“Two a.m. He just left the building,” Kadence states from the backseat of the car, staring at her tablet that was purchased specifically for this mission. “We’ll only have a few hours to pull this off.”
“It’s the best chance we’ve got,” Cadmar tells her while we watch the helicopter lift from behind the wall.
“Move in now, then?” I ask, gripping my seat, my heart pounding with anticipation.
“If what Kadence says is true, they have another assignment planned for her in just a few days. If we don’t move now, we might be too late again.”
This is the best news I’ve heard in months. Months! We’ve been coming out here for the past two nights, parking only a block away from where we sprayed so we could make sure they didn’t have a regular patrol out after the last disaster. The facility seems less guarded and less organized now, as if whoever this guy is who had this grand plan had no idea what he would do after it was executed. We’re all exhausted, having gotten little sleep over the past few nights, but we’re ready to get this done.
Kay confirms there are only a few guards within the wall where we’ll be entering, so our plan should work. Cadmar gives the okay and we get out of the car, making sure our packs have the tools to dig through the holes, canisters of the sleeping gas I designed, a few weapons, gas masks, and other tools we may need in this process. We take our positions at the wall and start digging through. We’re bathed in darkness while we chisel through the first layer of crusty cement. Once through, we each hit fine cement dust that’s easy to scoop out. This makes my veins thrum with excitement.
It worked! My solution worked!
We time it, keeping tabs on each other all the way through, and we do get all the way through. From the outside, where we’ve scooped the excess dust, we don our gas masks, nodding at one another before shoving into our holes. Mine is barely big enough to squeeze through, my black clothes coated in gray dust by the time I’m working through the other side.
We agreed to only make a hole big enough for us to each toss a gas grenade in and wait. Sweat drips down my spine and brow while I chisel out that small hole, after having maneuvered enough to get the gas grenade from my pack. Once through, I quickly pull the pin and toss it through the hole, hearing it clank to the ground, followed by two others, before they begin spraying.
Someone shouts, but it doesn’t last long. The chloroform in the gas works quickly, exactly as I designed it to. We finish our holes and emerge on the other side after the gas has mostly settled. Three large bodies lie right within the wall, completely unconscious. I want to fist pump or hug Kadence and Cadmar for our small victory, but we have to keep moving. We have to finish this.
After shaking off a good amount of dust, we get moving.
The huge gray building towers over us but doesn’t quite reach as high as the wall. We rush to find the enormous metal door off to the left that is the only entrance to the facility aside from the underground garage. Kay and Cadmar inspect it for a few minutes before she quietly instructs Cadmar to remove his glove and place his hand on a small panel to the right of the door. He does so, causing a green light to scan his hand. Something clicks and the panel moves, revealing a keypad. Kadence types in a series of numbers; there’s a loud clank on the other side of the door and it starts moving.
We move out of sight, our gas grenades ready. Once it’s opened just enough, we toss them in and wait again. Cadmar gestures that he’ll move in first and we’re to follow. He takes out a small handgun while Kadence and I get two more grenades out. My heart pounds in my ears when I nod and follow in behind him.
This is it. We’re getting her out. We’re saving my girl.
There aren’t any bodies directly within the dimly lit white hall, which is another small victory in my book; the less guards we have to deal with, the better. Once Cadmar inspects the area, he allows Kay to take the lead, since she knows exactly where to go. With each branch of hallway we come across, we toss a grenade and allow it to do its work before continuing on. No alarms sound, thanks to Kadence taking over their surveillance so they won’t be able to see us moving around within the building. We only encounter four more guards before Kadence lets us know we’re about to turn down the hall where Payton’s cell is located. She tosses one more grenade and we wait.
It seems like an eternity of shouting from a male, before the silence. When we’re finally able to turn down the hall, adrenaline, fury, excitement, I’m not sure what it is pours through me at the sight of the huge agent unconscious right outside of where Kay says Payton’s cell is. I could easily kill him, since he was probably her guard of some sort, but we’re about to reach her. I can’t even be that angry.
We all hold our breath while Cadmar places his hand where Kay tells him to. The small panel moves so she can work her magic. Part of the white wall shifts and moves aside to reveal a very dimly lit room with a treadmill and a small bed, but my eyes go to the very middle of it. On the floor lies a petite body curled in a tiny ball. She shifts to sit up, her wide-eyed gaze finding us, her long dark hair hanging in her face. Remaining at the threshold, I remove my gas mask, dropping it to the floor while I hold my breath.
