Stef stirred as the weight on her bed shifted – she couldn’t remember falling asleep, nor if Ryan had been there when she’d drifted off. She rolled over, trying to extricate herself from the sheet at the same time, as it had somehow become inexplicably caught around her again. She made a mental note to check to see if Agency sheets were by nature evil, or had a penchant for attempting strangulation in the dead of night.
She opened her eyes, and felt the sudden drop in her blood temperature as she recognised the shape of the man in her room. Not Ryan. Not Jones. Not Merlin paying a mysterious visit to talk about how chickens must be inherently magical.
She squeaked as he reached forward, grabbed her by the throat and dragged her from the small bed, keeping her suspended above the ground for a moment before swinging his arm – and her – around and slamming her into the ground.
It was night. He shouldn’t be there. It was night, he was-
The hand stayed wrapped around her throat as the room blurred and his gym came into focus.
This is not good. This is not good. This is not good.
Calm down, you won’t be able to do anything if-
I can’t do anything, full fucking stop! It’s Taylor! What the hell is he-
Calm. Down.
I’m too scared. Jesusfuck, he’s gonna-
He dropped her to the floor, and terrified limbs failed to move even the slightest. She stared up at the behemoth, the monster, the volcano. It was volcano day, and she wasn’t safe inside a jail cell. She tried to ask a question, to speak, but no sounds came from her. She slowly looked away from him, turning her attention to the floor – at least the floor didn’t want to kill her. Probably.
One of his feet moved forward and crushed the fingers on her left hand, applying pressure until all four of them broke. It hurt, but she head herself make no sound – the fear was worse than the pain.
A gun was dropped in front of her.
She grabbed for the gun, scrambled to her feet and aimed it at him. It was stupid, but it least it gave her a measure of control. His lip curled in disgust, but she emptied the clip into his chest before he had a chance to grab it from her, then turned and ran – for the wall, slamming herself against the small alarm button, alerting the calvary.
A hand grabbing a rough handful of her hair snapped her from her comforting daydream. He crouched to stare at her, and she shuddered, too scared to look away.
‘Kill yourself.’
His hand moved like a striking snake, retrieving the gun from the floor, forcing it into her right hand, curling her fingers around the grip.
‘Kill yourself.’
Ok, he is- ‘-fucking nuts.’ His hand let go of the gun and a huge hand slapped her across the face, and she could feel the red welt rising on her skin, and his somewhat looser grip on her hair, given the chunks that had just been torn away. ‘No,’ she whispered.
His hand forced her tiny fingers around the gun, and threaded a finger around the trigger. ‘You did it once,’ he said, his face so close to hers, it would have been no trouble for him to dislocate his jaw and eat her entire head in one gulp. ‘I watched you.’ He smiled, an expression far more terrifying than any one of his twelve angry faces. ‘Do it again.’
He let go of her hair, and she let herself slump, watching as he shook the bloody clumps of her hair away from his thick fingers. His free hand wrapped around her jaw, applying pressure until her mouth popped open. He wrenched her hand up, and shoved the gun into her open mouth.
She felt herself gag on the gun, but he shoved it in further.
No, no, no, no, no.
He yanked on the finger wrapped around the trigger, and she felt the shot tear out the back of her head, then nothing. She opened her eyes to find herself in the smoky in-between, nearly weeping in relief as her body swirled apart, checking itself and repairing the bullet wound.
‘Anywhere but there!’ she screamed into the fog. ‘Anywhere but Taylor’s gym!’
The bell tolled, and she found herself back in the gym. He stood, and tossed the gun down to her again. ‘Kill yourself.’
‘You think it ends tomorrow? You think I will let you become an agent?’ He kicked her in the head, but not hard enough to kill her, just hard enough to make his point. ‘I will inflict every kind of hell on you, every day.’ He grabbed the front her training uniform jacket and pulled her up a little. ‘I will make all of your glitches come true.’ He dropped her, and she stayed in a heap on the floor – there was little point in moving, little point in fighting.
