Wikia

Total Drama Fanfiction

Life After Lies

Talk293
4,411pages on
this wiki
Gildedchris

This is a Featured Story. That means that it was voted to be one of the best and most beloved stories on the wiki.
Gildedchris
This story is rated PG-13.
There is some language or violence that may not be appropriate for people under thirteen years of age.


Title: Life After Lies

Author: Fadingsilverstar16

Genre: Romance/Drama

Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, and mature subject matter.

Characters/Pairings: Heather/Noah

Summary: Heather's path has taken her to a place that she never expected to be. They told her to say goodbye to her old life, and that she did. Of course, complications arise, including one she never saw coming.

Disclaimer: This fanfic is solely intended for entertainment purposes. The author does not own or is affiliated with the Total Drama series, its characters, or its producers in any way whatsoever. Any resemblance of the original characters in this story to any person, alive or dead, is purely coincidental. The situations portrayed in this fanfiction are all fictional and come soley from the author's twisted imagination. They are not meant to parody, criticize, or parallel any similar situations that may have taken place in real life.

(Approximate) Word Count: 48,160

Status: Complete

Author's Note: Your feedback is very much appreciated. Feel free to contact me on my talk page or the discussion page of this fanfic at anytime. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One

Life After Lies
by Fadingsilverstar16
Chapter 1
Closure

I got to hear my eulogy today.


I still don't know why I didn't shut the stupid TV off.


I knew full well that I would rather not have watched those idiots on the screen pretend to mourn me. There was no use lying to myself in an attempt to chase away any regret or remorse I felt for my decision. It was obvious to everyone that I would not be missed.


It was sad really. Everything about that funeral was a lie. The bowed heads and solemn faces; the tears; the casket of polished oak and the wax figurine inside. Even the flowers, fresh roses and gorgeous lavenders, were being used to remember someone who had not met their end. A ceremony of lies.


Tearing my eyes from the image of my coffin sinking into the earth, I looked down at the piece of paper in my hand. Gently, I took my index finger and traced over the words etched in raised gold print. Heather Martison; December 3, 1992 – March 12, 2009. A copy of my certificate of death.


I let out a bitter chuckle. If only they knew that I was not a memory just yet.


The video ended with a shot of my small granite tombstone and switched to crackling static. I pressed the 'eject' button. The TV made a series of whirs, and the tape slid out of the VCR compartment. I held it in my hands, debating with myself on whether to keep it or toss it. I was pretty sure I would never watch it again, and it would sit on my small shelf collecting dust forevermore. It was pointless to keep it. Sure, watching it all the way through for the first time was a nice way of saying a permanent farewell to my old life, but now I'd gotten my closure. It was useless now.


I looked toward the little trash can in the corner of the room, and confirmed the tape's fate in my mind.


I walked to the can, and raised the hand holding the unneeded object. Saying one last goodbye in my head, I let it slip from my fingers. It fell into the plastic bin with a clatter. Good riddance.


“You could've just come to the lounge to watch the tape, y'know,” came a familiar voice from behind me. Charlie's voice. Joy.


I sighed.


“Does it matter?” I answered a little less angrily than I'd hoped, not bothering to turn around.


I could hear his footsteps getting louder; when they stopped, I could tell he was right behind me.


“Not really,” said Charlie, “but the interrogation room?”


“What's it to you?” I snapped, facing him. “I just wanted to watch the thing and get it over with. This place was empty, so I just sat down without having to walk all the way over to the lounge!” Thoroughly annoyed, I glared up at him, and he stared right back down at me. Why, exactly, did he need to be so nosy?


For a split second, his sharp blue eyes flickered behind me. Suddenly remembering the copy of my certificate of death behind my back, I crumpled it up and let it fall into the trash can. My co-worker's expression turned into one of disapproval.


“Most people I know would keep those. Y'know, for sentimental-”


Mind your own business!” I cut him off. Fed up, I pushed past him and walked swiftly from the room to stalk my way down the hall.


It took me a few seconds to realize that I was walking in the wrong direction, toward the computer room where I had done my fair share of handling clients and scheduling appointments. No, I wanted the path that would take me back to the crummy apartment that I called home. However, I didn't stop when I realized my mistake. Instead, never ceasing to move, I just spun on my heel and started in the opposite direction. Charlie was leaning against the door frame of the room I had just exited, smirking at me. I let out a huff as I passed him, and that was the last acknowledgment of his presence I intended to give. I could practically feel his smug gaze on my back.


“And by the way,” he called after me, “ the boss wants you in his office. I think it was something about a new assignment.”


I stopped.


Now, there were two sides to this whole situation. One one side, finally. About time I received a real mission, relieving me of my then current position as a nobody who clacked at a keyboard all day. On the other hand, I was really looking forward to that well-deserved lavender foot scrub kit waiting for me at my apartment. How I would miss it so.


I sighed. Goodbye, foot scrub.



It had been a long time since I'd first walked into that office. A year ago, as I took my first step out of that elevator, I had to do more than I thought to keep my composure. A year later, I wasn't as nervous; but uncertainty still sat heavy in my stomach, creating that sick, hollow feeling that made me want to hunch over and moan. Although I knew in the back of my mind that it wouldn't help, I silently told myself that it was just a first mission and would probably be simple at best.

At that thought, a more logical part of my brain scoffed. Seeing as how my karma (which had been biting me in the ass repeatedly since I was 16) apparently still owed me a lot, and the quality of my luck was just poor overall, the chances of things going wrong for me very soon were probably quite high. I just hoped I hadn't jinxed it by thinking that.


I took a deep breath as I reached my destination, and pushed to the glass doors. The closed soundlessly behind me, and I found myself standing in front of the secretary's desk. My feet making quiet thumps on the carpet, I approached the small woman sitting there. She gave no recognition of my presence, just sitting there and using her long, French-tipped acrylic nails to type away at the large keyboard. Seeing that she had better things to do than ask me what I was there for, I made a move to speak. However, before I had the chance to successfully translate my thoughts to speech, she took of those ridiculously long nails and pressed a button under a microphone.


“Mr. DeMiller, the agent you wanted is here,” she droned, one hand still punching keys at the computer. The woman then took her and off of the button and continued on with her work.


“Send'er in,” came the slightly garbled reply.


I took the liberty of walking and entering the room without the secretary telling me. We both had business to attend to.


Everything was pretty much the same about this place. George DeMiller still sat at the same beautiful polished wood desk. He still sported the same black suit that matched his hair, which now had some barely evident gray follicles. The only thing that was really different was that when he looked up at me, he didn't smile. Of course, that was to be expected. A year ago, I was a guest. Today, I was an employee.


“Agent Umbriel,” he said coolly, “welcome.” DeMiller motioned for me to sit in the chair in front of his desk. I obeyed.


“Okay, standard protocol,” he started. “You have been selected to receive a potentially dangerous and life-threatening mission. By agreeing to this mission, you confirm that we are not responsible for any injury, fatal or otherwise, that you may receive while on duty. Do you accept?” He look me straight in the eye, searching for any hint of emotion. Managing to keep my face businesslike, I nodded. He gave me a quick nod in reply and leaned back in his chair.


“Good. Briefing time,” he said, picking up a small remote from his desk. DeMiller turned around to face the back wall. He hit a button, and half of wall lit up into a giant screen.


Okay, so maybe some things had changed.


He clicked another button, and the picture and information of a middle aged man appeared.


“Johnathan Rhodes; Age 46, CEO of small gaming company, BlueNotes Inc.,” he read. Turning back to me, he folded his hands on the desk.


“Fifteen years ago, Rhodes lent a sum of thirty-thousand dollars to a friend named Guy Wilshire.” He pushed another button, and this time only the name and a picture came up on screen.


The man in the picture was also middle aged, with tanned skin and brown hair that seemed eerily familiar....


“According to Rhodes, Wilshire used the money to invest in another small business that really took off within the next year. Both men prospered, and the debt was forgotten. However,” he paused, “Rhodes started experiencing some...financial troubles. He asked Wilshire to pay him back the money plus the promised five thousand dollars interest three years ago. Wilshire agreed to pay him back, but in due time as he was also having money problems. A month later, according to the government, he died of pneumonia.”


I could see where this was going.


“Now, recent discoveries have shown that apparently this is not the case. Rhodes is sure Wilshire is alive, and he's come to us for help bringing his old friend out into the open. If we are successful in helping him get his thirty-five-thousand dollars back, Rhodes will be able to afford to pay us very handsomely. The easiest way to get Guy out of hiding? Using something he loves to lure him out.”


A kidnapping mission?


“Guy Wilshire has nine children. We've already done the hard part of kidnapping the youngest. It'll be your job to guard the prisoner and carry out anything Rhodes wants done to him.”


Ugh. A babysitting mission.


“The prisoner is being held in cell A113. This,” he said, sliding me a PDA, “has access to the camera in the cell. You may use it at all times to keep tabs on him. And by the way, if we need to kill him, our specialists will take care of that. Now go down ask him what he knows about the situation. Do not tell him anything until you get his side of the story.”


I nodded slowly, clicking on the PDA. The image of the dark cell appeared, with the prisoner strapped to a lone metal chair inside.


Upon studying it more, realization hit me, and everything stopped.


I knew that face.

Chapter 2

Life After Lies


By FadingSilverStar16


Chapter 2


Interaction



Seeing as how my karma (which had been biting me in the ass repeatedly since I was 16) apparently still owed me a lot, and the quality of my luck was just poor overall, the chances of things going wrong for me very soon were probably quite high. I just hope I hadn't jinxed it by thinking that.

I jinxed it.


My life was now, officially, unnecessarily complicated.


Why? Because there, on the screen of that PDA, tied to a chair, was Noah.


My old life just had to find a way to interfere with my new life, didn't it?


Joy.


I took the elevator down to floor A1, that nervous feeling in my stomach becoming unbearable. I had to walk through a long hall to cell 13, and was in no hurry. The piercing shrieks and screams of other prisoners being tortured hurt my ears, though. I quickened my pace.


As if on queue, right before I reached number thirteen, Charlie stepped out of the cell so suddenly I had to stop at that second to keep from bumping into him. Ugh, I didn't have time for him. Calmly, I walked around my co-worker and into the cell which held my blast from the past. Before the door closed, his rough hand shot out to hold it open. Exasperated, I turned to face him, letting the look I gave him do the talking. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at each other, he wordlessly held up a roll of duct-tape.


I took it and nodded without a word. Noah had a sharp tongue and a snotty attitude to match. This would come in handy.


The door was sealed, and I was alone with my charge.


Before making a move to speak, I studied him for a few seconds. Of course, he was still as thin as a stick, and probably now taller than me. His head bowed, I could see that his hair was a little longer; still in the same style, and his awkward clothes were gone. He wore a green sweater with green army pants. Other than that, he was still the same Noah.


His mouth was also duct-taped. No surprise there. I could only imagine the grating Noah-grade insults that he had hurled at Charlie.


Show time.


“Hello Noah,” I said, but not in a mocking tone; just a simple hello to get things started. He didn't even flinch.


I have no idea why I said what I said next.


“You know me.”


Full stop.


What the heck, inner self?! No one on the outside was supposed to know I was alive. If he escaped, God forbid, the world would no doubt know I had faked my death. The only thing about me that was different than when he last saw me was my hair, which I had started keeping short a long time ago. Although risky, I guessed it this was better, looking back on my decision. I knew from the start that he would have remembered me eventually. Doing it this way saved time.


I walked toward him.


At my approach, he looked up, and immediately his eyes went wide.


Slowly, I hooked my finger under the tight silver tape and peeled it off, my eyes boring into his. He just stared.


“Say my name,” I ordered quietly.


Noah parted his dry, cracked, bleeding lips.


Heather...” he breathed, barely audible. I smirked.


“Good boy, but why don't we keep my old identity our little secret...” I whispered into his ear. He flinched, my breath hot and uncomfortable on his skin. As I pulled away, the entire situation sank in for him, and his expression melted into one of anger.


“Your family...your friends...you lied to them,” he seethed, his eyes narrowing into slits. I scoffed, turning my head to glare at the wall.


“What family? What friends?” I laughed humorlessly, crossing my arms. He laughed right back.


“Oh, I forgot about that, didn't I?” he smiled mockingly, eyes still blazing. My silence invited-no, dared him to continue.


“I forgot about what a horrible person you've always been. Now that I remember, I wouldn't put it past you to fake your own death so you could join a society of monsters like you!” I rolled my eyes.


“Monsters, Noah? You've hurt my feelings,” I put a hand over my heart and gave him a mock wounded look. I was so tempted to make a comment about how one of his dearest family members and I had that little fake death thing in common, but I stopped myself before I let the truth about his father slip. I had to make sure of what he knew before telling him anything. Looking him in the eye, I could see that he was thrown off by my little outburst. Sigh. It was time for questioning.


I gave the roll of tape in my hand a squeeze while feeling around in the pockets of my black pants for things I could use. In my back pocket, my fingers grazed over something sharp, and a sharp pain shot through my thumb. A swiss army knife with the blade sticking out. A very useful Swiss army knife.


I smirked at the bookworm, keeping my hand clenched around the handy object.


“Do you know where you are?”


“My own personal hell. How do I know? You're here.” Ooh, feisty. I countered his scowl with my own emotionless look.


“Do you know where you are?” I repeated, doing all I could to keep my cool. My hold on the knife tightened. It looked like I would need it soon.


“Answer me!” I snapped. He was silent for a few more seconds.


“I don't know,” he said finally. I nodded. Next question.


“Do you know why you're here?”


“No.”


I nodded once more. Time for the fun part.


“Where is your father, Noah?” I questioned. He ripped his gaze away from the wall to look at me, eyebrows furrowing.


“What are you getting at?”


“Answer the question,” I said impatiently, lowering my voice to what I hoped was a intimidatingly low tone.


“I-My father is dead,” he told me, still looking at me strangely. I waggled a finger at him.


“Ah, ah, ah! Not exactly. See, your precious daddy and I have something in common. Three guesses what that little something is.”


I decided to let him have a moment for it all to click in his brain. When he finally came back in touch with reality again, I was almost taken aback at how disgusted he looked.


“My father would never sink to your level, Heather,” he said, voice deadly calm. I shrugged.


“Why else would you be here?”


I stunned him into silence with that.


Noah's head drooped. I looked down at him, arms crossed, keeping my expression stoic. I didn't have right to feel sorry for him, even if I had wanted to. It was the unspoken rule around here: indifference toward other people's problems. It wasn't my place to break that rule, even if I had been acquainted with him before. Unmoved, I continued.


“How long has he been gone, Noah?” I specifically avoided using the word 'dead' here.


“Three years.”


“Around the time he went, was your family experiencing any financial troubles?” I half-expected him to raise his head and question my motives, probably with a snarky comment thrown in, but he just sat there.


“No.”


No? Now that was interesting.


“Oh really, now?” I replied. “My sources say that your father was having some problems with his dough around the time, which is why he couldn't pay back the thirty-five-thousand-dollars.” Noah's head shot up. Oops.


“What thirty-five-thousand dollars?” he asked, bewildered. I sighed, not in the mood to go through that long story.


“What thirty-five-thousand dollars?” he repeated, clenching his teeth. “Tell me!


The thirty-five thousand dollars your dad owes the person who kidnapped you!” I yelled, and immediately I regretted it. I doubted that my employer and his client wanted him to know this much, and I knew they would not be happy if they found that the prisoner knew more than he really should. Before he could even open his trap, I pulled out the knife and pressed it to his neck. Obviously knowing what was good for him, he kept that big mouth shut.


“You don't need to know any more. Just remember, your life is in the hands of our client, not us,” I said, my voice serious and dripping with venom. “Whatever we do to you, it'll be because he tells us to. And the longer your father refuses to come out of hiding, the more torture we'll be ordered to inflict on you. You go free the day daddy repays his debt, and for your sake,” I paused to let out a chuckle, “you'd better hope that day comes soon.”


So the little visit concluded, but not without us exchanging parting gifts. Noah spat on my brand new heels, and I duct-taped his mouth shut. After making sure the tape was nice and uncomfortable, I left him alone. All was silent as I stepped out.


“Sweet dreams, bookworm.” With that, the door to the cell was closed and bolted shut, and I knew I would not be getting any sleep that night.


Chapter Three

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 3


Rancid



Sweet dreams, bookworm.”

With that, the door to the cell was closed and bolted shut, and I knew I would not be getting any sleep that night.




I downed another cup of coffee. Hooray for two hours of sleep.


Okay, I guess two hours was decent, especially since I'd thought I wouldn't get any rest that night. The events of the previous day were still fresh in my mind. I'd spent the entire night debating with myself over what to do about my current situation, and hadn't come up with a thing Seeing out of the corner of my eye that the sun was just peeking up over the horizon, I glanced at the clock. 7:45 am. I sighed and brushed a stray hair from my face, looking down into my empty mug. One more cup of coffee...just one more...


Groaning, I stretched and got up from the table I had sat at all night. After having another mug of Java, I walked to the washroom to take a much needed shower, randomly picking up the PDA on the way. Accessing the camera, I could see that Noah was still where he should have been. All was fine...for now. I usually get to thinking while I'm in the shower. This time was no exception.


So Noah didn't know about the so-called “financial troubles” his family must have been going through around his dad's disappearance. I know it is kinda understandable to not tell your children about stuff like that, but I know for a fact that Noah is not stupid. Lazy and a jerk, maybe, but not stupid. Maybe Wilshire had faked dying for a different reason. The head honcho would certainly be interested to hear about this, not to mention our client. The clock sounded the hour-oh crap. I had to be at work in fifteen minutes. Keys...license...ID...PDA... It looked like everything was there. Bullets of sweat forming on my forehead, I dashed down the many flights of stairs to the parking lot and jumped into my car. From there, I sped my way to work, breaking I don't know how many laws in the process.



As soon as I arrived, I was called to conference room B224. DeMiller, and to my surprise, Rhodes, were there, along with a few others that I figured where Rhodes' flunkies. After giving me a quick glance, Rhodes turned back to the computer on the table.

“Agent Umbriel,” he said, eyes fixated on the laptop screen, “we have tracked down an email address we are pretty sure belongs to my old friend.” He paused, expression suddenly turning to one of annoyance.


“However,” he continued, “we were not able to hack into whatever computer he's using to find his location. We'll be working on that. Please lead my employees down to the hostage's cell. They'll take pictures of the Wilshire brat, and you will report to me when finished.”


DeMiller looked directly at me and nodded.


“Whatever he says.”


“Follow me,” I told the lackeys monotonously. They all stood simultaneously, and I noticed an expensive looking camcorder in the hand of the only female. Silently, I led the three of them to cell A113, where it looked like Noah was dozing lightly. I made a move to slap him awake, but the tallest of the group put a hand on my arm, stopping me. I blinked in slight confusion, but it was obvious they knew what they were doing. I backed off.


The young brunette woman, stiff as a robot, walked to the prisoner. Gracefully, she bent down to look at him for a moment.


Out of nowhere, she raised her right fist.


Before I could even process what was going on, she'd unfurled those long, sharp, cat-like claws and struck him across the face.


Noah's eyes snapped open, head shooting up. Too shocked to even be angry, he stared at her with wide eyes, disbelieving. The woman stared back, seemingly\ unaffected by his expression or the drop of blood that trickled down his cheek. Her face showed not the slightest hint of emotion whatsoever. She was a professional.


Long hair falling over her shoulders, the henchwoman rose and took a few steps back. Apparently liking the expression on Noah's face, she swiftly took the camera and snapped two pictures. Just as quickly, she returned to where the other two were standing.


“We are finished here,” she said in soft, girlish voice. Too stunned to form a coherent response, I simply turned and let them out, making an effort not to look back at the Noah. There was something about that sight that made me queasy.


We walked back in silence I stole a glance at them as we entered the room. All three of them walked and moved as if they were one single being. It was kind of unnerving. After returning the camera, I was instructed to sit until further notice. Throughout the entire process of Rhodes uploading the pictures to the computer and sending them, my mind was lost in awe. That had gone amazingly fast. My eyes darted to the female minion. She sat with her hands folded on the table, one of her nails barely stained with blood. What was going on did not seem to move her to perform any sort of action. The other two did the same.


After a while, studying them became less interesting and more boring, and I turned my flat gaze to Rhodes. He and my boss were talking quietly while the businessman typed at the keyboard fervently. Although I wasn't in the mood for being nosy, my ears perked when I heard the word 'knife'.


“I swear, if this doesn't convince him I'm gonna have her...” the rest was inaudible, and I could only see Rhodes' lips moving. DeMiller said something back, and the conversation went on. After a while, when it looked as if they had reached some sort of agreement, the two shook hands.


The head of our little organization of assassins and kidnappers was in the middle of dismissing me when the familiar sound of a new email was heard from the computer. Mildly surprised at how quickly Noah's father had responded, the client opened it, looking as if he expected some sort of immediate surrender. Yeah, right. I couldn't see what was on the screen, but it was pretty obvious that it wasn't good. Rhodes' face almost instantly flushed a violent red, his nails digging into the table. Letting out an angry sigh, he closed his eyes and massaged his temples.


“Agent Umbriel,” he dressed me through gritted teeth, “I want a video of you cutting an X into the side of the twerp's face sent to me by tomorrow evening. Are we clear?” I looked to my employer for approval. DeMiller made no objection.


“Yes, sir.” Still looking extremely unhappy, my client gave me his camcorder and a designated email. I was then dismissed.


Moving as if in a dream, I exited headquarters and drove home, the expression on my face hiding the rancid feeling inside. It was painful and confusing. Why did I feel so bad for the guy? I couldn't really find anything too likable about him, and I should have been the last person on the face of the earth to care. I would be the one carrying out the torture, after all.


There was no reasonable explanation for the storm raging in my stomach. Why now? I'd done and received my share of torture when I was a kid, and will forever have scars to prove it. It was nowhere near the level of just outright physical torture, but pain and I were no strangers.


So why, again, did I feel like rushing to my apartment and vomiting? Was I really that nervous about this?


I nearly choked on some bile that had risen to my throat as I made the sharp turn into my apartment building parking lot. Okay, maybe I was that nervous. And a feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that it would only get worse from here.


I hastily parked my car and guzzled down some aspirin, some Tums, and a bottle of water. Then I buried my head in my hands and leaned on the steering wheel, letting the silence and loneliness of darkness consume me.


I stayed that way for a very long time.


Chapter 4

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 4


Leniency


"A feeling in the pit of my stomach told me it would only get worse from here."



I violently jabbed the punching bag once more, my bruised and bleeding knuckles throbbing in protest. Beads of sweat streamed down my face as I unleashed my anger on the thing. My heart slammed into my chest and my mind screamed at me to stop, but I ignored it. Pure adrenaline was the only thing keeping me from passing out. I channeled all of my negative feelings into the workout dummy, and soon it seemed as if it was the manifestation of everything that went wrong in my life. I wanted it to hurt, too. The inanimate object took my blows silently, my fists leaving nothing but dull gray scratches on the tough blue fabric. After a time, my body couldn't take it anymore, and I felt ready to give up at this useless violence.


I paused, my chest heaving, to look at the bag one more time before quitting. It swung on the hook bolted to the small hinge I'd placed in my living room, taunting me. It knew it would never feel my pain.


With one last burst of energy, I swung, missed, and collapsed.


As I faded into the dark, I could've sworn the squeaks of the swinging hook almost sounded like laughter.



I should not have felt this way. I'd known this day would come. From the first moment, I'd known.


And yet, just looking at the common household utensil in my hand made my insides churn.


It was a simple kitchen knife, sharp and deadly. The artificial light of my small washroom glinted off of its perfect steel blade, one that would soon be tainted with blood.


Sick.


Sighing, I set it down on the sink before me and looked at my reflection in the mirror. My hair, disheveled and tangled, fell over my face, partially covering my eyes. There was a dried blood stain reaching from my busted lip to my chin. An ugly bruise had formed right by my eye from when I had fallen. The only parts of my face that heavy makeup wouldn't cover were my gray, lifeless eyes.


In short, I looked (and felt) like crap. It didn't seem like there was any humanity left in me.


But their was. How did I know? The sick feeling that rose to my throat whenever I thought about cutting up and innocent person's face. Something in the back of my mind told me that if I didn't exercise some sort of leniency with him, it would eat away at my conscience for the rest of my days.


There was no shooing the guilt away this time. I had to do something.


My thoughts turned to the camera sitting on my nightstand. I had to capture the act on video. I couldn't get past that, but I didn't care. I would find another way to let him know of my decision. My mind was set.


Screw indifference toward all.



I walked down the dungeon hall, ignoring the shouts of "Let me out!" and "I haven't done anything wrong!" coming from all directions. Upon reaching the tiny cell, I stood in front of the metal door, camera in one hand, knife in the other. There was no turning back now.


I went in.


Now, knowing Noah, I should have thought twice about freeing him from the tape wrapped around his mouth. For some reason, though, I undid the gag without thinking before I could even told him what was going on. Staying quiet, he raised an eyebrow at me expectantly. I bit my lip and took a deep breath.


"I've decided to be civil with you, Noah," I started, looking directly at him. "I only ask your cooperation. Give me that, and I'll make sure we'll both...well, you'll go through this with as little pain as possible. Got it?"


No words leaving his mouth, he just sat there, eyes fixed on me, head tilted slightly to the left. His expression was a mixture of confusion and disbelief.


The air grew dense with silence.


Once he seemed to find a suitable Noah-like response, the prisoner's eyes narrowed in distrust.


"First of all, you look terrible."


I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. Typical.


"Secondly, why should I trust you, of all people? You don't exactly have a reputation for kindness and honesty, you know." I pursed my lips, the floor suddenly becoming very interesting.


"Good question, and to tell you the truth, I don't really have and answer to that. But," I raised my head and walked to him, "if you don't trust me, you'll go through a lot more than necessary. If I were you, I would try and take the bare minimum." We glared at each other, faces just millimeters away from touching.


"Explain," he demanded.


"Gladly." Remembering the weapon, I held up the knife.


"We've found a way to contact your father," I said, giving him a serious look. "I don't know exactly what was said, but it's pretty obvious that having you here isn't enough to convince him." His eyes widened to their full capacity, and I nodded slowly, spinning the razor-edged blade through my fingers.


"So, you mean-"


"Yes," I cut him off, trying my hardest to keep an even tone, "I've been ordered to take a video of myself cutting up your face." Feeling slightly nauseous again, I turned away before he could form a reaction, closing my eyes in disgust.


"I can only imagine what they'll do to you if you try going through this with a straight face. They really want you to feel it..." I murmured. "I'm offering you an easier way. Are you in?"


For a few seconds, he looked strangely at me, searching my face for insincerity.


"You're helping me," he finally stated, regarding me incredulously. "Why?"


I exhaled, standing and turning my back to him. I let the arm holding the knife fall limply to my side.


