left behind, except a piece of neatly folded paper with a bunch of odd little squiggly marks on it.
KD came to with startling clarity. She was aware of her own breathing and the cold, slightly damp floor beneath her. Her body ached, stiff from lying in one position for too long. She could smell earth and concrete. Humidity and mold. Death and decay.
There was little light. Only enough to make out the faint shape of a wooden staircase from the glow of light under a door.
Somewhere water dripped, an incessant and distracting drip-splat.
A furnace, A/C, or water heater hummed as it labored. In this light she couldn't tell which of the three it was.
There was also the biting metallic scent of blood.
Was it hers?
As she tried to move, a chain rattled along the floor and she realized her ankle was shackled to the rough concrete ground.
Oh God, not again.
Panic swept through her with dizzying speed.
Someone nearby groaned.
"Ryder! Where are you? What happened?"
"I don't remember," Ryder answered, her voice hoarse. As she moved, a chain dragged across the concrete. "I can't see a damn thing."
"Are you hurt?"
A pause and a groan. "Feels like I got bashed over the head with something, but I'm fine. And you?"
"I'm okay." KD pulled at the chain that bound her, following it to where it was staked into the ground. It moved a fraction of an inch but no more.
Footsteps echoed on the floor above them, the timbers creaking and groaning. Metal grated as a key turned in a lock. The basement door swung open and light cascaded down the stairs.
KD held her breath.
A light clicked on overhead, yellow and weak.
She could see now that the basement walls were made of cinder blocks that were damp and slimy with age. Along the entire length of the back wall were sagging wooden shelves filled with long forgotten treasures. An ancient typewriter. Boxes of overflowing Christmas decorations. Plastic bags filled with old sheets, blankets, and hand me down clothes. A broken jack-in-the-box. Cases of Matchbox cars and G. I. Joes. Porcelain dolls and various other toys. Dusty jars of canned fruit and pickled vegetables, their labels long since faded away.
Cobwebs covered every available surface.
An ancient water heater took up one whole corner.
KD glanced down at herself, surprised to realize that she was fully clothed. She looked across to Ryder, who was also dressed, and squinting against the light.
The Father descended the stairs, a smile on his thin lips and a hungry look in his dark eyes.
"Well. Here we are. Together again at last."
"Where is he? Where's David?" Ryder demanded.
"Who? Oh. The little boy. He's still here. Somewhere." He waved a dismissive hand at the ceiling. "I must say, my pet," he looked at KD, "I'm rather disappointed. I'd thought you would have figured out where I was."
Ryder raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.
The Father chuckled, a thin, hollow sound. "And why don't I believe you?"
"Trust issues?" KD snapped sarcastically.
The Father laughed again. "You still have the fire." He rubbed his hands together. "Wonderful. Wonderful. Oh how I've missed you, my pet."
Ryder growled. "Don't call her that."
The Father looked at her, as if surprised she was still there. Then he dismissed her with a disapproving cluck and turned his attention back to KD.
"If you know where we are, then why not call the cops? The FBI? Hell, the National Guard?"
"Who says I haven't?" KD knew it'd be wiser to keep her mouth shut, but she couldn't. She had changed in so many ways. She was not the same person she had been when he'd first kidnapped her. "Who says they aren't surrounding the place right now? Maybe SWAT is getting ready to storm the place as we speak."
The Father laughed again. It echoed around the damp basement. He stopped abruptly and said; "No one is coming to save you. They didn't before and they won't now."
"You forget. I didn't need them before. And I certainly don't need them now."
He squinted at her cast hand. "Yes, that was very clever. Ruthless even. Breaking your own hand. But, unless you plan to saw off your own foot, I don't think I have much to worry about. From either of you."
Ryder was shackled by the ankle as well. And they were both too far apart from each other or anything they might possibly use as a weapon.
KD shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll figure out something."
He scowled, stepping towards her, stopping abruptly, fists clenched at his sides. "I'd forgotten what an annoying little bitch you are." He looked her up and down and suddenly smiled.
KD couldn't help but shiver. She'd seen that look before.
"I know what you did," he said softly. "You and I? We're not so different."
"Have you told your little friend what you did? Huh?"
"Fuck you," she said again, spit flying vehemently from her parched lips. She surged to her feet in one swift move, pulling the chain taut as she fought against it. "I will kill you this time, you bastard."
"Maybe." He smiled. "You've certainly proven you can."
Ryder flashed her a look that clearly said, 'What the hell is he talking about?'
"She doesn't know. Does she?" He finally turned his full attention to the raven haired agent. "You all think she's some sort of sad little victim, don't you?" He circled around Ryder. "But what sort of victim kills? Tell her," he suddenly demanded. "Tell her what you did."
KD's jaw clamped shut. Not out of defiance, but fear, and the realization that Ryder would never look at her the same again. Ryder would never love her.
When she refused again, he took a taser from the waistband of his pants.
KD's frantic eyes caught and held Ryder's. The agent shook her head slightly.
