She was in water, drowning and screaming but no one could hear her. She felt pressure inside her, pushing her further down, and she fought to push back. It was pitch black and faces with long hands would flash in front of her, laughing at her or picking apart at her skin, taking pieces of her. They slapped her and bit her. She screamed but her lips were closed. She was frozen but she could feel everything.
She was in a cold room and her arms were the only parts of her that were numb, numb from hanging over her head, tied so tight that they bled. Everything else stung and she recoiled at every touch, wanting it to stop.
She called for Jack, wondering if he was near, but hoping he wasn't. He needed to stay far away, stay far away. Stay alive.
She begged them to stop, not feeling anything but pain. Someone grabbed her face, calling her name and telling her to stop screaming. But she couldn't stop. She pulled away from them and she cried harder. She was dead. She couldn't leave, couldn't stand up. She was trapped on her back with her legs being forced apart as they attacked her. At least now the only thing she heard was her screams. As long as she was screaming, she couldn't hear them come in, hear them laugh at her, hear their grunts and moans. Because if she couldn't hear them, she could pretend they weren't there at all.
But as seconds ticked into minutes, hours, days, she felt the pressure lifting and leaving her body. She could hear voices, kind voice, saying strange things.
"She needs as much rest as possible; she needs to break through the fever. I'm afraid she'll feel sick for a few days as the drug leaves her."
"Thank you doctor."
Her stomach lurched, pushing upwards through her throat though she couldn't open her mouth. She felt hot, then cold, and then she was on fire. She cried even though tears wouldn't come. She was trapped in a nightmare.
But soon she could see light in the darkness, getting brighter as she emerged from the dark heavy water. She felt her head fall to the side and she realized she could move her fingers. She was so sore, so stiff, it was as if she had been sleeping for years, decades. And she felt her eyes; after a moment, her heavy lids lifted. She closed her eyes again, unsure of what she would see; wherever she was, it was bright.
But she opened them more, squinting, and saw she was in a nice bedroom, not like the small cage she had been in…she didn't know how long she had been there.
At first, she thought she was dead. But as she looked around the room, still fighting through her haze, she recognized things that she had seen before…and there was a woman sitting in a chair at her bedside, a woman with curly red hair. The woman was kind looking and her eyes were wet and red.
She spoke but Talia couldn't hear her. She blinked a few times and lifted her hand. It felt strange to move her hands; they had been tied earlier. The woman touched Talia's arm and slowly her voice became clearer.
"Talia, darling?" The woman smiled and tears were in her eyes.
Talia looked at her face for a long time, trying to blink through the haze in front of her. She wondered why she was here…why she was in this bedroom.
Talia smelled something awful and felt the empty feeling inside her. Even though she was lying down, she was spinning. Her head was foggy and her skin was sweaty. She could feel the nightgown wrapped around her; the soft cloth was heavy on her skin. Every touch was magnified. Her fingers twitched on the bed sheets. They were clean…
And it all came back to her in a rushing headache. Talia closed her eyes, trying to remember… the woman reached out to stroke her face but she recoiled.
"Where am I?" Her voice sounded strange, not her own. It scratched against her throat.
"Talia?" Medda asked as she stood up, tucking Talia's hair behind her ear, "Darling, you're safe. You're home."
She looked around again. It was Medda's bedroom…but why? What had they done?
Then, she remembered more. Panic seized her whole body.
"No…" she said, trying to move her body. But no matter how hard she moved, the aching slowed her and she felt the worst pain she had ever felt between her legs, in her lower abdomen. She gasped, "Why…Why am I here?"
"Talia, we brought you home," Medda said sweetly.
But she shouldn't be home; she should be in Hell, it was the last place she remembered being in.
"No," Talia said. Her limbs awakened and she could move them better but didn't know where they were going. She escaped Medda's hands and slid across the bed.
Now she could remember everything…and feel more of the excruciating pain. She cried out, clutching her abdomen, but she still managed to get out of the bed, crumbling against the dresser. Her legs wouldn't support her.
She needed to get out of here.
"Talia!" Medda came around the bed but Talia retreated away from her, her blue eyes wide.
"I can't be here," Talia said weakly.
"No, darling," Medda pleaded. "You're safe now-"
"Stop it, Medda!" Talia shouted, feeling more of her strength returning to her. She was frustrated frustrated that Medda believed that she was still incoherent. Her dark Russian voice was like a hiss of a snake, ready to strike. She had gone through so much…things she would've only done for one person, so he could stay safe. But now, it had been wasted.
"Do you realize what you have done?" Talia said disdainfully. "I shouldn't be here!"
Talia crumpled over and fell to the bed, writhing in pain. Every inch of her body throbbed; she had not felt this when she had been under, not even when she had been in her cage.
Medda called for Jack.
"No!" Talia shouted at Medda. Her heart pounded in her chest, not wanting to see the one person she was trying to get away from. "Don't-"
But a group of young men appeared at the bedroom door. Talia ignored them and tried to lift herself from the bed but the pain was too great.
"Talia-" Medda began.
"Stop it!" Talia shouted.
"'s goin' on?" Jack asked angrily.
Talia looked up and saw the face she had wanted to see but didn't want near her. The moment she heard his voice, tears flooded her eyes. She'd never felt such sweet relief. All those nights in that dark room, strange men coming and going after they had had enough, all she had wanted was him.
But she had to leave.
Talia stared at Jack, terrified. Then she moaned and fought to pull herself across the bed, to the window.