"Because I have enough weighing down on my back. Turning a blind eye to your suffering would just be adding another demon to follow me to the grave," I admitted, and although my eyes weren't on Noah, I could tell he remained unimpressed.


"I don't get you," was his reply.


I chuckled, shaking my head.


"No one does, not even I do. The funny thing about it is that this will probably end up costing me my life, not yours. That's okay though..." I sighed, taking a pause, "...I'm already dead to the rest of the world anyway."


I faced him again.


"So, are you in?"


There was quiet for a few more ticks of the clock.


"Yeah."


Smart boy.


I knelt down to his level, flipping open the camera. He eyed the knife warily.


"Let's get this over with," I sighed again, wiping the knife off with my shirt. "Now, when I start, you have to scream, and you have to scream <emloudly</em>. If you don't show your pain, they'll make me hurt you until you do. Brace yourself." He nodded and shut his eyes tightly as I positioned the knife.


"Take a deep breath," I whispered, and so started the torture.


I tried to make the cuts as smooth as possible, but I also had to do it slowly as my hands would not stop trembling. I made the first incision, drops of blood running down my wrist. After a very convincing scream, Noah's face went pale and his eyes glazed over as if he was already dead, breathing labored and shallow. His skin, like mine, shone with sweat, big drops of it rolling down his face and mingling with the blood on his cheek. The second slash was made, and I'd successfully completed my transition from an empty soul into a monster.


Thus concluded the torture.


"It's over," I said, more to myself than to Noah.


I shut off the camera, let the bloodied knife clatter to the metal floor, and leaned back to see exactly what I had done. At least the X was clean and not as jagged as it could have been, but that didn't stop my heart from wrenching painfully. My entire world spun, and I clutched my breast, trying to get myself back under control. Reining myself in, I patted the only perfect cheek he had left.


"Noah, breathe," I told him, moving my hand away from his face and placing it firmly on his shoulder. He gave me no response at first, but started to breathe normally after a moment. Once he was taking in air regularly again, I gave his shoulder a squeeze, letting him know that all reality was still intact, and then I stood to leave.


"I'll see about getting you something to eat," I murmured as I walked out, but that never happened.


Instead, I went to the washroom, entered a stall, took one look at my blood stained hand, swallowed the burning tears that threatened to fall, and spilled the contents of my stomach into the toilet.


I'd told him it was over. I'd lied. It wouldn't be over for a long, long time.

Chapter Five

Life After Lies

By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 5


Change



"I'll see about getting you something to eat," I murmured as I walked out, but that never happened.

Instead, I went to the washroom, entered a stall, took one look at my blood stained hand, swallowed the burning tears that threatened to fall, and spilled the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I'd told him it was over. I'd lied. It wouldn't be over for a long, long time.



When I exited my apartment building the next day, I was greeted by a sky covered in a blanked of gloomy gray clouds. Lightning like gnarled claws snaking through them at random intervals, the great beings showered the earth with cold, saltless tears.

I pulled my hand out of my leather coat pocket and stuck it out in the rain. That morning I'd scrubbed it hard to get rid of Noah's dried blood, leaving the skin red and tender. The clear droplets soothed the pain somewhat. Some streamed down my palm and onto my wrist, creating tiny dark spots on the sleeve of the sweater under my coat. Some slipped through my fingers and fell towards the wet cement to join the millions of others identical to them that had formed into one large puddle on the ground. I let a small smile play on my lips as I watched nature at its finest. There had been a lot of changes in my life lately, and this one, by far, was the most welcome. My watch beeped the hour, reminding me of my duties at work and that the freedom of watching the beauty around me was not mine to indulge in. I let out a sigh and stuck my hand back into my pocket and continued to walk to my car.


No peace for the wicked, I suppose.



"What is so special about the Wilshire kid?" asked Charlie incredulously as he sat as his desk in the main hall, staring at the small, delicate slip of paper I held in front of him. "Why does he need to be moved?"


"You act like I'm trying to get him a luxury suite, Charlie," I replied, rolling my eyes. "I just want something with a cot and a shower. My client wants him to be somewhat healthy when I torture him."


That was probably a lie. It might have not been a lie, but as far as I was concerned at the time, it was. Rhodes hadn't really specified whether to give Noah basic necessities or to let him rot, but I would figure out a lie to cover that up later. Eyebrows furrowed in suspicion, Charlie studied my face for a second. I looked back at him coolly. After a moment, he sighed and felt around in drawers of his desk for a pen.


"You owe me one, Heather. Room C778," he said, snatching the paper and signing it. I smirked as he handed it back.


"I sure do."



"Y'know, you look awfully familiar," commented the Panda Express worker as she prepared my order a little later. "Like I've seen you on TV or something." I let the corner of my lip turn upward slightly as I pulled out a few bills to pay her.


"Yeah, I get that a lot," I replied. The women smiled as she handed me my bag.


"Have a nice day!" she said brightly.


"You too," I mumbled.


During my time stuck in a huge mess of a traffic jam on the freeway, my PDA let out a loud, ear piercing shriek. I groaned, and fished around in my purse to grab the annoying thing. It was a new message.


Very good, Agent Umbriel, but it's not enough. I want a video of you rubbing salt into it sent to me by morning. -J.R.


My stomach dropping into my feet once more, I sent a reply that once again confirmed my identity as a soulless harpy.


Yes, sir.



It could've been worse.


It could've been a lot worse.


Okay, so I really didn't know how, exactly, it could have been worse. I was just thinking that to make the hideous feeling in my stomach go away as a looked at the two containers in my hands. One would bring pain, the other would bring horrible pain.


"As little pain as possible," I said to myself.


The terrible stomachache only intensified as I chose the little white container in my left hand and ripped the label off of it. No one would see the difference. I turned my gaze back to the set of keys that would free Noah from his bonds sitting on my kitchen counter, idly wondering what they would do to me if I was discovered. Instant death, probably.


I mentally scoffed. I'd already taught myself not to be afraid of the eternal sleep. Hopefully, they would just stand me up against the nearest wall and shoot me in the head. Quick and painless. I would only have enough time to think one last thought before it all came crashing down. Not the most ideal way to die, but at least I had some confidence that they would try to be humane with me.


But there was a problem.


Noah would die too.


I'd promised I would be civil with him. I couldn't just stand back and let him be killed along with me. He would pay for my mistakes, and it would be all my fault. I shook my head, swallowed the lump in my throat, and banished those thoughts from my head. Let's get this over with.



"That wasn't salt," Noah realized later, when I'd already smeared that gritty substance into his cheek, the tiny, pure white crystals dyed red with blood. I didn't reply, too preoccupied with unlocking the cuffs keeping his arms from moving. When his arms were free, he brought up a hand to touch the ugly wound, not bothering to acknowledge his raw, bleeding wrists.


"It's sugar," he breathed, wincing as the skin of his fingers made slight contact with it.


"Yeah," I murmured, busying my self with undoing the chains on his feet.


At least I would get some sleep that night.


Chapter 6

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 6


Mother



"Y'know, you look awfully familiar," commented the Panda Express worker as she prepared my order a little later. "Like I've seen you on TV or something." I let the corner of my lip turn upward slightly as I pulled out a few bills to pay her.


"Yeah, I get that a lot."



I would never forget the events of the next day for the rest of my life.


My breakfast had been sacrificed to Noah that morning, leaving my stomach painfully empty. It wasn't too unbearable, and he needed it more than I did, anyway.


So I wandered the streets of downtown for a while, hunting for a decent coffee joint where I could load myself up with caffeine. Rain still beat down upon the ever-busy city, and all seemed cloaked in a dull gray haze. It was hard to focus on the weather, though. Traffic was a mess, and I was kind of glad I'd decided to brave the rain and walk around that day. Sirens and car horns blared obnoxiously, and my eardrums throbbed in pain. Did these people know anything about patience?


Fed up, I ducked into the nearest place with a sign saying "Cafe" that I could find, and the first thing I did after entering was sigh in relief. The racket wasn't completely gone, but at least I was now able to tune it out.


Finally able to think straight again, I took in my surroundings and noted that this was the most interesting coffee shack I'd seen in a while. It actually looked more like an abandoned Old West saloon than a coffee shop. A single wooden chandelier hung above, illuminating the store with what looked like real candles. A few tables and chairs, also made of wood, were scattered around the room, and aside from a woman sitting to the far left and the one employee pretending to busy herself with something, the place was completely empty.


It was no Starbucks, but it would have to do. Anything to be away from the noise.


The warm, burnt smell that inhabited all cafes grew stronger as I approached the counter. If the cashier heard my slightly squeaky footsteps, she certainly didn't show it. I cleared my throat after a moment or two, and the woman tore her gaze away from her magazine to smile a bland smile at me.


"Welcome. How may I help you?" she said, not doing a very good job of hiding her disinterest. I didn't bother to smile back.


"A large Columbia. Black, please." The worker nodded as I paid her, and proceeded with preparing my order.


"Have a nice day," she said with a little more effort a few minutes later, handing me my drink.


"Thanks," I replied.


Curious about tasting something new, I walked a few paces toward the condiments stand and cautiously popped off the top of the cup. Upon taking a first sip, I actually raised me eyebrows. Impressive. It needed a little creamer and sugar, though, so I continued my way to the little black table where I could find them.


As I emptied a pack of sugar into my treat, I noticed that the woman who had been sitting earlier was now next to me, adding some chocolate powder to her beverage. Black hair on the verge of gray hung just below her shoulders, and long, slender fingers stirred her coffee oh-so-daintily.


She looked familiar, to say the least, but those characteristics didn't alarm me much at first. There were lots of women with shoulder length black hair, slender hands, Shay Chardonnay Red Lipstick Version Two, Limited Edition Candice Umbridge Designer Heels, Lovely Laces satin gloves. Surely, no respectable woman in her early fifties would be caught dead without those. I didn't know this lady, and she didn't know me—


Oh my God.


It took all of my self control to keep from pouring my coffee down my shirt to make sure I wasn't crazy.


There, on the fourth finger of her right hand, was a ridiculously large, emerald studded, custom made, Premium Alice Melange diamond wedding ring.


I was standing next to my mother.


First Noah, now this?


Thoroughly shocked, I quickly bowed my head, letting my short hair fall over my eyes. She was the last person I would let know that I was still alive. If she found me out, it was all over, and what mother wouldn't recognize her own daughter?


My eyes darted up to look outside of the clear glass entrance doors of the shop. There was still a massive pileup of cars and rain still poured down, but all that now seemed like minor inconveniences that I could easily deal with compared to this. I had to get out of here.


"Um, Miss?"


Crap.


I sucked in a breath and plastered on polite smile, looking in her direction. The expression on my mother's face was peculiar. She looked...concerned?


"Doesn't that hurt?" She gestured to my right hand, which was holding my drink at a slight angle. The scalding liquid ran down my hand and wrist, turning the skin bright red. The burning sensation that I hadn't even paid attention to before sent horrid chills down my spine.


"Agh! Dammit!" I cursed, setting the cup down and shaking the hot substance off of my hand. It began to cool after an instant, leaving an uncomfortable, throbbing pain in its wake.


Hissing, I grabbed a nearby napkin and began to wipe my hand off at an agonizingly slow pace, glancing up at her every few seconds and hoping she would just loose interest and go away. She stood there, eyes fixed on me in an intense and slightly disbelieving stare, and I prayed for a way out.


She parted her lips, getting ready to speak. My heart skipped a beat.


"You look-" the loud buzzing of my PDA silenced her, and I whipped it out, thankful for the welcome distraction.


It was Rhodes. They needed me down at headquarters. I was out of the door before Mom could say another word.


Rain still came down hard and the sound of car horns still rang in my ears as loudly as before, but all I could focus on was the torrent of emotions swirling around in my chest. Had that just really happened, or had my mind conjured up some sick, surreal fantasy to drag me into the depths of insanity? Suddenly, my right hand stung sharply. Yeah, I wasn't dreaming.


I reached my car in about five minutes. With a twist of the keys and the rumble of the engine, I was speeding down the street. That image of my Mom staring at me would forever be engraved into my brain, but I was at least able to push it away for now.


Plus, I had more important things to worry about.



Just like the other day, Rhodes and his henchmen were waiting for me in conference room B224, along with DeMiller. My footfalls making light thuds on the carpet, I took a seat without saying a word. Rhodes didn't greet me this time. After a few more seconds of staring at his computer screen, the man cleared his throat, eyebrows furrowed.


"I got a message from him the other day..." he stated. "He wants to have a video session.


I quirked an eyebrow slightly.


"It sounds like he may want to negotiate," said DeMiller with a slight shrug. "Maybe the whole 'salt in the wound' thing was enough." My stomach dropped upon hearing the word 'salt'.


The glow of the computer screen shining on his face, Rhodes rolled his eyes.


"I highly doubt that. Now, Guy told me that he would initiate contact at 3 'o clock sharp. I have 2:59, so it looks like all we have to do is-" A loud chirp sounded from his laptop, interrupting him. Before making a move to accept the invitation, the client looked at my boss expectantly.


"Did you set up the wall connection?" Smirking in reply, the other man snapped his fingers, making the entire back wall light up into a screen, showing exactly what was on the laptop at the time. Smirking back, Rhodes let his finger press the "enter" key, and the video conference commenced.


The window showed nothing but static and only white noise echoed through the room at first, but it eventually cleared up to show the man in debt. He was tanned-skinned, brown-haired, and middle-aged, wearing a cheap-looking suit and sitting in a leather armchair. The wall behind him was made of dull concrete, and it didn't look like wherever he was living was very glamorous, but Wilshire still leaned back in the chair as if he hadn't a care in the world.


Rhodes narrowed his eyes.


"Come to your senses, old friend?" he said slowly and rather cautiously. The man on the screen put on an all-too-familiar smile and leaned back further in his seat. "Why yes, but in a slightly different sens than you may thing. It's amazing how doctored videos can come out to look so real these days, hmm?" The smile became even bigger as Rhodes sneered in annoyance.


"Oh yeah?" he countered. "Keep telling yourself that. You'll need that false sense of security when we send you that video of your youngest son's mangled body being dumped in the middle of the Pacific."


My eyes widened. Would he really do that?


"Have you seen the news, John?" answered Wilshire, face suddenly turning serious. "You won't be able to get past the border into the U.S. Believe me, the media can't get enough of this story. It's only a matter of time before the catch you."


Surprisingly, the client actually smirked when he heard this. Chuckling, he sat up and folded his hands on the table.


"I'm hurt, Guy. I really am. You underestimate me and yet you overestimate the power of the legal system. I'll tell you a fact, Guy—there is such thing as getting away with murder. All it takes is time, patience, strict attention to detail, and money. Either you fork over the cash, or I'll-"


"You'll what? Kill him? You don't have the nerve, old buddy. All you know how to do is make empty threats and play around with Sony Vegas. How do I even know that's Noah?"


"Oh, don't worry," Rhodes said. "With the right amount in your bank account, you can have access to anything from government to medical records. For his sake, you'd better believe that's Noah."


"The cops will-"


"The only thing a cop can do is direct you to the nearest Krispy Kreme Donuts!" the patron spat, slamming his fist down on the table.


"And know this," piped up DeMiller, who'd been silent all this time, "we have the brainpower to think up some very...creative things to do with your boy." Wilshire let that smile cross his face again.


"You've got to be kidding me. This is all one big, fat bluff, at least when it comes to taking his life. I know you, John. You were always a spineless coward, unwilling to actually make the big decisions-"


"You think so!? Come back the day after tomorrow and I will show you how much of a coward I am! Same time!" With that, he slammed the computer screen shut. A few seconds of heavy breathing later, Rhodes faced me, and I straitened.


"Agent Umbriel," he addressed me through gritted teeth, "I will not be requiring your services for the next couple of days. Dismissed."


I left work with a stoic look on my face and a sickly feeling in my stomach that not even one hundred pills could soothe. I could just imagine what was in store for Noah. My mind plagued me with visions of torture and blood and pain, and my own words repeated themselves in my head countless times.


"As little pain as possible..."


There was a side of me that wanted to help him. I knew it existed. I didn't know why it did, but it existed, and it was driving me to actually consider risking my life to save him. I couldn't interfere too much this time, but pain was coming...


...and there was only one thing I could do.


Chapter Seven

"You've got to be kidding me. This is all one big, fat bluff, at least when it comes to taking his life. I know you, John. You were always a spineless coward, unwilling to actually make the big decisions—"


""You think so!? Come back the day after tomorrow and I will show you how much of a coward I am! Same time!" With that, he slammed the computer screen shut.



Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 7


Conversation


I would warn him. I would tell him everything I knew about this situation. It wouldn't save him from any physical abuse, but it would at least shine a little light on exactly what was going on.


It wasn't much, but it would have to do.


Setting him free and taking the heat for it later did cross my mind at one point or another during my walk to his cell (which seemed to last forever), but I quickly dismissed it as way too risky. Security was tight, and I was kind of surprised they hadn't caught me yet. My little good deeds had been kind of subtle, though, but I was sure all that subtlety would have to end very soon.


Before the most down to earth part of my brain could tell me that I really wasn't supposed to be there, I pushed open the door and stepped in. Noah didn't make the slightest movement, just laying on the plain white cot while staring at the ceiling, arms folded behind his head.


"Come to slice up my face again?" was his greeting, making me glare in response. As if I wasn't already risking my butt for him.


"No, and you could sound a little more grateful than that. It would've been a lot easier for me if I had just let you rot in your old cell," I countered, hoping the irritation in my voice was evident enough for him.


Not answering, Noah turned his head, locking eyes with me. The naked light bulb that hung above us didn't provide much light, but the X that marred his cheek seemed to stand out more than ever. It looked like he hadn't really done a good job of cleaning it in the shower, and suddenly guilt pressed itself down upon my chest at the sight of it. I looked down at the floor.


"Then why are you here?" he said.


"I thought that you would like to know a little more about why you're here." I raised my head to see his response. He seemed to be thinking, deciding whether or not to trust me.


"Okay," he replied slowly, sitting up and letting his feet dangle over the side of the cot, "where am I?"


"Underneath Vancouver," I told him.


He blinked.


"I mean, explain to me this organization thing."


For a solitary moment in time, I hesitated. If they found out that I had told him this, both of us were literally dead.


I let out a breath of air through my nose. Here goes nothing.


"Twenty years ago, there was only one thing that mattered to my boss, George DeMiller: avenging the death of his only son, James, who was murdered by a man named Ashton Blackskull. Blackskull had gone insane over the fact that his childhood sweetheart, Denise, had chosen DeMiller over him, and considered their child an abomination. Denise died not long after the killing, supposedly from a broken heart, and DeMiller became obsessed with spilling the blood of the culprit. There was only one thing he was missing—money."


I paused for a second. The look on Noah's face told me that he knew where this was going.


"DeMiller wanted to make this the perfect crime, so he became a hitman and started saving up that way. He was...skilled at the trade, when the hour of revenge came, he was more than prepared. No evidence, no leads, no body, no blood, nothing. The case was declared cold and forgotten about a long time ago.


"After the assassination, word got around and the request came flooding in. By that time, my boss was rich, and started recruiting friends to help him in return for money. One thing led to another, and eventually the team of killers split up to expand their efforts. They spread out all over the world, setting up bases and hiring people, and DeMiller stayed here set up main headquarters. Crime is a big business, you know, and soon we were doing everything from kidnapping to torturing. I've even been told that we used to do rescue missions back in the day, but all people care about is revenge and killing right now. At least..." I looked him straight in the eyes, "that's what I've heard."


Noah met my gaze unflinchingly.


"So what's in it for you?" he asked, voice laced with thinly-veiled suspicion. "Why would you agree to join something like this?"


My mouth went dry. That was a question I'd never been asked before. I looked away from him, crossing my arms.


"Money," I lied, ignoring the bitter taste that seemed to immediately assault my mouth, "power, fear—"


I halted, stopping the action of my hand shooting up to cover my mouth before it happened. Grimacing, I mentally kicked myself for letting that last word slip. Silence. I refused to allow myself to see his expression, hoping he hadn't heard the word—


"Fear?" he said incredulously. "Why fear?"


After throwing around a few curses in my head, I sighed in defeat.


"When I got their call two years ago, they knew everything about me..." I admitted, "...my full name, my address, my birthday, even my blood type. I asked them what the hell they were doing with my information, and the just told me that they'd been watching me from the day I was born."


"How could they do that?" he said, disbelieving. "The government—"


"Trust me," I cut him off, "the government knows. Actually, you'd be surprised at how many favors they owe us. There have been countless times that they've come to us, asking to find out military secrets or discover dead bodies of important people and then let the police take all the glory. And not just our government either. Anyway, I don't know...I just grew scared. These people don't play, you know. Believe it or not, I started to get the feeling that they would come after both me and my family if I refused." I shut my eyes as an involuntary shudder snaked its way up my spine. A few moments of silence passes, and I composed myself, still not looking back at Noah.


"The point is that I took the offer," I stated.


I half-expected him to come back at me with a comment like, "And money had absolutely nothing to do with it, right?", but he remained quiet. I bit the inside of my lip.


"So what about you? Don't you wanna know why you're here?" I said, looking up. He glanced to the side in what looked like slight hesitation. When he seemed sure of himself, he looked back at me.


"Go," was all he said.


"Fifteen years ago, Johnathan Rhodes lent thirty-thousand dollars to your dad, Noah. You dad 'died' not long after the request came that he pay up, plus five thousand dollars interest. Rhodes wants it back, and if he doesn't get it back, you die." Something inside of me wrenched painfully as those words formed on my lips. I took a deep breath and licked my dry lips, trying to banish the feeling.


Upon hearing that, he lowered his head slightly, letting a grim look that mirrored mine cross his face.


"Is he here?"


"Your father? No. We don't know where he is, but we did hold a video session with him yesterday," I replied.


The grave expression on his face never faltered.


"Do you think he'll really kill me?" was his next question.


"I don't know," I said honestly, shaking my head. "I, for one, don't think he actually has the guts. He'll probably keep on torturing you though. Like tomorrow." He stared darkly at me.


"What happens tomorrow?"


I shrugged.


"I have no idea. Your dad was really difficult yesterday. He refused to believe that all of the pictures and videos we've sent him are real. He just kept calling Rhodes a coward..." my voice trailed off at the last second as I caught Noah's eyebrows knitting together in confusion.


"Why wouldn't he recognize me?" he murmured, almost as if he were talking to himself.


I sighed, walking over to lean against the door of the cell.


"Beats me," I said, "but that's not the point. Rhodes said that he would show your father how 'cowardly' he is tomorrow with another video session. I've been ordered out of the building for the next day, but I'll be back."


He had nothing to say in reply, and that horrible feeling was gurgling up to my throat again. I made a move to open the door, letting myself out quietly.


"Heather?"


I stopped, holding the door open and deliberately not making eye contact.


"Yeah?" I replied softly.


"Thanks."


I swallowed hard, trying to keep my composure.


"Your welcome. Noah?"


"Hmm?"


Hopefully, he didn't hear the crack in my voice.


"Don't forget to breathe."


I heard him give a bitter chuckle.


"I won't."


I let the door click shut.


Chapter 8

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 8


Broken






"Heather?"


I stopped, holding the door open and deliberately not making eye contact.


"Yeah?" I replied softly.


"Thanks."


I swallowed hard, trying to keep my composure.


"You're welcome. Noah?"


"Hmm?"


Hopefully, he didn't hear the crack in my voice.


"Don't forget to breathe."


I heard him give a bitter chuckle.


"I won't.”


I let the door click shut.



Uncertainty clouded my head as I stepped into my car the next night. I really wasn't supposed to be doing this, and I didn't even want to think about what would happen to me if I was caught.

Inhaling deeply, I turned the key I had placed in the ignition, bringing the vehicle's engine to life. Letting out the breath, I eased my foot down on the gas pedal and sped off. The sun had set long ago, leaving night to shroud all in darkness. The freeway was nearly empty, which was a welcome change from the usual bustling traffic and it was no longer raining, but I had more important things to think about. Namely, how I was about to risk it all for Noah...again.


But hey, what's life without a little danger?


I glanced at the large black purse beside me. I was no medical expert, but it looked like there was enough to keep his situation from growing worse. I doubted that what I was about to do would do more harm than good.


It didn't take long to reach my destination. Collecting my thoughts and grabbing the bag from the passenger's seat, I exited the car. Before me was a bank, nothing suspicious or weird about it.


Or so I thought at one point or another.


Biting the inside of my cheek, I walked as casually as possible towards the building. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a lone security guard making his nightly rounds. He pretended not to notice me as I entered with the key I had just pulled out.


I didn't need the light to find my way around that place anymore, so everything being covers in inky blackness didn't bother me. I made my way towards the glass door that led to the safe deposit vault, which was firmly sealed against intruders. My key got me through that door and the vault entrance just as easily as it had let me into the bank.


There were rows and rows of metal boxes, each one holding someone's precious possessions. I quickly dropped the key back into my pocket and pulled out a card. There was nothing special about the thing, really. It was just some black plastic, nothing on it but my picture and a skull and crossbones. The simple item wouldn't attract the attention of a regular person...


...unless they knew exactly what it was for.


At the end of the hallway, there was a box not much bigger than my hand. On it, a tiny sticker was posted; "PS" was written in black ink on its surface. Slowly, I slid the card into the space between the box and the one below it. There came a few clicks and whirs from the machine inside, a soft “beep” and the entire wall of boxes backed up and slid away to reveal the elevator which would take me down to headquarters.


I gripped the bag tightly, a thin coat of sweat forming on my entire body as I entered the elevator. Pressing the button that read "C7", I wiped my forehead in frustration with the back of my hand. This was no time to get nervous, although the agonizingly slow journey down didn't help matters much. Finally, there was a chime and I was out of that door in no time at all.


Once I reached the cell, I paused.


Deep breath.


Licking my lips, I pulled out the tiny silver key that would let me in. Unlocking and opening the door, I closed my eyes, as if waiting for the snide remark that Noah would undoubtedly greet me with.


I heard the door close behind me, grimacing as I recognized the foul stench of blood that wafted through the room.


Silence.


The sound of my pounding heart raged in my ears as I opened my eyes.


"Oh my God."


In a state of mild shock, I let both the bag and the little key slide from my hands and fall to the floor simultaneously. The sight of him being tied to a chair was all too familiar, but this time it was accompanied by numerous cuts and bruises that showed through his tattered garments. Something in my chest burned wretchedly as I walked closer, bending down to his level. At least he was breathing, thank God, but his head was bowed in unconsciousness.


Frowning, I stood and looked behind him, feeling nauseous as I saw how they had tied him up. The yellow, hardware store brand ropes were cutting into his flesh and blocking off the circulation to his hands, turning them purple. Blood from the injury had dripped down and pooled on the metal floor. Swallowing, I stuck my hand into my coat pocket and brought out my Swiss-army knife, using it to slice away the impossible knots that bound Noah's hands together. Arms freed, he slumped over unceremoniously, nearly falling.