The taser's darts landed in Ryder's abdomen. Electricity flowed through her body, contorting and spasming her muscles till she went limp. Her limbs were useless. She couldn't fight as he knelt down beside her and grabbed a fistful of her dark hair. He pulled her head back to expose her throat. One handed he set the taser aside and took out a hunting knife from his back pocket. He trailed it from her jaw to the hollow at the base of her throat, leaving in its wake a thin trail of blood.
He looked up, clearly surprised. "Is that all it takes?" He paused. "I should have let you watch me cut off that whore's head. What was her name?"
"Jill," she seethed.
"Ah, yes. Jill. Now, tell your little friend here about the last one."
"Tell her or I'll slice her open and let you watch as she slowly and painfully bleeds to death."
KD ground her teeth together as she looked off into the middle distance. "We - Emily and I - we'd hatched this lame ass escape, but nothing was going as planned...."
I looked up at Emily. "No," I whispered.
She looked back at me sadly. "I have to."
"I know," I said. And I did know. Because if I'd been her, if I'd been the brave one, I would have too.
The Son crossed the room in several angry strides. He stepped up to Emily and slapped her across the face.
"Coward," Emily muttered.
"I ain't no fucking coward."
"Unchain me and say that, you chickenshit," she taunted. "What kind of a man are you anyway? Following your father around like some demented little puppy dog. Obeying his every command. Can't think for yourself. Can't even fuck-"
"Oh, nice comeback, moron."
"I said shut up!"
Emily laughed. "Make me, coward."
Face red and body shaking with rage, the Son unshackled her.
Emily's arms dropped to her sides like lead weights, weak from their position over her head for far too long. This is when I had planned to attack him. But now I couldn't. I was still chained to the floor and I could do nothing but watch as she smashed her forehead into his skull.
He staggered backwards, nearly falling. He cursed and scrambled up, slipping in the muck on the floor.
Emily readied herself to fight, even as a wave of dizziness nearly forced her to her knees.
Suddenly the door opened.
"What the hell is- Oh for fuck's sake!" The Father whipped his taser from the band of his jeans and aimed it at Emily.
I watched in horror as the little darts struck her in the shoulder, shooting electricity throughout her body. I watched helplessly as they picked her up and strapped her, still twitching, to the table. Then I could watch no more. I covered my ears but I heard, as well as felt, her nearly lifeless body hit the floor.
I uncovered my ears and waited till I heard the door click shut.
She was several feet away, and even with my chain stretched to its limit, I couldn't reach her.
"Hey. I'm okay," she called hoarsely, blood spilling from the corners of her mouth.
"Liar," I murmured.
She smiled. "Do me a favor?"
"Tell Joey I love him."
"No way. You can tell him yourself when we get out of here."
"KD," she said, "you'll have to go without me."
I strained against the shackle. "No. No way. What is it Marines say? Never leave-"
"-a man behind."
I needed some kind of a tool. I found the splintered bone and looked at it dumbly for several long moments. When wild animals were caught in traps they often gnawed off their own paws to escape.
I hefted the splintered bone then drove the blunt end against my hand. Nothing. I turned my hand sideways and hit the bones at the base of my thumb again and again until I felt the bones breaking. Then I was able to contort and pull my hand through the cuff.
Clutching my hand to my chest, I crawled over to Emily and knelt beside her.
"I'm going to get you out of here."
Emily's face was ashen, her breathing shallow. Blood trickled from her mouth at an alarming rate.
"No, KD, look at me. I'm not going to make it. I'd only slow you down."
For the first time I looked down the length of her body. Her hands were clutching her bloody abdomen and I realized, with a start, that she was attempting to hold in her own intestines.
"Oh, Emily, I'm so sorry."
"Not your fault, kiddo. Now you need to get out of here before they come back."
"I can't leave you." I knew that Emily's suffering was far from over. It could take several hours to die after being gutted. By the look in her eyes I could tell she knew that too. "I can't leave you here like this."
"Then finish it," she pleaded, her eyes fever bright.
"Finish it?" I breathed. "What the hell do you mean?"
"Snap my neck. It's fast and relatively easy. I can teach you."
I stared at her.
So I did.
He was laughing as he walked up the basement stairs. Still laughing as he shut the door.
KD didn't dare search out Ryder's eyes. She couldn't stand to see the revulsion and horror she knew would be there. Worse yet, the rejection and hatred.
"Hey," Ryder said softly. "Kade, you are the brave one. We're both going to survive this. We'll get out of here. You'll see-"
"All I see is a fucked up mess. I should have killed him before, but I was too damned scared. I'm always going to be too scared to do anything." KD kicked idly at the spike that held the chain in the concrete. It wobbled a bit. "How are we suppose to get out of here? Huh?" She kicked ruthlessly at the chain, then bent down and gripped it one handed, pulling to see how loose it was. It wobbled a little bit more.
He's going to torture us. Torture and rape Sam. Then kill us. And I won't be able to stop him. He'll take everything away from me. Again.
