"Andy come on.... we're home and you should really eat something before you crash." The deep rumble is unmistakably Rykers, and that tells me the fingers dancing along my skin are his. Well, that and the electricity sparking wherever he touches me.
"No...." I moan and lean more into his touch. I hear him chuckle before I feel strong arms slip underneath my back and legs. Before I can realize what is happening, I am already swept up into his arms. I sway with every step he takes, his chest pressed to my side, his arms wrapped tightly around me. I feel my cheeks flush, embarrassment betraying me.
I slowly blink my eyes open and Ryker chuckles above me. "So now you wake?" He rumbles. I sink my teeth into my lip.
"Thank you" I whisper. He nods down at me with a big smile. He carries me over the threshold of the door, and deposits me gently on one of the chairs in the dining room.
"I'm just going to change." He murmurs to me and I nod back.
I can hear the rest of the family speaking quietly, but can't understand what they are saying.
I heave in a deep sigh before looking around me. The dining room looks the same as always, but that isn't what catches my interest. I can hear several voices and when I look towards the kitchen, it is clear that Rowan is blocking the door. He has his broad back to me, listening intently.
I stand and make my way towards the door. I can just tell that they are talking about me from the way he's standing, and I want to be a part of the conversation. I tap Rowan's shoulder and motion for him to let me in, and he twists his head to look down at me. I nod at him, and he stares back for a moment. I tap him again, gesturing for him to move aside. He sighs, but after contemplating his options turns to let me through. I step past him carefully, walking into the now silent room.
Blake, both Mr Cardinals, Arrow and two more men that I don't recognize are all standing in the kitchen. Each of the people within the kitchen are torn between blinding anger and intense sadness.
"W-what's going on?" I whisper. Blake wipes his hand over his face before looking to his right. I can see a stack of paperwork there, and I immediately understand what is happening, and why everyone is here. I take a step towards it automatically.
"Andy..." he sighs.
"I-is t-that-" "You don't have to look.. The kids just said they knew what happened, and asked what else I knew." I swallow the lump in my throat.
"I-I.... I need t-to see." I breathe. Blake grinds his teeth together, staring at me hard. I glare back. "M-move."
"I don't think it's a good idea."
"I n-need to see. Get out of my w-way."
He sighs before stepping aside, finally Letting me through.
"You don't have to do this, sweetheart." Mr Cardinal whispers to me, looking like he is holding back from reaching out to hug me. I ignore him, walking the rest of the way to the counter.
Carefully, I flip the folder open. The top document is the police report from when I was reported missing. From when we were both reported missing. I have never read it before; I trace over the half a page of words carefully.
"A struggle ensued. Blood spatter on both alley walls, confirmed from Ms Andromeda Romans and Mr Steven O'Malley. Possible suspects: 0 Possible locations: 0
Case file Last Reviewed by Officer Owens Badge 22109 on 22/03/19 "
My eyes flick through the words again and again. They had been looking, but not very hard.
"You don't have to do this." Blake murmurs again. I simply wave my hand at him. He's wrong; I need to know everything that they do before I can explain the rest of my history.
Flipping to the next page, I flinch. It is a picture of Steven's body, shoved into the boot of an impossibly small car. His long arms are twisted at an impossible angle, and he is folded in on himself.
"Andy..." I ignore Blake. I hadn't seen the way he was found, because of the time I spent locked up after Seth was arrested. And I haven't seen these photos before, never having the strength to know all of the things that I didn't already.
Steven looks so much like the man he was slowly growing into. His face is twisted in the same expression that I'd last seen, as his throat was slashed in front of me. I trace my eyes again and again over the details of the photo, noticing the blanket that had no doubt been thrown carelessly over his lifeless body, meant to block off the view from outside.
I brush my fingers along his face and as I do I hear echoes of his screams play through my mind.
I shudder, flipping to the next picture. This one is a closeup of the wound on his neck, still locked inside the trunk. It is deeper than I remember, having only seen it from feet away. The haunting memories of my nightmares race through my mind, the feel of the blood gushing against my fingertips, the sound of his last attempt at speech.