Slowly, I walked back around to face him, putting both hands on his shoulders and grunting as I lifted his upper body to lean against the back of the chair. Unsure of what to do, I gave him a cautious shake.


"Noah?" I murmured, my voice cracking unintentionally. Getting a little closer to him, I searched his face for anything—any hint of movement, any sign that he had heard me—anything that would tell me he was alright. Nothing.


Pursing my lips, I looked down tentatively before clearing my throat and reaching up to pat his cheek.


"Noah, wake up!" I said a little more forcefully, shaking him again and breathing a small sigh of relief (which he hopefully didn't hear) when I got a groan in reply. After a couple of seconds, he let out another groan and sluggishly opened his eyes.


"What the hell are you doing here? You're in for it if you get caught," he said weakly, wincing as he tried to sit up. Actually letting a smirk form on my lips at that remark, I gently pushed him back down against the chair.


"Glad to see you still have some snark left in you. I was beginning to worry," I teased before giving him a serious look. "But shouldn't you be more concerned about your own safety rather than mine?"


Now it was his turn to smirk.


"Heh, I'm not that easily broken."


"I wouldn't expect anything less."


All was noiseless as I helped him stand, pressing my hand against his back and blinking in confusion when he seemed to cringe at my touch. After aiding him to sit on the cot, I pulled my right hand away to find it stained with blood. Startled, I looked at him before looking back at my red coated fingers. At that moment, it all clicked in my brain.


"They beat you," I whispered. Noah turned his gaze away, expression darkening.


Disgusted at how cruel these people had been, I balled my hand into a fist before turning to pick up the bag and key, both laying forgotten at the door. I stuffed the unneeded key back into my pocket, scanning the contents of the black purse. Spotting what I needed almost immediately, I reached inside and pulled out a simple white cloth. I could nearly feel Noah's stare fixed upon my back as I ventured to wet the piece of fabric in the sink of the tiny bathroom. When the towel was thoroughly soaked, I returned to his side, pulling up and sitting down in the chair I'd just freed him from. The prisoner's eyes followed my every move, as if trying to figure out my true motivations and see what was really going on inside my head.


He made no protest as I calmly took his left hand in my own and began to wipe away the blood with the cloth.


"That emotionless girl did this, didn't she?" I asked after a little bit, while attempting to bandage up the wound. Noah's eyebrows lowered.


"There were four. Her and three men," he replied, still not making eye contact. I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat as I finished wrapping the gauze. Once that was out of the way, I reached into the bag again, this time pulling out a bottle of rubbing alcohol.


"Turn your head," I told him as I poured some of the clear fluid onto the cloth. Noah did so, giving me a good view of the X and the blood that had dried and caked up around it.


'You did that, remember?' my own voice reprimanded me at the back of my mind. Clenching my teeth, I shook my head and tried banish those terrible memories. Attempting to divert my attention back to what I should have been focusing on, I slowly pressed the piece of fabric to his cheek.


"Did you try cleaning it?" I asked.


"Kind of, but I just decided to let it be after it started to look okay," he said. “I'm no medic."


I scoffed at that.


"Neither am I, but our circumstances don't allow up the luxury of a real doctor. The infirmary is only allowed to agents."


He said nothing in reply. After a moment or two had passed us by, I pulled away to observe the scars. The looked clean, the alcohol certainly having done its job. I sighed through my nose, bringing out the clear bottle once more and telling him to lay down on his stomach.


We were both silent as I got to his back, save for the occasional hiss of pain from Noah as the alcohol met the fresh, bleeding cuts. It don't know how long it took...it could've been hours, but I did complete the task, both of us understandably exhausted when I was finished.


"Did you get any sleep whatsoever before coming here?" he asked as I wrapped more bandages around his torso.


"Yes," I replied blankly.


Noah's eyes narrowed as we locked gazes.


"You're lying."


I rolled my eyes.


"So? Why would it matter—" The sound of my PDA ringing in my pocket cut me off. I sighed in exasperation as I pulled it out, noting that the little digital clock in the top right corner read seven A.M.


It was a message from Rhodes again. I scowled. As if I wanted to hear from him.


There will be a meeting to discuss yesterday's event at three. Be there. -J.R.


I quickly shut the little machine off and dropped it back into my pocket, proceeding to gather up my things. Quirking an eyebrow, Noah rolled over onto his back and sat up, leaning back on his elbows.


"What's the rush?" he inquired.


"I need to go," I muttered, stuffing the alcohol bottle into the bag. "I'll be back tomorrow to change the bandages."


Hastily, I rose to leave, hesitating when I realized that I'd forgotten something. I turned to face the prisoner again.


"Here, take these. They'll help." Pulling out a bottle of water and a small pill out of the bag, I set them on the chair before walking away.


"Hey," he called, making me stop the door as it began to close. Exactly like the other day...


"Yeah?" I responded.


"I owe you one."


The corner of my lip curled up into a half-smile.


"I won't forget that."


I closed the door, leaning my head back against it and burying my face in my hands once it shut.


Chapter Nine

Life After Lies

By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter Nine


Confrontation





"Did you get any sleep whatsoever before coming here?" he asked as I wrapped more bandages around his torso.


"Yes," I replied tonelessly.


Noah's eyes narrowed as we locked gazes.


"Your lying."


I rolled my eyes.


"So? Why would it matter—" The sound of my PDA ringing in my pocket cut me off. I sighed in exasperation as I pulled it out, noting that the little digital clock in the top right corner read seven AM.


It was a message from Rhodes again. I scowled. As if I wanted to hear from him.


There will be a meeting to discuss yesterday's event at three. Be there. -J.R."



When it came to meetings like this one, I'm usually able to keep my composure. It was never too difficult to retain a straight face in these kinds of situations. Even when it came down to Rhodes actually threatening to dump Noah's body into the middle of the ocean a few days ago, I was still somehow able to keep cool.

So when I started to sweat profusely as soon as I had sat down in my usual spot at that long table in the conference room, I knew that this was going to be a problem. Straightening in my chair as DeMiller, the client, and his flunkies entered the room, I clamped my mouth shut and tried to convince myself that Noah's father would give in this time. I didn't want to think about what the outcome would be if he refused again.


"I'm fed up with this guy," I heard Rhodes mutter angrily as he took a seat, bringing out his computer once again. "I've been going way to easy on him and his brat."


DeMiller, deadpan, shrugged as he sat down.


"How much do you think it'll take for him to give up?" he asked.


Rhodes closed his eyes, shaking his head as his laptop's screen lit up, casting a blue light on his face.


"I don't know," he said, massaging his temples, "but I will do whatever it takes. It's not over until I get my money or until the kid breathes his last breath."


The atmosphere in the room suddenly became grim, my stomach churning at that last statement. Would a father really let his son die for money?


The clock chimed three, and my client receive a video invitation yet again. Accepting it, he snapped his fingers and the back wall lit up into a giant screen once more. Wilshire's image was fuzzy at first, clearing up after a second or two. Once the picture was clear, I could plainly see the cool, businesslike expression on his features. Rhodes folded his hands atop the table, letting a sinister grin spread across his face.


"Enjoy our little show?" he asked.


Noah's father's eyes narrowed.


"First of all, that might've been the greatest comedy routine I've ever seen," he said humorlessly. "Secondly, I still stand by my previous statement. You, my friend, are too soft. You think you can get away with just using the kid as a punching bag for a while, don't you?"


"You think this is a joke? Trust me, if you don't pay with your money, your son will pay with his life." Deathly calm, Rhodes let his gaze remain locked with his old friend's. The air grew thick with tension as they stared each other.


Finally, Wilshire opened opened his mouth to speak again.


"Please," he said, the confidence evident in his tone. "You won't kill him. Beat him up for a few weeks, sure, but you know that you will never find it in yourself to murder him."


I looked at the client, expecting to see his face turn a furious red again. To my surprise, he let no emotion show.


"You know, all I need to do is snap my fingers—"


"Guy"" Rhodes immediately quieted, regarding the man on the screen suspiciously. The soft, feminine voice hadn't come from anyone in the conference room. A tiny hint of uneasiness crossing his face as the voice called out again, Wilshire leaned back and whispered a few words to the woman off screen. The conversation was extremely heard to hear, but I did catch one word, which I assumed was the woman's name: Rosalina.


When he finally finished talking to her, he turned his attention back to my client, who had narrowed his eyes into mere slits. He'd apparently picked up a few words, too. "I thought your wife's name was Sandra—"


"That's none of your business," Noah's father quickly interjected, "and we're moving away from the subject."


"Oh yes, about how you're trying to hide the fact that you don't even care that your youngest son is going to die?"


Wilshire rolled his eyes in response.


"You may think you can this up long enough to convince me," he spoke, tone dangerously low, "but both you and both I know that you're a coward. Stop lying to yourself. I know you, John. You'll be this close to pulling the trigger and back out at the last minute," said the man on screen, jabbing a finger in the client's direction. Fed up, Rhodes abruptly stood and knocked over his chair in the process, eyes ablaze.


"Listen you obnoxious bastard," he spat through his teeth, "this is your last chance. I want my money, dammit. It's either that, or I swear, I'll tear your son to shreds." My throat went dry at those words. Lips pursing together in a thin line, I shot a glance at the man a few feet away from me, who was quickly losing it. Distrust and white-hot anger swirled around his dark eyes. I bit the inside of my lip, ignoring the pain brought on by the tender flesh being chewed on by my teeth. Noah's father still looked unimpressed, rolling his eyes in exasperation.


"I have three facts for ya—the boy's not going to die, I'm not paying you a cent, and this conversation is over." With that, Wilshire suddenly pressed a button on the keyboard before him, ending the conference.


For about two minutes, no one spoke, all in the room having been stunned into silence. Of course, Rhodes remained standing, and was the first to form any type of response. Shoulders shaking, he planted his hands firmly on the dark wooden table. I expected him to unleash his rage through a burst of unchecked violence, like kicking something or throwing a punch at the wall, but no.


The next thing he did was much, much worse.


Inhaling deeply, Johnathon Rhodes turned his head toward my boss, indescribable rage burning within his bloodshot eyes. Slowly, he exhaled, and uttered two simple words that made everything come crashing down.


"Kill him."


Chapter 10

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 10


Comfort



I expected him to unleash his rage through a burst of unchecked violence, like kicking something or throwing a punch at the wall, but no.


The next thing he did was much, much worse.


Inhaling deeply, Johnathon Rhodes turned his head toward my boss, indescribable rage burning within his bloodshot eyes. Slowly, he exhaled, and uttered two simple words that made everything come crashing down.


"Kill him."



I walked down the cold, dark hallway, the walls on either side of me lined with cell doors. Each step sent tremors up my spine, and everything around me seemed unreal, like I was trapped in some sort of sick fantasy. It was almost if my mind was rejecting reality, refusing to believe that I'd just heard that...asshole order Noah's death. Emotions raged violently in my stomach in an uncontrolable tornado that did nothing to calm my frantically pulsating heart.


For a small, fleeting moment, I wished this was all just a nightmare, but there was no use trying to convince myself of that. I already knew the truth.


Funny, lots of people love the truth. Lots of people take comfort in facts and knowing what's right and what's not. However, that day, the truth just seemed so ugly and I wanted nothing more than to push it away. I knew I couldn't, though, for there was one person that deserved to know the truth....


I curled my sweaty fingers around the strap of that same black bag as I approached Noah's cell, gripping it as tightly as possible. With the knowledge that I now had weighing down on my shoulders, I found it a bit harder to compose myself before entering, although I did manage to pull myself together after a minute. Inhaling deeply, I pushed the door open.


My heels clacked on the metal floor as I walked in, observing the prisoner from afar before walking towards him. Sitting on the cot, he had lowered his head, chocolate brown hair falling loosely over his eyes. He gave no recognition of my presence.


"Hey," I greeted softly, sitting on the chair that had been left from yesterday's...event. I set my bag on the floor, turning my attention to Noah's bandaged wrists.


"How are you feeling?" I asked, moving to take his hand in my own and starting to unwrap the gauze. From the corner of my eye, I saw his lips part slightly, although he didn't speak for another moment.


"Better," he said, to which I could only nod. In the back of my head, I knew I should've told him about the meeting as soon as I walked in a few minutes before, but, like a coward, I didn't say anything. As we both sat there in complete silence, I wracked my brain, searching for the right words. None came. My eyebrows knitted into a frown. How was I going tell him what Rhodes had said?


At last, I sighed, releasing his hand. Granted, my brain had failed me and I still couldn't figure out a proper way to put it, but he needed to know. As a means of readying myself, I quietly clasped my hands together, staring down at my knees before raising my head to look at him. He hadn't changed position. Deep breath.


“Noah?” I asked.


He didn't respond verbally, instead choosing to move his head slightly in my direction. I still couldn't see his eyes, but at least I knew that he was listening.


"Uh...I...I-um," I stammered, shutting my eyes and shaking my head in frustration. Exasperated, my hands balled into fists, fingernails digging into the skin of my palms.


The words simply refused to come out—


"You missed Rhodes by about an hour, y'know." My head snapped to attention at that only slightly audible statement. Noah still had his head turned, purposely avoiding my gaze.


"Wha...?" was the only reply I could manage.


"He didn't waste any time in telling me. According to him, I'll be dead within a week." Upon letting those words form on his lips, the fingers of Noah's left hand, which rested on his leg, twitched slightly, barely clenching his knee. The action, small as it was, betrayed the reserved manner in which he was conducting himself. My stunned silence invited him to go on.


"It's weird, I never really thought about...how I would die. It's just something that I never bothered focusing on before," he continued, his voice blank and distant, "but now...I can't stop thinking about it. I'm not afraid of death -never was- but now it seems like death is all that's left for me." There was an audible crack in his voice during that last sentence, my throat burning all the while. Quieting, Noah slowly raised his head.


My expression softened. Like the tone of his voice, Noah's stare was also devoid of any emotion, but not completely so. I could tell that he was holding back, trying to retain some dignity, but yet and still, some feelings managed to show through. After a few moments of studying his expression, I realized that there was a certain tinge of sadness and regret barely evident within his dark eyes.


Something in my chest began to ache as Noah close his eyes and bowed his head once more in silent acceptance of his fate.


Suddenly, my body was no longer mine. It was deciding for itself now, and my mind couldn't regain authority over my actions. No thinking. Just doing.


Slowly and cautiously, my right hand lifted up from its place on my lap and began to make its way toward Noah, reaching out to him. My heartbeat quickened with each second that slipped by, the sound throbbing in my ears. At about halfway, though, I stopped, my fingers twitching in hesitation. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.... I began to pull it back—


My entire universe came to a grinding halt as Noah, sensing that I was having second thoughts, quickly raised his arm and caught my trembling hand in his own.


Shocked, I took a tiny, sharp intake of breath that couldn't even qualify as a gasp, but my surprise quickly melted into curiosity. The sensation of his hand holding mine felt oddly foreign. It made me realize how long it'd been since I'd had this kind of contact with another. Such a simple gesture...but it reminded me of all the little things in life that I was missing out on by being tangled up with this damn organization.


I closed my eyes and took in the feel of it all. His skin was neither soft nor rough, and it was almost as if the flesh having found a happy medium between the two. Also, I noticed that it was quite warm, contrasting with my own cool hand. It felt...nice, really.


So, for a while, we just sat there, palms pressed together, fingers gently intertwined. My heartbeat was no longer fast and nervous, I noticed. It had calmed considerably, and I liked it that way. I forget exactly when the silence got to us and we started to talk. We must've conversed for hours, the word 'death' never once uttered by either of us.


I didn't let go until the very last second, when I was ready to leave. We didn't need an exchange of words or even facial expressions. The way he softly squeezed my hand before I pulled it away and left gave all the thanks I would ever need.


My right hand feeling very empty for the rest of the night, I drove home, climbed into bed, and sobbed myself to sleep.


Chapter Eleven

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 11


Realization



"He didn't waste any time in telling me. According to him, I'll be dead within a week."
I cracked my eyes open, finally freed from the barrage of nightmares that had tormented me throughout the night. Struggling to regain full consciousness, I quickly realized that the light of dawn had not flooded my vision when I awoke.

Wondering how I'd slept, I turned my head to squint at my little digital clock, which read 4:45.


I let out a noise that was halfway between a groan and a sigh. Trying to go back to sleep was pointless now. Out of pure habit, I yawned and raised my hands to rub at my cheeks, feeling the remnants of dried tears as I touched the skin. My movements were slow and heavy, and the events of the previous day still fresh in my mind as I untangled my legs from my frumpy beige bedsheets. In reality, I wanted nothing more than to turn over and just lie in bed, but no. I needed to be up. I needed to help Noah.


But how?


That thought made me hesitate halfway through the motion of rising from the bed. I really didn't have much time to consider my options, but then again, I didn't have many options to consider in the first place. It was becoming glaringly obvious which path I would have to take. How I would ever pull it off, I had no idea, but I would find a way. I had to.


Putting on a confident face, I swiftly completed the task of getting up and confirmed my decision in my mind.


Noah was going to escape, and I was going to help him do it.



A little later, as the engine of my car roared to life, I let out a nervous, slightly shaky sigh, and although it pained me to admit it, even just to myself, I was terrified. The death threat had seemed...empty before. A sick lie that had been dreamed up to scare Noah's father into submission. Now, though, holding on to the hope that everything would somehow just get better without me having to do anything would be nothing more than clinging to a fantasy.


Oh yes, and speaking of lies, to say that I had any idea whatsoever about how to set Noah free would also be speaking something that was far from the truth. It might've not been the best way to go about things, but time was of the essence. All I could do was wing it and hope that we both would at least make it out alive.


So there I was, driving to headquarters, my sweaty hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles were turning white. As complex and state-of-the-art as it was, there had to be some flaw in the organization's security system, right? It didn't even matter how small or minuscule it was. A flaw is a flaw.


It didn't take me long to get to the bank, and it didn't take me long to get down to the base. Stepping out of the elevator, my heels clacked on the metal floor of the main hall as I began my search for any imperfection whatsoever in the system.


A camera here. A camera there. Heat sensors. The only thing which caught my attention was a ventilation shaft, which I quickly dismissed for being too small for any human being to slip through. Knowing the organization, they'd probably equipped it with sensors, anyway, just in case.


Sighing, I continued my journey, passing the front desk, which sat empty, on my way down the hall. Strange, Charlie was supposed to have been here. Actually, it was pretty empty around this floor. All I could hear was quiet conversation coming through the rows of metal doors on either side of me and the occasional cry of pain from some poor innocent being tortured. Other than that, nothing.


A particularly loud shriek sounded from somewhere, making me jump a little. Funny, the sound had been muffled by whatever door the victim was behind, but still had enough volume to shatter my eardrums and echo eerily down the hall.


For a minute, I contemplated leaving, as it didn't look like I would find anything just walking around. Going to the computer room would probably be my best bet, now that I thought about it, although I wasn't too keen on the idea of possibly trying to hack into the organization's computer network. However, what other choice did I have? I raised my head, blinking as I realized that I'd come to the end of the hallway, which split into two that continued on for a bit and then separated into more. As I was doing a U-turn, another piercing scream was heard, this one louder than before. I grimaced this time, my eyes turning a fraction of an inch toward where it had come from—


I stopped, blinking again as I took in the sight before me. A certain blonde was standing in front of a doorway to my right, leaning against the wall next to it. It was pretty obvious that he was listening in on whatever was taking place inside, but what could be so damn interesting that he actually took the time to stop for it? Heh, it may have been the simple fact that Charlie was just standing there that made me halt, but it was the way he was positioned that kept me staring at him. He had his arm raised, the fingers of his hand curled tightly into a fist that he pressed against the door frame. His thin lips were formed into a grim frown, eyes shielded from view by his long bangs. He was so still...so silent...it was almost as if he was frozen in time.


And then it clicked.


That was the room the scream had come from. Someone was being tortured in there.


Honestly, I had a mind to just turn and walk away, but I chose to approach him instead. A few questions formed in my head about what, exactly, was he doing there, but he held up a hand as soon as I was close to him. Cocking an eyebrow at him, I crossed my arms and moved a little closer to the door, trying to focus on the conversation that was going on. Soon, the words became clear....


"Clark, are you sure about this?" An adult male.


"I'm telling you, she knows where it is! Now, fess up, girl!" Also an adult male.


"No! Mommy said not to!" My eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch at that voice. It sounded like the person it belonged to was no more than five or six. The child's defiance was met with a hard slap, making her yelp.


"Sweetie," the word was said by one of the two men with such fake kindness that it was almost cringe worthy, "Mommy is dead. She can't tell you what to do anymore. Remember how I just slapped you? Hurts, doesn't it? Well, trust me, I can make it stop. Tell me where the paper is hidden, and the hurt will go away."


"No!"


Slap.


"Do you have a death wish, you little wretch? You know that if I kill you, you'll only go down to burn in hell with your whore of a mother!"


"Spending an eternity in hell with my mom would be better than spending a minute here on Earth with you."


Shocked at the young female's words, I opened my eyes, brow furrowing as I awaited response.


Another slap, and another, and another.


A punch.


A string of curse words.


Sobbing.


It continued like this for over ten minutes.


"You have one more chance. Where is your grandmother's will, you sniveling waste of air!?"


No reply. Thirty seconds passed.


"Fine," came the man's chillingly cold voice, "my regards to Satan."


There was a sickening crack, and the girl's shrieks were silenced.



I didn't pay attention to the rest of the conversation between the two murderers behind that metal door. There was something about what to do with the body, and that's all I remember. Time seemed to move slowly as I stood there alongside Charlie, staring blankly at the floor. It would be another five minutes or so until we both found it in ourselves to walk away.

We ventured back to the front desk at a slow, even pace, neither of us uttering a word. Once there, my fellow agent sat at his computer, icy blue eyes narrowed at the glowing screen before him. Still somewhat in a state of shock, I leaned against the polished wooden desk, head bowed. I knew that I needed to focus. The issue about Noah still burned within my mind...but the sound of that little girl's neck snapping replayed itself over and over again in my head; never stopping, never leaving.


"You know, before I knew about this place, I though that money could only get you so far."


I snapped to attention at Charlie's words. He was still staring at that desktop computer, fingers tapping rapidly at the keyboard before leaning back in his chair and taking hold of the mouse.


"Sure, there were assassinations. Sure, there was torture. Sure, there were even organizations like this one, but never this...sophisticated. Now, it's different. Now, governments from around the world come here and pay us to do their dirty work, and in exchange, they allow us to get away with things like that." He inclined his head toward the right, where two men and an agent were entering the elevator, carrying a small body in a white bag, which was stained red at places. I averted my eyes.


Minutes passed.


"Heh, Mendez is in the news again," Charlie commented, breaking the tense silence. I regarded him curiously.


"Who?"


He looked right back at me, brows furrowed.


"You don't know Rosalina Mendez? She's a model and an actress who wants to drop off the face of the earth. Wasn't in the news for about a year or so. Then the media caught up with her again and well...so much for keeping a low profile."


Rosalina. That name rang a bell. Whatever, probably just a coincidence. Inside, I laughed at myself for even noting such a thing.


"Never heard of her," I replied, shrugging.


"Come look."


Nodding, I stood and walked behind the desk, seeing that the agent had just clicked on a news video. A woman with an atrocious haircut standing in front of a park appeared on the screen.


"Today, famed actress Rosalina Mendez was spotted at a local park near her neighborhood of Rosedale, Ontario. Mendez recently finished moving to Rosedale after selling her large, ten million dollar Hollywood mansion in favor of a smaller home here in Canada. The star stated a few years ago that she reportedly likes taking frequent trips to the park to feed the ducks, so why should this particular visit be of any interest? This time, she was not alone. At about 8AM this morning, Mendez was reportedly seen at the park with an unidentified male....”


The camera did a closeup of said star and her...wait a minute....


That man's face....


What the hell?


"Charlie, pause the video!"


"What? Why?"


"Just do it!"


Too stunned to argue, he obeyed. I immediately got as close as possible to the screen, staring intently at the picture. Every detail was perfect. Those eyes, that hair, that smirk....


My lips curled into a grin as I realized something.


I wasn't going to break Noah out.


They were going to let us out.


Chapter 12

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 12


Hope



"Charlie, pause the video!"

"What? Why?"


"Just do it!"


Too stunned to argue, he obeyed. I immediately got as close as possible to the screen, staring intently at the picture. Every detail was perfect. Those eyes, that hair, that smirk....


My lips curled into a grin as I realized something.


I wasn't going to break Noah out.


They were going to let us out.



I lifted the mug of coffee to my chapped lips again, noting with slight annoyance that my grip on its handle was a little shaky, probably from me being doped up on caffeine and having had very little sleep lately. I wanted to rest, knowing that I most likely looked as awful as I felt, but the mug filled with black, bitter, lukewarm liquid to my right and sheer will alone would have to suffice for now. I had a mission to complete.

The organization's main office room was dark, the computer in front of me being the only source of light and possibly the reason my eyes were starting to hurt. As the insanely long list of people with 'Mendez' as their last name loaded on the screen, I marveled at the information these people had collected over the years. Most results contained just a name, birth date, and the city in which the person was living. Some had a little more detail, such as height, weight, hair and eye color, usually what one would find on a driver's license. Some contained an entire profile, complete with multiple addresses, phone numbers, job locations, spouses, children, family, friends....


Chilling.


Finally, after ten grueling minutes, the list was completed and I immediately started to seek for Rosalina. Once I'd narrowed it down to a point, it wasn't too hard to find the her. Out of the group of women who all had that name, only one had a full, accessible profile.


Clicking on the link, I glanced to my left at the photo lying next to my hand. It was a screen shot of the face of Noah's father, captured forever. The original picture had been kind of blurry and of overall unimpressive quality, but a few enhancements quickly solved that problem. There was no doubt about it now, that was clearly Guy Wilshire. Not far from the picture were a few other loose sheets of paper— news reports and other information I'd gathered during my research.


Directing my attention back to the computer, I scanned the page briefly. Yep, that was definitely her. Everything checked out with the facts I'd already collected. Licking my dry lips, I gave the PC a command to print out the page.


As the documents made their transition from the screen to the plain white pages I'd fed into the printer, I absentmindedly drummed my fingers on the desk. Well, I thought, this whole thing was certainly a welcome turn of events. If it hadn't been for Charlie and his sudden interest in current happenings in the celebrity world a few hours ago, I, admittedly, would still have been completely lost. That was all in the past, now, though.


Once the printing was finished, I stuffed all of the pages into the yellow envelope I'd snatched from the mail room and shut off the computer. With the papers in one hand and my half-empty coffee cup in the other, I hastily made me my way out of the computer room.


I walked back toward the elevator that would take me to the world above, pulling out my PDA with two fingers and noting that its little clock read six in the morning. It had taken me all night to get this done.


