As Jonathon dressed, Clarice stood at the large bedroom window in one of Jonathon's t-shirts and stared out at the trees. A feeling of deep unease swelled inside her. She was feeling Alec more and more, and it had never been stronger than it was at that moment. Was he out there, right now, watching her, waiting for the moment he could rip the life from her body as he'd done Aaron and her parents?
She jumped when Jonathon gripped her shoulders gently. "Hey." He slid his arms around her chest and held her back against him. "What's wrong?"
"Do you feel it?" She spoke low, fearful.
He kissed her hair. "Yeah, I feel it."
She pressed her back against his chest and could feel the beat of his heart. "Why did saving me and my family change Alec?" She whispered.
Jonathon pressed his lips to the top of her head but didn't answer.
She turned slowly, untangling herself from his arms. "Do you know?" She stared up at him. "Is it awful and you just don't want to tell me? Because I'm getting pretty accustomed to awful."
"I don't know for certain." Jonathon said slowly. "But I have a...theory."
"What is it?"
Jonathon went to the bed and sat on the edge. "The life you lived." He said quietly. "Before I saved you...you were alone, suffering mental anguish. And I think..." He looked at her solemnly. "I think you and Alec were somehow bonded by the pain and torment you each suffered every day. Like now, like with Aaron, you were connected. I think Alec...identified with you. Maybe saw you as a kindred spirit to some degree." A sadness filled Jonathon's eyes. "I think maybe you made him feel like he belonged, like he wasn't alone."
A sinking sensation weighed down on Clarice's mind.
"When I saved you." He stared at the floor. "Your life changed. You grew up happy and healthy. Your family was close, with strong ties of love and devotion. You were no longer in anguish and mental torment." He raised his eyes slowly. "And Alec..."
Tears blurred Clarice's eyes. "And Alec was left all alone." She whispered. "No one to identify with...or feel connected to."
"When I saved you." Jonathon's voice was low, thick with his own tears. "Alec lost you. But I think...he could still feel you, both you and Aaron. And if he somehow knew he was a part of your family, and he could feel how happy and loved you and Aaron were, while he was left alone in a place of torment..."
Tears slid down Clarice's face. "He would've felt abandoned...unwanted..." She looked at Jonathon with anguish in her eyes. "By the very people who should have loved him and taken him away from that place." Clarice turned away as the anguish and rage and torment she had felt in Alec suddenly fell into place and she understood.
"It wasn't his fault." Jonathon stood up and went to her. "He couldn't rationalize like a human being. He was a hybrid and the foreign genes in his DNA were battling against his humanity. All he could do was react."
Clarice cried softly as Jonathon wrapped his arms around her again. "You shouldn't have come back. You shouldn't have saved me."
Jonathon turned her around and held her tight in his arms. "Don't say that." he whispered tightly. "Don't ever say that. Don't ever think that it would have been better that way."
"It's my fault." She cried against his shoulder. "He's this way now...because of me."
Drawing back, Jonathon looked her in the eyes. "He wanted me to save you. He couldn't have known how it would change things for him. But all he wanted was for your pain and torment to go away. He wanted you to be safe, happy and strong." He pulled her back against him and held her fiercely. "Things happen, Clarice. Awful things sometimes. And it's nobody's fault."
The alarm system triggered, filling the cabin with a banshee wail. Clarice jumped and clung to Jonathon. Terror filled her instantly as her heart raced erratically. Jonathon stiffened in her arms.
"He's here." she shuddered, clutching Jonathon's shirt in fistfuls.
"Get dressed." He said stiffly. "Now."
19...Hunter And Hunted...
He was working his way through the trees to the rear of the cabin when the alarm went off. Hunter froze and crouched lower to the ground. So much for the element of surprise. He looked around through the steadily darkening trees. He'd spotted the sensors and had been extremely careful working his way around them. Had he missed one? Or had the other target set it off? Didn't really matter now, they knew someone was coming. But he was certain they weren't expecting him. They had been relentlessly pursued by the other target, their focus would be on him.
Hunter reasoned that he may still have the element of surprise.