Her brow crumples while she just sits there, staring. She rubs her eyes, then shakes her head. “Conner?” she croaks, rubbing her eyes again and clearing her throat. I’m frozen in place, unsure of how she would react if I charge her like I really want to. “Conner,” she repeats before surging to her feet.
She stumbles slightly, causing my hands to shoot out even though I’m a couple yards from her, before she runs to me, sobbing, tears running down her cheeks. I want to kiss every single one away. I gather her in my arms and her legs wrap around me, holding me tight. Our mouths collide for one amazing moment. I can’t even think about the dust I’m coated in, about Cadmar and Kadence standing behind me, about the facility we need to get out of. I’ve imagined this moment for two months, but it’s better than I imagined. Everything in me wants to hold her forever, to keep her safe, but I pull back, putting her back on the ground.
“We have to go,” I tell her, ignoring the blood thrumming through my veins.
I’ve been waiting two months for this, to see her, to hold her. She’s here. She’s alive.
I brush away the salty tears on her cheeks. She’s thinner, her cheeks hollow, dark circles around her eyes. She’s changed so much in those two months, and I want to rip the world apart to take them back, to make those two months our own.
She pulls back farther, gazing at Cadmar and Kadence who also took their masks off. “Where’s Reiley?” she demands, instantly panicking, sucking in each breath. “Where is she? They tortured her. They showed me her being tortured, but I found out they don’t have her. I thought they didn’t have her anymore. She got free. Tell me she got free!” she shrieks, us watching her in complete shock.
Dear Lord. No wonder she did what they wanted.
Cadmar moves between us, grasping her shoulders. “She’s fine. We did… we did save her. She’s safe, better than safe right now, but we’ll have to explain further once we’re out of here.”
Bottom lip quivering, she presses her fingers to her eyes for a minute before nodding. And this is probably only a taste of what she went through. I can’t help glancing at the agent a few feet away, wanting to pour acid down his throat.
When she removes her hands, she’s composed again, her gaze completely void of emotion. The switch makes my gut clench. “I can’t leave.” She shakes her head and I give her an “are you kidding me” look. She shakes her head some more, as if trying to dislodge some thought. “I want to leave, but I can’t leave without helping the others get out. We have to get everyone out.”
“Payton, we have to go. We don’t have time to get all of them out,” Cadmar says behind us. I could kiss his feet for stepping in.
She glares at him, crossing her arms over her chest, lifting her chin high. Yeah, it won’t be so easy to talk sense into her. “I am not leaving without all of them. Period,” she growls, and she and Cadmar have a long stare-down.
I have to step in or they may stand here arguing for hours. “Cadmar.” His glare snaps to me. I’m impervious to it now. “What can we do to get them out?”
“We can override the system,” Kay interjects. “It’ll open all the cells, but it’ll take some time.” She turns her concerned gaze on Payton. “Are you sure you want to release all of them? There are so many, and not all of them can be good. You need to think about what you’re unleashing.”
My girl gnaws on her bottom lip, considering this. I want to get the hell out of here. Standing here debating is pointless. “We should at least get Bryn and Eva. And I have a friend. I can’t leave him behind.” She turns this nervous look on me, as if I’m supposed to get mad at this. Maybe I am a little. This dude she’s talking about obviously means something to her, but it’s nothing for me to get pissed about. Yet. “He helped me. I can’t leave him.”
“Do you know which cells are theirs?” Kadence asks, shoving through the awkward moment.
Payton only nods, then goes a little farther down the hall, us trailing behind her. She stops in front of a blank wall, then points to where the scanner must be. Cadmar presses his hand to it and the panel slides away, revealing the keypad.
The door to the cell opens before anything else can be said. A guy stands, tall with dark hair. He looks confused, but then his eyes rest on Payton and they ignite with excitement. And then she’s running for him. “Jaxson,” she exclaims, throwing her arms around him. He wraps his around her, holding her tight, but glances over her shoulder at us, his brow knitted.
What. The. Hell.
Every muscle in my body clenches. My jaw tightens, my hands fisting at my sides. I start forward to tell this guy who I am to her, but am stopped by a hand on my chest. My eyes snap to meet Cadmar’s hard gaze. I give him my best “what the hell” face, but he only shakes his head. Kay even watches me with weary eyes.
My ears ring when Payton pulls back and whispers animatedly to this guy. He keeps glancing at us, holding my gaze for long moments while I vibrate in fury. This is the perfect candidate for me to take my anger out on. He nods and she grabs his hand, pulling him toward us. She barely glances at me when she drags him past us.