Sighing, I slipped the object back into my pocket. It could've been worse.


I stepped through the door of the elevator, which immediately closed behind me and began to rise up toward the top level. I would send the papers to Rhodes later in the day, after a much-needed nap and an aspirin...or two. For now, my work was done.


The elevator's bell chimed, and while I walked quietly out of the silver metal door and made my way out of the bank.



I adjusted my pillow again for the fifth time in the last three minutes, burying my head into it and trying to force myself into sleeping. It'd been hours since I'd gotten home and I still wasn't able to manage such a simple task. To help me relax, I attempted to clear my mind of all stressful thoughts, but found it harder to push away the anxiety over my current situation than expected, to my annoyance.

I let out a sigh of exasperation, taking a fist-full of my frumpy comforter in my hand and pulling over my head in one quick motion, moaning. Was a moment of rest really too much to ask for?


Ouch. Headache.


Apparently so.


Thankfully, my attention was diverted from the sharp pain by the loud buzzing of my PDA, which had been sitting on my nightstand ever since I got back. Not bothering to get up and actually look at what I was doing, I stuck my arm out of the mound of covers, groping around in thin air for a few seconds before my fingertips met the cool, polished wood of the little table, and finally, the smooth casing of the object in question.


Grabbing it, I pulled my arm back under the pile of bedsheets, flinching as the intense brightness of the thing's small screen nearly blinded my tired eyes. After getting my vision back in check, I squinted at the PDA's display, which told me that a new message had arrived.


Agent U, Meeting today. Same room, same time. -J.R.



I was the first one in the conference room, my big yellow envelope tucked safely under my arm as I sat down in my usual spot. As a means of slowing my wildly pulsating heart, I tried to focus on breathing in and out, slowly and evenly. 'Calm down, Heather,' I told myself. This meeting was a blessing, really, as it meant that I could present my little find directly to Rhodes. It was perfect, and therefore my hands shouldn't have been clamming up. I shouldn't have been sweating. I shouldn't have felt like someone had raked sandpaper up my throat. Why was I so nervous, dammit?!

My thought process was interrupted as Rhodes entered, his shoes making quiet thumps on the mahogany carpet and those three minions or whatever right behind him. The would-be murderer wasted no time in finding his seat, carelessly dropping his laptop case on the table. Obviously, he wasn't pleased.


DeMiller walked in not to long after the other man did, looking a bit more collected than the client. He also sat down quickly, right as the the clock on the back wall chimed the hour. Thus started the meeting.


"So," began my boss, who was intent on getting right down to business, "how do you want the killing carried out?"


"Depends," Rhodes replied shortly, "do you charge by method?"


DeMiller shook his head, folding his hands on top of the table.


"No. Ten-thousand flat." At that, Rhodes made no physical response, simply staring at his laptop as it powered up. He seemed to be mulling it over.


"That sounds fine," he said finally. "As for how to do it, I have no specific requests...although I do want there to be screaming."


I scowled inwardly. Sadistic bastard.


That statement was followed by silence from both. I sucked in a deep breath. Now, or never.


"Permission to speak, Sir." My voice came out a bit more shaky and timid than I would've liked, but I didn't dwell on it, focusing on keeping my face emotion-free. The two men, surprised at my speaking up, turned to look at me with mildly surprised and curious looks.


"Uh...permission granted, Agent Umbriel," DeMiller said slowly.


"Recently, I came across some information on the Internet that I think might interest you." I sent the envelope across the table, which Rhodes promptly caught and opened. I let him have a few minutes to look over its contents, studying his reaction closely. By the time he got to the picture of Noah's father, the expression on his face was simply incredulous. It would take him another two minutes to form a response.


"Mendez, huh?" he murmured quietly. I nodded.


"She's our ticket to the man you really want. Even if he doesn't live with her, I have...methods of getting that information from this so-called pop star." For emphasis, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my knife, placing it on the table and sliding it over to the middle aged man like I did the envelope. Before the object could even get close to stopping, he grabbed it, not even moving to look at the small weapon. Eyes still fixed upon the pages he held, Johnathan Rhodes made no reply. My boss, all the while, was silently leaning to the left a bit so that he could see the sheets, looking somewhat impressed.


"How did you find this?" he asked.


"I was looking at the news when I came across the video and clicked on it out if interest," I lied, deciding to omit Charlie's involvement, although I didn't think it would make much of a difference.


All I got was a nod in response.


By this time, it looked like the client had finished reading, turning his gaze toward the knife in his left hand. He slowly laid the sheet of paper down on the table, closing his eyes with a sigh. I could see a smirk playing on his thin lips as he took his thumb and started running it lightly over the flat side of the blade. "That kid had better be damn grateful that you came along with this little gem," he chuckled. "I would've axed him tomorrow if you hadn't."


My eyes widened a fraction of an inch. Wow, tomorrow. Noah had come that close to the end....


"Luckily for him, though, we've found his father," Rhodes continued, "and it will be your job to bring me what's mine." I nodded and rose as he handed me back all of my papers and the envelope.


"Anything else, sir?" I questioned.


"Take the kid with you. If blowing his brains out in front of Wilshire doesn't work, you have your...methods."


He gave me my knife.


"Dismissed."


I immediately turned to exit the room. It might have just been me, but I thought I heard DeMiller whisper something to the client as I walked out, but I paid it no mind. I was too busy focusing on the fact that I'd done it. The only thing left to do was get the money, and Noah would be spared. He had a chance now...


...but the nightmare wasn't over just yet.


Chapter Thirteen

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 13


Warmth  




I immediately turned to exit the room. It might have just been me, but I thought I heard DeMiller whisper something to the client as I walked out, but I paid it no mind. I was too busy focusing on the fact that I'd done it. The only thing left to do was get the money, and Noah would be spared. He had a chance now...


...but the nightmare wasn't over just yet



Okay, time to get down to business. Now that I officially had the permission to pay a visit to Noah's father, I was taking care of everything that needed to be done before the cross-country trip. It wasn't very hard. The first necessary necessary step I had to take was to get the plane reservation done, which had been easy to accomplish. That had been the most important task, but there were still other things that needed to be done to make sure both of us made it out in one piece.

That being said, it's not every day a mission for an underground society specializing in assassinations and torture requires a trip to the mall as preparation, huh?


I snorted to myself quietly. It certainly isn't, I thought wryly, but here I am.


I was scanning through the many racks of clothing at an enormous department store, pointedly ignoring the wave of nostalgia that washed over me upon remembering how many credit cards I'd maxed out at this particular mall. The place always seemed to have exactly what I needed at any given time, even now. Slung over my lower right arm were a pair of black cargo pants and a dark blue T-shirt, along with a black jacket and a few other things that I was carrying in my hands to the checkout line. They'd been hasty picks, which was funny since I'd once been famous for going on ridiculously long shopping sprees before. Now, however, just setting foot in this store left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe because being back in this place reminded me of what I used to be....


"Miss?" came a quiet voice, jolting me from my thoughts. I looked up, blinking as it dawned on me that it was my turn in line. The clerk was staring directly at me, and I silently thanked all that was good in the world that there was no one else around. Clearing my throat, I walked up to the customer service desk to pay.


"How are you?" the teenage girl chirped as she deactivated and pulled the plastic beige security tags off of the clothes.


"Fine," I replied, making an effort to sound pleasant enough. "You?"


"I'm good," she replied cheerfully. From then on, the employee went about processing the purchase silently, casting a hidden, thoughtful glance at me every few seconds. I averted my eyes to the right, pretending to find the stylishly clothed display mannequins interesting.


A moment passed, and the girl's eyes suddenly gleamed with realization after she took another good look at me. I sighed inwardly.


"Now I remember your face!" she exclaimed, her red nail polish glinting in the stores artificial lights as she snapped her fingers. "You look like that Heather girl! The one who was on that show!"


I instantly plastered a surprised, innocent look on my face, now trying to avoid eye contact as much as I could.


"Really, now?" I said. "That's funny." Anxiety was slowly starting to build up in the pit of my stomach, but thankfully the girl was just then calculating my total with her bulky old cash register.


"That'll be thirty seventy-eight, miss." I paid quickly, picked up my bag and bolted from the store, nearly snatching my receipt from the clerk's hand. Though, of course, I couldn't just sprint for the door. I had to pace myself to keep from looking suspicious. I could practically feel that girl's confused stare on my back. As I hastily got in my car and drove off, I could only hope that she would just shrug the situation off and go back to doing her job or admiring those nails or anything other than focusing on "how much I looked like that Heather girl".


It was actually kind of strange, I thought. Someone recognizing me while I was out was nothing new. It had happened a number of times in the past, ever since I took part in that show that must not be named, and I hadn't even really been bothered by it before. After all, I was supposed to be dead, right? Sighing, I could only deduce that my reaction to this little encounter had been caused by the last time it had happened in the coffee shop. Having my own mother's shocked, wide-eyed gaze pierce my own right there in public had...scared me. It was then that I realized how fragile, how delicate it all was. One slip up, and it would all be over.


But hey, I told myself as I pulled up to the bank, you're just a plane ticket away from getting out of here, right?


A pause, then,


Yeah, I thought, to confront a father who doesn't take a very real death threat to his youngest son seriously and somehow make him cough up thirty-five thousand dollars, not take a vacation.


It would only be a matter of time until I'd be saying, doing things I'd never dreamed of before, and the less said about that, the better.


The elevator ride down to floor C7 seemed to take longer than usual this time, but I just passed it off as my mind playing tricks on me. There was no reason to run to the cell now. A nice and slow pace would do just fine. It would give me more time to collect myself and let me reiterate in my brain that luck was on our side, at least for the moment, and soon Noah would be setting foot outside for the first time in weeks. Wonderful, right? Of course it was. He'd suffered enough.


The sound of my heels yet again clacking on the metal floor beneath me was the only thing I could hear in the hallway as I approached the silver door, wasting no time in unlocking and pushing it open (for the last time...hopefully). I took a deep breath one more time, just to calm my rolling stomach, and quietly stepped in. I was greeted by a familiar sight. The image of Noah laying on the cot and staring at the ceiling was nothing new. There was also that same blank expression on his face that belied that sadness I knew was there. What else to expect of the condemned? This I'd seen before...


...but that didn't stop my heart from throbbing painfully, or the fact that at that moment the only thing I wanted was to make his sadness go away. I knew I couldn't though, because something in my gut told me that after this whole situation was over, that hidden depression would become a permanent fixture.


Even if he somehow managed to...heal, that barely-concealed regret would always be there. It could be easily covered up by a charming smirk or a sarcastic remark, but it would still be there.


I swallowed the itchy feeling in my throat and moved to sit down in the lone chair next to the cot again.


"Hey," I whispered, letting the bag I was holding fall to the floor beside me. I didn't expect him to move or even move those deep black eyes in my direction, but he did, sitting up on the bed and looking directly at me.


With that one look, I knew he was asking me a question.


Why are you here?


My gaze fell to the floor.


"We know where he is," I said, keeping my stare fixed anywhere but him. If Noah had any reaction at all, his voice didn't indicate it.


"Where?" he asked tonelessly.


"Ontario. I've been ordered to go there and take you with me."


A moment of hesitation.


"And how was this found out?" I blinked at the floor, having expected more of a 'when do we leave'.


"Well, y'know, saw his face on some site, connected the dots, told my boss and Rhodes...."


"How long did it take you?"


...Wait, what? I thought that I would already be explaining how I came across and gathered the information in detail, not how long it took me to do it. Why would it matter to him anyway? Weird.


Nevertheless, I gave a little shrug.


"All night," I replied, suddenly reminded of all the meals I hadn't eaten and the sleep I'd lost, but that wasn't important (even when I had a splitting headache and a hollow feeling in my stomach).


I raised my head, looking at him. There was still sadness, but now there was also relief in his eyes. It was finally starting to sink in.


After breathing out a sigh, I picked up the bag and held it out to him.


"Some clothes. I'll use the makeup to cover up your scars later," I explained.


He said nothing in reply, simply getting up and walking to the small bathroom to change. As the door that desperately need its hinges oiled shut, I stifled a yawn and pulled out my cell. Seven in the evening. I'd made good time.


I yawned again, reaching up to rub my eyes before crossing my legs and arms simultaneously. Five minutes. No more, I thought as I let myself lean against the back of the chair. I had to keep track of the time. Couldn't just let myself fall asleep. A five minute nap and another three cups of coffee and I would be okay.


Just five minutes....


Just five....



Creaking of a door.

Footsteps.


A shuffle of clothing.


A touch, gentle and almost hesitant, on my cheek. It lingered there for a little moment, only to slip away. I did not understand. Was I dreaming...? A very strange dream, then. Only sounds and feeling, no sights.


An arm encircled me, my shoulder grasped in a warm hand. Very warm. Wanted to lean into it, absorb that heat.


Another arm looped itself under my legs. also. I still did not see anything, didn't see him, but he was there. Close.


Then I was being moved. Lifted. Carried. Held. My ear pressed against something just as warm as the arms that cradled me, and the beating sound that came from underneath the surface, just for a second, seemed to be the only thing that existed in the world.


The arms placed me on something cold, firm, hard. I shivered. Wanted to protest, to feel that touch on my face again, not this thing I was lying on. Heh, I must've been going soft....


The hand came back, touching my face with extreme care, as if I were going to break if it pressed too hard. The cold was forgotten, replaced by the jolts of what almost felt like electricity that seemed to sear through every nerve ending in me. The fingers trailed softly over my eyebrow, down my cheek, my shoulder, stopping to rub my arm lightly. It—he wanted me to go back to sleep.


The hand moved again, lower, lower, reaching my own hand, but not touching. I wanted to move, had to move. Had to do something to let him know I was there.


I felt myself shift, as if my body was almost reluctant to oblige with my mind's command for it to move. I could only turn my head slightly in his direction, could only open my eyes a tiny bit. I needed to. I needed to see his expression.


A smile. A small, calm, sweet smile. All for me.


His hand laid itself upon mine. I had to force myself to say something.


"Mmm...Noah?" was the only thing I could muster. The smile grew just a fraction of an inch wider.


Our fingers laced together, only to have him pull away and then take my hand in his own, lifting it up. I was starting to sink now, starting to sink into the darkness and the silence. I had to strain myself to hear his last words, just a soft murmur in the distance.


"Thank you, Heather."


Smooth lips laid themselves upon my knuckles.


My eyes closed, the warmth of sleep enveloped me, and the last real, raw emotion I remember feeling was pure contentedness before I floated into the blissful nothing and knew no more.



Chapter 14

Life After Lies

By Fadingsilverstar16

Chapter 14

Confessions



"Our fingers laced together, only to have him pull away and then take my hand in his own, lifting it up. I was starting to sink now, starting to sink into the darkness and the silence. I had to strain myself to hear his last words, just a soft murmur in the distance.


"Thank you, Heather."


Smooth lips laid themselves upon my knuckles.


My eyes closed, the warmth of sleep enveloped me, and the last real, raw emotion I remember feeling was pure contentedness before I floated into the blissful nothing and knew no more."



"If you could stop staring at that computer screen for two seconds and hand me my plane tickets, I'd really appreciate it." Eyes never leaving the monitor, Charlie picked up the two small slips of paper to his right from the desk and slowly placed them in my outstretched hand. I rolled my eyes at his incredulous expression, which he'd had on his face for the last three minutes as he scanned through the reports.


"Is this really that hard to believe?"


The blonde blinked up at me, holding my gaze for a second before closing his eyes and shrugging.


"The fact that we stumbled upon that video—completely by chance, may I remind you—just in time to save the Jonah kid from the chopping block is a bit hard to believe, yes," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes again.


I let out a huff and absentmindedly combed my fingers through my hair, wincing as I got them caught in a few tangles.


"First of all, it's Noah. Secondly, I'm just...kinda glad he actually has a chance of getting out of this hellhole, now."


That got me a cool yet slightly suspicious look from Charlie, which made me realize how much...emotion had gone into that statement. A sharp bout of pain ripped through my stomach—a physical self-reprimand. Trying to fix what I had just said, I countered his stare with my own, which I hoped was uncaring enough to be convincing.


"I don't know," I said, trying to sound indifferent, "but what they were gonna do to him...I wouldn't wish something like it on my enemies."


The accusing glint in his eyes left, replaced by something unreadable.


"Yeah....Well, I guess this is it then," he said.


I ripped my gaze away from his, looking down at the floor before answering.


"I guess it is."


My co-worker offered me a fist-bump, which I accepted. Then I spun on my heel and made to return to Noah's cell for the last time.



"Are you absolutely sure you're not allergic to this stuff?” I asked for the third time in the last hour. Eyes closed, Noah gave a very tiny nod, as not to mess me up. I was carefully brushing some brown foundation onto his face, covering up numerous small scars and the X on his cheek. When I finished and sat back to check over my work, it looked as if my knife had never touched him. Satisfied, I dropped the little brush I had used and the foundation compact back into my bag.


"You're done," I said, rising from my seat. He also stood, following behind me as I walked out of the cell.


It was mostly quiet in the hallway that morning, and I noted with a bit of regret that this would probably be the last little moment of complete silence I would be allowed to revel in for a while, as the noise of the airport and the plane would soon be ringing in my ears, inescapable.


We were greeted by the chilled morning air once outside, and although I could tell that the cold was getting to both of us, Noah seemed to be relieved to be out in the open again. Once standing next to my car's door, he didn't get in immediately. Instead, he leaned against the vehicle and turned to gaze toward the east, where an array of oranges and pinks radiated from the reborn sun. Soft yet blazing, the colors were flawless in the way they blended together, painting the horizon and chasing away the dark It almost looked unreal, more like a photo of a sunrise than the actual thing. It was beautiful, to say the least; the kind of image everyone associates with sheer perfection. The kind that's worth remembering. </span></span>


Closing his eyes, Noah inhaled deeply, like he wanted to absorb as much of that fiery glow as possible.


Almost feeling like I was witnessing something private, I looked away to stare aimlessly at anything but him. There are few perfect instances such as that. Most have already passed before they can be genuinely enjoyed, and it's funny how a lot of them seem to come at a time when our lives are anything but perfect. Noah deserved to have that one to himself.


It was only a second later that he entered the car, and I backed out of my parking space and sped off without a word.



Neither of us got out at first after I parked in a lot near the airport. Stopping the car, I pulled my key out of the ignition a little slower than needed and then leaned back in my seat for a second, most definitely not in a hurry to get to what I had to do next. Breathing a small sigh, I leaned over toward the passenger's seat, reaching for the glove compartment.


The first thing I pulled out was a simple dagger—the first "gift" the organization had ever given me. Never having been used, its flawless blade glinted in the light of the sun as I held it. The second object was a standard issue gun—incredibly smooth and black as sin. I hid them both on my person, wincing as the knife's cold metal pressed into my skin. Noah's eyes darkened the sight.


"You won't get past security with those," he murmured.


"The organization has more power than you think," was all I said in return.


Airport security was easy enough to bypass. When we reached the front of the line, I'd already fished my wallet from my coat pocket and had it in my hand. The guard operating security was tall and heavy-set, greeting me with a bored look.


"Please remove your shoes, wallet and any metal you might be wearing or have with you," he said gruffly. Both of us did so, but I never touched the concealed weapons. I wouldn't need to.


Attempting to look as intimidating as possible, I narrowed my eyes and flashed him my ID card. He seemed to spot the grungy white skull on the ugly-looking thing immediately; the slight widening of his eyes gave him away. He knew what it was. He couldn't play dumb.


"Thought the government had taken you punks out years ago...." I heard him utter, but he punched in a code on his computer, anyway. When I walked through the security scanner, no alarms went off.


As we boarded the plane, I got an inordinate amount of glares from passing flight attendants and other employees. Apparently, the news had spread around pretty quickly. I'd had used a skull card, and that meant I had something to hide. No one said anything, though, and it was better that way.


Time flew by. Hours seemed like minutes and minutes like seconds. It was as if I was stepping out of the plane and into the airport, and suddenly I was standing on the sidewalk of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Canada. The only detail worth remembering from the journal from Vancouver to our destination was that a feeling of tension, tight and heavy in my middle, worsened with each fleeting moment.


It had been raining on and off throughout the day, and the drizzle had just started up again when we arrived. The sun had disappeared long before. Leaving no afterglow, it had sunk behind an expanse of dark clouds in a much less spectacular way than it had risen earlier. The street lamps, dimmer and older looking than should've been, provided some light, but nothing for warmth.


Shivering, I noted the sight of my breath becoming fog as it met the freezing Ontario air. I crossed my arms and mentally kicked myself for not wearing a heavier jacket, but soon forgot about it and went back to staring at the building before me. The house, owned by Rosalina Elena Mendez, was white and fancy looking, though not as much as some of the other houses on the block. All in all, it had a kind of cheery, sophisticated look, even with that ominous sky in the background. One could easily tell that someone important lived there. Whether it was just this stick-figured model or not remained to be seen.


I shut my eyes and sucked in a deep breath, letting the smell of rain flood into me.


I bit my lip and walked over to Noah, who had left my side and moved to sit on the sidewalk. Like several times before, Noah didn't acknowledge it. Slightly hunched over and unmoving, he stared hard at the ground as if it were responsible for all of his problems. Despite its relatively small size, the house seemed to loom over him like a threat. He still hadn't taken a good look at the place; hadn't even glanced.


Something, an emotion, struck me right in the heart, then spread to linger on in my chest. Sympathy. Along with the initial physical burn, there came the urge to say something. Anything.


I sat down next to him.


"Y'know...it'll all be over after—"


"Why did you do this?"


Having been thrown off by the interruption, all I could do was stare. When it sunk in what he was asking me, another emotion welled up from inside. Reluctance.


"Why do you want to know?" I asked. My mind was racing, and I wanted nothing more than to find a way to dodge the question. Just the idea of answering, for a reason I still don't know, made my stomach churn.


Noah raised his head to look straight at me. Behind him, two gnarled streaks of yellow twisted through the sky. His eyes seemed to flash along with them, and it was enough to make my blood run cold.


"Because you've done more for me in less than a month than anyone else has in my entire damned life."


That statement, said in such a simple, honest way, was something no one had said to me before. Even as my mind scrambled to find how I, Heather, could ever drive another person to say that, I knew I would never truly accept it simply because it was so unbelievable. I couldn't move; couldn't think. He appeared to notice that, and kept speaking.


"When it finally sunk in that everything about my dad's death was a lie...I waited. I—" he stopped, closing his eyes, to let out a shallow breath. "That's all I could do. Just sit and wait for him to save me. I knew he would. After all...I'm his son, right? Thinking about that was the only thing I could do to keep myself sane.


"But then those people came and forced me down and beat me until I wished I could just suffocate and die from the stench of my own blood...all while my father watched and did nothing." That last word was just a whisper, which he spoke in more broken a tone than ever before.


The rain had grown bit harder, then. Cold and cruel, it plummeted to the earth without mercy. It was also starting to soak through the black fabric of Noah's jacket. He didn't seem to mind, though, raising his head for a moment to let it reach his face. Almost as soon as he did, one droplet landed on his eyelid, then moved to run down his cheek like a tear.


"Before, I'd spent all that time alone, making up excuses for him. Hell, if he had shown just one hint of concern that day, I probably would've forgiven him on the spot, but no. Nothing. So I was forced to abandon my precious lies, and even though I hated myself for making them up up in the first place, it was a hard thing to do. I'm still wondering if I really deserved it or not. Maybe that was all punishment for being indifferent to other people all my life; for only caring about myself. But it wasn't all bad..." he opened his eyes and looked back at me, and though it wasn't enough to truly be significant, that gaze was surprisingly...gentle.


"I did have you."


My eyes widened. My breath hitched. The numbness in my hands, how freezing I was, and the lump in my throat...all seemed to disappear, or maybe my brain just stopped registering everything save for that last little sentence. I couldn't move; couldn't think. The only thing I had left was just the capacity to repeat those words over and over again in my head.


"You didn't have to do any of what you've done for me and you know it," his eyes became hard again, but with curiosity instead of spite. "If it weren't for you, I'd be rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic right now. That's more than I can say for him or anyone else I've ever known. You saved my life, Heather, and I just want to know what possessed you to care when not even my own father would."


...Wow.


I was still frozen, half from shock and half from the cold. An icy, rancid feeling in the pit of my stomach made my head spin, but I welcomed the pain. It was the only thing convincing me that this wasn't some hallucination brought on from skipping my daily dose of caffeine. Reluctance still weighed me down, encouraging me to stay quiet and keep it all locked up. It held me back, waging war with the part of me that wanted to say something. And for some strange reason, I didn't want to let it win. I forced myself to speak.


"On November seventeenth, two thousand eight, I decided I was going to slit my throat with the same knife I used to cut up your face,” I started, cursing the itchy feeling that assaulted my eyes as I did so. "I'd gone through the whole depression thing, after hitting rock bottom and realizing that I had no one to blame but myself. I still find it funny that it took me as long as it did to seriously start considering suicide. The option had always been there, but at first, whether it was cowardice or hope that I would get over it... I—I just couldn't do it. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. When I finally made the decision, the only comforting thing I could delude myself into believing was that I was just one of those people the world was better off without."


I paused, clenching my fists and closing my eyes. Hot, sour bile rose up in my throat.


"So, I had everything ready. The knife, the note, the red towels to fall and bleed on so I wouldn't stain my mom's ugly new carpet," I said, astounded and horrified at how well I remembered the scene. "I got so close. The knife had already cut into my neck just enough to make it bleed a little when I got that call. I have no idea why I stopped and picked up my phone, but I did. The woman on the line told me to put the knife down. She told me that there was a way out; that I didn't have to kill myself. She told me that there was a place for people like me. She told me all about the benefits. She told me I would retire a rich woman. The list goes on and on. The last thing she told me was that it would be best for everyone if I accepted the offer, and there was a threat in her voice."


My voice was soft, so the emotion in it was hidden and I could pretend everything was fine. I blamed the wetness in my eyes on the rain, the slight trembling of my shoulders on the cold, the pain in my chest and stomach on the cold I was probably catching, anything but me. If I'd blamed myself then, even for a moment, I would have died.


"I think that might have been the first time in my life that I ever thought of my family first. I mean, I didn't care about myself anymore, so whether or not they targeted me wasn't an issue. But my family...they had lives to live, and I found myself actually caring. They hadn't already ruined it all for themselves like me. So I took the offer, even if I really didn't know what I was getting into, just to eliminate the possibility of them being killed.


"As for the the whole organization thing, I figured that after a while I'd just get used to it. You were supposed to be my first real assignment. It was supposed to be easy. I thought I could take it..." I hesitated, brows furrowing, but it was too late to try and get out of this, now. I had to continue. "But there's a difference between thinking you can do something and actually being able to do it. Yeah, I'd known you didn't deserve it. Yeah, I'd known I was going to be torturing you. Yeah, I'd known how awful this was, but that was just me thinking about it. Then, that girl hit you. Then, I was ordered to torture you. That was when it all became real, and the guilt, even before I'd actually done anything, was just unbearable."