Jonathon checked the clip for the Beretta Storm and snapped it in. He handed it to Clarice. "There's thirteen shots." He said.
She took it tentatively. "What about you?"
"I have the shotgun." He said. "But you keep that on you at all times. And remember." He tapped his temple. "Shoot for the head."
"But that doesn't actually kill him." She was shaking but couldn't make it stop. "How do we stop him for good?"
"Just go for the head shot." Jonathon repeated. "Once he's down, we'll take it from there." He picked up the shotgun and confirmed that it was loaded.
They descended the stairs slowly, Clarice close to Jonathon's back, the Beretta pointed downward the way he'd showed her. "I thought...I thought maybe I was ready for this." She shuddered. "But I'm not, Jonathon. I'm not."
"One step at a time." His eyes moved quickly, thoroughly over the ground floor as they came to the bottom of the stairs. "Stay with me." He spoke low. "It may not be him."
"Who else would it be?" Clarice's throat was tight, squeezing her words. She forced herself to breathe but her intense fear still shook her. "It is him. I can feel him, he's here."
Jonathon led her through the pantry to the basement. He set the shotgun down and studied the monitors. It was almost night beneath the trees, too dark to see anyone who might be lurking there. Jonathon pressed a button and the monitors switched to infrared.
Keeping an eye on the stairs leading up out of the basement, Clarice's hand flexed around the handle of the Beretta Storm. "Do you see anything?"
Jonathon's brow pinched with a hard frown. "No." He left the monitors and went to the cabinet with the radios. He took out two and handed one to Clarice, setting them on the same channels. "Take this." He said. "Keep an eye on the monitors. If you see anyone, let me know immediately." He took a Glock model 20 10mm from the cabinet and stuffed in a full clip. "Close the security door behind me and do not come out until I return. I don't care what you hear or see. Stay down here."
"You're going out there alone?" Clarice shook her head. "No. You said we were a team, that we had to have each other's back. I can help. I-I know I probably seem weak to you and you need to protect me, but I can be strong, Jonathon. I can. I'll make myself be strong."
Jonathon leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Baby, I know you're strong. I never thought otherwise. The fact that you're still sane after all you've been through the last few days shows me how strong you are." He glanced towards the stairs. "You're right, we are a team. And you will have my back by being my eyes for me. That may not be Alec out there. I need to know who exactly we're dealing with so we'll know how to handle the situation."
"If it isn't Alec." Clarice glanced towards the monitors. "Then who?"
"I can't explain right now." Jonathon said. " But lets just say you're not the only one being hunted."
Clarice stared at him. She had tried to avoid thinking about it directly, but the truth was...Jonathon came out of the lab the same as Alec did. Somehow he was different than Alec, but he was still...
"Don't give up on me now." Jonathon whispered.
Clarice blinked and realized he was staring at her, an uncertain look in his eyes as if he had been listening to her thoughts. Could he? She stared back at him and there was something in the way he looked at her that answered her unspoken question. She stepped closer and titled her face up for him to kiss her. He did. "I will never give up on you." She told him softly, but with a hard edge of sincerity to her words.
"I'm counting on it." He checked the radios again to make sure they were in sync then kissed her once more. "If something happens and I don't come back-"
"You'll come back." Clarice interjected, her eyes hard with the determination to survive this.
Jonathon nodded slowly. "Right." He moved towards the stairs. "Remember, close the security door. And don't open it for anyone but me."
"No shit." She muttered. He looked back and she smiled lovingly. "I won't."
He smiled and stared at her for a moment, as if taking his last look at her. Clarice didn't like that. It felt ominous and cold.
Please, baby, don't leave me alone in this world. The thought whispered through her mind as she stared at Jonathon.
His eyes flickered with emotion. "I'll be back." He told her with reassurance then turned and jogged up the stairs. He stepped through the doorway and turned around. He motioned for her to close the security door.
Clarice went to the panel beneath the monitors and pressed a button. She turned and watched the thick steel door slide close past Jonathon, blocking him from her sight, and exhale as it sealed the basement.
And perhaps her fate.