I’m not in control again. I’m…beginning to hate this.
Someone will notice, just try not to anger him any more. Let him rage.
A knife embedded itself in the floor beside her. ‘Another option, if you want it.’ A dozen different pills landed on her and bounced to the floor. ‘All of them are instant.’
‘I’m not-’
‘You have no future here,’ he growled. ‘The kindest fate will be if you are locked in the basement with the other freaks, with the other mistakes. The other failures.’
‘So why aren’t you down there?’
Oh, you didn’t just do that, Spyder.
I think I did. I didn’t mean to. I really-
A terrified apology sat on her tongue as she stared up at the agent. The kind she’d screamed at her father whenever he’d gotten so angry she thought he was going to hit her. The stuttering begging to be forgiven, for everything to just go back to normal so she didn’t have to be scared anymore, for the last few seconds not to have happened, to be forgiven, not punished.
She watched as he slipped his hands into his pockets.
‘I’m sorry!’ she screamed. ‘I’m sorry!’
Hands stayed in pockets, and his gaze went to the gun.
Buy a few seconds! Buy a few seconds!
Trembling, ashamed of the tears falling from her eyes, the sweat on her brow, and the knowledge that she was so close to wetting her pants in fear. She choked on a breath, leaned forward and grabbed for the gun, scared hands fumbling with it as she lifted it.
She sat back heavily on her rear, gun held with both hands.
‘Do it!’ he screamed.
‘Last time was easier,’ she whispered, ‘I had a reason to. There wasn’t a choice.’
‘You don’t have a choice now.’
Spyder, lift the gun a little, tilt your head like you’re getting into position.
She did as instructed, pulling up the feeling of utter resignation she’d felt on the roof, surrounded by people who wanted her dead for reasons that weren’t her fault.
Good, good, just relax. Now…ask him if he’ll be implicated, surely this can’t be legal. Don’t be too pushy though, don’t want him to see you buying time.
She pressed the still-warm gun to her temple, the sick feeling of fear a black pit in her stomach, the knowledge that it was just one little trigger pull to escape all of the fear, the temptation to do it, just to get away from him.
‘Won’t you…’ she mumbled, ‘won’t this implicate you?’
‘If you’re unstable enough to end your pathetic life, it’s no fault of mine.’
Fuck yeah I’m unstable enough to do it. That doesn’t mean I will. I’m not going to. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
No. He wants me broken, I’m broken, but I’m not…not going to fucking kill myself. For Ryan, yeah, but not for him.
Hey, you-
I’m not going to take this from him. Not tonight. Not suicide. I…I’m just not. Back me up on this?
Yes ma’am.
She dropped the gun, then looked up at him. ‘I’m not going to kill myself, you want me dead, you do it yourself.’
His hands came out of his pockets, solid-looking brass knuckles sat across each hand. One fist smashed into her face, and she felt her cheekbone shatter, and she fell back. His other fist slammed down into her gut, and she felt herself spit blood.
He knelt, yanked her into a sitting position and freed her of her jacket, leaving her only in her grey t-shirt. He grabbed one arm, and dragged her toward the centre of the gym, beneath his punching bag. The punching bag disappeared, replaced by a huge hook.
Dorian’s story of the Solstice ramming a meat hook through his heart came to her, and she struggled to pull away from the agent, knowing she’d fare far less well with her heart shattered than a man who literally could not die.
Cuffs appeared around her wrists, and her pulled on the chain, lifting her up, suspending her by the hook.
Better than expected, but still bad, still bad, still bad-
What happened to Little Miss Badass?
She remembered she’s a fucking coward and came to her senses!
She suffered another few blows from the brass knuckles, then watched him slide them off, and drop them to the ground, bruises on his fingers.
Fuck, he was hitting me that hard?