Seriously, what the hell?
Awkward tension fills the air. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this, but I want to murder this kid. “He knows where Bryn and Eva’s cell is,” she tells Cadmar.
“Lead the way,” he snaps, giving Payton a hard look.
Her eyes flash with anger before Jaxson pulls her in the opposite direction and leads us down another hall. Instead of having Cadmar do his thing, Jaxson places his hand on the wall before typing in the series of codes, making the cell door slide open.
Is this guy one of them? What the hell does that even mean?
Bryn and Eva stand from their beds in a cell quite a bit smaller than Payton’s was, with looks of confusion in place.
“Let’s go,” Payton bites out.
Eva glares at her but Bryn holds her gaze, giving her a small nod. Then Cadmar takes up the doorway, causing their eyes to bug out. “Listen to her. We don’t have time to hesitate. If you want to stay here, so be it.”
They continue staring before glancing at one another, Bryn giving Eva a tight nod. Filing out of the room, they join us. “You should be grateful I decided to help you both,” Payton tells them, holding Eva’s gaze a lot longer than she does Bryn’s. “If you try anything, I will drop you both and leave you here to be used. Understood?”
They nod without hesitation. I have no idea what went on here, but Bryn and Payton must have come to some sort of understanding. Even still, I hate them both. I won’t ever be able to like them in a nice way after seeing them attack Payton back at my house.
Cadmar barks that we need to leave again, and we all follow behind him, Payton sticking close to Jaxson. None of them says anything about the unconscious agents on the floor throughout the facility, but I couldn’t care less how wrong this entire picture is. I waited two months to get to her and now she’s with someone else? I went through hell, did everything in my power, destroyed a part of my soul, in order to find her and this is how I’m repaid.
What the hell am I supposed to do with this?
Wait, wasn’t I the one she had her legs wrapped around only a few minutes ago? Was that just out of excitement and relief to get out of here? That’s probably it. Her excitement to see me was fleeting; now she has this jackbag to cling to. At least it won’t be hard now. I made a promise to my dad, one I won’t be breaking. At least she’ll be okay. She has someone else now.
My anger subsides instantly when we reach the main doors. There’s a tall man in a gray suit with sandy blond hair and a horrible smirk in place blocking our way. Cadmar has a gun pointed at him, but five agents surround him. My heart comes to a halt, trying to work this out to our advantage. We’ve come so far; we have to get out of here. Something about the man has the hairs on my arms standing up.
Is this him? Is this the man who tortured her? Who forced her to kill again?
Before I can edge closer to Payton, before anyone can do or say anything, a loud primal shriek rips through the air. She’s within feet of him in seconds and that smirk turns to a look of pure terror. Five shots are fired when she slams into him and the agents drop dead to the floor.
I’m frozen to my spot in this hall of white while Payton straddles this struggling man, slamming her fists into his face, clawing at him, literally trying to rip him apart. The sound of her fists crunching his bones makes acid rise up my throat.
This isn’t her. Someone has to stop her, but I can’t move. I can’t get myself to move. I’ve seen her attack someone for survival before, but this anger, a rage that I don’t know if I can ever understand.
It only lasts a few moments before Cadmar and the Jaxson kid hurry to her, to pry her from the now unconscious body, but it seemed to last an eternity. An eternity of savagery. She struggles against them, her limbs flailing all over the place, one of her fists connecting with Cadmar’s jaw. Jaxson moves away when Cadmar turns her around and wraps his arms around her, causing her to instantly still.
“We have to go now,” he tells her, smoothing his hand over her hair. She starts sobbing, her entire body heaving while he continues trying to soothe this broken girl. My heart, that I already thought was in a million pieces, is left in this heap of nothing just watching her fall apart. “This can’t change it. You can’t change it. Any of it. And I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He says this over and over, all of us staring in shock at the bloodbath on the white floor before us until her sobbing finally stops. She nods against his chest before pulling back and rubbing at her tear-drenched eyes.
“You okay to go?” Cadmar asks, and she nods again.
He steps around the bodies on the floor and heads out the door. She glances back, meeting my gaze. Hers is filled with horror, and I can’t say what she finds in mine. She nods once before following behind Cadmar.
What the hell did the nod mean though? That she saw horror in my eyes and she thinks I don’t want her now?
She basically just did what I’ve been imagining doing to these monsters for the last two months. And she was the one who endured them. Do her actions make me not want her anymore? Can I hold what she just did against her? No. No, I can’t, because I would have done the same.