"Just…leave me alone," she gasped. Her strength was failing her already. But she had to leave.
Jack's eyebrows furrowed as he slowly approached her. His voice grew louder, thundering in her ears, "'s a matta with ya?"
"I think the drug is still affecting her," Medda said, carefully stepping towards Talia with her hands up, her eyes on the window behind Talia.
"No!" Talia yelled. Her body rebelled against her, tightening every time she yelled at them. But they wouldn't listen. She cried out in pain and fell against the wall.
"Talia," Kid Blink pleaded from . "Take it easy…"
"I know…what I'm doing…," she gasped, wincing. "You…you have to take me back!"
Everyone froze, wondering if they had heard her correctly.
"What did you just say?" Jack asked.
She didn't have to look at him to see the look on his face. He was livid.
A sob escaped her cracked lips; she wanted to stay, wanted to stay here with Jack, but she knew about the danger. She couldn't risk it.
She couldn't risk him.
"I said take me back!" She screamed at him. "Take me back, I need to go back!"
But she sobbed harder. That horrible place…but she had to.
Jack advanced towards her and ignored Medda's hands that were reaching out to stop him. He stood in front of Talia, his face inches from hers. It was the only face she had wanted to see. She saw the fury in his expression, his body shaking, and she glared at him through the tears. He didn't understand.
"We searched everywhere for you," he said darkly. "Everyone searched for you. I tore this city apart for you. And you want ta go back?!"
She had never seen him so angry, so defeated. But she had to do this.
Like a loaded gun, he suddenly punched the wall beside her and she screamed, clutching her stomach. The boys at the door yelled at Jack but he was only focused on her.
"Yes!" She answered.
"What?! You stupid girl!"
"I have to!"
"To save your life!" she yelled in his face.
Silence fell over them and Medda put her hands over her mouth, watching Talia. Now she understood.
But Jack didn't: he was taken aback: "What-"
She glared at him, "He threatened to have you killed."
Jack stared at her.
"He said if I didn't do what he wanted, he would have you killed," she said, trying to stand taller. He was too close to her. It hurt her.
"And you took me away," she sobbed. It was what she had wanted, dreamt it a thousand times while she had been under the heavy water, but now he wasn't safe. She was so tired, so weak. She looked at Medda, "Garrison already knows I'm gone." Tears clouded her eyes as she yelled at her dear friend, "When I was there, he was safe. Take me back, now!"
"No!" Jack shouted at her. "You're not leavin'."
"Don't you understand?!" she hissed. "If I don't go back he is going to have you, all of you, killed!" She screamed at the boys in the doorway. "And you know damn well he can. I have to go now!"
Jack stared at her for a long time as she sobbed and fought to breathe. She stared back at him, reading his handsome face, the face that had haunted her. And she wished it was far away from her now.
"You want to go back ta that hell hole ta save my life," he stated angrily.
She dropped her head, closing her eyes. It was a horrible place, a nightmare where your only wish was to die.
"That hell hole will be my home as long as you're still alive," she said. She looked up at him as she fought to speak the words that were flowing out of her mouth, unable to stop it. "I have been torn apart in ways I never thought possible-Rockefeller's friends…" She covered her eyes with her palms and Jack saw the marks on them, where she had been tied.
"They came for me," she said. "I thought they were going to kill me—I wanted them to! They wouldn't stop—and… every night, every day, I called for you! They tried to make me stop but I couldn't-I called for you and you never came!"
Jack's hard exterior melted away as he watched her choke on her own sobs. He didn't know what to say.
"You never came for me," she sobbed. "But I-I didn't want you to…I knew as long as I was there, you were alive. And I'd do it all over again."
She covered her eyes again, trying to forget the horrible screams and faces. She began sliding down the wall, too weak to hold herself up, but Jack caught her and brought her to his chest, sinking to the floor with her. She sobbed harder, clutching to him, and he held her. He whispered to her, "I'm here…I'm here."
They stayed there on the floor and Jack waited for her sobs to stop but they kept coming, each one stronger than the last. It was all the years, all the hurt, all the disappointment; he held her and forgot his own anger. He felt her in his arms, against him, just relieved that she was here. They had finally wrecked her, taken pieces of her that had once been his. He had never seen her so broken, so desperate.
She was so different from the Talia he had met over a year ago; she'd been so hard and distrusting. And now she had risked her own life for his, was willing to lie on a bed at the mercy of others to save him from Rockefeller's cruel game. He didn't know what to say. He held her tighter as she cried and his eyes stared ahead at the wall, listening to her.
The others didn't move. The boys at the door watched them with hurt expressions; this girl, once so strong on the outside and so numb to the world was now awake to her own suffering, unable to ignore it any longer. Mush looked away, rubbing his sleeve across his wet face.
Medda watched the two on the floor, silent tears falling from her face, and Kid Blink stood next to her, watching his best friend's face. He was determined to protect them both.
As it grew dark outside, Jack lifted Talia off the floor and went to the bed. Still holding her, he sat down and put her legs on the soft sheets. With solemn and heartbroken gazes, the boys at the door left and Medda and Kid Blink followed them into the living room, closing the door behind them.
He held her all night and soon the tears and crying stopped and she fell asleep, her hand still clutching his arm. And though he would never admit to it, he sang to her, so soft that she had no hope of hearing him as she sank into a deep sleep. It was a lullaby his father used to sing to him, about a different place far away from New York, where they could go anywhere they wanted to go. And though it may not have comforted Talia, it comforted him.