His hands had released my head, reaching upwards. Reaching for the cuts he would dig his fingers into, and that would make me scream in agony. Dread made my stomach twist, my breaths quickening; but the pain never came.
Instead, a loud screech of tearing metal pierced my ears; and then I was falling.
Falling, and slamming into the ground. I couldn't stop myself, couldn't move to soften the impact; I hit hard, my skin scraping painfully against what felt like concrete. For a moment, I was too dazed to figure out what had happened, my eyes blinking wildly in the darkness as I tried to suck back in the air I'd lost.
Air that was forced from my body as a foot suddenly slammed into my back, making me groan and gasp. I was forced hard into the ground, my back exploding with a fierce ache from the impact. The next second, Leon's whole body was on top of mine, his mouth at my ear making me jump, even though I should have expected it.
'Since my current method of hurting you doesn't seem to be working, I think it's time to change tactics.' He growled, shifting so that his legs were pinning mine to the ground; I felt my already fast heart rate pick up speed. Because not only was I once again trapped, my still chained hands meaning I couldn't move – even if I'd had the strength – but I could feel the point of the knife trailing down my back, making me shiver with fear and apprehension.
Fear that made my breaths hitch as the knife suddenly paused somewhere over my left shoulder.
'I think I stabbed you on the right side the last time I tried to kill you. So this time, I suppose I should stick to the left.' He said it so matter-of-factly; as if he did this sort of thing every day. It was like he was trying to decide what shirt to wear, not what side to hurt me on first.
But in the blink of an eye, his fake disinterest changed right back to his usual punishing fury.
'So tell me… Where. Is. The sword?'
A pressing silence followed his answer, my whole body trembling.
Before, with an angry snarl, the knife was once again slicing through my skin, cutting down slowly and deeply from my shoulder to my mid back as I let out a strangled scream.
'TALK!' He yelled furiously, slashing at me again, this time plunging the knife deeper so that it scraped agonisingly against my ribs. I screamed again, louder now and more drawn out. Pain added a terrible edge to the sound, but that only seemed to fuel him further.
I whimpered as he suddenly yanked me up by the hair, my neck stretching painfully as he kept the rest of my body pinned to the ground. The two gashes on my back burned at the motion, making me whimper as he pressed the edge of the knife up against my throat.
'TELL ME WHERE IT IS!' He bellowed in my ear.
And then agony was suddenly ripping through me, tearing a third scream from my lips, this one the worst of all. Because his fingers were pressing into my severed skin now, and it hurt.
It hurt. It hurt it hurt it hurt.
I felt like I was dying.
The imprint had gone into overdrive; panic and pain had left it out of control. The thoughts and feelings it used to give me, my instincts that were so closely tied to Thea, no longer made any sense.
Knowing and feeling he was hurting her had thrown them so out of whack I wondered if I'd ever get them back.
Ever get her back.
I closed my eyes, shaking my head forcefully.
No. I couldn't think like that.
I would find her. I would get her back. I would save her.
I would find her. I would get her back. I would save her.
It was a mantra in my head, the three phrases on constant repeat. They were the only thing I could focus on; a lifeline that was keeping me together.
Because he wouldn't stop hurting her.
I had lost count of how many slashes had appeared on my arms now; I didn't really want to know. All I knew was that there had been too many.
And I felt every single one. Not just on my skin, but from the imprint; the imprint that was full of pain.
But after what had felt like an eternity, they had stopped. My arms, by then coated with blood, had remained free of the deep cuts for almost ten minutes; enough time for me to hope that he had finally decided to leave her alone.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Because he wasn't stopping; he was just choosing a new part of her body to target.
And now it was my back being sliced through every minute, my bare back that had trails of blood streaming down onto the wooden boards of the porch beneath me.
My porch. Outside my house.
To be honest, I wasn't sure why I was here. Part of me wanted to go to Thea's house; to go where she had spent so much time, to go where her delicious scent was strong and laced almost every room. Another part of me wanted to go back to that spot on the woods; the spot where she should have been. And a third part of me wanted to keep searching the rez for her; even though I was sure I wouldn't find anything.
Yet despite the three urges thrumming through me, I was here; sitting outside my empty house.
Or maybe not so empty.
'Jacob.' A familiar voice called out, cutting through the fog that seemed to have taken over my brain. I glanced up quickly, the unexpected sound making me jump; though I knew who I would find even before my eyes rested on the man before me.
I would recognise my dad's voice anywhere.
'I'm glad your back, son. I haven't seen you in days.' He was rolling slowly towards me and the house now, his mouth turned up in a smile as he continued to talk. 'Not that I mind, since Sue heard from Seth that you've been spending most of your time with your imprint; Thea, I think you said her name was?' He was happy to say it; happy that I was getting to know her. I had been happy too, despite my worry; she was so good at distracting me from everything but her.