I opened my eyes, realizing something.


"And I may have offered to be civil with you to help me feel better about what I was doing, but you know what? I think I might have done it...because I felt sorry for you, too."


Despite myself, I nearly laughed.


"Heh, I know, right? It makes no sense. I'm Heather. How could I ever feel sorry for anyone? How could I even care...? God..."


The first thing I felt after trailing off was some sort of relief, the kind that comes as a temporary comfort after taking a risk and surviving to tell the tale. Mostly, though, I was focusing on why the hell I'd let myself go on for so long in the first place. A better, shorter way of getting my point across had to exist, right? But no, I had to pour out my entire damned soul to Noah, of all people.


I closed my eyes, attempting to banish the urge to cry. My cheeks turned hot and red in shame. Bringing my hand up to the center of my neck, my fingertips ghosted over the scar there—a dark, permanent reminder of what could have been. I hadn't thought about the ugly mark in weeks, but now it seemed to burn as if it were fresh again. My throat started to throb. 'Get a hold of yourself,' I thought. 'After all you've done, no one will feel sorry for you.'


One more crash of emotion within brought my shivering to its peak, and I had to struggle to keep from losing it. I bit my lip so hard it bled, curling into myself and blocking everything else out. I could still feel Noah's presence next to me. I knew we still needed to get up and go confront Wilshire, but not now. I needed to keep control.


Just then, Noah rested his hand on my shoulder. I burst.


For the first moment or two, each tear I cried would have to fight for the right to escape, but it wasn't long before I was overwhelmed. Although it only made my cheeks grow more flushed with embarrassment, I surrendered and let the salty drops fall from my swollen eyes at will. Hopefully, they would just blend in with the rain. Every sob that forced its way past my cracked lips was choked and restrained, as if I still had some dignity left to salvage.


A few minutes passed before I was able to quiet my pathetic whimpering. Noah just sat there all the while, his hand never leaving my shoulder. Strange, his touch even managed to warm me through my coat and the fact that this stupid wind blowing around us was freezing. I couldn't look at him; couldn't even glance up to see the condemning stare that I knew would be there. The gesture of comfort he'd most likely done so I wouldn't drown in the depths of my own insanity. I still had to help him out of this horrid situation, after all....


Noah removed his hand from my shoulder, that incredible heat disappearing along with it. Opening my eyes, which were still clouded with tears, I swallowed and turned to look at him. When my vision finally cleared, I saw that his gaze was...


...deep with empathy.


He stood, looking toward the forgotten house behind us, and I will never forget what he said.


"Y'know, you told me something about hitting rock bottom. Well, all I know is that once you get there...you have nowhere to go but up."


He offered me a hand to help me up, which I accepted although I didn't need to. After I stood, our hands stayed together a second longer than necessary, and the looks we exchanged confirmed that we would never talk about this again.


Tears forgotten, I looked at the house. The lights were still on in the windows.


I started toward the building, Noah following close behind. As I walked, a mix of feelings swirled around in me, but the one that stood out most was dread. 'But there's no reason to worry,' I told myself as we reached the door. 'It'll all be over after this, right?' My inner self wasn't impressed, though, the emotional storm in my chest only roaring in response. Pushing the thoughts of how this could possibly turn into a disaster from my mind, I set my jaw and turned my head slightly towards Noah.


"Remember," I said, "you're my prisoner. Play along."


I got a grim nod in response.


I laid my hand on my abdomen, right above where my gun was hidden. Then I clenched it into a fist, nails digging into my palm. Showtime.


Inhaling deeply, I raised my arm, put on a cold, determined expression, and knocked.


Chapter Fifteen

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter Fifteen


Father



–---


'"Before, I'd spent all that time alone, making up excuses for him. Hell, if he had shown just one hint of concern that day, I probably would've forgiven him on the spot, but no. Nothing. So I was forced to abandon my precious lies, and even though I hated myself for making them up up in the first place, it was a hard thing to do. I'm still wondering if I really deserved it or not. Maybe that was all punishment for being indifferent to other people all my life; for only caring about myself. But it wasn't all bad..." he opened his eyes and looked back at me, and though it wasn't enough to truly be significant, that gaze was surprisingly...gentle.


"I did have you."



The first time I knocked, there came no response, but I easily sensed some sort of activity going on inside. Without straining, I could just hear the sound of hushed, almost panicked voices—one soft and feminine, the other dry and deep. Both were familiar, and it was somewhat disconcerting to finally hear them in person.


Just to see what would happen, I knocked again.


The voices grew just a little louder; just a bit more frantic. This was definitely the place.


Apparently having been blessed with some extra patience because of my interest in what was being said, I closed my eyes and inclined my head towards the door, listening.


“—but it's them, Guy! You know it's them! Were you having so much fun watching your brat being tortured that you forgot about how pissed your old friend was getting?”


“Rose, I already told you, John is more talk than anything else. If he really wanted to off the kid, he would've done it by now, but he hasn't. That's proof enough that he's too weak to pull a stunt like this. Plus, it's not like we have a reason to be scared of these people, even if they are working for this...organization. I have a feeling they're all smoke and mirrors, too.”


I could have smirked at how utterly wrong that overconfident statement was, but I found myself frowning, instead. Rhodes had made sure that Wilshire had seen everything that had been done to his soon. Everything, all of the blood and pain and screaming, had been thrown in his face as severely as possible. He'd seen it all, and yet he still sounded as if he didn't believe any of it.


Or maybe he simply didn't care.


It was a sick, cruel thought to consider, one that I'd been avoiding for way too long, but it was getting to the point of becoming undeniable. Wilshire's nonchalant attitude had never faltered through any of this, and it did not look like that was going to change anytime soon. He was going to explain why he'd let this go on for so long, though. I would make sure of it.


I opened my eyes and pulled out my PDA, punching in a few numbers and then pressing it to my ear. Before Noah and I made our entrance, there was one last thing I needed to do.


The phone rang for a few seconds until someone picked up.


“Charlie?” I asked softly.


“He's away,” answered a dry, uninterested male voice. “What do you want, Umbriel?”


“I'm standing in front of a location where I'll soon be doing some...business for client number seven-nine-two-five-one. Kill this place's reception. Cell phones, house lines, Internet; I want it all dead.”


“Authorization code and agent ID?”


“Seven-six-four-four-three and nine-two-eight-zero-two.”


“Done and done. You have two and a half hours.”


Frowning, I hung up, made to knock for the last time, and ended up pounding on the door with greater force than I'd intended, nearly skinning my knuckles against the hard wood. Afterward, as I rubbed my hand, something inside told me that move might have been a bit too emotional, but I couldn't find it in myself to care.


This time, the voices quieted.


My blood ran cold when I heard the doorknob jiggle a little, a sharp realization hitting me head-on.


This was it.


Everything, from the very beginning to now, had been leading up to this.


For a second, a part of me was hesitant. You're not ready, it said, but it was quickly silenced. The rest of me had pushed it away before it could say anything else, and I was grateful for it. Doubt was a luxury I could no longer afford.


My hand, shaking a little from either the cold or nervousness (it was hard to tell which one it really was), moved to pull out my gun. Fingers curling tight around its black handle, I clutched the ugly thing as if it were some sort of support. It wasn't.


The knob started to turn, but then stopped just as quickly.


“Give me a reason to open this door,” said Wilshire.


I closed my eyes, pointedly ignoring the knot that twisted within me as I parted my lips to reply.


“You have plenty, but I think one that you'll be most interested in is the fact that your youngest child could die at any moment.”


To my surprise (and relief), my voice came out much smoother than I thought it would. Maybe I was still as good a liar as I used to be, though the notion wasn't comforting or reassuring in the least and it was quickly shattered by the next thing Noah's father said.


“He's not my youngest.”


In all honesty, that statement, as unrelated to the current situation it was, caught me off-guard. So Rhodes had been wrong, as I remembered him referring to his hostage as the youngest son, before. Perhaps Noah was just his youngest son, not his youngest child overall.


The way Wilshire had said it was the thing that most stood out, though. His tone of voice was low, with an almost resentful edge to it. For a moment, I thought I sensed Noah stiffen behind me as well, but there was no time to dwell on this. I had to move on.


“Doesn't matter,” I shot back, “He's still the one who's been beaten bloody for your sake.”


Again, I managed to speak without any true feeling sneaking into my voice, but there was no telling how long that would last. The patience I'd been gifted with was finally starting to wear thin.


“Plus,” I added, “you do not want me to have to force my way in.”


His answer was muffled by the sound of my heart throbbing in my ears.


“Where's John?”


“Not here,” I replied, “but I'm certain that your son doesn't want to miss the chance to speak with you, which he might if you keep stalling.”


The tense silence that followed only lasted for a short while before being broken by an ear-splitting crack, as if the raging weather had just felt the need to remind everyone of its presence. Rain was still pouring down; a chill shot up my spine as some of the freezing droplets slipped into my jacket's collar and ran down the back of my neck. When I kept myself standing as straight as I could to keep from shivering, I noted a dull pain building up in my limbs and a certain numbness building up in my fingers. I was going to be sore for weeks.


It didn't matter, though. Nothing mattered but this. It was time to put a year of vigorous combat training and six years of acting lessons to use.


Sometime during the next few seconds, there was another thunderclap and another flash of white, but I barely registered them.


All I could see was the doorknob move again ever so slowly, this time turning as far as it could go.


I drew in one last breath to quell my frenzied heart before it all began.


Clenching my teeth, I reared back and kicked the door open. When Noah and I were both inside, I slammed it shut.


The blow was harsh enough to knock Wilshire to the floor, but it didn't take him long to get over the initial shock. Back on his feet in an instant, he was already reaching behind his back to pull out some sort of weapon and opening his mouth to make some sort of threat, but I would not let him get the upper hand first.


Turning my back to him, I grabbed the hostage by the front of his shirt, only having a split second to see his eyes go wide with surprise before pulling him in front of me and forcing him to his knees.


Then, an ache of regret already forming in my chest, I wrapped my free arm around his neck and pressed my gun to his temple.


Noah immediately went rigid, his breathing ragged and irregular. When his hands came up to grasp my arm, I knew that his fear was real. I'd told him to play along before this had started, but I couldn't help but feel a little guilty for not giving him a warning. He'd probably never had a gun pointed at him his whole life. Truthfully, neither had I.


As an apology, I loosened my grip a bit, but not enough to be noticeable to his dad. After all, I was still the villain here.


Wilshire froze, his hand still behind his back, and glared at me.


“You're not going to kill him,” he said.


Unafraid to meet his icy stare, I glared back. He was right, but I wasn't about to let him know that.


“What makes you so sure?”


Still looking ready to jump into action at any minute, he chuckled.


“I think twenty-five years of knowing someone is more than enough time to figure out a few things about that person, so I'm pretty sure that I know what I'm talking about when I say that your client is a spineless coward—“


“If we hadn't figured out where you've been hiding all this time, your son would be dead right now,” I interrupted him. “Besides, I have permission to kill him if need be, and since you're obviously not going to stop me, who is?”


The man opened his mouth to reply, but paused. With a slight, almost curious turn of his head, he narrowed his eyes, searching my face for emotion. It was just like Noah had done before, but his father's stare was much more powerful. Feeling a tinge of worry, my gaze dropped to the floor for a moment.


When I looked back up, Wilshire was smirking, and I realized that my little hint of doubt was all he'd needed. Damn him.


“Oh, no one's stopping you,” he said, sounding a little too smug for my taste, “but you won't kill him.”


I scowled, increasing the pressure of my gun on Noah's head for effect.


“Why?” I snapped, “I have my gun right here. I pull the trigger, and he dies. It's that easy.”


Not fazed by my little quip in the least, his smirk grew even wider.


“For your information, I have one as well,” he said, pulling out said weapon and aiming it at me.


An idea struck.


I let go of Noah and darted forward.


Again, his father responded amazingly fast. Grunting, he dove to the right, skirting the kick I'd sent at his arm. Undeterred, I whirled around and kicked from the other side, this time striking his right wrist with the toe of my boot.


Like I'd expected, he gave a shout of pain and released the revolver.


The next few seconds passed in an incredible blur as I dashed ahead, so fast that I wasn't even sure about what had happened until after it was all over. My mind still reeling from the adrenaline rush, I sucked in a breath to get my bearings back.


And then I looked down at my hands.


Huh. Maybe I was a little better at this whole agent thing than I thought.


I directed my attention back to Wilshire. He'd recovered from his hurt wrist pretty fast and was on his knees, searching for his gun...


...until he looked up and realized that I was pointing both it and my own gun at him.


I couldn't suppress a grin.


“I beg to differ.”


He had no immediate reply to give as he stood, choosing to fix me with a harsh scowl instead. My smile did not waver for another triumphant moment, but I soon let it fade in favor of putting on a serious expression again. The accomplished feeling still remained, though, giving me some much-needed self-confidence.


I was going to end this tonight.


Determined, I made to spit out another lie to Wilshire about how much danger his son was in, but was stopped by a light tough to the back of my left arm.


I knew what Noah wanted as soon as I looked at him, not needing words to comprehend his silent request. Having no reason or will to deny him, I could only give a short nod. After all, I wasn't the one who'd been through hell and back for the man standing in front of us.


Lowering both of my guns, I stepped aside, allowing father and son's eyes to meet for the first time in three years.


It was astonishing how intense that one tiny moment was; I felt the skin on my arms prickle from the sight of it alone. Gazes locked together, both of them seemed to be frozen in time, as if they could keep up the stare-down for eternity. Wilshire's glare was cold and hard, Noah's was fiery and indignant. It was truly a family reunion for the ages.


I crossed my arms and took another step backwards to give them some room. As long as things didn't get too out of hand, I would let this confrontation happen on its own.


And so it began.


Noah spoke first.


“You're supposed to be dead.”


The corner of his father's lip quirked upwards.


“So are you,” he said.


A pause, then, “How could you just sit back and let this happen?” asked Noah. To my surprise, he'd said it so softly it was nearly a whisper. I'd half-expected him to yell the question; I certainly wouldn't have blamed him if he had.


His father's half-smirk disappeared, replaced by a glare.


“So you spend your entire life doing your absolute best to not care about anyone else except yourself, but you also expect the whole world to fall all over itself coming to your rescue when you get in trouble at the same time?”


My mouth nearly falling open in shock, it took all of the willpower I could gather to keep the disgust I felt at that from showing on my face. Upon hearing that question, that damned sick sensation came back again, making my stomach turn. Had I really just heard that?


I focused back on Noah. He'd stiffened, visibly taken aback by what Wilshire had said. That same burning anger still blazed within his dark eyes, but now it was accompanied by a small, barely-there twinge of hurt.


“I was being tortured, and you just sat back and watched,” he said.


The other man crossed his arms, unimpressed, and that might have been the first time I wished I could sock him in the jaw. It wouldn't be the last.


“Then how come there's no scar on your face?”


I blinked, confused for a moment before I remembered the cover up I'd hid Noah's scars with a while ago. It hadn't all run off in the rain, which was a bit surprising, considering that it was cheap and non-waterproof. Some of it had come off, though, but it wasn't enough.


Not missing a beat, Noah took the sleeve of his jacket, still wet from the storm we'd endured while outside, and dragged it along the right side of his face. The movement was a bit rough, but it did manage to smear the brown foundation just enough. When he let his arm fall back to his side, the X was only partially visible, but visible nonetheless.


Feeling a pang of concern, I noticed that the wound didn't look all that great. In his haste to reveal the scar, he'd accidentally reopened a small part of it. I had to swallow the urge to grimace as a small drop of blood leaked out and ran down his abused cheek, leaving a bright red trail in its wake. If there was pain, he either didn't notice it or didn't care.


Instead, Noah glared at his father, daring him to challenge the reality of his suffering again.


When met with silence, he continued talking.


“Were you really going to let this continue?” He jabbed his thumb toward his scar, just as another drop of blood oozed out.


The other man's expression did not change.


“You act as if you were ever in any real danger—“


“You knew this was real from the start!” Noah interjected. “You just never wanted to do anything about it. Oh no, not for your precious money.”


As he said that, I could tell that he was trying and failing to keep from getting any angrier. His voice had been just a little louder; his stance a bit more tense; his breathing a little faster. These changes were all very subtle, but they were there.


Noah, I thought, though I knew he would never hear me, Your control is slipping. Don't lose it. Hang on.


It wasn't his fault, though. He must've felt awful through all of this.


Deep down, I knew that I would probably end up intervening sooner or later, but I couldn't yet. Noah deserved to tell Wilshire off, but he also deserved an explanation, and it had better be a good one at that. If his ass of a dad refused to give one, and I had to force some answers out of him, so be it.


“Just what is this about, huh?” Noah went on. “You ignored me for nearly seventeen years. I know that I'll be another dumb jock football star like Micheal or an air-headed fashion model like Lisa, but am I so worthless to you that a few thousand dollars is too heavy a price to pay to save my life?”


His tone grew suspiciously bitter as he mentioned those two people, who were apparently his siblings, and though I did know what he was talking about, I would never be able to relate. Being the oldest of my family, I'd gone through many things in my relatively short life, but having to live in someone else's shadow was never one of them.


Yet and still, that didn't stop me from wanting to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder, just like he'd done for me not too long ago....


Wow, I really was going soft, wasn't I?


“Okay,” growled Wilshire, breaking my train of thought, “let's say that I'd given in to John's pathetic mind games and paid up. What would you be doing right now? Would you be shutting yourself in behind your brick wall of cynicism and oh-so-witty sarcastic comments? Would you be burying yourself behind some book, only looking up every once in a while to remind everyone that they're all idiots and you're the only sane person to ever grace this world? Would you be out there applying your genius to the science of finding more ways to avoid doing as much work as possible? “


He paused to catch his breath for a moment. His next words were much softer; much more controlled, but they had more impact than anything he'd said before.


“Would you still be out there letting others suffer for things that are your fault?”


For some reason, my mind flashed back to before, when Noah and I had been sitting on the sidewalk and talking. From everything he'd told me, it was obvious that he had no idea why Wilshire's attitude had been so dismissive about all of this. He hadn't been lying, either. By that point, we were both past keeping it all inside.


Besides, the sincerity in his voice was just too real.


So why did that last question sound like Wilshire was hinting that his son had actually done something?


Had Noah made a mistake? Had he caused something that had hurt someone else?


It might've been just me, but suddenly, something about this whole thing was not right.


I looked at Noah, a shadow of doubt crossing my mind. There was no guilt in his eyes, just confusion and pain at being insulted so thoroughly. He did seem to understand that his dad was possibly accusing him of something, though, but it didn't look like he knew what it was or why.


“I-” he started.


“Why don't you just tell him, Guy?”


My head snapped to the side, toward where the voice had come from, and I mentally kicked myself for forgetting about the other person here for so long. This was her house, after all. Sure enough, there was Rosalina, standing to my left with a dead cell phone in one hand and a dead house phone in the other. It looked like the agent I'd talked to earlier had done his job, and I assumed that she'd been trying to call the cops while everything else was going on. Only now had she given up, and like a dumbass, she'd decided to interfere by revealing that there really was something more to this situation.


I sighed, uncrossing my arms. Screw this, it was time to get involved.


Sending Noah's father and this so-called supermodel a glare that I could only hope was intimidating, I turned, pointing one gun at each of them.


“Tell him what?”

Chapter 16

WARNING: Language.

Life After Lies
by Fadingsilverstar16
Chapter 16
Conflict

“Why don't you just tell him, Guy?”

My head snapped to the side, toward where the voice had come from, and I mentally kicked myself for forgetting about the other person here for so long. This was her house, after all. Sure enough, there was Rosalina, standing to my left with a dead cell phone in one hand and a dead house phone in the other. It looked like the agent I'd talked to earlier had done his job, and I assumed that she'd been trying to call the cops while everything else was going on. Only now had she given up, and like a dumbass, she'd decided to interfere by revealing that there really was something more to this situation.

I sighed, uncrossing my arms. Screw this, it was time to get involved.

Sending Noah's father and this so-called supermodel a glare that I could only hope was intimidating, I turned, pointing one gun at each of them.

“Tell him what?”


At one point before the chaos had started, when I still had the privilege of indulging in a little foolish optimism to make myself feel better about what was coming, a part of me had dared to be hopeful. Maybe it wouldn't take long, I'd thought. Maybe Wilshire would decide to finish this once he realized how serious the threats to his son's life were. Maybe the sight of Noah having a gun pressed to the side of his head would be enough to convince his father to give in. Back then, before the cruel reality of the situation had the chance to come crashing in, I had the chance to close my eyes and pretend that was all it would take.


Of course, the rest of me had known better from the start. Nothing was ever that simple, and because of Rosalina butting in and revealing that there was something more to Wilshire's motives for not paying up, it looked like this was not over yet.


It wasn't all bad, though, seeing as how I was the one with the advantage at the moment.


So there I was, standing as stiff as a board with a gun in each clammy hand and a sour look on my face, which was partially due to the throbbing pain in my head. The pistol in my left hand was aimed at Mendez, the revolver in the other was aimed at Wilshire. The man still had a scowl on his face, betraying the same hidden fear in his expression that he'd seen in mine not too long ago. Rosalina, on the other hand, was trying to glare at me, but her eyes kept dropping to stare warily at the pistol pointed at her. Every time that happened, she would back up just a little more, eventually backing into the staircase rail behind her.


If I'd been in the mood, I would've smirked. It felt good to be in control.


“I'll never know how my client found it in himself to put up with you for so long, even if you two were supposed to be 'friends',” I spat. “Twenty-five years, was it? It hasn't even been forty-five minutes since I got here and I'm already sick of you. If you know what's good for you, then you'll do what I say. I want to hear whatever you're keeping from your son and I want to hear it now.


Even though I ended up lowering the two guns to give my sore arms a break, I already had another threat lined up in case he remained quiet, which was what I was expecting him to do. I'd pin him down and press my dagger against his throat if need be. There was no way he'd be getting out of this one. Noah deserved to know the full truth of his father's motives, and he was damn well going to if I had anything to say about it.


But it turned out that there was no need for any more threats. Surprisingly enough, Wilshire made no attempt to defy me, turning his attention to his son. That might have been the smartest thing he'd done in a while; maybe he really did know what was good for him.


“You wanna know why, huh?” he said, “Well, for starters, you were always a pain in the ass. God knows how much I've wanted to smack you for some of the thoughtless things you've said over the years, and I'll be damned the day I see you do something completely selfless. You can't try to argue on that, either. We both know every little act of 'kindness' you've ever done was for your own gain, whether it looked like that or not on the surface.”


Ugh. Bastard, I thought, forcing down the desire to counter those harsh words with a snide comeback of my own. This wasn't my battle to fight, I had to remind myself.


Noah gave his father a blank look.


“Yeah, I get it. I'm a selfish, lazy, cynical ass,” he said, shutting his eyes as if it pained him to admit it. “And you know what? I'm not going to argue with you. There's no point in me trying to disprove something I know is true.”


His father's eyebrows went up for a second in surprise, but then his lips twisted into a smug sneer that made me grip the two guns I held even tighter.


“Glad to see we're on the same page.”


But,” Noah's head shot up before Wilshire could say anything more, “you have no right to talk either, considering that you left me to suffer at the hands of that psychopath. Where were you when I was tied to a chair and my back was a raw, bloody mess? Where were you when I was forced to say 'I love you, Dad' over and over while one of those agents dragged a blade-tipped whip across my shoulders? Y'know, even if I had known just how much you always hated me back when I was sitting around and waiting to be rescued, I never would've thought you'd actually let it go on for as long as it did. Asking you to part with that money was just too hard, huh? Well then, I'm very sorry. It was a mistake that I ever thought so highly of you.”


I almost smiled as that twisted sneer on Wilshire's face faded back into a scowl. Though simple words would never be enough to fully pay him back for emotional and physical damage that he'd let his son go through, it was still somewhat satisfying to see him get what he deserved.


But that didn't stop me from feeling a bit disquieted at the way Noah's voice had shook when he'd spoken or at how he'd sounded completely serious when he'd called himself a selfish ass. There'd been no touch of sarcasm or uncertainty in his voice. He really did believe that those harsh insults that his father at directed at him were true.


They couldn't have been true, though. If they were, Noah wouldn't have given up his bed for me the other night, carrying me to it even though he could have just woken me up. He wouldn't have kissed my hand. He wouldn't have smiled at me, either....


I shut my eyes, banishing the memory, trying to focus back on the present. There was no time to dwell on things that were already long gone, at least for now.


When I finally returned to reality, Noah's last words still hung in the air, and I found myself a bit unnerved at the silence that only grew thicker with each passing second. Wilshire was supposed to have come up with a response by then. He hadn't had any trouble doing that before, but he was just standing there, the look on his face unreadable.


Irritated, I ran my tongue over my dry lips, ignoring the horrible taste of blood that invaded my mouth as a result. This had already gone on for way too long, and he hadn't even said anything about whatever Noah had done on the past to make him deserve all of this abuse, yet. I wasn't about to let him start stalling.


And maybe he sensed that, because he started talking just as I was getting ready to threaten him again.


“I don't think you understand,” he said in a low, almost pitying voice, “but then again, you never did, which is surprising since you're supposed to be a 'genius' and all. You've never given a damn about anyone other than yourself and you know it–”


“Just like how you've been doing such a fantastic job of giving a damn about me lately?” Noah cut in. Wilshire crossed his arms over his chest.


“Please. No one could ask you to do anything. It was always 'someone else's problem', even when it came to...” he trailed off, his eyebrows coming together in a grim frown. Noah blinked, bewildered at the sudden pause.


“Even when it came to what?” he asked.


His father ignored him, glaring off to the side at nothing in particular. Mendez, having decided to actually do something after all this time, took a step towards him as if concerned. Then she turned to face Noah, her black hair flying over her shoulders.


“You poor thing. You look so lost, right now,” she mocked. “Or maybe you're just playing dumb.”


Noah stared at her, showing no hint that he understood what she was talking about. When he did not respond, her small eyes clouded with suspicion.


“Stop looking at me like that. How could you not know?”


“Don't bother. He can't tell you anything.” Wilshire waved a dismissive hand at her. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I finally snapped, pointing my guns at the two again like I should've done a long time ago.


“About what?” I growled, “Whatever it is, say it now!”


At that, Wilshire proceeded to grace me with the scariest glare I'd seen from him, yet, probably as a last effort to make me back off. Honestly, I might have been a little shaken if he'd done it a few minutes earlier, but I was well past that point of allowing him to intimidate me.


He sighed in defeat when I sent a pointed look towards the revolver aimed at him, letting my finger gently brush over its trigger.