I heave in a breath before flipping to the next page.
Page after page, picture after picture, I trace over them all. The shovel with the blood coating the tip, the clothes Seth had been wearing- drenched in both mine and Steven's blood- the car once it was empty of everything except the bloodstains. Each picture hits me harder than the last. I give each one my full attention, no matter how much each one causes my heart to throb and my empty stomach to revolt.
Each photo adds itself into the box in my mind, further kindling for the fire of my nightmares. I know I can't stop though.
"Andy. Don't do this." Blake breathes at me. He places his hand over the next picture, trying to block my ability to flip to the next one. My eyes lock with his. He looks torn. Desperate to save me from this, wanting to follow my request.
How much worse could the pictures get?
"I-I have to." I breathe back at him. His jaw clenches before he takes a step back, nodding to me. I look back down at the picture, sure that these next ones have to be more gruesome.
I flip the page and suck in a breath. It is a picture of Steven's autopsy. He is laid out on a metal table, with every injury on display. Each mark is circled in bright red, making sure that nothing is missed. I trace my finger along the slit on his neck, that I remember vividly being torn with silver metal from one ear to the other. I trace my way down to his left wrist, marking the matching wound that had been dealt some time before his death. I trace my way back up to the other wrist that has a matching gouge. And then I trace my way across all of the bruises, all of the slices, all of the pain, remembering the feel of those exact injuries on my own body.
"T-torture. I-I remember t-the s-screams." I whisper to no one in particular.
Behind me, somebody lets out a sob.
I ignore it, choosing to flip to the next picture instead. I have to keep going. I have to know the rest.
Once I regain my breath, and the urge to vomit passes, I flip to the next page. It is another police report.
The details of them pulling Seth over, seeing the lifeless hand reaching out of the trunk, the blood soaked clothes. I can't stop the flinch when I read the words "Dead on Arrival." I'd known, of course, that Steven had died with me in the basement. But reading the words...
Reading through the report again I relive where I was while the traffic stop was happening. Locked in the cellar, chained and bleeding and screaming for death to come for me.
I was so positive back then that my wounds would take me. After he'd killed Steven, he'd cut into my stomach. The feel of his favourite knife still rests between my hip bones.
I remember the cold, the sounds of rats running past, attracted to the fresh scent of blood. I remember the chains on my wrists, bound above my head so high I couldn't lay down when all I wanted to do was curl into a tight ball and die.
I flinch when someone touches my back and whirl with the documents pressed to my chest. Ryker stands over me, concern clear on his face. I take a deep breath before nodding to him, and carefully sink to the floor. I set the papers down in front of me, and push through to the next one.
His hands cover the page, forcing me to look at him. His eyes are clearly begging me to stop. I shake my head before looking back at the covered pages.
"I-I... I n-need to see it. L-let me see it." He hesitates, before nodding and finally moving his hands. He turns so he is sitting behind me, my back almost grazing his chest. I don't object, letting him see over my shoulder and silently accepting the comfort he is offering in the safety of his shadow.
The next page hits me harder than a ton of bricks.
My own face stares back, bruised, bleeding and swollen. My eyes are closed, and I look as if I am dead. The right side of my face is coated in dried blood, blood that I remember isn't mine. I can still feel his hand as he swipes it down my face before taking Steven's body out of my sight. My nose is clearly broken, the bruising yellow and starting to fade. There is a cut along my lower lip, and I remember the blow that caused it. I push past it, determined to see what everyone else has.
The first few weeks in the hospital are a blur. I couldn't remember what happened, how I had been found, or who I really was. The doctors helped to put me back together, but my mind was too far gone.
Every moment from the second that Steven had died is both etched into my mind, and completely foggy.
The doctors had whispered that it was good that I didn't remember, that the trauma might have been too much if I had. But at night, when I was alone, everything became sharper. I could remember the feel, I could remember the hits, I could remember the pain.
The next pictures are snapshots of my injuries. A detailed imprint that I had hoped no one would ever have to see again. But I need to see it. I need to remember, and let the pain consume me so that eventually I may be able to push past it.