The grounds were heavily monitored with security cameras. Hunter picked his path towards the cabin carefully. Lancaster hadn't chosen this place on a whim. Orlando said he had inside connections, someone had directed him here. And if this place belonged to someone from the Institute, he could bet his ass Lancaster was well equipped to make a stand. And who knew what else he was equipped with. Orlando wasn't one to relinquish unnecessary details, so Hunter wasn't entirely certain what Lancaster was capable of. But he'd come out of the Institute's lab and that in itself warned Hunter to proceed with extreme caution.
Orlando had given him the means to neutralize Lancaster, but he had stressed that Hunter do it from a distance. To stay away from any up close encounters. Lancaster was dangerous in ways that Hunter himself couldn't begin to imagine. But if it came to a one on one showdown...Hunter would have his leverage. All he had to do was get to the woman.
The man walked boldly up the driveway. Clarice watched him in the monitor. It wasn't Alec. He was older, mid to late forties maybe. He was dressed nice with short black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. There was a faint familiarity about him, but Clarice didn't have time to figure it out. He had no visible weapon. He didn't appear threatening at all. Clarice knew better.
She picked up the radio and pressed the button. "Jonathon?" She said quietly.
"I see him." Jonathon's voice crackled through the radio.
"Who is he?"
A moment of silence, then, "Victor Orlando."
"Who is that?" Clarice asked.
She could feel the tension coming through the radio before Jonathon ever spoke. "My father."
"What?" She breathed.
"Stay there." Jonathon reaffirmed. "Whatever happens, don't come out." A pause, then, "He'll kill you."
"No." Jonathon murmured. "He won't kill me. I'm all he has left."
"What do you mean?" Jonathon didn't answer. "Jonathon?" Still no answer. She looked at the interior monitors and saw Jonathon standing with his back pressed to the wall beside the front door, peering out the window on the other side of him. He wasn't holding his radio. He had turned it off and set it aside.
She watched him reach over and open the front door slowly. She shook her head. "No. What are you doing?"
Movement from another monitor grabbed her attention. A deep terror clamped around her heart like an iron maiden. She couldn't breathe. Her hands shook as she quickly raised the radio on impulse. She pushed the button. "Jonathon!" But he had left his radio behind as he stepped out the door, gun raised.
"No. God." She cried as she watched in horror as the man in the trees raised his rifle and drew Jonathon into his sights.
"What the fuck?" Hunter crouched at the edge of the trees, across from the rear corner of the cabin. He watched Orlando stroll up the driveway like he lived there. What the hell was he doing here? Had he set off the alarm? Deliberately perhaps?
Hunter's face tightened with tension and anxiety. He'd done jobs for Orlando in the past, and the man had never interfered like this before. Why now? Why not let Hunter do the job he hired him to do?
The front door of the cabin opened as Orlando approached the blue and white Chevy Suburban in the driveway. Lancaster stepped out on the porch cautiously, his handgun aimed steadily on Orlando.
Hunter raised the rifle and looked through the scope, drawing Lancaster and Orlando in closer. Was Orlando drawing Lancaster out into the open so Hunter could take his shot? He lowered the rifle and laid it on the ground beside him, then reached inside his jacket and withdrew the tranquilizer gun. He raised it slowly and looked through the small, powerful scope attached to the weapon, drawing Lancaster into his sights. He aimed for Lancaster's neck as his finger curled around the trigger.
The Glock held steady in Jonathon's hand, centered on Orlando's forehead. Jonathon wasn't a killer but he could kill this man. He had told Clarice that Orlando was his father, but that wasn't exactly the truth. Orlando was the reason he existed, and even the one who had raised him, if you wanted to call it that...but they were not of the same blood. They were nothing alike.
"It's good to see you again, Johnny." Orlando stood a few feet from the porch steps. "You're looking well."
Jonathon moved slowly to the edge of the porch then stopped, the Glock holding steady on Orlando's head. He didn't speak, just stared at the older man.
Orlando stared back at him without wavering. "You know it won't work with me, Johnny." He tapped his ear.
"That device in your ear won't stop a bullet."
"You're not going to kill me, Johnny." He said confidently. "Your kind aren't natural killers."
"No." Jonathon spoke dangerously low. "That was bred in through human genes."
