The pain rolls through me again and again, my body seizing, then twitching repeatedly. My bladder is already empty, the wet sensation between my legs not even an irritation when compared to the mind-bending, spine-scraping agony of each shock that racks through me. They aren’t really even like being electrocuted, rather having every muscle, every bone in my body slowly cut to pieces before salt water’s dumped over the open wounds. At some point I vomit all over the floor and myself, no one bothering to move my face away from it while they continue torturing me.
Kay’s face, smashed against the metal table next to the lab computer by a hulking male with a buzzed head and thick neck, is a blur masked by the tears leaking from my eyes. Her face is hard as stone while the agent barks commands in her ear. I can’t hear any of it beyond the buzzing and odd shrieking sound in my ears. She doesn’t cry, doesn’t waiver, just holds her composure while I’m tortured on the floor. Exactly as I told her to be when I still had the ability to speak at the very beginning of this horror show. No matter how agonizing it is, no matter if every last one of my brain cells is fried, she can’t give in. Cadmar didn’t want his stuff in the Elites’ hands. Enough said.
The agony subsides for one glorious moment. I’m a limp puddle on the floor, unable to find the strength to at least get a few inches away from my vomit. The shrieking stopped, but the buzzing remains. Was I the one shrieking? How humiliating. As if my piss-soaked pants and the throw-up weren’t enough. Silent tears leak from my eyes while I watch the giant agent let Kadence stand.
They leave me on the floor as she moves in front of the main lab computer and does the Kadence thing. Is she giving in? Giving them what they want? Nooooo! No no no. I want to scream, but I can’t get any words or noise out, my throat raw from shrieking earlier. We should be standing for this last thing Cadmar wanted.
Don’t give in! I want to yell at Kadence. I can handle this!
“We know you can hack into our system,” the agent tells Kay, but it sounds so quiet. “You’re going to do just that and dump this information in there. You’ll see exactly where to put it. My contact will tell me the second the data is there. Understood?”
Kadence only nods. She doesn’t look at me to see the begging in my eyes. If I could move, I would tackle her to the ground, but my body aches in ways I’ve never experienced before.
After only a few minutes of her working away, she steps back from the computer and finally meets my gaze with sad eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she says directly to me.
“Is it there?” the agent barks at the person on the phone. He turns a furious stare on Kay before hanging up. “What have you done?” he growls before backhanding her, but she only staggers back a few feet.
She takes a deep breath before kicking his knee from the side, though it does little damage, making him smirk. I have to give her props for trying. I’m certain it cost her more than it appears based on her cringe and limped step backward. She’s going to kill herself.
But we’re dead anyway.
Before she can do any further damage, two other agents grab her by the arms and shove her to her knees.
The big one bends to get in her face. I still can’t move, can’t do a damn thing to help her. “You know, that was the only thing keeping you two alive. Now you’re both completely useless.”
It’s as if I’m watching this from a distance, unable to do anything to save my sister. And now Payton. Payton will never be free. All because I had to be weak and mourn my dad. Those few extra minutes cost us our lives.
One of my fingers finally wiggles, but it makes no difference. The other agent who was torturing me drags me to my knees. The pain coursing through my sore bones has more tears trailing down my cheeks. The agent who hit Kay nods at my agent and they both pull guns out, pointing them at our heads.
This is the worst way to go. What did we do to deserve this unwarranted execution? These men wield power no man should—the ability to decide when someone’s life no longer has meaning. There’s so much I haven’t done, haven’t seen. And anger will be the final emotion I ever feel. A little fear, but more anger. For us being here, for the life we were raised into, for the only real parent we had being killed by these same people.
I glare at the agent wielding the gun that will end my life. I want to yell “Bring it on!” But my stupid lip quivers, my entire body beginning to shake.
This is the end.
I glance at Kay one last time, but she’s staring down the gun pointed at her. She doesn’t even look scared. How can that be? Suddenly, the agent about to kill Kay’s head jerks to the side, followed by the rest of his body. Red mist sprays from the other side at the same moment I’m splattered with warm liquid. The agent in front of me thuds to the floor exactly when the other agent does. The two behind Kay encounter the same fate without the chance to realize what’s going on.
The agent’s lifeless eyes watch me as blood pools around his head.