“Fine,” he said. “It's about time you heard this from someone who's not going to sugar-coat it, anyway. So tell me, son, do you remember Carolyn?”


I thought I saw a tinge of pain flash in Noah's eyes at the name, but it was gone before I could make sure it wasn't just my imagination. Even so, I still found myself feeling a little uneasy. Was this Carolyn girl one of his siblings? He'd never mentioned her, before....


“Of course I remember her,” said Noah, “but she died over eight years ago. What does she have to do with any of this?”


“A lot,” said Wilshire, “but first of all, do you really remember your little sister, Noah? She was no angel, but she was smart, just like you. Smarter, really, and you know why? She had sense enough to know that no amount of brainpower gave her the justification to treat anyone else like dirt. That, at least, made her ten times more likable than you could ever hope to be. Now let's see, was it just your own unpleasant personality that drove you to hate her, or was it spite?”


Noah bristled, eyes going wide. In what almost seemed like desperation, he slowly began to shake his head.


“N-no...what are you saying? I–” he swallowed, fixing his gaze on the floor. “I loved Carrie. I just...I loved her.”


It took more effort than I'd ever imagined to suppress the chill that threatened to wrack my whole body with shivers as soon as his soft voice reached my ears. My grip on those two guns grew so hard that my knuckles went white and my palms started to hurt. My breathing, which I'd been working so hard to keep calm and even, suddenly went short, and it was all because of the three small, simple words that he'd said last.


I loved her.”


God, it had been forever I'd ever heard someone admit love for someone else. That word sounded so foreign to me that it was almost disturbing. I found myself feeling like I'd felt when Noah had held my hand or carried me like he had that one night. Having been without those kinds of things for years, they'd felt somewhat unnatural, but strangely pleasant. They'd made me wonder what I was missing out on by being holed up in the organization, and now, even though his confession was not (and would never be) for me, I was starting to wonder again.


After all, when was the last time someone had ever told me that they loved me? When was the last time that I'd told someone that I...loved them?


I cut off that train of thought as fast as I could; there was a much more important issue at hand. Besides, the whole “love” thing was probably something I would never end up dealing with personally in the future. Thinking about stuff like that would have to come later.


When I looked back at Wilshire, he was rolling his eyes.


“Yeah, sure. You loved her. It all make sense, now,” he said “You let her die because you loved her. I can't believe I didn't figure it out before.”


Everything came to a crashing halt.


The silence that followed was dense and suffocating, only penetrated by the sound of falling rain and another huge thunderclap that almost seemed to rock the house on its foundation, something that I would have been thankful for if I'd been able to think straight at the time. If the weather had been calm and if my heartbeat hadn't just accelerated, pounding in my ears like a drum, I might have believed for a moment that time itself had come to a complete standstill. Shock had rendered me immobile; the only thing I was able to contemplate how in the world something like that could be possible.


Noah hadn't been faking confusion when Rosalina had urged his father to tell him whatever he'd done. Sure, that jackass had said something about Noah not being able to say anything what it was a little while ago, but now that explanation didn't make sense anymore. Memories like ones about being responsible for someone's death tend to be pretty strong, right?


I regained my senses at about the same time as Noah did, and the look he gave his father then was enough to scare even me. He wasn't glaring, but the powerful hate in his eyes was more than enough to communicate that he was pissed.


“Bullshit,” he said.


The other man exchanged a deadpan look with Mendez.


“Yeah, you say that, but how would you know? Got any memories of what happened that day?”


Noah hesitated for a moment before answering, but his expression remained firm.


“No, but why would you even expect me to remember? That was so long ago. Mom told me enough.”


“Your mother was lucky that I went along with her little charade for all those years, and you can thank her for keeping your siblings quiet about it, too,” Wilshire seethed. “If it had been left up to me, I would've told you exactly what happened at that God-forsaken beach the minute after those idiotic doctors diagnosed you with...that one type of amnesia, or whatever it was, but no. Sandra went on and on and on about 'oh, he's not ready' and 'it wasn't his fault' and 'we'll tell him when he's able to handle it'. Well, she got her way for about eight years, and now it's my turn. We've let you believe those lies for too long. But before I go on, why don't you repeat what she told you?”


Wait a second. What the hell? Noah couldn't remember what happened because of some sort of amnesia? Sure, that would've be one suitable reason for why the whole thing about his sister's death seemed to just come out of nowhere, but my mind was still reeling from the shock of it all.


I shut my eyes, giving my head a little shake to clear my thoughts. I couldn't let myself space out like that, anymore. I had to focus.


I swallowed a certain itch that had just started to build up in the back of my throat just as Noah began to speak.


“Well...” he started slowly, looking as if he were in deep thought, “we were at the beach. Mike and Laura were watching Sarah and the others, and Carrie went off somewhere while we were packing up the car without being noticed. After about three hours of searching, the police...found blood on some nearby rocks that stretching out into the water. She'd climbed up there to reach our and catch a beach ball that the waves had carried off, but she slipped and hit her head. Mom said that I'd been in the car the entire time.”


Wilshire, looking as unsurprised as ever, gave a curt nod.


“Yeah, yeah. I'm surprised that she told you that much, to be honest, but she did change a few critical details. You were there, reading some book as always. Carrie wanted to play in the water for a few more minutes while Sandra took the others back to the van, so I asked you to watch her for a few minutes. Simple, but that was a bit too much responsibility for you. When I came back, you were running toward that strip of rocks, but she'd already been pulled into the water by the time you started scrambling up the rocks. You scraped your nails bloody trying to climb up there–you never were much when it came to physical strength, even compared to her–but after she fell you just stopped and stood there, looking just as blank as you do now. The last I ever got to see of the girl was her blood dying a part of the seawater pink. And that's how you became the youngest, again. Well now, are you still going to insist that you loved her, despite all of this? Wait, let me guess, you truly did care, and ignoring her up until the moment she was about to die was just your own special way of showing it.”


I nearly dropped my guns in shock.


The wave of nausea that came over me as Wilshire's words sank in made my stomach lurch; I would've been close to outright vomiting if I'd eaten within the past few hours. The dull ache in my head that I hadn't thought about for so long was suddenly five times more intense, causing my vision to swim for a few slow, horrible seconds. That, combined with the burning soreness of the muscles in my arms and legs, was enough to make me want to cover my face with my hands and scream until my already ticklish, itchy throat went raw.


It wasn't until a few moments later, after I'd finally gained back the capacity to think something other than, 'Dear God, how could this be true? ', that a thought came to me.


He couldn't have meant it. Both his earlier confession of his love for his sister and the story itself were proof of that. It had been an accident. Noah had tried to save her at the last minute. He'd never wanted her to die, and his father knew it. It was just a mistake, but Wilshire was just using it as an excuse for not paying up the damned money. I could see straight through him.


As I gritted my teeth so hard that my jaw started to hurt, a part of me grew a little concerned about how I'd been so quick to come to Noah's defense, even if I was only doing it mentally. I silenced it without a second thought.


“As for the memory loss, I don't know how many times your mother and those morons at that clinic lectured me on why you had no idea what'd happened anymore just a week after the funeral. You see, it turns out that that big brain of yours just couldn't handle the guilt. Lacunar amnesia caused by repression of traumatic memories my ass. You should remember that day clearer than I do; you just don't want to remember. Instead of facing up to it, you decided to block it out and bury yourself in those books some more like the coward you are. I sure hope whatever you were reading that day was worth it, by the way. Considering what you're always avoiding so you can hide yourself away with those books of yours, every book you own ought to be spectacular–”


Shut the hell up!”


I snapped to attention, caught off guard, and turned to Noah with wide eyes. Judging from the sheer intensity of the outburst, I was expecting him to look just as furious as he had when his father had first said that he had let his own sister die. Instead, I found that he seemed completely calm. At least, I realized, that was the image he was trying to give off. As I looked him over, I noticed that his clenched fists were starting to tremble a little, and that his eyes, deep and black as ever, had a bit of a shine to them.


“It may have been my fault that Carrie died,” he said, “but I didn't do it intentionally. I would've never let it happen if I knew what was going on. You, on the other hand, knew exactly what you were doing when you refused to pay that money. You have a perfect life hiding out here and you wouldn't give it up for anything, not even your own family. You abandoned me, Mom, and the rest of your children for that,” he jabbed a finger at Mendez, who turned up her nose at him and sniffed, “and if living away from the real world just so you can wallow in your fortune really is your idea of true happiness, you're even more pathetic than I thought.”


He paused, drawing in a deep breath.


“Just give the agent the money, and you'll never have to see my face again.”


He nodded in my direction, causing our eyes to meet for the first time in what seemed like ages. He held my gaze for a brief moment before turning back to his father, and for some reason the way he looked at me then left my throat feeling tight.


Squaring my shoulders, I forced myself to forget about it and raised my guns at Wilshire and Rosalina for what would definitely be the last time if I had anything to say about it. This had gone on long enough.


“And may I inform you that I could very easily shoot you both dead, and neither the organization nor the government would bat an eyelash,” I added.


Mendez held up her hands as soon as I finished, and all it took was another glare from me to make Wilshire do the same.


“Now,” I went on, “how are we going to go about this?”


I raised an eyebrow at them, waiting for an answer. Wilshire narrowed his eyes.


“Rose will write a check,” he said. Though he did narrow his eyes at me, he didn't seem to be in the mood to drag this out any longer.


“Noah, heads up.” Paying no mind to my stiff arms that seemed to crack painfully with every movement, I tossed him what used to be Wilshire's revolver. He caught it in both hands, blinking down at it.


“Make sure he doesn't go anywhere,” I told him, inclining my head toward his father.


“What? Why the hell would you give him that?” Wilshire stepped forward and made to protest, but stopped when his son pointed the gun at him. Noah, who'd probably never held a gun in his life, looked a bit uneasy as he stood there, but his expression was intimidating enough to keep the other man quiet. His father cast me a frown, silently demanding me to explain.


“What the organization doesn't know won't hurt it,” I said. “That may have once been your gun, but you were too weak to keep hold of it. It's mine, now, and I can do whatever I damn well please with it. Besides, who else is going to keep you from doing anything stupid while I'm making sure this check is written right? I think he'll do just fine.”


Giving him a short nod when I finished, I turned and started walking towards Mendez. Looking as if she were about start running, she took a step backwards, reaching back to grasp the stair-rail behind her like it could protect her. However, she didn't try to escape, just nervously standing there as I advanced on her. When I was close enough, I reached out, wrapped my fingers around her tanned upper arm, and looked straight into her eyes.


“Where's your checkbook?


She gulped, tearing her eyes away from mine.


“Bedroom. Third floor on the left,” she choked out.


Without wasting another second, I started up the wooden stairs, leading Rosalina up along with me. To my annoyance, I found myself walking a bit slower than usual, but I could do nothing to help it. Every step hurt, both my legs and my head throbbing in time with each footfall I made, but I could take some comfort in the fact after this Noah would be free and I wouldn't have to worry about whether I made a convincing agent or not. In a few hours, I'd have the chance to take a minute and let myself just be Heather again, which was something I hadn't done for way too long.


The space between the two rails bordering the stairs was somewhat small, making it hard to get upstairs while dragging Mendez with me. My boots, not completely dry from the rain, were making little puddles on the smooth floor as we went up; my temporary hostage almost slipped on one with those ridiculous stiletto heels of hers. I released her arm when we made it to the bedroom, but kept my gun pointed at her.


“Go get it and start writing,” I ordered.


While she went through the drawers of the large dresser sitting close to the door, I took a moment to scan the room out of mild curiosity. It was big, but not huge, with a few luxuries like a king-sized bed, an expensive-looking flat-screen TV, and a pretty impressive fireplace. These people had money to burn.


I wrinkled my nose in repulsion. What had Wilshire ever done to deserve all of this? What did that woman ever see in him?


Mendez seemed to pick up on how agitated I was, shooting me a glance as she finally pulled out her checkbook and began filling it out. A ghost of a smirk drifted over her lips.


“We met five years ago in Tahiti. I was on vacation and he was there on some...'business',” she said, as if she were doing me a favor by volunteering the information.


“Thanks,” I cut her off, “but I don't really need or want to know. Finish writing the check. Make it out to Johnathan Rhodes for thirty-five thousand dollars.”


She nearly made to talk back, but sighed and obeyed after catching sight of my gun again. The moment she'd finished writing and ripped the check from the booklet, I walked over, plucked the paper from her hand, spun around on my heel, and left the room without looking back. Rosalina might have had the nerve to yell some ugly comment after me, but by then I was taking my first step down the stairs and I didn't hear anything she said. Maybe that was for the best, too; I really didn't need any snide remarks of hers weighing down on my mind.


The cream-colored carpet of the second floor having absorbed most of it, I didn't need to worry much about the water on my boots making me slip on the stairs anymore. Just my luck, though, the pain in my head decided to spike while I was taking my second step; thank God the rail was there to keep my from falling and breaking my neck.


Knowing that I was still too high up for Noah and Wilshire to see me, I took a few seconds to press the back of my right hand to my forehead. It was cold and clammy, of course, but at least it did something to lessen the pain and not make it worse.


As I attempted to relax so I could make it out of the house without collapsing, my ears perked at the sound of low voices coming from downstairs. My eyebrows lowering, I took another step down as quietly as possible and listened.


“So let me guess,” Noah was saying, “those 'conferences' you started taking right before you left us were really just visits to your skank of a girlfriend, am I right?”


“Rose is better to me than any of you ever were,” Wilshire hissed back. “She gives me everything I want, everything I need.”


“You're sick.”


His father chuckled.


“You'd better put that gun down, boy. You might hurt someone. That is, unless you're considering killing me too. Funny, I thought you were supposed to be better this. Either that, or you're not as big of a person as you think you are.”


“Burn in hell.”


“See you there.”


I'd had enough. Gathering my strength, I completed my journey down as best as I could. My plan was to go straight out, only sparing enough time to tell Noah to come with me, but I ended up getting there there just in time to see him turn his father around, back him up against the front door, and jam his gun directly onto the other man's forehead.


Wilshire wasn't fighting back, oddly enough, although the hand Noah was using to hold him to the door looked pretty tight around his throat. In fact, he actually looked smug, like he'd been expecting something like this to happen.


“So it's come down to this,” he rasped, gasping from lack of air. “Looks like you have to make a decision, now. Kill me, and congratulations, you're no better than the scum who kidnapped and tortured you. They might treat doing those kinds of things as a job, but shooting me brings you to their level, regardless. Back off, and you stay a coward for not giving me what you think I deserve. Your choice.”


Noah didn't reply, digging his nails into the skin on Wilshire's neck. His father gasped again, but the twisted smirk on his face only grew into a grin so big that his bottom lip split and bled. His eyes, wide and wild, were alight with what could only be described as pure, unchecked insanity.


“Carrie would be so proud,” he said.


The revolver fell to the floor.


Looking like he'd just been struck across the face, Noah immediately let go and stumbled back so fast that he nearly lost his balance. The anger on his face was all but gone, overtaken by horror at what he'd just been on the verge of doing along with a small touch of fear as he watched Wilshire fall to one knee, clutching his neck and coughing violently. That twisted smile was back on his face the moment he'd collected himself.


“It's unsurprising that you'd choose to keep on being a coward,” he said. “People don't change.”


That seemed to snap Noah out of his shock. The glare returning to his face, he straightened and stood tall over his father.


“I'd rather live as a coward than do something that would make me more like you. And trust me, the less people like you in this world, the better,” was all he said.


Again, his father made no protest when his son shoved him out of the way, threw open the door, and walked out into the rain. Satisfied that Noah had gotten the last word, I followed, flashing Wilshire the check before stuffing it into my jacket's pocket and snatching up the forgotten revolver on my way out.


The weather outside was cold and harsh like before, but it was next to nothing compared to the way it had been storming earlier. Still, that didn't prevent the skin on my arms and shoulders from prickling from the sudden gust of wind that hit me and the stray raindrops that managed to get past my jacket's collar and touch my bare skin, but I didn't mind it. My eyes and throat may have been itching, but it was nothing. My congested nose might have been making it a little hard to breath, but I would get over it. My vision was slightly blurred and the rain was not helping very much when it came to that, but it didn't matter. I was relieved. Despite all of my cold symptoms and the general discomfort I was feeling, there was only one thing on my mind.


'It's over' , I told myself, 'That's it. We're done. He's free.'


Well, he wasn't free just yet, though he would be in a short while. That itself was enough to bring me some peace of mind, even if what he had to go through to get to this point left a bitter taste in my mouth. Whatever pain Noah was feeling over this would no doubt stay with him for a long time, but at least he would never have to hear any of his father's crap, again.


We hadn't even reached the sidewalk when I heard a thump and a creak behind me, which I figured was Wilshire getting up off of the floor. Although I was wondering why he hadn't closed the door earlier, I didn't think much of it. We were through with him.


“I was wrong about you Noah,” he called after us, and though my better judgment was encouraging me to ignore him, I found myself pausing, anyway. Noah stopped as well, but didn't turn back. Why, after all he'd said and done, would Wilshire admit to being wrong? It was too late for any sort of apology; Noah would never accept it.


“I was dead wrong,” he continued. “You're not just a coward. You've always been at the level of Rhodes and his flunkies. Sparing my life doesn't change that and it never will. You're pathetic and weak and you'll never amount to anything and every dollar that check is worth is a dollar wasted.”


And with that, he slammed the door shut.


This time, I felt no shock at his words; I'd heard too many of his insults to waste my time on being appalled that he would say something like that. Instead, I whirled around and started marching back towards the house and the horrible man inside of it before I had a chance to think about what I was doing. For what was probably the thousandth time, the sane, rational part of my brain was at war with the rest of my mind and body, screaming at me to stop, to let it go, to do nothing. I'd already pretty much blown my entire 'agent' facade by letting Noah have that gun earlier, it reminded me, and what the hell had happened to my desire for all this to end? Going back just because I wanted to kick Wilshire's ass for treating his son this way would accomplish nothing.


I did not care, though. I way beyond caring about what that man thought of me. He was probably going to want me dead after I forced him to his knees and made him beg for Noah's forgiveness (although I knew that was something he'd never get or deserve), but it would be worth it. Damn him. Damn him to the fiery pits of hell.


About a meter from the door, a sudden strange feeling jarred me back to reality, and I realized that I was falling. Maybe it was caused by a crack in the pavement that I hadn't noticed. Maybe I'd been too wrapped up in my own madness and had tripped over my own feet. Maybe I was finally keeling over from sickness. I was too out of it to know for sure; all I could do was brace myself and wait for impact.


“Heather, no!”


I'd closed my eyes in preparation to hit the ground when the sensation of Noah's hand wrapping around my wrist made them snap wide open again. With a grunt, he gave my arm a sharp tug, yanking me upright. Seizing the chance, I planted my feet and managed to regain my balance.


I remained hunched over for a few moments to catch my breath. Then I raised my head. Mendez's door was right there. I could still go in there. I could still make Wilshire pay. All I needed to do was start walking again.


But then Noah squeezed my wrist.


“Don't,” he said. “Please, don't.”


Those words, as soft and broken as they were, completely shattered most of my will to go and confront Wilshire again. Granted, a part of me still wanted to. A part of me still wanted to do something about this...but what was the point? I'd probably end up doing something irrational and making it worse for everyone involved.


I sighed and had just stood up straight when Noah snatched his hand away from me as if he'd been burned. Startled, I faced him, looking down and feeling something in my chest tighten when I saw matching red spots on base of my palm and all five of his fingertips. Strange, that had been the same hand he had clamped around his father's neck not too long ago....


Noah balled his hand into a first, letting his arm fall to his side. He bowed his head.


“Sorry,” he murmured, “Can we just...leave?”


Looking down, I slowly lowered my arm as well.


“Yeah.”


As we walked side-by-side down the street, both of us soaking wet because we had no protection from the rain, I couldn't help glancing at Noah and wondering if this really was all over or not. It was hard to believe that soon I'd go back to being a nobody, stuck in the organization until they let me retire or until I died on the job. He would return to society and go on to become the big businessman or scientist or lawyer that he was always meant to be, and we would never see each other again.


I blinked hard. Thinking about that made the itching in my eyes grow even worse. It was probably just my cold symptoms acting up, though. Plus, I was supposed to be happy, right? He was going to be get out of this. In the end, that was all that mattered.


But I certainly didn't feel happy, even as I put my gun away and stuck my hand into my pocket, running over the edge of the folded check that would win Noah his freedom with my thumb, and something inside was telling me that wouldn't change for a long, long time.

Chapter Seventeen

Life After Lies

by Fadingsilverstar16

Chapter 17

Choice


As we walked side-by-side down the street, both of us soaking wet because we had no protection from the rain, I couldn't help glancing at Noah and wondering if this really was all over or not.



It was around ten when the storm began to die down. There hadn't been a clash of thunder in a while, not since we'd been inside Mendez's house, which was now a pretty good distance away from us. The rain and wind, though cold as ever and still strong enough to be an inconvenience, were also starting to ease up. It would be a while before it all stopped completely, but that was a start, right?

Both guns hidden safely away, I flexed my newly freed fingers to help get rid of the numbness in them and then pulled my jacket tightly around myself, gritting my teeth to keep them from chattering. What I would've given for a tall, black cup of coffee loaded down with sugar and caffeine, right then. At least it would've served as a distraction from my worsening cold and the nagging thought in the back of my head that something was bound to go wrong.

It really figured that my mind would choose to get paranoid after I'd already accomplished what I'd been sent out to do. The money wasn't an issue, anymore. The only task left for me was to make sure that Noah and I got safely back to headquarters. The worst of it was over.

But even so, I still felt a pang in my chest every time I wondered about what would happen once we were back in Vancouver. Deep down, I couldn't deny that there were a number of ways things could turn very bad, very fast. I'd been lucky, so far, and there was no telling when that luck was going to run out. If I'd been found out before I'd been able to find out where Wilshire lived, I would have ended up in a situation even worse than Noah's was.

My train of thought was cut short as the itch at the back of my throat decided to spike, bringing on a coughing fit that made me stop and double over. One of my hands flew up to cover my mouth, the other went to clutch at my stomach. If Noah hadn't been there to take hold of my arm and keep me steady, I would've fallen over, just like I had before.

Of course, the coughing itself did absolutely nothing to get rid of the irritation. In fact, it was actually adding to the searing pain, like my throat was trying to tear itself apart. After the fit itself was over, even something as simple as breathing was uncomfortable for me to do.

Trying not to shiver as another gust of wind blew past, I cleared my throat and stood upright.

"Thanks," I muttered, giving him what I hoped was a reassuring look. It probably wasn't too reassuring though, since Noah did look a little reluctant for a second, but then he nodded and let me go.

"Yeah, anytime," he looked away, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Um... maybe we should sit down?"

I shifted my gaze down the street, and then back to Noah. He was starting to look a bit weary, too. Maybe a few minutes of rest wouldn't hurt.

There was a small wooden bench with a lost umbrella sitting on it a little ways away from where we were standing, but neither of us felt up to walking over there. In the end, we decided to sit down right there on the sidewalk, satisfied to stay where we were.

For the second time that night, I thought of checking to make sure the check was still there, but stopped myself for fear of getting it wet or making a wrong move and smudging its ink. Instead, I laid my hand over my jacket's right pocket, pressing on the wrinkled leather only hard enough to feel the paper inside. Really, the move was for my own comfort more than anything else, meant to combat the anxiety trying to creep back into my system. Rhodes would have his money soon enough, I told myself, and then Noah would finally be okay.

Well, no. That wasn't completely true. Being set free wouldn't spell the end of Noah's problems. Even after all of this ended, he'd still have his scars to deal with, and not just the physical ones.

I turned my head, studying him. The rain had made his hair damp and matted against his head, causing gooseflesh to crawl up his neck and no doubt starting to seep through his jacket like before. It had also long since rinsed away the blood on his hand, and was currently doing the same to the cover-up on his face. It wouldn't be much time before the X on his cheek was bare again, along with with the other cuts and bruises around it. They did seem to be healing up alright, though few of them did look a bit red around the edges. Most of them were probably sore, too.

Nevertheless, Noah neither did nor said anything about it, just sitting there with his gaze fixed straight ahead. The emotionless look I'd seen him put on multiple times before was back, but something about it was... different this time. Although he would try to conceal it as best as he could, I'd always been able to catch that one little hint of emotion that he would let slip past that mask. Whatever he was truly feeling had never failed to show, no matter how much I had to search his face to find it.

But now there was nothing. His face was blank and his eyes were empty. He'd perfected his mask, but it was all a lie, dammit. I knew it was a lie. I'd had more than enough experience with lies in my lifetime to know. The incident with his father still had to be fresh in his mind. Underneath that stoic facade was someone who'd been tortured and betrayed and... dear God, I couldn't even imagine what he must have been feeling. It was probably ten times worse than what I'd felt during the little conversation we'd had not too long ago, back when we were sitting here for the first time. Not only that, but I'd had comfort as well.

I shuddered as the memory of Noah's touch ghosted over my shoulder, giving it a light squeeze before being blown away by the wind, and I immediately understood what it meant. Maybe it was time to return the favor.

It would be easy. All I needed to do was lay my hand on his shoulder like he'd done to me, just to let him know I was there. Simple enough. No need to be nervous.

Maybe a bit too slowly, I began to reach towards him.

"Heather?"

I stopped for a moment, fingers just short of brushing the fabric of his coat, and then retracted my outstretched hand, laying it on my lap as if nothing had happened. Not looking in my direction, Noah didn't notice, and kept waiting for a response.

"Um... yes?" I answered.

"What's going to happen after this is over?" he paused. "I mean, what are you gonna do once your mission's done?"

Truthfully, I'd been so caught up in the bigger issues at hand that I hadn't thought much about what exactly was in store for me once Noah was free. Still, why would he want to know something like that, in any case?

I decided not to ask why.

"Well, for one thing, it's not like I have a choice about whether or not I'm going to stay with the organization. I guess once you're in the clear, they'll give me a day off or whatever, and then I'll receive my next mission," I rubbed my sore neck, wincing at how hoarse I sounded. "I'm not too sure about this, but I think the second mission is when I'll actually be required to... kill someone."

"Do you think you'll be able to handle it?"

Not even needing to think about it, I shook my head and let out a short laugh.

"Nope."

If Noah hadn't come along, maybe I could have deluded myself into thinking the opposite, but it was far too late for that. Just saying the word "kill" had left a nasty taste in my mouth; there was no way I'd be able to live with myself if I actually did it. Once I killed someone for no reason other than the fact that the organization wanted me to, it felt as if I would belong to them forever. Sure, I'd tortured for them before – the proof of that was plain on Noah's scarred-up cheek – but taking someone's life just for them? Never.

"But hey," whispered a voice in the back of my mind, "you'd be surprised at what people can get used to. You'll be fine once they force you to do it a few times. Besides, you know who you are. I'm not sure many would be surprised if the notorious Heather Martison eventually ended up adding murder to her list of sins."