Orlando nodded. "Indeed. In fact, our efficiency at killing may be our greatest strength."
A deep hatred for this man spread through Jonathon like a deadly heat wave. "Only for some." He said coldly.
Orlando's eyes flicked towards the cabin then back to Jonathon. "You're referring to the woman?" He lowered his eyes to the ground for a moment then raised them slowly. They were dead eyes, emotionless. "Why her, Johnny? Why are you going through so much to protect her?" His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Do you love her, Johnny?"
Jonathon didn't answer.
"And I assume she loves you as well?"
Jonathon just stared at him. His finger tightened just a hair on the trigger.
"Does she know, Johnny?" Orlando wondered. "Does she know what you are? Would she still love you if she knew? Do you think she would have had sex with you if she'd known?"
Jonathon's face hardened to granite. But beneath that...a tendril of fear took root. Orlando was going somewhere with this, leading up to something. Why the hell had he come here himself? Why hadn't he sent...
He felt the gun on him. Could suddenly hear the sniper's heartbeat.
He felt the hesitation again as he peered through the scope. Except this time it was different somehow. He was suddenly compelled to lay the tranquilizer gun down and pick up the rifle again. When he raised the weapon and looked down the scope, his cross hairs were on Orlando's temple.
Hunter frowned. Orlando wasn't his target...or was he? He tried to think but his thoughts were fragmented. He continued to stare down the scope. His finger twitched above the trigger.
"You told her about Alec." It wasn't a question. "But you would've had to. She would require some form of explanation, that's just logical." His eyes narrowed again. "But I'm betting you didn't tell her about you. Not really. She no doubt knows you're different but...she doesn't know how different, now does she?"
Jonathon's finger twitched on the trigger.
"I bet she just thinks you're a lab rat like Alec." He smiled without humor. "And by the way she was riding you up in the bedroom awhile ago...I'd have to assume she's accepting of it all."
The bastard had been watching them. Jonathon tried to concentrate but Orlando continued to talk.
"But I bet if she really knew everything about you..." He shook his head slowly. "She may not be so willing to...copulate with you. In fact, I think it's time we asked her."
Jonathon focused and cocked the gun, his eyes as cold as ice. "You're not getting near her."
"You think I don't know what it is you're trying to hide from me, Johnny?" Orlando asked quietly. "It's why I'm here."
Jonathon's jaw ached as he clenched it fiercely. Just shoot him.
Hunter's thoughts seemed to ricochet through his head then suddenly came together in an instant, his mind was clear. And he knew who his target was.
He steadied the rifle and centered the cross hairs on Orlando.
Jonathon felt the trigger begin to depress beneath his finger when he suddenly screamed and dropped to his knees. The Glock hit the wooden planks of the porch with a loud clanking noise as it fell from his hand. The sudden pain was excruciating, stabbing through his head like red hot ice picks.
He fell forward, his elbows cracking against the floor of the porch as he clutched his head and screamed more fiercely.
"Jonathon!" Clarice cried out when she saw Jonathon suddenly drop to his knees and clutch his head. She gripped the panel board and stared in horror as he fell forward. Her first terrifying thought was that the sniper had shot him, but there was no blood and he was still moving, writhing on the porch like he was in unbearable pain.
"Jonathon." She cried, tears streaking her face. She grabbed the Beretta and ran for the concrete stairs.
The single word shouted in her head and she stopped in her tracks. Where had it come from? She stood motionless, her heart pounding, the gun gripped tightly in her fist. Had it been Jonathon telling her to stay where she was? Could he even do that?
Tears wet her face as her body began to shake. She stared up at the steel door, her head telling her feet to move but still unable to budge from where she stood.
Hunter fell back, dropping the rifle, as if a physical hand had shoved him. He gasped as his head spun and a wave of dizziness overtook him momentarily. He sat forward slowly, his head gradually clearing.
"What in the fuck?" He gasped again then frowned as he felt something wet draining from one nostril. He wiped his nose with the side of his hand and stared at the blood smeared across his skin.
His brow pinched in a hard frown as a sliver of fear pierced him.
Another first for Hunter.