I trace the stab wounds, remembering the feel of the metal as I hit each one. I press my fingers along the deep purple bruising on my rib cage, remembering the feel of the bones snapping under his boot. I trace the slash across my stomach, remembering the burning and the screaming and the guilt. I flick to the next picture and my hands automatically drop to the corresponding scar on the inside of my thigh.
It burns beneath my fingertips, reminding me that I have been marked as his forever.
I trace the letters on the picture as I follow along on my skin. S E T H
Behind me, Ryker groans, an agonized sound that is echoed by the rest of the people in the kitchen.
I remember the day he had carved the word into my skin. He whispered praises to me as he worked, telling me I was so good, I was doing so well, encouraging me to stay still for him. I remember the feeling of trying to rip my hands out of the chains, to try to wrap them around his throat and pull until his head came off. But mostly I remember the screaming.
There was always so much screaming. Pleading him to stop, begging him to let me go, weeping for our lives. But he didn't stop, or even hesitate. He drove the knife so deep I was sure he was hitting bone and cut through all the muscle, all the skin, and all the blood. I sniffle, trying to hold back the tears.
I flick my eyes closed and just feel the rough edges of my sanity, trying to knit them back together. I feel Ryker brush his hands up and down my back, and with the soothing motion I slowly come back to myself. Disgusted at the injuries that stare back at me, I flick to the next page.
I gasp at the man that stares up at me. It's a copy of his mug shot, the day he had been arrested for Murder in the first degree. He looks just like he does in my nightmares, smug and angry. I feel the rumble of anger from Ryker behind me, but I don't focus on it. Instead I remember the last time I saw his face, delirious and screaming that I could love him now. I shudder, thinking of the blood on his hands, the blood on mine. Remembering the feel as I screamed for him to kill me too, that I would never love him, that he is nothing more than a monster. The gut wrenching feeling of the knife as he twists it across my gut, deep enough I feel like he is slicing through my spine.
I'd learned later that he hadn't cut deep, just enough to make me feel like I was going to die but not close enough to kill me. Even then he had been playing his dangerous game- a game I never had a hope of winning.
Tears that I had managed to hold back until now stream down my face and suddenly I can't stand it anymore. I feel so.... much. So alone and hurt and frustrated and furious for everything I'd gone through and everything I still had to continue through.
I am angry for the things he took from me, and for the fear he still brings. I am angry for the nightmares and the death and the sadness he had brought to my life. And I am angry that he is still breathing when Steven is not.
I want to kill him. I want to rip his throat from his body with my teeth. I want to cause him the same pain he had caused me, and leave him wondering if I would be back to finish the job or if he would die, alone and afraid, locked in a cell where no one knew where to find him.
My chest heaves and my bones ache, something deep and primal inside of me awakening for the first time in my life. I scream as I feel all of my emotions surge forwards, this deep part of me urging them on. My back kicks, throwing me forwards over the papers that are laid out in front of me.
"What's happening?!?" Blake screams, his distress clear.
"She's changing!" Mr Cardinal roars back.
I feel the people in the room take a wide step back, giving me space for whatever is coming next. All but Ryker, who continues to press his hands to my skin wherever he can reach.
I let out another scream, this time one of agony as my bones arch forwards again.
I fight it, trying to get control of myself before something worse happens. I try to hold onto my sanity, try to get a hold of whatever is kicking out from me in this chaos, but can't.
"Don't fight it, Andy just let it go." Ryker murmurs, brushing my hair out of my face. I blink up at him, realizing at some point he had flipped me so I am lying stretched out on my back. I scream again as my stomach twists, unbearable pain racing through, headed towards my limbs.
A burning pain, one I have never felt before dances between my bones. White light takes over my eyes, making it impossible to see. My other senses soar, helping me to hear the frantic people shuffling around me, my panicked brother chanting for someone to let him go. I scream again, terrified and in absolute agony, praying that this is the end, for real.
I scream as I feel my first bone snap. It is my right arm, just below my elbow. Once I register that it is definitely broken, another snap rips more pain towards the other arm. I scream again, in so much pain I can't believe I am still awake.
And with that thought, I blissfully fall into sweet painless black.