Well, generally, ribs don’t-
A section of wall to her right disappeared, and all thoughts stopped. Dozens of gleaming weapons shone in the fluorescent light, each sharper than the last, each a better hacker-killer than the last.
And none of them looked required.
Are those-
Yeah, I think so. You’re the idiot who dared him to kill us.
I wanted to be brave once in my life.
Spyder, that was stupidity, not bravery.
He was going to do it anyway, least I got to say something.
That, er, bringing you any comfort?
Not really.
A trolley appeared beside him, and he pulled several of the largest, sharpest, pointiest weapons from the wall and slapped each of them down, the metal ringing out like a death sentence.
I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was somewhere else.
That doesn’t work, remember?
Why the fuck doesn’t it? I should be fucking magic! I’m touching it, well, my innards are touching it! That counts! I wish I were somewhere else! I wish the goblins could come and take me away, right now! Heel click! Heel click! Heel click!
He turned his back to her, and slipped something into his jacket, before hauling the trolley across to her.
‘Suicide,’ he said as he picked up the thinnest of the blades. ‘Would have been easier.’ He rammed it into her leg and she felt it slide through skin and flesh as though her leg was nothing more than butter.
She opened her mouth to scream, but a gag appeared there, trapping the sound. Black fabric covered her head in an eye blink, and he felt it cinch around her neck: an execution hood. She felt the tip of the knife slide down her chest, then come to rest over her other leg, before it was plunged in again to give her right leg a matching wound.
With surprising calm, she shook her head.
The hood disappeared, and after a moment, so did the gag. ‘You have spent a solid week hurting me,’ she said, her voice detached and alien to her ears. ‘If you are going to kill me, have the decency to be quick about it.’
…this is you being an idiot again.
Screw going through another torture session. Besides, the sooner he does it, the sooner I can get my last-minute rescue, right?
…yeah, sure, Spyder, your last minute rescue. Just like when you were pulled out the way of that shard of mirror. Or alternate-universe you was rescued before becoming Astrin’s dinner. Or when that Solstice asshole shot you anyone knew you were immortal. Sure. Last minute rescue.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Taylor lifted the largest knife from the tray and plunged it into her chest without ceremony. She shook on the chain, unable to hold back screams as he dragged it through her flesh, cutting a deep wound. He dropped the knife after a moment and raised his hands to her chest, firstly to tear open her shirt, then to tear out a chunk of her flesh, affording him unrestricted access to her heart.
The cuffs disappeared, and she fell to the floor. He roughly grabbed her shoulder and shifted them away.
Somewhere unfamiliar blurred into view. A small waiting room, or…what appeared to be a waiting room, though one of the doors leading out of the room had no door knob, and appeared to be more decoration than portal to another room.
He growled as he tried to make her stand, her injured legs unable to take the weight, and instead slammed her into the wall beside the fake-door, one strong arm across her middle pinning her there and keeping her upright.
‘Take us into that room.’
He lifted one of her hands and pressed it to her chest. ‘Take us into that room.’
‘You should try knocking!’ she screamed, a nervous giggle ripping through her body.
Yeah, yeah, up my idiot count by one. Not like I could help myself.
He shifted his weight a little, and pulled a gun from his jacket. It wasn’t a sleek, new gun like she was used to seeing, this was an old-style revolver, with unreadable words carved into the worn metal. He pushed it up under her chin. ‘This can kill you,’ he said, ‘if you want a chance at existing five minutes from now, take us into that room.’
Just pull the fucking trigger! Pull the trigger! Stop jerking me around! Pull the trigger! Pull the trigger, pull the trigger, pull the trigger.
‘Ok,’ she whispered, and curled her fingers into the hole in her chest, letting them rest against the mirror, careful to keep her mind blank. ‘We need to go into that room,’ she said, feeling the uncomfortable coldness of her heart creeping into her fingertips.
The world flexed and bent, splitting into a rainbow at the edges, as they were transported into the room beyond the faux-door.