Not now, though. Now, I was not happy. But my dad did not seem to know that; even though I was sure it was written all over my face. It must have been because he couldn't see my face; it was growing dark out now, and sitting where I was left me in shadow.
'I hope this means she likes you, and that things are going well; I know you like her.'
'I do.' I said softly and distractedly, and somehow he didn't hear the sadness in my tone.
'Does that mean I'll get to meet her soon? I'd like to get to know her.' His eagerness made me frown, despair sweeping over me. I breathed in heavily, closing my eyes for a beat as I tried to find my voice.
'I think she would like that.' I replied with a sad smile, though this time I couldn't hide the roughness of my voice, the words almost strangled. Billy paused, his eyes narrowing as he stared at me. I didn't see his face though; my eyes weren't seeing anything around me.
They were seeing her. Thea.
I had never asked her about my dad, but I knew I was right; I knew she would like to meet him. I could see it now; her smiling in anticipation, eyes alight. And she… she would get along so well with him.
'But I don't think it's going to happen, dad.' I was looking at him properly now; his forehead was creased with concern.
'Why not?' He asked with surprise, moving closer; close enough to see my wretched expression as I remained silent. I heard his breathing stop for a moment as he took me in.
'Jake.' He breathed; one simple word. My name, but said with worry, said as a silent question, said with feeling. And it felt like a knife being driven through the chest; because he said it the exact same way she did.
I could see a question on my dad's lips as he opened his mouth to talk, but I spoke first; I already knew what he would ask me anyway.
'She's gone.' I whispered, pain lacing my words. He gave me a look that was a mix of sadness, surprise and confusion.
'Gone? She left?' I shook my head, leaning into the wooden post beside me.
'No. She was taken.' I said miserably, before suddenly hissing and letting out an involuntary pained cry. My back had once again flared up with hurt, yet another burning line being sliced in my skin. Billy's face was a mask of panic as he stared at me.
'Jacob, are you alright?' He asked, his voice fast with worry, wheeling closer still.
'I'm fine.' I said miserably.
'What was–' He cut off with a gasp. 'Is that blood?' He asked with horror, staring at my shoulder. Now that he too was on the porch, he could see my blood covered back; and the new gash stretching across it.
'Yes.' I answered quietly with a nod.
'How? What? Why?' My tortured gaze met his confused one.
'The imprint. It's so strong that when Thea's hurt, I am too.' For a moment, Billy was stunned, his eyes wide as he tried to process what I'd just said. Now that I'd started talking, the words were pouring out, fast and with a pained edge.
'He's hurting her. Over and over again. I feel it every time. And I can't find her.' I said with a frustrated growl. 'I've looked everywhere. I've done everything I can to find her, to stop it. But her scent's gone and the imprint is going crazy, so I can't.' I sucked in a wild burst of air, feeling my hands clenching and unclenching in a desperate need to do something; to grab something, destroy something.
'It's tearing me apart. Waiting, searching but not finding, knowing that I can't help her, no matter how much I want to; I'm going insane with it all. Every time I feel her hurt through the imprint, it's like a kick to the stomach. I feel like I'm going to explode, like I'm going crazy. Because I can't lose her, dad.'
'I can't lose her.'
Leon had stopped.
At first I hadn't realised he had, because I'd gotten to the point of blood loss where it became difficult to keep track of things. Like my vision, for one; it was fading in and out of focus, constantly moving between haziness and clarity. And there was my mind in general; after so many slices with the knife, I kept expecting one to come. Too much repetition, too much pain; I kept bracing myself for it, but it never came.
Instead, there was a light. Through my closed eyelids, it shone bright red; blood red. The thought made me shudder against the cold ground I was crumpled on.
Blood. My blood; it was everywhere. My shirt – which was ripped mess – was soaked with it, and my arms and back were covered with it. They were covered with blood; and the deep cuts it had spilled from. So many, too many.
And more were probably to come.
But that was something to worry about later, because right now something else took priority; the light. I needed to know what it was, I needed to see it. I forced my eyes open, my head spinning at the blurriness; I blinked and squinted, trying to focus in on it. It didn't help that the brightness was almost painful compared to the darkness I had been trapped in. But eventually, my eyes locked onto it, and recognition struck.
That was the cause of the searing light; a fire. A small one, but it was nether-the-less there.
And so was Leon. He was crouched beside it, the flickering light making him nothing but a silhouette. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad; it meant I couldn't see what he was doing, but then I wasn't sure I wanted to.
But when he turned just moments later, and I caught sight of what he was holding, I knew the answer; I didn't want to know.