I banished the thought. Whether it was true or not, I would dwell on that issue when the time came. It wasn't important. Not for now.

My PDA started vibrating before I could start thinking up a suitable change of subject, as if it had sensed that I needed a distraction from the whole "murder" topic. The message was from Rhodes, no surprise. He must have figured that we'd be done by now. It was likely just an order to be back in Vancouver by a certain time. At least, that was what I was expecting it to be.

So naturally, I ended up being thoroughly confused when the first thing that showed up on the little screen was an address.

"Agent,

Bring the money and the boy to this location. You won't have to walk far. I'll take over from there.

- J.R."

All of a sudden, that awful, nagging feeling that things weren't far from taking a for the worse was back and twice as harsh as before. Rhodes was here? He'd never mentioned following us to Rosedale, before. What could he possibly gain from coming across the country to meet us instead of just staying at headquarters? This guy had an entire company to take care of; there had to be much better things for him to be concerned about. This made no sense.

Eyes narrowed against its brightness, I stared at the display, scanning the small black text over and over. There had to be reason he was doing this. Maybe he was just impatient and had made the last-minute decision to follow us without bothering to let me know until now. Maybe he had some other business to take care of close to here and coming to Rosedale to claim the check was just convenient to do.

Or maybe the money really wasn't enough for him, and he was here because he was planning on killing Noah whether he got it or not.

That might have been only a possibility, but I couldn't automatically rule it out just because the idea made my eyes burn even worse than they already were. That man was an asshole and a sadist. I wouldn't have put it past him to do something like that just for the hell of it. Worst of all, there was little I could do to prevent it.

Unless, of course, I just let him go.

Obviously, the consequences for me releasing him without any authorization would most likely be more severe than I could imagine. I wouldn't be able to make up an excuse or find my way out of it; I would just have to take whatever was coming to me. There was a good chance they'd just declare me useless as an agent and have the mercy to kill me on the spot. If not that, then at the very least they'd beat me until I wished for death to save me. Regardless of the relief and even the happiness I was bound to feel at first for doing it, I knew that sometime in the future I'd end up asking myself if it was worth it or not. I would probably start regretting it the minute after it was done, but once I did it, that was it. My fate would be sealed.

To hell with that, though. I would take my punishment as it came. Even if it wasn't certain, getting this far just to see Noah die at that madman's hands would render all of the effort I'd put into saving him pointless, and I wasn't going to let that happen. I couldn't let it happen.

I slipped the PDA back into my pocket and folded my hands on my lap.

"Noah?"

From the corner of my eye, I saw him face me, but I didn't do the same.

"Yeah?" he said.

"Your part in this is over. I can deliver the check myself. You should go."

I'd been expecting his stunned silence, though I didn't take it as an opportunity to keep speaking. I had no desire to look at him, either, keeping my gaze locked on that one little bench across the street and the umbrella lying on it that I was too tired to walk over and get. For one reason or another, the idea that this was really it was making it too hard for me to even glance in his direction.

"W-what brought this on?" he asked.

At first, I actually considered lying to him. It would almost be too easy to make up something about how it was the organization's "policy" to let their prisoners go right after they'd served their purpose, but that would really be stretching it. He'd never believe me. Hell, he'd already figured out that something was up; just his tone of voice had been enough to give that away. I wasn't stupid enough to underestimate him.

"Look," I said, "we've got what Rhodes wants. This check is all he really cares about, but I'm starting to think he's still pissed about how long it took to get it. I have no idea why, but he's here in Rosedale, and in his message, he told me that he wants us at some place not too far from where we are now, which is already weird enough. I mean, what if he wants to– "

I paused and swallowed hard, forcing down another coughing fit.

"The point is, just going to meet him like he wants would be dangerous, alright?" I went on when I'd regained control of myself. "If it's money you're worried about, I can get you a plane ticket or some cash for a hotel or whatever you want. You just... you should get out of here while you can."

"Um, yeah. What about you, though?" he replied dryly. "I'm pretty sure it's not gonna sit well with your superiors if you show up without me."

"Oh yeah, I'm in for it," I thought, though I knew better than to say as much. Really, he wasn't going to buy any claims that I would be getting out of this in once piece if we went through with it, but I had to keep trying.

"You don't need to be concerned with me," I tried to reassure him, though the tremble in my voice ended up making me sound less than convincing. "But if I were you, I'd change my name, dye my hair, and move out of the country. If you do that, they'd probably search for you for a little while, but Rhodes will call it off once he realizes that they're not going to keep looking for you for free. If he was willing to go to the lengths he did to get this money, I don't think he'll want to give some of it up just to catch a hostage he no longer needs."

"But what about you?" Noah repeated. "You know they're not going to let you off easy for pulling something like that. So Rhodes wants to use me as a punching bag to vent his anger with my father, again? Fine, let him do it. It's not like I haven't been through that, before."

I nearly winced. The thought of him having to go through a repeat of that torture wasn't something I wanted to consider, but it was likely to happen again if he didn't get out of here in time. He knew he didn't deserve it; he shouldn't have been willing to do it just to keep me in the clear.

That was when I finally found the will to raise my head, giving him the hardest, most serious look that I could.

"You don't understand," I said. "He might want to kill you."

"That's just it," he countered. "He might want to hurt or kill me, but if you disobey him, there's no telling what they will do to you."

Narrowing my eyes, I looked away from him and let out an exasperated sigh.

"You should be more worried about yourself. You're the hostage, here," I muttered. "Why do you care so much about what's going to happen to me, anyhow?"

"Don't you get it? It's because I..."

He stopped abruptly, catching himself, and I faced him just in time to meet his eyes for a split second before he turned away, looking discouraged. He didn't say anything else.

I felt myself edge a big closer to him, half from confusion and half from concern. What on earth had he just been on the verge of admitting?

I looked down at the ground and considered asking him for a moment, but quickly decided not to, letting us lapse into an awkward silence. I really didn't feel like prying for an answer. Besides, it probably wasn't anything too important. If he thought that it was better for me not to hear it, that was fine with me, although I didn't think I'd ever heard him sound so... determined, for lack of a better word. I'd seen it on his face, too. There was a chance that it was just my imagination, but I was sure that there had been a certain spark of courage in his eyes that had died out the second after I'd looked at him.

And to be completely honest, an idea of what he'd wanted to say did come to me after a little thinking, and though I immediately pushed the thought away for being ridiculous and very far-fetched, there might have been a small part of me that actually wished for it to be true, if only for a moment.

Blinking away a few stray raindrops that had fallen into my eyes, I pressed my palm to my forehead in another useless attempt to soothe my headache. Stupid cold was going to be the end of me, but sitting down had helped to relieve some of the pain in my legs, at least. Still, it would be a miracle if I made it to wherever we had to go without passing out or something equally inconvenient. There wasn't much time left to rest like this, either.

I closed my eyes and placed both hands on my face, fingers curling against my forehead. Rhodes would get suspicious if we took too much time in getting there, but sparing another minute or two to collect my thoughts would be okay. That asshole could wait.

Sometime while I had my head down, some strange sounds – a thudding noise and a whoosh of air – nearly made me look up, but they were too soft and distant for me to pay much mind to them. I was so sick that I was probably starting to hear things, said my inner skeptic. If I looked up, the only thing that I'd see would be the same lonely, empty street.

That is, until a small gust of wind rushed past, and I noticed that I couldn't feel any droplets of rain being blown onto my exposed hands, though I could still hear it falling. In fact, I wasn't being rained on at all, anymore.

I lifted my head, and there stood Noah, holding that lost umbrella from across the street over my head.

"You really think I would just leave after going to hell and back with you?" he said. "You're not gonna get rid of me that easily, honey."

A smile tugged at the corners of my lips.

"Thanks," I said.

As he sat down, I could have sworn I saw a hint of a wry, familiar smirk on his face, but there was a knowing sadness behind it. He knew this wasn't going to end well, too.

I closed my eyes as the burn in them worsened, along with the tightness in my throat, and that time I didn't think my cold had much to do with it.

We wouldn't need the umbrella for long. The rain stopped just a few minutes later, and as the moonlight finally had its first chance of the night to shine through the slowly dissipating clouds, we stood, setting the umbrella back in its original spot on the bench.

"Which direction?" asked Noah.

"Straight ahead," I sighed. "If we're gonna make good time, we should get going."

And so we did.


The silence that came over us as we made our way down the dark, empty roads of little Rosedale, however comfortable it might have been at first, ended up doing me more harm than good. After the warm feeling that Noah's little gesture of kindness had brought me had worn off, my mind instantly started drifting back to worrying about the future. Uncertainty loomed in my head like a shadow, clouding every thought, doubting my decision to let Noah come along with me. Every step closer to this place felt like a step closer to death. Whose death, I wasn't sure.

A few minutes passed before I realized that the only sound I'd been able to hear as we walked – the quiet thumps of our footsteps – had faded to the back of my mind. Not long after that, I couldn't feel the soreness in my legs, anymore. The headache disappeared. The stiffness in my back left me, too. Even the cold was now failing to register. It was all gone.

But I wasn't celebrating. What replaced all of that discomfort ended up being much, much worse. Instead of the comforting numbness that I'd been expecting, dread was what my body had made room for. Horrible and suffocating, it sank into the hollow of my chest and then spread in all directions like a poison, not stopping until there wasn't a nerve within me that couldn't feel its burn.

And somehow, I was still managing to stay on my feet, keeping cool even as we finally made it out of the residential area and a massive structure standing alone in the distance entered my field of vision. When I looked at my PDA, again, and had to make myself accept that this was where we were supposed to be, it didn't affect me on the surface, either, but my insides wasted no time in twisting themselves into knots over it.

Once there, both of us stopped in front of the tall fence closing off the property, just far enough from the building to still feel safe. In stark contrast to the smooth streets of Rosedale, cracks littered the pavement around us, some of them overgrown with scrawny weeds and the rotted remains of wildflowers. The building itself was even worse. From what I could see in the dim light of the old streetlamps nearby, it had once been a normal gray, but was now a shade or two darker and covered in brick-colored blotches. The few windows on it that weren't broken were so caked with dirt that I couldn't see through them, and one of its huge front doors hung at an unnatural angle on its broken hinges, shrieking every time it rocked back and forth in the wind.

Rhodes' directions had led us to an abandoned warehouse. Fantastic.

When I looked back at Noah, he was brushing off an old wooden sign attached to the fence, only to find that that the painted text on it had worn off to the point of being unreadable. Raising an eyebrow, he swiped his hand across it one more time, eyes lighting up as he noticed a small yet very detailed carving of a rose bloom.

"A company called 'Spenford and Shane's' used to own this place," he said. "They went out of business maybe... ten years ago? Heard they abandoned all of the stock and warehouses they couldn't sell. Can't remember what products they sold, though. Huh, pretty terrible place to hold a meeting."

He made to open the gate but paused at seeing a chain wrapped around it, which proceeded to fall to the ground the moment he touched it. Upon closer inspection, we found that one of its large metal links had been cut clean through.

Rolling his eyes, he stepped forward and held the gate open for me.

"This is starting to feel like a bad horror movie."

"A terrible one," I agreed.

After a little more walking, we stopped again, this time just a few meters away from the doors.

"You still have the chance to leave, you know," I said.

"I think you already know the answer to that."

Irritation ignited within me again, making me have to fight to maintain my composure. What had I been thinking when I'd walked him all the way here? I could have just ditched him, leaving behind enough money to get him back home and a note of explanation, but no. Like an idiot, I had to bring him along, and now it was too late. Now we were standing in front of some strange building that the organization had probably decked out into a medieval torture chamber just for him. Dammit, where was the Heather who actually had some sense?

Hands clenching into fists, I spun around to face him, to argue with him, but the words died on my lips as Noah suddenly stepped forward to meet me, gently taking hold of my forearms. Then, before I had to chance to process what was happening, he pulled me to him, arms wrapping loosely around my shoulders in a soft, hesitant embrace.

Every muscle in me immediately went rigid, almost to the point of being painful. Having lost the ability to think straight, I could only suck in a sharp breath as Noah held me tighter, as if he feared that I'd disappear or even reject him the moment I returned to myself.

"Don't do anything that might get you killed in there, okay?" he whispered.

As I came out of my dazed state and forced my body to relax, I realized that there were a lot of things I could've said to him, then.

"I'm not gonna let that monster use you as a whipping boy, again."

"I thought I was supposed to be the one protecting you, not the other way around."

"Now where's the fun in that?"

"You know that isn't fair. You refused to leave me. Do you really think I'm going to return the favor by abandoning you?"

But in the end, I chose to say nothing, simply raising my arms to return the hug. If this was my last little moment of peace before all the chaos came rolling in, there was no sense in not enjoying it for as long as I could.

As expected, he was incredibly warm, so warm that I very much wanted to believe that the burn that bloomed in my cheeks when his hair tickled the side of my neck was because of his body heat. Well, either that, or the fact that my brain was starting to register my cold symptoms again. Of course, I did know the real reason, but I could dream, couldn't I?

We stayed like that for another few seconds and then pulled away, though we hadn't completely separated as we looked back at the towering warehouse. And when we did let go of each other, I let my fingers tighten on Noah's arms for a second, and my heart (might have) skipped a beat in my chest when he did the same.

Seeing no lock on the entrance, we exchanged wary glances one last time, and went in.

The inside of the building was just as big and just as unpleasant as I'd thought; it would have probably looked even bigger if it weren't so crowded with abandoned furniture. A few dim, naked light-bulbs overhead serving as our only source of light, we had to walk through what seemed like a whole forest of old wardrobes and vanities and mirrors to get to the clear space where Rhodes was waiting, along with the three agents – two men and one woman – that had been following him around, before. Hands clasped behind his back, the man acknowledged us with a nod.

"Welcome," he said.

And then the nightmare began, again.

How I managed to keep a straight face as the two male agents grabbed Noah, dragged him across the room, and forced him to his knees at that bastard's feet was a mystery I'd never be able to solve.

"Good to see you again, boy."

Stubborn as ever, Noah didn't say a word in reply, and didn't flinch as Rhodes bent to grab his chin and yank his head up so he could look him in the eye.

"I'm sorry, I don't think I heard a response. You should know it's rude to stay quiet when someone's kind enough to greet you. Maybe you just didn't hear me," he growled, pressing his nails into his victim's skin. "It's good to see you again, boy."

Noah opened his mouth, looking like he was about to spit out an insult, but then stopped himself, eyes flicking over to me.

"Pleasure's all mine," he forced out.

"Sir," I stepped towards them before this could go on any further, "I have it."

Thankfully, Rhodes released Noah as I pulled out the check and showed it to him, seeming to forget about his hostage completely. A spark of hope formed within me as he called me over. Maybe finally getting what he'd wanted after all this time would make him remember that Noah was really of no more use to him.

Putting on the most horrible smirk I'd ever seen, he plucked the paper from my hand and waved off the agents.

"Alright, string him up."

The female agent, who'd had a chain that I hadn't noticed before slung around her shoulder the whole time, pulled it off and moved to stand under one of the low, metal beams that supported the building. With one swift movement, she whipped the chain out and then up, making it coil tightly around the beam so that the end of it hung down on its own.

"Watch closely, Agent Umbriel," Rhodes told me as he turned to watch. At seeing a hint of distress slip into my expression, his smirk became disgustingly triumphant. "I'm pretty sure you're going to enjoy this."

Oh my God.

He knew.

For a moment, I was at a total loss, only standing there and staring while the agents positioned Noah under the chain, stripping him of his jacket and shirt. They didn't even blink at the old bandages wrapped around his wrists and middle. Rhodes' cruel smile only grew wider.

Yeah. He definitely knew.

I'd just started to step forward to protest when someone's hand roughly grabbed my arm and pulled me back, nearly making me lose my balance. Instinct taking me over, my free hand flew to my abdomen, making to grasp the hilt of my dagger until my head snapped around to see who it was.

"Dear Lord almighty, just stop for a second. Reckless, last-minute decisions are for the professionals."

"Charlie?" I struggled against his grip on me, glaring at him as hard as I could. "What the hell are you doing here? Let me go! Don't you see, they're gonna–"

"Shut up, will you!" he hissed quietly. "You screwed up, Heather. You really screwed up."

I already had a sharp reply lined up for him, but a grunt of pain made us both turn our heads. Eyes shut tightly in pain, Noah was hanging from the beam by his wrists. The woman, the tiniest of smiles on her small lips, was drawing a knife down his left arm, slicing through the gauze around it and the skin beneath.

I jerked forward. Again, Charlie held me back, pulling me further away so we wouldn't be heard.

"Goddamit, Charlie!" I snarled at him, almost forgetting not to raise my voice. "I can't let this happen, again!"

"Calm down. He's not dead yet, but he will be if you don't do something about it. Listen to me first and maybe you'll both have a chance," he shot back. "Oh and you owe me for this. I'll be kissing Steven's fat, pasty ass for the rest of my life for switching shifts with him so I could come as that roach's bodyguard. Whenever a client travels on organization business, he has to have an extra guard as a courtesy. Now you know why I'm here, so just hear me out about the rest, okay?"

"Actually, I still don't know the real reason you're here. I know I've screwed up this past month... in more ways than one, really. You're gonna have to be a little more specific about which mistake was so important that you came all the way across the country to remind me of it," I said, though I pretty sure that I already knew. "Oh, and all he needs to do to see you holding me like this is turn around, you know."

"That's why we need to get this done fast, you got me? We've got a few minutes, at least. Just look at him. He's occupied. Anyway, I overheard Rhodes and DeMiller talking as they passed by my desk. Rhodes saw the bandages when he was telling the kid he was gonna die, and, of course, they automatically knew it was you. You could've gotten away with finding out where his dad lived, but fixing him up after they tortured him wasn't something you were ever asked to do. Sure, he might've died, but really? Also, you could've been a little less obvious about playing nurse, too," he said, tugging my arm to keep my attention as Noah gave a louder grunt than before. I winced, both at Charlie's words and at the sight.

"Yeah, I know, I know," I said, my gaze still fixed on Noah as the woman started cutting off the bandages on his torso. "Them not being surprised about the bandages clued me in, but why was I never called out on it? Even now, they're looking right at them and doing anything about me."

"I... I don't know. The last I heard of the conversation was the boss saying something about wanting you dead. I don't know what happened to make him change his mind. He had to have changed his mind. If he hadn't, you would've been summoned to headquarters and killed before you ever got the chance to discover Wilshire's location, but that's beside the point. I didn't come here just to point that out," Charlie lowered his voice, moving a little closer to me. "You've proven yourself. If you two make it out of this place alive, there might be people who can help you stay out of the organization."

Noah arched his back and yelped as the agent moved her knife down the center of his stomach, but I didn't have a reaction to it, this time. That last sentence was the only thing my mind could process.

"People who can help... ?" I said, my voice so quiet that I even I had to strain myself to hear it. "That's impossible. No one's ever escaped before..."

Charlie rolled his eyes.

"That's what they want you to think, but don't worry about that. Look, I can tell you care about this guy. Deeply. Probably more than you're willing to admit, even to yourself."

All of the bandages had come off. The agent, her blade dripping red, walked behind her victim and dug its tip into one of Noah's whip scars. He screamed.

"There's freedom out there for you two. Freedom from this, at least. We need as many former agents as possible, too. You just need to get to the safehouse. They'll help you there, but I have to stay. They need me here, so you have to do this on your own. Decide how far you're willing to go for him. You might not get out of this alive, but it's worth a shot. Trust me on this one."

Three of the whip scars were open. Sweat ran down Noah's face, and I had to use every ounce of restraint in me to keep tears from running down mine.

"The keys and directions are in my back pocket. Get them only after you make absolutely sure you can escape without anyone knowing. If you're willing to fight, this all might just have a happy ending. Don't rush into it, but for the love of all that is holy, do not spend a lot of time fighting with yourself over it. Be quick about choosing what to do. You'll know when you can strike. Wait for the right moment, and keep calm about it."

Four scars.

"It's all up to you, Heather."

Five, now. Noah's chest heaved as the woman reopened the X on his cheek.

"Make your choice."

"Agent Umbriel, will you come here for a minute?"

Charlie released me and slipped back into the background just as Rhodes turned around, motioning me over.

"Why don't you come and join in on the fun?" he sneered.

I obeyed without question; it was the only thing I could do to keep myself intact. Not only was I trying to sort out all of this new information in my head while not crumbling under the crushing pressure it had brought down upon me and the searing questions it had left in my worn-out mind, but my body had also decided to spite me for ignoring it, every little feeling of discomfort that I'd blocked out surging back with a merciless vengeance. I shouldn't have been standing. I shouldn't have been conscious, much less walking toward the client as if everything was fine.

Not that I wasn't extremely thankful for whatever was keeping me tethered to reality, then. I still had to get Noah out of this, somehow, but... when would the right moment be?

"Yes, sir?" I asked when I'd reached Rhodes, holding back a grimace as I caught the smell of fresh blood. The agent was now creating new wounds alongside the old ones. Noah had stopped fighting against her a long time ago, only having enough strength to twitch a bit as she cut and slashed and dug.

Rhodes crossed his arms, watching in smug satisfaction.

"She's pretty graceful with that knife, huh? Kind of like an artist. Too bad his back had to be her canvas," he chuckled. "It's a shame that I'm not recording this or something. I know Wilshire would just love it, but oh, well. He'll have to settle for seeing the consequences of his stubbornness in person."

"But you have your check, you filthy douchebag!" I wanted to scream at him. "What could you possibly be gaining from this!?"

"He really needs to be taught a lesson. I'm gonna let him know that no one ever plays around with me like he tried to do. Maybe discovering one of his youngest son's severed fingers rotting in his kitchen sink will be enough to make him get the point. Hmm, I should cut him into thirty-five pieces. That'd be pretty symbolic, but I'm getting off-topic."

His face became serious as he faced me.

"You know, I have to commend you, Agent Umbriel. You're a pretty good actress. Really had me going for a while," he paused, giving a pointed look to the ragged bandages lying at Noah's feet. "That is, until I found out that there's no organization policy about keeping a prisoner alive after torture unless the client says to. I never asked for him to be fixed up."

Unable to think of anything else to do, I feigned surprise, bowing my head apologetically.

"I was unaware of that, sir," I lied. The man rolled his eyes and gave a signal to the other male agents, who'd been standing idly to the side as the female did her work. Face as blank as ever, the taller of them nodded and advanced on Noah, punching him in the jaw so hard that he spat out a tooth. My stomach lurched.

"Don't give me that. This is a big warehouse and the tension between the two of you is still managing to stink the place up. It's pretty sad, really. DeMiller told me that he had high hopes for you. He thought you could handle dealing with someone you know, even if it was your first time. We all know you two never interacted much on that awful reality show, and you weren't very friendly with each other when you did. Besides, you looked like the type who would've been able to get past that for your job's sake, considering the type of person you used to be. I guess he was wrong, though," he shook his head and sighed. "George says you're useless as an agent. If he'd gotten his way, you'd be dead right now."

"So why am I not dead?" I asked softly.

"Because I vouched for you. He lost a lot of blood on the day I had first had some fun with him. He might have died and I knew that, so you saving him turned out to be a good thing in the long run. And if you cared about him that much, why not see just how far you would go to save him? That was one of the reasons I might have been a little quick to order him killed. I thought that maybe doing that would spur you into finding out something for me in an attempt to save him. If not, then he would've died and that would've been it, but you delivered.

"Now, I'm prepared to offer you a deal. I'm thinking that your boss won't be too harsh on you if you show your loyalty. It might be a harsh punishment, but its better than being outright killed once we make it back to Vancouver, right? You're set to be punished either way, but I'm pretty sure they won't kill you if you do this. What do you think?"

He gave another signal to the female agent. Nodding, she lowered her knife and stepped away from Noah.

"Shoot him," grinned Rhodes. "Don't do it, and you both die."

My eyes went wide in understanding. The moment Charlie had been talking about had come. This was my chance, and I was going to take it. The little idea that struck me then would be very risky to pull off, but I had a feeling that it would be worth the trouble. At least, I hoped it would be worth it. There was nothing else that I could do, anyway. I'd made my choice.

"Yes, sir," I said.

I backed up a few steps and then moved over to stand in front of Noah, pulling my pistol from my coat. This was all my fault. Every cut, every bruise on his skin was because of me, and now it was time to pay him back for his suffering.

Alive but unconscious, he hung limply from the chain in his wrists, something which I found myself feeling grateful for. It would be over soon, but I still didn't want him to see me do this.

After studying the chain one more time and muttering one last prayer for luck, I raised my gun, took aim, and fired.

Bang.

Chapter 18

Life After Lies


By Fadingsilverstar16


Chapter 18


Horror 



"Shoot him," grinned Rhodes. "Don't do it, and you both die."



I was not ready. I had little to no idea what I was doing. This was probably going to get me killed.


Of course, that wasn't exactly a huge revelation that dramatically struck as that first critical gunshot thundered in my ears. It was more of a sick truth that had been with me since the day I told Noah I was going to try being civil with him until now, patiently waiting for me to either accept it by letting this life-changing moment arrive or back out before I put myself in any danger I didn't really have to be in. I'd chosen the former, obviously, because hey, just being involved in the organization technically meant I would be taking risks all the time, regardless of what or whom they were for. If I was already going to end up doing it, I figured, why not make the sacrifice for something that was actually worth it?


So, yeah. All feelings of reluctance or uncertainty were gone, driven far away by the sight of Noah tied up, bleeding, and being forced to endure a punishment he didn't deserve. Only the will to fight was left in me, and taking out the person most responsible for this was a good way to start.


Anticipating the other agents’ reactions, I dropped to the ground the moment Rhodes clutched at his belly and doubled over. Sure enough, two bullets whizzed over my head as the client shouted, “Kill them! Kill them both!” in a pain-filled voice before falling unconscious.


Gun at the ready, the taller of the two male agents stayed focused on me. The other one turned to Noah. I broke into a run.


I would never know how I was able to avoid the next bullet meant for me – though it was probably just plain luck – while still managing to get off a shot at the agent taking aim at Noah. My bullet tore through both of his wrists before he could shoot, sending him to the ground from shock, and I was convinced luck had little to do with that. No, that was an outright miracle.


Before whatever power looking out for me had a chance to desert me, I fired again, severing the chain that Noah was hanging from. He fell to the ground in a heap.


Not sparing one glance at his wounded partner, the first agent fired again, and I barely had time to yelp at the resulting pain in my shoulder before I had to snap to the right, dodging another bullet. Out of breath, I stumbled backwards and slammed into a wooden wardrobe I hadn't noticed before, my gun slipping free from my clammy hand.


Cursing my hazy thought process and the red spots swimming in my vision, I fumbled for the revolver in my coat with my left hand while feeling the ground around me with my right, searching for my pistol, for some useful object, for anything that I could use to keep myself alive. With something akin to a pitying smirk on his face, the man walked forward, casually twirling his gun on one finger before pointing it at me.