My heart stops at the sight of the two figures hurrying toward us, the hulking one on the left limping. I blink before rubbing my eyes, then consider smacking myself if it weren’t for the blood my hands come away with. Kadence is in my face, saying something. Tears pour down her cheeks as she sobs around her words, but they can’t get through the thudding in my ears.
There’s no way. It can’t be true. I can’t even think it is for a second, lest it be taken away from me.
Kadence grips my damp face, wiping away tears I didn’t realize were flowing along with the gore. “I’m s-s-soo sorr-rry. I put y-you in d-dang-ger….” She keeps going as if she doesn’t see or care about the men approaching.
Like they aren’t there.
They must not be there.
They aren’t there.
But they are. Cadmar stands behind Kadence, trying to help her up, but she won’t let go of me. Conner is at my side, asking questions I can’t hear or comprehend. I only have eyes for my dad, who finally gets Kadence up. She folds in on him, sobbing in his arms. Conner helps me to my pain-seared feet, but I keep my eyes on Cadmar. He stares right back, pain, remorse, anger passing through his gaze. I want to find comfort in his arms, too, but I can’t.
This can’t be real.
“I’m here,” he says, as if he read my mind, giving Kay an awkward pat on the back. He scans me from head to toe, eyes resting on his coat for a long minute. I won’t be ashamed of mourning him the way I did; what the jacket is hiding and the puddle of vomit is embarrassment enough. He eyes the vomit, then the agent who was about to kill me, before his furious gaze meets mine again.
“But you’re… you’re dead. You got shot. We heard the shots fire,” Kay stammers, pulling back from his embrace to look up at him.
“There’s no time for explanation. You girls get cleaned up. Connor, get what you need and let’s get out of here. We can talk on the way back to California.”
I have no words. I want to hug him, to fall apart and sob in his arms, but I can’t register reality. Maybe a lot of my brain cells did become casualties during my torture. So I nod, leaving them to go to my room. Walking is its own torture, pain shooting through my feet, up my legs and spine. My head throbs with every step. Someone yells after me, but I don’t respond. I can’t.
If I could run, I would. From all of it, all of them. My body aches and there’s blood on me, another man’s blood. Not that I cared for him, or even liked him, due to him torturing and almost killing me, but he got his brains blown out, his light going out right in front of me.
What the hell is wrong with me?
I should be happy that Cadmar is alive. I am happy! But I need to get clean. Like shower for days. Maybe weeks to get this horrid day, this horrid week, off me.
Someone follows a good distance behind me, all the way to my room. It must be Kadence going to hers. I slam my door behind me, stripping my soiled clothes faster than I thought was possible, and get in the shower. Once the water is hot, I curl in a ball in the center of the stone shower, letting the water beat down on me from all sides, watching the red flow down the drain. This may not be what Cadmar meant when he said “get cleaned up,” but I need it; my very soul needs to be washed.
I stay as long as I think is kosher, hoping it wasn’t so long that we’re in trouble again. After dressing in fresh clothes and packing a few new outfits, I open my door to Cadmar leaning on my doorframe. He consumes the entire doorway, arms crossed over his chest. Those eyes again. So full of sadness and a deep, deep anger that I can’t hold his gaze, so I find his shoes to be more interesting.
“Would you rather I be dead?” His question has my gaze snapping to his.
My mouth opens and closes, only a squeak coming out.
Of course not! I want to yell.
What the hell is wrong with my words?
He clears his throat. “Kadence told us what they did.” He squeezes his eyes shut, throat bobbing. “It’s normal, what you’re feeling right now. The monsters you’ve encountered, the things you’ve experienced, they take time to work through. But… I’m here. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.” He pauses, his gaze softening. “I told you girls I would find you.” His voice cracks on the last word.
My bottom lip wobbles when I nod, my heart trying to mend itself from a loss that didn’t really happen, but a giant hole remains. I sway. He’s there just like he promised, his arms catching me before I hit the ground. I don’t realize what’s happening until I’m in his arms being carried to the garage. I don’t argue. I have no strength left, and I’m pretty sure my brain short-circuited. If I had any strength left, the dam would break and I would be sobbing. But I cling to the man I thought was dead, who should be dead, not caring where we’re going next. I just want some rest. I need some rest.
I’m put in a car, and no one says another word to me, for which I’m grateful.