"I won't let him touch you."
KD's head snapped up. "What?" She finally stopped and looked at Ryder.
"I won't let him-"
"Sam, you can't stop him."
"I will. Somehow." Ryder paused and when she continued her voice was rough, choked. "I made a promise I intend to keep."
KD looked down at her hands. Hands covered in Emily's blood. She owed Emily her life. She couldn't let Ryder kill the Father. It was her job.
In a sudden fury KD grabbed the chain again and began to kick and beat and pull, working desperately to free the spike from the floor.
Suddenly it gave way and she fell backwards, landing painfully on her ass.
The basement door clicked open.
She shoved the spike back into the hole in the floor and sat, one thigh over it.
"Well, ladies," the Father said as he descended the stairs. "What shall we do next?"
"I can think of something," KD murmured.
He turned to her curiously. "And what would that be?" He scratched his chin. "I anticipate lots of screaming and begging."
"Oh, so do I."
His eyes narrowed.
She smiled crookedly.
He looked around as if trying to find something amiss, then he folded his arms across his chest and let a smug expression creep over his face. After a moment he shrugged and made his way towards the agent.
"Don't you touch her."
The Father paused and stood, legs slightly apart, arms still folded across his chest. He smiled.
"I'm warning you. Don't make me do this."
The Father shifted and started to reach for Ryder.
"Don't touch her!"
He laughed. "And what are you going to do to stop me?"
KD took a deep breath.
"This," she said as she yanked the chain up and swung it in an arc towards his head. The spike on the end slammed into his face, breaking his cheekbone and eye socket with a sickening crunch. He crumbled to the floor, screaming and clutching at his face. She swung again and knocked him flat. She leapt forward and planted her knee in his stomach as she grabbed the end of the chain. With one hand she plunged the spike into his chest.
She stabbed him over and over, his warm blood spraying over her hands and chest.
"KD! KD!" Ryder struggled against her shackle. "Kade, stop! Please, baby, please stop."
KD stilled, glancing at the bloody spike, then to the Father's glassy eyes. She looked over at Ryder and the horror she saw in Ryder's eyes stilled her so completely that she almost forgot to breathe. She glanced again at her bloody hands, then back up to Ryder.
"Oh, God. What have I done?" She dropped the spike, shaking.
"Come here, babe."
KD held up her bloody, trembling hands. "What have I done?"
"The only thing you could do," Ryder said. "What I should have done."
KD crawled forward and into her lover's waiting arms. "Don't let me go, Sam. Please, don't let me go."
"Never." Ryder wrapped her arms around KD, pulling her tight against her chest. "I will never let you go, Kade. I love you."
"David. David Holly!" Ryder yelled as she checked room after room on the second floor.
"Nothing on the first floor," KD said, joining her upstairs. "What about the attic?" She pointed to the ceiling at the end of the hallway.
Ryder boosted KD up and she slid the ceiling panel back. She poked her head up.
"David?" It was dark, humid, and musty. Something moved in the far corner. "David. It's okay, sweetheart, we've come to take you home." KD held out her hand.
"I want my mom," the little boy whispered.
"I know. We'll take you to her."
His small hand grabbed hers.
6 months later
"I know this is just the beginning. I have a whole new life to look forward to."
The doorbell rang. Joey barked.
"I'll get it," Ryder yelled. She stepped out into the hallway and picked up the package the mail carrier had left. "Get back inside, you mutt." She smiled and Joey shook his shaggy German Shepherd head as if in exasperation.
"Hey, babe?" she turned and shouted into the apartment. "Were you expecting anything?"
KD poked her head around the kitchen's door frame. "Expectin- Oh! Yes! Put it on the table, please." She threw the dish towel on the counter and took her pocketknife out. She rounded the table and carefully slit the tape on the box.
"The Breaking of The Bones," Ryder read, as KD lifted out one of the many books nestled inside and laid it on the table. Ryder flipped it open. "What's this?" But in the next second she answered her own question. "This true story is dedicated to Samantha Ryder, without whom I wouldn't be here today." As she read she absently scratched behind Joey's ears. "For her patience, as I wrote late into the night. For her support, as I struggled every day just to live. For her love, which has healed me and made me whole. For today and every tomorrow. I love you."
Ryder looked up, blinking away suspicious moisture. "You.... When did you...."
"I wanted to surprise you," KD said softly. She gently ran her thumb across her lover's cheek, wiping away a tear. "Surprise."
"This is what you were doing?" Ryder's eyebrows knit together. She closed the book and stared at the cover, reading the author's name for the first time.
"Yes?" KD said hesitantly.
"A book. I'll be damned." Her sudden grin split her face from ear to ear. "Oh, babe, I'm so proud of you. May I read it?"
KD nodded with a smile.
Ryder flipped the book back open and turned to the first chapter. "Running. I remember running. So hard and so fast I thought my lungs would burst from my chest and my limbs would tear from my body."
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