“You should know better. Bleeding hearts never win,” he murmured. As his finger touched the trigger, my hand brushed the hard knob of one of the wardrobe's drawers.


Without a second thought, I pulled it out, hurled it at him, and then whipped out the revolver to shoot.


My bullet missed, but the drawer didn't, the blunt side of it hitting him squarely upside the head. Another shot, and he crumpled to the ground, bleeding from the thigh. Then he lay still.


Leaning back on the wardrobe, I allowed myself a small sigh of relief, which became a hiss as a drop of sweat slipped down my neck and found the wound on my shoulder, seeping in to make it burn. The bullet had only clipped me. It would hurt for a while, but it was nothing compared to what Noah had to deal with right now. He had it twice as bad as I did.


Too tired to even try keeping my expressions in check, I grimaced as my hazy gaze settled on him and then cleared, bringing out every sick detail of his sliced-up, red-stained back. Wrists still held together with the now loosened chain, he lay face down, breathing in short, shallow pants. His skin and hair were damp with sweat.


I frowned and shuddered, enveloped all at once by that one emotion that was too unfamiliar to feel comfortable with, but still enough to make every inch of my being strain towards him. And whatever it was that was causing me to feel this way, be it just plain sympathy or pent-up issues I was somehow projecting onto him like a mental case or hell, maybe I had let myself... grow to care for him a little too much. I'd figure it out later. What was going on right then was most important; and right then, although I'd never been much of a romantic, I could only wonder what would happen if I went over there and hugged him like he'd hugged me not too long ago, if I held his hand like he'd held mine, if I tried to make up for everything done to him by providing what little warmth and comfort I had to offer, but what good would it do? My hands were always cold and I wasn't practiced when it came to these things.


Besides, there were bigger problems. Where was Charlie? It would’ve made sense if his resistance group, if that’s what it was, had forbidden him to interfere in situations like this, but I would certainly have appreciated a little more help from him. That female agent was still out there, too; and where was she, anyway? Was she expecting me to just sit here until she felt like having her fun, or was she waiting for me to make a move so she could come out of nowhere and kill me before I could defend myself?


I clenched my teeth in irritation. All of these questions were only creating more questions in my head and I had no way of getting an answer for any of them at the moment; but she was crazy if she thought I was just going to roll over and take whatever she thought I had coming to me.


Looking around, I found my organization-issue pistol, so I picked it up and stowed the revolver away. I scanned my surroundings, searching for anything that might have been useful, and spotted a somewhat secluded area past a few tall bookshelves and armchairs next to the back wall. It looked small, maybe a bit too small for comfort, but it looked like a good place to hide in. Having no other ideas and little time to really think it over, I decided our best bet was to stay there until I figured out what the hell I was doing.


Using the wardrobe behind me for support, I hauled myself to my feet and then started towards him as fast as I could manage, feeling both a glimmer of hope and a stab of dread when, hearing my footsteps, he groaned weakly and tried to shift. Overwhelmed, I almost dropped to my knees beside him, but thought better of it and slung his slung his shirt and jacket (which were still clean and intact, I noticed) over my shoulder first.


Then, after removing the chain from his wrists, I bent to his level, taking care to softly touch one of the few spots on his back that had been spared the knife. He flinched, but I didn't pull away, letting my fingers curl around his shoulder and feeling a bit guilty when he shivered at the touch.


“Hey,” I gave him a shake. “I-it's me. C'mon, you have to get up.”


I paused, dragging my arm across my stinging eyes, and it was just as much a comfort to me as it was meant to be to him when I moved my hand from his shoulder to his head, giving his hair one long, gentle stroke.


“C'mon. Please.”


To my relief, he came to within a few seconds, and we eventually made it to the secluded space I'd seen. There were no chairs or mattresses around to sit on and it was a bit smaller than I'd thought, enough to make me feel a bit claustrophobic, but it would do.


Wincing as the pain in my left shoulder flared at my movements (no matter how slow and tired they were), I helped Noah sit, propping him up against one of the huge sliding door mirrors that lined the back wall. Though most of his wounds had started to clot, the one on his stomach, the deepest and most horrible-looking of all of them, still bled.


Worried, I snatched his shirt from my shoulder, pressing it to his belly, muttering an apology when he gasped.


“God, that hurts,”he said. Looking me over, he added, “but you really look awful, you know.”


I caught myself before my lips could tug into a smile.


“Really, now,” I brought the shirt up to the X on his cheek. “You have no right to talk.”


He closed his eyes, leaning slightly into the black fabric. Another stab of pain shot through my shoulder, making me drop the shirt; and suddenly my bare hand was holding the side of his face, instead.


“Maybe,” he said.


Too out of it to blush or even feel embarrassed about it in the first place, I just let my hand slowly fall away from him, balling it into a fist on my lap.


“This isn't over,” I said. “That woman's still out there.”


Eyes still closed, Noah let his head rest against the mirror behind him.


“How were you able to escape her?”



I shook my head, although I knew he couldn't see me.


“I didn't. I dealt with Rhodes and the others first. I was so busy with them that I didn't notice her and when I remembered, she'd just... disappeared,” I said, resisting the urge to press my hand to my aching shoulder. “But it makes no sense. If she'd helped the two others, we'd both be dead right now. I don't know what kind of game she's playing, but I'm not going to sit here and let her decide when she wants to face me. That's....”


I clenched my teeth.


“That is not happening.”


Noah opened his eyes at that, quietly watching as I pulled out the revolver hidden in my jacket. Reaching out, I took his hand and pressed the gun into it, giving him a pointed look.


“I have to go. It's got four rounds. If she comes at you, use it. I'll be back.” My mind set, I squeezed his hand, stood, and turned. He might have said something, he might have called after me or tried to grab my hand, but for once, I couldn't let him affect my decision. I had to do this. There was no time to fight with myself or with him over it. Hell, there was hardly any time to think about this, much less plan some sort of strategy that would ensure we both got out of this alive.


But strangely, that was fine. I was still going to fight. This woman was dangerous – everything I'd seen from her so far had made that more than clear. If we were ever going to get out of this place, she needed to be out of the picture. And somehow, I was going to make that happen.


I spent the little time I had before stepping back out into the large space in the middle of the building doing as much self-reassuring as I could, blocking out all thoughts of death and gore and torture trying to worm into my throbbing head. Yes, they could happen. Actually, they would probably come true within the next few minutes if the horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach was anything to go by, but that didn't mean I couldn't try salvaging one last shred of optimism to keep me going, right?


I really wasn't expecting it to work, but it did. By the time I reached the open area, I'd really convinced myself that I could handle whatever was coming to me or waiting for me there.


And I was wrong. Big surprise.


Across the room, the woman knelt at the side of the agent who'd shot me, cradling him in her arms. Gazing gently down at him, her free hand was petting the side of his face, nails leaving thin red scratches with each stroke.


Sensing my presence, she raised her head. When our eyes met, her small lips curled into a smile.


“You're so cute. Adorable.” She traced her thumb across the man's cheek. “Thought you could get away with shooting him in the thigh, did you?”


She cast a glance to the side, and my gaze followed hers, coming to focus on the dark, massive pool that surrounded the agent's legs, and… oh God, I'd done that. That was because of me.


“Oh, and Rhodes. He might survive and so might that other agent. From the way his wrists look, thought, I doubt he'll ever use his hands again.”


Her soft smile took on a hint of pity as my hand flew to my mouth, stifling a gag that had risen from my throat. I bowed my head and she sighed like a like a mother scolding a child.


“You knew what you were doing. You shot three people, one of which is now lying in my arms, dead. And now have the nerve to go on like you feel sorry about it. Heh, maybe you do feel sorry. Two of these people were just doing their jobs, weren't they? It's all so complicated and from the look on your face you can't even decide what to feel. Precious. Just precious.”


I wasn't doing anything. Dammit, why wasn't I doing anything? I was just standing there, taking it. Was this all I could do? Had I come all this way just to reach this moment and get all choked up? Why, why, why?


“It's okay, though. No need to get all worked up. You'll get used to it.”


My head shot up, those words freeing me from my shock. No, that was not going to happen. I would never get used to this hell.


Putting on the coldest face I'd ever given, I pulled out my pistol, aiming it at her forehead.


“What do you mean?” I demanded. “You and I have to fight. I'm a traitor.” I tried to sound demanding and angry and strong, but my throat was so tight that I could barely get the words out. I sounded like a scared little girl. Underneath it all, maybe that's what I really was.


Carelessly tucking a lock of her stringy brown hair behind her ear, the woman stood, dropping her partner's corpse to the floor. Still smiling much too sweetly to ever be convincing, she stepped over him and walked towards me, her boots leaving bloody footprints behind her.


“Don't fret, sweetheart,” she cooed. “I just want to talk.” As she advanced on me, I wanted to stand my ground like I should have, but couldn't stop myself from backing away, moving towards the mirrors that lined the back wall. I was only a step away from bumping into one of them when she stopped, thankfully allowing the distance between us to remain.


“What's there to talk about?” I asked.


“A lot, actually. To tell the truth, you're the most interesting newbie I've seen in a while. Not many are as willing to fight against us as hard as you are, regardless of cause. Granted, I can't exactly say that it was only your competence and ability that got you this far – I think the bulk of the credit has to go to just plain luck – but you've made it, and I guess that's pretty spectacular all on it's own.”


She looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for some sort of thanks for her “praise”. I wasn't about to give her the satisfaction.


“But I must say,” she continued, “you took this 'noble' path to keep from killing someone, and yet you still couldn't avoid the act itself. Going by your apparent motives up to this point, you really, really did not want blood on your hands, but here we are. Becoming a full-on traitor to our powerful little group seems like only a bonus compared to that.”


Her smile now had a crazed edge to it, but her small eyes were calm, holding only the barest touch of smugness.


“Feels good, doesn't it?”


By then I was shaking visibly and there was no way to stop it. Each word of hers was like a needle in my skin, driving deeper and deeper until it pierced my core. Not trusting that my mouth was capable of forming a coherent response, the only thing I could do was screw my eyes shut and shake my head hard, touching the trigger of my gun to remind myself of what I was capable of. She wasn't doing anything, just standing there in what I hoped was overconfidence, and I could've shot her right in the mouth to shut her up, to make her stop saying things that just had to be so disgustingly true. I was so close. Almost there. Just one more twitch of my finger and I'd find out if she was all talk or not. I'd done it before, so why not again?


I opened my eyes.


There was no fear on that woman's face.


“Conflicted?” Her laughter echoed off of the walls, light and airy and too beautiful to be real. “It just gets better and better, hmm?”


And still, I did nothing.


“No one ever said this job would be easy. All this resistance is just making it harder than it needs to be, sweetheart,” she said. “Shame DeMiller wants your head, though. He was too willing to give up on you. With some guidance and a broken bone or two, you could've really been something.”


She touched a finger to her lips, looking pensive for a moment.


“Maybe you still can be.”


I still had no ability to speak, but the shock and confusion on my face was enough for her to get the message.


“Oh, don't look at me like that,” she continued. “I should be seeing a smile on those lips. DeMiller and I know each other well enough. I can vouch for you. Maybe the boss'll spare your little boyfriend, too. Yes, you would have to return, but hey, you'll get what you want, right? That's what this... that's what life is all about. You want something; you do what's necessary to attain it. The only difference between then and now is that people are pushing the morality envelope more and more to get what they want. Why should it be any different with you? You've been making sacrifices for him all this time; one more shouldn't hurt.”


She grinned.


“You won't regret it.”


That was the first lie I'd heard from her that night. Starting the process of feeling awful for taking this job all over again would be something I'd regret until the day I died, and her knowledge of that was plain on her face. Why would she even bother?


“True, it might seem a little scary at first, but considering the type of person you are or used to be, at least, you'll get used to it. The things we could do, Heather,” the way she breathed my name sent a chill down my spine. “Agents Umbriel and Titiana. Not the codenames I would have chosen, but they're pretty okay. And what would you be fighting against me for, again? The worthless Wilshire kid? What could you possibly gain from saving him? Do the smart thing. He couldn't possibly be worth the effort you've put into saving him. Join me, though, and like I said, he might live.”


She started walking forward, spreading her arms in invitation. Again, I took a wary step back, and my foot landed on something hard.


I glanced down. There was a chain under the heel of my boot.


Agent Titiana was silent, waiting for my answer, and she wouldn't have to wait for long. I already had one in mind. My growing anger had already loosened my throat, giving me back my voice and the self-control to stop trembling. I could do this. My stomach was bunched up in knots and I was starting to feel a bit light-headed, but I could do this.


Deep breath.


“Pretty tempting offer,” I said, my voice as even as I could make it, “but you have a couple of your 'facts' wrong.”


“Oh? Tell me then.”


“First of all, I'm not doing this just for Noah. Second, he is not worthless. Without him, I would have never realized how horrible this pathetic group is or how horrible I was for ever being apathetic about my place in it. That would've been worse than any sort of death or torture you could put me through. This organization should not exist.”


Agent Titiana's eyes narrowed, but her grin never faltered. That was okay, though. I would make it disappear soon enough.


“That's a matter of opinion, honey,” she said.


“It's the truth, and you know it.”


Come on,” she sounded a little impatient now, “I'm being nicer than I have to be, here. Grow up and recognize that the kind of people in the organization – people like us – are the future of this world. Those who are arrogant enough to think they're above all this are just going to end up becoming pawns in the end, hindered forever by their 'standards'.”


“Lies. I am no one's pawn, but you... you're just a pawn to your own insanity.”


Her smile was gone – my first win of the evening. One move later, almost too fast for my eyes to catch, and she had her own gun in hand, huffing in disappointment.


“Well now, I'm almost sorry I have to do this. You would've been a fun little pet. In fact, you're just so cute that I'll offer you one more opportunity. Last chance.”


“I will never go back.”


“Too bad, then. I guess I'll just have to drag your corpse back by the hair on that pretty little head.”


“No thanks.”


I shot at her and dropped into a crouch, my knees hitting the floor hard. Faster than I'd expected, she did the same to dodge the bullet. There was my chance.


A snarl that sounded just as raw and savage as I felt tearing from my throat, I grabbed the long chain at my feet and whipped it forward. I meant to hit her face (to keep that little smile of hers from ever coming back), but wound tight around her right arm instead. Reacting quickly, I gave it a yank and she pitched forward, her gun flying from her hand. It landed with a clatter a few meters away from us. All within about eight seconds.


Taking advantage of the opportunity, I fired again. She lunged to the side to avoid it and then jerked her arm back, ripping the chain from my sweat-slicked hand. My balance lost, I fell face down and then I wasn't holding my gun, either.


That must have been the point where my body got fed up with me and decided to take over. Though whirling mind could barely process the taste of sweat and dirt and blood and concrete on my lips, I somehow stood up and threw myself into a mad scramble for my gun.


That must have also been the point where all of that luck ran out, too. I put everything I had into jumping for it, reaching for it, only to feel it under my fingertips for a fleeting moment before it vanished under a wooden bookcase.


Then, as a fresh thrill of panic rushed over me, something thin and hard looped around my ankle and pulled.


I smacked down onto the floor. I didn't realize that I'd screamed until the raspy sound of it echoed back into my ears.


I tried to move, tried to get up, but my most of body was suddenly dead weight, like it was giving up on me. My right hand, trapped under my abdomen, could only press against the hard outline of the knife under my clothes while my left hand could only reach out to scrape pathetically at the ground as if it could move the rest of me on its own.


My vision had almost blacked out when something came down on my outstretched arm. Too sick and insane to care about dignity, I screamed again and my vision went dark for a moment. When I came to, Titiana was standing over me, hands on her hips, the heel of her boot grinding down on my wrist.


“Huh, you must really be some kind of ill, dearie. That was pretty pitiful.” She lifted her boot and stomped down. Violet rings danced in front of my eyes as a couple of my fingers broke.


“Not even gonna put up a fight, anymore? Looks like I get to have even more fun with your boyfriend tonight!”


I parted my lips to curse at her, but instead ended up gurgling on stomach bile that had pooled at the back of my throat.


“That was a cute trick you pulled with that chain. You're pretty resourceful. Killing you seems like such a waste, even now that you've gone and annoyed me like that.”


She bent to lift up my chin with the one of her nails, puncturing the skin with its sharp tip. Her smile was back, which made me a little nauseous, but that was alright. My hand had just wormed its way into my jacket and wrapped around the hilt of my dagger. She was right where I wanted her to be.


Not knowing that she was about to have a blade sunken into her arm, Titiana moved to turn me over, but in the last moment before I was going to swipe at her, my head turned just a fraction of an inch, and I caught a small glance past her.


Noah, slowly and weakly and almost too quietly, was staggering out into the open.


I stopped short from drawing my knife, allowing her to roll me onto my back and casually straddle my hips, hovering over me with her gun in hand.


I forced myself to relax. She hadn't seen him and was now facing the other way, thank God. If I made a show of noticing him, she would notice him too. I couldn't let that happen, but dammit, how was I going to tell him to get the hell back to where it was safe? Why had he come out here, anyway? How was I going to solve this? Dammit, I was losing it.


“You're beautiful when you bleed, y'know,” Titiana cut into my frantic thoughts as her nails cut into my wound. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”


With a little willpower and lip biting, I might have been able to stay quiet like I wanted to, but she was distracted and I needed her to stay that way, so I moaned.


Grinning, she busied herself with playing with the wound, pulling and poking and prodding. Her other hand came up to my face, clawing across my lips and nose and eyelids and drawing blood wherever she touched. Her damn nails were so sharp, they probably weren't even real. When I lifted my head to indulge her with a shriek, I was able to look at Noah. One hand pressed to his side, he had fallen to one knee, looking desperate and frustrated. He wanted to do something. He wanted to save me. But I wasn't the one that needed saving. I was the one who was supposed to be saving him.


Titiana's nails dug deeper into my shoulder and face. She drew an X on my left cheek.


“You regret helping him now?” she whispered.


I shook my head. For her, it meant “hell no. For him, it meant please stay away”.


“Really? So you're both sick and delusional, then. Gorgeous combination.” She closed her eyes and smiled, relishing in the sounds of my gasps and screams as she tore her way across my skin. Here was my chance.


I locked eyes with Noah, mouthing, “I'm fine. Run.


But he shook his head, pulling his arm from behind his back. The revolver I'd given him was in his hand.


His eyes narrowed, and I understood.


He aimed. I brought my hand into position over my dagger. We nodded.


Noah's shot ripped through her chest, spraying me with blood before I took my knife, plunged it in, and pulled it out.


The result? Horror.


For some unholy reason, she lurched forward but didn't immediately go down, still alive enough to look blankly off into the distance before her gaze dropped to the open mess that was once her left breast. As if enamored by it, she slowly reached up to brush her nails against it, not even wincing as one of them caught on the exposed inner flesh surrounding the gaping hole. When a few thick red beads escaped to trail down her shaking fingers, she held them up in front of her face, peering at them with wide, empty eyes. And though it might have been my barely-functioning head giving me strange thoughts, she almost seemed almost like a child, gazing at her bloodied hand as if seeing it for the first time.


She looked back at me, and that hollow stare became sad. I couldn't find the brainpower to react as her hand came to rest on my cheek.


“So s-sad... w-what I would've given...” she pressed her nails in, breaking the skin on the side of my face one more time, “to be able to break you....”


Some blood dripped down from her lips, and I made the mistake of letting my own mouth open in shocked revulsion at the same time. I gagged and sputtered as it splattered on to me, and she smiled.


Then Titiana collapsed, her lips landing softly on my forehead, and breathed her last against my skin.


Blood was everywhere, now. On the floor, running down my face and shoulders, the wet warmth of it seeping from her body onto mine. I could taste its iron tang and smell of it burned my nose, polluting the air all around. There was no escaping it, so all I could do was close my eyes and listen to Noah's footsteps growing closer and closer. When I opened them, he had pushed Titiana's body off of me.


There was no hesitation in either of us as we embraced. Maybe if things had been a little different, if just opening my mouth to talk didn't make my chest swell and bring heat to my face and tears to my eyes, maybe I would have been able to whisper something in his ear. Anything to let him know it was okay. Anything to let myself pretend it was okay.


Never mind, though. There were a lot of things to say, but from that point on I would always be sure that the way we looked at each other right then expressed more than words ever could. We were hurt and numb and exhausted, but we were alive.


And when I really thought about it, I realized that after everything, being alive was really all we could ask for.


Chapter Nineteen

Life After Lies

Story by Fadingsilverstar16, chapter by Gideoncrawle

Chapter 19

Freedom


Noah’s and my wounds were ugly and painful, but they weren’t life-threatening in and of themselves. We still needed medical attention, though. Not only did I have a bullet hole in my shoulder, but Titiana had also flayed Noah pretty well while he was chained up. Noah’s whole ordeal with the organization had weakened him quite a bit, so I was afraid of what might happen if his wounds got infected. And so, before we left the warehouse, I looked up the nearest urgent care clinic on my PDA.

When we got to the clinic, the receptionist took one look at us and her eyes looked like they were about to pop right out of their sockets. “What on earth happened to you?” she gasped.

“You don’t want to know,” I said, staring her down. She took the hint and didn’t ask any more questions beyond what she needed to process new patients. Even then, I told her as little as I could. I still had my skull card, and I could have flashed it to keep her from asking any questions at all, but I knew now what DeMiller really thought of me. Showing my skull card could have created more problems than it solved. Luckily, the receptionist didn’t object when I told her that we didn’t want to give our real names, and she just called us “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” on the forms.

Charlie had tailed us to the clinic, and he was waiting for us when we came out. All he said was, “Come with me.”

“It’s OK,” I told Noah, who was looking at me uncertainly. “I trust him.”

Charlie got us to a safehouse in his underground railroad without any trouble. The organization is powerful, but it’s not like it has agents on every street corner, and I’d learned a lot about its limitations in the last few days. I decided to trust Charlie’s splinter group implicitly.

“I have to go back to Vancouver and give DeMiller my report,” Charlie told me. “I’ll stick as close to the truth as I can, but of course I’ll change a few details… things like the fact that you’re still alive and the fact that your friend was the one who shot Titiana.”

Charlie then turned to Noah and said, “As for you, the only reason the organization ever cared about you was because Rhoades paid it to care. With Rhoades dead, it should have no further interest in you as long as you don’t tell anyone what really happened in that warehouse.”

That made sense to me. The organization is cold and ruthless, but it’s not vindictive. It’s motivated by money, and there’s no profit in revenge unless you’re being paid to do the dirty work for someone else’s revenge. The organization preaches indifference to the problems of others, and Charlie’s assurances reminded me that its indifference cuts both ways.

Charlie continued, “It won’t worry about you knowing too much, because it has the government in its hip pocket. Even if you wanted to report what you knew, who would you report it to? The organization releases hostages all the time, once its clients get what they want.”

So Charlie went back to Vancouver, and Noah and I stayed at his safehouse for a few days. Funny thing, I knew from the beginning that Charlie’s not the one in charge of the splinter group, but I have no idea who is, so I just call it Charlie’s.


In spite of everything he had been through, Noah at least had a life to go back to. When he had recovered enough to go back to that life, Charlie’s underground railroad took him home, and out of my life, warning him only to never tell anyone about them, what had happened in the warehouse--or me.

“Take care of yourself, Heather,” Noah said, as we shared one last hug before he left. “I’m glad that I can remember you for something better than that lame reality show.”

“Likewise,” I said, fighting down a lump in my throat. We both knew that we would probably never see each other again.

Noah may have had a life to go back to, but I didn’t. I couldn’t go back to Vancouver, at least not for a long time, and trying to retrieve any of my belongings from my apartment might tip off the organization that I was still alive. No matter what I decided to do going forward, I would have to leave behind everything I had ever known. Again.

Naturally, Charlie’s cohorts offered me a place with them. When they made their recruiting pitch, they made it clear that I was free to build a new life on my own if that was what I wanted. They also told me that, whether I stayed or left, they would set up a new identity for me, because I would need one if I wanted to live more than a few weeks. Believe me, it was tempting to wash my hands of the whole cloak and dagger thing and go back to a normal life.

Go back? That’s rich. When had my life ever been “normal” in the first place? Whatever, there was a time when I would have jumped at the chance, but now I felt that I would be leaving too much unfinished business. How many other Noahs were out there for the organization to use as pawns, or to coldly slaughter if that was what some client wanted?

Time was when I wouldn’t even have considered that. I’ve come a long way since my days on that reality show that must never be named.

So I stayed with Charlie’s splinter group. When they asked me what name I wanted for my new identity—not the code name I would use on the group’s business, but the name I would use in daily life—I told them that I wanted to sleep on it. Heather Martison was dead, and I say good riddance to her—again—but who would live on in her place?

That evening, inspiration came to me, from that horrid reality show, of all places. True, I’d been coerced into joining DeMiller’s organization in the first place, but that was beside the point. The horrors I had seen, and been a part of, when I was with the organization… madness, all madness. And so, when my new employer asked me again what name I wanted to be called for the rest of my life, I said, “Call me ‘Izzy’.”


It’s funny how some things can burn themselves into your memory and stay with you forever, no matter how much you might like to forget some of the details. My adventure with Noah was… what, 19 years ago? Twenty? Yet I can remember it all as if it happened yesterday.

I’ve never tried to contact Noah, because that would risk blowing my cover and making him a target besides, but I’ve occasionally done Internet searches to see how life’s been treating him. Apparently, it’s been treating him pretty well. Near-death experiences have a way of making you want to do something with your life, and Noah got his act together. He’s an investment banker in Saskatoon, now, with a nice house, a pretty nerdette of a wife, and three kids. His oldest child starts middle school this fall. He seems basically happy.

I eventually went back to Vancouver, because my job is to help undermine the organization’s activities, especially by offering a way out for disillusioned agents like I had once been, and Vancouver is where the action is. I see Charlie once in a while, when the needs of our “resistance cell” call for it. He’s still a mole at organization HQ, too ordinary to be suspected. DeMiller is gone, retired to the Bahamas or something, but his successor’s no better. Different face, same mindset.

As for me, I’ve been living right under the organization’s nose, under the name of Isabel “Izzy” Martinez. My lifestyle is more modest than I had envisioned for myself at this stage of my life, but I have to be careful not to draw too much attention to myself. I’ve had a few boyfriends over the years, but I never let any of them move in with me because that would have put them in harm’s way if the organization ever found me out. The life of a freedom fighter is morally rewarding, but those rewards come at a price, just like anything else worth having.

“Freedom fighter”? I never really thought of it that way before, but I guess it fits. It has a nice ring to it. Who’d have thought that a stuck-up, self-centered teen queen would end up in such a selfless role? It just goes to show that there’s hope for everybody.


FIN

Around Wikia's network

Random Wiki